Lizzie Bennet is not in love.
She's known infatuation, lust, and love. Sadly, she's also known heartbreak.
In the past few weeks, she's undergone many changes and as a result of such hearty introspection, she's left feeling uncertain and confused, rather than assured.
"Maybe you just need to take a break for a while," Charlotte murmurs one afternoon as they lay on a blanket in her backyard, the bright sun warming their bodies.
"A break from what? Life?"
Charlotte is quiet for a few moments before responding, practical as per usual, "... from feeling. You feel everything so deeply. I think a lot of your confusion is from the emotional upheaval you've gone through lately."
Lizzie snorts, but takes the idea into consideration. "How does one just... stop feeling?"
Charlotte stretches then looks over at Lizzie, shielding her eyes. "I typically throw myself into work. Not healthy, but it gives me something to focus on. You do have a thesis to finish."
Lizzie hums in agreement, that twinge of panic and discomfort settling in her chest.
"Have you given any thought to Dr. Gardiner's offer?"
"As flattered as I am, I don't think pursuing a doctorate is conducive to... life. I need to get a job, move out..."
Charlotte doesn't reply, just nods in her familiar, understanding way.
Later, when the sun is setting, Charlotte reaches out and circles her fingers around Lizzie's wrist. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
Lizzie laughs at the slow-growing smirk on Charlotte's face. "Thank you, Kelly Clarkson. I'll take that under advisement."
When they sit down for dinner that night, they learn that Bing is returning to Netherfield.
Jane pretends not to care. Lizzie pretends to let her.
One week later and Lizzie has taken Charlotte's words to heart. Also, she completely scraped a section of her thesis and had an emergency meeting with Dr. Gardiner to ensure that she meets the new completion date. Disregard that she isn't graduating with her peers, or is barely completing the requirements of her degree. As a result, Lizzie is currently deficient seven articles for her literature review and is knee-deep in three separate books that discuss a myriad of topics from ethics to transmedia.
As insane as the pace is, it's all worth it: the delay, the constant barrage of papers and reading, the frantic midnight writing sessions. She knows her thesis will have a legitimate impact in her field and uses this knowledge to get her through at two in the morning.
Regardless, she'd take the delay every single time as long as she got the improved relationship with Lydia as a reward. That's not to mean they don't bicker or irritate each other. But they're also slower to anger and quicker to forgive nowadays.
Today, she's fanned out all of her work at the coffee shop a couple blocks away from her house. There's little work space at home and minimal interruptions or distraction here. Besides, she went to school with the barista and he gives her bottomless coffee. Win-win.
It's not long after lunch and she's on her fourth literature critique, two books are propped open, the laptop is whirring, and her hair is up in a messy bun. Lizzie is the embodiment of a grad student, in all her bookish glory. She's actually hit her stride in the past two days and is currently riding the wave when she senses a presence next to her. Looking up, the pen she has clasped between her teeth actually slips out as her mouth falls slack.
"Hi —" she finally finds her words and smiles up at him. "Darcy. What... how..." she frowns, unable to speak human. "When did you arrive?"
"Last night, I'm staying with Bing for a short while."
"Right, I heard he was in town. How is Bing?"
Darcy's lip quirks, "Well. He's about to graduate med school and is trying his best to act like match day isn't a big deal."
Lizzie's brow furrows. "Match day?"
"Sorry, it’s when med students get matched up with residency programs for which they've applied."
"Huh, never knew that." Lizzie tucks a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. "How's your sister? And Fitz?"
"Up to their usual mischief. Actually, I haven't seen Gigi in a while, I've been... working a lot lately."
"Oh... right. Because you... run a company." Smart Bennet.
"How are you?" Darcy tucks his hands into his pockets, reminding her of one of his nervous habits.
She motions to the work all around her, and looks up at him, grinning. "Just trying to get this thing done."
Nodding, Darcy takes that as his cue. "Well, I'll leave you to your work, I'll see you around, Lizzie Bennet."
"Bye..." Waving, she watches him leave, wondering what just happened.
