A/N: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year (as we're inbetween the two) to all you dear readers who celebrate - and to those of you who don't, I hope you're nevertheless enjoying this lovely time of year!
Over on Tumblr, for those of you who don't trek over there so much, the lovely Patsan arranged a Secret Santa exchange for M/M shippers - whether it be a fic, or fanmix, or graphic. Gifts were exchanged on the 23rd, to be published on Christmas Day. Now that we're a little past that date, I thought I'd share mine on here as well, with the blessing of Ultrahotpink for whom I wrote it! Many thanks as ever to Miscreantrose, my never failing cheerleader, for the go-ahead to make sure I hadn't written anything silly!
And with that - enjoy!
By The Light Of The Stars
Christmas Eve, 1920
He'd expected her to be happier, this Christmas. Heaven knew it had been long enough since they'd had a happy Christmas - seven years, since before the war and those hearts they'd played so dangerously with - and now, this time, their future was bright to look forward to on this Christmas night. Wasn't it? They were so very happy in their marriage, with the promise of... Well, it was just a groundless promise, still, taken on faith from the doctor with no sign yet to have proven him right.
With a gentle sigh between the words of the hymn, Matthew glanced to his wife beside him. He'd hoped that at least their attendance of midnight mass would put her more in the festive spirit, as they saw the village bedecked with Christmas wreaths and heard the church rafters ring with carols. But her melodious voice was muted, and her dark eyes downcast as she sang without spirit. His heart clenched at the thought that she might have reason to be sad, on their first Christmas together, then fired with determination to lift her from it.
As they left the church, climbing into the cars from the biting chill of the night air, the stars were bright and clear.
"They're beautiful," Mary acknowledged as he pointed them out to her, and she squeezed his hand as she smiled. Even once they'd settled in the car, she peered out through the clouding glass to see them still, her fingers remaining tightly twined with his.
Sitting across from them, Tom smiled out at the stars, too.
"That's one thing Sybil always missed, in Dublin," he said to himself more than either of them. "The stars. She'd often say they didn't seem to shine so brightly over there as here."
Mary's chuckle was soft in remembrance. "I don't suppose she'd be so able to lie on her back in the garden watching them in Dublin, either, as she did here when she was little. Mama used to be furious at the mud on her dress, but Sybil never cared."
"No, I'll bet she didn't. And neither will I if little Sybbie wants to ever do the same."
"Well I hope that she does!" Mary's countenance seemed to lift for a moment, her smile brightening as her hold tightened imperceptibly on Matthew's hand. "It's just the sort of thing that little girls should do, and I'll show her to myself if needs be."
"You'll be her favourite aunt, and no mistake," Tom laughed, but the sound fell hollow against the low growl of the engine. Their cheer felt a poor cover, and Matthew's heart sank as he saw it in their eyes and realised what a fool he'd been.
Of course he missed Sybil, still - but of course her sister and her husband must mourn her more so now, as their first Christmas without her was falling. How could he expect Mary to be full of Christmas joy, when the pain of losing one so loved was so naturally raw at this time? He bitterly shook his head.
"I'm sorry," he told her later, coming into their bedroom as he tied the knot of his dressing gown. She turned from where she stood by the window, the reflection of starlight shining against her skin.
"For not understanding." He reached for her hesitantly, as if expecting to be pushed away, but her hand on his arm did not refuse him and her frown spoke of genuine confusion. "About Sybil," he clarified, "for not thinking that it would cast a gloom on your Christmas. I'm sorry."
Her eyebrow arched in the darkness. "No, I see you don't understand at all," she said at last. "If you think the memory of Sybil could cast a gloom on my Christmas - darling, she loved it most of all the year! Of course I still miss her terribly, and it's awful to think of. But you know how horrified she'd be to see that we were all moping about on Christmas Day for her sake. As hard as it is, the thought of Sybil at Christmas must be the very opposite of sad, don't you see?"
"I suppose so. Yes." He gave a gentle smile as she nodded, a tender kiss shared to grant his understanding. And he did understand that - thinking back to not just Christmases but to every day of life at the front, where jokes and cheer were relied upon to keep them sane, after all. But still, he didn't understand her.
His palm lingered against her cheek, her face and her body so close to his that he could feel her warmth as he whispered in the stillness between them. "But if not for Sybil, my darling, then why are you sad?"
