Part 5 of 5
Day Five—The Wedding
Author's Note: It's not Will and Lizzy's wedding, by the way. And I'd like to point out that Shay Bo Bay called it. Twice.
A door slammed across the room, and Lizzy stumbled into consciousness, muddle-headed and confused. There was a hand cupping her behind, but that was okay. It was Will's. Her head was aching—she remembered blearily that she'd recently banged it against a tree—but it was resting half on Will's chest and half on the pillow they shared. In her sleep, she'd also thrown an arm possessively across his waist. He smelled very close and very comforting, like clean sweat and home.
She didn't want to open her eyes yet. This was the first time in weeks that she hadn't woken up in the middle of a nightmare. Besides, Will was still asleep: his breathing was still slow and even; she couldn't disturb him yet.
"Oh, good—you two made up," said someone in the corner of the room: Jane. Lizzy noticed the clipped strain in her twin's tone, but she didn't recognize she was being addressed until somebody else asked, "Zippy, you been fighting again? Aren't you supposed to grow out of that?"
"Dad?" Lizzy yelped, leaping into a sitting position. Will moaned a complaint beside her and tried to pull her back beside him, but Lizzy wouldn't let him. Ben Bennet was just by the door, wearing a grin that made Lizzy want count teeth and an ancient burnt orange ski-suit that clashed horribly with his red beard. "What are you doing here?"
"I was invited," said Ben, pulling off a dark green cap that had been topping off the outfit.
Lizzy wasn't sure if she believed this. "When?"
"Well, I'm happy to see you, too," Ben told his youngest daughter, folding his hat mock-daintily, pretending—at least Lizzy thought he was pretending—to be miffed. "Merry Christmas, while I'm at it."
"Who?" Lizzy wondered, flabbergasted. "Maggie?" But Maggie would've said something. She would know to say something—
Her stepmother came through the door, dressed more conservatively in black pants and a blue suede jacket, her graying hair in two long braids down her back. "No, I'm Molly, dear," said Professor Brettman-Bennet, lugging a brown leather suitcase over the threshold. Next to Lizzy, Will sat up, rubbing his eyes. "Hello, Will," said Molly pleasantly. Will turned toward the voice, blinking blearily.
"Maggie is Fitz's wife," Jane explained to Molly, coming from the kitchen to help with the luggage.
"Oh," said Molly, straightening as Jane took the suitcase from her. Her back creaked so loudly that Lizzy could hear it across the room; Lizzy couldn't help but think that wasn't normal.
"What's going on?" Will asked, an arm around her waist, yawning into his fist.
"I don't know," Lizzy said frowning. With a sigh, she dropped her head to rest on his shoulder, and he stroked her hair without seeming to think about it much.
"I invited them," Jane explained to her sister, and Lizzy noticed her twin's red hair was sticking around her head in strands.
Ben Bennet was grinning again, and that couldn't be a good sign. "I know something you don't know," he said in a sing-song.
It occurred to Lizzy that she might still be dreaming.
"I invited Mom, too," Jane added quickly, pressing her lips tight together.
It occurred to Lizzy that this was the nightmare.
Ben Bennet and Molly Brettman-Bennet were both grimacing now; there was a picture there if Lizzy could figure out where her camera was.
"Why?" Lizzy asked horrified. Will was still stroking her hair.
Jane dropped the suitcase just next to Lizzy and Will's couch. "We'll leave this here until it's time to take you to the lodge." She stopped abruptly, looking at her sister, and took a deep breath. "Lizzy, I haven't told you something. I need to tell you."
"Uh-oh," murmured Lizzy. She felt Will turn toward her, peering at her face.
"I'm getting married," Jane said.
"I knew that," Lizzy snorted, insulted.
"No, today," Jane explained.
Lizzy decided she was definitely dreaming.
She looked at Will, and Will was already looking at her, watching her with very wide, very sleepy dark eyes. Jane had already moved on.
"Dad, I told you already," she said irritably. "You can't wear that. I can't believe you even brought it."
There was something wrong with this situation—something more wrong than her father in an orange ski suit, her stepmother in pigtails, and her sister deciding she wanted to be married immediately. But Will still had his hand on her head; that was nice, comforting even.
"Why not?" Ben Bennet protested. "I won't ruin your pictures. I'm going to be taking them all. Everyone will be looking at you, so they won't remember what I wear."
Will was now motioning toward the edge of the couch. He wanted to get up.
"Trust me. They'll remember that—" Molly said nodding at the orange ski suit. "When did you buy that anyway? It had to be before the twins were born."
To get out of Will's way, Lizzy scooted to one side. The comforter slipped off, exposing her legs to the cool draft coming from the half-open door. She realized suddenly what was wrong with the situation: she was short one pair of pants.
"Come on. You can admit it: you're impressed that I can still fit into them, aren't you?" Ben asked Molly with a wide grin.
Lizzy snapped the comforter back over her lap with a small squeak of a gasp. Had she left them somewhere?
"Dad," Jane said sternly, "it's my wedding. Wedding."
No, she'd never put them on, Lizzy remembered that. She couldn't find her pajama bottoms the night before, so she climbed into bed with just the top, way too upset to search anymore.
"I let you wear whatever you wanted to my wedding," Ben muttered darkly.
Lizzy caught Will's arm quickly before he managed to stand up. "Pants," she said desperately.
Will blinked at her uncertainly and looked down at the flannel plaid pajamas he was wearing.
"My pants," she explained. "They're missing."
"Dad," Jane warned across the room.
Will transferred his gaze from his legs to the bumps under the comforter, the ones that were her knees. He tilted his head, trying to peer underneath.
"You have to find them," Lizzy insisted, glancing pointedly at the supposedly invited guests.
"Fine," sighed Ben Bennet.
Will heaved a quick double sigh and reached over to a nearby armchair that was holding most of his hastily gathered possessions. He tugged a pair of folded black pajama bottoms, studded with pink polka dots, from underneath the pile and dropped them in Lizzy's lap.
"Thanks, Dad," Jane said, kissing her father's cheek. "We've got a tux for you upstairs."
"You took them," Lizzy accused, trying to pull on her pants quickly underneath the comforter without drawing unwanted attention.
Will stretched, smiling lazily. "I gave them back, didn't I?"
"Will, you too," Jane said, and Will froze, wide-eyed and almost worried. "A tux," Jane explained. "Upstairs. For you. You're the best man, by the way. I don't know if Charlie told you…"
"Best what?" Will asked, suddenly looking more awake than Lizzy planned on being.
Since everyone's attention seemed to be diverted toward her sister, Lizzy managed to safely pull her pants on. To prove her newly-clothed state, she stood up and away from the comforter, pleased with herself.
"Don't tell me I've got to go through it again," Jane said, hands on her hips. "We really don't have time."
Lizzy then realized that while she was wearing both a top and a bottom, she was still in only her pajamas. Pink polka dot studded pajamas.
"It'll be fine," Molly assured Jane. "It's good luck for a wedding to run late anyway."
Lizzy wasn't so sure about how she felt about her stepmother seeing her in her pajamas. Especially when Will, the only other PJ-clad figure in the room, was escaping into a bathroom.
Jane paused, pressing her lips together thoughtfully. "Really?"
"Just look at us," Ben Bennet was saying, slipping an arm around his wife's waist. "Married ten years late."
Thinking someone might like to sit down, she took the comforter off the couch and stumbled over to the bedroom she shared with Will. The last thing she heard before she used her foot to nudge the door shut was Jane saying, "Okay, we really don't have time for that." Then there was the bed, and then the down comforter on the bed, and then it was all looking so comfortable. A little later, Lizzy might have been aware of Will saying something about the shower, but she couldn't be sure, snuggled tight and warm between the covers and the mattress, face pressed into a lonely pillow.
"Lizzy, you might want to get up."
That was Will. He had one hand on her back, just between her shoulder blades, and he stroked it gently with his thumb. Lizzy mumbled something—she couldn't muster any actual words, though—and tried to burrow under her pillow.
"You'll be upset with yourself, if you don't."
Lizzy shook her head a little, smelling Will in the sheets and liking it.
"Will it help you any if I find you some coffee?" he asked.
Moving the pillow slightly, just a little away from her face, without opening her eyes, Lizzy made some affirmative noises, and the hand disappeared from her back. Lizzy giggled a little to herself and settled down to enjoy herself five more minutes.
"Here." There was the clatter of ceramic mug on wooden nightstand. "Two spoons of sugar and a bit of cream. Did I remember correctly?"
"Yep," Lizzy murmured, opening one bleary eye to see the white mug Will had placed right next to her head. "Thanks." She stretched lazily, her arms spread wide and then wider, reaching to the edges of the bed and pulling the comforter halfway off her with her toes. She rubbed her cheek against the soft cotton on the pillow and closed both eyes, still not ready to face the day.
Then she opened both eyes—a good warm-up for getting out of bed—and noticed Will, leaning against the chest of drawers, his shoulders drooping, his head bent. He had taken a shower recently; his dark hair was dripping. He was only wearing a towel; she commended her decision to open her eyes, appreciating especially the smooth, pale lines of his chest. One of his hands drifted idly over the bowl of soup she'd left on the top of the chest. It was cold now but still mostly full, because she'd forgotten to get herself a spoon. And, she admitted to herself, because her appetite had abandoned her the night before. Spilling it burnt the appetite right out of her. She watched his gaze wander, and she followed it, noticing the carved wooden box he'd given her for Christmas, sitting on the carpet where she'd left it the night before. Some of the quotes she'd left unfolded and scattered around the box; crumpled tissues hid between them.
Lizzy sighed, dropping her head further into the pillows, wishing that she would've had the presence of mind to clean up a little before Will came back into the room. She must've been half-asleep when he came in; she couldn't even remember getting up to unlock the door.
"I'm sorry," he was saying. His voice was strangled and so quiet that he sounded as if he was very far away.
"It's really not that big a deal," Lizzy said with a self-conscious shrug. "It was just that I was already upset—"
"You don't need to make excuses for me," Will said sharply. Lizzy would've scowled at his tone if she hadn't known that he wasn't angry with her, only himself. "I understand what I've done. It was stupid and needless. I was wrong, and I'm sorry. Terribly sorry. Unspeakably sorry."
Lizzy didn't feel it was right to mention this, but she figured that for being unspeakable sorry, Will was pretty talkative. But she had expected this. She'd only heard little bits of what Giana had yelled at Will, but she knew that a talk was on its way. She decided that her coffee didn't have to get cold while she waited it, so she dragged herself into a sitting position and picked it up daintily, keeping her fingers to the handle and the other coolest bits of ceramic. No use burning anything else.
"I should've known," Will was saying. "I would've been terrified if I thought something had happened to you. I know how difficult it is to allow yourself to need someone else, and to trust them, and I still acted as if I didn't."
