OK, publishing this now because I would consider it between episodes seven and eight, and I don't like to screw with canon (but I obviously am), and I just wanted to write a little Mary/Tony because I'm having a Tom Cullen situation that is 80% because of his curly damn hair. Anyway, no obligation to read this because I know there are ship divisions and of course uncertainty at all over where the hell any of it is going! I just really, really like Cullen and very attracted to him, and that's what I chalk this up to. Although I tried to contribute canon elements. ~Romantic themes btw and um don't take this as me declaring a ship, because I find I would just be happy for Mary and whichever boy she does or does not end up with. OK, length explanation over and I apologize and I DEDICATE THIS TO SAM, always
Tony showed up again, as he seemed to do, just before the bazaar, after his time in Scotland. He was tired from his travels, and thankful for Downton as a reprieve from the road. He said something of Downton as a stop between dream and reality, for Scotland was majestic and London was too harsh. Mary took his "fishing the River Spey" as some kind of enlightenment journey, for he spoke much of the outdoors, and how clear his mind was for all of the fresh air, but he spoke little of his estate's struggles, nor Mabel Lane Fox.
He was somehow a mystery, though she had known him since they were quite small, and though he had proposed to her, laying everything out on the table so early on in their reintroduction. There was still something more to him that she couldn't quite know, a sadder part that was just beyond his crinkly-eyed smiles.
They walked together the next day, slow in the summer air, and it was a nice break from the business talk with Blake and Evelyn, as well as Evelyn's thinly veiled affections for her. With Tony, it was easy because that familiarity was there, that desire to reconnect, whilst having new stories and secrets to share, too. He listened well and they could walk in silence, comfortably, with no pressure for conversation. The proposal didn't hang as uncomfortably as Mary worried, and he was a pleasure to have around, as long as it was casual.
"Have you ever been to Scotland?" Tony asked, as they approached the gardens, flowers well in bloom. "I expect so."
"I have. Papa's cousin, Rose's father, has Duneagle there. They're MacClares in name, but Flintshires in title." Mary said absently, walking ahead of him, around the circular dirt path that surrounded the flowers, a grand hedge on either side. Scotland could occupy her thoughts for her days if she began thinking of it now, their time at Duneagle…
"Oh yes, I do know Duneagle. It is like another world there, hunting and fishing, all of the nature – A man could get lost in it."
"And did you? Get lost in it?" Mary touched a flower, the petals silky against her fingers, the air fragrant around them. The influence of such a day at Downton were dizzying and intoxicating, the perfect atmosphere to fall in love with and under.
"I suppose – some, not as much as I dreamed to."
"You dream to get lost?"
"I often find so, yes," They could get lost in that afternoon, in the gardens and grounds, just like they had as children. "To get lost in a different life, perhaps."
"Don't go wishing your life away like that, with all of your dreams and wandering…" Mary said, meaning to joke, but her mind weighed too heavily for it to come out as light as she hoped.
"I appreciate the advice," Tony said, several paces behind her, and she glanced over her shoulder at him, having to smile as he trailed like a sweet and faithful, albeit sad, puppy, taking in his surroundings.
"When last were you in Scotland?" He tried to change the topic but Mary inhaled sharply at the question, tensing up suddenly.
"It's funny, Anthony, how you tend to lead things around to this without meaning to," She flexed her fists, and around she went, too, the circular path in the garden. The sun was still low in the sky, the morning's dew still upon the flowers, and Matthew still on her mind. "I was to Scotland last year, whilst carrying George, and it was my last trip with Matthew. I left early and had George nearly at the train station, and then Matthew…"
"God, Mary," Tony said, rubbing his forehead, his face creased with the realization of his ill-timed statements. "I'm so, so sorry. What on earth is wrong with me?"
"Nothing, Anthony," Mary soothed, though her smile was forced and she was clenching her palms again. "The stupid car collision isn't your fault, nor is it that everything in this last year points back to it. It was a lovely trip, I think of it fondly, so don't feel bad for my mentioning so."
"You're quite understanding of my blunders," He sighed, anxiously running a hand through his dark curls. "And I'm still sorry for all of that."
Mary turned around, breathing deeply, her face falling as she was torn between two men in that moment, the one very present in front of her, and the one vivid in her memories. If she just closed her eyes she could spend all of the time she wanted to with Matthew, could remember him more clearly than when her eyes opened and swayed by these other men, these somewhat suitor of hers.
