The first thing Lizzie Bennet ever finds herself regretting when it comes to William Darcy is rejecting his offer to drive her to dinner. It’s not just the hills that are unforgiving—it’s the wind, too, and the temperature, which has definitely dropped at least fifteen degrees since that morning. Lizzie tries to bundle up as much as possible, but there is only so much coat to pull tighter around herself, only so much hat to cover her head.
She’s just about to find a place to sit down for a moment—God, her calves—or maybe even hail a taxi, but then a car pulls up about five feet ahead of her and stops next to the curb.
The first thought that crosses her mind is kidnapping was not on the agenda. She peers through the passenger side window and sees none other than William Darcy, leaning over slightly so that he can speak with her. She takes another step and hunches down to look at him.
“Are you stalking me?” she asks, only half-joking.
“I—uh,” he swallows, and it gives Lizzie some strange satisfaction to know that she trips him up. “No, I’m not stalking you. I live in this direction.”
“Right,” Lizzie deadpans, and a few awkward seconds of silence pass.
“You seem—it is unusually cold outside,” he says next, and Lizzie doesn’t respond because, well, it is cold. “May I offer you a ride?”
Lizzie is about to say no again—she really is. She said she was going to walk, and she’s perfectly capable of it, too. But then a fresh gust of torturous wind hits her and her hair is flying around her face and her teeth start to audibly chatter. It’s an embarrassing family trait that Lizzie thinks is humiliating but Lydia thinks is hilarious, of course.
“Please?” Darcy presses, and that just about pushes her over. Manners.
“Sure,” Lizzie says, tugging on the door handle and sliding into the seat. The word comes off a bit harshly, conforming to the instinctual tone she’s assigned to him. So once she fastens her seatbelt she lets out a “thank you” that comes out softer, if still a bit stiff.
Darcy just nods and turns up the heat. Slowly, Lizzie feels her nose and cheeks thaw, and vaguely thinks about the fact that her hair is no doubt a downright mess right now. She also takes this chance to inspect the interior of the car. Somewhere in the back of her mind she always assumed Darcy had a driver, but this car fits him better than that assumption. The dashboard is sleek and the upholstery leather—the expensive kind you can smell—but everything is also weirdly…Darcy, in that it has some kind of strange antiquity to it. Strangely, it reminds her of the way he talks: eloquent and sophisticated, yet…distinctive at the same time.
NPR rambles very softly in the background, just enough to fill an otherwise uncomfortable silence. Lizzie thinks about how she touched his wrist twenty minutes ago and wanted to throw herself out a window afterwards. She had been intent on avoiding him at all costs after that encounter—had been intent on avoiding him since arriving at Pemberley, actually, but that plan had been promptly sabotaged by Gigi and seemed to be deteriorating exponentially ever since.
During the drive they speak once, when Darcy asks at which restaurant she will be dining. She answers with the name of the establishment, and they’re silent until he pulls up at their destination two minutes later. Lizzie pushes down on the buckle a touch too forcefully and is about to make a quick escape, shooting a “thanks” over her shoulder, when she hesitates.
“Really, though,” she says, not looking at him, “thank you.”
Darcy doesn’t reply immediately. He hasn’t quite been breathing for the last ten minutes (spending eight of those forming the exact words to ask her for the name of the restaurant), and certainly wasn’t expecting her to speak again. Her eyes are bright and her hair is wild around her face and the flush from the cold air still hasn’t left her cheeks; he knows that if there was any question of whether he still loves her after Collins and Collins—well, there’s not. Nevertheless, he manages to choke out a “you’re quite welcome” as she slips out of his car and shuts it softly behind her.
He doesn’t drive away for several minutes, even after she’s disappeared.
The party is…extravagant, to say the least. In fact, it’s pretty overwhelming. Lizzie tried to prepare herself, of course—thought she had done a good job, actually. Until she arrives, that is. Then she realizes that the tablecloths are legitimately silk and the centerpiece vases are crystal—real crystal, all fifty-some of them. And for a moment (or twelve) Lizzie is convinced she’s in over her head.
