Yours Forever: Chapter XIV
The New Year came and went, and both Mary and Henry were relieved when Matthew returned to school after the Christmas holiday. Their relief was accompanied with guilt, for they both felt they were deceiving him horribly. Henry didn't push Mary to tell Matthew anymore. He saw how, as the weeks passed, the burden she carried seemed to become less obvious to an outside eye. She was able to act as she had before, although a coolness seemed to have settled over her character. Her brother saw this altered version of her and had to resist the urge to repeatedly tell Mary that she had done nothing wrong, that none of it was her fault, that Matthew would be furious the longer she waited to tell him. But he saw her, sometimes, sitting at the bench out under her favorite tree, a book beside her, untouched, because it couldn't distract her. She would lift her head, looking out over the Spring lawn, breeze playing with her hair beneath her hat, and Henry knew she was thinking about it. It was moments like these that made him want to draw her into his arms as he had done when she was a little girl, crying about something, because then she hadn't been afraid of showing her pain. He saw all this from his desk at the library, and so when she came indoors he would attempt to bring her attention away from what had happened, discussing books with her, making her sit so he could practice his drawing, which made her laugh. Oh, how he cherished her laughter!
His birthday passed, and then hers, and Matthew graduated from school. Their summer began with rumors of war and it kept them all quite occupied, especially interesting Matthew, who was the most political of the three of them. They dissected headlines, listened to the wireless in the library, and in this way it was easier for Henry and Mary to not think about the fact that Matthew knew nothing of their real troubles. He had asked, after seeing the blood drain from Mary's face at the mention of the hunt last December, and the subject of poor Mr. Pamuk brought back to light.
"Are you all right?" he had said quietly as they all retired to the drawing room. "You're pale."
But Mary had shook her head. "Of course! But I'm sure there are more interesting things to speak about!"
Henry had quickly changed the subject.
It was a soft night, a night that could muddle thoughts with its velvet orange sunset and stars alone, but Henry brought champagne as always. Glasses dangled from between Matthew's fingers, clinking as they walked across the lawn towards the pillared,stone temple at the far edge. Mary dragged behind them, arms running over each other in an effort to warm her, although she wasn't really cold. It was the night before the Garden Party, and after a week of increasingly worrisome news in the papers, they had decided to relive their summer tradition.
In the half-rose light Mary's gold dress with its beading glowed, her skin pale and bright in the gently sinking darkness. Matthew set the glasses down on the white stone as they reached the temple, and they clinked again. Henry was kicking off his shoes, always slightly improper, and coming back to splash delicate alcohol into their three waiting glasses. Mary watched them, how the setting sun bounced off the glass and lit up the liquid contained within them. She drank hers quickly, hearing her brother's chuckle as she did so.
It was cooler now, as Mary perched on the edge of one side of the temple and cradled the precious nectar, obscurer of memory, between ungloved, cold hands, watching as the sun sunk low and the light faded. She heard murmured conversation from beside her, but didn't pay attention to it. Not when there was this shadow, early midsummer night, the sort of shadowy evening that made everything slower, softer, and more meaningful.
She reached down and unbuckled her own shoes, letting them fall to the lush green earth with a gentle thud, hearing the swish of cotton as the boys took off their jackets. Only they weren't boys anymore, and she wasn't a girl. They were adults now, in the real, bright world. But here, in this darkness they all shared a love of, they were those boys and that girl again. The boys with untucked shirts and wet hair, the girl with muddy feet and scratched arms being scolded as they appeared out from the trees and shrubs not far from this very spot. They were the children who played badminton outside in the springtime, Henry beating the other two mercilessly. They were the children with tired eyes and happy drunk smiles of past summers, and now they were the children drowning themselves again in the sparkles of champagne, hiding from their increasingly complicated lives, from the secrets they kept from each other, and from the fear of a coming war.
"What are you thinking, Mary?" Henry's low, playful voice sounded quietly from beside her. She held out her glass again and her brother raised his eyebrows before splashing a modest amount into it.
