When he found out what Gigi had done, that she had arranged for Lizzie to shadow at Pemberley Digital entirely behind his back, he wasn't angry. He was apprehensive.
"After all, we didn't part on the best terms," he muttered to Fitz over a glass of bourbon. "The last time I saw her..."
"The last time you saw her she ripped your heart out of your chest and stomped on it."
"Yes. Thank you."
"Sorry, man." Fitz signaled the bartender for a refill. "Lizzie B is kind of perfect for you, though. And it seems like your letter really did some good. Maybe she's changed her mind."
"You saw the other videos, right?" William's voice took on a bored, rehearsed edge. It was the tone he used when he was uncomfortable with a topic and wished to move on. Most people were intimidated by it, but Fitz wasn't. "She devoted almost all of them to ridiculing me and describing my every fault. Not that she wasn't painfully accurate generally speaking. She even had help. What was it you called me? An agoraphobic lobster?"
It was Fitz's turn to wince. "I'm not saying you have to try to sweep her off her feet or anything. Just...don't give up. Promise?"
Reluctantly, William dropped his head in a single nod. Fitz, understanding victory when he saw it, changed the subject.
"You will not believe what Brandon brought home from the flea market last weekend."
"Another set of pilsner glasses?"
"We're up to forty now. Forty! I don't think we could fit forty people in our condo, but we can serve them all beer."
Since it was Gigi who orchestrated Lizzie's internship, it was hardly surprising when she arranged their first meeting at Pemberley. He should have seen it coming. The repeated text messages asking where he was and when he was arriving, the strange instructions to meet at the office even though she was supposed to be studying at the campus library...
"Your sister is weird."
He thought about defending Gigi, but her behavior made that impossible. In that moment, she was lucky that blood was thicker than water. "Yes."
They stumbled through the conversation. It wasn't neat and tidy like the words they threw at each other back at Collins & Collins. He hadn't rehearsed late into the night. He had no idea what to say or how to lessen the tension. He improvised. She almost smiled.
For a moment, he got overconfident.
"May I offer you a ride?"
It was the polite thing to do. And besides, while he didn't know who she was meeting for dinner at the Marina, he was fairly certain that he could compete. And a quiet ride alone was just the opportunity he needed to get her visit off on the right foot.
She refused. His heart sank. And then she did something miraculous. She touched him.
He wouldn't give Gigi any details about their encounter.
"William," she had whined, slipping her small hand around his forearm and squeezing. He had tried to level his best stern brother face at her, but the way she tilted her head and bit her lip cracked his composure. He laughed, a soft, deep chuckle he reserved just for her.
"No, Gigi. You had to go and get the Internet involved, so I don't see why you can't wait for the next update with the rest of them."
"You're sure she'll put you on? Something good must have happened!"
He tried to suppress the smile, but he couldn't hide the way the corners of his eyes crinkled at the memory. Gigi's answering squeal had been earsplitting.
Admittedly, when he watched the footage later, with the door to his home office locked just in case Gigi got too curious, the whole exchange reeked of awkwardness. But not in a worst-enemies-at-high-noon-forced-to-make-small-talk sort of way. It may have just been his imagination, but she seemed almost...relieved to see him.
He went back to the first video she had made at Pemberley, took a deep breath, and pressed play.
William hadn't intended to wander down the hallway near Lizzie's office. He almost never intended to go that direction, but his feet took him there more often than not anyway. Sometimes he caught himself before it was too late, changing course toward the Audio/Visual Department or the cafeteria for a quick cup of coffee instead. That night, though, he thought he was safe. It was after five, and everyone had gone home for the day. The hallways were dark, and only a few scattered offices still had occupants.
She was looking for Gigi, of course. It was too much to hope that she was looking for him. Regardless, she accepted his offer to help. He was cautiously optimistic about the whole thing until she told him exactly what it was she needed help with.
"Who would you need me to portray?"
His mind was racing, recalling the standby figures in Lizzie's costume theater. Her mother and father, Jane and Bing, Caroline...George Wickham. Most of her costume theaters prominently featured William himself, but that obviously wasn't what she wanted.
"And you will be playing...?"
"Well, that will certainly make the costumes easier to obtain."
His joke fell flat. She was visibly frustrated and embarrassed; she sputtered out a half-formed media theory that recalled one of the papers Gigi had left on his desk earlier that week. The note stuck to the top page had read Just in case. :)
He had an inkling the papers were supposed to provide him with something to talk about with Lizzie, maybe even an excuse to get together and have long, intellectual conversations. Of course, being one of Gigi's plans, it no doubt ended with Lizzie falling madly in love with him. If it had just been Gigi's well-intentioned attempts at matchmaking, he might have ignored the paper, but Dr. Gardner's work had been fascinating, and related enough to his own that he read it out of pure interest. That interest saved him.
"You thought that costume theater, as ourselves, would remind the audience that this isn't a conversation we would naturally have, but because of that, the obviously constructed nature of the scene would, by its very artificiality, create it's own sense of...verisimilitude."
