Title: Queen Elizabeth II
Pairing(s): Elizabeth/Charles, one-sided Elizabeth/Darcy
Summary: Darcy was an honorable man—too honorable—and because of it he lost Elizabeth forever. Set in the 1950s.
A/N: I have often wondered what would have happened if Bingley had set his sights on Elizabeth and not Jane at the Meryton Assembly. This is an answer to that question, and well, I’m on an ocean liner so (naturally) I just had to set this fic on one. For those who need a reference: watch An Affair to Remember or even Now, Voyager! Enjoy!
Warnings: Unconventional pairings; 1950s AU.
It is a truth universally acknowledged—wait a moment, no, it certainly is not. Rewind. Start again.
It is a truth that should be universally acknowledged that sometimes—sometimes—one should not be an honorable gentleman, even if one’s best friend happened to see the lady first.
“Darcy, isn’t she heavenly?” Bingley breathed when the party of—wait—five young ladies and their mother?—entered the assembly room—if that’s what you called it. Darcy wasn’t really sure. It certainly wasn’t a ballroom. The ocean liner was certainly a bit too small to have a full sized one, no matter if it was the largest in the fleet.
Not that he knew such things. Oh, no. Fitzwilliam Darcy was not obsessive-compulsive and did not feel the need to read all of the literature provided from cover to cover, even the fine print.
At least that’s what he told himself.
Lying to oneself, after all, isn’t as great a crime as lying to one’s friend—as now Darcy knew he shouldn’t have.
“Absolutely plain. Her gold hair is far too—bleached.” The accusation was there. Her hair wasn’t natural. You could tell by her eyebrows, the smallest amount of her roots that showed through.
“Oh, really?” Bingley asked sadly, his eyes looking about and no longer directly at the once heavenly creature for some other worthy lady to accept his intentions.
Then his eyes had landed on her. She was a little too tall, her neck a little too long, her hair nearly insipid in the fact that it was not a rich colored brown like some of her younger sisters, and yet it was pleasing nonetheless. It was upon her that Bingley allowed his eye to fall, to her Bingley (and not Darcy) was introduced, and with her that Bingley danced.
“Oh, Charles, again?” Her voice is what first captivated Darcy that night so many years ago. He had not known her name, had not noticed the sparkle in her eye, or the way she turned a pretty figure even if she was far too thin for the era. Women should be like Marilyn Monroe, luscious, full, a low husky laugh, while her voice was decidedly too high. And utterly captivating—wait, scratch that. Her laugh was a bit too much like a tinkling bell.
That’s what Darcy had told himself anyway.
Then, though, he didn’t know that it was already too late.
He watched every night as this nymph danced with his best friend, who flouted propriety and wouldn’t let any other gentleman near her. The girl wasn’t a starlet, wasn’t anyone important, and while Darcy sipped cocktails alone in the private club reserved for the richest of the passengers—well, could he help it if his eyes strayed to his friend and his special guest?
How the girl’s mother could allow her to be unaccompanied was nearly scandalous. The girl could hardly be over eighteen if even that! Her sister had been forgotten, naturally… and Darcy thought he had seen her sitting rather dejectedly by the side of the dance floor one night, waiting for someone other than a professional dancer to ask her for her hand in whatever was the latest dance.
The three younger daughters—well—Darcy couldn’t remember what they looked like, and it seemed their Mama had enough sense to shoo them somewhere else so as not to disturb the romance blossoming between “your sister and that oil millionaire.” How terribly American of them all, Darcy thought, glad that the woman didn’t know he had a title and more land than the nobility had any right to have in England.
Charles was, of course, an oil millionaire, but that was only through luck. His stepfather had made a gambit and died before he could see the rewards of it. Charles, so typically British, a member of the starving gentry, was suddenly richer than Darcy—and didn’t everyone just have to know it?
Darcy had never really been jealous before, until the night that Charles proposed to the goddess in their midst. He’d managed to slip downstairs when Darcy and his sister Caroline hadn’t noticed and purchased a ring from one of the onboard shops. The ring was large, loud, and yet strange tasteful. Perfect for a marriage between Bingley and her.
“Charles, you cannot—“ was all the beauty with the long legs whispered before applause went up around them in the club, the pianist breaking into some love song Darcy had heard a hundred times before but now, for the life of him, could barely remember. Then Charles had her in his arms, was leaning over to whisper something in her ear, and she was allowing him to kiss her red painted lips, her dark green dress flowing about her like water.
She really was too beautiful and intelligent.
Darcy had felt something like regret twinge through his stomach but it wasn’t until after the wedding—which of course the Captain had performed before they even reached New York, goddamn the man—that Darcy had realized exactly what he might have had with her—with Elizabeth.
She was witty and intelligent. The last two days of the cruise served as the first flush of honeymoon, but when Bingley allowed his bride out of his sight, it was only to Darcy, ‘his oldest friend,’ who was utterly bewitched by this siren. The mother and four other daughters seemed to have disappeared entirely from their lives as they were relegated to a steerage (most likely) and, well, Bingley wanted Elizabeth all to himself, after all.
