A/N: I decided to make this a multi-chapter fic in response to the feedback I got (which I'm very thankful for, by the way!). So the next few chapters jump back in time– this chapter starts with M&M's first meeting, and I'll go through chronologically until we get to the events of ch.1, then I'll carry on from there. I hope that makes sense…
Matthew Crawley turned in the direction of the familiar voices calling his name. Spotting his friends– strategically situated near the canapé table, of course– he moved out of the doorway and walked towards them, picking up a glass of wine on his way.
"What took you so long to get here, mate?" James asked, clapping Matthew on the back as he reached the small group.
"Sorry, was just revising a due diligence report and it was never-ending." Matthew replied, slightly out of breath from his rush across London.
"Well, I'm glad you're here now," a beaming Charlie began enthusiastically, "the four musketeers are finally together again!" He attempted to wrap his arms around his three friends to form some kind of awkward group hug.
"Seriously, Charlie, stop calling us that. It's not going to catch on." Tariq looked over his shoulders discreetly before straightening out his blazer, making sure the group of pretty girls he'd noticed earlier hadn't witnessed that rather embarrassing and un-masculine incident.
"It is good to see you guys again. Maybe they should make this an annual thing." Matthew stated, glancing around the large function room.
The four friends had reunited at a university alumni event. Their busy lives meant that they'd hardly seen each other in the five years since graduating from their management Masters course at Cambridge, but the reunion– along with its free food and drink– provided a welcome opportunity for them to catch up.
"By the way, what are you all doing after this? You're welcome to stay at mine if you like, I'm sure Sophie won't mind." Matthew offered, aware that the other young men had travelled from various parts of the country to attend the event.
"Oh, thanks, man." James smiled gratefully. "That'd be really helpful, we were going to crash in a Travelodge. As for what we're doing after this– eagle-eyed Tariq here spotted that there's some sort of modelling convention going on in one of the other function rooms." James raised his eyebrows suggestively.
"A modelling convention? What do they do?" Charlie asked, puzzled by the concept.
"It doesn't matter what they do, does it?" Tariq asked frustratedly. "The fact is there's a gaggle of tall, beautiful women down the corridor and we're single, highly eligible young males. Well, aside from Crawley, but he's always good at attracting women over. I say we take our free booze and ditch this joint in about an hour."
"And do what, exactly?" Matthew enquired, ever the voice of reason. "They're not really going to let us in to the room full of models without checking if we're on the guestlist, are they?"
"Yeah, and we don't really look like models." Charlie added, gazing down at his un-ironed shirt and scuffed shoes.
"Speak for yourselves." Tariq mumbled, needlessly smoothing his perfectly-coiffed hair.
"Well, whatever we do later, we certainly can't leave in an hour." James reminded them. "Dinner's in half an hour and then Robert will be giving his speech."
Robert Crawley, the organiser of the reunion, had been the quartet's main supervisor during their time on the management course. With over thirty years of experience in the business world, running one of the country's oldest and most successful department stores and having recently branched out into the entertainment industry, he was widely admired by all who encountered him. The boys in particular had appreciated his down-to-earth manner and relatively gentle approach– given his wealth and status, it was a privilege to even be taught by him, but for him to take a genuine interest in their studies and careers was a real honour.
"I should probably say 'hello' to him before dinner, actually." Matthew said as he perused the room for his mentor. Robert had taken a special liking to the young, blue-eyed boy who shared his surname, and Matthew had been more than happy to let himself be taken under his wing. The two had remained in touch over the last five years, with Robert keen to hear about Matthew's progress in his career. "I'll go and look for him." Matthew announced, stepping away from the group.
Having checked the far end of the room with no sign of Robert, Matthew walked back towards the door, occasionally smiling at the familiar faces he passed by. Across the room, he saw another old friend beckoning him over for a chat. Raising his hand to indicate that he'd be over in a minute, he felt his elbow bump into something. Or rather, someone.
"Oh, goodness, sorry." He apologised as he turned to see who he'd accidentally nudged. His eyes settled on his unintended victim and immediately widened. She was beautiful. Her dark, silken hair was tousled around her shoulders, competing for attention with her perfectly glossed lips. Her slim body and flawless skin was encased in a clingy, navy blue cocktail dress, with a bit of fringing detail around the bust, amplifying her already noticeable bosom. She was clearly a model.
"No problem." The model replied casually, looking around the room with a slight frown. "Do you happen to know where-?"
"It's down the corridor, I believe." Matthew answered pre-emptively. She must have been seeking the modelling convention but had accidentally stumbled into the reunion.
"I'm sorry?" She replied, confused.
"You're in the wrong room." Matthew clarified helpfully. "This is a Cambridge alumni event." He smiled.
