I am so grateful to all my readers! Thank you so much to those who have followed and favorited me and Center. And to those who have taken the time to review-you can't begin to know what it means to me to read your kind words. You really keep me going, especially as we are coming to the end of this story!

This chapter begins a couple of days after the picnic, about half way through Matthew's ten days home for Edith's wedding.


Chapter 39

"Shhh, darling, shhh . . ." Mary stroked Matthew's face and took his hand. "You're safe. You're safe."

Still caught in his dream, his nightmare, Matthew's head moved from side to side, his upper body jerking. His eyes were open but unseeing, and his unintelligible murmuring grew louder, more insistent. But what was he saying? "Mm. . .mm. . .mar. . .mar . . .marmarmar. . ." Was he calling her name? "Mary!"

"I'm here, darling, I'm here! It's all right, you're all right." More murmuring of her name, a desperate moan. And then, "He. . . ple. . . he. . . he. . ." And finally, "Help! Please help!" And then with a start, he awoke.

His breathing coming in huffing gasps, his eyes moved frantically around, trying to orient himself. He looked up into Mary's worried face, then moved his hand to her stomach.

Mary put her hand on his, feeling him shake. "You're dreaming, it's just a dream. A very bad dream," she soothed. "But you're here with me, you're safe."

He licked his lips and nodded, his pounding heart beginning to slow. They never talked about his nightmares. He'd let her think it was about the war. His breathing calmed, as he repeated to himself, It was just a dream. It was just a dream. But still he had to ask, his voice scraping, "Is the baby all right?"

Mary smiled down at him, frowning slightly, "Why, yes, of course," she reassured him, kissing his forehead.

He held her eyes. "And you?"

"Yes, I'm fine. We're fine," she whispered again. She reached across him to his bedside table, taking up his glass of water. "Here, darling." His hand was trembling so, she continued to hold the glass as he brought it to his lips and took a swallow. Setting the glass back, she lowered herself, and her arms came around him, holding him tightly.

His shaking began to abate as he let his breathing match hers. But he stared into the dark, still hearing the frantic crying in his head, and it was a long time before sleep found him again.

.

Mary stirred, then opened her eyes. A little before seven o'clock. She turned her head to find Matthew awake and watching her.

"Did you get some sleep?" she asked softly.

He nodded. "Yes." He supposed his fitful dozing and waking was a kind of sleep. He had been wide awake for nearly an hour now.

"No more bad dreams?"

He shook his head. "No."

"I'm so glad," but she could see his eyes were troubled. He never wanted to talk about his nightmares about the war, though. Sometimes he literally couldn't speak at all, and she always ached to watch as he would struggle, his mouth contorting to get even a syllable out. So it had been a relief that it hadn't been so for him tonight, at least. She ran her finger over his lips, then started to turn to reach for a salted wafer, a plate of them always present on her nightstand now.

Matthew gently stayed her, keeping her lying flat on her back—the less she moved, the more chance she had at keeping the nausea at bay. "Let me."

Mary lay still, closing her eyes, breathing deeply, as he pushed up and reached for a wafer. He rubbed it against her lips, and she opened her eyes and took a bite, then another. She was glad to see he was smiling now, although his eyes were still dark. She finished the wafer and closed her eyes again. "Sorry about the crumbs," she murmured.

"How's that sitting? Do you want another?"

"Mmm. Not right now." Eyes still closed, she smiled and reached for his hand and placed it on her belly. "Right there," she whispered.

"If baby's awake, can you go back to sleep, my love?" Matthew teased, his fingers caressing her stomach.

"Mmm hmm."

After a bit, her lips parted and her even breathing told him that she was asleep. He watched her for a while, trying let go of the dream, trying not to hear the crying. Finally, he leaned over and kissed her forehead, then pushed himself up to a sitting position. He worked to turn himself, finally lifting his legs so that he was sitting on the edge of the bed, reached for his sticks, and quietly and carefully stood up.

.

Mary stretched under the covers and slowly began to awaken. She reached for Matthew, then opened her eyes when she realized his side of the bed was empty. She looked at the clock—it was nearly half-past nine! She almost forgot herself and sat up, but she remembered in time, still lying flat as she reached for a wafer and ate it, then a second. She let that sit for a bit, then, without raising herself, fumbled to open the night stand drawer and found the paper sack of lollies. She sucked on one for a few minutes, then turned onto her side. After a few minutes more, still sucking the candy, she sat up, then stood up. Sometimes this worked, sometimes it didn't. But so far so good, and she rang for Anna.

