With each step he felt his legs become more sluggish, more leaden. Every conversation he'd ever had with her was playing on a loop in his mind's eye, like some godforsaken 24-hour amateur film fest. He was trying to figure out how he had completely failed to see this catastrophe coming, how he could have miscalculated everything so severely.
Of course, William Darcy knew the reason. For the first time in his life, he had listened to his heart instead of his head.
The initial sharp sting to his pride began to fade, replaced by a much deeper wound—rejection. Not having his feelings returned at all was one thing, but the vehemence with which she had professed her dislike of him had been a figurative slap in the face. Over Jane he could understand, even if he still could not bring himself to feel remorse for his actions in that quarter—it had been for the best, his intentions had been good—but to have mistaken his marked interest in her for dislike—and to take George Wickham's word over his—
His already dark mood blackened at the thought of George. Righteous anger was fighting a losing battle with seething, petty jealousy. He was completely aware of the childish irrationality of it, and yet couldn't stop himself from feeling it.
George...of course, it would have to be George. Of course George would have an interest in her (what sane man wouldn't?) and of course she would take Wickham's word over his. His always-present rational side could admit that of the two of them, George was the more naturally affable and charming—he had a natural talent for easy conversation and confidence that Darcy completely lacked. He was also the better liar by far. He couldn't blame Lizzie for believing whatever crap he'd fed her.
He was angry at George for imposing on her, in whatever way that he had (he tried to avoid thinking about it in too explicit of detail.) He felt extremely protective of her.
You have to stop thinking of her like that. She doesn't want you to, Will. Forget it.
"How was the party?" Fitz, standing in the entranceway of his aunt's house with a beer in one hand jerked him out of his thoughts abruptly. "What did you go as…yourself?"
Had he made it back to Catherine's house so quickly? He could barely remember driving home.
"I..." he opened his mouth, but could literally think of nothing to say. Fitz fixed him with an expectant look, as if to ask, "how'd it go?" How could he even begin to explain what had happened when he barely understood it himself? "I'm...going to bed."
"It's 9:30." His friend raised one eyebrow.
"Can you please tell my aunt that I'm not to be disturbed?" he replied, barely feigning civility, which did not go unnoticed.
"Listen, man...are you alright?" Silence. "Is this about—"
"No, I'm not alright, and I have absolutely no desire to talk about it," he snapped, feeling a pang of guilt on top of everything else. Not waiting to see the look on Fitz's face, he practically bounded upstairs to the guest room, which he immediately locked.
"Why don't you watch my videos?"
There was his open laptop, sitting on the desk at the far side of his room. It almost seemed to be staring at him—into him...a pair of wide green eyes swum into view in his mind, and he blinked to rid himself of the memory.
Darcy had never been one to skirt truths, however unpleasant. That's why he'd spoken to Lizzie with such candor about the misgivings he'd felt about any relationship between them...it would be hypocritical in the extreme for him to not hold himself to the same standard he held her to.
That was how ended up typing the words "Lizzie Bennet" into YouTube.
There, of course, she was—her face in the thumbnails of a series of videos—the same face he had been so close to only an hour before.
The beginning is as good a place to start as any.
He started watching them at close to ten and did not stop until nearly three in the morning.
It was like some sort of drug (he imagined—never having done any himself, and he had to compare it to something)...he knew from about the fourth episode on that this was going to cause him more pain in the long run, but he couldn't stop. He needed to understand why tonight had gone so horribly wrong.
It didn't take very long for him to see. Every time she complained about him, insulted him, accused him of being a snob or of insensitivity was like twisting the knife again...and yet...
Darcy knew it was perverse, but a small part of him would have been more disappointed by indifference. That a so many of her videos were about him, contained lengthy rants voicing her dislike of his manners and behavior, and extremely unflattering—but even he could admit, not wholly untruthful impressions of him—was a small and admittedly very pathetic consolation. Trite sayings about the line between love and hate being thin would sound even flimsier and more desperate in the morning.
There was no chance of her ever returning her feelings. The best he could hope for was some sliver of respect—but even that seemed unlikely.
It was a mark of how poorly he'd come off to everyone in her life that the only remotely sympathetic portrayal of him on her vlog was her sister Jane's. That meant that to Lizzie's family, friends and thousands of YouTube subscribers, at his best he'd come across as a bumbling social inept. Jane at least had seen that he liked her sister, "genuinely, as a person"...she had stuck up for him.
Which made the thought of her and Bing and Lizzie's accusations even more...unsettling. He was much more uncertain about his role in that affair—it was beginning to leave a sour taste in his mouth, particularly when he thought of Caroline. Jane's feelings had obviously been deeper and more sincere than he could have guessed...but how could he have guessed? She had been more open about it with her sister than she'd ever been to anyone else, or in public, even with Bing himself!
Of course, he was hardly one to talk—and Jane Bennet had understood him far better than he had her.
Of all of them, it was Lizzie's best friend Charlotte Lu who had guessed his feelings earliest and with the most adroitness. Except Caroline...and Darcy had neither the energy nor inclination to think about her right now. He had a meeting with Charlotte tomorrow. One final discussion about zoning codes and the five-year plan with her and her sycophantic business partner...it was mortifying to think of, especially considering that she probably knew by now.
