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03 September 2008 @ 15:52
Fiction: The turn of the seasons (unfinished)  
This is an unfinished Mary Poppins story in pieces. I may finish it someday, I may not, but there are pieces of it I'm really proud of and posting it doesn't really bother me. In writing terms I was challenging myself to be intensely descriptive in terms of how things are experienced through senses. In storytelling terms the concept was Mary giving up her magical abilities for a year and a day as a sample of mortal, human life, so that she could choose between Bert and her career fully informed. Takes place prior to whichever version of the story you're familiar with and Mary and Bert, as always, belong to PL Travers, CamMac, and Disney.

I'm not quite sure how to rate this as it's not smutty, but is some of the steamiest stuff I've ever written. Just consider yourself warned.


Prologue

‘Has such a thing been known to happen?’ she asked.

The voices replied from the darkness, ‘There is a precedent, yes.’

‘What is to be done?’

‘You must decide. You must decide if you want to leave us for this man and if you do, you must become mortal as he is.’

There was a note of fear in her voice, ‘I must decide now?’

‘No. There is a trial period. We shall give you the chance to live as a mortal, so you shall understand your decision fully. You shall have a year and a day. Then you are bound to your decision forever.’

She bowed her head before the shadowed figures looming around her. ‘Thank you.’

‘It starts now.’

What little light there was faded and she was lost, drifting somewhere in time and space, and the darkness was in her mind and she slept.



Journey

She was cold. She knew instantly that was what she was even though she had never felt it before. There was a sharp scent in the air she breathed, salty but fresh; and her ears were filled with a crashing, roaring, skittering sound.

Mary Poppins awoke on the beach and knew she was mortal. She felt alive as she never had before; the gauze that had separated her from living for so long was gone and she revelled in the excitement of her senses. The sun was rising over the dune behind her and there was a chill in the air. Still, she ran her fingers over the sand, feeling the smoothness and grittiness of it all at once and she brushed it away where it had attached to her coat. The wind teased at her hair and she couldn’t help but smile at it. Her carpetbag and umbrella were next to her, as familiar as they had always been. She dug the heels of her boots into the sand and was taken by a more delightful idea. Quickly she undid the laces and pulled her boots off and then rolled her stockings down and off and stuffed them inside. She buried her feet in the sand, feeling it grow colder and damper the deeper she dug her toes in. She ran to the waters edge and let the icy waves lap at her feet and she was cold but it was a new sensation and exciting. The sea had never seemed as big as it did in that moment and she was suddenly aware of her own smallness in the world. And she began to shiver and being cold was no longer new and exciting but uncomfortable and she scrambled back to her stockings and boots and carpet bag.

There was little in it, or, rather, it was full but now contained much less than she was used to seeing in it and for the first time her hand found a bottom to the bag. She emptied it onto her lap and found less than half her clothes and little else; the blanket she had intended to wrap around herself wasn’t there. The blue coat with silver buttons she would have called her warmest was proving woefully inadequate as the sharp wind of the ocean cut straight through it. There was nothing for it but to put on her hat and gloves, wrap the scarf about her neck and set off. With luck she would feel the warmth of the sun more once she was away from the water and be able to track down a nice, hot cup of tea. She put everything back in the bag, carefully arranging it to make everything fit, closed it and picked up the parrot-headed umbrella. She smiled at him, at this start of their next adventure, but his eyes were dull and lifeless and he was just a piece of carved wood. A small, dull ache settled in her heart as she realised the enormity of what she was doing, but she held the image of Bert before her and pushed the ache aside and started on her way.

*

Several hours later there was still no sign of anyone else, no farmhouses, villages, she had yet to discover a road. Despite the chill in the air the sun was bright and she could feel that the skin across her nose and cheeks was tight and burnt. Her arms and shoulders and back were stiff and sore from carrying the weight of the carpetbag and trying to find a comfortable way to carry the umbrella. Her feet ached, they felt hot and swollen and there was a pain in each step that told her where her blisters were. She was thirsty and hungry and tired. And she didn’t know which was worse. Each sensation was new and unpleasant for pain was as unfamiliar as everything else she felt and she had never known it came in so many forms, sharp, hot, stinging, dull; and colours, white and rust-red and a blackness that darted across her vision. She would have cried if she knew how to. More than anything she wanted to give up and fly to London, but she couldn’t. And so she switched the carpetbag to her other hand, used the umbrella as a walking stick, and carried on.

In the afternoon she came across a stream of quick, clear water. Slowly she put the carpetbag down, laying the parrot along side it. She turned a circle, scanning the landscape in every direction, but she was alone. She took her hat and gloves off and settled herself on the grassy bank; then she dipped her handkerchief in the cold water of the stream and pressed it to her sunburnt cheeks. It felt good and soothing and she let her skin warm the damp cloth before repeating the process again and again. She cupped her hands in the water and raised them to her lips and drank until she could drink no more. Because the cold of the water felt so soothing to her face, and because the pain in her feet was also a burning one, she thought soaking them would be just as soothing.

Quickly she unlaced her boots and drew them from her feet, too quickly, for they scraped against her blisters and made her gasp with the pain of it. Far more gently she rolled her stockings down and off and then slid her aching feet into the glorious, numbing cold of the water. It hurt at first, of course, but relief followed. After a time, when the cold of the water had numbed her feet and seeped throughout her body she took them out, dried them and carefully replaced her stockings and boots.

