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Desire and Sensibility

Chapter Text

 

Marianne sat in his – in their – bed, her heart pounding in her chest, butterflies fluttering about in her stomach. She had wed Christopher that very morning. She remembered seeing him on the altar while she made her way down the aisle. He looked so dashing in his army attire, and he looked at her fondly and smiled, the most beautiful smile she had ever seen. He was beaming. She felt so very fortunate because she knew she was very much loved. Hearing his sweet, velvet voice say “I will” was the most wonderful sound in the world, a memory she would cherish forever.

            After staying a while at the celebratory breakfast, where they ate and danced – oh how she enjoyed dancing with him! – and were congratulated by all, they rode back to Delaford, leaving their guests to enjoy themselves in their absence. In the carriage ride, he sat by her side, close, so very close, with one arm around her and the other holding her hand, their fingers intertwined.

            “What would Mrs. Brandon fancy doing on her first day as mistress of Delaford?” He whispered close to her ear, making the hairs on her neck stand on end. She blushed at the thought of being called Mrs. Brandon, and of being mistress of anything.

            “I would love nothing better than to spend every minute with the master of Delaford – and of my heart – doing whatever he desires.”

            He smiled at that. Master of her heart. He still could not quite believe he had wed her, that she had agreed to it. She, who only months ago did not give him a second thought or look. She who had been so madly in love with that blaggard Willoughby and was left so brokenhearted she swore never to love again. He felt foolish for being so insecure about her. An experienced man like him, war scars and all, insecure about a woman, a woman who was now his wife, as he had dreamed. Still he felt that it could all end with a simple misstep on his part. That he could not make her happy and she would end up resenting him.

            She cut off his thoughts when she held one hand up to his face with a soft, warm touch.

            “Christopher,” the use of his Christian name still made his hairs stand on end, “what do you wish to do?”

            “Just being with you will make me extremely happy.” He wished to kiss her, but they rode with the carriage open, therefore, he could not. Their closeness was already improper display of affection. Any passerby could see them. But he needed to embrace her, to know it was real. To verify she wouldn’t recoil at his touch. “Though I do have one small surprise for you.”

            “A surprise? My dearest, will you ever stop spoiling me?” She smiled widely.

            “Never.” He almost kissed her once again, but refrained.

            The rest of the carriage ride was quiet, but full of tenderness. Marianne was held by her handsome husband as he smelled her hair and she rested her head on his shoulder, and with her arms she pulled him closer to her. Her hand sometimes rested on his waist, at others, on his chest. The feeling of her embracing him was nothing short of sublime.

            When they got to Delaford, Colonel Brandon took her in his arms and carried her through the threshold into the manor. The staff was lined up, waiting to meet their new mistress, and she was set down to be introduced. After that, he picked her back up amidst her giggles and laughter and carried her through the entire house, giving her a tour of the estate of which she was now mistress. It was a vast manor, where fifteen beds could be made. She particularly enjoyed the library, which she had already seen, but only now had really noticed the size of his vast collection. Shelves covered most walls from floor to ceiling, all filled with impeccably kept tomes. Her books, the books he had gifted her with, had been brought and added to the shelves as well. The last room he went into was a bedchamber, the biggest one they had visited. He put her down, and she was suddenly nervous, knowing what was expected of her as a wife, but at the same time not quite knowing what to expect of it, of him.

            “This is the best bedchamber in the house. It should of course belong to its mistress,” he said, wishing not to be rude in assuming she would want to share a bedchamber with him, but his heart beating heavy at the thought she might not. Many couples slept separately, though he did not find that prospect a good one.

            “Mine? Only mine?” she asked, looking rather hurt. “Do you not mean to share a bed with me?” Her marriage had barely started and already she had let him down somehow? Or had she expected too much? Had she read too many romance novels and lost track of what real life was like?

            The sudden sadness in her eyes made his heart break. He pulled her close and cupped her face in between his hands.

            “I would love nothing more than to share the room with you, my love. I just did not know whether it was something you wished, and I did not mean to be rude assuming…”

            “Why would we not share a room?” He did not answer but she could read in his eyes what must have gone through his mind. She smiled. “I wish to share my life with you. Sleeping is part of it. I cannot even begin to imagine how insipid the lives of couples who sleep separately must be.”

            “Our bedchamber then it shall be.”

            He tenderly kissed her lips, and her nervousness grew. But as they lingered on the kiss, which grew deeper, she became calmer, and even desirous as to what was to come. However, he stopped. He pointed to a wooden door to the right of the room. “Through there is your dressing-room, my lady. You should get changed, so we can go downstairs and have supper.”

            Her worries were further reduced. It was not expected of her now. Not yet.

            “Supper? I could not eat right now! My stomach is in knots.”

            “Are you well, Marianne? Have I done something to upset you?” His insecurity spoke once more.

            “Of course not, Christopher! Don’t be silly. These are good knots. It is happiness. Extreme happiness, for I am Mrs. Brandon now,” she smiled, blushing. “Besides, you mentioned something of a surprise… I am curious.”

            He smiled and pulled her close, pressing his lips against hers tenderly once again.

            “You’ll have to wait a tad more, love,” he still had his arms around her. “I do not want you falling ill ever again, so we must eat something. Go change and I’ll do the same. I will meet you downstairs.”

            She happily obliged. All her clothes and belongings were brought to Delaford while they were at the ceremony, and were neatly arranged in her dressing room. When she opened her jewelry box to store her earrings and the tiara he had given her, she saw something she had almost forgotten.

            Once she was ready, she stepped out of her dressing room and did not find him in the bedchamber. She walked down the hall and there he was, atop the stairs, waiting. Charming as ever, with a smile and a bow he offered his hand to escort her down.

            “Can we go back into the chambers for a moment? I too have a surprise for you.” He smiled, intrigued, and followed her.

            “You look lovely, my angel” he said as they walked back.

            “Why thank you, darling. You look very charming yourself. As usual,” she smiled up at him.

            Colonel Brandon blushed at her compliment. As usual. That meant she always took notice of how he presented himself. She had never complimented him in that aspect before.

            She sat down on the bed and only then did he notice she held something in her grip. She tapped the space on the mattress beside her, calling him to sit as well.

            “I have something for you. If you will wear it. You do not need to if you do not wish to, truly, Christopher.” She opened her hand. In it sat a gold ring, a man’s ring. Set in it, a lock of hair, the color of which matched hers. “I saved some and had this made out of one of my father’s old rings for you. Mama let me have one. I just think it is rather unfair that I get to wear a symbol of your love for me,” she looked at her wedding ring, the diamond sparkling, and twisted it around her finger with her thumb “and I cannot give you anything to represent my feelings for you. But I do know it is not customary, so if you do not like the idea…”

            Feelings for him. Not love. He was moved nonetheless, that she would want him to carry a symbol of her affection at all times, and that she took the time to think of such a gesture. And spent whatever little money her family could spare. His heart swelled at the knowledge that she cared enough to think of this. “I love it. Of course I will wear it. So all the world will know I am yours.” He kissed her lips, careful to not get carried away. They were on the bed after all.

            When their lips parted, she smiled, pleased. She then took his left hand and as she placed the ring on his finger, said “With this ring, I thee wed, with my body I thee worship… I do not have many worldly goods, but with them I thee endow.”

            He laughed and with his index finger, pulled her chin up. He looked into her eyes and she felt like she was going to melt. They shared a passionate kiss.

            “What is mine is yours, so you have plenty of worldly goods, my dear. Now, let us go downstairs. It is my turn to surprise you.”

            “Oh yes, that is right!”

            “But first, supper.”

 

            After dinner, Colonel Brandon escorted her out to the stables. The stable hand brought out a mare, the most beautiful mare she had ever seen. It was white, so white it was blinding in the fading sunlight. Marianne certainly had never seen it previously, in her visits to Delaford.

            “My most prized possession. A match to my own stallion. She’s yours, of course, for you to ride whenever you fancy.”

            “Christopher, she’s beautiful! Thank you!” She embraced him and he kissed her forehead. “Shall we go for a ride now?”

            “I am but your humble servant and only wish to accomplish whatever your heart desires.” He broke the embrace and took her hand, bowing down to kiss it. She giggled. Oh how he loved that sound. He sent the stable hand to fetch his own horse while he saddled Marianne’s mare. When he had finished, he picked Marianne up with ease, holding her by the waist, and sat her on the horse. He then mounted his own and off they went.

            They only had time for a short ride, since the sun began to set on this most wonderful of days. When they went back to the manor, each entered their own dressing room to wash up and change for bed.

            And now here she was, sitting up on their bed, already under the covers, waiting for her husband. She was very nervous. She knew what was expected, but did not know the details of it. Her mother had never discussed such things with her, and Elinor wasn’t too keen on discussing it at length either. She did not know whether it would hurt or be pleasant, although if his kisses were any indication, it would be very pleasant indeed. And there was the fact that he was older. Even though he had never been married, she did not expect him to be as inexperienced as she was. Those were not the ways of the world. He would never, of course, have taken advantage of an innocent young lady, but there were other means, she knew. Would she be pleasing to him? Would she know what to do and how to act properly?

            She felt foolish for worrying so, but could not help it. Such a charming, sweet and passionate man. He had been alone for so long, certainly by his own choice, for no woman in her right mind would resist him. Yet he chose her, out of all the possibilities that were probably presented to him, he chose foolish little Marianne. He loved her. So she wanted to make him happy. She regretted not having perceived his worth right from the start. She could have been in his arms long ago, happy, and prevented so much heartache. Both hers and his. She wished to make up for that, she wanted to make him happy in every way possible. Every way. But she was not sure she knew how.

            Colonel Brandon opened the door of his dressing room slightly and knocked, as if asking for permission to come in.

            She smiled. “Come in,” she said shyly. Upon seeing her smile, he smiled also. Her hair was down, falling over her shoulders. He had never seen her curls unfastened before, and he loved the sight of it. She was wearing a nightgown of very fine cloth, and he could almost see her breasts as if nothing covered them. He did not know whether he should look away, to not embarrass her, or if he should look at her until every detail was etched in his mind eternally. She felt rather exposed and vulnerable in this gown, and held the covers high above her waist, almost over her breasts, gripping them tightly in embarrassment and nervousness. She felt so vulnerable that she had decided to wear undergarments beneath the gown to further shield her innocence.

            He had a small parcel in his hands. “I come bearing gifts,” he said.

            “Christopher, you must stop spoiling me! I will grow used to it. You do not have to court a woman you are already married to,” she said, with a smile still on her face.

            “Oh, but I must.” He sat on the edge of the bed, on the side opposite hers, facing her. “I wish to ensure that the fondness you feel for me only continues to grow,” he gave a timid, small smile.

            “Fondness? But I already feel so much more!” He didn’t quite look her in the eye. His gaze was lost somewhere between her face and the sheets on which his hands and the parcel rested. She pondered why he was not convinced of what she felt for him. Did he think so little of himself that he would not believe her words, her actions? And suddenly it all came to her in a flash of enlightenment. She had never said the words. Why had she never said them? She felt it, she was sure. How could she not? She would not marry him if she did not. Was she afraid still of expressing her feelings? Afraid of admitting to them and getting her heart broken? But he would never break her heart. He loved her and had expressed it and proven it time and time again. She felt a sudden wave of remorse for never having said it back due to foolish confusions of her mind.

She looked at him desperately, tears pricking behind her eyes. They were hot in anger towards how foolish she had been. She moved closer to him and took her hand to his cheek, looking into his eyes. His beautiful eyes.

            “Christopher, I love you. So very much. I do.”

            There it was. She had said it. She really did feel it. His heart leapt happily in his chest, yet he sat there in shock, not knowing quite what to do. He was so happy he could cry.

            “And your gifts,” she continued, “are not responsible for that. It is you, the man you are. It is what I see when I look into your eyes.” She stroked his cheek and then brushed a lock of hair from his forehead.

            He finally managed to gather himself, and taking her hand and pressing his lips to it he said “I love you too, my Marianne.” He kissed every knuckle on her hand and then pulled her in for a deep kiss to her lips. He was so excited for having heard her say it finally, that he wished to take her right then. But he must restrain himself. He must not frighten her. “I suppose you do not want the gift then,” he said in jest, feigning to take it away.

            “Christopher Brandon! You will not leave me curious, will you?” He laughed at her half indignant tone. “Do not tease me like that, I beg of you!” Laughing still, he handed her the parcel. The sight of him laughing was such a beautiful one, him bearing teeth, throwing his head back, she wished to see it always.

            She opened the parcel and saw it was a book. It was Edmund Spencer’s Amoretti. They had never read from that one before.

            “Thank you, dearest. I love it. Would you read to me a bit? I love hearing your voice.”

            He took the book and opened to a page that was previously marked.

After long storms and tempests' sad assay,
Which hardly I endured heretofore,
In dread of death and dangerous dismay,
With which my silly bark was tossed sore,
I do at length descry the happy shore,
In which I hope ere long for to arrive;
Fair soil it seems from far and fraught with store
Of all that dear and dainty is alive.
Most happy he that can at least achieve
The joyous safety of so sweet a rest;
Whose least delight sufficeth to deprive
Remembrance of all pains which him oppressed.
All pains are nothing in respect of this,
All sorrows short that gain eternal bliss.*

            She sat quietly, looking down at her hands, listening. Her nerves were still not quite settled. When he finished reading, he noticed her demeanor.

            “Marianne,” he said lovingly as he closed the book, “we do not need to do anything you do not wish to.” He placed the book on the bedside table and sat there, observing her.

            She blushed. He knew her so well. After all, he had watched her for long. He could tell what she was thinking just by observing her. She still had some catching up to do in that matter.

            The truth was he also had some reservations. He wondered if he would be able to make her enjoy what was to come as much as he certainly would. He wished for her to find pleasure in it, not have it as a mere obligation as his wife. He was also self-conscious of exposing himself to her, because of his age. War had marked his body and time, though relatively kind to him, still had passed and had its effects. It was irrational, he knew, for she had no means of comparing him to someone younger, but he could not help it.

            “Christopher, my love, I am just very nervous. It is silly, really.”

            His hand went to her cheek, touching her soft, warm skin gently with his strong hand. She looked up from her own hands. He smiled and leaned in to press his lips against hers. She met him halfway.

            After a moment, he pulled away, not wishing to push her into something she did not yet feel comfortable doing. She smiled at him and lifted the covers for him to get under them with her. He was lost for a moment. Nervous. Though he had done this many times before, it had been a long while since he last had lain with a woman. He had had his share of encounters with young widows, and when he was even younger, he was ashamed to admit it, he had paid for such pleasures. But after some time he had thought it all pointless, for it was never more than what it was. He had never lain with… with someone he loved.

            He got under the covers and reached for her cheeks again. He pressed his lips against hers and this time he lingered longer. Her hands were on his forearms and suddenly they slid up. They made their way to the back of his head, and she sank her fingers in his hair. The kiss deepened, their lips interlaced, and she pulled him even closer.

            And then the nerves were gone. Hers. His. And she sank into the bed, pulling him down with her.

Chapter Text

 

Their kisses were more profound than any they had shared before. His tongue parted her lips and made its way through them, and then it caressed her tongue and that made her feel a swarm of butterflies flutter about in the pit of her stomach. A quick study, after a few moments she too moved her tongue to caress his, and the feeling of excitement lowered from her stomach to other areas, as her face and neck became hot.

            She could feel a bulge pressing against her thigh while they kissed, and that made her flush even more. One of his hands made its way slowly down her body while the other held her face tenderly, his lips still locked on hers. The hand that travelled down her body made its way to her thigh and lingered there for a moment, before going back up to her waist, only this time, underneath her nightgown. There, he found the waistband of her undergarment and pulled it down gently. She automatically, without much thought, arched her back so he could take it off, all the while still tasting his sweet kisses and holding him close, that feeling in her nether region only building up, and her body burning hot as if the sun shone on her light skin on a hot summer day.

            His hand trailed up from the undergarment, now forgotten somewhere under the covers, making its way on the inside of her thighs, and her heart beat faster. He reached her privates and his fingers grazed over her tender skin there, playing, caressing her lightly. Her first instinct was to push his hand away in embarrassment, but before her hand could react to what her mind felt, the embarrassment washed away as excitement regained control. He then parted her gently, proceeding to rub her nub. His lips parted from hers as she gasped with his caress, thinking nothing could feel more wonderful. She tried to hold her composure as she remembered that one of the few things her mother did say was to not show her pleasure, if indeed she felt any. That would be very unladylike. She tried, but it was hard to contain herself. His fingers continued at their task while he kissed her neck, smiling at the small whimpers she let out into his ear while griping his arm.

            “If you wish me to stop at any time, you need only say so” he whispered in her ear in between kisses on her neck, and his tender voice only added to the heightened sensations that travelled through her body.

            “No. Never,” she managed in between poorly suppressed gasps and moans.

            The sudden fear of being too loud and having the servants hear her came over her, adding to the worry of not behaving properly, but it quickly melted away as he continued to caress and kiss her. She gripped his shoulder, needing to feel more of him, to pull him closer, but not knowing quite what to do.

            His hand left her privates and she almost felt desperation in its departure. He slowly lifted her gown, his hand gently gliding over her stomach and then her breasts, making all her hairs stand on end.

            “I wish to see you, my love. All of you,” he whispered as his hand teased her nipples under her gown and his lips kissed her collarbone. She raised her arms so he could slip off her gown. That he did, and there she was, completely bare, yet she did not feel vulnerable at all.

            “You are beautiful,” he said, and kissed her lips.

            He moved to take off his own nightshirt, for he too felt temperature building up inside him, and she instinctively reached out her hands to help, craving to touch his bare body. She helped him push his shirt off, caressing his upper body as her hands travelled up with the shirt. She could now see what had been pressing against her thighs pointing through his underdrawers. He did not have the habit of wearing underdrawers beneath his nightshirt, but he did so today to not offend her, as he had not known when he got ready for bed how the evening would turn out.

            She, who at this point was sitting up in bed again as he knelt on it before her, reached for the waistband of his underdrawers, but before pulling them down, she looked up at her husband as if seeking approval, which he gave as he smiled and leaned in to passionately kiss her. In a moment’s time he was bare as she was, and she could see his stiff manhood. A bit of fear came back to her as she worried if it would hurt when he placed it inside her, for it seemed too large to fit.

            Once again he took her face in between his hands and kissed her, as they sank back into the bed. His lips made their way down to her neck where they lingered for a moment. They journeyed to her collarbone before continuing down to her breasts. The kisses he placed there made her feel more aroused, something she did not think possible, and left her nipples stiffer than they already were. She sank her fingers into his hair, caressing his head, encouraging his kisses. His lips once again moved down her body, past her stomach and down to her privates.

            He proceeded to kiss her there and that fiery sensation grew inside her. His kisses there evolved much like the ones on her lips, starting light and innocent and becoming more intense and passionate, his tongue invading her, his lips sucking her, all in the course of one minute.

            She felt things she could not explain, she could not even process for the waves of excitement and pleasure travelled through her, depriving her of any ability of coherence she ever had. At first she gasped and tried to cover her mouth with her hands, biting on her knuckles at times to try and keep quiet. However, her caution of not having anyone hear them was quickly thrown to the wind as her moans became involuntarily louder. And her fear of being unladylike was forgotten as well. He must know very well what he was doing to her. He could not expect her to be quiet. Could he? Though she was momentarily blinded by pleasure, her hands were able to find their way to her husband’s head and she caressed his hair, pulling on it lightly when those waves of pleasure ripped through her.

            He came up for air, wiping his lips with the back of his hand and smiling, for he was pleased he could make her feel as good as her moans indicated she did. She pulled him up to her, kissing his lips as he rested his body atop hers, and she traced her fingers up and down his back. She could feel all the strong muscles on his backside moving, and could now also feel his manhood pressing against her nether region. That made her ache with desperation to feel him inside her, any fear of pain completely forgotten.

            “This might hurt a bit, my love” he said in between nibbles on her ear, already breathing heavily, “but I must have you, I cannot wait any longer. Hopefully it will feel better in a while.”

            His hand made its way down between them to guide him inside her, and as he slid in, she felt a burn. Such burn was equal parts pain and desire, but soon the desire overshadowed the pain, making it worth whatever discomfort she had felt.

            She gasped, and did not have an ounce of care anymore if the servants heard her or not. The whole village could hear her for all she cared, she simply never wanted this to end.

            “Does it hurt, my sweet?” he asked as he moved inside her slowly. “How do you feel?”

            “Wonderful.” She moaned. “Fan…uhn…tastic.”

            As he looked deep in her eyes, she thought her heart would melt with that piercing hazel-green gaze, and he started to move more, movement which she quickly and instinctively learned to follow. They moved as one. They were one. Their bodies connected while they alternated staring into each other’s eyes and kissing passionately. His forearms supported him beside her head, cradling it, his fingers sunken into her curls.

            “My Marianne,” he whispered in between heavy breaths, “I love you,” and his voice resonated all through her body, giving her goose bumps and making her quiver beneath him. She wished to respond, to tell him that she loved him too, for she had not said it nearly enough, but all that she could manage was to echo the sounds of pleasure he too was making.

            His lips touched hers, her cheek, her neck. When they were not touching her lips, she kissed whatever part of him she could reach, needing to taste him however way possible. Her fingertips sank into his shoulders as they continued to move as one and verbally express their pleasure. She felt an explosion building up inside her, ready to blow at any moment. And then it did, and a tidal wave of pure pleasure flowed through her body and the only words she could manage were “Oh, Chris…!” and she couldn’t even finish saying his name.

            When her moment had passed, she felt so wonderfully pleased she wanted to provide that for him as well. In her pleasure induced haze, she found his lips and kissed them, her fingernails gently running down his shoulder blades and his back, her hands finding his buttocks and pulling him even closer to her, further inside.

“I love you, Chris. I love you” she whispered over and over again in between kisses. When she had her strength back, she lifted her legs and dug her heels behind his back, aiding his movements further. He wished to pleasure her once again, but he could not contain himself much longer. Within moments, she could see in his face that the explosion was coming for him as well, and soon she felt it inside her.

            His body relaxed on top of hers and their kisses became more tender and soft. He rolled to her side, pulling her so that she rested her head on his shoulder. His fingers played with her curls and he kissed her forehead as he remembered the way she had gasped “Chris” at the height of her pleasure. He liked it very much. No one had ever called him Chris. It could be exclusive to her lips, in the most intimate of times. And she had expressed love yet again. His heart filled with so much joy he did not know what to do with it. Her hand caressed his chest.

            “So this is what husbands and wives do…” she smiled playfully.

            “It is,” he said also with a smile, his voice becoming sleepy.

            “I could easily get used to this, husband.”

            “I am glad, for I could not bear to be away from your warmth any night, my Marianne.”

            “I suffer in anticipation for when you have to go away on business,” she smiled timidly.

            “I guess I shall have to bring you with me every time.”

Chapter Text

Marianne lay still in her husband’s arms. He already slept, deeply breathing into her hair. They lay on their sides, and he had one hand placed firmly on the small of her back, almost on her buttocks, pulling her hips close to his. Their legs were comfortably intertwined. His other arm was resting loosely further up her back. He slept with a tender half smile on his face, and she felt some pride, thinking maybe she might be responsible for that smile. She was. She lay awake, smiling herself, admiring Colonel Brandon. Christopher. Chris. She wondered if he liked being called that, or if she was too bold, took too many liberties. Although, after what happens on one’s wedding night, what happened on their wedding night, she supposed there was no more room for propriety and such nonsense. But she did feel shy and self-conscious, for this was a new level of relationship, of intimacy, she had never had before. Or discussed with anyone before. She did not quite know how she could, or should act. All she knew is that she never wished to disappoint him, for she knew somewhere deep inside her he would never disappoint her.

            She had thought she knew what love was, and time and time again she had been proven wrong. She first had ridiculous notions of what love might be, and they were personified by Mr. Willoughby. Oh how she had suffered for him. But that was not love. That was perhaps a strong attraction, at best. Foolishness if she were to be honest. It would not have led to happiness. She still felt ashamed for all that she put her family through. Herself through. Christopher through. And for nothing.

            She only started to perceive or accept that had not quite been love much later. It was after some time of Colonel Brandon keeping her company, reading to her and having candid conversations that she came to the realization, rather reluctantly, that that might be love. She had sworn she would never love again, and to be more prudent and reasonable, like Elinor, so it took some time for her to accept it. But he won her over. How could he have not? Only if she were an even bigger fool than she had already been. He was thoughtful, respectable, a true gentleman. He made her feel calm and centered, yet he was passionate at the same time. The evening’s events had further proven that beyond a doubt. They had lengthy conversations as equals, always honest and intelligent. Because of such things, she became, even if unwillingly, more open and less worried about being so proper. She went back to her old ways in some aspects, and he never thought less of her for it.

            When he declared his feelings for her, her heart became more open, and so the feelings she had tried so hard to negate rushed in, all made the more intense by his actions towards her. That was certainly love. She was sure. She accepted it. Yet she  had managed to keep true to her promise to never form a second attachment, for what she had felt before was not love. Not like this. So this was indeed her first and only love. She loved truly for the first time and surely nothing could be as strong as it.

            But there she lay, in his arms. Moonlight was peering through the windows, painting him in yet a different light, one she had never seen before, but would see every day from now on, and she was glad of it. His blond hair fell on his forehead and she brushed it off. She loved the feel of his hair in her hands, in between her fingers. His eyes, though they were closed now, were a beautiful hazel-green and she loved how they looked so deeply into hers, especially when they were alone, when they were… intimate. His lips, which when parted showed a beautiful smile, and when touched against her skin or her own lips made her feel so wonderfully in bliss.

            Here she lay, being proved wrong yet again. Her love for him had grown even more. It felt like it was going to explode out of her chest. She hadn’t told him that nearly enough. In trying not to be foolish she ended up being even more of a fool.

            Her gaze dropped from his face to his chest, his shoulders, which held her so comfortably, in safety. They were both still bare. The candles had died out and the fireplace did not crackle with the same intensity it once had, at the start of the evening.  Yet, other than the cool of the metal of the ring she had given him touching her back, she was not cold. His body warmed hers. There was a scar on his shoulder. She traced it with her fingers while she wondered how he must have obtained it. Surely in war. She worried if it had hurt him too much.

            “Marianne… is all well?” He asked, still half asleep, his eyes only half open. Though he was not completely awake, he could still manage to worry. Worry he had done some wrong. Worry she was still awake because regret ate away at her. Always that insecurity, haunting him, even though she had finally expressed her love. That had certainly helped, he was a bit more at ease. But it was still too recent, it hadn’t quite sunken in.

            “Quite well, my love,” she whispered as she stopped her fingers from tracing his body. “Sorry to have awoken you. Do go back to sleep darling, I promise I will not bother you further.” She snuggled into him.

            My love… darling. His heart filled with joy.

            “You can never be a bother, love” he said, pulling her closer and kissing her forehead. “I was just worried something might have upset you and kept you awake.”

            “Why on earth would I be upset? I have absolutely no reason to be upset. None. Whatsoever.” She smiled into his chest. ”I was just admiring you in the moonlight. Wondering how you got this scar and if it hurt too much.” Her fingers went back to his shoulder and traced the scar, but she quickly removed them, so he could sleep again. “The only thing that upsets me is to think of you in pain.”

            He smiled. “It did hurt, but it was a long time ago. In the Indies, in the war.”

            She started tracing it again, the scar. He loved the feel of her touch on his body.

            “Were you shot?” She sounded a bit alarmed.

            “Yes, a few times. But that scar is not the one for any of those particular stories. That one was caused by a stab. I believe they were aiming for my heart. Killing the second in command would have been quite the accomplishment.”

            She seemed horrified. He chuckled, eyes still half closed, and pulled her closer still. She touched her lips to his chest.

            “Lucky for me they missed, then.”

            “The fortune is all mine, for I lived to meet you.”

            “But I would be utterly lost without you in my life.” She kissed his scar. He flushed at what she said. “So there are more scars?” She continued, alarmed.

            “Yes, a few more.”

            “I’d love to hear all their stories. It seems I have to spend more time exploring my husband’s body so I can find them,” she said flirtatiously, and looked at his face, blushing, searching for signs of disapproval, to see if she had been too forward and unladylike.

            He just smiled slyly, completely awake now, eyes wide open. His lips touched her cheek and then her own lips, and he said “Well then my dear, explore we shall.”

Chapter Text

 

He gently kissed her lips while her hand slid down from his shoulder to his chest. His lips moved to her neck, and her hand slid further down his body, slightly pushing down the sheets that had covered them up to the waist. She saw a long, thin scar that stretched from his side almost to his navel. As she caressed it, he still planted kisses on her cheek and neck, alternating those with nibbles on her ear.

            “What about this one?” she asked, her breath slowly starting to become heavy.

            “Someone cut me,” he kissed her lips, “in a brawl in some pub.” His lips found her neck again.

            “I did not take you for the type that brawls in pubs,” she smiled as he switched to the other side of her neck.

            “I was once young,” a kiss, “and sad,” another, “and foolish. A dangerous combination.”

            Her heart grew heavy. It made sense. After what he had been through at such a young age, a few nights in a pub were to be expected. She wished she could have been there to hold him and make him feel better. Mend him. Like he did her. She never wished to see him sad ever again.

            “Did it hurt?”

            “Is was not very deep. And I was very drunk. So no.” His lips trailed further down and found a breast. She smiled.

            “Drunk. You are full of surprises, husband.” She cupped his face in between her hands and pulled him up to her lips. Her tongue caressed his as she had so recently learned. His hand slid down to her buttocks and as their lips parted, he nipped her lower lip. As he started on her neck again, she pulled the covers further down. On his thigh she saw yet another scar. Her fingers traced it.

            He kissed her lips again, and before she could ask, he let out, in between kisses:

            “Gunfire. In the war. Grazed my leg. I believe it was the only time…someone shot at me and didn’t miss.” He kissed her lips more passionately as his hand slid in between her legs and found her mound. With a gasp, she was quickly reminded of how good that felt, and where it had gotten her last time. She wished to do the same for him. Provide him with the same sensations. But she was not sure if she should. Her hand slowly slid from his thigh to his manhood. It was not rigid as before, yet she started to fondle him, a little reluctantly.

            “That,” he purred in her ear, wearing a sly smile, “is not a scar.” He kissed her cheek.

            “Is … this alright, husband?” She whispered in his ear, as he nibbled on hers.

            “Quite. But you may have to be patient. It might take some time. I am not a young man anymore,” he said with some shame. He didn’t like her being reminded of their age difference. It might turn her away from him. She noticed some worry flash in his eyes.

            “Is that so?” She kissed his neck and continued the deed as his breathing became heavier and he lost a bit of focus on what he had been doing with his fingers between her thighs. “You certainly feel very young. You are profoundly… passionate, my love.” She kissed his lips. Within moments he was stiff once more. Maybe he wasn’t as old as he thought. Her fingers wrapped around his girth as she started to stroke him. His hand completely left her privates and cupped her hand, guiding her movement and the pressure she applied.

            “Is it alright if… I kiss you? Down there, as you did me? Or is that not acceptable?” She asked, hesitant.

            “That is very acceptable to me.” His voice slightly turned hoarse as he got lost in the movements she performed. “But you should not feel obligated…”

            “I wish to,” she whispered.

            She went down in between his legs and started kissing his manhood, her hands still mimicking the movement he had taught. She proceeded to licking his length, and looked up at him, seeking approval.

            “That is wonderful, my love.” He rested his head back on the pillows, giving in to her caresses.

            She then placed as much as she could of him in her mouth. He grunted as she moved her lips up and down his length, her hand aiding in his pleasure where her mouth could not reach.

            Soon, his hands were on her shoulders, pulling her up quickly as he sat up himself. In another quick movement, he pulled her to his lap, her legs mounting his, but his manhood not in her heat.

            “Did you not enjoy it?” she asked, hurt that she might have displeased him and yet aroused by the firm manner in which he had pulled her to him.

            “I loved it, my dear, but I do not wish to be spent in your mouth. I wish to please you as well.” He pulled her curls back from her face and kissed her, deeply. They both breathed heavily as she rolled her hips on his length. She felt excitement ooze from her.

            “Chris…” she whispered in between kisses.

            “Yes, my Marianne?” he purred.

            “I want… no. I need you inside of me,” she said, her arousal eclipsing her worries of being improper.

            His excitement grew with her words and he almost lost control, even before entering her. He quickly slid inside her heat. Their movements were again synchronized, growing more and more rapid. Her moans and his grunts filled the room and completed one another, like in a melody.

“I love you” she said. “So very much.” She kissed him, gently biting his lip as her fingers ran through his hair.

“I love you more.” He nipped her chin before kissing her neck.

 His fingers ran down her spine, which made her hairs stand on end. She gasped and thrust harder against him. Her nails pressed against his shoulder blades as she gripped him tighter. The explosion came once more.

            “Oh Chris, yes!” she hissed, and this time, he climaxed with her, his vehement agreement mixing with hers.

            She threw her head back, leaving her neck exposed to be kissed softly. Her body relaxed and she let go of her grip on him and lay back, as he followed, lying on top of her. She liked the pressure of his weight on her. Their lips met.

            “You might have left me some new scars.” He smiled, and kissed her cheek.

            “Forgive me, my love” she said as she caressed his shoulders, where her nails had sunken into him.

            “It’s quite alright. I quite enjoyed obtaining these scars.”

            “Christopher?” she let out in between kisses.

            “Huuum?” he managed.

            “I want to stay in this room forever with you.”

            He chuckled, kissing her cheek, then nibbled her ear. He then purred:

 

Coming to kiss her lips, (such grace I found)

Me seemed I smelled a garden of sweet flowers,

That dainty odors from them threw around

For damsels fit to deck their lovers' bowers.

Her lips did smell like unto Gillyflowers,

Her ruddy cheeks like unto Roses red:

Her snowy brows like budded Bellamores,

Her lovely eyes like Pinks but newly spread.