"Of how young we once were, I suppose."
Alcohol made her melancholy and nostalgic. It made Henry happy and confident. "Come over here, don't sit over there all alone," he said from where he and Matthew sat. Mary had isolated herself from them, sitting on a rectangular strip of stone protruding outwards from the temple while they slouched on the steps. She shook her head and stared back at the open sky as the small pinpricks of stars began to peek out from the navy and red, moonlight caressing her cheeks. She forgot about time and place, perhaps on purpose, hearing Henry's goading from behind her, his teasing suddenly painful. Her chest constricted and she finished her glass. Then her brother was at her feet below her, beckoning, teasing her again as if she were a little girl, and she again refused to come down. But he swooped her off the stone and into his arms, laughing as he carried her back to sit with them. Mary struggled against him, memories of another repeated refusal still fresh in her mind, and he was forced to put her down, oblivious to her ghosts. She rushed unthinkingly to the comfort of the cold, solid stone step next to Matthew and found herself leaning into him, her body crying out for the reassurance of his unknowing arm around her as Henry rejoined them. It was truly dark now, stars with their fake wishes mocking Mary from high above, and she buried her face in Matthew's neck and shoulder, hiding from the illumination of the moon.
She wasn't so much drunk as she was suddenly overwhelmed and heartbroken, her whole body aching, and she knew exactly what she was asking him as Henry joked about something in the background.
"Kiss me," she said softly, leaning up to him, and Matthew obliged with a laugh, a quick chaste kiss.
"Not like that," Mary said tiredly, exhausted from concealing, from keeping things, from pretending. She pulled Matthew back and drew his lips back to hers, leading their dance, cuping the back of his head with one hand and resting the other on his chest, begging for closeness, wanting to cleanse herself somehow. Deaf and desperate, she opened her mouth to him, heart swelling and contracting guiltily, then thrilling as she caressed his tongue with hers. Mary resisted his gentle push, then a firmer one against her shoulders until they parted. Their lips were bruised, and Matthew was blushing slightly, his voice chiding as he said "Mary," almost in embarrassment. She looked to where his eyes kept darting, seeing Henry standing there, not able to hide his disbelief and heartbreak at the sight. He knew exactly why his sister had pulled Matthew to her with such strength and power, and why she had demanded his kiss.
Mary felt a hand run over her back. "Mary," he said again in that same infuriatingly caring voice. And she suddenly realized she was crying. It wasn't beautiful or appropriate. Her tears were raw, a pure release of pain. She was blind through the salt, and stood on weak legs, stumbling out of Matthew's soft strokes along her back, past Henry who called after her, running back to the house.
The two of them watched her disappear into the night, and when Henry looked back at Matthew he didn't see the confusion and concern that usually accompanied her increasingly strange behaviour. He saw fear.
This time when Matthew looked up at Henry his tone was dark, serious, and left no room for excuses.
Anna was still ignorant of Mary's situation, but had come to understand on some level her mistress' pain. In the morning she wiped the tracks of last night's tears from Mary's cheeks with a warm cloth, gently covered the shadows under her eyes with powder, and brushed through Mary's hair with a gentleness unique to Anna. Mary, for her part, savoured the silence, moving as slowly as possible to prolong her solitude as she heard the servants already preparing the tents outside on the lawn for the Garden Party that afternoon.
She wore white with navy stripes and felt exposed with her arms bare, but went down for breakfast all the same, already schooling her expression to one of contentment and cool detachment. Joining Henry and her father at the table after helping herself to fruit and croissants, Mary discussed the paper's headlines with them as usual, ignoring Henry's purposely averted eyes. She was furious at revealing her emotions so dramatically the night before, and wouldn't look at him.
The weather was cool for August, a slight breeze blowing Mary's thin dress against her legs as she welcomed guests with her mother. She saw her old friends with their new husbands or young children and smiled, greeting them fondly, yet inside she felt so much older than them. Her life made her weary and each passing day made her increasingly exhausted.