"Didn't what?" Lizzy asked.
Will paused, pushing some of his wet hair from his face, blinking at her. Lizzy wished that he were closer. She would've have brushed it away for him.
"Didn't…" Will repeated confused.
"Didn't know or didn't care?" Lizzy asked, sipping at her coffee to hide a smile.
Will's shoulders drooped a little more. "You're not taking me seriously." His mouth fell slightly open, hurt and vulnerable. Lizzy resisted the temptation to kiss it better.
"Sure I am," Lizzy replied, cupping the mug gingerly, feeling the skin stretch painfully across the back of her burnt right hand. "It's just you're taking the apology part of the making up process way overboard."
"What do you mean?" Will asked, beginning to frown. A worried frown, like he was sure he'd done something wrong again.
"It was enough for me that you were sorry," Lizzy admitted, the mug settled between her hands.
"But—" he started, but he stopped himself, abruptly folding his arms across his bare chest.
He didn't say anymore, but she still knew what he was thinking: that he had been sorry and she had known it and she had still not let him return to the room. What he didn't know is that she considered it, but she knew that it would upset him more to see her in the middle of the floor, her face a mess, scraps of poems and tissues scattered around her. Plus she hadn't been ready to stop being alone, not yet.
She watched him struggle to keep the frown off his face. She didn't know how to explain that part to him. To tell him why she needed room enough to put herself back together, she would have to explain more of why she was really upset, what had really scared her, and explain more about the dreams. About what it was like to dream about losing him night after night and then to find herself in that kind of waking nightmare. But that wasn't a conversation to start before she'd finished her first cup of coffee.
Lizzy braced herself with a large gulp from her mug and tried again. "Will, it's really okay. I did overreact, but it was more me getting scared than anything."
"I hurt you," Will reminded her. His head was still bent, and she couldn't see his face. "You can't tell me everything is all right, if I hurt you."
"Will, couples to hurt each other accidentally," Lizzy pointed out. "It's part of the package. It's normal."
He didn't answer. He didn't even move.
"I know I've hurt you, without meaning to," Lizzy said. She knew that she hurt him every time she didn't agree to marry him, but she didn't want to bring that up, not yet. "You forgive me, right?"
"Of course," Will said. He looked up, and Lizzy could see the crease of a frown sitting between his eyes.
"So, how is it any different?" Lizzy said, sitting back against the cushions.
"When you hurt me, you usually have a very good reason, and you're quick to make up," Will explained in a forced, light tone. He was looking at her hand, and when Lizzy realized, she stuffed it under the covers, out of sight. "When I hurt you, it's usually abject stupidity on my part. And I usually make it worse when I try to make it better."
Lizzy realized that they were coming pretty close to the Am-I-a-good-person? talks again. She sighed. "You've never hurt me the same way twice."
Will looked up sharply now, openly scowling again.
"No, listen," Lizzy ordered stoutly, putting her mug back on the nightstand and turning back to Will seriously. "You learn from your mistakes. You've changed since we met. For the better."
Will liked that. His head lifted a little higher and looked her in the eye now, but he wasn't comforted yet.
"Also, you seem to be forgetting one extremely important thing: I love you," Lizzy said quietly, "and I love you more every day we spend together."
Will really liked that. The corners of his mouth lifted, and he said, "I suppose we will have to spend more time together."
Lizzy wasn't fooled. He wasn't cheered up yet, not really. That wasn't what Will needed to hear. "I won't ever leave you, Will." He looked at her again, startled; the smile was gone from his mouth. "Not without coming back, and never without saying goodbye. I even said goodbye to my mom, the day I ran away from home."
"Only because you wanted her to ask you to stay," Will said quietly, but he was still meeting her eyes.
Lizzy smiled slightly. Under the covers, she ran a hand over the smooth burned skin on her right hand and felt the cool metal of the engagement ring soothe it a little. "And what makes you think that the same doesn't apply to you?"
Will did smile then, really smiled, widely and happier than she'd seen him since she'd handed him the plans of Pemberley.
Lizzy held out her arms and said reproachfully, "You're not going to make me get out of bed to give you a hug, are you?"
Will crossed the room. Unfortunately, he didn't lose his towel like Lizzy was hoping. Fortunately, when he came to the bed, he didn't waste time standing in front of her awkwardly or making jokes. He kissed her, a hand over her hair, and then she reached up to hug him tightly. When he was holding her and her arms slid around his bare back, she pressed her chin to his shoulder, and the fear came back to her. She was going to have to explain the rest, but not right now. It was easier just to hold Will and pretend that the idea of losing him didn't still scare her.
"Wanna know something funny?" Lizzy asked quietly.
He kissed the top of her head. "Hmm?"
"I had the weirdest dream," she told him. "I dreamed that we were out in the living room, and Dad shows up, then Molly, and then there's Jane saying that she's decided to get married today, and suddenly I'm not wearing pants—"
Will let her go, staring at Lizzy incredulously. Lizzy wondered for a moment if she'd shocked him by leaving changing the subject so abruptly, but then the door opened and Charlie strode in carrying two garment bags. His hair was up in all angles as if he'd been running his hands through it all morning.
"Will, your tux. You'll need to wear that long underwear we gave you underneath it," Charlie was saying, lying one of the garment bags on the bed beside the couple. "And Lizzy, Jane had me bring down your bridesmaid's dress. You're the maid-of-honor; you know that, right?"
Lizzy was staring at Charlie, open-mouthed and horrified, her arms frozen around Will's waist.
Will patted her hair comfortingly and told Charlie, "She knows."
Lizzy scrambled out of bed, rushed toward a pile of bags in the corner, and started searching through them in a panic.
"Lizzy, is there something wrong?" Charlie asked in a very wary tone that made it clear that he didn't really want to hear about it if there was.
"You're getting married. Today," Lizzy said, unzipping a pocket of her camera bag and pulling out a film canister. She rattled it next to her ear, listening to see if the film was still inside. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Well, we considered just eloping, but we decided a few of our friends might not forgive us," Charlie said, as Will unzipped his tux apprehensively.
"If I don't have enough film," Lizzy said, dropping three film canisters on the chest of drawers and wading into another pile of luggage to resume her search, "I probably won't forgive you."
"Your father, he probably brought film," Will pointed out, tugging the garment bag off the tux.
She gasped and rushed to the doorway. "Dad!" she cried.
Ben Bennet was in the middle of the living room, fingering a small, silver object on an end table. He was dressed now in a tux, and his hair had been neatly combed. "You're not ready yet? You girls are supposed to leave in fifteen minutes to get your hair done or something."
Lizzy ignored that. "You have film, right?"
Ben Bennet looked horrified. "What kind of photographer do you think I am?" He paused and added, "What kind of father do you think I am?"
Lizzy heard Will snort skeptically behind her, but she was too busy being relieved to reprimand him.
"Please tell me this isn't yours," Ben Bennet asked Lizzy, holding up the silver object with pleading eyes.
"What is it?" Lizzy asked squinting around the brilliant light streaming through the window behind him.
"A digital camera," Ben said slowly.
Lizzy let out another low, long sigh of relief. "Oh, duh. Digital. I don't need film."
"Lizzy," Ben Bennet said sternly, "what have I told you about digital cameras—"
"Charlie!" shouted another voice, female and harried from the stairwell. It was Jane, wearing a white terrycloth robe, her hair hanging around her face in wet, red strands.
"Yeah?" Charlie shouted back.
"I'm coming downstairs," Jane called, easing herself down one step at a time, her back pressed to the wall. "Wherever you are, don't move. I'm going to run straight back up in a minute. I just need to get some makeup from my purse."
Lizzy stared from her sister to her future brother-in-law.
His eyes closed tight, Charlie explained to Will, "Bad luck, you know. To see the bride before the wedding."
"Will, are we sure I'm not still dreaming?" Lizzy asked irritably, dashing back into the room and snatching clean underwear out of her luggage on her way to the shower, but she turned to smile when Will began to laugh.
It was a good wedding.
Will had originally been apprehensive about a surprise wedding held outdoors on the day after a Christmas snowstorm, but he was warm enough in the wool tux Charlie had handed him and the new long underwear underneath. Of course, some of the other guests probably couldn't agree; Will noticed a couple dozen of them shivering ranged out as they were across the snow-shoveled patio of the Antler Chandelier Lodge. Mrs. Bennet especially, wearing a heavy gray overcoat nearly too small for her and a scarf and hat in a horrific shade of pink, was making a big show of the chill, blowing on her hands and stamping her feet. It was possible, however, that she was only throwing a tantrum, letting everyone know that she didn't care for being excluded from the ceremony.
That was Jane and Charlie's compromise—the separation of guests and participants: they would have preferred a small wedding, but Mr. and Mrs. Bingley demanded their rights over their son's guest list, insisting on inviting nearly eight hundred of their closest friends, neighbors, rivals, and business associates. Because of the short notice, the wedding date, and the distant location, less than three hundred were able to come, and those that did arrive were restricted to the lodge's patio, overlooking the ceremony on the slope below. (To soothe the ruffled pride of the most arrogant guests, Fitz was clever enough to comment loudly that they would all be warmer, next to the fires that the resort lit across the patio.) The result was that on the slope, there was the illusion of a tiny wedding: only a priest, a bride, a groom, two bridesmaids, two groomsmen, and—after a short debate and a great deal of complaint from the bride's mother—one Ben Bennet to give the bride away.
With their backs to the lodge, it wasn't difficult to believe that they were alone here on the mountain: Jane and Charlie, with Will, Lizzy, Giana, Fitz, Ben Bennet, and the priest spread around them. It didn't take much efforts to ignore that it was a ski resort they stood on, with the valley spread out under them, laid white with fresh snow and dotted with dark trees, sparkling and bright in the afternoon sunlight.
Jane and Charlie didn't seem to mind much at all, the cold or the crowd or even the landscape below. They were standing together, hands clasped, gazes locked, listening and fidgeting as the priest said a few words about the sacrament of marriage. They were very happy, and Will was glad for them and less jealous than he had expected to be.
Lizzy was stunning. Not that the others weren't also very attractive. The suits were cut well, and someone—probably Maggie—had convinced Fitz to comb his tuft of red hair flat. Jane looked very nice, of course, in a white dress with so much floaty fabric that Fitz had mentioned earlier that she might be mistaken for a walking avalanche. In the high-collared velvet dress that Jane had forced on each of her bridesmaids, Giana looked entirely too pretty to be his little sister. But Lizzy…
She was simply stunning. His breath fell away if he looked at her too long.
