Chapter 1: An unexpected call
Charlotte stared at the clock in her office. Could it really be just 2pm? Was this, in fact, the slowest day ever? Could there be any other way to put off typing that report for Ricky any longer?
The phone shook her out of her reverie. She smiled. Yes, apparently there could be.
"This is Charlotte Lu."
"Charlotte. Hello. Good afternoon." Came the voice from across the line.
Charlotte's smile slipped as her eyebrows traveled upwards. Was that -
"This is William Darcy."
"Darcy?" She said incredulously. She cleared her throat. Probably not best to call a major donor by a nickname. "I mean, hello Mr. Darcy. How are you today?
"I'm well." He responded cordially. "And you? I trust things are well over at Collins and Collins."
"They are. Thank you for asking." She replied with the same measure of politeness, rather impressed with herself that none of the puzzlement that she was sure was plastered on her face was coming through the phone. She looked around the office, wishing that there was someone in there she could mouth, "what the hell" to.
She did it anyway, but having someone there with her would've made it seem less crazy.
After a long moment of silence, she said, "Um. Is there...something I can help you with?"
"Yes." Came the clipped replay. He cleared his throat. "It's about Lizzie."
Charlotte felt panic set in for a brief moment. It occured to her that William Darcy, in all his awkwardness and pronounced lack of game, was probably not the type to ask a girl's best friend about tips on wooing. If Darcy was calling her about Lizzie, it was probably something less personal, more worrisome. "Oh my god, did something happen? Is everything alright? Is she ok?"
"'No." He said.
"I mean, yes!" He broke in quickly, sounding flustered. "What I mean to say is that she is fine in that nothing monumentally horrific has occured, in which case you have nothing to worry about, but she is not fine in a more mundane sense of the word, which is to say that she's having a rather miserable day."
"Oh. Ok" She exhaled loudly, confused as ever and a little bit annoyed. She shook her head and huffed quietly, forcing her heart to slow down. "Well, um, thanks for telling me?"
"You're welcome." He paused, then cleared his throat again. "Informing you wasn't quite the reason for my call."
Something in Darcy's voice tipped her curiousity. Was he actually nervous? Charlotte grinned, her tension melting into glee. Looked like he was exactly the type of man to ask a girl's best friend tips on wooing someone. She fought back an urge to giggle. Looks like his game had improved.
"As I mentioned, Lizzie is having a rather bad day. One of the project presentations didnt go quite as planned. She was brilliant, of course, but certain parts that others were responsible for were not. She had a meeting with one of our...more intense board members after that. Howard Zatz, I believe he's on the Collins and Collins board as well."
Charlotte made a noise of sympathy. Intense was probably the nicest way to describe Howard.
Darcy snorted quietly in amusement. "Agreed."
"Poor Lizzie." Charlotte said, her heart aching for her best friend. She'd have to make sure to call later and cheer her up.
"Indeed." Darcy went silent once more as Charlotte rolled her eyes. He certainly took a while to get to the point. She heard him take a sharp intake of breath and could practically see him tucking his chin closer to his neck in nervousness. She'd nearly fallen over laughing when she'd seen Gigi mime it on Lizzie's video a few weeks back. As it was, she had to stifle the laughter bubbling up inside of her so as not to discourage Darcy from whatever inquiry he was building himself up to make.
"Yes, well, I was thinking that since all of you are unable to assist Lizzie on a day such as this, it falls to those of us who are available to help cheer her up. Since you're her best friend, I wondered if you had any...tips on how one might do that."
The grin that had fixed itself onto her face bloomed into a full fledged smile as she looked around the room in glee. She kept herself from fist pumping since mouthing words to herself, smiling widely and also fist pumping in an empty room was just a tad too insane.
"I definitely have some tips for you." She began excitedly, and began to list off the methods which would turn Lizzie's day around.
20 minutes later, Charlotte hung up the phone and leaned back in her chair. The conversation had actually been quite pleasant and almost friendly by the time they had hung up the phone. She had expected him to laugh or at least gently poke fun at some of the things she had enumerated, but all he had done was ask clarifying questions or say "hm" as though what she was telling him was the most fascinating thing he had heard all day.
Which, she reflected, perhaps it was.
One of the last things he had said to her was an earnest, "Thank you Charlotte. This was all incredibly helpful." A pause, then - "Lizzie will certainly appreciate what you've done for her."
Charlotte smiled, hoping that the warmth transferred through the phone. "I'm just a messenger. She'll appreciate what you've done for her. And so will I. Thanks for taking care of her."
A quiet moment, then - "It's my pleasure."
The affection in his voice had been obvious, as was the quiet longing. They had exchanged goodbyes and now here she was.
She stared at her phone, figuring out her next steps. Lizzie was too good at reading her and would know something was up the moment she started asking about her day. Best to do these things over text, where her gentle prodding would be less obvious.
Hey bestie, how's the day going?
A short wait. Then - Awful.
Well, at least you could always count on Lizzie to get right to the point. None of this hemming and hawing that Darcy seemed to be so fond of.
I'm sorry. :( What happened?
Lizzie typed out a two page text that basically summed up what Darcy had already told her, though with slightly more colorful language than he had used. And by slightly, she meant ridiculously. It must have really been quite a day.
