All About Your Heart
I have loved you all along
And I forgive you
For being away for far too long
So keep breathing
'Cause I'm not leaving you anymore
Hold on to me and, never let me go
'Cause I'm not leaving you anymore
- ‘Far Away’, Nickelback
In the weeks following Gigi and Matthew’s wedding, William and Lizzie slowly started to fall into a new routine. Liam got them up early in the morning and they’d all have breakfast together before Lizzie went off to work, and Liam to daycare. William wasn’t quite ready to get back to work yet himself, and after meeting with the orthopedic specialist, he started physical therapy to help rebuild the strength in his leg. The specialist had determined that the bone in William’s leg had not healed properly since it had never been casted. Without surgery, the leg would always look misshapen, but the doctor believed they could correct most of the pain and some of the limping without it, so they were going to try that before pursuing any surgery that would prevent William from using his leg for several months.
With Lizzie and Liam gone during the day, William found himself feeling adrift and lost. He knew he wasn’t ready to return to Pemberley, but at the same time, he didn’t know what else to do with himself. He was half tempted to ask Lizzie to stay home for another week or to leave Liam with him, but he knew that neither option was a solution. Instead, he threw himself into his physical therapy, pushing himself to do the required exercises as often as his leg would allow him to. Maybe if he worked hard enough, he would feel whole again.
When he wasn’t at physical therapy or doing his exercises, he threw himself into whatever small tasks he could find around the house. By the end of Lizzie’s first week back at work, Liam’s room, their bedroom, the living room, the kitchen, and both bathrooms were spotless. William had found that, as long as he kept moving, as long as he kept himself busy, he couldn’t think. Thinking was bad. Thinking when he was alone in the apartment sent him right back to that tiny cell, to the loneliness and the pain and missing Lizzie so much it hurt to breathe. He didn’t want to go back there, so that meant everything in sight was clean.
In the evenings, when Lizzie and Liam were home, William focused on both of them, asking about Lizzie’s day and continuing to make every effort to connect to his son.
Where Liam was concerned, they were starting to make progress. Liam no longer wailed when William tried to help him with things, and he had even asked William to play with him on more than one occasion. Every time Liam reached out to him voluntarily, William felt like a tiny piece of his heart was being returned.
Things with Liam were going so well that one night, while Lizzie was tidying up from dinner, William decided to try putting Liam to bed.
He was getting better at wrestling his son in order to change him and he managed to get Liam into his pyjamas without incident.
“What book should we read, Liam?”
Liam looked at him, his bottom lip quivering slightly. “No book. Wanna pway trains!”
“No Liam, it’s time for your story. We can play trains tomorrow.” William held up a book about colors. “How about this one?”
Liam shook his head vigorously. “Nonononononono.”
“Okay, no colors. What about this book about the duckies?”
“No. No book.” Liam slapped the book out of William’s hand and it went flying across the room, landing against the wall with a loud thud.
William tried to recall what he’d seen Lizzie do when Liam was cranky like this. She usually just ignored Liam’s protests, so he decided to try the same thing. He selected a book about trains that he knew Liam liked, picked up his son, and started to sit in the chair. Immediately, Liam started to kick his legs and twist his body.
“NO BOOK. NO. WANT DOWN.”
William ignored him and opened the book. “Big trains, small trains, old trains and new, rattling and whistling — choo, choo, choo!”
“NOOOOOOO!” Liam wailed, trying to push the book away and climb off of his lap.
William tried again to read, but before he could finish the next sentence, Lizzie swooped in and pulled Liam into her arms, comforting him. “What’s going on in here?”
“I was trying to read to him and put him to bed, but he wanted to play and —“
“Okay,” Lizzie said, rocking slightly as she patted Liam’s back. “Shhhhh, sweetheart, it’s time for bed.”
“No,” Liam sniffled. “Pway.” His voice was already calmer and he laid his head on his mother’s shoulder.
“I’ve got this,” Lizzie told William, continuing to sway back and forth.
William stood up, watching helplessly as Lizzie calmed their son and got him to agree to a story. She sat in the chair and settled Liam on her lap but as soon as he saw William, he started the cry again.
Lizzie sighed. She was exhausted and Liam was overtired and she just needed him to go to sleep. “I’m sorry, William, you’re distracting him. I’ll get him to sleep.”
William wanted to protest. He’d never have a chance to be a proper father to Liam if Lizzie kept swooping in to rescue him all the time, but he knew that now wasn’t the time. Liam needed to go to bed and William needed to back off and let Lizzie do it. He limped from the room, wordlessly wondering how it was that he could be so close to his wife and son, and yet feel so separate from them.
They decided to have a very small celebration for Liam’s third birthday, inviting only Gigi, Matthew, Fitz, Brandon, and Spencer. The party ended when Liam, exhausted from a combination of sugar crash and lack of nap, passed out on the sofa. Lizzie carried him to his room to put him down properly, while William saw their guests out.
“Thanks for inviting us, man.” Fitz grinned. “This was fun.”
“It was indeed,” William agreed. He enjoyed spending time with Fitz again.
“Daddy, I’m bored now!” Spencer yanked on her father’s arm. “Let’s go!”
“Okay, okay. I’m coming.” Fitz waved and let his daughter drag him out the door.
“You’re too slow, Daddy, go faster.” William heard Spencer say as they disappeared down the corridor.
“So you’re coming back to Pemberley on Monday?” Matthew asked William as he and Gigi prepared to go as well. “Everyone is looking forward to seeing you again.”
William nodded. “I think so. I’m ready to start getting back up to speed.” He wasn’t entirely sure that was true, but what he was certain of was that he couldn’t remain alone in the apartment any longer. It was suffocating and it was screwing with his mind. He’d been having nightmares about Guatemala periodically ever since he’d returned, but they’d worsened in the two weeks since Lizzie had gone back to work, and he hoped that having work to keep him busy would help. Besides, he’d missed close to four years, it was going to take a while for him to catch up.
“Good. I’m looking forward to filling you in. We have lots to talk about.” Matthew helped Gigi get her coat on. “We’ll see you both on Monday.”
William hugged his sister. “Thanks for coming.” It was the first time they’d seen her since she’d returned from her honeymoon, and he couldn’t recall the last time he’d seen her so purely happy.
“Of course.” She kissed his cheek. “I’ll see you on Monday.”
Later that afternoon, when Liam had awoken from his nap, Lizzie slid her hand into his. “I have something for you.”
Lizzie smiled. “Well, we do.” She turned to their son, who was playing happily with a new floor puzzle. “Liam, do you want to give Daddy his present now.”
Liam abandoned his puzzle immediately. “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.”
She handed Liam the wrapped gift that she’d hidden earlier.
His little brow furrowed. “What is it?”
“It’s for Daddy.” Lizzie prodded him forward. “Can you give it to him?”
Liam thrust it into William’s lap and then climbed up onto the couch beside him.
“Open it now,” he ordered. “Wanna see.”
William did as he was told and pulled the paper off to reveal a photo album.
“It’s filled with pictures from of Liam from birth until a few months ago. I thought you’d like to look at it together.” Lizzie settled herself next to them so that Liam was between them.
All William could do was offer her a watery smile.
Growing impatient, Liam pulled the album from William’s hands and opened it.
“Who dat, Mama?” he pointed to a picture of an infant wrapped in a green blanket.
“That’s you, Liam. The day that you were born.” She met William’s gaze, then quickly looked away. She remembered that day so vividly, and even though she knew that his absence hadn’t been on purpose, the fact that he hadn’t been there still stung. This was harder than she’d thought it would be, but she pushed on.
Liam flipped to another page, managing to skip several in the process. “CAKE!” he said happily, clenching his fists and shaking with excitement.
“It looks like there’s more cake on him than on the table.” William observed.
Lizzie laughed. “Yes, that was the year Liam decided to crawl into his birthday cake. Mom was devastated.”
William helped Liam turn to the next page.
“Dat’s me!” Liam said, pointing at a more recent picture. “My train! Mama, dat’s my train!”
“It is your train. Grandpa gave it to you on your birthday last year.”
Liam pushed the photo album towards William and climbed down off the couch. He raced over to one of the toy buckets and pulled out his red train. “Here it is!” He started to push it on the wooden tracks he’d received from Gigi earlier that day, making little swishing train noises, followed periodically by, “Choo, choo!”
William flipped through a few more pages in the album, but every image made his chest tighten further as he absorbed just how much he’d missed. He knew Lizzie was trying to include him in those moments by sharing the photographs with him, but instead it was making him feel more distant. This was just one more thing he didn’t share with them. One more thing he had missed out on. One more way he’d let them both down.
He didn’t want Lizzie to see how shaken he was, so he forced a smile. “Thank you. This was thoughtful.” He handed her the album. “I have a headache, do you mind if I go lie down for a bit?”
“No, that’s fine.” She watched him go, noticing that his limp was worse than usual. She felt uneasy; her husband was obviously not okay and she had no idea how to fix it.
Monday morning, William and Lizzie left for work together for the first time. Since William’s doctor had advised against driving until his leg was stronger, Lizzie drove them. Liam sat in his carseat, singing something softly.
“What are you singing, Liam?” William asked, turn around to look at his son.
“Twinkle Star.” Liam raised his hands above his head. “Twinkle, twinkle, liddle star, how I wonder what you are,”
William joined in on the next part and Liam stopped singing, his eyes widening. “You know it? Mama, he knows it!”
After Lizzie parked, she turned to William. “Do you want to go straight up? Or would you like to come drop Liam off?”
“I’ll come with you. Matthew won’t even be expecting me yet.”
William had been to the Pemberley Child Care Center before, but never as a parent, and he was amazed by how busy it was. Liam walked between them, one hand holding Lizzie’s and the other in William’s, but as soon as they entered the room, Liam let go and ran over to a corner where several other children were already playing with cars. Liam took something from a bucket, that laid on the carpet and quickly joined in. William had been shy, even as a little boy, so he was amazed now to see his son fitting in so easily.
Lizzie showed him where they had to sign Liam in and out, then made a point to say goodbye to Liam before they left.
Soon, William found himself outside the office that had once been his. Or was it still his? He wasn’t really sure anymore. He leaned more heavily on his cane. Should he knock? Just walk in? He decided to knock.
“William,” Matthew said warmly. “Come in.”
The day passed in a blur of unfamiliar names, updates on projects he’d never heard of, and countless other details that made his head spin. He left at the end of the day with a stack of files to review and a headache.