It might have been the dress: it was a very pretty shade of blue, one that nearly matched the sky, and its shape followed her curves rather too well, so snug that Will wasn't quite sure how she'd managed to fit an extra layer underneath. It might have been her hair, arranged curly and glossy and pulled mostly back, or it might have been the flush in her cheeks, planted there by the chill and the excitement. But there was such life in her and a great deal of joy, an infectious kind of joy that Will couldn't help but feel every time her bright gaze met his.
He wanted to marry her.
Perhaps not right away. Perhaps it was still too early. It was entirely possible that he and Lizzy were still too young and much too stubborn to share a life just yet. Jane and Charlie were really too mild to have the sort of arguments that Will and Lizzy had. Most of the Fitzwilliams' scuffles were resolved when Fitz deferred to Maggie's better judgment, but neither Will's nature or Lizzy's would allow for that sort of relationship. Auntie Cindy had once mentioned that the relationship of Will's parents had been a passionate one, before their pride had kept them from speaking to each other. Will couldn't bear to risk that with Lizzy.
Still, it would be the kind of future to look forward to: life with Lizzy at Pemberley. It might not be an easy life, or a peaceful one, but life was supposed to be a journey. And sometimes a battle, and it nearly always seemed as if the battle was half-won when he knew Lizzy was with him, even if they were the ones fighting.
He wanted Lizzy to marry him.
He couldn't understand it. He had tried, of course. It wasn't that she was too young: Jane was only Lizzy's elder by minutes, and Lizzy had proved more mature than her twin on several occasions. It might be merely that she felt her career needed the bulk of her attention; her habit of independence and self-reliance would certainly account for that. It could simply be that Lizzy wasn't ready to settle down quite yet: there was too much energy in her, perhaps. She wasn't even able to stand still through this simple wedding ceremony, much abbreviated in this weather. She kept darting back and forth over the snow, running—nimbly enough for snowshoes—to frame the shots she wanted. Part of him wanted to capture her and hold her in one place until it was all finished, but he knew that she would only hold it against him for the rest of their lives. He contented himself instead with simply watching, smiling a little when he heard his sister smother giggles, and waiting for Lizzy to notice his attention.
He wanted Lizzy to want to marry him.
It bothered him, of course, that she didn't but not as much as it once had. In the middle of the tour, for instance, when he had seen Lizzy the least and when he had been rather too persistent with his proposals. That had been one of the times that Lizzy had hung up on him as she threatened to do, in the middle of his record-breaking twenty-third proposal. He had been upset, bothered enough even to ask Maggie about it, which was always quite risky, even if both Fitz and Charlie had been tucked away sleeping in the back of the tour bus.
Maggie had told him that there was probably a very Lizzy-like reason for the refusals, something tied to her will and her independence and the strict boundaries in which Lizzy allowed herself to be loved.
Will had already known this, so Maggie had added that it was actually a very good sign that Lizzy was so vocal about telling Will what he was doing wrong. "It means that Lizzy's training you for the rest of your life," Maggie had explained.
Will heard a shutter click, very close by, and glanced sharply to his right to see Lizzy, stepping back slightly and framing a shot of both him and Fitz. Then she cradled the camera in one hand, smiled widely at him—an instant away from a laugh, and mouthed "I love you" as emphatically as she could.
He would have responded, but she was already bounding back to stand docilely next to Giana, respectful now as the priest asked Charlie if he would love and cherish Jane as long as they both lived.
They had plenty of time, Will reminded himself. He knew that Lizzy loved him—loved him more everyday, she'd said. She'd promised that she wasn't going anywhere, nowhere that Will wasn't invited to follow.
It was enough--he decided, watching her cheerfully take another picture, standing just where she was—what he and Lizzy shared.
He could wait, until she wanted what he did.
He could wait as long as she needed.
The wedding cake was in glorious ruin: it had been the red velvet kind, and it had been delicious. It was majestic in its turmoil. The three bottom tiers had been ravaged and reduced to dark red crumbs, white icing, and an assortment of scattered decorations, shaped into ribbons and small, round balls, all silver and edible. Only the top tier was untouched, barely eight inches in diameter and the silver icing bow as fresh as it had been at the beginning of the reception, almost four hours before. It definitely deserved a picture.
It may not have deserved the half a roll that Lizzy had devoted to it, but the cake-cutting had managed to take up over two rolls, twice that if their dad's pictures counted. Besides, Lizzy was a little giddy. And the cake was really good. And Ben Bennet hadn't thought to take any pictures of a devoured cake, she told herself smugly; he was too busy dancing.
"Jane Elizabeth Bennet," said a voice behind her, and the smug smirk fell from Lizzy's face.
"Hello, Mother," Lizzy replied dully.
"Don't 'hello, Mother' me," Mrs. Bennet sniffed. Lizzy lowered the lens but couldn't make herself look up from the shot glass in her mother's hand. It was almost empty, and the lime at the bottom had been sucked almost dry. "Like you haven't been avoiding me all night."
Lizzy bit her tongue. It was pointless to try to explain that she hadn't been avoiding anyone. She and her mother had been in sight of each other from the moment Lizzy arrived at the hairdresser's with Jane, Giana, and Molly. It was just that they hadn't been alone together. Lizzy was usually careful to make sure that she wasn't alone with her mother. Things were always a little easier between them when Mrs. Bennet had some distractions to keep her occupied, distractions that today included a newly wedded daughter and an agreeably wealthy son-in-law.
"And you should look at me when I'm talking to you," Mrs. Bennet added sharply.
Lizzy swung her camera over and framed a quick shot: her mother, wearing a dress suit made of eggplant-colored silk; heavy pearls hung from her ears and her neck, borrowed probably from Aunt Grace. She had gained weight since Lizzy had seen her last, at Thanksgiving. She had both hands on her hips, even the one with the shot glass. Her cheeks were almost as bright as her outfit. Click.
"Not through the camera," Mrs. Bennet scolded, and Lizzy lowered it again warily.
Her mother was drunk.
This was going to be a problem.
"And what have you done to your dress?" Mrs. Bennet asked scowling. She took a step back to look Lizzy over but wobbled a little doing it.
Lizzy looked down and again smoothed the velvet material across her stomach self-consciously. Her long underwear had been first to go: Lizzy had changed out of it just as soon as they'd gotten back inside, before dinner started, and it was stowed in the coatroom next to Will's jacket. It was still too hot though at her seat, with a fireplace built high and hot just behind her, so she'd snuck away at the end of the toasts and begged a pair of scissors off the concierge desk. A brief trip to the bathroom freed the velvet dress of its high collar, half of both sleeves, and several feet of skirt.
Will would have appreciated the story, he'd probably mention fairy-godmother .com, but to her mother, Lizzy explained only, "It was hot."
"It was classy," her mother corrected, "and very pretty until you took it upon herself to change it."
Lizzy reminded herself that she'd already had several compliments on her alterations, one of them from the concierge who'd lent her the scissors. But the customer service was very good here; he might have been paid to suck up a little bit.
"You'll scare off all your suitors if you don't take care of yourself," Mrs. Bennet continued.
"I don't need suitors, Mother," Lizzy reminded her quietly. "I have Will."
"And where is he?" Mrs. Bennet asked.
Lizzy turned to point toward her table, where Will had volunteered to stay behind and baby-sit Zarine so that Fitz and Maggie could dance. When she'd last seen him, just before the wedding cake had distracted her, he had the baby in his lap, leaning over the baby and speaking earnestly, probably telling the baby stories about Fitz's younger years that Will would have to warn Zarine never to repeat. The table was abandoned now, champagne flutes risings unevenly from the table; even Zarine's high chair was empty.
"You should really keep better track of your men," Mrs. Bennet said, and Lizzy felt her jaw clench, hearing her mother sounding so smug. "You've already scared off one fiancé. You can't afford to lose another one."
Lizzy didn't bother to correct her mother. She couldn't afford to lose her temper. This was Jane's wedding; she shouldn't have to rush over and play peacemaker now.
"You're twenty-three years old," Mrs. Bennet informed her, "and you're not getting any younger."
Besides, the Bingleys' guests were already gossiping about the bride's family. No need to add fuel to the fire.
"This is your best chance," Mrs. Bennet was explaining, a step away from grasping Lizzy's shoulders. Her voice was thick and clumsy with drink.
Lizzy decided her best chance was in keeping herself occupied. She turned her camera stubbornly and silently to the dance floor, small and cramped in the crowded lodge. The majority of guests was old and dignified enough to keep things from getting raunchy, but this was the time of night and the stage of intoxication when the couples in love or lust began leaning on each other. Next, they would re-familiarize themselves with each other's bodies. There were dozens of couples that Lizzy had never met, and also Fitz and Maggie dancing by the nearest speakers, but it was Jane and Charlie that Lizzy wanted more pictures from.
"It's your time now," Mrs. Bennet insisted.
Lizzy caught a glimpse of white, whirling skirt, somewhere in the middle of the floor, but that was all. She consoled herself with a shot of Fitz, clicking his heels in the air to make Maggie laugh.
"You've got to act now, when he's still chasing," Mrs. Bennet was telling her. "Otherwise, he'll lose interest when you're not careful, and find someone else. Then, you'll be alone."
It probably was no coincidence that her mother was making this point as Ben Bennet waltzed by with Professor Brettman-Bennet, his eyes closed, his hand perilously close to the professor's bottom. For a moment, Lizzy pitied her mother and paused in her clicking.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Bennet took this as encouragement and continued, "You should marry him fast now, before—"
"I don't know who you're talking about, Mrs. Bennet," interrupted a very British voice, sharp with anger, and Lizzy felt a hand envelop hers. Just before she managed to drop her camera in surprise, Will caught it deftly with his other hand. When Lizzy looked up, Will's scowl was harsh and furious and directed entirely at her mother. "However, since you seem to be talking about me," Will said, maneuvering himself so that his arm was now around Lizzy's waist and his body stood between Lizzy and her mother, "let me assure you that I'll marry Lizzy when she'll have me, not before, and that I'll never find anyone else." Will paused, glancing at Lizzy, and spent just enough time being surprised at his own outburst to give Mrs. Bennet time to button up her shock and close her mouth with as much dignity as she could. "If you'll excuse us, Mrs. Bennet," Will added, in his usual distant tone, guiding Lizzy firmly away, "I've come to dance with your daughter."
His scowl fierce and purposeful and pointed somewhere in the distance, Will then began crossing the floor with great long strides, and he was taking Lizzy with him. She glanced back to see her mother tugging her eggplant suit into place carefully and brushing something invisible and probably non-existent off her skirt. Lizzy snorted softly and looked up at Will, who was guiding them around the dancing couples carefully, his hand moving to cradle the small of her back.
"You didn't come to dance with me," Lizzy said slyly. "You came to rescue me."
