A/N: Can't always get what you want, so you write it yourself. S2x08 teaser spoiler. Twelve words stolen from JF. He won't miss them. (EDITED: So after seeing the longer clip of the dance... maybe I will get what I want. Still. Thanks for reading!)
Quelqu'un m'a dit
"Dance with me, Mary," he said.
She froze, her foot already on the first step.
"I need the practice," he added, by way of explanation. "I haven't danced properly since... well, since 1914."
Since Sybil's ball, she thought to herself. She turned around with the practiced smile she'd worn for two and a half years, and nodded. "Can't have you dancing with your bride without practice."
The room was cleared of furniture in preparation for the great event in two days' time. It was still too cold to be without fires, and this one was still crackling merrily as he took her hand, and began a slow waltz. He was still a bit shaky on his feet, and she kept her own steps small to accommodate him. "Very proper," she said. "You'll be fine." She tried to drop her hands, but he held on.
"Stay?" he asked. "The next time we dance, I'll be an old married man."
"And then after that, I'll be an old married woman," she responded. "Very well. We should both practice."
They continued in silence, the rhythm understood, the house utterly quiet. They were the last two up, and she could sense Carson hovering, out of sight, but always at the ready, and she pushed down the hurt that sprang up at the thought of him.
"When do you think Sybil and..." Matthew paused for a moment. "Not sure I'm going to get used to that."
"Tom," she said with a smirk. "Look at you becoming a snob like me."
"Never as snobbish as you," he replied gently.
"No, I'm much better at it." She was quiet for a moment, a small smile twitching the corners of her mouth.
"What?" he asked.
"Us," she said. "How different we are now."
"Not so very different."
"Different enough. How young we were, worried about silly things."
"Sea monsters," he said.
"Knives," she replied. When he looked confused, she laughed. "Never mind. Someday, when we're old and grey, I'll explain."
He smiled. "I can't imagine either of us old."
"I can. And I'm glad you will be growing old. Considering the alternative," and she shuddered. His hands tightened on her for a second, both knowing what she meant. "We shouldn't even worry about Branson marrying into the family now, considering all we've gone through and what others have lost. What you nearly lost. This war..." She broke off again.
"You don't mind her marrying him?"
"I do. Terribly. I think it's a mistake. I think she's mad, but..."
"But what?" He had pulled her a little closer, the sway of the waltz a little deeper, and she was starting to have second thoughts about staying.
"She won't settle for the way things used to be. She wants it all and she means to have it, and.." Her voice trailed off for a moment and he could hear her breath catch.
"And I quite admire that."
"So do I," he said softly. "Do you feel like you're settling?" He felt her back stiffen slightly, but nothing else changed, and her face remained the same.
"You mean with Richard?" He nodded. "Well, don't we all settle for something? Nothing can be perfect. We all have to compromise in some ways. Do you think you're settling?"
It was his turn to flinch. "Of course not."
She nodded. "I'm glad you're certain."
And just like that, he wasn't. Not with her in his arms like this, moving together so perfectly, so much like his dreams of old, so much like that night at Sybil's ball... He couldn't go back, could he? They couldn't go back to that. It was over, they'd moved on. Lavinia had been wonderful, was wonderful. She would make him happy. He would be happy.
"Will Richard make you happy, do you think?"
She shrugged lightly. "Happy enough. He seems to be willing to spend any amount of money to make me happy."
"Happy enough," he repeated.
She frowned a little. "That sounds so sad. Happy enough."
"That there's a stopping point. That when it's enough you don't go any further."
"But isn't that true? You stop when you've eaten enough, you stop when you've drunk enough, you wake up when you've slept enough."
"Sybil would disagree. She'd sleep all hours. It's never enough for Sybil."
He laughed. "Well, maybe that last one. But enough can be nice."
"Perhaps," she said softly. The dance showed no signs of ending, the slow one-two-three of the waltz now a swaying, small one-two, one-two. She did not want it to stop, because it would be the end, the last time, and the next time she touched him... Her eyes swam, and she looked away from him as naturally as she could.
"Well, I meant what I said. If he's not good to you, he'll have me to answer to, and at least now I've got the strength to do something about it."
"Right," she nodded. "It's enough to know you can do that for me."
"Anything for my cousin and friend," he replied.
The air shifted a bit between them, the easy warmth replaced by a sudden coolness. "It's enough that we're friends," she said.
Her head tilted away from him, her eyes glassy over his shoulder, and something about her voice, something in what she said cracked against a place inside him into which he did not like to look too closely. Matthew could feel her beginning to stop, beginning to pull away, and he could not let it end here.
It wasn't enough.
"You know Cousin Violet came to me. Told me to marry you." His voice was husky, surprising even himself, and she looked back at him, her face wary. "She said you were still in love with me."
"Did she?" Her face did not change expression.
"Barged into my bedroom, as a matter of fact," he continued, pleased that she had not yet let go of him. "She wondered if I could love you again."
It hung in the air as they danced, their eyes locked, two minds dancing around each other, choosing, deciding, thinking, hoping. He seemed to be waiting for her to speak, but she stayed silent. Seconds passed, then a full minute before he began again.
"And I began to wonder about her choice of words."
He stumbled, or she did, and it didn't matter, because the spell was broken. The dance was over. He wavered, still unsteady, and she steered him to the edge of the old table in the corner, where he'd propped his cane, her eyes elsewhere, But instead of taking the cane, he sat on the table, and pulled her in front of him.
"Still. That you still loved me." He did not let her look away, ducking his head like a fencer to keep her eyes in his sight. "Which means that you did love me, and that you didn't stop loving me."
"Granny's a romantic," she whispered. "She'll deny it, but she is one."
"Still," he repeated.
"What difference does it make now?" Her face was cold, but he could see the tiniest quiver in her chin, a quirk as familiar as his own face after the weeks in the hospital, when she thought he wasn't looking. He'd read it as pity then, but now he saw it for what it was, and his heart broke in his chest, broke for them both.
"Do you?" he whispered.
Now it was her breath cracking, even as her face remained like stone, the fight inside her to keep it in, to keep the answer from him. She pulled at her hands, but he would not let go. "Please," she whispered, her eyes on his. "Please."
And for a moment, he was furious, thinking she meant him to let go, but her hands squeezed his and he knew as he always should have known, that she could not take the last step.
He had to take it for her.
"Again," he said. "Then she asks me if I could love you again. But you can't love someone again if you never stopped loving her in the first place, can you?"
Her cry was small, delicate, wondering, and he stopped it with his mouth, pulling her close against him as he kissed her, and she wrested her hands free and wrapped them around the back of his head, her lips against his, her mouth opening, and he was on his feet again, and he knew he couldn't get enough, she couldn't get enough, they could never get enough of each other.
This was perfect.
And he couldn't settle.