A call from Jane breaks her thoughts before they can wander. When she hangs up from her conversation with Jane, two things are certain: Bing Lee is very much still in the picture, and Jane is totally not fooling anyone.
Over the course of the week Lizzie spends nearly every afternoon at the coffee shop. On all but one of those occasions, Darcy joins her.
After their first meeting, Darcy returns the next day with two books, one full of notes in the margins and dog-eared pages, and the other is an 800-page biography on Lincoln.
"Hi," he says, more assured than yesterday.
"Hi?" She cannot hide her confusion at seeing him so soon.
"For you," he says as he hands her the book. "I found it very helpful a couple years ago when the director for research and development brought me this crazy idea and tossed the book on my desk."
Lizzie smiles up at him, pleased. "I've heard of this book, but didn't even think of it when I was at the library last week."
Darcy taps the towering stack of books she has assembled, "It's a wonder, because I think you have every other book available on the subject."
"Hmmm funny. What do you have there? A bit of light reading?"
"I uh... no. I... I have a great respect for President Lincoln and this was a gift."
"Oh! Well, that's... interesting!" Lizzie cringes inwardly and looks around, the empty chair across from her calling for a person to be in it. "Do you... want to sit? I won't be good company, but you can be a fellow nerd with me if you like."
Darcy smiles, "I'd like nothing more. Thank you."
They spend the afternoon in relative silence, though neither seems to mind.
"May I join you?"
"Be my guest." Lizzie surveys the stack of work he's got. "That doesn't look like fun."
Darcy sits as she shuffles a stack or two to make room. "The complete opposite. I have a quarterly training plan to review."
Lizzie grimaces. "Sounds painful."
"This? Not bad. Now the finance report?"
"Putting it lightly." He nods at her stack of books, notices her finger holding a place in the book he gave her. "How's that working out?"
"It's basically the best thing ever. Part of my problem is that there is a lot of theory and not a lot of practice for what I did. This book is..." her grin is wide. "It's very helpful. Thank you, Darcy.
Opening up his folder, he returns with a small quirk of the lips. "My pleasure."
By the following week, she's come to expect him in the afternoons, oddly noticing when he doesn't come at the usual time.
One afternoon he doesn't stop by at all and she tries to tell herself she doesn't mind. No, because that would involve feelings.
And she and Charlotte agreed that those are a bad idea right now.
So, she breaks out her trusty red pen and proceeds to rip apart her most recent draft.
The poor paper does not fare well.
"Hi." Darcy takes a seat across from her, holding only his coffee.
"Hi?" She watches as he picks up one of the texts she frequently references. "What... are you doing?"
"I figure that you're nearing the point that you're going to want someone to read your thesis. Charlotte's away and you tend to get... distressed when you have to meet with Dr. Gardiner."
"That happened once!." Lizzie groans, rolling her eyes. "Oh, so you are going to waste your precious time, reading up on this stuff, so you can... what?"
"Have an informed opinion?"
"For..." her eyebrows raise as he motions to her paper. "Oh no. No, thank you. I... do not want you reading this." She stops at the confused look on his face. "Not like that, it's just... I mean, this is incredibly rough and I —"
"Lizzie, it's useless arguing. Charlotte is otherwise employed. As your friend, I see it my duty to assist you in the completion of your thesis."
Silent for a moment, Lizzie considers his offer. "Don't you have more important things to do? I mean, you —"
"Run a company, yes. That is a sticking point for you, isn't it?"
Clasping her hands and leaning forward, Lizzie tries not to get defensive. "Yes, actually. I don't often frequent the circles of CEOs."
Darcy leans back in his chair, gives her a measured look. "You don't receive help well, do you?"
"About as well as I take compliments."
"Noted." He grabs the book and sits back, then proceeds to begin reading at a rapid pace. Seemingly forgotten, Lizzie shakes her head and returns to her work.
"Hi!" Lizzie's eyebrows dart upward, Darcy is wearing a three-piece suit. "You look. Wow. Why so fancy?"
"I have a business dinner in L.A. tonight." Darcy removes his coat and sits carefully. "I'm just killing time before my flight."
