A/N: Well, I'm a little late with this, but I really wanted to write something for Father's Day, which I realise was two days ago... but I finished it! I combined it with a post-ATiL idea I'd been wanting to write anyway.
Interestingly, according to Wikipedia the celebration of Father's Day began in 1910, but really dropped off the radar only to be picked up again on a wider, more commercialised level in the 1930's. Anyway, I've kind of tried to bear that in mind, so I hope you'll find it works!
I do dearly miss ATiL and the kids. For reference, this fic puts us in 1924 which makes Mabel 9, Kit almost 7, Bobby not quite 5, and we've an addition of Lucy who is two and a half.
Anyway! Thanks as always to EOlivet for her sparkle! Hope you enjoy! :)
Sunday 21st June, 1924
Draining the last of his tea, Matthew set the cup down and folded his morning newspaper shut. He smoothed his hand over the freshly-ironed sheet before looking up and smiling at his wife, who reached over to stroke her fingers along the back of his hand.
"Anything interesting?" she asked cursorily, already knowing his answer but liking to ask him anyway.
"Not especially." He turned his hand over under hers and tickled his finger up against her palm. "I'm sure your letter was infinitely more diverting, who was it from?"
Mary rolled her eyes dismissively. "Cousin Rosa. Now that she's rediscovered me, as it were, she can't seem to hear enough about 'darling little Downton'…" Heaven help us if she tires of New York and takes it upon herself to visit!"
"Well, it's a compliment I suppose!" Matthew chuckled. "I think Bel would adore her, from what you've told me. Dear Lord, we better had be careful."
"Quite so, she's at just the age to be influenced and I'm not sure I'm ready for her to turn American on us just yet! At least Kit will only admire her quietly, and only her fashions at that. On second thoughts, darling, perhaps we'd better invite her soon to get it over with while Lucy's little enough still to not notice all that…"
"I think I agree." With a gentle sigh, Matthew raised his eyebrows at the thought of how their children were growing so quickly, and the years passing them by, despairing slightly. Bobby wasn't yet five and had already decided he'd fallen in love with a shopkeeper's little girl they'd passed in the village one day. She'd had big, doleful brown eyes, long, thick hair in pigtails and a bruise on her knee, and Bobby had wanted to make her smile. Matthew had watched somewhat incredulously as his son had bounded across the footpath and given her the shining conker he'd insisted on carrying in his pocket everywhere since he'd picked it the previous autumn, unable to hold back a grin as the girl's eyes had sparkled and her lips tugged up into a bright, happy smile. Bobby had looked so pleased with himself, as pleased as a four year old boy possibly could, Matthew thought, and then she'd rocked forwards on her toes and kissed his cheek before running to catch up with her father. Bobby's mouth hadn't closed all the way home.
Still smiling over Mary's description of her distant cousin's wilder exploits in the glittering city the other side of the world, the Earl and Countess rose from their breakfast and wandered into the hall. Just before they reached the library, Mary stopped and put her hand on Matthew's arm.
"Darling, I left Rosa's letter on the table – would you fetch it? I'd better not let it be cleared up with the dishes!"
She smiled beseechingly at him, and it didn't occur to Matthew to wonder why she'd ask him instead of simply fetching it herself. Instead he simply kissed her cheek, murmured "Of course, darling," and went back to get it. It only took a moment, and as he made his way back across the hall his eyes shifted up to the large portrait of them all that hung over the fireplace, and wondered again at how long ago that seemed and how grown their children were. In fact, he thought for the hundredth time, they really should have another painted to include Lucy… Perhaps when she was a little older (old enough to stand more sensibly without fidgeting), Mary always suggested, and he smiled fondly.
As he pushed open the door to the library, he raised his eyebrows at the sound of quick shuffles and shushes that heralded him before he walked in fully to see all four of his children, standing as tall as they could and grinning (rather unnervingly, he thought) beside his desk, with Mary looking quietly pleased with herself a little way behind. He pursed his lips affectionately and frowned at them.
"Now then… what's all this?"
"Papa, you are suspicious!" Mabel grinned at him, her eyes twinkling.
"Not at all, I trust you, my dears… unless there's reason for me to be?" He cocked his head at his eldest daughter, so alike to him, their silent communication cut short as Lucy decided that this was taking too long and broke from her siblings, bumping into Matthew's leg before he lifted her with ease into his arms.
"Of course not," Mabel rolled her eyes unconvincingly, before Lucy broke the poorly-held pretence by several repeated, but very fond, prods to her Papa's cheek.