She stared. He couldn't tell if he had just crossed some sort of weird, Lizzie-line or said exactly the right thing. Her mouth hung open and he swore her pupils dilated. If he didn't know better, he would have sworn she looked aroused. Then, he had an idea that Fitz would later deem "absolutely brilliant."
"One moment. Excuse me."
The hat was easy enough to find. He hadn't worn it in months, and it had gotten a little dusty on top of the filing cabinet in his office. He brushed it off as best he could and retrieved one of the spare bowties he kept for emergencies. It wasn't the garish red of Lizzie's preferred prop, but it was certainly close enough to do the trick.
Her face when he returned in full costume was worth it.
The whole thing was mildly exciting and almost...fun. Of course, she wanted to wing it. Little did she know that he was always winging it around her these days. So much of his earlier attempts at flirtation were practiced and careful, but at Pemberley she was constantly catching him unawares. He had to improvise to survive.
Her questions weren't unexpected, but that didn't make them easier to answer. She was upset and confused, not for herself but for her sister. In that moment, unclouded by personal pain, he recognized a kindred spirit. He had a feeling that Lizzie Bennet was one who did not love anything or anyone halfway.
He brushed off the subject of Wickham before she had a chance to say his name, again falling back on dry wit.
"If I knew a Darvid, perhaps I would feel differently."
She wasn't sure how to respond. Apparently witnessing him telling not one, but two jokes in the span of a single interaction was too much for her. His lips twitched, but he kept his composure.
She pressed onward, though, demanding answers on behalf of her jilted sister. He provided them, too, as clearly as he was able to. And then she hesitated, glancing sideways at him under those dark lashes.
"Do you think Bing still cares about Jane?"
Something in her voice made his breath catch in his chest. He was sure he imagined the shy, too-casual tone and the way her eyelashes fluttered ever so slightly. Still, just in case she was asking a wholly different question...
He reached up and plucked the hat off his head, effectively ending the costume theater.
"I think you should ask him."
There was a long pause, and William remembered how utterly alone they were in that moment. The tension that always lingered around them reared its ugly head, and he found himself staring at her mouth. She seemed to waver, looking up at him with those blue eyes he wanted to drown in.
If someone didn't say something soon, he was going to kiss her. He cleared his throat.
"So, how was that? Was that all right?"
Gigi didn't bother to hide her glee when she informed him they had plans to show Lizzie around the city.
"She's been here three weeks, William, and she hasn't even been on a cable car yet! Come on, how long has it been since we've done the tourist thing?"
He stared resolutely at the mountain of paperwork perched precariously in his inbox, but he could feel Gigi's eyes boring holes into the side of his head.
"You should go without me. I have much too much work to do, and I am sure Lizzie would be more...comfortable without me there intruding."
"You aren't intruding!" She tried a new tactic, circling his desk and throwing her arms around his neck. "She agreed to a walk around the city with both of us, William. Don't you think that this is the perfect opportunity to show Lizzie the real William?"
He raised his eyebrows and stared down at her. "The real William? Who has she been seeing all this time?"
Gigi pouted, that perfect Anne Darcy pout that always made him remember his laughing, exhuberant mother. She knew he couldn't resist giving her whatever she wanted when she made that face.
"I don't know, Darcybot? Please. The whole time you were out there with Bing, you were out of your element. Here, in our home, you can be yourself. I promise not to run away and leave you to fend for yourself."
His eyebrows got even higher, and she sighed deeply. "I swear. No funny business."
Gigi kept her word, for the most part. She did make a few mad dashes across streets and around corners, but Lizzie was so good-natured about the whole thing that William couldn't make himself mind. It was exhilarating to know that she was permitting him to spend an entire day in her company, and sometime mid-morning he found himself letting go and relaxing.
They got off to a rocky start. Lizzie stumbled up to the Pemberley offices where they had agreed to meet, coffee in hand and eyes barely open. When she saw them there, she blinked up at him, evidently confused about something.
"You wear glasses?"
That was it. No hello for Gigi or himself, just you wear glasses? He stared back, equally perplexed, until Gigi kicked his ankle.
"Ah! Yes. Ahem. Normally I wear contact lenses but my eyes have been feeling a bit fatigued. Lots of reading to catch up on before the quarterly board meeting."
Inexplicably, Lizzie's cheeks turned pink. "Sorry. Of course. Um, hey, Gigi! Thanks for arranging this."
It was only later that William realized that there was a remote possibility that Lizzie Bennet had been, if only for a moment, attracted to him. Later, looking over Gigi's pictures from the day and remembering the eager questions Lizzie had peppered him with at every turn, he thought it might have been for longer than just a moment.
"Lizzie wants you." Gigi peeked around his office door, a mischievous grin on her face.
He choked on his coffee and sputtered for a few moments.
"Pardon?" he asked, once he had cleared his sinus passages and his throat.
"She's working on her independent study project and she needs to interview you." His little sister turned to go, then stopped and looked back over her shoulder. "Why? What did you think I meant?"
Repeating her devious phrasing had been accidental, but the panicked look in Lizzie's eye was more than worth it. Slowly, he was beginning to sense that all was not lost. He may have been monumentally rejected in October, but January looked like a whole new world. The little touches, the subtle glances, the way she smiled through every small interaction...this was entirely different. This was something new. She was flirting, and he was flirting back.
