A/N: The versions of the chapter title song by Sugarland and Socratic are recommended.

Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You

Sunday, November 28, 1915 continued

Isobel had bet herself it would take Mary exactly one hour to make it to Crawley House. She made it in forty seven minutes.

As soon as she saw the headlights of the estate's auto Isobel started putting her coat on. Clothes and other things she would need were already in the room they had ready for her at the Abbey.

Matthew saw her and walked over to where she was standing in the front hall. "You didn't tell me you were going out."

Before she could answer the front door opened. Mary was standing there holding a picnic basket. They both looked at her. Mary stepped into the house and put the picnic basket down.

Isobel recovered first. "Congratulations" she kissed Matthew on the cheek "I'll see you in a few days." As she went by Mary she gave her a hug. She turned back to Matthew "Mrs. Bird and Ellen have gone to the pub. When they get back they'll stay out of your way." Then she was gone, closing the door behind her.

Matthew was still staring at Mary. She turned around. When he didn't react she gave a small cough. He stepped up to her and took her coat.

This time he was ready when she spun around and kissed her back when she kissed him. Then he stared at her again.

She smiled at him. "I believe there is an outstanding proposal, where would you like to make it? The drawing room?" and she went through to that room.

Matthew hung up her coat and then followed her into the drawing room.

"Should I sit to receive it or is it better if I stand?"

"Wait a minute" Matthew said. "Before we get to that part of the programme I have a question"

Mary sat down. "Oh?"

"Has your guest left?"

"Guest?"

Matthew took out his wallet and extracted Rosamund's last note to him. He handed it to Mary. Then he sat on the chair opposite her.

Mary read the note. "She must have sent this before they came" and she told the whole story from when her aunt first invited her to come stay in London last April. As she talked he could see storm clouds forming on his face.

When she finished he stood and said through clenched teeth "I am going to London tomorrow!"

Mary jumped up and grabbed his arms. "No! It's over! Please leave it be" she was desperate.

Matthew held her at arm's length. "I'm going to kill him".

She shook her head "No, no. He's not worth it." She started to cry. "It might be partly my fault too."

Still holding Mary at arm's length Matthew walked her backwards and sat her down again. Then he went back and again sat down opposite her. "What do you mean by that?"

Mary sniffed. She wished she had a handkerchief. Matthew noticed and gave her his. "When I met him at the first dinner, he was very interesting to talk to and I may have flirted with him..a little" She could not look him in the eye.

Matthew glowered at her. He knew how Mary could flirt. "Did you and him do ..it?"

"No!"

"Did you kiss?"

"No, there was nothing like that.. I did nothing to even suggest I would welcome ... I just might have flirted with him a bit...He took it all wrong..."

Matthew stood up and considered her. "If we are to have a proper marriage you must promise to give up flirting." He took a step closer to her and held out his arms

She jumped up into his hug. "I promise!" She reached up and grabbed the sides of his head and pulled him into a kiss. Then she asked "Will you promise not to do anything foolish against him..."

He whispered into her ear. "If he ever does anything again to hurt you I will kill him. Until then he can live"

Matthew manoeuvred Mary over to the sofa and they sat down. They cuddled there until their respective blood pressures returned to normal.

Matthew was just about to enquire 'What's in the picnic basket ?' as he was getting a little hungry when Mary said:

"Tell me about Miss Swire"

"Miss Swire?" Internally Matthew could hear the whistle of an incoming artillery projectile. He looked frantically around for a shell hole into which he could dive.

Mary gave him a sweet, a dangerously sweet, smile. "You know the Red Cross lady whom wrote your letters to me and father and your mother. That was nice of her."

Matthew acknowledged she was nice.

"An older lady?" Mary asked.

"Ah ..no, she's about ...ah... Edith's age."

"I see. Was she pretty?'

"Yes" Matthew knew better than to compare Miss Swire to anyone.

"What did she do other than write letters for you?"

"She handed out candy and cigarettes in the ward. She also worked in the canteen"

"Did the two of you talk?"

"Yes"

"About what?"

"Her father is a solicitor in London, so she told me about the life of a solicitor's family in London and I told her about life in Downton."

Now Mary glowered at him. "Did you and her do ..it?"

"No!" Matthew held up his hand "And before you ask if we would have done 'it' if I hadn't been bandaged and plastered all the way up and down the right side of my body I want you to know that since the very first time I saw you, the time you came to invite mother and I up to the Great House, I have never touched another woman with amorous intent."

"So I needn't ask if you kissed?"

Matthew was starting to think that honesty might not be the best policy, but still Mary had been honest with him. "She kissed me. On the cheek."

"And how did that come about?" There was an edge to Mary's voice.

"I told her I was shipping out the next day and she said she had to leave early because they were shorthanded in the canteen; she gave me a quick kiss on the cheek and said 'Your wife doesn't know how lucky she is' and then she left. That's all that happened."

