A long corridor. He had to walk it all the way, exposed, under the observation of the stern but ever-stupid faces of the guards. The miserable, pathetic prisoners’ eyes were trying to devour him, a corrupted glint in them at the expectation of a new spectacle.
George J. Wickham, a spectacle! He hated shows and exhibitions. He could only go through with them when he knew it was necessary for the deceit of the masses. He had always derived immense pleasure from the knowledge that he knew more than what he let the world know. It was almost arousing to be adored as the generous god, when he was planning to poison the grateful multitudes in new ways.
His father had done it for the money. A brutal man, however brilliant, whose sole aim in life was to make more money, preferably by treading over others. George Wickham was different. His aim, what gave meaning to his existence, was to tread over others. Making money from it was just a pleasant fringe-benefit.
Yes, killing everything that was good or blissful excited him more than anything else. The night when he had confronted the brave and blindly, infuriatingly idealistic Elizabeth Bennet had been one of his most fascinating experiences, one of his more triumphant victories. She had thought she was strong, yet he had the power to cit that strength from its very root. He had shaken her, he had made her fall – collapse. He had felt it; when she had left, she was a dead woman.
Then, what the hell had happened? How had he found himself under arrest the very next morning after his night of glory, before even one of the faithful members of his faultlessly functional network could find the chance to warn him? Who was this opponent who had managed to disorient, misguide and entrap in one single night years of practice and precautions? Will Darcy? The paper CEO, whom he had so easily been controlling from afar until then? What had transformed him from a clueless victim into something more than an opponent, and what was worse, an opponent who had defeated him?
Wickham continued walking slowly, inwardly counting the steps and ignoring the ironic cheers from the prisoners that the guards hardly tried to check. He thought back on the days of the trial, to understand what had gone so terribly wrong. In the beginning he had thought that Darcy’s big words and declarations would be proven an empty threat; that the proud man would never bear the ridicule against his family and himself, for not having suspected Wickham was weaving his web all those years. Yet, for the first time in his life George was wrong about someone.
Wickham had hired the best lawyers. They had sworn that they would prove him not-guilty in no time—they had even proclaimed the case not to be a particularly challenging one. But they had underestimated the hatred of the public and the press. They had thought that Darcy would not dare go far. Unfortunately for them, not only Darcy, but every paper and TV broadcast in Britain in the next few months continued attacking the man who had become their ‘national monster.’ Wickham, in a moment of despair, insisted on accusing Darcy, trying to drag him to court as well, as he had threatened Elizabeth Bennet that he would do. But this was where his bright lawyers started to falter.
William Darcy was a surprise—the worst surprise of Wickham’s life. He could not be intimidated, and he had the most powerful weapon that Wickham could never use: the truth. Truth against deception. Darcy fearlessly appeared in court and admitted things that would previously embarrass him and everything he was proud of. He said everything he knew and everything he had ignored, accepting his deficiencies as an observer, as a family member, as an employer, as a board member, as CEO; admitting to being deceived by people that he trusted, to having erred deplorably in his judgment. But he showed such an air of dignity that his failings turned into aces for him. He was not a schoolboy making excuses; nor a weak man attempting to cover his mistakes; he was a man who would look back and examine his mistakes so that he would never make them again.
Darcy’s gaze met Wickham’s only once, on the first day they met in court. It was as if time stopped, as if the outcome of this silent exchange would determine the turn of things. Many painful seconds passed before anyone moved; but when the tension became unbearable, it was Wickham who had to avert his eyes.
Elizabeth Bennet was his last card. By the time she was called as a witness, Wickham knew that there was little chance of success. But he could hardly control the need for revenge over Darcy, and Elizabeth appeared to be the only way.
He wanted a repeat of the night when he had scared her to death. To make her so vulnerable again was impossible, but he wanted to remind her of her weakness, of the dilemma she could not face; of the prospect of betraying either her conscience or Darcy. Wickham had taught his lawyer to be merciless in his questioning. His eyes would meet hers and they wouldn’t look away until they brought realization and then contrition and then, that void. He was certain of his success. But when the day that Elizabeth would testify came, George Wickham was sad to find that he had misjudged two people, not just Darcy.
She looked at him and she didn’t even flinch. He couldn’t understand what was going on. It was clear that she understood the meaning of his glances. It was not apathy that he witnessed in her eyes, it was something worse; that deplorable pride of having been proven right.
He didn’t give up so easily, nor did his lawyer. But the more they persisted, the more evident it became that Elizabeth Bennet could not be hurt. When memories became particularly painful, when she was obliged to narrate in every detail that night, to repeat Wickham’s threats that had shaken her to her core, she did so with a steady voice, and her gazed fixed somewhere in the room.