Lizzie ended the text with - Sorry to dump on you. This day just really sucks. Wish you were here so we could watch Colin Firth movies and drink hot cocoa or something along those lines.
Charlotte sighed. The living in different cities part of growing up really did suck.
Me too. So promise me you'll do yourself a favor and make sure you don't mope by yourself tonight. Hang out with people. It'll make you feel better.
I don't really have that many people to hang out with here...
Charlotte rolled her eyes.
Yes, you do. You have friends there and people that want to be your friend. Put yourself out there. New year, new Lizzie right?
She clicked send and waited for a reply. She saw that Lizzie was typing back and sent one more text quickly.
I don't want to hear tomorrow that you spent Friday night in your dad's old shirt and your batman boxers, watching some NOVA documentary, eating beef ramen, and feeling sad all by yourself. Being with people will make you feel better. Trust me.
She waited long enough to worry that maybe she had been a tad too forceful with that last text. But, no, there was her phone buzzing with Lizzie's reply of -
It's eerie how well you know me.
Then - I promise I will make an effort to be social tonight.
Charlotte smiled triumphantly.
Good. I fully expect a picture later to show the fruits of your effort.
Ok, promise. :)
Charlotte put down her phone and grinned. It would certainly be quite an interesting night for Lizzie Bennet.
Chapter 2: Awkward pauses and beaming smiles
In which Lizzie and Darcy are frequently in close proximity and yet blanket nests are still nowhere to be found.
Guys. I don't know what happened. I meant for this to be two chapters AT THE MOST but it's looking like three is the magic number. Maybe four? Am I worst than GRRM right now? I haven't even gotten to the aforementioned lion king OR blanket nests, yikes. They will be present in the next one though!
Either way, thanks for sticking with me and reading. :)
Lizzie quietly opened the door to her office and glanced down the hall. She sighed in relief and locked her door. She walked quickly to the end of the hall and peeked around the corner.
"Don't worry, Howard left the building about a half an hour ago."
Lizzie spun around quickly at the sound of Darcy's voice. Too quickly, apparently, for her four inch heels as she found herself tilting backwards. She reached out on instinct for the closest thing to steady herself which, of course, happened to be Darcy himself.
More specifically, Darcy's tie and part of his shirt.
She managed to steady herself well enough on her own so as not to throttle him with his own tie. At the same time, her heart leapt up and lodged itself somewhere in her throat. From the surprise of being snuck up on, she thought forcefully. (Nothing to do with her closeness to Darcy or the warmth radiating from his firm hand on her waist, rooting her in place.)
She swallowed and looked at his hand then slowly drew her eyes up - sweeping her gaze over the length of his torso, over her fingers frozen around the red silk of his tie, finally landing on his eyes looking down at her. There were flecks of green in them that she’d never noticed before, making them glint in the dim lighting. She didn’t want to think too carefully on the look in them, or whether it was reflected on her own face.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, she could almost feel Gigi beaming in delight at the rather intim - compromising position she was currently in. Not that she could spend too much energy thinking of that right now. Most of her was concentrating on getting her heart rate under control.
(Because of the surprise and all, she thought. Of course.)
A door slammed shut behind them, jolting them both out of the moment. She shook her head suddenly and laughed weakly, prying her fingers open and taking a step back. She ran her hand down his shirt front in an effort to smooth his tie and rumpled shirt and not, as the Lydia voice in the back of her mind was saying, to cop a feel of a strapped mancake.
She snatched back both her hands and grabbed the strap of her messenger bag, interlacing her fingers in front of her.
"How can you -" she began, then stopped suddenly, flustered at how breathy her voice sounded. She took a sharp intake of breath and began again.
"How can you be so sure?" The question coming out softer, more earnest than she had intended.
Darcy's eyes widened slightly as his fingers twitched involuntarily against her hip. His eyes darkened, the gaze sharpening and growing soft all at once. She could feel each finger splayed out against her, the warmth seeping into her and making her feel flushed. She suppressed the urge to shiver against him and rushed on, clarifying her question.
"I mean, how can you be sure that Howard's out of the building?" she said, wincing as her loud, nervous voice shattered the growing tension between the two of them. Darcy reddened slightly and drew back his hand quickly, crossing his arms in front of him. Whether it was disappointment rushing over her, or relief, she couldn't quite tell.
Darcy cleared his throat and smoothed his tie before forcing a small smile onto his face.
"I have whoever is working security text me anytime he comes into or leaves the building."
Lizzie laughed quietly, more to dispel her anxiety than out of mirth. "So you can run away and hide before he can rope you into meeting with him?"
Darcy's smile became slightly less forced as he said, "I admit to nothing." He paused for a moment then said, "I'm sorry you had such a miserable day. If it makes you feel any better, to my knowledge you neither broke into sobs during nor after your meeting with him. That places you above more than half of the current employees here.”
Lizzie smiled, surprised at how genuine it was. She looked up at him and said, a teasing lilt to her voice, “Present company included?”
Darcy drew up an expression of mock seriousness.
“Again, I admit to nothing.”
Lizzie chuckled as Darcy smiled slightly down at her. After a moment, he said, “So, may I offer you a ride home?”
“Definitely.” She replied, same as she had done for the past two weeks.