"And what if I did?" Will replied, his scowl tight. "She's a terrible woman, Lizzy. I'll tolerate your father; he's fair harmless. But your mother—she needles you on purpose. Like a child that wants attention, she tells you terrible things, untrue things, to get a rise from you. She shouldn't speak to you that way. You shouldn't let her speak to you that way. I—" He stopped abruptly, stopped speaking and stopped moving, so they stood still in the middle of the room and forced the dancers to move around them. Then he turned to her with a sheepish wince, head bowed and angled toward hers. "You aren't really angry, are you? I'll go apologize if you like, but I'm not sorry, not really. She's awful, your mother. She might even be worse than Aunt Catty, although that may—"
Lizzy dragged his head down and reached up on tiptoes to plant her lips on his; Will kissed her back eagerly, his hand on her back pressing her tenderly closer. "I'm not mad," she said quietly, in case he hadn't noticed.
"Oh, you liked that, did you?" Will murmured, impressed with himself and dropping several smug kisses along her brow.
"Yeah, I kind of did," Lizzy admitted smiling.
"Brilliant. It's nice to do something right for a change," Will confided to her in a loud, hoarse whisper. "It's very difficult to tell with you, Lizzy. Oftentimes, I make an attempt to be gallant, and you'll tell me I've made an ass of myself."
Lizzy opened her mouth and then closed it again. "I'm sorry," she said, because he didn't know what else to say.
"It's quite all right," Will assured her, patting her hip affectionately. "I'm accustomed to it now. It hardly bothers me anymore."
"You were very gallant," Lizzy told him grinning, mostly to see how he would respond.
He beamed. "Thank you." He kissed her briefly and triumphantly. "This is good. This is positive reinforcement. I feel as if I'm being properly trained now. Now, would you care to dance, Miss Bennet?" he asked graciously and even added a small gallant bow. Unfortunately, he misjudged the space around him and accidentally bumped into two well-groomed elderly strangers dancing behind him.
Lizzy giggled, despite herself, despite her hand clapped over her mouth. It was unusual for Will to be clumsy, and he never talked this freely, but now…now he sounded a lot like Giana did, in her most talkative moments.
"Terribly sorry," Will said quickly, wincing and scooting closer to Lizzy. "Oops," he added to her in an undertone, "I do believe those are Charlie's grandparents, but his grandmother has had so much face-lifting done recently, it's very difficult to tell.—Of course, if you prefer, you're free to resume your camera work. I'll wait. I'll wait forever if I have to—" Lizzy smiled and opened her mouth to tell that was sweet, but Will grinned wickedly and added, "But I should warn you: if I have to wait longer than ten or twenty minutes, I'll send Fitz or Giana or someone to whisk your camera away so we can have our dance."
"Are you okay?" Lizzy asked, peering into his face worriedly.
Will straightened, pushing his hair from his eyes absently and blinking several times. "Certainly," he said with a brief smile. "Why?"
"I think that's the most I've heard you say at once since…" Lizzy considered. "Forever. Well no, actually, since Pem—"
Then Lizzy interrupted herself with a gasp, wide-eyed and shocked, when she felt someone small, blond, and long-haired hug her tightly around her waist. "Found you!" cried Lydia happily. Before Lizzy could work up a response, she pushed two fingers in her mouth, whistled sharply over her shoulder, and called, "Giana! Over here!"
"Lizzy, it's your cousin," Will said, stepping slightly back and looking at Lydia apprehensively, "the one that frightens me."
"She scares you?" Lizzy repeated aghast, her arm still lying across her cousin's shoulders.
"I scare you?" Lydia echoed delighted, both arms still wrapped around Lizzy's waist.
"Did I know you were coming?" Will asked Lydia with a cold, stern stare and immediately turned to Lizzy. "Did we know she was coming?"
"Will, it was a surprise wedding," Giana reminded him, her head appearing over her brother's shoulder. "That means we weren't supposed to know anyone was coming."
"Giana!" said Will with a wide, happy smile, and he dropped an arm across her shoulders and squeezed it affectionately. "You've changed your clothes." Giana glanced down at the jeans and striped button-down shirt she was wearing and frowned defensively, but Will only commented, "Don't you think you're a bit underdressed?"
"Jimmy and I have a shuttle toward the airport in twenty minutes," Giana reminded him dryly. "Our flight's been delayed all day long, and we'll probably be bumped to tomorrow's earliest flight, but I don't quite want to travel in a bridesmaid's dress. I rather doubt they allow blue velvet through the American airport security anyway. Besides," she added in a whine, "it was rather hot—"
"Yep," Lizzy agreed with a solemn nod.
"I love what you've done with yours, though," Giana added with a small smile in Lizzy's direction. "I might change mine, but…ooo," she said, eyes wide and worried. "I've just remembered: I forgot to pack it; it's still in our closet. Would you mind packing it for me, Lizzy? Please?"
"Sure—" Lizzy said.
"Wait. You're leaving?" Will asked.
"Nope, I just got here," Lydia chirped grinning, her long hair swinging behind her. To Lizzy, she added, "I would've gotten here in time for the ceremony, but our flight got delayed too. Heard it was beautiful, though. The wedding, not the flight."
"Lizzy, did we know she was leaving?" Will asked with a slight, bewildered frown and Lizzy nodded and tried not to laugh.
Her hands on her hips, Giana told her brother sternly, "You're not to have any more champagne."
Lizzy gasped, mouth gaping.
"I had only one glass," Will protested, drawing himself up a little taller, like he was trying to gather his dignity. "It was for the toasts; it was unavoidable—"
"You got drunk off one glass of champagne?" Lydia asked, shaking her head disapprovingly.
"I am not drunk," Will replied, insulted. "I'm tipsy."
"Maybe not, but it explains why you're acting so weird," Lizzy said with a bemused, affectionate grin.
"I am not acting weird," Will protested with a hint of temper, but he paused to think it over. "Am I really acting differently?" he asked, and Lizzy nodded, wrinkling her nose.
"You haven't seen this before?" Lydia asked her cousin. "This is the first time you've gotten your boyfriend drunk?"
"Drunk is a rather strong word," Will complained.
Lizzy shook her head. "He doesn't drink. Well," she added with a cheerful grin in Will's direction, "usually."
Lydia frowned, pressing her lips together hard, very close to disapproving. "Really?"
"No, not for years," Giana explained.
"Oh," said Will flatly, and the three others turned to him to see him eyeing both his sister and Lizzy's cousin suspiciously. "Do you two know each other?"
Giana clucked her tongue under her breath, frowning, and looked to Lydia for an answer.
"Lizzy, how do they know each other?" Will asked.
"We're in the same club," Lydia answered with a dangerously straight face. "WBWW: Women By Way of Wi—"
"They both crashed at my apartment," Lizzy interrupted quickly. "Back in April." If Giana wanted Will to know that she'd asked Lizzy if she could meet Lydia, then that was Giana's responsibility.
"So…" Will said slowly, looking from one college sophomore to the other. "You know each other; you're…acquaintances."
"We're friends," Giana corrected, and when Lydia looked at her, a smile—a real smile, Lizzy noticed—spread across her face. "Will," Giana said, in a sharp tone that made Will stand to attention. "We've got to talk," she blurted and immediately turned to Lizzy, hugging her swiftly. "Bye, Lizzy. Come see me when you get back to New York, all right?'
"Um…okay," Lizzy said, holding Will's gaze when he looked back at her half-panicked as his sister took his arm and dragged him away, toward the corner of the room farthest from the speakers. Then he accidentally knocked into someone else, a man about her father's age, and broke her gaze to make his apologies. "Should I be worried?" Lizzy murmured.
"Hmm? About what? You mean, are we going to have a repeat of last night's shout-fest?" Lydia asked innocently, and she grinned slyly at Lizzy's narrow-eyed frown. "As soon as she saw me, Giana dragged me aside and filled me in. Let me give you a quick preview—" Lydia cleared her throat and took on a very bad, very high-pitched British accent: "Oh, Will. You're not really so much of a bastard. You're my brother still, and I'm quite fond of you. Blah, blah, blah."
"Giana doesn't sound like that," Lizzy snorted.
Lydia grinned back, swinging her hair over her shoulder. "Yeah, but you get the picture, don't you? It's almost like you're actually over there and getting in some eavesdropping action."
Lizzy smiled. "It's good to see you, Lydia. Jane didn't tell me you were coming."
Lydia's grin hardened a little, and there was a new cold glint in her eyes as she glanced away, over the dancers to her right. "Jane didn't know," she said carefully. "The groom invited us."
Jane and Lydia were no longer close. The last few months in the apartment that the Bennet twins shared with their cousin had been tense: with Jane so blissfully in love and practically living at Netherfield, and then with Lydia still heartbroken over Wickham, and the baby. There had been fights. Lydia turned out to be one of the few people who knew how to find Jane's last nerve and step on it.
Lizzy grimaced sympathetically. "Charlie invited you?"
"Charlie…Or Charlie's mom," Lydia murmured with a half-smirk. "We live right down the street from Mr. and Mrs. Bingley. Boston's a small neighborhood after all."
Lizzy squeezed Lydia around the shoulder and pressed her lips gently against her cousin's forehead.
"I'm fine," Lydia said, smiling a little and reaching up to squeeze Lizzy's hand. "Mom's not: she's at home, pouting because her own god-daughter failed to invite her to her wedding. Dad's here, though. Over there," she said, pointing out Uncle Jeremy by the olive bar. His hair was grayer than Lizzy remembered, and his belly strained against the button of his navy blue suit.
"Are you really okay?" Lizzy asked quietly.
"Yep," said Lydia with a cheerful, empty smile.
"Lydia…" began Lizzy worriedly.
"So Will doesn't drink?" Lydia interrupted.
Lizzy sighed and bent her head. She remembered what Will had told her once, in the early days of the Jane-Lydia scuffles: "You can spend a lifetime trying to sort out your family's problems, Lizzy; they'll only develop new ones." She'd gotten mad at the time: Lydia had still been too raw for Lizzy to hear any criticism toward her cousin. But now it made her feel a little less anxious, a little less guilty.
"No," Lizzy replied finally.
"Not at all?" Lydia asked flabbergasted.
Lizzy considered explaining about Will's father, but all she said was, "He does stupid things when he's drunk. Like sleep with a Harpy."
"A Harpy," Lydia repeated.
"Desi Harper," Lizzy explained.
"Oh, yeah—wasn't she that model he dated for like, a month?" Lydia asked.
"A week," Lizzy corrected scowling.
"It still seems kind of sketchy," Lydia said suspiciously, still staring across the room with a slight frown. "Never trust a man until you've seen him drunk—that's what I always say."
"That's the first time I've heard you say it," Lizzy pointed out, bemused.
"Well, now I'm saying it to you," Lydia said primly, craning her neck and lifting on her tiptoes to see over the floor.
Lizzy laughed. "Are you trying to give me relationship advice?"