For one moment she thought she had cured the pain. She came unsteadily to her feet and stood there, but with her first steps the insides of her boots scraped her stockings against the softened skin of her feet with a hot, knifing pain. She dropped to her knees, gritting her teeth against the throbbing waves of pain. It was impossible to stay there though, there weren’t many hours of daylight left and she did not want to contemplate the problems that a lack of shelter for the night would cause. Several deep breaths helped her to stagger back to her feet and as she started off again she began to count her steps. One step closer to Bert, two steps closer to Bert, anything to take her mind off the pain.

She followed the course of the stream under the rationale that at least she had water to drink and surely it would lead her to people. As the shadows lengthened towards evening her hope began to fail. The landscape was growing rockier, hillier, and treacherous for someone in her weakened state and doubly so as it darkened. Her little stream had been wandering along the edge of a forest for some time and now it plunged into a grove of trees, reluctantly she followed and shortly thereafter it emerged on the banks of the pond that fed it. To her left the forest reached past the pond and off towards mountains and to her right a steep hill covered in heather and bracken with no visible path was lit by the last rays of the sun.

Despair gripped her then. Until that moment she had never considered that anything might be impossible, that she would ever be faced with something she could not do. She shook her head. No, she thought, I will not fail; I will not allow this silly hill to defeat me. If mortals can climb mountains I can do this, and when I reach the top I will see someplace safe to spend the night. With her carpetbag in one hand, her umbrella in the other and her determination leading her onwards she started up. It was a long and difficult climb, the branches scratching and catching at her clothes, one snagging her so badly she simply had to tear her skirt to carry on. The sunk sank completely below the horizon as she crested the hill, but there, to her disbelief and relief, was a village was surrounded by meadow in the narrow valley. There was smoke rising from chimneys and lamplight spilling from windows and she had never seen anything so beautiful.

She could just make out the shape of a path running along the top of the hill and then down towards the village and she followed it, finding her way carefully. It seemed like ages yet moments before she found herself among buildings and she walked towards the centre, looking for an inn. There was one along the side of a small square and it looked busy but not crowded, though she was more interested in the evidence of a blaze in the fireplace and the scent of the evening meal.

She made her way inside, inquired about transportation to London and arranged for a room for the night before requesting a private dining parlour. If the local villagers thought her odd, in that moment she was too weary to care, but she retained her composure until the inn servants had brought all she needed and she could dismiss them.

Until the moment when she was faced with a meal she had been hungry in a way she had not known was possible and suddenly the scent of so many dishes on the table made her stomach quiver and her head ache. Knowing she had to eat something she cut a slice from the small loaf of bread and nibbled it delicately hoping that some small sustenance would give her courage for more. Her entire body ached and she was weary from the effort every small movement took, as unaccustomed to the weight of her own limbs as she was to the pain that invaded them. The bread revived her a little and she ventured to try the soup. Never before had she realised how wonderful eating soup could be, the delicious feeling of nourishing warmth running through her body and all richness of the accompanying flavours. Before she could fully appreciate the loveliness of the soup the bowl was empty and she turned her attention to the other dishes on the table until, her hunger now satisfied, exhaustion overtook her.

She pushed her chair back, intending to rise and ring the bell for someone to show her to her room, but the moment she put her weight back on her feet the pain returned and worse than before. Gripping the table for support she managed a few steps and then dropped to the floor. The pain was simply unendurable. She hung her head, ashamed that she could be brought so low and trying to find the will within herself to carry on. Sounds of someone approaching were enough, no matter what she would endure she would not be weak in front of someone else and she hauled herself to her feet and made herself appear as if nothing were wrong when the servant came in. All the way to her room she concentrated on not showing the pain she was in and upon arrival she was pleased to find a little fire and hot water for her to wash with already brought up so that she might not be disturbed until morning.

After locking the door she went over to where her bag sat on a little bench at the foot of the bed, wondering, as she struggled across the room, whether it might not be better to spare her feet at the expense of her pride and simply crawl. Finally, gratefully, she sank down next to her bag and took a moment to rest before bending forward to remove her boots. She remembered her hard-learned lesson of earlier in the day and slowly undid them, drawing the laces out completely so that she could spread the leather and slip them off while touching her feet as little as possible. The pain eased slightly now that her boots were off but it was still terrible. She turned to her carpetbag and took out her sponge, a small bar of soap, her hair brush and nightgown regretting that neither her slippers nor her dressing gown had been retained.

Slowly she rose and made her way to the washstand taking each step as gently as she could. She lifted the ewer, her arms barely able to manage its weight, and poured the steaming water into the bowl. She dropped the sponge into the water, set her soap and a towel in easy reach and began to undress. First she unpinned the little red bow she wears at the base of her collar, then to undo all the tiny buttons down the front of her blouse. It took far more effort to pull her arms from the sleeves than she thought possible, and the tiredness made her un-coordinated.

[end section]



After that failure she knew there was only one person left she could turn to, Bert. She knew she was in no condition to see him but she had no other choice, only the hope that the little money she had left would pay cab fare to his door.