(She had finally given in and surrendered the battle to the city’s unforgiving hills - although she would have taken it a step further from mere unforgiving and described them as brutally punishing. Two weeks ago she had accepted Gigi’s mid-day offer at a ride home after work, but somehow ended up alone in the car with Darcy later that same afternoon. It had been so surprisingly pleasant that she could barely muster up an accusatory tone in her voice the next day when she had asked Gigi about it.
“I had a thing - a tennis thing! Couldn’t miss it.” Though her tone had been more gleeful than apologetic. “But I heard it was good - I mean, you didn’t tuck and roll out of the car or anything - so obviously it wasn’t terrible...?”
Lizzie had huffed with amusement. “No, it wasn’t terrible. It was...nice. Good. Pleasant, even.”
“So, you would be willing to do it again?”
Lizzie had fought the urge to roll her eyes. “Yes, Gigi, I would be willing to do it again.” She had given her a long look then, twisting her fingers around the bottom of her shirt before saying, “I think your brother and I could be friends.”
The smile on Gigi’s face had been so blinding that Lizzie had almost been tempted to look away; instead she had returned her new friend’s smile and suggested lunch off-campus.)
The ding of the elevator brought her out of her musing.
She took a furtive look as the doors slowly opened, exhaling quickly when she saw it was empty.
She heard Darcy huff quietly next to her and turned to find an amused look on his face.
"I don't think he's lurking around every corner, waiting to ambush you with questions about the future of video app technology and your predictions on first quarter revenue streams." He said, then smirked ruefully. "That’s only happened to me once and I've worked here for almost a decade."
At her questioning look he shrugged and said, "Why do you think I have security text me now?"
She laughed and began to talk about her meeting with Howard, pulling an impression of his rapid fire questioning and frenetic mannerisms. Darcy laughed out loud at what she considered a particularly accurate depiction of what she could only describe as 'the most terrifying sound of human laughter the world might ever hear.'
It was always a pleasant surprise when she was able to move him past sheepish grins and small smiles. She smiled brightly at him, a warm feeling pooling in her chest at the deep rumble. It felt like friendship. There was lightness in her step stemming from the ability to unload so honestly after a long day (it had nothing to do with the way his hand lingered on the small of her back as he helped her into the passenger seat).
They settled into silence as he drove out of the parking structure, the low tones of NPR keeping the moment from being too still. The first time she had sat in this car, she had steeled herself for 25 minutes of stuttered conversation and brittle silence. It had been unfair of her, she realizes now, to think of Darcy still as that caricature with a bowtie and monotone voice. He had been nothing but gracious, giving of himself, rolling off questions about her day. He’s making an effort, she could have almost sworn she heard Charlotte hissing in her ear that day, at least try and do likewise! And so she had – asking him about the company, about the meeting they had both sat in on, about Gigi. It had been on that last point of topic that he had blossomed, the affection and care obvious with every word he spoke, even telling a story or two of their interactions that had gently poked fun at himself. Laughter had bubbled out of her, unbidden but not unwelcome, and she had decided then – Darcy and her becoming friends was not beyond the realm of possibility after all.
The quiet now was neither that brittle silence she had feared on that first day, nor the charged tension of earlier that she refused to read into. It was comfortable, the silence between two friends processing their own long days. She blinked rapidly for a moment then smiled, looking over at him. He caught her eye and returned her smile with one of his own, a questioning look in his eye.
“I was just thinking…it’s nice to have friends.” She said after a moment. She laughed to herself, thinking how pathetic that sounded, and amended the statement with, “I mean, in the city. Especially after a day like today.”
His smile widened and he beamed at her. Which, weird. Because Darcy and word beaming in the same sentence was not something she was used to thinking. And yet completely enjoyable to see all the same. She almost took out her phone and texted Charlotte – Dude. Darcy is beaming at me and it’s…weird? But in a totally pleasant sense of the word. – then thought against it. She wasn’t quite up for the reactions or questions that text might bring up.
He drummed his fingers lightly on the steering wheel and then said, “In an effort to move past such a day as this, would you like to go and get coffee?” He paused a moment.
She looked over at him as he stared straight ahead, eyes fixed intensely on the road. She blocked out Charlotte’s forceful texts, Jane’s gentle nudging phone calls, Gigi and Fitz’s unsuitable maneuvering; silenced their suggestions and appeals in her mind until all that was left was her own quiet thoughts. And from those quiet thoughts, she pulled the truth of it all and the truth was this: She and William Darcy were friends and she enjoyed spending time with him. So she cocked her head to the side, smiled at him and said, “Yes. That sounds great.”
Chapter 3: Something Good
Blanket nests, Lion King, and Harry Potter SceneIt! = Lizzie/Darcy cuddle time.
Severely canonballed by now. Thanks for everyone who read this, even though this got crazy long (where did 5000+ words even come from?).
Fitz blinked rapidly, unable to quite believe what he was looking at. Next to him, he heard Gigi make an effort to stifle a squeal of delight. He turned and glared at her. Apparently she was completely out of try today, because it still sounded like a small animal had just been stepped on next to him. It was a testament to how engrossed they were in their conversation that neither Lizzie nor Darcy seemed to notice the two of them lurking at the entrance of the living room.
