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bright are the stars that shine, dark is the sky

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They talk, every night. They talk about everything and nothing and a million inconsequential inanities. It fills Will up, all the talking; it closes the distance. After the last month, the last six weeks, the ordinary expectation of a phone call every night is a gift.

It is an understatement to say it’s been an eventful month. There was Lizzie’s departure from Pemberley and the fallout from Lydia’s relationship with Wickham. There was the Domino demonstration, which did not exactly go as planned. There were amends to be made to Bing, and to Jane. Debriefing lunches with Lydia and Gigi and, eventually, with Lizzie. And after everything, Will had had to head back to Pemberley on his own. Pemberley has been home his whole life, and he’s found himself more than once this year delaying his return: a summer at Netherfield, a month in Oakland at Collins & Collins. Putting off going home to spend just a little more time with Lizzie Bennet.

When he’d come to Netherfield with Bing, to see him set things right with Jane, Will hadn’t thought he’d be there long. But he’d extended his stay a week, then two, spent afternoons wandering around boring, indistinguishable suburban subdivisions with Lizzie, going over the whole of their acquaintance. They made apologies and excuses for each other, corrected and quarreled about details and whole conversations. Lizzie had told him she’d decided to finish her coursework at home, to be with Lydia. She had enough information on Pemberley to finish her independent study—and, she’d laughed, a direct line to the CEO—and the final work on her thesis involved compiling data from her analytics to examine the community that had sprung up around the Lizzie Bennet Diaries and the last year of her life. Once graduation rolled around in May, she’d said, she wouldn’t have an excuse to hang around at home anymore.

“And in May?” he’d asked.

She shrugged, her smile coy. “Surprisingly, there are lots of people who want to be in the Lizzie Bennet business,” she’d said. “I’m pretty sure at least one or two of them are in San Francisco.” She’d paused. “I mean, if I had a reason to go to San Francisco.”

In response, he’d only kissed her.

He’s been back at Pemberley a week, working on rolling out Domino. Gigi’s demonstrations had been meant for in-house use only, and reining it all in has proven puzzling. He spends long days with Fitz and his programmers, in and out of meetings with PR flacks and consultants. And he gets texts from Lizzie a few times a day. (I’ve spent so many hours in this particular chair at this particular study carrel that the pressure over time has reshaped it to fit my ass exactly. The life of a graduate student is dignified and interesting.) (Understanding now why statistics was a required course but still not understanding actual statistics.) (Have seen my own face on my computer screen so many times today that I actually want to punch it.) (The library smells like cheese today.) (Taking a walk to clear my head. Wish I had some company.)

They talk at night, when he gets back. He puts in an earpiece and sits with his elbows on the counter in his kitchen, and Lizzie curls up on her back porch with a big sweater and a cup of tea.

“So what’s for dinner?” she asks. He hears her blowing over the top of her drink, imagines her there in the dark outside her house, her hair pulled off her face, her hands so small around the mug.

“Whatever’s good from the first menu I can find.”

“So you just never cook,” she says. “You have, and I’m only guessing, but since I’ve seen Bing’s house and the place where you work, I feel pretty confident about this, what is probably an insanely nice kitchen, and you order out every night?”

He smiles and pulls the ordering app up on his phone. “Not every night. There’s usually food here.”

He can almost hear her sit up straighter. “What does that mean, there’s usually food here?”

“I have a service,” he says. He’s avoided mentioning this the past few nights because while he knows it’s not that odd for a man in his position to employ this sort of thing, it’s going to end up on Lizzie’s list of Ways Your Life Is Super Weird: Rich People Are Like Another Species (I’m Sorry If That Sounds Condescending, Just Let Me Get Used to It (I Will Never Get Used to It)). She repeats that he has a service, and he explains that once a week, someone delivers seven nights of dinners to his apartment, leaves them in the fridge, and he reheats them when he gets home at night. “Generally, that’s what I do. But I’ve been away frequently and I suspended it for the last month or so. I haven’t gotten around to asking them to start delivering again.”

“Is it good food?”

“It’s quite good,” he says, and he orders burritos and rice on his phone. Something that will keep a few days.

“And what do you eat when they’re not delivering?” she asks.

“Take out. Leftovers. Often I stay at Pemberley so late, I just eat there. Cereal, sometimes.”

