A/N: I am experiencing a neeeeeed to post. I can't really explain. I'll just tell you I have taken a body blow or two in RL and being here (DA-Land) seems a soothing prospect.
So, I hope you will welcome some Anthony and Edith. It feels rough. Maybe it is their joint nervousness I am picking up on. Or maybe it is me and mine.
I'm a cripple. I don't need a wife... I need a nurse.
Dear God, Edith thought sadly as she replayed the whole of their conversation later. What Anthony had told her had been so blunt and so painfully morose. It had been a very difficult moment. Still, she could pride herself on not having backed down.
He'd made his speech, warned her off, and Edith had replied quite defiantly, "If you think I am going to give up on someone who calls me 'lovely'..."
She had not fought with him over his assessment of things more than that, however. She had sensed the need to drop the subject. Tea with him that afternoon had been a bit tense, but she felt the ease they had shared before the war was there beneath the surface still.
What was she to do now, she wondered. Sir Anthony had made it clear that he was now completely unwilling to renew any romantic attachment. With a strange nervousness, Edith worried Anthony would be unwilling to even see her if she professed any interest in things beyond the most bland social interactions.
There was only one thing she could do, the young woman concluded.
Now that she had met with him again, heard his voice and seen that smile, she could not imagine avoiding him or leaving their meetings to chance. She could, however, quite easily imagine telling him exactly what he wanted to hear. She would assure him that she was not pursuing him.
Oddly enough, Edith wasn't sure if that was true or not. The war had left her confused about a great many things, her previous desire to be well-married being one of them. Perhaps she could see Anthony, socially and alone even, and friendship would be enough.
The man had professed to being unfit to be her husband. And while that set her back, it did not at all derail her, she found. Something must have changed in her, because the future worried her less than the idea that she might not be allowed to spend time with Anthony now. Marriage was no longer the goal it had been. Merely being with him – near term – was the thing she suddenly wanted most.
So, she resolved to come visit him again within the week.
"Edith!" he greeted her those few days later. And in that one word there was astonishment and worry and fondness. At least, she hoped she could still count on his regarding her a bit fondly. "I am surprised to see you... well, so soon again. Not that it is unwelcome," he added, cautiously.
He is repeating his warning, she thought. What he said was well worded, just haltingly delivered, she noted as she smiled at him. His traits betrayed so much of his sweet nature and made her remember the man he had been to her.
"I don't want you to worry," she began. "About why I'm here, I mean. I promise there are no false hopes on my part. But when I said I would not give up on you, I meant it. We were friends. Lovely friends, or at least I thought we were."
"Of course, of course, we were," he hurriedly assured her.
"Then we can still be friends? You can not stop me wanting to spend time with you. You can, obviously, refuse to see me. But I would still want to see you. Do you understand?"
"No false hope? No machinations?" he asked quite seriously.
"How about a drive and a walk or two? A discussion of whatever you are reading?" she offered as if in substitute.
In silence they regarded each other. And, thank goodness, he was the first to smile, she thought. Better, it was an honest smile.
Edith was no accomplished flirt, which was just as well, she decided. She was well aware of the tricks other women used to gain attention, and she admitted she had little talent for such things. And she knew she needed to avoid even the hint of that if she would get Sir Anthony to allow her to spend time with him again. So, she steadily met his eye with a conscious lack of guile. She left her voice untamed as she asked if they might walk out to the orchard. And she refused to look away or feign a demure blush. But she returned his honest smile.
We are just good together, she so desperately wanted to tell him. Friends. We enjoyed our time together. We can again.
As she sat across from him, waiting for his answer, she catalogued the changes to the man. The uneven timbre to his voice when he had greeted her. And the nervous way two fingers were pulling at his suit just now. They were little things, some might say. But they saddened her.
Edith wanted to offer him companionship. He needed it, she believed. She understood him enough to know that Anthony was unused to society's acceptance or easy friendships, and that he was more resigned to being alone now than he ever had been.
And so Edith vowed not to muddy her time with him with anything that might resemble what he so seemed to fear – any angling for a marriage proposal.
Anthony had smiled, but it didn't hold. He shook his head, as she watched him, as if he was pushing away a thought.
He cleared his throat and then forced the words out. "I know you spent the war rehabilitating the wounded... men like me. And I fear you will tell me that they all pulled themselves together and that I can, too."
She sighed as if he'd hurt her. "I will tell you is that I have missed you. Fiercely. That I am incredibly happy that you are back. And that I hope we can spend time together again. Under your terms. Just... Please... I want to confess. Or make you understand."
"Understand what, Edith?" he said, softening some.
"You think I am here out of pity or to see you mended, and that would be more noble, perhaps. But I think you would hate it." She paused and he laughed quickly, almost sounding like the man he had been. "So, please consider that I am here, at least in part, because I am selfish." She drew in a steadying breath. "Before the war? Don't you remember how we were? Couldn't you tell how I felt? No one ever seemed to understand me the way you did. Whether it was my regrettable sense of humor or the odd topics that I always brought up. Only you...liked me as me."
She seemed lost in a memory for a moment as an embarrassed blush crept across her face. "And I understand that you do not want me to get my hopes up about any sort of romantic future," she continued. "But if I could just have a little of our old times back again... because for me at least... that sort of companionship was not just good. It was rare."
He stepped a bit closer then. And all he said was, "We'd best get our coats." But his smile was back.
For a tired, hollow Anthony Strallan, it was the first time in a very long time that his smile was one he felt, rather than just bestowed.
"It was rare," he mentally concurred. "Being with you was rare and lovely." Those were the words on his lips that he would not say.