It’s fifteen minutes after Lizzie turns the camera off that the doorbell rings for the second time.
She laughs into Darcy’s mouth, reality catching up with her. Somehow, in between the awkward conversation and the lips and the hands, and the small sound that she made in the back of her throat five minutes ago that she will deny all the way to her grave, she’s forgotten that there is another birthday girl in the house.
Darcy clears his throat. “I believe that would be your… Chinese.”
Lizzie can’t help it—she giggles. Honest-to-goodness giggles. Her hands are playing with his tie again as she debates blowing Charlotte off entirely.
But it’s Charlotte’s birthday, too. They always spend the evening together on their birthday—ever since they were old enough for sleepovers, one would spend the night at the other’s house, alternating every year. It’s their little tradition; she can’t just blow it off, much as she might be tempted.
She’s just in the middle of opening her mouth to tell Darcy this, when a knock at the door to the den startles them both. They neither of them leave the other’s arms, but they turn their faces toward the door, expecting someone to come barging in.
“Hey, Lizzie?” Charlotte’s voice floats in from the other side of the wood. “I’m gonna go ahead and assume that everything’s going well in there, since no one’s started yelling or stormed out,” Lizzie hides her face in Darcy’s shoulder and her shoulders shake in silent, embarrassed laughter, “so I’m gonna head on home. I’ll bring the leftovers over tomorrow. You guys… have fun. And don’t forget to send me the footage to edit!”
They sit still for a minute, Lizzie lifting her head and blinking at the door as they hear Charlotte bid goodbye to Lizzie’s sister and parents. Then they hear the front door close and Lizzie can’t help the silly grin that spreads across her face.
“It looks like my best friend just ditched me.” She murmurs, almost teasing.
“That is unfortunate.” His voice is just as low, almost gravelly, and she likes it.
Her fingers curl around the fabric of his vest, at his shoulders. “On my birthday, no less.”
Another laugh bubbles up from somewhere inside her; she stomps it down. “I don’t think I’ve been home alone on my birthday since I was about three.”
“I see.” He pauses; Lizzie can see a not-quite-smile playing at the corners of his lips. She’s going to make it her mission to get him to properly smile, one of these days. “In that case, Miss Bennet, might I request the pleasure of your company for the evening?” He’s teasing her and she knows it, but she’s still too high on adrenaline and happiness to care.
“That sounds lovely.”
They end up at a gastro pub across town, fortunate enough to arrive just as another couple is leaving; they wade through the Saint Patrick’s Day crowds and claim the vacated booth before anyone else notices that it’s available. Lizzie rubs at a spot of what she thinks is ketchup with a napkin while Darcy goes looking for menus.
Of course, Darcy insists on paying for her; she only puts up a token resistance before rolling her eyes and agreeing. “But only because it’s my birthday.” She tells him firmly. “Don’t get used to it.”
Later, when Charlotte asks, Lizzie wont be able to recall the particulars of their conversation. They talk about nothing in particular—Lizzie’s thesis, Pemberly, GiGi and Fitz. Lizzie mentions Jane and Bing’s move, at which Darcy gives another hint of a smile.
“Bing did mention the move to me.” He admits. “I am glad they are doing well; I only regret that I had interfered in the first place.”
Lizzie averts her eyes, picking at a small loose thread on her lap. “It wasn’t your fault. Caroline manipulated the whole thing.” She shrugs. “You thought you saw your best friend’s girlfriend cheating on him. Anyone would have said something. I mean, if I’d seen Charlotte’s boyfriend kissing another girl…”
“I should have known better.” He argues. “I had spent enough time in your sister’s company to have known that she was not the type of person to—”
“Stop it.” Lizzie interrupts him sternly. She wants to point out that if he hadn’t noticed that she hadn’t liked him back then, there was no way he’d have been able to gauge her sister’s feelings for Bing with any accuracy—but she refrains. The last thing she wants tonight is to remind him of the awful things she’s said to and about him in the past. She will apologise, but she just wants to be happy tonight—she knows that conversation will be emotionally loaded, and not in the good way. “It’s all in the past. You thought you were doing the right thing. And they’re happy now, so there’s no reason to worry about it.”