"Sounds important," Lizzie watches as he opens his brief case, pulling out a couple reports. "What are those?"
"A bunch of garbage disguised as an analytical progress reports. They assume if they put in a few graphs and five-syllable words that I'll be in awe of their work ethic." Darcy scowls at the documents. "What I wouldn’t give to pass off this meeting."
Lizzie snatches up one and starts thumbing through, unimpressed by the dense wording. "Why do you have to go?"
He hesitates for a moment, then looks up at her with a wary expression. "The board is moving to absorb this company because of it's... international appeal."
"And you'd rather keep it local?"
Darcy weighs his words carefully. "I'd rather wait for the time to be right."
Scoffing, Lizzie leans back and glances to her computer. "If there's one thing I've learned in the past few months, it's that time waits for no one. What about the timing is wrong for you?"
"It would require me and several members of an executive team to... relocate for several months."
Darcy glances up at her then returns his gaze to the reports. "Germany."
Oh. "Oh... that's," Lizzie looks around, perplexed by this news, "that certainly presents a challenge. But, if it's for the best of the company..."
"I was afraid you would say that." Darcy returns to his work, staying only for a short time before bidding her good night and departing.
Lizzie tries to ignore the sense of discomfort that starts brewing within.
"Hi," Lizzie says automatically, wholly focused on her computer screen. She's nearing the end of her entire paper and the light at the end of the tunnel has instilled a sense of renewed determination. It's not until five minutes later that she realizes Darcy has been sitting across from her, reading the draft she printed out that morning.
"Hey!" she reaches out, but he pulls it out of her grasp. "What are you doing?"
"I'm not sure if I should take offense to that."
He gives her what she hopes is a look of mock annoyance. "Would you mind? I'm reading here. Very thought-provoking," he takes a sip of his coffee and a large bite of her cookie.
Lizzie, completely exhausted and without the desire to argue, sighs in defeat. "Fine. Just remember that I've had... two hours of sleep in two days. Be kind."
Three hours later, Lizzie closes her laptop after revising her conclusion six times, bleary eyed and nearly unconcious. Darcy gives her a look and shakes his head. "Come on, lets get you some dinner."
"Hiiiiiiiiiiii!" Lizzie slumps down in her chair across from Darcy, bright eyed and bushy tailed.
His eyebrows arch at her entrance. "Hi?"
"I just woke up."
"It's... almost one."
"Yup." She smiles as she pulls out her laptop. "I read over your notes, by the way. Thank you, very much. Truly."
"They were helpful?"
She smiles gratefully, "Of course! Can you be anything but helpful?"
Darcy doesn't reply, just watches as she brings out her edits and sips her tea. "You... don't have anything to say about my comments?"
"Ha, if only." She winks as she leans over with the second page and points to a block of scribble. "I can't read robotcode. What did you mean here?"
Ignoring her friendly jab, he leans forward, his head close to hers. "When you quote Dr. Carson in the previous paragraph..."
This begins a back-and-forth discussion that takes nearly two days to complete. Discussion may not be the correct word. Heated debate is more appropos. Both days, they remain at the coffee shop until closing.
"Hi," Lizzie smiles up at Darcy, pushing the other half over her cookie over to him as he takes a seat. "So Bing came by last night."
Darcy nods, but doesn't press. Instead he takes a sip of his coffee and looks outside.
"He's been coming over a lot lately..."
"Yes, I have observed this."
"Some might say he was interested in my older sister."
"Some might say she too was interested."
"So I've heard." Darcy glances at Lizzie, a coy smirk on her face. "Bing is rather... descriptive when he accounts of his..."
"Dates? We peasants call them dates."
"Yes, well. He enjoys recounting his evenings with your sister."
"Funny," Lizzie says, her head falling to the side. "So does she. They want to meet up for dinner later."
"Yes. Down the street at that place with the good pizza. Will Lydia be joining us?"
"No, actually," Lizzie fiddles with her pen, "she has an evening class."
