Hello! Well. This part is a doozy in length and content. It took longer than I expected because I rewrote it twice...nothing felt quite right, especially with confusions and emotions over the upcoming (now passed) Christmas Special and I wasn't sure where I wanted to go with it. I was certainly conflicted with the ~news that came before the Christmas Special about the actor playing our beloved Matthew and, unfortunately, it affected my writing for a few weeks. Then, the airing of the Christmas Special changed the way I wanted to end this – So, here we are, finally. I'm not sure if the tone is the same as the first part but we find Matthew a bit brighter this chapter. He's determined now and he is resolved to get his life back and put to rest all that torments him...and Mary's presence is a great comfort to him. Anyway, I really wanted to end it on a very hopeful, high note that showed, perhaps, they did find each other again before Mary left Carlisle and they were happy and loving for a few months longer than we saw in the series two Special. I just wanted Matthew hopeful, and more settled on his feelings for Mary and perhaps we can believe he was happy and protective of her these months leading up to their engagement. No spoilers here but of course I am still emotional over the Christmas Special. Thank you all for reading this little nook in the corner of the Downton Abbey world of fanfiction. It was a pleasure writing so much about Matthew and a pleasure coming to know some of you who read this story. Willa Dedalus was a huge support and inspiration for this, through her own stories, so thank you!
Oh, and a note, I listened to "Winter Winds" by Mumford & Sons on repeat while working on this the last few weeks. I borrowed a line from it, too, we'll be washed and buried one day, my girl. The whole song just has the feeling I hoped this part of the story would. Xx
Rain found them for long days after the stifling heat, and thunderstorms accompanied the drizzle. There was no relief to the hot July, it just became humid and wet instead. Rain was a good excuse to stay cooped up inside with a stack of books and he did just that. It had been difficult to read or focus very much since the Springtime. Matthew would always think – oh, this was Lavinia's favourite story, or this is Mary's, this he read during the war, that he had loaned to William one night off-duty, this his father introduced him to, that his friends from university had laughed about...
All he had left behind and once knew seemed to live inside book titles and spines and most things for months were constant reminders of where he was and where he must go. He was getting in touch with parts of his life and himself that he believed were behind him, but now as he struggled with yet another transition...he was much more aware of everything and everyone who had touched his life. He had lived long days of regret and guilt but to accept and face these things was the task. To move on and function again, of course never forgetting Lavinia or William or any man he knew who fell beside him while he soldiered on – This is all he hoped to do.
To rejoin the land of the living, for somewhere between Lavinia's graveside and the present time he had gotten lost among those who wandered between life and death. He was a ghost of himself for many months, although was able to have life again unlike the true ghosts surrounding him. If not for his own well-being it was in William and Lavinia's memory that he took efforts to breathe a bit slower and deeper, aware of himself and his life again – they had no second chance and he might as well take his and not let them have died in vain.
It was for Mary, too, for she pumped life back into him just by looking at him with soft eyes and a heavy heart. To allow himself to think of her again was the greatest leap he took – he slept easier than he had in years when he dreamt of her again and quiet breaths, sweet sighs, long, slim limbs, hair tumbling down her back...
Matthew felt as if the days had a purpose again, aside from his constant, self-inflicted torture. He felt...born anew, not shed of his past wrongs and lapses but moulded by them. He felt alive again and was hardly aware he had felt dead, too, a piece of him – The piece that had morals and principles, hope and a future. And truly, as recovered as he could be, as put back together as he could manage, he would never get over what happened to Lavinia. He could shed his skin as many times as possible but she hadn't deserved to feel hurt on her deathbed. Even if he hadn't played a part in her death, he did watch it, it still loomed over him. He was simply learning to live with the facts and hope it wouldn't haunt him so wretchedly – it would be apart of his life, always, but he could only try to not let it control his days. He would always be sensitive to her loss and the better life she could have had without him.
Mary and the Crawley women left for Ireland at the end of July but not before Matthew saw her once more.
He walked up a few days after their horseback excursion, with a hat full of raspberries and only friendly intentions in mind. Mary was reading a book on the bench beneath the tree and he smiled, fit to burst with relief at finding her so comfortably.
"Hello." Matthew said. She wore a coat over her skirt and blouse, a chill from the rainy days hanging on despite July's blanket of heat.
"What's that you have?" Mary asked, closing her book on her lap and watching him approach up the grassy slope, her expression welcoming but cautious – their last afternoon spent together had been nice but taxing.
"Something for you, actually." He brought a newsboy cap along with him and carried it in his hand, careful not to spill the contents.
"Oh?" She craned her neck and he smiled, glad to feel none of the tension returning, although there remained much unspoken between them, it was not so urgent and awkward as he expected. Perhaps this was how they could function – small doses and short breaks between interactions before everything was normal again.
"Raspberries," She smiled as he tipped the cap down for her to see. "Did you pick these?"
"I found them in the bushes you pointed out the other day – They're full with them this summer, I know you didn't expect them to be." Matthew sat beside her and she offered her palm. He shook some berries from the cap into her hand and she crinkled her nose at the wet berries staining her skin, a smile on her lips. Her gaze softened as she looked at him with thanks and tender eyes.
"They're my favourite."
"I thought they might be."
"You've been eating them already." Mary said, popping one in her mouth.
"How do you know?"
"Your mouth is pink." And Matthew grinned boyishly, tossing a handful back, the berries bursting on his tastebuds, juice seeping out on his lip.
They spoke easy words about nothing important for a few minutes and he looked at her in a dreamlike haze – The demure Lady Mary holding berries in her bare palm and eating them with her fingers. She had these spontaneous, endearing qualities, wasn't always the reserved Lady Mary, cold and careful. The juice seeped on her skin and stained it and she only laughed and dropped another on her tongue. Matthew gulped and continued eating his own and at one point Mary leaned over, swiped her thumb across his top lip, removing a piece of raspberry and the accompanying juices, and sucked the remnants from her thumb into her own mouth. It was a gesture that reddened his cheeks.
