Love is not a Competition (but I'm winning)

(an epilogue)

"Hello?"

The truth was he'd paced a good fifteen minutes before being able to raise a hand to knock on the apartment door. It wasn't cowardice so much as it was the importance of locking down all of the appropriate words onto the tip of his tongue, and Darcy carefully practiced his plea to Lizzie over and over; his shoes crunching over pavement grains as he moved back and forth, reciting and revising aloud (the beginning was good, the middle solid, but it got a bit shit near the end). He had one shot to get it right, make it count, and he approached it with all of the care, precision and fervor of a Grad student's fellowship proposal.

During the drive to Santa Monica there had been a nice slice of delusion. Having dropped Georgie back at home, Darcy's imagination had the dangerous combination of a quiet car and pounding optimism to propel it; he dreamed of that apartment door swinging open to reveal a slightly frazzled Lizzie (rumpled sweats, hair piled on top of her head, smirk on her face and makeup free – just as he liked her). Her eyes widened in surprise as she asked "What are you doing here?" and the threat of stilted conversation hung overhead, but they bypassed it completely.

This Darcy only had to say "I'm not the father; you may jump into my arms now" and it was all over. Tears were shed while Dream!Darcy spun her around, Peter Cetera's "The Glory of Love" played in the background, fireworks popped off, and a crowd of strangers appeared out of thin air to offer a round of applause and hearty congratulations.

Really, it was all very beautiful.

But, the reality of his situation put a stop to it all and Darcy was left with his fist lamely suspended in the air.

Abigail may not have been his, but she very well could have been. Once again, he'd gotten lucky in his fuck up and the fact that that little dream was fueled on a lucky break being the key to salvaging his relationship said that all of those months of misery – of insomnia and fucking sad beards had taught him nothing.

There was a huff. "See, I have this magical tool…let's name it 'caller id' just for shits and giggles. Now, what this id does, is when I get a phone call, it identifies the person on the other end of the line so what I'm saying is, you should stop with the creepy silence because I know it's you, Darcy."

Blushing, Darcy turned away from the front door. "Hi, sorry I didn't hear you pick up," he said raking a hand through his hair.

"Sure." The tone of Lizzie's voice was clipped and playing very clearly before Darcy's mind's eye was her dream counterpart telling him she loved him and never wished to be parted again.

"Play him Mastodon," he blurted.

"Okay…what?"

"Charlotte mentioned something about you having trouble getting Owen to sleep." He tried to sound casual, but the knot in his throat was making it damn near impossible. "Eat any good free samples lately?" he chuckled.

She told him, "I had this great multigrain cereal the other morning; I forgot the name of it, but I'll ask around the next time we're in Costco."

"So you're not going to try the Mastodon?"

There was a long pause and when Lizzie finally spoke, the annoyed edge in her voice had dulled. "Any album in particular?"

Darcy smiled, now leaning against the passenger door of his car. "He's partial to Blood Mountain. Like father, like son."

She hesitated slightly. "Thanks, I'll try it."

"You're welcome." He winced at the awkward sound of his voice. "Oh and uh…I saw Eva and Abigail today…"

"Well, my belated congratulations to you," Lizzie said flatly. "Wow, a baby boy and a girl in less than a year by two different women? What a stunning achievement in promiscuity."

Darcy bit back a laugh. "Hold on just a second and I'll send you a pic."

"Really, you don't have to. I'm sure she's all sorts of precious."

Lizzie was speaking through gritted teeth and he noted that right about now in his dream, she would've been wrapped around his waist kissing him for all it was worth while he artfully guided them through the apartment (towards the kitchen table where one manly sweep of his hand rid the surface of dishes). Instead Darcy was standing alone, perched against his car with nothing but Lizzie's thinning patience in his ear, struggling to find the right way to say what he painfully realized wouldn't be enough.

"She is achingly cute," Darcy said, "and just looking at her gave me the urge to run out and buy a shotgun to aid in ruining her future social life. It was a funny reaction to have since I can't reasonably take credit for Abby's cuteness."

She snickered. "I don't think you can take credit for Owen's either."

"Abby's not mine, Lizzie."

His nerve endings were burning with exhaustion from the sheer force of strength it took to get in his car and not walk back to that door; but, if he wanted the man that Lizzie came back to, to be the sort that didn't rely on breaking his falls with elaborate schemes and blind luck, then he was forced to endure the shaky hands and the hammering in his chest. Because, to be a better man he knew he was going to have to do the one thing he should have all of those months ago when he walked into his office to find his carpet being ruined by a miserable, soaking mess of a girl.

"Well, I won't keep you any longer," he sighed wistfully. "Goodnight, Elizabeth."

Darcy had to take a tumble and land flat on his face.

Month Ten:

"You essentially had the entire world fooled, right? Why tell the truth and why now?"

Oprah leaned forward, brows knit and one hand carefully propped under her chin. There was a quick cut away to a stern looking, yet fascinated audience member before the camera came back to focus on Darcy's lanky, suit clad form.