"No, I've done that already," Lydia replied. "What I'm trying to do is catch the eye of that yummy-looking young man next to the punch."
Turning to look, Lizzy noticed a boy just a little younger than herself, with dark hair and very blue long-lashed eyes, standing with one hand in his pocket and the other dwarfing a small cup of punch. Lizzy jumped, surprised, when she felt her cousin's lips brush her cheek. "Looks like I'm going to have to go over there," Lydia said with a grin. "Later."
Lizzy snorted softly, lifted her camera, and framed a shot: taking up most of the left side was a very, very young woman in a tight green dress, her long blonde hair swinging left. The middle of the frame was cluttered by dancing couples, hands linked, heads bowed toward each other, but in the upper right hand corner, turned toward the lens, there stood a lone boy with a hand in his pocket. Click.
Lydia knew how to take care of herself now, and she wanted everyone else to know it too. Lizzy just hoped that he didn't know how to take care of herself the way Charlotte used to.
Will was still in the corner, looking like a child in time-out: his head bent, his shoulder hunched forward, his hands shoved deep in his pockets. Giana had one arm bent behind her back, holding the opposite arm's elbow, but her chin was raised high. Things were going to be different between the Darcy siblings, but that wasn't bad, not necessarily. She lifted her camera, framed the two figures in the corner, almost unnoticeable behind the activity of dancers in front of them. Click. But Lizzy kneew the picture probably wouldn't out; it was too far away.
Lizzy searched the room for familiar faces. Lydia, she found easiest. Her blonde, beautiful cousin had seduced her declared target onto the dance floor. Lizzy watched through the lens as Lydia settled her partner's hands a little lower on her waist with a wry, challenging grin: Click. She probably wouldn't ever need to develop it, but there was always the chance that he was the love of Lydia's life.
Ben Bennet was among the dinner tables, overrun with white-aproned wait staff hurrying to clear the dessert plates away. He looked better without the beard, but to tell you the truth, he was losing more hair. His head shone in the lamplight. He was training his camera across the wait staff's activity, and—if Lizzy guessed right—at the fireplace behind it. Click. She was smugly confident that her father hadn't caught any pictures of the wedding's camera people.
She noticed the Fitzwilliams by the door. Fitz was holding Zarine—a very fussy Zarine, red-faced and pouting—as Maggie shrugged on her jacket. Maggie grinned as she caught Lizzy's eyes, waving as if she'd been trying for a while. Then she tucked both hands under her tilted head with her eyes closed and then jerked her thumb toward the baby: they were taking the resort shuttle back to the cottage; Zarine was ready to go to bed. Lizzy nodded to show she understood and watched through the camera as they left: Zarine on Fitz's shoulder, Fitz's back halfway turned as he stared out the doorway, Maggie's gentle hand on his back as she held open the door. Click.
Jane and Charlie were still nowhere in sight, still caught up somewhere in the middle of their wedding reception, but Lizzy saw her mother halfway across the room, speaking animatedly, still carrying a glass, but this one had been refilled. Lizzy grimaced when she realized that the woman bearing the brunt of Mrs. Bennet's attention was Molly Brettman-Bennet. It seemed like her mother had picked Jane's wedding to work her way through all her confrontations.
Lizzy hurried forward so quickly that she accidentally knocked hard into another guest. "Sorry. I—" she started to say, but she froze when she recognized the ash blonde hair, the slight crooked frame, the black designer dress. Caroline Bingley was sneering at her. Lizzy scowled and muttered, mostly to amuse herself: "The wedding, Act Four: the In-laws-Alone Together."
"She's not alone," said another voice. Desi Harper: Her violet scarf seemed to have made its way from ski wear to party attire; she'd tied it around her neck. She was also wearing a shorter, tighter variant of Caroline's dress, but the sneer matched exactly.
Charlie must've invited her, Lizzy guessed. As a friend of his sister.
It looked like Molly Brettman-Bennet was going to have to deal with Lizzy's mother on her own.
Still, Lizzy was determined to stay in a good mood. She was even determined to be pleasant. "I guess we're sisters now," Lizzy said to Caroline with a smile. "Kind of. By marriage."
"We're not sisters," Caroline scoffed. "We're rivals."
Lizzy almost retorted that someone was only one marriage away from having Will as a kind-of brother, but she figured Caroline wasn't ready to hear that yet.
"Yeah?" Lizzy said instead. "You taking photography classes or something?"
Desi Harper forced her breath through her teeth in low, disbelieving hiss.
"We're talking about Will," Caroline said haughtily and placed her hands on her hips. She, like Lizzy, was also wearing a diamond ring, but on her right hand.
Lizzy decided that it was okay to be difficult, pleasantly difficult. "Will? But he's a terrible photographer; he's really not any competition—"
"You…stole him from me," Caroline said, her voice trembling.
Lizzy snorted, despite herself and her determination to be pleasant. "I was under the impression Will could choose for himself," she said with a slight smile.
Desi Harper spoke, her hands running across the smooth dark fabric of her scarf, her eyes on Lizzy's, her voice light and hard-edged: "Everybody knows your relationship is just for publicity."
By everyone, the Harpy meant her crowd. It meant that this was the rumor traveling around the most exclusive circles in New York City. It didn't bother Lizzy much: she'd heard it before. Even read about it once and twice in the tabloids. It was only a problem when someone believed it.
"It was Maggie's idea, huh?" Caroline mused, crossing her arms and tapping her fingers on her forearm. "It was a good way to sell an album: two bandmates, a convenient pair of twins—"
"You don't marry someone to sell an album," Lizzy interrupted sharply. She knew she was in danger of losing her temper. She didn't want to let Caroline get away with calling Jane 'convenient' on her wedding, but she forced herself to take a slow breath. "Besides," she added quietly, "the last album was years ago."
"There's a new one on the way," Desi Harper commented in the same light, hard-edged tone.
Eyes narrowed, Lizzy stared at the Harpy until the model dropped her gaze, feigned disinterest, and turned her attention to the dancers. Lizzy reminded herself firmly that they didn't actually believe what they were saying.—Well, Caroline had probably talked herself into delusion, but Desi…Desi just wanted what was out of reach and what other people had.
"There would need to be a wedding," said Desi Harper without meeting Lizzy's glare.
"But—" Caroline said, looking toward the dance floor and back to Desi with a small, confused frown. "Charlie and Jane—"
"I doubt your little stunt can carry two albums to Platinum," Desi Harper murmured, turning back to Lizzy with a tiny, triumphant smirk.
Lizzy lost control of her temper. "Don't give me that shit—" she started, taking a step toward the Harpy. Something terrible might have happened, Jane and Charlie's wedding might have been ruined or worse, if one guitar-calloused hand hadn't dropped on Lizzy's upper arm, if another hadn't cupped her face, and if a mouth hadn't fallen on hers, kissing her gently, tasting of champagne, and startling all the speech out of her.
"Giana's gone," Will told her matter-of-factly, stroking her cheek with her thumb as she blinked up at him, stunned by his abrupt entrance. "She wanted to come say good-bye, but she was rather late already and the shuttle had just arrived. She did, however, tell me to tell you that she loves you, she misses you, and she would like to remind you to pack her dress and bring it back with you. Also, she forbids me to tell you what we were talking about. She said she's holding that information hostage, and if you really want to know, you'll have to go visit her at school. Although," Will added, dropping his voice close to a whisper and dropping his head—his mouth—close to hers, "I'll tell you if you ask me to. You'll have to feign surprise and make appropriate noises when she has her go around, of course, but I'll tell you whatever you'd like."
Lizzy glanced around him and chanced a brief look at Caroline Bingley and Desi Harper: they were staring at Will like she'd guessed, but they were shocked. They probably hadn't ever heard him say so much at once.
Will turned slightly to see what Lizzy was looking at and made a brow-raised show of noticing the other two women. "'Lo. Caroline. Desi," he said with a small smile and slight nod to each of them. "Are you having a nice time?"
Caroline was opening and closing her gaping mouth, and she turned to her companion for an answer.
Desi Harper was more composed. She'd even resumed her scarf petting. "Lovely," she said, letting her lipstick-painted lips curl upwards. "Now that you're here, Will."
"I'm afraid I can't stay," Will replied with an apologetic smile. His hand traveled down and caught Lizzy's. "I'm only here to ask Lizzy if she's ready to dance with me." When he turned toward her, Lizzy was already grinning. "Well? Are you?"
Lizzy shouldered her camera, felt it swing across her back on its strap, and nodded. "Have a good night," she told Caroline and Desi pleasantly and let Will tug her to the dance floor.
When they were several steps and three couples away in the middle of the crowded dance floor, Lizzy turned her mouth to Will's ear and asked, "What was that? Rescue Number Two?"
"It might be." He didn't bother to lower his voice, but he was grinning widely, boyishly. Whatever Giana had told him hadn't upset him. "But probably not the kind you would think. Those poor girls are no match for you when you're in a temper." Lizzy repeated, resisting the urge to glance back at the dumbstruck faces of those "poor girls." Will grinned a little wider, kissed her swiftly on the mouth, and added, "Neither am I, come to think of it."
"That's not true," Lizzy scolded, letting Will guide her around another middle-aged couple and smiling up his head slightly.
"Well, no," Will amended, ducking his head slightly, "but you give me the most trouble, truth be—" He stopped abruptly, eyes wide and startled, and looked down to see a pair of pale, feminine arms around his waist. He looked back at Lizzy with the beginning of a frown. "It's not—"
But Caroline had joined them once again.
She seemed to be trying to bury her face into his back and tell him something at the same time, but everything she said was too muffled to understand.
"Pardon me?" Will asked, suddenly very polite and very stiff.
"I said, 'It doesn't have to be this way. You don't have to hide it from me, not anymore,'" Caroline said, lifting her face toward him, eyes shining, nearly panting.
"Hide?" Will repeated with a bewildered glance at Lizzy.
Lizzy rolled her eyes and wondered if she could pleasantly peel Caroline off Will.
"Don't embarrass yourself, Caroline," said someone else on Will and Lizzy's other side. Desi Harper had also come to visit, stroking her scarf and looking over Caroline Bingley with blank-faced disapproval.
Caroline only transferred her grip from Will's waist to his arm, and in his partial freedom, Will leaned slightly away from her, pressing shoulder to shoulder with Lizzy. "You don't have to hide it now, Will," she said, her voice breathy and desperate. "I know you feel something for me, too. You don't have to keep up this…this…charade."
"You've just embarrassed yourself," Desi Harper commented, and Lizzy threw a glare at her just for good measures.
"There isn't any charade." Will disentangled himself, lifting his arm high out of Caroline's reach. He took a step away carefully, taking Lizzy with him. When he noticed with relief that Caroline was no longer chasing him, he made as if to make a quick getaway and managed three hurried steps, helping Lizzy along, before Caroline called, almost wailing, "You mean, you've been leading me on? All these years?"
