A/N: Just a little engagement fluff, per request of Patsan, as I try to get over a massive hurdle of writer's block... I'm away at the moment in a place with very questionable Internet, so this is unbeta-d - please forgive any mistakes!
After reading the latest draft of Mr. Barrett's will for the fifth... no, sixth time, Matthew finally admitted defeat. It simply wasn't working, his mind would not co-operate to settle and concentrate this afternoon.
He glanced at his clock, and his calendar, and sighed. There was far too much to do before the wedding, far too many loose ends to tie and cases to close... Only one week more (only three days of that in the office), and the promise of what was to come, a life fully together with Mary, was a far more tempting prospect to dwell on than wills and land leases and covenants.
His pen clattered to the desk from ink-stained fingers and he pushed back his chair, standing and stretching before he moved to the window. Outside, the clouds were gathering and grey, and he frowned at them as he pushed a hand through his hair. Stopping by the Abbey on his way home (it was hardly 'on the way' but never mind that) perhaps wouldn't be the best thing if he were bedraggled as a puppy in a puddle, but... on the other hand, the fire in the library would soon have him dry, and a spot of rain never hurt anyone, after all.
Suddenly he blinked, his face closer to the window as he glimpsed the figure walking along the pavement below. Slender, tall, her peach coat pulled tightly around her against the spring breeze yet maintaining such elegance. For a moment, it looked just like...
His breath clouded the glass, and by the time he'd wiped it clean she was gone. Matthew shook his head, and sat wearily back down, rubbing his eyes. Only two more hours to go.
Picking up his pen once more, he pulled Mr. Barrett's will closer with a fresh wave of determination. Four paragraphs in, and this time consciously aware of every single word, Matthew's head was beginning to ache. The sudden knock at the door only sharpened it.
"Yes, what is it?" he called out, irritable at the interruption now that he'd finally been getting somewhere.
The ready frown on his face faded the moment the door opened, turning to flustered surprise at the sight of Mary.
"It's only me - you might sound a little more pleased, darling. Mr. Carter said it was alright for me to come straight up."
Her eyebrow arched, smiling as he stammered, "Of course it is, I'm sorry - come in darling, please!"
Quickly he moved around his desk, grunting as he bumped his hip on the way, brushing a hurried kiss to her cold cheek before pulling out the other chair for her to sit at. He frowned, she shouldn't sit across from him like a client like that, and pushed the chair a little to the side, more beside his desk than in front of it. "There," he finally proclaimed, wiping his palms on his trousers and smiling at his handiwork.
"Thank you," she murmured with an amused smile, easing elegantly down into the chair. "I hope I didn't disturb you if you're busy."
Matthew frowned at the paperwork scattered over the desk. "You haven't - I was trying to be. I wasn't managing it very well."
"I was thinking about how much there was to do before the wedding." The twinkle in his eyes gave him away, and he saw Mary smile as she understood his train of thought. "Then I got a little distracted by thinking about the wedding..."
"By thinking about the wedding, really? I know frocks and flowers aren't particularly your thing, darling."
He chuckled; she wasn't wrong about that - though regardless of his own feelings on the trimmings and extravagances of their society wedding, it was important to Mary, and his interest in the little details wasn't entirely feigned.
"Well... More about after the wedding, perhaps."
"I thought as much," Mary blushed, her shy, knowing smile matching his as her fingers played over her diamond ring. "You're terribly predictable, I'm afraid."
He'd leaned closer, shifting as his gaze lowered and he saw her tongue dart to wet her lips as her eyes followed his. Predictable indeed.
Only a breath parted the airless space between them, that stilled and shivered away as their lips brushed together in trembling anticipation. Slowly, sweetly they kissed, with an almost delicate reverence as fingertips brushed feather-light to skin, and slipped into hair.
He felt her shift forward in the chair, seeking a more intimate closeness as lips caressed together, parting and tasting and trembling in pleasure. He shifted to meet her, stifling a soft groan as her tongue traced his own, until at last he eased back to draw breath. Eyes still closed, reluctant to return quite yet to reality, Matthew smiled, his cheek turned into her palm.
"Do you mind very much?" he asked softly.
Mary laughed, and kissed his cheek. "Not very much, no."
