I just want to say that I know I am jumping the gun here by the character I have included, and so I would declare this "AU" since it is so set in the future, and we are too far away from series four, I have no way to call this canon. And I don't want to, but I did want to write and post this, because I was stricken suddenly with the need to see Mary progress, and feel some relief. The character I wrote here is what I hope for Mary, in the future, and after series four airs I'll write something else to appropriately match canon, I'm sure. I wrote this in a day or two, and I found it quite sad, just this leap into the future, a sad reflection for Mary more than anything. But I want this comfort for her, too. Anyway! It's pure melodrama and a lot of inside Mary's head, but I felt too touched by this version of Mary not to share it.
It's AU, spoilery, and a oneshot (as I'm sure by now we know I don't specialise in much else!)
Thank you for your kind reviews on my last piece, too.
"Ah, Côte d'Azur," He said, as they pushed through the double doors of their bright, posh hotel room. Everything was white, mahogany, or seafoam green and the room, that included an en suite and separate sitting area, had a balcony so that she could see they were practically on the beach.
They had been staying right in Paris, but she had requested they come to this hotel, near Nice, and spend the rest of the vacation there. It didn't take much to convince him, because there really was no better time than June to enjoy everything the coast had to offer.
"You're so cultured, aren't you," She sighed, as he unloaded his arms of their luggage and she pulled back the white, gauzy curtains, then opened the glass doors to the balcony. Almost immediately the curtains fluttered into the room with the warm breeze, and she was lost for a minute in the cascade of white material and seaside air floating around her.
When she emerged, she looked angelic in her peach coloured frock, with the curtains trailing behind her, she even had a white flower tucked into her hair. The dress she wore was drop waist and scoop necked, showing her pale decolletage, and it fell below her knee but stopped before her calf. The hemlines had shortened even more, and she couldn't have looked more on vacation if she tried. Flowers embroidered the neckline and the swishy skirt and she felt perfectly summery, light and comfortable. Her cheeks were pink with warmth and the fluttering curtains felt soothing against her skin.
"I know it as the French Riveria, because I'm British, you see," So was he, but she teased with certainty, brows perched high on her forehead, the most lovely way to invite a disagreement.
"You're an angel, is what you are," He said, the image of her not lost on him in that moment. She was breath-taking, the backdrop of the sea just enhancing her natural charms. The sky was the lightest blue, cloudless and the water was even still, and calm.
"Hmm," She smiled despite herself, biting her lip so as to not smile too broad. She still kept her wits about herself when she was around him. "And what does that make you? French? An artist, a soldier?"
"The Devil?" He suggested, thick, dark brows furrowed suggestively, and she laughed aloud at him, and he grinned, somehow boyish and masculine all at once.
"Oh, perhaps, perhaps," She mused, not looking at him too closely, though he watched her move around the room. Her gaze flitted over him, as she opened closets, and the adjoining door to their sitting room.
About him which she knew – he paid attention. He had learned to watch for little things from her, since she wasn't about to sit down and share them all. She appreciated that, because he learned things about her, without her having to speak of them.
"Do you like it?" He asked, finally, after a long silence, and she smiled, brushing her wind strewn hair behind her ears. She still wore it short, but on the drive with the top down it had gotten messy, her careful waves separating.
"Yes," She said softly and he sat at the end of the big bed, handsome in his waistcoast and light-coloured slacks, jacket draped over the back of a chair. He crossed his legs at the ankle, jaw tight and she knew he was wondering about her, worrying even. She knew he thought there was a motive for them coming here.
"Mary," And his mouth was pursed with concentration, his dark scruff thicker than when they'd left in the early morning. He somehow fit in here, on the Riviera, more than at home, for he always looked a bit foreign to her, a bit darker and manlier than the pale English she was used to. They'd been away for just a week and he was already tan, his hands dark against her milky, freckled skin.
"I said I like it, dear, and I do," Her tone was bright and high, and it betrayed no emotion beneath, but the way she couldn't meet his eyes did.
"You can have cigars on the balcony after dinner," She said, clenching her hands, palms damp and face reddening.
Mary had felt flushed since they had checked in, for she was the one who made the reservation, and the way they greeted them at the front desk...Well, it had embarrassed her. He was so, so good that he didn't even bat an eye, didn't even let on he was surprised. He smiled, charming and steady, took their key, and held her hand. She chewed her lip as they took the stairs to their floor, and she was glad of his calm, but also annoyed that these occurrences were common enough that they didn't even bother him anymore (truly, they never had).
