: :

Coconut Trees
by Anton M.

Chapter 20: New Beginnings

: :

The reunion passed in a flurry of hugs, shimmering eyes and photographs. Elizabeth's father Thomas was in tears. Five of Elizabeth's friends from the University of East London sang Andy Grammer's Keep Your Head Up to her before Elizabeth, touched beyond words, introduced them all to Darcy, Bingley and Georgie: Lawrence from South Africa, Martim from Galicia, Waen from Thailand, and Gemma and Hollie, two sisters, from Wales. Elizabeth was so touched her face started cramping from all the smiling, and her friends made her promise to spend an evening with them. They hugged her tightly but acknowledged her family with the faintest of nods when they left.

Darcy tucked Elizabeth by his side under the knowing smiles of his sister and Bingley.

While they escaped the onlookers, reporters, and cameramen without incidents after they'd walked to one of the entrances of the airport, Elizabeth did not have to wait for their comments for long.

"We thought it was a mistake in the newspapers," Maria, Elizabeth's 17-year-old sister, said. She had a few inches on Elizabeth but lacked her tact and vivacity. "You couldn't even get into a university on your first year of trying and then dropped out of the only one you got into."

If Darcy's gaze could've cut, Maria would've been bleeding out on the floor.

"Thanks for the recap," Elizabeth said dryly. "A total of zero people present were unaware."

"And why do we keep reading that you have dyslexia?" the 20-year-old Mary asked. She was book-smart and good at math but always eager to one-up her sisters.

"Because it's true," Darcy said through gritted teeth.

"Lizzie doesn't have dyslexia," Elizabeth's mother Francine piped in. "She's just lazy. If she could build a transmitter—if, indeed, it was her—it proves that she's fine."

"It was her," Darcy said, barely containing his anger. "And if anything, it proves the opposite."

Francine continued talking as if Darcy hadn't said anything. "I called the BBC to correct them. There's nobody dyslexic in our family."

Darcy looked at Francine as if she were a bug under his shoe.

"And you say that because of all the tests you had me take?" Elizabeth asked, voice quiet but firm.

"Oh don't be daft, Lizzie. Self-pity never suited you. You're fine." Francine took her phone out of her handbag. "Either way, you're alive and we prepared celebratory dinner for you at home."

Darcy was unwilling to start a fight but felt the exhaustion get to him. "You mean the house you kicked Elizabeth out of?"

"Always so dramatic, Darcy," Mary said. "She can still visit."

Darcy narrowed his eyes. "How generous of you."

"Either way, I'm tired," Elizabeth said. "It's been 21 hours since we left Yakutsk. I just want to sleep."

"You can't sleep, Lizzie," her mother complained. "Do you know how long we cooked for you today?"

"I wish you'd asked me," Elizabeth replied, voice calm but not without bitterness. "I would've told you not to bother. I'm surprised you went through such trouble for your expendable daughter."

"You've got to admit—" Maria started.

"You will never see your sister again if you finish your sentence." Darcy, voice cutting like ice through the air, glared at the family while squeezing Elizabeth closer to him. "We've heard enough. Maybe it's a good thing it was Elizabeth in this situation because you would've all died from the sheer shock and chaos of the first night. Your sister saved my life and had a phenomenal impact on how the entire situation was handled, and what you believe doesn't make a fraction of a difference."

Georgie stared at the argument, wide-eyed. Elizabeth's family shifted in their places, too stubborn to admit fault but too scared to argue.

Elizabeth's father rolled the watch on his wrist, still teary-eyed. "And you're sure—"

"I'm not sure of anything," Elizabeth said, quiet but confident. "But it would explain a hell of a lot."

Thomas hesitated before he, too, quietly said, "Your mother didn't mean it."

"She did." Elizabeth pursed her lips in a sad, accepting smile. "But whatever. I could've told you that a year ago. Anyway, it's sweet that you all came to see me but I'm not up for dinner tonight."

Darcy cut off any arguments from Elizabeth's family, and while their goodbyes weren't explicitly angry, they were not particularly warm, either. When they'd left, Darcy excused himself and Elizabeth to walk behind an ad. Once in private, he bent his knees to be eye-level with Elizabeth. She removed a lone hair from his jumper. He would've felt better if she had tears in her eyes.

"It's not a big deal," Elizabeth said. "They're always like this. I'm used to it."

"That's… terrifying," Darcy replied, wrapping her up in his arms. He brushed his lips against her hair, feeling her breaths through his jumper. "They were never this bad when I met them."

"That's because they were still in awe that someone like you was dating me," Elizabeth replied. "Now, they've seen you more. But it's okay. I'm okay."