Matthew fumbled with the cap in his lap and scattered some berries over the ground, his coat suddenly unbearably hot as his pulse beat and blood raced through his body, warming and arousing certain parts of himself. He had never thought she could be like this, so carefree and improper, and he was glad it was for him that she let those barriers of propriety fall. His spirits soared, his vision cleared of all but for her and he grinned at her as they fell into a pleasant silence.
She was good for him and he had cast her down for so long but was here with her once again. How many chances would a man like him get? He deserved none but found a hundred.
"We leave for Ireland soon." Mary spoke, pages of her book ruffling in the wind, the ribbons of her hat trailing along, as well.
"You must be looking forward to it." He offered her more of the fruit as they talked.
"I am. As long as Sybil's happy. I don't love the length of the journey but to see the ocean is a wonderful reminder...And to put Richard off awhile longer." She smiled to herself, pleased at the thought.
"Mary..." He didn't want to push her, had no right to invade her relationship with Carlisle but if nothing else, if not for they to reunite, shouldn't she at least be happy? She wasn't, it was clear. Nor was Matthew and perhaps they could put one another back together.
When would it be that she would stop bowling him over? Even now, in the grey, bland afternoon, she was stunning. She was the focal point without any sunshine, and so would be even with it! She was radiant enough to warm them both. She watched him carefully, her amber eyes never giving too much away while he felt his own leaked the truth until he was worthless.
"Do you think...maybe we could see more of each other?"
The more time he spent with her the more desperately undeserving he realized he was. She had been gracious and selfless and had been with him when he was on the very brink of death and had wanted for nothing in return when he had recovered. All that had passed between them in their many years apart was so stark on that day. It was a dark stain on their history and it was obvious now that he had hurt her deeply – he could spend all of his time mourning Lavinia and drenched in his guilt over that but shouldn't he reflect on the guilt from hurting Mary? He was a brazen bastard in the years of the war, through his engagement to Lavinia. He paraded her in front of Mary and how heartless was he? Mary declared herself the broken woman with no heart but it was really he – If he had ever truly loved her how could he not see that she had loved him?
"That depends...say, Granny was right...would you have me again?" Her voice was a high trill and it betrayed the casual tone she had aimed for.
How blind he had been, how tangled and tormented and now – Now it was a revelation, sweet and pure despite the fact neither of them really were. Oh, of course he would have her again, in any way. Even if he had married Lavinia, had she survived, he would have spent a lifetime in regard of Mary and longing for her. He would have her in one way or another – either to truly have her or to dwell on her so endlessly that he drove himself mad and there she would be his mind, he would have her that way.
Matthew never paused to think before he spoke, it was an impulse and an instinct to answer "yes".
"Of course," He choked out as everything came to him in a quick moment that stole his breath. He reached for her with a lurch, the hat of berries scattering between them."It was never a question of would I, it was how would I...Oh, Mary."
He felt panicked with the need to touch her, to atone for all that had passed between them and all the hurt. He was overjoyed to be near her again, for it was much less painful to move on from all he had caused when she was by his side. Matthew was healing and Mary was along for the journey and he felt as if he were being rebuilt. He was so glad for her question, for her suggestion of maybe all was not lost between them, that he failed to notice her cool demeanour.
"Hmm," She huffed, turning away from his outstretched hand, her voice losing its bright tone. "Funny how easily you say that now."
"I – I – Mary – at the time, no, I couldn't have left Lavinia but it was not for lack of want. It was for duty and morals that I said I couldn't throw her over," He gulped, sweat beading on his brow, an unpleasant emotion hard in his throat. "This all sounds terribly cruel now that she's gone." His low voice cracked at the thought of Lavinia.
"It would have been terribly cruel to marry the girl out of duty, Matthew."
He gaped at her for a moment but recovered quickly.
"She was willing to give up her life for my injury."
"So you say, and was she the only one?"
"And you say that so easily now, when I'm not sure why you care very much, since it's clear to see where you stand – With Carlisle."
"Oh there you are again, years later and everything's still black and white to you. You don't know where I stand with Richard. You don't understand."
"Pity that is, then. I'm glad to have made a fool of myself for your amusement. Mary, you ask a broken man to display his heart when you keep your own so buried beneath."
"That's what you think! I take twisted pleasure in knowing how you feel about me, because you don't know how I feel about you? Well, Matthew, perhaps you are a fool if you don't know where my heart lies by now."
"I do know you belong to Carlisle and that I shouldn't be here."
"You are wrong, cousin Matthew. I do not belong to any man, certainly not Richard, and if I did, it would be..." She had trailed off, catching herself before she was too vulnerable, maintaining frustration over vulnerability, but her lips pursed around the word "you" as it died on her tongue. She would belong to him, would she? He doubted it and her motives and stood up, a bit wobbly on his feet, his hand flexing where his cane normally was, unfamiliar with the loss of it. He thought he could do without it, if Mary was back on his side, but as they fought, the more his hand ached for his old companion, comfort, and crutch. It stung for her to call him cousin again, as they hadn't since he first arrived in Downton. He knew Mary for the heart and soul she did have but was always surprised at how clever she was at battling it out. She was as hurtful as anyone, with a few carefully chosen words.
He was embarrassed that he had so desperately professed he would want her again, his cheeks burning from the mortification he felt, duped into arguing with her. Matthew thought perhaps they were heading somewhere softer and loving but she was holding onto something he obviously didn't understand. She was offended that, all those months ago, he would not have left Lavinia. He was sure there was more heartache than offence taken but couldn't understand her lashing out. Were they not moving beyond? Were they not able to be honest by now? He feared he had just hurt her too terribly with all of his inconsiderate words and actions. Perhaps this time he had ruined everything.
Matthew stood facing her and she was guarded and still.
"I'm glad we've enlightened one another, Mary. There must be a simpler way to say all of this but I can't find it. Have a nice holiday and give my best to Sybil and Tom." He crammed his hat on his head, dared Mary with a steely glance to laugh at the stray raspberry that rolled out of it and landed on his nose, and then he turned away from her.
"Goodbye cousin Matthew." The dull thud he heard was Mary tossing the book onto the grass after his retreating back and he didn't know whether to laugh or let his blood boil over.
