In the weeks since Matthew returned to Ballarat, Alice was almost always over at the Blake household for dinner, moreso after Matthew moved in with his old friends. Jean had pulled her aside one evening after dinner while their men adjourned to the parlor for drinks.
"You know I try not to pry that much, Alice, but…"
"I'll admit I was surprised that Matthew moved in here at all, I figured he'd live with you," her friend had colored a bit at the frank talk and the implications of just what Matthew and Alice would do if they lived together, but Alice just smiled.
"We're not rushing anything, Jean. Yes, we're soulmates, and yes, we love each other, but we're still learning about each other. Matthew and I are two independent people, we have been for a long time."
"I know, I just wondered."
Alice looked over at Matthew and Lucien talking avidly on the couch and then leaned in towards Jean. "I think Matthew might be worried about the… talk."
"Ah yes, the whispers," Jean rolled her eyes. "I'm very familiar with those, don't give them an ounce of thought."
"I don't, but if it makes Matthew worry less and concentrate more on what matters, I don't mind living apart for now. We haven't even talked of…"
"Marriage?" Jean reached out and squeezed Alice's forearm gently when she shook her head. "Things will happen in due course, Alice, if you two choose for them to happen. Your relationship is your business alone, the gossips of Ballarat can all go bugger off."
Alice laughed at Jean's crude language, not expecting it from her somewhat prudish friend. She was glad that they had the support of the Blakes; it made it easier for her to spend the occasional night in Matthew's bed instead of hers.
Matthew's bed at the Blake household was not as comfortable as her own, but she reasoned that she wasn't used to it like her bed. It was not often that they stayed together in Jean and Lucien's house, but after dinner and discussing Patricia Neville's latest book, Alice didn't feel like returning home that night. Their discussion in his room had turned into teasing banter and touches - the book altogether forgotten as they stripped each other of their clothes and fell into his bed with muffled laughter.
Sweat cooled on their bodies as they laid together in Matthew's bed; Matthew's fingers drew idling patterns on her bare back, painting invisible constellations between the freckles on her skin and tracing the scars they shared as she dozed with her head on her folded arms. The scar around her right knee twinged at the same time Matthew pressed a kiss to the back of her shoulder.
"How's the leg?" Alice asked drowsily, Matthew's hands lulling her into a half-asleep state.
"Sore, very sore. Lucien's been putting me through the ringer with the exercises," he pressed another kiss to her shoulder. "He claims they'll help, but…"
"What we probably just did likely didn't help," Alice practically purred when he lightly nipped at her skin. "It has been hurting less outside of them, Matthew," she lifted her head and smiled when he kissed her swollen lips. "You need time for your muscles to build back up."
"I know, I know," he sighed and flopped onto his back, "I just wish he wasn't so damn smug about it all. I think he enjoys ordering me about."
Alice laughed and shifted so she laid on his chest, "He's probably wishing you weren't so stubborn. I heard you gave him cheek."
"Bloody Lucien Blake, can't keep his mouth shut," Matthew muttered, the frown on his face lifting a bit at Alice's giggles. He wrapped his arms around her and changed the subject, "Have you read Patricia Neville's book all the way through?"
Alice nodded, her chin resting on her hands, "She makes me laugh."
"That's right… you were reading one of her other ones when I first came back to Ballarat."
"Mm-hm. Have you?"
"Nah, not until tonight. I'd heard some talk about it though." He smoothed his hands up and down her back, "Speaking of talk…"
Alice shifted in his arms and looked down at him. "What of it?"
"You and me."
"Aren't you worried?"
She didn't hear anything but curiosity and worry in his tone, no disappointment in her or them, just worry. He had that wrinkle between his brows, the one he got when he was stewing over something, and she felt the hotspot on her inner lip flare up the longer she looked at him. "Matthew."
"Stop worrying," she traced his bottom lip with her thumb, bringing attention to his habit. Leaning down to press a gentle kiss to his mouth, Alice smiled. "I wouldn't be here with you, Matthew, feeling very satisfied if I didn't want to be."
He smiled back up at her, his hands dipping below the sheet pooled around her waist and back up again. "Does it bother you that people probably talk about us?"
Alice shrugged, "They've always talked about me, dearest, what's one more thing? What about you?"
"Me?" At her nod, Matthew frowned.
"You've a better reputation than me to uphold, does this worry you?"
He shook his head, holding her close. "No, I want you, sweetheart, whether that's as your soulmate, your lover, or even possibly your husband."
It'd slipped out, that word: husband. He'd thought about it, in passing - especially after the week in Melbourne - but they had no need to rush.
