A/N: Happy... Friday! (I forgot my Happy Monday last chapter)
Before anything else, I'd like to thank you very very sincerely for your wonderful responses to Chapter 27. I was genuinely terrified about it, I'd been in an enormous stress about it, and I was so incredibly touched by all your comments. You've no idea how encouraging it was! So thank you, so much. :) And enormous thanks to EOlivet for her endless support even while she's on holiday!
Here's a mid-week update that lies between 2x08 and the CS. For reference, because I'm very aware that it's just so much in my head that I know instinctively - Mabel is now about four and a half, and Catherine is two.
"So you're quite sure everything's alright?" Matthew asked for the fifth time since coming down the stairs, frowning anxiously at Doctor Clarkson. "She's so dreadfully uncomfortable –"
"I know, and she will be," the doctor shrugged, with a kindly smile. He stood to one side in the corridor while Matthew opened the door for him. "I'm afraid it's just to be expected, and Lady Mary must bear with it – but it cannot be long, now. Try not to worry."
"That's what you said over a week ago…" Matthew tried to pass off his concern with a nervous laugh, but it didn't quite work. 'Any day now' had been Clarkson's precise words, but still nothing had happened, and Mary was finding it more difficult by the day. He'd wondered if it was always like this – just another sign of his inexperience in these matters – but even Mary said that this was worse than with either Mabel or Catherine.
Glancing out at where his two daughters were kicking through the crisp, colourful fallen leaves in the garden, Matthew scrubbed a hand through his hair before looking anxiously back to Clarkson. "Is there anything we could do to – I don't know, hurry things along?"
Clarkson smiled down at his feet for a moment. "There are – suggestions, Mr. Crawley, for things like that; though I don't know there's much proof to any of them. But there's no harm, at least, in them –"
"I'm pretty sure Mary will try anything. Do tell me?"
"Right you are," Clarkson raised an eyebrow, rocking a little on his feet with hands clasped behind his back. There was something enormously endearing about the young man's earnestness to do whatever he could for his wife, borne of naivety to all this and the deep-seated love between them that had never been more apparent than through these months of her pregnancy.
Quietly, almost hushed, he outlined some suggestions. "Well, simplest perhaps would be taking regular, and lengthy, walks."
"Yes, well we do that already," Matthew nodded. It was as good for him as for Mary, and they'd tried to still as often as they felt up to it.
"I'm sure – and, while you mention it, how have you been finding things without your stick? Of course you must use it still when you need to –"
"I know, I know." A delighted smiled crossed Matthew's face. It had been a long journey, terribly long; but over the months he'd been able to rely less and less on the stick to aid his walking. Finally, last week, he'd dared to leave it at home entirely when he went out, and had been beyond delighted to get all the way to the big house and back without support. He was finally, finally beginning to feel truly himself again, and it was wonderful. "I seem to be managing very well so far – but I am being careful, you needn't worry."
"That's good to hear. Anyway, another thing purported to work well is castor oil. If it's masked in milk, to make the taste more palatable, it may be worth trying."
"I see. Thank you, I'll tell Mrs. Bird; I'm sure we've some in. And, if not? Is there anything else?"
Clarkson hesitated a moment. "Now – you see, the general point of these things is to – relax the body, to – encourage the baby along."
"Yes, I understand that," Matthew nodded, eager for him to continue.
"Yes. It – may be an old wives' tale, but one of the best ways to achieve this is –" The doctor glanced around, a sudden air of discomfort in his posture as he looked almost apologetically at Matthew. "Well – sexual intimacy."
"I… Oh! Oh." Matthew's cheeks flushed deeply with colour; though he'd grown somewhat accustomed to passing medical reference to his – abilities – this somehow didn't seem quite the same. Swallowing though his mouth was dry, his fingers flexed gently by his sides in a familiar twitch to cover his embarrassment. He couldn't quite meet the doctor's eye. "And I – well, do you think… I mean, we – that is, Mary and I – are quite – well. As you say, I suppose there's no harm in trying?"