It didn’t, but she managed near enough and she asked for clear directions to walk the last part of her journey in the rapidly closing dark. The afternoon’s exertions had taken their toll on her strength and she could feel her feet protesting the firmness of the pavement beneath them and the return of the sharp, burning pain in all the places where her feet were rubbed raw. It had rained earlier, and though still a reasonably respectable neighbourhood the older roads here were narrower and dirtier than their modern counterparts and more than once the passing traffic spattered her with filthy water. The temperature had dropped sharply with the last of the light and she could feel the cold finding its way under her coat. As she turned into the end of Bert’s road a thin, icy rain began to fall. She fumbled for a moment, not wanting to put her bag on the wet pavement but unable to open her umbrella with one hand, before deciding it simply wasn’t worth it, she was in such a state that a little rain was hardly going to matter. The wet made the cold even more biting though, and just then, when she thought she could bear no more, was the house number she had been looking for. It seemed almost too good to be true, especially when the woman, a housemaid of some variety, who opened the door agreed that Bert lived there (‘Back stirs, ri’ th’ top’ with a jab at the door which concealed them) and then disappeared back down towards the kitchens.

She stared at the steep, rickety stairs. At that moment they seemed entirely beyond her ability, cold and wet and weary to the marrow of her bones as she was. With a heavy sigh she forced herself to the first step, then the next, slowly conquering this final obstacle between her and Bert. When she reached the top she was out of breath and her strength was utterly spent. There was a tiny landing with one door and a glimmer of light escaping across the floorboards. She took the last two steps and knocked.

There were a few bumps and scrapes from within, then footsteps and in another heartbeat the door was open and Bert stood there, framed by the lamplight. For a long moment they stared at each other.

‘Mary?’

At the sound of her name on his lips she dropped her bag and umbrella and reached out to him. She had to touch him, to prove he was real, and there, and not some illusion of her muddled mind. And he was. He was solid and warm and she could smell the soot and chalkdust on his clothes as she pressed her face to his shoulder and slowly, gently, his arms came around her and held her and she knew she was safe.

All the pain and grief and frustration of the past few days came crashing about her and mixed with relief and happiness and her throat felt tight and her vision blurred. When she blinked her face was wet and as she clung to Bert she learned to cry.

Bert wasn’t entirely certain what had just happened. Though he had once told her she would be welcome anytime he had never expected her to act on the invitation, and certainly not to arrive on his doorstep in anything other than the pristine appearance he had always known her to have. The woman he had seen on opening his door was dishevelled and worn, mud spattered and wet from the rain, hair mussed and with no colour to her face beyond a fading band of sunburn. He almost didn’t recognise her. And now, feeling her against him, holding her as he had never dared hope he might, she didn’t feel as he expected. She seemed smaller, harder and so very, very thin. Even through her coat he could feel muscle and bone and the way she trembled as she cried and how fragile she was.

Without letting go of her he hooked her bag and umbrella inside the door with his toe before kicking it closed and then he lifted her and carried her the few steps so they could sit on what passed as his makeshift sofa. He took her hat off and she buried her face even closer in against his neck and he let his cheek rest on top of her head while his fingers traced soothing patterns on her back, desperately wishing he could have protected her from whatever had happened.

As she began to calm he pulled his handkerchief from his pocket, offering it to her as she lifted her head and tried to compose herself.

‘I’m sorry,’ she whispered, wiping at her eyes.

‘Nothing to be sorry for.’ He smiled and gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. ‘You take a minute and I’ll make some tea and then we can talk.’

Bert steadfastly avoided looking at her while she worked to regain the poise he knew so well and instead occupied himself at his little stove. It was, in its essence, a small, open coal fireplace with tiny, occasionally functional ovens to either side topped with a support for pots, pans and the kettle and intended to heat the entire room as well.

While his back was turned Mary removed her coat and took the opportunity to look about her. It was an attic, a garret, and while the floor stretched to the full length and width of the house the ceiling followed the slope of the roof and the practical living space was quite clearly dictated by how much of the room Bert could stand up straight in. A single oil lamp hung in the centre of the room and, though she could see several candle stubs, it and the fire were the only illumination. Before her was an iron bedstead, modified to fit as far under the slope as possible, with a chest of drawers at one end and at the other the majority of Bert’s clothing hung from a cluster of hooks on the ceiling. Behind her, ranged neatly along the floor, or hanging where needed, were the various tools for Bert’s myriad trades. The two vertical walls were dominated, to her right by the stove, shelves for dishes and storable foods and a work-table and to her left by the door, a basin with a hand-pump and above it a little cupboard and shaving mirror, and a little ice-box. The ice-box, like most of the other furnishings she could see, bore the signs of careful mending. She surmised that Bert collected broken things and repaired them for his own use when he did not build them himself, as many of the items appeared to be additions by his own hands. The sofa she sat on, while surprisingly comfortable, appeared to have been constructed from several crates and a variety of worn cushions. In the space between her and the basin stood an easel with a cloth draped over whatever he was painting and in the little alcove formed by the stove and the chest of drawers sat a tin hip bath. The only windows were set into the ceiling, two on each side, and Mary could guess that all that would be visible from them would be sky.

Bert finished the preparations for the tea, wishing he had a cup and saucer he could at least pretend matched to give her.

‘Don’t have any milk, I’m afraid, but there is some bread and cold ham if you’re hungry,’ he said, offering up his breakfast.

She blinked for a moment, ‘Oh, yes, thank you.’

He brought an empty crate over and upended it for her to use as a table. ‘Just the one sugar, yes?’

She nodded and he set the little meal before her and then he located another crate to sit on himself. He watched while she daintily ate and sipped her tea and when she was done he spoke.

‘Glad as I am to see you Mary I can’t help wishing it were a happier state that brought you to my door. Do you want to tell me what happened?’

She sighed. Part of her wanted to tell him the entire truth then and there and part of her knew it was too much, too soon. She settled for some of the tale.

