So here we are.
As I sit writing this, I am simply overwhelmed that this point has actually been reached. Last March, R. Grace pushed me to take a chance and post Chapter 1 of my first fanfic here. With hands trembling like mad, I did just that. Thirty-three chapters and countless words later, I sit so very thankful that I listened to her encouragment and took the chance.
I am still amazed at the number of readers who have become a part of Mary and Charles's journey in this universe, and I am so very thankful for each and every one of you! When I first started, I wondered if anyone would read this tale, my personal means of offering hope and happiness to Mary and George after Matthew's tragic death. Every review, every message, every note on tumblr...you have no idea what each one does for me. Please allow me to once more extend special thanks to those who have helped me trememdously: R. Grace, oneithersidetheriverlie, Cls2011, miscreant rose, Silvestria and La Donna Ingenua. Each of you have played such a special part in the formation of this story and with this writer, and I am sending you the biggest hugs imaginable! You are all so very precious to me. And to some dear friends from different stages in my life whom I have known for years who dove into this realm with me, I love you so much! Thank you for your texts, FB messages and hugs of support. I am still amazed at your responses!
I must stop now before I become emotional yet again.
Speaking of emotional, I do hope you enjoy the end of this saga, and please do not forget that Mary and Charles's journey is not over. "Strangers Among Us", the sequel to this tale, will appear sometime this spring (barring any unforeseen circumstances), and I cannot wait to begin writing it! This story tells of the beginning of their relationship. Where they take it has yet to be written, but is well mapped out. :) Of course, Downton Abbey is the creation and property of Julian Fellowes. And I thank him for allowing me the time and opportunity to enjoy his world so very much!
I do hope you enjoy this final installment, and I hope no one minds the manner in which I ended it. After all of the angst I've put these two through, I figured it was about time to let them enjoy themselves. :)
She hears his footfalls behind her, shivers as the pad of his finger traces a marked path up her spine.
"It took you long enough."
His chuckle tickles her back as whispered words warm her neck.
"You managed to sneak out rather quickly."
She smiles, leaning into him slightly, relishing his warmth against skin chilled by the night air.
"Do you blame me?"
Arms slide around her waist, securing her to him as his cheek grazes her ear.
"Not at all. Dinner conversation was rather tedious tonight. If your grandmother had not been present, I might have fallen asleep after the first course."
"The two of you saved the evening, you know. Mama would never admit such to Granny, but she is quite ready to kiss you."
His dimple teases her before his mouth takes over, and he feels the small noise her throat releases as lips graze the back of her neck.
"As delighted as I am to be back in your mother's good graces, it's not her kiss I'm after."
His nose strokes her hairline, teeth daring a nibble that creates an instantaneous, pulsing ache.
"Is that so?"
Her words nearly falter as his mouth descends on her shoulder, and she presses her backside closer at the flutter of his tongue across skin and bone.
A large hand caresses her jaw, guiding parted lips in his direction.
"Yes. Quite so."
His response is nearly lost into her pores, the coolness of the night all but forgotten as his breath dances over her mouth. Lips rub ever so slightly, restless fingers clutching his sleeve in a delicate summons. She turns to him, claiming the kiss that she wants, the contact she craves, meeting a need formed rather rapidly that took them both by surprise.
"We shall have to go in soon, Charles."
She means the statement half-heartedly, knowing they will be sought out once their mutual absence is discovered but quite reluctant to move from this spot.
Shadows play across his face, calling out for her touch as he continues to hold her close. His eyes search hers with meaning before his mouth grazes her temple, the very place he first kissed in the darkened hall outside her bedroom.
His lips dot the tip of her nose as foreheads come to rest on each other. She claps his lapel greedily, still awestruck by the lightness residing within her and somewhat terrified that it might slip through her fingers. His palm on the swell of her back steadies her, reassuring her that he isn't going anywhere, that he is here by choice.
That he loves her.
They stand suspended, the sounds of the night cocooning them a moment longer before he breaks the silence.
"But first, there is something I must ask you."
Her eyes fly to his own, widening in wonder, in question, fluttering in anticipation of what she now understands is happening. Surroundings detach from the realm of a reality that is just them, just here, at this moment, in this place.