Her goodly bosom like a strawberry bed,

Her neck like to a bunch of Columbines:

Her breast like Lillies, ere their leaves be shed,

Her nipples like young blossomed Jasmines.

 Such fragrant flowers do give most odorous smell,

 But her sweet odor did them all excel. *

 

She smiled and ran her fingers up and down his back as he recited her the poem. Would it always be like this? Romantic and passionate, just as she had imagined, just as she had hoped. She remembered her silly fears on the eve of their wedding, and rejoiced in knowing she had made the right decision. Finally. When it most counted.

Chapter Text

Colonel Brandon lay on his side, his head propped up by his hand. He watched as the morning sun came in through the window and shone on his wife. His wife. How wonderful it felt to call her that. He smiled while she stirred a bit in bed. His smile grew wider when he remembered she had expressed her love towards him. More than once. Still, he was not accustomed to this, being happy, everything working in his favor, so there was still insecurity in the back of his mind that this might all be taken away from him. But he forced himself to ignore it and enjoy the moment. Yet, since her confusion had only been cleared recently, he thought it best to tread lightly, as to not smother her with all the love he felt inside.

            The sunlight touched her closed eye lids and she awoke to see him watching her, with the sweetest smile on his lips.

            “Good morning, Mrs. Brandon.”

            “I shall never grow tired of being called that,” she said with a sleepy smile, “but I prefer to hear your sweet voice calling me yours.”

            He smiled. “My Marianne,” and stroked her cheek, “did you sleep well?”

            “Wonderfully. But I have a question. Why are you so far from me?” she asked as she moved closer to him and kissed his lips.

            He smiled again, very pleased with all these displays of affection. He put his arm around her as he said “I did not wish to disturb your sleep.”

            “Disturb? I have discovered I sleep more soundly when I feel your warmth against my skin.” She put her arms around him also. They kissed once again and this time, they lingered longer.

            “What does the mistress of the house wish for her breakfast?”

            “I’ll have whatever the master is having.”

            He kissed her forehead and moved away from her, to get up from bed. He sat up, his feet touching the floor and his back to her as he looked for his nightshirt.

            She moved closer behind him and kissed his bare shoulders and asked in a whisper

            “Wherever do you think you are going?”

            “The last thing I wanted, my love, was to leave your side, but I must go and make us breakfast. I took the liberty of giving the servants the next couple of days of rest so I can spend time alone with my lovely bride”. He put on his nightshirt and stood up. “I do hope the mistress does not mind.” He bowed in jest.

            “If that is the case, I do not need breakfast. Come back to bed and spend some time with that lovely bride you mentioned.” She smiled, as did he.

            “I will be right back, my Marianne.”

           

            She took the time she had alone to find her own nightgown and cover herself. She then stared into space, out the window, to the clear blue skies and the sunlight that shone in their room, smiling amazed at how happy and satisfied she felt. He came back with a delicious array of fruits and biscuits, eggs and toast on a tray, so they could have breakfast in bed. Their meal was constantly interrupted by the exchange of tender caresses or kisses.

            When they were done, he suggested they go for a walk down to the village so she could see it and the people could meet her, and then perhaps they could visit Elinor if she wished, for the next day or the day after they would be off in their wedding trip. They both went to their respective dressing rooms to get changed.

            Both were going about their morning routine thinking how extraordinarily happy they were, but each had their own set of worries. He, with that creeping insecurity of being too forward, too open, too hungry for her love, which he still wasn’t sure was as profound as what he felt, and scaring her away into being more reserved. Although, the previous night’s and this morning’s events had set his heart slightly more at ease. She was worried she hadn’t properly shown him how much she did love him, and did not want to hurt or displease him in anyway. She wasn’t even sure one could possibly show so much love.

            He finished dressing before she did, as gentlemen often do, and waited for her in the bedchamber. But he was impatient. He wished to be by her side every minute of every day. So he knocked on her door before opening it slightly. She beckoned from within.

            “Christopher, my dear. I seem to be having difficulties buttoning up my dress. It is very hard to do alone.” She turned her back to him, and he saw half of it bare. He stepped closer to her and brushed her curls aside, leaving her neck exposed so he could plant kisses on it. Sweet, soft kisses. She giggled, and his hands started undoing the buttons she had managed to close on her own, all the while still kissing her neck and shoulder.

            “Dearest, button up, not down” she said amidst giggles.

            “Oh, pardon me, I seem to have misheard you” he said in a playful tone.

            She turned to him, and took her hands up to the back of his neck, where she played with his hair. He smiled as his heart filled with love. Looking into his eyes, she started

            “Christopher, my love, I do not think it is possible for one to love more than I love you. I am the happiest I have ever been.” She then whispered in his ear “I am entirely and forever yours,” and proceeded to kissing his lips.

            Never in his life had he been happier.

           

Chapter Text

 

They had planned a wedding trip during their betrothal and left two days after the wedding. They were to spend more or less a month at a cabin by the lakes, but the trip alone usually took four days. The first two days ran rather smoothly. Stolen kisses and tender caresses in the carriage, pleasant – extremely pleasant – walks in the woods while the horses rested, passionate nights as they stopped at the lodging houses to rest. One can rightly assume that not much rest was done.

            On the third day, however, the roads were wet. It had been a rainy night – not that they had noticed – and the roads were muddy, which caused the carriage ride to become bumpy. That made for an uncomfortable ride, in addition to holding them back, for the horses moved more slowly. Colonel Brandon tried to cradle his wife, make the ride more comfortable for her, but when they stopped for their nightly rest and she tried to make a joke about their troubles – for she had vowed to always make him laugh, something he hadn’t done much of that day – though he smiled, he seemed a bit frustrated. They were both very tired and for the first night since their wedding they simply slept in each other’s arms, without further activities.

            The fourth day was not much better. They were supposed to be at their destination already, but that was only to be expected in two days, with luck. Kisses could not be stolen in the carriage, for the bumps in the road could cause some injury. Once again, Colonel Brandon was quieter than usual, and Marianne, who could see the frustration in his countenance, did not even attempt a joke this time. Again they went to bed without the passionate adventures which had been often since their wedding, and which Marianne grew to enjoy and expect rather rapidly. She was slightly hurt. Though he had not shown in any way that he might be displeased with her, she wondered if it was she who had done something to make him quiet as he was.

            The roads were finally dry and acceptable on the fifth day, though there was no change in the spirits of the newlywed. Colonel Brandon, in his frustration and urge to arrive as quickly as possible, had even forgone shaving and looked rather unkept. He did not care much though, no one was to see him during the carriage ride but his wife. Marianne thought it was a charming look for him but said nothing in fear of further displeasing him. On the sixth day, before supper, they finally arrived at their destination. Colonel Brandon had already been suffering pains to his shoulder and his back due to the uncomfortable rides, but had not expressed anything of the sort. They had been, after all, tolerable, much like what he usually had after long rides on his horse.

            But that changed when he helped one of the servants they had taken with them – Joseph, who had also served as the coachman for the trip – to unload the trunks from the carriage. Marianne saw him wince and grew worried, but dared not inquire in front of others. She went into the kitchen with Violet, the maid they had brought who also happened to be Joseph’s wife, to organize things for supper.

            During their meal, Marianne noticed that his shoulder bothered him. Though she too had grown quieter due to her husband’s own behavior, she asked:

            “Is everything all right, dear?”

            “Yes. Are you all right?” He did not wish to admit to his pain, for fear of reminding her that he was much older than she was, and prone to such bothers always.

            When they went to their chamber, as he tried to pull on his nightshirt, she saw an expression of pain once again invade his countenance.

            “Christopher, let me rub some ointment on your shoulder. I can see it is bothering you.”

            “No need, I am well” he said as he gave up pulling on his nightshirt and prepared to go to bed bare.

            “I can see you are not well!”

            “I’ve told you I am, there is no need for you to worry” he said rather curtly.

            “Colonel Brandon, do you want a wife or not?” She asked briskly, her temper rising as he acted so stubbornly.

            Her question, along with the fact that she had called him so formally, as if they weren’t alone, felt like a punch to his stomach. He realized he hadn’t been the best of husbands in the past few days and she had every reason to be frustrated with him. He sat on the bed and looked up at her, apologetically, as she stood there in front of him, looking rather annoyed and waiting for an answer.

            “Of course I want a wife.”

            “Then let me care for you!”

            “Forgive me. I suppose I am not accustomed to having someone care for me,” he let out.

            She got the ointment from the medicine box and sat behind him in bed. She then proceeded to gently rub ointment on his shoulder.

            Her touch on his skin felt wonderful. “I suppose… I suppose you can rub some on my back also, if it is not too much trouble” he said rather timidly, ashamed of how he had acted.

            She asked him to lie down on his belly so she could rub his back properly. At first, she kneeled on the bed beside him as she tried to massage his shoulders and back, but that was not a comfortable position for her. She then, innocently, straddled him over his buttocks so she could massage him from there, where she reached the whole of his back with no discomfort. She had lost the habit of sleeping with garments under her nightgown, for they so frequently got in the way at some point of the evening. Therefore, he could feel the heat of her sex on him while her hands glided up and down his back, gently squeezing his shoulders at times. He felt himself grow against the mattress, but he still also felt ashamed for the way he had treated her, and afraid she would refuse him. So he did nothing.

She too was aroused as she felt him in between her thighs, but dared not act on it, especially since his mood had not been very agreeable. Soon the ointment dried up, and she felt it best to stop the massage before she got more excited, only to, once again, go to sleep feeling only frustration.

            “Does that feel at least a bit better?”

            “Yes, it does, my love.”

            “Wonderful.” She leaned down and kissed his cheek. He felt her breasts press against his back and had to master himself, hold back the urge of turning and throwing her on the bed right then to ravish her.

“I love you” she said, and got off of him. As she got under the covers, she laid on her side, her back to him. “Good night, Christopher.”

            He turned and got under the covers as well. Laying on his back, and staring at the ceiling, chastising himself for his behavior, he gathered up the courage to speak. He turned to her and embraced her from behind, careful to not let his arousal be felt, and rested his chin on her shoulder.

            “My sweet Marianne, please say you’ll forgive me.”

            “I am always inclined to.” She smiled, though he could not see it.

            “I wished for everything to be perfect for you and became frustrated when the trip became uncomfortable and lengthy. And the quieter you grew, the more I was sure you were disappointed in me.”

            She turned her torso to face him. “Christopher! You have no control over the weather, my love, you are not to blame! I would never be disappointed in you. Simply being beside you makes it all perfect.” She pressed her lips against his. “I became quiet because you were grave and distant. I thought I had done something to displease you.”

            “What a fool I have been, forgive me. You could never displease me. Please say you’ll forgive me.”

            “I do forgive you,” she giggled. “I believe we need to learn better communication skills,” she said, while he kissed her forehead. “I declare we should make a vow to always be open and honest about how we feel, to avoid misunderstandings such as these from now on.”

            “I agree” he said with a smile. “And I propose we seal it with a kiss.” They shared a deep kiss that made Marianne flush red. However, she smiled and turned her back to him once more, lying on her side as before, since she knew that he would not wish to do anything. They might have cleared up the misunderstanding, but he was still in pain.

            He again embraced her from behind, his unshaven chin rubbing on her neck and making the hairs on her body stand on end.

            “In the spirit of that vow, my Marianne, I must confess…”

            “Yes?”

            “I did not wish you to know I was in pain.”

            “Why not? I would like to care for you, husband, and you would take that away?”

            “It is just a reminder to you that I am an old man.”

            She turned to face him once more.

            “I thought between the two of us I was the one more inclined to silliness, Christopher,” she smiled and cupped one hand over his cheek. “I do not care about your age,” she said, remembering the rude comments she had once made, with pain in her heart. “Your age and experience are what make you the wonderful man you are, the man I love. And it is perfectly normal to be uncomfortable after ridding for three days in such conditions and lifting all those heavy trunks. For anyone. I myself am a little sore. It is not worse because you eased my discomfort.” She smiled. “So let me care for you as you care for me, silly Christopher.” She kissed him.

            She was still a bit shy in some matters of married life. Though she knew her husband was a gentle, understanding man, she couldn’t help but feel insecure about some things, which was a new feeling for her, who used to usually always be ready to say whatever was on her mind. But she felt bold and felt that in the spirit of curing her husband’s insecurities, there would be no trouble in saying what she would say next.

            “Besides, I could never think of you as an old man after all the things you have made me experience in the privacy of our chambers.”

            She turned her back to him again, blushing.

            He smiled, a bit proud of himself. “Oh? Only good experiences I hope.”

            “Amazing experiences,” she said, blushing further and unable to face him again. “Simply the sound of your voice is enough to drive me out of my mind.”

            His hand slid over her stomach and he kissed her neck, his stubble tickling her and making her quiver. “Is that so?” He whispered in her ear and he felt her body quicken. He nibbled on her ear and now she could feel his stiffness touching her backside.

            “It’s been so long, I thought you did not want me anymore,” she half whispered, half moaned.

            “Only if I were completely mad,” he whispered in her ear, as he pulled up her nightgown.

            “What of your shoulder? It will feel worse.”

            “I have been miraculously cured, my love. You must have a magical touch.”

            His hand stopped sliding up her body to rest on her stomach again as he worked on her neck. She placed her hand on his and guided it down to find her privates.

            “So do you, lover” she said as he started to touch her mound in the way she enjoyed so. She moaned in pleasure and he could not resist it, so he slid inside her from behind while still rubbing her nub. Her hand reached back to his buttocks, grabbing it to aid him. When he was completely filling her emptiness, her hand reached to the back of his head, and she ran her fingers through his hair, gently pulling it at times. As he thrust inside her and touched her bud of nerves, he kissed her neck, his stubble tickling her back and shoulder. It was all too much for her to endure and she quickened in pleasure. Soon, she was over the edge, biting the pillow to muffle her screams, as the cabin was smaller than the manor, and though the servants’ quarters were outside, they were still relatively closer. Though she was satisfied, he was not done with her yet.

            He pulled out of her, still rigid, and turned her over to mount him in a quick firm motion. She leaned down to kiss his lips, and he pulled off her nightgown, to see her bare, to see her whole. As his hands glided along her sides, pulling up the gown, she gasped and quivered once again. He guided himself back inside her and she moaned and bit her lip. That sight made him swell inside her. She kissed his lips again and then sat up, beginning to softly circle her hips. Her hands were on his chest for support, and his slid up from her buttocks to her waist, where he encouraged her movement.

            As he saw her bounce on top of him and throw back her head, he remembered that not so long ago he longed to simply touch her hand with his bare, ungloved hand as he helped her step out of a carriage. Not even in his wildest dreams could he have imagined he would be touching all of her, that she would be responding to his caress in such an euphoric and pleasurable way. She was his, truly his. He was on the verge of climaxing as his fingers sunk into her hips and hers sunk into his chest, indicating she too was on the edge. But he wished for it to last longer, so he turned her onto her back and pulled away from her once again. As he kissed her lips and made his way down to her neck, she softly moaned in his ear

            “Chris, stop teasing me.”

            He smiled slyly. “No,” and made his way down her body with his lips and tongue, taking his time when he reached her breasts. His hands rested beside her head, and she kissed his forearm, for she needed some part of him, any part of him, on her lips. He made his way further down, his stubble tickling her all the way, and she quickened under him.

            His lips arrived at her thighs, and as he kissed their inner side, his stubble still rubbing her skin, she arched her back in pleasure.

            “Chris, you are driving me insane.”

            “Good.”

            He proceeded to kiss her nether region. She bit her lips not to scream his name and grabbed the sheets, almost ripping them. When he saw she was about to burst in pleasure, he stopped and moved up to her lips, taking her hands up above her head and holding them there as he once again filled her core. Their fingers were interlaced as he held her hands in place and she squeezed his. He began to thrust softly, looking into her eyes. After some time, she managed to free one hand, and took it down to his buttocks, squeezing him and pulling him closer. He understood her silent plea and began to move more firmly and rapidly. As they breathed heavily, she took her hand up his back, her fingers gently tracing the path, and he grunted as he kissed her lips. Her hand arrived where it was resting before, over her head, and he once again held it. His neck became exposed for a moment as he moved atop her and she took the opportunity to lick its full length.

            “I love you” he said, looking deep in her eyes.

            “Yes. Love. So. Much” she said in between gasps, her voice failing her.

            They both lost control, climaxing together.

            When their spasms of pleasure had stopped and their bodies were relaxed, he kissed her lips gently. He was about to roll over to her side when she embraced him and locked her legs behind his back.

            “No. Stay.” She smiled, her voice sleepy. She liked the weight of him atop her and felt empty without him. He kissed her once more and smiled.

            It was the beginning of a blissful month.

Chapter Text

The cabin in which they were staying was amongst many trees, a delightfully wooded area, and despite the tree tops not being entirely dense, one could not see the sky properly from the cabin or its close surroundings. There was, however, a clear path from the house to the lake, which did not sit too far. At its margins, a small row boat, surely intended to provide a fuller experience of spending the holidays at such scenery.

            Though they did have some neighbors at their honeymoon location, the Brandons had not encountered many. Most houses seemed to either be empty and closed, for the owners were not on holiday, or relatively distant. That made their time together as a newlywed couple all the sweeter, for they could have picnics and take the long walks they so enjoyed while being loving to one another, sharing kisses and tender caresses, walking hand in hand without much worry of being seen. They had even had audacious outings in distant groves and well protected caves, outings which would be scandalous if interrupted by passers-by.

            Today, Colonel Brandon wished to take Marianne out on the row boat, so they might watch the sunset from the water. He presented this idea to her, and she, rather reluctantly, accompanied him to where the boat sat. When they reached it and he offered his hand to aid her in, she hesitated.

            “What is the matter?” He asked.

            “I am scared. I don’t recall ever being on a boat. What if I fall in the water?”

            “I thought you rather enjoyed getting wet,” he grinned.

            She smiled, trying to hold back laughter. “It is not the same. One cannot drown in the rain as can occur in a very large body of water,” she pointed to the lake.

            “You know I would die before I let anything harmful befall you, right? But if you do not feel comfortable doing this, we need not go.”

            She saw the warmth and security in his eyes and decided to take his hand and step into the boat. He held her until she was seated, then pushed the boat out. She held onto the edges tight as it drifted out and he jumped on board.

            He sat across from her, his boots wet from having to step into the water to push the boat, his arm muscles bulging, she observed, making his shirt slightly tighter as he pushed to row it. They made it relatively far from the shore, but not quite to the middle of the lake, which was very large. She never once let go of the edge of the boat.

            He stopped rowing and offered his hands.“Come, sweetheart.” She took them but sat in place. “Do not be afraid, I’ve got you now,” and he pulled slightly to encourage her to come closer to him. She got up and turned to sit in between his thighs, with her back against his chest and her head resting on one of his shoulders. He held her close and tight. This made her feel so safe and protected, and thus she relaxed.

            As the boat was afloat, they watched the skies, now completely visible, turn from a light blue into shades of pink and lavender. The sun slowly bid farewell, making its way down behind a far-away mountain.

            “You seem to have forgotten your fear” he said into her ear, smiling.

            “Well yes. That is because I feel safe in your arms.”

            He smiled wider. He liked the notion of her trusting him, allowing him to hold her so.

            Shades of night blue started to descend above them and now the stars began to show their light.“Do you see those stars right there”, he pointed, “those seven that shine brightest?”

            “Yes,” she answered as she caressed one of his hands under hers.

            “That is the Plough”.

            “Do you master all subjects known to man, or do you only seem so perfect in my eyes?” She turned her head to look at him smiling as she still caressed his hands. One held her under her breasts, the other sat on one of her thighs.

            His heart filled with so much warmth and love, it could explode. To think she could ever view him as being perfect, it still seemed very unreal to him. “I assure you it is only in your eyes,” he chuckled. “But I shall enjoy it for as long as it lasts.” He kissed the top of her head and continued. “The Plough is part of a bigger constellation called…”

            “Ursa Major,” she interrupted. “You see, sir, I too know of some things.” She smiled as he nibbled on her ear.

            “Yes you do. And you are true perfection; it is not just in my eyes.”

            “I am sure you are wrong but I will not argue for that is what good wives do,” she smiled as he chuckled in her ear.

            It was becoming rather dark and it was best to get back to shore. Colonel Brandon let go of Marianne to be able to row them back. She complained.

            “I shall feel better if I can hold on to you somehow.”

            He smiled. “How do you propose I row the boat then?”

            She made her way around him, not letting go of him for one second. She sat on the edge of the board he sat on, her legs folded to one side, and held him from behind, her chest on his back, her cheek resting against one shoulder blade, her arms around him at the waist, hands going upwards and resting on his chest.

            “Will this do?” she asked smiling.

            “Oh yes, it certainly will.”

            As he rowed them back to shore, she caressed his chest and her hands sometimes slipped down to his stomach. She kissed his shoulder and wished there were no clothes hindering her lips from reaching his warm skin. She still would not dare initiate these much more intimate encounters married couples had, though she enjoyed them as much as her husband seemed to, but it could certainly be arranged for later.

            Even though they had been married for a little over a week now, his heart still beat fast at her caresses, as if they were the first he had ever received. His stomach was in knots with the excitement of having her be so tender and open towards him, something he had dreamed about for so long, and it filled his chest to the point of overflowing. Happiness. Bliss. He had it.

            As they came to shore and he let go of the oars, he took one of her hands from his chest and kissed it, getting up to push the boat further into land. He then took her hand so she could step out of the boat. It was already dark and the lanterns had been hung up to make their way brighter and safer.

            “I believe all that rowing has had an effect on my shoulder. I could use one of your massages,” he said with a sly smile as she took his arm and they walked to the cabin. She giggled and squeezed his arm.

            “That could be arranged.”

Chapter Text

It was an exceptionally hot day, especially considering autumn was almost upon them. Staying in the cabin was borderline unbearable, even with all the windows open, so they decided to go for a long walk, to explore areas further from their temporary home, areas they hadn’t yet had the opportunity of exploring.

            Their walk was filled with stolen kisses and caresses, and sweet nothings whispered to one another. They could be bolder since there were not many people around, and the few who had been their also temporary neighbors in this most wonderful trip were already setting back to their homes.

            After a while of roaming and wandering, they were lead to a river, in an area that was wooded. The river ran smoothly and quietly, but it was not so shallow and it was relatively wide. There was no bridge in sight for them to cross it, so they decided to walk along it for a while before heading back. It did not take them long to come upon a depression, a work of nature, where the river fell in a waterfall – not a tall one – and formed a calm pool before falling once more and following its course.

            The water in the pool was crystal clear and for the most part, you could see the stones on the bottom of the river. But there were some parts which were very deep and the water became dark before any indication of the bottom could be seen. In those parts one’s feet certainly could not touch the stones.

            Colonel Brandon firmly held his bride’s hand as he escorted her down the rustic steps the large rocks on the riverbank formed. They found a rock that was close to the water, but not enough so that it would be wet, and stood on it, admiring the view of the water rushing down into the pool, forming a waterfall not taller than Colonel Brandon himself.

            Marianne took support on one of her husband’s arms and lowered herself to sit on the rock.

            “It is so beautiful,” she said, as she was one to always love nature.

            “It is” he agreed as he sat down beside her. “Very inviting for a swim, especially on a day such as this one, would you not say?” He grinned.

            “I do not know how to swim, love, so I would have to say no.”

            “You don’t?”

            “No. I have never been presented with the opportunity or the need to learn. And you?”

            “I’ve had both the opportunity and the need.”

            “Is that so?” she leaned in to kiss his lips, since she noticed they had been there for quite a while and no one had passed by.

            “Yes” he started when their lips parted. “I do not think you have had the time to notice, but there is a canal behind our house, beyond our garden.”

            “Is there? How lovely!”

            “I swam there as a child, much against my mother’s wishes.”

            She smiled. “Naughty Christopher.”

            “And in the war, there were many times we needed to attack by a river. Swimming through it was certainly stealthier than descending on the enemy in boats.”

            She smiled up at him as she leaned back on both her arms. She was always amazed at how much he had to share, how much he had lived through. They had talked and shared so much, yet there was always something new to learn about him.

            “I could teach you if you wish,” he offered with a kiss on her cheek.

            “You surprise me, husband. I would think you would not wish me to get wet out in the open, for fear of my health,” she smiled.

            “Running water is supposed to be good for your health.” He kissed her smiling lips. “Besides, on a day such as this, it is really very hard to catch a chill.”

            She laughed. “It is. But I think I shall remain dry today. Perhaps you can teach me when we are back home.”

            After a brief moment contemplating the view, he turned to her.

            “Would you mind terribly if I went for a swim?”

            “You do not need my permission, Christopher my darling.”

            “Oh, but I do. ‘With my body I thee worship’, remember? I cannot expose myself without your consent.” He smiled. “I am yours.”

            She blushed at his words and smiled timidly. He was truly the sweetest man. She kissed him and said

            “You may go for a swim, my sweet Christopher.”

            She watched as he unbuttoned his waistcoat and untied his cravat. She had to restrain herself to not help him undress, as she so loved to do. Her mind started to drift to very recent memories and she had to force herself to come back to reality. There would be time for that later.

            He remained with only his white linen shirt on, folding his clothes neatly and placing them on the rock beside her. He then took off his boots and trousers, remaining with his underdrawers. He stepped down to the rock closest to the water. Though there were parts of the bank on which one could walk into the water and submerge one’s body progressively, they sat beside deeper water, so she watched as her husband dove into it. He emerged and shook his head, to get the hair out of his face, and his hand ran through his hair, pulling it back.

            “The water is nice. Very refreshing.” He smiled. She smiled back at him and watched as he found a stone that stood out of the water and sat upon it, with his feet still submerged.

            She was quickly learning she could not resist the sight of her husband’s bare – or nearly bare – body. She watched as droplets of water ran down his chest where his buttons were open, exposing some skin, and observed how the linen of his shirt clung to his strong arms and that of his underdrawers clung to his thighs. She was becoming aroused and hungered to have his arm around her, his body against hers. She could almost see his manhood through the cloth that covered it. She would have been able to, had he not arranged himself so that the drawers would not cling to it. She also admired how very spontaneous and bold he was being. A few months ago, she would never have thought that Colonel Brandon was capable of such things. It was one of the reasons that had made her so rude and closed off to him, thinking he was a boring old man. But she rejoiced in seeing this recently uncovered side of him. Though she married and loved him without knowing this to be possible, the little part of the old reckless Marianne that remained inside of her was very pleased to see she could have a partner in her crimes.

            As she looked at him admiringly, he watched her, curious as to what she might be thinking. She noticed it, and tried hard not to blush, to not give herself away. She still was not sure if it was acceptable for her to feel and think such things. She had not had many discussions about the subject prior to her wedding, but all indicated that men were the ones who had such desires, and ladies were only meant to please their husbands and bear children. Though her husband was very generous and loving in such aspects and stimulated her to feel such things, she was still fearful of being too forward and improper. Unlady like. She did not wish to displease him.

            “You amaze me, my love,” she said when she saw he still watched her with curious eyes.

            “Why is that, sweetheart?”

            “Just a little over a fortnight ago I would never have imagined you to be the kind of man who disrobes outside of the privacy of his dressing room, much less one who swims in waterfalls. So bold and adventurous. You are a man of many layers.” She smiled.

            “My Marianne, you were the one who slowly made me so. It all started on that sweet day on which you accepted to be my wife. I myself had forgotten I could be like this. It is all due to love,” he smiled. “Does it displease you?”

            “Not at all. Each new discovery only makes me love you more.” She blew him a kiss. “In fact, I believe you have convinced me. I wish to learn how to swim, if you will still teach me.”

            “Of course, my love” he said as he went back into the water and swam to where she sat. She took off her dress and shoes, looking around to make sure no one appeared. She remained in her chemise and undergarments, and slid down to the rock from which he had dived. He waited for her inside the pool. She slowly slid down the rock, lowering herself into the water. When her legs were halfway in, he held her by the waist.

            “Do not fear, I have got you.”

            She smiled and let go of the rock behind her as he finished lowering her into the water. She held on to his shoulders.

            “What is the first lesson?”

            He smiled and kissed her, and proceeded to teach her. First she needed to float. Though she was scared, she trusted he would hold her and relaxed. He noticed how her chemise clung to her breasts, and began to think perhaps they could have more than swimming lessons there.

            They continued for a while as he taught her to kick her legs as he held her hands and guided her around the pool, and later she tried to hold her breath under water. But soon the lessons became more playful, and they found themselves in a corner as he pressed her back against a rock from the river bank and passionately kissed her lips as her hands ran through his wet hair.

            He moved to her neck, kissing her cheek on his way down, as she nibbled his ear and gently ran her nails up his back. She wrapped her legs around his hips and one hand caressed his hair as the other made its way down in between their bodies to his manhood. She reached it underwater and stroked it once before he moved away from her.

            “No, Marianne, stop.”

            She looked at him confused and slightly hurt. He saw the hurt in her eyes.

            “Please do not look at me like that, my love.”

            “Does… does my touch not please you?”

            “How could you even think that?” He caressed her cheek. “Of course it does! I just think it best for us not to begin anything here. We might be seen.”

            Even though they had had some outdoorsy adventures, it was always in more secluded locations. He felt they were too out in the open and though no one had been seen during all the time they were there, someone could come along. Having a swim and teaching one’s wife how to swim was more acceptable and easier to be explained.

            “Now come, let us go back to the cabin, so I can show you just how much your touch does please me” he said with a smile as he lifted her up to the rock. He then followed her out of the water.

            She pulled on her dress and put on her shoes. While waiting for him, she admired as he put on his many layers of clothes.

            “May I say something to you, dear husband?”

            “Of course, my love. Always.”

            “And you promise to not be cross with me and let me know gently if it displeases you if I say such things?”

            “My Marianne, I have told you before, you can always be yourself and speak your mind to me. It is who I love. That impulsive and strong-headed, yet sweet woman.” He smiled.

            She stepped closer to him and reached up to his ear as he leaned down and put one arm around her waist. Then she whispered

            “I very much enjoy the sight of your wet body. My wish is to thoroughly lick you dry.” She blushed furiously, slightly ashamed of how bold she had been, but not able to refrain from her strong desire for him any longer. He arched and eyebrow and smiled.

            “Well perhaps then we can find a more secluded location before we reach the cabin and before I dry off completely.”

Chapter Text

 

The Brandons had been married for nearly two months now. They had taken a wedding trip for a month and were now getting settled at home, getting accustomed to the routine of marriage, and Marianne, to the implications of being mistress of a place such as Delaford.

            It was a Sunday, and after attending church and Elinor’s house for tea, Marianne and Colonel Brandon were about to take their usual – if one could call it that after only one month – ride. Colonel Brandon was a good, generous man and would give the servants the day off whenever he foresaw they would not be much needed. It was the case with the stable hands today. The horses were tended to early in the morning, and he himself could saddle a couple of horses for him and his wife, so he had sent them home.  He was saddling their horses while Marianne watched his every move. His strong arms lifting the saddles onto the horses. His blond, thick hair blowing in the gentle breeze. His gentle touch as he soothed the horses.

            The truth was her husband had awakened in her a thirst for the pleasures of the flesh. She still loved these innocent encounters, as if he were still courting her. Their walks, their rides, the duets they played, the poems he read to her, all made butterflies flutter about in her stomach as if it were the first time. But the passionate, intimate touches that usually came with the evenings, in the privacy of their bedchamber, made it all that much better.

            They had not gone many nights – and some days – without being intimate in the short time they had been married. The previous night, unfortunately, had been one of them.

            Colonel Brandon had business in Bath and did not wish to spend a night away from his wife, so he rode practically all day, to resolve his business, and then to come back to Marianne. She waited impatiently, missing him every moment, being it the first time they had been apart for such a long time. She visited villagers with Elinor, she took care of her household duties, she sewed, she played at the pianoforte.

            When he got home, though, he was so very tired, and after they had supper and told each other of the events of the day, he held her in bed and fell asleep. Marianne loved sleeping in his arms, but she was not yet tired. She hungered for something more.

            She still was shy and not sure if it was acceptable for her to initiate those types of activities, or if it was only the husband’s duty. Her husband had yet to disapprove of any behavior of hers, but it also hadn’t been said in plain words that it was acceptable. Maybe it was unlady-like to have such desires, maybe it would not be proper to require one’s husband to perform such actions if he did not feel inclined to do so. So she did nothing and waited for sleep to come, though it did take long.

            And now, ever since they had awakened, she had been watching him and lusting for him. Even in church she could not contain her thoughts, and just walking arm in arm with him, which was about as much as they could do in public, made her quiver.

            He finished saddling the horses and went over to her. He put his hands on her waist and she expected him to lift her up to her mare, as he always did, but instead, he pulled her close and stole a kiss.

            “Christopher!” she said gently and smiling. “Someone could see us. We will scandalize our neighbors.”

            “Let them be scandalized.” He leaned in and stole another. This one lasted longer, and their hats almost fell of their heads when bumping against one another. It made her more excited, but it soon stopped as he pulled away to lift her to her mare.

            With her senses aroused, she watched as his strong legs lifted him to his horse. He started to ride and she lingered back to watch his firm buttocks move, following the horse’s movement. Oh, to have those buttocks thrusting in between her thighs…

            He looked back.

            “Marianne, are you not coming?”

            She smiled and blushed. Then she caught up with him. The movement of the horse under her was not helping her cause.

            They started to talk about the affairs of Delaford, and their neighbors, but she did not listen to every word for she sometimes drifted into fantasies about her beloved husband and his passionate yet tender ways in the bedchambers.

            “Mrs. Cunningham wishes to pay a visit today,” his voice this time cut her thoughts.

            “Ugh, that woman! What does she wish to complain about now?” He laughed, but Marianne was truly annoyed. “I tell you, dear husband. I do not know how you put up with her. You are a saint!”