Mary covered the right side of his face. Even with that side of his face all bandaged up Miss Swire had recognized a keeper. Mary smiled at Matthew. "Miss Swire was wrong. I know exactly how lucky I am" and then she gave him a very long kiss. On the lips.

Matthew wasn't sure whether he was still hungry, for food anyway, but he asked all the same "What's in the picnic basket ?"

"You will find out... after you propose"

"That's .. that's extortion"

"They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach"

"They do, do they? You know this spoils my whole Christmas gift giving strategy."

"How so?"

"One ring was going to do double duty as a Christmas gift and as a ..."

Mary perked up. "There's a ring?"

Matthew smiled at this manifestation of Mary's mercenary instinct. "Of course there's a ring; how could there be a proposal without a ring?"

Mary smiled. "Then you are going to have to do some more Christmas shopping."

"Can't you wait until Christmas?"

"No, I've..we've already waited too long."

Matthew stood up. "Wait here".

Mary could hear him go up the stairs.

Fifteen minutes later he came back into the drawing room. Mary had started to worry maybe he had done a runner down the back stairs. When she saw him she smiled. He had washed, shaved, brushed his hair and she sniffed, put on some cologne. And he had changed his shirt and tie. He had a small jeweller's box in his hand.

Matthew walked up to her, cleared his throat and started. "Lady Mary Crawley will you..."

"Wait a minute. You have to do it properly" When he looked puzzled she continued "You have to kneel"

"There's a problem... when I got banged up ... my right side is not totally one hundred per cent so ... kneeling is a bit ..."

"Not a problem, come with me" she said as she took him by the hand and lead him to the stairs. She went up two steps and turned around. "There. Now you were saying?"

"Lady Mary Crawley will you do me the honour of continuing to be my wife?"

"Yes!" she squealed and she fell into his arms.

Luckily Matthew was able to take most of her weight on his left side. He swung her around. He kissed her. Then he put her down. "Well that's settled. What's in that picnic basket?"

"What's in that little box?"

"Oh I almost forgot. Hold out your hand and close your eyes."

Mary could feel a ring slide onto her finger.

"Open your eyes"

"Wow!" It was fabulous. It was all she could say. She tried to make the kiss she then gave him express what she felt. It was quite a kiss.

-0-

Their wedding feast consisted of smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches with cucumber. Mrs. Patmore had fretted about the paucity of it until Mary reassured her that the food would not be the focal point of the night.

The piece de resistance was a beautifully decorated double tiered wedding cake which had been nestled in a box at the bottom of the picnic basket. The moment Mrs. Patmore had been advised of Operation Honeymoon she had got to work on the cake. Matthew went into the kitchen and brought back a long knife. He handed it to Mary. She put it down and carefully lifted off the top layer and put it back in the box.

When Matthew looked puzzled she explained "We will serve it at the christening party for our first...next child." She picked up the knife "Now we cut the first piece together" and they did.

To wash down the cake Matthew opened the first bottle of champagne. He poured Mary a flute full and then one for himself. He stood and held up his glass towards Mary.

"I would like to propose a toast to the bride. It is not often that a groom is given thirty two months between the wedding ceremony and the wedding night to reflect upon his marriage vows. To find out what love, comfort and honour entail in sickness and health. To have his bride forsake great wealth and power to join with him. To have passed through great storms in the past and to face the current storm and future storms together with such a brave storm braver as her is an honour and a blessing. One of which that I hope I am worthy. I pledge all my love to that end. To the bride!" and he downed his champagne.

Mary started to tinkle her glass with her fork. He grinned at her and held out his arms to her. She stood and kissed him.

"Should we go upstairs?" she whispered in his ear.

"Just a minute. We have to dance the bride's dance first" and he took her left hand and assumed the waltz position.

"But there's no music"

He started humming in her ear as he pulled her much closer than would be thought proper in any genteel ballroom. She could not even guess what tune he was attempting but it didn't really matter. She rested her head on his shoulder.

The humming/music stopped. He looked at her. She nodded. And they headed upstairs.

-0-

Matthew allowed Mary to enter his bedroom first. She walked to the bed and sat on it. It struck him that she did not have what he would call a particularly happy expression, if anything it was pensive. She played with her diamond ring.

"This is a little awkward." he ventured.

She gave him a small smile. "It's not how I planned it."

He sat on the bed next to her and put his arm around her. She did not resist when he pulled her to him. "Tell me about your plans."

"First of all you were going to let us know when you were arriving." she elbowed him gently in the ribs.

"Most plans don't survive first contact with the enemy. What next?"

