SAVE ME THE WALTZ
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, - I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! - and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Elisabeth Barrett Browning
Plus ça change…thinks Mary, staring at the flower decorations that adorn the stairs. The house is quiet, the servants silently fretting for tomorrow's big day, her mother making sure everything is as it should be.
She reminds herself not to be nervous. It's Matthew, she loves him, she'd been dreaming of this day, sometimes secretly, reverently, for so many nights. Even when she told herself it would never come. She's happy, euphoric, she's been living in a state of incredulous joy during all the months of preparation.
But then…the flowers. She can't stop examining them, and remembering that this house, this hall, had already been decorated for Matthew's wedding – hadn't it been just as cheerful, just as perfect under the strict supervision of her own mother? Another April, another bride she muses ruefully. She wonders if the guilt will ever leave her completely.
She feels him before she can hear his steps, still heavier than they had been before the war. She had always been aware of his eyes on her, warm and electric even when she could not see them, but throughout the engagement she found herself sensing his presence in a room, being inevitably drawn to him, a force that she didn't try to contrast anymore.
He's rummaging through the discs scattered on the table, but she doesn't move, she doesn't cast her eyes on him just yet, opting to close them instead. Eventually, he finds what he had been looking for, and music fills the hall once again. Only then Matthew addresses her with a sweet, low voice.
"Would you dance with me, Lady Mary?"
She turns to him with a smile playing on her lips, "The day before your wedding, Mr. Crawley? What would your fiancée think?"
With a flippant grin, he replies "I don't think she'll mind."
"I'm not so sure. You see, I'm getting married myself. Tomorrow is quite a big day for me."
"But you forget we should seize the moments as they come –" and then, with a glint in his eyes and a smirk on his lips, adds, "who knows, the world may end tonight."
Mary shakes her head incredulously but extends her arms to him. "Very convincing, Mr. Crawley. You may approach the bar."
He takes her ungloved hand in his, gently, without rush, but she can feel the usual sparkle lightening from the simplest touch, the weight settling on her stomach, the air leaving her lungs and making her feel incredibly lighter as she lets him take the lead and spin her in the desert hall.
For some time, neither of them speaks, taking comfort in their content silence. She fixates her stare on his neck, where an ever-present shaving burn reddens his skin, and can feel (if not see) his quickened pulse. How many details of his life are still a mystery to her and how many will she become a part of from tomorrow on? The thought both excites and terrifies her; distracted, her feet misstep and they fall out of tune for a moment.
A name, and the shadow of many questions.
She daren't speak, can't bring herself to break the spell just yet, but then he says what he always does, and she can never refuse him.
"Talk to me."
Matthew squeezes her hand reassuringly, and suddenly she's not scared anymore.
"You see…I'm getting married tomorrow-"
"So you've mentioned"
She smacks him on the shoulder where her hand lies (interrupting won't be tolerated), but proceeds unappalled, "-and I suppose I'm nervous."
He twirls them around and steps closer to her in the movement. She can't see him - his breath is on her cheek, his nose so close she can feel the heat radiating from his skin. She swallows when he finally speaks, the warm, low voice reverberating so close to her ear.
She thinks about it for a moment – how can she tell him she's scared of what marriage could do to them? She wants it, she wants the routine, she wants to steal his scones as he's too busy reading the morning paper and she wants him to eat her peas from the plate. She wants to wake up to his face every single day, to adjust his tie before he leaves for work, to talk about the day's minutiae during a family dinner. But marriage suddenly seems a mysterious and unexplored territory, a long business, as Granny had pointed out, and she wonders if there'll ever come a moment in which she'll feel differently than she does now. Secure in his arms, though, all of these worries seem less and less insurmountable; so, with one last sigh, she says, "I saw a woman, once, burst into tears because her husband cut the bread and butter too thick."
"That shan't happen, for I'm sure there'll always be a butler all too happy to cut your bread for you."
It was not what she had meant, but she smiles nevertheless. He will annoy her, granted, as he's done in the past, but she loves him because of it. A constant, lovely challenge to her nerves.
"There's more. A husband once told me that he had stopped listening to his wife. He could only hear her, if he wanted to keep on loving her."
"That will never be your husband's case. Even if you once told him never to pay attention to the things you say, he's always had – and always will. You speak to his heart, and you speak with the words you don't say, and there'll never be a moment in which he'll be deaf to you."
"Even when I'm being utterly bullheaded?"
"Especially when you're being utterly bullheaded."
She runs her thumb over the length of his hand and back, a silent thank you and a silent promise.
"I heard a woman, once, complaining that her lover became her husband. An unfortunate event."
Matthew scoffs, and she would've giggled uncontrollably if he hadn't let his hand travel south in retaliation and, stopping just at the small of her back, pulled her as close to him as the clothes would let. So much for propriety.
"That will definitely never be a problem, I can assure you."
She suppresses a smile. Naughty, she thinks, before turning serious once again.
"We'll fight", she confesses in a small voice.
"I know", he whispers back.
"I'll hurt you. I know I can, and it terrifies me." Her voices cringes, and she can feel tears at the back of her throat. She knows herself, the monster that lies beneath her skin when she's feeling threatened, when she's fighting back, and she doesn't wish it on Matthew but knows it'll be unleashed anyway.
"I'm strong". He lifts her from the ground and spins them around to prove his point. She's laughing when her feet gently touch the ground again. They're facing each other now, and his eyes are impossibly bright, impossibly happy, like her own. "Show-off"
He grins proudly, childlike, and she wonders, fleetingly, if one day she'll see that same smile on their own son.
"You know, Lady Mary, we can always run away together. Forget this awful groom of yours."
"Tempting," he raises an eyebrow, and she starts laughing because he suddenly looks like Violet Crawley, "-but I happen to love my silly groom."
"Is that so?"
"Unfortunately yes, Mr. Crawley. Very much. So, you see, you'll have to forget me."
"That, I'm afraid, is impossible."
She can't help the breathless smile that appears on her face, and his voice shifts to a more flippant tone, "But promise me we'll dance again."
Before she has the chance to reply, he holds her tighter and adds, in a soft voice, "Tomorrow."
"Oh, I wouldn't know..." she lets the pause linger, until he draws back to find her dancing eyes, "...I suppose I'll have many cavaliers tomorrow." She concedes.
His eyes twinkle. She's flushed, happy, mischievous. Beautiful. "Then save me the waltz, Lady Mary."
The smile radiates from her, and engulfs him. "Always" she breathes against his lips. The music ends when he finally kisses her. They don't mind.
A/N: I wrote this without a reason why; as it happens, the idea bit me and wouldn't let me go. I'd love to know what you think. Reviews make me impossibly happy.