            “You learn how to deal with her with time.” He was still chuckling.

            “I will have to learn soon. What if she decides to call on a day you are not here? I will have to speak to her alone! Oh, how dreadful.” Colonel Brandon began to laugh again. “I would not want people to think your wife is rude and impatient. I do not wish to sully your good name, but that woman is impossible.”

            “My Marianne, you’ve brought nothing but joy to me. Everyone tells me how fortunate I am to have won the love of such a beautiful, polite, gracious young bride. You would never sully my name.” He smiled.

            “They are wrong, for I am the fortunate one to have had such a fine gentleman fall for a foolish girl like me. I love you.” She reached out her hand and he took it, intertwining his fingers with hers.

            “I love you more.”

            Though both their hands were gloved, his touch made all the yearning for his body come rushing back at once.

            They were already headed home. As they got to the stables, Colonel Brandon helped her off her mare, and felt the electricity and yearning coming from her. They again kissed, and this time, she did not care if someone could see them. She smiled at him, and he knew that smile, he had seen it many times before. He hurried in putting away the horses, while she sat on a bale of hay in an empty bay, waiting for him. When he finished, he went to her and leaned down to kiss her. The kiss was long and deep, and as his tongue massaged hers, her need grew even more.

            “Shall we go upstairs?” He asked in a low tone that only made her more aroused.

            “Why go upstairs when we are perfectly alone here?” She asked, a little weary of what he would think of her boldness. He smiled a wicked little smile which reassured her he liked her boldness very much.

“I just thought you might be more comfortable upstairs, my love.”

“I do not care about being comfortable,” she said as she fumbled with the buttons on his trousers, which stood right in front of her eyes. “I have been longing for you since you came home last night, but alas, you were too tired for me. I cannot wait any longer,” she said, throwing all caution aside.

A bulge grew in his trousers, as she hadn’t gotten to setting it completely free. He got down to his knees and started to lift her skirts.

“Why did you not wake me?” He found the waistband of her undergarment and slowly pulled them down. The fact that he was taking his sweet time just drove her more out of her mind.

“I did not know if… if it was a proper thing for a lady to do. To initiate such actions.” Her whisper was close to a moan.

He finished pulling off her undergarment and with his hands still under her skirts, on her thighs, he leaned closed to her and kissed her lips. Then he moved to her neck, and up to her ear where he whispered

“My Marianne, I am your husband, your companion for life. You can come to me with whatever, and I do mean whatever, you need.”

His hands went up her thighs to her privates, and he looked surprised to find her already very aroused, excitement oozing from her heat. She leaned over to his ear and whispered

“I’ve been ready all morning just thinking about you, my love.” She could not see it then, but his manhood almost ripped his buttons open. She sat him on the bale of hay and managed to open the fall front of his trousers, freeing his stiffness. She moved to straddle him and he helped lift her skirts. With one hand she guided him inside her while the other was on his shoulder. They both sighed in pleasure. They could not be loud, for they could scare the horses.

She ground on top of him as they kissed each other, on the lips, on the neck, wherever there lips could reach. Her hands were running through his hair while his were firmly gripping her buttocks, aiding the movements which pleased them so.

He quickly turned to place her on her back atop the bale of hay, so he could be on top. He began to thrust harder and soon she climaxed, biting his shoulder as she did so she would not scream. Not long after, he climaxed as well. They remained embraced exchanging kisses and tender words, but they remembered they could not take too long for someone could come by, so they recomposed themselves.

“Chris, my love, I think we should explore the estate like this more often,” she smiled.

He chuckled, picking hay off her hair.

“The servants shall like getting more days off work, I suppose.” He chuckled again, taking her arm in his, to walk her up to the house.

Chapter Text

Colonel Brandon was coming back from the village. It was part of his duties as master of the estate to go and listen to complaints and inquiries from the villagers, so he could make the necessary arrangements, and to resolve disputes between them.

            He approached his home, but went slightly off course. It had been a tiring day, like many others he had had, but now he did not fear coming back to the manor. It would not be cold and empty. He would have someone to greet other than his staff. He would not dine alone. He would not sit in total silence and read until it was time for him to fall asleep in his cold, lonely bed. He had a home now.

            The hothouse was not far from the manor. It was still light out, so George, the head gardener, was still there, looking after the plants and flowers. Colonel Brandon came in and worked his way around, seeing what flowers he would pick today. George offered him help, as he always did. On the first few occasions, Colonel Brandon had accepted help, as he had no idea what he was doing. He did not know the proper way to cut the stem of the flowers, nor did he have a clear vision of what flowers and colors would go well together and form a beautiful bouquet, worthy of his Marianne. After, however, a few days of repeating the task, back when he was still clumsily trying to court his now wife, he became rather decent at the job at hand. So, he preferred to make all the bouquets himself now, but that did not prevent George from offering help every time.

            The Colonel fashioned a bouquet of yellow daisies, white lilies and light pink chrysanthemums. He bundled them together with a string and, returning George’s smile as he watched the Colonel work, he left for the house.

            He walked in through the front door and while he stood in the foyer taking off his hat and coat, he heard a tune emerging from the music room. It was a familiar song. The one she had been singing when they first met. Only this time, she only played its melody.

            He entered the music room and watched her play for a moment, remembering how she looked that first time. She soon spotted him at the doorway and smiled widely at him, all the while still playing. That had not happened when they first met. He smiled back and walked over to the grand instrument she played, leaning over her and kissing the top of her head. He walked away a few steps, and sat on the sofa that faced the Broadwood Grand.

            She blew him a kiss, but never stopped playing. He placed the bouquet on the side table and closed his eyes as he listened to her play and all the weariness the day imposed on him washed away. He then opened his eyes, watching her curls shine in the fading sunlight that came in through the window behind her, her eyes now watching her hands and the ivories.

            The song was over and she got up from the bench, walking over to him and picking up the bouquet which lay next to him.

            “Are these for me?” She asked.

            “Of course, my love.”

            “They are beautiful, thank you.” She smiled as she lifted them to her nose.

            “No more beautiful than you.” He pulled her down to his lap and kissed her cheek. They weren’t as careful as they should be anymore, to try and hide their displays of affection from the servants. At first, the staff talked a bit, as it was an uncommon thing to see in any household, but they now saw it as sweet, and only disturbed the love birds when extremely necessary, perhaps with a clearing of the throat to warn them.

            “You know you do not need to give me flowers every day anymore, do you not? I am here, I am yours.” She smiled and threw her arm around his shoulders.

            “Yes, but I will not stop.”

            She set the flowers back down on the side table. She would get a vase for them when she got up.

            “How was your day, dearest?”

            “Tiresome,” he answered, sparing her of too many boring details, though she inquired of some specifics.

            “And yours, my love?” He asked, his hand on her thigh while the other was around her waist.

            “Very uneventful. This household was run in excellence before me, I am scarcely needed.”

            “Trust me, you are very much needed.” He kissed her neck as she giggled.

            “We haven’t played a duet in a while, sweetest,” she let out.

            “Whatever do you mean? I thought the duet we sang this morning was quite beautiful” he said with a sly smile.

            “Christopher!! Hush! Someone might hear you!” Her cheeks crimsoned. He laughed softly and spoke in a lower tone.

            “If they did not hear you this morning, they certainly will not hear me now.”

            She blushed further, if that was even possible, her cheeks burning furiously. She whispered

            “From now on I will bite my tongue before I make any noises, you shall see.”

            “Do not dare! I love the sounds you make.” He kissed her cheek and then her lips. She smiled as her blushing red cheeks faded back to her milky complexion. She stood from his lap and extended a hand.

            “Come my love, let us play a duet.”

            He raised an eyebrow as he took her hand. She looked down at him and quickly said “On the pianoforte!” She smiled as he stood. “For now, at least.”

Chapter Text

He was running late for a business appointment in Dorchester and could not find the cufflinks he meant to wear. Marianne was out with Elinor, and when they were done with their charity work, she would have tea at the parsonage. Thus, he could not get her help in finding it.

            He remembered the last time he had worn them. A dinner party they gave for some families in the neighborhood – and the Ferrars, of course – which afterwards had led to a night of passion, leaving the cufflinks forgotten on the bedside table, along with her earrings. He wondered if they were not put away in her jewelry box, along with her earrings, by mistake. He thought there would be no harm in looking.

            Upon entering her dressing room, the jewelry box was immediately visible, sitting on her dressing table. He carefully combed through it, but did not find what he looked for.

            He opened a drawer, and there he found another box, smaller, which looked like it could contain jewelry as well. It was wooden and delicate, with rustic carvings that resembled hearts. It was closed by a heart-shaped antique key.

            He opened the box without much thought, in a hurry he was to be on the road. In the box laid no jewelry, however. There were many folded papers, but what held his attention was a small pocket book that lay atop it all. He could not believe his eyes, there had to be some mistake. He opened the book to be sure, and there it was, Willoughby’s name on the first page. It was his book of sonnets.

            He closed the box and the drawer, decided to forget it all, and left her dressing room. But it gnawed on him, his heart growing heavy with pain and sorrow. Had all the moments they shared these past few months, since she accepted his proposal, all the moments he held dear in his heart… Had they all been lies? Had … had she not forgotten that scoundrel? Had she been thinking of him? It couldn’t be so… he had felt her love, her passion… she was happy. They were blissful. Could she have feigned something she did not feel? For his sake? Out of pity?

            He paced their bedchamber, trying to find some rational explanation in his mind. He could not. He must then forget it and get to his appointment. He could not. His pain and sorrow quickly grew into anger. How could he have not seen it? How could he have let himself be fooled and believe she was happy with him?

            At this point, he stood behind the small desk they kept in the corner of their room. In anger, he slammed his clenched fist on said desk, and it fell upon a bottle of ink, which cracked open, the glass cutting into his hand. Angrier still, he threw all that sat on the desk to the floor, flipping over the desk itself, another bottle of ink splattering on the hardwood floors.

 

********

 

            He sat in a high back chair in front of the fire in their bedchamber. Willoughby’s pocket book of sonnets rested on the other, across from him. His hand, he had bandaged, and it held a glass of brandy. The desk had been put back in place, with everything that belonged atop it. The only traces of his anger that remained were the chip that had marked the desk as consequence of it being thrown to the ground, the broken ink bottle on the floor and the stain it left on the wood. He hadn’t had the courage to call the maid to clean it up, ashamed of his outburst. He was only glad Marianne had not been there to witness it. He was a better man than that, and he feared that whatever regard she had for him, if any, would be diminished if she saw it.

            As his anger faded back into pain and confusion, he had sent a messenger with a note to the companions he was to do business with, excusing himself and begging for a new appointment on a different date. It was so unlike him to be irresponsible as such, but he found he could not bear to ride to Dorchester and think of business, when the reason for happiness in his life seemed to hang by a thread. It might not even have truly existed at all.

            Marianne was home from tea with her sister and came up to wash before completing some more chores until dinnertime. She was surprised to see her husband sitting there, contemplative and silent as he was. Holding a drink so early in the day.

            “Christopher! I thought you would still be in Dorchester.”

            He said nothing, nor did he change his pained countenance.

            “Christopher? Is something amiss?” She came closer. As she did, she saw the pocket book sitting on the chair opposite him, and began to understand what might be the matter.

            “Christopher,” she started, but he interrupted her.

            “Do you think of him often?” He asked with no anger or accusation, just sorrow.

            She was hurt by that insinuation, and in her anger, only replied

            “Do you make a habit of going through my things while I am out?”

            “I do not. Do you miss him? Are you even remotely happy?”

            Her frustration instigated her to retort with another question and not answer his question once again.

            “Do you miss your Eliza? What of the portrait of her that lies in the attic? What is the meaning of that?”

            The hurt in his eyes did not change, it could not grow any deeper. The lack of an answer for a second time was answer enough.

            “You treat me unfairly. You would do well to remember that before I was master of Delaford, it had another Mrs. Brandon as its mistress. I did not commission that portrait. She was never my Eliza as you put it, nor did I believe her to be. I did however believe you to be mine. It seems I was wrong.” His eyes glistened with tears but he did not let them fall. “I was young and foolish when I loved Eliza, and that love had been forgotten even before I met you. The only thing that pained me most is how unfairly life had treated her. I only keep her portrait because she has a daughter who hardly knew her before her death. If she ever wishes for her mother’s portrait, she should have it.” He stood with his drink in hand and walked to the door, and facing it he continued. “Forgive me for rummaging through your personal belongings. I was looking for my cufflinks, but rest assured I will never invade your privacy again.” He opened the door and closed it behind him.

            She did not mean for it to go as it did. Her frustration had not allowed her to answer him directly. She knew Eliza’s portrait had no meaning to him, she just brought it up in a failed attempt to make him see that not all things kept bear the meaning they seem to.

            She saw the glass bottle on the floor and the ink stain. She remembered his bandaged hand and noticed the chip in the wood of their desk, and quickly imagined what had passed. She took the pocket book and left the room.

            As she descended the stairs, she heard music coming from the pianoforte. It was far away and muffled. She walked to the music room only to find its door closed. She listened behind it, to the bleak and melancholic tune that came through it. Mozart’s Lacrimosa. She had never heard her husband play such tunes. It pained her heart to think he could be so hurt and the cause was her. She, who had vowed to make him laugh every day. He made her so joyous always, she never meant to cause him such sorrow. She touched her forehead to the door and began to cry. After a moment’s courage, she opened it.

            He did not stop playing nor did he look up. She went to him and touched his bandaged hand while he played. That took away all his concentration, and he stopped.

            “Christopher, please listen to me.” He sat watching the keys on the instrument. “My frustration prevented me from giving you an answer. I am frustrated with myself, because if you can even think such things, have such doubts that would make you so grievous, I am not showing you, telling you, making you feel all that I feel for you. I am failing. I love you with all my heart Christopher, all my heart. I am completely, utterly and entirely yours.” She sat on the keys in front of him. He couldn’t help but to slowly rest his head on her chest as she spoke. “Every inch of my heart, my body, my soul, is yours.” Her tears fell more abundantly and she lifted his chin, so his eyes could meet hers. “You can rummage through my things all you like. I have no secrets from you. I share my life with you. All of it.” She caressed his cheeks, his hair, his lips, despair filling her heart. “I will try, every day of my life, to make you believe what I say to be true. I love you, I love you so, and only you.”

            His hand went to her cheeks and dried her tears. He pulled her down to kiss her lips.

            “I am sorry my insecurities made you so, I never meant to cause you hurt. My only wish in life is to see you happy. As happy as anyone could ever be. To see your smile everyday… it lights up my life.”

            “I am happy. You make me happy. You do. And I wish to make you happy.”

            She took the pocket book from her dress pocket.

            “I have not thought of that blaggard since… since… I cannot even remember. The only reason I had trouble parting with this is because, if you remember, it was from where you first read to me.”

            He felt such a fool.

            She flipped through the pages. “Sonnet 47 it was.” She showed it to him, and ripped out the page, folding it in half and placing it in her cleavage. She then stood and walked to the fireplace, tossing the pocket book into the crackling fire with no hesitation.

            “You do not need to throw your belongings into the fire on my account,” he cried out.

            “I would throw myself into the fire if it were to make you less wretched. It breaks my heart to see you so.”

            “Throwing yourself into the fire would only make me wretched beyond repair” he said as he walked to her and took her in his arms. “Forgive me my love, for ever doubting you. For ever doubting what we have.” He kissed her cheeks, her nose, her lips.

            “Forgive me for not giving you an answer right away, for prolonging your angst and wretchedness. For bringing up Eliza. That was low of me. I know you love me. I feel it. Even though I am sometimes unworthy of such a pure and incredible love as that which you give.”

            “I am the one who is unworthy of you.”

            She placed a finger on his lips as to quiet him, and shook her head. They kissed passionately, and all was forgiven.

Chapter Text

 

There was still awkwardness in the air and Colonel Brandon was still relatively grave after their quarrel. Shortly after the resolution of the fact in the music room, Elinor and Edward arrived for supper, for Marianne had invited them to join her when she was out with Elinor, thinking she would sup alone otherwise. This had left them with little time to themselves, and therefore, things had not truly fallen back into normality.

            Though they both still had heavy hearts, they managed to treat their guests with the same warmth as always, as not to make them suspicious of anything that had happened. After supper, they conversed in the drawing room, where they had drinks, and not long after, the Brandons were bidding the Ferrars farewell at their sweep.

            When they walked back inside, Colonel Brandon, in silence, offered his hand to his wife, to escort her upstairs. She gladly took it, relieved at the subtle sign of normality. All she wished to do was go to bed and hope that tomorrow would bring a fully restored household and a smiling Christopher once more. She noticed the bandages on his hand, which hadn’t been changed since he himself tended to the fresh wound that afternoon, were marked with blood.

            He entered their bedchamber first, leaving her behind to close the door. As she did, slowly, she gathered the courage to break the silence.

            “I should take a look at your hand, love. Put some fresh bandages on it before we sleep.”

            The door was still slightly open and she was facing it when his arm came above her head and his hand leaned heavily on the door, shutting it at once. With his other hand he turned her swiftly to face him, as he uttered

            “Sleep be damned.”

            He pressed her against the door and kissed her lips. The kiss was not as gentle as it usually was. There was an urgency, a slight despair in his passion that she had never felt before, not even on their wedding night. It was different, but not unpleasant at all.

            He lifted one of her legs to his hips and pushed her up along the door so her lips were at height with his. She voluntarily took her other leg to his hips and locked them behind his back, her arms supporting her on his shoulders. Her fingers sank and disappeared into his hair as his kisses grew hungrier and deeper, his hands on her buttocks holding her up in place with the help of the door on which he pressed her.

            Their lips parted and he moved down to her neck. In between kisses, he breathed heavily

            “Oh how I’ve missed you, my Marianne.”

            “Missed me?” She asked in a low voice, her hands running up and down his back, wishing she could tear into the cloth of his clothes and rip them off of him. “I have been here all day, close by.”

            “I thought you were lost to me. I sat all day in despair, thinking you were not mine anymore, that you never had been.” He still kissed her neck and nibbled on her earlobe, pressing himself against her body. “My heart grew heavy with sorrow. I missed you already.” He kissed her lips, the despair seething in his kiss. “I need you.”

            “Then take me,” she moaned, as she felt him grow in between her thighs. “I’m yours. Take what is yours.”

            He put her down and turned her to face the chest of drawers that sat beside the door. On the wall atop it, a looking glass. He struggled behind her to open the buttons to her dress as quickly as he could and silently wished that today of all days she had worn a dress which did not button up. She reached back and caressed his thigh and buttocks as he fumbled at her dress. He was almost done unbuttoning her, but her constant rubbing of her behind on his imprisoned manhood got the best of him. He could not take it any longer. He opened his fall front just enough to free himself, and lifted her skirts and petticoat, lowering her undergarment just enough so he could slide into her. She gripped the edges of the chest of drawers as he did so, biting her lips and rolling back her eyes. He gripped her hips as he thrust into her, and he could see her facial expressions through the mirror, how much she enjoyed it, which only made him more aroused, and led him to thrust faster. He leaned into her and his lips touched her bare shoulder. She bucked back into him and he bore his teeth in desire, grazing the flesh on the shoulder he had just kissed. As she did it again, he bit her, unable to contain himself. She moaned in surprise, though she did not mind the bite. He felt remorse as soon as he did it, but he could see through the mirror that she had enjoyed it. One of his hands slid up her body, up to her breasts, and there it remained, cupping her as their movements grew more intense. He watched her face in the looking glass and heard her screams as her pleasure came, and his followed shortly after.

            Once he came down from his high, he gently kissed the bite mark he had left and released her, stumbling back onto the bed, still half aroused. He sat up and watched as she turned to face him, and leaning on the chest of drawers that had supported them during the roughness of passion, she let her dress fall to the ground. She then pulled her undergarment off from under her petticoat.

            “I hope, Mr. Brandon, you do not think that we are done,” she said, as she tossed the undergarment at him, smiling. She then moved to unpin her hair, the smile still lighting her face as she stared at him.

            He took the undergarment that covered half his face and tossed it on the bed. He stood up, slowly walking towards her. He came within inches from her and placed his hands on the chest of drawers, on either side of her, imprisoning her in between his body and the furniture. His body did not touch hers, nor did his arms. His lips were mere inches away from hers, slightly parted. She could feel his breath on her lips, but he did not move to kiss her, teasing her.

            “Are we not?” he let out with a smirk. She smiled as she reached for his manhood and stroked it. She wanted to win this little battle but he held his ground, and she was the one who finally met him halfway and kissed his lips. He pulled off her petticoat and untied her stay in swift movements, letting it all fall to the floor. He lifted her to sit on the piece of furniture and pulled off her chemise over her head, throwing it back over his shoulder. Their kisses continued, on the lips, on the neck, on the shoulders, while she untied his cravat and tossed it aside, her fingers swiftly moving to the buttons on his waistcoat, doing all she could to rapidly undo them without tearing them off, which was her wish. As she did this, his fingers gently grazed her legs, slowly pushing down her stockings. This caused her hairs to stand on end, and her despair to undress him to grow. She pushed the waistcoat off and it fell to the floor, her hands now free to work on his shirt. That became a difficult task as his hands found their way to her core and his fingers gently grazed it before two of them invaded her while another rubbed her bud of nerves. A most welcome invasion. His tongue also parted its way through her lips, leaving her breathless from time to time, when they weren’t busy at her neck or earlobes. She undid the top buttons of his shirt and stopped, not able to concentrate on the task any longer. Her hands slid to his back and under his shirt, where her nails scratched him as her vocalizations of pleasure grew louder. He removed his hands from her to pull off his shirt, and she gripped his buttocks in despair.

“No, Chris, please, don’t stop,” she gasped.

He smiled. Once his shirt was on the floor, his fingers returned to the task they were performing with mastery and she rolled her eyes back and moaned in his ear, as she tried to nibble on it. Her fingers, quickly losing their dexterity, lowered to finish opening his trousers and these fell to the floor. He stepped out of them.

            He continued to please her with one hand as the other moved to her curls, grabbing hold of them and firmly pulling her head back, leaving her throat exposed to be kissed and licked.

            She could not take it any longer. She pulled herself closer to him, locking her legs behind his buttocks and kissing his lips, rubbing her sex against his manhood, wishing to feel him inside her once more. He pulled her from the chest of drawers, firmly holding her buttocks as she held on to his shoulders, and he took her to the bed, throwing her on it. She laughed and waited for him to fall atop her but instead, he stood before her, admiring her bare body, the sweat making it glisten in the candlelight.

            She smiled and placed a foot on his bare chest.

            “Come, Chris. I need you,” she whispered as her hand moved to the apex of her sex and gently started rubbing. His hand went to her inner thigh, and with his nails gently grazing her leg, they trailed up to her ankle. She arched her back and moaned as he did this. He placed her toe in his mouth and sucked it, and she quivered, experiencing pleasure through a body part she never thought could provide such experiences. His lips moved to her ankle and kissed it as he knelt on the edge of the bed. He pulled her legs swiftly so her hips would join his. She gasped in surprise, and shortly after, he pulled her up against him, stood up carrying her, and turned to press her back against the bed post beside him, slipping into her, all in a heartbeat.

            “Oh Chris!” was all she could manage. She had long stopped believing him to be feeble and incapable of strong emotion due to his age. Still, the way in which he effortlessly handled her as if she weighed nothing surprised and aroused her, and the urgency in his movements, in his passion, excited her further. Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped slightly due to her astonishment. He kissed her chin and bit her lower lip as he thrust.

            “You keep surprising me, love,” she panted.

            She could see through the looking glass behind him how every muscle in his body moved as he pushed himself inside her, and it aroused her more. Her head lolled back and rested on the bed post as her arms were wrapped around his shoulders. Her legs were weak with excitement and she could not lock them behind him, so he held them as he penetrated her.

            “Oh, I love you so,” she said as her eyes rolled back.

            “Say it again,” he grunted, out of breath.

            She forced her eyes back into focus and looked deep into his, her hands cupping his face.

            “I love you, Chris,” she panted. Her hands slid into his hair.

            He smiled and she saw his eyes were peaceful, reassured.

            “Say it again.”

            “I love you,” she smiled. She kissed his lips, gently nipping them when she parted.

            Her pleasure rippled through her body and as she tightened around him, he swell and his pleasure came as well.

            Their limp, sweaty bodies fell on the bed and he rested his head on her breasts as she caressed his hair. One of her hands went down to his shoulder and gently pressed on it. He would not admit it, at least not immediately, but after all these efforts, his shoulder surely would bother him. As she pressed on it, he hummed his gratitude.

            Their bodies cooled down and it became rather chilly, so she pulled the throw on the foot of the bed to cover them.

            “Chris?” She asked.

            “Hmmm.”

            “Lover?”

            “Yes, my sweet?”

            “Do you still love me?”

            He smiled into her breasts. He still did not express his love all the times he wished to, to the full extent he felt it, for fear of overwhelming her. It felt nice to hear her asking for reassurance. It meant she liked to hear him say it.

            “Of course I do. You know I do. You said so yourself.”

            “Yes. Nonetheless, it is always marvelous to hear. Your tender voice saying it to me. It makes my body quiver. And you haven’t said it once since our… misunderstanding. You were so wretched and disappointed… I wanted to be sure you hadn’t changed your regard for me.”

            He kissed one of her breasts. His lips wandered up to her neck. Her cheek. He looked her in the eyes and said “I love you.” He kissed her lips. “Madly.” He kissed her again. “Ardently.” Another kiss. “Fervently.” His lips went to her ear and he whispered “You needn’t ever worry. I will love you for always.” He felt the goose prickles run down her body. Her hands caressed his back, her nails occasionally grazing it. “Until I draw my last breath. And beyond that.” He kissed her cheek, her lips, her other cheek and went to her other ear. “Since you enjoy hearing it so much, you shall hear it as often as I feel the need to express it. Which is every single minute of every single day.”

            Her body once again quivered, and he kissed her lips.

            “It baffles me,” she said with a smile. “I have read more poetry than most, and I have always considered myself a romantic.” She caressed his face and her hand went to his messy hair, trying to straighten it. “And I believe I express myself rather well in all aspects, wouldn’t you say?”

            “You do everything rather well. You are perfect.”

            She smiled wider blush spreading on her cheeks.

            “And yet, I cannot find the words that truly encompass my feelings. How deeply I love you. Words as sweet as yours.”

Chapter Text

Marianne insisted she meet Eliza. Of course she did. Eliza was family to her husband and therefore, family to her. Colonel Brandon was not too sure about them meeting. He wished it, for they were both big parts of his life, but he feared it because of … what they both had in common. He feared his beloved Marianne would not know how to deal with seeing the child that was born from the… indiscretion of a man she once loved.

            But Marianne insisted. Eliza was important to him, so she wished her to visit, wished to open their home for her to visit whenever she liked. And so Colonel Brandon wrote to her and informed her of his wife’s invitation. After the exchange of a few letters, a date was agreed upon. And Eliza was to arrive any minute now.

            Marianne was anxious, but not fearful. She wanted to make a good impression, wished for Eliza to like her, but wondered if their shared heartbreak would make Eliza resistant to her attempts. She also wondered what it would be like to see her daughter. Willoughby’s daughter. Marianne loved her husband with all her heart, but she had never again seen Willoughby after that horrible ball in London. She had never had a distinctive moment of closure, a moment where she realized she had let him go. She had never seen his child. And she often wondered how she would react to seeing either of them. Would some old feeling rise up and show its ugly face?

            The sound of hooves on the sweep made the Brandons exit their parlor and go to the door. Eliza stepped out of the carriage and soon pulled a little girl, a one-year-old, into her arms. Though she was not of her father’s sex, one who had known him as Marianne had could clearly see his traits on her face. The sight of her shocked Marianne for a moment. Eliza’s good looks also did not help her to keep her composure. She remembered that the one who had fooled her into giving him her heart with no real intention of holding it and keeping it safe was seducing the woman who stood in front of her not long before they met in the rain and he carried her with her twisted ankle. The sight of someone who resembled him so made her heart sink to her stomach, heavy with memories of all that had happened, of all that she had felt and how deeply she had felt it. Of all she had thought could have been.

            Christopher’s hand cupped hers, which rested in the nook of his arm, pressed against his body. That snapped her out of her daze, and she looked up at him. His hazel eyes seemed to smile at her. All the love she felt for him and all the memories they had made – were making – washed over her and drowned the heavy thoughts she had had moments before. She smiled back at him. Then a new thought entered her mind. If it hadn’t been for Willoughby and all he had done, perhaps she would have never truly seen the wonderful man that was in front of her the whole time back then, and who stood with her now. She might have let him go, and he would be lost to her forever.

            They walked over to Eliza to greet her. After the common courtesies, they went inside to have lunch. Everything ran smoothly, but one could not deny that had the Colonel not been there to carry the conversation, the two young ladies would probably be caught in various awkward silences.

            After their meal, they retired to the drawing room and continued the conversation for a while, until Colonel Brandon had to go tend to his business. He left them both to their sewing, little Joana – clearly named to honor her father, much to the Colonel’s disapproval – playing on the rug by her mother.

            As soon as he left, silence fell. Marianne could not understand why she could not think of anything to say. She was a gracious hostess whenever they had other guests over, never lacking in conversation. Perhaps it was different with Eliza because the obvious subject could not be approached. She attempted to talk about literature, but Eliza did not quite enjoy the same authors as Marianne did, and hadn’t had much time to read at all lately. She attempted to discuss music, but Eliza never really took her lessons seriously and could not play any instrument properly. Silence fell again. Finally, Eliza broke it.

            “Cousin Brandon tells me you… you knew Joana’s father?” She asked shyly.

            Marianne was a bit shocked she would want to discuss him, but she supposed it was better than silence.

            “I did.”

            “Forgive me if I have offended you, Mrs. Brandon. We do not need to talk about it.”

            “No, I don’t really mind if you wish to. And please, call me Marianne.” She smiled.

            Eliza sighed. “I… I feel really silly. I shouldn’t even give him thought after what he did… but I sometimes catch myself hoping he will someday want to meet his daughter.” She looked at Joana who sat quietly with her blocks.

            “I can certainly understand how you feel.”

            “How… how did you come to know him?”

            “He was visiting his aunt, who lives near my mother in Barton. I sprained my ankle during a walk and he happened to pass by and help me. That was when I foolishly fell for his charms.”

            “I suppose one does need to be foolish…”

            “Oh no dear! I did not mean to imply you are foolish. I say I was foolish because…” Marianne blushed. “Because I was already acquainted with you cousin. I regret not having noticed the wonderful man he was before. I could have been happy with him for longer now. But you are not to blame for falling for Willoughby’s charms. He certainly knew how to lure one in.”

            “You never suspected anything?”

            “Not at all. He made me believe he was truly attached to me on every encounter we had, though he never said it plainly. Even when he left with no explanation, even after I learned what he had done to you, I was so blinded that I looked for excuses for him. It took some time, and some patience and care from you cousin, for me to come to my senses.”

            They were back to the awkward silence. This time, Marianne spoke first.

            “And you? How did you come to meet him?” She was not sure she really wished to learn about this.

            “I… I was in Bath with a friend. I think he fancied her more than he did me, but she was wiser than me and did not take any interest in him. I did, at first sight. He was so handsome and elegant and well spoken…”

            “Indeed he was.”

            “He seemed to shift his interest when my friend would not fall for his charms and when… This might sound queer… but I think that he took interest in me when I mentioned my cousin was Colonel Brandon.”

            A sudden wave of understanding hit Marianne. Willoughby seemed to dislike Colonel Brandon from the start and she never quite understood why, though she went along with him for her own foolish reasons. She thought it might be jealousy, due to Mrs. Jennings’ comments of the Colonel and Marianne, but it seemed now that he knew him from before. Maybe from earlier visits to his aunt. Was it Christopher’s wealth that attracted him? He was a longtime bachelor before marrying Marianne, perhaps Willoughby thought Delaford would go to his ward, and therefore himself, if he succeeded in his conquest. But then he would not have left her as he did. Perhaps Eliza was just some sort of vengeance, consequence of a feeling born long before. Maybe he despised Christopher because he was the man Willoughby could never be. So he wanted to soil something of his. If he noticed Christopher’s attachment to her, perhaps she too became part of this vengeance. These realizations made Marianne feel disgust for Willoughby.

            “I don’t think that is as queer as you would imagine, Miss Williams.”

            “Please, Eliza.”

            She recounted the time she spent with their common acquaintance and Marianne was happy to verify that she felt nothing but sadness for Eliza and what she had been through, and regret for having herself fallen for this man’s ill intended advances when she could have been engaged elsewhere. Somewhere better.

            Eliza expressed to her the shame she felt for having laid out of wedlock with Willoughby. She had been weak and believed it would make his regard for her grow somehow. Marianne assured her it was not her fault, that had she herself had more time with him, she might have fallen victim of him as well… had his game not been interrupted by the unforeseen fact that he actually grew attached to her as well. This last part Marianne did not mention. She thought it might be cruel on the girl’s heart, that Marianne somehow succeeded where Eliza wanted to but could not.

            Eliza was also ashamed of the embarrassment she caused her cousin. Such a distinguished gentleman having to deal with such events. Marianne assured her he, being the great man that he was, loved her and her daughter despite all that.

“Did you love him, Marianne? Willoughby?” Eliza asked.

            “Yes, I did.”

            Colonel Brandon came in and heard this, but pretended he hadn’t. He made himself seen only moments later.

            “So, you haven’t done much sewing I see. I take that means you had a pleasant conversation.” He smiled, holding his hands behind his back. Marianne expected the kiss he always had for her when he came home, but remembered they had company and that must be why he did not greet her in that way.

            “Oh yes. You have married a lovely lady, cousin.”

            “And you have a lovely cousin, husband.”

            They both smiled.

            “Yes. I am a lucky man indeed. I will leave you ladies to it then.” He began to walk towards his study.