Wickham followed her gaze and found that the receptor was none else than William Darcy. He wanted to scream at this distasteful exhibition of old-fashioned, stupid romance that had turned against him, but, unfortunately it was working too well for them. Elizabeth didn’t stammer once, didn’t stumble over her words; she could simply not be intimidated. A look at Darcy, and a small movement of the hands was all it took to find calmness to go through everything.
The pattern she made with her hands drew Wickham’s attention and he tried to understand what signals she was making. But after close examination, he found that it was not a gesture. She was simply touching her finger, on which she wore a ring. That, combined with the look and private smile that only she and Darcy shared in a room full of people, judges, lawyers, and the press gave him all the answers he hadn’t really needed to know.
It was the final stroke. Instead of destroying them both, instead of shattering every prospect of happiness for the rest of their lives, a few months later he was facing a life sentence and they were engaged to be married and refused to be affected by him, whatever he tried. He had no men to give orders to anymore; they had either been arrested, escaped or pretended they had never met him. It was too risky to even admit they even briefly known him. So, Elizabeth and Darcy would go on living their sick love myth and he had no power to stop it. He had confronted them, and chased them, and thought he had won, but they had gotten out of the trial alive. More alive than when they had entered it.
That was his downfall; that was his moment of defeat. The decision of the jury mattered little to him, or at least that was what he had thought at the time. A life sentence did not hurt as much as the knowledge that he was the weak one now, deprived of the means of deceiving or hurting anyone. Humiliation in the eyes of the world did not cost him as much as the thought that he had lost his self-esteem, his pride, his reasons for existence.
He was getting close to his cell. He tried to dismiss every image and thought of those horrid days. But that part of the conversation with Elizabeth on that night, the part he had paid the least attention too, refused to leave his mind in peace.
“But you have succumbed to romantic notions, Mr. Wickham. You are in love with yourself.”
“I simply care about the only person who will never betray me, Miss Bennet.”
“I wouldn’t be so certain, Mr. Wickham. Love is always danger and risk; you always have to be prepared, independent of who the receiver is.”
“You are talking nonsense. I…”
“You love yourself. I suppose it could be understandable, given the psychotic brain you possess. But love, Mr. Wickham, can bring disappointment; and disgust. And believe me, it is far better to feel these things towards another than towards yourself.”
She was right. Admitting it was the most painful thing he had to do. Fear and anger and bitterness, all mixed together. He was helpless; and that enraged and numbed all his senses. He hated William Darcy, he hated Elizabeth Bennet, but they had won and he could not do anything about that. The officer opened the door and ushered him into the cell, locking it behind him, sealing his fate. The damn couple had won because she was right.
It took him a few minutes to realize that he was not alone in his cell. Another prisoner, sitting on the floor, in one corner of the cell with his legs crossed had been staring at him silently from the moment he had entered. Wickham had no wish to make friends with any of these people, these inferior losers. He averted his eyes, and moved to the opposite side.
“Hey, buddy, aren’t you gonna talk to me?” The other man had gotten up and was walking towards him. The light fell on him and showed his large body, tall and fit. He had tiny eyes and very thick black hair. A little beard and many wrinkles, as well as a long nose drew attention to his face. He was a fearsome sight, but Wickham didn’t bother to even look at him. He did notice the American accent though, but he didn’t care to even be surprised.
“The name is Harry. What’s yours?” He continued in the same good-humored voice. If Wickham had turned to look at him, however, he would have witnessed a strange glint in his eyes. George remained still and made no answer.
“This ain’t nice Georgie. I’m trying to make a good start and you’re only making me mad.” The man’s voice had lost some of its smoothness, but it was not louder than before.
Wickham smirked. Who the hell did the man think he was that he demand special attention?
“Since you apparently know my name, you know everything you have to about me. Maybe you should try to not make me mad, by talking nonsense,” he said with the haughtiest look he could manage.
“Georgie, you’re as thickheaded as I thought.” The man was not smiling anymore. He was standing behind Wickham and something in his voice made the latter finally turn and look at him. He didn’t like what he saw in those tiny eyes.
“Can you just leave me alone?” George spat with irritation, but unable to completely shake off a hint of worry.
“Sorry, buddy. Not possible. A friend told me to take good care of you, while you’re here.”
Wickham’s stomach felt sick and his limbs did not seem strong enough to support him. His back touched the wall, as he repeated. “A friend.”
“Yeah,” Harry said, smiling again, but that smile made his face look wilder and more fearsome than before. “A good friend.”
Wickham’s heart was beating madly, he could feel the blood pumping in his vessels; his mind was racing. Then, suddenly, everything stopped.
“Darcy!” he shouted through his gritted teeth.
Harry smirked. “Darcy?” He said in contempt. “That blockhead can never understand how useful a friend I can be.”
Wickham was at a loss. All that he was aware of was the sweat that was dampening his brow, as he muttered, “Who then?”
“Younge, buddy. Jason Younge.”
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