Notes: Takes place during Episode 84, just as Darcy asks Lizzie to go to the theatre. Not really AU, and fits canon. I'd call it a missing moment, but it's really more of a missed moment. Spoilers for episode 84, I guess.
"I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing."
- from Preludes
"…Gigi has an engagement so… so it would be just you and … me."
Worlds revolve in the silence like the spin of a roulette wheel. In that moment, the universe holds its breath as the spin slows, spiraling toward a stop. The future begins to unfurl like a ship's sail, like a newly birthed butterfly's wings. Two hearts pound fiercely, with slightly varying levels of trepidation and hope, beneath ribs that suddenly feel too small and as fragile as glass.
(But this—this is what doesn't happen.)
Lizzie blinks once, then twice. Her mouth opens soundlessly for a moment before she locates her voice, buried somewhere behind the tidal wave of emotion that has suddenly clogged her throat. She is terrified, as if she stands on the edge of a precipice, but for once—just this once—she thinks she's ready to take that fall. She has only just been able to admit to herself recently that she likes Darcy—or at least this new, not-so-robot-like version that she has encountered here at Pemberly. She likes him enough to want to explore this—whatever this is that has been gradually building up between them and has, in recent days, felt thick enough to cut with a knife.
"Okay," she says, finally, and thinks it possibly the stupidest word in the English language. "I mean—that—well, that sounds … good. Fun. The theatre. With … you."
She may have found her voice but sentence structure, basic grammar and the elements of conversation have eluded her entirely.
Darcy makes a sound that's not quite a laugh. It might be a grunt, or a cough, except that it's made of happiness. He clears his throat to get rid of the sound and wonders if there's ever been a more beautiful sentence ever uttered by a woman in the entire history of speech.
"Wonderful," he says, then clears his throat once more just because he's afraid he might make that noise again. "I will—" he rethinks the wisdom of his phrasing and tries again. He is, after all, making an effort to be a better man. "May I pick you up at six-thirty?"
Lizzie gives something that approximates a nod, but which feels as graceful as a head butt. "Yes. That would be … lovely." She wonders when she started talking like a Regency romance novel, but somehow doesn't mind in the slightest.
She wants to ask if he's still in love with her. If, after everything she has said about him, every hurtful thing that has been between them, if this is him, offering them another chance. In the end, however, she decides not to question it.
A date, she thinks. I'm going on a date with William Darcy.
Nervousness is thrumming through her veins, making her giddy and she fights back the urge to giggle. She's afraid it might scare him and he'll spook like a startled deer.
He gives her a smile instead, and she wonders once again how she managed to live in the same house with this man for a month and never see him smile. If she'd ever seen him smile the way he is right now she could have never imagined that he was a robot.
She has no idea that this smile he's wearing now, made of joy and hope in equal measure, is something brand new, never before seen, made just for her.
Things are a little blurry then, as he fumbles his way through leaving and she realizes, dimly, that she left the camera running. She turns it off after he's gone and stares at it for a long time without actually seeing it, wondering if she's dreaming. Then, suddenly, she realizes what she's looking at, and then the camera is as precious as the black box of an airplane after a crash.
In a mad rush she plugs it into her computer, copies over the video footage, and then spends the next hour watching and re-watching it, trying to decipher the flutter of Darcy's eyelashes or the quirk of his lips. The only thing that goes through her mind, however, is: This is real. This happened. I'm going on a date with William Darcy.
(It is not real, however. It didn't happen. But Lizzie doesn't know this.)
It takes another hour for the panic to set in as she realizes she has, in fact, agreed to go on a date with William Darcy. She mentally inventories every dress she has brought with her and realizes that, though they are pretty, none of them measure up to what she imagines a woman wears to go to the theatre and sit in a box seat. Who even has box seats to the theatre in this century? She wants to call Jane. The urge is so strong that her hand actually reaches for her phone, wondering if the activation is through and she can use it to make calls right now.