Henry was going to get lemonade for a giggling Eleanor Wilcox (didn't he know she was only after his title?) as Mary moved past him, and again he ignored her presence, almost as if it would be painful to look at her. Again she was grateful for it. It was easier this way.
She saw Matthew pacing under the trees by the bench she frequented. He had isolated himself from the party there, something Mary wished she could have done, and looked up as she moved cautiously toward him. He made a small scoffing noise, and ice suddenly rushed through Mary's veins, goosebumps racing along her arms.
"Matthew?" she asked as she reached him, looking behind her to find that they were relatively hidden from the rest of the party. He didn't speak to her, and Mary swallowed before addressing him again in a calmer, steadier tone. "Matthew? What is it?"
He turned to her, seeing her shivering slightly in the shade cast down by the trees and made that scoffing noise again, a bitter smile crossing his lips.
"I've tried, Mary, really I have. I've tried to understand you."
Mary hung her head, then looked up as his bitter smile turned into heartbroken disbelief.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Her voice quivered, but she couldn't help it, not when she feared she already knew the answer to her question. "Who told you?"
Matthew's hands hit his sides. "Henry!"
A dry, fractured sob tore through Mary then. Matthew knew her secret, and he had learnt of it from the person Mary trusted most in the world. She didn't cry.
"I knew you would despise me when you knew of it," she choked out. "And that I really could not bear."
He looked at her in confusion. "Despise you?" he asked incredulously. "I never could despise you. But Mary, do you realize how much I-" He coughed, and she knew instantly the two words he had censored from her.
The wind blew and ruffled her dress. She was cold.
He fixed her with that same bitter smile. "I was going to ask you to be my wife someday, Mary, and I think a marriage should be based on trust."
His admission brought tears to Mary's eyes. "Marriage?" she gasped.
Matthew nodded sadly. "Of course. Who else would I have married? It was always you, Mary," he said softly. "Always."
"Oh, Matthew," Mary said in just as soft a tone. "Of course I trust you."
"You wouldn't tell me!" Matthew cried in distress.
"I couldn't!" Mary cried. "I was too-"
"Did you think my reaction would have been anything other than concern for you and anger at him?"
Mary shook her head, keeping her tears at bay. "I didn't know. I would have told you. I needed time."
Matthew ran a hand over his forehead. "It happened before I came back from school, and you acted as if nothing were wrong when it all was." There it was again, that heartbroken look, clouded with anger and betrayal. "God, Mary. I could have helped you."
This was it, Mary thought to herself. This was the ground between them splitting in two. Now was when the break could not be mended. She didn't want it to happen. She was willing to pray against the earthquake.
"But maybe it's better we stop now before we go any further," Matthew continued. "We obviously aren't ready."
There, he had said it. Exactly what she knew he would. Exactly what she had been terrified of since their first unsure kiss, since they had decided to be more to each other than childhood friends, since they had begun to really love each other and profess it openly. Their love had cursed them.
"No, please, don't!" Mary shook her head and fought the urge to move towards him.
"Why, Mary? Tell me why!" he countered, and she knew from the breaking of his voice that this was just as hard and painful for him as it was for her. "Why should I lend my heart to someone who doesn't trust me with the most important event in her life?"
Mary bit her lip in frustration and clenched her hands into fists at her sides. "Because I love you!" she cried, and when their eyes met both were swimming with tears.
She had only said it once before. Only once, and Matthew would cherish those hushed, shy words forever. Now he looked past her and then at the ground, miserably kicking at something invisible there, refusing to look back at her. "It's a bit late for all of that, don't you think?"
And Mary broke again as she felt the air shift when he walked by her. She cried softly into her gloved hand and didn't turn around. She couldn't go back now, not with a tear stained face and a shattered heart, and she couldn't bear to turn and watch him walk further and further away from her. But she couldn't stay there forever.