He was so caught up in the wonderful newness of it all that she backed him into a corner without him realizing it.
"Since you're here, you would have to be my assistant."
The teasing look in her eye was enticing, but not enticing enough to miss the larger point. She wanted him to pretend to be his sister. Not only emasculating, but more likely than not, embarrassing for both Darcys.
"I...I don't think that's necessary."
Lizzie got her way. She always would, where William was concerned. She just didn't know that yet. Luckily, she had pity on him when he cracked, and she opened up another tiny piece of herself. She apologized, however obliquely, for not seeing him for who he was. At least, that was what he hoped she was doing. He also hoped she recognized his apology, insignificant though it was, and he hoped that she recognized he was trying so hard to be a better man, for her and for himself. The tension that William had learned to both love and dread surged again, and he steered the conversation back to safer waters.
The wig from the wardrobe department was a stroke of genius; even Fitz had to admit it. Her breathless laughter was music that William could have listened to for hours.
The next morning, he called the theater and reserved seats for the Thursday night performance of Anna Karenina.
Those final moments with her at Pemberley were the happiest, but they were also the moments that he most wished he could erase. She was happy, comfortable in his presence, and pleased to see him. And when he told her that he had something ask her, he thought she understood.
"I would love to attend the theater with you and Gigi."
He was glad he had chosen an evening Gigi was busy, if only because at that moment, he was forced to do the thing properly. If Gigi hadn't been otherwise engaged, he might have been tempted to take the coward's way out and buy a third ticket later. But this way, they would both have to acknowledge what he was asking.
"It would just be, uh, you and me." Their eyes met, and he thought the world had narrowed to a single point. There was nothing but this moment, right before yes, and the moment was filled with limitless possibility.
And then her phone began to chime, and everything changed.
And she never said yes.
After she left, he stopped watching her videos. At first, he didn't have the time. Between keeping a careful eye on his sister and tracking down George Wickham, he didn't have a spare moment to sleep, let alone watch her video diaries. He tried to catch up on them once, right after the website got taken down, but the sight of the woman he loved breaking down was too painful to bear. He blocked Youtube on his laptop and forbade himself from venturing onto Twitter. It was hard enough knowing that he had brought so much pain down on Lizzie and her family without adding on the unnecessary guilt of voyeurism to the whole thing.
It didn't matter how many times Gigi said she was sure Lizzie thought he was still watching. The sight of Lizzie holding Lydia, the two of them shattered into a million tiny pieces and sobbing, was enough to make him wish social media had never been invented. It made him feel like an intruder to have seen it, and it recalled too many of his own unpleasant memories of Gigi, heartbroken and incoherent with grief in his arms. If that was what her videos held, he did not need to see any more of them.
After Bing returned to Netherfield, he called several times. Once he left a voicemail.
"Things are going really well, Darcy. Thanks for telling me to come back and talk to Jane. I'm not sure if she's going to agree to give me...give us another shot, but I know that I'd hate myself if I didn't try."
There was a long pause.
"I've seen Lizzie a couple of times. She looks good. She's been really quiet. Well, quiet for Lizzie. You know. Jane says she won't really talk about Pemberley. What happened, man?"
Bing sighed, and the line crackled.
"Okay, well, the line is cutting out. My cell phone never did work right at this house. Don't be a stranger, all right? You're welcome here whenever you want. Whenever."
Fitz was the one who got him to break his self-imposed Lizzie embargo. He received the text message after his evening bike ride, and when he read Fitz's words, it didn't strike him as anything odd.
Check out my mock-up trailer for Domino. Think the investors will really like it.
A small file was attached. He downloaded it quickly and turned up the volume on his phone. The video started to play automatically. Her face filled his screen, and her voice, so unexpected and so welcome, hit him at full volume.
"So why is Bing here?" she asked. "That is the big question. And I don't blame Jane for dodging it."
His finger hovered over the stop command, but he couldn't make himself turn it off. It was so gratifying to hear her voice. She looked well. Not at all sick or sad like she had less than two weeks previous. He traced her cheek with the tip of his finger, barely grazing the screen. He wasn't even really listening to her words until...
"What if we missed our chance?"
The video, obviously cut and resaved by Fitz for ultimate stealth attack purposes, froze on a frame of Lizzie, staring at the ground and looking disappointed and heartsick. He rewound.
"My two cents? I think Bing had some 'what ifs' of his own. It would make sense. Everyone does. What if things had been different? What if the timing wasn't so bad? What if they...moved on? What if we missed our chance?"
He watched it ten more times before he thought to reply to Fitz.
You seem to have attached the wrong file.
Then he got on the phone with his travel agent and booked a flight out. It was time to visit Netherfield.
A/N: I lifted dialogue from Episodes 78, 80, 83, 84, and 91. I thought I had seen somewhere that he was planning on taking her to see Anna Karenina at the theater, but I have no idea if that's right. Does anyone know if we have a confirmed date plan from the creators? Also, I'm dying to know where the photo titled "Being Candid" from Gigi's twitter feed was taken. Thanks for reading!