She remembered his dream, how he had still looked so troubled when she had first awakened, and wanted very much to see him. She tugged on her kimono and worked he feet into her slippers. He was likely still at breakfast with Papa, but she checked their sitting room, just in case—he wasn't there. She crossed her room, opened his door to go through to the bathroom and relieve herself and stopped short; his suit was still hanging on the valet-butler; his shirt, tie, and stockings were neatly laid out on the bed. His wheelchair was in the corner. She opened the door to an empty bathroom. Where was he?

But no sooner had she asked herself the question than she knew the answer. After quickly relieving herself, she entered the corridor just as Anna arrived. "M'lady?"

"I'm looking for Matthew—I assume he's doing physio?" She inclined her head to the closed door across the hallway.

"I really don't know m'lady," Anna answered. "Mr. Matthew rang for Mr. Bates a little past seven, and I haven't seen him since."

Mary nodded, her brows drawn together. "All right, go ahead and set my things out. I won't be long."

"Yes, m'lady," Anna nodded, entering Mary's room. Mary crossed the hall and listened outside the closed door. Closed meant Matthew didn't want her watching; rather, he didn't want her hearing her husband swearing like a sailor. She listened at the door for a moment, and when she didn't hear anything, she knocked and came in.

Matthew, his back to her, half way down the bars, looked over his shoulder, startled. He was wearing his clinic khaki trousers and white jersey-knit shirt. His hair had dropped over his brow, rivulets of sweat ran down his face and neck, and the shirt clung to his chest and back. Bates was sitting at the far end of the bars, reading.

And cast off, next to an empty chair, were his leg braces. Mary looked back at Matthew and saw he was wearing a pair of his own high-topped shoes, the supple leather such a contrast to the heavy, thick-soled shoes attached to the braces. She pressed her lips together and swallowed hard, then collected herself.

"There you are!" Mary exclaimed, coming over to him, making herself smile to hide her concern. "Have you eaten breakfast?"

He shook his head, "Not yet."

"You've been at this since seven?"

He nodded, "After stretching exercises first."

She frowned, turning to Bates. "Bates, could you give us a moment?"

Bates stood, inclining his head, "Very good, m'lady."

Mary waited until the door closed. "Shouldn't he be standing with you?"

"I'm not going to fall." His smile didn't reach his eyes.

"You're going to wear yourself out."

He breathed in and out several times, then licked his lips and looked at her, his mouth turned down. "Look," he said tightly. "I've hardly done any physio since I've been back. If I ever want to be rid of the braces and sticks, I've got to keep at it."

This is more than that, Mary thought. It was his eyes. Still so troubled, as they had been when he awoke from his dream.

His face softened, as he finally took in how worried she was. "Come here, darling." He held out an arm and pulled her to him, kissing the top of her head. "How are you this morning?"

"I'm fine, baby's kicking," she smiled.

"Wonderful." He kissed her again, then looked at the clock. "Another half hour, and I'm done."

"All right," she replied firmly, hiding her anxiety, "I'm holding you to that. Don't make me cross." She held onto the bar, standing on her toes, and kissed his cheek. Then she crossed the room, and opened the door for Bates. As he entered, he raised an eyebrow, and she rolled her eyes.

Mary stood in the doorway, her eyes pricking, watching Matthew work to move each leg independently, an exhaled grunt escaping each time he set a foot down. He had improved so much since his last visit home, and now, without the braces! But as she saw him struggle, the muscles in his back straining, his arms shaking, she realized how far he still had to go to "be rid of the braces and sticks." What will walking look like for him? She waited until, step by awkward step, he made his way to the end. His head dropped, and he breathed heavily. Then he straightened up, and, without turning, called, "You really need to go, darling, because I really need to swear."

Even with her eyes brimming, she laughed, then quietly shut the door.

.

Matthew kept his word, even stopping a few minutes early. Mary had had a breakfast tray brought to their sitting room for him, and she insisted he eat before he bathed and dressed. While he didn't seem as troubled as he had been, she could tell he was preoccupied with his thoughts. She didn't press him, but she was quite relieved when he suggested they go outside after lunch and sit for a while. Being in the fresh air always made him feel better.

Mary carried his sticks-he had insisted they bring them-"I need them to get out of my chair"- while he wheeled himself. But he stopped the chair on the path where it passed the bench, instead of wheeling up to it.

