"Your birthday's coming up," Matthew mentioned one day, between sips of tea. It wasn't a question—last year they'd had dinner at the Blakes' house in her honor, and he'd been there, sweet and respectful and utterly, obviously smitten. It was six more months before she'd let him treat her to a proper dinner, and now he could treat her to a proper birthday.
She eyed him from across her kitchen table. "Yes."
"Two weeks from Saturday."
"Yes," she said again, eyes narrowing. "And what of it?"
He shrugged. "Well, what should I get you?"
She laughed softly, nervously. "Nothing," she said, stalling for the time it took to take a bite of biscuit and chase it down with tea. "You don't have to get me anything."
"Don't be silly. I'm going to get you something, and if you don't give me any ideas, I'll have to guess, and you'll end up with some fluffy dress or diamond necklace."
The firm gaze she leveled him with dared him to try such a thing—he knew her far too well. "Don't buy me jewelry. Don't buy me anything. I have all I need."
"Course you do," he replied. "I want you to have what you want. I just want to make you happy." He leaned over the table and rested a hand on hers. The warmth of his touch spread down her arm and into her chest. The firm line of her mouth relented into a small smile, and she turned her hand over so she could grasp his fingers between her own.
"Darling, you make me happy," she told him. "I'm...I'm happier than I've ever been. I have a home, friends, a job I love, what more could I ask for?" When he opened his mouth and it looked like he would argue, she continued before he had the chance. "Do you know, I've never lived anywhere as long as I've lived in Ballarat. Not since I was a child, anyway. I used to move every two or three years, and I've lived here for six."
His features softened, and he searched her face, as his thumb trailed up and down the back of her hand. "Why is that?" he asked. "Why did you move so much?"
She shrugged. "I followed my work. As you can imagine, jobs for female pathologists aren't exactly in abundant supply, and I was never attached much to the places I lived." Her eyes left his and settled behind him, but her gaze was not on the wall or the cabinets; it was somewhere much farther away. "Plus, I liked moving. I like exploring, seeing new places. It's exciting to me." Her smile grew until it took over her whole countenance, and she looked back at him, captivating as she ever was when she talked about something she really loved. "But Ballarat is different. I hope to stay here for...well, forever, I suppose. I hope." Her expression grew more serious, and Matthew felt the air grow thick with the weight of what she had just said.
She wanted to stay in Ballarat forever. He couldn't have stopped the huge grin that filled his face if he'd tried, but he didn't see why he should. "I hope so too."
They sat there, hand in hand, chatting until they'd finished their tea. It didn't pass his notice that she'd managed to avoid answering his question, but that was alright; an idea was already beginning to form.
The day before her birthday, they hardly saw one another. There'd been a murder on Monday, and Matthew seemed determined to wrap up the case by the end of the week, though she couldn't imagine why; he'd worked through plenty of weekends in the past. She supposed it might have to do with what was coming up. Oh, he'd not revealed any birthday plans, but she'd cracked far too many cases by now to accept appearances for what they were, and if there was one mystery she'd never tire of solving, it was Matthew Lawson.
She didn't have to wait too long. They caught the killer on Friday, and she was just finishing up some paperwork in the morgue when a knock came at the door..
"Come in," she called, not looking up to see who it was—who else would it be?
"Dr. Harvey," he greeted, and she almost rolled her eyes at the formality even as she made notes, but responded in kind. He'd always made an effort to stay professional at work, and she did appreciate it even when he crossed the line of what was strictly necessary.
"Chief Superintendent," she said, still focused on the page before her. "I'll be through in a moment. Is it business or pleasure?"
"Pleasure," he said, proving it with a kiss to her cheek. So much for acting professional, she thought, but leaned into the touch. It wasn't as if anyone was around to see.
"Alright, just a moment."
For a moment, the room was silent save for the scratch of her pencil, and then the flutter of pages as she searched for the information needed to fill out this form.
"I've got something to tell you," he said, when the silence had stretched out too far.
"Good to know," she said shortly, still writing.
He let the quiet last another moment, and then- "That's why I came down here."
She looked up at him. "You're not a patient man, are you?"
"No, I'm really not."
She couldn't help a small chuckle at that. "Well, you're in luck. It just needs my signature."
With a swish of her hand, it was done, and she set the papers aside in a small stack. "Now, what is it you needed to tell me?" she asked, leaning against the tabletop.
"Well, in honor of your birthday, I've prepared a little surprise."