Her eyes widened a fraction as she stiffened in his arms, then turned, seemingly without answer. How she hated to be found out; but had she thought that she could pretend to him, that he wouldn't notice her disquiet? In the silence he drew her more closely to him, and she did not resist, settling back against his chest as his arms so warmly encircled her waist. Together they gazed out at the stars, the momentary tension between them relaxing with each warm kiss he pressed to the top of her head.
At last she spoke, a quiet murmur into the night.
"The service was nice this evening. I suppose it is Christmas, now, isn't it."
"Not properly, until you wake up," he chuckled, his lips teasing, from her neck, to her shoulder.
She laughed in response. "Don't pretend to be so proper now, darling."
"I wouldn't dare."
He gave an affectionate squeeze, and she smiled, her head nestling back under his chin.
"I'm glad to hear it." Silence fell again, bathing them in its comfort. Her hands ran back and forth along his arms around her waist, a gesture that soothed her, until her voice came softly once more. "Isn't it funny, to think that all of it... the gifts, and the tree, and the pudding and cards and the rest... is to celebrate the birth of a baby boy."
Behind her, he blinked. "Well, the... the Son of God, yes."
She patted his arm, and he sensed in it her gentle apology. Sadness weighed down his heart as he shook his head with a sigh, feeling her tense against admitting what she truly meant. He squeezed her again, kissed her temple, and brought his lips close to her ear.
"Christmas is about miracles, as well... Try to have faith, darling - we know it will happen."
"Do we?" Her sudden laugh was harsh, and bitter. "You've always been better at that than I have. Perhaps this is my punishment."
"Mary..." He brought her to face him, and was stricken to see the path of tears that stained her cheeks. His thumb brushed them tenderly away, as more began to fall. "Please don't say things like that. There isn't anything medically standing in the way, now, we know that-"
"There hasn't been for three months, and still there's no sign of-"
"Three months, and Doctor Ryder said that within six you'd be pregnant. We need just a little more patience, my darling."
Tearfully, she laughed. "I'm afraid I'm not very good at that, either."
"I think you're better at it than you think you are," he smiled, before kissing away each of her tears. "After all, you've only asked twice since dinner what gift I've bought for you..."
"Matthew!" Her smack to his midriff was fond as he pulled her into a tighter embrace. They swayed together in the moonlight, laughter muffled where they clung to each other.
"I'm sorry, I don't mean to make light of it," he assured softly, stroking back a fallen lock of hair that framed her face. "I'm not - God knows how desperately I want us to have a child, and how I've been praying for it as much as you have wished it. But talking of patience... do you know I began to dream of celebrating Christmas with you as my wife eight years ago?"
"You weren't the only one to ever dream of that, darling." Her smile pierced his heart, warming him with pleasure as her fingertips played along the lapels of his dressing gown. "And now here we are!"
"Here we are." He kissed her, softly, his lips lingering against hers as shaky breaths drew. "And I couldn't possibly be happier. I mean it, Mary. You make me the happiest man alive."
Her fingers laced through his hair as she kissed him in thanks. "You'll give me a terribly big head with such flattery... but you know that I'm quite as happy, too."
"I'm glad," he smiled against her lips, kissing their corner as he lay a delicate, feathering trail to her jaw. "And however much I hate to have to wait for us to have a baby, I know it will happen - and I can bear the wait, with you. Let's be happy, darling, for Christmas."
Her neck arched elegantly to allow the path of his kisses, and she shivered as she felt the warm press of his body.
"You do have some good ideas, Mr. Crawley," she purred, tingling with the heat of his breath. "It is Christmas, after all. And like you said... I suppose miracles can happen."
He looked up briefly, his eyes meeting hers in the flash of understanding that they would try not to hope, not too much, as they had come to every time they made love - that this might be the time, surely now - but it couldn't be suppressed; felt and murmured in every touch and reverberating in every gasp and cry that echoed into the shadows of their bedroom.
And a little over a month later, Doctor Clarkson's longed-for confirmation was more precious to receive than any other of their Christmas gifts had been.
A/N: There we go. Thank you ever so much for reading - just a little holiday fluff, I know. :) I hope you enjoyed it, and of course would love to know what you thought!
Happy Holidays to you all, and here's to Matthew and Lady Mary Crawley. :)