Richard quickly cast an over the shoulder glance at the TV. "You want me to turn it off?" He didn't wait for her to answer, already climbing to his feet with a bit of a groan. "I'll turn it off."

This was the second airing of Darcy's hour long appearance on Oprah and just like his guest spots on The Today Show, Larry King, and 20/20 he managed to be charming, and affable, and gorgeous to such a degree that the collective shrugging of the shoulders of the American public over the revelation the fairytale romance they'd been sold all this time had started out as a carefully crafted p.r. stunt, could actually be heard. However, knowing Fitzwilliam Darcy—really knowing him, meant being able to spot the slight twitch in his jaw, or catching the subtle wiping of his palms on the knees of his trousers. It meant seeing the tremble of social anxiety behind every tug on the ends of his hair, and each time Lizzie caught a glimpse of the real man her stomach did this wonderful, little floppy thing.

It was just a little over a month ago that she'd woken up surrounded by her four sisters, a People magazine clutched in Jane's hands:

I Lied: Fitzwilliam Darcy and the Shocking Truth about His Marriage

They'd prodded her for answers, but honestly Lizzie was just as bowled over by it as they were. Not one celeb rag had called requesting a follow up interview from her, not one paparazzo had camped outside of her door – her life had carried on in the same cycle and all the while Darcy had been spilling his guts to the press.

"We highlighted our favorite parts," Jane told her with a grin as she handed over the mag.

"Really Lizzie," Lydia began, "you could do a lot worse. In fact, you have."

With that, they left her alone to pour over the contents of the article, and god did she ever; within an hour Lizzie had it practically memorized:

"If my dad were alive, he'd sit me down and tell me that I've been a total coward lately, and there'd be a polite reminder that he hadn't raised a coward. I could've left this a secret, but in doing so I'd essentially be saying that I'm ashamed of my son and my wife and that couldn't be farther from the truth. My family means the world to me, and I owe it to them to be truthful."

"Yeah, I've thought about what'll happen when Owen's old enough to understand all of this, but I want him to know that even though Lizzie and I didn't start out in a conventional way, what we became was the best thing and I wouldn't change a single detail of the way I got to fall in love with her."

And when she wasn't busy reading that article for the twentieth, thirtieth, sixtieth time, Lizzie was glued to E! and Access Hollywood, and Entertainment Tonight where she and Darcy were the featured story night after night. His every move was captured by paparazzi flashbulbs (Darcy driving, Darcy pumping gas, Darcy eating lunch, Darcy walking into work, Darcy jogging etc…etc…), when she ventured outside of the apartment his face stared back at her from the covers of tabloids, and when she flipped through the channels on her TV, finding some second-rate talkinghead using their relationship to highlight the ills of celebrity culture was inevitable.

It was strange to watch the three-ring circus Darcy had wanted to avoid all along unfold, and even stranger to watch him take it in stride. With every talk show appearance, and every private re-reading of that article, Lizzie felt her anger slowly fall away. His nervous smiles and hair pulling meant a blush upon her cheeks was imminent, and this new feeling was as gradual as to almost go unnoticed; though firm in its intensity, it was somehow less overwhelming than her transition from strong dislike to having a crush. She'd never been in love before, but she'd always held an expectation that, that sort of grand revelation came with a bang instead of a whisper, and realizing she loved Fitzwilliam Darcy with all of her being was such an "Oh, is that all?" moment she felt a little cheated.

Richard reclaimed his position on the floor, hovering over the half painted set background with another exaggerated old man groan. "Sorry about that," he said grabbing his brush, "from now on we'll keep it strictly on the classy talk shows, like Springer."

As the rec hall became filled with the sounds of "Out of control Dwarves III", Lizzie found it practically impossible to concentrate. Her mind was supposed to be singularly focused on making the sets for the Inglewood Community Center's production of Sweeney Todd (and her directorial debut) look amazing, but all she could think about was Darcy.

Regarding her briefly with a smile Richard said, "You're gonna bail on me, aren't you?"

"It's that obvious?" she sheepishly laughed.

"Oh no, for a while I thought that glazed look in your eye was just your passion for volunteer childrens theater," he deadpanned.

"Don't look at it as me bailing," she said dusting off the knees of her jeans as she stood, "think of it as me wielding my directorial power."

Richard nodded. "I'll keep that in mind if and when I have to explain a fuck up to my mother." Chuckling he added, "Do you need a ride?"

"No, I'll take a cab, but thanks."

"No problem." He grinned. "Tell Darcy I said 'hey'."

xx

"Hello?"

There was no pacing, or careful rehearsing of lines to get it all right, instead Lizzie had a relatively pleasant conversation with a couple of paps that were camped out in front of Darcy's house in their SUV (one they promised wouldn't end up on TMZ later that night) and a couple of deep breaths before she hit the 'send' button on her cell phone.

"It occurred to me, just now that I never thanked you for the Mastodon tip," she told him as she leaned against the door. "My Costco peeps really miss me, by the way."