She quirked an eyebrow. "I'm not huge on surprises, you know."
"I do," he said with a nod. "So I'm telling you a day early. Tomorrow morning, I'm going to pick you up from your house, and take you on a road trip." She tilted her head curiously at that, but he just continued. "When I asked you about your birthday, you started talking about how you used to move a lot, and you liked seeing new places, and so I thought...thought it would make a good present." He seemed to be searching her face, wanting to see what she would think, but she wasn't quite sure yet.
"Where are we going?"
"Ah. Well, that part will remain a surprise, with your permission."
"Fine. How long will we be gone?"
"We'll drive back on Monday, probably around 6 or 7 o'clock. I've got it all sorted, that's why I wanted to wrap up the Morrison case so quickly."
"Well hang on," she said, laughing gently at his boyish enthusiasm. "The case may be closed, but I'm still police surgeon. We both have work on Monday."
He shrugged. "I talked to the Chief Superintendent. He assured me it would be fine."
"It will be," she agreed. With that, she picked up her purse and made her way to the door.
"Well, hang on, where are you going?"
She allowed him one mischievous glance over her shoulder just as she reached the door. "To pack, apparently."
"What was the first murder you ever solved?" she asked him Sunday morning, a few minutes after they'd left the hotel they'd stayed in that night. They'd gone through all the basic getting-to-know-you questions long ago, but had never had so much unadulterated time alone, and had found many new questions to ask one another.
"Joseph Thompson," he said, without even thinking about it. "Single shot, back of the neck."
She smiled, leaning back against the car window to better see his face. "Who did it?"
"His boss, Aaron Davidson. He managed the bank Joseph worked at, and the poor bloke came across some discrepancies in the paperwork."
"Davidson was stealing. So, how'd you work it out?"
"Well, about a week into the investigation-"
"No," she said, stopping him with a hand to his arm, "start from the beginning."
He took his eyes off the road for just a moment and smiled at her, before he started again. "We got the call about mid-day."
She let her hand linger on his bicep before she pulled it back, letting it settle in the small space between them. She listened to his story as the small town they'd stopped in whizzed past, shamelessly admiring what she saw—the look of him in everyday clothes (though she did love the uniform), his broad hands on the steering wheel, the way his gaze sharped as he recounted the interrogation, still fresh in his memory decades later. He glanced over at her just as he was getting to the arrest, and happened to catch her blocking a yawn behind her mouth.
"I'm not boring you, am I?" he asked, eyes shining with mirth as he caught her hand in his before she put it down.
She shook her head softly. "No. I'm afraid I didn't get enough sleep last night, I'm a bit tired."
He grimaced. "My hotel bed wasn't very comfortable either. I'm sorry, Alice."
"Don't be. It's worth it."
"You're enjoying yourself, then?" His face was confident, but his voice gave away a touch of uncertainty, like he really wanted to know.
"Are you kidding?" She looked him in the eye, though he kept his own eyes on the road. "Matthew, I love it. I love everything." It was true—she'd enjoyed everything he'd taken her to, from the big city museum to the small town memorial to the natural landmarks, but nothing so much as spending all this time with him.
By way of response, he lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it before bringing it back down to the seat. "I love you," he whispered.
It wasn't the first time he'd said it, but it still never failed to make her heart skip a beat. "I love you too," she replied softly.
She tried and failed to stifle another yawn, and he saw it out of the corner of his eye. "If you're tired, you can try to sleep. It'll be another couple of hours before we get where we're going."
"Alright," she said, hesitating for just a moment before she changed positions, leaning her head against his shoulder. "The window isn't very comfortable," she murmured.
He removed one hand from the steering wheel and put his arm around her, and she thought her heart would burst from the love and joy contained in this one moment.
"Wake me if you see anything pretty," she murmured, nestling into his side.
"I'm afraid I can't do that, love." She lifted her head for a moment to look at him.
"Because, as long as I'm looking at you, you'll never get any sleep."
Her cheeks warmed as her mouth spread into a wide grin. "I should chide you for being so cheesy," she said, "but that's one of the sweetest things anyone's ever said to me."
In response, he simply dropped a kiss to the top of her head. "Go to sleep, love. I'll be here when you wake."
When Alice woke, it was to the gentle sound of her name on his lips and the feel of his hand softly shaking her.
"We're here," he whispered.
"Where is here?" she asked as she opened her eyes. When she looked out the window, she found her answer—an old wooden sign by the car park read Steavenson Falls.