They lapse into silence; Lizzie practically buries her face in her menu, looking up at Darcy every few seconds over the top of it. The third time, he catches her eye, and she ducks her head with a smile. “Have you decided what to order yet?”
She’s not sure how they do it, but they manage to spend two hours in the booth, chatting and eating. Lizzie drinks three beers, Darcy only one (“It’s Saint Patrick’s Day!” she laughs, to which he responds that one of them has to be sober enough to drive, since his car is in the parking lot. She lets it go after that). The crowd is slowly getting rowdier; when a man three times her size almost trips and falls onto Lizzie, they agree that it’s time to leave.
She reaches for his hand so as not to lose him in the crowded bar. She doesn’t bother to let go when they get outside.
The night air is chilly, but the warmth from the alcohol leaves her with no need for a coat. They forego going straight back to the car; instead, they wander down the busy main road; most of the stores are closed by now, but the street is still lit up, full of people. The mall looms to the right; Lizzie sees it and thinks of Lydia. Again, the weight of what he’s done comes crashing back down on her full force; she clutches Darcy’s hand a little tighter and stares at her shoes as they walk.
He notices. “Lizzie?”
She shakes her head. “Not now.” She lifts her head, though her smile is somewhat forced this time. If the small frown on his face is anything to go by, he can tell. “Later, I promise.”
“Lizzie, if something is bothering you—”
She shakes her head. “Just thinking. It can wait.”
He backs down. “If you’re sure.”
They wander down to a coffee shop that is still open, whereupon Lizzie decides that she wants hot chocolate. She refuses to let Darcy pay for her this time, practically batting his hand away when he tries to. “You bought dinner.” She reminds him. “Let me pay for my own.”
He blinks at her. “Lizzie—”
“I got it.” She smiles as she pays the confused kid behind the counter the exact change for her drink and slice of cake. She waits for Darcy to pay for his coffee and danish, and the two of them take a seat at one of the tables. The chair is hard and uncomfortable, but the smell of roasting coffee beans in the air more than makes up for it.
She’s just about to open her mouth to speak when his phone starts ringing, startling them both. He looks slightly uncomfortable as he wavers between answering and ignoring it. “You can answer it.” She laughs at the look on his face. “I felt my phone vibrate a few times during dinner—I can answer my texts while you take your call.”
She dimly registers that the call is from GiGi as she scrolls through her messages, sipping at her hot chocolate. Most of them are from Lydia and Jane—obviously, Charlotte has told them who she is currently with. There’s one from Charlotte herself, wishing her a happy birthday once again, and reminding her that she will be grilled for any details that the footage on her video camera does not cover.
She almost chokes on her drink as another text from Lydia comes through, just as she’s finishing sending assurances to Charlotte that she will call her in the morning.
OMG!!! JUST SAW THE VID ON UR CAMERA!!! DARCEFACE GOT GAME!!!!! WANT ME 2 TELL MOM UR NOT COMIN HOME 2NITE???? ;DDD
She can feel the flush creeping its way up her neck at Lydia’s blatant implications. Shifting uncomfortably in her seat, she sends back a negative response, and a request that Lydia put the camera away. The last thing she needs is for her mother to find that video.
The reply comes back almost frighteningly quickly.
Ok. Mom & Dad know ur out w darcy tho. Mom is freakin out. Have fun!
Lizzie groans as she stuffs her cell back into the pocket of her jeans. She covers her face with her hands and breathes a sigh, rubbing her forehead as Darcy finishes with his call and hangs up. “Is everything alright?” He asks.
Lizzie’s smile is wry. “Fine. Just, my mother knows that I’m out with you is all.”
He shifts a little, drumming his fingers against his styrofoam coffee cup. “I see.”
She shakes her head with a little laugh. “Well, she had to find out sooner or later.” She offers. “I should have told them where I was going before I left anyway. I didn’t think about it.” She clucks her tongue and changes the subject. “What did GiGi want? Calling to see how your visit went?”