Darcy nods, munching on her cookie. He looks up at Lizzie, who's wearing an odd expression. "What?"
Her gaze fixes somewhere just past his head, worrying her bottom lip. "I never said anything before, because, I didn't want to make you... uncomfortable, I guess? But, anyway, I wanted to thank you... and Gigi, for what you did to get the website down."
Darcy sits straighter, shaking his head. "Lizzie —"
"William Darcy, you've accused me of not accepting help well; I could say the same of you and gratitude. Just please, take my appreciation."
They watch each other for a few moments and a silent understanding comes to pass between them. When she clears her throat and returns to her paper, she tries to ignore the way it takes Darcy a bit longer to relax. She also ignores the sense that Darcy spends more time watching her than reading project proposals.
The end is near.
She intends to submit everything in two days, Thursday to be exact. By the weekend, she, Elizabeth Bennet, will have completed her Masters project.
Until then, however, she alternates between anxious and irritated. Lydia can't even talk to her anymore, and Jane just keeps handing her tea. Words aren't coming to her easily, phrases don't read right, and she's pretty much ready to set the whole thing on fire.
It is at this point in which she receives a text from Darcy:
I could use a partner in crime. Care to offer up your services?
Lizzie, grinning at the possibility of William Darcy doing anything remotely criminal, is immediately on board.
Timing is impeccable. When and where?
Excellent. Be outside in fifteen minutes.
Looking at her yoga pants and frayed hoodie in terror, Lizzie tosses her phone aside and hops off her bed. She takes the fastest shower imaginable, puts on the minimal amount of make-up that's acceptable, and wears what doesn't need to be laundered.
"Hi!" She's two minutes late, but Darcy only surveys her curios, wet hair with raised eyebrows, then backs out of her driveway.
"Hi." Darcy replies familiarly. "Your mission, Lizzie Bennet, should you choose to accept it, is to assist me in getting Gigi a birthday present."
Lizzie smiles at Darcy. "This has the makings of a most excellent adventure."
Darcy makes no reply, to which Lizzie is aghast. "C'mon, please, tell me you've seen 'Bill and Ted's Most Excellent Adventure!?"
Shaking his head, Darcy frowns. "My knowledge of movies is minimal a best. My family was never one for watching them."
Gaping, Lizzie thinks about the home theater Gigi described in extensive detail when she interned at Pemberley. "Alright, I'll let your family take the hit for that. However, it is my duty as your friend to introduce you to the classics of our childhood."
"Really?" Darcy glances over at her as he turns right. "And how do you intend to do this? Is there an infinite period of time you have available?"
"If this is you referencing the fact that I must submit that Paper of Doom and succumb to the woes of adulthood, then I fiercely deny your claim and make my own —" her words peter out as she immediately recalls a line from her paper that was giving her angst.
Full-out grinning, Darcy gestures with his hand to prod her along. "Which would be?"
"Oh right, sorry. I can't think straight anymore. I do hereby claim that becoming an adult is lame and I want no part of it. It's... it's what we do because we're supposed to, because society tells us that it must be so."
"Ah, Peter Pan Syndrome?"
"So you do know movies!"
"I've seen disney movies as a child. However, I'm not familiar with the sentiment."
"That's because you were born a forty-year old man."
Darcy's eyebrows slant as he side-eyes her. "Actually, I was incredibly immature in my youth, reserved, but immature. I only started acting like this when my parents passed away."
"Which makes sense," Lizzie replies quickly, not wanting his reference to family tragedy to halt conversation as it has in days past. "Great responsibility was thrust upon you at a young age, and you did well by it. Now look at you! Driving around a broke grad student, when you could be yachting off the coast of Ibiza."
"Yes, because I often travel in that region." Darcy pulls into a parking spot and shuts off the car. Lizzie looks around with raised eyebrows. They're at the marina and several sea gulls are causing a raucus.
"So what is your game-plan, Batman? Are you actually hiring a yacht?"
"First off, I'm more of a superman kind of guy. Second - no. We are not. This is where you come in..."
