A/N: Happy New Year! This is the final chapter, thanks so much for joining me on this ride! (For the reviewer who asked how Will got home so quickly, he didn't really. He was just sneaky and arrived earlier than he said he would. My own husband did that once- pushing his departure date out a week, then arriving at my door a week early. Best surprise ever. Sorry if that bit wasn't overly clear!)
Grant Smith sat on the bench, holding a latte in one hand, and glancing at his watch on his other hand. 'Still a few more minutes to go', he thought, pulling his coat up higher. The wind whipped by him, chilling his earlobes.
Conducting an interview in a park was not his ideal venue, but when the reclusive Will Darcy agrees to talk after announcing his retirement, you don't haggle over the details. Checking his phone battery, he was reassured that it was full, and a test check found it was recording properly.
Grant stared at the playground in the distance. He shook his head in admiration at the woman braving the elements. She had on a thick coat, but he could tell she was svelte underneath it. There were two small children with her, playing on the equipment. He could faintly hear her laughing with them as they ran back and forth.
Grant checked his watch again, wishing he'd brought a newspaper or something to read. He could use his phone, but didn't want to risk wasting battery power. He spent a while following a plane in the sky, white jet streams streaking the crisp late afternoon sky. The woman in the distance was now pushing the two kids on the swing. A few other kids were running furiously about, playing tag or something. Grant couldn't help thinking he wouldn't mind a run himself to warm up. It was too cold for a guy born and raised in Texas. He heard footsteps behind him.
"Will Darcy." Grant smiled and stood, holding out his hand. "I'm Grant Smith, Philadelphia Gazette. Thanks for meeting me."
"No problem." Smiled the tall man, slightly awkwardly. He wasn't a man comfortable with the press, Grant reminded himself. 'It's easier to get struck by lightning than it is to get an in depth interview with this guy.' He smirked.
Will sat down, lounging comfortably in a pair of jeans and an oversize sweatshirt.
"So Will, you've come full circle, after a long, decorated career in the NBA. Thirty five years old, you're finishing up where you started playing, some twelve or so seasons later."
"Yeah, it's nice to finish out my career back in Philly, after spending time down in Houston, then Denver, then Los Angeles. But to be fair, my first professional year playing was in Australia, in Sydney." Will looked across the park as he talked.
"I'd forgotten that. That must have been a fantastic experience for you?"
Will looked to the reporter. "Yeah, it's a beautiful place. I met lots of great people down there, a few I've kept in touch with. It was tough being away from family and friends though, I have to admit. Thankfully it was just for the one season."
The reporter nodded. "So basketball has taken you across the world, as well as across the country."
"Yeah, I've been very lucky to be able to play the game I love against the worlds best, and get paid to do it." Will smiled. "It's a pretty good gig. Still, it's time to hang up the boots while I can still walk. The recovery time is taking longer and longer each game."
"Yes, I've never seen somebody put his body on the line more than you." He smiled genially. "So Will. Twelve professional seasons, what's your highlight?"
"Winning the championship two years ago, for the third year running."
"Blowing out my knee six years ago."
Grant winced. "I'll bet. Let's talk players. Who's your toughest opponent?"
Will rattled off the big names in the NBA, whilst Grant nodded approvingly with each one.
"And teammates? Who's the best guy you ever played with?"
Will smiled softly. "Charlie Bingley. Nobody read me better than Charlie Bingley."
The reporter furrowed his brow in confusion. "Bingley? I don't think I've heard of him?"
"You wouldn't. He was my teammate in college, at Pemberley University. He played in France for a few years, but slipped a disk in his back a few years ago. The team in my senior year was probably the best I've ever seen as far as team chemistry goes. We had such a good group of guys, that I still call my friends. Heck, I still see Charlie and Patrick and their wives twice a year on vacation." Will smiled wistfully. "Still, you were asking me about NBA days. My mistake."
Grant was listening with fascination to Will wax lyrical about his past. Normally the guy was so reticent it was hard to get more than three words out of him, he thought in astonishment. He decided to make the most of his talkativeness, and asked the usually avoided questions.
"Will, your activity on the court is equally as well known as your activity off-court." He felt Will bristle in preparation for the next question. "Your charity work and generosity is widely praised. What prompted you to become involved with gay rights, and also domestic abuse prevention?"
Will let out a small, relieved sigh. "I'd really rather my name be kept anonymous, since I don't do it for the recognition. I guess that's not exactly possible though." Will's face became serious. "Some women in my life have faced abuse at the hand of their partner, be it romantic partner or business partner. It wasn't always physical abuse, but it was always damaging. Domestic abuse takes many forms, and as a man in the community, I'm standing up to say NO. This is not on."
Grant nodded as Will continued. "And I support the gay community because a very good friend of mine is gay, and she's had a rough time coming out publicly. My own sister has also recently come out, so it's even more dear to my heart now."
"Thanks for that Will. I know how fiercely protective you are of your life off the basketball court."
"That's been the case ever since you were rumoured to be dating Anne De Bourgh, hasn't it?"
