A/N: it's been a long time coming, but the epilogue is finally here (*sniff*)! I can't believe this fic has been going on for over a year now - it has flown by, but I must thank you all for being so, so wonderful and so patient with me! I really, really appreciate it.
"My dress is on the floor."
Matthew turned his head to the side upon hearing his fiancee's – his wife's – comment, and saw that the fine white lace was indeed sitting in a crumpled pile on the hard-wooden floor.
"So it is."
Mary, whose head was resting on Matthew's warm chest, could sense the smugness in his tone. Obviously he was remembering how it had ended up there.
"It's nothing to be proud of. That dress cost me a fortune." She chided, delicately scratching her fingers over his torso.
"Well, it's not as if you're going to wear it again." Matthew retorted as he massaged her scalp.
"No," Mary sadly acknowledged the fact that she was no longer a bride-to-be, "but I may want to look at it every now and then - when I'm old and grey or something - and I'd like it not to be misshapen and covered in dust and fluff."
"Do you want me to get out of bed and pick it up?" Matthew asked pointedly, suspecting that his new wife was simply indulging in her hobby of playful complaining.
"No." Came the soft reply, and he smiled into her hair, wrapping his arms more firmly around her bare body.
"So what do you want to do today?" He asked, slowly dragging the pads of his fingers along her upper arm and watching how her soft skin reacted underneath it.
"I thought we were going to open up all our presents?" Mary replied. She shivered slightly under his touch and pressed herself more closely against him.
"Yes, but after that?" Their flight to Turkey wasn't until late that evening, giving them the whole day to themselves. Matthew had purposely booked it as such; the days leading up to the wedding had been hectic and the honeymoon, as wonderful as he was sure it would be, would be fairly busy with sight-seeing and...well, other tiring pursuits. He'd therefore felt it important for them to have some time, suspended between all the excitement, where they could rest and relax.
"I'm not sure we'll have much time after that – did you see how many presents we got?" The gleeful tone of a six-year-old on Christmas morning was apparent in her voice, and it made Matthew chuckle.
"This is probably a stupid question, but would you like to start opening them now?" Matthew said teasingly.
"Hmm, not quite yet..." Mary replied lowly, pushing herself up the bed slightly so that she was level with him. Her hair formed a silken curtain around his face as she nuzzled his nose with hers. Their wedding gifts had been left overnight in a locked room downstairs in the hotel, and they'd need to call someone to bring them up to their room. Mary wasn't quite ready, however, for an interruption to the blissfully peaceful morning with her new husband.
"Oh?" Matthew feigned innocence, even though her intentions were crystal clear. "Is there something in this room that appeals to you more than presents?"
Mary smirked down at him. Their little games and role-plays never ceased to thrill her, no matter how silly or unamusing they would be to an outsider. "I think I've got the best present of all right here." She whispered, dipping her head an inch to capture his top lip between hers.
"I forgot to ask you something yesterday," Matthew began.
"What is it?" Mary brushed her fingers through the locks of hair that had escaped from the groom's neatly gelled wedding-day style and become tousled during the night.
"Do you feel any different?" To him, it had felt as if his whole universe had slotted into place the second he slid the ring onto her finger and said 'I do'. The world seemed brighter when they left the church together than it had when he'd entered alone.
It took Mary only a brief moment to consider the question. "No, not really." She said simply.
She regretted her blunt response when she saw Matthew's expression fall, disappointment etched on his sweet face.
"Oh, no, that's not what I meant-" she said hurriedly, sitting up straighter and earnestly clasping his face between her hands. "I just meant that - I don't feel any different now because...well, I already thought of myself as your wife. I have for a while." She blushed at the admission. It must sound rather ridiculous, and potentially a little frightening, to Matthew's ears. Unexpectedly, though, Matthew was beaming.
"Really? In the days leading up to the wedding, you mean?" He asked.
