A/N: Because SimplySunrise wanted some M/M Mother's Day fluff :)
Once more, I'm terribly sorry for my recent slackness in replying to reviews - rest assured I've treasured every one and will (eventually) thank you properly!
This is set within ATiL's universe, and is set in March 1921, so only a few months after the epilogue.
All Their Own Idea
Outside the drawing room windows, the sun shone brightly down over the grounds. Mary could hear birds, and bustle, and a gentle breeze in the not too distant trees. She was perfectly content, perched on the dusty pink settee with her legs tucked up underneath her and a novel on her lap. Church that morning had been lovely; it was Mothering Sunday, and she along with many other women in the village had received a beautiful ribbonful of pansies that Mabel had insisted she would plant underneath the Cedar tree (with a little help).
Now, with the children busily secluded upstairs and Matthew going through some letters in the library (she didn't really see why he couldn't do them in here, with her, but never mind), she wriggled more deeply into the cushions. She'd perhaps hoped that they'd do something all together today, but… maybe after lunch. For now, she was quite perfectly content, and breathed out a happy sigh as her hand fell to rest instinctively on the gentle curve of her belly. Very, very gentle still… Clarkson had only confirmed it a couple of weeks ago. Her smile widened.
She wasn't more than a chapter or two further into her novel when the door from the hall swung slowly open. Catherine's dark head popped around it, and the little girl (not quite so little anymore, Mary thought sadly) bounced over to her mother.
"Hello darling," Mary smiled, passing her hand softly over Catherine's pretty chestnut hair. "Have you tired of your colouring already?"
Catherine beamed and shook her head, clutching at Mary's hands.
"Come, Mama!" she exclaimed, leaning back as she tried to pull Mary to her feet. "Ou'side."
"What?" A delighted laugh sparkled from Mary's lips as she stood, indulging her daughter's fancy. "What's outside, Kit?"
"You see!" she tugged again, and Mary put her book down and followed to the door, down the hall, to where dust motes swirled in the sunlight pouring through the open front door.
Mary shielded her eyes with her hand as they stepped into the heat of the morning, where… Matthew stood leaning against the bonnet of a dark, shining blue car, its cream leather seats gleaming and open to the sky. In the back were perched Mabel, in a pretty wide-brimmed straw bonnet, with Bobby on her lap who looked an utter darling as he tried to scramble away from his sister. A large wicker picnic basket lay on the seat beside them. Mary gasped in delight, blinking at Matthew who was looking decidedly pleased with himself.
"Well, darling? What do you think?" he asked softly, holding his hand out to pull her towards him into a tender embrace.
"I think – I hardly know what to say! When did you – darling, the car!"
"Do you like it?" he murmured, tracing lightly over her cheek with a warm, indulgent smile. "The children –"
"S'for you Mama!" Catherine grinned, tugging at Mary's skirt until she relented and brought the little girl up to settle on her hip.
"You," Bobby echoed, stretching his little arms out as well until Mary leaned down and kissed him, each palm then his soft, rounded cheeks.
"We chose it," Mabel announced proudly, steadying her hat as Bobby clambered up to grab at it. "Papa wanted a green one, but we liked the blue – don't you, Mama? Like Papa's eyes."
"You like thems," Catherine nodded, squashing her own straw bonnet firmly onto her head when Matthew handed it to her, as Bobby happily echoed "Bl – ue, bl – ue, eye…"
Tears shone in Mary's eyes, and she tried to glare reproachfully at her husband in his light, summer jacket and driving cap. But she was happy, much too happy, even to pretend it.
"It's – perfect, my dear loves. Perfect. But how sly of you all, to keep it from me! I think your Papa is teaching you bad habits…"
Matthew only laughed, and rubbed her lower back affectionately.
"Terrible of us, I know. In that case – Bel, you'd better take the picnic basket back down to Mrs. Patmore… If Mama thinks we shouldn't have –"
"Mabel, don't you move!" Mary cried, slapping Matthew's arm.
