Yet another drabble - perhaps not as polished as some of my other fics, but it was just an idea I wanted to write down to get it out of my head. But hey, tiger and eagle references! Don't forget to review.
The Darcy siblings took her literally all over the city – the day is a blur of beautiful buildings, art galleries, museums, photo's of the Golden Gate Bridge, exploring Fisherman's Wharf and lunch in Chinatown. Yet for Lizzie there is a single moment that stands out, a moment of camaraderie and understanding between her and Darcy, a moment when the last of his robotic exterior fell away in her eyes and she saw him properly as a man.
They were in San Francisco Zoo, having met up with Fitz and his boyfriend Aaron. They cheerfully made their way around the animal exhibits, the five of them talking and laughing with surprisingly little awkwardness.
Lizzie was leaning on the railing next to the monkey exhibit, Darcy standing next to her. The others had started to move on to the next sight, but they had lingered.
"I'm really glad I decided to come out today," she said, still grinning from a comment Fitz had made a moment ago.
"I am pleased you did," Darcy said, turning from where the monkeys were playing to look at her. " … Was it a difficult decision?"
Realising what she had inadvertently implied - that she didn't originally want to join them today, with his presence being the most probable barrier against it – she opened her mouth to backtrack, yet found herself unable to explain what she had meant.
Darcy watched her struggle for words for a moment, and then said softly, "Lizzie, I would very much like it if we could be … friends."
Before she could form a reply she was startled by Gigi grabbing her arm. "Lizzie you have to see this," she said, dragging her towards one of the buildings. "They have golden eagles, they are so cool!"
She froze in the doorway as her words registered, realising she was being pulled into the menagerie. The sound of birds assaulted her ears and she instinctively tried to bolt, only to collide straight into Darcy, who was following behind them.
"What's wrong?" he asked, seemingly startled to suddenly find himself holding her elbows in a steadying grip.
"Nothing, I just need some fresh air," she said in a much higher voice than usual.
"We are still outside," he pointed out, one eyebrow cocked ever so slightly.
Shaking her arms free, she disentangled herself from him and dashed away up the path until she was out of sight.
Stunned by her bolting, Darcy brushed off Gigi's concern and told her to go find the others before following Lizzie.
After a few minutes he found her perched on the very edge of a bench, sitting with her head in her hands. Her rich, auburn hair was hanging in a curtain around her face, concealing her features from him, yet he could tell she was in some distress.
"Lizzie?" he said softly, standing in front of her.
Her head jerked up to look at him, and he was startled to see a few tears on her cheeks. "Sorry, you must think I am being ridiculous," she mumbled, swiping the back of her hand over her face to get rid of the tears.
"I don't think that at all," he said, tentatively sitting down next to her. "However I am a little confused about why you suddenly ran away."
Lizzie was silent, taking several deep breaths. When it became apparent that she didn't want to speak, he voiced what he feared. "Was it because of what I said?" he asked quietly, wondering if she simply didn't want to be his friend.
"What?" she said with a slightly startled laugh. "No, that's not it at all."
"Then what's the matter?" he questioned, unmistakably relieved.
She was wringing her hands, plainly embarrassed. "I, um … I have a bit of a phobia of birds," she said in a rush, and then gave him a self-deprecating smile. "It's silly, I know."
"It's not silly," he reassured her, remembering now that Lydia had disclosed her phobia in one of her earlier videos when she had commandeered the camera. "Phobias are a serious thing."
"But birds?" Lizzie said, seeming to have calmed down a lot. "I tell myself I am being stupid, but whenever I am around them I just … seize up."
"It's understandable." There was a long silence between them, and he found himself wanting to reach out to her. "I get crippling claustrophobia, you know."
"Really?" she said, smiling at him: a true, genuine smile. She understood that this was him opening up to her, telling him a flaw of his own so that she would feel better.
Darcy nodded, his body rigidly facing forward but his head tilted to face her. "When I was a child George and I were playing hide and seek. I was hiding in my grandmothers antique cabinet and he thought it would be funny to lock me in," he paused and looked down at his clasped hands. "I was in there for several hours before my mother found me."
"That's horrible," she said, imagining a frightened little boy, alone in the dark, and feeling a fresh wave of dislike for George Wickham.
He turned to face her again. "Do you know how your phobia came into being, or is it one you've always had?"
Lizzie took a deep breath before speaking, only willing to open up about this because he had shared his own phobia with her. "We had one of those bird demonstrations at school, you know, ones with owls and falcons and eagles," she said, cringing a little at the memory. "I was picked to help with the hawking display, so I had the big gloves on and the bird resting on my hand. I can't remember what spooked it, but it suddenly started flapping its wings, though it couldn't fly away – I panicked, the bird panicked, and its wings were flapping right in my face for a few seconds until the man was able to take it away from me." She grimaced at him, a little surprised to note the intensity with which he was staring at her, listening to her speak. She shrugged one shoulder. "I've been terrified ever since – even moths fluttering around freak me out a little bit."
Darcy nodded slightly and was silent for a long moment. "You know, there is a rather beautiful Sumratan tiger just around the corner," he said eventually, inclining his head towards one of the zoo information signs that showed where animals could be found. "Would you like to go see it while the others are in the menagerie?"
Yet another smile spread across her face, appreciating his thoughtfulness. "I'd like that," she said, her eyes sparkling up at him.
Finally feeling as if he had done something right with her, Darcy got to his feet and extended a hand to help her. He tried to ignore the tingles that spread up his arm when she accepted his hand for the scant seconds it took her to stand up, and they walked to the tiger exhibit with their shoulders just brushing.
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