Then she thinks better of it, because calling Jane would entail telling Jane about Darcy and about Bing and about a million other things that Lizzie isn't quite ready to talk about yet with her sister, but which she has shown thousands of strangers on the internet.
So instead she quietly panics and checks her bank account to see if enough money has magically appeared in it that she can afford to go buy a new dress. There hasn't.
(This may be a dream, but even Lizzie's imagination has its limits.)
Darcy, meanwhile, has gone beyond mental wardrobe inventory and, instead, has simply cancelled the rest of his appointments for the afternoon and gone home so that he can stand blindly in front of his immense walk-in closet. He probably has enough shirts to wear a different one every day of the year, but he has absolutely no idea what to wear. A decision like this feels insurmountably monumental, far more important than whether to buy or sell stock, or companies, or invest in a brand new technology: what exactly does one wear for an evening with Elizabeth Bennet?
There is a grin on his face that he knows is stupid, but he can't quite make the effort to care.
Gigi finds him there, eventually, deduces—because she really is quite brilliant—that her brother has bitten the bullet and discovered that it was made of chocolate, and takes matters firmly in hand. She sits him down on his bed as if he's a giant Ken doll, then delves into his closet for him and returns with a blue-green shirt the exact shade of Lizzie's eyes, a tailored pair of slacks and a suit jacket that doesn't scream Darcy-bot.
She refuses, absolutely REFUSES to let him wear a tie of any sort. Instead, once he's showered and dressed, she unbuttons his top two collar buttons and threatens to cut them off if he even thinks about doing them back up again.
Five-thirty finds Lizzie in a robe and a towel turban standing amidst the carnage of her limited wardrobe, ready to burst into tears. She stares at her one good black dress that she thinks is the closest thing to suitable she has, but which Darcy has seen her in before, and wonders what Jane would do in this situation. She thinks that men never seem to remember what women wear, why should Darcy be any different? But he is, somehow, and she knows it. He probably has a photographic memory, and has stored away in the computer of his brain an image file of every outfit she's ever worn, complete with notations and criticisms.
(She is only partially right: Darcy does have a photographic memory, and a mental image file of everything that she has ever worn. However, Darcy has long since come to believe that Lizzie Bennet is the most beautiful woman in the world, and would be so even if she wore a burlap sack. Nothing short of a nuclear bomb dropped on his head would convince him otherwise.)
In the end she goes with her second best dress, which isn't quite as nice as the black one, but which is still a designer label (bought at a severe discount at her favorite consignment shop). It is the right shade to make her hair look redder, her skin creamier, and it reflects the color of her eyes. It also has the added benefit of Darcy having never seen it before. She dresses it up with her best shoes and jewelry, and spends an inordinate amount of time trying to decide what to do with her hair. Ultimately she leaves it down, because without Jane around Lizzie has a difficult time doing anything interesting at all with her hair.
The doorbell buzzes at six-thirty on the dot. Lizzie spends exactly thirty seconds standing in the hallway, staring at it, twisting her hands into nervous knots, which is just long enough for Darcy to edge close to full-on panic. On the opposite side of the door he wonders if she's forgotten, or perhaps he dreamed it. He has a lot of these sorts of dreams lately, and it's entirely possible that his imagination, rusty from disuse for many years, has gone into overdrive.
(It has, but we won't tell him that.)
Then she opens the door, and she's perfect, and he's perfect, and he's utterly astounded that there isn't music playing or a light change to indicate the moment.
They stare at each other while somewhere in the universe stars die, entire solar systems collapse into black holes, and new planets are born. Finally, Lizzie makes a vague gesture that Darcy cannot interpret and after a moment she says. "Purse. I should … Let me just get my … purse."
"Of course," Darcy says, and waits on the other side of the door while she disappears back into the apartment. The sound of swearing drifts back down the hall, there is a thump, a slight crash, more swearing, and then—before Darcy has had time to decide that in the few seconds she's been gone the apartment has been broken into by purse bandits and he probably ought to go in and rescue her—she reappears, smiling apologetically and brandishing a handbag.