Darcy slid his arm under her jacket, holding her, sniffing her hair and wishing he could wrap her up in his arms and whisk her away where nobody could hurt her. "I've never been more proud of anything than I am of you, and being with you. And you know me… I have more pride than anyone else in London."

She exhaled sharply, revealing her silent laugh, and squeezed him tighter. His scent had a tantalising, calming effect on her.

"Just in London?"

Darcy laughed. "Let's go. Bingley and Georgie are taking us to Bingley's place. He has a surprise for you."

The warm drizzle in the dark night hit them with a strange wave of nostalgia, and the passing Christmas lights of London felt out of this world. The conversation and teasing comments Bingley made felt too surreal to be happening, and yet they were real, and the silent squeeze Darcy gave Elizabeth's hand gave her flutters. She was exhausted but full of hope.

Georgie, a blonde, kind, soft-spoken version of Darcy, eyed the couple in the backseat with a knowing glint in her eye, too kind to be smug but too obvious to be humble. She was baffled by Elizabeth's family, but Elizabeth felt a kind of calm acceptance wash over her. Most of her family would, quite possibly, never believe her struggles, but she was too exhausted for this fight, and not just tonight. To an untrained eye, everything seemed to revolve around her (possible) learning disorder, but her wounds ran deeper than that. Even without dyslexia, her family's comments about her, chipping at her confidence year after year, did not inspire kindness or eagerness to be close to them. Maybe one day, she'd try harder to be accepted by her family, but she felt like she belonged with the Darcys, Bingley, Jane, her friends, and even her make-do family of the plane crash. She'd never struggled to make friends, and she had hope that she'd be okay.

"Is Jane tired of being pregnant yet?" Elizabeth asked. "That's why she wasn't at the airport, right? Her due date was what, three days ago?"

Bingley grinned, glancing in the rearview mirror, but he changed the topic, and Elizabeth only realised why when she entered their white townhouse at West Brompton and found Jane rocking a baby in her arms as she half-sat, half-lay on the living room couch.

"No way," Elizabeth whispered, eyes wide and amazed as she gripped Darcy's wrist with both of her hands, almost cutting off his blood flow. "Jane!"

"Shhh," Bingley whispered, dropping his phone and keys on the coffee table before he kissed his girlfriend and son. Elizabeth stood on the doorway, immobile.

Georgie and Darcy locked eyes, smiling, both having known the surprise. If nothing else, her family had kept Jane's son a secret just like Jane had asked them to.

"Jane," Elizabeth whisper-yelled, repeating herself. "How? When? Are you okay? What's his name?"

Jane gave Elizabeth a smile, a serene albeit exhausted one, and lifted the sleeping boy in her arms. "Would you like to hold him?"

Elizabeth hesitated.

"I don't know how," she whispered, smiling but daunted.

"I'll show you." Darcy shrugged off his coat and sat on the floor next to the couch, taking the baby from Jane. He looked downright hilarious, tall and wide-shouldered, tenderly and securely holding the tiny bundle, explaining the details as if he held babies all the time.

Then, a bit startled, Elizabeth realised that he did. A neonatal surgeon couldn't be a stranger to holding babies, and his expertise made her heart swell.

"Just make sure you support his neck and head," Darcy whispered, running his fingers over the baby's hair. "Like this."

Carefully, Darcy handed the baby over to the nervous but excited new aunt, and Elizabeth held the sleeping boy as if he'd break. Darcy adjusted her hands under the baby, looking at Elizabeth with a tender, piercing gaze that was not missed by anyone in the room except for the object of it.

"I'm an auntie," Elizabeth whispered with wonder in her voice. The boy gripped her little finger in his sleep. "Look at him! Look at his tiny little fingers. Oh, and those fingernails! He's so tiny!"

"What's his name?" Elizabeth asked, looking up, so consumed by the little boy that she was entirely unaware of a pair of sparkling soft eyes glued to her face.

"Aiden," Bingley said quietly.

"No," Elizabeth whispered. "You didn't."

"We did," Jane replied, smiling.

"You hated Aiden when I suggested it," Elizabeth told Bingley. "Oh, no. Did Jane convince you to use it after our plane went missing?"

"Not at all," Bingley said. "I didn't tell her about the plane crash until the evening after, when we already had him and Jane felt more like herself again. We just took one look at the little man and he did not look like a Harrison. He looked like an Aiden."

Jane got up to get some water but crouched next to her sister on the carpet.

"I want to hear everything," she whispered, squeezing Elizabeth's shoulder, giving a quick but significant glance in Darcy's direction. "And I have a lot to apologise for."