‘Bert, I’m sure before now you might have guessed that I am rather, shall we say, magical.’ He nodded, the umbrella powered flight had been something of a giveaway after all, and she continued. ‘Well, I find myself, for the time being, away from my duties and entirely without my powers. As a result I am unable to contact my relations and I was hoping you might permit me to trespass on your kindness, for a little while anyway.’

‘Of course! Mary, you’re more than welcome here for as long as you care to stay, I’m honoured to have you.’ He paused, trying to find a way to ask without upsetting her. ‘But what I’m more concerned about what happened to you on your way here.’

She couldn’t tell him, she could hardly bear to think of it, let alone tell someone else of what she had endured. Especially not Bert, she wanted to appear unchanged in his eyes. ‘I was in the north and found the journey here difficult and tiring,’ she said.

He knew she was holding something back, there had to have been more for her to look as she did and explain how she greeted him, but he had enough manners not to press her for what she didn’t wish to share. Instead he offered what he thought might comfort her the most.

‘Perhaps you’d like a hot bath before you sleep?’

She met his eyes and smiled. ‘That would be wonderful.’

Bert made her another cup of tea and then set about filling all the buckets he could find with water and placing them on and around the stove to heat. He took some nails and rope and a drop-cloth and made a curtain to hang across the corner so she could have privacy and then he tucked her umbrella into the corner by the door, hung her coat on the hook next to his and moved her carpetbag next to the chest of drawers. For Mary, it was strange to have someone else be a hive of activity while she simply sat and watched. And all the while he worked he talked, not of anything serious that required her participation but just silly little stories to make her smile.

When the water was hot he began to fill the bath and she went to gather the things she would need from her bag. Her feet ached as they took her weight again and she was glad Bert’s back was turned so that he didn’t see her wince. He held the curtain open for her to creep under the low ceiling and presented her with a large piece of cotton flannel to use as a towel before leaving her alone with the instruction to enjoy her bath.

For a moment she stood there, hardly able to believe she was about to undress and bathe with another person, a man, in the same room and naught but a sheet between them. And then she remembered that this was Bert and he would never compromise her and the prospect of a hot bath was too delicious to pass by and she began to undress.

Bert settled down to continue re-bristling the chimney brush he had been working on before Mary’s arrival only to be distracted by the sound of her unlacing her boots and once his mind seized on the fact that she was undressing behind that sheet it would not let go. He listened intently to the soft rustling noises her blouse, skirt and petticoat made as she removed them, the gentle creak of her corset loosening and the clip noise as she unhooked the busks, the sliding noise of ties coming undone and the whisper as she shook her hair down and brushed it. There was a moment of silence followed by two little splashes as she stepped into the bath.

With a sigh Mary slid down in the hot water tucking her body up to fit as much of it beneath the surface as possible while her hair floated about her. Little by little she felt the soreness melt and tension dissolve though in the case of her feet she could not decide whether they were being soothed or made to hurt worse.

[end section]



Winter

The sound of Bert adding more coal to the stove woke her.

She was cocooned under the blankets and shifted slightly so that she could peek out and see him. As she lifted the covers and opened her eyes she blinked rapidly to clear the tears that came with the sudden in-rush of cold.

He glanced up and smiled at her, ‘Good morning.’

‘Good morning,’ she called back her voice muffled.

‘It snowed last night,’ he told her, fiddling with something near the stove and then checking the temperature of the water that was warming in a large pot. ‘I thought we could go for a bit of a walk, and I’ve got a surprise for you.’

‘Oh?’

He just smiled again and started wrapping himself up. ‘The water’s near hot enough and I set out your clothes to warm, so you can dress while I go get breakfast. I’ll be back soon.’ He slipped out the door, locking it and pushing the key back under to her.

She lay in bed another moment enjoying the (rapidly dissipating) warmth. They had performed a similar routine nearly every morning since her arrival two months ago and she still marvelled that he managed to do such things without waking her. Two months. The time had slipped by without her notice and she was no nearer a decision than when she started, if anything she was further. There were new worlds of Bert that she was discovering, his companionship and his kisses, the way a look or a touch could make her pulse speed up and send a blush spreading across her cheeks as a nameless, heavy ache stirred inside her. He could make her skin tingle and it felt almost like magic. Almost, but not quite. It was moments like these when she wished desperately for her magic, to warm the room or shield her from feeling the cold.

With a sigh she threw the covers off and swung her feet off the bed to feel for her slippers. Her right foot found soft leather and lambs wool but the left came into contact with the bare, icy floorboards. She drew her foot back with a sharp gasp. The air in the room was cold, and the floor that much colder, and she was filled with misery at the thought of Bert sleeping on that floor, night after night, made even worse because the thought hadn’t occurred to her before. After all the trouble she put him to it seemed terribly unfair discomfort him so, yet she also knew he was too much a gentleman and would never allow her to sleep on the floor if he were in the bed. Which really left only one option and so she climbed out of the bed and went to dress while pondering the etiquette (if there was one) for politely offering to share a bed with someone out of necessity.

*

Bert’s surprise turned out to be ice skating.

While she sat on the bench and buckled the skates on over her boots he skated around the little pond, sweeping the snow off the ice. She was surprised to see how confidently and easily he moved, it was something she had not expected of him, but then she was discovering many new things about him these days. Once most of the pond was clear he came over, laying the broom against the bench and offering his hand to help her stand.