"Don't make it worse," Desi Harper hissed, but Will froze mid-step. When Lizzy looked up, his face was carefully blank, and when he turned slowly, Lizzy turned with him.
"I—" Will said and stopped. Lizzy noticed with annoyance that Caroline was trying to be tragic again; she'd even pressed a hand to her trembling mouth and dropped her head to Desi Harper's shoulder. "I never meant—" When he stopped again, abruptly, Lizzy squeezed his hand and felt him grip it gratefully in response. He took a deep breath. "I had no intention of giving you false hope, Caroline," he said stiffly, rigid and tense. His face was as stony as Lizzy had seen it in years. "I did think it was clear, what my feelings were, and—" He cleared his throat slightly. "I apologize for any harm I might have caused."
Lizzy's jaw dropped, but Caroline—the ungrateful, spiteful little twit—sniveled as haughtily as she could, "You mean, I meant nothing to you?"
"I pay you the respect deserving of my best friend's elder sister," Will said gravely, "but I'm afraid I was never able to forget the time I first visited you at Charlie's home. When you called me names and treated me as a servant."
"But that was years ago," Caroline protested, lifting her head, her eyes shining again. "I've changed; everything's changed."
"Your…er, feelings for me might have changed, but it is difficult to revise a first impression," Will said quietly, and Caroline drooped again over her friend's shoulder, crestfallen.
Desi Harper looked almost smug. She was very close to smiling triumphantly.
"I rather hope you don't feel the same way, Desi," Will said hesitantly, looking straight at her and gripping Lizzy's hand so hard that Lizzy felt the burn across it tug painfully. "We tried something once, but we were terrible to each other. I was miserable; we were both miserable. I don't think—" he said and stopped himself. He looked down at the floor, and Lizzy noticed that he was very close to panicking. "Again, I apologize," he said swiftly. "Have a good evening, both of you." He nodded awkwardly to each of them, and then he did make his exit, walking so quickly in long-legged strides that Lizzy had to jog to keep up.
When they were half a ballroom away, Lizzy glanced backward to make sure that they weren't being followed (there were no Harpies or Carolines in sight; the crowd had swallowed them up) and asked again, "What was that?"
"That was awful," Will moaned. His hand still safe in Lizzy's. He moved them back a few feet, gaining a more comfortable distance from the speaker and pulled Lizzy closer to him, one arm around her waist. "I don't ever want to do that again."
Lizzy placed her right hand on Will's shoulder so he could begin the waltz. "I don't really understand why you did in the first place," she said, trying not to giggle.
"She was upset," Will murmured, resting his chin on her head and sighing heavily.
"She was upsetting," Lizzy corrected cheerfully. "There's a difference."
"No, she was upset, and it was me that was upsetting," Will said sharply. "I've heard from several individuals that apologies aren't my strong point—"
"So you apologized to Caroline Bingley?" Lizzy said. "Caroline?"
"I thought it would be good practice," he mumbled above her head.
"But Will—" Lizzy said, fighting a grin and losing. "You didn't do anything wrong. It should've been Caroline apologizing."
"Ah," said Will shortly, and Lizzy knew he was embarrassed.
"It was good, through," Lizzy said, leaning out from under his chin and stroking his scowling face gently. "From a practicing standpoint."
"Yes," he replied, looking out over the dance floor instead of meeting her gaze.
"I like that you're trying," Lizzy told him.
Will smiled and looked down. "I couldn't have done it if you weren't with me."
Lizzy grinned. "You couldn't have done if you hadn't drank—"
"Yes, yes, one and a half glasses of champagne," Will said with a mock-irritable snort. "If your alcohol tolerance is bad, mine must be horrific. It's embarrassing. Giana won't ever let me forget it."
"Well, I might not let you forget it either," said Lizzy affectionately, letting her head fall to his chest.
Will waited a moment, waited until Lizzy got comfortable enough to close her eyes and let Will turn them slowly around the crowded room, before he asked, "You don't think I'm an alcoholic, do you?"
Lizzy snorted. "Will, this is the first time you've drank in about three years. How does that make you an alcoholic?"
"I might have a relapse," Will said ominously.
"Will," Lizzy said, leaning away from him again to look him in the eye, "you're not an alcoholic."
"I could become one," Will pointed out. "Everything's just so easy when you've had a drink or two, and it seems like I could use all the help I can find."
"You're not your father," Lizzy told him firmly. "You're not going to decline into alcoholism, and you're not going to take Pemberley down with you. You've actually done more to help Pemberley than most of its previous owners, so there you go."
Will swallowed, watching the other dancers and looming over Lizzy for half an instant more, and then he smiled abruptly, grinning at Lizzy with laughter hiding in his voice. "You're very good," he said.
Lizzy was so startled that she almost stopped dancing for a second until Will tugged her along again. "What?"
"You're very good," he repeated, pronouncing the words teasingly slow. "You're good for me and around me. I believe I'll keep you.—And I mean that in the most loving, romantic, and non-sexist way possible," he added hastily. "Before you get angry."
"I wasn't going to get angry," Lizzy protested.
"You might've," Will insisted grinning. "There's really no telling now, is there? I'm becoming too quick at keeping myself from being irritating. Soon I'll be so well-trained that you'll never want to bother trying with anyone else again." Lizzy opened her mouth to remind him that she'd already explained that there wasn't ever going to be anyone else, but Will looked down between them and then back up at her face. "I like this," he said and looked back down. "I like this—what you've done with your dress. It wasn't like this before, was it?"
"No…" Lizzy said, watching him glance her over.
"Let's get the full effect, shall we?" he asked and twirled her so abruptly that the velvet skirt flared out from her legs and Lizzy felt the hair lift from her neck.
"Whoa," Lizzy said, blinking when she'd resumed her original stance with one hand in Will's and one hand on his shoulder. "I might need more warning next time."
"Very nice," Will said, nodding at her dress. "It's nice to see that your training in the fashion industry can be put to practical use. I especially like this area right here," he said with a tiny, expectant grin as he ran his finger down the new neckline she'd cut for herself.
Lizzy slapped his hand away with a glare, just before his hand managed to find itself brushing her breasts while they were in public. "Okay, so I got a little scissor happy."
"It's nice. You don't usually wear low-cut clothing; it's a nice change," Will told her, looking down between them again.
"Face," Lizzy said sternly.
Will looked up again, bemused. "It is nice. I bet there are quite a few bridesmaids who wished they had 'Fairy Godmother' scissors as talented as yours."
"That's where she got them!" Lizzy said with a wide, excited grin. "The dresses—Jane ordered them from fairy-godmother. com."
Will raised his eyebrows politely, but Lizzy knew that he was trying not to laugh at her excitement.
"I noticed when I was cutting up the dress," Lizzy explained. "Aunt Diana must've gotten her a special deal or something."
"Or something," Will agreed with the same polite tone.
"Although…velvet? Jane picked velvet?" Lizzy said sullenly. "Does she have any idea how hot velvet gets?"
"Yes, but you weren't cold during the ceremony outside," Will pointed out.
"Well, no…" Lizzy admitted.
"Then, it served its purpose," Will said. "She probably wasn't thinking past the ceremony."
"Well, when we get married, let's make sure we're someplace where I won't have to wear long underwear under my dress," Lizzy said irritably.
"Of course not," Will said affectionately. "It would be too many layers for the wedding nig—" He stiffened and pushed her back far enough so that he could look her in the face. "Wait—when we what?"
There was a click next to them, and Will and Lizzy both turned to see Jane, laughing and holding a disposable camera in her hands. She was still wearing her wedding dress, the white fabric glistening with small beads, but her veil had disappeared. "I don't know what just happened," she was saying with a wide smile, "but Will, your face was priceless."
Charlie was just behind Jane, holding his jacket over his arm, his necktie hanging around her neck. "Are you all right?" he asked Will.
Lizzy looked, but she didn't manage to gauge Will's response. Her sister had thrown her arms around her neck and was kissing her firmly on her cheek, and the big white dress blocked Lizzy's view. She was about to crush one of the puffy sleeves to see over it, but Jane whispered in her twin's ear, "We're leaving, Lizzy. We're going upstairs for the night. We're not telling people because there will be about a million goodbyes to get through, but I'm telling you so you don't worry."
Smiling despite herself, Lizzy softened and backed away to get a good look at her sister: Jane was radiant. After all the dancing, the pins had loosened in her hair, softening the pull of the French twist; red wisps had fallen out to frame Jane's flushed, happy face. Jane smiled wider when Lizzy took the disposable camera from her sister's hands and snapped another picture.
Then Lizzy hugged her again, tightly, really crushing the dress this time and not caring much. "Congratulations, Jane," she said. Lizzy had never seen her sister so happy. "I love you."
Jane looked at her sister for a minute and seemed to understand something Lizzy hadn't told her. Jane kissed her twin's forehead tenderly and replied, "I love you too. Very much. We…we'll always be sisters."
Lizzy nodded and hugged her sister for a third time, before she did something selfish, like cry. Then Jane turned, Charlie held out his hand, and Jane took it, beaming. And Will and Lizzy were alone together again. Dancing, as if they had never been interrupted.
"When are we getting married?" Will asked abruptly.
"Oh," Lizzy said, because she didn't know what else to say. Saying goodbye to her sister made the tight feeling come back to her chest, just between her lungs. "Someday."
"Lizzy." Will was scowling at her.
"Well, we won't if you keep looking at me like that," Lizzy said lightly.
"Lizzy." And he was very impatient.
"What?" Lizzy snapped. "Do you want me to set the date here and now?"
"Fine," Will replied curtly. "Since when are we getting married?"
"Since that concert—the one I crashed," Lizzy said, resting her head on his chest so she wouldn't have to look at him yet. "I realized that it was you, and only you, so I figured I'd end up marrying you someday."
"That was months ago. Four, in fact," Will reminded her sharply. "How is it that I haven't heard about it?"
"Well, I was waiting for you to ask me," Lizzy said. Leaning on Will, her head was turned toward the stairwell. It was half-blocked by a giant guitar-shaped ice sculpture, but she could still see Jane and Charlie dashing up it, trying not to be noticed.
"I seem to remember asking you that same night," Will said harshly. He pushed her away a little, holding her by the shoulders so that she'd look at him. There was a dangerous glint lurking in his eyes. "A proposal we've recently watched on YouTube. You said no."
"No," Lizzy said slowly, "I didn't answer. I just walked off the stage. I haven't been answering for months. And you didn't ask. You told me to marry you," Lizzy reminded him with an answering glare. "It's always 'Marry me,' or 'If you marry me,' or 'You should marry me.' You haven't ever asked." She considered. "Or at least, since September."