"Yes, that will be nice, won't it? We could even have dinner on the balcony if we're feeling particularly blasé," He had kicked off his shoes and launched himself back on the bed, against the pillows, arms crossed under his head, gazing at her standing by the doors.
"We could," Mary said faintly, her attentions elsewhere.
Her husband was watching her closely and she finally turned to him, sighing, bright demeanour fading.
"Well, do you want to talk about check-in, or what is it?"
"No, not really," He shrugged, stretched out nearly across the entire bed, endearing in his bare feet. He had worn boat shoes and her husband was nearly more fashionable than she. "I'm just seeing if you're quite fine, that's all."
"It's just because I gave my name as Mary Crawley when I reserved that they greeted us as,-" They had called them Mister and Missus Crawley and it had shot straight to her innards, clenching with distress.
"Mary, I don't care, I don't. It must have been harder for you to hear than I." His voice rumbled soothingly, gruff with the early hour he awoke, and she felt tender toward him but also guarded. She would always be guarded against him, on some level.
And he just didn't care, he accepted her completely, as incomplete as she was. It's why she couldn't imagine...anyone else after...anyone but him because he made her feel better with his strength, and warm smile...and he didn't care if she never forgot her – her former life, her first husband. He was there to make her life as easy as possible, as filled with love as he could, and he never questioned being second best and Mary nearly hated herself for it.
"I think you'll bore of me someday, don't you?" Her smile was a desperate thing, joking but honest beneath. He would, wouldn't he? He would tire of her hysterics, of her blackened soul always so on display.
"Never." His eyes had slid shut, his pouty lips upturned at the corners. Half the reason he loved her, maybe, was that dark part of her, for Anthony carried his own, as war traumas, had lost his own people, and he was passionate for her when he'd been passionate about nothing for many years since he'd killed men at war, had been shot himself.
"I've been here before, you know," She saw his jaw tense but he didn't react otherwise. Mary knew that he suspected as such.
"I think you know that I'm not surprised," He chuckled and looked at her again, and she felt her heart beat a little quicker, so taken with this man, the very opposite of her first husband.
Yes, his dark eyes bore into her in a way much different than a pair of blue ones had so many years ago.
Mary felt a quiver go through her, of the memories she'd left behind here, with another man, not in this room but in this hotel, with the same view of the sun and sea. He sensed something in her, even across the room, and sat up, suddenly serious.
"When is it that..." His voice was deep, and usually suave, but it hitched as he watched his marvellous, stunning wife stand still, arms folded across her middle, shoulders slumped down, as if she were closing in on herself. "...you were last here?"
She sighed, rolling her eyes even as they stung with tears, and the curtains were billowing again and they tickled her bare shoulders.
"Honestly, Anthony," She tutted, and he shrugged, taking the hint, and he was less intense in the blink of an eye, smiling at her as he lay back on the bed, picking up a newspaper from the stand.
She did love that he knew when to give her distance. She could have never married him first, not before her loss, because he was just the kind of person she needed after it – after her tragedy. She'd known him before...before her first husband, before she was engaged to Patrick, even, and it had never occurred to her to desire him, but then seeing him again after so much time and loss...He suddenly fit.
"Well, I hope you aren't worrying about George," He flipped the pages noisily, laid-back, as she felt a raw pain surfacing inside of her.
"I'm not...he'll be enjoying his time with his Grandmama..."
"Bless her for looking after him, he'll likely love not having to put on coattails for breakfast,"
"Anthony! You're full of exaggeration, hmm? But yes, he loves Isobel – and she is such a help with figuring how to raise a boy..."
"You're surrounded by people who love you, Mary, and George, I find I have to remind you of that now and then."
"I know I am..." Her voice trailed off, and they both knew that, sometimes, it didn't matter how many surrounded her, it just mattered that George's father was not one of them, and that hurt more than anything else comforted.
Mary went out onto the balcony, her husband content to read the paper, although quite aware she was on the verge of something, or so it seemed. She gripped the railing, and inhaled deep the warm, sweet, June air. Everything was abuzz, even though it was only mid-morning, and it had not been this warm the last time she was here. But that was years ago now, and it was springtime then, April, not summer. The little differences at least made it bearable, to be back, although their room was situated what would be directly below the one she'd stayed in last time, so the view was the same.