            “Sit with us,” Marianne said. “It is almost time for supper.”

            “I wouldn’t want to intrude in your conversation, my love. And I have some letters to answer before we lose daylight.” He retired to his study and closed the door. Marianne watched him as he did so.

            “I thought I did,” Marianne started. Eliza was lost. “You asked if I loved Willoughby. I thought I did. Whatever I felt for him, and it was indeed strong, pales in comparison to what I feel now, for you cousin.”

            “I wish to be happy, but I cannot forget him. I imagine it will be quite hard to do, having his child with me all day every day.” Marianne said nothing. She imagined it would indeed be hard. She did not know if she would have forgotten him had it not been for Christopher’s affections to make her realize Willoughby had nothing special to offer. Even that, finding a gentleman who takes interest in her to mend her heart, would be hard for Eliza now. “One would think that his disregard for mine and my daughter’s well being would be enough to make me loathe him. But it is not. Cousin Brandon feels very strongly about him and disliked it very much when I attempted to stop him from dueling Willoughby. He did not like that I tried to find excuses for him, and now Willoughby is a subject I cannot approach with him, ever. But sometimes one needs to talk about certain things…”

            “Yes, I imagine my husband dislikes the subject very much.” She thought of the quarrel they had the other day, and of the few times she had mentioned him before, how his countenance grew stern. She could not blame him, for he did have more than enough reason to dislike Willoughby. “But at least he did not harm Willoughby in the duel. I suppose he did bear your request in mind.” Marianne remembered the conversation which they had not long after her fever, when she questioned him of the duel.

            “Oh no, I don’t think so. He was very determined when he left, did not care one bit about my request, it seemed. He said Willoughby deserved whatever came for him, because of what he had done to me, and that one day I would learn to understand it. Upon returning and seeing me in my agitated state, he did relieve my heart of its burden by saying Willoughby lived. But he stated he only had that privilege because he was in an understanding with some lady, and he did not wish to grieve her so. That perhaps he had learned his lesson with the fright of dueling and now, towards her, he might be a better man. But I was to forget him, for my own good. He must have spoken of the now Mrs. Willoughby.”

            Marianne pondered that for a moment. At the time they dueled, Willoughby was not engaged to Miss Grey, he could not have meant her. Did he know beforehand for some reason? But when Elinor and she arrived in London, he came to see them and… Herself!! He thought Willoughby had and understanding with herself, of course, as most people did. He spared the scoundrel's life thinking of her heart. Already so loving, even with the prospect of never having her. Marianne’s chest swelled with regret for the fact and love and a mixture of the most wonderful feelings towards her husband.

“Oh. Well... if you ever need to talk, I am here for you.” Marianne smiled.

            “Do you think he will ever want to at least meet his daughter?” Eliza asked, hope in her eyes.

            “I… think he might wish to… but I don’t think he would ever seek you.” Marianne felt horrible to break her heart, but she had to be honest.

            Eliza looked at Joana. “It is for her I have to live for now.”

            “Yes. Focus on that and all will be well.”

            With the awkwardness out of the way, they could talk about other things, common interests. Even if they did not enjoy the same artists or authors, the love for the arts was the same. They were fast friends and when Colonel Brandon emerged from his study for supper, he was no longer solely responsible for carrying the conversation.

            After supper, he excused himself, claiming he had pains on his back and wished to get to bed early. Marianne played with Joana and spoke to Eliza for a while, but soon excused herself to join her husband.

Chapter Text

Marianne walked into their bedchamber and shut the door. The room was empty. She looked around and saw the door to his dressing room slightly open. She peeked in and saw him lying in the bathtub with his eyes closed. She knocked but did not wait for him to answer before coming in.

            “Is everything all right, my dear?”

            “Yes. Quite.” He answered, not opening his eyes.

She sat on a chair against the wall as she sighed.

“I know you, dear husband, and you seem upset about something.” She waited for him to respond, but he did not. His eyes were still closed. “I’ll wager it is because you heard what Eliza and I were talking about when you came in.”

He wished to deny it but he couldn’t. He opened his eyes and looked at her apologetically but said nothing. He did not want to feel this way, but he was helpless against it. He knew she loved him, she said so quite often and demonstrated it even more, but to hear them talking about Willoughby, hear her saying she had loved him, brought back images of Marianne with him, all the pain he felt. She had loved Willoughby at first sight. Her heart just knew. Him, her heart had to be convinced, had to learn to love. Slowly. Foolish thoughts, but he could not avoid them. He closed his eyes again.

“Forgive me, Marianne. I cannot help it. Just hearing his name…”

She got up from the chair and went to him, kneeling behind him. She rested her hands on his bare chest and her chin on his shoulder.

“Christopher, you have no reason to be upset. I love you. You know that, right? With all my heart. All of it.” She kissed his neck.

“I do. But it is always nice to hear.” He managed a smile. “But I saw you with him, how you were, and hearing you say… what you said today just made it all come back. I just need some time to… forget again.”

“I thought I loved him. Had you come in at the right time you would have heard me say that. Whatever I felt for him… it was strong, I will not deny it, but it cannot and will not ever compare to what I feel for you, my dearest, my love.” Her hands ran across his chest while she whispered in his ear. “This. This is love. True love.” She nibbled on his ear and he smiled, trying to fight the arousal that this caused him. Suddenly, her hands were no longer on him. Had she become upset? Why? She had professed her love and he had said nothing. He was about to open his eyes and look for her, say he loved her too, when her voice started from behind him, though not as near as it was before.

“We only talked about it because Eliza felt the need to. I think despite it all she still has some sort of feeling for him. I… I just wanted to help.” And her hands were back on his chest, her chin on his shoulder.

“I am glad you got along. And that you wish to help her. She might really need someone to talk to.”

Marianne’s hands started moving across his chest again and she said, in between kisses on his neck and nibbling on his ear:

“Are you still upset with me, Christopher?”

“I was never upset with you, my Marianne.”

Her hand slid down his chest into the water. She ran it over his stomach, dangerously close to his manhood, while she still kissed his neck. He was again fighting the arousal, but her hand finally reached lower and she began to stroke him. Fighting it now was useless. He became stiff in the warm water that surrounded him.

“I never can resist seeing you bare, my dear Chris,” she whispered in his ear. She got up from behind him and stepped over the edge of the tub to get in the water with him. He opened his eyes and saw she had already disrobed. He reveled in her firm body as she sunk herself into the water, onto his lap. His hands trailed up her curves, stopping on her waist as she sat upon him. He kissed her lips as he pulled her closer to him.

“I love you, my sweet Marianne.”

She grinded on top of him, rubbing his length with her womanhood as she smiled and kissed him.

“I love you more, Chris.”

“That is simply impossible” he said, brushing her hair off her face.

Her hands slid down his sides. Then, one hand guided him into her while the other gripped the edge of the tub. She started to move gently, her hands now on his neck, her fingertips playing with his hair. She looked deep into his eyes and then kissed him. His hands were still on her waist. As her movement on him intensified, she arched her back, throwing back her head. He took this opportunity to kiss her cleavage. His lips then wandered to a breast, his tongue trailing the way, tracing its curves. She bit her lip in an attempt to hold her screams but found that keeping her lips busy as well was a better option. She pulled up his face so she could kiss him.

On and on they went, water splashing about and wetting the floor.

 

*****

 

Marianne lay on her side, her back to her husband’s chest. He smelled her hair and kissed her neck as his hand ran up and down her thigh, over her nightgown. His hand slid up, and met hers. Their fingers intertwined and she brought up his hand to her lips, pressing them softly against his warm skin.

She suddenly moved to sit up, but he held her back.

“Where are you going, my Marianne?” He whispered in her ear as he held her tight, close to him. She smiled and turned her head to kiss him.

“I have something to show you, my love.”

He let her go and she hurried into her dressing room. He sat up on the bed to wait for her, curiosity taking hold of him. In a few moments she came back holding a wooden box. It was the box in which he had found Willoughby’s pocket book. She placed it on his lap with a smile. He looked at the box and then at her, puzzled and uncertain.

“You may open it.”

He did. He saw inside various pieces of paper, as he had before. On top of them, the sonnet she had ripped from the pocket book before she threw it into the fire. He poked around in the box and saw some dry flowers and chocolate wrappers. He did not quite understand. With further encouragement from her, he unfolded some of the papers that lay in the box. One was the sheet music of the song he sent her along with the pianoforte to Barton Cottage. She still played it, but by now she knew it by heart. He thought the sheet music had been left at her mother’s house or thrown away. He unfolded another piece of paper. It was a letter he had sent her when they were betrothed. Another, and it was the translation of a French poem he had written down for her at her request, long before he had proposed to her. The first duet they ever played together. A note he had left on his pillow one morning, when he had to leave before she had awoken. Portraits of him she had asked Elinor to sketch for her. A few she had attempted to draw herself. Letters, poems, music, notes. Everything they had shared. Even letters that were not addressed to her, but to her mother, but always asking of her health and giving warning that he was to go visit, for since they had no understanding at the time, propriety forbade him from exchanging letters with her. He realized the flowers were from bouquets he had given her, probably at least one from each and every bouquet he had ever made her, and the wrappers from chocolates he had gifted.

He looked at her, touched, and kissed her forehead.

“My sweet Marianne, this is… I never thought you would save all of this.”

“Well, I did.” She smiled.

“But you didn’t even… you only professed your love after we were wed. I thought you… On the day I asked you to be my wife, you said you weren’t sure of your feelings. Yet there are things here from before…”

“While it was true that I was a bit confused and unsure, I could never bring myself to throw any of it out. It started with this sonnet.” She picked up sonnet 47. “I wanted to. I thought I should throw the pocket book out, but couldn’t. At first I thought it was because it had belonged to Willoughby, but the image that kept coming back to me was of you holding it, reading to me for the first time, while I was sick. I did not make much of that, but it happened again when the flowers you had brought to me on your first visit to the Cottage after my fever had long wilted and Mama wished to dispose of them. I wouldn’t let her. So I kept one at least.” She picked up a withered rose bud. “And on it went.”

He kissed her lips and smiled.

“I did not know what it meant at the time. But don’t you see? I had already come to love you. I have loved you for a long time, though I didn’t realize it.” She looked down at her hands in her lap, ashamed. When she looked up again, he had tears in his eyes.

“Have I upset you, love?” She cupped her hands on his cheeks and brushed away the tears. “Forgive me.”

“Oh no, quite the contrary, light of my life. These are tears of joy.” He smiled and took her hands, placing a kiss on each one.

“I showed you this so you never again doubt my love for you. Though I did not know it or profess it, I have loved you since you rescued me from the rain at Cleveland. My heart is yours. Please forgive my foolishness in taking too long to realize it.” She kissed him. “Promise me you will never doubt that I love you, ever again,” she whispered as she came closer to rest her head on his shoulder.

“I promise” he whispered, as he smiled and kissed her forehead.

Chapter Text

As the preacher’s wife, Elinor visited the sick and elderly in the village to see to their needs. Wishing to be a good and helpful mistress, something Delaford had not had in many years, Marianne usually accompanied her, and took baked goods from the manor’s kitchen to offer to all.

            As they came to the end of yet another afternoon of walking through the village and seeing to their duties, and were heading back to the Ferrars’ home for tea, Marianne thought it would be merry for Elinor to visit Eliza, especially since they had finished their duties quite earlier.

Ever since Eliza’s stay at Delaford, she had learned that her cousin and his new wife were not ashamed of her as she had thought. Seeing as she had always very much liked Delaford village and the neighborhood, she had inquired if it would be possible for her to live there, even if in a cottage a little bit further off, as to not attract comments and gossip that might embarrass and displease the Brandons.

            Colonel Brandon had very much liked the idea of having her close by, to take better care of her and her daughter, and Marianne, having liked her very much and always happy to make her husband happy, consented to the idea as well. All the arrangements were made and soon enough, Eliza was yet another inhabitant of Delaford.

            Elinor agreed to pay Eliza a visit as long as it was a quick one, for Mrs. Jennings awaited them at the parsonage for tea. Mrs. Jennings had come to Delaford to stay at least a month. A fortnight with Elinor, and the next with Marianne. A visit, she stated, which was long overdue, owed since they had wed. Marianne dreaded the thought of having Mrs. Jennings as company every single day for a fortnight, and was only glad she chose to impose on Elinor first. So any idea that would keep them away from her a bit longer, even if for minutes, was very welcome.

            Eliza was very pleased when she answered the door, for the only visitors she ever received were the Colonel and Marianne, and the servant who brought her supplies. She was instantly very friendly and open towards Elinor, as was her nature. They had already met during her visit at the manor, but it was more formally, during a supper one day. Eliza was also very friendly because she said any family of Marianne’s was definitely a friend of hers.

            While Elinor became further acquainted with Eliza, she played with little Joana. Marianne noticed something different about Elinor’s demeanor. The way she looked at Joana, how she acted towards her… And suddenly, a realization hit Marianne and she smiled to herself.

            Walking back to the Ferrars’ home, Marianne kept looking up at Elinor every few steps and smiling furtively, wishing to ask her what she knew in her heart, but at the same time, not wishing to invade her privacy.

            “Do you not think Eliza is a sweet girl?” Marianne asked.

            “Yes, she is very sweet indeed. I shall visit her more often, the poor thing. She must be somewhat lonely.”

            “And little Joana? Very much like her mother in disposition. Thank goodness.”

            “Yes, a sweet child.” Elinor smiled.

            Marianne looked at her and smiled herself, and waited for further comment. None came. She went back to staring at her sister every few steps and smiling.

            “Marianne, dear, do stop staring at me like that. You might miss a step and fall.”

            Marianne looked forward but still smiled. Moments later, she was back looking at her sister.

            “Elinor…?”

            “Yes?”

            “Well?”

            “What, dear?”

            “You aren’t really going to torture me like this, are you? Your dear sister! Please, don’t be so cruel!”

            Elinor smiled. She needn’t say anything more.

            “Oh, Elinor!” Marianne threw herself at her sister, hugging her tightly. “I am so happy for you! For Edward!”

            “Shush, dear! You mustn’t say anything. Edward doesn’t know yet. I am to tell him tonight.”

            “Yes, yes, of course! Who am I to tell anyway?”

            “Your husband. And he could let it slip to mine.”

            “Right. No, I’ll make sure that does not happen.” She grinned widely and hugged her again. “I’m so happy for you, my dear sister!”

            As they arrived for tea, Marianne controlled herself as to not let Mrs. Jennings in on anything. They were well into tea and everything ran smoothly, Mrs. Jennings monopolizing the conversation as per usual, gossiping about acquaintances in Barton and London, when, after a moment’s silence, she let out

            “Well Mrs. Ferrars, when will you stop hiding from me that you are with child?”

            Marianne tried not to look alarmed while Elinor choked on her tea.

            “I… Forgive me Mrs. Jennings, but what do…”

            “Hush hush now dear, no use in denying it. I have an eye for these things. I knew the moment I arrived.” She hummed happily and sipped her tea.

            “Please, Mrs. Jennings, I haven’t yet told my husband. Please, I ask you, don’t mention anything until I do, as to not ruin the surprise.” Elinor was desperately begging with her eyes.

            “Not to worry dear. Though I do not understand how he does not know yet. I do suppose men are a bit thick for such things.”

            All of them went back to sipping their tea, Elinor seemingly calmer, and Marianne tried to hide her outrage at Mrs. Jennings’ lack of tact. After another moment’s silence, Mrs. Jennings began smiling again.

            “And you, Mrs. Brandon?” She inquired with her insinuating smile.

            It was Marianne’s turn to choke on her tea.

            “I assure you Mrs. Jennings that I am NOT with child.”

            “Oh yes, that I know dear.” Marianne sighed and sipped her tea. “Why not is my question,” continued Mrs. Jennings.

            Marianne stared at her unblinkingly for a moment, flushing pink, not quite knowing how to respond without being completely rude.

            “You did not marry too long after your sister. It should be coming along now, should it not?”

            Marianne’s cheeks grew from pink to red.

            “I don’t think…” she started, trying to calm herself.

            “I do hope you haven’t been refusing our dear Colonel.”

            Elinor gave an alarmed look at Mrs. Jennings, astonished with her impropriety. She wished to help Marianne, but did not know what to say. Marianne was outraged at this intrusion.

            “I do believe that is none of your business, Mrs. Jennings!”

            Mrs. Jennings was not offended at the slightest.

            “Now now, if you need someone to talk to, there’s your sister. She has already succeeded in this matter. I could also offer you my daughter Charlotte. She’s not shy at all and would gladly talk your ear off, tell you whatever you need to know. I would gladly talk to you myself but I’m afraid at my age, I wouldn’t be much help.” Mrs. Jennings chuckled. “It is really nothing to fear, my dear. And the Colonel isn’t growing any younger. He’ll need an heir for his estate. You do not wish to disappoint him by not providing one for him now, would you?”

            Marianne’s outrage grew as Mrs. Jennings’ speech went on. However, at the last sentence, it gave room to uncertainty. In the back of her mind she had often wondered if there was something wrong, for she spent a lot of time with her husband, and yet, nothing had happened. But her worries were always soothed by the fact her sister had not yet been with child either, and that she hadn’t been married for so long after all. And it was all forgotten when her husband sought her with no pressure and no demands, only love and desire. But Mrs. Jennings had awoken those worries, and they came about strongly. Stronger than before. The thought of disappointing him, not being able to produce an heir… it could drive a wedge between them, make him distant and grave. But she doubted he would ever leave her. Would he?

            Not knowing what to say, and not wishing to speak to Mrs. Jennings at all, Marianne took her leave.

            “Elinor, thank you for tea, but I’m afraid I really ought to get back. Excuse me.”

            “I’ll walk you out, dearest.” Elinor stood as well.

            As they walked to the door, Mrs. Jennings said, with a soft laugh

            “Yes dear, you go get started on that heir now. You might even enjoy it, you’ll find.”

            Marianne turned around, her cheeks crimson with rage. She wished to respond, but she bit her tongue as not to be rude and gave a furious sigh. Mrs. Jennings laughed.

            Once they were out of the house and away from Mrs. Jennings’ hearing range, Marianne started, furiously

            “That woman!! Can you believe her? My God, how will I ever put up with her in my house?”

            “Well, yes dear, that was very rude of her,” Elinor said. “But… and do not be cross at me for asking this, are you refusing your husband?”

            “Elinor!!”

            “I’m sorry dear, but it does sound like something you would do. And I don’t think you would be as mad if Mrs. Jennings hadn’t hit a nerve there.” She lowered her voice. “As I recall, you did have your doubts about marrying him, about your feelings towards him, maybe you haven’t… had the courage yet? I only worry for your well being, my dear. It’s really not such a horrible event, you know, you could…”

            “Elinor! Do I seem unwell to you?”

            “Well, no, but…”

            “Haven’t I told you? Haven’t you noticed?  I love my husband, dear sister. I love him, did you not know?”

            Elinor gave a wide smile.

            “Yes, dear, I knew… I wasn’t sure you had quite caught on though. You can be quite stubborn, you know. I am glad for you then. Both of you.”

            “Yes. I assure you we are very happy.” She lowered her voice. “And that he is more likely to refuse me than I him at any time.” Marianne smiled. Elinor raised her eyebrows and gave Marianne a surprised look.

“For shame, Marianne!”

“You asked, sister. Now, I must be off before Mrs. Jennings wonders what is taking you so long and comes out to vex me some more.”

           

Chapter Text

Colonel Brandon sat in his study, writing letters and tending to his duties when there was a knock on his open door. He had already heard the front door and knew it was Marianne who had arrived. He looked up from his quill and papers and saw her standing at the threshold, still holding her bonnet, gripping it tightly. He smiled at her and she walked in, going around his desk to kiss his lips hello.

            “How was your day, my dear?” He asked. She sat across from him as she answered.

            “Excellent. Well, as excellent as a day that has Mrs. Jennings in it can be.” He wished to laugh but as she did not even smile at this remark, so he bit his tongue and only listened.

            “Elinor and I visited some villagers. We brought them some baked goods, but mostly they are just lonely and need someone to converse with.”

            “How very charitable of you ladies,” he smiled. “My Marianne, always sweet.”

            She smiled back at him as she continued.

            “We even had time to go for a ride earlier. Elinor misses riding as she did in Norland.”

            “I do not see why as she is free to take a horse from the stables at anytime she fancies it.” He had his head down, writing as he spoke to his wife.

            “She knows. But knowing my sister as I do, she probably does not feel comfortable doing it if not directly invited by you or myself.”

            He gave a smile to show he knew what she meant and believed it to be true as well.

            “We also paid Eliza a visit before going back to join Mrs. Jennings for tea.”

            “How lovely. Eliza must have enjoyed having company other than us. Did Elinor like her?”

            “Yes, very much. She says she will be paying her more visits.”

            “I am glad.”

            Marianne sat quietly for a long while, which prompted her husband to look up from his writing once more. She had a nervous countenance about her as she played with something or other on his desk, or fiddled with her bonnet. Before he could express any concern, she started.

            “I have some joyous news.”

            “Joyous? You do not look it.”

            She smiled, though rather forcibly. “Yes, they are joyous.”

            “Pray, tell.”

            After a moment of nervous playing with an ink bottle on his desk, she finally let out “Elinor is with child.” He smiled at her and she continued. “But you cannot make any comments on it, for she hasn’t told Edward yet. She did not wish to tell even me. It was I who noticed and forced it from her.”

            Her countenance was still not all her husband knew it to be when she was happy. And she was always pleased with the happiness of those she loved.

            “That is joyous news indeed,” he said, putting down his quill.

            “It is. I told you as much, my love.”

            “And are you not happy for your sister?”

            She put down the ink bottle with which she played and looked up at him, shocked.

            “Of course I am! How could you think that? Do you not know me at all?” She was slightly outraged.

            “I do,” he answered calmly. “That is why I can tell something weighs on your mind, despite you trying to pretend to me that all is well.”

            Her countenance softened again and she looked down to her lap, her hands resting on it, the bonnet there as well, before sighing and letting out

            “I am just worried, that is all.”

            “About?”

            She looked up at him and smiled a timid smile as his caring eyes fixated on her and waited for her answer. He soothed her a bit, but not completely.

            “Well… we did not get married too long after them… And we spend a considerable amount of time together…” she lowered her voice and smiled “such splendid time… yet I… what if… what if I cannot bear a child? Perhaps my fever… changed something. What if I cannot give you an heir? Will you… Will you still love me as you do now?”

            His heart sank in despair that she could think, fear, he would ever stop loving her. He stood up and went to the door to close it. She turned in her seat to see where he was going as he came back and knelt in front of her. He took both her hands in his and looked up at her, deep into her eyes.

            “My Marianne. I did not ask you to become my wife so you could produce me an heir, though my reasons were selfish nonetheless. I married you because I love you and wish to have you by my side for the rest of my days. I married you because I need you. You alone are all I need. You alone make me the happiest man alive. And I can only hope that I am able to make you feel at least part of the happiness you bestow on me.” He pressed his lips to both her hands, one after the other, and continued. “Having a child would only add to that bliss, but the lack of one would never take away from it. Do not ever think I can possibly love you less, I only love you more with each passing day.”

            Her eyes were filled with tears as she smiled.

            “Christopher Brandon, you are the sweetest man to ever walk this earth. I love you very much.” She leaned down to kiss his lips.

            “The question which remains is if you would not be content with only me, should what you fear be true.”

            “I am extremely content, more than content, with only you. You are all I need.” She kissed him again.

            He got up and leaned down to press his lips on hers over and over. “Then you have absolutely nothing to worry about.” He took his seat once more. “Has this been weighing on your mind for long?” He asked.

            “It comes and goes… it was only made stronger today because of Elinor’s news. And due to Mrs. Jennings’ rudeness.” She looked angered all of a sudden.

            “Mrs. Jennings?” He asked, bewildered.

            “After she ripped Elinor’s news from her lips, she turned to me, vexing me about why I was not with child yet, that it must certainly mean I have refused you.”

            Colonel Brandon began to laugh.

            “Do not laugh! That woman drives me to madness! She said I would disappoint you for not providing an heir, which of course is what I feared. Hearing someone else say it only made it worse.”

            He reached across the desk for her hand. She gave it with a timid smile.

            “Why did you not tell me you had this on your mind?”

            “Precisely because I feared what you might think, that you would be disappointed.”

            “Never in you, sweetheart.” He smiled as he caressed her hand. “There is probably nothing to worry about. Once you put it out of your mind, it will happen.”

            She kissed his hand.

            “It is out of my mind already, my love.”

            “In the meantime, no harm can come from practicing.” He gave a sly smile. She blushed.

            “I do enjoy practicing.”

            “And we’ll be sure to give Mrs. Jennings a bedchamber close to ours when she comes to stay, so she can be sure you are not refusing me,” he said while chuckling.

            “Christopher! Don’t even jest about that! Imagine the comments she would have then!”

He laughed louder as he tried to return his attention to his writing.

Chapter Text

 

Since word got to Barton about Elinor being with child – a task that had to be rushed so the Dashwoods would not hear the news from Mrs. Jennings or Sir John’s lips – Mrs. Dashwood and Margaret came to Delaford, and were to stay for a prolonged visit. Delaford manor was therefore, full of guests, since Mrs. Jennings was now imposing herself on Marianne. Marianne had begged her sister to insist their mother and youngest sister stay with her as well, despite the fact they were there mainly to see Elinor.

            So Mrs. Dashwood would spend the days with Elinor, even accompanied her in her duties and chores when it was the case, and in the evenings, they all went up to the manor for dinner, and Mrs. Dashwood and Margaret would spend the night. Mrs. Jennings often followed them, not wanting to be away from the source of excitement.

            It was mid-afternoon and the Brandons sat at home. Colonel Brandon was in his study, going over some finances at his desk. One side of the double doors to this room was ajar, and beyond it, though he could not see them from his chair, Marianne was in the parlor, sitting on the sofa with her knitting. Margaret had grown tired of all the talk of babies and bearing children she was exposed to when she accompanied her mother to Elinor’s, so she had decided to stay behind and try to learn to knit with Marianne, who had claimed she had much to do but really only needed a break from Mrs. Jennings.

            “Marianne?” Margaret started.

            “Yes, Margaret?” She did not take her eyes off her knitting.

            “Can I ask you a question?”

            “Yes, of course.”

            “What is love? How does one know one is in love?”

            From behind his desk, Colonel Brandon couldn’t help but hear them. Upon hearing Margaret’s question, his interest peaked and he listened more carefully, seeing to his activities in a slower, less focused manner.

            Marianne laughed. “And why do you ask me? Have you asked Mama?”

            “I think I will obtain a better answer from you than I would from Mama. And Elinor most likely would not even answer. I watch you. And you seem to feel more intensely. I wish to hear from you.”

            “But you are too young to worry of such things.”

            “I am not! I am almost fifteen! And Mrs. Jennings says she will take me to London soon and find me a suitable husband.”

            “Oh, Mrs.Jennings! She does not change her ways, does she?” Marianne was slightly annoyed.

            “Well, she wished to match you to Colonel Brandon from the start. Was she not right to think so?”

            Marianne blushed. “Well, yes, I cannot argue with you there, dearest.”

            Colonel Brandon smiled as he looked up to his open door, seeing only the hallway and part of the parlor.

            “That is why I trust her, see.” Margaret said.

            Marianne laughed softly once more. “Alright, dearest. But I still believe you are too young. Do you pose this question because you already have an interest in someone?”

            “No! I would just like to know. To be sure, when it happens.”

            “That is very wise of you then. But you do remember I was foolish and made mistakes at first? It took me longer than it should to see the wonderful man the Colonel is. Maybe it would be wiser to ask Elinor. She was right in her choice straight away.”

            As Colonel Brandon heard this, he became slightly worried Marianne was avoiding her sister’s question, that she did not wish to answer her, or that she did not know how to. He tried to shake those thoughts out of his head. He should not even be listening to their private conversation in the first place. She did love him. She did. He felt it, every day. He had promised her never to doubt that again.

“That only makes you wiser. You can warn me against making such mistakes as your own.” Margaret pressed on. “And I watch you with the Colonel. As I’ve said, it is noticeable you are in love. Both of you. Not quite so much with… anyone else.”

            Marianne put down her knitting. “Well, you are too smart for your own good, aren’t you? I am honored you think of me as being so wise and able to impart knowledge. But it is rather quite hard to put in to words what love is. The whole extent of what it is. How you can know… and it may vary, from person to person for all I know.”

            “Won’t you try?”

            Colonel Brandon quietly got up from his chair and stood behind the closed half of his door, trying to listen closely but not be seen. He was pleased that it was obvious even to a young Margaret that her sister loved him so. If it was so obvious to others, even someone as young and inexperienced as Margaret, it must really be true. His insecurities faded more and more with each passing day.

            “All right. I suppose… it is just not one thing. It is quite complex. It is at the same time a calmness that washes over you when you are with the one you love, and yet excitement. Your heart races, yet at times it slows down. Beware if you only feel excitement and rush and urgency. That is not love, at least not in my experience. When you love someone, even if you only sit with them in silence, you are pleased. It is not awkward, for you understand each other even if nothing is said. In fact, you will wish to sit with him in silence, for it is better than not being with him at all.”

            “What else?”

            “Every time you see him your palms sweat and you have to catch your breath. You enjoy talking to him; you wish to tell him everything, every single detail of your day, of your life. There are no secrets. Whenever something exciting or sad happens, he is the first you think of, the first you wish to share with.”

            Colonel Brandon smiled widely as he leaned against the door.

            “And you want to know everything about him as well. Not only what happens in the present, but what happened in his past, before you met. You even regret not having met him sooner and being there with him, to help him, to know him completely” Marianne smiled at Margaret. “Though that might not apply to you, you are too young.” She continued. “You feel safe with him, like no harm will ever befall you as long as he is there. You trust him with your life. With your heart. You know with every fiber in your being he would never hurt you, not intentionally, in any way.”

            “That is beautiful, Marianne. I should read more poetry, to be able to express myself like that.” Margaret smiled.

            “And simply seeing him smile lights up your day, makes your heart ache with happiness. He should also make you want to be better, to be the best you can be, always, so you can deserve him, for you know he is the best and treats you as if you are the only, the most beautiful and special woman in the world. I believe that is the gist of it… as best as I can explain, anyway.”

            “See,” Margaret said smiling. “I knew you were the one to ask!” She started knitting again. After a moment of silence, she said “I hope I can find that someday.”

            “I hope you do as well. You deserve it. You will. You have everything you need to find a worthy husband. And a mother, two sisters and a Mrs. Jennings to see that you do.” Marianne chuckled. “And what’s more, you now have two brothers who love you as well to help.” Marianne smiled. “They can scare off the one who are not suitable.” She said in a whisper. “That is more help than I had.”

            Margaret laughed.

            Colonel Brandon’s heart had filled to the point of explosion in the middle of Marianne’s speech and now he could barely contain himself. She had told him she loved him many times, demonstrated it with many actions, but never had he heard detailed in so many words all she felt. He took a moment to control himself and wipe the grin off his face, as to not give away he had been eavesdropping and stepped out of his study and into the parlor.

            “How are you ladies?”

            “Very well, Colonel.” Margaret answered as Marianne looked up and smiled at him.

            “Miss Margaret,” he started

            “You know, Colonel, I really miss being called Captain Margaret. Everyone is a Miss something. Being a captain is more special and exclusive.”

            He smiled. “You are not a child anymore, I shall call you as propriety demands.”

            “You can do that only in front of others. I see no harm in a brother calling a sister with fondness.” She smiled up at him.

            “Very well, Captain Margaret. Would you allow me to steal my wife from your company for but a moment? I will bring her right back, Madame.”

            “Certainly, Colonel.”

            He chuckled as he offered his hand for Marianne to stand and accompany him to his study. Once they were there, he pulled her inside to a corner out of sight, but still closed the door for good measure.

            “What is the matter, Christopher?”

            With one hand behind her neck and the other on her waist, he pulled her in for a kiss. As their lips interlocked, he pushed her gently against a wall, deepening the kiss. Their tongues caressed one another as her hands slipped from his cheeks into his hair. They parted.

            “Nothing, I just missed you,” he answered with a smile.

            “Well, I miss your touch all day long, always.” She kissed his lips again.

            “I should get back to work, and so should you, before we get carried away.”

            “Yes. I love you.”

            “I know.” He smiled. She was surprised by his words and confidence. Then she realized he must have heard what she said to Margaret, and smiled. “Yet, I love you more,” he finished.

Chapter Text

Marianne sat in the parlor, attentive to her needlework. Her stomach rumbled so it must have been past lunchtime, but Christopher had not yet arrived. She could not take it any longer, her concentration in her work escaped her. She got up, walking to the dining room. Before she turned the corner of the doorway, she started

            “Ruth? Has Colonel Brandon not arrived yet?”

            He stood in the dining room, leaning on the table, looking at her and smiling.

            “Expecting someone?” He winked playfully.

            “Yes! You, my sweet. I am starving. Let us eat. When did you come in? I did not hear you.” She walked over and gave him a kiss.

            “I came in through the kitchens.”

            But she didn’t quite pay attention to that, for she was looking at the table. Exasperated, she asked

            “Why is the table not set? Ruth!”

            “Let poor Ruth be. It was I who said she need not set it today. I thought you might enjoy a picnic,” he said as he moved away from the table to reveal a basket upon it. “It is a beautiful autumn day. You can contemplate all the leaves falling and the trees, and the wind… before it turns colder still and such adventures become truly impossible.” He kissed her forehead.

            “You know me so well,” she said as she took his arm. “Then let us go swiftly, or I might eat you, I’m so hungry!”

            “Do not tempt me, my dearest,” he said with a smile as he took the basket and escorted her outside.

            They went to their back garden, which, much like sir John’s, had benches and all sorts of lovely flowers, a gazebo and a trellis with plants growing along it. They walked beyond that immediate piece of land until they found a lovely pond surrounded by fruit-trees. A nice, quiet place where no one would bother them.