Will ran his hand over his face, eyes closed. "God, Lizzy. Only you—" He didn't finish that thought. Not outloud anyway.
"If you ask me now," Lizzy said, "I'll say yes."
Will regarded her for a long moment, that same dark-eyed intense glare. When she felt her cheeks heat, Lizzy glanced back toward the staircase. Jane and Charlie were gone. None of the guests had seen them, or at least, none that would try to make a fuss about their departure. The tight feeling in her chest got so tight that she felt it clench as a lump in her throat. She turned back to Will.
"I'm not sure if I want to ask just now," he said roughly. "I feel I might lose my temper, if you don't explain yourself better than just that you didn't like the way I asked you."
"Okay," Lizzy said, head bowed. "Just give me a minute."
"A minute?" Will repeated impatiently. "Just how long will you—" Then he saw her face. "What's the matter? Did I—oh. Jane. Of course."
"I'm sorry," Lizzy said, looking at the floor, at Will's polished black shoes and her own blue pumps. "It's not that you're not… It's not that I'm not happy… It's just that it was me and Jane for so long, and now…"
"It's all right." Sighing heavily, he pulled her toward him, his hand cradling the nape of her neck, and kissed the top of her head tenderly. Leaning against him, three tears escaped Lizzy and trickled down her nose. "You don't have to explain anything to me. About your sister anyway."
Lizzy nodded, sniffing. She wiped the tears from the tip of her nose with her palm.
"Do you want to sit down?" he asked.
She shook her head, her forehead still resting on Will's chest. There would be less distractions sitting at the table. There would more people to notice her.
"Do you want to keep dancing?" he asked her.
Lizzy nodded. Will took her left hand in his right one and pulled her close with an arm around her back. When she finished wiping the last tears from her eyes with her thumb, she placed her hand on his shoulder, and they were dancing again.
The dance floor wasn't as crowded now; people were beginning to leave, disappearing into their own rooms for the night. The room had cleared some, and Will was taking advantage of the fact, whirling them swiftly around their own private corner. Lizzy guessed that this was the couple's version of Will's usual pacing, and she almost smiled. As they moved together, Will's thumb rubbed small circles on her back, and the tension in Lizzy's chest eased a little. She still missed Jane, part of her would always miss Jane and the years when it was just them, but this was nice too.
It didn't worry her so much now, the effect that Will had on her. She didn't mind anymore how much he'd managed to change her life. Two years ago, or even just one, her first instinct would have been to tuck herself into a lonely place to be upset in private, but it was simpler—it was easier—to stay with Will, even if he was a little mad at her.
It was probably justified, him being angry. It made perfect sense to her—to marry someone when he asked and only when he asked, to refuse to start a marriage by letting her future husband boss her around, but Will wouldn't see it the way she did. Will almost never saw things the way she did. Especially in matters of matrimony. He was only going to understand that she hadn't wanted to marry him and now she did and he'd think she'd lied somewhere in the middle.
She might have been lying. But she was lying to herself as much as to him, so Lizzy wasn't sure that it counted.
She didn't know exactly how to explain it. She didn't know how to start. She wanted to reassure him first; she wanted him to know that the way she loved him hadn't changed, just the way she thought about it. She opened her mouth and sucked in a deep breath to tell him so, but jumped instead when she felt a hand—not Will's, both of his were already occupied—on her shoulder.
Will sighed again and turned them slightly so that Lizzy could see Molly Brettman-Bennet watching her expectantly.
"I wanted to let you know," her stepmother told her, "I'm going to put your father to bed. He's gotten a little carried away with the celebration, and he's not really fit to be in public anymore."
Lizzy looked over to the table that the professor nodded towards and noticed through the few remaining couples that her father was slumped over the tablecloth, his head pillowed in his arms, his bald patch shining in the chandelier light, sleeping. Will looked too, and Lizzy felt him stiffen with disapproval. Then he sighed heavily, and she knew he was thinking of what it would have been like if his own father was still alive.
She smiled at her stepmother. "Okay. Um, my mother, was she—"
"Over there," said Molly, pointing across the room, where Mrs. Bennet was talking animatedly to her brother-in-law, motioning with the crystal glass in her hand. Uncle Jeremy seemed to be looking around for an escape, but Lydia was nowhere in sight. Lizzy hoped that she hadn't followed the young dark-haired man individual to his room. "I don't think she'll be bothering anyone else tonight."
"I saw you two talking," Lizzy said hesitantly, and Professor Brettman-Bennet's face became carefully blank. "It wasn't too bad, was it?"
"Terrible," said Molly, but now she was grinning. It was almost her husband's grin. "But nothing I can't handle, Lizzy. Thanks, though.—I don't think anyone told you, but we're staying for another couple days. We wanted to ski some while we're out here."
Lizzy felt Will stiffen again, silently; he didn't like that much either.
"But we won't be around much," the professor said, watching Will shrewdly. "We're staying on the other side of the mountain."
"You want to call us before you fly out?" Lizzy asked. "We could probably drive you back to the airport."
"We might have dinner," Will suggested, trying to be polite.
"We'll do that," Molly said and kissed her stepdaughter's cheek. "Goodnight, Lizzy. Good to see you, Will," she added before she turned away.
Lizzy couldn't resist taking a picture as Professor Brettman-Bennet returned to her husband: of Molly stroking Ben Bennet's head lovingly, of Lizzy's father lifting his head blearily, catching her hand in his. Lizzy turned and caught another one of Will: of his troubled, watchful frown, his eyes dark and searching hers, even through the camera.
"Are you all right now?" he asked, as she slung her camera back over her shoulder and stepped back into his arms.
Lizzy sighed. "Yeah."
"The ring," he said hesitantly, staring at their linked hands, where the blue diamond glittered between them. "You're wearing it on your left… How long--?"
"It travels," Lizzy said, matter-of-factly. "Originally it happened because I couldn't remember which side it was supposed to go on, and then…" Then there were the things that were hard to explain. "Just because."
"And I haven't noticed?" Will said, frowning at it.
"No," Lizzy replied. It was rare for her to wear the ring on her left hand in front of Will, but there were the times when she was careless, when she'd forgotten. Will hadn't looked then. "I moved it sometime last night." Because of the burn across the back of her right hand and a little across her fingers, but she didn't want to remind him of that. He already felt bad enough.
Will nodded slowly, still frowning but thoughtfully now. "I'm not angry, if that helps," he said, looking at her sharply. "Rather surprised and a bit confused, yes, but not angry."
And hurt, Lizzy knew, but he wasn't going to admit that, not now.
"It helps," Lizzy said, and Will nodded again, looking out at the other dancers again. Caroline was only a few couples away, draped across an older, well-dressed man a few inches shorter than herself. Either she'd finally given up, or she was both trying to make Will jealous and determined not to look at him. Desi Harper had disappeared.
"You know the Bucketheads?" Lizzy asked softly.
Will turned back to her, startled, his eyebrows raised high. "Well…yes."
"You know how their tour bus crashed? In September?" Lizzy said, watching him.
"Yes, I do remember," Will replied with the beginnings of a wary frown. "We were talking about it just days ago."
"Well, I was watching the news that day," Lizzy said with a slow, even breath, "and the telecasters did that thing where they announced that a band had been killed in the middle of their tour and then told you to stay tuned for the details through the next commercial break."
"All right…" Will said slowly, thinking it over, staring at the space above her head. "Ah," he realized, looking at her again. "You thought it was us?"
Lizzy nodded. "I couldn't wait for a commercial break, so I called you."
"I don't remember that," Will said frowning.
"You didn't answer," Lizzy explained. "You were in the middle of a sound check. I know, because I called Maggie next and she told me. I was kind of freaking out by that time, and she had to calm me down."
"She didn't tell me that," Will said, his tone sharp with disapproval.
"I asked her not to," Lizzy admitted, hoping Maggie wouldn't get a lecture soon.
"Now, why would you do that?" Will asked, narrowing his eyes, his mouth tight and drawn.
Lizzy shrugged. "I saw you just a few days later. I could handle the dreams for a couple nights, but I needed to see you. So I bought a plane ticket and flew out to your next concert."
"And snuck in," Will added darkly.
"Yep," Lizzy said defensively.
"I can't believe you didn't tell me, Lizzy," Will said sharply. "You—wait, what dreams?"
Lizzy stiffened and looked away. She still didn't want to talk about the dreams.
"Lizzy," Will said, pulling her closer to him, so swiftly that she looked up at him, startled. "What dreams? The nightmares?"
"Who told you I've been having nightmares?" Lizzy asked suspiciously.
"Your nightmares—they've been about me, haven't they?" he asked fiercely.
"Not just you," Lizzy said, with a stubborn scowl.
"You've been having reoccurring nightmares where Fitz, Maggie, Charlie, and I drive ourselves over a cliff, is that it?" Will asked her, his scowl stern and very close to hers.
"Well, sometimes my mind gets more creative than that," Lizzy said absently. "There's also been airplane crashes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes—"
"My God," Will breathed, and when Lizzy looked up, he was very pale, his mouth open and vulnerable. "So, last night—When you thought I wasn't coming back—"
"I've never actually had a dream where I lost you to a snowstorm," Lizzy said carefully, watching Will's face, "but I hope it explains why I got so upset."
"My God," Will said again, bending his head, looking down, to the side, and then to her face anxiously. "I feel like such an ass. I had no idea; I was such a complete—" He stopped and looked down again, again with the troubled, anxious frown.
"It's okay," Lizzy said gently, reaching up to stroke his face gently, right where his jaw met his neck. "You didn't know. I didn't tell you. There was no way you could've known."
Will sighed deeply and nodded, and he pulled her even closer, his arm tight around her waist, her cheek pressed to his chest, his chin on her head. "I am sorry, Lizzy. I'm so sorry."
Lizzy smiled slightly, thinking of all the practice he was getting today. Then the smile faded. "I know," she said softly. "Don't worry about it."
She felt Will nod a little above her head, but it was one thing to say and a whole different thing to try to do it. She sighed and went up on tiptoes to kiss him lightly, just under his chin, but Will only sighed again.
"Why didn't you tell me, Lizzy?" he asked quietly, his voice deep and slow.
Lizzy curled into his chest more comfortably; she closed her eyes and swallowed. "I was embarrassed."
"Embarrassed?" Will said sharply. He didn't believe her. "To tell me?"
"Well, I'm a grown woman; I'm not supposed to be bothered by nightmares," Lizzy said with a disgusted grimace.
"If it lasts four months," Will told her grimly, "it's bound to be more than only being 'bothered by nightmares.'"
"There was also the suspicion that somebody was going to want to send me to a shrink," Lizzy said lightly.
"Lizzy, I love you," Will reminded her. "I would never think you childish or crazy."
Her nose prickled. Lizzy closed her eyes before they filled with tears.