Matthew was already opening his door as she looked over at him, an excited gleam in his eye. "The grand finale," he replied.
They got out of the car together, and he pulled his cane from the back seat. She could see the grimace he tried to hide, knowing he always felt a bit of stiffness after being in the car for a few hours. The thought of him suffering through that several times this weekend, for the sake of the journey with her, warmed her down to the soles of her feet.
"It's a bit of a walk," he said. "Shall we?"
"Can you manage?" she asked, glancing warily at his leg.
"You can hold me up."
And so she did, climbing out of the car and coming around to his side, looping her arm through the one that didn't hold the cane as they made their way to the end of the car park and onto a dirt path through the trees.
She heard it before she saw it. About ten minutes into the wood, she began to hear the rushing water. It was distant, but slowly growing as they got closer and closer.
In a few more minutes, they turned the corner, and she stopped in her tracks, unable to hear the gasp she made over the roar of the falls.
It was breathtakingly beautiful. She understood why Matthew had chosen this for the end of their trip. She took several steps forward, with him at her side, until they reached a railing that looked over the river the waterfall poured into. She didn't know how long she stood there, breathing in every inch of the incredible landscape, before she looked over at Matthew, and found that he wasn't paying the sight any attention at all. She locked eyes with him, and could see all the love he had for her as plainly as if he had written it on his face.
"It's beautiful," she said, almost shouting to be heard over the noise. "Thank you for bringing me here." The words felt too simple, too small to hold her gratitude for everything he had done for her, and so she wrapped one hand around his neck and pressed her lips to his, trying to put into the kiss what she couldn't express in words.
He stroked one hand over her face, brushing a strand of hair away as he pulled back. "Do you think we might sit down for a bit? We can come back."
"Of course," she said quickly, brushing off a wave of guilt for not thinking of his leg. They walked a little ways back up the path to where they'd seen a bench a moment ago and sat, far enough that the falls were only a low rumble, and they could speak normally.
"So," he began as she took her place next to him, "you've seen all these sights. Do you still want to stay in Ballarat forever?" She almost thought she heard a tremour in his voice as she asked.
"Yes," she said without hesitation. "Forever."
The serious look on his face made her stomach turn. "Good. Because I've got a question for you."
He reached into his pocket and she gasped even before she saw the box he pulled out, as she realized what was about to happen. His hand shook under the weight of the tiny box. "I know you told me not to buy you jewelry," he said, as his other hand reached for the top of it, "but I went and did it anyway. Sorry."
"I forgive you," she whispered, feeling her eyes well up and for once not caring if someone saw her cry.
He got the box open then, and she gasped again at the sight of it, simple and elegant and beautiful and for her. She forced herself to look back up at him, at his kind eyes and earnest expression. "Alice Harvey, I love you. More than-" his voice threatened to break around the words, and she put a hand on his knee unthinking, aching to reassure him, to answer the question before it had even been asked, but she let him finish. "More than anything else in the world. Will you marry me?"
"Yes," she exclaimed, before the last word had fully left his lips, "yes, yes, yes."
His very being seemed to brighten when he heard her answer, and every ounce of uncertainty fled as he quickly removed the ring from the box.
She held out her trembling left hand, and he took it gently, sliding the ring onto her finger. Later, she would wonder how he'd known it would fit so perfectly. Later, she'd hope he hadn't spent too much money on her. She would ask him how he'd planned everything, if he'd ever been to the falls before or just seen pictures, whether or not he'd told the Blakes what he was going to do and how long he'd practiced his speech, but now there were no words to match the moment, and she'd hardly looked away from the ring and back at his wonderful face before he was moving toward her, and she met him halfway.
They kissed, and the world fell away. The sound of the falls, the bright light of the mid-morning sunshine, the thought that anyone might walk by and see them, none of it mattered. Everything flew out of her mind save for this feeling, his ring on her finger, his hand in her hair, his lips on hers.
She had to pull back eventually, but she couldn't be far from him, so she wrapped her arms around him and settled her face into his neck. He returned the embrace and she thought she'd be content to stay there forever if he'd let her.
"Do you want to go back to the falls?" he asked her, after a long moment.
"No," she whispered into the fabric of his shirt, "not yet. I just want to stay here."
After everything she'd seen and everywhere he'd taken her, she found that there was nowhere she'd rather be than here, in his arms, forever.
Title is from Marry Me by Train.