His breathless voice and desperately uncomfortable laugh made Clarkson chuckle.
"None at all!" He clapped Matthew's arm, trying to put the younger man at ease. "As I said, though – there really is no need to worry. It will happen – the baby will simply come when it's ready. Lady Mary's in fine health, so you needn't do anything – drastic."
"No! No, of course. We wouldn't – that is – thank you, Doctor. You've been most – helpful –" Matthew wanted nothing more than for this conversation to be over. Distractedly, he waved to Catherine who was toddling across the garden towards them with a… He bent down as she reached them. "What have you got, darling?"
"Bird egg!" she proudly proclaimed, holding it up for him to inspect.
Clarkson quietly excused himself. "I'll be off, then, Mr. Crawley – do call me if anything changes –"
"Yes, I – thank you, so much, goodbye –" Matthew nodded in parting before turning back to his younger daughter. "Well! Where did you find that?"
"There…" Catherine grabbed his hand, and he indulgently followed her to a patch of leaves under a tree. He peered up into the branches.
"I see! I think – yes, there, can you see the nest? That's it. Shall I put it back, so it can hatch properly?"
Mabel bounced over to them. "Its mama might miss it if you don't," she suggested.
"Quite right, darling. There." Gently, Matthew took the egg from Catherine and stretched up, just about able to reach the next to replace it. "I think it was very lucky not to have broken, don't you?"
"Ve'y lucky!" Catherine beamed, pleased with her father's seeming approval of her decision to bring it to him.
"Shall I draw a picture of it to show Miss Ludbrook?" Mabel asked. "Oh! And to Baby?"
"What a good idea!" Matthew smiled, rubbing her back fondly. "In fact, I think you'd better go up to the nursery now. Better not let Mama see your shoes." He raised his eyebrows in mock reproach, and both girls looked down guiltily. The soft, black leather of their shoes were badly scuffed from kicking in the leaves.
"Oh dear," Catherine chewed her finger, rocking on her feet as she stared down.
"Sorry Papa," Mabel pursed her lips and blinked up at him. As much as he tried, Matthew could not even pretend to be cross with them for more than a moment, and any pretence of sternness was lost in his affectionate smile as he touched his daughter's cheek.
"Alright, darling. Now off you both go."
He chuckled fondly to himself as Mabel grabbed Catherine's hand and grinned at him, following slowly after them as they dashed inside. After making sure they'd gone upstairs, he wandered into the sitting room where Mary had settled herself to recline onto the settee. Perching carefully beside her, he linked his fingers with hers, resting their joined hands gently on her belly as he leaned down to kiss her.
These long months of her pregnancy had been an utter wonder to Matthew. Everything, each slightest thing, he'd found delight in. After months of believing that he would never have this opportunity, that it had been stripped from him, to find it a possibility – not only a possibility, but a fact, a promise – was the dearest, sweetest treasure. The prospect of the child had been a beacon of light in the darkness following Cora's death; a hope that the entire family had latched upon, so much so that it had quite overwhelmed Mary. While she'd tried to believe that becoming a mother for the third time could soften the loss of her own mother, she for one found it only made the pain sharper to bear.
Thank God she had Matthew, this time. His support had been unwavering, as she'd always believed it might be, were he only given the chance. Even through the worst of it, the discomfort and the sickness and the cravings, he'd done everything he could for her and found it a delight to do so, for the sheer fact that he could. Their only difficulties had come with Mary's temperamental moods; though Matthew had quickly learned how to recognise when she simply needed some space… and had always found pleasure in their reconciliations afterward, in any case.
Somehow, they'd battled through together, finding comfort in the sharing of their troubles and their sorrow, in those first months. And for all the trials, there had been equal joy… Each tentative step towards reconciliation with her father, each improvement in Matthew's efforts to walk, each new development of her pregnancy as she'd begun to show, and the baby had begun to shift, and Matthew had been by her side for all of it. Things which might have been tiresome to her this time, experiences dulled by two previous births, became a fresh delight in their newness to Matthew.