He felt Gigi nudge him in the ribs and turned to look at her, eyes shining with triumph and pride. He fought the urge to laugh. Given the look on her face, he was surprised she hadn't just started dancing around the room, waving streamers and throwing glitter in the air in some sort of victory celebration. Before them were Lizzie and Darcy, sprawled out in the living, watching the Lion King on an 84 inch flatscreen. Or, rather, Lizzie was sprawled out on the living room floor, cocooned in what looked to be a dozen blankets and comforters heaped high on one another. Darcy was reclining on the sectional next to her, always too neat looking to apply the word 'sprawling' to. Lizzie had a wide, completely unabashed grin on her face, looking more relaxed than Fitz had seen her since he had first met her at Collins and Collins. Definitely the most relaxed he had ever seen her in the presence of Darcy. Darcy himself looked almost dazed with happiness; you could almost feel it rolling off of him in waves. His face was a look of utter contentment mixed with a certain amount of smugness and pride. Fitz took a glance around the room - at Lizzie nestled in a sea of blankets, bright and animated, surrounded by a smorgasbord of candy (which Fitz assumed were all of her favorites. Darcy was always especially into the details) and kettle corn - and grinned even wider. Hell, Darcy deserved to feel rather smug. The guy had definitely upped his game on this one.
Two hours earlier.
After a moment of silence, Lizzie turned to Darcy and said, "Do you think maybe we can go to a coffee shop that isn't that crowded? I know Lux has the best chai but it's always so filled with hipsters after five on Friday and I just am not in the mood to listen to eight different people say the same things about the Coachella lineup."
Darcy smiled at her. "Of course." He tapped his fingers idly on the steering wheel and furrowed his brow slightly before saying, "I have an idea."
"I am for the hearing of the ideas." She replied with a grin.
He glanced over at her quickly, hesitating for a moment.
"I was thinking that perhaps, that is, maybe we could just grab coffee at my house? We have a wide variety of coffee, all of it very good. Also, Gigi keep the house stocked with enough baked goods to rival most bakeries in the area, so that wouldn't be missing either." He looked over at her, seeming almost nervous, and took in her measured silence. "And I promise not mention Coachella at all the entire time."
Lizzie smiled weakly, though her stomach fluttered a bit. It wasn't the first time she would be over at the Darcy house, nor the first time she would be alone with Darcy in a social capacity. It would just be the first time both those things would be happening in conjunction. For a moment, the idea struck her as seeming strangely...intimate. In the next moment, she dismissed the idea. Her and Darcy were friends. Friends did things like go over to one another's houses and have coffee after a long day. Not only was it a nice gesture, it was also economical, as Lizzie had been spending far too much of her already limited funds on coffee and chai.
“That sounds perfect.” She finally said (and if there was a rather strangled quality to her voice, Darcy was nice enough not to point it out).
“Perfect.” Darcy echoed, beaming at her for the second time that night.
Somehow it was even more pleasant the second time around.
Somewhere between the car and the front door of Darcy’s massive house a wave of nervousness had overtaken Lizzie, leaving her breathless and jumpy. As she stepped through the front door she forced herself to take a deep, calming breath and banish any thoughts about literally running out of the door and to her cold, empty home - unforgiving hills be damned.
She felt a hand on her back and jerked backwards, colliding directly into Darcy.
For the second time that night.
She spun around quickly and looked down, willing her blush to disappear. After a moment she laughed shakily and said, “I really need to rethink the four inch heels thing.”
Darcy gave her a small smile and said, “May I take your coat?”
She shrugged out of her coat and handed it to him, concentrating an absurd amount on not toppling over onto him for a third time. At that rate, one might accuse her of doing it on purpose (which of course would be completely ridiculous).
She fell into step with him as he started off towards the kitchen, confused when he stopped abruptly and turned to her. She could see him swallow and take a sharp intake of breath. In the next moment, his head bobbed strangely, the muscles in his neck sharpening for a quick second. As though he had meant to tuck in his chin and then forced his head out the other way.
Part of her wanted to laugh at his obvious, conscious play at hiding a nervous tic. Most of her found it endearing and she had to twine her hands together as a sudden, irrational urge to tip her hand under his chin came over her.
“Why don’t you go ahead and make yourself comfortable in the living room and I’ll get the coffee started?” He said, motioning in that direction.
“Are you sure you don’t need any help?” She asked, though she wasn’t sure why she even offered. Making coffee wasn’t exactly a two person job and ducking out to the living room would at least give her some time to quiet her nerves.
“I’m sure I’ll manage.” He replied dryly, a hint of a smile on his lips.
“Well, say no more. I believe your incredibly comfy couch is calling out to me. Do you want me to look for something to watch?” She offered with a smile.
“Whatever you’d like.” He said.
“Then off I go.” She replied and spun around in the direction of the living room. She heard Darcy’s steps head in the direction of kitchen a moment later. She rounded the corner and stopped suddenly at the entrance of the living room, completely taken aback by the sight that greeted her.