Dusk settled, and the lower light was a comfort as Mary moved through the slowly emptying tent, its canvas billowing like sails in the night wind. She smiled as she passed guests waving goodbye, wishing them a safe journey home, trying to mask her pain and anger. Her whole world was crumbling, and there was nothing to do but smile and act as if everything was as it should be. There was a building torrent of fury and sorrow inside Mary that made her feel heavier with each step. From childhood she and Henry had been the best of friends. He had teased her, made her cry, ruffled her hair, and made fun of her dresses, but they had always made up. A knock on her door at night meant hot chocolate and a sincere apology. As a little girl Henry had been her hero, and she looked up to him, seeking his approval in almost everything she did.
Look, Henry, I drew you a picture!
I only took it because you were reading Dickens!
Did you like that piece? I've only just started learning it...
Teach me to swim! It's not fair that you can and I can't.
Mary's throat felt tight and she cursed the rising urge to cry. As she passed some of the servants she saw Carson turn and look at her in concern and knew their stoic butler was silently debating asking Mary if anything was wrong. But she quickly looked away. She didn't have time to be comforted or questioned. For now, she had to find Henry.
She located him by a tall, ancient tree, a giggling Eleanor Wilcox leaning into his side, and resisted the urge to yell at the girl. Eleanor looked up and straightened as she saw Mary approaching, a cold, hard look in her eye. Henry felt her tense and drew his eyes up as well, his head leaning back slightly against the tree and his heart sinking horribly.
"Could you leave us, please?" Mary asked, although it was less of a question and more of an icy demand, the "please" harsh in tone. Ms. Wilcox stumbled, her punch spilling as she rushed away, and Mary almost laughed as she went, eyes wide with fear and cheeks red with embarrassment. She deserved it.
"How could you?" Mary asked softly, looking at him in utter disbelief.
He straightened but maintained a careful distance. This was a Mary he hadn't ever seen before. She stood there stiffly, concealing her broken self behind thick walls that he had never been on the other side of in all his life.
He gestured to her. "You weren't going to tell him." His tone was mildly accusatory. He resented it as soon as the words left his mouth.
"Of course I was!" Mary cried, her voice bitter.
Henry shook his head. "It's been eight months, Mary. I only did what-"
"You betrayed me! After everything we've been through, you told him!"
Betrayal. The word cut through Henry, slicing him open, his faults all brightly illuminated in that instant.
His sister shook her head, her eyes swimming with tears before she wiped at them angrily with her gloved hands. "If you think I will ever forget what you have done then you're dreaming," she said, then looked at him with a bitter smile. "What have I done for you, Henry? Kept silent while you stay in the library all day doing God knows what? Papa is trying to prepare you for the day when this will be your house and you treat it as a trivial obligation-"
"I'm sorry, Mary, but you don't understand-"
She cut him off again. "I don't have to understand. I don't want to understand, Henry. It's high time you recognized your own responsibilities and stopped meddling in my affairs!"
He reached out to her while her arm was still angrily extended, palm upward for emphasis, and their fingers brushed before she quickly drew it in. "Please, Mary, let me explain," he begged, and his twin dark eyes stung as he watched her step back from him.
Mary fixed him with an icy stare. Behind it, and in her eyes Henry saw her pain, her dreadfully broken heart, and he knew he was the source of it. He was the one who had broken her. He had ruined everything.
"I don't want to speak to you again," Mary said in a firm yet slightly weary tone. And she turned, ignoring his call for her to come back, and walked back to the tent to do her duty, saying goodbyes with her mother, before going upstairs again.
But Henry couldn't do as she did. He couldn't go on knowing that she was, once again, heartbroken. Only this time he had been the cause of it. It was his fault. They had always been friends. Oh, he had mocked and teased her during their childhood, but the truth was that he looked up to her more than anyone in the world.