‘Do you need help while you’re starting?’ he asked.

She gave him one of her looks. ‘I can manage perfectly well on my own, thank you,’ she crisply replied.

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes, Bert.’

He shrugged and skated off. Carefully she stepped onto the ice, taking a few steps away from the edge before pushing into a glide. Except… she was quite certain her feet were not meant to glide in opposite directions and before she could decide which one was going the wrong way she was laying on the ice.

Bert heard the soft thud as she landed and turned to see her attempting to stand but entirely unable to keep both of her feet under her long enough to do so. Laughing he skated over.

She glared up at him, ‘Really Bert. It’s not that funny.’

Managing to control his mirth, almost, he pulled her to her feet, catching her in his arms when she nearly fell again. ‘I suppose not for you, but you do look a sight Mary. Now, would you like some help?’

‘Yes, it does seem I need it after all,’ she said with a sigh. She felt awkward and ungainly and she didn’t like it, though she was starting to understand just how much she took the grace and elegance that apparently were a part of her magic for granted.

He stood in front of her and took her hands in his, slowly skating backwards and pulling her along, and then gently guiding her movements as she became more comfortable with the rhythm. She relaxed and began to enjoy herself, relying on Bert to keep her balanced and finding pleasure in the strangeness of being on the learning end of a lesson. They made several circuits of the pond before he let go of her hands.

‘Bert!’

He steadied her when the flicker of panic caused her to stumble.

‘You’re alright, you can do this.’ He reached up to tuck a wisp of hair back behind her ear, ‘I’m right here, trust me, and I won’t let you fall, alright?’

She nodded and they started again and this time, when he let go, she carried on skating towards his reassuring presence. It felt wonderful, this sense of accomplishment from learning to do something all on her own, and when Bert stopped, and held his arms out to her, she glided into them, laughing.

‘Having fun then, are we?’ he asked, spinning them around.

‘Yes. This is lovely, thank you so much.’

‘I’m just glad you like it,’ he dropped his head to kiss her for a moment and when they broke apart he came around behind her and held her close. ‘Try this with me, just move where I guide you,’ and he pushed off.

Mary had the decency to blush for it seemed rather intimate the way his arms wrapped about her and the gentle pressure of his legs directed hers. As they lapped around the pond he increased their speed until it seemed to her the world around them blurred and she was glad to be safely there with the warmth of his chest against her back. The beating rhythm and the rush of the wind made her wonder if this was how birds felt when they were flying.

Flying. With that one word a fierce aching for her magic shot through her and she tensed, her feet faltering and catching Bert’s, throwing them both off-balance.

When Bert felt her tense he had the barest moment to sense what was about to happen and react, directing their fall towards one of the piles of snow he had swept from the ice and twisting them so that he landed first.

He was on his back, more or less in the snow and Mary lay sprawled on top of him, still in the circle of his arms, her hat gone and her legs tangled with his. She looked up and met his eyes, blushing at the position they were in yet unable to move. He pulled off one of his gloves and reached up to brush his bare fingers down the side of her face before drawing her down for a kiss. Without much thought as to what he was doing, or where, he rolled them over, pressing her between himself and the snow as he deepened the kiss.

It was not until the hand that cradled her head began to numb with cold that he realised where they were and reluctantly broke the kiss. He opened his mouth to apologise but stopped as his eyes met hers. She looked entirely blissful, her hair mussed, pale skin glowing, lips a deep pink and open as her breath came short and sharp, her eyes a darker blue than he’d ever seen them. For a long moment they held that look, he knew he was losing himself to her and the desire he saw in her eyes mirrored his own.

Suddenly she became aware of their surroundings once again, lifting her head to glance about, and he realised how compromising their circumstances actually were. He quickly stood and helped her to her feet, and they each automatically moved to brush the snow from the other’s coat and then they stopped, standing there awkwardly, blushing and not looking at each other.

‘Perhaps we should call it a day,’ he suggested.

‘Yes, of course, I agree.’ She hurried back to the bench as quickly as the skates allowed, aware of him watching her from the moment her back was turned.

He retrieved her hat, keeping her in sight, thinking about what he had seen, what her look meant. At least what he hoped it meant, if it were possible he could be so lucky. On any other woman he would have known how to follow that look, but Mary was hardly any other woman, if only because he loved her above all else. He knew what he wanted but it only mattered if she wanted it too. With a sigh he sat on the bench next to her, his eyes following the curve of her spine as she bent forward to unbuckle the skates to the patch of exposed skin at the nape of her neck, wanting to stroke his fingers across to brush the fine hair out of the way and place a kiss there.

She watched as his feet came into view next to her, thankful for the distraction her ice skates provided, she felt embarrassed to look at him now, after that moment, what must he think of her? Once she had pulled the skates off she sat back up, stiff and proper, to find him watching her with an unreadable expression. A fresh blush began to creep up her cheeks but all he did was smile and hand her her hat before bending over to undo his own skates. She was settling her hat back on her head when she felt his elbow brush against her leg. Her eyes closed and she berated herself for the way her pulse quickened at such accidental contact, for to want such a thing must surely be wrong. Carefully she inched along the bench away from him.

Bert hadn’t meant to brush against her but he was unprepared for the way she drew away from him, putting physical distance between them just as she retreated behind the prim façade he’d worked so hard to reach her through. He realised he must have pushed her too far and guilt flooded through him at the thought that he misjudged so badly when it mattered so much.