On the floor was a mountain of blankets and comforters piled high in a rumpled nest of what Lizzie could only imagine was luxurious comfort; directly next to the blanket nest, well within arm reach, was a buffet of candy so varied yet specific - sour jacks, milk duds, peanut butter m&m’s, ferrero rocher - as though Darcy had somehow been able to catalog every single sugary sweet that she loved, including the ones that were always too expensive to get on a regular basis (which, of course, her waistline thanked her for). Near the buffet of candy was the largest bowl she had ever actually seen (really more of a cauldron than a bowl, she thought) of kettle corn so sweet she could smell it from where she was standing. Plastered on the gigantic flatscreen was the opening menu screen of The Lion King.
Giddy with excitement, warm with absolute delight, she shucked her shoes by the door of the living room and sank down into the pile of blankets on the floor.
“Oh. My god.” She said loudly. Perhaps louder and more vehemently than was advisable, as Darcy came careening into the room.
“Lizzie! Is everything al--” He said, slight panic in his voice, before looking over and seeing her cocooned in a nest of blankets with only her head peaking out. “Oh. I see you’ve found...everything.” He finished awkwardly.
She sighed contentedly and smiled wide at him, completely overwhelmed by his kindness. “This is amazing. I can’t believe you did this.” She met his stare, dark and intent, focused solely on her. She blushed and sank further into the blankets. “Thank you.” She said softly.
He cleared his throat and said, “You’re welcome.” After a moment, he said, “Although you should probably thank Charlotte. She was kind enough to take my call this afternoon and informed me of all your preferences for a day such as this.”
Lizzie blinked at him in surprise. “You called Charlotte?” She asked slowly, realization dawning on her. She had assumed that her texts to Charlotte had perhaps prompted her to call Darcy in an attempt to cheer up Lizzie. Except it hadn’t been that way at all. Darcy had gone to Charlotte first, had made the attempt to cheer her up. More than an attempt, judging by the massive spread before her. A wave of happiness spread through her, a mixture of gratitude and another, less definable sense of tenderness, leaving her face flushed and her fingers tingling.
She looked up at Darcy shyly, surprised to see him looking down at her apprehensively as though worried that he had done something wrong. “Yes -- well.” He began, his hands fidgeting at his sides. “I knew that Howard can be a bit much, overwhelming really - he really is our very own Miranda Priestly, though much less stylish - so I thought. Uh.” He cleared his throat. “I thought that the absence of Charlotte and your sisters shouldn’t preclude the small comforts of home. As it were. I realize it might be a bit much, so I understand if --.”
“Darcy!” She said, trying to bite back her laughter. She found his rather bumbling, rambling nervousness endearing, where it might have once been irritating. She smiled up at him. “This is really, really awesome and I appreciate it so much. This is the perfect end to a day like today, and I mean, I assume that this candy buffet is what heaven will be like, and oh my god, did you make a Devil Wears Prada reference somewhere in there?”
Darcy rubbed the back of his neck and looked at her sheepishly before smiling softly at her. “It was one of Gigi’s favorite movies for a stretch of time. I have seen it at least half a dozen times.”
Lizzie laughed and saw Darcy relax his shoulders. He stepped into the room, surveying the spread critically. “So, this is all to your liking then? Charlotte said that you liked blanket nests but was a little unclear as to what that exactly entailed.”
“Are you kidding?” Lizzie said as she stretched out and burrowed into the pile of blankets. “This is perfect. Seriously, these blankets? So soft. I didn’t even know they made blankets these soft. How you manage to get up and out of bed every morning is a mystery to me.”
Darcy pulled a face of mock seriousness. “It’s truly a struggle.” He paused and feigned a small shudder. “Although the thought of the wrath I’d have to face from board members for not leaving my bed is a good motivator.”
Lizzie made a face of disgust. “It’d probably make me want to stay in bed even more.” She wiggled her toes into the blankets, still surprised that something could be so incredibly soft. If she were wealthy, this was definitely something she’d spend money on. “You know how when you were a kid and you looked up at the clouds and they looked so puffy and soft? And you just wished you could wrap yourself up in it. I mean, even though later on you learn that if you did jump into them, you’d just fall right through and it’d be all cold and wet anyway." She looked up at Darcy, his face plastered with an amused look shot through with something soft and affectionate. Lizzie could feel a blush creeping up on her and quickly turned her gaze back to the blankets around her. "But, that’s not my point. My point is that these blankets feel like clouds look and it is beyond anything I could've ever imagined." She looked up at him and grinned slightly. "You might have some trouble getting rid of me. I seriously may never move from this spot ever again."
Darcy stared at her intently for a long moment. She could almost see him working through replies and disregarding them one by one. Finally, he shot her a wry look and said, "Well, that certainly wouldn't be the worst thing in the world."
She smiled. "No, it really wouldn't." She met his gaze for just a moment before flicking her eyes over to the tv screen. "So, are you going to actually sit and watch this movie with me or just stand there by the door? I mean, the couch is no blanket nest but it's still pretty comfortable."
Darcy smiled and sat on the sectional near Lizzie. He pressed play and sat back, enjoying the way Lizzie's eyes lit up the moment the movie began to play on the screen.
Darcy looked up and saw Gigi and Fitz hovering by the door. Gigi thought she saw the briefest look of disappointment flit over his face before it smoothed out into a gracious welcome. He waved a hand in greeting and said, "Are you two finished lurking by door?"
Lizzie turned and faced them, a smile lighting up her face. "Hey guys! I would totally get up and give you both a hug except for the fact that I'm almost positive I may never leave this spot ever again."