"Apologise?" Elizabeth repeated. "For what?"

Jane had a soft but determined look in her eyes, and she caressed Aiden's forehead.

"Everything," she said quietly, giving her a look full of meaning before she left the room to get water. Elizabeth, too, was full of questions, but she was too tired to question her sister. They had time.

Bingley and Georgie joined Jane, leaving Elizabeth and Darcy alone in the living room, holding the tiny, fair-haired Aiden. Elizabeth sniffed the baby's head and smiled when she pulled back.


"Mmm?" he replied, startled out of his thoughts.

"Let's make one."

Darcy pressed his lips against her shoulder. Her words were impertinent and yet they were the sweetest thing he'd heard since she'd told him the three little words more than a week ago.

"Should we start before or after our first date?" he asked, eyes twinkling, a light-hearted reply that could've only happened because of Elizabeth. He wiped hair away from her ear and his low, tender voice sent tingles down her spine. "I'm an eager participant either way."

He blinked, unapologetic, and his honest, tender eyes and secret smile made Elizabeth feel like she could have the most precious future with the man beside her.

"Maybe… after?" Elizabeth asked, teasing and too exhausted to worry about the heavy topic they'd jumped into. "You know, to first agree on whether they'd go to a state or a private school."

"Of course they'd go to a private school," Darcy said, his words so automatic that he himself seemed surprised by them. Elizabeth grinned at him, not surprised by his views but too tired to start an actual debate.

"As I said, we can discuss it. And then debate over the name of our baby."

Darcy's eyes sparkled, and he said nothing for a brief moment before he kissed her hair.

"The name of our first baby," he corrected.

Elizabeth locked eyes with the man, stifling her smile, and kissed the hand he'd wrapped around her shoulder.

"Can't wait," Darcy whispered, his voice so tender and eyes so precious Elizabeth could scarcely believe what they were discussing, if jokingly.

Bingley had bought welcome gifts to Darcy and Elizabeth: the latest iPhone flagships. Elizabeth had already bought a cheap but functional smartphone in Yakutsk and changed the SIM card to her own during their car ride to West Brompton, but her arguments against receiving the phone fell on deaf ears. Darcy's SIM card was still intact and hopefully in working condition, but he'd been without a phone for so long he decided to go through the hassle of activating it on the next day.

Croydon was only half an hour's tube ride away from West Brompton, and Whitechapel was just as far driving as it was by tube—50 minutes—but Georgie still insisted on borrowing Bingley's car to drive both her brother and Elizabeth to their respective homes. She had every intention to take Elizabeth to Croydon after dropping Darcy off, but it was past eleven PM, and Elizabeth, noticing Georgie's yawning, figured she could take the tube from Whitechapel. Georgie got a knowing glint in her eyes but put on the hazard lights as she stopped the car by a pavement she wasn't technically allowed to park by.

"It was such a wonder to finally meet you," Georgie said, taking Elizabeth's backpack from the boot of the car before the women hugged. "I don't even know how to begin thanking you for everything you did for William. Will you spend Christmas with us?"

Elizabeth looked at Darcy for a cue, but he only gave a kind, pointed nod at her.

"I would love to," Elizabeth told Georgie, and Darcy grinned at his sister. He, too, hugged Georgie goodbye before she drove away, leaving behind the sounds of a rare passing car, a Christmas song in a nearby apartment, and the twinkling lights adorning so many windows. It felt jarring to be dropped in the middle of London at night.

Elizabeth gave Darcy a brief kiss before she put down her backpack and took out her phone. Darcy turned and held out his hand for her to take until he realised Elizabeth wasn't moving.

"You alright?" he asked.

"I'm just checking when the next metro goes from Aldgate East," Elizabeth replied, not looking up. "You don't have to wait."

Darcy, hesitating, let go of the handle of his suitcase and took Elizabeth's hands in his. She looked up. He seemed to have an internal struggle before he licked his lips and stepped against Elizabeth.

"You meant it," he said, a bit taken aback.

"Meant what?"

"When you told Georgie you'd take the tube from here so that she can go to sleep," Darcy explained. "You meant it."

Elizabeth opened her mouth to reply only to remember the knowing glint in Georgie's eyes and the joy in Darcy's exhausted face. He'd thought she got out of the car with the excuse to spend the night.

"I'll call you a taxi if you want," Darcy continued, quietly, adjusting to this new information. "My treat. You would've had a shorter ride home from Bingley's. But…" He looked at his shoes almost shyly. "Please stay. It's so late, we're both dead tired and I promise not to start anything. I'll get you a taxi in the morning."