Shifting a little, she tried to ease her comfort. Everything ached, she was hot, tired… and it was becoming more and more difficult for even Matthew to distract her from that, even with his cool hand on her forehead, his other gently massaging to ease her tension.
"I hope you intend to continue such kindness to me once Baby finally greets us…" she murmured contentedly.
"Do you doubt it?" he smiled, his voice a gentle caress. A soft kiss to her lips, then his attention shifted to her belly, his hands stroking warmly over the taut roundness of it, his affection marked with tender kisses. She giggled fondly, combing her fingers through his hair. "My darling girl…" he whispered, lost in quiet wonder.
Mary tapped his nose. "Is that address directed to me, or to Baby?" Matthew twisted his head, resting his cheek against where their child lay as he smiled up at her.
"What do you think?"
"I don't know… We don't seem very good at making boys, do we! So far, at least," she laughed.
Matthew sat up suddenly, sobered. Mary frowned, watching him stare thoughtfully down as he took her hand again and played with each finger in his lap. "What is it?" she asked softly.
"Your father said that to me, once," he smiled almost sadly, and sighed. "A very long time ago. When – your mother –"
"Did he?" She turned her head restlessly against the propped cushions on the settee arm, watching Matthew's fingers entwine with her own. She tried to push away the feeling of sadness settling over her. "What a comfort that child might have been to him now – since –"
"Don't say that, darling," Matthew quieted her with a finger on her lips. There was no use in thinking things like that, not now, not when so many years had passed and so much had changed. "He has his three daughters for comfort, or he would if he allowed it – or do you think that hasn't been enough? Anyway, if – things had turned out that way – well, you might not have married me, and –"
"Matthew!" she cried, brushing his hand away to clutch it tightly. "After all this time, do you really still think that I would be swayed by –"
"I don't think it would matter to you now, of course not!" He smiled and rubbed his thumb over her knuckles, a calming gesture to soften his words. "But then? I really don't know. And I don't think that you truthfully do, either, my dear. And that's perfectly alright to own to." As if to finish his point, he leaned down to kiss her softly.
She smiled gently against his lips. "Then… I suppose I must be glad, for how things went!"
"We wouldn't change a moment. Remember?" His finger stroked gently against her cheek. "And – well, even if we had eventually married, we would not have Bel, or Catherine. And I certainly, certainly wouldn't change either of them!"
"No, nor would I!" At once the weight of regret eased from her chest, as she kissed him in apology for making him think of it. Her arms draped around his neck, fingers dipping into his hair and beneath his collar, and… Matthew suddenly remembered what Clarkson had said to him.
He leaned up, slightly breathless. "Darling, do you –" At the last moment, his nerve faltered. He couldn't suggest… Not now… She wouldn't, she hadn't wanted to for weeks and… "think we might go for a walk?"
As they lay in bed that night, still in very much the same condition as earlier that day, Mary agitatedly threw off the covers, wiping the back of her hand over her forehead. It was intolerable.
"Must you crowd me so, darling?" she muttered, protesting against the heat of Matthew's body beside her. He was already giving her as much room as he could manage, relenting to only his hand playing lightly over her belly than any closer embrace.
"Oh my dear," he sighed, trying to shuffle even further away though really the bed was not so very spacious as to allow it. "I wish there was more I could do, would you – like me to sleep in the dressing room?"
"No! No, you needn't do that." She clasped her hands protectively over his own, as if afraid that he might just go anyway. The Lord only knew he'd have a right to, after he'd heard nothing but complaint from her all evening about this and that and everything. She turned her head and smiled at him, blowing out a gentle breath to ease the press in her belly. "It is my pain, and I must bear it. There's no cause to make you uncomfortable as well. At least you're here."