"Branson was going to meet you at the station, telling you your mother had to be at the hospital, and then he would take you here. When you arrived here you would find just me and a true wedding feast. Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Bird had quite the menu planned considering all the rationing and such. I was going to ply you with champagne and then slip upstairs where Anna would help me get ready. I have the most beautiful peach negligee all picked out. Then you would come upstairs and Molesley would help you do the same."

"Do I have peach pyjamas?"

She elbowed him again, a little harder this time. He was glad it was his left side. "Don't tease. Yours are a light blue with a royal blue pinstripe that matches your eyes. Anyway you would wait for me in the bedroom and I would make a dramatic entrance. You can guess the rest."

"No tell me. In some detail. Don't leave out anything out." This time he caught her elbow and spun to her. She fell back on the bed. He followed and kissed her. "We could postpone until tomorrow"

"No, I'm here now"

"I'll run up to the Abbey and get Anna. I don't need Molesley to help me get into my pyjamas. Does Anna know where this special negligee is?"

"It's in the dresser over there" she waved towards the wall.

"You have clothes here?"

"Quite a few actually. I've almost finished moving over. And no you don't have to go get Anna"

"What did you need her for anyway?"

"More to get me out of this dress and my corset. And take down my hair."

"How about I tear the dress off of you; cut the laces of the corset with my trusty trench knife and we'll let your hair take care of itself." He kissed the tip of her nose.

"No, no and no" She was finding it quite difficult to concentrate. He was kissing around her eyes and his moustache was tickling her.

"Then I'll help you. I've been your nursemaid, being your lady's maid will be a promotion."

"You'll see and the surprise will be spoiled."

"Not a problem" he got up, went to his closet, picked a tie off his tie rack (one he didn't like that much anyway) and tied it around his head covering his eyes. "There I can't see a thing".

She laughed and got off the bed herself. She walked towards him and all of a sudden threw a punch at his face. He grabbed her fist before it hit his nose.

"Can't see eh? But it is a good idea. Take that tie off."

While he was doing so she got a pair of socks out of his sock drawer. She folded each sock in half and got him to hold them over his eyes. She then tied the tie tightly over them.

She got his new pyjamas and laid them on the bed. She told him where they were. She picked up her negligee, took Matthew by the hand and lead him into the bathroom.

Mary stood in front of Matthew with her back to him. "There's a row of small buttons down the back of my dress. I'm not sure how many." She could feel his hands moving over her back, including her bottom. "The middle of my back, not my bottom!"

"Sorry, just needed to get orientated. You were saying?"

After he got the very small buttons undone, with some mutterings under his breath, she let the dress drop to the floor. She stepped out of it, picked it up and draped it over the chair. She stood back in front of him. "The corset has a knot at the bottom of the laces. Undo it and then just loosen the laces, you don't have to take them out."

He didn't start right away. Instead he put his hands on her waist and pulled her back to him. She could feel him breathing on her neck.

He murmured "They say a blind man's other senses are enhanced. I breath in your scent and I cannot breath out it captures me so. I can hear two hearts beating as one. I want to read your body with my fingertips as blind men read" and he ghosted his fingertips down her arms.

She shivered. She reached both arms behind her and grabbed him. "Will you undo this damned corset? And be quick about it!"

"Yes, my lady" and he worked the knot undone and then loosened the laces to the point where the corset dropped off of her.

She turned around and gave him a deep kiss. "Consider that a preview. Now go back to the bedroom and get changed. I'll be right there."

"What about your hair?"

"I can take the pins out."

"But I was looking forward to doing it."

"Next time. Now get along" and she steered him into the bedroom.

As she was heading back to the bathroom he called to her: "Should I leave the blindfold on"

"No!"

Five minutes later, well thirty minutes later, Matthew had metaphorically done his tax return, catalogued his library and considered how he would have avoided the debacle that was Man City FC's 1906 season. It had only taken him two minutes to get changed, run downstairs to use the WC, and as an afterthought grab the two bottles of champagne and the champagne flutes. What was she doing? She just had to take off her smalls, put the negligee on, shake out her hair, use the facility – what else could she be doing? He had snuck up to the bathroom and listened, half worried that he would hear crying. It sounded like she was singing to herself. Was she taking a bath? He hadn't heard much water running. What was she doing in there?

He was laying on the bed debating to himself which side should be his, the right or the left. The side closest to the door of course, but if his side was to be the left one then he would have to move the bed to the opposite wall. He was just about to do this when he heard the bathroom door open. He got up and watched the bedroom door with a hunger that surprised him.

She opened the door, came in and then closed the door behind her. He stared at her. She dropped the robe she was wearing to the floor. The sheer negligee she was wearing left nothing to the imagination and everything to the anticipation. She slowly pirouetted. She held her arms out to him. For a moment he could not move and then he was moving to her and she to him.

And then they joined as one, not to be put asunder.

A/N: At some point this OOC AU tale of M/M will be concluded in a separate new story.