She needed that familiarity, too, for she came here to remember him, and she couldn't do so if it was all different.
The last, long, six years, she'd exhausted her memories of him at Downton...the rooms, the house, the grounds, even the ditch and graveyard. There was nothing left to recall, she didn't think, no more stories she could drain from Isobel, no memory she could visit anew.
So, when she'd thought of everything she could, she had felt him fading and it panicked her. One morning she woke and couldn't remember the sound of his voice and she'd dissolved into tears so sudden that it alerted someone, and Mary stood in the hallway hugging Carson, wrapped in her robe. He was nearly 70 but was much the man she always knew, and was at her second wedding, just like her first. She was glad for Carson, to see someone age and live their life as they chose, at their pace – So unlike her dearly departed sister and husband. Mary cried into Carson's shoulder the morning of her wedding, too.
For God's sake, she was closer to forty than thirty now, and was too old to be crying into the old Butler's shoulder over Matthew Crawley. For of course that's who she so desperately wanted to remember. She felt the last vestiges of their short time together draining from her weary mind, and she clung to them maniacally.
Thus, she was back where they had honeymooned, her one and only honeymoon, for when she married Anthony everything was much smaller, quieter, and less formal than the first time. Well of course, since the first time was a society wedding, was the future King and Queen of the County, but then...
Mary was still wearing black when Anthony came back into their lives, and so things were subdued the early years of their time together. They'd been married just over a year now, and it was the first vacation they had taken together. They didn't call it a honeymoon, for it pained her too much to think that would be replaced, too. Her marriage had been replaced with a new one, her husband had, her child's father had – A honeymoon, though, she wanted to be specifically Matthew and hers, because she was fearful too much replacing and she'd resent Anthony, or forget Matthew, or both.
Anthony had been around since George was a baby, six months old, and Mary had taken such a surprise comfort in his presence...and then, by the time she considered pushing away from him, George was old enough to be attached, and she realized that she had to decide. She had to decide whether to spend the rest of her life alone, or to let this man into their sad, broken world, and if she did...George's world had the chance to be less sad and broken.
It turned out that, nearly six years old now, Anthony was the only father George had really known. Mary was...she was glad he had so many to fill the shoes of her lost love. Her own Papa, and Branson, Carson and...Anthony...but she was also struggling to raise a boy who so loved and admired Anthony, a boy who sometimes called Anthony "papa", and when she scolded him, he asked if he could call Anthony "pop". She felt like she had to keep Matthew alive, somehow, but it was difficult to expect her child to spend much time remembering someone he never knew.
And Anthony was so good, so understanding and loving, so dear and such a big presence, such a warmth in their lives that she couldn't deny George anything, that the sight of the two of them lighted her world but – oh, but Matthew.
She inhaled, a breath that made the empty bit of herself ache, and it washed over her, gently like the breeze but startling like the tide, that here she was – here they were – and she was thinking of Matthew, and it didn't pain her quite as terribly. Matthew, yes, it was easy, she found, she could remember him here...she felt him again. Of course she did, with her new husband in the next room.
Mary recalled how, in 1920 on her honeymoon, they had ordered champagne as soon as they arrived, and it spilled onto the carpet and they ran into the bathroom, toasting to happiness, suds flowing down Matthew's hand as he poured. She could see the way he had smiled when she first stepped out in her bathing costume, striped and skirted, one that stopped above her knees, and he'd never seen so much of her leg before. Goosepimples prickled her skin as she remembered that first night, the room glowing pink from the rosy sunset outside, and the balcony doors had been open so the shore breeze blew through, and they went to bed, took their time, and that night was the sort of reverence she never knew to expect. She could remember his lips all over her body, his hands stroking her long hair all the way down to her tailbone, fair hairs across his chest, his own scarred back...