Strangely, the model looked rather affronted. "I'm in the 'wrong room'?" She asked, but the question sounded rhetorical.
"Yes…the modelling convention is in another room." Matthew answered slowly, wondering what he'd said wrong.
"Modelling convention?" She laughed humourlessly.
"Aren't you…?" Matthew began quietly, sensing his assumption about her had been quite erroneous.
"You presume that because I'm not wearing some hideous, frumpy trouser-suit I couldn't possibly have gone to Cambridge?" The anger in her eyes and voice was evident.
Matthew merely stood there with his mouth open, unsure of what to say, or how to apologise to this obviously offended woman. He saw her raise an eyebrow at him, telling him to hurry up and say something, but whatever grovelling apology was about to tumble out of his mouth was halted by Robert's sudden appearance.
Matthew felt the older man put an arm around his shoulders, and watched in bemusement as he leaned to kiss the offended woman on the cheek. As far as he knew, Robert never kissed his female students…
"I was starting to worry that neither of you would arrive." Robert looked between the two of them. "I see you've met my daughter." He smiled at the younger man.
Matthew's insides crumpled up in shame. He was sure that his face was physically cringing. He'd just insulted Robert Crawley's daughter! He nervously looked towards her, hoping she'd see the remorse written on his face.
"Yes, we met briefly." The woman, whose name was apparently Mary, replied. She was still staring at him coldly. "I'm going to go and get a drink." She declared, promptly leaving the two men behind her.
Robert chuckled as he watched her walk away. "She can be a bit abrupt at times, if she's in a bad mood. I hope she wasn't too rude to you."
Matthew finally found his voice. "No…on the contrary, actually. I think I may have offended her." He said regretfully.
"No, no, I'm sure it was nothing. She probably just had a hard day at work." Robert smiled warmly, seeing that Matthew was worried. "She's helping us with the rebranding of Crawley's at the moment."
Matthew nodded in recognition. Robert had mentioned that his daughter was assisting the re-styling of the department store ahead of its one-hundredth anniversary. "Oh yes, I take it she's your eldest daughter, then?"
"Yes, that's right. As a matter of fact, it's just been confirmed that she'll be the face of our women's department, in the new campaign." Robert explained proudly. "We were presented with lots of other contenders, but then Mary said she was interested and I thought who better to represent the store than my own daughter?"
"She's lucky to have a father like you." Matthew smiled, but he felt rather resentful. It seemed quite unfair that she could secure a prominent position in a large company like Robert's at the click of her fingers, when people like Matthew had to live off of loans and struggle to make ends meet, all in pursuit of fulfilling their ambitions.
"Try telling her that." Robert joked drily. "Anyway, Matthew, I was intrigued by what you said in your last email and I wanted to speak with you about it..."
Mary drizzled the vinaigrette over her salad, her head raising slightly as she heard the front door open and shut.
"Mary?" She heard her name called.
"Kitchen." She called back, retrieving a fork from one of the drawers. "Hi." She greeted her husband with a polite smile as he entered the kitchen, before wrinkling her nose at the sight of his filthy rugby kit and the mud he'd brought in with him.
"I brought someone back with me." Ashley explained as he reached inside the fridge for a bottle of cool water.
"You know this isn't that kind of marriage." Mary said wryly, settling herself down at the kitchen table.
"He just joined the team today," her husband continued, breezing over her joke, "poor guy locked himself out of his house so I said he could wait here until his wife gets home."
"Oh, OK. Where is he?" Mary peered through the doorway.
"He's removing his shoes." Ashley replied as he walked out of the kitchen.
"Well I'm glad someone thought to do so." Mary hinted light-heartedly, only to be met with silence. Moments later, she heard two pairs of footsteps approaching.
"Do you want some lunch?" She heard Ash offer.
"No, don't worry, I'll eat when I-"
Curious as to why the voice stopped speaking mid-sentence, Mary turned around in her seat. Her expression of mild intrigue quickly descended into one of unpleasant surprise as she saw that the guest in her house was none other than the pompous blonde man at the Cambridge reunion. He, too, was apparently rather shocked to see her there– he was wearing a similar deer-in-the-headlights expression to the one he wore after he'd insulted her.
Ashley, ignorant of their brief encounter, looked between the two of them bemusedly. "Everything alright?" He asked nobody in particular.
"Yes, fine." Mary said, standing up and taking her plate with her. "If you'll excuse me," she addressed Matthew with the faux-politeness which she'd polished off during her teenage years, "I have a modelling convention to attend." And with that, she was gone.
An hour or so later, Mary heard a soft knock on the door of her study. Knowing it wouldn't be Ashley, as he never knocked, she considered ignoring it, but the manners which her mother and grandmother had ingrained in her from a young age prevailed, and she beckoned Matthew in.