It was odd, being back in the place that he had felt at home in for so many years and feeling like he no longer fit. Just like at home, Pemberley had moved forward in his absence, and while that was great and necessary for the company, it left him wondering where he fit. It wasn’t like he could just walk in tomorrow after reading half a dozen files and take over as CEO again. There was so much more he needed to know, so much more he needed to adjust to, before he’d be ready for that step. And where would that leave Matthew? It was obvious that the younger man had done an excellent job running Pemberley, and it seemed unfair to exile him from his position simply because the company’s long lost heir had returned.
William sighed. It was only his first day back, the details would be sorted out later. Right now, all he wanted to do was get his wife and son and go home.
One morning in late April, they woke up to the sound of hysterical crying and retching. Lizzie bolted from the room, finding her son standing up in his crib, his pajamas covered in vomit and tears streaming down his face.
“Maaaama!” He cried, reaching for her. “Tummy owie.”
William, who had followed Lizzie, stood in the doorway, making sure to distribute most of his weight to his good leg. “Can I help?”
Lizzie shook her head as she stripped her son and gathered him into her arms. His small body was shaking with hiccuping sobs and she started to rock him, whispering comforting words into his ear.
William watched helplessly from the doorway as his son’s tears suddenly increased and he retched again, covering Lizzie.
“Oh, baby, it’s okay,” Lizzie said to him as he cried harder.
William grabbed a cloth from the top of Liam’s dresser and carefully wiped his son’s face, before trying to dab at the sick that had splashed on Lizzie’s hair.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said irritably, moving away and continuing to rock. “We’re both going to need showers anyway.”
“Right.” William dropped his hand and wondered what else he could do to help. “Will he be okay?”
“Liam will be fine. It’s probably just a tummy bug. He’s had them before.” She smoothed her son’s hair. His tears were slowing down. She looked up at her husband. “Go get ready for work. You don’t want to be late.”
“What about you? Don’t you have that big meeting today?”
Lizzie winced and swore internally. She was supposed to meet with one of their biggest clients that morning and she couldn’t really miss it. “Oh crap, I do.”
William hesitated. “Maybe I could stay home with Liam?”
“No, no, that’s not necessary,” Lizzie said quickly. He still had so much to catch up on, he couldn’t afford to miss a day of work. Besides, although Liam had warmed up to him, they still weren’t 100% comfortable around each other yet and Liam could be challenging at the best of times, let alone when he was sick. William didn’t need to deal with that kind of stress right now.
“It’s okay, William. I’ll just reschedule the meeting, it’ll be fine.” She sighed tiredly. “You should go to work. Matthew is expecting you.”
William gazed sadly at his son, who was sniffling miserably. He hated feeling helpless, especially when the people he loved were suffering. He wished Lizzie would trust him more with Liam, but now wasn’t the time to bring that up so instead, he slipped wordlessly from the room.
“Sorry we’re late,” Gigi told her brother and Lizzie as she and Matthew slid into the seats across from them. “We were stuck in traffic.”
Lizzie raised an eyebrow. Judging from the flush of Gigi’s cheeks and state of Matthew’s hair, something more than traffic had held them up. She glanced at William, remembering a time when that had been them, newly married and unable to keep their hands off each other. They hadn’t really had a chance to be intimate since his return though. Feeling a sudden urge to touch him, she slid her hand into his beneath the table.
“It’s okay,” William said, entwining his fingers with Lizzie’s.
“Have you ordered yet?” Matthew asked.
A small shiver ran up William’s arm as Lizzie started to stroke the side of his hand with her thumb. He swallowed. “Not yet,” he answered.
“This place has the best bruchetta.” Gigi opened her menu. “I highly recommend it.”
As Gigi and Matthew started to discuss their meal preferences, William snuck a glance at Lizzie. She had leaned over to pick up a toy that Liam had thrown onto the floor, and her hand remained fixed in his. Her foot rested against the side of his leg as she grappled for the toy, and he found himself suddenly feeling warm.
As Lizzie handed the toy back to her son and sat up, their gazes met, and Lizzie felt as though all the air had been sucked out of her lungs. Keeping her foot against William’s, she wordlessly shifted closer to him and picked up her menu.
After they ordered (a lengthy process on account of Liam interrupting every few seconds with a squeal of discontent, until Lizzie lifted him out of the highchair and sat him on her lap), Lizzie pushed her water glass out of her son’s reach and said to Matthew, “So, what’s it like working with this guy all day?”
Matthew chuckled. “It’s been pretty great actually. He’s definitely easier to work with than his sister.”
“Hey!” Gigi swatted at Matthew’s shoulder, but he caught her hand and kissed it.
“It’s the truth. I love you but you are ornery when you want to be.”
“Look, when you barge into someone’s office unannounced, you can hardly expect them to be civil.”
William watched his sister and her husband banter back and forth. As was the norm for him these days, he had no idea what they were talking about. Matthew had been right, they worked well together, but what Matthew didn’t realize was that most of the time, William felt completely out of his depth at work. There was so much he didn’t know. It wasn’t just about learning all their new projects, those he could handle, it was everything else. It seemed like every time he thought he was adjusting to being back, someone would mention an old project or a new technology that was completely unfamiliar to him, and he felt completely out of the loop. He’d only been back at work for a month though, he just needed to give it more time and things would start making sense again. At least he hoped they would.
“Ahh!” Lizzie’s yelp put an end to Gigi and Matthew’s banter as they all turned to look at her. While all the adults had been distracted, Liam had managed to catch hold of Lizzie’s water glass and topple it onto her lap.
“Ooooops!” Liam said, dropping the empty cup on the floor. He started to twist off his mother’s lap. “I get it!”
“I’ve got him.” Gigi scooped up her nephew and settled him back into the highchair.
“No, Auntie E-e! Want down!” He leaned over, trying to squirm out of the highchair, while Gigi struggled with the straps. “FIX IT!” he looked at her with watery eyes. “Pwease?”
“It’s okay, Liam. Mama’s got it. Here, want something to eat?” Gigi took a piece of bread from the table, tore it in half, and offered him both pieces. Liam stopped struggling and reached for the bread.
Lizzie used her napkin to try and dry her dress. Picking up his own napkin, William leaned over to help, managing to accidentally brush against her chest in the process. They both froze for a second, eyes locked as a burst of heat passed between them. Blood rushed through Lizzie’s ears and she felt like she could barely breathe. If they hadn’t been in public, she would have kissed him. Instead, she forced herself to look away. She needed to regain her composure.
William settled back into his own chair, his heart beating erratically. Across from him, Gigi and Matthew were having a whispered discussion that made him feel like he was intruding, so he focused instead on his son, who was now squishing his bread with the sippy cup they had brought for him.
The arrival of their food broke the awkward silence. Once Liam was settled with his macaroni (which he proceeded to eat with his fingers, despite the spoon he held grasped in one hand) and everyone had eaten a bit, Gigi glanced nervously at Matthew, who nodded and gave her an encouraging smile.
Gigi took a deep breath. She had a whole speech planned, but when she opened her mouth to recite it, words failed her and instead she simply blurted, “So…I’m pregnant.”
William froze, his fork halfway to his mouth. His sister was what? He could not seem to wrap his mind around the words.
Beside him, Lizzie set her own fork down and grinned at her sister-in-law. “Congratulations, Gigi. When are you due?”
“In December,” Matthew answered, reaching out to grasp Gigi’s hand as she settled back into her chair.
Gigi looked at her husband fondly. “December 14th, to be more precise.”
Recovering from the shock, William stood and moved around the table so he could hug his sister. “You’re going to be a great mother, Gigi.”
She hugged him back. “Thank you, William.”
As he sat down again, he couldn’t help but feel a twinge of envy at the fact that his sister would have a chance to experience parenthood from the beginning. She wouldn’t have to come in part way through and feel like a stranger in her own family. He looked at Liam, who was happily shoving macaroni in his mouth, and immediately tried to quash his envy. Yes, Gigi was fortunate, but so was he. He had survived impossible circumstances and returned to his family. He had a wife and son whom he loved dearly. Things would get easier, he just needed to give it time.
After Lizzie put Liam to bed that night, she found William sitting on their bed, his reading glasses sliding down his nose, as he read through some work papers. She stayed in the doorway for a while, admiring him and thinking back to the heat between them at dinner. It had been almost four years since they’d last been intimate, and her body ached for him to touch her the way he used to - to connect with him in that way again. She’d been hesitant to venture too far down that road in the two months since he’d come back, but his leg was getting better thanks to the physical therapy, and he was settling in. Plus, the way he’d looked at her during dinner... Lizzie shivered. Maybe it was time.
William sensed her gaze and he looked up, his heart starting to beat more rapidly at the intensity of it. God, she looked beautiful standing there with her hair slightly mussed and her dress rumpled. All through dinner, he had wanted to pull her into his arms and kiss her senselessly. Every bump of hands or touch of his leg against hers had only heightened that desire, and it returned to him now in full force.
“Hi,” he said, his voice breathy. He set the file folder on the bedside table and stood up, pulling off his glasses.
“No, keep them on.” Lizzie took them from him and gently slid them back over his ears. “They make you look sexy.”
William raised an eyebrow. “Sexy, huh?”
“Very sexy.” She wrapped her arms around his neck, closing the distance between them. Every nerve ending was on alert as she became hyper aware of him. She inhaled, relishing in the comfort of his familiar musky scent, and watching in fascination as his Adam’s apple bobbed.
William dipped his head, brushing his lips against hers, tentative at first. They had kissed regularly since his return, but this felt different. Weighted. Important. With each new kiss, he let his lips linger a little longer and Lizzie followed his lead, gradually deepening the kiss.
There was urgency in their actions, but hesitancy as well, and when William started to fumble with the zipper on the back of her dress, Lizzie stopped him. “Are you sure?”
At William’s nod, wordlessly, nervously, Lizzie turned, pulling her hair off her neck so he could see what he was doing. She felt cool air rush across her skin as he unzipped her, almost immediately replaced by the press of his lips against her back. Lizzie inhaled sharply, realizing just how much she had missed this. She fought the urge to turn around and jump him. This wasn’t something they should rush.
William took his time, letting his fingers and lips reacquaint themselves with the contours of her back.
Lizzie closed her eyes, drinking in every sensation, every tingle, every caress. She had missed this. She had missed him. As he kissed a trail towards her hips and started to pull the rest of her dress aside, Lizzie suddenly froze. He would see her stretch marks, would be able to see how much her body had changed. It’s fine, she reminded herself, It’s just William, he’s my husband, we’ve done this a thousand times before. But the fact was, this was different. So much had changed since the last time they’d done this. Maybe it was a mistake, maybe this was too soon.