Now, the second of September, he sat on the train back from lengthy visits in London and Manchester and he reflected on their argument bitterly. It was the last he had seen of her before they left for Ireland and she had mentioned something about France and London if there was time left in the summer. It had been three weeks since they left and Matthew's stress levels decreased some, no longer warring himself daily over begging Mary to be with him again, or if he was even ready for that, and instead healing slowly and fully. The argument had faded in a couple of days, lost in his other thoughts and preoccupations and he hoped it meant he was healthier, that he wasn't making himself sick over it. As it was, Mary was engaged to Carlisle and how much time spent with her was an inappropriate amount of time? He was nearly thankful for her long trip, at least it meant he worried about himself more and her less. For, when he knew she was home and dealing with Carlisle, he was always on edge. There was something that said to him Mary wasn't at ease in the relationship and she wasn't about to give it up, but perhaps she was staying with him out of reasons like Matthew's about Lavinia?
His conclusion was that she simply longed to feel wanted by someone and Carlisle wasn't filling that void for her, so she asked him if he would have her – And while Matthew easily said he would have her, want her, hoped to spend more time with her, could she believe him any more than she could believe Carlisle? Certainly, Matthew said it, but did he mean it, and what did it matter because Lavinia's death had hurt them all and left them burnt and fleeing from the flame that had lit when they danced. Mary wanted to be foremost on at least one man's mind and heart and had yet to find it. Matthew ached for her, sorry she was tangled with Carlisle, sorry that issues with her father still bothered her (to live your life regretting you had been born a woman, losing everything that was your family's...he couldn't imagine), and was painfully, distractedly regretful that he could not offer her what she needed. If only he knew what to do – but he didn't. At least she was tucked away happily with her sisters and family for the rest of August.
During August, the weather was fine, so he walked more and explored Downton and even rode his bicycle again. He left his cane behind, permanently, the idea of leaving it was tied to leaving Lavinia behind and none of it came easy. He was glad to be alive, though, for the first time it felt in years and he didn't buckle under the weight of the war quite as often, straightened up and carried the burden, and not let it suffocate him.
Even his mother knew he was doing better, remarking one morning over breakfast that there was colour in his cheeks and that he looked like her young son again.
"I think you've finally scrubbed the war off of you," Isobel had said and he smiled at his dear mother, the strength and will she had was blessedly enough for them both during the months he was a walking corpse. She never gave up, no matter how many times she saw the shadows of haunts dwelling on his face.
He knew that, while on the surface, his nails and hands and face were clean again – the grey pallor of illness, injury and mourning had finally faded – that his heart was blackened and bore the holes that all the men he had killed and saw killed left there. He was not incomplete because of it, just a different kind of whole, a different kind of man. And Matthew tried to consider Lavinia's near constant presence with him as a healing, helpful sort. For, he knew that she would never wish him ill or hardship because of his traitorous heart and while, in the beginning, that had intensified the guilt, now he felt a sort of calm and acceptance. She was better, truer, and kinder than he and while he would never be free from her, it didn't have to be all tragic – Perhaps she would guide him, perhaps she would watch over him. He returned to church and to God after her death and he slowly allowed the truth of it all to sink in.
Being a martyr would not bring her back. Nor William, nor his own father, nor his countrymen lost in battle.
He was finally decisive in coming out of hiding from his own life.
Matthew had visited Reggie Swire in London and then an old university friend, Andrew, in Manchester. Seeing Reggie was often a sad affair, especially when he was bedridden and dwelt on Lavinia. He had no other immediate family, although a cousin would be at the house with him and Matthew was grateful, for the idea of her ill father alone and in mourning would be too much to bear. Of everyone robbed of her presence, it was Mister Swire for whom he felt the worse. Visiting with Andrew was a nice bookend to the trip, dulling some of the difficult feelings he had after London with Reggie. He drank with his old pal and passed out to sleep before eight o'clock in the guest room and it could not have been a tamer, more enjoyable time.
After visiting Reggie he was always awfully aware of mortality (and morality) and he knew the man survived the summer but doubted he could another harsh winter. The war was over but death still happened, it took Lavinia, it would take Reggie, some day it would take him (and Matthew was lucky it hadn't been sooner, during battle) and it put so much into perspective. How much time was he going to waste circling around Mary before he either went off her forever or took the chance while he had it? What if it was one of them next? The idea of her cold and dead, in the ground, was the hardest thing to even consider. Mary was life to him, the truest representation he would ever find. He was determined, albeit nervous, but more resolved than ever to settle with her, one way or another. Death was looming over his shoulder and he was tired from it, and hopeful she would outshine the shadow of the reaper.
As the engine pulled into Downton, he awoke from his drowsing and blinked against the bright light of the early morning through the windows. His legs tingled and his back and bottom were numb and he shook his limbs, regaining feeling. Sitting for too long still inflamed the old injury and he winced, stretching pleasurably as the train slowed. Through the window, his head still thick with his thoughts, hangover and catnap, he thought he saw – He wasn't sure he was awake and blinked and squinted through the bright light and steam swirling outside, rubbing a hand over his stubbly chin. It was a familiar moment and he was catapulted back to the last time he so often rode the train – to and from war – and the last time he saw Mary standing on the platform like she was today. He shook his head, making certain he wasn't really leaving for war and leaving her and felt a tightness in his chest at the perturbing memories.
She wore the same colour, perhaps even the same outfit, a rich burgundy that complemented her beautifully, that she wore the last time they met at the train. The morning after the concert, after he first returned to Downton and introduced her to Lavinia – the morning she offered him a good luck talisman and kissed his cheek. He felt something stir within him at the memories and at the sight of her, something that he thought long was gone. Desire or affection, some happy, warm feeling that the sight of her brought to him. Oh, he was right to think of her, right to realize there wasn't time to waste, that he and she were still alive, flesh and blood, and who was he to take for granted he had all the time in the world? He stood, ready to disembark.
"Mary. Hello." He carried a single bag and dressed in a light suit, a jacket overtop, and a hat on his head. Summer's warmth lasted well into September that year and if he felt sleepy but calm and warm that morning.
"Oh! Matthew." Mary's cheeks were pink and eyes were tired and he felt his stomach soar, so taken with the idea of a sleepy Lady Mary, she who had to drag herself out of bed to make it to an early train on time. Or perhaps he was just taken with the idea of Mary in bed, fresh from it, standing in front of him. He wondered what she was doing there.
