A/N: So, this is it! This is the FINAL CHAPTER! Thank you so much for all the support you've shown me and for all of your lovely reviews - they really make my day and mean so much to me! It makes me so happy that you like my stories and I've really enjoyed writing this one.
Sorry that this chapter took longer, but it's quite different from the rest of the story so I got a bit stuck on it for a while and wanted to make sure that it was done right...hopefully I've done a good job - but I do think that you're going to enjoy it!
So, I really hope you enjoy this!
Keep The Home Fires Burning
8th April, 1919:
Moving on hadn't been the easiest task in the world, but much like London, Mary and Bert began to rebuild themselves. It had been six months since the end of the war, six months since Bert had come home…and although their love for each other seemed endless and unconditional, they too, had to face some challenges. They did mostly revolve around Bert – a fact that often struck him with guilt – almost every night he would toss and turn beneath the covers before sitting bolt upright – his skin drenched with sweat and his entire body trembling. His chest would rise and fall heavily – his heart beating painfully beneath his flesh…he would be overwhelmed with such harrowing fear as his dreams were always haunted by what he had seen in the trenches. He tried all he could to stop the nightmares, but they were beyond his control.
They wore him down and both he and Mary could tell. His eyes would often be graced with dark bags and his skin pale…however, Bert had this inspiring ability to never visibly let his trauma and exhaustion effect his psychological state; even when he looked his worst, he never, ever acted as such. Each new day brought a new smile to his lips and he was the same cheerful Bert that Mary had fallen in love with. Even with London still struggling he was able to make a living by drawing pictures that were as colourful as ever and by singing songs with the sweetest of melodies. He amazed her – truly amazed her.
However, there had been one occasion where things just became too difficult. It had been a Tuesday – more specifically, one of Mary's Tuesdays, the days they always spent together – and they had spent almost the whole day in one of his pavement pictures; but when it started to rain, they had rushed back to his tiny flat to warm up. Mary had stayed there until late in the evening – the night, in fact – simply enjoying being in his embrace. She began to leave and they had parted with a kiss as usual, but just as she reached the door she heard Bert mutter something – almost with embarrassment.
"Please don't go…" it was barely audible.
She whipped her head around to look at him – her eyes wide.
"Pardon?" she stuttered.
Bert stared down at the floor and shuffled uncomfortably.
"No…don't worry about it…" he dismissed.
But Mary walked towards him slowly – her gaze laced with fearful concern – and she placed a supportive hand on his arm, but she didn't force him to look at her.
"No, tell me what's the matter, Bert" she said softly.
He hesitated for a while before sighing.
"I just don't want you t' go…an' I was gonna ask you to stay 'ere with me tonight because…when I'm alone I…" the was just the slightest crack in his voice, "…I 'ave these nightmares an' I just wanna 'ave you there by my side…"
It was all Mary could do to not weep in that very moment.
"Oh, Bert…" she whispered as she hugged him, "Of course I'll stay with you, I'll do anything I can, darling…" she soothed, "…but I will have to leave early in the morning so that the Walton family won't realise I've been gone"
Bert nodded and gave a smile as she brushed her lips against his cheek.
They could both feel their hearts pound as they climbed into Bert's bed that night. They were, of course, only planning to sleep, but this was still such uncharted territory for them; they had spent many evenings cuddled together and had once or twice lay in each other's arms atop the covers of Bert's bed – but this was different, tonight they were actually going to be in the bed and sleeping in it together. Mary blushed ferociously as she appeared in just her nightgown, but her cheeks seemed to turn an even deeper shade of red when she slipped under the blankets and discovered that Bert slept shirtless…but she tried not to let it show. She could see the scar that lay across his right pectoral – the one that had been caused by his first gunshot wound…and the scar that lived on his shoulder…from his second gunshot wound.
Bert had explained everything a couple of days after he came home. Mere days after writing what they had considered to be his 'last letter', Bert had been shot in the shoulder. He had little memory of what happened, but he remembered waking up in some rickety medical tent not far from the frontline – where he had been treated by the nurses. He had been unconscious for a few days and was unable to write – even when he was awake. He had been extremely lucky, the wound healed quickly and the Armistice treaty was signed a few days later.