"Mary, I—" he falters, choking on emotion, dropping his gaze momentarily as he shakes his head at his own nervousness. "You know how much I love you."
Her gazes softens, her heart tripping over itself as she nods in silence.
"I don't want to be without you anymore," he dares, taking trembling fingers into his own warm palms. "I want a life with you. Always with you. Together—as my wife."
The words tumble out as if unpracticed, and his shoulders fall in frustration, wishing he had been more eloquent as he makes himself look at her directly. He begins to kneel, at least wanting to get this part right, to somehow convey everything he feels so richly yet cannot seem to express.
"No. Don't. Please."
He pauses, stunned, unwilling to accept what she has just spoken. Air freezes in his lungs, and he blinks away patches of blackness that threaten to drag him under. The pain in his eyes nearly breaks her, and she reaches out to touch his cheek, needing him to realize something of which she has never spoken.
"Don't kneel down, I mean," she whispers, pleading with him to hear what she means. "Just ask me. Here, like this. Eye to eye."
He suddenly cannot breathe, the reality that she is giving him permission making his legs as sturdy as milk. He stares into her, attempting read what is left unsaid, knowing it has to do with Matthew as he decides to leave it as it is. He leans in and kisses the throb in her temple yet again, needing her with a ferocity that frightens him.
He loves her beyond reason.
"Marry me, Mary," he whispers, swallowing hard before kissing the tips of her fingers. "Please. I—I cannot imagine my life without you in it. And I don't want to."
Everything he is lays open and vulnerable before her, a gift so beautiful she feels the sting of a tear. She cannot help but remember another night, another proposal, and the sense of giddiness that overtook her for days afterwards.
This is different. Raw, repaired, yet gloriously brilliant in its imperfection.
"Yes," she breathes, leaning into him, melting into the smile that erupts across his face before succumbing to the kiss that follows. "Yes. I'll marry you."
She is no longer chilled, their bite of early spring lost in the embrace of this man who loves her, whom she loves. She dissolves into him purposefully, allowing the present to permeate every facet of her being, deliberately pushing back the lingering fears of possible loss as she claims a future she now looks to with anticipation.
"God, I-I can't believe it," he blunders, his smile creasing his face brilliantly. Then eyes widen in horror as he fumbles in his pocket, pulling out a small box he nearly drops in his eagerness.
"I nearly forgot," he gushes, reprimanding himself under his breath as she laughs. She adores him this way, when his polish slips and parts he tries so hard to keep under wraps emerge in boyish wonder. How different his life might have been had he known his mother, she thinks yet again. But then, he wouldn't have had the advantage of being raised by Lady Catherine.
And she would have him no different than he is.
"Your ring," he chuckles, decimating his hair with one hand while the other offers her something of beauty. "I'm really doing a fine job of bungling everything about this proposal, aren't I?"
He suddenly looks like a lost Labrador that wants to do nothing but please her.
"You're doing it perfectly," she assures him softly, in awe of the glittering diamond he removes from his confines. "And besides, I've already said yes."
His exhale tickles her arm as he lifts her hand to his chest, kissing a finger now naked he waits to adorn with his mark.
"May I?" he questions, his eagerness reminding her of her son on Christmas morning.
"Of course," she assures him as the ring slides on her hand, trembling internally at the turn in her life, in their lives, and what it all means.
Course fingers trace her cheekbone as she stares at her hand, and she moves her gaze to that of her intended, this man who turned her existence upside-down in all the right ways.
"It's perfect," she whispers, touching his dimples, caressing his brow.
"You're perfect," he breathes, placing his lips upon hers with a reverence that hurts in its tenderness. They linger together, reveling in this promise of a beginning later in life.
"I'll remind you of that statement," she muses softly, smiling into glistening eyes she will wake up to each morning. "When it works to my advantage, of course."
"I would expect nothing less of you," he returns, rubbing his thumb over the symbol that now proclaims she is his. "My lady."
They stand in silence, time meaning nothing until a gust of wind raises bumps on her skin.
"Let's get inside," he instructs, reluctantly leading her back into the confines of the great house, the warmth of its walls a bit of a shock after the crispness of the night.
