Disclaimer: I wish I could claim even a part of the genius that made these characters. As I can't, I won't, because I don't. Thank you for not suing me for bringing them out to play.
Author's Note: This is it for this story, at least for the foreseeable future. There might be a sequel at some point, but I'm not sure. I'll keep you posted.
Until then, please read and review (I would love to reach 100 reviews on this). Thank you to everyone who already left a review and to everyone who has stuck with me through the journey that was this alternate universe. This ending, which I hope lives up to expectations, is for you.
The Netherfield Effect.
17. The End.
Lizzie couldn't wait until that evening. She didn't want to have to wait to see him again. To see Darcy and to see if Fitz's warnings and his sister's hopes were in vain. She had to see if she was worrying about a future that could never happen. She had to know if what she felt really was love and she had to know if he maybe felt the same. She already knew that he cared, but caring was a long way from love. She should know, she's recently made that journey herself.
Inhaling a steadying breath, she dialed the number, praying that he would answer it quickly as much as she feared the same.
He answered on the third ring. "Lizzie?" He sounded groggy, like he had been woken up by her phone call.
She felt guilty, knowing that he probably hadn't had as much sleep as she had. She felt even guiltier for liking how he sounded upon first waking up.
"Is this a bad time?"
She could hear him shifting, sitting up. "No, it's fine." He cleared his throat, a low rumble that she heard over the phone. "It was just a late night."
"Yeah, I heard."
She could could picture his eyebrow raising. "I take it that you have talked to Fitz, then."
She found herself smiling. "He called to say goodbye before he left."
"I'm sure goodbye isn't all he said. I apologize if anything he said made you uncomfortable in..."
"Can I see you?" She butted in, needing to say the words before she lost her nerve.
"I assumed that I would be seeing you tonight."
"You are, I just, I wanted to see you. Sooner."
She thought she could hear the corners of his lips lifting, "Sooner?"
"Like now, sooner."
"That is sooner."
Was he teasing her again? Was he trying to make her say more over the phone than she felt comfortable with saying? "If you don't want to..."
It was his turn to cut her off. "No, sooner is good. Now is better. I could come pick you up in an hour, if you'd like."
"Or I could meet you at Netherfield before then," she offered, hopeful.
He was silent a moment. "Is your mother at home?" He asked almost knowingly.
"She might have seen you drop me off last night. Let's just say that she is quickly getting ideas that I'm not comfortable with her having yet."
"Netherfield is fine," he told her, finding it hard to form words. She had said yet. "I believe Bing is going out, but I will be here whenever you arrive."
"Soon," she reminded him, "I'll be arriving soon."
"Then I suppose I should go and shower before you arrive."
She wanted to tell him that not to rush on her behalf, but didn't. She couldn't. Not yet. Yet. She hung up with a smile, needing, herself, to get ready.
Half an hour later she pulled up to Netherfield. And for the first time she didn't feel like she was going to her death. A part of her felt she was going to something much, much worse. What if he didn't feel the same? What if everyone had been wrong? What if he was just playing with her? What if he was no better than George Wickham.
She stopped at that thought, knowing that she had been wrong about him before. For months she had misunderstood him, and doubted the goodness within him. But never could she believe that he was as bad as that. And while she might still be wrong about the depth of his feelings, she knew she was right about his goodness. And she knew that he did care about her. That was something she could work with.
It was a beginning at least.
She rang the doorbell, pacing back and forth waiting for someone to answer. She didn't expect it to be the cook. She looked as frazzled as Lizzie felt.
"I'm sorry, Ma'am. Mr. Darcy asked me to watch the door as he is still getting ready in his room."
"That's okay. I'm early." The cook let her in. "Thank you."
She was then alone in the entranceway, uncertain as to where to go. She knew where Darcy was, but was that where he was expecting her to meet him? She blushed at the thought of it, but found herself moving in the direction regardless. After all, he didn't know when she was arriving. She might as well make her presence known.
She hesitated by his door, hand poised, ready to knock. There was no going back after this. She was saved having to second guess herself when the door opened. And there he was. Darcy. Complete with bow tie. And his newsie hat.
"Lizzie," he greeted, surprised at seeing her there. "You're here."
She nodded, dumbly, unable to look away from this man that was making her insides do things that they should not do for anyone not set to die.
"Is everything alright?" He asked, shifting uncomfortably, wondering if he had done the wrong thing when he had put the hat on. He wanted her to know that he had changed. That he had a sense a humour. It was what he wore when they had first met. He had hoped that it would be his way of asking for a fresh start. With her.
