'Cornflower' is the first word Lizzie's still sleep-addled brain comes up with when she meets Darcy coming down the stairs. Cornflower, because his eyes are so stupidly that exact shade of Crayola crayon it's absurd. It's an insult to all of her blue-themed childhood artwork. William Darcy does not deserve cornflower, but there it is.
"Lizzie," he nods, managing, despite the diminutive, to muster all the gravity a normal person would assume for meeting the actual Queen Elizabeth.
It comes out as more of a grunt than a greeting. Which is still totally being nicer, whatever the little voice in her head that sounds suspiciously like Jane says, given that she's being asked to exchange pleasantries with Darcy first thing in the morning.
He makes a point of waiting so they can walk down together. It's weirdly polite. In that "I'm going to rely on perfunctorily courteous gestures in the vain hope no one notices how self-righteous and condescending I really am" way he seems to specialize in.
Darcy clears his throat. "You're up early today."
Her fists clench of their own accord. She gets it. He's usually already eaten breakfast by the time she straggles down. He's usually at the table fully dressed with preternaturally neat hair, all dry-of-wit and dumb-of-face, because he's a just a goddamn paragon of virtue and she's some kind of pajama-clad embarrassment.
Lizzie toys with the idea of suggesting he add 'always looks runway ready' to his checklist of characteristics for accomplished women before deciding to rise above it. Is there a patron saint one can invoke against insufferable douchebags?
Obviously this is the moment her Holden Caulfield Thinks You're A Phony t-shirt starts to ride up. She tugs it down at once and pretends not to notice Darcy pretending not to notice.
"Yeah, well. No rest for the wicked, right?"
Caroline just raises an eyebrow when they enter together.
"We were thinking of spending the morning by the pool," Bing offers.
It's Jane who looks at her thunderous expression and realizes what Lizzie needs right now is an obscene amount of tea.
As it turns out, Lizzie was only partly right in her conjecture: Darcy doesn't watch BBC miniseries in his boxers. He watches them by the pool, hiding behind his laptop instead of actually, you know, interacting with other people.
Including people who are supposedly his friends, because Caroline's been trying to engage him in conversation about The Hour for the last, well, hour.
"I just adore Anna Chancellor," Caroline muses, glancing from her screen to his. She's on the second season, from what Lizzie can tell from their exchange so far, but she seems to be spending most of her time watching Darcy make his way through the first. "Don't you think she's—"
"She's satisfactory," Darcy says without removing his headphones.
Something twists in Caroline's lips, but she doesn't say anything.
Lizzie throws her a halfhearted smile and sighs. This biography on Henry James she's reading isn't very interesting. She hasn't gotten a chance to really explore the Netherfield library, and she'd picked it out in haste. What's more, Bing and Jane are absorbed in one of their quiet, blissful tête-à-têtes that make Lizzie feel happy and cold all over at the same time.
Too bad you can't get a contact high from proximity to saccharine conversation.
Help meee, she texts Charlotte the details of her morning, fully intending to sound as whiny as a person can using electronic communication.
Her phone beeps a few minutes later: It can't be that bad.
Lizzie scrunches her face into an expression her mother typically describes as 'unbecoming'. It can and it is. The end is nigh, she sends. Then: You're trying to figure out how to roll your eyes via text right now, aren't you?
You're lounging by a mansion-sized private pool. On a gorgeous day. Getting to read for *pleasure*. Forgive me if I'm not terribly sympathetic to your plight :P
She looks up from her phone to see Caroline watching her intently. She's abandoned The Hour and her seat next to Darcy in favor of a pool chair opposite him, where the sun is brightest.
Caroline's smile is slow, deliberate. "I was suggesting you keep me company over here. You could use the sun."
"Here I thought my ghostly paleness gave me a youthful, ethereal look. Isn't that what Elizabeth Báthory was going for?"
"Should I start calling you Countess?"
Lizzie laughs and stands, stripping off her cover-up. "Fine by me."
She's slathered on enough sunscreen to render useless a solar array and is half dozing in her chair by the time she realizes Darcy's laptop has been closed, set aside. He isn't staring, exactly, but he keeps looking in her direction, his eyes (cornflower, her traitorous brain thinks again) practically boring into hers each time.
She turns to Caroline and stage-whispers: "Do we warn Darcy his eyes will dry out if he doesn't start blinking soon?"
Caroline smirks. "Hey Darcy," she calls out, "You know if you find something on this side of the pool so fascinating, you could always just. Join us."
"I could, but that would interfere with your motives."
She sits up straight. "And what's that supposed to mean?"
"It's quite simple. You're either sitting together in order to secretly exchange gossip, or because you're aware that sunbathing is a convenient excuse to show off your figures. If it's the former, I would only get in your way. If it's the latter," the corners of his mouth twitch, and his eyes flick over to Lizzie's again, "The view from here will do."
Right. Because she's supposed to be freaking flattered at the idea of Darcy gazing at her in her swimsuit. Lizzie rolls her eyes.
"How shockingly ungentlemanlike," Caroline mock-gasps. "How should we punish him, Lizzie?"
"Easy enough," she leans forward, mischievously, to make sure he can hear her answer. "We laugh at him. Now if only Darcy had some sort of character flaw we could use as our starting point."
His expression is inscrutable. "Are you suggesting I possess those faults you consider worthy of mocking?"
"Are you suggesting you have none of them?"
"I've always done my utmost to avoid the kinds of failings that make others ridiculous."
The earnest pomposity with which he says it is, in and of itself, ridiculous. Lizzie presses her lips together to contain her amusement.
"Such as, oh, I don't know, vanity? Pride?"
"Vanity is indeed a weakness, but pride—where it's earned, a proper amount of pride is no fault at all."
"Well then congratulations are probably in order for achieving that whole flawless human being thing, Darcy," she grins. "I'm glad you can grace us lesser mortals with your company."
Darcy's stiff hesitation at this is a thing of beauty.
"I suppose complete faultlessness isn't possible for anyone. My resentful temper, the fact that I will not change my feelings simply because others believe I should, certainly suggests the impossibility. My good opinion once lost, is lost forever."
"You know, you'd think I'd be happier about the fact that you're not perfect after all—but I can't really laugh at your willingness to hate everyone."
"Nor would I laugh," he replies, smiling, "At your propensity to intentionally misunderstand them."
Caroline clears her throat suddenly and Lizzie and Darcy both shift back, startled; Lizzie doesn't remember moving to the edge of her chair. The nape of her neck feels damp with sweat, like her frustration with Darcy has curled around her throat, prickly and red-hot because what the hell does 'intentionally misunderstand people' even mean.
"I thought I'd turn on some music," Caroline stands, sweeping her long hair over one shoulder. The look she tosses Darcy is strangely unreadable. "Bing, you know how to work the stereo system, right? The speakers are supposed to be built in somewhere—"
Lizzie snatches up a magazine and lies back down. To his credit, Darcy doesn't so much as glance at her for the rest of the morning.