There was the day she had too much sun, pink with burn and dehydrated, cold and quaking in bed, and how his hot, sunburned skin felt against her own. She was shivering, but he was fine, and she soothed her cold hands on his burned arms, naked and pressed against each other not for desire, just in love and calm. They had swam an entire day, once, from noon until dusk, they picnicked on the beach, and then the sun set on them in the water, shimmering golden with the last rays. Mary floated in Matthew's arms and he kissed her salty skin, and there was no better sight than Matthew Crawley with sand between his toes, sunburned and in need of a scrub. Yes, here she could remember that, remember the sand and the smile, and the way the sea made his hair wavy and flop just so. How his eyes matched the water, and the sky, blue and clear, and how he seemed lighter here, golden and loving.
But these were just memories, and he had missed so much...she had missed him so much...but it was his doing, wasn't it? Matthew had left her, had left them, dead in a car collision. It didn't always hurt her so badly, she didn't always dwell on him with such desperation, but having been married again so recently...watching their son grow up before her eyes...she felt he was slipping away, she felt like she was losing him entirely, and there was guilt and anger within her, bubbling to the surface as it hadn't in the years he'd been gone.
The next breath she took erupted in a sob and she looked out over the beach, the waves of the tide moving slowly, exposing more sand as it receded. There was never a place she felt less at home, or seemed less Lady Mary, but it was the place she had the most intimate, fond memories of him – and she greeted them warmly, but sadly, as she let herself open to them for the minutes she stood on the balcony. It was dangerous, though, because sometimes she felt him so closely, as if he moved right through her, and she was consumed by the loss.
Time had done much to them, and she didn't look as young anymore, grief crinkling her features prematurely, but she was as tall and slim as ever, age doing nothing to the nobility or strength that ran in her veins. She felt jagged, sometimes, and cold, but mostly Mary believed the years had softened her. After the initial beating her heart took, it grew to love and cherish George, her only child so far.
Her dark brown locks were brushed with blooms of grey, her face dotted with more freckles, and she wondered if Matthew would know her now, could find the young girl she had been when they first fell in love, such a long time ago now.
She smiled thinking of it, though, because she thought he would, he'd know and love her no matter how grey and wrinkled she would get. But he never would, and she couldn't imagine it, either, she couldn't see him as an old man, she couldn't see his blonde hair receding or turning white with the years, she couldn't picture his clear blue eyes clouded, as he took his place as Earl, a grandfather by then. No, she was robbed of that time with him. He was meant to be a very specific moment and time in her life, for she couldn't picture him in the future anymore, and he would be but a dot in the landscape as she moved toward the horizon of her life. Matthew was the past, and Mary could feel that she was beginning to understand.
With unsteady limbs, and a shaky breath, she closed her eyes again and tried to calm. For a fleeting, teasing moment, perhaps the brink of insanity, she thought she felt arms around her, as they had once stood on a balcony, gazing at the view, his hands on her hips, mouth at her ear. The warm air blew and it felt like his breath against her skin, whispering softly of all they'd see and do, of all the time they had together. She could hear him, too, and that was something so lost to her that her eyes burned again, her mind latching onto his voice, how she swore it was whispered on the wind, the way she had always known, but the sound she had forgotten...
And someday, sooner than she wanted, sooner than she promised, she would let go...and move on more than she had. Anthony loved her, and she loved him, too...and she felt like the curse had passed, like the Crawleys would survive now, somehow. Her son and husband deserved an entire woman, someone with a heart and soul, and she would try – she really would, and she had been trying – to give them that, to realize that her life wasn't about to end, even though Matthew had been this age when his ended.
It wasn't always sensible, how Mary felt this strongly for a presence that had passed years back, but when she really felt him, when he lingered in places she remembered the most, it was too much for her. She had lost him, he had died alone on the road after holding their son only once, and if she sensed him, she took the opportunity to revel in that – and she knew because of it she wasn't the easiest woman to be married to.
He wasn't always there, she lost touch with him at Downton, for new memories filled the space where their brief ones had been, and she yearned to keep his spirit alive within her own. She loved him, still, she did, and she always would – she agonized over things, like where she would be buried when she died, for she assumed she would share Matthew's tombstone, but now, a second husband, a new love. She agonized, too, over changing her last name, and while it was custom to, it was appropriate to, she simply hadn't – Not while her son was Crawley, not while Downton was their legacy. Anthony had understood, then, too, and he was a miracle for it all, smiling affectionately when someone would call her Mrs. Gillingham and he'd say, no, this is Lady Mary Crawley.