"Can we have it in London?" she asks suddenly, her eyes fluttering in thought. "The wedding, I mean?"
She married Matthew at the local church, he knows. It is important to her that everything be different.
"Wherever you wish," he assures her, a deep chuckle warming her insides. "I'll marry you in London. I'll marry you in Rippon. I'd marry you in a barn if that's what you wanted."
"Now that would cause quite a stir," she muses, raising her brows in mischief. "I wonder if we'd even get Granny to attend if we behaved so outlandishly. I doubt she's ever stepped foot in a barn."
"She's missing all the fun," he returns, holding onto her as if she might vanish. "So many possibilities with that much hay in one location."
She tosses him a look, one that makes him laugh yet again in its playful intensity. He could laugh for days with the nearly unbearable bubbliness percolating in his ribs. God, he feels like a boy of eighteen at the moment, staring into a life full of nothing but promise.
"Don't be getting any ideas," she demands half-heartedly, holding fast to his arm as they walk at a leisured pace. "I'm not that much of a naturalist."
"Too late," he sighs, drawing her gaze. "The thought of you with straw strewn through your hair has me in such a state it might be inappropriate for me to be anywhere near the rest of your family."
She shivers for a different reason, fighting back the now pulsing urge to drag him behind a closed door.
"I can't wait for you to suggest this locale to Granny," she manages, attempting to quell the sting of heat on her cheeks and detour her train of thought.
"I'll be happy to do so," he agrees, nodding his head. "Providing you tell her we intend to serve Indian cuisine at the reception."
"That information just might be the end of her," she observes with a grin. "And imagine what it would do to poor Carson."
"I shudder to think," he tosses back, stopping their progression to enjoy a few extra moments alone before they are surrounded for the rest of the night. "But Aunt Catherine would be delighted."
"She's a wonder," Mary states, turning into him and tucking an unruly lock around her finger. "I hope she approves of me joining the family."
"She adores you," he replies, the texture of his tone almost silken. "Almost as much as I do."
The kiss cannot be helped, no matter the risk of being seen, regardless of the openness of their location.
"London it is, then," he affirms, unwilling to break their embrace, his gaze of blatant adoration warming toes still chilled from their time outdoors.
"I'm sure Mama would be delighted to have the reception at Grantham House," she observes, pondering plans in the making so different than the arrangements of her past.
"Don't forget I have a townhouse there," he interjects, stroking the ridge of her cheek. "It would be the perfect location for our wedding night."
His words are breathed into her pores, shimmering across pale skin in a promise of intimacies yet to come.
"That would certainly be convenient," she muses breathily, one corner of her mouth slanting towards her ear.
"Very convenient," he agrees with a grin, unleashing dimples that caught her attention the first time she saw him smile. He then sobers somewhat, his gaze shifting to one of curiosity. "I wonder what George will make of all this?"
His question settles slowly, and she looks into the eyes of a man who has accepted her son as his own.
"He'll have you around all the time," she observes, her throat thickening slightly. "I can't think of anything that would make him happier."
"Perhaps a new kite," he offers, noting the slight sheen glossing her eyes that tugs insistently at him. "After all, there was no salvaging of the one you flew into that tree."
"The one you steered, you mean," she insists playfully, warming in regions decidedly impractical for their current situation. "You were my instructor, after all."
"But the control was in your hands," he grins, pushing down the urge to kiss her with all of the unabashed desire boiling under his skin. "It always has been."
Her heart thunders against her rib cage, the blackening of his eyes making it impossible not to touch his face.
"I'm not so sure," she argues softly. "You always seem to distract me in all the right places."
He is burning up, loosening his tie in an attempt to ward off raw heat overtaking every crevice.
"If you keep talking like that, we'll have to elope tonight," he informs her, his voice barely above a smooth growl. "I'll never survive until tomorrow."
She kisses him soundly, open mouthed yet contained, her daring making his pulsing need for her even more painful.
"Mama would kill us," she points out weakly, the temptation to act with such recklessness nearly making her salivate. "And so would your aunt."
"Then let's make it soon," he breathes, the rough texture of his tone making her nearly forget where they are standing. "Please. For my mental stability."
Rich brown holds him mesmerized, a freckle he somehow never noticed making him her captive in every way possible.