Needless to say, she only makes it an hour and a half before she has to step out onto the balcony for some air. The beautiful ice sculptures and lavish outdoor furniture don’t make things much better, but at least she’s free from the designer dresses and Caroline and, most importantly, Catherine.
Lizzie leans her hands against the cool metal of the railing and breathes deeply, trying to force the stress from her body. She reminds herself that she absolutely signed up for this—that it’s more than worth it, if it means that she’s with Will. More than worth it, if it means that she’s going to be attending these at the request of personal invitations, once her company gets off the ground.
She tries to convince herself of it, but it doesn’t work too well with Catherine’s snide comments budging the positive encouragement out of her head. She shivers at the thought of those brief conversations.
“Cold?” comes a voice from behind her, and Lizzie starts before looking over her shoulder.
“Will,” she breathes, and watches as he removes his suit jacket and puts it around her shoulders. His hand slides down her back to curl around her waist, his hip resting against hers.
“I apologize for startling you.”
“It’s okay,” she says. “Thank you for the jacket. Although, it’s a lot colder in there than out here.”
Will tightens his grip on her waist and dips his head a little bit. “Catherine is…testing my patience as well, to put it mildly. I will say something to her—“
“No, please don’t,” Lizzie requests, turning towards him. “I can handle it.”
“You shouldn’t have to,” Will sighs, and then places a kiss at her temple. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize,” she tells him softly, resting a hand against his chest. “I’m just happy to be here with you.”
“I am…exceedingly glad you’re here as well.” This time he leans down to press a light kiss to her lips. It’s comforting and sweet and makes Lizzie’s stress melt in a way that no number of deep breaths can. She shivers again, but not from the cold.
“I’m f-f-f-freezing,” Lizzie chatters out, fisting her hands in the covers and pulling them up to her chin.
“That is because you’re ill,” Will says, frustrated, as he walks around her side of the bed with a thermometer.
“You’re m-mad because I went to work,” Lizzie guesses, barely reaching out of the covers to take the thermometer from him and stick it under her tongue.
Will grips her hips with his hands to move her over, making room for him to sit on the edge of the mattress. “I’m not mad,” he tells her with a sigh. She raises a skeptical eyebrow, but remains mute. He reaches forward to brush a matted lock of hair away from her forehead. “I’m not angry with you, Lizzie. I merely don’t enjoy seeing you suffer.”
Her eyes soften and she uses the hand smashed between them nudge him a little bit. Will tries to refrain from rolling his eyes, but fails to keep his mouth from angling up at the corners.
“You’re ridiculous,” he comments on her inability to speak. “I don’t see why you couldn’t use the electronic thermometer.”
Lizzie rolls her eyes, and even though she always makes some ludicrous excuse, he knows that she uses a normal, “old-school” thermometer just to get under his skin.
A minute later she extracts the instrument and he snatches it before she can read it and lie again, like she did this morning (“It’s 99.1, Will; I’m going to work today.”).
“102.3,” he says, huffing out a breath.
“That explains things,” she responds, burrowing deeper into the covers.
“You’re as pale as a ghost,” Will observes, trailing his thumb from her temple to her chin.
“W-w-well, that’s abnormal.” It’s meant to come off as sarcastic, but her weakened, tired voice just comes off as…well, weakened and tired.
“I believe your sense of humor has met its demise,” Will says with a smirk, still gently tracing her jawline.
“It’ll be back in full force tomorrow,” Lizzie says, shivering again and tucking her shoulders before rolling onto her side.
Will lets out something that’s more eloquent than a snort of disbelief and stands up, but not before pressing a kiss to her forehead. Her eyelids close at the contact before opening slowly again.
“I’ll make soup,” he tells her, scooping something off of her nightstand before walking away. “Get some rest.”
It doesn’t occur to her until he reaches the doorway that he’s stolen her phone. She tries to sit up in bed, but only succeeds in lifting her head up a few inches. “Hey! What’re you d-doing with my phone?”