Gigi smiled and bounded into the room, collapsing onto the pile of blankets to give Lizzie a hug. Darcy raised an eyebrow at her and then looked over at Fitz, who waggled his eyebrows over at Darcy and tilted his head slightly in Lizzie’s direction. Darcy simply offered a rather smug smile at his friend, to which Fitz mouthed, “Way to up your game.” Fitz then turned to Lizzie and greeted her warmly, while Gigi leapt up and grabbed her brother by the arm, forcibly dragging him out of the room under the pretense of getting more drinks for the group.
The moment they were in the next room, Gigi grabbed her brother in a tight hug.
“William! I can’t believe you!”
She released him and took a step back, eyes gleaming in excitement. Darcy looked torn halfway between exasperation and his own brand of delight. Delight won out.
“Yes, well.” He angled his head in the direction of the living room. “It does seem to be going quite well.”
Gigi rolled her eyes but kept her smile on her face. "I don’t know why didn't just text me and tell me not to come home."
Darcy looked at her in disbelief. "What exactly are you expecting out of this night? Never mind. Don’t answer that. Anyway, I didn’t text you for two reasons. One, I am not going to exile you out of your own home. And two, you and Fitz are both required for the next part of the night."
"THERE'S A NEXT PART OF THE NIGHT?!" She yelped out in tone pitched so high Darcy actually flinched. She shot him an apologetic look and cleared her throat. “I mean, what’s next?”
He smiled and steered her back to the living room.
Darcy cleared his throat.
"So, I have something that all four of us can do together that we will all hopefully enjoy." He reached into the entertainment center and came out brandishing a metallic cardboard box. He handed it to Lizzie and watched her quizzical look transform into one of complete delight. Gigi peeked around William’s frame to see Lizzie holding Scene It! Harry Potter: The Complete Cinematic Journey.
Lizzie looked up at Darcy, eyes soft with affection. “Thank you.”
Darcy returned her gaze solidly, looking away before the warmth turned into the heat he was keeping just below the surface, and said, “Charlotte mentioned that you were something of a fan.”
(What Charlotte had actually said was, “Lizzie is obsessed with Harry Potter. The only thing she likes more than Harry Potter is winning Harry Potter Scene It! We all stopped playing the game with her because she’s just too good. She literally does not forget anything, ever.”)
Lizzie laughed. “I’m sure she wasn’t that nice about it. And unfortunately, I have to tell you that you’re wrong. The next part of the night may not be all that enjoyable because I am going to demolish all of you."
In the end, she only managed to demolish Fitz and Gigi. Halfway through the first round, Gigi declared that there needed to be some way to even the playing field.
“Fitz and I will be on a team together, because between the two of us we’ll probably have some sort of chance against you.” She had said, then smiled mischievously. “You can have William.” She had shot her brother a cheeky smile as he stared back at her, attempting (and failing) not to glare outright. “He’s only read the first four books but he is eerily adept at remembering details from the movies.”
Lizzie had turned to Darcy then, wondering, “Why only the first four books?”
Darcy had given Gigi a look of affection then, before answering, “I read the first four aloud to Gigi when we were younger. The fifth one she took to reading on her own, which was a boon for me. The length of that book makes me think that an editor, somewhere, was rather badly rebuffed.”
Lizzie's was somewhere between being offended for the sake of Harry Potter and tamping down the wave of attracti -- affection at the thought of Darcy reading the books aloud to Gigi. She abandoned both and instead just suggested they continue on with the game.
Two hours later.
Harry Potter Scene It lay abandoned on the floor, while Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince played on the TV. The four friends were scattered across the room, three empty wine bottles clustered on the coffee table, evidence of a night that had quickly gotten loud and silly ("Losing this badly will be a lot more fun if I'm a little drunk." Fitz had declared somewhere in the second round).
Lizzie looked around at the group, head slightly (though not unpleasantly) fuzzy from the two (or three - she couldn't quite remember) glasses of wine she'd consumed during the course of the night. Fitz was on the far side of the couch, leaning against the arm rest, his head slowly drooping onto his chest. Gigi had curled up next to him, her feet in his lap, and had promptly fallen asleep four minutes into the movie ("Wine always makes her sleepy," Fitz had teased, though his own eyes had already started to droop when he said it). Darcy was sitting on the edge of Lizzie's ocean of comfort, his shoulder barely grazing hers. He had migrated over at the start of the game at Gigi's insistence ("It'll be easier for the two of you as a team if you're right next to each other," she had said. It hadn't made much sense, but neither Lizzie nor Darcy wanted to go too far into an argument with Gigi), but hadn't moved even with a whole half of a couch available to him. Lizzie found she didn't mind, mostly because it was enjoyable to discuss the finer points of the narrative of Harry Potter, and then the nature of storytelling and adaptation in general as the movie went on.
The two of them had lapsed into comfortable silence as the movie approached its climactic battle. Yet she had something to say to him before the night's end. She hesitated for a moment then reached out to tap Darcy. He started momentarily and then looked down at her, eyes fixed fully on her face.
"Hey." She said, suddenly bashful. She had to admit that the full Darcy gaze could be pretty breathtaking at times (a voice inside of her, sounding something like Charlotte, snorted and said -- Breathtaking? You’re actually admitting that his eyes literally take your breath away).