"Mama get in –" Catherine wriggled in her arms, and she at last relented after passing her hand admiringly over the sleek bodywork of the motorcar. She donned a light jacket and hat, handed to her by Matthew, and settled beside him into the front seat. Catherine clambered excitedly into the back, while they all decided it would be best for Bobby to amuse himself on his mother's knee with a little tin car of his own.
"All set?" Matthew called back over his shoulder.
"Yes Papa!" the girls chorused, Bobby clapping his agreement.
"And Mama?" his voice dropped a little, raising his eyebrow at Mary with his hands braced on the steering wheel in dark brown leather.
"As I ever will be," she chuckled with only a little wariness. "Can you drive, darling?"
"Of course I can!" he beamed as he brought the car to a juddering, coughing, jerky start that flung them all a little forwards with gasps and giggles. "There!"
It soon turned out that Matthew could, quite capably, once he had settled into things. As they drove through the village, with smiles and nods to the people they passed, Mary learned that Matthew had been planning this for weeks after the children had wished they could picnic a little further out, somewhere new and exciting. For Mothering Sunday, then, he'd thought – with their planning and choice for the car and their luncheon – he was happy to indulge them, for Mary's sake. Edith had been teaching him to drive (he remembered only a little from the war), and the new car had been secluded in the garage since the previous Tuesday.
They drove out of the village, out into the countryside, picking up speed as the roads became wider and more open. The children leaned out, laughing as the wind whipped past their faces, making their hair flap back and their cheeks redden, as Mary called out again and again to be careful. It was an absolute delight… The freedom of it, to go where they chose with no chauffer to rely on to wait for them, only Matthew, her darling Matthew. Mary wasn't sure, she really wasn't, whether she had ever loved him more than at this moment, as he grinned out at the road ahead, his blue eyes sparkling with exhilaration at the joy of taking his family out like this. Perhaps it was only the baby, so small in her belly, still, making her particularly emotional. Or… perhaps not.
Finally, on the outskirts of Thirsk, Matthew turned the car down a little path to a little field, dappled with sunlight in the shade of a spreading tree, with a little brook threading and winding into the distance. The car drew to a guttering, shuddering stop, and Mabel and Catherine clambered eagerly out. Mary immediately reached for the picnic basket but Matthew's hand on her arm stopped her, with a soft,
"Let me." He kissed her cheek, and said, "You take the children, in fact – Mabel, Catherine, come here a moment."
"Yes Papa?" they turned back from the brook's edge and blinked in the sunlight.
"What day is it?" he reminded them.
"Mo-thering Sunday!" they remembered, Catherine a little more hesitantly than Mabel.
"Yes, it is. So do you think you can help me set out the picnic for Mama?"
"Course, Papa!" Mabel immediately set to it, Catherine following her lead. Matthew passed a quick wink to his wife, who laughed again past the ache of love in her chest.
Bobby was already toddling towards the brook, and now without distraction Mary hurried after him.
"Come on, my little one," she murmured as she carefully sank to her knees on the grass, catching him around the waist and pulling him back into her lap while she removed his shoes and socks, rolling his trousers a little way up as he kicked his toes in the cool air.
Freed at last (though with Mary still clutching his hand to steady him, just in case), Bobby stepped gingerly into the brook, squealing as the cold water swirled around his bare ankles. It was very shallow but even so, Mary minded him carefully, kneeling just at the edge. Her skirt might get a little muddy – it was hardly an elegant position for the Countess of Grantham – but she really couldn't care as her son paddled happily in the calmly rushing waters of the stream.
When Matthew finally called that everything was ready, Mary lifted Bobby into her arms, gasping as his wet feet kicked excitedly at her skirts. The blanket was set out beautifully, and tears sprang to her eyes again.
"Here, darling," Matthew murmured quietly, taking their son from her and kneeling down to wipe his feet and ankles gently on the blanket (it would simply have to serve in absence of a towel).