He hesitates and clears his throat, before answering haltingly. “No. My sister, ah, does not… currently know my whereabouts.”
Lizzie laughs. “You didn’t tell her you were coming here?”
“No. Neither Fitz nor GiGi know I am here; they believe that I am still in Chicago indefinitely.”
“And you didn’t tell her?” Lizzie shakes her head, amused. “Okay, I feel less crappy about not telling my family where I am, now.”
Darcy’s voice is suddenly smug. “After the harassment they have given me over the past month, I thought it was time to, uh, let them ‘stew’. I have no plans of telling them my whereabouts until they see your video.”
Lizzie throws her head back and laughs. “Oh, you’re terrible.” She accuses him, eyes twinkling. “But I bet Charlotte and I can do you one better, if you don’t mind us using all the footage.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Oh?”
Lizzie’s grin becomes mischievous. “Cliff-hanger.”
Later, she will swear he actually chuckled at that.
“So,” she begins almost an hour later, when they leave the coffee shop and begin to amble back toward his car in the bar parking lot. “What do I call you?” She asks. “I can’t keep calling you ‘Darcy’. That’s way too impersonal.”
“You could always call me by name.” He offers.
“William.” She tests it on her tongue. It feels strange to say it without his surname following it. “Huh. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you don’t like any of the diminutives, then?”
“Not particularly, no.” He pauses for a beat. “I have negative associations with many of them.”
“Alright.” She bumps her shoulder into his arm. “‘William’ it is.” This, she surmises, is the closest she’ll ever get to a pet name for him; but then, recognising that the only other people that she’s heard call him by name are his sister and aunt sends a warm fluttery feeling through her chest. Even his best friend calls him by his surname. Apparently, his first name is reserved for family. The thought makes her almost embarrassingly happy.
“What time is it?” She asks, realising that she’s not wearing a watch; her cell is in the right pocket of her jeans—and her right hand is currently grasped by Darcy’s left. She doesn’t particularly feel the need to disengage them when there’s no real call for it.
He checks his own watch, lifting their hands to squint at it in the dim streetlights. “Nine forty-five.”
Lizzie’s eyes widen. “Oh my God, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to keep you out so late!” She apologises.
He shakes his head. “It’s not an issue, Lizzie.”
“But it’s Sunday.” She insists. “I mean, even if you’re out of the office, I know you still work during the week.”
“It’s fine.” He promises.
“How many calls do you have in the morning?” She demands.
He hesitates for a moment. “Three.” He admits reluctantly.
Lizzie groans. “Why didn’t you say something?” She sighs.
“It’s not an issue.” He repeats. “I was not about to waste this evening on account of a handful of business calls that are unlikely to produce any promising results.”
“But still,” she eyes him out of the corner of her eye, “you can’t keep blowing off your work for me. You did that enough last month.”
He grows uncomfortable. “Lizzie, if this is about what Caroline said—”
She rolls her eyes. “It’s not.” She sighs. “But I’ve seen you working at Netherfield, and at Pemberly, and I know that you have a lot on your plate. I mean, you’re a freaking C.E.O.—”
“Who has perfectly capable executive staff in his employment.” He stops walking, pulling her off to the side of the path, so as not to obstruct the foot traffic. “Lizzie, Pemberly will not collapse if I miss one phone call in the morning. Mr Reynolds is perfectly capable of stepping into my shoes in my absence. It did not suffer, even in the slightest, while I was away. Caroline knows this; she was simply trying to irritate you into promising that you would not continue to associate with me.”
“This isn’t about what Caroline said.” Lizzie insists, almost petulantly; it’s clear from the look on his face that he doesn’t believe her. “Look, I don’t want to argue about this.” She huffs. “How about we call it a night, and we can… meet for lunch tomorrow, after your calls?”
“If that’s what you want.”