"You're back, then? From your extended vacation?" Matthew set his bag down and pulled his gloves off, stuffing them into his pocket, standing near her against the rising sun.
"Yes, just in last night. We stayed with Rosamund a few days more – We all had such a wonderful time together, we hated to see it end!" Most people looked haggard in the harsh light of morning but she was porcelain smooth skin, the smattering of freckles along her forehead and cheekbones exaggerated by the unyielding morning. Her brown eyes, flecks of gold and bronze, shone brightly with moisture, as if from recent yawns and Matthew smiled.
"I'm glad to hear." Sometimes he found when with her, he couldn't help the way his voice lowered to a husky purr, happy to have her near, trying to allure her to him. It was so natural, the way everything within him reacted to her – everything heightened, he felt his heart beat, felt life colour his cheeks, his body stir in ways, his eyes creasing attractively in their electric blue, his breath quicken and primal instincts thud. He felt like a true male when he was near her.
"Yes, hmm. Thank you. Where have you been?"
"Manchester and London."
"Were you to the doctor? Is everything quite fine?"
"Oh. Not the doctor, no. I don't go back for half a year, done with therapy. I'm a cured man, they might say." Matthew grimaced a little.
"And I've never seen a cured man look more displeased with the thought!" She chided him, his bulging eyes and tight jaw. "Be glad, Matthew. I take such heart in that news."
"Where are you going, then? If you've only just returned from London?"
"Back to, I'm afraid. Ships passing in the night, I suppose!" She smiled, her straight teeth grazing her bottom lip almost nervously, her eyes downcast.
"I don't understand. Is there anything wrong? You must have gotten in late."
"Richard wrote while I was gone and asked for me to come up the second, if we were still returning on the first."
"Why didn't you see him while you were back with Lady Rosamund?"
"Ah, well, he was away on business until yesterday himself."
"So you're going back up because he asked you to?"
"I suppose. Keep the peace and all."
"You must be tired."
"A bit travel weary. Truthfully I can hardly keep my eyes open even while we stand here!" She laughed but was quieter this morning, somber nearly. Carlisle was weighing on her mind already, the relaxation of weeks of vacation vanished. Matthew was glad to be the calm, rational one that morning, realizing that the more she seemed to need someone or something, anything, the more reasonable he felt. She was his new hope to fulfil, he thought. Setting his mind on her could take his mind off of everything else.
"Don't go." He said simply, thick brows furrowed.
"Aha, if only it were so simple." Mary thought their conversation was pleasant and innocent but Matthew was determined. She even stood differently, her shoulders rolled forward and both of her hands clutching her bag across her middle. He hated to think of a downtrodden Lady Mary, Carlisle's doing.
"Well, it is. Don't get on the train, don't go."
"It's tempting but..." She took a few steps toward the train and looked back toward him. "I mustn't keep you, Matthew. I'll see you once I'm back, perhaps for dinner!" She waved a gloved hand and stepped into the first class compartment and Matthew frowned after her.
His thick head from the drink the night before slowed his reaction time but, as he watched her take her seat, glance once out the window and then stare straight ahead, he decided what he must do. It was strange to be the observer this time, to watch her prepare to leave instead of being the one to leave. Matthew left so very many times to and from the war and it took a toll on him like it took a toll on her. He turned around, bag in one hand, and entered the station to purchase another ticket.
Matthew boarded the train, removed his hat, found Mary's secluded seat and took the one across from her. She looked up from the Vogue she had pulled out, and raised her eyebrows.
"Did you forget something?"
"No, I thought I'd come along for the ride." He put his bag and hat in the seat next to him and smiled at her with drawn lips.
"Don't be ridiculous." She sighed, looking back down at the pages of the fashion magazine.
"I'm not, I don't think," Matthew interrupted, determined but politely so. "I think we could talk. The last we met...wasn't ideal, was it?"
Patiently, although struggling to seem so, Mary closed the Vogue on her lap and rested her hands there, too.
"I'm sorry for the way we left things last month," She said, honestly, straight forward. "But I see no need for you to ride the train with me to discuss them."
"I want to. I'm excited to now. I've never travelled anywhere with you." He had only taken the train with his Mother before and had driven to Downton once with Lavinia in her motor. He smiled at the memory, the long drive in which they had fumbled to get to know each other more, since he had impulsively proposed. It was an exciting time, he remembered, awkward and new and he wanted to tell her everything about the Abbey and the family...and Mary...
"Well. Genuinely, Matthew, I haven't been considerate and I wasn't during that argument." Her eyes were hidden beneath the shadow of her hat and she pressed her lips together, uncomfortable but seeing need to get things in the open, too.
Matthew perched forward in the seat, bending across the space toward her, leaning his elbows on his knees, looking up at her.
"I was awful to you...earlier in the Spring...it's only fair you expressed some frustrations." He said, quietly, although first class was empty but for them, although it was more for sincerity than for privacy.
"It wasn't about that, though – not entirely. Certainly, some residual hurt from how guilty I've felt but mostly...mostly I was asking things of you that you shouldn't have to expose...after what you were through. I shouldn't try to fill my own insecurities by feeding off yours."
"I understand, I do, Mary."
"Do you?" She leaned back in her seat, her hands going to remove her hat from where it was pinned to her hair and she looked expectant.
"I think so. Perhaps things are a bit shallow with Carlisle and you'd just like to feel..." Matthew trailed off, and sat back, too, feeling desperate leaning toward her, needy for closure, for explanation and peace.
There was a long moment in which she took what he said, looked ashamed and ruffled, but resigned to the truth, the fact that he was right.
"Simply better," She said, her head turned to gaze out the window, gaze detached from the conversation and focusing on a family of three preparing to board a compartment away. "Not even happy or whole, only...wanted..."
On the platform, the boy ran around his parents as they readied their tickets, and he laughed joyfully as his father caught him around the waist and swung him in a circle before carrying him onto the train. Mary watched the encounter, the woman smiling at her two men as they boarded and Matthew wondered if Mary wanted children. He wondered if it was ever something she longed for, or something she felt obligated to, growing up expecting to inherit Downton alongside Patrick. Now that she was free from those constraints, but bound to new ones in the form of Carlisle...were children in her future? Did she want to bring more lives into the life with Carlisle that she already resented? Her gaze was far off and sad.
