A/N: So it's finished.. and it's a little bit M. Thanks to you all for reading and writing such nice comments. I'll be ducking off the site in a couple of weeks.. here in the states we won't see DA until January, and I'm hoping to avoid as many spoilers as I can. Can't wait to see it – and to see what you've all done with it come next January.
Any Other World 7/7
The lights were low, and Matthew was in his chair, dressed only in a soft shirt and trousers. His feet were bare, a sight she found curiously alluring.
"Lord Grantham," she said softly.
He turned, smiling, and reached out his hand to her. "Not officially, Lady Mary," he said. "If we are to be so formal." His voice was rough, still hoarse from the coughing much as hers was, and it thrummed through her, making her blush.
"I can't see anyone challenging you or denying your pedigree." She was suddenly shy, and looked away. "Hang on." She pointed at his tray. "Mrs. Patmore gave you apple tart."
"Didn't you get some?"
She picked up a small piece and tipped it into her mouth, causing his heart to skip several beats as she licked her fingers. "Sybil ate my pudding." She picked up the plate. "May I have what's left?"
He nodded and she forked up a bite. "You are still hungry," he murmured.
"Ravenous," she said, and sat on the ottoman, balancing the plate on her lap. "Aren't you?"
"Not for food."
And she blushed again and put down her fork. "For two people who've been..." She couldn't go on, the grin on her face preventing it.
He leaned forward and took her hand. "Sleeping together." His grin matched her own.
"We were sick. We didn't know what we were doing." She was beginning to laugh.
"Oh, that's it, then." He was about to knock that plate off her lap when her face crumpled and she started to cry. "Darling..."
"It's not fair, it's not right, it's wrong... Papa..."
He pulled her onto his lap, plate and all, not noticing when the tart crumbled against his chest. "Mary, darling." She made a fuss over trying to pick up the mess and he took the plate away from her. "Mary."
"How can I even think about this?"
He stroked her hair, pushing it back from her face. "You feel guilty about being happy."
It wasn't a question. She was shocked he understood. "Yes." She brushed the tears from her cheeks. "Every time I think about you, I'm happy, Matthew. So happy. And then..." Her eyes filled up again. "It's not fair to them that I'm happy. It's not fair to Mamma or Sybil."
"You think any of them would begrudge you happiness? Truly, Mary?" His hands took her cheeks. "They wouldn't. They won't."
"How can you say that?"
He flinched. "Mary, if I didn't believe that, I couldn't get out of bed in the morning. I left men behind, watched friends die. I survived and others didn't. I can't fix that." He forced her to look at him. "You couldn't fix Halliday, but you could fix what made him miss his leg. You can't change what happened. You can only live. That's what your father taught me. After I returned from the Somme..." His voice trailed off. Someday he would tell her that Robert had found him, sobbing like a child near one of the old cottages, insensible and inconsolable and walked him back out of the dark. Tonight was not that time. The mention of her father caused a fresh wave of tears and he tucked her head against his shoulder and rocked her.
"You're going to feel this way, Mary. I still feel this way. We'll have to help each other." He put his lips in her hair, near her ear. "Did you notice the chill in this room?"
"You'll have to get used it it, my love. I'm sorry. I cannot sleep without a window open, without some air, without some way to see outside," he said. "Otherwise, I believe I am still trapped in that trench." Her arms tightened around his neck and he felt her hand twist in his hair. "The only wrong thing is not to live, Mary. The only wrong way is not to love."
They were silent for a time, their breaths warming the other's cheek. She stirred first, pulling back to look at him. "My darling," she said, smoothing back that flop of hair she loved so well. "What did you do today?"
So he told her most of it, the funeral plans made, the letters of patent Crenshaw had sent that were the first step to him being called to Lords, and the arrangements to open the house in London. He was secretly thrilled when he earned a small smile from her over his firing Murray.
"There's news on the war front," he said. "It seems the armistice may be real after all. We have recovered Belgium and France."
"You won't have to go back?"
"Well, there will be a lot of work to do, and nothing's signed yet, but it suddenly feels real."
"Like this," she whispered. His smile made her shy again. "Is there any more tart?"
He indicated the remnants strewn across his shirt. "Only on me."
She leaned down and lipped off a large, sticky crumb just above his heart. "Tart," he whispered."
Mary looked up at him, slightly startled by the word, and found he was staring at her mouth, at the traces of crumb left on her lower lip, the heat of the look making her quite dizzy.
"I haven't kissed you in four years," he murmured.
"Not properly, anyway," she said softly.
"Not since London." He shook his head. "A lifetime ago." His thumb pulled lightly at her lower lip, stroking it, his eyes locked on hers, and she marveled at how her need to touch him, to feel him over the past few days was such a different need than what he was awakening in her now.
His voice shook when he spoke again. "Will you stay with me tonight?"
There was only one answer. She nodded, her chin lifting slightly to keep the contact with his thumb and he smiled. "So," he said slowly. "I should change, then." He lifted them both out of the chair and set her lightly on her feet. "But first, I have three things I need to discuss with you."