"There's always that." He brought her hands to his lips and kissed them, tenderly. Truthfully, he couldn't say he was comfortable at the moment, not lying awkwardly at the furthest edge of the bed as he resisted every urge to enfold her in his arms. Still, though… "I don't know about you, darling, but at least I'm a damned sight more comfortable now than I was when either Bel or Kit were born!"
"I can only imagine!" Mary smiled, attempting to twist towards him, but soon abandoning the effort. At least, as he had hoped, conversation might distract her a little. "I suppose you were – sitting in a muddy, waterlogged trench, having prised your boots off after a week to change your socks for once! That doesn't sound very much fun."
He chuckled softly. "Almost, darling. Actually, you're near enough spot on for Kit; though when Bel came I was…" Unsure suddenly whether or not to tell her, he trailed off. She didn't need to know how desperate that had been.
She wanted to, however. "You were what?" she encouraged him softly. He so rarely spoke about all that, now. And while she would never want to push him, she knew that he must feel able to express it, if he wanted to – it was such a part of his life, that she still had so little idea about.
"I was – fighting. A bloody bad one, actually," he whispered, moistening his lips. "I know, because I – well, I got the message from Mother the moment I got back." Mary's eyes, watching him, glittered in the moonlight. He took a shuddering breath, rubbing her hands softly between his own. "I remember it was raining – it was when my ear was – nicked, I nearly –" He gasped as Mary's finger traced lightly over the scar (tiny, now) on his earlobe. He swallowed. "Anyway, to hear of Bel when I made it back… Oh, my darling… What about you? I mean – before…"
"Reading one of your letters," she smiled tremulously, her discomfort almost forgotten. "I still have them all, you know."
"Do you? That's an awful lot of letters, my dear…"
"Of course! Don't you?"
"Most of them, certainly!" He smiled and kissed her fingers. "Only, I'm not sure that all of them – well, after I was wounded I don't know that they were all – sent back with my things. But I have most." It seemed so strange to think of, now… like a different world, so far removed from his life now and yet it could never be entirely forgotten. He wouldn't want it to be. It hadn't been so very long ago that this life had seemed like only a dream.
"Oh, darling…" She hadn't wanted to make him think of that, not now. Smiling at the sensation of his lips on her hand, she stroked softly along his bottom lip. "We have been quite lucky, haven't we?"
"Quite?" Matthew exclaimed fondly. "Very, I think! So very lucky, my darling…"
And he was so very, very grateful for all of it. That he was alive, that he was here, that he was healthy and for his children… And all at once it overwhelmed him, and there was nothing he could say, or do, but to kiss his wife and let her know it by that.
"Matthew!" she gasped against his lips, finding her request for distance suddenly disregarded as the warm weight of his body covered her, his hands on her…
"You'll forgive me…" His low voice thrummed against her lips in a warm whisper. As his hand traced from her cheek, to her shoulder, to her… breast, she found any thought of complaint fast disappearing. The uncomfortable heat that had swathed her all even was fast being replaced by a far more… intoxicating sort of heat, a heat that simmered into her very core as his fingers teased in a firm, taunting caress, relentlessly, at her breast.
Of its own volition, her body writhed up against his hand. He murmured a deep hum of contentment, deciding at the last moment to keep Clarkson's words of advice to himself. She just needed to enjoy this… Sucking gently on her lower lip, eliciting a soft groan in response, he allowed his hand to slip from her breast (oh, she protested at that but he would not keep her waiting long), down her waist to her hip, where it lay for a moment… then to her thigh, squeezing in a gentle massage as he sought the hem of her nightdress and slipped up under it, fingers stroking gently at the already wet heat of her. His lips closed over her breast, teeth scraping gently through the silk before sucking with more fervour and his breath was hot, his lips were hot and his fingers eased up, in, then again, thumb circling (gently at first, then rougher and firmer as she bucked in pleasure) over and over her.
