It was late Christmas Eve and Darcy was impatiently shifting from foot to foot in the kitchen corner. Lizzie knew he thought he was invisible, but really, even in the midst of her and Gigi’s baking celebrations, she couldn’t tune out his anxiety.
(She never could tune him out, come to that.)
Assigning Gigi the Very Important Task of getting the icing on the gingerbread house right (“Just imagine what Caroline would say,” Gigi says with a grin) Lizzie slips over to Darcy’s corner and tugs at his hands. He settles, smiling down at her, and links their fingers together.
“Not in the Christmas mood?” she asks, swinging their hands back and forth until he wraps his arms around her waist, tugging her closer and ducking down for a kiss. The faint scent of ginger and cinnamon wraps around them and he only pulls away when Gigi’s muffled giggling breaks through to them.
“Really, Georgiana, you’re supposed to be an adult now,” he says over Lizzie’s shoulder and she turns, leaning her hands against his chest to wink at Gigi.
“William, you’re not in the holiday spirit at all,” his sister retorts and Lizzie rolls her eyes, looking back up at him. “What a pair of grown-ups you are,” she says, stepping back to straighten her clothes. It’s only when she glances back at his (very dignified) sweater that she breaks into laughter, his eyes falling down to see what’s so funny.
“A-ha,” he says, brushing at the flour prints on his shirt until she grabs at his hands and pulls him over to the kitchen island. When she wasn’t looking, Gigi drew a heart in the spilled flour with an L and a W curved together. “Come on, Ebeneezer Scrooge,” Lizzie says with a dramatic sigh. “Time to remember the true meaning of Christmas.”
Going home for Christmas had been the bargain she’d made with Jane, who was meeting Bing’s parents right now and probably being amazing at it. Still, it was a quieter Christmas than she was used to. She thought of Darcy and Gigi alone in that big house, the huge tree lit up with Christmas decorations and Gigi’s horrible Christmas music blasting through the house. Poor Darcy. They’d decided to have their own Christmas when she got back, combining Christmas and New Year’s, but for once Lizzie wishes she could just get away from home.
Charlotte was having none of it.
“Come on,” her best friend pleads, pushing open her door and interrupting Lizzie’s internal wrestling over whether to make a personal Christmas video for Darcy and Gigi. “Our moms have taken over the kitchen and I can’t handle making the stuffing on my own.”
“That is so not true,” Lizzie says, snorting as she shuts her laptop. “I’ve seen you eat stuffing; if you can eat it like that you can make it.”
“Those are two entirely different activities,” Charlotte insists, linking her arm through Lizzie’s to prevent her escaping. “Anyway, the stuffing is only the start of it.”
“Are you maybe wishing you were back at work right now?” Lizzie asks weakly as they open the kitchen doors and she surveys the madness within. Even Lydia has been conscripted, whisking at something in the corner though the second she spots Lizzie and Charlotte she drops it. “Relief team!” she calls out, barging between them to escape somewhere else.
“I’ll help you eat the stuffing,” Lizzie promises before she and Charlotte plunge into the deep. After that, there’s not much time for introspection at all.
She gets a call from Darcy just after dinner, when Lydia has been employed in dish washing and Charlotte’s parents are telling everyone how their daughter will be graduating with honors, has just been accepted into Cal Tech’s graduate program and how Charlotte has been promoted.
“Hey,” Lizzie says quietly, hopping off the couch and wandering down the hall to hear him better. “I thought you and Gigi would be at Aunt Catherine’s right now.”
“We are,” Darcy says, his voice equally low. “But I wanted to wish you a Happy Christmas.”
“Honestly, Will,” she teases. “We’re not British. In America, we say Merry Christmas.”
“Honestly, Lizzie,” he says dryly. “I wish you were here.”
“Tell me everything,” she says, shutting the door to her room and curling up on her bed. The Christmas lights glitter around her and the chatter of her family just downstairs lends a homey atmosphere to the moment. “Leave out no details. Did she ask about me at all?”
“Would you prefer to be in costume theatre for this?” he asks, amused, but Lizzie is way ahead of him. “Oh my,” she says, impersonating Darcy’s aunt. “Is that Miss Bennet not with you anymore? That is such good news, William, I never liked her anyway. Do you know how Caroline is? I hear she and Bing are going abroad this summer!”
“Actually, Catherine,” Darcy says evenly, “Bing is going abroad with Jane Bennet for their honeymoon. Lizzie and I thought you would like to know their engagement is going smoothly and Bing’s parents love her without qualification.”
There’s a long pause where Lizzie doesn’t respond and Darcy drops the re-enactment, asking “Lizzie? Are you still there?”
Clearing her throat, she nods. “Yeah, I just…I wish you were here too.”
Another long pause follows and she dimly hears someone calling for Darcy before he replies. She can hear the smile in his voice. “I’ll see you in three days.”
He picks her up from the train station and as he walks around the car to the driver’s side she nervously smoothes her skirt. Jane had stopped by the day after Christmas with Bing but since then Lizzie has had cabin fever and only Charlotte and escape plans got her through her mother’s ecstatic wailing. Now that Darcy is here again, she doesn’t know what to do with her hands.
“Is Gigi still around?” she asks as he starts driving and he glances over at her, a smile tugging at his lips. He does that more often now. “She’s visiting some high school friends today. Thought we could have Pemberley to ourselves before the New Year’s preparations start.” He pauses, then adds with a deep breath, “Caroline Lee is coming with Bing and Jane tomorrow night for dinner.”
