Disclaimer: Mansfield Park, all characters, places, and related terms are the sole property of Jane Austen.
And the sky was bright with a holy light
"Did you enjoy yourself tonight, Susan?"
The girl shared a smile with her older sister, her eyes brightening. "Oh, yes, cousin Edmund! I had never been to a ball before," she said.
It was the truth, she having come to Mansfield Park only a few months ago. While she had kept her place by Lady Bertram's side as her companion, she had been completely dazzled by the Yuletide decorations, the music, dancing, and the guests' fine dresses and suits.
Now the ballroom was dimly lighted and deserted except for the three of them, having bid good night to Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram who had already gone to bed. Fanny had helped Susan gather their aunt's forgotten items before they also planned to retire for the night.
"I am glad you did," Edmund replied with a smile as they approached, offering his arm to Fanny who accepted it with a grateful nod.
"It was lovely," Susan sighed dreamily, following the two towards the door. "You danced very well, cousin," she added.
"How kind of you to think so!" he said with a chuckle. "I do not dance often and fear myself out of practice."
"No, you did well," Fanny reassured him with a smile.
He returned her smile, thankful.
"Oh!" Susan gasped.
The surprise in her voice caused the two to look back at her curiously. Wordlessly the girl pointed above their heads. There hanging in the doorway was a small sprig of mistletoe. Edmund's eyes widened. Fanny's cheeks turned a bright pink; nervously she withdrew her hand from Edmund's arm.
"It is tradition," his voice drew her gaze from the plant to his eyes.
"Aye," she quietly agreed.
His face softened at her nervous expression. Slowly he raised his hands to her face. "There is nothing to fear, Fanny."
Despite the butterflies fluttering in her stomach, his words lessened some of her uneasiness. Bravely she nodded, "I know."
Fanny allowed him to guide her, gently tilting her face up while he leaned down. As his breath fanned over her face, she shut her eyes. Then their lips met. The kiss seemed to her to last a lifetime, Edmund's lips chapped and soft against hers. Cool air against her cheeks, still warm from Edmund's hands, caused her to open her eyes. She discovered him silently regarding her with a strange light in his eyes, as though he was seeing her for the very first time. Her heartbeat increased.
"Happy Yuletide," she whispered, breaking the silence, backing away.
"Happy Yuletide, Fanny," his voice was just as quiet, a little breathless.
She felt his gaze follow her as she fled up the stairs, unaware of Susan trailing after her. Fanny told herself it was just part of the unexpected, soon-to-be-forgotten moment, the lingering exhilaration of the ball, the festive atmosphere.
And it seemed to be so when she sat down to breakfast the following morning with the rest of the family, exchanging greetings across the table. Edmund appeared as he had been since recovering from his loss of Mary Crawford. Then he called her name…and there again was that new, unidentifiable something in his tone.
…Always there now every time he said, "Fanny." And her heart would leap in hope, seeming to recognize the double meaning. All the while she denied it was anything of consequence, reasoning it to be impossible….
Until some weeks later they were left alone in the parlor, when he took her hands in his and confessed, "Fanny, I love you!"