Without discussion they left the green and began the walk back home in silence, he afraid to touch her and she afraid of what might happen if he did. The wind had picked up while they had been at the pond and it seemed to Mary, if possible given the cold of that morning, that the temperature had dropped even further. She was also rapidly becoming aware of how wet that moment in the snow had left her clothes, as the cold crept down to her bones she wrapped her arms around herself and dropped back so that she was just behind Bert and he wouldn’t see her shiver.

He noticed as she vanished from the corner of his vision but he could still hear her footsteps behind him so he waited until they turned a corner to risk a glance at her. She was huddled down inside her coat, shoulders hunched and head dropped low, and he could see her hands shaking with cold where they clenched her arms. He was torn between wanting to tuck her up against his side and keep her warm and not wanting to do anything that would take her farther away from him. As the only compromise he could see he quickened their pace, hoping the movement would warm her enough until he could sit her in front of the stove at home.

By the time they reached their door she felt frozen through, stiff with cold, and it every ounce of her will to walk normally and not shiver when she passed Bert as he held the door for her. He immediately went to stoke the fire while she pulled off her hat and scarf and gloves, grateful for the large buttons on her coat that her numb fingers could push through. Her boots proved a greater challenge but she managed to slide them off, though she supposed it helped that her feet weren’t feeling much either.

‘Shall I make us some tea while you put on dry clothes?’ he asked softly.

She nodded. ‘Yes, good idea,’ and she slipped off to change only to realise that the tiny buttons on her blouse were well beyond what she could manage.

Bert looked surprised when she came back out to stand beside him without having changed.

‘I thought I’d warm up a little first,’ she said.

He frowned slightly but didn’t comment, and he brought a blanket to lay on the hearth rug for her to sit on. Almost immediately she put her hands out towards the warmth and he reached out to catch them, worried for a moment that she was about to put them in the fire. She winced as his fingers touched hers but he gently held on to them.

‘Your hands are like ice. Why didn’t you tell me?’

‘I didn’t… I didn’t want to trouble you.’ She tried to pull away from him, ‘I can hold them to the fire; that will be fine.’

‘No, you need to warm them slower than that. And you can always trouble me; it’s no trouble at all. Let me do this for you, please?’

Part of her wanted to say no, to keep her distance, but his hands were warm against hers and he wanted to help her. It if was no more than that, it could hardly be wrong. She nodded.

He began to lightly rub her hands, warming the skin with the touch of his own, massaging the stiff cold from her fingers. She kept her head down, looking away, because when he touched her it always became more. She did not want to show him that the pleasure he caused was more unseemly than simple relief.

Bert was hesitant to warm her hands the best way he knew; worried that it might upset her again when she was starting to come back to him, but he could feel in the lingering chill it was needed. He leaned forward and breathed on her hands while continuing to softly rub them and then he glanced up to see her blush and uncomfortable look.

‘I’m just warming them,’ he said, ‘not anything else, and I’m sorry about earlier, I shouldn’t’ve taken advantage like that.’

‘No, it’s not that… I,’ she hesitated. ‘It is I who am sorry; I should not have… looked at you, like that.’

‘Like what? Oh, like you,’ he searched for a suitable phrase. ‘Like you enjoyed being kissed?’

Her blush deepened, but she nodded. ‘I know it was wrong of me, but…’

‘It wasn’t wrong.’ He reached up to smooth the hair at her temple, ‘Mary, I’m honoured to be the man that you… enjoy kissing.’

‘You are? But I thought—‘

‘Shh,’ he said as he touched his thumb to her lips to quiet her, lowering his face to hers. ‘Just enjoy it.’

With that he kissed her deeply, his hand moving to cradle her head and his fingers entwining into the luxuriant softness of her hair. His other arm reached around her waist and gently he part lifted her and part tipped her so that she came to rest comfortably on her back. Emboldened by her admission that he gave her pleasure he allowed his hands to wander over more of her body than they ever had before. When she tensed he broke the kiss to look into her eyes, she was surprised but not offended and he could see the dark desire burning deep within them again.

Mary felt a stirring deep within her, an aching, burning warmth, that responded to Bert’s touch as if his hands alone could both soothe and torment her. The sensations were strange and unfamiliar but when he stopped she knew the true torture would be his not continuing. She could read a new purpose in the way he looked at her then, and the intensity of his love frightened her slightly and excited her greatly.

He kept his gaze fixed on hers, watching her reaction, as he deliberately and slowly trailed his hand from the base of her throat over the small swell of her breasts and he felt her flesh rise to meet him as she inhaled sharply, then down her side to follow the barely perceptible curve of her hip as she exhaled with the softest sigh, only to elicit another gasp as she arched her back up against him when he held the back of her knee to press her leg to his.

More sensations than she could comprehend raced through her body but her face was close to Bert’s so she acted on the only clear thought she could find, tipped her head forward and kissed him. For him it was all the encouragement he needed.

One by one he undid the buttons of her blouse, dropping a kiss on each patch of soft, pale skin that was revealed, watching her blush deepen as he moved lower until he encountered the lace edge of her camisole. He drew her up into a seated position with a long kiss, quickly undoing the remaining buttons, and then pushed her blouse back, spreading his hands on her bare shoulders.

He was struck anew by the smallness of her. The full sleeves of her blouse had added a breadth to her shoulders that was not matched by her bones and the contrast of his large, strong, work roughened hands against the soft, pale, delicate fragility of her skin was almost too much to bear. Her collar bones were clearly visible with gentle hollows above them and he could almost see a fluttering pulse in her slender neck. She was timid and trembling at being so exposed to his gaze and he could not go on without hearing her say she wished him to. He dropped his hands and sat back from her.