They exit the car and start walking along the bay, heading towards the best restaurant in town. "What? Do you want me to tell you that The Chart House is amazing? I've been there once. It was for senior prom and me and my date ate off the appetizer menu. Sadly, I cannot be of much help."
"No, that's not where I need help. Gigi's been here before. She likes it, but it's not her favorite. See, that place is." He points to the small shop across the street that is at the point of a park overlooking the bay. Lizzie's face lights up immediately.
"Cake?! You brought me along to TEST CAKE?"
"You sir are a king among gentlemen. I happen to be an excellent judge of cake."
Darcy follows as she skips ahead to the shop, bubbling with anticipation. He can't help the smile that creeps over his face at her childish glee. As she holds open the door to let him in, he murmurs lightly, "Cake solves everything."
Her returning smile sends his heart into an erratic rhythm that makes it almost too hard to breathe.
When he drives her home late that afternoon, Lizzie is high on sugar, thanking him effusively for bringing her along to sample cakes and get away from the paper of doom. Darcy is even more smitten.
Not that Lizzie would notice.
Because she isn't having feelings. Nope. Not one bit.
Even if her heart begs to differ.
"Hi," Lizzie's voice is hurried as she grips her cell phone tightly. "Sorry it's so early. Were you sleeping?"
"No, just got back from a bike-ride. What's wrong?"
Her voice has a slight hint of hysteria as she lets out a loud breath. "I..." She doesn't know what to say. She doesn't want to admit that she finds his voice calming, or that he was the first person she thought to call when she was having a mild panic attack. Nor does she bother to even think of the implications of her actions.
"Lizzie?" Darcy seems to sense her problem. "You're going to get in your car, you're going to give Dr. Gardiner her favorite latte and scone, then you're going to deliver your paper. You're going to come back home and you're going to sleep. When you wake up, Jane and Lydia are taking you out for dinner and to get you heavily intoxicated, but I'm not going to make assumptions."
Lizzie smiles, wiping tears from her face. She's so tired. So freaking tired.
"That sounds... like I'm almost done."
"I read your paper, we've had actual arguments about ways to refine it. Charlotte has read your paper and given you an actual gold star. Lizzie. You're done. Turn it in. Be free."
"Be free?" She repeats his words with one part hope, another part facetiousness.
"Be free. Film your last vlog, then call it a day."
Lizzie hesitates, toying with the edges of her thesis, staring at the books piled on her floor. They don't say anything for a moment until she breaks he silence.
"Thank you... for everything."
She imagines him frowning, ducking his chin slightly at the sincerity in her words.
"You're welcome, it was my pleasure."
When she turns in her paper, Dr. Gardiner gives Lizzie an enigmatic grin and tells her to enjoy her last week of freedom before the job hunt beings.
"Hiiii," Lizzie hums as she takes a seat next to Darcy on one of the couches at the coffee shop. She's had plenty of sleep, a night on the town with her sisters, and is ready to be a human again.
"Hi. You seem to be in better spirits."
"Yes. Well, your pep talk was quite motivating."
Darcy rolls his eyes at her as he shuts his laptop. "What's up?"
"Come with me. We have things to accomplish."
Darcy tucks his computer in his messenger bag and brings it over his head. "Is there cake involved?"
Lizzie grins as she grabs his hand and tugs him up, slow to let it go. "No. But there can be."
"Sounds like a promising adventure."
"Time spent with me is always an adventure," she says with a mischievous smirk. She leads the way down the block toward the local used book store.
"You walk remarkably fast for a small person."
"Plight of the little person. Compensatory mechanism."
Darcy laughs, causing an unusual warmth to spread through her body. Disregarding the sensation, she leads him inside. Lizzie pets Felix the obligatory store cat, and walks to her favorite aisle, Darcy in tow. When she stops, he nearly bumps into her.
"Can you get that one up there? Once again, short people problems."
Darcy grabs the book in question and brings it down, handing it to her. She runs her hands over the leather binding and opens the cover, showing him the inscription.
"To my dearest Lizzie, may these words open up a world like no other. Love, your dad." Darcy looks up at her, confused.