"Hi." He said sheepishly as he stood in the doorway. Mary merely looked up at him expectantly, her expression unreadable. "Ashley had to step out to run an errand for his father." He explained.
"And you felt you needed another chaperone?" Mary asked drily. "I know you have your faults but I do trust you to be left alone without stealing anything." She actively bathed her words in sarcasm.
Matthew couldn't help but smile– he knew she was deliberately being rude, but he found her rather witty. Realising she wouldn't appreciate him grinning at her rebukes, he turned more serious. "Actually, I came to apologise…about what I said to you at the reunion. It was pretty obnoxious of me. I'm sorry if I offended you." He said sincerely. "Well, I know that I offended you, and I'm sorry. "
Mary kept her eyes trained on her laptop as he spoke but the sincerity in his voice caught her attention. She never knew apologies could be so genuine! Turning to him, she nodded her acceptance. "Thank you for that."
Matthew shrugged boyishly. "Don't thank me– you deserved an apology. I'm not usually pig-headed, trust me." He laughed lightly.
"I'll have to take your word for it, won't I?" Mary raised an eyebrow as she turned her laptop off. "Can I offer you anything to eat?" She said, her social etiquette training once again overriding her disinterest in her house-guest.
"Thanks, but no. My wife should be home soon so I'll eat when I go back. Although, if it's not too much trouble, could I have a cup of tea?" He asked timidly. This whole situation was rather awkward for him– being driven back to the house of a man whom he'd only just met, only to find said man's wife was a woman who he'd offended the week before and the daughter of his former tutor. He felt like asking for nourishment would be too big of an imposition on their lives.
"Of course, follow me." Mary got up and strode out of the room and down the stairs, Matthew trailing behind her.
"Rugby always leaves me rather parched and in need of some tea." Matthew said light-heartedly as they entered the kitchen.
"I'm surprised you have time for rugby, what with your full-time job in the City and your plans to become a theatre-director." Mary remarked, much to Matthew's surprise.
"How do you know about that?"
Mary glanced up at him as she switched the kettle on. "Are you forgetting that your career guru is my father? He mentions his former students to me sometimes." She explained. "He talks about you rather a lot, actually. It seems you're one of his favourites."
"Oh, he's been very kind to me." Matthew glanced at the floor modestly. "He actually told me a bit about your work for Crawley's– congratulations, it sounds like it's all going well." He smiled.
"Thanks…I'm not sure how great it is to work so closely with my father in the family business, but thanks." Mary smiled slightly as she rummaged through the cupboard to find a mug.
"What do you mean?" Matthew was unable to see why working with Robert could be anything less than a fabulous opportunity, whether you were related to him or not.
"Can you honestly tell me you'd enjoy working directly with your father, day-in, day-out?" Mary asked incredulously. "I'm willing to bet that you wouldn't."
Her attitude was beginning to grate on Matthew– she apparently didn't realise how lucky she was. "Actually, my father passed away when I was very young." He said firmly, hoping to inject a sense of perspective into her.
Mary immediately stopped what she was doing and looked up at Matthew; he was surprised to see her looking regretful– it was the first genuine emotion he'd seen on her face other than anger. "I'm sorry, Matthew, I shouldn't have presumed-" Mary stopped herself and scoffed. "It seems I've done the very thing that I was mad at you for." She smiled at him. "I am sorry." Being innately proud, she was never one to express contrition about any of her words or actions ; but, having just received such an honest apology from Matthew, she felt she could be unguarded in bestowing one on him.
"Don't worry, you couldn't have known." Matthew replied with a smile, relieved to see that beneath her uptight exterior lay some compassion.
"So, what's all this about abandoning law for the theatre?" Mary asked a few minutes later. They were both sat at the kitchen table, clutching large mugs of tea with a small dish of biscuits laid out in front of them. She smiled inwardly when she saw Matthew's eyes instantly brighten. It was clearly a topic he enjoyed discussing.
"Well, I've been considering it for a while– I did a law undergraduate degree and then the management Masters, as you know, but I've always loved drama." He explained enthusiastically. "I was always in school plays, and then at university I moved into stage-managing and directing. I produced a couple of plays, too, although with the demands of my degree it was quite difficult to juggle it all."
"Hmm, I can imagine." Mary nodded, dunking a hob-nob into her tea.
"I ended up going down the legal route because my mother was a bit antsy about the performing arts. She wanted me to do something professional, and I did genuinely have an interest in the law, too. I still do…but…I feel like, now that I'm qualified as a solicitor, I'll always have that to fall back on. And I'm still young, so it just seems like a good time to go for it."
