Disclaimer: I don't own S&S, Jane Austen, or Emma Thompson, and I would be too frightened to if I could.

A/N: This is, unfortunately, based on the movie version of S&S. The 1995, Emma Thompson/Ang Lee version, of course.

Chapter 4

Though she knew her husband would chastise her later, Marianne chose to walk home from the parish house, allowing the short meander through fading gardens to ease the tumult of her spirit. When Elinor and Edward had returned from their walk, Marianne could tell that Edward had succeeded in easing her sister's fears as he had so often before. She had never known a couple more suited to one another in the whole of England; for so long, Marianne had found her sister's punctilious and reserved manner practically unbearable, but Edward found it calming and adorable.

When Elinor had become a mother, to the absolute delight of Mrs. Dashwood, Marianne quickly realized how much of a burden of love her elder sister had carried for so long. Elinor was a phenomenal mother. Her gentleness, which had prodded and encouraged her two younger siblings through childhood and into adulthood, provided her girls with a home filled with safety and love, while her husband's spirit gave them room to play. Her indomitable patience, which Marianne recognized had both protected and provided for both she and Margaret for many years, was carefully teaching her beautiful children both to enjoy adventure and to remain sensible. The middle Dashwood child simultaneously regretted that she had never expressed her appreciation for her sister and looked up to the blonde as her role model. Marianne wasn't convinced she would ever be as good a mother, but prayed sincerely that her children would never make the mistakes she had.

Not that she really regretted any of her life. It was certainly true, after all, that her mistakes had led her to the life she currently lived. They had taught her, through heartbreak, sickness, and a terrifying brush with death, to love and be loved as thoroughly as she had always dreamed, without the added drama of a Shakespearean tragedy. And love, she certainly did.

A slow, brilliant smile spread across the young woman's face when she thought of her husband. It was the kind of a smile which others rarely experienced, saved solely for the man whose home she now cared for and whose spirit she now cherished. Christopher Brandon had proven to be the best of husbands; he was both protective and gentle, but honored her independence and appreciated her fire. Marianne thought instantly of London, where they had recently stayed for eleven days. For much of their stay, Brandon had been swept into business meetings and various visits to his former military comrades. The morning of their Saturday in London, however, on the sixth day of necessary but mind-numbingly boring calls to friends such as Mrs. Palmer, Marianne had put her foot down. They were going to enjoy at least one day in London, since her first trip there had been nothing but heartbreak and humiliation, and Christopher was simply going to have to acquiesce to a day exploring London on their own.

It didn't take much convincing.

Having ridden in her very first locomotive in Glasgow during their honeymoon, Marianne was eager to experience London's new network of rail travel, and hinted as much to her doting husband. As soon as breakfast had been eaten in their modest city home (that is, Christopher thought it modest while Marianne found it charming and sincerely larger than currently necessary), he had escorted her to a small carriage hitched to one of her favorite horses, a broad-shouldered mare whose deep brown coat and cream star had earned her the name Truffle. The carriage had swiftly carried them to a nearby rail station, gleaming with marble and steel, where they had waited only briefly for a monstrous black locomotive to pull up, gasping out its delightful smoke and coughing in surprise. Once settled in a quaint dining car, they had been served tea and scones, which they enjoyed as the train made its way through the alleys and sweeps of London, north towards Leicester.

Marianne remembered spending most of the ride laughing with her husband as he quietly regaled stories of his first trips aboard the locomotives which crossed the European continent during his military service. He had been especially handsome that day, the silver buttons on his black vest and charcoal frock coat glinting almost as brightly as his brown eyes. After their return trip to London, Brandon had driven them to the Royal Albert Hall where they had sat to hear a production of Twelfth Night.

"If music be the food of love, play on, play on," Marianne sang gently under her breath as she entered the rather vast mansion which she now called home. Laying a gentle hand on the arm of their butler, Jaspers, Marianne smiled her thanks and proceeded up the main staircase towards their main living quarters. The staircase was one of the features Marianne loved best about Delaford's estate house; the graceful curve of each marble step enticing her to climb, while the mahogany banisters beckoned both hers and Margaret's youthful tendencies to slide, most inappropriately, back downstairs.