“You’re officially cut off from work, Lizzie Bennet. As soon as your questionable sense of humor returns, we can renegotiate.”
Lizzie groans and tips her head back against the pillows.
“I love you,” he says. A chill runs through Lizzie’s body again and she flips the covers up over her head.
“Sometimes too much,” she responds, her voice muffled from beneath the blanket. He chuckles as he walks away.
Lizzie flops her hands down against the mattress and puffs out an angry stream of air, tossing herself over onto her stomach. She’s tried sleeping on her back, and her side, and her stomach, and her other side. But nothing’s working, nothing at all. She can’t sleep, and it’s frustrating her to no end.
She tries shutting her eyes and counting to one thousand. She tries meditating. She tries pretty much every stupid method in the book, but nothing, nothing will keep her mind from racing and it’s all his stupid fault.
It’s not, actually—it’s hers. It’s completely and totally hers and Lizzie is trying to do everything to get to sleep except for thinking about why she can’t sleep.
(Denial has worked in the past, though, hasn’t it?)
(No, she hears fake-Charlotte state firmly in her head, and shuts that image down pretty damn fast.)
But if there is one thing she’s learned since…well, pretty much since birth, it’s that Charlotte is the very present, very resilient, very annoying voice of reason in Lizzie’s life, and she refuses to be ignored.
Lizzie groans and then throws off the covers, all too aware of the vacant spot next to her. She pulls the hem of her (his) oversized t-shirt down and slips her feet into the waiting bootie slippers that Will says look phenomenally adolescent but she knows he secretly loves. Then, pulling a spare throw-blanket around her shoulder, she pads out of the room silently, taking a deep breath as she goes.
She somehow maneuvers through the dark hallways completely by memory—it’s pitch black in the apartment—and her flawless muscle memory is only a testament to how deeply she’s gotten herself into this mess she calls a relationship.
(“Mess”because it’s so much more than that. “Mess” because she was too blind to admit that to herself, even though she thought she already had. “Mess” because that’s certainly what she’s made of it, after today.)
When she finally reaches the lounge, she sees his dark form splayed out on the couch, hair tousled adorably and mouth open just the tiniest bit. Her heart melts and then mends and then melts again, and she can’t move for a second because she’s too overwhelmed. Then comes the intense, overpowering guilt; she’s the one that instigated the fight, and he was still considerate enough to exile himself.
It started because he’s always been better at dealing with the intense emotions than she has. It sounds weird and perhaps uncharacteristic, but he’s learned how to hold them inside even when he thinks he can’t. She needs to express everything even when she doesn’t want to, and the internal deluge of feelings tends to build up until it freaks her out and, apparently, causes her to royally screw things up.
“Will?” she whispers, tiptoeing closer to him. She crouches down near his head and uses her fingers to swipe his hair away from his forehead. “Will?”
His eyelids flutter open slowly. “Lizzie?” His voice is hoarse and scratchy with sleep and it makes her heart ache. He blinks a few times to make sure she’s really there. She looks at him for a moment and bites her lip, because on top of the guilt she feels a million other things all at once just by being near him.
“I was cold,” she says simply. It’s a white flag of sorts, one that he has every reason in the world to reject.
Without even missing a beat, though, he holds up an edge of his makeshift bedding, edging sideways to make room for her. She crawls right in, still wrapped in her blanket, and burrows herself against his chest. There are tears in her eyes and she sniffles once after she feels his arms encircle her and hold her tightly to him. He’s entirely and unabashedly accepting of her presence, as if she hadn’t worked herself into a downright fit earlier, as if she wasn’t the worst girlfriend in the world.
“I’m so sorry,” she says quietly, but pointedly loud enough for him to hear. “I’m so, so sorry, and I love you so much.”
He presses a kiss against her forehead and tangles his feet with her own. “I will always love you.”
It’s forgiveness she doesn’t deserve, but one she’ll gladly accept. Because she feels everything just as keenly and genuinely as he does, and she never wants to hide from it again.