“Cereal,” she repeats. “Oh, Will. You are a bachelor.”

(She calls him Will. After they had declared themselves, as he’s come to think of it, she’d narrowed her eyes at him in thought and told him that it wouldn’t do anymore to call him Darcy; according to Lizzie, Darcy isn’t a heat-of-the-moment kind of name unless it’s being said to a cheerleader or a blonde or maybe a studious brunette with a tattoo on her hip. William, she’d reasoned, is far too formal to be an everyday handle, and it’s what his sister calls him. So, he’d asked, what will you call me? She’d said she’d think about it, which had been followed by a lot of kissing, during which she’d murmured, just “Will.” And that seems to have stuck.)

“You don’t, like, sleep at the office, do you?” she asks.

“Sometimes, I do.”

She’s quiet for a moment. “I don’t think I like that. To think of you working so late there that you just fall asleep on your couch. Like you don’t have anything to go home to.” He’s not sure how to reply to this, as the obvious answer that he doesn’t seems like it will make her significantly sadder. “You shouldn’t eat by yourself all the time, anyway, it’ll desocialize you. I’m going to talk to Fitz about this. Also Gigi.”

“I don’t think that’s what desocialization is, Lizzie.”

“Regardless,” she says, “you shouldn’t isolate.”

“I talk to you,” he tells her.

“Will. It’s not the same.”

It’s not, but it’s still nice. (Lizzie does talk to Fitz, who practically grabs him in a Vulcan nerve pinch to march him to dinner with Brandon one night the following week, and to Gigi, who starts showing up at the office with containers of salad and overly-salty soups at random times on random days so he can’t possibly put her off.) He and Lizzie video chat on the weekends, and much as he loves to see her face, he thinks he likes their evening phone calls best. Kicking off his shoes and lying on the couch in the dark, listening to Lizzie Bennet tell him stories about her life.

When it happened, when they’d come to their current, mutual understanding, it had been hard to say precisely what he meant. He’d wanted to say that his feelings were the same, but they weren’t, not exactly. His feelings when he’d confessed them in November were confusing and unsettling; without knowing how to be in love at all, he’d found himself in the middle of it, and it was terrible. There was this person, this idea of a Lizzie Bennet, who was all fire and intelligence and attitude and passion, and all he wanted was to be around her without any inkling how to actually be around her. He’d watched all the videos in one agonizing night and learned a little. He watched her weekly updates and learned more. He tried to observe his own behavior as well. And though he never really stopped being in love with Lizzie—he had tried, after that first, stinging rejection, he’d tried, as though being in love was a choice he could make and unmake, as though falling in love in the first place wasn’t contradiction enough to that idea—he’d thought being in love and falling in love two different things. He’d already fallen; he could live with that, let the blister of it toughen into callus and be part of him. He’d meant to keep his distance when she arrived at Pemberley, as best he could. He hadn’t counted on Gigi, or Fitz, or the internet, or on himself, on how very far he’d fallen without realizing he’d never stopped.

It would have been inaccurate, then, to say that his feelings hadn’t changed. So instead he’d told the truth: that everything was the same, but then everything was also very different. They’d been shanghaied into a gathering at Carter’s by Jane and Bing, who immediately took to a corner booth and left them to their own devices. Lizzie had been listless and quiet, and after a half hour of half-hearted conversation, she’d said the bar was too close and noisy and would he very much mind walking her home. It had been their first walk together. After a few moments of silence, and he, thinks now, hesitation on Lizzie’s part, they’d talked about Lydia, briefly discussed what had happened. And on the corner of the street where she lived, he’d stopped, his hand at her elbow.

“Everything I said, back in November, I didn’t say it well, I didn’t think—” He stopped, ran his hand down her arm and closed his fingers around her wrist, so small and cold and pale in his hand. “My feelings for you haven’t changed. Everything else I said...” He’d closed his eyes, shaken his head. “To say I regret it is inadequate. I respect you, and I respect whatever, however you feel, I would just like to know—if there is even the slightest chance, perhaps—”

Lizzie had turned her wrist in his hand, and for a moment she didn’t meet his eyes. She laced her fingers with his, taking long, slow breaths. When she lifted her face to his, she studied him for a moment, as though taking the measure of him, committing him to memory. Will felt everything inside him tighten and still, and when Lizzie’s lips turned up every so slightly, settle.

