A/N: Happy New Year, and Happy Monday!
Having been away all weekend, this was supposed to be a "ficlet". Clearly, it is not. Oh well! I asked for a prompt on Twitter and received three, which I foolishly attempted to all combine into a single fic! Prompts were - M/M find out they're going to be an aunt/uncle (Bespectakate), Matthew acknowledges Mary's care for him (Chickwriter) and Matthew takes Mary to places significant to them (SaraPellow - I'm sorry, I only got to the library and the bench because I couldn't work the rest in - I'll bear it in mind for the future!).
All, of course, set against the backdrop of post-Christmas Special Fluff.
I do hope you enjoy!
Memories of the Past and Dreams of the Future
With a swing in his step that belied the damp snow under his feet and the aching chill in his lower back, Matthew strolled down the wooded path towards the Abbey. No, strolled was too casual a word! He practically bounced, had to hold himself back from running there, felt as though he were walking on air… And he could not, he absolutely could not, stop grinning. Oh, had he ever been this happy? The night before seemed like only a beautiful dream; it was hard to believe that it was not.
He was going to see Mary. His fiancée. Mary… His fiancée. Mary was his fiancée. He was engaged to Mary. Mary had accepted him. He was going to marry her. She was going to be his wife. They were going to be married.
Perhaps he sounded rather silly, or it sounded rather obvious, turning over all these thoughts in his mind that were really all the same and yet… it didn't matter in how many different ways he thought it, it was still so utterly thrilling that he couldn't stop thinking it, over and over and over as he walked. Somehow it felt as though his entire life had been leading purely to this point, that he'd somehow been living in a shadow and had finally stepped out into the light. He was supposed to be with Mary, and she with him – any other arrangement of their lives seemed so pale and insignificant in comparison. How had it taken him so long to realise?
Well, he knew that. But – no, he could no longer judge himself just as he would never dream of judging her for how they had each behaved up to now. Their lives were past; he'd meant that entirely – none of that mattered, except that it had brought them to this point and an understanding of each other from where they could move forward… together.
His thoughts were pleasantly occupied in this way all the while until he reached the door. Kicking the snow from his shoes and batting it from his hat, his smile was irrepressible as Carson met him.
"Morning, Carson!" he said cheerily.
"Good morning, Mr. Crawley," Carson's reply was unusually bright as he took Matthew's things. "Might I – assume you are here to see Lady Mary?"
There was a definite knowing twinkle in the butler's eye. Matthew's eyes narrowed, lips pursing into a fonder smile.
"Actually I wanted to speak to Lord Grantham first, but… I wonder if I've been presumed."
Carson's smile grew wider. "Forgive me, Sir. If you mean to infer that his Lordship is already aware of your engagement to Lady Mary, I'm afraid she couldn't quite hold it in at breakfast. But may I offer you every congratulation from the staff, my own included very sincerely."
Matthew beamed, thanking him with matching sincerity, and felt the warm glow of reassurance that he hadn't dreamed it after all.
As it happened, Lord Grantham had gone into the village a short while ago – probably with the intention of visiting Matthew himself while he was out. Matthew wondered that he hadn't passed him on the road. Still, Carson showed him into the library to wait with granted license to make himself quite at home.
Matthew did so, and spent a few minutes idly browsing the bookshelves, tracing his finger along the worn spines of well-loved books. He wondered which of them Mary particularly liked to read. He wondered if she'd like any of his own books at Crawley House. He imagined them in the sitting room there, in front of the fire on a winter evening, reading and talking and… The image shifted and now they read curled together on the settee, and he warmed even at the thought of it.
Thankfully, perhaps, these idle thoughts of their future were interrupted by the soft click of the door. His heart skipped a beat as Mary appeared, looking delicate and fresh and beautiful in a linen skirt and cream blouse, and he felt a rush of pleasure as he remembered once more with sudden clarity that yes, they really were engaged.
For a moment or two it was all they could do to smile breathlessly at each other. Last night had been such a giddy rush, and in the cold light of morning it was… still, so wonderful.
"I'd hoped you'd come this morning!" Mary eventually smiled, walking down the room towards him. Such an open smile, such an honest one, such a smile that he knew with adoring certainty was reserved only for him.
"I'm glad I've not proved a disappointment," he replied softly.
Now she was before him, and he felt suddenly shy in this new intimacy. But she was smiling so beautifully at him, and… when he gently took her hand, and her smile only blossomed further, he gained enough confidence to sway forwards and kiss her cheek softly.
"Good morning," he almost whispered, rubbing her hand idly between his fingers and thumb.