"Hello." He replied, voice rough with wine and by a night filled with laughter.
Across the room, the tv boomed loudly for a moment. Lizzie instinctively leaned in closer to Darcy, even though part of her was sure he could still hear her just fine from where she was. She smiled, unsure and nervous, up. "I just wanted to let you know again how much I appreciate all of this. Everything you did tonight was just...amazing. Really amazing. And so nice and sweet and...I mean, you must be so busy - you're the CEO! But you did all this. It's just really...amazing." She finished lamely, and then chuckled with slight embarrassment. "Apparently it was so great that I can't think of any other word to describe it than amazing."
The corner of his mouth quirked up as he said, “It was no problem at all, Lizzie. I just wanted you to know that no matter where you are, you never have to go through bad days alone.”
It was a simple phrase, simply said. No grand proclamation of care or adoration, nothing out of the ordinary at all. And yet it landed heavily on Lizzie and seemed to sink directly into her heart, unlocking something small but vital. She reached out - touched by his kindness, his quiet way of affection - and grabbed his hand, squeezing it lightly.
“Thank you…Will.” She said softly, distracted by the way he had twisted his hand into hers and was now lightly running his thumb over her knuckles. His eyes widened slightly when she said his name, his grip on her hand tightening momentarily.
“That’s the first time you’ve called me by my first name.” He said roughly, his eyes darkening, stormy in a way she’d never seen.
“I really like your first name.” She said and then colored. That wasn’t what she had meant to say at all. She’d meant to make a comment about how he at least deserved to be called by his first name after all the trouble he went through tonight, or how they were friends and she needed to stop calling him by his last name, or some offhand joke about how they weren’t in the army. But his fingers tracing patterns on her hand and his gaze mapping the features on her face made it hard to speak correctly.
(Made it hard to think about anything but the way his hair would feel woven through her fingers, the softness of his lips on hers, the caress of his palm on her cheek.)
She took a sharp intake of breath and shook her head slightly, trying desperately to banish any thoughts of Darcy's lips or eyes or hands. Of course, the next moment made such a wish impossible. She felt his hand brush up against her cheek, reaching over to tuck an errant piece of hair behind her ear, his fingers lingering on the angles of her jaw. She leaned instinctively into his palm, her eyes heavy with wine and want, her heart pounding loudly in her ears.
A loud crash came from the tv screen, signaling the beginning of the climactic battle scene, jolting them both out of the moment. Lizzie felt a sudden heaviness in the pit of her stomach, a sense of anxiety tinged through with regret.
Darcy had dropped his hand from her face at the loud noise, though his other remained steady on her own hand. She made no move to acknowledge the way warmth leaked out through every touch from his fingertips, nor to move her hand from its place. With an extraordinary amount of effort, she tore her eyes away from his and turned to face the tv. Keeping her eyes fixed on the screen, she said, "I'm not really sure how I'm gonna get home. Gigi's the only one who drank less than a two glasses of wine here and she looks completely out."
She felt, rather than saw, Darcy shift nervously next to her. After a moment, he said, "It might not be the worst thing in the world to fall asleep in a blanket nest."
She glanced over at him and smiled shyly. "Far from it."
She looked down at their hands, his still on top of hers, thumb pressed in between her knuckles. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, making a decision quickly before her courage failed her. She twisted her hand beneath his, twining her fingers through his own and tugging him gently towards her.
"I may not be willing to move from this spot, but I am willing to share the space." She said, meaning to force a joking tone into her voice but only succeeding in sounding breathy and soft.
He moved closer, legs aligned along the length of hers, solid and sure next to her. His entire body felt tense, coiled and worried. She squeezed his hand in reassurance, trailing her thumb down the contours of his own. She felt him sigh, felt the tension leave his spine, his body relaxing into hers. She smiled and rested her head gently on his shoulder, looking straight at the screen. She knew that looking him directly in the eye would be too much like sinking (too much like falling), and whatever that lead to, she surely didn't want it to happen while Fitz and, more importantly, Gigi were in the room. After a moment, and despite the action on the screen, she felt her eyes drooping and her body sinking down further. She faintly heard herself say, "Goodnight Will."
The last thing she remembered before dropping off to sleep was his own voice rumbling, "Goodnight Lizzie," and a gentle pressure on the top of her head, like a kiss pressed gently on her hairline.
She fell asleep with a soft smile on her face.
Sometime in the course of the night, Darcy woke up shivering, a sharp ache in his neck and his shoulder half asleep. He peered down at Lizzie, curled up next to him with her head on his shoulder. The last thing he wanted to do was move, yet his shoulder and neck were screaming out in protest.
He began to move slowly, stretching out and sinking down lower into the blankets, making a concerted effort to do so without waking Lizzie. He let go her hand in an effort to brace himself as he moved and saw her eyes flutter open, glassy with sleep. "Hrmphh?" She said sleepily, blinking slowly at him. He looked down at her, her face half-hidden by her auburn hair. She was obviously still half asleep, and even though she was looking at his general direction, he could tell she wasn't really seeing him. He expected her to roll away from him and promptly fall back asleep. Instead she reached over his chest and grabbed his arm, pulling him towards her and then said, "your arm is freezing," in a voice still muffled by sleep. She laid back down and scooted backwards, eyes half-closed, and lifted the blanket, showing an empty spot next to her. He hesitated for a moment. "Lizzie, I don't think --"
She huffed impatiently, eyes now completely closed but brow furrowed. "Will. It's cold. You're cold. Warmth."
