A/N: Another little musing, that someone on tumblr requested just after the CS last week. You'll see here that our grown-up baby!Crawley calls Mary "Mother," rather than "Mama" - I can't explain it, but it just came far more naturally to my mind when I imagined their conversation. I think because 'Mother' was always what Matthew said, but - anyway, that's what I heard so that's what I've used, and I hope you won't mind!
Thanks to EOlivet for her encouragement and polish, as always. Enjoy! :)
Time to Say Goodbye
On this cold morning, the billowing steam and piercing whistle of the train were just as they had been, that cold morning so many years ago. The same fear shortened her breath, and she knew that her trembling smile was no more convincing now than it had been twenty-three years ago. Twenty-three years, and it seemed to Mary like only yesterday, and everything between only a dream.
She wished this was only a dream… the tall, handsome figure in uniform in front of her, leaving her, his hair darker and his face younger and fresher than his father's had been but his posture bore the same pride, his clear blue eyes making her spirit soar and shatter just as his had. At least, she thought, Matthew had been a man when he went to war… but her boy was only a boy, still only eighteen.
"Would it make any difference if I promised you I'll be alright?" Reggie smiled bravely, with that little sway of his shoulders so familiar to his mother, as he tried to convince her. "Would you believe me?"
Mary shook her head, chuckling weakly at him. "How many times have I told you, darling, not to make promises that you can't keep."
"No, you – can't promise me that, you know that perfectly well, but – there are two things you can promise me."
"Anything you like. I will change my socks more than once a week, I can tell you that now."
She laughed, even as her heart was breaking to be standing here with him, saying another goodbye. At least you are able to say goodbye, her mind warily taunted her. She shook that thought away.
"Well," she began seriously, "first you can promise that you won't try to be a hero. I know the idea is terribly noble and you want to do your best, but–"
"I promise," he nodded, clasping his mother's hands to convince her. "You may be quite sure, Mother, that I will not try to be a hero." Truth be told, he was far too scared to be a hero. But he knew this was hard enough for his mother as it was, without her having to bear his fear… Still, he had to go, and he knew that she understood.
Mary nodded, her brave smile faltering as tears threatened to fall. But as she hadn't let them then, she wouldn't let them now. Tugging her hands from her son's grasp, she opened her handbag, covering something inside with her hand.
"Good. Now… this is very old, so you mustn't laugh. I've had it always."
Curiously, Reggie frowned, peering at what she drew from her handbag. She seemed to shield it, clutching it protectively to herself for a moment before holding it out to him, and he took it. Slowly, he turned the worn little toy in his gloved hands, smiling a little.
"What… on earth is this?"
"It's sort of a lucky charm, you see." Mary took a deep breath, feeling it shudder through her lungs, as carriage doors began and clack and open and steam puffed more purposefully from the train. "I gave it to your father, in the Great War. I asked him to bring it back without a scratch – which he didn't quite manage – but he did bring it back, and darling if you can't promise me that, you can at least promise to keep it with you. I know it sounds silly, but you must indulge your dear mother on this point."
At the mention of his father, Reginald looked up sharply, blue eyes locking on to brown. He knew his father had fought in the war, he'd seen the photographs… and as often as his mother told him of the man who would have loved him, he always longed for more.
He swallowed. "I will, I promise. Does it work?" With nervous amusement, he quirked an eyebrow up.
Mary smiled faintly, twisting her hands together. "Your father thought so. It came through the war with him, and… then it went into a drawer, and when you arrived – well, it came to the hospital with me, and here we both are, aren't we!"
Her tone was too cheery, her smile too bright. Neither of them could speak of the obvious, the fact that they were both there, but Reginald's father was not. The charm had come to the hospital with Mary, and it should have gone home with Matthew, but they hadn't thought… They hadn't imagined.
The train whistle blew again, and people began to board, drawing them from their reverie of the past. Reggie pocketed the charm, already precious to him, and took his mother's hands again.
"Was he brave?" he whispered, suddenly needing this reassurance. His father had fought, his father had lived, through the war at least… It was possible. "I mean–"
"Yes, he was," Mary answered fiercely, clutching her son's hands tightly as if she might never let him go. "He was brave and loving and the most wonderful man. And you are just like him, my darling."
Reggie pressed his lips together, nodding shakily. "I'll do my best to live up to him, you know," he said.
"Oh, darling! You already do." Mary's tears were falling, now, though she tried to stop them, brushing them roughly with the back of her hand. "You know I love you, and how very proud I am. Just as he would be."
"Thank you, Mother." His expression softened, the sick apprehension he was so desperately trying to mask easing a little with that assurance. He knew it didn't matter, it couldn't make a difference to him… but still, the faith that the father he'd never known could be proud of him gave him greater strength to go on, to leave the mother who'd been by his side his whole life. He would come back to her, he was determined.
Mary smiled at her son, lifting a hand to his cheek. For eighteen years she'd been half a person, and her son had made her whole… and to see him leave, to fight, was tearing her soul in two over again.
Two sharp blasts on the whistle made them both jump. Mary felt that all-too-familiar ache, the fear, the love, that overtook everything.
"Well, goodbye then!" she said brightly, squeezing his hand and kissing his cheek, memorising his every perfect feature. "And such good luck! God bless you, darling Reggie."
"Bye, Mother!" he grinned bravely, though it wavered as he kissed her and stepped back. "I'll be back before you know it – with your charm, too!"
She nodded, clutching her handbag desperately as she watched him board the train. His uniformed figure disappeared into the carriage, and she turned to face him when he appeared at the window. Steam belched and doors slammed and he was going, though he waved his cap brightly, and she waved back at him, her heart bursting with fondness and fear.
Her soldier, her darling boy… She blinked fiercely as the first sob broke from her, waving, still waving. The charm was only a little thing, she knew… and in the eighteen years since it had last seen light, the very thought of it had made her sick. But now that he had it… once more, it gave her comfort.
One single thought circled her mind, over and over, repeating itself like a mantra until the precious sight of him was at last obscured by steam.
Keep him safe… Please, keep him safe.
A/N: Thank you so much for reading! :) Thank goodness this is one scenario we're sure not to see in canon. As ever I'd love to know what you thought, but may I just say how touched I am that despite all that happened in canon, the love for M/M - both what they had, and their love that will continue as strong as ever - is still going strong. It's really helping the healing. Hugs to you all. :)