Authors note: This drabble was written for the M&M Celebration Day. It continues from the AU started with "One Shot" and "The End of the World."
My thanks to Patsan for organizing this important holiday and to Apollo888 for being a great writer partner and friend.
"Milady," Anna said as she attended to Mary helping her as she dressed for dinner.
"I wanted to let you know that you shouldn't worry about the anniversary."
Mary smiled at her maid through the mirror as she checked her appearance.
"I'm not worried," Mary replied nonchalantly. "However, I am curious to know what you have found out. Is it a trip as I've suspected?"
"All I can say," Anna said, "Is I think he has it this time."
"But, you can't tell me?" Mary asked as her brow furled in confusion. "I've heard several rumors that alarm me. Although I think Isobel's tandem bicycle notion has got to be a trick, Matthew wouldn't buy that would he?"
Anna politely shrugged as she finished styling her hair. The shorter style certainly suited her mistress. And it had shocked her husband, which was something Mary always enjoyed.
"Since when did you start to take his side?" Mary asked.
Anna blushed a little before answering.
"Since I've become a wife myself, I can't spoil your surprise."
Mary rolled her eyes before she stood from her vanity table.
"Matthew is playing his cards right," she said ruefully.
She hated to admit it but with their anniversary looming, she was anxious to know what awaited her. After all patience was not a virtue, she found easy to maintain. Her recent haircut had provoked something in him it seemed. As she walked down the grand staircase she paused to admire the new oil painting, it depicted her standing alongside Matthew. Since her father had commissioned it as a present, neither of them had been aware of this project. And to Mary that was evident in their expressions, as the artist had used photographs rather than having them sit as his models.
As the nursery door opened, Mary turned and saw her children on a secret mission. The painting was attracting a lot of attention.
"Hold Ernest's hand," George instructed his sister Felicity as their baby brother toddled between them.
The children however stopped in their tracks as they saw their mother. George gasped but held his ground. He spoke quickly before his mother could.
"We wanted to see the painting again," George explained. "Nanny said we should entertain ourselves while she went to the kitchen."
Despite the obstinance of her eldest child's behavior, Mary appreciated the way that George was such a leader. He certainly had the bold independence and conviction of his beliefs that reminded her of his father.
"You look so pretty Mama," Felicity interrupted, "We love the painting that Donk gave you and Papa."
"Pa-pa!" Ernest said as he squirmed away from his older brother. He pointed at the picture as he continued to babble. "Mama," he continued as he stopped below the portrait.
Mary was speechless at this spectacle.
"Oh this will never do," Matthew said as he appeared from his dressing room.
The George and Felicity turned towards their father, waiting apprehensively for him to continue. Ernest, however, continued to stare at the portrait as though he was in his own world.
"You need a different vantage point," he continued.
George and Felicity quickly stepped forward as their father encouraged them to.
Matthew picked up the toddler Ernest.
"Oh," the baby said with a gurgle. His chubby little hand patted his father's cheek as he stared at him and then back at the painting.
"Better?" Matthew asked his children.
"Much," George said with appreciation.
"Papa you and Mama look like a King and Queen," Felicity said with awe in her quiet voice.
"Darling," Matthew said calmly, "Come join us, the view is better from over here."
Before Mary could take a single step though, Nanny reappeared. She cleared her throat, and the older children scurried back to the nursery. Matthew carried Ernest to Nanny and winked at his other children. Mary waved affectionately to them before scowling at her husband. However, when he offered his arm, she took it in silence.
She didn't need to say anything to him.
"Go on," Matthew goateed her playfully, "Call me incorrigible. Tell me I shouldn't support the children's antics."
"Oh I'm not dwelling on that," Mary said.
"Well I'm not telling you about the surprise," Matthew teased. "Oops, I've said too much already."
"No matter, I've come to the conclusion that it's a trip," Mary said coyly.
"Oh really?" Matthew replied. "Where would I take you that we haven't already been?"
"We've been so many places," she smiled at the memories. "Through much of this country and then the European Continent."
"Exactly," Matthew said confidently. He was sure that she wouldn't guess the location he had selected even if she did suspect they were to be traveling soon.
"But, you underestimate my spies," Mary turned towards her husband as they reached the bottom of the stairs.
Matthew smirked at her statement. For the only people who knew, Bates and Anna had been sworn to secrecy.
"I know it's a trip because you often do the opposite of what my father suggests. He said there was nowhere worth visiting that we haven't already been," Mary smiled as she looked into her husband's eyes.
"Well, after that George saw several travel brochures in your briefcase."
Matthew's mouth fell open. He hadn't thought of Mary using the children; that was usually his technique.
"Your mother has been throwing out suggestions to distract me, which means the destination is so simple that arouse is necessary."
"So, impress me," Matthew said. They had reached the bottom of the stairs, and he stepped closer. He tugged on her favorite necklace while his familiar gesture of teasing, something he had done since their engagement.
"Manchester," Mary said as she whispered in his ear.
She didn't wait for him to confirm or deny. But as she walked away victoriously she squeezed his hand.
He lowered his head and chuckled ruefully, "Only you," he said in amazement.
"Always you," Mary whispered back.