Henry remembered her as a baby, taking her first steps and falling into his arms, and how fiercely proud of her he had been. The pride in having Mary as a sister had never left him. He remembered how proud he had been listening to her play and sing beautifully even as a child. He had been astonished at her beauty and grace on the night of her debut, thinking That's my sister, and giving his friends sharp looks when they danced with her. And he had been more proud of her than ever before in the past months, since that December night which he feared might have destroyed her. She had remained his strong, brave sister. But now...
I don't want to speak to you again.
Her words hung in the air in front of him as Henry watched her go, and he wished she would come back, or that she would let him explain. He hadn't wanted to tell him, but it had been eight months, and he and Mary's deception of poor Matthew had made Henry sick. It had been months of forced smiles, all the while knowing that Matthew was oblivious to the secret that bound Henry and Mary together. It had been horrible and stressful.
Henry looked to the low sweep of the tree under which Mary had disappeared. He thought of all the time Mary had spent, acting as if nothing had happened, internally tortured with the idea of telling Matthew.
"You'll have to ask her."
"She won't tell me," Matthew said sadly, shaking his head. "I thought we were past all of that, but she won't tell me what's wrong."
Henry set down his glass. It made a light clink against the stone. He inhaled deeply and looked up to Mary's window, the lamp lit, vague shadows crossing behind the curtains, then turned to Matthew. "Do you remember the Turk that came to Downton for the hunt in December?"
His cousin frowned. "Wasn't he the one who died in his bed?"
Henry nodded. "He didn't...die in his bed," he said. And when Matthew looked at him in confusion he closed his eyes for a moment before continuing. "He died in Mary's bed."
Immediately Matthew tensed and made to stand up. "What?"
Henry stopped him from standing, then their eyes met. Henry had never said it out loud before, didn't know how best to phrase it, wanting to soften the blow for him, somehow. "He forced her, Matthew."
He wondered for a moment if Matthew had understood what me meant, for his cousin's face had frozen completely. But then it changed, and Matthew's jaw locked, he glanced at the ground and then at his knees, his hands clenched into white-knuckled fists.
"I can't believe she didn't tell me," Matthew said in a shaking, wounded voice. "Why wouldn't she tell me?" he asked, looking to Henry.
Henry kicked at the ground, refusing, like his sister, to cry. He knew that this time was different. Mary wouldn't forgive him easily, if ever. She would have forgiven him in a heartbeat, if it had been something little and trivial. But it wasn't, and Henry knew she wouldn't speak to him again until they made up. He looked back up to the house and thought of his sister, probably already in her room, away from it all. And he thought of Matthew, probably in his room at Crawley House, pacing as he always did when he was hurt and angry. Knowing he had single-handedly driven them apart tore at his heart. After everything, after all the obstacles that had kept them apart for years, he had ruined it irrevocably. Another mistake, revealing how much of a child he still was. So Henry looked back up at the house, then down the hill to Crawley House, coming to an important decision. Mary was right, it was time for him to grow up. He would make it his mission to bring them together again, not resting until he could somehow mend what he had broken. They deserved happiness, while he did not. He had no right to, anymore. This was his fault, and he would fight any battle to see them together and happy once more.
Inside, Mary shut the front door behind her and stepped into the front hall. She was the first to return from the party, and the house was eerily still, with only the whispered rustle of her skirts and the small click of her heels on the parquet. A noise caused her to look up from the ground as she moved, and when she glanced to her right Mary saw Carson carefully moving through the house, making sure everything was still in order, no doubt. She stopped, and he looked up to see her standing there, her eyes red, and shoulders stiff, her hand quivering at her side.
"Milady," he asked, tilting his head. "Are you quite well?"
Mary nodded, suddenly recalling a memory of him asking her the same question in this same spot many years ago. She had been four years old and, having tripped down the last stair, sat on the cold parquet with her leg outstretched, a bruise already forming on her small knee.
"Are you quite well, milady?"
Little Mary had looked up at the kind butler, lower lip trembling, before she burst into tears and clutched at her leg. And Carson had bent down to her level, examining her knee before he diagnosed her with a nasty bruise. Her cries subsided, turning to hiccups as she kept looking at him.