"You've had a big year outside of it, though. Downton is very nearly saved, and you're mother to your boy and a whole drove of pigs." Tony said so brightly that Mary warmed again, shoulders loosening, and then she laughed.
"I am a proud Mama," She agreed, and they had nearly made it around the entire loop of path, taking in the colourful display put on by summer, but more so releasing their troubles.
"Well, there you have it." He chuckled, his eyes crinkled again, though he had a way of smiling without really doing so, his mouth more downturned than up. Mary thought him charming and kind, but he looked so burdened, so sad at the strangest of times.
"Does Downton in the summer take you back?" Mary asked, because it took her back – right to when she was a child, bypassing painful memories of the Titantic or the Great War or Spanish flu. Summer at Downton smelled and felt like her youth, carefree and so simpler than now.
"More so than any other time, yes. I remember how far we would run and play, like we weren't even at Downton at all."
"Escaping the governess by any means,"
"Ordering your sisters around,"
"Yes, when we weren't teasing you,"
"You teased most of all, I recall losing my shoes once!" Tony laughed, more boisterous than since his return to her life, and Mary felt her blood pump a little quicker, her cheeks flushing as the morning heated up. She undid a button on her coat, the lavender colour she had been living in, and was drawn to Tony, against better judgment, in spite of all she had said and knew.
She said no, and she still lived with Matthew's ghost, it was constant, but Tony was bright and intense at once, and she wondered if they might each have a chance, if only she gave him one…
"I'm sorry life kept you away for as long as it did, but I'm ever so glad to have you back." Mary sighed, bothered by her own sentiment.
Anthony plucked a flower from the bushes in the centre of their path, and all sheepish charm offered it to Mary, though she stuck her nose into it rather than take it from his hand. It was fresh and sweet like the summer, like her possibilities in this strange, new life without her beloved.
"Here," Tony beckoned her closer, grasping her shoulder with one hand, whilst tucking her hair behind her ear with the other, and securing the rose there. "Fit for a Queen."
"Do Queens roam around with roses in their hair then?" Mary asked in a trilling voice, touching the arrangement carefully, laughing as the flower wobbled when she turned her head.
"Likely, I'd say. If not, they should. You could be the first Queen of the county to start the trend."
"I won't be that, though – not the way my Mama is, not Countess."
"You could be a Viscountess, you know,"
"Oh, could I? Very subtle, Anthony,"
"That's not my strong suit," But he had other strong suits, of which Mary admired as he removed his jacket and folded it over his arm, his dress shirt taut across broad shoulders, a slight sheen of perspiration across his neck, his strong chest rising and falling as he liberated himself from the coat's confines. "My apologies, but I'm overheating."
"I don't mind." Mary echoed her words for when Anthony had stayed before his trip to Scotland, and she didn't mind to see him more undone, but at the same time she did mind at how she reacted. Oh, she was only female and couldn't be helped for her natural reaction to a tanned and tall man in the summer's heat. She felt her own neck prickle as sweat beaded there, watching him loosen his collar, but she would keep her own coat on.
"I get the impression you don't mind a few things you once might have," Tony said and Mary frowned curiously at him, as they walked toward the hedged entrance.
"What do you mean?"
"I don't think title means much to you any longer," He said abruptly, and Mary's forehead creased more as she considered it, lips fluttering wordlessly as she sought a response.
"Well, I suppose it just – doesn't. You're quite attuned, Tony."
His grin again, always in the eyes and rarely at the mouth, and they fell into rhythm once more, Mary walking ahead and Tony a pace or two behind, somehow bashful and respectful, while being bold a moment before.
"I wanted to inherit it, but couldn't. I wanted to be Countess to Matthew's Earl, but can't. There's no worth in the title when I've both lost and gained what made it meaningful. Matthew's lost, though I've gained the estate, all but. I've come up even, it seems."
"And I've a title, but it means little without an estate. These things just don't matter like they once did, although still matter too much in terms of, well, marriage."
"Indeed, indeed," Mary mused, and she was impressed with Tony, appreciative he didn't figure her as someone desperate for title or lineage, that he somehow knew her well enough to understand her priorities now.
She herself was surprised at her priorities now, pigs and sheep farmers, her dear son and Sybbie…
"What of Mabel, Tony? Does a title mean much to her?"