William felt Lizzie’s muscles stiffen beneath his touch as he neared her hips. There were tiny white marks on her skin that were new and he wanted to reach out to caress them, but Lizzie’s sudden tension caused him to hesitate. Instead, he gently turned her around. “You okay?”
Lizzie swallowed. “Fine.”
He ran a thumb along her cheekbone. “Are you sure?”
She responded by lunging forward, crushing her mouth to his so abruptly that their teeth banged together. She eased back a bit, letting her tongue slip between his lips. William gave himself over to the kiss, letting the awkward tension slide away, though it remained a small nagging thought in the back of his mind.
Lizzie let her hands start to roam over the fabric of his shirt. His back felt different, less muscular, and she could feel his ribs. He had lost so much weight in the time they’d been separated, and she had to fight back a sob at the reminder of the horrors he’d been through. She distracted herself from such dark thoughts by intensifying the kiss and pressing her hips against his.
She started to unclasp his pants, and William suddenly felt inexplicably vulnerable and self conscious. His leg had improved, but it was still ugly and scarred, and as for other things, well, it had been a long time. He willed himself to push through, but before he could, a loud cry from the other room caused them both to recoil.
“I better go settle him.” Lizzie’s chest was heaving as she reached around to pull her dress back up. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.” She cast him an apologetic look and slipped from the room before William could respond. As soon as she was out of sight, she leaned against the wall and took a moment to compose herself. The way that William had tensed up when she’d gone to unbutton his pants had shaken her and she worried about what it might mean. Liam screamed again so she shelved the thought for later and went to comfort him.
William sank onto the bed and took a deep breath. So many thoughts and emotions were swirling through his brain that it was a bit overwhelming. The fact was, he wasn’t the man he had been when they’d last done this. His leg was scarred and disfigured, and the rest of his body had changed. What if he was no longer able to meet her expectations? The last thing he wanted to do was let Lizzie down.
He laid back, suddenly feeling exhausted.
When Lizzie returned a few minutes later, she found him asleep. Feeling a strange mixture of regret and relief, she pulled the covers up over him and kissed the top of his forehead. There would be other nights.
Lizzie and William were tidying up the apartment together one weekend in May, when William came across a file folder that had slipped behind the entertainment center. Balancing his weight on his uninjured leg and his cane, he bent down to pick it up.
“I wonder what this is doing here?” he said, brushing off the dust and examining it. It was unmarked and it looked different than the folders they used at Pemberley.
Lizzie came over to look at it, her heart pounding as she realized it was the folder Catherine had left when she’d wanted Lizzie to have William declared dead. She didn’t want him to open it. She wasn’t ready for him to know that she’d given up on him. She wasn’t ready to see the hurt and disappointment she was certain would show in his eyes. “Please don’t open it, William.”
“Why not?” He frowned. “It’s just an ordinary folder.”
“It’s irrelevant now.” That was true. She had never signed the papers, so it wasn’t like they had any real world repercussions.
William studied her. He could tell that something about the unmarked folder made her anxious. He could open it and find out why, or he could respect her wishes. He chose the latter and handed her the folder. “Okay.”
She offered him a shaky smile. “Thank you.”
William woke up in a cold sweat. His breathing was heavy and blood was rushing through his ears. He had been back there, in that small dark room, with no hope of escape. The nightmare had been more vivid than usual and even now, as he sat up in his own bed, he could still smell the rancid dirt floor; he could hear shouts of vapid Spanish, he could feel the constant ache of his leg that had plagued him for years.
Beside him, Lizzie stirred. His eyes were wild and panicked. She sat up. “William, are you okay?”
“Did you have another nightmare?” Lizzie wanted to cry. He’d been having them nearly every night lately and she was growing more and more concerned.
He took a deep breath. “It was nothing. I’m okay. Go back to sleep.”
“William,” she shifted closer to him. “I’m right here, talk to me. Maybe it will help.”
The last thing he wanted to do was burden her with his problems. He needed to figure out how to solve them on his own. “I think I’m going to have a shower,” William told her, climbing out of bed. The walls of the room felt like they were closing in on him and he couldn’t let them win. He bent down to kiss the top of her head. “Go back to sleep, Lizzie.”
As Lizzie watched him limp to the bathroom, she felt her chest tighten. He was slowly slipping away from her and she had no idea how to stop him.
“More please, Mama!” Lizzie gave Liam a few more apple slices and glanced at the clock again. 6:34. She took a deep breath. It was fine. William was only half an hour later than usual; he probably just got stuck in traffic. Still, as the clock ticked upward towards 7 and he still wasn’t home, her heart started to race.
What if something had happened? What if he was in an accident? What if — Lizzie sank onto the couch, a few feet away from where Liam was playing, and took several shallow breaths as panic started to take over. Not again. She couldn’t do this again. Their anniversary was in a few days. This couldn’t be happening.
Bile rose in her throat. No. She told herself. He’s fine. He has to be. She needed to be certain. With a shaky hand, she grabbed her phone and dialed William. No answer. Shaking even more now, she called Gigi. Matthew was supposed to be driving William home today, maybe she knew where they were.
“Lizzie, what’s wrong?” Gigi said, hearing the panic in her sister-in-law’s voice.
“Have you heard from Matthew?”
“No. But he and William had a meeting at 6:30 tonight so I’m not expecting him for another half hour. Why?”
“It’s not important.” Relief flowed through her. A meeting. That’s all. Okay. He was fine. Fine. “Thanks Gigi,” Lizzie said evenly, her heart still thudding manically in her chest. “That’s what I needed to know.”
“Lizzie, are you okay?”
“I am now.”
“You don’t sound okay.”
Lizzie fought to regain her composure. She hadn’t meant to scare Gigi. “I just had a moment. I’m fine now.”
“Lizzie, have you thought about talking to someone? It might help.”
“Gigi, I’m fine. I just have to get used to normal things like late meetings again.”
“If you change your mind, let me know. I can give you the number of the person I’ve been going to. It helps. I think it would be good for you. William too.”
“We’re fine, Gigi. Although…” Lizzie looked at Liam. What she and William really needed was some uninterrupted alone time. They had tried to be intimate again several times in the past month without much success, and she’d been thinking some time away might do them both some good. Especially with their anniversary coming on Saturday. “…Would you and Matthew be willing to take Liam for the weekend?”
“I’ll double check with Matthew, but I don’t think that will be a problem.”
“Great, thank you.” Lizzie heard William’s key in the lock. “Oh, William’s home, I’ll talk to you later. Let me know if this weekend won’t work.”
“Okay, I will.”
Lizzie tossed her phone aside and got up in time to propel herself into William’s arms as soon as he walked in the door.
“Oof.” He hugged her back. “Not that I’m complaining, but to what do I owe that greeting?”
“No reason.” Lizzie kissed him quickly, hoping he wouldn’t be able to see through to the real reason. She didn’t need to burden him with her anxieties. He was home. That’s what mattered. “I’m just happy to see you.”
William studied her face. There was something she wasn’t saying but she obviously didn’t want to talk about it. He could understand that. His leg was aching and he’d had another day at work where everything just felt off. The board was starting to make noises about picking a date to make the official CEO change over so that Matthew could be reassigned to another department, but William still felt so out of place that he had no idea when he’d be ready. He didn’t want to worry Lizzie with such thoughts though. She had enough on her plate and this was something he needed to figure out for himself.
“I was wondering,” Lizzie said to him a little while later while they were eating dinner. “What do you think about going away for our anniversary this weekend? I was thinking maybe we could go back to Napa?”
“What about Liam though?” He looked over at their son, who was happily mashing what remained of his dinner into a pulp.
“Gigi said she and Matthew can take him for the weekend.”
“Okay.” William grinned. That was a great idea. Some time alone would be good for them. Besides, after missing three anniversaries, he had a lot to make up for. He vowed to make this one extra special. “Napa sounds great, we had a great time there last time.”
“We really did.” Lizzie blushed, remembering their drunken vineyard kisses. Perhaps they’d be able to repeat them.
Lizzie had managed to rent them the same cottage they’d rented for their second anniversary. They both took Friday afternoon off work and, after saying goodbye to Liam, they drove up the coast.
It was strange for William, to be a passenger during a long drive - it had always been William who drove them on long trips - but though his leg was no longer inflamed and was getting stronger, the doctor wanted him to wait a bit longer before he started driving again. It was just one more frustration in a long list of things he had no control over.
Still, the benefit of being a passenger was that he could relish in the sight of familiar surroundings. It was the first time he’d left the city since returning from Guatemala, and he found comfort in watching the Northern California hills and vineyards as they passed by. This was home. This was was familiar. This was what he had dreamed of returning to for almost four years. More important though was the woman beside him. He snuck in as many glances at her as he could reasonably get away with without distracting her as she drove, and he was enamoured by every detail. The way her hair curved over her shoulder on one side, the way the creases of her eyes turned upwards as she smiled, the way the sun reflected off her skin. He loved her so completely, and he was nervously excited for their time away.
The cottage looked identical to how it had looked four years earlier and William found that fact oddly comforting. So many things had changed in the time that he’d been gone, that it was nice to find something that hadn’t progressed to the point that it left him in its dust.
Once they settled into the cottage, they went in to town, where they spent the afternoon walking along the Napa River and exploring shops, stopping periodically to give William’s leg a rest. They found a restaurant to share a romantic dinner at and, by the time they returned to the cottage, they could barely keep their hands off each other.
They tumbled onto the bed, both in varied states of disarray as they fumbled with buttons and clasps. William managed to extract Lizzie’s shirt and he started to trail little kisses down her neck, across her chest, between her breasts. He moved downward, his fingers feathering along her sides, causing her breath to catch and her pulse to quicken.
Butterflies fluttered in her stomach as he neared her abdomen. The worst of her stretch marks were there and, until now, they’d always stopped before getting to this point. He traced a finger gently over the line of one of the marks and she inhaled sharply. Their eyes met, and the emotion she saw reflected back at her caused her stomach to flutter for an entirely different reason.
William bent to kiss the mark, trailing his tongue along it so delicately, so tenderly, that Lizzie was suddenly overcome with a thousand different emotions. Those marks were a reminder of what he had missed out on, and yet he was treating them with a level of love and sensitivity that Lizzie could never have anticipated. All at once, tears sprang to her eyes. She didn’t deserve this kind of attention. Not after nearly giving up on him.
She pulled away, unable to handle the assault on her emotions any longer. Pain and confusion flashed in his eyes as she sat up, her back to him. She wrapped her arms across her chest. She didn’t know what to say, how to explain.