He disappeared into his dressing room, leaving her bereft. "Aren't you going to kiss me?"
"Of course," he called. "But once I start, I don't plan on stopping."
She held onto the back of the chair, the desire already heavy inside her. She noticed for the first time they'd put him in the Grey Room, her grandfather's old room. Her father had been born here. She thought briefly, sweetly, of dark-haired babies with light blue eyes born in that bed in years to come, of Matthew as a father, and the smile finally returned to her face. "What three things?"
He didn't answer.
"Matthew, what three things?" She turned the corner into his dressing room and had to grip the door for support. She had seen it for days, but now that she was fully conscious, the breathtaking sight of his body was a glorious thing. The strain of war, the training, the wounds, and now the illness had hardened him physically, turned him into something that should have been carved out of stone, only he was breathing, and real. His trousers were already loosened, and her cheeks went even redder.
"Three things," he said softly.
If she stopped leaning against the door, she would fall over.
"First of all, will you marry me?"
"I already said yes."
He smiled. "To a telegram. I want to do this properly."
He responded, after a long stare full of meaning, by unfastening his trousers and stepping out of them... out of everything.
"Matthew!" It was meant to be a reprimand, a disapproving sound, but it came out sounding quite different. The desire that had flared only seconds earlier burst through her like fireworks.
"Will you marry me, Lady Mary?"
She pushed herself upright, away from the door, swaying slightly as she took hold of the knot on her dressing gown. Her eyes never left his as she tore it open and dropped it behind her.
"Yes," she whispered. "Of course I'll marry you, Matthew Crawley." She began to pull up her nightgown, but he'd already crossed the room and his hands joined hers. "Mine," he muttered, and pulled it up and off himself.
It wasn't the chill in the room that caused the intake of breaths, nor the tightening of flesh. He stared at her, drinking in the creamy skin and chocolate eyes, her lips already parted and inviting, everything he had dreamed of for six long years in one slim, naked body inches from his own.
She shivered at that gaze, her own eyes glancing across his scarred cheek, down to the wreck of skin across his taut stomach, felt her own stomach clench in joy again at the sight of what was lower. She did that to him. She made him feel that way. She looked back into his eyes, the blue all the more vivid in the low light, his pupils, black, pulsing, dilated, his breath quickening just before he lowered his head to hers. "Mine," she whispered against his lips.
And after years of longing, of awareness, of need and love, of brief and unresolved tastes of each other, at long last nothing stood in the way of this, of him lifting her up as their lips met, her legs wrapping around his waist, of his groan and her gasp as contact was made. They did not bother to turn down the lamps, or pull back the covers. Any shyness was gone, any politeness was unnecessary. At first, it was mouths and tongues, the desperate hunger to taste every inch of skin, then hands stroking over that skin, her discovery of places that made his breath stop, his thrill at her soft moans as he touched her, kissed her, moved with her, until his hand was at her hip, her hand was guiding him, and they watched themselves in awe as he slid inside her, the deep sigh in unison as they thrust together for the first time, her breath catching as his eyes met hers and they smiled.
They smiled. And it was soon impossible to tell where his body stopped and hers began, as they rocked together, discovering the motion together, rolling so she was over him, and then he was over her, and then nothing mattered except that contact, that crash of hip against hip, the tension building, the sound of her incoherent cries, of his hoarse groans, as they kept pushing, seeking, needing, until she suddenly arched against him, and then buckled, her mouth at his shoulder, her hands slipping on his skin.
And he could feel her body pulling him in, the beat against him like a heart, causing him to break a mere second later, and her name burst from his lips, and she called him by name and it was mouths and hands clasping, and they were sinking into each other, to find a peace like they had never known.
They stayed locked together, their breathing returning to normal, the sweat-slicked skin cooling them in the night air. He managed to pull the eiderdown over them, the cocoon keeping them close as he reveled in the feel of her, of staying inside her, of feeling her body grip and release him in an ancient, languid, irregular rhythm.
She could not move, did not want to move, did not want to let go in this moment she could not have imagined. Love was one thing, but this connection felt unearthly. He was still inside her, his head on her shoulder, and she shifted slightly so as to keep him there. Her fingers lightly stroked his back, and she could feel him grin against her cheek.
"You're rather proud of yourself, aren't you?" she murmured some time later.
"Rather." The reverberation of his voice into her chest stirred her again, and she dragged her thumbnail up his side. It had made him gasp before, but this time, it did much more.
"What?" They had finally gotten the energy to actually get in bed and he was glad of the warmth, glad to feel her skin on his, tangled up together under the blankets.
"You said three things. That was only one."
"It was more than once."
She pulled her head off his shoulder and attempted a glare. It was entirely unsuccessful and resulted in precisely what had just happened twice before, only with considerably more speed, a curious amount of variety, and something that for days afterwards would make her blush if she thought of it.