"And what is 'it', exactly?" Mary asked, slightly confused.
"Oh, sorry." Matthew chuckled at himself. "I get a bit carried away, sometimes. Basically, there's a theatre in Shoreditch which is closing down in a few months, unless someone rescues it."
"And you want to buy it?" Mary raised her eyebrows. She didn't know much about this field, but she reckoned that theatres would be reasonably pricey.
"I'd have to get some investors in." Matthew clarified. "But I wouldn't need to worry about licences and that side of things, because it's already a fully-functioning theatre. I'd just have to take it over and produce more plays to ensure it makes enough revenue to stay afloat."
"Oh, is that 'all' you'd have to do?" Mary asked mischievously. "That sounds easy."
Matthew laughed. "I know, I know. It's quite a big task. But it's something I'm passionate about, so I wouldn't begrudge the stress and putting the work in."
"What does your wife think?" Mary asked, and Matthew began to realise that she was quite a practical woman.
Mary noticed Matthew's enthusiasm falter slightly. "Well…she's not too keen on the idea, actually." He admitted, his tone suggesting to Mary that it was quite an under-statement. "She's an actress, so she understands my motivations and my passion for it, but because she's an actress it means my income is the only steady one at the moment. It is quite a big risk, I suppose."
"But like you said, you'd always have the solicitor's job to fall back on if it didn't work out. So it's not that big a risk." Mary pointed out.
"That's true." Matthew nodded in agreement as he took another sip from his mug. "Although I think some law firms may doubt my dedication to the job if they see that I've taken however many months off to try and rescue a theatre in East London." He paused, swirling the remnants of his tea around. "I think I probably will go for it, though."
"Really? Despite what your wife says?" Mary would later wonder why she was letting herself take part in such a private conversation with a man she'd only just properly met. But at the time, the dialogue flowed easily between them.
"It's my ambition. My dream, I guess." Matthew shrugged.
"Do you watch Mad Men?"
Matthew looked up sharply upon hearing her seemingly random question. "Erm…no, I don't. Why?"
"There's an episode where one of the characters, who wants to be an actress, is in bed crying about how difficult it is for her to achieve her dream. Her mother tells her, 'not every little girl gets to do what she wants– the worldcannot support that many ballerinas.'" Mary recalled, reciting the words carefully. "That means-"
"That means that the world needs cleaners and shelf-stackers and boring corporate solicitors, so most people will just have to suck it up and get on with their lives, giving up all hope of reaching their goals." Matthew interrupted.
Mary was rather taken aback. She'd tried telling Ash, and a few of her male friends, about that scene but they'd barely been listening. "Yes…that's what it means."
"Is that what you really think?" Matthew challenged, suspecting that Mary was merely enjoying throwing out various arguments to counter whatever he'd just said. "Or are you just playing Devil's advocate?"
"It makes sense, doesn't it?" Mary replied evasively, not wanting to reveal too much about her personal opinions to him.
"It does. But it's not always wise to base life decisions purely around logic." Having only just properly met her, Matthew didn't know how much those words struck a chord with Mary.
"Everyone makes decisions in different ways." Mary shrugged dismissively. A conversation about life choices and the reasons behind them was not one she was willing to have. Fortunately, Matthew's phone alerted him to a message at that moment.
"Sophie's back home." Matthew explained as he read the text. "I'll make a move."
"Alright." Mary stood up at the same time as Matthew. "I'll walk you out; I need to pop to the newsagent's down the road."
Matthew concealed his surprise at learning that there was a newsagent's down the road; it didn't seem like there would be anything down that road but beautiful Georgian houses and gorgeous oak trees. "Thanks so much for having me over, and for the tea– I really appreciate it." He smiled as they walked out of the front door.
"No problem. You should be thanking Ash more than me, anyway." Mary shut the door behind them.
"Oh, that reminds me– could you give him this?" Matthew pulled a business card out of his wallet. "He said there might be a change in where rugby practice is next week so he'll give me a ring, but I forgot to give him my contact details. My mobile number's on there too."
"Yeah, sure." Mary took the card and placed it in her handbag.
"Well, I guess I'll see you around." Matthew smiled awkwardly as he walked towards his car.
"With the way we keep bumping into each other, you probably will." Mary remarked in, what Matthew already recognised as, that customary dry tone of hers.
Mary sauntered down the road, and Matthew put his keys in the ignition, both rather saddened that the most stimulating, diverting conversation they'd each had in months had come to an end.
A/N: I hope this keeps your interest! I've pretty much written the next few chapters and things get more interesting between them. I envisage that the fic will be very M/M centric i.e. other characters won't have their own storylines. As always, please let me know your thoughts! xxx