"Morning," she whispered back, clasping his hand between both of her own. It seemed too much to say anything; they could only grin in wordless happiness as they awoke more fully to the reality of their relationship.
"You told your father, I gather," Matthew squeezed her hand gently.
"I'm afraid I had little choice! Apparently such a happy expression has been so rare these past months that it was quite remarkable, and I was near as bullied into revealing the reason!" she laughed.
Matthew chuckled, then sobered. "I hope it shan't be so rare a sight from now on," he said seriously.
"I'm quite sure it will become terribly common," Mary said fondly. Oh, yes, he made her happy. So very, very happy. "With you as my – my fiancé!"
To hear the word said aloud only made it a happier thought, and Matthew couldn't resist his urge to press a joyful kiss to her lips. It was only brief, and made his heart hammer almost painfully with love. They swayed together for just a moment before stepping back, a gentle blush colouring their cheeks at the newness of it, still. That they had the freedom to express themselves, such, now…
"Anyway!" Mary continued, breezing off the sudden intensity of the moment with a pleasant little shiver. "Everyone's thrilled, of course. I am sorry, I know you wanted to be proper and tell Papa yourself – darling… But we haven't managed things terribly properly always, have we?"
Matthew couldn't help a fond smirk. "Not always, no." And then the implication of his words seemed to catch up with him, betrayed by his little intake of breath and swift change of subject. "My mother was thrilled as well, when I told her this morning. She did gloat rather excessively! But do you know, I couldn't quite mind."
"Your mother, gloat?" Mary laughed delicately. She suddenly realised how long they'd been standing like this holding hands, and tugged him to sit beside her on the sofa. "I can hardly imagine it!"
"Well, I suppose she had reason to," Matthew ruefully admitted as he sat beside her. He rested their clasped hands in his lap, fondly playing with her fingers as if they were the most wondrous things in the world. Oh, he did hate to admit his mother was right sometimes, but… Well, he wasn't going to apologise for that again. Only the one thing.
He shuffled a little to face Mary more properly, though their knees bumped awkwardly together. He frowned for a moment in thought, and Mary observed him curiously, taking enormous pleasure in the freedom to watch him so openly now. To admire the serious furrow of his brow, the little strand of golden hair that stuck out a little from the rest, the way his lips pursed and flexed together and how soft they were, and felt, and…
Matthew lifted her hand to his lips, then, and his eyes closed briefly as he seemed to put his entire perception and thought into the tender kiss he placed upon it.
"Mary… Darling, I…" The expression of affection from his lips sent a flutter of warmth all through her. "I want to thank you," he said, raising his eyes to hers with great seriousness.
"Thank me?" She might've laughed if he didn't look so serious. She settled instead for squeezing his hand encouragingly (just to touch him like this, for however long she liked, how glorious it was!). "What on earth for, dear?"
His thumb tapped against her hand a moment. "You see, I… I never knew before quite why my mother was so sure that you had loved me all this time. She – tried to tell me, I think, but I suppose I was always too stubborn to let her get very far."
"But not today?" Mary prompted gently, not quite following.
"No, not today," he murmured as his voice hushed, then he broke into a chuckle. "Dear Mother was so proud, I couldn't stop her pointing out to me precisely why she'd been right all along!"
"I'm sure!" she smiled, and waited a moment before teasing him fondly. "So... Did I make myself so very obvious? And why are you thanking me for it?"
Matthew smiled, and kissed her hand again, and sighed gently.
"She told me… she knew that you loved me – really, I mean – when she arrived at the hospital after I'd been –" His words stuck in his throat at the memory, and he swallowed thickly, as if it might help. Mary's lips parted – of all the things to bring up, to remember that awful time, when they were so happy now – her heart ached for him.
"No, darling, it's alright," he recovered himself, and braved a smile, not realising quite how tightly he was gripping her hands. "But I – I never knew, or – never realised, I know my thinking was hardly the clearest it's ever been in that time, but… Oh, Mary. I truly didn't comprehend how much you did for me, not until Mother spelt it out, and –" A nervous laugh left his lips. "I hardly dare think how I'd have been otherwise. In a much darker place, I'm sure of it. You – had no obligation at all toward me, then, yet you were so good to me, when I didn't even know that I needed you. My darling, how can I ever thank you?"
No other response seemed adequate to Mary than to lean forwards and kiss him, dearly and sweetly. She loved him, so very much! She'd never expected him to recognise how she'd cared for him, he'd been far too sick to be aware of anything much those first weeks, and it wasn't as though she'd done it to earn anything for it! He'd needed care, and she'd given it – of course she had! She pulled away from him and gazed at him with adoring, shining eyes as her hand lay softly on his chest, over his heart.