‘Mary, I can’t… I can’t ask you to do this. You’re…such a lady and I’m—‘

‘The man I love,’ she said, surprising them both with her boldness. She had freed her hands from her sleeves and reached to gently touch his cheek. He could see how very shy and nervous she was, but also the trust and love she felt for him that gave her courage.

He pulled her to him then, whispering; ‘And I,’ he kissed her, ‘love,’ another kiss, ‘you,’ before claiming her with a kiss to end all indecision that dizzied her senses.

When she opened her eyes he was tossing aside some balled up clothing and then he brought her hands to rest on his bare chest, inviting her to touch, to acquaint herself with him. His skin was slightly darker than hers and, though slender, he was solid and strong, all effects of his hard working life. She slid her fingers through the light dusting of hair and then up to his shoulders, intending to kiss him again.

But he surprised her and ducked his head to press his lips to her neck and throat and collarbones even as his hands unhooked her skirt and untied her petticoats, sliding them off as he lay her back down again. The shape of her legs, encased only in her drawers and black stockings now, was revealed and he settled himself between them, propped up on his elbows as his fingers searched for the tiny buttons amidst the ruffles and lace of her camisole. The removal of each layer again reminded him that despite being taller than most women she was tiny in every other respect and harder underneath the softness of her skin than she appeared. He took great care in undressing her, as if he were unwrapping a china figurine, and he rested only a fraction of his weight on her, wanting her to bear as little work and as much pleasure as possible.

She could feel his weight lightly pressing against her in a caress more intimate than any she had ever thought she would know and she blushed to think this was only the beginning. He seemed to worship her with his eyes and hands and mouth and she felt her breath and heart speed up in the excitement of his touch. When he had fully opened her camisole he took her in his arms and shifted their positions so that she lay atop him. The feel of so much of her body, even through the stiffness of her corset, and so much of her bare skin in contact with him was intoxicating and she dropped her face into the curve of his neck and savoured it.

With little tugs and plucks he worked at the laces of her corset, finally managing to untie it and she sighed deeply as his fingers eased the laces apart. For a long moment he simply trailed up and down her spine, letting her feel his touch un-dulled by that most restrictive barrier. He rolled to his side, keeping one arm about her so she could make a pillow of it, and paused to look at her.

‘You’re so beautiful,’ he said, stroking his free hand in a caress down from the side of her face to rest on her hip below the line of her corset.

[end section]



She looked up at him, his face smiling down at her, his eyes dark and soft, shining with love for her. No matter what happens, she thought, I will remember you in this moment, forever.

He leaned forward to brush his lips to her ear, ‘I’ll carry your face in this moment with me to the end of me days.’

*

After, when they lay side by side, his fingers laced through hers where their hands rested on her stomach she knew he deserved to hear the truth and she did not know how to tell him.

‘What are you thinking?’ he murmured.

‘That I didn’t know it was possible to be this happy.’

He pulled her closer, ‘You’re all my happiness, Mary.’

At those words she felt a pain in her heart and there was no avoiding the truth any longer. ‘Bert, I need to tell you something.’ She rolled over to face him.

He brushed the hair out of her eyes, puzzled by her abrupt change in mood. ‘You can tell me anything, anything at all.’

‘I was not entirely honest with you when I arrived; I am not here on sabbatical.’ She took a deep breath and pushed the words out in a rush. ‘I’ve been suspended and sent to live as a mortal for a year and a day and then I have to chose whether I give up all I have been and stay with you or never see you again.’

[end section]



The Hot, Cruel Summer


The air was hot and still, the sun beating down on London and you could smell the world baking in its glare. Mary slouched in the chair, half-dressed, keeping her body from coming in contact with anything as best she could, listlessly fanning herself with a picture card that had fallen from the wall in the warmth. She thought she had learned something over the winter, in the cold that was bitterer than anything she had ever felt, she thought that was hardship, but in the worst of it she and Bert could pile blankets and coats on the bed, snuggle down together and keep each other warm. And she hadn’t minded so much then.

But this heat! It was something else entirely; her body felt warm and sticky and the slightest task took great effort and made her feel hotter and more uncomfortable than before. She found, to her dismay, that anything touching her, even the thought of anything touching her, was made unbearable by the heat. She felt the impropriety of sitting there as she was (a respectable person like her!) but in the ten minutes she had worn her blouse that morning it had become damp and clinging and stifling. After that she had not attempted skirt or stockings, but remained in her white cotton underclothes. Bert would forgive her indecency and there was no one else to see.

She marvelled that he could go out and do anything in this oppressive heat, but then, she reasoned, perhaps he was more accustomed to it than she was. He was on his way up, then, she knew his step on the stair as she knew her own heartbeat, and he stepped into the room with a smile, one hand behind his back. She lifted her eyes in greeting and then closed her eyes and turned away again with a small moan of discomfort.

Bert took one look at her and knew how miserable the heat was making her, she had been irritable from it for days and it was only growing worse. He’d known from the way she wasn’t sleeping and the look in her eye that morning that suggested if she didn’t cool down soon, things would turn profoundly unpleasant. So, he had gone out for a surprise for her.

He kicked off his shoes and then crept up behind her, carefully setting down what he had been carrying so that the steel bucket, dripping with condensation, made no noise.