Under his devoted and taunting attentions, Mary flamed with arousal, forgetting any other feeling as she allowed every sensation he invoked to flood her perception. She grasped at his hair, his shoulders… He groaned around her breast and she shuddered… Gasped, then moaned, then… cried out, forgetting propriety and everything but the feel of his mouth on her, his hands, his fingers embedded within her; she felt herself convulse around him, he groaned again, the most delicious sort of spasm and she cried out and –
"My God, Mary!"
He'd stopped; it took her a moment to register. Her eyes slowly blinked open to see Matthew, sitting bolt upright over her, his expression more shocked than she'd seen in her life.
And then she felt it.
It was time.
Matthew found himself amazed – in awe, almost – by the near military precision with which things swung into action. His mother showed no alarm when he appeared at her door in his dressing gown. Clarkson was telephoned, Beth fetched towels, Ellen made Mary as comfortable as possible. In fact, Matthew felt slightly useless.
It was too late to wake the girls. Mary hadn't wanted them to be here, Matthew could've kicked himself for not taking precautions by letting them stay at the Abbey in readiness… but it couldn't be helped now. He left Miss Ludbrook with instructions to take them down to the kitchen if they woke; there was little he believed could not be remedied or comforted by Mrs. Bird's warm milk and biscuits.
He sat beside Mary, clutching her hand tightly as each wave of pain shuddered through her and passed. Hours passed, daylight came, and still they sat with little sign of anything much happening, yet. Matthew hadn't realised things took this long; though everyone assured him it was quite usual. And still he felt so useless. He held her hand, mopped her brow, wished he could shoulder the pain when it came.
Morning came fully. Matthew realised that he hadn't dressed, still. Mary waved him away, insisting she'd be perfectly alright if he left for ten minutes to wash and dress, and so he did. He felt better for it, and only wished Mary could do the same (though what point would there be?). Mabel and Catherine had woken now anyway; though he still indulged them with breakfast in the kitchen before sending for the car. Miss Ludbrook readied them, and herself to take them.
It was nearly lunchtime when Clarkson finally gave his notice, and Isobel suggested that Matthew wait outside or downstairs.
"What?" he simply stared at them. How could he leave, now? Just when she was about to go through the worst?
"Mrs. Crawley is right," Clarkson glanced at Matthew as he readied some things. Matthew stared at them, recoiling slightly, clutching Mary's hands tighter. "This part is not – pleasant, and there really should be as few people as possible."
Not pleasant? "That's all more reason I'd like to be here –" he protested.
"Matthew," his mother tried again. "It's not – usual, for the father to be present; it's not very – proper." The birth chamber was no place for any man that was not a doctor. "Mary will be perfectly alright."
"For heaven's sake!" Mary pushed herself up higher, glaring at them all. "What in our entire marriage has been usual? Who do you think will care?"
"Lady Mary, I –"
"Oh, pipe down," she hissed at the doctor, who blustered at her expression. "I reckon Matthew has been absent for more of the time since we married than he's been present, he didn't see either of his daughters until they were months old at least and then we thought we'd never – he'll damn well not miss this!"
Matthew swallowed and sat back down beside her.
"Of course I won't, my darling." His quiet voice soothed her, while his fierce look back at his mother and Clarkson allowed for no argument. They were too shocked to attempt it, in any case.
No, he would not miss this. And he was unutterably glad for holding firm, for Mary's determination, as her screams rent the air, again and then again, her respite getting briefer and briefer as she struggled to bring their baby into the world.
He couldn't tell whether he was clutching her hand tighter than she clutched his. If only there were more he could do! But there was nothing, nothing beyond holding her hand, pressing cool flannels to her forehead, whispering reassurances to her that did as much to calm himself as her.
All concept of time passing disappeared. Where they had waited for hours, time dragging painfully slow, the seconds now raced on in a blur. The room and his entire perception seemed to fill with screams and sweat and tears and – blood, God, he hadn't expected so much and then – then as quickly as it all had started, there was a rush of silence.