"You'll see them again," Darcy teased, "when the need for two hundred and fifty rolls of toilet paper or a drum of Chef Boyardee pops up."

You see, during the drive from Inglewood Lizzie was afforded a nice moment of clarity wherein all potential dramatic speeches were banned from her mind. These past months had been rife with the overly complicated and she didn't see the need in turning something so sweet and so simple into a production.

"It does feel weird, though," she said, "cutting back on the places where I can see your face. According to the Star you've got five love children I don't know about."

He gasped feigning shock. "Only five!"

"Listen, Darcy about that whole your face being on the cover of every magazine in existence thing…"

"Lizzie, I…"

"No, let me finish," she said softly. "What you did – coming clean like that, Darcy it was amazing. I also suspect you had a hand in paying the press to leave me alone, but neither Richard nor Charles will confirm or deny." A beat, "You didn't have to do it."

"No, I did; I should have from the start, but I was so afraid of what everyone else would think that I unconsciously treated you like you didn't measure up. I don't care that you're from Sun Valley, or that you waited tables, or that your mother is a big fan of pants with words across the ass…"

Lizzie laughed at that, raking a knuckle underneath her increasingly misty eyes.

"And I certainly don't give a damn that I met you in a bar. You've got to know that I did this for you – because I owed it to you – to us, really, and I'm so sorry about that contract, about Eva, and every stupid thing I've ever said. Lizzie, I…" Darcy trailed off with a self deprecating snort. "I'm sorry; I just wish I didn't have to say this over the phone."

Straightening herself back up, Lizzie took care to run a few quick fingers through her hair and smooth the wrinkles from her shirt. "Well then, maybe you should open the door."

There was a ten second lull in the conversation filled in by the sound of Owen's Playskool keyboard banging out Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star in the background before that door swung open to reveal a shocked Darcy with a cell phone still clutched in his hand.

"Hi."

"Hi." He took a step forward, but Lizzie put a hand out to stop him.

"Wait, there's one last thing I have to say in order to completely clear our slate." Off of his nod she continued, "I kissed Daniel Wickham, or rather he kissed me and I didn't do much to stop him. It was after we came back from New Hampshire and I don't think I got him pregnant, but I thought we should be prepared just in case he makes any claims."

A smile curling on his lips, Darcy slipped his arms around Lizzie's waist pulling her closer to him. "There are more Collins' running around LA, so I'll make sure to test them before I let Danny pin anything on you."

Darcy had been a total idiot about a lot of things (and so had she), but none of it mattered anymore; she loved him and she could forgive him.

His forehead came to rest against hers. "I love you."

"I love you back."

And after all they had been through, that was more than enough.

Month Twenty:

5 Things I Would Rather Sit Through Than This Board Meeting

By Will Darcy

#1. A 24/hr nonstop listening party of HIM's "Love Metal".

#2. A deep and meaningful lecture by Gwyneth Paltrow on her nutrition habits (again).

#3. A high school production of CATS (make that any production of CATS).

#4. Glitter.

#5. …

"Darcy, do you have anything you'd like to add?"

He blanched.

Fitzwilliam Darcy had learned to reign in a number of questionable habits. While he still wasn't a completely open book, he no longer felt the need to drown any of his occasional sorrows in mixed drinks and bad trance music. Twice a month he met up with Sean Bennet to "hug and kiss; share and grow" over a light lunch, and the advice he gained from his father-in-law was infinitely more valuable than anything gleaned by sitting on a professional's couch (plus, it only set him back two meals and a pitcher).

A fight with Lizzie was inevitable. A night where Owen could only be appeased by sleeping in their bed was unavoidable. And sometimes he missed his parents so much, it made him ache, but it was okay.

His days of freaking out were long over.

Yet none of his newfound, zen-like patience could help him overcome his hatred for board meetings. Grimacing, Darcy grunted something that was supposed to have passed as a proper response, and the meeting was adjourned much to his relief.

"Aaron, hold all of my calls," he barked at his secretary as he rushed past heading for the oak, double doors of his office. There was an iPod in the top drawer with the soothing sounds of Slayer loaded on it calling to him.

"Mr. Darcy, wait!" Aaron called leaping from his chair, but it was too late. Darcy had already flung open those doors…

"I almost forgot to tell you, sir," Aaron began with a smile, "Mrs. Darcy is here to see you."

Lizzie waved at him from her position casually perched against his desk.

Darcy grinned. "What are you doing here?"

She kept quiet as she reached for the purse on the desk and pulled out a ziplock bag filled to the brim with OB test sticks. "Twenty-five boxes," Lizzie said giving the bag a jiggle.

Yes, Fitzwilliam Darcy (a family name of course) had reclaimed his sense of propriety, forgotten any and all ridiculous funks, and succeeded in bringing pride back to the Darcy name.

And he would have never done it without the help of his wonderful, pregnant wife.


Author's Note: So long and thanks for all the fish. :)