‘I’ve brought you a present,’ he told her. ‘Care to guess what it is?’

‘I’m too hot to play games,’ she muttered peevishly.

He removed the lid from the bucket and the cool air lifting from inside caused Mary to stir a little. ‘I think you’ll find you like this one.’

In one swift movement he snatched a small something from the bucket and touched it to the back of her neck.

Mary yelped in surprise and leapt from the chair, whipping around to face him. ‘What on earth was that?’

He grinned at her and held up his hand, dripping water, ‘Ice.’

She gave him one of her new looks then, curiosity mixed with suspected pleasure and mild annoyance.

‘Come ‘ere and sit back down,’ he said and she did.

He took another piece of ice and re-covered the bucket and then began to press the ice to the back of her neck. She flinched a little at the first touch; gasping for the cold was so intense against her hot flesh. The sound of it startled her; it still caught her by surprise sometimes, how much she could feel. Bert felt her tense beneath his hand, and he knew why and he loved her all the more for it, that he could create such intensity of feeling in her excited him.

As the ice began to melt she sighed with pleasure and he felt her relax as the cold water began to run down her back. The little trickles of coolness spread, soaking into her chemise and corset, washing away the dampness of the sweat so that when the slight breeze could trouble itself to reach her she felt it tremble across her skin, made cool by the ice water. He took piece after piece of ice and trailed them across her flushed skin, across her shoulders and all down her arms. She felt his fingertips, wet and cool, sliding along with the ice, how her flesh shrank ever so slightly from the ice but rose to his touch. He held the ice to the veins in her wrists to cool her blood and rubbed it on the backs of her hands. She felt as if she had been made of wax, melting in the heat and he made her solid again, and with that she felt as though she were coming alive again, her nerves snapping back to wakefulness and wanting. He lifted her bare feet and traced patterns along the soles, her toes curling as if she could grip his hand and hold him there, before sliding the ice, little by little, up her legs, circling her knees and letting the ice melt away at the bend of them before taking a fresh piece and reaching higher. She began to tremble then, for the coolness there could only make her burn. She felt more than heard a whimper in her throat as his hand withdrew and the ice melted to nothingness.

He touched the ice behind her ears, to her fluttering pulse, to the whimper in her throat, so the melted water collected in the hollows of her collarbone and then he drew the ice down to follow it, and down, and down further still, over the swell of her breasts where they rose from her chemise in short, sharp breaths, before dropping what remained between them to melt under her corset. He stroked the ice through the part in her hair and she felt it catch and tingle along her scalp, refreshing the damp curls at her temples. He drew another piece across her eyelids, across her cheeks and down her nose and she pressed her face to that glorious cold and his gentle hand, meeting his fingers as he traced the curve of her lips before slipping it into her mouth and kissing her. His lips felt warm and dry compared to her own and an idea drifted into her mind as she felt him savour the coolness the ice left on her tongue.

When he broke the kiss he sat back on his heels, grinning at the pleasure so clearly written on her face. She slid off the chair to kneel in front of him and drew the bucket with its remaining ice to her side, then selected a piece. She reached forward to touch it to his face, down his neck, undoing the buttons of his shirt with one hand as she pressed the ice to his chest with the other. The change in his breathing let her know she was pleasing him and so she continued, pushing his shirt off his shoulders, reaching around to stroke the ice up and down his back as she leaned her cool, damp skin to his and lifted her head for another kiss.

[end section]



Forever Autumn

She walked around, putting the park bench between them. ‘Stay there, please; I can’t think clearly when I’m near you.’

‘What do you mean? Mary, you’ve less than a month, surely by now you have some idea…’ He knew what he wanted her to decide and at the same time he knew that he could not influence her decision. It been an awkward state of affairs since she told him, so much so that they hadn’t discussed it since, but the pressure of time was making it all decidedly unpleasant and forcing the topic upon them.

‘I don’t,’ she sighed. ‘I don’t know at all. I feel as though I have two heads.’ She sat on the bench, looking down the length of it towards him. ‘One of my heads wants to go back to what I was, to do my duty and feel the magic in my blood again. The other wishes only to rest on your shoulder and never part from you. Two of my eyes gaze softly, dazzled with love, and the other two are fierce and look resolutely to the next task. I am weary of being caught between; I wish I didn’t have to choose.’

‘I’m being honest, I don’t want to lose you, but more important I don’t want you to regret what you choose. I’ll get by, either way.’ He was lying and they both knew it, but the words were a comfort just the same. ‘Talking in circles like this is just wasting time.’

Her eyes shone with eagerness when they met his, ‘Then kiss me.’

‘I can’t from here.’

‘Then come around.’

‘You just told me not to.’

‘I changed my mind.’

He sat next to her and leaned forward to kiss her gently

[end]

If you would like a blank or several filled in, please ask.


kqp



 

 
 
 
lady of the summer, princess of the morning: mary poppinsdiana_hawthorne on 3rd September 2008 20:32 (UTC)
Absolutely loved this - fantastic job!
Steph: Guildenstern such is life shrug smilestephantom on 9th August 2010 04:58 (UTC)
Hello. I just had to say what an absolutely beautiful and moving story this is. And yes, very steamy. :) And very sweet, and sad. It's so interesting too, because it's like they knew and loved each other before this time, but didn't really know each other, not intimately, not as human beings going through the dull, everyday toil of life. Anyway, it's wonderful. Wonderful idea and wonderful writing.