Mary collapsed back against the pillows, eyes closed, hair damp against her face and neck. Her chest heaved in shuddering breaths, and her hand now trembled limply in Matthew's. He felt almost sick with worry, with love, with desperation, as he stroked back her hair and kissed her flushed, damp cheeks, forgetting everything else as pride for his darling wife burst in his chest. She'd been through this three times, now, he realised… and twice without him. How had she managed? What a darling she was, how strong she must be! If he'd ever thought her to be strong before (and he did, so very strong), it was nothing to what he saw of her now.
So strong, but now she looked so weak, and spent…
"Darling? My darling, how do you feel? Can you hear me?" he whispered desperately, rubbing her hand firmly.
"Of course I can hear you, dear," she murmured through barely parted lips without opening her eyes; though her head shifted a fraction toward him. He smiled.
"Good. Good, well – I think they're just – actually, I don't know –" He turned to see where his child had been taken. And at that moment, as if in answer, the most beautiful sound pierced the air.
It was funny, Matthew thought to himself in that moment. A scream had always been such a terrifying sound to him. A sound that cried of pain, of fear, of death – he'd heard it on the lips of dying soldiers, on his own in the rush of pain and battle, on Mary's through her labour – and yet, when he heard their baby scream for the first time… it was a sound of such joy and hope and life – a signal of a promise he'd thought could never be given – that tears sprang unchecked to his eyes, and he wept while Mary tenderly brushed them from his cheeks.
Only minutes later, and they were at last left alone.
"I don't think I've ever seen something so small," Matthew whispered in wonder, settled on the bed with Mary tucked under his arm, his free hand tracing reverently over the tiny, soft cheek of their sleeping child.
"Bel and Kit were smaller," Mary smiled adoringly. "But they weren't so late."
"I can hardly believe it."
The baby's tiny fingers flexed and curled around Matthew's, whose delighted chuckle made Mary's heart burst with contentment. This must be what it was like, she considered, to be quite perfectly happy. Or – well, as near to perfectly happy as she ever could be.
She nestled her head against her husband's shoulder, and sighed gently. "I wish – Mama –" But then her words disappeared into a quiet sob.
Matthew only pulled her (them) closer into his arms, kissing the top of her head.
"I know, my darling… I know."
Never had Mary missed her mother more than at this moment. For she'd always – been here – for Mabel, almost immediately, and after only an hour or so with Kit and now – she never would be. Mary missed her reassurance, her comfort, the comfort that a daughter can only take from her mother, especially at such a time. If only they hadn't wasted those last few months with squabbles and silence! How bitterly she regretted it now.
If she were to have one consolation, though… it was to have Matthew. To feel his warm, strong arms around her and protecting her, and their baby. They were so very, very lucky.
"I'm so glad you're here," she whispered, pressing a soft kiss to his neck.
"So am I!" he chuckled softly. For a moment, a contented silence settled. Then, "You know, your Mama would be so very proud of you, darling."
"Do you think? I hope so!" She sat up a little to smile weakly at him. "And…" her gaze turned down to the baby in her arms. "At least we know she'd have approved of the name."
"Mm." Matthew couldn't stop gazing, couldn't stop touching the wondrous, soft, pink new skin of his baby. He'd never been so happy in his life, never felt such a bond to such a tiny thing. "Mary, do you think – I might –"
He didn't need to ask twice (or even once, fully) before Mary eased the child into his arms, a radiant smile on her face. Matthew took his charge with reverence, with care, cradling the tiny, swathed baby so delicately yet so securely in his arms. He hardly dared to breathe.
"Darling, are you happy?" Mary watched them, in utter adoration.
"Perfectly… my darling girl."
As he sat, his baby (less than an hour old, still) in his arms and his wife nestled against his shoulder, Matthew felt… complete. Perfectly complete, and perfectly happy.