"What are you thinking?" Mary asked in consternation, as Matthew took the sticks from her. "The lawn is very uneven here, you shouldn't be walking here without someone to—."

"It'll be fine. I'll be fine." He got himself up and made his way across the lawn, each time placing his sticks carefully on the uneven ground before he swung his legs, now braced again, navigating a shorter route than what he would have had to have taken if he'd been wheeling his chair.

"Watch out for that tree root!" Mary cautioned, hovering close. He did. When he reached the bench, Mary realized she'd been holding her breath. But he was smiling in a way he hadn't yet today.

"You're impossible," she said softly, taking his arm.

They stood looking out over the park, Matthew breathing deeply. Then he kissed the top of her head, and they sat down.

Setting the sticks aside, he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, his hands lightly clasped, gazing out over the park. And seeing his posture, Mary was happily startled, yet again, at how much had changed for him since his last visit home—he had never been able to sit like this since he had been injured. She started to comment on it, but stopped herself when she realized that his eyes were unseeing, that he was completely lost in thought. So, she simply laid her hand on his back, rubbing gentle circles, and waited.

Finally, he turned his head, looking back at her, raising an eyebrow. "Do you know how to make a grass whistle?"

Puzzled, she shook her head, laughing. "No, I do not."

"All right." He sat back. "Hands together," and, demonstrating, he cupped the fingers of his left hand over the right, "now, thumbs together, like this, that's right, parallel." He watched as she followed his instructions. "Good." He reached down and plucked two fat blades of grass, handing one to her. "Now, take the blade of grass—you notice that it's nice and wide—bring your hands together again, but with the grass flat between your thumbs. Like this. Good." He brought his hands to his mouth and blew. The blade made a noise between a buzz and a squawk. Matthew looked at her grinning. "Now you."

Mary tried a few times, failing to produce a sound. "Well, I'm no good," she said with a huff.

"No, no, the tricky part is the tension—not too tight, not too loose. Trial and error." He moved her thumbs a bit. This time, she produced a bit of a noise, and the second time a buzz. She looked at Matthew triumphantly. "Who taught you that?"

"Father. He had a real touch, you would have thought a goose was overhead." He looked out over the downs again. "And skipping stones on water, he was a wonder at that, too, although I'm pretty good. Even beat him a few times."

"Goodness, look what you'll be able to teach our children!" she laughed.

Matthew looked out over the grounds again. "Maybe," he said quietly with a shrug. "If I can get myself down to a pond."

Mary's heart sank. But before she could say anything, he continued. "That last time we went to the park, Jack was running with the children, chasing them, catching them, and I was so jealous." He shook his head. "Looking at Jack, it was like looking at my father with me. Father was so busy, but every day when I was little, he'd come home from work and I'd run to him, and he'd pick me up and swing me around. 'What shall we do today?' he'd ask. If it was late, we'd do something at home, of course, but if it was early enough, he'd take me to the park. Or 'let's go for a ramble,' he'd say, and we'd take long walks. He taught me to ride a bicycle. . ." He stopped and giving her a half smile, and shook his head.

"You don't know that you won't be able to do that, one day," Mary said softly.

Matthew nodded silently, then sighed and looked away again. He swallowed, his throat tight. "I've come to realize what's more important is just being able to take care of our child. If I can do that one day, it'll be enough."

Where did this come from? "What do you mean 'one day.' Of course, you'll be able to take care of our child," she assured him, her brows drawing together in confusion.

"I'm still a cripple, Mary. Even with all the progress I've made, I'm still a cripple."

She winced hearing the word. As he held her eyes, she saw the haunted look again that she had seen that morning after his dream, and suddenly she knew. "That nightmare wasn't about the war, was it?" she asked gently.

He licked his lips and shook his head.

"Tell me."

His jaw worked. He didn't want to give voice to the dream; it would make it more real. He shook his head again.

Mary gently turned his face toward her. "Keeping it bottled up isn't working very well, is it?" she asked quietly.

