A/N: Before we begin, I just wanted to say a quick thank you to all those who reviewed and followed and are enthusiastic for this story. Your support really does inspire me. Thank you again! Also, to Willa Dedalus for being a wonderful beta and co-conspirator. You're the best. :)

I took the liberty of using several lines from canon, but not usually in the same order as they're used in canon and sometimes spoken by different characters. Also, my time line may not match up exactly with canon, but it is an AU, right?


Chapter 2

"I don't know why Papa insists on carrying out this farce when you're going to undo it."

Mary tugged on her long, black glove as she awaited her mother's response. When it didn't immediately come, she glanced anxiously up at the countess' face, surprised by the complacent smile she found there.

"He is going to undo it, isn't he?"

"Your papa doesn't believe it can be undone," Cora answered, gently touching Mary's elbow.

She took a deep breath and tried to school her features so as not to show the depth of hurt her father's decision not to champion her cause inflicted. Her own father wouldn't fight for her, and the knowledge stung much more than she liked to admit.

"But Mary, there is another possible solution."

She'd half-expected this, but never from her mother. But perhaps she shouldn't have been so surprised.

"I cannot marry a doctor, Mama, not to mention one who can barely hold his knife like a gentleman" she drawled, tugging on her other glove.

"I don't see why not," Cora shot back, smiling indulgently up at her daughter.

"You're American. You wouldn't understand."

"Your father agrees with me, as does your grandmother."

Mary's eyebrows shot up at this, her disbelief growing by the moment. "Granny? How did you convince her to agree to such a ludicrous scheme?"

"I didn't have to convince her," Cora answered, her placid smile beginning to grate on Mary's nerves. "It was her idea."

The great, shadowy facade of Downton Abbey rose tall and imposing into the night sky, its electric lights visible even from the beginning of the long gravel drive. Matthew felt his palms grow damp inside his gloves as he squirmed anxiously in the back seat of the car. The first dinner with the family had been sufficiently awkward to give him reason to doubt the potential pleasantness of the second. He glanced over at his mother beside him, the very picture of calm and self-assurance with a placid half-smile crinkling the corners of her eyes. Though he was sure she'd noted his discomfiture, she steadfastly refused to comment. He supposed she felt she'd already said enough to him when they'd gone up to dress after his first day at the hospital.

"Do try to be gracious tonight, Matthew," she'd admonished gently, bearing in mind that he was still reeling from the strain he'd been so unexpectedly placed under that afternoon in his new place of employment. He breathed a heavy sigh at the memory, but was soon distracted as they stopped in the long shadow of the great house.

Lord Grantham's greeting was just as warm as it had been the previous night, but, to his surprise, the Dowager Countess was the next in line to enthusiastically welcome him back into their family party.

"I was just telling everyone how terribly clever you were today," she effused as she looped a gloved hand through his arm, effectively claiming him as her dinner partner for the evening.

Behind them, Mary rolled her eyes as the party made their way into the dining room.

"Yes, very lucky for poor Drake that you came along when you did," Lord Grantham spoke up. "When he was admitted to the hospital yesterday, Clarkson informed me that his condition would surely kill him in a matter of days."

"You've become quite the hero, it seems," Edith added. "Apparently, it's all anyone can talk about in town."

Matthew tugged at his collar to relieve some of the building heat underneath it as he brushed aside such praise as politely as possible.

"I only did what I must, Lady Edith. Nothing so heroic."

"Honestly, some people are so easily impressed," Mary muttered under her breath, with just enough volume for Edith, who was walking beside her, and Matthew, who was just in front of her, to hear.

Matthew breathed a heavy sigh as he seated himself beside the Dowager and across from Mary, his expression darkening as his mind wandered back to earlier that day at the hospital.