At least Charlotte being able to read him meant he was not the only one guilty of obtuseness. And she, while not an advocate, per say, was somewhat forgiving of his mismanagement of his feelings. That he "needed to work on his game" was possibly the biggest understatement he'd heard in his entire life.
He had to almost physically force himself to watch the videos with George. George Wickham, in her bedroom, taking off his shirt, flirting outrageously with Lizzie while simultaneously spreading lies about him withholding his promised scholarship trust. At least Wickham hadn't said anything about Georgianna—on camera he hadn't, anyway—but he would have to set the record straight. Lizzie was a fair person, she would allow him to tell his side of the story, especially when she knew he had been slandered for thousands of people on the internet to hear.
It was the cavalier way that George had treated her that infuriated him the most. If it were him, he would not have treated Lizzie so abominably, flirting with her sister in her own bedroom, blowing her off for no good reason and lying poorly about it...of course, he realized with a sinking feeling, he would never have even been given the chance. And Lizzie had gotten off comparatively easily compared to Gigi...she hadn't developed serious feelings for him, at least. Wickham didn't deserve that.
She didn't think you deserved them, either.
If he had hoped that watching her videos would make what he felt for Elizabeth Bennet disappear, he was dead wrong. He couldn't hate her, even if he wanted to he couldn't. Darcy had been more right than he'd known when he said that he would never dare hate her.
He admired her, for her intelligence and wit and the obvious love she gave so freely to the people around her. Everything about her...her uncanny impressions, her lively playfulness, the way that she thought and her desire to work for something bigger than herself made his heart ache...God, he was more in love with her than ever. He hadn't thought that was possible. He knew Lizzie so much better now than he did when he'd knocked on her door...he hadn't really known her at all, in fact—but his feelings were as real then as they were in this moment, hours after the fact.
She was almost as compelling on his computer screen as she was in real life.
Watching her video diaries felt invasive and wrong, almost as though he was a peeping tom, peeking through the locked window of her life (had he actually just thought that?) They were such an intimate look into her life that the lovesick moron in him couldn't stop himself. He would never be a part of this, he realized, with a sickening thud not unlike the sound of a guillotine landing on the chopping block. He watched her tear-filled reunion with Charlotte, the way she was so free and easy with Fitz, even her childish spats with Lydia...she would never smile like that for him, laugh with him, shove him playfully or roll her eyes in his direction. He would never get the chance to tell her that he found her completely adorable, even when she was dressed in her newsboy cap and tie and comparing him to a malfunctioning robot.
It was possible that when he returned to LA, he would never even see her again.
Not able to take it anymore, he closed his laptop and lay down on the bed, fully dressed. After two hours of staring at the paisley-patterned ceiling of his aunt's house, he finally dozed off, and tossed and turned fitfully. He awoke at exactly 7:00 AM, just the same as he did every day, man of such unyielding routine that he was. Darcy showered and dressed mechanically, before wandering downstairs (lest he be tempted to turn on his computer again) and ran into Charlotte Lu—almost literally, in the same entrance hallway he had snapped at Fitz the previous evening,
She was carrying a stack of file folders, dressed professionally, and obviously very surprised to see him as he was. This was probably the first time he'd ever been in the same room with her not wearing a tie, and he knew he had dark circles around his eyes.
"I'm…your aunt asked me to come here and speak with her before today's…meeting. About possible social media acquisitions in the coming months, she seemed to think that it would be better to hammer out our plans while you were still in town."
She said this all without looking him in the eye once.
"How's…" he could not bring himself to say it, instead letting the adverb hang awkwardly in for a moment."I trust your company Halloween party was a success."
"It was, thank you." She smiled at him, tightly. "Ms. De Bourgh missed you when you—" her voice faltered. "—Stepped out last night."
"You have nothing to fear from me, Charlotte."
"It…won't affect my evaluation of your work here in slightest. You've done an admirable job creating a sustainable business model for Collins and Collins, and my report will reflect that accordingly."
It sounded stiff, unemotional and robotic, even to his own ears. It didn't matter to him, he would rather sound cold and aloof to her friend than betray how he really felt. This was what they all thought he was, why not play the part? It almost wished he was as unfeeling as he'd been accused of being.
She said nothing. Charlotte Lu's impassive, almost Sphinx-like face merely stared up at him, with what suspiciously looked more like pity than contempt.
"On a more personal note, I can only add that I agree with your friend's earlier assessment that your talent is completely wasted working for my aunt. Excuse me." He moved past her to walk out the door—this giant empty house had become stifling, almost suffocating.
"You watched them all."
"I would greatly appreciate it if you could…keep this conversation between us. I'll…tell her myself."
"Of course." Her voice was very small and serious.
He quickly walked out the door and wondered, for the first time, when he would get over this. He knew that he must, somehow—he would have to, for the sake of his own sanity and for Gigi. He had failed her once, and she needed him to be the elder brother he was supposed to be. He had responsibilities; he had mountains of work to bury himself in, to distract himself from everything that had happened over the last six months.
He would conquer this—he would be himself again, again. He would have his old life back.
He only wished he could imagine not knowing what was missing from it.
I realize that from his tweeting activities today, Darcy probably wallowed for a few days before he actually watched the videos (unless he decided to not tweet until his emotions were in check) so this is borderline canon-compliant but…I started working on it right after 60 so there you go.