"Promise me that you'll tell me next time something bothers you so much," Will said firmly. "Especially if it concerns me."
"I told you, didn't I?" Lizzy said.
"Tell me sooner then," Will amended. "Don't wait four months."
Lizzy set her mouth stubbornly, her breath coming quick and sharp through her nose.
"Please," Will said, his voice low. "Promise me."
"All right," Lizzy sighed. "I promise."
"Thank you," he said, and Lizzy felt his lips brush the top of her head again. He pulled her even closer, curling his body over hers, pressing himself tight to her, until his hold was more of an embrace than a dance. Lizzy closed her eyes again and felt her body relax against him.
She couldn't remember a time when she felt so safe. It couldn't be so bad if she felt this safe.
"So…you didn't feel like you could agree to marry me, because you were afraid that I would die before the wedding day?" Will asked, carefully bland.
Lizzy snorted. "I hope that was a joke."
"It was," Will said swiftly.
"Good. It wasn't funny," she informed him stoutly, looking up sternly to let him know how much she meant it.
"Right," he said decisively. "No more morbid jokes." He offered her a small, abashed grin. "Got it."
"It's weird for me, you know," she told him thoughtfully. "Getting serious about stuff like marriage at my age."
"At your age," Will scoffed, rolling his eyes irritably. "Your sister is your age, your exact age, pardoning mere minutes."
Lizzy ignored that. "Think back four years, or even just three. Did you want to be thinking about marriage about my age?"
"No, I must confess I only began thinking about marriage when I was twenty-four," Will said, keeping his face carefully blank, forcing his tone to be light. "When I met you."
It was almost an accusation, and Lizzy watched him shrewdly, defensively, until he sighed, softening.
"It scared me," Lizzy admitted quietly. "That I was depending on you so much."
It was enough to make Will smile, just slightly. "That is what's supposed to happen," Will reminded her, bemused. "When two people love each other, they're eventually to come to trust and depend on one another."
"Thanks, Will," Lizzy grumbled. "Like I really need love lessons from you right now."
"Come now, Lizzy," Will said gently, laughter blooming just under the mock-seriousness in his voice. "It's not as if you depend on me all that much. You're never been one to be dependent."
Lizzy hitched her chin and glared up at him until the laughter started to fade from Will's eyes. "After New York, when you were working on that Saturday Night Live deal, it took me two weeks to get used to sleeping alone again," she said. "I had to pad one side of the bed with pillows so that I could sleep."
"But we were only there for five days," Will protested, eyebrows raised, eyes wide.
"I know," Lizzy said. "It doesn't take me long. I do trust you, Will, and I do depend on you. More than anyone else. And I really don't like the idea of what I'd be like if you were suddenly not around."
"Lizzy, you're the strongest person I've ever known," Will said frowning. "I can't imagine you losing that strength, because someone died. Anyone," he added firmly, even Lizzy started glaring again, "even me."
"Well, maybe I was wrong," she snapped. She felt her legs start to tremble under her, the shivers traveling up her spine, and she hated it. "But I have a right to be scared, don't I?"
"Yes," Will said mollified, holding her tight again. He'd noticed it, the shaking. "Of course."
She couldn't stop shuddering, and Will's hand drew long, slow circles on her back. They weren't really dancing anymore, just holding each other tightly and swaying absently to the music. "I wouldn't be the same if I lost you," she said firmly, but now her voice was shaking too. "I don't care what anyone says, I don't care if I'd recover or not; I wouldn't be the same."
"I understand," Will said quietly, his cheek on top of her head, his arms tight around her shoulders. Lizzy closed her eyes and held him as tight as she had the night before, as tight as she could, like she'd never let him go.
She wouldn't cry. There had been enough of that recently. Besides, this was a good thing. She was supposed to be happy, not worried, not anxious.
Will had his hands around either side of her face. He was kissing her—brief, light kisses on her forehead, her temple, down her neck. One tear escaped, despite Lizzy's efforts, despite her eyes squeezed shut, and Will kissed it from her cheek, kissed the corner of her mouth, then her lips, brief at first and then a long, slow, lingering kiss.
"Lizzy," he said quietly.
Lizzy waited, feeling stubborn and rebellious and like she should fight something.
"Lizzy," he said again so that she would look at him. She opened her eyes, wiping them on her palms, and looked at Will. He was watching her with that familiarly intense, dark-eyed gaze. "Lizzy, will you marry me?" he asked.
Lizzy smiled, relaxing against him. "Yes," she said decisively and lifted her chin, lifting her mouth toward his.
Will grinned and kissed her again, joyfully, running his hands over her hair and down to the small of her back.
"Not right away, though," Lizzy told him worriedly, in case he misunderstood.
"Yes, of course," Will said, smoothing seriousness into his face to show her that he knew what she meant. Then, he was grinning again, and kissing her again, his hand gentle and warm against the side of her face. Lizzy kissed him back, smiling now against his mouth, her hand cupping the nape of his neck, keeping his face close to hers.
"But it's not that I'm scared," she wanted him to know, when they broke the kiss. "I mean, it is still scary, but that's not why. I want to be a little better established," she explained, "and I'm not successful enough to support apartments here and in England. And—"
"And you don't want Fitz to tease that you're only copying your sister," Will finished with a sly grin.
"Well, yeah…" Lizzy admitted ruefully, and Will laughed and kissed her again swiftly.
He stopped mid-kiss, just as Lizzy began running her fingers through his hair, and she frowned when he started to stare at her. "In England?" he repeated incredulously.
"Yeah. If we're going to be over there, I'm going to need something to keep me occupied," Lizzy said, feeling a smile growing across her face.
"Occupied?" Will said blankly.
"Why do you think I've been taking all the shoots in Europe they've offered me?" she asked and laughed again when Will kissed her happily.
"But you've got a place in England," Will reminded her eagerly. "You've always had a place."
Lizzy wrinkled her nose. "Pemberley's kind of a far commute to London."
"We've got a place there, too," Will said excitedly. "Or Giana does. My mother left it to her. I'm sure she'll lend it to you. Or if you're determined to be independent, she'll rent it to you for an absurdly low fee. Two bars of chocolate or something equally—"
Lizzy got tired of waiting him out and dragged him mouth firmly down to hers.
"I suppose we could work the details later," Will murmured, his voice very low, his eyes very bright, his mouth very close to hers.
"Yep," Lizzy said and returned to her tiptoes for another kiss.
"Lizzy!" Will cried, grinning widely. "Lizzy, we're going to grow old together."
"Yep," Lizzy replied happily, moving closer to Will's mouth.
"Lizzy, we're going to have children," he said gleefully. "How many children would you like to have?"
Lizzy dropped back flat on her feet abruptly, and Will watched her worriedly. "Okay, that's going to come way later," Lizzy said sternly.
"Certainly," Will said mollified.
"And until you can work it so that it's you that carrying around an extra person for nine months," Lizzy added, just to clarify, "you're not allowed to pressure me on this."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Will said with a small, bemused smile, stroking her cheek with a hand at the side of her face. When Lizzy lifted her face toward his, he kissed her again, but only had time for a brief caress before Lizzy dropped back down and decided, "Three, though. I was thinking three kids would be nice."
"Three? Really?" Will asked enthusiastically. "I was thinking three. With two, it can still be lonely, but three siblings—"
"Unless we have twins," Lizzy continued. "Because the twins would just gang up on the third one, and that's not fair."
Will blinked. "Twins?"
"They run in my family," Lizzy explained with a small smile.
"We could have twins," Will whispered stunned.
"Hey, you want to get out of here?" Lizzy asked her fiancé.
"Get out of…What?" Will asked with a bewildered frown.
Lizzy grinned, grabbing the hand that Will had held against her cheek. "Yeah, almost everybody's gone. You wanna go to the cabin?"
"No," Will said slowly, shaking his head at her a little, wide-eyed and still stunned. "No, I don't believe I want to share you with anyone just yet."
Lizzy laughed and reached up to kiss him swiftly. "Who? Giana and Jimmy have gone to Bozeman, and Jane and Charlie managed to book a suite upstairs."
Will stared at her, wide-eyed still, beginning to work it out.
"And Fitz, Maggie, and Zarine are in the guest cottage," Lizzy continued with a widening grin. "Which means that tonight, we've got a ridiculously large cabin all to ourselves."
Will blinked several times and then, as if he'd thought of it all by himself—" I think we should go to the cabin," he suggested, "our private cabin."
Lizzy grinned as Will began to lead them to the front entrance with long, purposeful strides. "Looks like the guest shuttle's going to leave in about three minutes," she said, glancing at the grandfather clock at the other side of the room.
"Then we'll have to hurry," Will said and quickened his pace, taking them on the path through the tables farthest from where her mother sat, still badgering her Uncle Jeremy. At the guest closet, just inside the entrance, Lizzy scooped up her long underwear and her camera bag from the floor, and Will settled his overcoat around her shoulders, dropping a kiss on her forehead. She didn't protest: her dress had been warm enough during the ceremony, but that was in daylight and she'd cut it up since then.
"Will," Lizzy chirped, as he guided them out of the closet and toward the double wooden doors of the entryway, his hand at the small of her back, "I've got something to tell you."
"Hmm?" he replied expectantly. There was a shadow of a smile around his mouth, a hint of laughter in his tone.
"I love you," Lizzy said with a gleeful smile.
Will paused just long enough to kiss her, his arm tight across her back. "I love you, Lizzy."
"Good answer," Lizzy said cheerfully, watching Will go to the door.
He held it open, smiling so widely that Lizzy stopped to snap a picture: of Will, joyful and eager, the door open between them, the winter wind blowing his hair slightly as he watched her.
"May I take the liberty of asking when I'll have the pleasure of being your husband?" he asked hopefully.
Lizzy laughed, zipping her camera away in its case and slinging it over her shoulder, looking outside. It was night out there, mostly dark, but the day-old snow threw the reflected moonlight back into the air, giving everything a gentle glow. She could see the parking lot, the cars in it, and the headlights of the shuttle coming their way, but the rest—the mountain, and the valley beyond it—were just dim, unfamiliar shapes in the distance. She turned back to Will.
"Let's just take one thing at a time, Mr. Darcy," Lizzy said, taking his hand with a smile. Then she walked out in the cool night air, tugging Will along with her.
Author's Note: That's it! There will be some revisions, of course—so if anyone has any suggestions, I'd be happy to hear/read them. But as far as the story goes, it's all over (or just beginning, depending on your perspective). I really want to thank everyone who reviewed. I'm glad you enjoyed reading it; I really had a lot of fun writing it. But I never expected to get this many reviews, and I don't think I could have written this so quickly if you guys hadn't encouraged me so much. So really, thank you very much.
Hurrah! Have a great year at school, everybody who's going/has gone back (I just got back)! And have a great fall!