She didn't regret her decision – no at all – but the way they sat awkwardly in the bed for a few moments did present her with the realisation that she was suddenly out of her depth. But so was Bert.
"You're not uncomfortable are you?...Do y' still wanna do this?" he asked reluctantly.
When she saw him present his own nerves, she seemed to relax. Mary smiled warmly at him – forcing herself to gather all of her inner confidence.
"Of course I do, Bert, I want to do whatever I can to help you…I love you"
"I love you too"
Those words still gave them both such a rush. They kissed lightly before laying back against the pillows – letting night's endless curtain envelope them. For a while everything seemed so still, with nothing but the sounds of their breathing filling the air. Mary's heart was still pounding, but after a while she felt Bert's arm timidly slip around her waist and pull her against him in a warm embrace that instantly caused her to relax. He nuzzled against her neck slightly – and perhaps placed a kiss there too. Mary shuffled back a bit so that she could snuggle as close to him as possible and the steady rise and fall of his chest – accompanied by his beating heart – soon began to pull her into slumber. It may have only been sleeping, but Mary was sure that she'd never felt so wonderfully tranquil. And she hoped – more than anything – that she could be a beacon of safety for Bert.
But as they had both anticipated, Bert sat bolt upright in the middle of the night with a loud gasp; his entire body shifted with heavy trembles, his heart was beating with desperation and his forehead was pebbled with sweat. His breaths were loud and laboured as he desperately tried to calm himself – but he was consumed by chills as the images of his terror lay fresh in his mind. He felt as if several pairs of crooked hands were running their spindly fingers up his chest and back – invading him, making him feel trapped – he could feel the tension build in his mind until he just wanted to scream. But he eventually felt a soft hand come to his shoulder and he looked across at Mary – who wore such a strong expression of concern.
"Did you have another one?" she asked softly.
Bert simply nodded his head as he felt a lump form in his throat, but as the visions continued to play out in his mind, he simply cried. The tears stung his eyes as the dripped down onto his cheeks – they were not gentle either, no, they spilled out like a pained waterfall; Bert squeezed his eyes shut to try and block the flow, but his attempts were met with dismay. He tried his best to muffle the sounds of his sobs too – not wanting to wail – but he couldn't hide the way his lips trembled, the way his eyes were laced with fear, the way the war had broken him.
"I just wanna forget, Mary!" he wept.
It was all Mary could do to not cry too as she pulled him against her chest and held him in a protective embrace – never wanting to let him go. Her heart was crushed as she saw Bert – her Bert, the man who was always happy, the man who always saw the good in life – so utterly broken. He had been crushed by this war and although he could still smile and dance throughout the day like nothing had ever happened, it was at night when his fears would catch up to him. That was when he couldn't escape, that was when he would find himself back in the trenches, facing those haunting sights over and over again with no escape. The night time was proof that even the happiest of men couldn't escape the horrors of war. Bert buried his face into her next and cried against her.
"It was so real…"
"Shhh, it's okay, it's all over now…" she soothed.
She held him tighter as he continued to tremble – almost feverishly.
"I saw their faces again, Mary – just young boys…they'd been caught in a gas attack an' were being dragged away in carts…their faces were so distorted an' deformed…they didn't even look like people anymore, but I knew that they were just boys – boys that 'ad mothers waitin' at 'ome…I could hear their screams again…an' it sounded exactly the same as when I was back in the trenches…I tried to 'elp them…but just like in the frontline…there was nothin' I could do except stand by an' watch it all 'appen…I tired so 'ard to forget…but every night it all comes back an' there's no way for me to escape it…" there was such desperation in his voice and Mary could tell that her darling Bert was hanging on to his last shreds of hope and sanity.
"It's okay, Bert…one day they'll all be gone, one day you won't have to see such things anymore…soon you'll forget it all…but until then, I'm going to be right here to help you, I'm not going to let you suffer and I'm certainly not going to let you go through any of this alone"
There were so many things that Bert wanted to say to her, but he didn't have the strength to speak; instead, he clung to Mary – feeling safe in her embrace – and waited for the tears to stop. And Mary refused to move until she was sure that he had stabilised, until he began to feel safe again. She just kept him close to her and kept soothing him until his tears finally stopped.
