More Than Duty Chapter 2

Several days had passed, and Lord Grantham was showing no signs of improvement. Indeed, he felt more tired than he could ever remember feeling for any prolonged period of time. Every time he attempted to leave his bed, he became so short of breath within a few steps that he was forced to return to bed almost immediately. He still felt a dull ache in his arm and chest, but had not experienced any more sharp pains.

Looking around the room, he thought of how immensely grateful he was for his family. He smiled at Cora who had rarely left his side. Edith and Sybil sat talking quietly with his mother. Turning his head a bit further, he saw Mary and Matthew sitting in the window seat together.

Matthew had been a constant presence in the house over the past several days and had quietly taken up much of the pressing estate business so as not to place any more stress on Robert. Robert observed Matthew lean in to Mary and draw her attention to a document he reading and clearly asking her a question. He was pleased not only that Matthew was taking responsibility for Downton but even more so that he was willing to include Mary.

"Darling, you look tired. Perhaps you should sleep," Cora suggested when he yawned. Regretfully he nodded, knowing that she was right.

"Matthew," he said, drawing his heir's attention. "I would be grateful if, while I sleep, you take Mary for a walk around the grounds. She is looking a bit pale from so much time indoors."

Matthew looked to Mary who looked only slightly put out by Robert's request.

"It will make your Papa rest easier," Robert urged when he saw her hesitation.

"Oh very well," Mary agreed. At the main door, she allowed Matthew to help her into her coat. "Carson, we shall remain within eyesight of the house. If anything should happen, please send for me at once."

"Of course Lady Mary."

"I am sorry about that," Mary said when she and Matthew were a few feet from the house. While she had come to enjoy her daily walk with Matthew, she couldn't help but feel a bit uncomfortable about how obvious her father was being.

"Sorry about what?" Matthew asked.

"It is rather obvious what he is doing."

"And what is that?" Matthew asked playfully.

"Clearly he is pushing me at you," she said, daring him to deny it. Matthew considered her remark for a moment. While he was fairly certain that she was right, he had to admit, at least to himself, that he was no longer had the same objections that he had when he first arrived. Any objections he had seemed to have melted away over the past few days.

"What would you say if I said that if he is pushing you at me, I would be happy to catch you," he asked.

Shocked, she looked up at him and tried to read his face. Unsure what he was trying to say, she decided to deflect. "I suppose I would tell you not to be ridiculous."

"Is it ridiculous?" he asked, remembering what she said at their first meeting. He thought her feelings for him might be softening just as his wear, but perhaps he was incorrect.

"Considering the fact that I know your feelings about having one of the daughters pushed at you, yes it is ridiculous."

"Perhaps you should learn to forget some of the things I say," he said.

She looked up at him in surprise as he echoed the words she had so often told him. "What are you trying to say?"

Honestly, Matthew was not even sure what he was trying to tell her. She was gorgeous and he had lusted after her, even when he knew it was inappropriate, since the first time he saw her. But she had been haughty, rude, and clearly disdainful of him since their first meeting. But slowly he had learned that was mostly an act to protect herself in a world that had been unfair to her. Then this last week had been so confusing for him as he had seen so many new sides to Mary. There was the enticing, flirting Mary who sat next to him at dinner. Then the strong Mary who held her family together during tragedy. The emotion Mary who finally let her tears flow. The caring Mary who sat by her father's bedside for hours on end doing any number of mundane tasks to make him more comfortable. The counseling Mary who sat patiently with him answering all his questions about estate management. He had not been aware of all the sides to her before this week and had to admit he was more than a little intrigued. When he saw her now, a smile tugged at his lips and his heartbeat sped up. He couldn't say what it was he felt for her, but it certainly was more than the cousinly affection he felt for her sisters.

"Only that I find I rather like spending time with you," he said with a smile.

"Even under these circumstances?" she joked, trying to lighten a conversation that was becoming too serious and bringing to unsettle her.

"I think I would like being near you under any circumstances."

"Why Matthew Crawley, I think you are flirting with me," she teased.

"Perhaps I am."

Mary was not sure what to make of this new Matthew she was seeing, and in all honesty, she was not ready to contemplate what it could mean - not now. Besides, it wasn't as if anything could ever happen between them - not after that incident with Mr. Pamuk. So what would be the point of exploring any thought of him as anything more than a cousin and her father's heir?

"Perhaps you shouldn't," she replied, meaning to leave it there, but she found herself wanting to temper her comment when she saw the hurt on his face. "At least right now," she added.

"Shall we be friends then?" he asked, it was less than he wanted, but more than they had been.

"Friends," she agreed, taking the arm he offered.

TBC

Author's Note: Reviews are greatly appreciated. Would love to know what you think.