Happy Matthew & Mary AU Fest 2015!

This takes place in my TML AU - at a point a little down the road from where the story ended! Thanks to Apollo888, a great writing partner and friend. Also thanks to Kavan whose prompts about TML are paid tribute here!

"What time is it?" Matthew asked his wife anxiously. He was reclined on the sofa with his head on her lap and a heating pad under his lower back.

"Maybe it's time you admitted defeat and used the Jacuzzi," Mary said drolly. She was not deterred by his impatient question and so she continued with her train of thought.

"After all, it's a shame to waste the therapeutic qualities on toddlers."

"That was one time," Matthew hastily said, "And they liked the bubbles. Besides, you're just jealous that the two of us don't fit in that tub."

Mary picked up his wrist and stared at the watch he was wearing. It was time to change the subject.

"I can't tell you what time it is since I have never understood this watch darling," she said in mock exasperation. However, she began rubbing the base of his palm using reflexology.

"You gave me this watch for my birthday five years ago," Matthew said with nostalgia.

"Just because I've loved you that long does not mean I understand how to solve the math problem to tell the correct time. Did you hit your head besides hurting your back darling?"

Matthew chuckled at her feigned agitation.

"Well tell me what it says and I will transfer it into math pillow talk," he said playfully.

"Currently darling it's half past the square root of 144," Mary said with disdain.

Matthew clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. His eyes briefly closed. She knew he wasn't thinking about the math problem. Mary marveled at how the light caresses she was performing on his wrist always soothed him and made him less cranky. It was like having a tuning fork for her beloved husband.

"It is twelve thirty Mary," he said with anticipation. "Which means my mother will be here soon with the usual suspects."

Mary smiled and brought her free hand to run through his blond hair.

"Thank you for not saying, I told you so, by the way," Matthew said changing the subject.

"You're in enough pain already darling," she said teasingly. He looked into his wives eyes and saw them sparkle impishly.

"But," Matthew said with a chuckle. There was no avoiding the scolding.

Mary's smile grew. "But," she said, "You really should have known better."

"I do mind my back when once a week I go rowing," Matthew said petulantly. "Besides, Mary and I haven't thrown out my back since…" he didn't have to struggle to remember that momentous moment, but it did leave him speechless.

"The last time you seriously wrenched your poor back was when I was going into labor with the twins," Mary said tugging her fingers through his hair. "Although it was entirely unnecessary, you carried me into the hospital, refusing the wheelchair at admittance. When we left the next day, we both took a ride as I remember."

Matthew smirked at the memory and thought fondly of his folly. He did not mind it one bit.

"You were rowing for how many hours darling?" Mary asked breaking his reverie.

"I just lost track of time," Matthew said with consternation. "After all in Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica, absolute time and space are independent facets of objective reality."

Mary laughed at his weak defense. She had already heard several versions that included, "It was such a beautiful morning." But, resorting to maths now showed his desperation to find any excuse to explain his mistake.

"Well for the record darling," Mary said, "In the future, please exercise more caution."

"Duly noted," Matthew said begrudgingly. "I won't be forgetting this anytime soon."

"That bad?" Mary asked as he had a sour expression on his face. "Tell me how you are feeling," she questioned him. "Be honest," she provoked him and he sulked.

"As long as I lie here like an invalid I feel okay," he said with annoyance.

"Well, that is a relief. No need to rush, after all Armani wants you to be the face of their new fashion campaign."

Matthew laughed at Mary's sense of humor until he didn't hear her chuckle joining him.

"I'm scared to ask why you aren't laughing with me. You didn't do anything I should know about did you?"

"I would never do such a vulgar thing! Share my husband with the world? Never."

"And yet," Matthew prodded her.

"Lucy may have started a GoFundMe campaign with that objective in mind. She claims it is for my birthday."

"Very early or very late," Matthew said. "I think I like Lucy better back when she loathed me rather than now when she seems to like me."

"Either way the fact remains that we need to get you back in top form. Shall I schedule you for a back massage tonight? Perhaps the naughty nurse will be on duty." Mary said with a wicked grin on her face.

Matthew laughed and heartily nodded. His eyes grew wide as he thought about this prospect lustfully. However, all too soon the excitement and relief vanished from his content expression. Mary watched the way there were other more murky thoughts clouding his mind. She waited to see if he would reveal them himself or if she would have to pry. After waiting another moment and he was still reluctant to speak she took action. She stroked his hair again to get his attention.

"Darling?" she prompted him. "Tell me."