"May, perhaps?" she inquires, tweaking her brow as he draws back to study her. "When the earth is warm and green again?"
He can't disguise the unabashed surprise on his face, and a soft noise of appreciation hums through her larynx as his face toys with the notion.
"I like that idea," he states, shaking his head yet again at her unexpected suggestion. "I really wish I could marry you outdoors, you know. I like seeing you out in nature with the wind in your hair and the sun on your cheeks. And in May, you would be beyond glorious."
Full eyes stare back at him, shining in the glow of soft light and a lover's endearments.
"Under that blasted tree, of course," he replies, grinning boyishly from ear to ear as he awaits her reaction.
"Provided you don't attempt to climb it again," she tosses back, granting him a rather stern look. "I won't be such a nice nurse the next time you fall."
"Promises, promises, Lady Mary."
His dimples shine back at her, and he breathes in as much of her as his lungs can take in, making her knees shiver in response.
"You really are a cad, Mr. Blake," she tosses back, leaning into him until their foreheads touch.
"And you've just agreed to marry me," he returns, weaving an escaped tendril around his finger that he brands with his kiss. "Believe me. I don't intend to expend even the smallest amount of unnecessary energy on our wedding day. I do have my priorities, you understand."
His implication sweeps through sensitized veins, and she feels a redness seep into her neck.
"It's reassuring to know that you're planning ahead," she manages, dropping her gaze momentarily before biting her lower lip.
"All good cads do, you know."
Large fingers tilt her chin towards his own, capturing her eyes with an expediency that shakes her.
"I love you, Mary Crawley," he asserts, the earnestness in his gaze wrapping her up in him completely.
"I know," she whispers, pulling him to her with a gentle tug on his lapels, laying her lips across his cheek. "And I love you, Charles."
Time stops for him at that moment.
Months later he will tell her how her declaration released him from the last painful threads of his past, how he suddenly knew that he was finally again a whole man. She has done this—has released him, has healed him profoundly in both flesh and spirit.
But in this moment, he cannot not speak. Nor can she. And they hold each other close with trembling hands on limbs still unsteady, embracing all the other freely offers with arms that refuse to let go.
She stands bathed in the shimmer of shadows, pewter hues of the moon illuminating skin alight with readiness.
They are finally alone.
Her spine reacts as she senses him just behind, her pulse intensifying as his scent teases nerves already exposed. Shudders slide up her torso at the mere thought of what is to come, her lips parting as her eyes drift shut. Warm hands skim up her arms, taking their time, claiming, knowing. She is his now—totally and completely. And he is hers.
The thought is thrilling, sending slight tremors to knees unsteadied by his nearness alone.
His breath touches her neck, and she is lost before they have even begun, this dance of bodies and emotion commencing with a leisurely sway. A sense of newness floods her veins, skin tingling in response to beginnings forged in the aftermath of devastation. Life pulses, glorious, imperfect, urgent in its grasping, indulgent in its patience.
The merging of souls lost, pulled from the wreckage by hands scarred, it is here. It is now. Her hips rock backwards, seeking her lover still veiled in shadow.
Her lover. Now her husband.
His hands find her back, moving. Up and down, over the fabric of her slip, sliding under, just there. Touching skin.
Fingers drift along her spine, awakening nerves, dimpling flesh it their wake. Hinting at more—whetting an appetite already famished. Anticipation begins to pulse, dampening regions forced to wait in silence as foreplay is mapped across crevices and plains. Sensation hits anew, building under skin, moving deep.
She wants him. Desperately.
Her name breathed in her hair stirs areas unspoken. Always voiced in reverence from his lips, it is a blessing, a declaration of feelings too intimate for further speech. She leans into him, raising a hand over her shoulder, finding his cheek. Stroking his dimple, standing connected.
Binding themselves together.
His hand brushes the side of her arm, shivers following in his wake. Tracings move further down, skimming her ribcage, lingering on the side of her breast until it puckers in response. She tilts her head back, resting its weight on his shoulder as his touch progresses, outlining her hip, memorizing curves.
Loving his wife.
"Lady Blake," he murmurs into her neck, the pronouncement reverberating through muscle and bone, her fingers snaking into his hair, imprinting his texture on her fingertips.