She was right. It wasn't. If he made himself tell her, could he exorcise it? He was desperate to stop hearing the crying. "I . . . I was . . . " He shook his head again. He closed his eyes, pressing his lips together. Then he looked out over the park. "I was working at my desk in our sitting room and heard a baby—our baby, I knew—whimpering, very far off, but I didn't know where. I got myself up with my sticks, and went out into the corridor and set off. I went down endless corridors, never seeing anyone, and you know how dreams are, every time I'd get to the end of one, there'd be another. The whimpering turned to crying, it kept getting louder, but it was harder and harder for me to swing my legs, I was wearing out. At last, there was a door, and I could tell the crying was coming from the room behind it. I struggled to get the door open, I was in a panic by then. Finally, I managed to open it, and the baby—our baby—was in the middle of the room, on a quilt on the floor, thrashing frantically." He turned to her, his mouth working. When he finally spoke, his voice was ragged. "I couldn't pick him up, Mary. I didn't know what to do: try to lower myself to the floor—which I can't do yet—to comfort him, but not be able to get up, or leave him in his distress and try to get help. I didn't know what to do—I started calling for help—and then I woke up." He exhaled slowly. "I can't get the crying out of my head."

"Oh, darling—." She brushed her tears away, then cupped his face, pressing her lips together. He took out his handkerchief and dabbed her eyes.

"It's made me realize, in a way I never did before, there will be many things I won't be able to do for our children, and I don't mean teaching them how to ride a bicycle or skip a stone. I won't be able to take care of them, especially when they're little. Not when I'm like this."

She started to protest, but Matthew kept going. "No. Think about it. I can sit and hold a baby, but I can't lift one up or carry it, not the way I am now. Or once they learn to walk and start to run away—I can't go after them. And what if they fall? I won't be able to pick them up. Really, I won't be able to be left alone with them until they're Teddy's age or older, and even then . . ."

"But you can't know that. You're getting better every day. I can see it."

"I am, yes. But you saw me . . . " He looked down and then back at her. "You saw me this morning." He pressed his lips together, shook his head. "And even . . . and even if I can get strong enough to give up the braces, I'm very far from managing without sticks . . . and we can't know if I ever will be."

"But Coates said-."

"Yes, he's still optimistic, but no promises." His chest heaved. "I know, I know nothing like the dream is going to happen in real life. You'll be there, the nanny will be there, we have a houseful of servants, and your parents. I shouldn't care, but until the dream, I hadn't really thought about it."

"I . . . you'll . . . it will be . . ." Her voice caught in a sob.

He shook his head sadly. "Forgive me, Mary. I shouldn't have told you. I feel so ungrateful, I am so blessed simply to be having a child, my life is a miracle, I'm just indulging in self-pity, I shouldn't—." He exhaled heavily. "It's just, I keep hearing the crying, I want to be able to protect our child, and I feel so helpless, and—."

Mary's arms came around him. "I'm so glad you told me," she murmured. They held each other tightly, rocking together. Finally, Mary reached up and brushed his hair off his forehead. "And this is why you were working so hard this morning," she said gently.

He nodded silently.

She took his hands and squeezed them tightly. "Well, you listen to me, Matthew Crawley. Do you remember what I said when you fell? It's all right to be angry. And I'm telling you now, it's all right to mourn when you think of what you might not be able to do with our child—our children. That doesn't mean you're ungrateful. And we can't know, you're right. But I do know this." She smiled, nodding. "You are going to be wonderful father."

Matthew pulled her to him. "You," he choked out, kissing the top of her head.

"No, you," she said softly.

They finally sat back, his arm still around, his fingers her caressing her neck, and she rested her head on his shoulder. She took his other hand, their fingers twining.

"You know," Mary began quietly, "you're not the only one worried about what kind of parent you'll be."

Matthew pulled back and looked at her. "Whatever do you mean? You're going to be a wonderful mother!"

"You can't know that."

"I do know that. I've seen you with Teddy and Charlotte. You're a natural—Alice and Jack agree!"

Mary smiled ruefully. "Well, I'm glad to hear that you all give me a vote of confidence, although I think you're the one who's a natural, but . . . Matthew, I was raised by series of nannies. You, at least, have your father's wonderful example, and your mother's." She shook her head. "I was brought to Mama—and sometimes Papa was with her—for an hour at the end of the day—when she was home." She sighed and shook her head. "I can remember when Sybil was born. Nanny would bring her to Mama, Edith and me in tow. And then, all too soon, back to the nursery. Mama was so beautiful, so sweet with us. I didn't want to leave her. Sometimes she'd come visit the nursery. . . and, oh, we lived for those visits." She shook her head and smiled sadly. "But it was never enough."