"Found it," she says. "It was stuck."
Darcy smiles at her because she's smiling at him and she's beautiful and clever and really, he can't think of anything better to do.
Lizzie shuts the door, locks it, then turns to look at him expectantly. "I meant to ask, um, what are we seeing?"
For a moment, Darcy's mind is utterly and completely blank, as if someone has turned off the server and he can't get a connection. He had looked it up, hadn't he? Or had he just assumed that, since it was a Friday night, there would be a show? What if there wasn't a show?
Then he remembers, and remembering causes a faint flush to crawl up his neck and take up residence on his face.
"The Importance of Being Earnest," he says, and tries to cover his embarrassment with an even more embarrassing attempt at a cough. He had thought it appropriate, since he knew of her love for period pieces and all things English, but perhaps he had been wrong.
Lizzie smiles, however, and it's her wide, true, happy, Lizzie smile—the one that she usually reserves for Charlotte or Jane. He knows this because he has a mental catalogue of her smiles as well. "Oh, that's perfect!" she says. "I've always wanted to see that on stage."
"Well, then," he says, and offers her his arm, because he's William Darcy and that's what he does. She stares at it for a moment as if it is an alien appendage, then laughs and loops hers through his, her hand resting on his sleeve. In that moment he remembers the brief touch of her hand on his shoulder the other day, and the briefer touch she gave his arm during that awkward first meeting at Pemberly. He remembers dancing with her at the wedding, and again at Bing's birthday. None of those touches, brief as a butterfly landing or forced as the march of a man toward the gallows, compare to this: Lizzie Bennett, her arm linked casually and voluntarily through his, as warm and perfect as if she belongs there.
Lizzie had, to be honest, been half-expecting a limo. Wasn't that what rich men did in movies, to try to impress a woman? But Darcy had driven himself, which gave her an opportunity to babble inanely on the drive to the theatre about hybrid cars and to ask him a million questions about his. When faced with an opportunity to talk about something he was interested in, William Darcy opened up and spoke freely, and Lizzie found herself wishing that the drive was longer (even though they'd gotten stuck in rush hour San Francisco traffic for twenty minutes and the theatre was halfway across town).
The box seat lives up to her expectations. It is plush and expensive looking and affords an excellent view of the stage. There are two rows of incredibly comfortable seats, and they sit in the front so that Lizzie can peer over the balcony at the people below. Darcy hands her a pair of honest-to-god opera glasses and Lizzie amuses herself by peering at the people in the other occupied boxes while Darcy amuses himself by watching Lizzie.
She is aware of him as if he is a live wire. It feels like all the hairs on her body are standing on end, and when he moves, they move with him. Lizzie cannot remember ever being as aware of another person as she is of William Darcy, and although she laughs and talks and tries to chatter like a normal person, inside she feels squirmy and strange. Oddly, this isn't a bad feeling.
When he touches her arm to direct her view toward the stage, it feels like fireworks have just burst under her skin.
The show begins, and even though Lizzie watches it, and enjoys it, she is far more attuned to the man sitting beside her. Later, she will recall the details of the show —because Lizzie remembers everything, no matter how distracted—but she will also recall that during the first act, Darcy's thigh was touching hers, and at one point his fingers accidentally brushed her dress. She will remember the way that he smells at this moment for the rest of her life, to the point of tracking down the exact cologne by scent in Macy's so that she can buy him a new bottle of it two Christmases from now, even though she doesn't know the name.
(She will wince at the price tag, but buy it anyway.)
During intermission they skip going to the lobby in favor of talking about the plot of the play and the actors, and when the lights dim for the second act they quiet themselves with a slight sense of disappointment.