"A couple years ago, I traded in a ton of books for school texts. This was the hardest one to part with."
"And it's been here the whole time?"
Lizzie gives him a conspirational look. "I misfiled it on purpose."
She leads him to the counter where she purchases the book. Once they get outside she turns and halts him with a raised hand. "I cannot offer you much, but I can share things I enjoy with you. Please, take this as a token of my appreciation."
Darcy's brow furrows and he shakes his head. "Lizzie, I wouldn't... I can't... this is too much.
"Please," she says quietly. "You... being here the past few weeks, helping me when you should probably be working, it means a lot. I..." she bites her lip for a second, looking down at the ground. "You gave me help that I didn't know i needed. Just, please, do me this kindness."
He accepts the book with it's tattered pages and worn edges, slipping it carefully inside his messenger bag. Later that night, he'll cautiously thumb through the pages, amused at a much younger Lizzie's handwriting inscribed in the margins. When he looks up, she's still biting her lip, wary.
"Thank you," he says it with the utmost sincerity before she nods and makes an about face, leading him to the small, slightly rundown theater.
It's Flashback 80s Friday, and John Hughes is king. She gets two tickets, sweet talks the kid behind the counter into giving them free popcorn and sodas, and leads him into the theater.
"We have to go up to the balcony. Easily the best seating in this place," Lizzie states expertly as they take their seats. "Alright, sit back, relax, and enjoy the next... several hours of your life."
Darcy, still reeling from receiving her book, can't think of how this can get any better. At least until the second movie, when she hunkers down in her seat and her entire arm is in contact with his. She notices him stiffen, but doesn't think much of it.
By the third movie, he can't get over the tears she has at the end of Pretty in Pink and refuses to let her live it down.
"I mean, it was an okay movie, but tears? Actual tears?"
"Do not give me a hard time William Darcy. I'm a softie, okay?"
He shakes his head and sighs. After taking a break, they return with renewed strength to push through.
"Last one is Ferris Bueller's Day Off, one of my top five movies. Can you handle this much awesome?"
"Of course, but there needs to be food later."
"Food? Most definitely."
Late that night, after Darcy has walked her home and Lizzie is brushing her teeth before bed, she can't help but feel happy.
"You look like you had a good night," Lydia says as she sticks her head in, giving Lizzie a knowing grin.
Lizzie just shoves her out the door, rolling her eyes.
"Are you dating Darcy?"
Lizzie goldfishes for a moment, beside herself. "Charlotte, that is... crazy. No. I'm not."
"Really?" she pushes up on her elbows from her prone position on Lizzie's bed. "For two people who aren't dating, you spend an awful lot of time with each other."
Lizzie frowns as she lay on the floor, not wanting to look her best friend in the eyes. Having Charlotte in town for a spur of the moment trip is awesome, but it almost always brings about much turmoil.
"We're friends." The words sound hollow in her ears. "That's all."
"He asked you out before you left Pemberley."
"Yeah, and he's never mentioned anything of it since. I can't blame him if his feelings changed, at least he's still willing to be my friend. Besides, I don't think I would have gone with him if it had just been the two of us."
Lizzie is slow to reply, choosing her words carefully. "Because I wasn't ready yet... and I don't think he was either."
Charlotte scrunches her nose and flattens out on Lizzie's bed, ruminating over Lizzie's words.
"I think it's time to start feeling again."
Lizzie scowls, wishing more than anything that she could agree with Charlotte.
The problem is that without ever being able to put an actual time or place on it, she's been feeling for a while now. And frankly, it terrifies her.
"Are you ready now?"
Sighing, Lizzie hugs her pillow to her chest and stares at her fan. The sheer weight of emotion that is pressing upon her makes it difficult to breathe.
"I... don't know."
She doesn't see him for a week. Lizzie skips the coffee shop, passes on offers to hang out with Bing and Jane, and primarily avoids all things William Darcy. Lizzie spends an inordinate amount of time mentally reviewing all their interactions: every smile, every gesture, every brush of the hand. Once she's tortured herself enough, she honestly can't say she knows how he feels and continues to hibernate.
