A/N: Sorry for being MIA, but, like I always say, my life is a mess.
I also apologise if this chapter raises more questions than answers, I promise everything will come together (eventually).
I am also sorry if this chapter feels a bit rushed - I got the inspiration to write like 65% of it around 1am so I kinda wanted to just get it out there and posted!
Also, if you are following this story, please answer the author's note at the end. Thanks so much for sticking with this despite my awful update schedule (or lack thereof)
note: if you've ever taken a world history course, you may notice something rather "Great" is missing from this story. Blame it on my lack of comprehension of war (I genuinely can't wrap my head around how something so deadly can amount from something that can be settled with choice words of kindness), but WWI kind of doesn't exist is this TimeLine - this has been a psa
Chapter 10: Journey to the Past
"...back to who I was, on to find my future, things my heart still needs to know..."
28 July, 1916
"Don't slouch, Michael." Mary Poppins berates, looking at herself in the bakery shop window. The wind was being particularly tricky with her hair this afternoon, forcing her to stop a few times to smooth the stray back into her meticulous bun.
Beside the nanny, Jane is keeping in check a twin on each arm, and tapping her foot rather impatiently (and rather like Mary Poppins), while Annabel continues to pull at Michael, anxious to get home.
The sight of the six figures on the pavement must have surely been something to the customers inside the store, but, by now, the children knew better than to chide their curious nanny's rather vain behaviors.
"She didn't even look at him." Barbara observes, looking between her caretaker and her sister.
Jane laughs at the little girl's intrigue, she knows all too well of the strange ways in which Mary Poppins works; the mysterious woman sees everything.
"How much longer until we can go home," John complains "my feet hurt!"
After giving a satisfactory nod to her reflection, Mary Poppins offers her attention to the boy.
"Well," she replies with a sigh, as though already bored with the subject. "I was thinking we could get some gingerbread first."
The five kids cheer at the suggestion.
"But," Mary interject the exclamation, "if you're tired, it is probably best if we just go home."
Cries of protest erupt from all at this new suggestion.
"I didn't mean it - honest, Mary Poppins." John looks up apologetically.
Mary nods disapprovingly, masking her own desire to visit her friend, and, of course, to indulge in some fresh gingerbread.
"Very well. I suppose we have time for a quick visit to Mrs. Corry's." she continues, trying to seem aloof.
"We should probably get some for father!" Michael suggests as the crew makes their way to the shop. Jane nods in agreement.
"Oh yes, he is so rather fond of it." she adds. "It always reminds him of when he was a little boy; it'll keep him in a good mood!"
"Does your father like gingerbread too, Mary Poppins?" Barbara asks innocently.
Mary stops walking, her signature stern expression fading into a soft smile at the sound of the girl's inquiry.
"He did." She plainly replies, looking off across the street, as though her memories were being projected there.
"Whenever he worked late, he would come home with some gingerbread as an apology."
Michael decides to take advantage of the lapse in the nanny's enigmatic rigidity.
"What was your father like?"
He knows it's a bold move, one which Mary Poppins almost respects the boy for making. She comes back to reality, but holds onto her nostalgic air of serenity.
"He was actually very much like your father, I suppose." She begins, not looking at the children, instead returning her focus to herding them toward their destination. "Except, to him, family always came first, no matter what sacrifices he had to make."
"Like what?" Michael presses.
Thankfully for Mary, the question quickly slips from the boy's mind as the children spy a familiar face inside Mrs. Corry's.
"Bert!" Jane and Michael (rather childishly) call out in unison.
"Well, 'ello there Banks's." He greets with a friendly smile. "And 'ow do you do, Miss Poppins." Bert adds, tipping his hat.
"Please, no need for such formality, Bert." Mary holds up a cautious hand. "It's only the children."
Mary shares an almost conspiring glance with Jane and Michael.
"Whatever you wish, Mary." Bert complies, taking Mary's gloved hand in his and brushing his lips where he expects her engagement ring to be concealed. He is more than a little surprised to not feel it there.