"For you, Papa!"
"What's for me?" He twisted his head to kiss her nose, then her fair hair, a puzzled smile touching his lips. He looked to Mary but her cool expression gave nothing away.
"Oh, well come and see!" It was Catherine who broke next, and ran to Matthew's side to tug him across the room to sit down on the deep red settee by the fireplace. Chuckling at her insistence, and still terribly confused, he did so. With Lucy settled in his lap, and Mabel curled close to them on the floor with her arms around Isis whose tail wagged lazily, he watched Catherine and Bobby bicker a moment over a decently sized envelope. Just as Mary was about to cut in, the little boy finally relented it to his sister who dashed back to Matthew's side with it firmly in her hand.
Matthew took it from her as Mary sat down with Bobby (trying his hardest not to look too put out and failing, rather) across from him. The envelope was large, and he turned it over in his hands. It was addressed simply to, 'Papa'. There was no reason at all he could think of for it… and, frowning gently, he slid his thumb under the lip and pulled out the card inside.
The four younger Crawleys and Mary watched his eyes widen and then narrow again as he looked at the front of the card, decorated with little hand-pressed flowers (glancing up, he saw Mabel and Catherine brighten proudly as he noticed them), then opened it.
"Dearest Papa," he read softly. "Happy… Father's Day. Mary…? What's this?"
For an instant as their eyes met it was just them, and there was nothing else. Mary smiled breathlessly, her arm around Bobby's shoulder tightening imperceptibly.
"Well!" she shrugged. "We have Mothering Sunday each year, and when Rosa wrote to me a little while ago she told me some people in America had thought that fathers deserved a bit of recognition too! They remember it like Mothering Sunday, but on the third Sunday in June, you see."
Matthew's expression, if such a thing were possible, began to glow. His lips parted softly in wordless thanks, a smile of pure adoration gracing his features. Mary's smile relaxed, and her hand rubbed across her knee. "And… Well, we thought –"
Mabel took over enthusiastically. "You're quite the best papa anyone could have!" Beside her, Isis' tail thumped the floor in agreement, and Matthew laughed as Bobby nodded his emphatic agreement. As if sensing the atmosphere, Lucy had twisted on his lap and pulled herself to her feet, toppling forwards to press a wet kiss to his cheek.
"Love you, Papa," she smiled, and Matthew's arms wrapped fiercely around her as he whispered the same into her hair.
Catherine tapped his arm. "Do you like it?" she eagerly asked, and his immediate response was to tug her into his embrace as well, grinning at her soft, melodious giggle.
"Do I?" he laughed. "Of course, darling… Thank you, so much."
With his youngest daughter still in his arms, Matthew stood up, kissed Catherine's hair fondly, then Mabel's when she stood up to let him, then when Bobby leapt up too Matthew ruffled his dark hair affectionately and kissed him as well. But his eyes were now on Mary, who rose elegantly from the settee and lifted her hands to his cheeks. Leaning around little Lucy, settled on her father's hip, she kissed him sweetly and he smiled against her lips.
"Darling," he murmured, his voice trembling on the soft edge of tears. "You didn't have to –"
"Nonsense," she chided gently, stroking her thumb down to his lips in a tender caress. "Your children adore you and you're the most wonderful father to them. And you deserve to know that; if not every day, then at least this one."
"Ugh, do stop!" Catherine heaved an exaggerated sigh and tugged their arms, but when Matthew glanced down he saw only a huge smile. Mabel giggled behind her hand.
"Sorry, Kit," he apologised, tucking his arm around her shoulder. "I suppose I'll have to keep Mama for later…" his eyes flashed darkly at Mary, "So what shall we all do for now?"
"Bobby's got a surprise for you!"
Lucy patted his cheeks again. "S'exciting," she informed him soberly.
"It's a bit of a silly, one, I think –"
"- but you'll like it, Papa!"
"Will I!" he chuckled, and looked between them all to Bobby who, until now, had remained sitting quietly on the settee. His small face brightened with excitement.
"I hope so, Papa!"
"Well then, my boy, do you want to show me what it is?"
Setting Lucy down gently on the floor (it was silly, Matthew sometimes thought, but now that Mabel and Catherine were so grown he took such pleasure in holding Lucy in his arms, knowing that it wouldn't be many years before she was grown, too) Matthew held his hand out to his son, who glanced expectantly at his mother before leaping up to grab Matthew's hand when she nodded. Everything had been readied.
"Yes! It's – outside though, come on!"
