More Than Duty
AU beginning during dinner in episode 5 of Season 1 and continuing through the rest of Season 1 and Season 2.
Robert smiled across the table at the sight of his eldest daughter and his heir laughing together. It warmed his heart to see Mary and Matthew warming up to each other. While he had never supported Cora's ridiculous idea that Mary should consider marriage to Sir Anthony, if this farce of a dinner party opened Mary's mind up to the possibility of a union with Matthew, then it was well worth it. Robert ducked his head to hide his smile, knowing that it would do no good to allow Mary to see his pleasure at the attention she was bestowing on Matthew, knowing his daughter was stubborn and rarely followed a path she knew others wanted her to take.
Yes, tonight would have been perfect if only that ache in his arm would cease. It had been plaguing him all day and only seemed to be getting worse. He was at a loss to explain the ache - he could not remember straining his arm in any way. The ache was not easing either. In fact, it was getting worse and spreading beyond his arm into his chest. Normally, he would retire early, especially in light of how tired he had felt all week, but to do so with guests present would be the height of rudeness so Robert decided he would simply try his best to ignore the growing discomfort.
"Shall we go through?" Cora asked, shaking Robert from his train of thought. The men stood as the ladies left the room. Robert was pleased to see that Matthew's eyes followed Mary as she made her exit.
"Port and cigars please Carson," Robert requested as he sat back down, wondering how such a small act as standing up had left him out of breath.
"Right away my lord," Carson replied, hastily exiting to obtain the requested items.
"Are you feeling unwell?" Matthew asked after noticing Robert rubbing his arm yet again.
"Fine, fine. I must have strained a muscle. Nothing to worry about," Robert assured him. "Anthony, I must apologize again for the dessert."
"No need to apologize. No lasting harm was done," Anthony replied with a good-natured smile.
"Even so, I hope that you will accept our apology and will not avoid future invitations to dine with us."
"Rest assured, I should be more than happy to accept any future invitations. Your table has the most pleasant company I have enjoyed in a long time," Anthony said. Robert noted a look that seemed akin to jealousy pass over Matthew when Anthony mentioned the pleasant company. Certainly Matthew could not think that Mary might prefer Anthony's company to his - not when Mary made a point of breaking protocols and whispering with Matthew when she should have had her attention focus on Anthony.
Before he could think on it anymore, the pain in Robert's chest became too much to bear. Gasping for breath, he clutched his chest and fell from his chair.
"Robert!" Matthew exclaimed as he shot out of his chair and rushed to Robert's side. Anthony quickly pulled the chord to summon help.
"Cora," Robert managed to croak, pleading with his eyes for Matthew to get his wife.
"Anthony, stay with him," Matthew instructed as he left in a rush to get Cora.
Matthew found the ladies gathered in the sitting room.
"Matthew, what are you doing here so soon?" Cora asked.
"Cousin Cora, you must come quickly to the dinning room. I am afraid it is urgent," Matthew said, trying his best not to scare the ladies.
"What is wrong?" Mary demanded as Cora rushed from the room.
"Cousin Robert is most unwell. Edith, would you call Dr. Clarkson and tell him we need him right away? I need to get back to help move him to his bedroom."
"Edith, tell Clarkson we will send Branson for him immediately," Mary instructed as she left the room. She gasped when she felt Matthew catch her wrist and bring her to a stop in the hall.
"Mary, you must prepare yourself. I believe it may be a heart attack," Matthew said.
"What makes you say that?"
"Because my father suffered a heart attack," Matthew replied.
"That's what killed him, wasn't it?" Mary asked, the panic, although hidden in her face, was clear in her eyes. Matthew had hoped that she wouldn't ask that question knowing a truthful answer was likely to heighten her fears.
"Many people survive heart attacks," he replied, avoiding her question. With a hard look at him, she yanked her hand away and hurried toward her father. Matthew sighed and hope he hadn't angered her when he only wanted to protect her.
When he entered the dinning room a few seconds behind her, she and Cora were both kneeling and Robert's side, Cora stroking his face gently and whispering words of comfort to him.
"Carson, ring for the footmen. We must move him to room. He will be more comfortable there," Matthew instructed before kneeling next to Mary. He gently lifted Robert's wrist to check his pulse. It was weak, but it was there. "Robert, we are going to move you to your room."
"A man should die in his own bed," Robert whispered. This brought on a wave of tears from Cora, but caused a look of determination to cross Mary's face.
"You are not going to die Papa - not tonight. It is much too soon. Clarkson will be here soon and all will be well. You'll see," Mary declared as she took his hand in hers.