William felt his chest tighten as Lizzie withdrew from him. What had he done wrong? Was it the stretch marks? Did she know the turmoil they caused him? He knew they were the result of her pregnancy with Liam, of a time where he should have been there with her and he wasn’t. He had thought that by showing his appreciation for them, it would help them both come to terms with that loss, but instead he had managed to drive her further away. He didn’t know what to do. He had been trying so hard to get back to normal, to move past what had happened to them, but lately it felt like everything he did was wrong.
“Lizzie?” he asked now, trying a direct approach. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m sorry.” She turned back to him, a forced smile plastered to her lips. “I just needed a moment. I’m fine, we can continue.”
She leaned in to kiss him, but he stopped her, his hands cupping both sides of her face. Tears were drying against her cheeks. “You were crying, you’re obviously not fine.”
“I’m just emotional, it’s nothing.” Lizzie swallowed. She’d forgotten how easily he could see through her. It made her feel vulnerable and exposed.
William dropped his hands and stared down at the bed. “You don’t trust me.”
“What?” Lizzie gaped at him. “Of course I trust you, William.”
He looked up, and the pain she saw as their eyes locked made her want to curl into a ball and cry. “Then why do you always shut me out of your thoughts? We always used to share everything; there were no secrets between us. And now you always just say you’re fine and expect me to accept that. You’re not fine, Lizzie. I can tell.”
Is that what he thought? Lizzie’s heart ached. That wasn’t it at all. She opened her mouth to explain, but he continued.
“To make matters worse, I know you don’t trust me with Liam.”
Lizzie felt like she’d been slapped. “What? That’s not true. William, Liam is your son.”
“I am aware. And yet you hardly ever leave me alone with him. You seldom let me do anything for him. It’s been more than three months now and I haven’t even put him to bed once. I feel like I’m just a visitor passing through. It’s like you don’t trust me to be his father. I know I wasn’t there at first, Lizzie, but I’m here now, and I’m trying. I’m trying so hard, but how can Liam learn to trust me with him if you won’t?”
The room was spinning. How had they gone from kissing to this? Lizzie had to take a deep breath to keep from crying. Was William right though? Had she somehow stopped trusting him without realizing it? “I’m so sorry, William, I didn’t realize you felt that way. I… I guess I’m just so used to doing everything myself. I’ve been a single parent for three years, I guess I don’t know anything else.”
The words ‘single parent’ rang in his head. He’d done that. It was his fault she’d had to raise their son that way. “Why don’t we ever talk about that?”
“About what you went through while I was gone? It’s obvious you were hurting, and it kills me that you were - that I’m the cause of that - but you refuse to let me see that. How can I fix it if you won’t let me in? How can I help you when you won’t even admit that you’re hurting?”
Lizzie was crying openly now. “I haven’t wanted to talk about it because I don’t want to hurt you, William. I’m just trying to move forward. What good is dwelling on the past going to do? It’s done, we can’t change it. Besides, it’s not like you’ve been very forthcoming yourself. You still won’t even tell me what happened to you while you were gone. I only know bits and pieces from what they told me at the embassy. I have to witness you having nightmare after nightmare, and I have no way to help you because I don’t know what you went through.”
“I haven’t told you because I thought it would hurt you too much to know.”
Lizzie stared at him for a minute, and then she started to laugh through her tears.
William blinked at her, completely bemused. “Why are you laughing?”
“Because we’re idiots, William. We’ve been shutting each other out because we’re so afraid of hurting each other, and we’ve ended up hurting each other more.” Lizzie shook her head. “Idiots.”
William chuckled. When she put it that way, she was right.
“So, what do we do now?” Lizzie asked. “How do we get past this?”
“I honestly don’t know.” William sighed. “Maybe we should talk about these things now.”
“Okay.” Lizzie put her shirt back on and they both propped themselves up with pillows.
An awkward silence fell over them.
“I don’t know how to start,” Lizzie confessed.
“Nor do I.” William looked at her. “It’s a lot.”
“It is.” Lizzie angled her body so she could see him better. “The nightmares. Can you tell me about them?”
William swallowed. “They… they’re… most of the time they’re memories. Of where I was, of what I saw.” He searched for a way to elaborate, and his mind immediately conjured up an image of his cell. Even the smell came back to him. His stomach flopped and he thought he might be sick. “I’m sorry, Lizzie. I don’t know if I can do this.”
Lizzie regarded him carefully. His eyes had a wild frenzied appearance she’d never seen before and he had gone pale. Instantly, she berated herself for trying to get him to talk about it. It was clearly upsetting and traumatizing for him. Oh, god, what have I done?
“It’s okay,” she said quickly, not wanting to upset him further. She wished she knew how to help him. She had hoped that maybe, if he talked about it, she could fix it, but if he couldn’t even say the words, then maybe they needed help. “The other day, Gigi suggested therapy,” she said hesitantly. “Apparently she’s been talking to someone and it’s helped. Maybe we should do that. I think… I think maybe this is bigger than what we can fix on our own.”
William opened his mouth to protest, but when he saw the look of concern and anxiety on Lizzie’s face, he immediately relented. Maybe she was right? He didn’t know, he just knew that he wanted things to get back to normal, and if talking to someone would help them do that, he was willing to try. “I think maybe you’re right.”
“Do you think maybe instead of … this,” she gestured between them, “we could just hold each other tonight? I don’t think I’m ready for the other.”
William was feeling the same way. As much as he loved Lizzie and wanted to be with her again in every way, this conversation had made him realize that what was happening between them wasn’t going to be magically fixed with one night together, or even with a conversation. In fact, he was beginning to think it might make it worse. He opened his arms, and she snuggled against him until they both fell asleep.
In the end, Lizzie and William decided to head back to San Francisco the next day. Neither was much in the mood for celebrating and being together in the small cottage just served as a reminder of their failed attempt at intimacy. They agreed to wait and let it happen naturally, when they both felt ready and a little more at ease with each other, without the pressure of feeling they needed to be intimate again right away.
When they got home, Lizzie called Gigi to let her know they were back.
“They’re going to drop Liam off in a few hours.” She flopped onto the couch next to William. “They want to take him to Pier 39. So we have a few more hours to ourselves.”
“That’s nice of them.”
“I think it’s as much for them as it is for him. They love taking him places but I’m not sure how much time they’ll have to do that once the new baby comes.”
“That’s true.” William took a deep breath, if they were going to try to be more open with each other, this was a good place to start. “Sometimes I feel jealous of Matthew.”
Lizzie shot him a confused glance, thinking the comment a bit odd, but appreciating the fact that he was opening up. “How so?”
“He gets to experience everything: the pregnancy, the doctor’s appointments, the ultrasounds. He’ll get to see his son or daughter at birth.” His eyes were fogging up. “I missed all of that, Lizzie.”
Long-held emotions swirled within Lizzie as she thought back on her pregnancy and how much she had yearned for William to be there, how much she had hoped he would make it back for each milestone. “I missed having you there.”
He covered her hand with his. “I’m sorry, Lizzie. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there. I should have been. I will never forgive myself for leaving you alone through that.”
Lizzie felt like her heart was tearing in two. “William, no.” She leaned her forehead against his and looked right into his eyes. “You listen to me, it wasn’t your fault. I know that. It’s horrible and it hurt… hell it still hurts, but it is not your fault.”
“But you and Liam —“
“We made it through.” She was going to gloss it over, to change the subject, but she remembered how he’d thought she didn’t trust him and she realized it was time to let him in, no matter how much it hurt. She pulled away, needing a little distance to gather her courage. ”I’m not going to lie, William. It was hard. No, actually, it was one of the worst pains I’ve ever experienced in my life.”
William felt a lump form in his throat. Her words hurt to hear, but the fact that she was trusting him with them meant everything.
She looked up at him again. “I wanted you there. Every day, I wished you could be there, I wished for you to come home. But I didn’t just hurt for me, I hurt for you, too. There was so much that we missed out on, so much that I know would have meant so much to you, and that’s what hurt the most.”
“Lizzie…” his voice was hoarse with emotion. “Oh, Lizzie.” He pulled her into his arms as sobs overtook her.
After several minutes, Lizzie sat up and dried her tears. She studied her husband for a moment and decided it was time. Without a word, she walked over the the entertainment center, opened one of the cupboards and pulled out an unmarked DVD. Once it was set up, she picked up the remote and returned to William.
“While you were…away, Gigi and I documented everything we could about my pregnancy and Liam for you. Birthdays, milestones, doctor’s appointments, it’s all here.”
William inhaled sharply. This was it, all the missing pieces of his son’s life. “You did that for me?”
“I did it for us. I knew that when you came home you would want to feel included. I know it’s not the same as you actually being there, but this will at least fill in some of the blanks.”
“I didn’t want to overwhelm you at first, especially after I shared the photos with you and they made you so upset. If you’re not ready for this yet, we can wait, but it’s here whenever you want it.”
Back in April, he hadn’t been ready to face what he’d missed, but he thought maybe he was now. At least he could try, and if it got to be too much, they could stop. “I’m ready, at least I think I am.“
“Okay.” She handed him the remote. “You can decide when to start and stop.” She gripped his hand. “But I’ll be right here with you the whole time.”
“Thank you for doing this.”
“You’re welcome.” She kissed his cheek. “If you have any questions about anything, or you want me to share details about any of these events and milestones, I will do my best to fill you in. I can’t promise that my memories are fail proof though.”
“That’s fair.” He grasped her hand more tightly and pressed ‘play’.
Gigi’s face came on the screen. “Hi, William, I’m going to film everything so you feel like you’re here with us.” She moved the camera and he got his first glimpse of Lizzie, her tummy bare while someone attached something to it. As the camera shifted to a small monitor with a black and white image, William sucked in a breath. That was him. That was his son.
As the videos progressed, William found himself falling in love with his son all over again. Seeing Lizzie’s pregnant belly, hearing Liam’s heart beat, seeing Lizzie hold their son for the first time, watching his son take his first steps and celebrate his first birthday; it all made him feel a little bit closer to both of them. He hadn’t been there and he would always regret that fact, whether it had been in his control or not, but at least now he felt a little less left out.
The most difficult aspect of watching the videos was the look of deep sadness that was visible beneath the surface of Lizzie’s eyes in every shot of her. She often had deep circles beneath them, and though it was evident that she was trying to hide it, William could tell that she had barely been keeping herself together. Seeing her so sad made his heart ache, and with each scene that passed, he held her more closely against him. He never wanted her to have to face that kind of pain again.
On the other hand, the obvious love between Lizzie and Liam in the videos made William’s chest fill with warmth. It was apparent that Lizzie had worked hard to give Liam the best possible life that she could under the circumstances, and he marvelled at the inner strength she must have had in order to do that. He wasn’t sure he would have been able to, had their positions been reversed. He winced at the thought. He would not wish his experience on anyone, least of all his incredible wife.
