Her bedroom feels unfamiliar, with no books or desk and the wavering back light of the fish tank shining way too brightly in the darkness. It piles on everything else, and after an hour tossing and turning, Lizzie gives up on the idea of getting any sleep any time soon, frustration and worry winning against the accumulated exhaustion.
She's already on the second ring when the fact that's she's calling William Darcy in the middle of the night really sinks in. She thinks of hanging up before he can pick up, of sending a text to explain why he has a missed call at 1:30 am – and what the hell was she thinking – but by the time she's made up her mind it's too late, he's already answering. She feels panic rise at the realization, a mix of nervousness and confusion that seems to define most of her interactions with Darcy these days.
"Lizzie?" There's surprise in his voice and no trace of sleep despite the hour and she finds herself standing up automatically, the same way she did when her mother called and she was doing something she wasn't supposed to. The silence stretches between them, and Lizzie realizes that he's probably expecting her to say something.
"Darcy! Um, hi! Did I wake you?" She cringes as soon as the words are out of her mouth, her tone too cheery and the question pretty much ridiculous.
"No, not at all. I was – working."
"Oh. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have call–"
He doesn't let her finish. "Lizzie – it's okay," and she can hear the hesitation in the small pause he makes, bracing himself for whatever it is he's going to say next. "Is – is everything alright?"
She can't help but snort at the question, with everything far from alright and further still from being even close to over. Regret tints the last few months in one way or another – she can come up in seconds with a dozen things she would have done differently – but at the end of the day, it all comes back to Lydia, Lydia with George, Lydia staring incomprehensibly at Lizzie's phone, Lydia becoming nothing short of devastated in a matter of seconds.
Darcy is already recanting, still trying so hard to be careful of every word he utters around her. "What I meant to say is – has there been any–"
"She didn't know," Lizzie blurts before he's even finished the question. Darcy doesn't ask who 'she' is and doesn't prompt her to go on either. "Lydia didn't know about the website."
She plans to leave it at that, a simple, neat explanation – a reason of sorts for her call – but as much as she may want to, nothing about this whole thing is neat, and suddenly words are just tumbling out of her mouth, the need to get it off her chest overwhelming. "I just – I assumed she knew. I was throwing in her face the million reasons why it was the worst possible idea she'd ever had, and at first she was fighting me, thinking I was talking about dating... him, and then I showed her the website and – the fight just went right out of her."
Lizzie knows it will be a long time before she forgets Lydia's anguished sobs, and her heart breaks for her baby sister all over again. "I just – I've never seen seen her so broken, Darcy."
He doesn't say anything immediately, and she can picture him thinking, trying to come up with the right combination of words. She finds comfort in the knowledge that he's not one to shy away from hard truths and yet she still braces herself for what will inevitably be something new to add to the list of self-recriminations and mistakes she's been going over obsessively since she left Pemberley.
"I've learned the hard way that little sisters are more resilient than we may initially think."
And that's when it comes back to her, why she had decided to call him. If anyone knew what it was like to see your sister broken by George Wickham, asshole extraordinaire, it was Darcy. "I don't think it's something I've ever wanted to learn,"she says, sighing.
"Have you spoken to Jane?" he asks softly after a beat.
"Yeah. She got home a few hours ago." Lizzie cannot remember ever being more relieved to have her big sister home. Jane had always been better with Lydia than her, their personalities less prone to clashing and caring in a way that Lydia had always accepted much more easily.
"She has stayed with Lydia while I made up a heartbreak story for my parents. We don't want them to know all the details unless it's absolutely necessary."
She doesn't add how she could tell her father wasn't buying her ill-prepared explanation, or how she didn't realize until later that heartbreak has always seemed to fuel her mother's already significant need to comment for everyone to hear on the love-lives – or lack of thereof – of her daughters.
This time, when she sighs defeatedly and falls silent, he doesn't wait for her to continue on her own. "Lizzie?"
"It didn't even cross my mind that she wouldn't know about it," she says, regret coloring her every word. "What kind of sister doesn't even give the benefit of the doubt?"
It had been the first thing Jane had asked after Lizzie explained everything to her on the phone. It makes her uncomfortable how the possibility didn't even cross her mind until it was thrown in her face, ashamed of the implications, and disappointed in herself in a whole new way, another thing she got wrong to add to what seems to be an ever-growing list.