He himself had never considered children, simply expected them as the natural order of life but when he was injured and, briefly, the chance for reproducing was stolen from him, he began to wonder about his own offspring and he'd imagine them with his blonde hair and their mother's brown eyes...Mary's brown eyes.
It was when Matthew really mourned the loss of what could have been, and when he recovered fully, he realized a family was something he wanted, he was joyful when he realized it was possible again after his injury but startled to know he wanted a family with her.
"Oh Mary," Matthew said, drawing her back from her observations of the family, his voice holding the heaviness that she felt. "I do understand, I promise."
Small creases etched across her forehead as she looked back at him and with her somber expression, her cheekbones stood out, highlighting her face beautifully. They were so often on the same level, shared such an unspoken connection for which Matthew was thankful (too much of what they felt was hard to say).
"It's my burden to bear, Matthew, I was wrong to lay that on you. And what an ego I have! Offended you didn't say sooner that you'd have me...it must have taken guts to say you would at all, after you've tortured yourself so since she died."
"I should have said it sooner, Mary. I was ashamed, and confused...guilty and miserable,-"
"Weren't we all,-"
"I wish I hadn't stayed away from you." He finished after her coy interruption and a man came to collect their tickets as they collected their thoughts. First class remained their own reprieve as no one else came on and so Matthew stood and took the seat next to her instead.
"You shouldn't be so candid, we're not in quite a proper place, you know. You may wish that but I'm sure Richard is quite content with the situation." Mary said, her matter-of-fact, Lady Mary voice back in tact and Matthew rolled his eyes, pulling his book from his bag as she spoke.
He smiled and turned to look to her at his left, his hair brushing the cool glass, a nice contrast to the warm day. Her hand brushed his on the armrest and then pulled back, removing her gloves and setting them, her hat, magazine, and handbag in the seat Matthew had deserted across from them.
"Bugger what Carlisle thinks."
"Matthew!" She chastised but smiled and finally the train begin to roll ahead, the smooth, chugging of the engine picking up quickly and sweeping them out of Downton...for the first time together.
Matthew could almost physically feel the weight of the place and their problems leaving him as they sped away from the familiar landscape. On that territory...everything was fair game. All of the guilt and hurt and death lingered there and was inescapable, was pumped through Matthew's blood, his very veins. How could he think of anything but when he had to walk by Lavinia's grave site on the road to the big house? How could she ever, or William, or any of the men fallen who worked on the estate, be very far from his mind? He would always look at Mary and strive for more, to be present and whole and repair what he had rendered irreparable many months before but in the background of Mary was Downton and in Downton there were ghosts. Matthew felt lighter and better as they rounded a bend and the village slid from view and for the first time he could think of Mary and Mary only. He knew she did not feel so light, for as they left his haunts, they approached hers.
Carlisle and London.
"I think I'll be at the point of riding trains where once I'm off I'll still feel the ground moving." Matthew remarked to Mary in a murmur, slumped back against his seat, weary, hungover, but so satisfied.
"I didn't ask you to come," She said, gazing around the large compartment that was their private own, finding nothing to take her attention and finally meeting his blue eyes with her deep chestnut coloured ones. The light streaming in the windows glinted off her eyes, made her hair shine, and it was with a pleasurable affection that he realized they were nearly the same colour. Her hair shone deep chestnut, auburn highlights shimmering and her eyes were brown but gold but chestnut but red. "But I think I'm near that point, too. It's been an awfully lot of travel."
She was a vision.
Mary's head relaxed against the rest and when her blinking became slow and languid Matthew gestured with the book.
"Would you like me to read aloud?"
She was sinking and slumping, comfortable and tired and his heart pounded as it had earlier that morning when she appeared tired, some erotic undercurrent to her narrowed eyes, the rise and fall of her breast with her slow, heavy breathing.
"Mmm. That would be nice."
Matthew read for a few long minutes, his voice a low, intimate murmur near her ear and when her eyes slid shut he continued reading to himself, until her head lolled and found his shoulder. He sighed, not that he hadn't hoped for it but he knew it was improper. Improper to be riding trains with another man's fiancée, following her to visit said man, sitting so close to her, the warmth of her body warming his own. Improper to want her to leave the man, improper to find her so beautiful so suddenly, to be barely able to control his desire for her when he had only laid his own fiancée to rest mere months ago...
It was improper to love Carlisle's Mary, oh for Matthew loved her, he did, he loved Mary and knew he had never stopped, only hoped to stop during his long years at war but here he was again, with her, damned and doomed and in love.
But, Matthew reasoned, he hadn't cared much for propriety since war, since he had watched men bleed out at his feet, dead by his own hand. No, propriety was some figment, some thing that better people had held onto, those who had seen and done less and believed it was still possible there was righteousness left. He was the worst heir they could have found, the worst future Earl of Grantham there ever could be...a man who had done so wrong, who had self-pity and self-hatred. He cared for the family, he cared for the employees but he never imagined himself at the helm and not Robert. Downton would never suit him, he didn't think, because he let things get to him at his very core until he was a man robbed of his integrity. Upon reflection, he supposed, he cared most about inheriting Downton for Mary – He wanted her to have everything in the world and he would love, more than anything, to give it to her.
Matthew only wanted to see Mary in her rightful role as Countess, the title she was born into and groomed for and deserved more than anyone ever would. Matthew hoped, some day, Downton would be her's again...and he supposed that meant marrying her.
He was gazing out the window, far away in his thoughts, only faintly aware of the gentle weight of Mary's head on his shoulder. Her hair was fragrant, mixed in with her vanilla, musky perfume and it was a scent he would come to associate with comfort, with ease and rest and home.
"Where are your thoughts?" Mary's small, drowsy voice reeled him in and her sweet breath brushed his neck, the back of his hair. When he turned toward her their faces were too close and Matthew lurched back, thudding his head against the window.
"Oh!" Mary exclaimed, snapping awake and pulling back to watch him curse and press his hand against the lump.