Darcy finds his eyes wandering from the stage to where Lizzie's hand lays on her thigh, only inches from his. In the dim lighting her pale skin is incredibly tempting, and he wishes with every fiber of his being that he could simply bridge that gap and run his fingers over the back of her hand, to see if it is as warm and soft as he imagines. For some reason he finds the back of her hand almost unbearably erotic, and even though he scolds himself for it severely, he finds himself hardening a little at the thought of touching her there.
But he doesn't, because for her he's going to be a gentleman and he would never dare presume. He knows from harsh experience that when it comes to Lizzie Bennett, it is much safer to never presume that he knows what she's thinking or feeling.
It is something of a surprise when Lizzie glances at him during a humorous moment to see his reaction to the play and finds him staring longingly at her hand. For a moment their eyes meet and hold, before he glances away, perturbed at being caught at something so ridiculous. He feels her shift, then her hand slips into his, their fingers tangling slowly together like vines. She gives him a smile, and turns her attention back to the play, her hand entrusted into his care for the moment. The rest of the play passes in a blur for him, wrapped and caught entirely by the warmth and smoothness of her small hand.
Afterwards they walk slowly back to the car, and Lizzie finds herself wishing that the night wouldn't end. Her stomach, however, has clearly been taking notes on matchmaking from Gigi, and chooses a lull in the conversation to growl embarrassingly loud. She laughs and puts a hand over it, as if to shut it up. "I forgot to have dinner," she confesses. "I was a little nervous about … this."
Darcy's brain rattles through nearly a dozen possible responses before landing on something unassuming. "Do you like Indian cuisine?"
Lizzie smiles. "Yes. I love it."
"There's a place, not far from here, that makes excellent vindaloo. They're open late."
"That sounds brilliant," she says, and decides that she's really glad she tossed Altoids in her purse.
The restaurant is small, dimly lit, and smells richly of curry. She's thrilled that the menus are printed on paper and she can actually see the price of what she's ordering. Aside from the wine list, everything is in her price range. She wonders if he's planning on paying, or if he'll let her pay for her share. She frowns at the menu, not sure how to bring it up. "Darcy, I…"
He reaches over and touches his fingers to the back of her hand. She looks up. He gives her a brief smile that is nothing but genuine. "Whatever you want," he says.
For a moment she thinks he means that she should order whatever she wants, but then he dips his head, slightly as if rethinking his words.
"What I mean is, I am more than happy to treat you to dinner, but … if it would make you more comfortable to split the bill … I don't want to presume. Whatever you prefer, Lizzie."
Something in her chest flutters, like a bird. "I … I would like to chip in, this time, if you don't mind. After all, you treated me to the theatre, so…"
He cocks his head to the side and gives her an unreadable look. "This time?" he asks, his voice softer than she's ever heard it, as if he's speaking to a small animal he's afraid of startling. "Does that mean … would you like for there to be a … next time?"
She blushes, knowing that she's probably nearly as red as her hair. Then she laughs, and nods slightly. "Yes, I … think I would like for there to be a next time."
The smile that dawns across his face reminds her of the one that he gave her earlier, when she said yes. It makes something within her light up, and all of a sudden she feels like she could power half of San Francisco with the joy that's building inside her.
Dinner arrives, and they talk easily through it, though Lizzie finds her gaze drifting to the open collar of Darcy's shirt more and more. The dip and bob of his throat as he chews and swallows is unreasonably fascinating, and by the end of dinner she cannot tell if the flush on her face is from the spice in the food or thoughts running through her head about what else might be hiding under that shirt.
They split the bill, though Darcy insists on covering the tip. Lizzie lets him, too distracted by her own thoughts to put up more than a token protest. Afterwards they decide to walk for a bit, warm with food and each other's company.
"I would like to show you something," Darcy says. "If you're not too tired?"
"I'm not tired at all," Lizzie says.