However, his disappointment only last a moment, as he remembers Mary's current situation - he would much prefer to not see the face of Mr. Banks, should the master learn of his relationship with Mary Poppins.
"What are you all giggly for?" Michael asks his older sister, following Jane's gaze to the adults in front of them.
She waves her hand at him. She has been doing a wonderful job of keeping the engagement a secret.
"Oh, nothing." She dismisses, despite knowing her gesture won't be satisfactory for her ever-curious brother. Michael knows better than to try to crack his sister, so he decides to turn his attention back to the earlier conversation.
"You didn't answer my question, Mary Poppins." Michael says, making himself known to Mary Poppins and Bert who were presently off to the side, rather unaware of their surroundings.
Mary silently curses herself - she almost escaped the question. She knows she could give a typically vague answer, but she is growing tired of lying to people she cares about.
Jane waltzes over as well, satisfied that her younger siblings won't get into too much trouble if left alone in the shop. Bert nonchalantly leans in closer as well - he'll never pass up the opportunity to try to gain a bit more information about Mary's secretive past.
"Well," she begins, much to Michael's excitement, "there was this important task he had to do, but he refused to take it until he had a family."
Bert's mind begins to wander to the possibilities of what she could be referring to. Mary pays no mind to this reaction.
"He didn't take it because he wanted to work really hard before getting married to be sure he could provide for them. He wasn't afraid of failure, but was so stubborn that he could never give up on a challenge - he truly put everything he had into everything he did. Unfortunately, he never lived to complete-"
A loud crash interrupts the exchange - so much for the little ones not getting into trouble. Jane rushes over to help, beckoning Michael to join her - something about the twins teasing Annabel to climb one of the shelves?
"You're not referring to his contract, are you?" Bert question, once the two are out of earshot.
"Joy once mentioned that father avoided his contract, which struck me as odd, because my diary says only women have to serve." She ends her statement with an eyeroll: of course women are the only ones who have to be servants, while men can keep their magic without doing anything.
"An' what else did your sister mention?" Bert decides to try his luck at getting Mary to open up more.
"We'll talk." Mary smiles, turning to round up her charges.
"But will we?" Bert mumbles, going to her side. Mary lets out a sigh - choosing to ignore his comment; the last thing she needs right now is an argument.
Thankfully for the pair, a high-pitched voice saves them from such a fate.
"Oh, if it isn't Mary Poppins!" the voice calls from behind the counter, "And with all the little Banks's." she continues, stepping around to give each child a suffocating hug.
"Hello, Mrs. Corry." Jane and Michael greet, fondly remembering their first encounter with her.
"How big you two have gotten," the older woman comments, putting a hand on each of their shoulders.
"You know, Mary, my dear," she continues, turning to the nanny, "I was beginning to wonder when I'd get to meet the new ones."
"Now, Mrs. Corry, you know I am sorry for not bringing them here sooner," Mary gives a warning, yet friendly look to her friend, "but as you also know, I haven't been in London for a while."
"Of course." Mrs. Corry dismisses.
Bert closes his eyes and lets out a breath he didn't realise he had been holding. Perhaps he was afraid of what the innocent comment could have led to.
Sensing his apprehension, Mary takes his hand and gives it a light squeeze, so he relaxes. She's not going anywhere anytime soon, and that's all that matter for the time being.
"I am sure you are eager to get back, dear," Mrs. Corry sings, facing Mary, "so I've already set aside some gingerbread for each of you. And, of course a little extra for Georgie. Tell me, how is he?" she concludes, handing a little package to each person, before going behind the counter to retrieve the unexpected extra treat.
"Oh, father's wonderful!" Jane chimes in, "but has been working very late in order to take care of all of us."
"That's because he is a good man who cares about his family and he wants them to have everything they wish." the older women replies.
"He sure is!" John pipes up, already finishing one of his biscuits. "That's why we wanted to bring him some sweets - to say thank you."
"Well that was very kind of you." Mrs. Corry smiles.
"Mary Poppins was just telling us how her father would do something similar." Michael daringly brings up, figuring he might be able to get some more information out of the older woman.