"My beautiful girl, my fighter" Robert murmured as he squeezed her hand.
"Now it is your turn to fight Papa. Please, you must fight for me, for all of us," Mary pleaded as she locked eyes with her father, gripping his hand tighter as if that action would keep him with her. Looking on, Matthew watched in astonishment at this softer Mary, this Mary who's emotions were plain for all to see.
"I didn't fight for you…earlier…forgive me," Robert struggled to say as he gazed up at Mary.
"Don't! Don't start saying your goodbyes," Mary ordered. "Of course I forgive you Papa. No matter what happens, I will always forgive you and always be on your side. But you are not saying goodbye." By sheer power of will, Mary kept the her voice steady and kept her tears from falling.
Matthew's attention was drawn away from observing Mary when he heard the footmen enter the room. "Mary, Cousin Cora, we must move him. He will be much more comfortable in bed than on the floor."
"Yes, of course," Mary said, rising and moving to help her mother rise as well. Matthew could not help but notice Mary's strength and the fact that Cora was leaning on her daughter for support.
"William, Thomas, you will assist Mr. Crawley and I in carrying his Lordship to his room. And be careful about it - If you bump him into anything, I shall have your heads," Carson instructed.
Slowly and carefully, the four men carried Lord Grantham from the dining room to his bedroom. It was not long after they had him settled in bed when Dr. Clarkson arrived. After listening to Matthew describe what occurred in the dinning room and examining Lord Grantham, Dr. Clarkson proclaimed that it was indeed a heart attack.
"Will he recover?" Mary asked.
"It is much too soon to tell. He needs rest now, and I will examine him again tomorrow. Sadly, there is nothing more we can do. I will be back first thing in the morning."
"I should bid you good night as well," Matthew offered, wanting to give the family some time alone together.
"Stay. You should stay," Lord Grantham managed to say before the effort became too much.
"If something should happen, he wants the heir to be here," Mary explained. He was surprised to note that there was no accusation or anger in her voice. "Please stay. It will make him feel more comfortable knowing you are here."
"Of course I will stay if you want me to."
"He wants you to. That is enough for me. If you will excuse me, I will speak with Mrs. Hughes and have her arrange a room for you," Mary said as she slipped from the room.
"Thank you Matthew. It will give Robert peace of mind to know you are at hand."
"Of course Cousin Cora. If there is anything you need, you need only ask."
"Thank you but there isn't much any of us can do right now beyond waiting."
"If you will excuse me, I think I ought to send for Mosley to bring some sleepwear and clothing for tomorrow if I am to stay," Matthew said. While it was true that he needed these supplies, in truth he wanted to give Cora time alone with her husband.
Stepping into the hallway, he was shocked to see Mary, her shoulders hunched and heaving with silent sobs as she leaned against the wall for support. His heart went out to this Mary, but he wasn't sure how to approach her or even if she would want him to.
Before he could decide how to respond, she seemed to sense his presence. Turning around she saw him and quickly wiped away her tears. "I am sorry. I was momentarily distracted, but I will see about your room right away."
Catching her hand, he caught her before she could turn away. "The room can wait," he said gently as he made eye contact with her. He had the urge to pull her into his arms and let her cry on his shoulder, but knew somehow that doing so would be too much for her. So instead, he led her by the hand through the first door he saw. Looking around he figured they were in one of the many guest rooms.
"Matthew, what is the meaning of this?" she demanded, yanking her hand out of his as he closed the door behind them.
"You clearly need a moment to yourself. Tonight made it clear that you are the storm braver in this family, the source of strength. You have to be strong for the rest of them and won't let yourself cry in front of them, but clearly you need to. So I thought I would give you that opportunity. Don't worry - I won't stay, and no one will look for you in here. I go down to the library for a while before I have Mrs. Hughes arrange a room for me giving you as much time as you need," he explained.
Mary was about to protest, out of habit if nothing else. She wanted to tell him that she was fine, that she could bear it. But when she looked up at him, something in the way he was looking at her stopped her. His eyes showed only compassion, kindness, and something she could not identify.
"You won't think me weak?"
"No one who knows you could ever think you weak," he replied with a soft smile. "But even the strongest among us need these moments."
He turned to leave, but before he could open the door, he heard her softly thank him. After assuring her that no thanks was necessary, he quietly exited the room pondering this new side of Mary as he walked to the library.
Author's Note: This new story line has been playing around in my head for a while and I had to start it. Please let me know what you think and if it is something you would like to read more of.
Also, for anyone waiting for an update to Further Down the Line, the next chapter is halfway finished and will be posted sometime this weekend.