So they walk another block, and Darcy takes her hand and leads her into the Marriot Marquis hotel. For a moment, Lizzie feels a brief, startled moment of worry. Then he guides her into one of the express elevators to the rooftop lounge and she forgets to be worried about anything. The elevator goes faster than she expected, and she stumbles slightly into him. Darcy puts a steadying hand against the small of her back and leans in to murmur in her ear. "Close your eyes."
She does so without hesitation.
The elevator dings to a stop and she hears the doors open. Darcy's hand on her back guides her off the elevator and a few steps forward.
"Open your eyes," he says against her ear. Goosebumps skip up her arms. Her lashes open.
"Oh," she says, her eyes widening. "Oh, wow."
The rooftop bar is very dimly lit, the lights low and close to the small tables and comfortable chairs that dot the floor. The windows stretch from the floor all the way to the high ceiling, giving an unimpeded view of the city stretching out beyond, lights spangling the darkness like glittering gems on a black velvet gown. In the distance she can see the Bay, and the lights on the hills beyond. This high up there are even some stars visible beyond the light smog. It is, in a word, breathtaking.
Darcy leads her to a table pressed up against the windows and pulls out a chair. A tiny tealight candle dances merrily between them, unaware that it can't compare to the glittering brightness beyond the glass, but in no way shamed by it. A waitress takes their order-cappuccinos for them both—and disappears. The music is just loud enough to be heard, the voices around them a soft murmur, as if they were sitting in a museum or a church and not a bar. Darcy knows it's not always this way, but he's thrilled that, for her, fate seems to be cooperating.
He watches her drink in the view and marvels anew that they are here, that they have come to this moment at all, after everything. He doesn't know what they talk about: Pemberly, San Francisco, innocent things. They don't discuss their families, and shy away from talking too much about the past. It feels, however, like they are forging something in this moment. Darcy lets himself hope, and he feels as though it isn't just the city spread out before them, full of glittering promise, but the future.
Eventually they find their way back to the ground and then back to the car. Lizzie takes his arm again and he enjoys the feel of her pressed against his side. They don't talk much on the drive home. Darcy watches the road and Lizzie takes the chance of watching Darcy, liking the way his large hands look on the steering wheel and remembering how they felt against her back and in her hand. There is, by some fantastic stroke of luck, a parking space along the street. He walks her to her door.
"Thank you," she says, on the doorstep. "Tonight was … wonderful. Really, really wonderful."
He smiles down at her, and even though the light above them casts his eyes into shadow, she feels lost a little in how blue they are. "You are very welcome, Lizzie. It was truly my pleasure."
He means it, that giving her the gift of this night was a pleasure for him. She cannot remember ever hearing someone saying those words before and meaning them as much as he clearly does. She leans toward him, wondering, and finds her gaze dipping to his mouth.
Hesitantly, as if she is something precious, he touches his fingers to her cheek, brushing back an imaginary strand of hair. Lizzie smiles and leans into the touch. Feeling a little bolder, he dares to touch her hair and nearly shudders at the sensation, his entire body taut and almost quivering with the need to take what he wants more greedily. Luckily, perhaps, Darcy has the self-control of a saint, and ignores his more lascivious urges in favor of simply stroking the soft shell of her ear and the silky fall of her hair.
Lizzie makes a small sound.
"What?" he asks.
She smiles. "Nothing. It's just … your hands are cold."
He freezes, then starts to withdraw. "My apologies—"
But Lizzie steps into him, and somehow his fingers are tangling in her warm hair. "I don't mind," she says.
His gaze falls to her lips, and the smile curled there like a promise. "I … have your permission then?"
She nods, tangling his fingers in her hair further. "Yes. Whatever you want."
"You are … very generous," he says, and his head dips toward hers like they are magnets. He pauses. "Lizzie?"
"Will," she says, and her hand reaches up cup his jaw, then the back of his head. She moves slightly closer, and now, now, with his name on her lips, he knows he can bridge the gap.