Elizabeth, eyes twinkling, wrapped her arms around Darcy and grinned against his coat.


"It's not you starting anything that worries me," she said, feeling her heart in her throat.

"Elizabeth," Darcy whispered, his voice strained as if he was struggling to hold back his emotions. "There's no timeline, here. Obviously, I'm on the same page, but if you're worried we're rushing things, just think about how exhausted we are. It would be a small miracle if we did anything tonight that didn't involve falling asleep against my front door."

Elizabeth laughed. Darcy touched her face with his fingertips, assessing her with his soft, tired eyes. She took his hand, turning towards his apartment building, and Darcy pressed a tender, grateful kiss against her lips.

Entering Darcy's studio apartment was like stepping into another realm. Much like Darcy, it looked the same, the black and green with a golden accent, but he'd made a few adjustments. He'd added a table that unfolded in the corner, and part of the wall between the kitchen and the living space had been torn down, giving the tiny kitchen more light.

Unwashed dishes were scattered on almost every horizontal surface. Darcy, having taken off his shoes and coat, turned up the temperature—it was only 16 degrees Celsius in his apartment—and cursed under his breath as he began to pile the dishes in the sink.

"I'm sorry. I forgot. I had a wretched busy week before I left and I—"

Elizabeth put her palm on his forearm, taking the dishes from him. He was normally so put-together that it was a wonder to witness these glimpses into the human side of him.

"Don't," she said, too tired to worry about anything other than sleep. "Let's handle it in the morning."

Relieved and in awe of the woman beside him, Darcy reached for his pocket to turn on the fairy lights with his phone before he realised he didn't have one. Instead, he pushed the buttons he'd almost never used on the side of the bed, and the lights Elizabeth so adored lit up. He drunk in her amazed, exhausted face, and when their eyes met, both smiled. Finally, they were home.

"You added more," she said, admiring the almost ceiling-full of fairy lights.

"I'm glad you approve," he replied, taking her hand and pulling her towards the bed. Darcy rested on his back and extended his arm for her, in full clothing and on top of the duvet, and Elizabeth snuggled against his side. She slid her hand under his clothes, feeling the warm ripples of his muscles, and felt goosebumps when Darcy played with the edge of her jumper. His fingers trailed slow circles just where her waistband met her skin, his expression faux-innocent and entirely too lovely for words. Except for a few footsteps in the corridor, it was silent.

"Just a few minutes before I brush my teeth," Elizabeth whispered, her head full of his toe-curling scent as she smiled against his chest.

"Me, too."

Darcy turned towards Elizabeth with the intention to press a kiss against her cheek but met with her lips instead, soft and inviting. His sharp inhale stretched into a smile as he slid his palms flat against Elizabeth's back. He lingered against her lips, holding her close, and the strength of the love in his eyes lit a precious spark in her chest. Curling her fingers in his hair and giving a gentle tug, Elizabeth pulled Darcy half on top of her, sliding her thigh between his. Breathy gasps and soft moans replaced the silence of the apartment, and Elizabeth was taken aback by the sheer need to pull him closer and kiss him longer, but their soft whispers, exhausted laughter and eyes full of wonder were enough for tonight. After long—and yet all too short—moments of feeling Elizabeth by his side in a way he hadn't dared to hope for, Darcy pulled the edge of the duvet over them and wrapped her up in his arms, pressing small, lingering kisses against her face.

"It's a dream to have you here with me again," he whispered, in awe, as if saying it any louder would make her disappear. Elizabeth only squeezed him closer. She knew he heard her soft agreement against his neck when she felt him smiling against her temple.

Suddenly, Elizabeth realised the position she was in: half on top of him, breathing against his neck in a warm cocoon surrounded by his voice, warmth, and love. She had imagined them to be here, just like this, in the plane crash, and yet… now that she was here, it was easy to imagine the opposite.

"In this position," Elizabeth whispered, "when I close my eyes, I almost feel like—"

She paused, trying to find the right words for their shared moments in the plane crash, but Darcy only curled his palm tighter against the bare skin underneath all her clothes.

"I know," he replied, voice equally as low. "But… oddly enough, I find comfort in it."


"There are only so many things you can control in life, but whatever may come…" Darcy's voice grew so soft Elizabeth barely heard his words. "I think I can handle anything with you by my side."

Feeling the precious weight of his affection, Elizabeth shifted to whisper directly in his ear, "I love you."

His arms tightened as he smiled against her cheek. Curled up against each other in their jeans and jumpers, they fell asleep, reassuring each other of their presence with whispers of love and hope before they fell in deep enough sleep that their hearts beating against each other did all the talking for them.

: :