"Yes, but also before then...before you'd even proposed, actually." She said, blushing a little less now that she could see him looking so pleased. "And I thought of you as my husband. Possibly even when you were still someone else's." She whispered, not wanting to reflect on those trying, despondent times now.
Wordlessly, Matthew gently grasped her shoulders and pulled her down to him for a loving, reassuring kiss.
Later that afternoon, the newlyweds found themselves sat on the carpet of their hotel room, rifling through the dozens of boxes gifted to them. They laughed at some of the vases of questionable taste from Mary's relatives, and read their cards and guestbook together. Violet had given them the largest gift of all by handing over one of her London properties to them, so they could begin their lives together in their own home. The others, however, were still greatly appreciated by them both; it being both of their second weddings, Matthew and Mary had opted for a relatively small ceremony with only their nearest and dearest in attendance.
"We can have a quick nap before we go to the airport." Matthew said, noticing Mary stifle a yawn behind her hand. In spite of the immense happiness that it had brought them, yesterday had been tiring for them both, and they hadn't exactly done much sleeping during the night...
Mary smiled at him gratefully, albeit sheepishly. She hadn't wanted to give him the impression that she was anything less than joyous and glowing in the bask of their new status as husband and wife, but she could feel her eyelids drooping under the weight of exhaustion. Slowly raising herself off the floor, she clambered back into bed and awaited Matthew's appearance beside her.
"We need to find somewhere to keep all of this stuff." Matthew sighed, surveying the vast array of gifts that covered the floor. "We can leave them in the spare bedroom until we figure out where to put everything." He suggested. It would most likely take them a while to redecorate their new house and unpack their essential belongings before they would have time to decide where to place the various ornaments and antiques that they'd received.
"Not for too long, though." Mary murmured, snuggling under the duvet. "We'll need that room for the baby."
Matthew's head snapped up so quickly that he almost suffered from whiplash. "What?"
The utter astonishment in his voice alerted Mary to what she'd just said. Bolting upright, she placed a hand over her mouth as if that would trap what had already escaped her lips. Matthew was staring at her open-mouthed, his eyes wide and questioning.
"Are you...?" He prompted. She wasn't saying anything and it was frustrating him, but the shock and adrenaline running through his veins was almost paralysing. After a few moments that felt like several hours, Mary slowly nodded at him.
"Yes," she breathed out. This quiet confirmation was all Matthew needed for a tidal wave of euphoria to rush over him. A wide grin instantly spread over his face and he could feel his heart pounding against his chest. But something didn't quite feel right - Mary was seemingly not sharing in his joy. "Oh God, sorry." She apologised, holding her hands to her face.
"What? Why?" He asked, beginning to panic. What reason could there be to feel regretful over such beautiful news?
"I didn't mean to tell you like this - I wanted to tell you later." Mary replied, biting her lip anxiously.
"But why?" Matthew persisted, still feeling like he was missing something. He stood up. "Why didn't you tell me sooner? How long have you known?" He was aware of how many questions he was firing at her but he didn't understand why she would feel the need to delay informing him of this, something so important.
"I found out a week ago, but didn't want to tell you when we were about to have the wedding. There was so much going on already and I was afraid-" She paused suddenly, her brow creased.
"What? What were you afraid of?" Matthew rushed to sit down beside her and stroked her upper arm to comfort her.
"I don't know - I just - " Mary hesitated, "I just worried that you might be unhappy or something. And I didn't want that to hang over our wedding and honeymoon."
All Matthew could do was frown and vigorously shake his head from side to side. Finding his voice, he said urgently, "Mary, why on Earth would I ever be unhappy about this?"