            Colonel Brandon laid the basket down by the pond, took the blanket he had carried with it and laid it on the green grass, not in the shadow of a tree but in the sunlight, for it was autumn and a cool weather was already upon them.

            Marianne looked at him while he prepared their spot and smiled dearly. He looked at her rather shyly and inquired what was the matter.

            “I believe,” she said, “I have married the only gentleman in all the realm that still woos his lady after he has already secured her in marriage. How blessed I am.”

            “Well,” he said as he took her hand and helped her down onto the blanket, “you were generous enough to accept my marriage proposal, the least I can do is make sure you never regret that decision.” He sat down beside her.

            “I would never,” and she leaned in to press her lips to his.

            He opened the basket and before anything else, he took out a bouquet of sunflowers and lavender and presented it to her. She took it with a smile and smelled them. From the basket he produced a vase and set it in the middle of the blanket. She placed the bouquet in it. For their lunch, he had taken sandwiches, cake and fruit. They ate as they engaged in merry conversation. She inquired if he had made the sandwiches himself and with an affirmative response, praised his cooking abilities.

            He had packed plates and cutlery so they could eat cake and not get frosting on their hands. Marianne, however, grazed a finger on the frosting and smeared some on his lips, only to clean them with her lips and tongue soon after. He smiled as he kissed her in response, and again her fingers approached his face with frosting on them. He, however, took her hand midair and sucked her fingers clean. She felt her cheeks and bosom flush red and hot, and desires came about in her being, though she had started it all in good fun. He proceeded to kiss her knuckles, her palm, and his lips traveled up her arm and shoulder and neck before finding her lips. The kiss was short but sweet and left her yearning for more. He proceeded to feeding her grapes, and she in turn sucked on his fingers as well while he did it.

            “Mrs. Brandon, shall you continue this behavior, I will not be able to control myself much longer.”

            She smiled and moved to sit in between his legs, her back against his chest. She contemplated the sunny skies, the yellow, orange and brown leaves atop the trees, the birds in flight, and she sighed in content. Could there be greater felicity?

            Christopher’s arm wrapped around her, under her breast, his hand falling to her stomach. Suddenly, his lips were at her ear, his sweet velvety voice whispering:

           

Joy of my life, full oft for loving you

I bless my lot, that was so lucky placed:

But then the more your own mishap I rue,

That are so much by so mean love embased.

For had the equal heavens so much you graced

In this as in the rest, ye might invent

Some heavenly wit, whose verse could have enchased

Your glorious name in golden monument.

But since ye deign’d so goodly to relent

To me your thrall, in whom is little worth,

That little that I am shall all be spent

In setting your immortal praises forth;

Whose lofty argument uplifting me

Shall lift you up unto an high degree.*

 

                His hot breath on her neck and the sound of his voice made her body quiver, and the sweet words made her heart overflow with love. She turned and was on her knees in between his thighs, her hands on his shoulders, his on her waist. As she looked into his eyes, more green than hazel today, she recited

 

Long-while I sought to what I might compare
Those powerful eyes, which lighten my dark spright;
Yet find I naught on earth, to which I dare
Resemble th’ image of their goodly light.

Not to the Sun; for they do shine by night;
Nor to the Moon; for they are changed never;
Nor to the Stars; for they have purer sight;
Nor to the Fire; for they consume not ever;

Nor to the Lightning; for they still perséver;
Nor to the Diamond; for they are more tender;
Nor unto Crystal; for nought may them sever;
Nor unto Glass; such baseness mought offend her.

Then to the Maker self they likest be,
Whose light doth lighten all that here we see.**

 


             He smiled, his heart so content he could finally recite all the poetry he had read and memorized while thinking of her ever since he had met her, with no fear of scaring her away from him. He pulled her closer and kissed her lips, then moved them to her ear and whispered once more

More than most fair, full of the living fire,

Kindled above unto the maker near:

No eyes but joys, in which all powers conspire,

That to the world naught else be counted dear.

Through your bright beams doth not the blinded guest,

Shoot out his darts to base affections wound:

But Angels come to lead frail minds to rest

In chaste desires on heavenly beauty bound.

You frame my thoughts and fashion me within,

You stop my tongue, and teach my heart to speak,

You calm the storm that passion did begin,

Strong through your cause, but by your virtue weak.

Dark is the world, where your light shined never;

Well is he born, that may behold you ever.***

 

            “You make me lost for words, Christopher. I cannot even remember poetry to recite to you. None would convey exactly how I feel. All I can say is I truly and deeply love you with all my heart.” She kissed his hand and then his lips, and soon he started once more

 

            Oh, my love’s like a red, red rose… ****

 

            “Christopher, stop!” She said smiling as she threw herself on him and they both went to the ground. He laughed heartily as she kissed him all over. 

Chapter Text

It had been a normal morning in the Brandon household. After breakfast, Colonel Brandon had left to tend to his duties with the promise of returning for lunch at around midday. Marianne was getting ready to go about her day when an urgent post arrived. Usually, such posts were directed to her husband, about some matter of business or other. So when she heard a horse approaching and Ruth answering the door, she lamented that the messenger had narrowly missed him.

            However, when Ruth handed her the missive as she stepped out of the breakfast parlor and into the foyer, she saw it was addressed to her. It came from Barton. She opened it quickly, her heart beating at her throat, her mind wondering what could be wrong.

            The letter was from Margaret. It stated that their mother had fallen ill, an infectious fever much like the one Marianne herself had had. Sir John had retrieved Margaret from the cottage, for her safety, and she was staying at the Park. He had also sent a servant of his own, with ample experience in tending to the sickly, to help Betsy look after Mrs. Dashwood. Sir John had not wished to disturb Marianne or Elinor, for it had only been a day or two since the fever had gotten hold of her, and the doctor was visiting regularly. He had hopes of their mother being back on her feet before they were disturbed. But Margaret took it upon herself to send word to them secretively, for she was very worried, and if she could not persuade Sir John to allow her to leave the Park and take care of her mother, she hoped one of her sisters could.

            Marianne was in despair, trying to think rapidly of what could be done, what should be done. When she was resolved as to what her actions would be, Edward burst through the door with Elinor.

            “You’ve had word?” Elinor asked.

            “Yes, I was just about to go upstairs to gather a few things and ride to Barton.”

            “Good, I will ride with you.”

            “No, Elinor, please! Consider your condition! You cannot be in that cottage, for your health and your child’s.”

            “Thank you,” Edward said with concern in his eyes. “I’ve been telling her just that, but she will not listen to me.”

            “Nor will I listen to Marianne! I cannot sit here knowing Mama is ill! It won’t be good for my health either. Consider my nerves, how they will be.”

            Marianne and Edward exchanged looks of understanding. She had spoken the truth. Still, Edward looked very concerned.

            “All right, Elinor, you can ride with me,” Marianne started. Edward’s eyes widened. “With the condition that you promise me and Edward this moment that you will stay at Barton Park with Margaret, and wait for news from me there. You are not to enter that cottage while Mama’s fever persists.”

            Edward looked at Marianne with relief and gratitude. Elinor agreed to the terms reluctantly.

            “Go home and pack while I do the same, we will leave within the hour,” Marianne said.

            “I am already packed. Edward dear, would you fetch my trunk for me? I hope you don’t mind if I wait here, Marianne.” Elinor said as she sat in the parlor.

            “Of course not,” Marianne said. She sent a servant out to ready the carriage and another to fetch the trunk with Edward. “Edward, if you see Christopher on your way back home, would you tell him what has happened?”

            Edward, who was already at the door, leaving behind the servant, looked back and nodded to her.

            Marianne went upstairs. As she threw some dresses and belongings into a trunk, she started to cry. She tried to appear strong for Elinor, but her heart was overwhelmed with concern and fear for their mother. She was not sure she could handle it all on her own. She wished to speak to Christopher before she left. He certainly would know how to comfort and reassure her.

            But she finished her packing and went downstairs to find Edward waiting with Elinor already, and he had not seen Colonel Brandon. Marianne sent the servant out with her trunk and told Elinor she would only be a few minutes longer, for she had to write a note to her husband. Edward assured her he would come back and speak to him as well.

            Marianne entered her husband’s study as the Ferrars went to the carriage. She sat at his desk and pulled a piece of paper from the desk drawer, a quill from the holder in front of her and she began

 

         Christopher, my love

 

         I have just received this letter from Margaret. Mama is ill, and I am leaving almost this instant for Barton to be with her. Elinor is coming with me, and we will take the carriage. But as we do not know when we will be back, I will send the carriage right back, should you need it. Please reassure Edward I will not allow Elinor to be around Mama. I believe he is still worried due to her condition. And do not worry yourself to death about me either. I must go. I wish I could speak to you before I left, and kiss your soft lips to soothe my nerves, though I am certain you will understand my haste in going. I will miss you dearly, and I hope to be back soon. I love you with all my heart. I will write every day.

 

                                               Yours always,

                                                        Marianne.

 

 

            She left her note, along with Margaret’s letter, on the desk where he could plainly see them. Nonetheless, on her way out, she asked Ruth to warn him she had left a note explaining everything.

 

******

 

            They arrived at Barton some time past midday. Marianne told the coachman to stop at the Park first, knowing full well that dropping Elinor off with Sir John and Miss Jennings first would ensure that her promise be kept. She went inside to say a quick hello to everyone and left for the cottage with the promise that on the morrow, Elinor could go to the yard at the cottage and she would meet her outside with news.

            Upon arrival at the cottage, she relieved Betsy of her duties of sitting by Mrs. Dashwood. Betsy informed her that the doctor had been there before midday and would return late afternoon. Harriet, the servant Sir John had sent, was sleeping, for she had been up all night with Mrs. Dashwood.

            Marianne sat all afternoon with her mother in silence. The few times she had regained some small part of consciousness, it seemed she was delusional with the fever. Nevertheless she managed to ask for Margaret, and show concern for Marianne being there, but soon she fell back into her feverish slumber. Marianne’s stomach churned with concern and anxiety. It was quite an exercise for her to try and maintain herself relatively calm.

            Late afternoon was upon them and the doctor finally called. Marianne met him in the parlor and listened attentively as he described her mother’s situation and how on his last visit, she had been worse than he had expected, worse than the night before. This made Marianne noticeably anxious, and the doctor began

            “Do not fright, Mrs. Brandon. She is bound to get better soon. I will check on her now, administer some medicine and bleed her. She should show improvement during the night. And should you need me before my next appointed visit, I am very close by, at Allenham. A servant or messenger will reach me easily and I will be back shortly, should you call.”

            “At Allenham?”

            “Yes. Mrs. Smith has fallen terribly ill. I am afraid her time has come, though I am doing all I can.”

            “Oh, that poor woman! And all alone in that house…”

            “She is not alone. Her nephew, a Mr. Willoughby, has come to see to her. His wife is expected in a few days as well. He showed quite some concern when I mentioned I was to divide my time between his aunt and Mrs. Dashwood. Are you acquainted with him?”

            Marianne grew pale the moment he mentioned Willoughby’s name, and it only became worse as his speech continued. It was as if all the blood had left her body when the doctor mentioned he was there by himself. She had to sit down, for her legs grew weak and her hands grew cold. If the doctor mentioned to him she was there and alone, he might want to come to her. How would she keep him out, keep him away from her? She thought the presence of her mother’s servant, Thomas, would not discourage him from imposing his presence, if he so chose to.

            “No, I do not know him” she told the doctor, in hopes he would report it and any thought that might cross Mr. Willoughby’s mind would be brutally shot down at the knowledge she hadn’t even admitted to knowing him.

            But her nerves were not settled. They were increasingly running out of her control as she thought of all that might happen, of her mother’s health, of having to meet Willoughby for the first time in a long time in such a frail state of mind. He had a way of bending words to his advantage, she remembered. She had not seen him since that dreadful night in London a twelvemonth ago, and though she had no feelings for him anymore, no good feelings at least, she was not sure how it would feel to see him again, and she did not wish to find out while alone.

            “Mrs. Brandon, calm yourself! It would not do your health any good to remain agitated like this. Your mother will be well, do not worry yourself so.”

            “Forgive me, I… I…”

            But she could not speak. The doctor offered her something for her to calm down and strongly encouraged her to take it. Betsy reassured her she would accompany him to Mrs. Dashwood’s room, and the doctor reassured her he would not leave without giving her a full report of his examination. Marianne took the medicine and sat in the parlor, waiting for him to come back down. She quickly began to feel calmer. So much so, that she fell asleep on the sofa.

Chapter Text

Willoughby was knocking on the door. She did not answer, but he would not leave. He knocked more furiously and threatened to break a window. He needed to speak to her and would not take no for an answer. Her anxiety grew. Suddenly, he was inside, she did not understand how; a hand was on her shoulder gently shaking her.

            She woke with a start to see her husband on his knees in front of her.

            “Christopher?” She reached out her hand and touched his cheek to make sure he was really there.

            “Yes, my dear.” He took her hand in his and pressed his lips to it.

            “You did not need to come!” She said, though she felt relieved he was there. “You should not trouble yourself with this, my love.”

            “Of course I came! We are married, if you recall,” he held up his hand with the ring she bestowed on him and smiled. “Your troubles are my troubles, love. I would not leave you to go through this alone.” He kissed her finger that held her wedding ring.

            She smiled. “You are not cross with me then?”

            “Why would I be?” He continued to caress her hands.

            “Because I know how you worry for my health. I thought you would not want me here.”

            “I do worry about you, always. But of course you had to come. And I would never be cross with you, for any reason at all.”

            His hands slipped up to her waist and she leaned in to kiss him. She then noticed it was dark out already, and remembered the doctor upstairs.

            “The doctor!” She let out as she tried to stand. He sat her back down and started

            “He has already left. I arrived as he finished his examination. He said Mrs. Dashwood is doing better than she was this morning, though she still is not out of danger.”

            Just hearing she was doing better made Marianne breathe easier.

            “He will be back early tomorrow morning to bleed her again,” her husband continued. “If we should need him, he is close by and won’t be long in arriving. Apparently… there is another patient, down at Allenham.”

            For one moment his gaze wondered away from her and she could see he was thinking about something – someone – with much anger, perhaps even hate. Her hands went to his cheek and his eyes focused on her again, and he smiled.

            “He also told me he gave you something for your nerves. So you need to let me take you upstairs, so you can rest.”

            She smiled as she caressed his cheek. “Thank you for coming. I am very glad you did.” She kissed his forehead, then his nose, then his lips.

            “Of course I did,” he said when their lips broke apart. “She is my mama as well.”

            Marianne smiled. “I should go sit with her,” she said as she tried to stand up and learned she was still rather groggy. Colonel Brandon stood quickly and held her.

            “You, my angel are going to lie down and rest,” he whispered in her ear as he led her upstairs. “Harriet is sitting with her and I will go as well once I get you in bed.”

 

*****

 

            She sat on the bed in her old room, her head resting on the bed post while she watched as he lit a fire in the grate.

            “There isn’t enough firewood to last the night. I’ll be right back.”

            “Where are you going?”

            “Just outside, to chop some wood. I won’t take long.”

            “No, Christopher! It’s late, and dark out. You are not going to chop wood now! Stay here with me.”

            She did not want him outside, she did not know why. Some irrational fear she could not quite explain in her state. Could Willoughby be out there and do something to him? Or was it just she did not wish to be alone, could not handle being alone now that he was here? She did not need to act the strong, determined part now, and could simply give in to all the fears and anxieties swirling inside her, because he was here, and he would hold her and soothe her.

            He let go of the doorknob and went to her. “I will be right back, my love,” he said caressing her cheeks. He then kissed her forehead. “Do not worry yourself.” And he left.

            Though still slightly dizzy, she went to the window and watched as he put down the lantern and swung the axe, chopping various pieces of wood, each with only one swing. Though they had been married for months now, he never failed to surprise her. She had never thought he would know how to chop wood when he probably had had someone to do it for him all his life. She certainly had never seen her father do it, there was always a servant for that. But Christopher was a very special kind of man. She stared out the window at him and mused at how lucky she was to have such a husband. So devoted to her, so loving and caring. So strong and passionate, and chivalrous and sweet. She had a perfect and happy life, if only her mother’s health would recover.

            The worry she had been harboring since the doctor mentioned Willoughby was only a few miles away, of how she would act and what she would feel if a meeting happened, all of it subsided at once, as her heart filled with love while she watched her husband. There were no words or no sight that could confuse her enough to lead her away from such feelings.

            She didn’t even notice he had already come inside. He came in the room and she looked back from the window and smiled. He left the door open, for his hands were occupied carrying the logs, and she could hear her mother rambling and coughing in the other room. She sat on the bed again and looked at the door with worry, listening to her mother, while he fed the fire.

            He went across the room and closed the door and went to her. She smiled a feeble smile up at him. He caressed her cheek and then her hair, before going to her trunk and opening it. After looking around for a while, he said

            “Marianne, I don’t think you’ve packed a nightgown, love.”

            “I packed rather quickly, I must have forgotten.”

            Colonel Brandon had ridden to Barton as soon as he read Marianne’s note and Margaret’s letter. He had gone on horseback, to make better time. Therefore, he only took a small riding bag with a change of clothes and his nightshirt. He opened his bag and took out the nightshirt, handing it to her.

            “And what will you sleep in? You’ll be cold. I don’t need this, you can keep me warm,” she smiled up at him.

            “You are married to an army man. I will manage,” he smiled. “I’ve slept in worse conditions than this.” He placed the nightshirt on the bed beside her and pulled her up to help her undress. She was leading such a happy life. But a sudden fear struck her. Could it last long? Luck did run out eventually, it could not last a lifetime.

            As she pulled on his nightshirt, she heard her mother cough again. She sat back down on the bed. She could no longer be strong. She started to cry, profusely. He knelt in front of her and caressed her cheeks, wiping away whatever tears he could.

            “Sweetheart,” he let out.

            “Oh, Chris.” It was the first time she called him that outside their most intimate of times. Apparently it was for whenever she felt closest to him, however that may come about. “What if she dies? I don’t think I can take it. I am so scared!” She was still sobbing, tears running down her cheeks like a waterfall.

            He pulled her down into his arms and sat on the floor with his back against the bed, cradling her as she cried. He wished to promise her that would not happen, her mother would not die, but he could not lie. It was a possibility. He also tried to push away the thoughts that had been haunting him all afternoon. He was but five years younger than his mother-in-law. If it was her time to go, his might not be a long way away either. And he was so happy, finally. His life was indeed perfect. He wished to enjoy it longer.

            He pressed his lips against her temple.

            “It will be all right. I am here for you, love.”

            He held and rocked her for a long while, until she had stopped crying and seemingly fallen asleep. He lifted her up and put her in bed, pulling the covers from under her to cover her. He intended to go down to the kitchen and eat something, for he left Delaford in such a hurry he hadn’t even eaten lunch, but as he turned the doorknob he heard her shaky voice ask

            “Won’t you stay with me?”

            He looked into her puffy red eyes.

            “Of course I will. I am just going to warn Harriet she can come call us at anytime for whatever might be needed.”

            He was back in moments. He unbuttoned his waist coat and untied his cravat, throwing them aside, to a chair. He sat on the bed and took off his boots and trousers. Marianne was crying again, though more quietly. His heart ached to see her like this. He got under the covers behind her, and held his hand to her heart as he embraced her.

 

****

 

            He turned to embrace her but her side of the bed was empty. He opened his eyes and saw it was still dark out. The sun had not risen, but Marianne Brandon had. He saw her already dressed, in front of the mirror, pinning up her hair.

            He watched her with a smile on his face for she did always have that effect on him. When she turned and saw he was awake, she smiled back, though it was not the bright smile she always had.

            “Good morning my sweet Christopher.” She walked over and sat on the bed.

            “Good morning, my Marianne. How are you feeling?”

            “Better,” she leaned in and pressed her lips to his, “thank you. I’m going to sit with Mama and wait for the doctor to call. You go back to sleep. I imagine you rode fast as the wind to get here. Faster than needed. You must be exhausted.” She kissed him again and rose from the bed.

            “I’ll go make you breakfast.”

            “No need, my love, I am not hungry. Go back to sleep.”

            She left the room and closed the door behind her. He listened as she went down the hall and, moments later, what he presumed were Harriet’s footsteps trotted down the stairs. He got up and washed before dressing himself, and went down to the kitchen. It was empty, for it was still very early. He made some eggs and toast and tea, placing them all on a tray and taking them upstairs.

            Mrs. Dashwood’s door was open. He peeked in and saw she was still unconscious, in bed, muttering, certainly due to some delusion caused by the fever. Marianne sat in a chair next to the bed and watched her, a worried countenance about her. He walked in and upon hearing his footsteps, she turned.

            “Christopher, I told you I wasn’t hungry. You needn’t have.”

            “You must eat something, Marianne,” he whispered as he placed the tray on a table beside her.

            “I can’t!”

            “At least some toast with tea.” She looked up at him. “Go on,” he said.

            She picked up a piece of toast and reluctantly bit into it. He sat down beside her and watched as she ate slowly, her gaze jolting to her mother whenever there was muttering or movement.

            “What about you, have you eaten?”

            “Do not worry about me. I will eat later.”

            She ate a few pieces of toast and drank all the tea and said she was done. He went back into the kitchen and made himself some tea. He scrambled some more eggs and added the eggs she had not eaten to reheat. He ate them with the toast she had left untouched.

            The sun rose and morning went on. The doctor came and while he administered the medicine and examined Mrs. Dashwood, Colonel Brandon waited with Marianne in the hallway, by the door to her room. Mrs. Dashwood’s fever had subsided a bit compared to the previous examination, which was good news. The doctor would be back by lunch, but if she continued progressing like this, she would be out of danger in no time.

            Marianne sat with her mother again, and Colonel Brandon went outside for some fresh air. On his way out, in the closet in the hallway, he found his old friend, the stool on which he sat when reading to Marianne months ago, when he tried to win her heart. He took it outside.

            Marianne watched through her mother’s bedroom window as he placed the stool on the grass and sat with his back to the house. He sunk his teeth into a peach and watched the horizon, the breeze ruffling his hair.

            It wasn’t long before Marianne was at the hall, pulling on her coat. She walked outside with her fold-up chair. She placed it next to him, facing the opposite direction, and sat down.

            “Shall we reminisce, my dear Colonel Brandon?” and she handed him a book.

            “I don’t remember there being much ‘dear Colonel Brandons’ back then.” He smiled as he tossed the peach pit far.

            “Never through my lips, but always in my heart. And there will be plenty now, to make up for it all, my dear, my love, my sweet.” She blew him a kiss.

            He smiled and looked down to the book, analyzing it and recognizing it as one from their library.

            “You did not bring a nightgown, but you packed a book?”

            “Yes. My priorities are in order.”

            He laughed.

            “I thought you wouldn’t leave your mother’s side.”

            “Well, Betsy is with her. Besides, I need to wait for Elinor. She is coming for an update on Mama’s condition and she is not to go through those doors under any circumstance. I’ll wait out here so she won’t fool me.”

            “Ah yes. Edward demanded my word as well that I will not allow it.”

            She smiled and tapped the book in his lap.

            “Read on, my dearest Colonel, while we still have time.”

            He was reading to her for some time already when he looked up while turning pages and saw a horseman coming down a slope towards the house. Though he was relatively far, Colonel Brandon recognized him at once. The horseman stopped in the middle of the slope and stared, as though he did not expect to find Colonel Brandon there.

            Marianne noticed how her husband’s attentions were shifted from the book to the horizon. She did not need to look back. The anger in his gaze told her everything she needed to know. Would he dare come here? She did not care anymore, but she did need to calm her husband down, or Lord knows what might happen.

            “Christopher.” He did not pay any heed. “Chris, my love.” That caught his attention. As he looked at her, his eyes softened. She smiled. “Kiss me, Chris.”

            He could not deny her. He leaned in, smiling, and pressed his lips to hers. She took his face in between her hands and deepened the kiss, not caring who might be watching or not. When they broke apart she caressed his hair.

            “Are you calmer, love?”

            He looked up at the slope and there was no horseman in sight.

            “Forgive me, Marianne. I just…loathe him.”

            “Do not waste time and energy on him, he is not worth it.”

            Before they could resume their reading, Elinor approached.

Chapter Text

 

They had been at Barton Cottage for four days and Mrs. Dashwood’s fever had finally subsided. She was awake and eager to see her children. All her children. And the doctor had declared it would be of no consequence if Elinor visited for a few hours a day.

            Marianne was excited to go fetch her sisters to see their Mama, who was finally out of danger. Colonel Brandon suggested they send Thomas to warn them, but Marianne yearned for a walk.

            “Then let me come with you, angel,” Colonel Brandon said.

            “You know I adore our walks together, my love,” she stretched on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek, “but I think it is best if one of us stays here, in case Mama needs something. Could you?” She caressed his hair and her hand gently slid down to his cheek, then his chest, where they rested as she looked up pleadingly at him. He smiled and nodded. “I will be back in no time,” she said.

            She happily strolled through the fields thinking how glad she was her mother was recovering. She had been anxious for her health for days now, and the relief she felt was heavenly. She thought how happy her sisters would be to finally be able to see their mother.

            It was a beautiful day, though chilly. Marianne remembered it had been quite a while - a few days before they arrived at Barton – since she hadn’t taken a walk with her husband. She thought maybe she should have let him come. Surely Betsy and Thomas could tend to her mother on their own for a short while.

            She felt a hand close around her wrist and for a split second she thought Christopher had followed her after all. But it wasn’t him. It wasn’t his tender touch. It felt wrong. Before she could pull herself away from this stranger’s grip, the hand whirled her to face its owner.

            “I thought he would never let you out of his sight.”

            She was suddenly staring into Willoughby’s eyes, only inches away from his face. His smile, so wicked, intoxicated her as it had before, and she was reminded of how much she had once longed to be this close to him. To feel his breath on her skin. She was dizzy, stunned.

            “I have thought of you every day. I could never forget you, Marianne. And I know you have thought of me as well.”

            Her name escaping his lips did not sound right. It felt wrong, disgusting. And the presumption! Saying she was thinking of him too. It was true that for some time she had. She had cried for him, longed for him. But he was oh so very unworthy of her tears. She wanted to pull away from his slimy hands but she was still shocked and couldn’t move. And his lips so close… his eyes looking at her so adoringly. What she wouldn’t have given to have had this a twelvemonth ago…

            “It won’t be long now, Marianne. My aunt… she is going to perish. And she has forgiven me for… what happened, so I am to inherit everything from her as was originally planned. I won’t need my wife’s money anymore. We can run away, you and I. I’ll take care of you.”

            Whatever weakness she was still feeling quickly faded. He was actually hoping for his aunt to die so he could have his inheritance! That was so low, even for him. Forgiven me for what happened he said. What happened? What he caused more like it! He had not even cared what happened to Eliza. Did he know he had a daughter? Did he care? While she still pinned for him and hoped he would want to meet his daughter… And again he would have the courage to abandon a child of his, to abandon his pregnant wife and pull herself away from any good society, proposing she leave her husband. Her sweet husband, who at this moment looked after her mother, who had left his property and duties behind to accompany her and comfort her and help her mother in her time of need. Her husband, who loved her so deeply she could feel it every time he looked at her, every time they kissed. Her husband who she loved with all her heart.

            She felt utterly disgusted by Willoughby’s touch, his breath so close to her, his presence. She managed to wrench herself free and took several steps back.

            “How… dare you?” She couldn’t say anymore. He didn’t deserve anymore of her words. She began to walk back to the cottage, forgetting what she’d gone out to do.

            “Marianne, I know it is what you want as well. You have surely forgiven me for what I had to do. But I do love you.” He was following her.

            “Stay away from me! Do NOT follow me.” She said without turning around and hurrying her step.

            “You wish to do the right thing, but if … he gets word of us meeting here, it will be enough for him to leave you. And I will be waiting for you. I will take you away.” She walked faster and he stayed behind.

            “I will wait for you here every afternoon for the next week,” he shouted out for her to hear. “When you come to meet me again I will know your answer.”

            She walked on without looking back. She felt dirty for having had him so close to her. Disgusted. But was he right? Would Christopher leave her? Would he believe she met him out of her own free will? She had asked him to stay in the house… and he did hate Willoughby very much, with reason. But to the point of blinding him thus?  Nothing had happened! It was not her fault, Willoughby sought her out. Though she had insisted on going alone. Christopher could think it was all arranged. Maybe she should not mention anything, pretend it never happened. But what if Willoughby found a way to let him know? He seemed to believe she still felt something for him. He might see it as helpful means to “free” her. Would he do such a thing? Christopher could just find out on his own. And she hadn’t exactly refused Willoughby. She was so outraged she couldn’t even form a sentence properly. Dear God, what would become of her? There was also the possibility that someone else saw. These thoughts raged through her head, worrying her sick.

            She was at the cottage and as she walked in, she inadvertently slammed the door. She paced the parlor, not knowing what to do, her nerves getting the better of her, when Colonel Brandon came down the stairs.

            “That was quick indeed.”

            She looked up at him and could not hide the distress in her countenance. He stopped on the last step down.

            “Marianne, what is it?”

            This time her name sounded so right. She couldn’t bring herself to say anything and she paced over to the dining room.

            “Marianne?” He followed her. She stopped by the fire. “Marianne, you are worrying me. Please tell me what is wrong.”

            “I… I don’t think I can.”

            “Marianne. It’s me, love. You can tell me anything.”

            “You’ll be cross with me, I couldn’t bear it.” She began to turn pink in the cheeks. Clearly her distress was rising.

            “Marianne, tell me. I would never be angry with you.” He came closer to her and held her face with both his hands. She looked up at him with worried eyes and then stepped away, looking into the fire.

            “I... I was on my way to the Park when… when Willoughby approached me.” She looked back at him and saw that Colonel Brandon’s countenance grew rigid and grave. “I swear I did not know he was out there! I had even forgotten he was in the neighborhood.”

            “Did he hurt you?” He asked coolly. His hands were behind his back.

            “No. I got away from him as quickly as I could.”

            Colonel Brandon went to the window. He gazed outside as he asked “What did he want? I assume he did not ask of the child he left behind, uncared for.”

            “No. He… he wanted me to run away with him.”

            Colonel Brandon closed his eyes and took a deep breath, clenching his fists and leaning one forearm on the wall next to the window. The room was silent for a few long minutes. Then she went to him and touched his back. He did not pull away from her, a good sign. “Are you cross with me, Christopher?”

            “No,” he answered curtly, still looking out the window.

            “You are angry, I can see it. You have to know I did not wish for this. I am disgusted by him, his audacity. I love you and I would never do such a thing to you. Never!”

            “I am angry, but not at you, angel.”

            She placed herself in front of him.

            “Then kiss me so I’ll know it is true.”

            He looked down at her and his countenance softened a bit. He leaned in to kiss her, gently at first, and then he deepened the kiss as he wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her from the floor. He put her down and their lips broke apart, and she smiled up at him, relieved.

            “I love you and I trust you. You need not worry. And if you ever do feel the wish to leave me, I will know it was I who have wronged you somehow.”

            He went to the hall to put on his coat, which hung there.

            “Where are you going?”

            “Your mother is waiting for your sisters. I shall go and fetch them.”

            “No, he might still be out there! You might run into him.”

            “If I do, all the better.” He opened the door.

            She ran to position herself in between him and the entrance.

            “No, Christopher! I beg of you! Do not challenge him to duel once more.” Despair slowly filled her heart.

            He looked at her, confused. Was she worried for the cad’s life?

            “Marianne, do you understand the gravity of what he did against me, yet once again? How disrespectful he was? Towards you. Towards us! To proposition my wife to run off with him? He has to pay.”

            “Do you understand, Christopher, the awful dishonorable person he is? Nothing would stop him from cheating to beat you! And I have just spent the better part of a week worried sick for Mama, wondering if I could ever recover were she to die.” She was agitated and tears started to fill her eyes. “But with you I need not wonder. I know for certain that I could not survive without you with me.” Tears rolled abundantly down her face and her voice rose as her complexion became crimson. I cannot live without you. There is no me without you. So please, Chris, do not put yourself in harm’s way, I beg of you, please!” She screamed the last words and he closed the door he had held open behind her. He held her in a tight embrace, one hand on her back and the other caressing her hair.

            “All right, love, all right. Hush now.”

            His heart filled with love, joy, excitement.  She had never professed her love so ardently before. As fervently as he felt for her.

            She still cried and he pulled away, his hands cupped her cheeks, his thumbs whipping away the tears.

            “It’s all right, sweetheart, it’s all right.” He kissed her lips. “I won’t go. I love you too, darling.”

            She began to calm down, and he headed for the kitchen. Would he go out the back door?

            “Chris??” She sounded alarmed.

            “I am only going to ask Thomas to go warn your sisters. I will be right back.”

            When he stepped back, she was sitting on the sofa in the parlor. He was holding his coat, not wearing it, and Thomas came behind him.

            “I will come back with them, Mr. Brandon.”

            “Thank you, Thomas.”

            He hung his coat and sat beside her, holding her to his chest and caressing her hair.

            The next time Willoughby saw Marianne go by the appointed spot, she was in a carriage with her husband, heading back to Delaford.

Chapter Text

It had been snowing intermittently for days. Both Marianne and Colonel Brandon did not much care for London, so they had stayed behind in the country for the season. Due to the snow, Colonel Brandon could not carry out most of his duties, so he had much leisure time. Marianne was more than happy to help occupy such time, and they spent their days together, reading and playing duets. They often just sat by the fire and conversed, exchanging caresses, him with his cup of tea to keep warm and she with a cup of hot cocoa, which she had recently discovered and loved, and he, always happy to oblige to her every whim and desire, moved heaven and earth to have it brought in for her.

            They sat in the library, on a sofa before the fireplace. He had her legs over his lap and over them he held the book he read. She herself read another book. Suddenly, she closed her book and watched him as he read on.