"I thought this was all in the past," Matthew said with frustration.

Mary thought this was explanation enough, but then he unexpectedly continued, further explaining his frame of mind.

"I never wanted the twins to see me like this."

The statement was bedrock, smooth and flat. When Matthew drained emotion from his voice, it was cause for concern. Mary sighed and nodded her head. In recent times, a few paracetamol could fix anything, but now that was not the case. And so he fixated on being different and berated himself for it. He would think of the children before he thought of himself.

"Matthew," Mary said calmly. "Don't overthink this backache too much darling. You are still their beloved daddy even if you are currently an invalid. Yes, they don't know you have a bad back. But, they also don't know to not put crayons up their noses!"

Matthew laughed at the sentiment that had so often flowed between them. Mary always steadied him.

"Honestly darling, when will you learn to stop worrying so much?" And she always rebuked him too. Matthew cherished it all. He was so lucky and sometimes that pressed on him he supposed. For he still couldn't help but think about everything they had gone through together, now that his back hurt again.

"Well," he said, "I am a math geek maybe I just like repeating."

Mary smiled at her husband and bent over his reclined form to kiss him. Matthew returned the action and moved to continue it until a sharp muscle spasm stopped him.

"Damn it," he said in frustration.

Mary hushed at him to steady his frayed nerves; she felt her old skills return to her about how to ease both his body and mind. Matthew had rarely had any painful setbacks since his full recovery. But, his bad back was a skeleton in the closet, and perhaps this relapse would teach him as the twins were getting older than he should be vigilant protecting his back. The roughhousing and carrying the twins everywhere was bound to catch up with him. He was after all outnumbered. But, Mary wished now he would just relax. It would be simple to appease the twins today by passing the time watching movies, an activity that Daddy could manage with them.

"Lucas asked me about the phases of the moon again last night," Matthew said breaking her train of thought. "He wants to see it smiling again."

While Phoebe was enchanted with everything about the moon, Lucas preferred only the crescent moon. He referred to this as a smile in the sky. Matthew was grateful for these moments with his child and the new associations regarding the moon. After all, he had woken up from his car accident on Monday, which derives its meaning from Moon Day. He shook his head at the morbid thoughts, wishing the pain pills would start working.

Mary felt a wave of awe-inspiring devotion flood through her. Sweet Lucas was simply just like his daddy in many regards; his mind was already made up. And yet she felt a pang of apprehension that their son would not be accepted or could not fit in. She thought of Isobel and a mother's love, once again she wanted to follow the example she had set.

"I didn't know what to tell him," Matthew said quietly. "So, I just explained to him about the phases of the moon and how they change. And then he asked me to smile so I did. He and Phoebe snuggled against me, and we read, "Goodnight Moon."

Mary had a sudden idea. "Darling," she said, "We should take the twins to the Royal Observatory. We could have a picnic and let them run around there during the moonlight."

Matthew's pensive gaze became illuminated, and he smiled.

"They can stand on the Meridian Line during the Summer Solstice. And maybe can even see the moon, Phoebe."

"And maybe we could see the Eagle Nebula," Mary continued.

"The heart in the stars," Matthew said, "That sounds perfect."

Matthew ceased her reflexology by bringing her hand to his lips for several kisses. They sat quietly enjoying the peace as they knew the volume of the room was soon to escalate once their toddler twins arrived home.

"Mary," he said after another moment. "You said you loved me when you gave me this watch."

She didn't understand what her husband was suddenly so shocked.

"Yes, darling, I love you. Your back must really be hurting if you are insecure about that," she teased. Mary petted the top of his head and pinched his cheek with a doting caress.

"Well let's leave my back out this shall we? It's a sore subject," he joked as he looked up at her from his reclined position. "What I meant," Matthew continued, "Is that, you gave me this watch, when we were only friends, in the pub when I was still with Lavinia."

"Are you sure darling? I thought it was a present for my husband when you were in the hospital the next year?"

"No," Matthew said rather gruffly at the mention of the bleakest time in his life. The car accident had taken his back more than a year to recover from and had also killed his friend William. "The only present I remember that year is the birth of my niece Sarah," he said his voice now bittersweet.

"Well then it is about time you truly understand my darling, that I loved you longer than even I knew I did at the time," Mary looked down at the strained face of her husband.

"You are my proof, Q.E.D," Matthew said devotedly, "And proof needs to be shown."

Matthew would have found a way to kiss his wife and make her very untidy despite the pain in his back, except that the front door started to rattle open. His mother was returning with their children who had just attended their nursery school interview. Matthew struggled to try and sit up and winced in discomfort.