It was only natural.
That Darcy had the same inclination left him mildly disturbed, to say the least.
And who cared if the mother was a bit too loud? She was an American after all, who seemed to have scraped together the last of her money so that she and her offspring could mix with starlets and socialites in the hope that the eldest and prettiest daughter—Jane, was it?—would catch a rich husband. That Elizabeth, the outspoken one, should do it was a mystery that seemed to send her talkative mother into perpetual silence and then invisibility.
Bingley and Darcy had only planned on staying in America for a month, after all, before sailing home, and Bingley’s vivacious wife would go with them. What need had they for America after their brief tour and Elizabeth’s darling family would be but a memory.
Still, it was torture, having Elizabeth this close, teasing him, egging him on, when all he could do was speak to her instead of burying his hand in her mass of dark hair.
Elizabeth was so fresh, so artless, so utterly honest, that sometimes Darcy was struck dumb, and could only just stare at her in longing.
Years later, when he was visiting the couple in their house in London, Darcy overheard Mrs. Bingley say to one of her friends—“I don’t know why he always calls when Charles is out. It’s not like he’s ever felt anything but an intense dislike and disapproval of my coarse American ways.” He had been utterly astonished and left immediately, not visiting for a full fortnight until he could not bear to be away from her, even if she thought he loathed her.
So, the torture continued, and sometimes he would sit out on the veranda, a whisky in his hand as he smoked a cigar, and he would remember that trip across the ocean all those years ago. He didn’t remember that Madame Chanel had been a guest or that Cary Grant had asked Mrs. Bingley to dance on her wedding night—no, all he remembered was her, laughing for joy when she was in her husband’s arms for their first dance, looking at Charles as he dreamed that she may have, if circumstances had been different, looked at him.
Darcy never married. How could he when such perfection had been lost before he even knew it could have been within his grasp?
He heard the rumors throughout society, of course. The word sodomite was passed about a bit, and he’d even heard that he was in love with Charles, of all people.
Georgiana reached the age of majority—twenty-five, according to his father’s will—and promptly married some Scandinavian prince, if he remembered correctly. Not that it mattered. It had been the third son or some such after all, and Georgie seemed happy. She had children, anyway.
Isn’t that what all women wanted?
Elizabeth, though, never had any children, but there was always the same sparkle in her eye, the same verbal swordplay he remembered from all those years ago. It never occurred to Darcy that she might not love Charles, not the way a woman loves a man, but then again, a great deal did not occur to Darcy. She had married Charles, and she was a woman who would not be influenced by position, power, or her matchmaking mother—ergo, she must love Charles.
Darcy didn’t bat an eyelash when, in the sixties, the Bingleys each resided in different establishments, only coming together to give parties that were the talk of the season. Some niece from America was sent for in the seventies, and she was always by the side of Mrs. Bingley, younger, certainly, but never as graceful or as beautiful in Darcy’s eyes. At one point he vaguely thought of marrying the little thing, just to be close to her, but in the end he decided against it. If he couldn’t have Elizabeth he would have no other woman, no matter the physical resemblance they might share.
So the years passed, and Darcy was alone, unaware at just how alone Elizabeth felt, consumed in his own pride that he understood a situation that he never did.
He had never known that when Elizabeth first entered the room, all those decades ago, her eyes had first locked on him, and she wondered absently to herself if he might ask her to dance while Jane was engaged with someone else. Darcy could never guess that she felt disapproval waft off of him during Charles’s courtship of her and that, when Charles had asked her to marry him, she finally said ‘yes’ because of all the applause that were making her head ache and the fact that she saw how Darcy had looked away in disgust.
Elizabeth laughed to herself about how much Darcy hated her, so much so that he hadn’t even asked to dance with her on her wedding day, instead brooding in some corner, embraced in the darkness of his own thoughts.
No, Darcy had never guessed that he had pushed away the only woman he had ever wanted, due to his own pride and arrogance.
“Isn’t she lovely, the one in blue?” Bingley had asked that first night, when his eyes slid from the eldest Bennet girl to the second eldest. “Doesn’t she seem glad she’s here?”
“She is tolerable, I suppose,” Darcy had answered, not realizing that the girl had slipped away from her sisters to snatch a glass of champagne and was just close enough to hear him. He had, after all, turned away from the entire family, and hadn’t noticed that Bingley’s eyes were looking past his shoulder because she was now standing there. “However, she is not handsome enough to tempt me.”
“Well,” Bingley had replied, setting down his own half-empty glass of champagne. “I won’t let your opinion stop me”—and then he had asked a smiling Elizabeth to dance, and Darcy had lost her to a prejudice that she would forever hold against him.
He’d lost his chance then, and had not tried to rectify it—not even when his heart constricted when Charles proposed, when he wanted to cry out to her—No! Don’t agree. He can’t love you half as much as I do.
So, all was lost, but still he would sit and remember how beautiful she was, how happy, that trip across the Atlantic, too practical to wish that things might have been different.