            “Yes, my love?” He asked without lifting his gaze from his reading.

            She moved closer, leaning into him and placed a peck on his cheek. “I am bored.” She kissed his neck.

            “Bored of reading? You? My goodness, we really do have a problem then,” he said as he lowered his book to better appreciate her caresses.

            “I feel like I’ve read all the books in this library,” she said as she caressed his chest, her hands then going up so her fingers could sink in his hair. His hand, now free of his book, slid up her thigh to her waist as he pulled her closer to press his lips against hers.

            “I am quite sure that is an impossible feat for just five or so months of being here,” he smiled. She pressed her lips to his. “If you are bored,” he continued, “what do you propose we do then, my dear?” he asked as his hands went back to caressing her legs, which lay on his lap.

            “Let us go outside. It has stopped snowing for the moment. I miss the fresh air.”

            “The fresh and unbelievably cold air?”

            She smiled. “Just for a little while.” Her index finger traced his lips and then touched the tip of his nose. “Please?” She pouted pleadingly in jest and then smiled.

            “Very well,” he said as he lifted her legs from his lap and placed them down to the floor.

            She hurriedly got up and raced to the back of the house, to the door that led to their little private garden. They dressed for the cold, putting on their coats, gloves and scarves which rested in a closet near the door.

            Outside, they walked hand in hand for a while over the soft snow. When they got to a more open space with a reasonable amount of snow, Marianne proposed they built snowmen.

            “We shall see who builds the best one,” she said with a smile.

            “Is that a challenge, dearest?” He smiled. “I have been known to build incredible snowmen, I’ll have you know.”

            “Prove it then,” she added still smiling.

            They had each been building a snowman for a while when she looked over and saw that his was indeed better. She walked over to help him with his. “It is no use working on an ugly one,” she explained herself. He laughed and put an arm around her, kissing her cheek. “Yours is very charming, love.”

            Before long, they had finished the snowman.

            “There, we are done. Can we go back inside now?” He asked.

            She stood behind him as he admired what they had done, so he did not see she was crafting a snowball she then threw at his backside.  “We are not quite done yet” she had said before she threw it at him.

            “Marianne!” He cried out as he turned to see her arranging yet another snowball in her palm, laughing.

            “Did I hurt you, dear?”

            “No,” he answered with a small smile.

            “I’m very glad,” she said as she threw another one at him.

            “Oh you wish to play? We shall play then,” he said as he started to run for her. She ran away, laughing as he chased her with a grin on his face. When he caught her, they fell on the soft, snow-covered ground. She hurried to try and run away again, but he pinned her down. She could not stop laughing.

            “Say you are sorry,” he said in jest as he held her down.

            “I can kiss you so you feel better,” she said looking up at him and smiling.

            He leaned down to touch his lips to hers, and so he did over and over again.

            “Christopher?” She said in between kisses, before he planted another one on her lips, this time a long deep one.

            “Hummm?” He managed as they kissed.

            “I love you.”

            He smiled and kissed her again as he still held her down.

            “Christopher?”

            “Yes, my love?”

            “We can go inside now. I’m cold.”

            He helped her up, and as they walked back to the house, snow began to fall lightly once more. When they entered the house, she quickly pulled off her coat, gloves and scarf and ran upstairs while he was still taking off his coat.

She rushed into their bedchamber and went straight to the fireplace. He came in behind her and closed the door. She took off her boots and sat on the soft fur rug placed in front of the fire, completely overlooking the pair of high back chairs that sat on the rug, so she could be closer to the fire. He sat on the bed to pull off his boots and then grabbed the fur that adorned the foot of the bed and took it to her. He sat behind her, his legs on either side of hers, and covered both of them with the fur. He then leaned on the chair that sat behind him as he wrapped his arms tight around her.

            “Do you wish me to have some water heated for the bathtub?”

            “No, I’ll be warm soon enough.”

            He sat there holding her, breathing his hot breath into her hair and neck. A snow storm started raging outside and they watched it through the window. It made the day a bit darker.

            After a few minutes, she turned to face him, which made him loosen his grip.

            “Are you warm?” He asked.

            “Yes. Extremely.” She kissed his lips. “So warm in fact I might need to disrobe.” She kissed him again.

            “Is that so?” He asked amused as he raised an eyebrow.

            “Are you warm?” She asked with another kiss.

            “Yes, quite.” One of his knees was folded upward, and his arm rested upon it.

            “May I… help you with that?” She said as she began to unbutton his waistcoat.

            “Please, do” he said with a smile.

            She unbuttoned his waistcoat and pulled it off, tossing it aside. She then began to untie his cravat. He reached under her dress to caress her thighs over her undergarment. She pulled his cravat from his neck and placed it over his eyes, tying it behind his head.

            “What is this?” He asked intrigued, not being able to see her anymore.

            “Remember I said I had read almost all the books in our library?” She whispered in his ear as she began to slowly unbutton his shirt. “I found one you brought from the Indies.” She kissed his neck.

            “Did you?” He smiled slyly. He could not feel her against him anymore, but soon she was at his other ear, nibbling on it.

            “Yes. Inhibiting one of your senses is supposed to… heighten the others.” She kissed his neck and undid a few more buttons on his shirt, and then, he could not feel her any longer.

            “How very interesting,” he chuckled.

            She finished unbuttoning his shirt and pushed it off his body. She proceeded to kissing his neck, then his shoulder, making her way down his chest and stomach. With each kiss his body quivered. She unbuttoned the fall front of his trousers, letting out his manhood. It was already half rigid when she straddled him and rolled her hips on top of it. As she felt him grow, she teased him with kisses on his cheek. He wished to kiss her lips, but she would not let him. She backed off from him and he missed her warmth.

            He suddenly felt her lips on his now fully rigid manhood, as her nails grazed his chest lightly. His head lolled back into the seat of the chair as her lips moved around his girth. At times, her tongue caressed his length. Her hands did not leave his chest whilst pleasuring him.

“Oh, Marianne,” he grunted and then sucked in air through clenched teeth, trying to master himself, but it was useless.

            When he was right on the edge of achieving the height of pleasure, she stopped. She was moving away from him but he managed to grab one of her arms, and he pulled off the improvised blindfold. He pulled her in for a kiss and she smiled.

            “You were not supposed to take it off.” She caressed his chest.

            “I could not bear it. I am but a man.” He kissed her neck and nibbled on her ear as he slowly undid the buttons on the back of her dress.

            “Rip it off” she whispered. “I cannot bear it, it’s taking too long.”

            “And ruin your dress?” He smiled into her neck.

            “I do not care, I’ll sew the buttons back on later.”

            He pulled the dress open and buttons flew all across the wooden floor. She gasped, and then he pulled the dress off over her head, along with her chemise. Her breasts were exposed, but she still wore her petticoat and socks.

            “Take them off,” he ordered. His tone excited her, and she laid her back on the floor, her legs pointed at him. She arched her back to pull down her garment, and then pointed her toes to the ceiling to pull them off provocatively, all the while her eyes watching his expression. He watched her with desire burning in his eyes, like the fire crackling behind him. She sat back up to straddle his lap and he licked her neck as he picked the cravat back up. He then tied it over her eyes.

            “Is it too tight?”

            “No,” she answered.

            “Do not take it off”, he whispered in her ear in an ordering tone, turning her to sit on the floor, her back to the chair.

            “What happens if I do take it off?” She asked slyly.

            “I might have to spank you” he whispered in her other ear.

            She grinned as he lifted her up to sit on the chair. “I might need to take it off then.”

            He left her sitting in the chair and walked over to the desk they had in a corner of the room.

            “Chris?”

            “Yes, my love.” His voice was far.

            “Where are you? I am getting cold again, I need to feel your warmth.”

            “I’m right here,” his voice was now next to her and his hand caressed the inner side of her thigh. His light touch made her quiver in desire.

            He had gotten the quill off the desk and now trailed its feather up her body, starting at her sex, passing over her stomach, making circles around her breasts. She quickened and arched her back, holding on to the arms of the chair.

            After a while of teasing her with the lightness of the feather, he sat back down on the floor in front of her and pulled her hips forward to the edge of the seat as he lifted her legs to rest over his shoulders. He proceeded to kissing her privates as he so often did, and her grip on the arms of the chair tightened.

            She quickened and arched her back often, but bit her lip to prevent her from screaming. She took one hand to her lips and sucked a finger before biting her hand. He watched amused as he continued the deed.

            He moved his lips away from her and his fingers took over, rubbing her bud of nerves.

            “Do you not enjoy this, my love?”

            “Yes” she moaned. “Very much.” Her hips moved as his fingers did, pressing herself against them.

            “Then why does it not sound like you enjoy it?”

            “It is… the middle of… the day” she said with restraint and in between gasps. “Someone might hear.”

            “Nonsense. Tell me how much you enjoy it,” he moved his fingers away to tease her.

            “I love it, Chris. Sweet… precious…Chris. My Chris.” Her hand found his head and her fingers began to run through his hair. “Please, don’t stop.” His fingers returned to her. “Please, please, keep going.”

            His lips returned to their deed and she moaned, but continued to bite her lip when she thought it was getting too loud. Soon she was on the edge. “Oh, Chris!” She pulled on his hair. “Yes, yes!” And she achieved her height. When her body relaxed, he pulled her down to his lap again, taking off the blindfold. She smiled as he kissed her lips and laid her on the fur, next to the crackling fire. He moved to pull down his trousers and she hurried to help, pushing them down with her feet.

            He filled her emptiness as she looked into his hazel-green eyes, made more hazel by the fire, and she caressed his face, smiling. She looked at him so lovingly, he felt a bit self-conscious as he moved inside her.

            “You look even more handsome by the fire,” she let out before biting her lower lip as she felt his manhood fill her core again.

            “Do I? You look beautiful anywhere.”

            She smiled. “Your eyes shine brighter when the flames reflect off them.”

            “My eyes shine brighter because I’m looking at you” he said as he thrust slowly.

            She caressed his cheek and brushed away his hair, only to have it fall back down again. “I love how you look at me and make me feel as if I were the only woman in the world.”

            “To me you are.”

            “Talk to me.”

            “What do you want me to say?” He let out a small grunt of pleasure, feeling her heat around him.

            “Anything. I enjoy hearing your sweet voice. It arouses me.”

            “I love you” he gasped, never stopping his movements.

            “I love you more” she answered.

            “I love your blue eyes. And the smell of your hair. And the taste of your lips.” He touched a finger to her lips and she sucked on it. He groaned before he kissed her. She smiled and took a hand to his chest. “I love your smile.” He put his hand over hers on his chest “And the feel of your smooth skin against mine.” He thrust harder and she bit her lip, her nails tracing their way up his side. “I love how you bite your lip, and how you scratch my back.” She smiled and pressed her nails against his shoulders. Then, she touched his lips, and he took a finger in his mouth, sucking on it. “I love how strong-minded, opinionated you are, and yet how incredibly sweet you are. I love how intelligent you are, and that you love to read as much as I do. I love that you think I am sweet.”

            “You are sweet”. She caressed his cheek and let out a loud moan in response to his movements.

            “I love that you still blush every time I tell you I love you. And every time I begin to disrobe you” he said in a lower tone. She smiled and blushed bright red. “I love how you tell me you love me and make me feel as if I am the only man you have ever loved.”

            “You are! You are, my love. Please believe me” she said with some desperation, cupping his face with both hands and reaching to kiss his lips.

            “I do.” He thrust harder. She bit her lip and moaned.

            He leaned into her neck and kissed it, and proceeded to purr in her ear “I love the sound of your sweet voice calling my Christian name, My Marianne. And I love how you call me Chris in our most intimate moments.”

            “Oh, Chris,” she called out, not because he mentioned it, but because her pleasure was building up again.

            “I love” he continued to purr in her ear as he thrust harder “Every… single… aspect…of your being. You are… the best… thing… that has ever… happened to me” he said in between heavy breaths. His voice in her ear resonated through her body, making her quiver and her pleasure build up faster. His words made her heart swell up with love, making the whole experience greater. “You are… my all. My everything. You are the love of my life, my sweet Marianne” he whispered.

            She felt as if she were going to burst. All of her. Her heart, with his words. Her body, with his actions. She felt hot tears touch her eyes as she achieved the height of her pleasure. “Chrissss… I love you.”

            As she quickened beneath him, he lost control as well.

            As his body relaxed atop hers, his cheek touched hers and he felt her tears. She wished to express just how much she loved him, but could not find the words.

            “Are you alright, my angel?”

            “I feel wonderful.” She took his hand and kissed it a few times before placing it over her left breast. He felt her heart, still beating fast.

            “I love you. I love you. I cannot always find sweet words such as yours to express just how much I do, but please, please know that I do. So very much. I love you. You make me whole. You complete me.”

            He smiled as he rubbed his nose on her cheek. He rolled to her side and wiped away the trail the tears left. She passionately kissed his lips and embraced him tightly as the storm still roared outside.

Chapter Text

 

Marianne opened her eyes. She did not wish to get up from bed, but he was no longer lying next to her and the sun shone brightly through the window, which meant she had to get up. So she did. Her head ached quite a bit, but she managed to get to her dressing room. Each step was a throb, and the clarity very much bothered her. While she very slowly dressed, she peeked out the window.

            Her husband was out in the front lawn. The frost had recently cleared and they were able to enjoy the grounds more, though every day she felt some sort of discomfort at some point. The dogs surrounded him as he held a stick. He threw it far and they all ran after it. He stood there smiling, alone. She really did enjoy seeing him smile. It was contagious, made her smile too. She wished she had awakened earlier to enjoy more of the day with him, but she was so tired. Not just today, but for a while now. He looked up at the window and saw her. His smile grew wider. She waved at him and gave a half smile. Smiling as wide as she wished to failed her, due to her headache.

            When she arrived downstairs, he was at the table already, waiting for her. He sat with his back to the door, so he was slightly surprised to feel her hand on his shoulder.

            “Good morning,” she said feebly as she leaned down to kiss him.

            “Good morning” he replied brushing a finger on her cheek after their lips parted.

            She took her seat opposite him. As he ate and conversed and made plans for the day, she struggled to pay attention to his every word as her head throbbed more intensely and she wished to lie down again. Of her food she took only a few bites before feeling queasy and stopping.

            “Are you all right, angel?” his voice traveled from across the table.

            “I am, my love.”

            “You’ve barely touched your food. And not just now, you haven’t had much of an appetite for days now, I’ve noticed. And you haven’t been quite yourself.”

            “I do have an appetite. I’m quite hungry actually. I just don’t seem to wish to eat what is presented to me.”

            “You do know you are mistress of this household, do you not? You can order whatever you wish for from the kitchens.”

            She gave a small laugh, as not to make her head throb more. “I am aware, dearest. But I don’t quite know what I do wish to eat either.”

            He got up from his chair and took one next to her. “Well you must eat something,” he said as he tried feeding her a forkful. She pushed it away as she turned her face.

            He placed his hand over hers. “Does something trouble you, my sweet?”

            “No.”

            “Are you unhappy?” His chest tightened to think she could be.

            She placed her other hand on his and looked into his eyes. “No, never my love. I’m the happiest I have ever been, and it just increases with each passing day I spend as your wife.”

            “Well, do not take this the wrong way, but you haven’t looked it for the past few days. I have inquired of it before, but I seemed to vex you, so I let it be… but you worry me.”

            She brought his hand to her lips. “I’m sorry if I was curt with you. But I keep no secrets from you, as I know you do not from me. You may speak your mind whenever, even if it is to comment on how wretched I look. Do not let a vexed woman frighten you, Colonel.” She smiled.

            “You could never look wretched; you are the most beautiful creature in all of creation, my Marianne. You just look… unsatisfied. Or sad.”

            “I am very satisfied, I assure you. It is not sadness… I just feel very tired, I have headaches often. I feel dizzy at times and just want to lie in bed all day… I do not know why.”

            “Why haven’t you said anything? We need to call the doctor!” Worry filled his heart. How could he have been so blind? He should have called the doctor long ago. It must be some effect of having been out in the cold, in the snow too long.

            “I did not wish you to worry. There is no need, I’m not so unwell. I perhaps just need some rest.”

            “Regardless, I am calling the doctor.”

            He stood and took her hand, pulling her to stand as well. “And while he does not arrive, you will go lie down.” He escorted her to the foyer. She did not object, so tired she was. At the foot of the stairs, she collapsed, causing his worry to rise to despair. Ruth brought a damp cloth and he tended to her right there, her head cradled in his lap. She slowly came to, and he lifted her up in his arms, carrying her the rest of the way to their chambers.

            “There is no need for this, Christopher darling,” she said resting her head on his shoulder, caressing his face as she saw the grave countenance that overtook it. “I am only tired. I will be well with a few hours more of sleep.”

            “Yes there is need for this. The thought of loosing you scares me to death.” He was halfway up the stairs.

            “You will never lose me.” She stroked his cheek again. “I love you.”

            “I will have to coin a new word. Love is not strong enough to express what I feel for you.” She smiled at his sweet words, but wanted very badly to be lain in bed.

            He placed her in bed and declared he would be back as soon as he had called for the doctor. The despair he had felt when she had had that fever all came back to him at once. He was really scared out of his mind of losing her, a feeling he kept deep down in his being, but that never quite went away. After everything he had gone through with Eliza, it was only natural. What he had now with Marianne still seemed too good to be true, all the happiness he experienced daily. He had never had this before. What did he do to deserve it now? His previous experiences made him fear, for every time he thought he would be happy, fate would not allow it. And now he was. Extremely. He feared fate would deal him a cruel hand once more.

            He sent a servant out for the doctor with a note from him. He had promised he would go back up to their chambers and be with her, but he did not wish for her to perceive his apprehension. At the same time, he needed to check on her, reassure himself that she was well. He went up, trying to calm himself all the way and failing, and found she had fallen asleep, a pillow at her side and she held it as if it were him. He sat with her a while, watching her, and her serenity soothed his heart.

            He heard the horses approaching the sweep and went down to meet the doctor. Before he sent him into the room, Colonel Brandon came back alone to wake her.

            The Colonel left the doctor to his examination and paced the hallway outside the door, worry returning and settling in his heart, consuming him. When the doctor opened the door, Colonel Brandon looked inquisitively at him, bracing himself for the worst. The doctor gave a small smile.

            “I believe your wife wishes to speak to you, Colonel. I’ll be waiting downstairs.”

            He looked puzzled, his heart not eased of its burden by this attitude. Why would the doctor not tell him what was the matter?

            Colonel Brandon went into the room to find Marianne sitting on the bed. She looked up at him and smiled. A very wide smile.

            “Christopher, my sweet Christopher, come sit next to me my love,” she caressed the spot on the bed, indicating where he should sit. He went to her and took her hand.

            “Is all well, my angel?”

            “All is wonderful, mon cher.” He did not fully follow. “Rejoice, light of my life, for you are to be a father. I am with child.”

            His eyes widened in surprise and soon a smile followed. He kissed her hand, then the other, and then the one again. He cupped his hands to her cheeks and kissed her forehead, then pressed his lips to hers.

            “And what of the fainting spell and all the discomfort you reported?”

            “It is all to be expected, though not desired.” She smiled. “Granted the collapsing is unusual, but apparently not unheard of. I am healthy. You can stop worrying so much.” She pressed her lips to both his hands. “I do not know why I did not suspect it. It seems very obvious now, considering…” she blushed.

            He chuckled and sighed in relief, then kissed her lips deeply. He then pulled her closer, resting her head on his chest, his chin resting on her head in turn. “You continuously make me exceptionally happy. I never thought such happiness was possible. I can barely fit inside myself.”

            “I love you, Christopher.”

            “I love you. Now, tell me what you wish to eat and I’ll go down to the kitchens and have it made. You must eat. You are eating for two now.” His heart pounded in happiness.

            “What if there is nothing here I wish to eat?” She started in jest.

            “I will walk the lands to fetch it myself or hunt whatever your heart desires.”

            “And what if one day you came to the table and do not like what I have ordered made for our meal?” She smiled.

            “I will eat absolutely anything you wish to have made.”

            “Really? I believe I shall like to eat brussels sprouts for every meal.” She bit back her laughter.

            “Oh my goodness. Perhaps I’ll have to go out hunting for myself then,” he laughed. “Rest, love. I will see to it that you have an appetizing meal when you wake up.”

Chapter Text

Colonel Brandon lay on his side, watching her sleep. Moonlight shone in through the window and on her and made her all the more beautiful, in her white nightgown with her hair pulled back in a braid. He smiled. He remembered a time when he did not believe it would be possible for him to be happy ever, and that is why he took absolutely nothing for granted. He was married to the woman of his dreams and that was more than enough reason to make him the happiest man on earth, but now she was giving him a child as well. More happiness to come. His chest felt so very small compared to the happiness it had to contain. He smiled widely in the dark room.

            Marianne opened her eyes slightly and closed them again.

            “Christopher?” She asked, still half asleep. “What are you doing?” Her voice was slurred.

            “Just admiring you, my love. Hush. Go back to sleep,” he whispered.

            “Go back to sleep, Christopher. You may admire me in the morning when my hair is brushed and I am more presentable.” She smiled, eyes still closed.

            “Well I think you look all the more beautiful when you are lying here disheveled in my bed.”

            She reached out her arms around his waist and pulled herself closer to him. “Naughty Christopher,” she said as she snuggled against him. “What do you think our child will look like?” She asked.

            “I hope it looks entirely like you, for his or her sake.”

            “No, don’t be silly! I hope it has your beautiful eyes,” she said kissing his chest.

            “But your eyes are more beautiful.” He kissed her forehead.

            “They are not!”

            “I hope it has your curly golden hair.”

            “I hope it has your nose.”

            “My nose?! You are insane, woman. Poor child,” he chuckled.

            “What? I think it makes you look strong and trustworthy. I quite like it.”

            “On me, perhaps, but do not wish it on our child.”

            “I do wish it. I want a miniature copy of you. Then I can be absolutely sure he will grow up to be an honest, kind, generous, strong man.”

            He held her tighter and kissed the top of her head.

            “Very well. But what if it is a girl? You cannot wish this nose upon a girl.”

            “Why not? Girls need to be strong as well.”

            “She will be if she is anything like her mother,” he said and she smiled into his chest. “She must have your talent for music and love for literature.”

            “All our children will be very talented in music, for you are as talented as I, or even more. There is no escaping it. And you also share my love for reading. We will impart that on them,” she replied.

            He laughed softly into her hair.

            “I hope they have your good, kind heart, Chris.”

            “There is no escaping that either since you are so kind yourself.”

            “I hope they are as sweet as you. If they have my disposition, they will be a handful. An awful lot of work! Do not try and flatter me, I know I am right.”

            He laughed and took a finger to her chin, lifting her gaze to meet his. “Thank you for making me so happy, my Marianne. I owe you my everything.”

            “Don’t be silly, love. You owe me nothing. It is not an effort. Thankfully you are content with silly little plain old me. I am glad, oh so very glad I am able to make you happy, for you have made me the happiest, most loved and cherished woman on this earth. I never knew what happiness really was until I agreed to marry you, my sweet, sweet Christopher.” She cupped her hand on his cheeks and kissed him deeply. As their lips parted, he smiled widely, his heart thumping in his chest, and he was lost for words. “Now let us go back to sleep,” she continued. “I am sure Mrs. Jennings will be descending on us the minute Mama opens my letter. We will need our rest.” She snuggled closer to him as he laughed and caressed her back.

Chapter Text

After the good news arrived to Mrs. Dashwood, she immediately began making arrangements to once again visit her married daughters. Both with child! What great felicity! A letter was written to Marianne, informing her of her intentions, and it was promptly answered with the offer of sending the carriage to Barton for her. But that would not be necessary, since, of course, Mrs. Jennings would be joining her in the journey, for at least half of the fortnight Mrs. Dashwood intended to stay, so Mrs. Jennings’ carriage could be employed.

            And so it was. Mrs. Dashwood and Margaret had to share the felicity of the newly learned good news with Mrs. Jennings. Fortunately, she was not so completely without manners and wit as to not allow the family some time alone, so after seven days or so, Mrs. Jennings was removed from Delaford and Mrs. Dashwood and Margaret could rejoice in the Brandon‘s happiness for a while longer. At least Sir John had accompanied her, and so Colonel Brandon, along with Edward, had had some distraction from all the feminine energy pulsing in the house.

            After all the visitors left their home, the master and mistress of Delaford thought they would be able to enjoy some much desired alone time. They, however, misjudged their fortune. Not three days after the departure of the Dashwoods, a letter arrived. It was sent from France. The Colonel’s sister, Lydia, wrote to inform that she had received the good news and to congratulate them. She also stated that it was about time she met her new sister, and seeing as her husband was seriously considering taking up his duties at Whitwell once more, since it seemed France was in an impending state of war, she would be making the journey to England to inspect the estate and evaluate what needed to be done and how long it would take for them to be able to move definitely. Her husband would stay behind to resolve all business that needed be.

            Lydia asked for their hospitality for her and her three boys for at least the first moments, until more definite arrangements could be made to Whitwell. As Colonel Brandon read this letter, his countenance showed some joy, but also some concern.

            “What is it, Christopher?” His wife asked as she sat on a sofa in his study, her sewing in her lap, as she heard him read her the letter.

            “Hum?” He said absent mindedly, as he lifted his eyes from the letter and folded it, storing it in a desk drawer.

            “You don’t seem too pleased, love. Certainly it is joyous news, seeing your sister after so long an absence? And the fact she will not be caught up in a war… a relief, indeed!”

            “Oh yes, it certainly is. But I worry… for you.”

            “For me? I most certainly look forward to meeting my sister! A part of your life before I was. I want to hear stories of your childhood and how naughty you were so I can know you all the better, and know what to expect from our child,” she touched her belly, which was already slightly swollen due to her delay in noticing her condition, and she smiled.

            “I know you do, sweetheart.” He stood and walked over to her, sitting next to her on the sofa. “But my sister can be… difficult, if I recall well, and such a prolonged visit from her could affect your nerves. I do not wish for that, certainly not while you carry our child.” He kissed her forehead. “And with three boys running around…”

            His worries weighed with Marianne as well, and hindered her excitement a bit. But fortunately, a few more weeks were to go by before her sister-in-law was to come, enough time for such worries to be forgotten.

 

            The day of Lydia’s arrival was upon them. Marianne made sure all the apartments were perfectly prepared; the kitchens were also quite ready. She wanted Lydia to think her an adequate successor to her mother as mistress of Delaford, and that Christopher was well cared for. Though she was sure Christopher would never say an ill word of her in his letters to his sister, she had a feeling Mrs. Parker would not take his word for it.

            Colonel Brandon traveled to fetch her at the port and Marianne remained at home, her nerves slightly on edge. She hoped all was agreeable. Though she had been mistress of Delaford for nearly a twelvemonth now, and no complaints had ever been received from the various dinner parties given for neighbors and families, every time something different from the usual was to be done, it would distress her slightly. She asked Elinor and Edward to dine with them but alas, Elinor was not feeling well for the evening, being closer to her lying in, and preferred to stay at home. Edward, of course, would see to her. She even invited her Mama back to Delaford, so nervous she was, not minding having so many guests at once if it meant having motherly support. But she could not come back now, only in a month or so, for her first grandchild’s birth.

            At last, Colonel Brandon arrived with his sister and three nephews. The Brandon siblings were already very well reacquainted due to the relatively long ride. Colonel Brandon was already smiling at something one of the boys had said as he came in, but upon seeing Marianne waiting in the foyer, his eyes lit up and he went to her. As not to scandalize the children – though they were born and raised in France – he pressed his lips to her hand instead of her lips, as he always did when he stepped in the house. She smiled to him, still slightly nervous, thinking that the taste of his lips would have definitely been soothing. He held her close at his side as he introduced her to Lydia and the boys: Jean, Calvin and Claude at ages 13, 11 and 8 respectively.

            “Bon soir madame Brandon. Je suis enchanté de faire votre connaisance,” said the eldest. 

            “Bon soir, monsieur. Je suis enchantée aussi.” Marianne smiled.

            “Where did ‘ou learn French, madame? ‘ou speak it verry well,” he changed to English, which he spoke with a heavy accent.

            “Your uncle taught me,” Marianne blushed.

            They were all very civil, and Marianne’s nerves were eased. However, as they all sat in the drawing room and became more acquainted before supper, Marianne couldn’t help but think that the boys had warmed to her rapidly, but their mother still seemed distant and unpleased in sorts, and she could not guess why.

            Supper was announced, and they moved to the table. Conversation was not lacking, though between Lydia and Marianne it had always to be aided by Colonel Brandon. As supper ended, the boys were sent up to bed and the adults moved back into the drawing room for drinks.

            The conversation chiefly revolved around Lydia’s tales of living abroad for so long. That is, until she had had enough wine in her for thoughts that should not be known by anyone to come out. Marianne made a comment about never traveling outside of England and how she would love to someday see some other country when Lydia commented

            “Of course you haven’t been abroad. You are rather young, Marianne.”

            Marianne blushed at this sudden address and just managed to timidly smile and nod.

            “And already with child. Very clever. Now all that needs to be hoped for is for it to be male and then your claim to Delaford will be firmly staked.”

            “Lydia!” Colonel Brandon said in a warning tone. Marianne was very much lost as to what was going on, what had she done to deserve such offense, and was torn between vexation and the wish to not offend her beloved husband’s only living family.

            “Come now, Kit, you must know as well as I that her only interest must be your fortune and estate. I have not forgotten the letters I received from you, your heart broken as she gave your affections no response not so long ago. I find it hard to believe she changed her heart so drastically in such a short period of time.”

            Marianne now felt like she might cry at any moment. Tears pricked her eyes and they were hot in anger and sadness. Her cheeks must certainly burn red, and she remained silent, not finding the words to confront such offense.

            “Lydia, I am warning you…” but Colonel Brandon was cut off by his sister.

            “And she has some resemblance to Eliza. She certainly took advantage of that to work her way into your heart.”

            “Lydia!” Colonel Brandon stood, very irritated, and Marianne stood as well.

            “Excuse me,” she said shyly as to not let tears fall just yet, and she quickly left the room.

            “That was absolutely inacceptable, Lydia!” Colonel Brandon’s voice was very much raised, and Marianne heard him from the corridor where she stood trying to calm herself. “I will not have you speak to my wife like that in any circumstance, much less in her own home where she has graciously accepted to receive you. You will apologize, or you will leave this house.”

            “Kit! You wouldn’t! Throw me out of my childhood home, in the middle of the night no less!”

            “I most certainly would. You will see that I have left Whitwell in a very agreeable state in all the years I have looked after it. You may go there and not suffer any hardships in settling there already. It is not very far and the trip can be made tonight. Or you may board a ship and go back to France for all I care. But I will not have someone who disrespects my wife under my roof. If you disrespect the woman I love, you disrespect me.” Colonel Brandon left the room and sought out Marianne.

He found her sitting in the library, facing the fire. He went in and sat beside her. Her cheeks had tracks of tears which no longer fell.

“Oh, my sweet Marianne. Forgive me.” He pulled her head to his chest and kissed it.

“Thank you, Chris. For defending me. But you needn’t have. She’s your sister, your last living blood relative. You cannot quarrel with her.”

“I will absolutely quarrel with her after all the horrid things she said to you, my love. You are my family. And you gave me sisters and a mother that warmly welcomed me into their house. And if my sister cannot do the same… well, it is utterly her loss.” He kissed her forehead again as she sighed. “Are you well? Is the baby well? What are you doing here? You should lie down, and have some tea to calm your nerves.”

At that moment Violet knocked on the slightly opened door and entered carrying a tray with a teacup. The couple did not stir from their affectionate position and Violet’s lips curled up into a shy smile.

“Thank you, Violet. Please leave it on the table,” Marianne said and the servant set it down on the table next to the sofa.

“Shall I bring you a cup, sir?”

“No thank you, Violet,” Colonel Brandon answered, and Violet left.

“You see, love, one step ahead of you.” Marianne smiled feebly as she pulled away from him to reach her tea.

“I do believe our displays of affection abash the servants,” he said.

“Nonsense. I have heard it talked of. They did not know I was hearing, of course… but they find it sweet. Apparently all the ladies wish they could find a companion as affectionate as you,” she smiled. “As for your questions… I am in here because this is my third favorite room in the house. It soothes me.” She sipped her tea.

“Third favorite? And which ones come above it?”

“Second is the music room, of course.”

“Of course,” he chuckled.

“First is usually our bedchamber, but really, it is anywhere I am in your company.”

He smiled as she set her cup down. “So at this moment the library has made its way to first place?”

“It has,” she gave another feeble smile. He leaned in to kiss her lips, and she reciprocated, her spirits lifting a bit.

“You know, right, my sweet Chris?”

“Know what, my Marianne?” He brushed his lips against her knuckles.

“That I love you. You. With all my heart and soul. And I do not care about riches. It is not why I accepted your proposal at all. If you wished to forgo all this estate and everything else today I would follow you wherever. I would live with you in a cave. I do not care where we are as long as I am with you. I love you. I love you.” She squeezed his hand in despair.

“I know love, I know. If you were only interested in my riches it would have been much easier to win you over, since I am sure Mrs. Jennings revealed my income to you all at your first meeting,” he chuckled.

“Chris, do not jest. You have no idea of how much I regret not having seen your true worth on our first, or even second or third meetings, how much I regret being so rude to you. The time that we could have already been together, the time that was wasted… and until now I could only imagine the hurt I had caused you… but to know you suffered so much that you wrote of it to your sister… I wish…”  She began to cry. “I wish I could take it all back, love.”

He held up her chin to him and wiped away the tears. “Hush now, my sweet Marianne. You have no reason to be sorry. It is all in the past. The amount of joy you have brought me drowns all that happened before it. I cannot even remember any of it.” He leaned in to kiss her lips, deeply. She smiled as they broke apart.

