By the time they’d returned to Jane’s house it was well past any reasonable person’s bedtime, but the excitement from the evening began to wear off, and Mary was able to get the children to bed with little fuss.
Michael and Jane had also retired for the night, and although Mary should do the same, she was left to her thoughts, contemplating the wisdom of going out to speak with Jack. He’d seem them back to Jane’s safely, joining in their celebration of regaining the Banks’ house, and when they’d reached their destination Jack had bid the children sweet dreams and then lingered - quietly asking Mary if he could have a word.
She’d made no promise, telling him that the children might take awhile to wind down, and Jack had told her not to worry. He’d a wait a bit, but they’d likely see each other tomorrow.
Looking out the window, Mary could see Jack a little way down the street, using a rag to rub at the fixtures on a street lamp. When he was done he made his way toward their building, stopping at the next lamp to do the same - busying himself while he waited for her.
Mary suspected that if she did not go out there, and waited until tomorrow, the subject of their conversation would be distinctly different. Because she also suspected she knew the nature of what Jack wanted to say, and tonight he was brave enough to broach the subject. Tomorrow might be different. And after tomorrow, they’ll have missed their chance.
With her mind made up, Mary made her way to the door.
When she stepped out onto the stoop Jack was only a building away with his attention focused on the lamp he was polishing. She waited for him to finish, tucking the rag into his pocket, before speaking.
“I know you lot keep unusual hours, Jack, but surely even Leeries have bedtimes?”
Jack smiled at her as he approached the building, stopping at the foot of the stairs.
“Right you are, Ms. Poppins. But this has been a special night.”
“So special you decided to spent it tending to lit street lights?” Mary teased as she descended the steps to stand next to him.
“Gotta’ make sure they stay in working order.” He winked good-humoredly at her, but as she stood before him the lightheartedness of the moment slipped away. They were both out there, so late at night, for a greater reason than to tease one another.
“The children get to bed alright?”
“Quite. You wished to speak with me?”
He remained quiet for a moment. She watched him look away from her - glancing from her to the street to the ground at their feet, where he was lightly scuffing his well worn shoes against the sidewalk. Whatever nerve he’d gathered to ask her for a private moment was starting to wane now that the moment was here.
“Jack,” she prompted gently, briefly touching his arm to return his focus to her.
“Right,” he said and took a breath to steel his nerves before looking at her. “I expect you’ll be leaving soon.”
It wasn’t a question. Jack had an uncanny ability to see and understand the fantastic nature that surrounded Mary Poppins and other magical things. She’d noticed it that first day in the park, and she suspected it was because Jack had a little magic in him as well. Something that kept him believing well into adulthood - something that had begun to grow during their adventures. So it wasn’t a question. Jack knew that she had to leave soon, but he waited for her answer.
“I believe my tenure with the Banks family is nearly up, yes.
Jack nodded, to himself as well as to acknowledge her answer, and took a slight step towards her.
“In that case, I need to tell you something. I know it’s not likely that you’ll be back this way any time soon, and I’ll regret it if I don’t say nothin’ now.”
Despite the impassive face she put on, there was an anxious fluttering in Mary’s stomach. The nervous anticipation of what Jack was likely going to say, though not entirely unfamiliar, was not something she felt often. The discomfort gave her the urge to fidget, which she resisted almost entirely, and made her a bit brusque.
“Out with it then.”
Jack gave her a slight smile, not at all bothered, as though he could sense her internal struggle.
“I know that you have to leave, and that there’s not much chance of you sticking around, no matter how much we’d like you to, but I need to say that what you do for folks, the Banks’ and everyone else you’ve helped, is spectacular. You bring magic back into their lives, our lives, and that’s a beautiful thing. As beautiful as you…”
He broke off for a moment, clearing his throat. She gave him a gentle smile and waited for him to continue.
“The time I’ve gotten to spend with you has been fantastic. I’ll never forget it, and I won’t forget you. I love you. And I’m not saying it because I want anything back from you. I just wanted you to know before you left.”
Jack let out a breath and met her eyes bravely, waiting for her response.
The fluttering in Mary’s stomach had increased steadily through Jack’s declaration until it became almost dizzying. She wasn’t surprised - this is what she’d suspected when Jack had asked to speak with her, and it wasn’t the first time someone professed their affection for her. It was, however, one of the exceedingly rare occasions when Mary reciprocated.
She’d known there’s was something special about Jack the day they met, and a spark had ignited between the two of them during their trip to the Doulton Music Hall. Knowing that nothing lasting could come from it, Mary had not fanned that spark, but she also had not prevented it from growing on its own as Jack spent more time with her and the children on their adventures. Mary knew that love, of any kind, no matter how short lived, was something to be cherished, and it was so rare for her to be blessed by this particular kind of love.
She stepped toward Jack, leaving only a little space between them.
“It is the nature of things that I never stay in one place, or with anyone, for very long. It’s necessary for me to move on to where I am needed most, and it is not meant for me to be any more or less than what I am.”
She raised a hand and placed it flat against his chest, and for a moment, just felt the beating of his heart. “Even if, on occasion, I meet someone who makes me wish for something impossible.”
Jack covered her hand with his own.
She gave him a sad smile, which he returned. They both knew that while practically everything was possible, this was not one of those things.
“You’re special Jack. I’m grateful for the time we spent together.”
“Wish it could’ve been longer.”
She leaned in towards him, and he met her half way. Their lips touched softly, and the spark in her chest spread, warming her whole body. When they parted, she patted his chest. “Don’t let this linger too long. There’s so much for you here.”
And with that she turned away, intending to retreat back into the house, but Jack held on to her hand and gently pulled her back to him.
“If I may be so bold, with the nature of things being what they are, might I suggest we take advantage of what time we do have left? Unless it’s too long passed your bedtime, of course.”
He gave her a cheeky grin, teasing her. The sadness was still there, but Jack had pushed it aside in favor of the possibility of spending, what could be, Mary’s last night creating something special. Something that they could both carry with them and remember once she had gone. That was far preferable to spending the night alone and melancholic over her impending departure.
“Well, it is exceptionally late.” She returned his grin. “And there are all sorts of adventures to be had in the dead of night.”
Jack beamed as she leaned in to kiss him once more, before entwining their fingers, and hand in hand they went to have one more adventure together.