A/N: Awhile back, Kavan gave me this prompt on tumblr: Matthew and George. George's first shooting party brings back memories of WWI for Matthew. Since it was nominated for a Highclere, I thought I would put it here as well.
It isn't Matthew's idea and Mary knows it so perhaps that is why she only gives him a look, raising an eyebrow, when he tells her that tomorrow he and George will join Robert's shooting party.
"Mary," he warns.
"I didn't say a word," she replies in a soft voice. She holds the three month old, Charlotte, in her arms, walking the room, her feet treading the same path again and again, her lips brushing the blonde hair of their daughter. His heart is in his throat watching the two of them together; it nearly erases Robert's heavy hand on his shoulder after dinner, demanding that George and Matthew join the men tomorrow.
Mary, watching him, purses her lips. She whispers to the baby, "I think this is men's business, my darling girl. Since Grandpapa and Papa have decided it all without speaking to us."
"Mary," he repeats.
"Matthew," she parrots, though she stops and pushes a piece of hair off his forehead tenderly, before starting to walk the room again.
So Matthew goes to the nursery, telling Nanny he will tuck George in. His son's first words upon seeing him are: "Grandpapa said I can join the shoot tomorrow."
"He told me," Matthew replied, tucking the stuffed toy dog beside the seven year old boy.
"There's guns," George tells his father, trying to hide the embarrassment of the dog under the covers. He's too old for toys, isn't he? "Grandpapa says I'll shoot well and I suppose…Does that mean I'll kill them?" he asks of the birds. He sits up very straight in his bed. He is so grown up in that moment, his blue eyes so very serious.
"Yes," Matthew says, touching a hand to the dark hair of his son. He thinks how fast he has grown, how quickly the years have gone. Measuring time against his children makes it go impossibly quickly; sometimes he would like to stop it but the years and milestones are like water in his hands. They slip through the seam of his fingers. "You'll kill them."
The boy was young, Matthew could see through the dust and grime of the boy's face. He probably lied about his age to make it to the front in the first place. There were pimples instead of hair on his cheeks. Matthew reached him and shook him by the shoulders. "What are you thinking? Move!" The explosions were everywhere. He couldn't hear his own voice as he shouted. The boy shook his head, his hands shaking on the gun in a staccato pattern. "You'll kill them, do you understand me? Or they'll kill you!" Shouting in the boy's face did nothing and he could hear someone else calling for Crawley. "Hey!" He slapped the boy's face. "Do you understand me?"
"Papa," George says. "Are you day dreaming?" He raises his eyebrow like Mama does. He is quite proud of his little trick.
Matthew swallows and laughs a little. "Maybe night dreaming."
George laughs too and snuggles into his covers and suddenly he is a child again, his cheek cuddled against his dog. Matthew remembers holding him for the first time. He remembers the boy taking his "second steps" in his office, when Mary rushed to bring the boy to Matthew so he could see his accomplishment. He toddled on one foot and then the other as Matthew crouched and called, "Come here, Georgie! You can do it!" And when George made it to his arms, Matthew swung the boy around making him giggle as he touched Matthew's face with his small hands, wet with saliva, babbling.
The boy with the pimples, the boy with the shaking hands, died. He bled out, pulled nearly to the trenches by some men, before he had to be abandoned.
"What do you say about taking a drive with me tomorrow instead?" he asks his son.
"Instead of the shoot?" George replies. His father touches his cheek and smiles.
"Yes, instead of the shooting party."
George's eyes close. He sighs, twitching his nose as he settles. He looks so much like Mary on the verge of sleep. "Where shall we go?" he asks softly.
Matthew brushes a hand over the boy's dark hair. "Anywhere. Anywhere you'd like."
George does not open his eyes. He is safe and warm and loved. "With Mama and Charlotte?"
"If you like," Matthew murmurs softly. He smiles. He loves his boy so very much.
"I would like that, Papa." George sighs. "Instead of the shoot. We can all be together. And…" he yawns. Matthew is relieved to see he is still very much a little boy, not grown up yet, not ready to hold a gun. "We can go anywhere."
A/N: Thanks to Kavan again for the excellent prompt.