A different messenger

Shannon K

Based on this episode.

"Where are Lizzie and Caroline?" Jane asked as Bing handed her into the passenger seat of the town car.

Bing tore his eyes from her face and looked around blankly. "I don't know. Maybe they forgot what time we were leaving. I'll go find them."

"No, I'll go," Darcy offered. If he was the one to fetch them, he might be able to finagle a seat beside Lizzie rather than Caroline.

He ascended the stairs quickly and moved down the hallway of the guest wing.

"Darcy, put the laptop away. No one else is working. It's weird, man." His steps slowed. Was someone--it sounded rather like Caroline--addressing him from Lizzie's room? What was this about a laptop?

"That is why I was working in my room, until you insisted I come down here. The only strange thing is that you thought it wouldn't be weird." Was that Lizzie's voice? He thought so, but it was much deeper than normal, more harsh and monotonic. He hoped she hadn't caught Jane's cold.

Then he registered her words. Wasn't that what he'd said to Bing last night, after he launched another of his "I'm-going-to-make-Darcy-sociable" crusades? He had given in so far as to bring his laptop downstairs--the quarterly reports did not require his undivided concentration, but they had to be read, which was why he'd ignored Bing's insistence that he stop working entirely. Lizzie was quoting him exactly, he noted with surprise, but he recalled speaking the words with more exasperated humor than she currently did.

"I thought you could use a break."

He stepped into Lizzie's doorway in time to see her deliver her next line. "You thought wrong," she snapped, followed by furious typing.

"What are you doing?"

Both women jumped, their heads snapping toward him. Caroline was closer to the door, but Darcy's eyes were for Lizzie alone. She was wearing a newsie hat and red bowtie, of all things, along with a simple gray dress. Caroline remained seated on the bed, but Lizzie ditched her laptop and leaped about five feet forward, seemingly trying to hide something behind her back. Darcy leaned a little to his right in order to see around her. "Is that a video camera?"

"Yes," Caroline said quickly. "We're recording a letter to Charlotte, so she can see how Lizzie's doing here at Netherfield. Isn't it great that they can keep in touch that way?"

Darcy's eyes lifted to Lizzie's face. She was wide-eyed, her hands fumbling to remove the bowtie.

"Are Bing and Jane ready for the wine-tasting tour?" Caroline continued.

"Yes. They are waiting in the town car."

"The town car? But we're taking your rental!"

Finally, he tore his gaze from Lizzie, who had still not uttered a syllable since he entered the room, and frowned at Caroline for her thoughtlessness. "That was when Jane was still sick. The convertible seats only four comfortably."

"I'll stay here," Lizzie blurted.

"That is not necessary. The town car seats--."

"No, that's--that's fine. I, um, I have work to do."

Darcy stared intently at her. There was an undercurrent in the room that he did not understand, but he knew just from looking at Lizzie that whatever she and Caroline were recording, it was not a letter to her friend. His curiosity was piqued, and in any event he had no desire to be designated Caroline's escort for the afternoon.

He fished in his pocket, then handed Caroline the keys to the convertible. "You and the others may leave without me. My plans have changed." She seemed ready to argue but then looked at his stern gaze and apparently thought better of it.

"Bye, Lizzie," she said nervously on her way out.

"May I know what you and Caroline were doing?" he asked again after her footsteps had died away.

"We were...reenacting something, that's all."

He raised an eyebrow quizzically. "So I gathered. Is that a habit of yours?"

"Yes," she said distractedly. "Yes, I, um, like to do this sometimes. It helps me, um...".

He tilted his head as he watched her...prevaricate? That was unlike her. Caroline would, he knew, lie if it suited her purposes, but Lizzie's bracing honesty was one of his favorite things about her.

Finally, Lizzie stopped rambling and squeezed her eyes shut. "Okay, fine. Might as well have you sue me and get it over with." That made him blink a little, but before he could think of a response she opened her eyes and continued. "I have a, um, vlog. For my thesis. We were filming tomorrow's video."

Darcy's eyes narrowed as he considered her words. "And you were reenacting my conversation with Bing because...?"

"Costume theater. It gets my viewers acquainted with people I don't show on camera."

"I see." He didn't, in fact. Why would her viewers be interested in a mundane conversation between himself and Bing? He stuffed his hands in his pockets. "Might I be of assistance?"


He shrugged. "I thought I might lend a greater degree of verisimilitude...or would that defeat the purpose?"

"You want to be on my vlog?" A nearly hysterical giggle escaped her and quickly grew to a full chortle.

In truth, he had not been thinking of that, only of the pleasure it would be to sit with her and learn what she was working on. She was probably right--he had a professional image to maintain, and it would be best if he didn't appear on her vlog--though he didn't see why she found the idea so funny. Her laugh was a delightful sound, however, and knowing that he had been the one to provoke it, whatever the reason, made him chuckle along with her.

Which in turn made her stop mid-breath and stare at him. He stopped as well, and suddenly the mood in the room was as tense and awkward as ever.

"Why would I sue you?" he finally asked.

Lizzie sighed. "Because that's what successful businessmen do when they're mad at someone."