When they reached the end of the DVD, William kissed her. “Thank you, Lizzie. Not just for sharing these with me, but also for taking such amazing care of our son. Liam is incredibly lucky to have you.”
Lizzie framed his face with her hands. “He’s very lucky to have you, too.” She kissed him, and he would have kissed her back except at that exact moment, there was a knock at the door. “Speaking of Liam —”
William sighed. “My sister always did have impeccable timing.”
As July dawned, Lizzie and William were both feeling a little more at ease with each other and with their situation. They had started family reunification therapy, as well as individual counseling, not long after their anniversary and though they still had a lot to work through, it was helping.
One of the biggest breakthroughs came after dinner one night. William was loading the dishwasher as Lizzie started leading Liam to his room to get him ready for his bath and bed, when he stopped and looked up at her. “Mama, I want Daddy tonight.”
The plate William was holding nearly slipped from his hand. Shaking, he set it down carefully and stared at his wife and son, convinced that he’d heard wrong.
Lizzie was frozen in place. It was the first time Liam had referred to William as ‘Daddy’ since that first day they met in the park, and his sudden use of the word made her well up.
Liam didn’t seem to notice the reaction though. He tugged his hand out of Lizzie’s and ran over to William. “Daddy, give me baf tonight?” Liam reached for his hand before remembering that he should use his manners. “Please?” he added.
William swallowed the giant lump that had formed in his throat. “Yes, Liam.”
“YAY!” Liam tugged on his hand. “Come on, Daddy, go! Less go!”
Lizzie’s heart felt full as she watched her husband and son walk down the hall together, while Liam chattered happily about the toys he wanted to take into the bath. She had waited for this moment for nearly four years, and to have it happen so unexpectedly and naturally, gave her emotions that she couldn’t even form into words.
William felt stunned. and a little shell-shocked as he undressed his son and ran his bath for him, all while Liam pranced around talking non-stop. “I want bubbles!”
“Okay.” He picked up the bottle that was kept on the ledge above the bathtub, safely out of reach.
When Lizzie popped her head in to check on them a little while later, she was met with the sight of William kneeling next to the tub, scooping bubbles into his hands and applying them to his face. Liam shrieked with laughter and brushed them off. “You silly, Daddy.”
William responded by scooping up more bubbles and placing them on the top of Liam’s head. This caused Liam to splash him and William splashed him back, careful to avoid the eyes. Soon the bathroom and William were soaked, but Lizzie didn’t care. These were the kinds of moments they had all been waiting for. A little bit of extra cleanup was completely worth it.
After the bath, Lizzie tried to get Liam ready for bed while William changed into dry clothes, but her son was having none of it. “No. Mama, stop.”
“I need to dry you off, sweetheart.”
“No.” Liam started to cry. “I want Daddy.”
William walked into the room then, his chest tight with emotion. He didn’t know where this sudden burst of acceptance had come from, but he’d take it. “I’m here now, Liam, but it’s time for bed,” he said gently but firmly, leaning down so they were on the same level. His leg was throbbing a bit after all the kneeling during the bath, but William didn’t care.
“Okay.” He stopped crying. “Dinosaur ‘jamas?”
While William helped Liam pull said dinosaur pajamas over his head, Lizzie quietly slipped from the room.
Once he was changed, Liam picked out a book and climbed onto William’s lap. As William read to his son, he rocked back and forth gently, and by the time he reached the end of the story, Liam had fallen asleep, his head resting against William’s torso. Love and affection overcame him and silent tears of joy started to roll down his cheeks. He sat in the chair with Liam on his lap for a long time, just staring down at him in awe and wonder. For the first time since his return, he felt like a proper father and he was going to relish in the moment for as long as possible.
“How was your doctor’s appointment?” Lizzie asked one night at dinner.
“It was good.” William smiled. “I’m cleared to drive again.”
“Yes. A whole month earlier than he’d predicted. He said my leg was strong enough now that he thinks it can handle the pressure of driving. No long distances yet though.”
“Oh, William that’s great news!” Lizzie grinned. He’d been growing increasingly grumpy at the inconvenience of having to depend on other people to drive him places.
“It is. I’ve missed driving.”
“I’ll bet.” She leaned over to put some more carrots on Liam’s tray. “Did he say anything else?”
“Well,” William took a sip of his water. “We talked about surgery.”
Lizzie looked up, alarmed. “Surgery?”
“Yes. If I ever want to be completely free of the limp and get my leg back to its former shape, they have to rebreak the bone and cast it properly.” William winced at the thought. “He says there’s no medical reason I need to have it done at this point though. If I don’t have it done, I’ll just be stuck with the limp.”
“So what do you want to do?”
“I think I’d like to hold off, at least for now. I can get around well enough now and stay on my leg longer. I haven’t been using my cane as much either.”
“That’s true. You haven’t used it since the last day we had rain.”
“Exactly. I feel like I can live with it now and I’ve got good mobility. If I have the surgery, I’ll be in a cast for up to three months. That’s a long time to basically be out of commission.”
“Yeah it is.” Lizzie thought about how well things had been going with Liam. Just that past weekend, they’d gone to the park and Liam had been delighted when William took him down the tallest slide. If William had to be in a cast for three months, he’d miss out on stuff like that. He’d already missed so much, she didn’t like the idea of him missing more if he didn’t have to.
“I’d much rather live with a limp than miss more time with Liam.” He said, echoing her thoughts. “Does that make sense?”
Lizzie nodded. “Absolutely. If that’s what you’d like to do, then I support you.”
“You seemed quiet at dinner tonight,” Lizzie said when they were lying in bed together. “Is it because of Gigi’s news?”
William smiled at that. Gigi and Matthew had come over for dinner that night and had shared that they were going to have a girl. “Oh, no. I’m delighted for them.”
“Me too. It’s nice to see Gigi so happy.”
“Yes. It is. She’s going to be such a great mother.” He turned onto his side so he was facing Lizzie. “When she was little, she used to make me play ‘house’ with her sometimes and I was always the baby. I hated it, but I would always indulge her anyway and she was always very natural, even with her fake mothering. She used to copy our mom, and she was pretty amazing so if Gigi is anything like our mother, my niece is one very lucky baby.”
“Yes, she is. Gigi’s been an excellent aunt to Liam, I have no doubts that she’ll be amazing with her own family.” She paused. “What’s got you so distracted then?”
“The board meeting, tomorrow.” William felt sick to his stomach just thinking about it.
Lizzie propped herself up on her elbow and looked down at him. “How come?”
William sighed. Maybe it was time to fill Lizzie in on his struggles at work. “I feel so lost at Pemberley right now, Lizzie. The media world changed so much while I was gone and, no matter how many reports I read or how many old projects I watch, I feel like I’m always out of the loop. Matthew has done an amazing job with Pemberley since he took over. It’s thriving under his direction and I feel like if I were to take over right now, it would hurt the company. Plus, if I take over, where does that leave Matthew? I can’t put my sister’s husband and the father of my future niece out of a job. It wouldn’t be right.”
“I’m pretty sure the board will find him another position if they need to, but I had no idea it was so rough for you, William. I’m sorry.”
“I was gone for nearly four years and it’s going to take more than a few months for me to feel like I can handle the responsibility of running the company again. I don’t even know if that’s what I want anymore.”
“What do you want?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. We can afford for me to not work for awhile, but I don’t just want to be at home alone all day, with nothing to occupy me. That’s the main reason I went back to work in the first place, but it’s all too much, too overwhelming. My heart just isn’t there right now, Lizzie. My heart is here, with you, and with Liam.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I’m not even making sense. I don’t know what I want, Lizzie, I just know that taking over the reins at Pemberley is not the right choice for me right now.”
Lizzie remained silent, processing his words and kicking herself mentally for not seeing this sooner. He’d barely been back for five months, it made complete sense that he wasn’t ready to take the business world by storm again. She understood his hesitation to stay home alone though, staying busy made it easier to block out thoughts. She’d done the same thing when he’d first disappeared. “Is there another role you could fill at Pemberley? Something without the same level of pressure and responsibility?”
“Maybe? I had thought of that, but I’m not sure that’s what I want either.” He smiled wryly. “My mind is extraordinarily indecisive right now.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that. These aren’t the kinds of decisions that should be made lightly.”
“That is very true.”
Lizzie thought about what he’d said, about his heart being with her and Liam, and an idea formed. “I have another suggestion.”
“We could pull Liam out of child care. Maybe not every day, since he still needs to socialize with other children his age, but the two of you have missed out on so much time together already and he’s growing up so quickly. Maybe this is an opportunity for the two of you to bond further.”
“You would trust me with that?” William’s voice was awed and full of emotion.
“Of course I would, William. You’re his father.” Lizzie reached out and cupped his cheek. “I think it would be good for both of you.”
William still had no idea what he wanted from his career, now or in the future, but he knew with certainty that spending more time with his son was something he wanted and needed right now. He kissed the palm of her hand. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet. You still have to tell the board.”
William was preparing lunch for himself and Liam one afternoon, when there was an unexpected knock at the door.
“Me get! Me get!” Liam cried, abandoning the blocks he’d been stacking and running for the door. William quickly dried his hands and followed his son, wondering who would be calling on them in the middle of the week.
He reached the door just as Liam had arched up onto his tiptoes and was trying to twist the handle without success. William reached above him to unlock the door, then helped Liam pull it open.
“AUNTIE!” Liam yelled, his eyes lighting up as he saw Lydia standing there.
“Hi, Liam.” She grinned down at him, then looked up at William. “Hi Darcy!”
“You know you can call me William.”
Lydia wrinkled her nose. “It sounds too normal and boring.” He smiled. His name had become a bit of a running joke between them over the years, and he was pleased that it hadn’t changed in his absence.
“Come see what I maked!” Liam took Lydia’s hand and tugged her over to where he’d been playing before. “Look! See it?”
“So what brings you here in the middle of the week?” William asked, following them into the living room.
“It’s lovely,” Lydia said to Liam, setting her bag down on the coffee table and crouching next to her nephew. To William she said, “I’m actually in town for a few days for some book publicity, but I have no commitments until tomorrow so I thought I’d see if you guys were around. I’m assuming Lizzie’s still at work?”
“She is. She’ll be home before dinner.” William returned to the kitchen. “Liam and I were just about to have lunch, would you like to join us?”
Lydia accepted a block from Liam, then turned her head so she could see William. “That would be great, thank you.”
“Auntie, put here.” Liam directed, and Lydia quickly indulged him while William finished preparing them lunch.