"What do you think Mama?" Mabel asked eagerly, waiting for her mother's reaction to the spread.
The blanket was large, and laid out beneath the dappled shade of the tree. Plates with sandwiches and cakes were spread over it, with honeys and jams and preserves in little dishes between. At the side were stacked some cooled bottles of ginger beer, which the girls hoped their Papa would allow them to drink straight from the bottle on such a lovely day. In the middle, placed very carefully, was a taller glass with some hastily picked daffodils, their golden yellow heads bright against the woollen patchwork blanket.
"Flowers for you," Catherine gestured earnestly, as if Mary might not realise otherwise.
"Well thank you very much!" Mary smiled, kneeling gracefully beside her husband, who held their son still tenderly on his lap. "They're beautiful. It's all beautiful! And did you tell Mrs. Patmore yourselves which sandwiches and cakes to bring?"
Mabel frowned at her sister. "Well we did, but she helped a little. And Papa said what you like that we choosed from…"
"You've done terrifically," Mary enthused, picking up a plate and gathering some sandwiches onto it, encouraging them to do the same. When given a small square of a chicken sandwich by Matthew, Bobby chewed very deliberately and very happily at it. "Thank you, very much!"
It was utterly beautiful, and… they had done it for her. She quickly popped another morsel of scone into her mouth to hold her sob at bay.
Later, when they were all quite full of sandwiches and cake and ginger beer, Mary shooed the children off to paddle again – the girls had been longing to since they'd arrived. Their final gesture had been to produce very lovingly drawn cards – of course they hadn't forgotten, Matthew had chuckled – and Mary fingered them idly again now, leaning back against Matthew's chest as they watched the happy scene a little way in front of them.
Bobby stood between his two sisters, each hand clutched tightly in theirs for safety, while they kicked up water in little splashes, fascinated by the little rainbow patterns they made in the sunlight.
Mary smiled indulgently, caressing the backs of Matthew's bared forearms where they lay curled protectively over her belly with her thumb. He kissed the back of her neck, then just behind her ear, his lips brushing hot and soft against her skin.
"We are," she sighed, "very, very lucky, aren't we darling."
"The luckiest," he murmured. "It really was all their own idea, you know." His fingers gently tangled with hers in an affectionate, familiar caress.
"But you helped," she smiled. She really didn't mind. Matthew's effort deserved to be acknowledged too, she thought.
"Only a little." His breath whispered against her skin, tickling her ear, and she shivered.
If she tipped her head back far enough… There, against his shoulder… and turned, just so… Their lips met in a languid, lingering kiss, mouths opening to each other with little encouragement. Mary's hand slipped up, up to the back of his head, fingers twisting into his thick hair now that he'd removed his cap… and sucked a little on his lower lip. Matthew shivered, tucked his arms tighter about her, ran his tongue lightly along hers, then her lip, angling his head to bring her kiss deeper and sweeter.
Their peace was rudely shattered as Catherine's squeal rent the air, after she'd splashed a little too enthusiastically and toppled onto her bottom in the shallow brook.
"Mama!" she wailed, fat tears slipping down her cheeks as she ran back towards them, her sodden dress dripping onto the grass. Bobby stared back incredulously, as Mabel pressed a hand to her mouth to stifle a giggle.
"Oh, my darling!" Mary soothed, wrapping her quickly in the blanket after taking her dress off, which Matthew squeezed out while he put the picnic things away.
The sunshine would dry her soon enough, Mary assured her. But until it did, the little girl curled into her Mama's lap, watching her brother and sister continue to play as she sucked irritably at her thumb. Mary could only smile, with Matthew's arms around them both.
They were very, very lucky, and very, very happy. And she was a very spoilt Mama indeed.
A/N: Thank you ever so much for reading! I recommend a visit to the dentist after such unapologetic fluff. Possibly the fluffiest thing I've written yet. I don't know. I'd love to know what you thought! Thank you!