"I think – I believe that between the possibility of Lydia being reckless and Lydia getting hurt, you inadvertently chose the one that would cause her less pain."
"You think too well of me, William Darcy," she says with a chuckle born out of exhaustion more than any real amusement.
Most days she doesn't understand why he doesn't hate her after being everything but nice to him – including but not limited to name-calling and a Very Public Rejection – much less why he seems to have such a high opinion of her.
(On the days she understands, she really wants to be worthy of that opinion. Lately, it has become harder not to dwell on those.)
She thinks of Gigi then, and her stomach clenches at the thought of Wickham hurting her all over again, even indirectly. "Is Gigi okay? I didn't have the time to – with everything. And she usually watches the videos as soon as they are up..."
"She's..." Darcy hesitates, and Lizzie suddenly misses him fiercely. Not Darcy per se but his physical presence, the half-smiles and raised eyebrows that lately seemed to convey more than most of their previous conversations, the measured hand gestures and his eyes on her, unwavering and honest (she doesn't miss the irony). "She's worried about you and your family. But yes, I believe she is okay."
"You don't sound very convincing."
"She is my little sister."
They fall silent again, her back leaning against the door and the hand not holding the phone fiddling non-stop with a loose thread in the hem of her pajamas. Their breathing and the soft hum of the fish tank filter are the only discernible sounds, and all in all, it's not uncomfortable; if anyone had told her two months ago that silences with William Darcy could be anything but terribly uncomfortable, she'd probably still be laughing about it.
She becomes suddenly aware of the muffled sounds coming from her parent's bedroom, recognizes her mother's higher pitch and her dad's calming tone and when she makes out Lydia's name in the conversation, she bolts away from the door.
"Do you think you could – distract me for a while?" She says it a rush, and regrets it almost as soon as she's said it. She's already composing a whole speech about ridiculous requests and extenuating circumstances when Darcy replies, "it would be my pleasure."
She hears him clear his throat softly right before starting to talk and it brings an involuntary smile to her face, and she wonders briefly when exactly she started finding so endearing these little things she once would have mocked endlessly.
He's hesitant at first, going for familiar, safe topics that have already come up at some point or another. He tells her about Pemberley, about the projects they are currently considering for this year's roadmap, some she had heard about, others still only inklings of ideas in his mind. They talk about San Francisco, and somehow that leads to college stories, about sharing a flat with Fitz and meeting Bing for the first time, and how almost as soon as both had met, they started taking turns to get him to go parties.
They talk about books and movies and tabletop games of all things, and Lizzie can't help but think of costume theater, of conversations that were the very definition of awkward and conversations under the guise of being someone else, and she thinks that maybe talking without seeing each other probably counts as a step in the right direction. She doesn't think of how she could get used to this, his voice in her ear in the middle of the night, soothing in ways completely different from Jane's or Charlotte's.
After almost close to an hour and a myriad of topics, she is back into bed and the exhaustion and stress of the day are starting to catch up with her, her eyelids getting heavier and heavier by the minute. Darcy's telling her about the time Fitz pestered him for weeks trying to convince him to dress up for Halloween with him as people on a roller coaster, and she ends up yawning through the grin the mental image brings to her face.
"Lizzie Bennet, are you falling asleep on me?"
He sounds as animated as she has ever heard him, she'd even say flirty if it were anyone other than Darcy, and she tries to ignore the thrill that runs through her at the idea of Darcy flirting with her. "Maybe?"
He chuckles softly and it crosses her mind that she can count on one hand the number of times she has heard him do so before, and always with Fitz or Gigi. The realization makes it more precious, intimate in a way she's not sure she has earned, and it brings a tightness to her chest that she doesn't care to analyze. "I should probably let you go to sleep, then."
She makes a noncommittal sound, the disappointment at the prospect of ending the call unexpected, and they both fall silent again. "Darcy?"
"I really would have liked to go the theater," she says, encouraged by the sense of calm and the distance between them, and hoping he hears the "with you" she's not ready to say out loud yet.
"I would have liked that, too," he says, and she wishes she could see his face.
"Good night, Darcy,"
"Good night, Lizzie."
She barely has the strength to leave the phone on the bedside table after she hangs up, relaxed in that way unique to those instants right before falling asleep. The strangeness of the room seems diminished and the worry less oppressive than before. She falls asleep almost immediately, Darcy's voice still in her head and a content smile on her face.