"Don't you dare," Mary said holding him in place. "Stay where you are." Matthew reluctantly acquiesced and feebly reclined again. He didn't know why he felt so humiliated.

The twins children babbled their greetings, but Isobel insisted they immediately remove their wet mackintoshes and boots.

"What are they wearing?" Mary asked quietly. "That is not what I dressed them in this morning!"

"Well, they got ice cream on the clothes you designed and made them."

Mary sighed. "Why did you give them ice cream?"

Matthew wisely chose to remain quiet; he had no explanation to offer his wife.

"And Dr. Strange T-shirts to a preschool interview? No wonder you dressed them in their raincoats before I could see this folly."

Thankfully, he was saved by his daughter's dramatic whimper.

"But, I can't," Phoebe whined. It drew her parent's attention away from their private discussion.

"Daddy always does it."

Mary looked at her husband, communicating silently that their conversation would continue later. Meanwhile, Lucas sat down on the floor and kicked his feet playfully trying to remove the boots without having to touch the sloping wet objects. His eyes followed the water as it splashed. Isobel hushed at her granddaughter and stilled her grandson's messy activity.

"Grandma, Daddy, does it!" she stamped her little-wet feet.

Isobel shot her son a look of annoyance and then proceeded to help her grandchildren. She had been apprized of Matthew's injury and hence why they couldn't retrieve the twins from the preschool. So, she could not be too stern with his overindulgent parenting skills.

"Daddy?" Phoebe said as she watched how he had not moved to help her. She exchanged a look with her twin brother. Lucas removed his wet items first and ran to his beckoning parents.

Mary stroked his cheek as he leaned against the sofa staring at his father.

"Daddy?" he said quietly, his tone not loud as his sister.

Matthew's arm ran up and down his son's back in a gentle stroking and Lucas put his head on his father's chest.

"Daddy feels a bit like Humpty Dumpy," he said with a smile. "Humpty Dumpy sat on a wall; Humpty Dumpty had a great fall," Matthew sang the rhyme and tried to bring some humor back into the suddenly tense living room. Mary saw the moisture on Lucas' face and hoped it was rain and not tears. She brushed her fingers through her son's strawberry blond hair.

"Daddy," Lucas said, as he leaned against his father, "Be careful, don't fall."

Matthew looked at his son affectionately and stroked his back again, "Don't worry, I can be put back together again."

Lucas leaned forward and gave his father an Eskimo kiss. "Kiss it make it better," the little boy said. Mary beamed at the gesture, and he looked at her next. The engaging smile grew on his face, "kiss Mommy too!" he said with glee and Mary was rewarded with her own token of affection.

Phoebe skipped over to join them next. She climbed onto the couch and seated herself at the end near her father's bare feet. "Tickle Daddy," she said playfully and her little fingers scampered up and down all over him. Matthew laughed at the light touches and pretended it was torture exaggerating how much it was bothering him. He begged and pleaded for her to stop, and the twins both laughed in loud, silly giggles. After a few minutes of this, Phoebe stopped.

"Daddy," she said her voice commanding attention. "Blow kisses," she instructed.

Matthew put his hands up on either side of his face to mimic goal posts as his little girl performed the motion, spit blowing everywhere as she shook her braided golden hair. Matthew simulated sound effects as he caught each of her kisses. Lucas played along too with the familiar game his sister had invented. Mary only smiled at her mother in law as Isobel sat in an armchair near the couch.

"How was nursery school?" Matthew asked as the twins calmed down from the antics. Despite what Mary said it was less an interview and more of a playdate to get acquainted with the school. Lucas stared off into space and Phoebe played with the cuff on her father's pants. Neither of the children answered his question. Although they had limited toddler vocabulary, he knew they could have if they desired too. Matthew turned his head from his wives lap to look at his mother for any report she could offer. He felt his body unconsciously tense as he waited, nervously.

"Everything is perfectly alright," Isobel said in a soothing tone. "All is right with the world; they will do fine if I'm any judge."

Mary and Matthew both exhaled in relief and beamed with huge grins at their precious twins.

"I suppose I'll be cooking dinner," Isobel said with a smile.

"It is either that or take away," Matthew agreed.

"Mommy can't cook," Lucas said suddenly.

"Yucky," Phoebe agreed. "Burnt popcorn!"

Mary laughed at her children and what they remembered.

"Daddy is the best," the twins said in agreement.

"I agree," Mary said wholeheartedly.