Allowing himself to be quite happily dragged by his son, Matthew glanced back over his shoulder to Mary, who simply smiled enigmatically and shrugged. After a brief, determined struggle with the heavy outer door, Bobby pulled it open and squinted against the bright June sunshine. Just as Matthew followed the little boy out, he froze as he felt Mary's hands alight on his shoulders.
"You won't be needing this, darling," she breathed into his ear as he felt his jacket slip down his arms and off.
He inhaled a shuddering breath and stepped outside, the girls all trooping behind him.
His knees dipped suddenly as Catherine flung herself at his back, his hands moving instinctively to hook under her knees as she scrabbled up and hung over his shoulders, her little hands covering his eyes.
"There. To keep the surprise, Papa!" She softened her assault with a fond, apologetic kiss to his cheek, but still did not let him see.
His heart burst with pleasure at his children's excitement, and he allowed himself to be guided with relative confidence by Mabel's firm hand on his elbow and Bobby's at his other.
With his sight deprived, Matthew's other senses flooded to the fore, and a gentle frisson of an old, familiar tension made him instantly alert. Reliance on his instinct, senses… his body wired in a way it hadn't been since… No, he couldn't think of that now. Instead he heard the chirp of birds and the rustle of leaves, the gravel crunch under the feet of his family, felt the sun warm the back of his neck and Catherine's warm, sticky palms over his eyes.
"Are we nearly there, yet?" he whined in mock petulance, and gasped as a hand (Mary's, it could only be) connected sharply with his rear.
"Impatient," he heard her murmur.
"Nearly!" Bobby called cheerfully.
And sure enough, before too much longer they drew to a halt.
"Ready, Papa?" Three eager children seemed to ask him at once.
"Yes…" he sighed exaggeratedly, then blinked his eyes slowly open when Catherine peeled her hands away. "Oh, my… word! Is that…"
"Yes." His wife's arm slipped around his back from which Catherine had just slipped down, and she kissed his cheek softly, nipping his ear between her teeth. "Have you missed it, my love?"
"What do you think, Papa?" Bobby asked breathlessly, almost bouncing with excitement beside the object which had so captured his father's attention.
"I… don't know what to say," he murmured, stepping forwards and reaching his hand out to slowly… reverently, almost, run his hands along the smooth handlebars and frame of his old bicycle, oiled and polished to a fabulous shine, resting against the wall enclosing the gardens. "I haven't ridden it, I don't think I've even seen it since… the war started."
He felt his throat tighten and close with memory, of the man he'd used to be. How far he'd come, how much he'd changed. His… silly old bicycle, and now he was the Earl of Grantham. He blinked sharply and looked at the smaller, obviously brand-new bicycle beside his, which Bobby was standing possessively by. "And… is that –"
"It's mine," the boy grinned eagerly. "Will you – teach me, Papa?"
Irrepressible happiness burst through Matthew's soul, and he laughed brightly.
"My dear boy, of course I'll teach you!" He grinned, and rubbed his son's shoulders. There was very little, he thought in that moment, that would give him greater pleasure or pride than to teach his only son to ride a bicycle.
From a little distance away, his darling girls watched the two of them with fond amusement. Leaning down within earshot of her two elder girls, Mary murmured,
"I think your Great-Granny Violet would have had a fit if she could have seen this…" And in that moment she missed her grandmother, her sharp wit and her unshakeable propriety (when it mattered, at least) fiercely.
"It does look a little silly," Mabel chuckled. The sight of her father, the Earl of Grantham wobbling a little unsteadily on a bicycle, was decidedly entertaining.
"Hush, darling, there was a time when you were very jealous of Aunt Edith for riding one! But you were not even two, at the time, so I suppose I can allow for your tastes having changed…"
Catherine nudged her sister. "You could have a go now, Bel, I know Bobby wouldn't mind."
"I'm perfectly happy with a pony rather than a bicycle!" she insisted, but her eyes shone with fond adoration for her father. Truthfully, she couldn't remember him looking so happy – well – she wasn't sure she ever had!
"I have a go –" Lucy wriggled forwards enthusiastically before Mary scooped her up, hushing her and telling her perhaps in a little while.
Matthew, meanwhile, had found the old rhythm and movement of his muscles flooding back. Coming to a stop beside Bobby, who stood eagerly gripping the handlebars of his own little bicycle, Matthew swung off and crouched beside his son.
"It looks easy when you do it!" the little boy breathed excitedly. Matthew ruffled his hair.