"Mmmmm.." she manages, lost to most coherent thought, caught in a world of blurred lines and vague images. "I suppose I shall have to get used to the sound of that."
The edge of her slip is caught up in his grasp, the material grazing her thighs as it begins an inevitable ascent.
"There are many things you shall have to get used to," he attests, the husky edge of his voice a marked contrast to the smoothness of his tongue on her shoulder.
She nearly swallows her own question as teeth graze the juncture of neck and blade, the moisture of his mouth moving down her back as her slip is continually drawn up. Cool air hovers upon regions just uncovered, chills banished, embers stoked internally by hands that cherish.
"I can't give away all of my secrets just yet, can I?" he murmurs across her clavicle. "After all, it is our wedding night."
His resonance tickles her ribs in tandem with his fingernails. Her toes curl under her body.
It is too much, the heat of large palms sliding up her abdomen, carrying silk over her head, then caressing just her. It has always been so between them—raw and pure, barriers stripped away in favor of naked honesty. Her nipples pebble, crying out for contact, receiving a brush—a delicious tease that promises more. His touch on her navel is potent, smoothing a band of lace that lingers just on her hips, rimming the edge of what makes her a woman.
Spokes of flame shoot to her core, a rhythmic throbbing setting a steady tempo he gladly follows. Bare chest rubs bare back, course hairs whisking velvet skin, his stance behind her an erotic titillation enveloped by a mind-numbing fog.
Lips embark on a moist trail down her vertebrae, making her arch, the contact nearly too much for a spinal cord sensitized. He kneels behind her, her breath catching in the vortex of a position unknown. His breath hovers over her hip.
Heated hands stroke her thighs, kissing where stockings are released, pimpling skin not accustomed to his mouth. A blinding ache grows as it devours, and she bites her lip to stifle a guttural sound clawing a path up her throat. Then lace is eased down, its path trailed by his tongue, her knees nearly shattering when he reaches dimpled indentions.
He shifts, moving his stance to her front, kissing his way back up her leg.
Slowly. Ever so slowly.
Muscles begin to lose resolve, the need for support outweighed in the need of this…of him. She steadies her stance on his head, fisting his hair as her torso quivers, as a moan is released.
As openings ache.
He tastes the sheen on her skin, savoring her saltiness, humming in appreciation as she begins a slow melt. She is everything to him.
Her pulse is throbbing where his mouth is moving, her mind unraveling at the thoughts of what is implied. He cups her bottom with a gentle firmness, now breathing into dark hair shading fertile regions. His face—so close—unfathomable. Unsteady air brushes crevices, his nose touching just there, her eyes lolling backwards until all vision is obscured. Limbs jerk in painful need, the reflex of a body near combustion. She is burning, deep pressure pulling and clenching places still unexposed.
"What are you doing?"
Her voice hitches, gasping for air eluding her lungs. She does not sound like herself.
Blackened eyes look up into her own, his grin drugging her senses even further.
"Merely partaking of my wife."
He says no more.
His mouth flicks her warmth, a shock to her system, heat meeting heat, wet receiving wet. Her knees buckle immediately.
"Perhaps you should lie down for this."
He is already guiding her back, laying her atop sheets, pillowing her head. He covers her body with his own, indulging in a kiss, tongues colliding as a fervor is unleashed. They breathe, greedily capturing the other in the cavern of speech, swelling need in the depths of taste. She is his pulse, he the breath in her lungs, this exchange of life a sacred rite between man and wife.
Lips then seek out her breasts, stroking pearls, laving nipples until her mind ceases to function. He draws her in deeper, sucking, nipping, bucking as her nails find his back. There is only color, only sensation, her eyes shut tight to anything but his artistry on her flesh.
Ripples fly down her limbs, making her throb as hips rise, seeking what only he can give her. She nearly jumps from the bed when his tongue slides down, brushing her abdomen, entering her naval. And then…
Mysteries are opened, covered beauty exposed as hands part sacred ground. His mouth moves close, his breath knotting her core until her ribs are too confining. Air catches in her throat as he claims her, flickering strokes in a kiss of unbearable intimacy. He drinks her in, lavishing folds now panting, waves building in tandem to the incoming and outgoing tide of his tongue. She is lost, adrift, sinking and rising into an oblivion of spikes and soft edges. Darts form, pulsing against her from the inside out. Fingers clutch his hair, her pillow, the necessity for an anchor pitching her forward in this overwhelming tumultuous sea.