"Jesus, jesus," He muttered, wincing at the pounding in his already hangover-heavy head. "Sorry, I – not proper and all."
"You're on pins and needles, Matthew." Mary sighed, sliding a hand through his blonde hair, pomade free that morning due to his travel, and she felt for the bump and told him it wasn't so bad.
"I just forgot where...where we were for a moment." He said, trying to straighten himself out.
"Everything's perfectly fine, we're perfectly innocuous on a train for heaven's sake. Perhaps you could finish the chapter before we get to London?"
Once they arrived at the station in London, things were relaxed again. Matthew finished the chapter and then three more before they arrived and once they did Mary was awake and invested in the story. Matthew felt like they were off to start a life of their own, it was so strange and such a treat to spend time with her alone, comfortable, away from the tangled webs they wove at Downton.
How he wished he could spend all of his time riding trains with Lady Mary Crawley, for he so believed it was he for whom she was her true self, her best self...her loving, vulnerable, hurt and open and hopeful self. He wished for her to be herself for the world but was at least glad he was fortunate to know her.
As the train pulled smoothly into the busier station in London, they stood and collected their things and Mary perched her hat over her hairdo and Matthew bent over to pick up his bag, still packed from Manchester and London the day before. He instinctively grimaced as he moved his stiffened back and before he could massage the ache away he felt Mary's hand there. Matthew straightened as she rubbed her small, gloved hand in a firm circle and looked very seriously, very meaningfully at him.
"I wish I could help you feel completely better." Mary said, a line between her brows as she frowned with thought.
"You do help me." Matthew said simply, and he meant it, when had he ever felt better than with her near? She was his healer.
She smiled a small smile, and when she pulled her hand away from his back Matthew grasped it in both of his own.
"I wish I could help you feel completely better, too, Mary. And when or if there is anything I can do for that...please tell me, won't you?"
Mary said nothing, just squeezed his hand and nodded once, brown eyes shining.
Once off the train, Mary looked unsettled, up the street toward Carlisle's offices, then back to Matthew.
"You can't come with me, of course."
"Of course. What shall I do? Leave? Wait? Wander? Eat? I think I will eat, I have a splitting head. How long might you be?"
"What's the sense of leaving after you've imposed yourself so! I'm not sure, five minutes or two hours depending on his mood," Mary sighed, rolling her eyes. "Where will I find you?"
"I think I'll go across the street, it's a café I've been to before. It looks like rain later, so mind that when you do come. Godspeed, Mary."
"Oh Matthew, I'm not off to war..." She smiled in thanks, though, as she turned away and walked up the street, Carlisle's building visible from where they stood, nice and cozy in the hustle and bustle of the city. Matthew watched her leave, the clacking of her heels echoing on after her.
Matthew was frozen for a moment, standing there on the sidewalk outside of a busy shop, watching Mary walk away...in a big city, so different from their meetings in her home at Downton. How very many times had she watched him leave? It was hard for him, letting her go, even for a minute or two. If Matthew had been sensitive before he lost Lavinia, before he betrayed her and realized their relationship was not built on the same love that his with Mary would have been...he certainly would be sensitive now. He only wanted Mary close, only wanted all past wrongs forgotten and he wished she was ready to move on, too...
Matthew went to the small but accommodating café across the street, with white dining tables and high beams. He didn't know what to do while she was gone, or even what he could think about...what he hoped would come of her visit...but he was glad she would return. Matthew was desperate to be near Mary and he was so relieved all tension from their last meeting was gone. She was gracious, she understood, she was restrained and kind and he deserved none of it – but Matthew had realized how ever much he might not deserve her...he wanted her...he needed her...he could never give her all she should have, could never make up for all he had done...could never feel moral and whole again but...he would be selfish in his need for Mary, he thought...he was determined and crazed and so scared to lose her forever.
And at least he wasn't Carlisle.
Matthew read the paper, nursed his heavy head with a coffee and sandwich, coming back into himself, vision cleared from lingering alcohol. He felt as if he were on verge of a breakthrough, of resolution, of happiness, and he was happy to spend an hour alone, happy to feel like a normal man, reading the court news as the lawyer inside him would, enjoying his lunch and just generally feeling like a man brought back from the brink.
He was a man who had everything to gain and nothing to lose.
An hour later the eatery became cramped as the skies opened up and rain fell down on London, so Matthew paid and left, tucking the newspaper beneath his arm. Once outside, passerby's rushed into shops and cars, stood beneath awnings away from the rain that was missing for the month of August. He looked up and down the street, wondering whether to fetch Mary or to head to the train station, early for the next train they could take back. Before he could make a move, though, he saw her approaching, her burgundy outfit soaked with rain and her hair sticking to her forehead.
He dashed through puddles and unfolded the newspaper, coming to stop and held it high above their heads, shielding them from the rain. She looked at him with a flat expression and her sigh was drowned out. The paper split from the wet and the cold rain-soaked their faces and he tugged her along the street until they were at the train station.
"How was it?" Matthew asked, finally, as they entered the warmth, leaving a puddle of their own on the floor. They sat on a bench in the centre of the station, Matthew laying his suit jacket over the back and then helping Mary out of her own. She peeled her arms out of the sleeves and her pale coloured blouse was wet, the outline of her chemise visible beneath. Matthew swallowed.
"Was he mean?" Matthew said, with innocence like before he was Captain Crawley, and Mary's song of a laugh echoed in the high ceilings.
"He wasn't interested in hearing about Sybil's wedding because it brought up that the only reason he didn't force us to marry this summer was for the fact that you and I weren't seeing each other," Her eyes glinted strangely. "It was a threat, Matthew, daring me to say we are speaking again so he could...he could make sure I'd put an end to it. He's malevolent, almost."
Matthew shook and his jaw clenched, feeling the anger wind up inside of him, furious for release but unable to find it when dear Sir Richard was tucked safely away. He had upset Mary after demanding she travel to see him and Matthew was aching for her (physically aching for her but also aching with hurt for her).
"If I left things would be easier on you,-"
"Don't talk like that,-"
"But my leaving isn't anything to worry about anymore. When it first happened I thought about Manchester but I'm invested, aren't I? I couldn't turn away after all of this."