"It is once you've got it, Bobby boy. Come on, then – yes, you sit on it like that, and – your feet on the pedals, there; no, I'll hold you for now… Alright? Are you holding tightly?"
"I think so!"
Matthew eased to his feet, finding Bobby and his bicycle to be at just the right height that he only had to stoop a little. With one hand resting supportively on Bobby's back, and the other securely covering his hand on the slim, elegant handlebars, he began to push gently.
Gravel squeaked under the tyres, and Bobby gasped as he felt himself move. "That's it, my boy – keep your feet on the pedals as they turn – yes, push down a little if you like – that's it!" Matthew carried on encouraging him, feeling his heart swell as suddenly his own father's voice rang in his head, the same words of support he'd given Matthew himself echoing there and causing him to tremble with memory.
They'd quickened to a steady walking pace, and with Matthew's long strides the little bicycle gradually picked up speed.
"Am I doing it, Papa?"
Bobby's eyes were bright, his expression exhilarated, his little knuckles white where they gripped under Matthew's hand. Matthew recognised the expression, remembered how it felt, that first thrill and the excitement that nestled and flourished under the support of his father's strong hands, mirrored now in his own on his son's back. His heart clenched with love.
"Yes, you're doing it just right!" he said emphatically. "If you push down harder on the pedals now – there, can you feel it move?"
"It's hard work!" The little boy's brow furrowed in concentration and he leaned forwards, throwing his effort into his feet and the pedals.
"I know, but – Bobby, that's it!" Matthew's own eyes lit with childish excitement now as he felt that imperceptible change, to the bicycle being propelled by the strength of his son's small legs rather than his hand which now merely rested there… supporting, steadying, not pushing. "Do you want me to let go for a moment?"
"Just for a moment, Papa – I think – I can do it!" Bobby's breaths huffed out with his exertion, and Matthew wanted nothing more than to lift him high into the air and swing him round and kiss him proudly, but – not just yet, not now…
From their safer distance, the three Crawley girls found themselves revelling in Bobby and their Papa's evident excitement. They'd been shouting out encouragement and cheering their brother on, and now as they all saw Matthew straighten and his hands release their hold, Mary's heart leapt into her mouth. For a wonderful moment, Bobby was free, his feet flying on the pedals as the bicycle went on… and when it inevitably toppled, Matthew was there, taking the strain with his hands before lifting Bobby clear off the bicycle altogether and into the air.
"Well done, Bobby!"
"You did it!" his sisters cheered.
"Darling, you survived," Mary cooed fondly, without being quite clear if this was addressed to her husband or her son. She kissed Bobby's flushed cheek, hot with excitement and chill from the rush of air, where his head nestled happily against Matthew's shoulder.
"I did it, Mama!"
"You did, my darling boy," she murmured as she stroked his hair back from his face. Behind them, the girls attended studiously to the two cast-aside bicycles, quietly fascinated now for having seen them in action.
Matthew smiled."You did a marvellous job for your first try, Bobby, well done. You've made me very proud – and perhaps if we carry on practising, before too long we can bicycle together down to Granny Bel's, what do you say to that?" His mother, he knew, would be thrilled beyond measure to see her grandson cycling beside him down the path.
"I think – yes, Papa, I'd be pleased for that."
Bobby smiled sleepily, suddenly tired after his exertion, and his parents shared a delighted smile over his dark, tousled head. Mary's eyes twinkled.
"Did you enjoy that, darling?"
"Immeasurably," he murmured. "Thank you… It means such a lot to me, Mary. And I have to say, I've… missed it, now that I've seen it again!"
"Mm," she hummed softly, her chin lowering a fraction. "So have I."
Matthew's jaw slackened, and she chuckled. "I always thought you cut a rather fine figure on that silly contraption, you know…"
Their moment of breathless understanding was broken by Lucy's sharp tug at her mother's skirts.
"Mama, you said – my go now?"
"Oh, darling!" Mary swept her up and looked imploringly at her husband. "I'm afraid I did tell her she could have a little go…"
Setting Bobby gently down, after making sure he was quite awake, Matthew took his youngest daughter with a sigh. "Now, my little darling," he murmured against her hair as he picked his bicycle up with one hand and settled astride it, his arm tucking Lucy securely against his chest. "This isn't – quite how you ride a bicycle, but – one day, if you like… I'll show you."
A/N: There we are! I do hope you enjoyed it, it was certainly fun to write! I'd love to know what you thought, and am so touched by your feedback always. Thank you! :)