"Now then, let's see if you're good on your feet," he said, taking her small hands in his large ones and pulling her up.
Carson looked at Lady Mary now, all grown up, standing there with a broken heart, and he saw the little girl again in her. Her nod turned into her head shaking sadly, tears again coming to her eyes. She felt like that four year old version of herself, bruised after falling.
"Of course," she said stoically. "You know me, Carson. I'm never down for long."
He didn't know what had happened, only that she was crying, and he hadn't seen her cry in over fifteen years. She wilted at his look, and didn't resist as he took a step closer to her and drew her into his arms. There she cried softly, knowing she didn't need to explain why. The warmness of his embrace was enough to make her feel safe. She could feel steady on her feet again.
Mary went to bed early, but she didn't rest for long before there was a small knock at her door.
"Who is it?" Mary asked tiredly as she stood up from her bed and moved towards the door to unlock it.
"Anna, milady," came the soft reply, and Mary unlocked the door immediately, suddenly wanting nothing more than the comfort of her friend.
"What is it?" Mary asked, seeing the look on her maid's face.
Anna bit her lip. "His Lordship would like you to come downstairs," she said, and Mary nodded as Anna went for her dressing gown.
They descended the staircase silently, and as Mary neared the foot of the stairs she saw that Henry was already there. Their parents were still dressed and had been curious as to why Mary had retired even before dinner, but Lord Grantham held a telegram and had a grave look on his face. On another day Mary would have glanced at Henry briefly as if to ask him if he knew what was wrong, but she completely ignored his presence, and looked instead to her father.
"Papa, what is it?" she asked, her voice raspy.
Her father looked up back at her, then at Henry. Cora's arm went through his. "We are at war with Germany."
Much needed A/N: First of all, big thank you to Cls2011 for her support, as always. Sooooooo this chapter and turning point was planned from the beginning, and it hurts so good. Definitely different from canon. There's obviously three different sides you could take in this chapter. Mary's very tortured and sad so our sympathy goes out to her, but she also waited a bit too long to tell Matthew (he certainly thinks so, as does Henry), and I think I agree with the "boys". Matthew, who's been unaware of what happened for SO LONG now, is more hurt than he would have been had Mary told him sooner, I think. He's very understanding and patient with her through their past ups and downs, but I think this definitely wounded him a lot and he would have kind of lashed out at her. Of course, he wants to comfort Mary, but he thinks that if she prolonged not telling him, she didn't want his comfort, and she didn't feel that she needed him, or something like that. So Matthew's side makes sense, as well. And then poor Henry. He definitely didn't mean to hurt Mary by telling Matthew. He loves her too much. But he's a bit more fragile than her when it comes to his emotions. He shows them more easily, so keeping that secret from Matthew (who he sees more as a brother than a cousin) would be really hard. And, when you think about it, it's not JUST Mary's secret. It affected him a lot knowing what had happened to her, carrying a corpse from his younger sister's room, and not being able to have any revenge. So, when Matthew asks him, there's a moment where he hesitates, but then he comes to the conclusion that Mary will wait much longer to tell Matthew, and he tells him. He doesn't have Mary's ability to act relatively normally knowing what's happened. And then the attempt to ignore her at breakfast and at the Garden Party is because he already realizes what he did was wrong, and he regrets it.
Also, I realize this chapter was primarily from Mary and Henry's POV, but in the next chapter it will be more of Matthew and Mary.
This is soooo long already but I felt it was necessary to kind of explain everyone before we continue. This chapter was really angsty, and I can't promise anything exciting or uplifting, really, in the next chapter. BUT just trust me. It's all going to be okay. If you want to get angry about this chapter or just talk to me in general haha you can go to my tumblr which is .com I'm FURIOUS because 'oiseaus' is TAKEN (how? it's not even the correct spelling!) and hasn't been updated since 2011 so I had to use lamarrant but ANYWAY there I am if you want to find me. This has been a novel.