Mary sighed and sat down beside Matthew and when she looked at him, she was that of a drenched damsel and she was preparing to answer the unspoken question between them. Obviously her visit to Richard wasn't a happy one and Matthew was practically gritting his teeth against begging to know why she bothered with it all, why she was unfathomably still with him.
Matthew sat patiently as she fixed her wet hair, brushing stubborn tendrils off of her forehead.
"It's not that I'm forced with him, it's – it's I needed a favour, quite awhile ago now, and Richard's a man with connections and power,-"
"More than your father, Earl of Grantham?"
"You'd be surprised. When I went calling to Richard, and asked for his help he...he used his proposal as leverage,-"
"A business proposition."
"Essentially. In any case, I agreed. He helped me and I agreed to marry him. It's...if I turn him out now...the favour..." She trailed off hopelessly, expecting Matthew to understand.
"The favour retracted? And it's so awful that you'd rather marry him with the favour in tact, than to be without?"
"As it stands now, I'm afraid so..." Mary's voice was small and low, the disappointment and upset heavy in her words, when normally she was so good at erasing everything from her demure voice. No, it was tormenting her, Matthew could tell.
"Might it change?"
"It might. It's less about my pride now and more...more about my courage. I'm as fearful of his repercussions as those of the favour falling through." Mary sighed and Matthew turned toward her, bending a leg on the bench to sit nearer to her, taking her wet, red fingers in his own large hands. He felt full and encouraged at her admission, when perhaps he shouldn't – but at least he knew she was with that man for something that definitely wasn't love. She didn't love Carlisle and if she would only open up to Matthew, he could barely dare to imagine all they might have together...
His heart was heavy for whatever deep dark secret she had to conceal with Carlisle's help but Matthew didn't believe it would hold, he didn't believe she would want protection with the favour forever. He did believe that she would gather up her strength and deal with it, over dealing with Carlisle. Matthew also believed there was nothing, nothing that she could tell him or confess that would put him off her. There was nothing that could change who she was or what she meant to him. For look at all he had done! The men he had killed, the sacrifice of William's that was wasted on his ungratefulness while injured, his betrayal of Lavinia...he couldn't imagine what it was, what had happened to Mary but he did know he would accept it whenever it came out.
For it must be revealed, it had to be, now that he was determined, now that he was hopeful for a future, he was willing to fling off his own demons and self-loathing if he could have her...but, he supposed, he wouldn't push it for the moment, he wouldn't force or beg her, because he wasn't ready, either. He was willing but shaky, hopeful but also wasn't enough for her, yet. He carried too much with him, through his day today, to help her yet...he wished her safety and happiness from Carlisle but Matthew was no more stable for it...Mary was stronger than he and she would overcome and hopefully, oh hopefully, he would be the man he should be for her, the day it happened.
But he felt such pride to be with her that afternoon. He was being seen with Lady Mary Crawley at the train station in London and how he wanted to kiss her on the streets of London, wished to save her from it all, there in London.
His thoughts from the morning came calling back and they were disturbing and morbid but foremost on his mind...it justified everything he felt.
"The thing is, Mary, Reggie Swire won't live through another winter."
"What? Why do you talk like that?" She asked, lines pulling her mouth into a sad frown, looking down at their clasped hands.
"Well...he's bed-ridden and heartbroken over Lavinia...the summer was kind to him but he won't survive another cold, damp, English winter."
"I'm terribly sorry to hear..."
"Yes, thank you, but it's that – It has me thinking and...some day it will be me, or you or...Carlisle, even, who won't live through another season and before we're washed and buried I just...want..."
Mary's eyes were wide and searching, back and forth, to and fro, boring into Matthew's. They were warm and nervous, unblinking as she hung onto his last word, waiting for the next. She sat up straight and her chest heaving was the only betrayal of her calm appearance, her breathing heavy and quick.
"I just want you. Finally. I don't deserve to, and I've done everything wrong that a man can do but – My life only feels real when you're apart of it."
"Oh it's good to believe that something feels real, I know," She said breathlessly. "But it's impossible..."
"I expected as much but I don't mind saying anymore. Mary, especially because of what you told me, I'm not about to give up."
"It would do you good to." Mary said thickly, something between a sigh and a sob, taking her hand back from his and sighing.
"But you know how I feel?" She asked, dabbing at the corners of her eyes as she took a shuddering breath. Even when she felt vulnerable she was never down for long. She picked herself back up fast and Matthew thought it strange how her presence shifted - At Downton she was larger than life, the focus of the room, the centre of the world, but here, after her visit to Carlisle, she was smaller somehow, small shoulders curled forward in a protective position. She could rule the world, shone so brightly she could replace the sun itself, but being with Carlisle was diminishing her and it pained Matthew to see.
Matthew's heart swelled at her words, how she felt, and his chest puffed out as he felt a reassured warmth spread over him.
"God, I hope so," He said, very aware of his breathing, very tempted to whisk her away wherever he could. But for now it was enough, for now it was everything. "And you, I?"
"Yes...it's too much to say it aloud, I think, not when it's,-"
"Yes. But – I know. It's the only thing I'll know from now, Matthew." When she said his name and looked at him, Matthew realized he was existing for an entirely different purpose now. He would exist for her, he would strengthen for her, he would do all he could to heal for her – what a motivation, what a curse and a blessing their relationship had been and it was rounding the bend toward its last hurdle (so he hoped). Her eyes were fiery and restless and spoke the world that she contained.
They left the station for their train, feeling oddly coupled and red-faced among the public. Matthew took her purse and his bag, both of their sodden jackets draped over his arm, and they waited on the platform for the engine to unload. The sky was clearing, the grey haze fast-moving along the clouds and revealing hints of blue.
"Typical London," Mary said conversationally, gazing up. "Rained upon and then the sky turns blue."
"I'd like to kiss you in typical London." He said boldly, lamely, abashed. Mary looked over at him with wide, scandalized eyes.
"You mustn't! We are in Richard's London, you know." She folded her arms across her middle, looking uncomfortable without her coat to clench her fists in the pockets of.
"Oh Richard's London, what an important man Carlisle is!"
"Spite isn't an attractive quality on you, Matthew."