He'd been tremendously troubled by Dr. Clarkson's stubborn determination that allowing a young man to die a painful and unnecessary death was somehow preferable to utilizing the most advanced treatment methods to give him a fighting chance. For hours, he'd gone back and forth between his new office, a handful of other patients, and Mr. Drake's bed, his conscience - and his mother - tormenting him for his inaction. In the end, it was Mrs. Drake who'd convinced him to act. The sight of the young woman in tears as she watched her husband suffer had been the final straw. He'd gathered all the stubbornness he possessed and marched straight into Dr. Clarkson's office to announce that he was going to perform the procedure Mr. Drake needed with or without his permission. Surprisingly enough, the older man seemed to instantly gain a greater respect for him, and even agreed to oversee the procedure as he performed it.

He recalled most vividly the churning in his gut as he'd positioned the long needle over Drake's heart, knowing that, as with all surgeries, this one carried a certain level of risk. His patient might just as easily have died, and they might be discussing the danger of untried new treatments rather than his perceived heroism. He hadn't lost a patient yet. It was unavoidable, of course, but he seemed to live in constant dread of that fateful day. It would have been doubly awful had it occurred on his first day in this new place when all eyes were upon him.

Conversation continued in this vein for some time, and, though she did so with a bright and (to Matthew's chagrin) bewitching smile, Mary soon took it upon herself to make her displeasure with the attention he was receiving abundantly clear.

"Speaking of doctors, I was reading an interesting little book about one earlier today," she spoke up, gaining the attention of the room. "This Dr. Jekyll, you see, was well respected and progressive, but pride led him to dabble where he oughtn't, and he turned into a hideous creature with no scruples who sought his own pleasure at others' expense."

"Mr. Hyde," Matthew cut in, momentarily surprising Mary, though she recovered with impressive ease.

"Yes - Mr. Hyde. In the end, Dr. Jekyll's true nature prevailed, proving that he should never have so overstepped his bounds by disturbing the natural order."

Matthew felt her cut deeply, though he kept his face carefully impassive.

"An interesting view, Cousin Mary," he answered cooly, "but I believe Dr. Jekyll is generally considered the tragic character in the story - a victim of circumstances that spun out of his control."

Mary boldly met his eyes over the table, and, for a moment, she was caught in their azure depths, made all the brighter by his simmering frustration at her ill-concealed barb. She hadn't expected a man of the medical profession to be well-read enough to have recognized the story, and she quickly quashed the small kernel of respect that tried to take root in her traitorous mind.

Though Matthew had felt the sting of her sharp tongue rather more acutely than he liked, he couldn't deny that their banter was, to a certain degree, thrilling. She was bold, intelligent, and possessed of a quick wit that he couldn't help but admire.

The conversation around them resumed presently, and the spell was broken. Both returned their eyes to their plates.

The gravel crunched under Mary's walking boots as she strolled at a leisurely pace up the drive to the Dower House. Normally, a visit with her grandmother was a delightful prospect that she would have anticipated, but the likely topic of discussion on this day wasn't one she cared to endure.

She'd watched from the window as Violet had allowed Matthew to escort her to the car after dinner the previous evening, her mind racing with curiosity about what the older woman was saying to him. If her determined Granny thought she could convince Matthew to marry her or any of them, she had another thing coming. At least, Mary thought, she could take some comfort from the rude pronouncements she'd overheard upon their first meeting. It was unlikely she would be forced to face the unpleasantness of refusing his proposal.

As she approached the front door, her eyes were drawn to the shiny new bicycle propped up against the stone wall. An annoyed groan escaped her as she realized to whom it belonged. Was her grandmother purposely throwing them into each other's path? She felt trapped, and more than a little annoyed, but entered with her head held high and her expression determined.

Mary was a bit surprised when the butler informed her that her grandmother was in her upstairs sitting room being seen by the doctor.

"She's not ill, I hope?" Mary asked, her concern mounting.

"I don't believe so, my lady," the butler answered, to her relief. "She asked that I bring you straight up. Dr. Crawley should be leaving shortly."

"Alright," Mary answered, glad, at least, that she wouldn't have to endure Dr. Crawley's presence for very long.

Mary's eyebrows shot up at the sight that greeted her when she was shown into the private sitting room. Her grandmother was seated on the settee, her bare foot resting on Matthew's knee as he sat on the ottoman in front of her. The butler announced Mary with his eyes respectfully averted, and Matthew's gaze was immediately drawn from his work to Mary's surprised face.