Will scrutinised the reporter. "Yeah, people believe everything they read, so sometimes it's better not to say anything. Anne's been a good friend ever since we were kids. We still get photographed now, with reports in the tabloids that I'm being unfaithful. Luckily my wife has a sense of humour." There was a silence, and Will cursed inwardly at bringing the subject up. Too late, the reporter seized on it like a dog with a bone.
"Your wife. You don't talk about her much in the media, if at all! Why is that?"
"She's a private person. She never wanted the fame and notoriety that comes with this life. It's one of the reasons I love her so much. I know she's not with me purely for the status."
"Fair enough. So how long have you two been married?" The reporter probed.
Will hesitated. Surely he could mention the most important part of his life in his final media interview ever? She'd understand, Will reasoned. Besides, there's no photos or anything. People wouldn't recognise her on the street. He gave a big smile.
"I married Ellie when I was, hmm, 25 I think? We're coming up for ten years of marriage, that much I know."
"That's a milestone in itself! Congratulations! So where'd you two meet? Was she a fan of yours?"
"We met at a game of mine, yes." Will said, his eyes twinkling. "But I'd hardly call her a fan. In fact, it was kinda the opposite at first. Ellie's the first to admit she knows little about basketball!"
"Maybe that's why you're still married!"
Will laughed out loud at this. "Ellie would agree with you there. She's always saying that I only noticed her because she wasn't impressed with me, like all the groupie girls were. Her words, not mine."
Grant laughed. "She sounds like a lot of fun."
Will smiled genuinely back at the reporter. "Yeah, she's the best person I know- she's my best friend. She's smart, and funny, and so so beautiful. She's honest, and keeps me grounded. She's perfect really."
Wow- thought Grant, looking at the tall man seated beside him. He's been married for ten years, yet he talks about his wife as though they're newlyweds. That's something special.
"It almost sounds too good to be true!" Grant joked.
Will smiled a small smile. "It wasn't always so rosy. We dated long distance for that year I played in Australia. It kinda forged our relationship I guess. We learned not to ever take a single day for granted."
"And you're a father too? How has having kids changed your perspective on life?"
Will nodded. "It changed everything. The moment I held our first son in my arms I grasped the meaning of life, you know? Ellie and I are in love, and we'd created this little person together, who relied solely on us for survival. That's my purpose in life, to provide for my family." He grinned. "Very caveman, I know."
Grant chuckled under his breath. "So how big is the Darcy family now?"
"The boys are eight and six, while our girls are three and one." Will's face flushed with pride.
"Four kids?" Grant whistled low. "Man, you must live for road trips!"
"Yes and no." Will laughed."It's great to play and be on the road with the guys, and get some peace and quiet, but pretty soon you're missing those sticky fingers and little giggles. Nothing beats coming home to a wife and kids. They don't care if you've won or lost the game, they just want to play Lego or have tea parties, or tell you what her crazy girlfriends are up to now."
Grant struggled to picture this great big man playing tea-parties, or fiddling with tiny plastic bricks. He suppressed a smile. "So Will, you've just announced your retirement. What are you most looking forward to once you hang up the boots?"
Will grinned. "Spending more time with the family. Having a Christmas together. Letting Ellie get back to work full-time as a counsellor, since she's taken so much time off to follow me around everywhere and raise our kids."
"And what do you plan to do post-basketball?"
"We thought we'd move to England and try our hand at running the family business. My Dad's getting on in years, it'd be nice to help him out."
"Oh yes? What business is that?" Grant enquired politely.
Will had a secretive smile on his face. "Property management, I suppose you could say."
"Well, Will Darcy, all the best with that. Good luck with the rest of the season, and thanks for everything. For the interview, and the last twelve years of playing. You've been a pleasure to watch. I'll write up the article, include your stats and career highs, and mail it to you when I'm done, before it's published. Sound good?"
"Thank you, Grant. Sounds great. See you later."
The two men shook hands, and Will sauntered off, in the direction of the playground, now bathed in the last golden light of the day. The woman was still there, bundling up the two little kids. They couldn't have been more than toddler age, and tottered around in their thick coats, toppling over occasionally.
As Grant tucked his phone away, and threw his cup in the trash, he noticed two brown haired boys rushing towards Will. He stopped to greet them, his arms flung wide. Scooping up the two boys in each arm, Will carried them laughing back to the playground. They scampered off, and the two little toddlers gave delighted squeals as he pretended to chase them. The woman Grant had noticed earlier was laughing now, silenced only by Will taking her into his arms and kissing her deeply in the amber light. Grant watched them embracing contentedly, as their four children played happily around them. Even from a distance, Grant could tell how besotted Will and Ellie were with each other.
Grant turned to leave, a smile on his face. It was obvious that Will Darcy loved the game of basketball, but he clearly loved his family more. This is where his heart lay. Some guys you worried about, when they stopped playing basketball. Grant knew instinctively that Will Darcy wasn't one of them. The Darcy's had a lifetime of happiness ahead of them. They would be just fine.