This works out well because Darcy is back at Pemberley anyway and is completely unaware of her avoidance. Instead of dwelling on her emotional strife, she focuses on her resume and lining up interviews.
When she finally does see him, it's on purpose. She goes to Bing's house the day after Darcy returns, seeking vital information.
"Hi..." Darcy holds the door open to allow her entrance. She breezes past, trying to ignore how his lovely blue button up matches his eyes.
"Hi," she says with a thin smile. "How was your trip?"
"Long and tiring. Lots of hours at the office." Darcy leads her to the kitchen where she takes a seat at the counter. "I just made some tea, would you care for a cup?"
"Yes, please. Any word on Germany? Or anything on that front? You haven't mentioned it for a while." It's been a point of concern for her, and she isn't quite sure she wants to know the answer.
"We're in the initial stages of brokering an agreement. Nothing is set in stone yet." He seems to be watching her closely as he hands over the mug. She's too preoccupied to notice.
"That's... that's good." Having lost her nerve, she focuses her attention on her tea.
Confused, Darcy wears a mildly bemused expression. "I learned something interesting before I left this morning. Would you care to know what that is?"
"A recent intern and master's holder just applied for a job working in digital project planning and development."
"Huh, that's... remarkable, because I just applied for a job working in digital planning and development. I wonder, why would someone like you, be concerned if a former intern applied to work in his company?"
"Because I like to keep abreast of company affairs, you know."
"Right, makes sense."
Darcy is giving her a wide smile, unable to hide his delight in her decision. "I think you'll enjoy working for Dave, very much. He's an excellent director."
"Is he the one who gave you the book that you lent me?"
Nodding, Darcy takes a sip of his tea. "Indeed. He was a good friend of my parents. He's invested quite a bit of time and energy into the company, making it what it is today."
"Good to know I made the right decision for once."
"Oh I don't know, Lizzie," Darcy drains his cup. "I think you've made plenty of good decisions lately. Your finest is agreeing to have dinner tomorrow night when Gigi and Fitz arrive."
Confused, Lizzie looks up at Darcy curiously. "I... never agreed to that."
"But you will, once Gigi gets in contact with you." As if on cue, Lizzie's phone starts buzzing. "Speak of the devil. I'm going to make reservations. Will your sisters be joining us?"
Lizzie, thrown by this Darcy, simply nods and answers her phone, smiling at the squeals on the other end.
"Congratulations on graduating Lizzie! You're done!"
Watching Darcy quirk his eyebrows over the top of his laptop, she rolls her eyes and nods.
"Yes, despite all odds, I've finally made it."
Going all out, Lizzie agrees to have a combined graduation/birthday dinner with Gigi at The Chart House. She mentally reminds herself that she only graduates once with her first masters, and swallows the panic at the thought of her bill come evening's end.
Her end of the table is easily the more boisterous, sitting across from Gigi and next to Lydia, Fitz and Charlotte. The other end includes both Caroline and a friend (they came with Gigi) Bing, Darcy, and Jane. Throughout the madness and laughter at her end, Lizzie exchanges glances with Darcy over the course of the evening when Charlotte's friend fawns over him. He merely sighs and tops off his wine glass.
Cheers for Lizzie and well-wishes for Gigi culminate into the onslaught of cake. Several types.
"CAKE!" Lydia wiggles in her seat next to Lizzie, smiling brighter than she has in a while. "Please tell me you got the —"
"— Devil's food with cream cheese frosting and oreo crust! YES!" Lizzie grins right back, catching Darcy's eye and winking in thanks. They share another glance when Gigi literally jumps out of her chair and squeezes Darcy around the neck.
"This is my favorite of all favorite cakes, William! We can't even get this back home." She kisses him on the cheek. "How'd you even know!?"
"... lucky guess," Darcy says, not giving away their secret.
Over the course of the evening, Lizzie's job prospects come up while Darcy is in conversation with Jane and Caroline.