After a brief moment of silence in which she looked down at her lap, she started.

“Is it true? Do you think I resemble Eliza? Is that the reason you love me? I will not care if it is, as long as you love me. Please be candid, Christopher.” Though she had seen Eliza’s portrait, she saw no resemblance.

He held both her shoulders in urgency. “My love, my Marianne. Though it is true that what first astonished me about you was the slight resemblance, after only a few encounters I could already see your own merits, which made me fall deeply, fervently in love. And now, my love, now I can only see you. There is nothing else, no one else, there is only you. Sweet, wonderful, marvelous you. I love you. You. And only you, love of my life. My everything.”

She cupped her hands on his cheeks and smiled widely. “Chris. Sweetest man on this earth. You cannot say such beautiful things to your wife and not follow them with a passionate kiss.”

And so he did.

She broke their kiss in surprise, taking her hand to her swollen abdomen. “Oh. Chris!”

“What is it? Shall I call the doctor? Is all well?” He had worry etched on his countenance. Surely the evening’s events took their toll and her nerves affected the child in her womb.

“All is wonderful, Christopher! Give me your hand!” She took it and touched his palm to her belly. He felt his child move inside her and the warmth that filled his heart felt like nothing he had ever experienced before.

“Has this ever happened before?”

“No, love, it is the first time. I am so glad you were with me to experience it.” The child moved again as he was still touching her stomach. They both laughed joyously.

“Chris, take me upstairs to our bedchamber.” She smiled.

Lydia, who had been by the door hearing all of it, retired before she was seen.

 

****

 

            Marianne was ready before Christopher the next morning. As she sat in his dressing room with him, dreading going downstairs alone and facing his sister, he encouraged her to.

            “You will go and impose yourself as mistress of this household. You need not worry about being rude or disrespectful, since she has been that before you. If she continues to not show respect towards you, you will reinforce my wish for her to leave,” he said as he pulled a shirt from his armoire and dressed himself.

            “Oh no, Christopher, I don’t think I can. She is your sister and…”

            “You are my wife. Go on, sweetheart. I will be right down.” He leaned down to press his lips to hers.

            Marianne entered the breakfast parlor to find Lydia and the boys already at the table.

            “Good morning,” she bid all, a bit stiffly, and sat down.

            “Bonjour, Madame Brandon,” the boys said one after the other in a rather jolly manner, which made her smile.

            “Zid ‘ou sleep vell, Madame?” The eldest, Jean Luc, asked.

            “Very well,” she smiled. “And you, monsieur?”

            “Oui, but I am very excited. Oncle Christope promised he vould take us ‘unting tozay and teach us. Where iz ‘e? Papa never goes ‘unting.”

            “Oh, he’ll be down in a minute. Hunting! How very exciting! I will have the kitchens wait to make supper with whatever you bring us,” Marianne smiled.

            “Zid ‘ou ‘ear that, mama? I will bring ‘ome supper today.”

            “So vill I!” Calvin chided.

            “Yes, yes. My little men will provide for us today,” Lydia smiled. “Now, will you please wait for your uncle outside? I need to speak to… Mrs. Brandon. Take your brother with you for now, and don’t go far!”

            The boys excused themselves and happily ran outside. Marianne felt her stomach churn in fear of what was to be said.

            Lydia sighed. “I wish to apologize for what I said yesterday. I had too much wine, though that is no excuse.” She once again took a breath. “You need to understand that I worry about Kit ever since our mother died. My father and brother did not quite understand and support him, so different were their dispositions. And unfortunately I have more of my father’s and brother’s disposition than I wished to possess… But I have seen how changed he is, how happy you’ve made him. The man smiles now, all the time… I hadn’t seen that in… very long. And it’s all due to you, of course. I should have believed him, he had already said so in his letters, but I chose to worry instead. I am so very sorry. Please forgive me. Let us put it all behind us and start over today, Mrs. Brandon.”

            Marianne smiled. “Marianne, please. Consider it all forgotten.”

            “And I wish, Marianne, to thank you. For restoring my brother’s well-being and providing him with much deserved happiness.”

            There was no opportunity for Marianne to respond as Colonel Brandon walked in. He kissed Marianne’s forehead as he touched her belly and once again felt their child move. They both smiled.  He looked sternly to Lydia and sat down.

            “Kit, forgive me.”

            “It is not my forgiveness you should seek, Lydia.”

            “I have already apologized to Marianne and she was gracious to accept it.” Colonel Brandon looked to his wife and she confirmed with a smile. “But I owe you one as well. I should have never… please forgive me.”

            “Very well,” he nodded, still a bit grave, and bit into his toast.

            “The boys are very excited to go hunting. They are already waiting outside,” Lydia tried.

            “It’s true, love. I said I will have whatever they bring home made for supper.” Marianne smiled and touched his hand on the table. “So you better teach them fast,” she giggled.

            “And what will you ladies do while we are away?” He caressed Marianne’s hand in turn.

            “I thought Marianne might escort me on a walk and show me how the places I recall from childhood have changed. Will you?” Lydia looked to her new sister.

            “Only if you promise to share stories of little Christopher, no matter how embarrassing,” Marianne smiled.

            “But of course! What other purpose would a sister serve than to embarrass a young brother in his new bride’s eyes?” Lydia smiled as well.

            “Very well,” Colonel Brandon said as he rose. “I see I am no longer needed here. Let me go and fetch us supper.”

Chapter Text

 

Colonel Brandon opened his eyes. He lay on his side facing the window and he could see the sun was not up yet, but there was already some light in the horizon. He would have to be up soon, for he had a busy day. There were several disputes amongst the villagers he had to help resolve in addition to his normal daily duties. But for now he could lay there just a bit longer.

            A hand came from behind him and caressed his back before it made its way in between his arm and torso to cross his chest. He smiled.

            Her lips touched his shoulder, making their way up to his neck. She then whispered in his ear

            “Happy name day, sweet Christopher.”

            “I believe there is no name day for sweet Christophers.” He smiled as her hand caressed his chest and pulled her body closer still to his.

            “Then we shall make one. I declare it is today.”

            “Why are you up already? It is too early.”

            “I wished to send you off to your day with happy wishes, my love.” She kissed his cheek. “How do you wish to celebrate your name day?”

            “It is just a normal day like any other.”

            “It is not!”

            “I don’t like name days.”

            “Is that so? Why is it we celebrated mine, then?”

            “You deserve it.”

            “So do you.”

            “It is just a reminder that I am getting older.”

            She wrapped a leg around him and whispered in his ear “And why does that bother you, love, if like a good wine you only get better with age?” She proceeded to nipping his ear.

            He turned to face her and kissed her lips.

            “But we do not need to celebrate it. I never have, really.”

            “Never?” She sounded surprised.

            “Not since I was a boy and my mother was alive.”

            She kissed him in an effort to make old pains go away.

            “Well, we must celebrate it…somehow.” She said as she kissed his cheek and neck and caressed his body. He began to chuckle.

            “What is amusing?”

            “Nothing. I am just wondering how am I to support sixteen children.”

            “Sixteen children?!?”

            “Yes, that is what I calculate we might have given your… appetite.” He grinned.

            She slapped him playfully on his arm. “I will NOT bare sixteen children. And your appetite is as mine, do not blame it all on me!”

            “Do not strike me on my name day. That is not nice.” He smiled and then kissed her lips deeply, which only aroused her further.

            “Well, I can’t very well be impregnated again right now. So you might as well take advantage.” Her hand slipped down to his buttocks as he kissed her deeply once more.

            “I will. Later. I must be off now. You go back to sleep, my love.”

            And that she did, but only while he got dressed, for she had other plans.

 

****

 

            He walked up to the manor, the sun already hiding itself on the horizon. It had been a very long day and he even forgot to go to the greenhouse and make his wife a bouquet as he so often liked to do.

            He walked through the door and the house was silent. He was already late for supper and thought it strange that Marianne did not come meet him at the door and inquire what had kept him. He walked into the dining room and she was standing there with a smile.

            The table was set for two, and her place was set next to his. The lighting was very dim, as she had lit fewer candles than the usual amount used to properly light the room. It made for a romantic atmosphere. She had herself taken care of the flowers he had forgotten to bring, a bouquet being already at the center of the table.

            “Good evening, my darling.” She smiled still.

            “Forgive my tardiness, my love.” He stepped forward to reach her.

            “It is quite all right. It gave me time to finish cooking supper. I was a little behind myself.”

            “You cooked?”

            “Yes. A surprise for you. Well, Mary and the kitchen staff helped quite a bit for I still wanted it to be edible.” She laughed.

            He brushed his lips against hers. “That was very thoughtful of you, but I said there was no need for celebrations.”

            “And I say there is.” She smiled. “You should prepare yourself, there will be more tomorrow.”

            “Tomorrow?”

            “Yes. Elinor and Edward wished to come see you today, but I managed to dissuade them. They will come tomorrow, though. And Mama and Margaret with them. And Lydia and the boys will ride from Whitwell as well.” She kissed him passionately before he could complain. “Elinor insisted on coming. You know how stubborn pregnant women can be.”

            “Yes, I begin to notice,” he smirked.

            “So I invited everyone else.” She smiled and pressed her lips to his again. While she did, she raised a hand she had been hiding behind her back to touch his cheek. Her touch felt different to him, and when their lips parted, he could see her hand was bandaged. He took her hand in his.

            “What happened?” He asked.

            “Oh, I burnt myself.”

            “Burnt yourself?” He sounded alarmed. “Marianne, you could have seriously hurt yourself! And all for nothing, for you do not need to cook.”

            “Not for nothing, to do something special for you. You spoil me every day; I wished to do something for you as well.”

            He kissed her hand numerous times before he said “You do enough for me just by existing, being by my side, and keeping yourself safe.” He stroked her cheek.

            “Well, I wish to do more.”

            “Does it hurt?”

            “Not much. I am fine, love, don’t worry. We are fine.” She touched her belly with her unharmed hand as he kissed the other. “Come, let us eat before the food gets cold.”

            He pulled out her chair but she walked away towards the kitchen.

            “Where are you going?”

            “I am to serve you as well, Colonel Brandon.” She smiled and winked. “Sit.”

            She came back with their plates and set them down on the table. They both began eating and he fed himself with his left hand so he could hold and caress her hand while they had their meal. He pondered on how he had never been pampered before, on how sweet it was that she took the time to learn how to cook just for him when he had been fed by servants or himself all his life, never a meal cooked specially for him. Never a fuss made over a simple thing such as a name day. He loved her so.

            “Is it any good?” She asked.

            “It is wonderful,” he smiled.

            “Be candid, Christopher!”

            “It is wonderful, light of my life. Thank you. If it wouldn’t worry me to death, I would ask you to cook every day. Are you to cook tomorrow for our guests?”

            “No. My cooking is only for you to taste,” she smiled.

            “I am honored.” He kissed her hand.

            “If I were to cook for that many people, I believe I would have to start right now,” she laughed and he joined in with her.

            When they were finished and she had taken the plates back into the kitchens, Colonel Brandon started

            “Shall we retire? I believe you had a proposition I did not fulfill this morning.” He arched an eyebrow and smiled.

            “Not yet. I’ve baked you a cake as well.”

            “My Marianne, the busy little bee. I very much enjoy cake.”

            “Well, you will have to wait. First…”

            She reached to the chair next to her and pulled up two parcels, and set them in front of him.

            “What is this?” He smiled.

            “Presents. Have you never gotten one, my love?” She asked playfully.

            “Yes. It did not come wrapped, though.”

            “You only ever got the one?” She asked, her heart heavy with the thought he was never presented with a gift or pampered, not even as a child.

            “To my recollection, yes. It was the only one I ever needed. You are my gift from the heavens.”

            Her heart swelled with love. She stood and walked over to him, cupping her hands on his cheeks and kissing him deeply. “I hope you enjoy these.” She said after their lips parted and smiled, sitting back down.

            He proceeded to opening the first parcel. It was a cravat, silk, gray in color. She had sewed it herself.

            “You only have black ones. I thought you would look quite handsome in gray.”

            He reached to caress her hand. “I shall never take it off.”

            “I shall. Often,” she said flirtatiously.

            He chuckled and proceeded to opening the second, smaller parcel. It was a pair of gold cufflinks, and they were each engraved with his initials in fine penmanship. Discretely, beside the initials, two intertwined hearts.

            “So you’ll always carry my heart with you.”

            Leaving the presents on the table, he pushed his chair back and took her hand, pulling her to stand and go to him. She did, and he sat her on his lap. Holding her close, he kissed her cheek and said

            “Thank you. I love it all. I love you most of all.” He kissed her cheek again and she turned her lips to his.

            “Do you enjoy celebrating your name day now?”

            “I do. Will this be a recurring event?”

            “Is not one’s name day a recurring event?”

            “But will you burn yourself every time as well?” He kissed her bandaged hand.

            “I will be careful not to.”

            “Come, let us go upstairs so I can tend to your hand.” He kissed it again.

            “To my hand? But it is fine, love, truly.”

            His lips were moving up her arm. He paused and with the rise of an eyebrow said “I will be the judge of that.”

            She giggled. “But we haven’t had cake yet.”

            “We can have cake for breakfast.”

Chapter Text

It was a rather quiet day at Delaford manor. Mrs. Dashwood and Margaret were visiting, but due to the closeness of Elinor’s lying in, they preferred to spend most of their days in the parsonage to be of aid to Elinor, though Margaret always came to the manor in the evenings to spend the night. To avoid chaos and stirring Elinor’s nerves, the Brandons would only visit once a day and return to the quietness of their home with the promise that should they be needed, the Ferrars’ man would go fetch them at once, whatever the time, day or night.

            It was midafternoon and Colonel Brandon and Marianne sat idly in their drawing room. Marianne now sought to finish all her tasks for the day in the mornings, for her condition already made a bit tired in the afternoons to accomplish anything. Colonel Brandon was always perfectly content in aiding her, and rushing through his duties himself so he could sit with her and make her company. Thus, afternoons were quietly spent in the manor.

            She sat, reclined into his chest, her feet up on the sofa, as he embraced her and made her comfortable against him. They would usually each have something to read, but today they just sat in silence enjoying each other’s company, with the occasional comment about something or other and sweet nothings whispered into one another’s ear.

            Marianne had just made a remark about how they should begin to prepare to go for their daily visit to Elinor and how she could use the walk when a servant burst in the room, followed by and upset Ruth, saying that it was time, the Ferrar’s child was coming into the world, and they would very much like their support and presence. Colonel Brandon and Marianne rose at once and followed the servant to the extremely busy parsonage.

            It all started as expected. The ladies all tended to Elinor as her birthing pains came and went in large intervals, and the Colonel and Edward sat in the drawing room, waiting and drinking. Colonel Brandon thought, in the back of his mind as he conversed with Edward and tried to keep him calm, that he would like nothing better than to be in the room when his child was born, and he hoped Marianne would allow it and no one else would keep him from it. He would never be able to sit calmly outside, not seeing what was happening, how Marianne was. His nerves would probably end him before he saw his child.

            But as the afternoon faded into evening, the birth did not progress well. Elinor was in much pain and no one had the means to assess what was wrong.

            As Elinor’s pain grew, her screams did so as well, louder and more torturous. Edward had all the blood drained from his face and looked like he was going to be sick at any moment. Each scream was a piece of his heart that seemed to be torn from him. He would raise his hands to his face and run them through his hair, almost pulling it out in despair. Colonel Brandon could not fulfill his duties of keeping him calm properly, for he himself was nervous, for Elinor of course, since she was his dear sister, but also – and maybe more so, as one’s heart is always biased – for Marianne, who was in there witnessing all this suffering, and who would herself be in child birth in a few months. This could not be good for her nerves, and her nerves being altered, the baby could also suffer.

            And what if something were to happen to Elinor? How horrible it would be, and sadness would certainly affect the whole family, but how would it affect Marianne’s disposition? Most horribly, for sure. He wondered if he would ever regain his sweet and merry Marianne after such a blow.

            Another torturous scream and Colonel Brandon was glad to be required to fetch the doctor, further in the village, for the midwife needed assistance. He would be away from that despair if only for a while. As he made his way hurriedly through the houses, he remembered the screams he heard as a small boy, coming from his mother’s chambers, as she was birthing what was to be his youngest sister. Alas, neither of them, his mother or sister, survived the ordeal, and he was left virtually alone in this world, for his Mama was the one who most understood him, his disposition, while his father favored the eldest son, who was much more like him. His older sister was caught perfectly in between, but was not able to do much to defend him and his opinions and preferences once their mother had passed, though she very much tried.

            He came back with the doctor as Marianne exited the room where Elinor suffered to give Edward an update, and he was fortunate to hear the news. It seemed the baby was not in the proper position to exit, which caused her greater discomfort and more bleeding than what was the norm, but the midwife was doing what could be done to bring the child to the proper position, and the doctor would certainly do what he could to ease the pain.

            Marianne was extremely sweaty, had blood on her apron and hands, and looked frightened, though she tried to hide it. Colonel Brandon pulled her into another room as she was ready to return to Elinor.

            “Marianne, do you not think it best for you to wait out of the room? Elinor is well cared for, by your mother and the midwife, and you, in your condition… it cannot be good for you to witness all of this.”

            “Christopher! My sister needs me. I would not be anywhere else but beside her right now, as I am sure she would for me.”

            “But Marianne, please hear me…”

            “No, Christopher! And do not suggest such a thing again.” And out she went to return to her sister’s side.

            Colonel Brandon was left to sit with Edward and watch as worry consumed him. The house had grown quiet now, and one could wonder if the lack of screams was a good or bad sign. Colonel Brandon’s mind began to drift and it stumbled upon a thought he had been suppressing and avoiding ever since Marianne was discovered to be with child. What if she suffered as Elinor suffered? He would not bear to hear her in such a state. Worse yet, what if she died, as his mother had? That was too grisly a thought to entertain. A world without his Marianne was not a world worth living in. That could not, it would not, happen. His thoughts were cut off by the return of Elinor’s screaming. Good. At least she was alive. After a minute or two, a baby crying could be heard, and Edward’s countenance was one of such relief as the Colonel had never seen in a man, not even one who had avoided death in the war.

            It was several more minutes before Marianne appeared once again before them, looking rather tired, with dried blood on her arms and even some spots on her cheeks. But the look of relief was also on her countenance, the fear in her eyes had faded.

            “She is well. She will need much rest, but she is not in danger. And you have a beautiful baby boy, Edward.”

            Edward smiled, the first smile Colonel Brandon had seen in hours.

            “She asked for you. They are cleaning her up, but she asked to see you.”

            “Thank you, Marianne. Thank you.” And Edward rushed up the stairs.

            Marianne looked at her husband, tears pricking her eyes, and he opened his arms to welcome her in an embrace. She snuggled up to him and sighed deeply against his chest as he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her forehead.

 

******

 

            After a long and well deserved warm bath, Marianne went to bed. Her husband was already in it, the room mostly dark but for the crackling fire in the hearth, and she presumed him to be asleep. She tucked herself under the covers beside him, but did not snuggle close to him as she usually did, as not to wake him. She turned her back to him and pulled up the covers to her shoulders, trying to get cozy as she knew she could not be without being in his arms, so she could fall asleep.

            She felt him pull himself closer to her and breathe in the smell of her freshly washed hair and skin.

            “Marianne,” he whispered in her ear. And she smiled. “Marianne,” he said again, and she could hear as his voice broke a little this time, and she felt hot tears wet her cheeks. They were not her tears.

            “Christopher?” And she could now distinctively hear him crying as more tears fell on her cheeks and neck. She turned to face him and caressed his cheeks, wiping away whatever tears she could.

            “What is it, Chris? What is wrong?”

            “Marianne… promise me, swear to me that if something were to go wrong at the birth of our child, you will fight, fight like your sister did today, fight to live. That you will not leave me.” His voice broke again.

            She touched her forehead to his and continued to caress his cheeks, his hair, as he tried to hold back his tears and breathe so not to sob.

            “Promise me you won’t leave me. Never. Never. I cannot, I will not go on without you. I cannot. I cannot.” Tears still flowed down his cheeks and wet her nose as she rubbed it against his.

            “Hush, Chris. I promise, love. I promise. For I want more time with you. So much more time. We haven’t had nearly enough. I wish to see your face when you hold our child for the first time. I wish to fill at least half of the spare rooms in this house with beautiful children who have your eyes. I will see you grow old and gray and the lines on your face deepen.” She smiled, but tears were coming to her as well. “We will see our grandchildren running around in our gardens, sweet Christopher, and when the time comes, many, many years from now, we will leave this world together, in peace, in our sleep, for I cannot bear to live without you either, my love. We were made for each other, you see, and it would be inhumanly cruel to ask one to leave the other. It will not happen. I won’t allow it.” She was crying more than him now, for her words had calmed him down. “So you see, my love, I have plenty to fight for. I will not leave you. And don’t you ever leave me. Promise.”

            “I swear it,” he said, and he touched his lips to hers. And in each other’s arms, they slept through the night.

 

Chapter Text

 

It had been almost a twelvemonth since their wedding. Colonel Brandon had business to tend to in London and he was required to stay a fortnight or more.

            “A fortnight? Oh, Christopher, that is too long. Can’t it be done in less time?”

            “I´m afraid not.”

            “I will miss you terribly.”

            They had never been apart for so long. London did not have any fascination for either of them, due to the events of when they last visited. The Colonel was dealing with Eliza’s misfortune and Marianne had her own hardships with Willoughby. But he must go. And he did not wish to stay away from his wife so long, especially since their anniversary would be during said time. He was also concerned of leaving her pregnant of their first child and unattended for so long.

            “Would you like to come with me?”

            “To London?” She felt some excitement at the prospect of not being away from him for so long, but London had no appeal to her.

            “Won’t I be in your way? You do have business to tend to.”

            He leaned towards her on the sofa on which they sat. One hand around her shoulder, the other on her swollen abdomen, he kissed her forehead. “You could never be in my way. I will be in meetings most days, but at least I would be able to be with you in the evenings. That would help me not miss you, both of you,” he rubbed her belly, “so terribly.”

            She smiled and laid her head on his shoulder, making herself cozier.

            “You might have more fun than last time,” he tried.

            “What would I do all day, away from my responsibilities here? I shall be bored all day until you come home. But it is better than sitting here alone for a fortnight, missing you.”

            “I am sure you will find something to keep occupied. Besides, I have heard Mrs. Jennings is in town. She can keep you some company.”

            Marianne rolled her eyes. “Oh dear God, have mercy.” Colonel Brandon laughed heartedly. “Don’t laugh! It is truly a taxing task, spending too much time with her. Oh dear, she will want to take me shopping for fabric for baby clothes and everything baby related. I declare our child will have nothing we picked out! She will meddle with everything.”

            When Colonel Brandon managed to stop laughing a bit, he started

            “My love, I’m sure she will be very busy trying to marry off Margaret. Have you forgotten she took her and your mother along?”  

“You are right! I had forgotten.”

“You might spend time with your mother and sister.”

“Yes, it will be a jolly trip.”

 

******

 

On their first day in London, Colonel Brandon already had business to take care of. Seeing as their London home hadn’t been open for a long time – she had actually never been there – Marianne stayed in and made all the necessary arrangements along with Violet for them to be comfortable. She managed to have her mother and sister over for tea in the afternoon, and as Mrs. Jennings had a friend to visit and wasn’t home, they ended up staying the night with Marianne and Colonel Brandon.

Over the next few days, Marianne had pleasant visits with Mrs. Jennings and Margaret and Mrs. Dashwood. They had even gone shopping, and as predicted by Marianne, Mrs. Jennings insisted on buying a number of baby items to gift her and the Colonel. And some for her to take back to Elinor and baby Henry as well. But as her husband had predicted, it was not as overwhelming as Marianne had thought, for as long as Mrs. Jennings encountered acquaintances with young, eligible boys of Margaret’s age, her attentions were turned to her match making interests.

There were a couple of days when the Colonel was relieved of his commitments sooner than expected, and he was able to take his wife for walks around town and they even did some shopping of their own.

There came a day when they were invited to a ball. Marianne was not very excited at the prospect of going, but it was necessary. One of Colonel Brandon’s army companions had invited, and not attending would be considered rude. The Colonel was not eager to go either, especially since the night of the ball was that of their anniversary.

“Forgive me, my sweet, for having to put you through this ordeal,” he said, as they both got dressed for the evening to come.

“Nonsense, Christopher. If we must, we must. Sooner or later we would be expected to attend an event like this. If the old hags want to whisper behind my back, let them. It has been a long time, perhaps some other event has taken place that has made them all forget about my last London ball.” She was very agitated as she spoke to him and dressed herself. She opened her jewelry box and took out a pair of earrings and a bracelet, emerald and diamonds. “Besides, I cannot remember the last time I danced with my loving husband, and I look forward to that.” She went over to him, who stood in front of the looking glass fixing his cravat and cufflinks, and stood on the tips of her toes to kiss his cheek. He smiled, and as she was turning away from him, he pulled her back to him and brushed his lips against hers. “I am determined to have fun,” she said smiling.

She sat on a highback chair to put on her earrings. He walked over to his armoire and took out a relatively thin and flat box, covered in black velvet. She did not see it until he was kneeling down in front of her, for she was looking down at her wrists, trying to close the clasp of her bracelet.

“Christopher, what is this, my love?”

“A present. For our twelvemonth anniversary.”

“Oh, my sweet Christopher, when will you stop spoiling me?”

“Well, let me think. I believe… never,” he smiled.

She cupped her gloved hands on his cheeks and leaned down to kiss his lips. After they broke apart, as she stroked his cheeks, she said

“I didn’t get you anything, my dear.”

“You are wrong,” he said as he rubbed her belly, planting a kiss there. “You have given me the happiest year of my life.” Their lips met again.

“Well, let us see!” She said excited as she opened the box which was placed on her lap.

It was a beautiful necklace. It had two strings of pearls connected to a large emerald. The stone was surrounded by diamonds.

“Oh Christopher! It is beautiful! It must have cost a fortune!”

“Anything for you, my love,” he said as he got up and gave her his hand to help her up from the chair.

She walked to the mirror and stood facing it as he stood behind her and latched on the necklace. It went perfectly with her dark green dress.

“Yes, we shall have fun tonight.” She smiled, tracing the piece of jewelry on her neck.

 

******

The carriage arrived in front of the manor where the ball was to be held. The door was opened and Colonel Brandon stepped down before Marianne, so he could help her down before the coachman offered to. While she took his hand to step down, he kissed it and she smiled at him. He then placed her hand in the nook of his arm and escorted her to the house.

From the moment they got out of the carriage, Marianne felt as if she was being watched. It was a very crowded room, with many people they had never met. They were indeed being watched, but it was not for the reasons she suspected. Mrs. Jennings, very proud of her match making abilities, had taken to the habit of saying the Brandons were the happiest couple in all of England, and that she had had a hand in it. Even though they tried to be very conscious about being proper in public, a love that great could not be so easily contained, and one display of affection or another certainly caught the curious eye, even if just an exchanged look or smile. That certainly had helped the rumor grow. Everyone wished to see the joyous couple.

They made their way through the rooms, and Colonel Brandon introduced her to whatever army or business companions she had not yet met. Once they found Mrs. Dashwood and Miss Margaret along with Mrs. Jennings, Colonel Brandon left his treasured wife to their care, so he could talk amongst the men, but every once in a while he would go back to check on her and be in her presence, even if just for a few moments, for he could not bear to be away from her too long.

In one of his walks between his group of friends and where Marianne sat, an old acquaintance, a widow, stopped to converse with him. Marianne, upon seeing said lady being very chatty with her husband, walked over to him, so she could be introduced. When he felt her hand on his arm, he took to the task immediately.

“Mrs. Ferguson, allow me to introduce you to my better half, Mrs. Marianne Brandon.”

“A pleasure,” Marianne said, curtsying.

“Charmed,” said Mrs. Ferguson.

After the common pleasantries, Marianne and the Colonel left Mrs. Ferguson and took a turn about the assembly, though it was so crowded that it made it no easy feat.

“Very friendly, that Mrs. Ferguson, is she not?”

He noticed her tone of jealousy. “Could this be? Have I lived to see the day Marianne Brandon is jealous of her poor old husband?” He teased her with a smile.

She blushed. “Well, she was very chatty. Almost as if she had… known you quite well, before.”

He chuckled. “You have nothing to worry about. I only have eyes for you.”

She smiled. “I am very glad. That is all I need. No, I lie. Your hands, I am very fond of them also. May I have them all to myself?”

They were both smiling. “But of course, my dear,” he caressed her hand as it rested on his arm.

“And your lips!” She said in a lower tone. “I shall have them also.”

He chuckled and leaned down to her ear “I am all yours, light of my life.”

“I love you very much,” she said in return.

He led her back to her group, where some new acquaintances had been made and added, and not far from them, he found a lieutenant that had served with him in the Indies, and stopped to chat.

As Marianne sat amongst her mother, her younger sister, Mrs. Jennings and their new acquaintances, something quite unexpected happened. Marianne Brandon had worried about a great deal of things for this evening. She had worried everyone would watch her and remember her last appearance in London society. She had worried that might cause shame to her husband. She worried they would have to stay for too long, when all she wanted was to be at home alone with him on their anniversary. She even worried she might become indisposed due to her condition, and therefore worry her husband. She did NOT, however, think she would see Willoughby, let alone that he would have the audacity of coming to her.

He said hello to everyone individually, at least the ladies he knew. They all sat staring unblinkingly, in disbelief.

“Marianne,” he reached out his hand to take hers.

She too sat in shock for a moment. Colonel Brandon saw Willoughby, and impulsively he left the lieutenant he talked to and went to his wife. He did this not so much out of jealousy, for she had proven time and time again she loved him. He did it out of fear that the shock or outrage would cause some harm to her and their unborn child. As he approached them from behind Marianne, he could hear her say

“Mr. Willoughby, you will do me the courtesy of addressing me properly as Mrs. Brandon.”

Colonel Brandon felt a rush of pride. Marianne did not take Willoughby’s hand.

“Of course, Mrs. Brandon, forgive me,” Willoughby said, feeling a bit embarrassed and returning his hand to join his other, behind his back. His pride was wounded. He thought she would still react to him. He wanted it, needed it.

“How do you do, Mr. Willoughby?” She asked politely, but coldly. Colonel Brandon’s hand was now on her shoulder.

“I am well. And you, Mrs. Brandon? Colonel Brandon,” he bowed, acknowledging his presence. Colonel Brandon gave a slight nod and said nothing, his gaze piercing and cold.

“I am very well. And Mrs. Willoughby? Could she not attend today?”

“She is well. She is about the room, mingling.”

After an awkward moment of silence, of Willoughby discretely staring at Marianne’s protuberate stomach in what seemed to be disbelief, Marianne broke the silence.

“Dear husband,” this made Colonel Brandon break his gaze at Willoughby and look down to her, “I do believe you still owe me a dance.” She smiled up at him.

“Indeed, I do. Shall we?” He offered his hand for support, and as she stood, she said “pray excuse us” not to Willoughby but to the group as a whole. Colonel Brandon escorted her to the dance floor and as they were waltzing, at a safe distance from the group, he asked

“Are you well, my Marianne?”

“Yes, quite.” She smiled up at him. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“I though perhaps encountering him would make you… feel something.”

“My Love, are you jealous now?” She smiled. “The only thing I felt was shock at his audacity. Especially after last time. I am yours, I’ve told you.”

“I know. I love you. I would very much like to kiss you right now.”

“Well you are going to have to hold your will or we will shock all of England. It would be scandalous.” She laughed.

“A bit of a scandal is good every once in a while.” He laughed as well.

“Oh dear, I do believe your child has just kicked. I think she likes the sound of her father laughing.”

“She?”

“I think it is a girl. Would you be truly upset if it was?”

“I did not marry with the intention of producing an heir, sweet Marianne. I had come to terms with the thought that Delaford would go to Lydia’s sons long before I met you. You can give birth to as many girls as you like, my dear.” He smiled.

“Another kick! Would you like to feel it?” She asked, not waiting for an answer and taking his hand to her stomach. She knew how much he enjoyed feeling it, being a part of this somehow.

“Mrs. Brandon, how scandalous!”

“A little scandal never hurt anyone,” she smiled. “Do we still have to stay long?” She said as they continued dancing.

“Not long. I still wish to kiss you,” he smiled a mischievous smile, “and I plan on achieving such a goal soon.”

As they danced and laughed, Willoughby watched from afar, his eyes filled with envy, his pride wounded, as his own unfeeling wife approached him. And he wondered what might have been.

Chapter Text

Marianne sat in the kitchen with Violet, making a list of the supplies they would still need for the few days that still remained of their stay in London. She heard the front door and assumed it was Christopher, though it was still early for him to be home, if one took previous days for comparison. When he did not come looking for her, to say hello and give her a kiss as he always did, she thought it strange.

            She got up, leaving her list with the servant and sending her out for the supplies, and looked around the downstairs of their home for her husband. He was not in his study, nor in the sitting room. The dining room was empty.

            Going up the stairs was quickly becoming more tiring than it should be for her, so she avoided it. She therefore called for him from the bottom of the stairs. He quickly appeared atop it, smiling.

            “Hello, my angel.”

            “Chris, why did you sneak in without giving me my kiss?” She asked, rubbing her belly.

            “Because, my love,” he replied coming down the steps two at a time, “I have a surprise for you.” He got to her and kissed her lips tenderly. “Hello,” he smiled, and touched her belly to feel their child moving.

            “Hello, love. Surprise? What is it?”

            “It is in our bedchamber. Come see,” he offered his arm. She took it and sighed, gathering courage to climb the steps. He escorted her patiently to their chamber’s door, which was closed. He stopped her in front of it and kissed her cheek before standing behind her and covering her eyes with one hand. He gently nudged her forward and opened the door, but his hand remained over her eyes, leaving her in suspense.