She feels his lips brush hers once, more gentle than she could have imagined. Then he kisses her again, braver this time, but still not taking any more than she's willing to give. Lizzie feels her entire body yearning towards him. Her heels have grown uncomfortable from all the walking, but she is glad of the height they give her now. It is enough to let her tug him slightly closer so she can angle her lips against his. Her tongue touches the edge of his upper lip, and he immediately deepens the kiss. His free hand wraps around her waist, his fist bunching a little in the fabric of her dress.
There is nothing then except him and her, pressed together like the pages of a book, mouths moving over one another's, as if they are having all the conversations they could have had, before, if they hadn't been so blind.
It lasts a long time.
Finally, with shaking hands and shakier control, Darcy pulls away. He swallows, his forehead pressed against hers, his breath warm and slightly spicy still from dinner (despite the Listerine strip he popped discreetly afterwards).
Lizzie breathes as if she has just run a marathon, and her entire body is thrumming with desire. A little nervous, her fingers clutching the incredibly fine fabric of his suit coat, her gaze fixed on the hollow of his bare throat, she asks, "Would you … would you like to come in?"
He laughs, softly. "Yes, I would, very much. But—that is why I won't. Not this time."
She looks up at him, at this new Darcy with his collar unbuttoned and his smile and earnest eyes. "Then, do you think there might be a next time?"
"Yes," he says. "I would very, very much like there to be a next time."
She offers him a smile, and another kiss, and in it there is the promise of a hundred thousand next times, and a million times after that.
It's as beautiful as a dream, everything he could have wished for and everything she didn't know that she wanted.
(It's a shame that it is only a dream.
Because this—all of this—doesn't happen.
The roulette wheel of fate was set in motion long before this, and so this future clicks past faster than it takes for Lizzie to blink. But in that moment, in that span of three tiny seconds, without ever knowing it, this is the future that they both imagined.)
(What really happens is this: )
"…so it would be just you and … me."
There is a silence then, in which universes are born and die.
Then Lizzie's phone chirps at her. Startled, she turns to look at it. "Sorry! New phone." She picks it up and looks at it. "Apparently Charlotte has called me … seven times in the last … hour?"
Even as she says it, even as some nameless, indescribable dread crawls up her spine, the phone rings.
The nightmare begins.
In moments Lizzie's world is shattered into pieces, and she doesn't even notice that Darcy's hopes are also littering the floor. Fear for her sister fogs her eyes, so she cannot see that her pain is causing him pain. Despair numbs her, so she cannot feel the comfort he offers in the hand that brushes her shoulder and settles against her back. Guilt clogs her ears, so she cannot hear the worry in his voice, or the determination that steels it a few moments later.
"We'll get you on the next flight out," he says.
"I insist," he says, and stands.
It is only then that she manages to pause, to look at him, to see him. For a moment, she can almost feel that other future—and a thousand more besides—pass her by. For a moment, she grieves for what will never, ever be.
He turns, and his expression is unreadable, his face hard as stone.
(She doesn't know that in his head he is already calculating the paths laid out ahead of him, trying to determine the most expedient way to reach George Wickham and fix this mess that he has decided to own. He may have lost Lizzie, but he hasn't ever really had her. The least, the absolute least he can do for her is this. He cannot bear to see her in this much pain.)
"Thank you," she says.
"There will be a car downstairs for you in five minutes," he says.
Then he leaves, to ensure that there will be a car, and a plane, and to make the first of a hundred calls that will, he is determined, lead him to George fucking Wickham.
Lizzie makes it to the car, and the plane, and home to her sister. In the late nights and useless hours afterwards, as she despairs of their ever finding a way to shut down that horrible website, sometimes she allows herself to think about Darcy.
To remember that, one time, William Darcy had asked her out, had once offered her a second chance to get to know him, to see if the feelings she had been developing for him could have been more.
There will not, she is sure, ever be a next time.
(She is wrong about that. There will be a next time.)
(And next time, for all the darkness and damage that happened in between, next time will be even better, because it will be real. It will happen.)