"Dearest Matthew, you… you mustn't thank me! I – loved you. I love you! There's nothing more to it than that."
Matthew's expression broke into a trembling smile as he met her gaze. He hadn't known then, how she loved him, but he knew it now and he loved her and at last they each knew it. His hand came to cover hers on his chest, while his other rose to touch her cheek tenderly – her skin was so soft, almost like silk – and he eased forward to kiss her again. It was such a delight to do so, and they relished it; the slow, indulgent sweetness that was theirs and theirs alone. How had they ever managed without it? How had they ever thought that they could go through life without this, without each other? Already, such a thought seemed ludicrous.
As their embrace lingered, Mary tried to shuffle closer to him, grasping at his jacket to pull him nearer. His fingers were skimming over her cheek, her neck, his lips were soft and delicious and hers and he wanted her just as much and they could do this! The quiet sound of their lips meeting and parting, again and again and their breath mingling in gentle gasps in the silence was so very distracting and somehow she had slid down and Matthew was leaning over her, the warm weight of his body against her as her hands slipped to the back of his neck and he was going to be her husband…
Thankfully, they heard the door when it opened and purposeful footsteps clicked into the library. They sprang apart, Matthew to his feet as he tugged his waistcoat to straighten it while Mary smoothed down her dress and patted her hair.
"Cousin Cora –" Matthew opened his mouth to excuse them, but Cora denied him the opportunity.
"Matthew!" She swept towards him with outstretched arms. "My dear, Carson only just told me you were here – what wonderful news! We are so, so pleased. We simply couldn't be happier!"
Matthew grinned shyly at her enthusiastic greeting, and even more when Mary stood beside him. He placed his hand lightly on her back, thrilled that he could do so in company.
"Thank you," he beamed, joy swiftly overtaking an embarrassment he felt. "I must admit, I'm – terribly happy myself, too." He turned to Mary, bursting with love and pride and the other myriad of feelings that always rushed through him with her, and the warmth of his adoring smile washed over her.
"Well, that's a good job!" she laughed. "Then we all shall be happy, for I am too. Very much so."
"My darlings," Cora smiled tearfully, grasping both of their hands. "I just can't believe it. Coming so soon after Sybil's news – what a happy few days it has been!"
"Oh?" Matthew looked between the two women curiously; Mary had mentioned nothing of Sybil (though he supposed they'd hardly had opportunity to speak of much beyond themselves, recently). "Good news, I hope?" His hand had slipped down to grasp Mary's, and she took his arm happily as she let her mother break it.
"I think so, very much! I received a letter last week to say that she is expecting a baby – can you imagine! And now with you and Mary to be happily settled – I couldn't have expected all this joy only a week ago."
"Oh, how splendid! How wonderful for them. Has Lord Grantham taken it quite so well?"
Cora pursed her lips fondly. "You know Robert's opinions concerning Branson… But he accepts it, and will welcome it given time, I'm sure." Her smile brightened again. "I'm sorry you've missed him, but he'll be back before luncheon – you're very welcome to wait, of course. I'm sure you'll find some way to occupy yourself 'til then!"
She smiled mischievously and left them, alone once more and just a little shy. Matthew came over terribly warm, wondering how many more times until they were married he'd be able to steal such sweet kisses with the risk of being chanced upon… The sly twinkle in Mary's eye as their fingers linked together indicated her thoughts ran along a similar line.
Feeling stifled with intensity, Matthew suggested they walk outside, longing for the cool of the snow against the heat threading through him. This was a good idea, and he gathered his coat and waited patiently by the door for Mary to be ready. He didn't have to wait very long, and with Mary's arms linked snugly through his they braved the cold.
The crunch of snow underfoot was pleasant; deeper than it had been the night before.
"I'm rather glad," Matthew teased, "that I proposed to you last night. I'm not sure you could have persuaded me to kneel in this!"
Mary raised an eyebrow. "You would've," she replied with fond certainty. "Well – I suppose it depends on how much you would've wanted my answer!"
"I might have taken you inside, then," he smirked sideways at her.
"Dear, Matthew. That would have been far less romantic!" She laughed suddenly and hugged his arm, laying her cheek against the reassuring firmness of his shoulder. "No, my darling, you did quite well."
"I'm very glad you think so!" He tugged his arm free and wrapped it around her back, hugging her into his side as they walked up the path.
They took a wide, circuitous route, and eventually reached the fork of the path where that old little bench rested at the foot of the Cedar. Without needing to say a word, they gravitated to it, Matthew brushing the snow off and spreading his coat over it first for protection. They sat, looking out over the grounds – that would be theirs, one day – with Matthew's arm around Mary's shoulders, and she curled warmly against his chest.