She stepped towards him, her words, for once, still trying to catch up. She smiled at him. "Yes."
"That is good. Then I assume that there is another reason you wanted to see me?"
"I missed you." The words rushed out before she could stop them. She blushed at his smile. She really should have thought out what she was going to say to him. "And I wanted to see you because I needed to thank you again for helping get rid of Wickham and to apologize for everything even though both have been said before and I know that you don't want to hear it again..." She trailed off, taking another tentative step forward. They were close enough to touch. Close enough to dance. She shrugged, eyes going to the tie around his neck. "And I- I missed you."
He nodded slowly. He reached out to her, fingers running down from her shoulder to elbow before his hand once again dropped to his side. He looked uncertain. He was so cute when he was unsure of himself. She had imagined that this wasn't a side to him that many people saw. She had imagined that it was rare. And that she had seen it often meant more to her than it probably should.
The question she had on her lips was forgotten - was replaced by his lips upon her own. She felt his hat fall away as her fingers worked through his hair and they stumbled backwards into his room, the door shutting before he moved towards her again, pushing her against the wooden barrier.
Darcy broke away first, one hand on the door, the other on her waist, holding her in place when she tried to follow him back, not wanting to stop kissing him.
"What?" She asked, trying to meet his eyes, although they were determined to look at the ground before her feet, "What's wrong?"
The panic mixed uncertainty in her voice finally brought his eyes back to hers, back to her face and her hair that was no longer smooth from where his hands had tangled through the long strands. She looked almost afraid, like she wanted to sink into the door.
He ran his finger through the hair that was threatening to block his view of her eyes. The eyes that he had first fallen in love with. "This. Not this," he explained, when he heard himself say the wrong thing yet again. "Rather, there is something I need to know."
She nodded, urging him on.
"This," he held up his index finger and gestured between them, "You and me. This is actually happening?" She nodded, fighting a smile. "So you... don't hate me?"
She laughed before she could stop herself. It was a good thing he was learning not to take her teasing personally. Even if she still was finding out that he could tease her back. "No. I don't hate you at all. Haven't for some time."
It was his turn to nod, as though processing her comment despite not really believing his turn of luck. "That is fortuitous."
"I think so. Now, is there any other questions you have? Because I told Jane I would home soon so we could get ready for tonight."
He thought a moment before shaking his head. "Not that I am currently aware."
"Good, then, can we go back to kissing?"
She was quickly getting addicted to the way he kissed her, and the way she wanted to kiss him in kind. It was something that she never wanted to stop doing. And if it wasn't for the whole breathing thing, it was something that she could see her doing forever.
It took Bing's return and two calls from Jane to finally pull her away from Netherfield with promises of seeing him soon, although she was aware that it wasn't going to be soon enough. They hadn't gotten around to talking. She still didn't know how they were going to work out his travelling and working and her schooling and future career aspirations. Part of her believed that it would all work out in the end and that it was too soon to be bothered with details. The rest of her that feared, knew that she wanted a future with him, and for that to happen, that future would have to be possible for both of them.
~*~ LBD ~*~
If someone asked her the details of her date that night, where they went and what, exactly, they did, Lizzie wouldn't be able to tell them. They were picked up by a driver, and deposited at the airport where Bing and Darcy were waiting, excited and apprehensive at seeing their expressions.
"It was Bing's idea," Darcy confessed, not wanting her to think more on their different histories than she knew she already has.
"So this isn't the everyday with you," she asked, her playfulness feeding on his discomfort, hoping to be able to put them both at ease.
"No, I'm afraid it isn't."
"I can live with that," she assured him, accepting his hand as she climbed the stairs into the small aircraft that had been chartered.
They watched the sunset in the air, as the sun dipped out of sight and the reds of the fading light touched the clouds they flew among. She had the window seat, her attention split between the view before her and the warmth of the hand that was splayed at her back, fingers caressing the exposed skin peeking out from her dress.
They landed near the coast, in a small airfield. A car was waiting to take them to a resort on a beach, where there was a private dining area outside overlooking the water, with a table for four and candles and soft music playing. The sight of Darcy's proud smile when she stepped out of the car was Lizzie's only indication that he had been at least partially responsible for this part of the evening.
After a dining experience that made both the sister's ready to claim that it could gladly be their last meal on this earth, Bing asked Jane to dance. After a moment watching them, Darcy cleared his throat, "Lizzie, would you like to dance?"