22nd July, 1919:
It was a gorgeous summer evening as they walked through the park; Mary had her hand securely in the crook of Bert's arm and London was peaceful and seemingly deserted. The sky was like a water colour painting and dazzled the pair with the most beautiful warm oranges, reds and yellows – like pure tranquillity reigned above them for an infinity. London – like so many other cities in the world – was still so damaged from the war, but she was recovering; as was Bert. Of course, things weren't perfect, he would still find himself waking up in cold sweats and panics from his nightmares, but they happened less frequently. However, he was not free of his post-war trauma – not in the slightest, he would still have moments where he would stare vacantly at nothing and would find himself so deep in thought or memory that he would become completely oblivious to the world around him – only focusing on the world his mind was making him see. It could happen at any point, he could be surrounded by people who were talking merrily and then, without warning, Bert would no longer be present in the conversation. It never happened when he was in a private conversation with anyone, but he was deeply concerned at how quickly his thoughts could take a hold of his conscience.
And, of course, that wasn't all. Since he had returned, Bert had become so skittish and jumpy; all it would take was a door being closed too violently or perhaps just a raised voice for Bert to jump and whip his head around in panic…that's all it would take to make his heart pound sporadically. The fear never lasted long, but he had moments where he just felt so stupid, how could he be frightened of a door?! Mary tried countless times to reassure him and explain that he wasn't afraid of the door, he was afraid of his memories and no one could blame him for that, after years of hearing nothing but explosions – knowing that one of those could've killed him at any moment – his fear was more than understandable. He had seen such horrors…even the strongest of people would've been effected.
As they continued to walk through the park, Mary noticed that Bert felt tense, he seemed unfocused – or perhaps even too focused? She gazed up at him and saw that he was looking straight ahead with a rigid gaze…vacant and far away from reality.
"Bert?...Bert?" she had to say it twice before his mind snapped back into the present.
He gave her a crooked smile.
"Are you feeling alright? You seem…distant"
He kept smiling as they came to a more secluded area of the park and they were soon sheltered by several grand trees. The sunset poked through them like a curious child.
"I'm fine, Mary" he said softly.
"Are you sure?"
"I promise you, I'm fine" he assured her.
She slid her hand down his arm so that she could entwine her fingers with his own. She gave his hand a slight squeeze and smiled up at him – marvelling in the way the orange sky framed him through a lens of purity.
"'ow are the Ashwell family doin'?" he asked after a few moments of silence.
"Better…but there's still plenty of work to be done"
"They seemed to be'ave themselves yesterday" he noted – recalling the chalk drawing they'd all jumped into.
"I think they were just shy – considering they haven't met you before"
"That may be so, but you can't deny 'ow charmin' I am!" he laughed as he jokingly preened.
"Well, they did seem to thoroughly enjoy your drawing" Mary said with a smile.
"Good! I put a lot of work into that one!..." there was another brief pause, "…is the youngest still causin' trouble at 'ome?"
"Emily? She does still make things a bit hectic, but like her brothers, she's getting better…I think they're behaviour is just a cry for attention…it was so hard for them after they lost their father and I know that their mother is trying, but it's so hard for her…"
Bert squeezed her hand.
"You'll make everythin' right, Mary, you always do"
Bert had expected some kind of playful scolding or sarcastic comment from Mary, but instead he was met with silence and an uncharacteristic slump of her shoulders.
"Mary, everythin' okay?"
She let a few seconds of silence roll by before speaking.
"Sometimes I wonder if I'm destined to always fix other people's lives…"
"What d'ya mean by that?" he asked softly.
"I've been a nanny for years and I really love it, but don't you think it's ironic that I seem to be able to sort our everyone else's life apart from my own?" her voice was mousy – something he'd almost never seen before.
Bert stopped them from walking, stepped in front of her and took both of her hands into his own. He looked at her lovingly – their sapphire eyes meeting intensely.