He figures correctly.
"Why, yes!" Mrs. Corry practically cries, clapping her hands together. "I remember when James would come in here to get a little something to bring home to his girls."
Mary (still holding Bert's hand) can't help the smile that decides to spread across her face at the sound of her friend speaking so fondly of her father.
"I even knew James we he was a boy, like you." Mrs. Corry gives John a light tap on his head.
All five Banks's are now (if they weren't already) thoroughly intrigued. Bert decides to takes advantage of their distraction and snakes his arm around Mary's waist. She gladly melts into his embrace.
Mrs. Corry leans toward the children as though she is about to share a secret with them, although she makes no effort to lower her voice.
"He used to come in here all the time with his big sister. The two of them would eat all the gingerbread they could, until their bellies began to ache."
Mary lets out a rather uncharacteristic giggle at this comment. As the six face the pair, Bert quickly pulls his arm away. The observers pretend not to notice this action.
"Oh, Mrs. Corry, I think your age is finally catching up with you. That can't possibly be my father you are thinking of. He was the eldest in his family, remember? He never had an older sister"
Mrs. Corry stares back blankly, clearly surprised by Mary's confusion.
"Of course he had an older sister, dear, and he was so very close with her. Why, didn't he even name you after her? Little Lizzie, if I recall correctly. Is your middle name not Elizabeth?"
Mary's expression falls. Though she may have been only four years old when her father passed, she's met everyone in his family.
Or so she thought, at least. But why had none of them mentioned another sister before?
"H-have you seen her recently?" Mary stutters, slowly losing her grip on reality. She grabs ahold of Bert for both mental and physical support.
Mrs. Corry dismally shakes her head, shockingly at a loss for words.
"I'm sorry I can't be of more help, dear, but I have not seen nor heard from her since she was a teenager."
Mary Poppins nods understandingly, clears her throat, and reassumes her practically perfect posture.
"Very well," she states in her typical no-nonsense tone. "Thank you for the gingerbread. I shall give Mr. Banks your regards."
The five children also mumble their thanks to the owner on their way out of the shop.
"May I assist you in getting the children home, Miss Poppins?" Bert asks once they're all outside.
He leans closer to the woman, adding "I want to make sure you're all right, as well."
"That would be much appreciated, Bert." Mary smiles, genuinely thankful for his request.
Once back at Number 17, Mary sends the children in to give their father his surprise, hanging back on the steps with Bert.
"What 'ad you all shaken up back there, Mar? I was worried sick!"
"Something just clicked." Mary replies vacantly.
"Men are not given contracts." she pauses, trying to put the pieces together before sharing her theory with Bert.
"No more secrets." He reminds her, placing his hands on her shoulders.
"What Mrs. Corry said got me thinking: what if father did have to serve a contract, perhaps because he acquired the powers of a woman, or a girl rather?"
"Like his sister." Bert suggests, trying to follow along.
"Wait," he shakes his head, still trying to process everything Mary's told him since her return.
"If he acquired her magic that means-"
"That means," Mary cuts him off, inhaling sharply to delay the inevitable realisation, "he was with her when she died."
"And she died before serving her contract." Mary breathes after a beat.
"And," Bert continues, having his own realisation, "it would also means that you're father's powers aren't the only source of extra magic inside you."
"And if he had to serve for her, but never did…" Mary trails off, trying to swallow the lump in her throat at the prospect of her unfinished statement. However, not speaking aloud does not conceal the truth from Mary or Bert; they're both thinking it. The man gives her a peck on her forehead for comfort.
"Everythin' will be alright, love." Bert whispers to her, before turning to step away, leaving Mary alone with her thoughts: she may actually have to serve for longer than she thought.
I'm not too fond of this ending, but it's an ending, and hopefully it explains a bit to you.
Speaking of which, I wanted to ask a favour of you: if you are still confused on anything in this story, please please tell me so in a review or PM.
If it's something I've already explained, I'll gladly clarify, if not, I'll try to work it into my outline of the next few chapters.
Thanks again, lovies!