He smiled at her, mischief like he hadn't felt since he was a teenager thrumming and egging him on. He stepped nearer to her and her eyelids fluttered briefly.
"Mustn't I, though? Or would it...be alright?" He spoke quietly to her which brought her closer to him, eager to hear his murmurs.
"Isn't this exactly what damned us and hurt Lavinia so?" Mary's hand laid on his chest as their coats and bags slipped from his grip and they tilted their heads naturally.
"We and our hurt must matter in this sometime, Mary." And he was grasping her wrist gently, fingers stroking the delicate bone there, moving her into him.
"I can't be sure if you mean it or are just desperate for a kiss." She breathed and Matthew drew her in, his hand sliding up to her shoulder and clutching her close. Her blouse was still damp but her skin became feverish as he touched her.
She was tall and willowy and he never had to bend far to find her lips, full and soft, puckered, then parting to tug his own top lip between them. It was fumbling and hasty, his one hand on her shoulder and her's stroking the hair above his ear, not as wrapped up together as they desired to be but still finding pleasure in this forbidden token. Her petal-coloured mouth was sweet with honey and mint and he couldn't deny himself her any longer.
Mary angled toward him sweetly, her long neck curving, his nose brushing her cool cheek and his lips moulding with her own. Her mouth parted and she sighed softly, his tongue tracing hers daringly, his entire body tingling and burning, before pulling back and brushing their lips together for a few slow moments. He was almost caught up in the kiss, too caught up while standing out in the open, and Mary put an end to it, smiling, pushing him away with her hand on his chest. She straightened his tie and his lips pulsed and he smoothed them together as they parted, tasting her there still.
"This is what scandals are made of, Matthew." Little did he know how much she knew about scandal and regrets.
"Richard's London," He murmured, her breath still warming his mouth, her lips glancing his before she stepped entirely away. "Right."
"What do we do now?" She asked tenderly, brows knit together in elegant concern, looking at him with careful wonder.
"I think...it's good to know where we stand,after so very long...and we go home." His voice low, bright blue eyes roaming around the faces of those surrounding them, and then back to her. She was alabaster but light, caramel-coloured freckles flecked her skin, three pretty moles along her arm that he adored and ran his finger along.
It was like she was coming into focus, as if she had been obscured to him for so long, a little blurred, a little hidden, but with the revelation that he loved her so, everything about her was clear. Her eyebrows were shapely and expressive, her cheekbones angular and defining, the little lines pulling around her eyes were endearing and told stories of all the years she had seen, all of the years he had known her...oh Mary...
Matthew sighed and stooped down for their belongings and apologized to Mary for the state of her poor, wrinkled, wet and dirty coat and she told him to look at his own. They chuckled and finally boarded the train, Matthew's mocking of Carlisle's London changing to true feelings of exposure and paranoia as they had kissed so openly with eyes upon them.
"Shall we go to the tea cart? You could use warmed up. Here long enough to be rained on, I suppose!" Matthew arranged their tickets and seats and something indecipherable leaped from his stomach to his throat, something that told he would love to do this for her as more than...more than jilted, mournful, cousin Matthew...
"It's always a comfort to hear you call Downton home." Mary said, her hair frizzing as it dried, curling around her head, falling across her forehead although she brushed it away.
"I've never known one like it, truly." He touched Mary's cheek, licking his lips again at the memory of her's and the way his stomach soared. The windows were blurry from the rain and the speed as they started to move and she sat beside the window this time, the whole scene having a very surreal feeling. Matthew could hardly believe that she was real, or they were here, and he had kissed her for only the third time ever. He gulped, the sunshine creeping back in and she was a hazy figure against it, a lovely presence so tangible and warm.
It was hard, for Lavinia was never far from his thoughts and he knew it and Mary knew it, could see Lavinia there just behind his eyes. He himself was beginning to think he a broken record but there is only so much suffrage you can bury away, always remnants left on the surface. Matthew hoped someday he would feel more settled about it but believed if anyone could understand, it was Mary. This he thought on the very day of Lavinia's wake, although he forced it upon her none too gently, but Mary was the one to empathize if anyone would.
"I know you're looking at me but sometimes...seeing her." Mary said cleverly, and he blinked, snapping his mouth shut as it had gaped open reflexively.
"I don't imagine her with me, just – just her happy...finding a better man."
"Hmm," Mary arched an eyebrow good-humouredly. "You weren't a good enough man for her but think you are for me?"
"Well, I'm better than Carlisle." Matthew retorted and Mary tried to suppress a smile by jutting out her chin indignantly and lifting her brows but ended up smiling anyway.
They sat quietly, settling in for the ride, nerves calming, pulses slowing. Matthew was digging for the book again when she spoke.
"It won't be me next, Matthew. Or you, for that matter...to die...although I do appreciate that your eyes have been opened by all that's happened."
"You don't know it won't be, though. Probably not but maybe so." He was distracted, still fumbling through his things, and he heard Mary sigh, figured she had rolled her eyes.
"I just mean – no, of course I don't know, nor do you – you can't live with this darkness over your shoulder. You won't have a normal go of it if you do."
He looked at her and everything she spoke sounded like a verse, a hymn, a benediction.
"You're right. And I'm trying."
"That's all I ask." She swooped toward him and looked at him with dark, lidded eyes, and then looked at his mouth, but instead kissed his cheek softly. Her lips were the smoothest against his rough, stubbly cheek and he sighed heavily, nearly a moan.
Without another word about their hearts or feelings or longing, Matthew resumed reading aloud from the novel and they adjusted themselves comfortably for the rest of trip. It was perfectly plain, perfectly ordinary but also something that would bond them in the coming months. These small, quiet moments they stole away were the foundation of their coming together, their building back up. He would not kiss her again, or sit alone with her after horseback riding, or ride a train with her, until she was free from Carlisle...and he was free from Lavinia's sweet, sweet ghost...
But, as they sped through the countryside like characters in the novel they shared, he believed, finally, that they would be free someday and she would be his to love openly. All he knew was within her now.
Matthew Crawley was a changed, damaged, but moral man and he would begin again when the new year came. How lucky he was, how lucky one can be while as heavily cursed as he.