It was with no small amount of carefully suppressed amusement that Mary watched as he started to rise before quickly sitting down again, realizing that he held the Dowager Countess' foot in his hands.

"Erh...forgive me, Cousin Mary..."

"Oh, no. Don't worry," she waved him off with an imperious tilt of her head. "I'm terribly sorry to interrupt."

"We're just finishing up, Mary," Violet spoke up, gesturing to the empty space beside her. "Do come and sit down. I've already asked for tea to be brought up as soon as Cousin Matthew has finished his work."

At the mention of his name, Matthew glanced up at the two ladies with a bashful smile before returning his attention to the gauze he was wrapping around Lady Grantham's big toe.

"These ingrown toenails can be such a bother," Violet explained as Mary seated herself gracefully next to her. "But I've discovered that our cousin has a very soft touch. He is so much gentler than Clarkson is; I hardly felt a thing."

Matthew glanced up again, his ears growing hot at the undeserved - or so he felt - praise.

"Just doing my job, Cousin Violet."

"You do it well, my boy." Mary's eyebrow's shot up at the familiar mode of address, and she stared at her grandmother in surprise. Unperturbed by Mary's scrutiny, Violet continued, "Perhaps we shall all come to appreciate that Robert wasn't able to talk you out of continuing in your chosen profession now that you are to inherit. I believe having a doctor in the family could prove quite useful. Don't you agree, Mary dear?"

"Mmm," Mary hummed the necessary agreement before turning her gaze to the window.

"I certainly hope I can be of service, Cousin Violet," Matthew responded as he tied the final knot in the gauze. "You've all been so kind and welcoming to me."

At this, Mary's eyes shot back to his face, only to find a maddening smirk directed her way.

"There," Matthew spoke, gently placing Violet's foot on the ottoman as he rose. "Go easy on it for the rest of the day. Soft house slippers only. I'll be back tomorrow around the same time to remove the dressing."

"Won't you stay and take tea with us?" Violet asked, to Mary's chagrin, as Matthew collected his things.

"I wish I could, but Dr. Clarkson has given me a list of patients to call on. I must be on my way."

Mary breathed a sigh of relief that she wouldn't be forced to make polite conversation with him any longer.

"Very well," Violet acquiesced, reaching out to take his hand in parting. "You'll remember our little chat, won't you?"

"Of course, Cousin Violet," Matthew answered. "Your concern is most appreciated."

Mary barely resisted to urge to roll her eyes as her grandmother patted Matthew's hand before they all exchanged parting pleasantries, and the two ladies were, at last, left alone.

"What on earth did you find to discuss with Cousin Matthew?" Mary asked as soon as the butler left after pouring their tea.

"I advised him gently on the proper decorum for accepting the assistance of servants with grace and respect. He took it rather better than I had expected. It seems that Robert has also admonished him on the subject, and he promises to try harder to be patient. It's not been the easiest of transitions for him, but I believe he'll shape up nicely, given time."

"And yet you want me to marry him? Really, Granny."

"Not if you really dislike him that much, my dear. I shouldn't want you to make a choice so obviously not to your liking. After that performance last night at dinner, Cousin Matthew confided in me that he doubts the two of you will ever be close friends. Marriage is a long, long business, and I wouldn't wish you unhappy."

"Thank you, Granny," Mary responded genuinely, relieved to find that her beloved grandmother was back on her side.

"If you gave him a chance, you might find that he improves upon further acquaintance - but I shan't pressure you," Violet added quickly upon seeing Mary's expression darken. "Also," she continued in a conspiratorial tone, "he's promised me that, should we find a way to undo the entail, he won't fight against it."

At this, Mary was truly surprised.

"I would advise you to be kind to Cousin Matthew, my dear," Violet admonished. "You may need him on your side, some day."

Thanks for reading! You may have noticed that Violet's opinion of Matthew is a bit softer in this AU, but she's still going to do what she can to help Mary. She's also become my character of choice for foreshadowing. *cue ominous music*

If you have a moment, I'd love to know your thoughts!