"Oh, I'm sure so, and I'm sure she could secure one better than mine."
"And has she?" Mary asked, falling into step with him, until he registered what she meant and came to a stop.
They were far off on the grounds, down by the gardens and paths that wound and carved throughout Downton's property. It was private, nearly intimate, with only the trees rustling in the breeze, or the birds singing overhead, as their company.
Mary worried she overstepped the boundary by mentioning Mabel, but Tony didn't seem keen to, while curiosity was killing her. He was frequenting Downton more than anywhere else, and was he back here to court, was he taking a second chance? While she mostly felt at ease with him, Mary could get caught up wondering these things and it was distracting.
"No, but if things were right between us I wouldn't have left London to traipse around Scotland just after our engagement. Things are…difficult," Tony's eyes, dark and kind, were flitting between Mary's own eyes and her lips and she thought she understood, she hated to understand but it was clear.
"You don't have to say any more," Mary assured, sensing his unease.
"I don't think I will, in fact."
"Then what will you do?" She asked, hardly knowing what she meant, hardly meaning anything at all, becoming flustered in the heat and his bare forearms and her own damp brow and –
"I'm not here to do anything, Mary. Or ask anything," There was the intense part of him now, the thick brow and strong jaw, clenched and determined.
"Well you've already asked anything you possibly could." She teased but her voice was low, and she found her breathing labored, the air stifling, her coat warm.
She plucked open the remaining buttons, the fabric of her blouse much more forgiving for this kind of weather, for this kind of moment.
"How I wonder the many times you've been asked that."
"Nearly as many as you've asked it, I suspect," Mary swallowed, wetting her lips, dabbing her forehead.
The heat pushed in from all sides, the morning warming fast, noontime would likely be unbearable in its humidity, but clouds were moving in that could relieve the heat from the sun, and perhaps relieve Mary from this buzzing, electric attraction. There was no room for Matthew or Blake or Napier in this minute, not with the heat a presence of its own, not with Tony tall and broad in front of her.
"I'm glad we can joke over things like that."
"It's nice to joke at all, Tony."
"But this isn't a joke," He said, and he was less delicate respect, less tortured soul, and more looming lover.
"I'm not sure what this is." Mary's hands gripped the collar of his shirt, as she backed against a stone wall to the greenhouses, and his arms wrapped quick, his hands low on her back, his coat tossed across the wall behind her.
Mary closed her eyes.
She breathed deeply, goosepimples rising on her skin despite the warmth around them, and he smelled like cigars and the flower in her hair.
There was much to ask him, much to learn and know, and to share. She knew his father's death haunted him, as her husband's did her, and she knew the demise of his fortune followed him, too. Whatever had happened with Mabel…his demons from the war…he was an interesting man, sad for a reason, and if she were to kiss him again…wouldn't she lose the light, the casual, wouldn't they be in too deep yet again?
It had hardly been a year…
"Tony," Mary whispered, halting, but heady, and her lips remained parted, expectant but unmoving.
"It's no good, you're about to say," Tony murmured, shapely lips close enough that they touched her own.
He was kissing her then, his lips brushing against her parted ones, first the bottom, then the top, tugging them between his. Mary never made a move back, except to tangle her fingers in his thick, curly hair, parted and tamed but quickly unruly as she tugged the locks.
"Either kiss me or stop me." He prompted, and Mary's breath was coming in pants against his lips, her mouth still open, frozen and shocked, aroused but stunted.
"I don't want to do either." She breathed, and she meant it, torn between two worlds as she suspected she would always be.
She opened her eyes, and his handsome face was all she could see, and she was thankful for that, blocking out both of their ghosts this way. Mary parted her lips again and then pressed them to his, her teeth pulling his pouty bottom lip, her stomach lurching with the sound he made.
When she couldn't breathe, he moved to her neck, nuzzling there before his tongue and then lips touched the warm, slick skin and her eyes rolled up to the blue sky above, and once she might have reflected on how it matched Matthew's eyes, but for now she just enjoyed Tony's stubble against her sensitive skin, beginning to push themselves apart before he had gone too low but oh, oh –
"Oh Tony, it's no good, not like this…"
And he smiled at her as he extracted himself from their kisses, her neck pink, his lips red, curls astray and Mary's chest heaving.
But perhaps it would be good sooner than she expected it could ever be again.