Mary exhaled, the direction of the wind changing, out to sea, her hair straying with it, sticking to her face, and it brought her from her reverie, sweetly, and the strong arms around her were gone, so too was the familiar breath, and low chuckle of Matthew in her ear. Tears dried along her lashes, and her muscles clenched as her body wracked with nervous quivers.
She went back into the room, toeing out of her own shoes, and she looked at her dashing husband, dark and broad-shouldered, different in enough ways, loving in all of them.
"Are you alright, now?"
Mary bemoaned softly as she approached the bed.
"The last I was here was on my honeymoon, Anthony, you wanted to know." Mary reached around and unzipped her dress on a whim, letting it pool at her feet. She was warm, perspiration on her neck, and she stood in her slip and chemise, nearly an appropriate summer outfit on their own, for she felt much cooler.
"Well, that's a very nice memory to have, and what a beautiful place to spend it,-" Anthony gulped slightly at her revealed figure, although he was undone himself, too hot in this place to wear much at all.
"Don't you think I'm just biding my time with you, until I can die with him?" She interrupted.
"Ah, so I should expect to be lonely in the afterlife?" He had unbuttoned his cuffs, rolled his sleeves, casual and lethargic, and he tilted his head at her.
"Don't you think that, though?"
"No, not really, Mary. You have these moments where it's important – for you to remember him. And I think you imagine you're preoccupied with...the loss much more often than you actually are. I don't mind it, darling, I won't ever – and so what if you are biding your time? Because I'm the lucky fool who gets to spend this life with you, and if there's a different lucky fool waiting beyond – well, so be it, but I get to enjoy you for now, mmm?"
Mary was breathless for a moment, looking at this man who understood so much that she never once said, and she suddenly felt love from all sides. Anthony's radiating, overwhelming love, and the faint love that remained from Matthew, her doomed soul mate, his love that reached across the great divide of life and death. Wasn't this enough?, she wondered, wasn't this enough to prove she was alive and well, and had such a blessed life, no matter how many ghosts she lived with. Matthew had loved her so much while he lived, and it became less bittersweet the older she got, to remember that love, and when she felt him just over her shoulder, she felt well looked after, her personal guardian in the beyond.
She shuddered, gooseflesh crawling up her arms and neck, the spectre of Matthew taking leave, so that she could curl up on the big bed next to her husband. Indeed, Mary was quite certain if anyone could get inside of her head, they would find strange all of the ghosts that frequented her thoughts, all of the presences she imagined around her.
Sighing, somehow both burdened and free in the same beat, she laid on the bed next to Anthony, and rested her head on his shoulder. Yes, he was calm to her, he was the anchor in the stormy sea that imprisoned her, in all of the thoughts that haunted her and lured her in – There was him, and she was thankful.
"You're very good to me," Mary said, and she looked at her hand, where she wore her wedding rings, and on the right hand she wore the diamond Matthew had given her, a token of their love she couldn't cast aside. How heavy she felt, carrying two men with her, but her heart was whole for it, and she hoped their son would grow up with all he needed. She hoped Matthew would be proud of the little man they were raising.
"I just want you to feel well, and to know I'll never take from you any memories you need, any time you spend thinking,-"
"I know, I'm grateful for it, Anthony. But let's enjoy the Riviera, you and I, darling. I think we deserve it and I love you, truly." She did love Anthony, he was fathering her son and was apart of her life, and she loved Matthew, too, and she would make her peace with it, she hoped.
Her husband kissed her lips sweetly, his arm wrapped around her and big hand pressed low on her back, his beard tickling her softly, his fingers moving against the silky material of her slip. She could have cried then, but because she wasn't alone, no matter how much she loved a ghost, she was surrounded by so much flesh and blood that it levelled out the crazier notions of her heart. She felt safe, and strong. She hoped for some big revelation to greet her as they sunned themselves on the Riviera, but the only one she found was that she truly enjoyed Anthony's company, was proud to be at his side, and that she was both gloriously happy and desperately sad, and would be that way for a long while.
Mary Crawley would spend her life with Anthony, and they would see more trials and tribulations than her short marriage to Matthew had. They would see another world war, she would bear another child, and she would move further from that first life she had, and it would become strange for her to recall at all.
Though, her son would grow to look much like his father, the beloved Matthew Crawley, and that would both ache and swell her heart all of the days of her long, long life.