Marianne found her husband where she expected to, settled into a large arm chair in his study, absorbing a large tome which she discovered, on moving to his side, contained the poetry of Percy Shelley. Not wishing to disturb his reading, Marianne was content to stand quietly beside his chair, reading over his shoulder and laying a small hand on his broad shoulders. When Brandon finished the page of text he had been so intently focused on, however, he closed the book and reached an arm out to pull his wife onto the chair with him. His actions produced the gentle laugh he desired as Marianne relented to his pull and fell lightly into his lap. She hefted the book into her arms as he maneuvered them into the corner of the armchair, supporting his back with the wing of the chair while hers found purchase between the chair back and his shoulder. The hand behind her back reached up and tangled in her copper curls, lightly brushing over the back of her head and sending delicious shivers up and down her spine. His other hand found hers and covered them in warmth as they rested on top of the closed book. Marianne closed her eyes in happiness, unable to curtail the smile which was scrawled lazily across her face.

"Mmmmmmm," the young wife hummed in contentment. "You are entirely too good for me, my husband." She felt, more than saw, Christopher smile.

"That is not possible," was his quiet and firm reply. "Darkness, weep thy holiest dew—never smiles the inconstant moon on a pair so true. Percy Shelly." Marianne's heart fluttered as Christopher's deep baritone drifted over the arch of her neck.

"We never do what we wish when we wish it, and when we desire a thing earnestly, and it does arrive, that or we are changed, so that we slide from the summit of our wishes and find ourselves where we were. Mary Shelley." Brandon grinned as his wife languidly murmured the quotation in his ear.

"Touché."

"The girls send their love. They wished to know when Uncle Brandon would come to play with the ponies again." The stalwart colonel grinned broadly at his wife's words.

"And what was your response?" Marianne giggled and Christopher knew he was in trouble.

"Tomorrow, after mass." He feigned shock, large hands settling on her waist and pushing her lightly away so that he could sit up in mock consternation.

"Tomorrow! And you've only just visited them today!" He sighed heavily and settled back into the corner of the chair, steadfastly ignoring his wife's bemused expression. "They will be spoiled silly." The ring of Marianne's laughter, her head thrown back in delight, wiped all pretense from Christopher and he grinned again.

"Of course they will. They are our nieces. We are meant to spoil them as much as possible." Lifting a small hand to her husband's cheek, Marianne leaned in to press her lips to his. Christopher's hands returned to their place on her waist, their presence large and warm around her. When they pulled away, the gentle, simmering heat in Brandon's eyes swept her away yet again. Now was the time. "Anyway," she began slowly, suddenly shy. "I'm sure they will return the favor fervently."

For a moment and a half, there was silence between them once again. Marianne's fingers played with the chain of Brandon's pocket watch as her husband processed her words. "Indeed," he began to reply, desperately attempting to keep the hint of hopefulness out of his voice. "Indeed, I believe they will when given the opportunity." Marianne returned her gaze to his, unable to keep from smiling.

"Sooner, rather than later, I think." Marianne might have said more on the subject but she suddenly found her lips occupied by Christopher's. His arms pulled her impossibly close to him, pressing hotly up the length of her back and into the wild curls at the base of her head. His kisses were hot, deep, moving over her mouth and into her soul. She was surprised to suddenly feel tears pressing against the backs of her eyes, but found Christopher's cheeks already wet with them. When her husband's mouth left hers, it pressed kisses to her face, across her eyelids and cheek bones, his breath labored with emotion.

"I cannot," he began, but his gruff voice, usually the smoothest timbre of warm brandy, broke. "I cannot express myself. I have never been happier than I am at this moment, Marianne."

"Nor have I, my husband," she replied, holding his face in her hands and feeling whole within his gaze. The shadow which loomed at the back of her mind, glaring at her with the feeling that the child she carried within her would be the son Elinor wanted so desperately, was held at bay with the force of Christopher's love for her. Later, she could fret. Now? Now was a time for celebrating.

Colonel Brandon lifted his wife from the chair, holding her as delicately as he could in arms which suddenly felt younger and stronger. His gaze never left hers as they found their way from his study to their bedroom, and her fingers wound their way into his salted curls, holding on to the man who had grounded her spirit.

"I love you," she whispered, pressing her lips against the shell of his ear.