Then a shudder, a jump, and her body is wracking against his, her face tight, eyes sealed, mouth agape. Her hips move of their own accord, crashing…again and again until ripples form, shooting out from her center en route to crest on a shore just beyond her. Swells then decrease in frequency, soothing and rocking.
"Dear God, Charles."
A smile laden with satisfaction and want stares back at her, and he makes his way back up her body. His kiss tastes forbidden, spurring a wanton shiver across spent nerves. She traces his upper lip, drawing him into her mouth, feeling heat radiating from a body primed for her.
"Do you have any idea how much I love you, Mary?"
His words go deeper than anything physical, stroking emotions he painstakingly unearthed and cultivated.
"You leave me little room for doubt," she grins in return, fingering dark hair, encouraging him to her. Her hand slides down between them, touching what begs for her, his eyes shutting in response.
"Now, why don't you let me show you?"
Hot air prickles her shoulder, beads of moisture pooling on his forehead as her fingers continue their ministrations. She guides him gently, poising him at her entrance, granting him access to all of who she is.
"I love you," she whispers just before coaxing him inside, meeting his gaze as eyes read each other in wonder. He goes in deep, moving just enough, beginning a second dance of souls merged and bodies entwined. Nerves already alert respond quickly, a new progression rising as regions filled are caressed.
A moan from his chest reverberates in her ribs, spurring her kiss, inviting a play of teeth and tongue that mirrors what is happening below. Skin slides and sticks, hands groping muscle and flesh as control edges away. It is beginning again, a twirl on the edge, a peak across hidden lands, a step back as he shifts on top of her.
His smells of desire, tastes of sex, the essence of his skin and hair utterly intoxicating. She nips his chin, and he shudders, driving harder. Crashing in. She is lost in him, and he in her, depth and power creating a beautiful yet maddening friction. Lights play behind her eyes, her walls clenching around him, yes—clenching again—and she feels him tremble as he holds back. A wet mouth seizes the juncture of ear and neck, her body arching up to meet him, her arms pulling him down. Then his hand reclaims her breast, kneading what aches as sparks shoot out pores dotting her torso.
She is undone.
Her body jumps, throbbing around him, cresting, falling, plunging over an edge they fashioned in this bed. Reality swirls recklessly in a mind attuned only to the man inside of her, her release still pulsing as a cry escapes her lips. Again and again, over and over she rides this burst, until her body slowly wanes and her pulse begins a descent. She then feels him stiffen and senses his need, the sweat of his skin glossing his passage. Legs wrap around his buttocks, urging him on, pulling him tighter, her mouth seeking his as he bucks against her thighs. His moan is low, echoing in her throat as he spends into her womb.
Then they are breathing into each other yet again. Staring. Receiving. Touching.
"My wife," he pants, the air from his chest gently tickling her scalp.
"My husband," she confirms, wrapping his soul up in hers with soft words of binding.
They do not release each other, holding fast until eyes become heavy and breathing lethargic. Restfulness enters on swift feet, warming limbs, slowing blood, luring minds into the promising slumber of the content. Yet she keeps her eyes open, absorbing each detail of this man now her own. His scars, the fine lines that crease beneath his eyes, the few wisps of gray peaking playfully from behind his ear.
He is beautiful. And she loves him.
A soul refastened absorbs the sensation of his heart beating beneath her ear, drinking in thirstily the steady rise and fall of his chest. They have more than survived, done far more than merely exist.
They are living.
The reality settles within her peacefully, feathering remnants of brokenness rebound across her heart. There is an intensity and pain found in love born from the ashes, they both understand, scars that will always be present, slight limps that will follow them for life. But there is also an appreciation of such magnitude it nearly renders her speechless, pooling softly in the corners of her eyes as she gazes upon the form of one she never expected.
She is finally again happy—with this man, with this life.
And flush with the warmth of what has been discovered and partaken, she sleeps.