He decided to walk up to the Abbey, later that day. After spending all night and most of the day closeted in the bedroom, now stifling and smelling of sweat and medicine, he fancied the fresh air. He'd left Mary and the baby, washed and changed and settled, both asleep amid fresh sheets and blankets. All the way, he'd imagined the girls' faces as he told them – he'd asked Isobel to hold off calling, that he might witness their reaction himself.
Carson was surprised to see him, when he opened the door.
"Mr. Crawley? Is everything…"
"Everything's perfectly alright, Carson," Matthew beamed, putting him instantly at ease. "We're – all – very, very well."
"Well, then, might I offer my congratulations to yourself and Lady Mary?" the kindly butler smiled, with enormous warmth in his deep expression. "Lord Grantham is in the library, I believe – with the Misses Mabel, and Catherine."
"Thank you, Carson, and – thank you."
Matthew went so far as to shake his hand, clasping it warmly before going through.
Mabel and Catherine were rather occupied on the floor when Matthew came in. Catherine lay sprawled in front of a book, poking her fingers at the words and tracing over the pictures though she couldn't understand much of it. Mabel had crawled under a table with Isis, the dog's wagging tail the only clue to their whereabouts as Mabel set to make it a den. At the sound of the door, though, and Grandpapa's exclamation of, "Matthew! We weren't expecting you," she scrambled out.
"Papa! Grandpapa said the telephone would tell - but you here…"
"Yes, darling, I'm here," Matthew laughed, swinging her up into his arms and around in the air once before settling her onto the settee. He turned to see Catherine tugging at his leg.
"Papa swing?" she asked.
"Well, alright," he chuckled and up she went too, and around, squealing happily in delight before landing with a little thump on the settee beside Mabel. "You'll forgive me not having telephoned – I rather wanted to tell you myself." He glanced back at Robert, his tone cooling only a fraction, now.
The Earl nodded. "Of course. Can I – assume from your demeanour that you've happy news to report?"
"Yes," Matthew nodded, unable to repress his grin. "Yes." He crouched beside the settee, and took each of his daughters' hands in his own. "I thought, my darlings, that you'd like to know that you've – a little brother!"
"Wha's brother?" Catherine peered at her father.
"Means it's a boy, Kit," Mabel elbowed her (not too harshly). "Can he play?" she asked eagerly.
Matthew laughed at their delight. "No, he – he can't play, darling, not just yet. He's rather too little for that, for a while yet."
"Oh yes. I remember – Kit was too –"
"Yes, darling. Do you remember the name we decided on? If you were to have a brother?"
"Umm..." Mabel's expression pinched in concentration, as Catherine watched her, waiting for an answer. "Oh! Bobby!"
"That's it, Bel. It's short for Robert, like Grandpapa." It was always the name Cora had championed, should they ever have had a boy. Of course that was his name, now.
He finally turned at the quiet, but audible gasp from the Earl. Slowly, Matthew stood up and turned to face him, as Mabel chattered excitedly to Catherine about the fun they would have with their baby brother.
"A son?" Robert whispered, his voice trembling with emotion.
"Yes," Matthew answered simply, before his expression broke into a brilliant smile.
It took only a moment's hesitation, a moment's remembrance of the distant conflict, that made Robert unsure before he rushed forward, taking Matthew's hand then, without really thinking about it, pulling him into a tight embrace.
"Oh, my dear boy. My very… very, dear boy. Congratulations."
Matthew stiffened for the briefest moment, more in surprise than resistance, before he welcomed the embrace of his father-in-law.
"Thank you," he whispered.
A/N: There we are! They deserved some happiness, I thought. They've earned it. It was always my plan - always, long before I'd thought to do the AU series 2 - to ultimately end this fic with them having a son after the war. I've still got the CS to write, and then an epilogue, and then... that'll be it!
Thanks so much for reading. I very much hope you enjoyed it, and of course I'm always thrilled to know what you thought - so please let me know in a review, and I shall appreciate it enormously! Thank you!