"Because you're so busy with the theatre and I'm busy with Crawley's, and we'd said we'd wait at least eighteen months before starting a family, so it's just not a good time-" Mary explained. During their engagement they had discussed plans for the future, and they'd both agreed that neither of them were mentally prepared for having a baby any time soon. The theatre was increasingly busy and consumed a lot of Matthew's energy, while Mary was gradually enlarging her role in the management of Crawley's as her father was considering retirement within the next five years. Consequently, Mary had been wary of the pregnancy posing as a burden to Matthew, who was only just beginning to reap the full benefits of all his hard work and sacrifice. She herself had been surprisingly pleased by the discovery - the thought that she and Matthew had created a new life, a tiny baby that was now nestled safely inside her, was overwhelming - but she had been unsure of what Matthew's reaction would be. It had seemed a wise idea to wait until they returned from their honeymoon to speak to him about it.
"Mary," he interrupted her firmly. "There is never going to be a bad time to find out that we're having a child together." He said, his smile reappearing as he spoke the words aloud. Mary, able to see the genuine, unadulterated delight in his expression, mirrored his broad grin.
Releasing a breathy laugh and letting the giddiness that she'd been suppressing finally overtake her, she held her arms out and he promptly pressed himself against her in a tight hug. "So you're happy, then?" She asked needlessly, lovingly stroking across his shoulders and playing with his hair.
"God, Mary, I couldn't possibly be happier." Matthew replied, his voice rich with emotion, kissing her neck as much as he was able to.
"I'm glad." Mary said softly. Tears pricked at her eyes and she buried her head against Matthew's shoulder, clutching him closely. She was everything with him, and nothing without him, and she didn't know how to express her gratitude for all that he had given her, and was continuing to give her.
"Wait - is this why you didn't have any champagne yesterday?" Matthew suddenly asked. He'd been curious as to why his bride had outrightly rejected all offers of celebratory drinks, but he'd accepted her excuse of not wanting to spend the evening light-headed. The small chuckle from Mary answered his question.
"Yes, this is why. Although I didn't feel like I needed any alcohol anyway - I felt delirious enough without it." She placed a soft kiss on his shoulder.
Matthew pulled back in order to look at her properly but kept his arms snugly around her waist. "Can you feel anything?" He asked wondrously, tentatively sliding an arm from behind her to touch her stomach, which was still flat.
Mary laughed delightedly at his sweetness. "Darling, I'm only about seven weeks along! It'll be a while yet before he or she makes their presence properly known." She kissed his cheek, enjoying the continued look of wonder on his face.
Blushing slightly at his silly question, Matthew looked back up at her. Her face, which had looked nothing short of divine since she'd walked down the aisle and made her vows to him, was glowing anew. The idea that it was he whom she had chosen - that it was he who was fathering her child - was almost beyond comprehension. Above all, though, he was proudest of the fact that he had made her as happy as she had made him.
Everything they'd been dreaming of, everything they'd been daring to wish for, was finally here. It was all almost too much to bear. Unable to contain the abundance of love permeating his heart, Matthew leaned forward and kissed her deeply.
Sighing against him, Mary tenderly caressed his face as she enjoyed the familiar-yet-exhilarating sensation of his lips earnestly gliding against hers. He was her best friend, her lover, her husband, and now the father of her child. She tugged him down as she lay on her back, and his warm weight settled on top of her. She felt completely loved, wholly protected. She felt as if everything was just as it should be, and yet it was all beyond her imagination.
And so, as they shed each other of their clothes and languidly made love, her legs sliding along his and his hands softly kneading her flesh, holding the growing symbol of their love between them, they wondered at their luck in having found each other. It could have so easily all been different - this moment, this promise of a future, may never have happened. And when they finished, and lay wrapped in each other's arms, Matthew kissed her ring finger, and she kissed his.
A/N: there we are! I'm finding it quite emotional ending this. Thanks again to absolutely everyone who read this story and wrote reviews and supported me even when I was in a bit of a rut and delaying updates. I appreciate it more than I can say. I feel like I've grown so much as a writer through creating this story and I am sure I will write the odd one-shot from this universe every now and then. Thanks once again, and please do let me know what you think! Lots of love xxx