"Is this your way of asking me, Matthew?" Alice trailed her fingers along his chest, playing like she was relaxed, but he felt the stiffness of her posture beneath his hands.
Pressing a kiss to her forehead, Matthew gently kneaded the tension out of her back. "I think I can do a bit better than this, Alice."
She let out a quiet laugh and pressed a kiss to his chest, "But you've thought of it?"
"A bit… I won't ask unless you want me to, sweetheart."
Alice leaned down and kissed him again, "I don't know."
"We've got time," he smoothed his hands over her back. "You're sure you're not worried about the talk."
"Matthew." Alice kissed him again, and her tongue swiped across the seam of his lips as his hands buried themselves in her hair. "I don't care about the talking. I don't care about people's opinions. I care about you; I care about the home we've created with Jean and Lucien and Rose and Charlie. I care about my friends back in Melbourne, solving mysteries, science, and a good cup of tea with Jean's shortbread… not people who have nothing better to do than gossip."
"Alright, I'll stop," Matthew sighed and kissed her softly. "I just worry."
"I know, and it's sweet, dearest."
"Do you want to talk about something else?"
Alice smiled and kissed his cheek, "Please."
"You told Lucien about your sister?"
"In passing, just that I had one."
He held her close, pressing a kiss to her hairline as she settled against his chest. "He said you don't know where she is."
Alice sighed heavily and burrowed her face in his neck, "I don't. I haven't seen her since I was twelve… I don't even know if Cora's still in Sydney or if she's moved on. I do miss her though… Aunt Temperance's sons were sort of like brothers, but I kept my distance growing up."
"Do you ever want to find her or Temperance?"
"All the time. I'm sure Temperance is still somewhere in Melbourne, but I don't know how Cora will feel about me if I ever see her again. I did leave her, Matthew; I left her with my parents."
"You were twelve, Alice."
"She's my little sister, who else was going to protect her?"
Matthew didn't say anything; he just pressed a kiss to the side of her head and held her closer. "I can look into it for you, on the side. I have some contacts throughout Victoria."
"Thank you, dearest," Alice kissed his neck. "I'd like that. Mac keeps a look out for me in Melbourne, but it'd be nice to broaden the scope."
"I'll send out some feelers after this case," Matthew smiled. "Now, we should probably get some sleep. Do you need anything?"
Alice shifted off of his chest and laid down next to him, pulling the sheet up to their chests, "I'm fine if you are, Matthew."
He rolled to his side and kissed her, "I dunno, I might need a bedtime story, sweetheart." She giggled and shook her head as he continued. "You've got a knack for oration, maybe you should go into it."
"I'd like to show you my knack for oration," Alice's cheeks turned bright red and Matthew loved her all the more for it. "Was I really that good?"
"I liked yours better than Lucien's, you have better timing."
Alice laughed and buried her face in his chest, "Lucien's just used to having an audience, I'm not as confident."
"I think you're a wonderful narrator, sweetheart," he pressed a kiss to the crown of her head.
"I think you had too much to drink at dinner."
"I didn't have any, silly." Matthew lightly tickled her sides and grinned as she squirmed. "Now, to sleep."
"Yes, sleep," Alice gently kissed him.
Reaching up and turning off the light, Matthew curled around her after she shifted around on the bed and finally settled down to sleep. Pressing a kiss to the back of her shoulder, he smiled when Alice laid her arm on top of his around her waist and laced her fingers with his. "G'night, sweetheart."
"Night," Alice yawned and pressed back against him, seeking his warmth. Matthew obliged and held her tighter as she drifted off to sleep. His thoughts turned to her sister.
Cora Harvey, younger than Alice, presumably born in Sydney like her sister before her. He'd have to get more specific information about her, but that could wait until the morning and after the Neville case was solved. Matthew wondered what Alice's sister would be like, if they ever got the chance to reunite.
Thinking of his own sister, Matthew tried to imagine not speaking to Vera for decades, of not being involved in Rose's life, and his heart went out to Alice. What she must have gone through after leaving her family, leaving her sister behind, and trying to find her once she was older... Gently kissing Alice's shoulder, Matthew held her closer and vowed he'd look into finding Cora Harvey to give Alice some closure in the least.
"I'll help you find her, sweetheart," he whispered and kissed her shoulder again. Alice hummed quietly in her sleep and Matthew smiled as he closed his eyes. Alice's slow and steady breaths soothed him and soon he joined her in sleep.
They'd figure it all out together.
I was going to have the next bit of this series be the next chaptered story, but I got inspired for their conversation about gossip and the implied proposal while finishing up Wounded Hearts and so I decided to write this as a sort of bridge between Wounded Hearts and the next story. I hope you enjoyed it and please comment if you can!