After they finished eating a short while later, Lydia cleared her throat. “So, uh, I have something for you.”
“Oh?” William frowned, trying to contemplate what it could possibly be. It wasn’t anywhere near his birthday.
Lydia went over to her bag and pulled something out. She returned and held it out to him. “I got some advanced copies of my book and I wanted you to have one.”
William stared down at it. “Thank you. Wow, look at that, your name all embossed on the front and everything.”
“I know. I still feel like I’m dreaming half the time.” She sat next to him and opened the cover, flipping to one of the first pages. “Read this!”
William quickly glanced across the table to make sure that Liam was still fine before reading the words on the page.
This book is dedicated to my beloved brother-in-law William Darcy, whose encouragement and support inspired me to take a risk and record the stories in my head. This story would not exist without you, William. Thank you. We are all so incredibly lucky to have you in our lives.
Tears threatened to fall as he read the final words and his voice was hoarse when he looked at her and said, “Thank you for this, Lydia. It means so much.”
“Thank you, William. I mean it, I would never have started this without your encouragement.”
“Daddy why you cry?” Liam interrupted. “Daddy owie? Me kiss?”
Lydia and William both laughed. “I’m okay, Liam. These are happy tears.”
Liam tilted his head, as though he were considering whether to believe him or not. “Okay.” He pushed at his tray. “Want out.”
William set Lydia’s book carefully on the counter and quickly wiped his son down before lifting him out of the highchair. Liam squirmed in his arms and started to pat William’s face. “Go park, Daddy?”
He looked at Lydia. “What do you think? Would you like to come to the park with us? Liam can show you his amazing sliding skills.”
“Yes. Slide!” Liam kicked his legs. “Wanna slide, now!”
“Well, we all know I’m a professional slider. I’m definitely in!”
“YAY!” Liam rocked back and forth excitedly, causing William to nearly lose his grip on him. “Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!”
“You heard him!” Lydia said, leading the way to the door. “Let’s go slide!”
The afternoon of the 16th of August, Gigi showed up on their doorstep just after William had put Liam down for his afternoon nap.
“Gigi? What’s wrong?”
Without answering, Gigi threw herself into his arms, her tears soaking into his shirt. Alarmed, William patted his sister on the back, trying to comfort her. “What is it? Is it Matthew? Did you have a fight?”
“No, Matthew and I are fine.”
Baffled, William guided his sister into the other room to sit down and brought her a glass of water. She sipped at it, then said, “I’m sorry, William.”
“It’s okay Gigi, just please, tell me what’s wrong. Maybe I can help?”
Gigi shook her head. “I’m a terrible sister.”
“I am. Don’t you see, William? Three years ago today, Aunt Catherine and I held a memorial for you, and all along you were out there, hurting and imprisoned.”
William gaped at his sister. She was blaming herself for that? “Gigi, listen to me. You had no possible way of knowing that I was coming back. No one did. Your response was perfectly acceptable and natural, and it was absolutely what you needed to do in order to move on.”
“You’re not mad?”
“No. Never. Gigi, I love you and I want you to be happy. You did what you had to do to accomplish that. I do not blame you.” He hugged her. “Have you been holding onto that guilt all this time?”
“I thought I was over it, but then today, I was at work and I saw the date and, I don't know. I just lost it.” Gigi wiped her eyes. “I’m sorry, this pregnancy has my emotions all over the map right now. I think that’s part of it. I shouldn’t have come.” She started to get up.
“No, Gigi. Don’t go. It’s okay.” He tugged her back to sit next to him. “Healing isn’t a straight line.”
“You sound like my therapist.”
William chuckled. “Well, I did get that line from my therapist.”
“That explains it.” She smiled.
“Liam will be asleep for a bit longer, why don’t we have a snack and catch up? We’ve got cookies.”
“Did you make them?”
“I did. With Liam.”
“Look at my big brother, getting all domestic,” Gigi teased.
“Hey, you’ll be next.” He cast a meaningful glance at her growing abdominal region.
She laughed. “Seriously though, being a stay at home dad suits you. You look so much more relaxed than you were before you officially stepped down last month.”
“It was the right choice for me, for now. I missed so much with him already, Gigi. I don’t want to miss any more.”
Gigi took one of the cookies he offered. “I know you don’t. You made the right choice. How are things going with Liam, anyway? I haven’t seen you guys in a while.”
“Good.” William smiled, remembering the little hug he’d received just before he had laid his son down for his nap earlier. “Really good.”
“I’m glad.” Gigi took a bite of the cookie. “You’re a great father. He’s lucky to have you.”
Later that evening, after Liam was asleep, William came to Lizzie with a stack of old looking paper.
“Lizzie,” he said, perching himself on the edge of the bed beside her. “I know you still have a lot of questions about what happened to me and I want you to know, but it’s difficult for me to talk about.” He handed her the stack of papers. “I wrote to you. Not every day, but as often as I could. I didn’t know if you’d ever get to see them, but writing those letters helped me get through some of my darkest days.”
Lizzie looked at the top letter and saw the words, ‘My Dear Sweet Lizzie’. He hadn’t called her that since he’d come back and she wondered now if this was why. She offered him a shaky smile. “Thank you for these.” She paused. “I wrote to you also.”
Lizzie carefully placed his letters next to her and scrambled off the bed. She opened the bottom drawer of her dresser and pulled out the carved wooden box her father had given her before their wedding. It was nearly identical the the one he’d given Gigi. “They’re all here, every letter I wrote during the time you were away. I don’t even remember what I wrote in half of them, but they will help you see what I was going through.”
William took the box, his palms feeling suddenly sweaty with anticipation. “Thank you.”
Lizzie picked up his letters again with shaking hands. “Are they in order?”
“Yes. There are no dates, because I did not know even what time of year it was most of the time, but they’re all there, right up to the very last letter I wrote in the Embassy while I was waiting for you.”
“Okay.” She unfolded the top letter, her throat going dry with sudden nervousness. Tears sprung to her eyes as she read about his experience after the earthquake. Her heart seized as she read about him being captured at gunpoint, his rebroken leg. She had to stop reading to compose herself before she could continue. She had imagined at least a thousand different scenarios in the past four years, but reading about what actually happened, in his own words, was more painful than she’d expected. By the time she got to the end of it, she could barely see. No wonder he had trouble talking about it.
While Lizzie was reading, William carefully opened the wooden box. Her letters were lined up in a neat row and he pulled out the first one, careful not to disturb the rest. He opened it, taking a moment to run his fingers along her careful script. There were several spots of discoloration on the paper where her tears must have fallen, and he had to swallow a lump in his throat before he was able to begin reading. As he read the words, ‘You’re going to be a father, William’, the careful hold he’d been keeping on his emotions snapped, and his eyes immediately dampened. How difficult it must have been for her to write those words rather than tell him in person.
When he finished reading, he turned to Lizzie. Tears were streaming down her face. She met his gaze and offered him a shaky smile. “I’m so sorry, William. I had no idea… I…” She looked down at the letter, lost for words. He felt much the same way.
“You don’t have to read any more if you don’t want to,” William said softly. He would spare her this pain if he could.
Lizzie took a deep breath. “No, I want to. I just need a moment.” She pointed to the box. “How are you doing?”
“Okay. I am so very sorry that I was not able to hurry back as you requested. I would have, if it had been in my power. I swear to you, Lizzie.”
“I know.” She closed the distance between them and kissed him as much to comfort herself as to comfort him. Then she picked up the next letter. This was something that she needed to do.
Despite the lateness of the hour, they spent the next several hours reading each other’s letters, pausing periodically to ask each other questions, to elaborate, or sometimes just to reassure themselves that the other person was still there.
More than once, William’s letters moved Lizzie to tears and when she finished, she felt raw and bruised. He had been through so much - an improperly treated broken bone, wrongful imprisonment, isolation, constant fear for what would happen next. It was no wonder he had nightmares and didn’t want to be alone. She wouldn’t want to be alone under those circumstances either.
And yet, despite what he’d been through, most of his letters were surprisingly touching, filled with their story, with his love for her and his memories of their time together. Her heart felt full with the realization of just how much he loved her. She hoped he knew that, regardless of the struggles and challenges they’d faced recently, she felt the same way.
As William read through Lizzie’s letters, his heart broke repeatedly. It was clear to him that she had been hanging on by a thread, and he, marveled at the courage it must have taken her to overcome that and still look after Liam day in and day out. When he came to a letter with Liam’s handprint on it, he traced a finger over the outline of his son’s hand. It was so unfathomably tiny that it was difficult to reconcile it with the small hands he was now so familiar with.
His breath caught in his throat as he read through her last letters. The outpouring of emotion and pain seized at his heart. He knew how difficult it must have been for her to have reached that point, for her to be willing to let go. Her anguished words twisted and tore at the very core of his being. This letter had been written only a few days before his return. He couldn’t begin to imagine what kind of emotional whiplash that must have caused her.
Lizzie grew nervous as William reached her final letters. She had contemplated pulling them, but she knew that they needed total honesty in order to get through this. She held her breath as he read, as tears formed in the corners of his eyes. “Oh, Lizzie,” he said hoarsely when he was done. “My dear sweet Lizzie.”
He wrapped an arm around her and kissed the top of her head.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I should never have given up on you like that. I failed you.”
“No, Lizzie. You did the right thing. You did not know I was about to come back. I said in one of my letters, I did not expect you to keep holding on and I meant it. It wouldn’t have been healthy for you to do that. For you or for Liam. Am I glad I was found before you signed? Yes, absolutely, but do I blame you for your willingness to move on so you could take better care of yourself and Liam? Not at all.You did the right thing, Lizzie.”
They clung to one another long into the night afterward, neither of them feeling much like sleeping. Instead, they spoke more openly to each other about their experiences while they were apart, and when Liam came in to wake them the next morning, he found them propped against the headboard, arms still wrapped tightly around each other as their heads lolled to the side in a decidedly uncomfortable slumber.
After the night where Lizzie and William had shared their letters with each other, things started to shift between them, and the cloud of unspoken pain surrounding their long separation no longer felt quite as stifling. As difficult as it had been to relive each other’s experiences, it had been cleansing. Things were not perfect, but they were finally moving forward.
One evening in September, Lizzie came home to find the apartment empty. A green dress was laid out on the bed, along with an envelope with her name written on it in William’s careful script. She opened the envelope and pulled out a note.
My Dear Sweet Lizzie,
Do you remember the first date we ever had once you moved to the city? The one you hated because you felt it was over the top and ‘not us’? Well tonight, I wish to bring the opposite. What we’re doing, and where we’re going, is a surprise. Get ready. Gigi will arrive at 6:00 with further instructions.