It took longer to recover, and he was nearly asleep when she spoke. "If that was the three things..."
"All right." He reached to the bedside table and pulled out a small leather box. She recognized its origin, the jeweler responsible for the Grantham estate jewelry. "Here's number two."
Her heart stopped at the sight it. "Matthew, when did you...?"
"I ordered it the morning after Sybil's ball." His eyes asked permission and he slid it on her finger. "There were heirlooms, of course, but I wanted it to be yours and yours alone."
It fit perfectly. The depth of the diamond, so white it was almost blue, drew her in, just as Matthew's eyes did. She recognized the cut as a highly desired and fashionable one, and the knowledge that he had bought this and kept this, and that he had not given it to Lavinia made her dizzy again. "Matthew," she whispered, and sought out his lips with her own, her left hand with its new adornment cupping his cheek. "And?"
"Demanding." He kissed her and got up.
She propped herself up on an elbow and watched him walk across the room to the desk. Hers. He was finally hers. That golden-haired god, roughed up from years of war, was hers now, walking across the room as if he owned it.
He did own it.
The sorrow rushed up inside her again and her eyes stung. She let it go for a moment, and then, as he turned around, put that sorrow back where it came from, deep in her heart.
He handed her a piece of paper as he got back in bed.
"What is it?"
"Well, this is part of what took so long today."
She read it over, a deep blush making his favorite freckles stand out across her nose. "A marriage license?"
"We don't have to wait for the banns." He pulled her back against him and put his lips in her hair. "I'll have to go back to London after the funerals. I'm not going without you. Unless," and he paused. "If you think you need to be here for your mother or Sybil, I'll understand."
"No," she whispered. "They'd make me go if they thought I was staying for them. I'm going with you."
They married, four days later, at the Dower House instead of the church, two days after they buried Robert and Edith. Violet had won the fight with Isobel over hosting the wedding breakfast, and Cora could not bear another ceremony at the church. So they said their vows in her grandmother's drawing room, mourning broken for this one day. The losses were keenly felt, but so was the love in that room as Matthew and Mary became man and wife.
The door opened and she walked in, and it was as it had always been for him, every time she walked through a door, from that first moment when he'd made a fool of himself at Crawley House and she'd not let him forget it.
And even in black, she was the most beautiful woman he had ever known, even more so with that new curve that changed her shape and gait, but diminished not a whit that serene grace as she walked toward him.
And he marveled that, as her hand cupped his cheek and she leaned up for a kiss, that no matter the season or time, Mary's fingers were always cool and the mere touch of them would warm his heart.
He pulled her close. "Where were you this morning?"
"Uncomfortable is where I was," she said, and he touched the swell he could not believe was real. "So I got some letters finished. I think I've convinced Granny that I'll be back at Downton before the baby comes. Oh, and your mother is coming next week."
"I'm glad you two are friends."
Mary smiled up at him. Her letters to Isobel always ended with the same two words that still were not enough to express the gratitude and love she felt for her mother-in-law. "Well, it is her fault we're married."
The tea came, and the clock chimed half past, and they sat and talked as they did every morning, about the papers and politics, which would usually spark at least one good argument, which in turn would spark at least one good kiss or something of that nature. This morning, however, he was distracted, nervous about the ceremony today, and she did not press him to fight. They talked then of dinner, of their mutual excitement to see the Crenshaws for the first time since the Crenshaws' marriage, a surprise marriage to all but Mary, who had at dinner some seven months earlier noticed Mr. David Crenshaw and Miss Lavinia Swire having a conversation, and made it her duty to smooth their path.
The phone rang, which turned out to be Sybil, who had, much to her sister's delight, decided she wanted to join them for dinner after all. "If it's not too late or a bother?"
"Don't be ridiculous. Come get dressed here, I want to talk."
"I will." An odd sound came down the line. "It's starting. I'll see you tonight." Mary hung up the phone and went back into the drawing room.
The great cacophony of guns shook the house, and Matthew was shaking. She watched him closely, watched his eyes shut at the first sound and watched his fingers grip the edge of the table. She walked across the room, and put her hands on his shoulders.
And he took hold of her, his face against her belly, breathing in the scent of her, his hands caressing the hard curve that protected his child, and the fullness of love washed away the worst of the sadness.
The guns stopped, and the clock chimed eleven, and then there was nothing but quiet. No movement on the street, no movement in the house.
Millions had died. He had not. He had survived. They had survived. He had survived the trenches, they had both survived the influenza, and at the end of all of it, they had found each other again. They would be parents by the New Year.
He looked up to see tears in her eyes, and she leaned down and kissed him, and he did not hear the moment when the silence stopped. He only knew when his wife, his Mary, had stopped kissing him and the smiles that broke through their tears were real, and the only wrong thing was not to live.
The only wrong way was not to love.
The Times, 3 January 1920
GRANTHAM. - On December 31, 1919, at Downton Abbey, Yorkshire, the Countess of Grantham, wife of the Earl of Grantham, of a son.