That wasn't a particularly helpful answer, though he was gratified to hear her recognize his success. "Why would I be mad at you?"

"Because...look, I dislike you as much as you dislike me, okay? And I, uh, vented a little in my videos. Or a lot. It was stupid of me. Now can we please just--."

"What makes you think I dislike you?" he interrupted, his mind whirling in the attempt to process all she said.

She snorted and brought her hands to rest on her hips. "Please. You act like you'd rather have a hernia repaired than be around me."

That was patently untrue. "I just now volunteered to spend the morning with you, and the alternative was not hernia repair."

She clamped her mouth shut in a way that would have been comical in other circumstances, then continued as if he hadn't spoken. "It's obvious. The nicest thing you've ever said about me was that I was 'decent enough.'"

Why did those words sound familiar? His brow contracted in thought for a few seconds before the sight of the newsie hat dangling from her hand reminded him.

Oh no. She heard that? Darcy's chin tucked in toward his neck, and he wished for a wild moment that he could leave and pretend this conversation had never happened...but no, that would be the coward's way out. Mortifying as it was, he had to face the fact that he'd spoken and she'd heard those words. Thoughtless words that--he looked at her face, tilted back defiantly but with a shadow of pain such as he'd seen in Gigi but never before in Lizzie--that had hurt and angered her.

"You are one of the most attractive women I have ever known, and I was a fool to state otherwise," he said, his tone clipped. He felt strange and uncontrolled, speaking so freely to her after weeks of attempting to hide what had seemed to him a painfully obvious fascination. He had done so in part to prevent her getting her hopes up. Now it seemed he'd succeeded all too well. "I...apologize."

Lizzie did not acknowledge his apology, merely stared at him as if he'd begun to stand on his head or dance a lively jig in the middle of her bedroom or some other such absurdity. As he held her gaze, the rest of her words began to sink in. She had said negative things about him in her videos. She disliked him. How could she say that, when her eyes practically sparked with interest every time they had one of their debates?

He had to get away from her and think. He muttered an "excuse me" and walked quickly to his room, staring impatiently at his laptop while it powered up. Then he navigated to Google and typed in "Lizzie Bennet vlog."

It was a miserable and unproductive day. After Darcy left, Lizzie sank down on the edge of her bed and stared at her camera for a long time before quietly packing it away. Charlotte would have to make do with the footage she'd already shot. Or maybe she wouldn't post a video at all. She tried to read, but nothing held her attention. She skipped lunch without even realizing it.

Darcy knew about her videos. It was too much to hope that he'd decided they weren't worth his time, not when he'd been so darn inquisitive during that whole conversation. No, he'd certainly watched them by now. At one point, she tossed her book aside, opened her laptop, and grimly watched all 30 videos she'd posted so far, hoping they would somehow be less insulting than she remembered. No such luck. Obnoxious, pretentious, rude, nauseating, stuck-up pompous pig, not worth anyone's time--she'd spouted a freaking thesaurus about him.

She didn't hear a peep from him all afternoon, which probably meant he was off plotting a lawsuit against her. He was going to sue her for every penny she had. At least that wasn't much. Maybe he'd be mad enough to get her blacklisted too. Of all the people she could have insulted, she had to pick a CEO in the field she hoped to work in.

It was late afternoon, and Charlotte still hadn't returned her calls. Lizzie watched the footage from that morning blankly. Darcy had never stepped into the camera's view, but his words had been caught clearly. Listening without seeing him, he just sounded surprised and curious, even helpful. It was only when looking at him that she'd seen his disapproval, his judgment.

His last words--"You are one of the most attractive women I have ever known, and I was a fool to state otherwise"--she still hadn't recovered from the shock of hearing those words while staring into his intense gaze. She wanted to shrug them off as an insincere response to the embarrassment of realizing she'd heard his earlier insult, but she couldn't. Darcy was nothing if not bluntly honest. He had truly thought her attractive. She wasn't sure what to do with that information.

Lizzie shut her laptop and walked to the kitchen. The others wouldn't be back until late, so she was on her own for supper. She was in the middle of reheating some leftover curry when she heard footsteps approaching.

"Oh. Lizzie." Darcy paused in the doorway and stared at her. One glance told her why she'd heard nothing from him all day--he wore his cycling gear and, judging by the size of the sweat stains on his gray t-shirt, had put in a long ride.

He shifted his weight and fiddled with the straps of his helmet before tucking it under his arm, and she realized she was staring. "Darcy. Hi," she said warily. He moved toward her, reaching into the cupboard just to her right to remove a glass and then pouring himself some ice water.

"There's more curry if you want it," she mumbled.

"Thank you. Perhaps after I, uh, shower."

She shrugged, then turned to remove her dish from the microwave. She planned to eat in her room anyway. Dinner with just the two of them would have been awkward in any case, but after this morning...no way.

Darcy started to leave, then stopped. "Lizzie?" he said, waiting for her to look at him. His expression was solemn, but he spoke gently. "I'm not going to sue you." He looked at her for a long moment, then nodded and left.

Lizzie moved to the doorway, watching until he was out of sight.

The End

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