Lizzie smiled. William could be such a romantic fool sometimes, and it was nice to see it coming out again. She held the letter against her chest for a moment, sighing happily before turning her attention to the dress. It was simple, but beautiful, and she couldn’t help but note that the color matched the shirt she’d worn when they’d shared their first kiss on her vlogs all those years ago.
She took her time getting ready, paying extra attention to her hair and makeup. As she moved about the apartment, her heart fluttered with anticipation, making her feel giddy and lightheaded.
As promised, Gigi arrived at 6:00 with Liam in tow.
“This is for you,” she said, presenting Lizzie with another small envelope.
Lizzie pulled out the note, her curiosity heightened. What exactly did he have planned?
My Dear Sweet Lizzie,
Meet me at the Presidio at 6:30. Bring a sweater.
“Before you ask,” Gigi said hastily, “I know nothing. I’m only the messenger.” She looked at Liam. “And the babysitter.”
“Mama,” Liam said, giving her a hug around the knees and then handing her a box. “Daddy said give you this.”
Lizzie opened the box and found a beautiful silver necklace with a pendant that had a scripted “L” looped over a scripted “W”. As far as big romantic gestures went, William was winning all the awards. And she hadn’t even laid eyes on him yet.
“Thank you, sweetheart,” she said to Liam, kissing the top of his head.
Gigi helped her put it on and Lizzie toyed with it for a moment, before pulling on her sweater and grabbing her purse.
“You be good for Aunt Gigi,” she told Liam.
“Okay.” He gave her another hug around the legs and pranced off to play.
“Have a good time,” Gigi said “Don’t worry about how late you are. Liam and I have everything covered.”
“Thank you, Gigi.”
The Presidio was nearly deserted when she got there, but it didn’t take long for her to locate him standing near the water, the Golden Gate Bridge looming majestically behind him.
“Hi,” she said, suddenly feeling shy. She felt a bit like they were on their very first date again.
“Lizzie!” William watched her approach, his eyes roaming over her appreciatively. She was always beautiful, but tonight she looked radiant. The necklace he’d had made for her sat perfectly against her collarbone and when she reached him, he traced a finger over it. His initial and hers, forever fused together. He loved the symbolism of it.
“The necklace is beautiful,” she told him. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” He kissed her cheek and entwined his hand with hers.
They walked along the beach for a while, talking as they went and stopping periodically to give his leg a rest. William filled her in on his day with Liam (sans date preparations), and she told him about the conversation she’d had with Lydia on the phone; her novel was selling well and the publisher had given her a second contract.
The sun was beginning to set when they turned back and the skyline behind the Golden Gate Bridge was filled with vibrant streaks of color. It was breathtaking.
Lizzie shivered and William wrapped an arm around her. She tucked herself against him and realized that she was content. Her worries and anxieties were still there, and the pain she’d experienced while William had been away would probably never fade completely, but she felt like she, like they, were finally moving past it. William’s decision to step down at Pemberley, and stay at home with Liam, was one that had caused him to thrive. Every day when she got home, she could see the difference and with each moment of bonding she witnessed between her husband and son, she felt a little more whole. They were going to be okay.
She looked up at William and was overcome with love for him. They had been through so much, him especially, and they had survived it. It was miraculous really.
William felt Lizzie’s gaze on him and, he as he dipped his head down to look at her, she rolled up to her tiptoes and kissed him.
The passion in her kiss took him by surprise and caused his pulse to quicken. He pressed her against him, giving himself over completely to the kiss and his feelings for her. Her lips were swollen when they pulled apart a few minutes later and he couldn’t resist tracing a finger over them. He tucked her hair behind her ear. “You are so breathtakingly beautiful, Lizzie.”
“I could say the same about you, William. Sometimes I see you with Liam, or just sitting reading a book, and I can’t breathe. You make me feel— I don’t want to say complete, that’s cheesy, but I don’t know how else to put it.”
“I feel the same way.” He kissed her again with slow, deliberate motions, before straightening up and threading his fingers through hers. “Are you getting hungry?”
Lizzie was still recovering from the emotions his kiss had brought to the surface so she nodded.
He led the way back to the car and drove them to Golden Gate Park. As they got out of the car, he pulled a basket out of the trunk, then came around and offered Lizzie his arm. He guided her to a tree that was off to the side and procured a blanket from the basket, which he stretched out on the grass.
Lizzie spun around slowly, taking in their surroundings. The spot was nothing special, just a small section of a larger field, and yet Lizzie recognized it instantly. It was here that she and William had shared one of their most memorable kisses not long after she’d moved to San Francisco. As she recalled, they’d been in the park for an open air concert that they had both ended up hating, but they’d made the most of it.
“Do you recognize it?” William asked as he sat down.
“I do.” Lizzie settled herself beside him. “God, that band was awful. What were they called? The Fried Dumptrucks or something?”
“I don’t even recall,” William said honestly. He had only gone to that concert because he’d thought it would be something she’d like. He’d been relieved when he learned she’d hated them as much as he had.
“It’s not important.” Lizzie had a faraway look in her eyes, and he wondered if she was also thinking about the intense kisses they’d shared that night. Her eyes met his and the intensity of her expression, the heat in her eyes, made him gravitate closer to her.
If their kisses by the bridge had been passionate, this one was a step beyond. His skin felt hot after the first brush of lip against lip, and by the time she broke away to catch her breath, his entire body vibrated with need.
Lizzie swallowed. Her hunger for dinner had been replaced by an entirely different kind of hunger and she wished they weren’t in public. She loved William so much, and her fingers itched to touch him, to trail gentle pathways along every inch of his body, to make him ache for her the way she ached for him. She forced herself to look away and distracted herself by reaching for the picnic basket.
They managed to keep up a steady flow of conversation as they ate the meal William had packed for them, but through it all, there was an undercurrent of heightened attraction between them that never quite went away.
When they had both finished, William packed everything neatly back in the basket and turned to Lizzie. “So I was going to take you out dancing after this but—“
Lizzie heard his hesitance and voiced what she knew they both wanted. “— Let’s go home.”
It seemed to take forever for Gigi to leave once they got home, but as soon as she was gone, they were in each other’s arms, their kisses rushed and frantic. They stumbled to the bedroom, leaving a trail of clothing in their wake, as their hands sought to caress and explore each other.
There was no time to think, there was only time to feel, to do, as they gave in to their intense desire for each other, and soon, they were both panting and breathless as they finally managed to bridge the gap that had eluded them for months.
William woke one morning in October to find Lizzie propped up on one elbow, watching him intently.
“Did anyone ever tell you it’s impolite to stare?” He teased.
“Nah, Mom always encouraged it. She thought it would improve our chances of getting a husband.”
William laughed. “Well, I don’t know about increased chances of matrimony, but your prospect for kisses is looking pretty good.”
“Is it now?” Lizzie didn’t move. “What if I told you I don’t want kisses?”
“Then I’d ask you what you do want.”
“To tell you how perfect you are.”
William scoffed. “I’m hardly perfect. I’m barely adequate.”
“No, William, to me, you are perfect. Every flaw, every scar, every painful memory. They’re all a part of who you are, and who you have become, and I love each and every one of them.”
They’d been intimate again for several weeks now, but his self consciousness still crept in every once in a while, making him feel unworthy of her. He’d had a moment like that the night before, in fact, and her words now caused a lump to form in his throat.
“I mean it, William. You never have to hide from me.”
God, he loved her. He reached out to caress her face. “Nor you from me. You are the very epitome of perfection in my eyes.”
“Epitome of perfection?” Lizzie grinned. “I like that.”
“Good, because it’s true.” He kissed her.
“I love you, William.” Lizzie said when he’d pulled away. “I don’t think I say it often enough. I love you. So much.”
“I love you, too.” He was about to kiss her again when the patter of tiny feet alerted them both to the fact that their son was up.
Liam had moved to a ‘big boy bed’ several weeks before, and ever since, he had asserted his newfound freedom by climbing into bed with them nearly every morning. More than once, he had nearly caught them in a compromising position, and Lizzie was convinced that they were going to end up accidentally scarring him for life.
This morning, he chose to climb up on Lizzie’s side of the bed, rewarding her with a knee right near her bladder. “Good morning, Mama!” He said, flopping himself over her in the kind of carefree hug that only very young children seemed able to accomplish.
“Good morning, sweetheart.” She bent to kiss his forehead but he was already squirming away and attacking his father.
“Hi Daddy!” Liam placed a wet, open-mouthed kiss on his cheek.
William grinned. He relished these moments. “Good morning, Liam.”
Liam started to jump on the bed in the small gap between them, throwing his body down with complete abandon.
The alarm on Lizzie’s phone went off and she moaned. “Ugh. I have to get ready for work.” She forced herself out of bed, even though she wanted nothing more than to remain in bed with her husband and son. Not that Liam was going to tolerate it much longer, though.
Sure enough, Liam hurled himself at William. “Daddy, get up. We have things to do.”
“Oh, really, like what?” William teased, knowing perfectly well what he’d promised Liam they’d do that day.
“Splorium?” Lizzie asked, suddenly struck by the realization that William and Liam were developing a shorthand between them that she wasn’t a part of. It probably should have bothered her but instead, it delighted her, because it was another sign that Liam had fully accepted William as his father. She couldn’t give them back his first three years, but she could give them this.
“The Exploratorium,” William explained, “I promised him I’d take him there today.” He sat up and looked at his son. “So we can see all the science.”
“SCIENCE!” Liam glance back at his mother. “Science is fun, Mama.”
Lizzie laughed as she finished getting dressed. “I know Daddy thinks so.”
“Uh huh,” Liam said earnestly. “Daddy’s a’ways right.”
“You think so?”
“Yup. Daddy knows everything.” Liam looked at William. “‘Cept how to get up,” he added with dismay.
William and Lizzie both laughed. “Okay, okay, I’m getting up.”
As William stood up, Liam cheered. “Splorium! Splorium! Can we go now?”
“We’ll go after breakfast.” William scooped up his son and carried him out of the room, as Lizzie went to go brush her teeth. “What will it be. Waffles? Or cereal?”
Two and a half hours later, William and Liam were at the Exploratorium. Liam was having the time of his life, dragging William from one display after the other, asking questions and hanging on to every word as his father explained as simply as he could.
They came to a room where shadows were shown on a time delay, and Liam immediately shrieked with joy as he danced around and his shadow was saved as he moved.
“Dance wif me, Daddy.” Liam tugged him into the room, and together they moved around. William held his son up in the air and spun him around. Liam threw his head back and laughed as the shadows began to appear. He spread out his arms. “Look, I’m flying!”