“I feel very, very differently than I did,” she’d said. “I would say that my feelings for you have changed... dramatically.”

That night, which he thinks is maybe the best night of his life, there had been a lot of kissing and hands and saying let’s not talk about that now. He had thought he knew Lizzie pretty well. He listens to her now, while he is alone in his apartment in the dark, tell him how she and her sisters, before they got the idea to actually stage an abbreviated version of Annie in the backyard with the Lus, would play an extremely complicated game of chase based on the characters of the play in which Lizzie was always Miss Hannigan, and therefore the chaser. He thinks that maybe that night they knew each other in essentials. They understood each other, their elemental selves, though they didn’t know the innumerable little details that would fill in the outline for a whole and complete person. And these talks, these hours he spends with Lizzie in his ear, telling her about his favorite restaurant in Oakland and the place in England where he puked the first time he got really, really hammered and how he hates socks because of the way they cut into his calves, this is the way they come to know each other.

It’s still a month out, Lizzie’s arrival in San Francisco, but graduation has passed and they’ve managed two weekends together since. It’s always startling, the moment he sees her, when she’s not just a voice in his ear but so very present, warm when he takes her in his arms and holds her close for a moment; she smells a little like honey and she hums whenever she returns his embrace. There is always a pause, a strange, tentative space when he feels all his awkwardness bubble up inside, and then Lizzie cracks a joke or calls him Darcy or kisses him soundly until it passes, and they learn to talk and share the same space and simply be. When she comes to the city for good, she’ll have a tiny studio apartment and a job as the social media coordinator for an animal rescue league, which she thinks is pretty much the best thing ever, as she can build her brand and spend her days looking at videos of adorable animals while finding them homes. They’re on the phone and she’s moderately annoyed at something that’s happened with her mother, and she sighs, “Sometimes, I just listen to myself and I think, I am the worst person. I am the worst person.”

Will rubs his eyes and settles back into the couch. He’s bone tired and sleepy, and instead of comforting Lizzie, he tells her, “Yes. You are.”

“You’re hilarious, Darcy.” She waits a beat. “I see how it is. You’re completely over this whole thing, aren’t you?” she asks, her voice teasing.

“I am. Distance has made you stunningly uncompelling.”

“Is that a word?” she asks.

“It could be.”

“Poor tired CEO,” she says. “I should let you go.”

“Don’t,” he says softly. “I want to hear your voice.”

“I miss you, too,” she says. “But since we’re talking about how wonderful I am, and I’ve spent the last three months immersed in examining the construction of my personal narrative and the communities, memes, and tropes that developed out of said constructed personal narrative and I am therefore so steeped in solipsistic navel-gazing—”

“Redundant.”

“So’s your face,” she laughs. “My question being—how on earth did you manage to fall in love with someone like me? I look back and I can’t think—I can remember times when, even though I didn’t know it then, now I think, there you were, butt-crazy in love with my rude, stupid face, but how on earth did you even begin?”

Missing her at this moment is a dull ache in his joints; he wants nothing more than to take her rude, stupid face in his hands and kiss her and kiss her and kiss her. Instead, he cracks his neck and decides he’s going to sleep right there on the couch in the clothes he wore to work. “I didn't fall in love with someone like you; I fell in love with you. I don’t think I could tell you when, exactly, if I wanted to,” he says. “It wasn’t as though there was a Lizzie switch that suddenly flipped—one day I just looked up and you were everywhere. I was at sea without ever having realized I’d left shore.”

“In a beautiful soup of metaphors,” she says. “I really am very fond of you, William Darcy.”

He closes his eyes. “And I of you.”

“Tell me,” she asks.

“I can’t,” he says. He wants to, and it’s not that he’s too tired for words; when he thinks of trying to tell her how he loves her, he feels as though he might break in half with the breadth and depth of it. It makes his throat too tight, and when he speaks, his voice is low enough to hurt. “It’s too big.”

Will imagines her, curled up on her bed in the room that’s no longer her room, awash in the glow of her mother’s ridiculous aquarium, smiling and playing with the hem of her nightshirt. She is so small and so great at the same time, and everything inside him lifts at the thought that maybe, soon, he’ll fall asleep with her head on his chest, listening to the easy rhythm of her breathing. Until then, he’s content to drift off with her voice in his ear, telling him how very fond of him she is.