This news makes Lizzie slump down in her seat, staring at Darcy morosely. “Are you serious?” she asks, her voice pained, and he nods. “Who knows?” he says. “If you dislike her this much, maybe one day you’ll fall in love with her.”
“Ha, ha,” she says, rearranging her heels and watching cars pass them on the freeway. Something he said shifts back into place in her brain and she steals a glance at him. “So Gigi’s gone today? And Jane and Bing and Caroline don’t get here until tomorrow?” she asks. He nods, his eyes darting over to hers and back again. “I gave the staff the day off,” he adds.
Her hands clench in her lap.
They make it through the front door, her bags dropped in the foyer, before Darcy kisses her heatedly. His hands cup her face as she stands on tiptoe to reach him, short kisses ending in short breaths that push them back together. She stumbles backwards, her heels catching on the tiles, and Darcy makes a frustrated sound in her mouth before he picks her up, sending her head spinning.
(He is very tall.)
They don’t bother trying for the stairs, but since it is Darcy and Lizzie’s still nervous Mrs. Reynolds didn’t get the memo or wouldn’t take the day off, they stumble into one of the bottom floor guest bedrooms. He sets her down only to yank the dust cover off the bed, sending a light billow of dust into the air that makes her laugh until he leans down to kiss her, leaning them back until she sits.
“I missed you,” he says, his hands planted at her waist and she scoots further back on the bed. “I bet you wanted to do that Christmas Eve, when Gigi was here,” she says casually, unbuttoning his shirt and pulling him down next to her. “You’re practically transparent, Will.”
His eyes are serious and dark next to her, but before he leans over to kiss her again, his hands sliding up her skirt, she hears him say, “Always.”
“Isn’t New Year’s Eve the best holiday?” Caroline says, and Lizzie doesn’t know how she got stuck in the corner with this woman. She makes desperate eyes over at Charlotte, who at one point was getting them drinks, but her best friend seems to be stuck in a predicament of her own with Catherine de Bourgh.
“I like Christmas quite a bit better,” Darcy says, appearing from nowhere with a drink for Lizzie. “It’s all about family, and remembering what’s important.”
“Oh Darcy,” Caroline says, smiling in a way that makes Lizzie’s teeth clack together. “I never thought you so sentimental.” Darcy’s eyes flick over to Lizzie, his hand finding hers, and Caroline’s smile falters a bit. “I guess I am, a bit,” he says.
“On that note, I think I think I need to rescue Charlotte,” Lizzie says, squeezing Darcy’s hand. “She is family, after all.” Darcy excuses himself and goes with her, their steps falling in unison as Caroline is left in the background.
“I would never leave you alone with my aunt,” he says, smirking at her as Catherine takes them in. “What, for my protection?” Lizzie asks as they step closer and Darcy laughs. Catherine’s eyebrows jump in surprise.
“No, for hers,” he replies as Charlotte gratefully excuses herself next to Lizzie. She has a sudden image of what next year might look like – as far off as it might be – of new traditions and new adventures – before her best friend makes her final escape, whispering her thanks in Lizzie’s ear.
“That’s a lovely necklace,” Catherine says to Lizzie, looking torn between appreciation and the fact that Lizzie was wearing it. Calmly, Lizzie takes a sip from her drink and meets Fitz’s eyes across the room, his grin threatening her composure. “Thank you,” she says, hand flitting up to catch at the blue pearl drops. “Will gave it to me for Christmas.”
As Catherine has a coughing fit, Lizzie thinks she might not be the only one ready for new traditions.
After – after the party is cleared out, after Caroline and Bing and Jane have gone to bed, after the last guest has said good night – Lizzie flops down on the couch next to Darcy, kicking her heels off before tucking them under her.
“We might need to rethink our parties next year,” Darcy says to Gigi, tucking an arm around Lizzie’s shoulder as she leans into him. “Maybe smaller. Or fewer. Or both.”
Gigi snorts, taking a sip of the last bottle of party champagne as she fiddles with the music. “I wanted to go skiing. You were just afraid Lizzie would see what you look like on the bunny slopes.”
“Bunny slopes?” Lizzie asks, tilting her head up and though Darcy tries to remain impassive Fitz laughs, calling up some memory. “Remember the time you fell down?”
“It was an accident,” Darcy says defensively and Lizzie curls her hand with his. “I was ten.”
“Still funny,” Fitz says. “But that time Caroline ‘tripped’ and you had to carry her back to the lodge wasn’t an accident.” Darcy stiffens. “I realize that now,” he replies, but Lizzie’s determined not to sully tonight with the past. “So why don’t we go?” she asks. “For a couple of days.”
“You know how to ski?” Charlotte asks, masking her grin with her glass. Lizzie rolls her eyes but Gigi butts in. “I can teach her, or Will can.” Her face is lit up. “We should go, all of us. Next Christmas.” Lizzie feels Darcy shift next to her. “What do you think, Lizzie?”
(She feels, not for the first time, that they are having a much bigger conversation.)
“Deal,” she says, smiling and when Darcy mirrors her own she hears Gigi scoff in the corner, sees her whisper in Charlotte’s ear. “Deal,” he echoes, and empties the last bottle of champagne in her glass.
They stay up until the last song plays.