As they moved on and Liam spotted more things that he could touch and explore, William watched him with an overwhelming sense of fondness. Sharing his love of science with his son, and seeing Liam’s excitement about it, touched something deep within him. Long before Liam had existed, whenever William thought about having a family of his own, he had imagined this - getting to share his love of science and technology and literature with his son, and to have part of that fulfilled now meant so much to him.
After they left the Exploratorium, William treated his son to ice cream. As they sat side by side on a bench eating their ice cream, Liam suddenly looked up at him. “Daddy, you goed ‘way for a long time.”
William sucked in a breath. This was the first time Liam had ever said anything that acknowledged his absence. “That’s right, I was,” he said carefully.
“But now you’re here!”
“I love you, Daddy. I’m glad you comed back.” Liam turned back to his ice cream, managing to smear it over his chin and his nose in the process.
William watched him, his chest tight with emotion. “I love you too, Liam,” he whispered.
A few days before Christmas, the entire Bennet clan arrived in San Francisco, breaking the tradition of celebrating at the Bennet household. Between it being William’s first Christmas back and Gigi being due in mid December, it had made more sense for everyone else to come to them. Even Caroline was joining them. Catherine de Bourgh had surprised everyone by offering her seldom used San Francisco estate for celebratory and accommodation purposes, and she and her beloved Anniekins had been surprisingly gracious hosts.
The house had more than enough bedrooms for everyone and, for the duration of the holiday, Lizzie, William, and Liam, along with Gigi and Matthew, also relocated to the de Bourgh house. Lizzie was thrilled to have her sisters around and William was delighted for the opportunity to catch up with Bing.
Mr. Bennet had brought some of his trains with him and on their first day in the house, he enlisted Liam, Charlie, and Ella to help him set them up. All of the children were delighted to help their beloved grandfather with the task, and the joyous laughter they shared set a tone for the rest of the week.
Gigi, however, was a week overdue and miserable. Her ankles were swollen, her back ached, and she was approximately the size of a hippopotamus. Matthew was being as helpful as possible, rubbing her back, making sure she was comfortable, reassuring her, but at this point all she wanted was to get this baby out of her, and the further past her due date it got, the grumpier she became.
On the first night, after a very lively dinner with three young children and twelve adults who had all competed for attention over each other, Lizzie escaped to her room for a bit, intending to unpack and settle in a bit while she sought some much needed quiet. Instead, she ended up lying down for a moment because she felt tired and achy and the next thing she knew, William was waking her up.
“Lizzie? Are you not well?”
She blinked sleepily. “I’m sorry I must have fallen asleep. What time is it?”
“Nearly nine o’clock.” William sat down on the bed and pulled off his shoes.
“What?” Lizzie sat up quickly. “I slept for nearly three hours? Liam needs to go to bed.” She started to swing her legs over the side of the bed but William stilled her with his hand.
“It’s okay, I put Liam to bed earlier. He was getting cranky.”
“Oh. Okay. Good. Thank you.” Lizzie yawned. “I guess I was tired.”
“It seems so. Which is why I asked if you’re feeling okay.”
“I think so. I’ve been pretty tired for the past few days. All the Christmas shopping and family time is probably catching up to me.” She yawned again and leaned her head on his shoulder.
“Yeah, it has been pretty busy. I hope that’s it. It’s no fun to be sick around the holidays.” He pulled her in for a hug.
Lizzie started to put her arms around him to hug him back when a sudden pain in her breasts caused her to recoil. “Ow!”
“What’s wrong?” William looked at her in alarm.
“I don’t know. My breasts are really tender for some reason. They haven’t hurt like that since —“ Lizzie froze.
Lizzie met his eyes. “Since Liam.”
“Liam?” William’s stomach fluttered. “Are you saying you might be…” He trailed off, not daring to give voice to the word, to make it tangible and give himself false hope.
“I don’t know. I mean, maybe?” She met William’s gaze, saw the hope reflected there and swallowed. Were they ready for this? “What’s the date today?”
Lizzie bit her lip, doing calculations in her head. “My period should have started five days ago.”
“And it has not?”
“No. I have been so busy with Christmas shopping, work, and you and Liam that I hadn’t even noticed.”
William shifted so he could see her face better. “How did you know for sure last time, with Liam?”
“I took a test.” By myself. This time could be different, this time they could go through every step together. She wanted that, more than anything.
“Okay, so should we…” he gestured outside.
“It’s a bit late tonight, but—-” she hesitated. She’d been about to suggest they go get one the next day, but now that the idea had been planted in her head, she didn’t want to wait to know. The only problem was that her mother was in the house, and she would definitely know something was up if she saw them leaving the house this late at night. She loved her mother, but even if she was pregnant, this was something that she and William needed to share with each other before they started introducing other people to it.
“But?” William prompted, his own thoughts now all over the place. If Lizzie was pregnant, they could have a second chance to share in the experience. Liam already brought them so much joy, he could only imagine the delight another child would be; and he knew Liam would be a great big brother.
“We could go tonight, but that will entail getting past my mother without sparking her baby radar.”
“She and your father went to bed just before I came up to wake you.”
“Really? Okay, let’s wait until everyone else has gone to bed and then we can find one of those 24 hour pharmacies around here. Or we could just wait for tomorrow.”
Waiting would be the practical thing to do, but William wasn’t feeling especially practical. “I think we should do it now. If you’re not, then I’d rather know now so I don’t get my hopes up.”
Lizzie could understand that. “What if I’m not, William? What then? Is this something that we want? Are we ready for this?”
Until the possibility had been presented to him, William hadn’t really thought about other children just yet, but now that it had been, he wanted it desperately. “I think so. I always wanted a big family and it would be easier to add another child now while I’m at home already with Liam.”
“That’s true.” Lizzie reached for his hand. “I always wanted to have more than one child.”
“So, if you’re not pregnant now—“
“—We will start consciously trying.” Lizzie’s heart skipped a beat at the thought.
William closed the distance between them and kissed her tenderly. “I love you, Lizzie.”
Hands entwined, they went back downstairs to visit with the rest of their family until everyone else went to bed and they could slip out without arousing suspicion. Their plan was thwarted however, when Gigi’s water broke a short time after that and everyone jumped into action. The baby was coming.
Hours later, they entered Gigi’s hospital room together, eager to meet their new niece.
“She’s beautiful,” Lizzie remarked, gazing at the tiny infant in Matthew’s arms. It was hard to remember Liam being that small.
“Isn’t she?” Matthew was seated on the bed next to Gigi, who had one arm around him, forming a distinct family unit.
“Breathtaking.” William bent to kiss his sister on the forehead. “Great work, Gigi.”
“Thanks, William.” Gigi smiled up at him. “Would you like to hold her.”
William nodded and Matthew gingerly passed him the baby.
“You need to support her head,” Lizzie told him softly, helping him get his elbow tucked under the baby’s neck. “That’s it.”
As William stared down at his niece with awe stamped across his face, Lizzie surveyed the scene with mixed emotions. On the one hand, it reminded her that he had never had this opportunity with Liam, but on the other hand, it affirmed their decision to try for another baby. She unconsciously grazed a hand over her abdomen. Unless she already was pregnant.
“Have you named her yet?” William asked, trying to distract himself from remembering that he had never held Liam in his arms when he was this small. That he hadn’t been there the day Liam had been born.
Gigi glanced up at Matthew and exchanged a warm smile. Deciding on a name had been easy once she’d been born. “We’ve decided to call her Claire Anne Hastings.” Gigi watched the emotion that passed over her brother’s face at the mention of their mother’s name.
“It’s perfect,” he told her, turning his attention back to his niece. “Hi, Claire, I’m your Uncle William.”
His niece yawned, stretching out a small fist and smacking her lips together softly.
“I think she’s hungry,” he said, carefully placing his niece in his sister’s arms. His own arms suddenly felt a lot emptier than they had before. He glanced at Lizzie and she immediately came to his side, clasping their hands together.
A short while later, they left to return to the house, and to Liam, stopping on the way to pick up a pregnancy test. When they arrived at the de Bourgh house, they found Mrs. Bennet in the kitchen with all three of her grandchildren.
She looked up as they entered and smiled at them. “How was Gigi? She seemed tired when I left a few hours ago.”
“She was great. The baby is beautiful.”
“Yes, she is. And Gigi did so well. She was so strong.” Mrs. Bennet eyed her daughter shrewdly. “Speaking of tired, you both look exhausted. Go upstairs and get some rest. I have these three under control.” She gestured to her grandchildren. All three were contentedly eating (and making a mess). Ella and Liam were making faces at each other and laughing.
“That would be great, Mom. Thanks.” They said goodbye to Liam (who barely noticed) and made their way back upstairs.
Once in their room, they glanced at each other for a moment, before Lizzie dug the test out of her purse. “Ready?”
William nodded, butterflies dancing in his stomach.
“Okay.” Lizzie pulled the little plastic test out of the box. “I’ll be right back.”
The minute or so that she was in the bathroom felt like an eternity, and when she came out, his pulse was pounding so hard he wondered if she could hear it.
“Now we wait?” he asked as she set her phone and the test down on a bedside table.
“Yes. Now we wait.” Lizzie remembered the wait for Liam’s results and how nervous she’d been. William reached for her hand as they sat down on the bed, and she clung to it. The wait was definitely easier with him there.
As they waited, William’s thoughts were all over the place. He thought about how much they had been through in the past year, how much had changed. A year ago, he had still been imprisoned in Guatemala, and Lizzie had been a single mother contemplating the possibility of having her missing husband declared dead. And now, here they were, together, with the possibility of a new life before them.
The past year had been hard on both of them, and they both still had their personal demons to fight, but they had made huge progress in rebuilding a life together after all the horrors they had faced in the past four years. It had taken time, but he and Liam had forged a bond that William cherished dearly. He and Lizzie had overcome many of the barriers between them and had come out of it strong and unified. Liam was growing and changing on a near daily basis, continually astounding them both with his intelligence and wit. They had become a family, and whether that family was about to increase or not, William was happier than he’d thought he could possibly be.
The timer went off, and Lizzie and William looked at each other, anticipation thick between them. Lizzie’s hand shook as she picked up the test. She was almost afraid to know.
She took a deep breath and held the test so she and William could both see.
It was positive. They were going to have another baby.
Lizzie’s grip on his hand tightened and she turned to William, happy tears swimming in her eyes as she offered him a small smile. Unable to contain his joy any longer, William laughed, then opened his arms and engulfed Lizzie in a warm, loving hug. There were many unknowns ahead of them, but they’d face them together, and they would be okay.
End Part Three