"That because you, Mary Poppins, are the most kind-'earted an' selfless woman on this earth…I've never met anyone quite like you – someone 'oo cares so much for others, someone 'oo dedicates their life to showing people just 'ow much they care…but one day I'm gonna 'ave to teach you 'ow to care for your own life with the same amount of dedication…" he gave her his trademark grin and Mary felt her insecurities wash away.
He gently ran the backs of his hand down her cheek before speaking again,
"…selfish isn't always a bad word, Mary, charity is important – we both know that – but sometimes we do 'ave to remember to sometimes put ourselves first…everyone in this world deserves 'appiness, especially you, Mary an' I'd 'ate to see you miss out because you'd fallen victim to your own generosity"
"Oh, Bert…" she sighed endearingly.
She could see him stiffen slightly – like he had done earlier.
"Listen, Mary, there was a reason why I was so distracted earlier…there's somethin' I wanted to say to you…like I said, you deserve to be 'appy an' I wanna be that gives you your 'appiness…" he stuttered, "…I know that I've said this before, but you've been so special to me since the first day we met, I'll remember that day for as long as I live…I remember thinkin' that I'd never seen anyone more beautiful, I remember thinkin' that your voice sounded like the sweetest of bird songs…an' I remember 'ow you spoke to me with such kindness; you didn't ignore me are grimace at me like so many others, you treated me like person – like an' equal – I think we both knew that it was the start of a beautiful friendship…an' I think that was the day I started to fall for you…I think as time passed I fell for ya bit by bit until one day I found myself utterly enthralled…"
"Bert…" Mary breathed – her eyes beginning to glaze over.
"…I don't think there are words that could possibly tell you just 'ow grateful I am for the years of friendship that we've shared…they were the best times of my life…but I think I'm even more grateful for the fact that you've given me a chance to love you…that you waited for me whilst I was in France…I think I'm the luckiest man in the 'ole world…"
"You say that as if you're not good enough…you mean so much to me, Bert…you're – you're my everything" she squeaked – trying to avoid tears.
"…you're the best thing that's ever 'appened to me…an' you've been makin' the sun shine bright in my life for years now…"
Without saying another word or without letting a single second pass, Bert dropped to one knee, pulled a small black box from inside of his jacket and opened it to reveal a small ring with three small diamonds that glittered under the warm rays of the descending sun.
"Mary Poppins, I love you an' if you'll let me, I'd like to spend the rest of my life showin' you just 'ow much…Mary…will you marry me?"
Mary felt a strong flutter build in her stomach before it powered up through her chest and manifested in her heart – which felt as if it had leapt into her throat; her still teary eyes sprang open – which allowed a single droplet to roll down her cheek. Her jaw had dropped slightly too, but she soon brought a dainty hand up to cover it. She could see how much love and fidelity he had in his eyes – which was accompanied by the nervous smile he wore as he gazed up at her, awaiting her answer. But Mary didn't even have to think about it and a beaming smile spread across her expression as another lone tear fell from her eye. She began to nod her head slowly – still quite amazed by what was happening.
"Yes" she whispered – she didn't really know how to react, but she knew that there was only one answer.
Bert beamed up at her – wearing a smile bigger than either of them had ever known. He sprang to his feet, took Mary in his embrace and spun her around as they both giggled with glee. When Bert finally put her down he gave her a kiss filled with so much passion and longing that rendered them breathless when they eventually parted. They gazed at each other lovingly – their smiles still spreading from ear to ear.
"I love you, Mary" he whispered.
"I love you too"
"You've just made me the 'appiest person in the 'ole world!"
"I assure you the feeling is mutual!"
Bert eventually slid the ring onto Mary's finger – taking his time as he did so, he wanted to cherish the moment and revel in the fact that Mary Poppins had just agreed to become his wife. It was a big step that they had decided to take and they would've been lying if they said they didn't feel nervous; but at the same time, marriage meant so much to them, they knew that it would be something that they would savour and adore for the rest of their days. They had survived so much over the years and they knew that this union would only make them stronger and it would make their love stronger too – if that were possible. It was going to be a journey full of surprises, but the one thing they knew for certain was that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.