As they start walking again, Lizzie can feel that Darcy is stiffer than he had been upon leaving the coffee shop—guilt courses through her as she begins to suspect she might have ruined the night. “I’m sorry.” She murmurs, stepping closer to him. “I’m just not comfortable with people blowing off their responsibilities for me. I never have been.” She huffs a small chuckle. “Ask Charlotte—she’ll tell you. When I was fifteen I threw a fit because Dad needed to leave work early because I broke my leg during Phys Ed, while my mother was visiting her parents in North Carolina.”
The change is instant—he relaxes, his hand becoming more yielding in her own. “I understand. And you’re right,” his voice is wry as they enter the parking lot. “It is probably wisest for me to get some sleep relatively soon. I’m afraid that I may be suffering the effects of crossing multiple timezones.”
Lizzie laughs. “Can’t you just say ‘jet-lag’, like normal people?” She teases.
He actually pulls a face—Lizzie bites her lips to avoid laughing at him as they approach his rental car. “If you wish. Yes, I appear to be suffering from jet-lag.”
“I’m sorry.” She chuckles. “Well, sir, if you would be so kind to deliver me to my doorstep, I shan’t keep you any longer.” She grins at him as he opens the car door for her.
“Of course, madam.” She does laugh at him this time. Before Pemberly, the pompousness with which he delivered the line would have irked her. Now, she finds it somewhat endearing, recognising his sense of humour behind it.
“Home, James.” She grins at him as he slips into the driver’s seat. “And don’t spare the horses.”
He doesn’t laugh, though a smile forces itself across his face as he starts the car.
He literally sees her to her door. She notes with some trepidation, as they approach her house, that the porch light is on, meaning that her mother is still up and waiting for her to return.
“Thank you for coming to see me.” She tucks a lock of hair behind her ear—her face hurts from over-smiling on the ride home, but she doesn’t care. “Even if you are ridiculously tired.”
“I am not.” He protests.
“Uh-huh. It’s one A.M., Chicago time. That coffee earlier must have been like a Godsend.” She points out. “Now, come on. We should probably say goodnight, before my mother decides that she wont be satisfied with interrogating only me and drags you inside.”
He raises an eyebrow. “To be perfectly honest, I’m surprised your sister has not come out to say something about us yet.”
Lizzie’s hand automatically flies to her pocket, where her phone is stashed innocently. “Oh, she’s already embarrassed me tonight. She, uh—saw the video from earlier and sent me a slightly… suggestive text.”
“Ah.” He nods sagely. “Better a private embarrassment, then.”
“Pretty much.” She shrugs. “But yeah—really, thanks for coming.”
“Of course.” He nods again. “What time shall I call you tomorrow?”
“Whenever you finish. Just send me a text if things run overtime, and we can work something else out.”
The silence that follows this is slightly awkward. Lizzie is reminded of many first dates back in high school, standing on this very doorstep and waiting for her date to kiss her. She’s being silly and she knows it; internally rolling her eyes at herself, she steps forward and lifts her hand to the back of his neck, pulling him down to her as she rises to the tips of her toes. Her other hand curls around the shoulder of his vest as his hands spread out across her back. He holds her steady as she gains her purchase; it briefly occurs to her that their height difference is sure to present some logistical challenges in the future.
The kiss is just the same as earlier—she feels warm all the way down to her toes as he practically crushes her to his chest, digging her fingertips into the nape of his neck. His lips are warm and soft, and taste slightly of coffee and the cheese danish he ate earlier; she’s dimly aware that her mother and sister are likely spying on them from Jane’s bedroom window, but she can’t bring herself to care.
Her smile is sunny when she slides back down to rest on her heels. He tucks her hair back behind her ear, clearing his throat. “Good night, Lizzie.”
She leans up for a second, chaste kiss, before replying with “Good night, William.”
She leans with her back against the front door as he moves back toward his car, waving a little when he turns to look at her from the driver’s side door. She watches his taillights until they disappear around a corner, and takes a breath to fortify herself for the inquisition.
Unable to banish the ridiculously huge smile from her face, she spins around and opens the front door in one single, fluid motion.
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