            “Christopher, stop teasing me!” She said with a smile.

            With his hand still over her eyes, he came closer to her, breathing on her neck, smelling her hair. He then kissed her shoulder, going up to her neck. His hand then fell from her eyes, but at this point she had closed them for herself and did not see what lay on their bed. She turned to him and pressed her lips against his.

            “Do you not want to see the surprise anymore?”

            “Yes. But I’m sure it will not be better than this.” She pressed her lips against his again.

            When their lips parted, he smiled, and only then did she turn to see the red evening gown that lay on their bed.

            “Oh, Christopher! It’s beautiful! But where will I wear it?”

            “Perhaps tonight,” he embraced her from behind.

            “Tonight?” She snuggled closer into him. They fit together perfectly and effortlessly.

            “Yes. I thought you might enjoy going to the opera.”

            “The opera? How joyous!” She smiled and took one of his hands in hers and kissed it.

            “And I took the liberty of inviting your mother and Margaret. Mrs. Jennings does not enjoy the opera but gladly relinquished their company for tonight.”

            “Of course she does not enjoy the opera. She enjoys nothing more than to hear the sound of her own voice,” Marianne said.

            “Marianne, be nice!” He chuckled.

 

****

 

            Marianne wore the red dress he had gifted her. Around her neck, the locket with his portrait she hadn’t worn in a while, because he was never away anymore – thank goodness. The locket was strapped to a red velvet ribbon. Colonel Brandon wore a red cravat, matching her dress.

            Margaret and Mrs. Dashwood were delighted to be going to the opera. Although Mrs. Dashwood had been once before with her late husband, it had been long ago, and Margaret was excited for she, as Marianne, had never been.

            Their carriage arrived at the Royal Opera House and Colonel Brandon stepped out, aiding his wife out, followed by her mother and sister. As they made their way through the crowd, many heads turned to see the Brandons, for they made for a handsome couple. Also, Marianne in her dress was stunning, the cause of envy for many ladies.

            They were lucky enough to have a box to themselves. Margaret and her mother sat in front while Colonel Brandon and Marianne sat behind them. As the show commenced, the loudness of the chatter of hundreds of people died out, and silence rapidly took over. All eyes were on the stage, as were Marianne’s, who held opera glasses up to her eyes and watched the performers, but Colonel Brandon only had eyes for his wife. He figured that the box and the fact that his mother-in-law and sister were sitting in front of them with their attentions turned to the show would provide the privacy needed so he could push his chair closer to his wife’s, and so he did.

            “You look ravishing in that dress,” he whispered in her ear. She smiled and blushed, her cheeks almost as red as her clothes. She then lowered the glasses and turned to him, lightly pressing her lips on his. She then rubbed her nose on his and whispered “thank you.”

            From a box across from theirs, a pair of eyes watched, opera glasses not directed at the show being presented on the stage below, but at the box the Brandons occupied. They watched as Colonel Brandon caressed his wife’s cheek with his knuckles as she paid attention to the stage. They watched as Marianne handed over the glasses to her husband for him to watch the show and smiled widely at him. When he handed them back, she took his hand and kissed it before turning her attention to the show once more. The eyes watched as, after a while, the Colonel leaned in to smell his wife’s hair and proceeded to rub his nose on her cheek as she smiled, still watching the stage. His lips then met the porcelain skin of her cheek, and her hand went up to his hair and stroked it, all while she still watched the show.

 

            During intermission, Colonel Brandon stepped out to find a friend he had spotted before the show had begun. He invited Marianne to accompany him, but as she became easily tired now due to her condition, she preferred to sit with her sister and mother while he went.

            Marianne chatted with Margaret and Mrs. Dashwood when, suddenly, someone stepped into their box and pulled the curtains closed. Before any of the ladies could process what was happening, Willoughby sat next to Marianne with an awfully urgent look on his face.

            “What are you doing here?!” Marianne asked, alarmed.

            “Marianne,” he gripped her right forearm, “please say it isn’t so.”

            “I thought I had made it clear that you are to address me properly, as Mrs. Brandon.”

            “Say it isn’t true!” He shook her in his urgency.

            “Let go of me, you are hurting me,” she cried.

            Mrs. Dashwood and Margaret stood there in shock, not knowing quite what to do, afraid of what Willoughby might do, or what might happen if Colonel Brandon entered at this moment.

            “Please, answer me, Marianne.” Willoughby sounded desperate.

            “What on earth do you mean?” She tried to escape his grip and was very much vexed.

            “Do you love him? Truly?”

            “Love him? My husband? Of course I love him! Why would I have married him if I did not? And why is that any of your business?” Marianne was outraged, her voice raised.

            At the mention of Colonel Brandon, Margaret thought to go get him. Only he could scare Willoughby away, and hopefully his good sense and gentlemanly ways would prevent him from harming Willoughby here, in front of the whole of London’s society.

            “No, no, it can’t be. Forgive me. I forced you into this. My actions made you have to accept that old goat as a husband, use him for his money, and…”

            The palm of her free hand met his cheek with amazing force for a lady, and then it came back, meeting his other cheek with the back of it, the diamond in her ring cutting his lip. His shock made him let go of her arm.

            “Marry for money? Excuse me, I believe you mistake me for the likes of you. And that is my husband you are talking about. He is a hundred times the man you could ever be, Mr. Willoughby, so don’t you dare say an ill word about him or presume to think you know of my heart.”

            Willoughby looked at her, deeply hurt and surprised at her actions and words, but Marianne was unfazed by his expression.

            “Mr. Willoughby, I think it best for you to leave. Colonel Brandon will be back at any moment. Things will not play out well for you then,” Mrs. Dashwood said, irritated by the way he was treating her daughter and by his persistency.

            Willoughby did not even flinch at Mrs. Dashwood’s mention of Colonel Brandon. Instead, he still watched Marianne and had one more question.

            “Do you love him more than you loved me?” He once again touched her arm.

            Marianne was extremely annoyed, outraged at how improper of him it was to be having this conversation with her. She needed to be definitive, put a stop to this once and for all.

            “As I said, Christopher is a hundred times the man you ever were or could ever be. I love him with all my heart, whereas you, I never truly loved. That was only blind infatuation. Now unhand me.”

            And that he did. He got up and looked at her one last time before disappearing behind the curtains of their box.

            It wasn’t too long before Margaret came back with Colonel Brandon. As he rushed in, he saw Mrs. Dashwood sitting with Marianne, talking to her, probably trying to calm her nerves.

            “Where is he?” He asked, his anger becoming evident.

            “He just left,” Marianne said, her cheeks crimson as her dress, a sign of her own outrage. It was only then he noticed she was rubbing her forearm, which had a palm print around it, also red. The hand that rubbed it had blood on its fingers.

            “He hurt you?!” He asked, kneeling next to her and caressing her arm himself.

            “It’s fine, my love. I’m alright.”

            “I will kill him,” he said as he stood up and turned to leave, presumably to look for Willoughby.

            “Christopher,” she cried as she got hold of his arm, “Kill him? And leave your wife alone with your child while you go off to prison? You will do no such thing!” He turned back, still clearly infuriated. “Please love, calm down. Don’t let him ruin our evening.” She pulled him to take his place next to her as her mother stood.

            “He already has,” he said as he sat down.

            “He has not.” She caressed his cheek and pushed back a lock of hair that fell on his forehead, not caring that her mother and sister were watching. “He is so insignificant, it has already been forgotten.”

            The show was about to begin once more and Margaret and Mrs. Dashwood took their seats, relieved Colonel Brandon had seemingly calmed down and was not to pursue Willoughby. But Marianne could see her husband was not yet calm. She took her hand to his cheek and turned his gaze away from the stage to face her. She caressed one cheek as she kissed the other and then pressed her forehead to his as she stroked his hair. He breathed more easily, and moved to kiss her forehead. He then took her arm and looked at the red mark on it, which began to fade. He caressed and kissed it.

            “Are you calmer now, sweet Christopher?” She whispered.

            “You are bleeding,” he took her hand.

            She looked at it, surprised, but then understanding came to her. “This is not my blood. I must have cut him when I struck him.”

            Colonel Brandon’s heart filled with a sudden wave of pride. He couldn’t help it.

            “You struck him?”    

            “Of course. How dare he come here and talk to me as such. And say an ill word of you! I would not have it.”

            “If I ever run into him again, I will not guarantee his safety. I will not answer for myself, Marianne. He put his hands on you. He hurt you. The blaggard.”

            “I don’t think he will ever bother us again.”

            “Why is that?”

            “I said some things I believe he did not wish to hear.”

            He would never ask, for fear of displaying his insecurities, but Marianne could see he was intrigued. When it came to Willoughby, he always had some insecurity, even if deep down inside. She smiled at him and kissed his hands, one after the other.

            “I merely made it clear to him that I love you and am happier than I could ever have thought it possible to be in this life. Apparently he had his doubts about it. He seemed discouraged after that.”

            Colonel Brandon smiled.

            “Now my dear, “ she said as she picked up the opera glasses from her lap with one hand but still held one of his hands with the other, “let us enjoy the rest of the show.”

Chapter Text

Colonel Brandon came in to find his wife sitting on a sofa in the parlor. She looked very tired and slightly vexed, and being so close to her lying-in, it was very comprehensible.

            He had gradually changed his schedule and delegated all the tasks he could to trustworthy servants and people in their circle to spend more and more time with her for the weeks they had been back from London. However, some urgent business had emerged today and he had dealt with it as hurriedly as he possibly could, so he could come back to her side again.

            He approached her and placed a kiss on her forehead. “How are you, my sweet?”

            “I am as big as the cows in our fields, that is how I am.” She rubbed her very swollen belly and shifted in her seat trying to make herself more comfortable.

            He smiled. “I should roam our fields more often then, for I do not remember ever seeing as lovely a creature as you out there.” He sat on the ottoman on which she rested her feet placing them to rest upon his thighs.

            “Stop flattering me, Christopher. I know how I look. You must have ridden elephants smaller than I in the Indies,” she huffed.

            He chuckled as he pulled off her shoes and began to massage her feet. “You, my love, look divine. Like the gorgeous angel you are.”

            “How can you be so sweet when I’ve been in such a foul mood? I treat you horribly at times, you certainly have grown tired of me.”

            “Never have you been horrible to me, love, and never will I ever tire of you. That is truly impossible.”

            “I know I have been very vexing lately, Christopher.”

            “I love you in any mood, shape or size. I just want to be of help. What can I do for you?”

            “Well, that massage is very nice,” she smiled, the first time that day, he thought. “And you may also tell your child to come out and meet us and ease mummy’s discomfort.” She again rubbed her belly.

            “Well, if he or she has mummy’s disposition, they will come out when they want to and not a moment sooner.” He smiled at her discouraged countenance. “But I suppose that very same disposition will make them very eager to meet us and see the world, so it shan’t take long.”

            Colonel Brandon continued to rub her feet in silence, always with a smile for her, admiring his lovely wife and musing about how impossibly happy he was. Such happiness could not fit into his chest. And suddenly, the possibility of complications during the child’s birth, the possible outcomes that would destroy said happiness in a heartbeat; all these thoughts flooded his mind and heart. He quickly tried to push them away by engaging her in conversation again.

            “Where are Mrs. Dashwood and Margaret?” He asked.

            “I fortunately persuaded them to go dote on Elinor and little Henry for a while. I needed the peace and quiet a bit. I know it is all done with love and concern for my well-being, but I am still able to do a few things for myself…”

            Mrs. Dashwood and Margaret had been at Delaford for the past fortnight, waiting for Marianne’s lying-in and taking over the household with the sole purpose of being helpful to Marianne. She loved her mother and sister, but her condition made their love and care seem very overwhelming. They had hardly been to visit Elinor and her baby, so much was their concern for Marianne. So she was grateful for the few moments of peace, and she reassured them that should she need them, she would send for them immediately.

            “Is my presence vexing, sweetheart?” He asked half in jest but also slightly worried, especially since he hoped to be in the room with her when she went through this. He wanted to be a part of it, he wanted to be of help, and he hoped to God she would allow it when the irritation and pain that certainly came with the ordeal started to affect her already variable mood.

            “Not you, love. Never you.” She smiled. “I’m glad that Whitwell is close enough that Lydia felt she did not need to stay here and that Mrs. Jennings is held back in London. I don’t think my nerves could take such a crowded home at this moment,” Marianne sighed.

            “I love you, my Marianne.” He smiled as his hands glided up her legs.

            “I love you as well, sweet Christopher,” she smiled once more. “And I miss you,” she remembered as the warmth of his hands reached her knees.

            “Perhaps we should turn in earlier?” He suggested with a grin.

            “Are you sure?” She asked.

            “That you need even ask shows me I’ve been remiss,” he said as he put her feet down and helped her up.

           

 

            Marianne slept with her back to Christopher’s chest, with a smile on her face. It had been a very difficult task to find a position in which it was comfortable for her to sleep, as it had been every night for the past month or so. But Christopher had been understanding, as ever, and done his best to accommodate her needs. So much so that now she slept comfortably lying on half his chest and one of his arms while he slept, though not so comfortably.

            They had retired early, and after some much needed alone time had been spent, where whatever tender caresses that could be exchanged and whatever tender words of adoration and love that could be said were, they had fallen asleep. Colonel Brandon had made it abundantly clear that she was as beautiful and desirable as ever, and that if he had not sought her for a while now, it was because he had her comfort and well-being at heart.

            The Brandons were already retired when Margaret and Mrs. Dashwood came back from the parsonage, so they too retired early, soon after they walked through the door.

            The household was quiet when Marianne awoke with a sharp pain to her belly. It did not last long nor did it occur again soon after, and not wishing to alarm anyone, she laid still in her husband’s arms. She was nearly falling asleep again when another sharp pain plagued her. This time, she could not help herself and cried out as she squeezed Christopher’s arm.                              

            “Marianne?” She soon heard in her ear. “Is all well?”

            “Oh, Chris,” she said rubbing her abdomen, worry and fear clearly etched on her face, “I think… I think it’s time.”                                                                                                      

Chapter Text

Colonel Brandon jumped out of bed and hurried to call the servants. One went into the village, to call the midwife, another to the parsonage, to warn the Ferrars, one to Whitwell and another to wake the Dashwoods. Eliza was family and was to be warned as well, at her request. Upon his return to their bedchamber, he changed quickly, as never in his life he had before.

            He sat on the edge of the bed, facing Marianne, holding her hand. She looked absolutely petrified. Mrs. Dashwood knocked on the door and entered without waiting for someone to beckon her in. Right then, Marianne had another birthing pain. She squeezed Christopher’s hand as she clutched her stomach and cried out.

            Ruth and other servants came in with towels, cloths and a basin with warm water. Mrs. Dashwood urged Colonel Brandon to wait downstairs, as she banished him from his bed and helped Marianne to what she thought was a more comfortable and proper position. Colonel Brandon made a case of staying and pleaded with his eyes for Marianne to support and want this, but Marianne was very vexed and overwhelmed by the crowd that had gather around her, another birthing pain close to plaguing her, and for the first time in their marriage, she felt her husband’s presence was unwanted and not needed. She sent him away, and Mrs. Dashwood closed the door on a very saddened Colonel.

            As he reached the sitting room, Edward and Elinor arrived. Elinor bid him hello and rushed upstairs, and Edward sat with Colonel Brandon. As the Colonel reported what troubled him so, Edward tried to comfort him, pointing out that it could be very straining to see his beloved in pain and discomfort, and that perhaps it was indeed better for him to wait out there and let the ladies do what they would. Disheartened, Colonel Brandon agreed with Edward as the midwife rushed into the manor and past the sitting room door, up the stairs.

            Edward poured them drinks, and try as he may he could not calm Brandon’s nerves nor push him into a sunnier disposition than that in which he was. He felt now it had been too long without word from any of the ladies, so long in fact, that it had allowed Lydia time to arrive. Instead of joining the women in the birth room though, she sat with her brother.

            “Kit, trust me. I’ve been through this three times. The fewer people that are in the room, the better. And how mortifying it would have been to have had George there! The ideas you have! Honestly, I don’t know where you get them.”

            Her attempt at making him smile failed, and he only ran his hands through his hair and sighed, his countenance still grave and saddened.

            “I know what you fear, Kit,” Lydia said more seriously. “She will not have our mother’s fate. Mama was already deeply disillusioned with our father and his… ways. She had, sadly, given up on life and on trying to be happy to any extent, romantic and idealistic as she was. Our sister’s birth was just… a means to have her wish finally fulfilled, I think. Marianne is absurdly happy and healthy, and madly besotted with her husband who treats her with kindness, respect and much love,” she smiled. “There are no risks. She is strong and will make it through this easily, time and time again I dare say.”

            That got a faint smile from the Colonel’s lips, and a deep breath of relief. At that moment, Ruth came in with Patrick, the tavern owner. There was a gentleman in town, in the tavern, who would not leave and allow him to close up. He had had his reservations about forcefully throwing this man to the street because the gentleman had asked for Colonel Brandon by name, saying he would only leave when he could see him.

            “I thought, sir, that it might be a guest to your home that lost his way. He is very affected by liquor, so I thought it would be best to let you know. But if you wish, I can handle it myself.”

            Seeing as it had been long enough for the news to spread around the village, it was a good assumption that it might be an acquaintance of the Brandons awaited at the manor. But they did not expect anyone apart from the family that begged to be warned and were already present, save Eliza. Colonel Brandon had not the faintest idea of whom it could be. He, however, decided to go and see who it might be, resolve the situation. Anything would be better than to sit there idly, feeling nothing but worry, despair, helplessness, sorrow. Feeling unwanted and useless in his own child’s birth.

            He went with the promise of coming back in a matter of minutes, and the request that should he be needed or should anything happen, he would be fetched as quickly as the wind. Edward and Lydia promised they would see to it. And Eliza walked in, not understanding why her cousin was leaving at such an important time.

 

*****

 

 

            He arrived at the tavern to see two employees trying to restrain the drunken man while he threatened the bartender so he could get more ale in his glass. When Colonel Brandon walked in, the drunk turned around. It was Willoughby.

            Brandon was enraged. What was that scoundrel doing there, so close to his home, and on such an important day? Demanding to see him at such an hour?

            “This man is no friend of mine, Patrick. You can have him thrown in prison for all I care, for disrupting the peace. Do as you see fit,” he said, his teeth locked in anger.

            “There’s the man!” Willoughby called out in a merry tone, obviously sarcastic and induced by the liquor he had taken. “Colonel Brandon! You old lucky dog. Tell me, how did you manage to finally convince Marianne… oh no, no, forgive me, Mrs. Brandon,” he said mockingly, “to marry you? I’ve been dying to know. Was it oh so very hard after she had fallen so deeply for my charms?”

            “I suggest you hold your tongue if you wish to keep your teeth, Mr. Willoughby,” Colonel Brandon threatened, clenching his fists behind his back, trying to master his temper.

            “Well, congratulations on your win, Colonel! She does seem very enamored with you. ‘The happiest couple in England’, are you not?” Willoughby came closer to Colonel Brandon. The employees moved to detain him, but the Colonel motioned them to let him. The Colonel’s anger was very visible in his eyes, and in the shades of crimson that covered his face. His fists were now clenched at his sides.

            “It’s just a pity I did not have more time with her. Or more choices. Perhaps I would be the one happily married now.” Willoughby was now at arm’s length of Colonel Brandon, looking into his eyes. Eyes that stared him down, full of hate. “Or perhaps I would have broken her in for you, like I did that saucy ward of yours.”

            Colonel Brandon’s fist met Willoughby’s jaw in full, making him fall back. Brandon had wished to do this for too long to let the opportunity pass. It was a good release. While Willoughby was on the floor, he turned to give the tavern owner and his men quick instructions, for he wanted to leave and be with his wife. He had wasted too much time here already with unimportant matters. When he turned back around, it was to meet Willoughby’s fist to the side of his face, cutting open his brow.

 

****

 

Elinor made compressions to her forehead as the midwife and Mrs. Dashwood paced the room and checked on her from time to time. Margaret had been sent to fetch more water with Ruth. Marianne herself had been pacing the room not so long ago, trying to ease her discomfort and pain, but now her pains were growing closer together. It was almost time. So she needed to remain in bed. Another pain overtook her and she screamed, and the midwife looked under her sleeping gown and the towels that covered her. She was disheveled and sweaty. Exposed. And something pained her heart when the birthing pains were not pushing all coherent thought from her head. She should not have sent Christopher away. Her sweet Chris. She wanted to hold his hand, wanted him to reassure her, comfort her, support her. And he was so sweet he wished to do all that, and she prevented him.

“Christopher,” she panted.

“What about him, dear?” Elinor asked.

“I want him here. I need him here.”

“Marianne, that is most unusual,” her mother started, “for a man to be in the room during the birth of…”

“I don’t care! I want my husband here!” She screamed as another pain rippled through her. “Please, fetch him!”

As Margaret returned, she was sent back to call the Colonel. Only she returned without him.

“He’s not here,” she said.

“Not here?!?” Marianne cried.

“There was some sort of trouble in the village and he was needed, but Edward went out to fetch him right away!”

 

*****

 

            As Colonel Brandon stumbled back, his hand to his brow, Willoughby’s other fist was fast approaching, but Colonel Brandon held it back with one hand as he threw a punch at Willoughby’s stomach with the other. Willoughby bent over in pain, and the Colonel twisted the arm he held to the scoundrel’s back, pushing Willoughby to bend over the bar, pushing his head into it with considerable force. Willoughby fell to the floor.

            “Are we quite done here?” He asked.

Willoughby stumbled up to face him, and threw another punch which the Colonel managed to hold back. Willoughby quickly pulled a knife from his pocket with his free hand and managed to cut the Colonel’s stomach with it, not too deeply, before Brandon seized his other hand and threw him back onto the floor, sitting on his chest and throwing a few punches repeatedly to his jaw.

Willoughby, bruised and bloody, was no longer able to fight back. He just turned his face to the side and spat blood, with a strange demented chuckle.

“Twice now I could have killed you and allowed you to live,” Colonel Brandon spat at Willoughby in a tone full of hatred. “There will not be a third time.” The not so veiled threat could be understood by any man with half his wits. “You watch yourself around me and my family, Willoughby. If you so much as look at anyone I love in a manner that is not to my liking… so help me God, I will injure you more severely than I have today. Do not come close to me, my wife or Delaford ever again. Is that understood?”

Willoughby nodded. “Perfectly.” He spat again and grinned.

Colonel Brandon raised himself just in time to catch the astonished looks of the tavern’s owner and employees. “I believe he won’t be an inconvenience any longer.” He brushed off his clothes and straightened them as best he could.

Edward ran in and quickly took in the scene, confusion, then apprehension and horror crossing his face, before he finally uttered “Brandon, she is asking for you.”

Colonel Brandon ran as he never had before, not minding the blood flowing down his face or the cut that burned his stomach.

 

****

 

            Marianne’s nerves were more on edge than they needed be. Where was Christopher? What had happened? He would not leave her like this. She should not have sent him away. Had she hurt him so deeply? Why was he taking so long? Something dire must be the matter. Her birthing pains ripped through her and she screamed.

            “Mrs. Brandon, you have to push. It is time.”

            “No! I need Christopher here!”

            “Your child is ready to come out, Mrs. Brandon. You have to push.”

            She did, the feeling was overwhelming, she had to. But it was not enough. And it seemed she had no strength to do it again. She indeed did not have what it took to push again.

            “Come now, Mrs. Brandon, I need you to push once again.”

            “No, I can’t,” she panted.

            “Yes you can, Mrs. Brandon.”

            “I can’t. I can’t. I really can’t,” she whimpered.

            Colonel Brandon burst in the door, his brow still bleeding.

            “Christopher!” Marianne cried. “Where have you been? You are bleeding!” She said in urgency. “What happened?”

            “Do not worry yourself about that, love.”

            Elinor suggested he leave, to not affect Marainne’s nerves more than needed.

            “You will do no such thing, Christopher! I need you here. Please!”

            He felt such relief. He lowered himself to kiss her forehead and sat at a chair beside her, squeezing her hand. “I’m here, love. I’m here.”

            “Come now, Mrs. Brandon, push.”

            She did, squeezing her sweet husband’s hand. But again she was exhausted.

            “Again, Mrs. Brandon.”

            “I can’t! It hurts. So much.” Tears flowed down her sweaty cheeks.

            “You can, love,” Christopher encouraged.

            “I can’t, Chris.”

            He pushed her forward gently and managed to fit himself in between her back and the headboard of the bed, in lieu of the pillows that had supported her thus far. He held both her hands as she was nestled against his chest and said, with his lips pressed to her temple “I am here for you, love. You can do this. You are a strong, amazing woman, you can do this.” The ladies were hypnotized at how attentive he was.

            She squeezed both his hands and took strength from him as she pushed harder than she ever had before, again and again. And suddenly, a cry could be heard echoing in the room.

The midwife took the child away to clean, and there were no words that could describe what was welling up in Colonel Brandon’s chest as he watched, jaw dropped in awe.

“You did it, my love.” He kissed her temple as she melted into him, exhaustion taking over.

Mrs. Dashwood ushered him outside to wait while they cleaned Marianne and the room.

 

****

 

            He washed himself as best and quickly as he could, placing bandages on his stomach and brow. His knuckles too burned and were raw, but he only washed them, applying no bandages. He then sat, still awestruck, in the sitting room, conversation and happy wishes he couldn’t quite absorb buzzing around him. It was then Elinor came down to call him.

            “She wishes to see you,” she smiled.

            He rushed upstairs and entered their bedchamber to find Marianne, now more composed, holding a little bundle to her breast as their child fed. He watched by the door for a moment, heart overflowing with love and joy.

            “Come, Chris,” she said, beckoning him with one hand. “Come meet your daughter,” she smiled.

            He smiled widely and a tear ran down his cheek as he approached and sat on the armchair next to the bed, admiring the baby she fed.

            “She’s beautiful. Like her mother,” he caressed Marianne’s cheek. He then caressed his daughter’s head. “What shall we name this little princess?”

            “You name her, love. Whatever you want, I shall adore,” she said with a smile.

            He looked up at her, tears welling in his eyes. “Are you certain?”

            “Yes, sweet Christopher. I can name the next one,” she smiled still.

            “What do you make of… Katherine? After my mother.”

            “Katherine…” she looked down at the baby in her arms. “It’s beautiful.” The baby stopped suckling at her breast and she shielded it with her nightgown. “Chris, I am so sorry I sent you away. I shouldn’t have. I won’t, ever again. Please forgive me.”

            “It’s quite all right, dear. I’m only glad you called me back.”

            “Of course I would, you sweet man.” She smiled at him. “Are you ready to meet your Papa, Katherine?” Marianne asked, smiling down at her daughter. She scooted over in the bed, making room for Christopher to sit. She tapped the mattress, beckoning him to it. He sat beside her and she placed little Katherine in his arms, caressing her head gently before letting her go completely. She placed a kiss on Christopher’s cheek, noticing then the bandage on his brow, and how it was marked with blood.

            She scooted out of bed and walked slowly towards the corner of the room. He was so absorbed by the little girl in his arms that he did not notice this for a few minutes.

            “Marianne, what are you doing? You need to rest. Come back to bed this instant!” He finally said as she was nearly at her intended destination.

            “Hush, husband.”

            She came back with bandages and a cloth moistened in the basin in the corner of the room. She sat beside him and began to undress his wound. “Now tell me, what happened? Why did you burst in here bleeding? Are you well?”

            “I am very well. The happiest man on earth,” he smiled down at their child.

            “Christopher Brandon, you will not evade me!”

            He sighed. “Willoughby was down at the village.”

            “Willoughby? What was he doing here?” She asked in surprise as she cleaned his wound.

            “Drinking his sorrows, apparently.”

            “Did he attack you?”

            “Yes. After I attacked him.”

            “Christopher!”

            “He was saying awful things about you, and Eliza. I could not hold my temper.”

            “What was he saying?”

            “Do not make me repeat it, love. I will not.”

            She smiled. “My sweet husband, Defending my honor.” She was done dressing the wound on his brow and now looked at his hands. She bent down to kiss his knuckles, what she could reach, but would bandage them later, when his hands were not occupied with their little bundle of joy. “But you could have seriously hurt yourself. Don’t you ever do something like that again! You need to be well, be here for your daughter. For me.” She smiled again.

            “Yes,” he uttered looking down at their daughter. “It won’t happen again. I believe he understood the message and will not bother us anymore.”

            “Good,” she said, placing the bandages that were left on the bedside table. She caressed Katherine’s tiny head again. “Stay with Papa, sweet girl. Mama needs to rest.” Marianne then leaned on Christopher’s shoulder and snuggled closer, getting comfortable. She soon dozed off into a slumber.

            Colonel Brandon stared down at his little girl, silent tears in his eyes.

            “Hello, Katherine.” He gently stroked his finger on her head and cheeks. “I’m your Papa. I will love you forever and I will always be here for you, whatever you may need, sweet girl.” His finger traced her tiny lips and she latched on to it, suckling on it, a tiny hand gripping it as she drifted into sleep.

            And there sat Colonel Brandon. Both his girls sleeping in his arms. Joy overflowing from his chest. All his dreams come true. Truly the happiest man on this earth, far beyond the happiness he had ached for so long. It was the happiness he deserved.

Chapter Text

Colonel Brandon sat on a large towel laid on the grass in his back garden. On the towel, a picnic basket, some plates and assorted fruits, cakes and sandwiches. Beside him sat a toddler of around two years old, picking slices of fruit from a plate and slowly and awkwardly bringing them to his mouth. Colonel Brandon smiled and gently caressed the little boy’s blond hair.

            It was a bright and sunny day, very warm and proper for a picnic. The trees and grass were green, flowers blooming, and he watched a little girl of five in a blue dress and matching bow on her curly blonde hair, running around the garden and laughing joyously.

            She came running up to him. “Papa, papa!”

            “Yes, princess?”

            “Read to me, please.” She sat on his lap and hugged him.

            He chuckled. “Gladly, sweet girl.”

            He picked up a children’s book which sat on the towel, and commenced his reading.

            Marianne came from the house behind them and lowered herself to sit next to her husband, their son sitting between them. He happily lifted a slice of fruit to his Mama and waved his arms, his bright blue eyes looking up to her matching ones.

            “Look who’s a big boy! Eating all by himself…” She exclaimed with a tender smile and took her hand to caress his cheek and then wiped juice off his lips.

            Colonel Brandon lifted his gaze from the book and smiled at his wife, so much love in his eyes, and, still holding his daughter and the book they read, he leaned down to kiss his son’s head.

            “Read, Papa!” Little Katherine begged.

            “You are truly your mother’s daughter, aren’t you? Mama seems to enjoy my reading as well,” he smiled.

            “I do.” Marianne caressed his arm.

            Colonel Brandon happily obliged his little girl and continued reading until a pretty blue butterfly came to rest on the handle of the picnic basket and stole away her attention. Little Charles reached to grab it and scared it away, which prompted Katherine to jump up from her father’s lap and chase it. Charles stood as well, taking little hesitant steps to follow his sister.

            “Katie, do not go far!” Marianne called out. “And mind your brother. He is not as fast as you yet.” She smiled as the girl took her brother’s hand and walked him along the grass.

            “And you, my love,” Colonel Brandon said still smiling, “why are you sitting so far away?”

            “Because I believe it has become abundantly clear,” she rubbed her slightly swollen abdomen, “that I cannot resist you, sweet Chris.” She smiled. “And we have to behave in front of the children.”

            “The children are not looking now.” He pulled her into his embrace and brushed his lips against hers before deepening the kiss. As he did, one of his hands trailed its way from her shoulder up to her cheek. She sunk her hands into his hair. They broke for air.

            “Perhaps we should retire upstairs,” he suggested slyly.

            “Christopher! We need to watch the children.”

            He traced her lips with his thumb. “I believe we pay some people to do that from time to time.” He smiled.

            “Don’t be naughty!” She gently slapped his upper arm. “We have guests coming.”

            “We do?”

            Joyous giggles could be heard in the distance.

            “Yes. Lydia with your brother-in-law and your youngest nephew. Edward, Elinor and Henry.”

            “So… more qualified people to watch the children,” he grinned.

            She laughed. “And Eliza is sending over Joana.”

            “Eliza is not coming?”

            “She prefers to spend some time with her husband. Soon it will be time for her lying-in.” A farmer from the neighborhood had long taken interest in Eliza. He would walk by her cottage and greet her at the same time almost every day, when she was in the garden playing with Joana. They developed an attachment, though one would not confess it to the other. He was in the habit of doing business with Colonel Brandon, and being present when he had first brought Eliza to Delaford for her lying-in, and seeing his master in such an agitated state, he was one of the few people Colonel Brandon had confided in about Eliza’s predicament. He knew and did not care, respecting her as she deserved to be respected. Though because he knew, he was afraid of asking for her hand to Colonel Brandon and being rejected as unworthy. For that, it took longer than was wished by both parties for them to get married.

            “Oh, of course. I perfectly understand her at the moment,” he grinned once more as he caressed his wife’s cheek and pulled her in for a kiss.

            Marianne sniggered against his lips. “I love you, Chris.”

            “I love you, my Marianne.”

            She descended from his lap to the ground next to him. “Will you read to me? Or is that particular talent reserved for a certain hazel-eyed princess?” She smiled.

            “You know I will do any and everything for you,” he said in a low rumble close to her ear.

            Just then, Charles tumbled upon them. “Up, up, Papa,” he requested with his arms lifted.

            Colonel Brandon picked him up and stood, throwing him in the air, his giggles growing louder and sweeter. Marianne looked up at them smiling, love overflowing from her heart.

            The Ferrars and the Parkers arrived and joined them on the towel, little Henry trotting up to join his cousin Katherine and her running on the grass. They sat, ate and conversed for the whole joyful afternoon. One of many at Delaford manor.