21st October, 1919:
Bert was practically breathless as Mary walked down the aisle – guided lovingly by Uncle Albert. He swore his heart was doing somersaults. His mouth fell open with awe as he gazed upon the beautiful gown that she wore – it was a perfectly put together array of dazzling white fabric and intricate lace patterns that made her look angelic as they clung to her bare arms and added elegant layers to the slightly puffy bottom half of the garment. Her hair was twisted into an intricate style the held in place a lacy veil that trailed down her back – creating the illusion of a halo. Bert was certain that he'd never seen anything more beautiful; the way the last of the October sun and warmth burst through the church windows and latched onto his soon-to-be wife like a protective embrace, the way she smiled nervously at him as she got closer and closer and the way she finally looked up at him with all the love in the world as they finally stood face-to-face…it was a look that he returned and a look that he would continue to give her as long as they were together.
"Hello, Bert" they both whispered as they blushed ferociously.
Mary brought a thumb to Bert's cheek and gently brushed away the few tears that had apparently fallen – trying to make sure her own didn't fall as she did so.
"You look so beautiful" he breathed.
"You don't look too bad yourself" she smirked.
Neither of them could quite believe that they were here, in all their years of friendship they never thought that something like this would ever happen; even before the war they had both had moments where they wondered what it would be like to hold the other in their arms, to wake up next to each other and to have a life together…but if someone had told them that one day it would all become a reality, they never would've believed it.
They had had feelings for each other for years, but they had always been too scared to ever admit it, Mary was fearful of how it would affect her duties and was rather intimidated by the concept of love itself; and Bert, he was scared of rejection, scared of having to face the fact that Mary Poppins would never love him back. But as the ceremony progressed, as he eventually slipped the wedding ring onto her finger and as she slipped one onto his, those fears no longer existed. There was no fear of love or rejection and no war driving a wedge between them, instead it was just the two of them ready to embark on an entirely new adventure.
Everything seemed truly dreamlike but their complete attention was brought back to the ceremony when they eventually heard some of the sweetest words ever spoken…
"I now pronounce you man and wife…you may now kiss the bride"
They both blushed slightly as Bert brought a soft hand to the small of her back and gifted her a sweet kiss that contained all the love in the world. They could hear their friends and family cheering, clapping and some even weeping, but all they could focus on was the overpowering rush of euphoria that went powering through every inch of their bodies as they could finally call themselves Mr and Mrs Alfred.
"Oh, honestly!" Mary giggled as Bert swept her off her feet before she had a chance to walk into his flat; he held her tightly against him…bridal style.
"Now, now, Mrs Alfred, I am merely startin' off our married life in the traditional fashion" he said cheekily.
Mary sighed and gave him one of her looks, but she couldn't stop her lips from curling into a playful smile; then, in one large step, Bert carried his wife across the threshold – never breaking their enthralling eye contact as he did so.
"You are light-headed!" Mary teased as he carried her into the flat.
Whilst still holding her, Bert responded to her teasing by capturing her lips in a fiery kiss. They're lips moved together fluidly and their chests began to flutter. Mary slid her hand up to his hair and raked her hand through his soft locks; the motion brought his face closer to hers – deepening the kiss. When they finally broke apart, they were almost breathless. Bert gently lowered Mary to her feet, snaked his arms around her waist and rested his forehead against hers.
"Now, y' can call me light-'eaded all you like, but you know that I've never been one to break tradition!" he chuckled – his breath hot against her cheeks.
Mary gave him a slightly devilish smile.
"Well, neither am I"
"Oh, well, what traditions are left?" he asked coyly – whilst also feigning naivety.
Mary let a slight laugh slip from her lips as she began to eye him promiscuously – a look that he eventually returned. She took his hand and lead him towards the bed.
"I'll show you"
19th June, 1920:
Even after almost a year of marriage they still couldn't quite believe just how much their lives had changed; life was so blissful and in many ways, they still felt like newlyweds. They lay in each other's arms that morning – sated from their lovemaking – and drank in the wonder of the life that they shared. Bert pressed a kiss to Mary's forehead and in response she snuggled further into his embrace; humming pleasantly as she savoured the warmth of his body against hers.