"I'm so very pleased for Sybil," he said quietly.
"Delightful, isn't it." Mary felt utterly content, her voice dropped to a soft murmur. "Darling Sybil."
"You shall be an aunt," Matthew observed, a note of humour in his tone. "Aunt Mary!"
Mary sat up straighter, turning to him with wide eyes.
"Goodness, that sounds… odd! And I suppose, then – you shall be Uncle Matthew!"
"Good Lord," Matthew laughed. "So I shall. I've – never thought about being an uncle." Being an only child, it was something that had never particularly occurred to him before. He hadn't much experience of babies at all, really. "I shan't know what to do," he said, rather pathetically.
Though his words rang with humour, there was a seriousness behind them that Mary didn't miss, and she rubbed his hand affectionately.
"Yes, you will." She smiled, and a dreamy look passed over her face. "You shall carry the child on your shoulders and bounce them into the air, and they will squeal in happiness and love you very much!"
"And what if they don't care for such exuberance?" he chuckled, glowing with joy at Mary's expression.
"Then you shall sit them on your knee with a thrilling storybook and read it to them, and you shall read it so well and with such rapture that they will feel quite exhausted from the adventure, will fall asleep in your lap and then everyone else shall love you very much!"
"Oh, darling…" He enfolded her in his arms and kissed her cold cheek. "I appreciate your confidence in me, I wish I shared it!"
"Well, you'll do better than I," Mary said, not at all joking. "I don't know how maternal I am! What do women do with babies but coo over them? I'm not sure I'm the doting type."
"Don't be silly," Matthew chided fondly. "You'll find the baby so endearing that you won't be able to resist. You'll tease them and tickle them and will adore it when they giggle with delight. You'll be their favourite aunt, because you won't indulge them at every moment and so they'll appreciate it all the more when you do. When they're a little older you'll take them for days riding, or picnicking, and they shall love you very much!" He echoed her own assurance to him, and she hugged him gratefully.
"I think your confidence spans quite terrifyingly into the future!" she laughed. Sitting up again, she linked her fingers through Matthew's and took his hand into her lap, distractedly tracing over every line on his palm. "Sybil will be a terribly good Mama," she considered softly.
Matthew looked at her, very seriously. He looked at her, saw her as he had never quite seen her before.
"And – so shall you be," he murmured, "when the time comes for it." Her eyes rose sharply to his, but he only smiled. Looking at her now, he saw her… Mary, who would be his wife, who would be the mother of his children (their children), who would stand by him and them and cover their family, as it would be, with the very fiercest love in her heart… on any terms.
"Oh Matthew," she whispered, as though she were somehow aware of everything in his mind. Her heart burst at the deep conviction of his words, the promise they held. "Do you – do you think it will come?"
She'd never thought about being a mother. Not really. She hadn't wanted to with Carlisle, and now she'd been so deliriously happy just at the thought of marrying Matthew and them being together that she hadn't thought much beyond that! It terrified her, but looking at him now… His dear face, seeing the certainty in his expression, the love there that now she knew belonged to her… What a darling thought it was. And suddenly she wanted nothing more than to have a family with him, for he would be a wonderful father and… Her heart swelled with adoration to the point of tears filling her eyes as it overwhelmed her.
"Yes, darling," he blinked, clasping her hands tightly. "Yes, I – I very much hope so. Soon."
Only a short time ago, even a week ago, the thought of a family had been incomprehensible to Matthew. First his wound had left him resigned to the thought of never being capable of having one, and it had been such a devastating realisation. And then he'd begun to recover, but it remained still only a glimmer of a possibility, a long time into the future, for at that time he still hardly dared to think much beyond a few months ahead at a time. And then everything had blackened into darkness and despair. Things like marriage and families were things for other people, people who deserved them. Not him.
What a fool he had been.
And now, here he sat with Mary – with Mary, on a bench under a tree in the snow, and they were together. And everything was right. They would be husband and wife. They would be aunt and uncle to Sybil and Tom's child. They would have their own children.
They would be a family.
Bearing a smile that trembled with emotion, he dipped his head and kissed Mary. He took her into his arms and kissed her, not caring if anyone should walk past because he didn't care for anything beyond the fact that he loved her and they were together. And she kissed him back, their embrace overflowing with love and acceptance of each other, and delight in their future.
They had a future. They had a future together. And in this perfect moment, embracing sweetly amidst the snow on the first day of their engagement… the prospect of it seemed utterly glorious.
A/N: Thank you so much for reading :) I hope you enjoyed it, a review would literally make my day if you did! Happy Monday!