She paused and sighed. "Mama and I have talked so much these past weeks. We've grown closer than we've ever been. I guess that's natural, now that I'm going to be a mother, too." Matthew kissed her hand. "She's told me things I never knew. We had some awful nannies, although some were very kind, but when I was born, she was so young—she was afraid of my nanny! She had to ask permission to see me! And, when we were brought to her, she didn't want us to leave, but couldn't bring herself to insist we stay." She shook her head sadly. "She knows what she missed, especially now that we've talked with your mother, who has so many stories about when you were a baby and little . . ."

Mary looked at Matthew. "I'm not saying I don't want a nanny—I know I'll need the help—but I want to be a mother like Alice."

"You will be, darling, I know it."

"I'm not going to ask nanny's permission to see my child."

"No, never."

"I want us to rear our children."

He kissed her temple. "Yes, I agree. We will."

Mary nodded decisively. "Yes. We will."

They were both quiet, then Mary observed, "I couldn't help noticing that, the baby in your dream was a boy, yes?"

Matthew gave a small laugh. "Yes, I don't know why, but yes, the baby was a boy."

"Good," Mary nodded again, and looked out over the downs, a small smile playing on her lips.

Matthew hesitated, frowning a bit, then asked gently. "Darling, will you be all right if the baby's a girl? Please, please know that I will be."

Mary raised an eyebrow. "Yes, you'd love a girl who would wrap you around her little finger like Charlotte has done with Jack!"

They both laughed. "I would," Matthew admitted, "but I understand the pressure you must be feeling, and I want to be sure you know it's not coming from me."

Mary sighed, shaking her head. "I do, I do." She watched as a flock of birds rose up from the copse on a far hill of the park, then continued, "When I had it out with Mama about our getting married, that morning after the library, I told her that when Sybil was born, I had understood that everyone was quite disappointed that she was a girl, and that eventually, I came to understand that they were disappointed that I was a girl." She turned to look at him. "I told her that seeing that disappointment and knowing that I would be marrying Patrick, and that one day, I, too, I would have to do my 'duty to Downton,' it had had an effect on how I felt about having children. Children were simply an obligation that I accepted; I couldn't imagine marrying just so I could have children. But then I told her," and her breath started hitching, "that for the first time in my life, I wanted to have children—not out of duty, not to produce an heir—I wanted to have your children." She held his face, smiling through her tears. "And I knew, that was not to be."

"Oh, my love," he murmured, pulling her to him.

"There's a part of me, I admit," she continued, taking his handkerchief and wiping her eyes, "that hopes it's a boy. I can't help it. But, no, you needn't worry. When it happens, if it's a girl, I'll be fine, because she'll be your child—our child. And Mama has said, once I look at her, nothing else matters."

Matthew kissed her tenderly. "You will be such a wonderful mother."

They sat in silence, her head tucked under his chin. Finally, he said softly, "You know, we've both been talking about 'children.'"

Mary turned to look at him. "Don't you want more than one, if we can?"

Matthew nodded, his eyes so blue, his gaze so loving. "I . . . yes, I do. Very much. But you've been so sick, darling . . . I would understand, if you didn't."

"Mama says that after the baby is born, you forget the sickness and the labor pains, it all fades away," she laughed. "And she was sickest with me; it was better with Edith and Sybil. But anyway," and she sat up straight, "I want lots of babies with you, Mr. Crawley, if we can have them."

His heart was so full, the earlier anguish he had felt gone. He shook his head, smiling happily. Then he tapped her nose. "And, who, Mrs. Crawley should we be, to however many children we might have?"

Mary gave him a puzzled frown. "What? 'Be?' What do you mean?"

"Well, your parents are 'Mama' and 'Papa.'"

"Ah, I see." She cocked her head. "And yours are 'Mother' and 'Father.'"

"Yes. Those are already taken. And, in any event, I don't see us as 'Mama and Papa' or 'Mother and Father.'"

"No," Mary said firmly. "So?"

They looked at each other grinning, and burst out together, "'Mummy' and 'Daddy!'" And then they sealed it with a kiss.

Mary's eyes widened, and her hands went to her stomach. "Oh, my!" she laughed. "Baby approves! He's—she's— kicking up a storm!" And then she gasped. "Oh!" She looked at Matthew, then grabbed his hand. "Oh, darling. Here, here, feel!"

They both waited, her hand covering his, holding their breath. And then Matthew gasped, and he looked at her, his mouth open, then breaking into a joyous smile. And for the moment, it was only the three of them in the world.


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