She glanced over her shoulder, to where the waves were rolling onto the sand, "I would prefer a walk." And a talk, she added, growing uneasy for the first time that night.
They were silent as they made their way to the shoreline. They were both barefoot, and once again she found him offering her his coat to ward off the night air. She thanked him, as he wrapped the black suit jacket around her shoulders, pulling her into him as he did so. Once again she found herself wanting to forget that she had questions for him, wanting to forget the journey ahead.
"Lizzie," he began at last, "There is something I wanted to ask you."
She pulled away from him enough to watch his expression, "This better not be a proposal," she warned, "Because I am not ready for that, no matter what my mother says."
He smiled, "No. No marriage proposal." He stopped himself from adding yet. "It might have been better to say that I wanted your opinion of something."
"Safer, at least."
"I wanted to talk to your father. I know that his opinion is very important to you and I am aware that you are seen as his favourite. And as such I thought it best, if you agree, to meet with him about us, and my intentions towards you..." he fell silent when he met her eyes again and the questioning hope that made him fall for her all over again.
"And, may I ask, what your intentions are?"
"I love you," he told her honestly before he could think to want to not say those words yet. Her jaw fell slack, both of them realizing at the same time exactly what he had said. It hung between them as she fought to regain her breath.
"What did you say?" She asked him, her voice unsteady and pulse racing. "Because it just sounded like you said you loved me."
"I did. I do. I love you."
"That better not be the impulse of the moment and the scenery talking there bucko." She said, telling her heart to remain calm.
He smoothed the hair around her face. "I hope that you are aware enough of my nature by now to know that I'm not an impulsive man by nature."
"Good to know."
"Lizzie, I know that your opinion of me hasn't always been favourable, even though I am aware that that has changed as of late. And, while I flatter myself that you do care about me more than you say, I am not naive enough to hope that after such a short time that you feel the same about me as I do you. I have been falling in love with you since we met. I only hope, and ask, that you might be able to care about me more than you presently do."
"I can't," she said before she thought about how he might take the words. When she saw the hurt and doubt in his gaze she rushed on, "I can't because I already do. I love you too."
He nodded, fighting the smile that she could see trying to brim over his control, "And this isn't the impulse of the moment..."
She kissed him, cutting off his protests.
He broke away, finally allowing himself to smile fully at her. "Because I will hold you to what you said. My memory for these things is impeccable."
She laughed at him, happy with where she was for the first time in longer than she could recall. And they talked, not in details, but enough to know that they were on the same page and whatever came, they would strive to meet it together.
"There is the phone and skype and I will fly over every chance I can while you finish your degree."
He shrugged, "I do run a media company, I'm sure I could find you something there."
"No, I don't want a job like that. I want something I have earned."
"Talk to any member of the board or senior management, they will tell you that putting up with me would be earning it. Most would say that you deserve more, and they would not be wrong."
"You know what I mean." He admitted that he did. "You never know, maybe I'll come out of my degree and get an offer at another Collins and Collins."
"Will I have to buy another company to keep you near me? Lizzie, one thing at a time. This year first."
"No," she corrected, taking his hand in hers, "First, is you talking to my parents."
In the end, Darcy only talked to Lizzie's father. All parties concerned felt that it might be best for the blossoming relationship to not tell her mother just yet. And so, they carried the secret for the last, precious days before he had to go back to work, staying with her as long as he could while she helped Jane pack up for her move. And when the first tears fell after seeing them off at the airport, he had called and stayed on the line with her until he knew that she was going to be okay.
Two days later she was with Charlotte and talking about the future when her bestie gave her a plan that she couldn't fault: shadowing media companies and doing independent studies as a way to make connections and spend more time with those not tied to her home. Half a dozen calls later and it was all set, she even had a shadowing set up at Pemberley. And for the first time it felt like everything was going to be okay.
Even after their first fight, and their second. Even after the first board-member cocktail party where she was put on display and judged by people who already felt her beneath him, and even still after telling her mother and even, before any of that, meeting Darcy's aunt.
~*~ The End ~*~
A/N: Thank you to everyone who has stuck with me on this. I had originally thought that I would continue this over the Collin's and Collin's arch to see how Catherine and Caroline would take the relationship, but to be honest, I think they earned a little privacy. That being said, a squel might come in time, or if anyone wants to continue it, by all means. Let me know if you do, I would love to read it.