They couldn't believe how lucky they were. The woman that Bert had fallen for all those years ago now lay in his arms and now called herself his wife. As for Mary, well, she just couldn't believe that she was lucky enough to spend her life with the man that had been her best friend; the kindest, sweetest and most endearing man she'd ever met. The man that had fallen for her and she had fallen for him too. She was proud to call herself Mrs Alfred and even after having that title for eight months, it still made her heart flutter with such excitement whenever she thought about it. She was Bert's wife, she was the one that he loved…she wondered what she did to be so lucky. She had adored him for so long, but was always so scared of pursuing anything more than friendship for fear of hurting him – she would never do anything to hurt him.
Of course, Bert felt exactly the same way about her. He had always treasured their friendship and always felt so privileged that Mary chose to spend so much of her time with him, that she gave him a chance and saw him as more than the poor jack of all trades that spent most of his time on his knees or covered in soot. He'd always had feelings for her, but he never thought that she would ever have any kind of romantic interest in him and whilst that hurt, he was still so overwhelmed by the friendship she gave him – and that was always just enough. But things had changed and Bert was certain that he was the luckiest man who ever lived, for he could say that Mary Poppins…Mary Alfred – the woman that he'd loved for so long – loved him back. He could say that he was married to the most amazing woman in the world…he got to see her wake up, he got to see all sides of her…he saw her in a way that no one else got to.
They smiled at each other endlessly and Mary eventually pressed her lips softly against Bert's – they were still smiling as they broke apart. Bert sighed peacefully – still revelling in his euphoria.
"What are you smiling at?" Mary giggled.
"You" Bert replied with a warm smile.
"How very flattering" she giggled again.
"I'm just thinkin' about 'ow lucky I am"
"Yeah…I've got the most beautiful and wonderful wife in the 'ole world…I know I've said it before, but in all my years on knowin' an' lovin' you, I never thought I'd be lucky enough to call you my wife"
"You're way too sentimental, dear…" she teased, but then sighed, "…Bert, I do appreciate the compliments you give me, but you needn't wonder how you got so lucky, as I have said before, you make it sound like you think you're not good enough…you're an absolute diamond, Bert and if anyone should revel in their luck, it should be me."
"'ow about we agree to make it a team effort?" he joked.
"Sounds good to me!" she chuckled – her laugh like a melody.
Bert tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear before moving his hand to caress her cheek. Everything felt so tranquil. She brought a hand to his chest and traced her fingers down one of the scars that lay there – she would be forever thankful that he had survived, that he was still with her.
"I love you, Bert" she whispered.
"I love you too"
They kissed again and as their lips met they felt isolated from everything else in the world – feeling nothing but the love they had for the other. They had overcome so much throughout their years of friendship and romance, the endless goodbyes and periods of separation that they feared would one day drive a wedge between them – but they soon realised that their friendship was unbreakable; then, of course, there was the war – the torturous period that drove them to their limits – testing their friendship, their strength and their love. They had both lived in fear for so long, but it was all behind them now. The war had been over for years, Bert's nightmares were practically non-existent and they had healed their hearts. They had come together and formed a life.
Together they had overcome so much, so as they lay in each other's arms – their lips pressed lovingly together – they knew that they would be able to overcome so much more, and so, with no more worries in their minds, they continued down the path of their new and wonderful life together.
A/N: So, there it is! It's all over! I really, really hope you enjoyed that!
Once again thank you for reading and thank you for all the support!
I do have more Mary Poppins stories in the works, but I'm going to be starting university really soon so I'm not sure if and when they'll get written and published - but hopefully it'll be soon because I really enjoy writing these (I've spent my entire summer writing! No joke, I've been writing practically every day since the beginning of June!) and it makes me so happy when you gusy say that you enjoy reading them too!
So, thanks once again and I'd really appreciate it if you left a review so that I can hear your thoughts!
See you soon! xxx