"Is Lizzie staying local? It must be hard, being so far removed from your family after everything," Caroline asks Jane, an edge to her tone.
Always kind, Jane smiles in reply, "I don't even think she knows yet. I do know that she's narrowed it down to two companies," her eyes flit to Darcy's, "but the oddest thing is that she turned down an offer from her dream job two days ago, saying that another company seems to be a better fit." When Jane looks at him again, her pointed smile and knowing glance are all that he needs.
Later that night, Darcy is walking with Lizzie from the Chart House, warm and merry. Both have had just enough wine to feel light and airy, but not enough to lose all sense. When Lizzie grabs his hand and drags Darcy into the park, he follows willingly. She takes him to a recently renovated playground, complete with rubber turf, a monstrous jungle gym, and a shiny new swing set.
They both take a seat, facing each other as they pump their legs, reaching higher and higher. Lizzie laughs at the weightless sensation and the look of glee on Darcy's face.
"When we were younger, Lydia and I would always race to see who could get the highest. Of course, I'd always goad her into hoping off mid-air too. She fell for it, every single time. God, I was horrible to that kid."
"I used to do the same with Fitz. Except he always won and loser would have to hop. Finally, I beat him, dared him to hop off..."
Lizzie frowns at his ominous tone. "I don't like where his is going."
"He broke his wrist. I felt awful. But, being Fitz, he got a cast and let me be the first person to sign it, said it gave him 'street cred.'"
Lizzie laughs at the image and Darcy using those words, her swing lagging in the process. Darcy does the same, his swing slowing in tandem until they meet in the middle. They watch each other for a few interminable seconds, their silence speaking more than words ever have. Finally, Darcy reaches out and grabs onto the chains on Lizzie's swing.
"Well, hello there," she smiles up at him, trying to ignore the fleeting sense of glittering unicorns in her belly. He turns her swing and pulls her close, her legs tucking between his own.
"Hi," his voice is gravelly when he leans in close. She meets him, eyes fluttering closed as they press their lips against each other, warm and soft at first. It's not perfect by any means, but it suits them. He pulls back slightly, squinting in the dark as he grins.
"Hi," she replies softly as she slips her hand around his neck, pushing forward and kissing him again. Deeper and longer and more. She tastes the red wine from his dinner, smiles against the moan at the back of his throat, and bites his lip when his wandering hand makes her gasp.
When they break apart, both look suitably disheveled and borderline delirious.
"I cannot tell you how long I've wanted to do that," he admits as they start walking to the car.
Her fingers twine with his as she glances up at him. "What made you finally do it?"
A smile flits across Darcy's face as he looks back down at her. "Timing... That and you look drop dead sexy."
A light burst of laughter erupts from Lizzie as Darcy tugs her close, kissing her again.
"It's about damn time, losers," Lydia yells among Gigi's giggles from the passenger side of Charlotte's car. "Seriously, get a room!"
This time, it's Lizzie who ducks her head against Darcy's chest.
Ten months later...
Lizzie rolls over in bed, burrowing under the covers as eases into consciousness. William's fingers run over her hair, toying with the ends until she nudges him with her leg, wrapping her arm over his chest tightly.
"Hi," she whispers, voice tired with sleep.
"Hi," he hums, his hand tracing the curve over her arm. His alarm goes off, and he reaches over to shut it off, returning back to her warmth. Lizzie's eyes flitter shut again as she settles into the rhythm of his breathing.
They flash open again when she feels cool metal tracing her hand instead of his fingers. She pushes up against him and braces on her arms, her hair falling like a curtain around them.
"I'm tired of holding your hand, knowing that the ring is just sitting in my pocket when it could be on your finger."
She grins, rolling her eyes at his sentiment. "That's a poor reason to embark upon a life of matrimony."
"Okay," he says, sitting up and tucking her hair behind her ears. "How about... as frustrating as I am, I want to spend the rest of my life waking up next to you, no matter how insufferable, how exasperating, how wonderful you are?"
Grinning, Lizzie leans forward and kisses him on the lips. "Sounds like the start to a most excellent adventure."