At last he straightened, stretching stiffened limbs before sitting back down at his desk, spreading the papers beneath his hand with a sigh. He glanced up at Mary's fond chuckle, to see her eyebrows raised.
"I'm not surprised you couldn't concentrate, with your mind on that sort of thing."
His eyes gleamed as he smirked, "On all sorts of things..."
She smacked his hand where it lay still on his desk, though she couldn't hide her smile.
"Honestly, there's only a week more to wait. Perhaps I shouldn't have come-"
"No, I'm - so glad you did," he said quickly, almost blushing at the earnestness of his smile and delight while she remained porcelain, perfect. "It's a lovely surprise - anyway darling, what's brought you to Ripon?"
"Just a little errand," she murmured, running a finger along the smooth, polished edge of the desk.
His eyes followed the movement, his own fingers sliding along to meet hers, where they linked tenderly together.
"That sounds rather secretive."
"That's because it's something you're not allowed to see."
"Oh?" Still he didn't look up, a pretence of indifference as his fingers stroked up to the back of her hand in a gentle caress.
"Absolutely not. You can't see it until the day, I'm afraid." Her voice lilted, teasing, and Matthew swallowed, tapping his fingers softly against her upturned palm.
"Your... wedding dress?"
Her head inclined, a noncommittal hum only confirming his suspicion. Matthew squeezed her hand. "I don't suppose you could tell me-"
"No, and you mustn't ask again!"
He laughed; of course. But still, he couldn't help pressing for the smallest detail, the merest hint at what he may behold.
"Can you at least tell me if it's very beautiful?"
She tried to withdraw her hand in mock affront, but his fingers closed around hers as she challenged him.
"What do you think?"
"I think..." He paused, shy of the strength of his affection, "that it doesn't matter what your dress is like. You would still be the most beautiful woman on earth."
"So it doesn't matter what my wedding dress is like? I see," she teased him.
"Oh, my darling..." He leaned across the desk to kiss his apology, and again, as he felt her slow acceptance. "I know you'll have chosen something far more fashionable than I would understand, and something that suits you beautifully. And I can't wait to see it, and... you... on our wedding day." A wistful sigh escaped in a breath. "But if I am truly honest, then I must admit that nothing else matters nearly as much to me as the fact that it will be our wedding day at all, and that we'll be married, at last. Darling, you can't possibly know how happy I am."
For a moment there was silence, his words settling in the stillness between them. Mary's gaze had lowered, to their hands still twined together, and only now did Matthew notice her blush. Though she normally shied from such sentimentality, he knew, the effect of his adoration shone in her eyes.
"I think," she said quietly, "that I do have some idea."
"I'm glad," he murmured.
They sat quietly for a little while, and with their hands still joined across the desk, Matthew used his other to rifle through the documents that refused to be ignored any longer. He worked as Mary watched, finding himself calmed and surprisingly able to concentrate with her by his side, as dull as he found the task in her company. Pausing to rest for a moment when she stood, he watched her walk to the window, and press her palm to the glass. The clouds outside had darkened to inky blackness, and bled into the surrounding sky.
"That doesn't look too promising," she commented, not looking back. "I'm afraid you'll get wet on your way home."
"I imagine you're right. In fact you should probably go, darling, before you get caught in it yourself." He came to stand behind her, his hand on her hip as she leaned back against him, both watching the world outside and reluctant to join it.
She sighed as she felt his breath warming her neck, then the tenderest kisses pressed softly there.
"I'd rather stay," she murmured. "If no one would object. It's rather nice, to watch you work."
Matthew smiled, with a gentle squeeze of his arms around her. His work seemed so separate from everything that was his life beyond it, with Mary, as part of Downton's future. It had been alien to them, and he'd kept it so, a private part of himself and normality that he'd sought once more in desperation in his turmoil following the war. To share it with Mary now seemed such a private pleasure, one more thread woven in the tapestry of their marriage that was to come, and he adored her impossibly more for taking some short time to do so.
"I'd like you to, very much," he answered softly. "And no one will mind, so long as I get things done; I've no more clients to see today. But darling, if you wait to come back with me, I don't think we'll escape the rain."
She turned in his arms, her hands smoothing over his shoulders as she seemed to study him, and smile, with a gentle shrug.
"Then I suppose we'll both get wet."
A/N: Thank you for reading, I hope very much that you enjoyed it - would love to know what you thought! :)