He found the entire thing so incredibly endearing that he had to physically clamp his hands in the blanket to keep from grabbing her face between his hands and kissing her awake. He peaked over his shoulder at Gigi's sleeping form on the couch. No, it wasn't an optimal time for that. But...soon, maybe.
Instead, he moved into the empty space next to her, laying on his back and tucking the blanket around them. She shot him a tired smile and scooted over to him, resting her head in the crook of shoulder as he moved to put his arm around her, resting it lightly on her back. Her arm snaked over his stomach, reaching out to grab his hand and twining her fingers with his own. She sighed lightly and said, “Better?”
He felt her smile into his chest briefly before feeling her completely relax into him, signaling her return to sleep. He breathed in deeply, contented and happy in a way he couldn’t ever remember being before, and closed his eyes. Moments later, he was asleep as well.
Gigi peaked through the curtain of hair covering her eyes, being careful to keep her breathing completely even and her body still. The early morning light filtering through the window and softly illuminating the sleeping pair on the floor in front of her. She watched them for a moment, contentment stealing through her body. She thumped her foot gently on the couch, seeing if either of them started awake, hoping that they wouldn't. Luckily, they didn’t.
She snuck her phone out of her pocket and opened her camera, checking and double checking that all sounds had been shut off. The last thing she needed was an ill-timed clicking sound to ruin the photographic moment before her. She focused the camera and took three shots of William and Lizzie, just to make sure. They were nestled together amidst a pile of at half a dozen blankets. The blankets were slightly disheveled to the waist, revealing her arm thrown across his torso while his own lay next to it, cupping her elbow. Her face was buried in his neck, her hair splayed out across his chest, tangled in William’s other hand.
She looked around for Fitz and found the couch empty. He must’ve gotten up and turned off the tv sometime in the night before crashing in one of their guest bedrooms. Which meant he would’ve seen Lizzie and William as well. They would definitely have quite a bit to talk about in the morning.
Gigi smiled wide as she swung her legs silently to the floor and padded silently out of the room and up to her bed. There was sure to be some awkwardness in the morning between those two, knowing her brother. But hopefully some sweetness as well. Gigi couldn’t keep the grin off her face as she laid in bed and unlocked her phone. She looked through her text messages, re-reading the most recent thread of conversation.
Hi Charlotte, it’s Gigi - William Darcy’s sister. I snuck your number from Lizzie’s phone. Just wanted to say that William told me how you helped him for tonight and I wanted to say thanks!
Hi Gigi - nice to meet you (sort of). And you’re welcome, although I didn’t really do that much. Your brother is really upping his game. Finally.
I know, right? It’s going really well, by the way. In case you were wondering. :)
I thought so. Lizzie hasn’t texted me all night.
Yeah, she’s a little busy pretending not to stare at my brother, while my brother pretends not to stare at her. Although I will say that wine has certainly been pretty helpful in the entire thing.
Ha! I’m totally gonna need to get details from her tomorrow.
At that point, the wine drinking and trivia gaming had gotten a little bit out of hand, and Gigi had set her phone aside.
She attached the picture she had just taken and texted Charlotte.
Presented without any commentary.
It was early, so she didn’t expect a reply. She set her phone aside and snuggled into her blankets, surprised when it buzzed on her nightstand. She opened it and laughed out loud.
OH MY GOD.
YEAH. I KNOW. Not quite sure how that ended up happening.
You ask your brother, I’ll tackle Lizzie.
Will do. Heading back to sleep now, will update you later. We’ll need to figure out a game plan on how to get the those two together. ;)
Gigi’s phone was silent for a few minutes before it buzzed in her hand.
You know, we may not need to.
Gigi smiled and tucked her phone under her pillow, happy to realize that Charlotte was probably right.
Later that day (after a morning that wasn’t half as awkward as she thought it would’ve been; after tangled limbs and muffled laughs and Will’s hands in her hair; after a homemade breakfast where she sat too close to him and was almost blinded by the force of Gigi’s smile; after a small kiss on the lips that felt more like a promise of things to come than a polite goodbye), Lizzie sat in her bed, staring at nothing but buoyed up by happiness and butterflies. She heard her phone buzz and saw a text message from Charlotte waiting for her.
How’d it go?
Well! Sorry I didn’t text you!
No worries, I figured you were having a good time.
Lizzie heard her phone buzz a second time and stared dumbly at the picture that had loaded up on her phone. She felt a blush heat up her cheeks but couldn’t help the wide smile that had broken out on her face.
Her phone buzzed once more and she couldn’t help but laugh out loud at Charlotte’s commentary.
Lizzie shook her head, making a note to chat with Gigi on Monday.
...That Gigi is a wily girl.
Yes, but that’s so not the point. The question is - what’s happening between you and Darcy?
Lizzie stared at her phone for a long moment, biting her lip, changing and deleting the text message three, four, eight times. Finally she typed out two words, the most honest ones she had, and clicked send before she could talk herself out of being sincere.