|Who We Are
Author: MrsTater PM
A marriage of convenience. A business arrangement. That's what this is supposed to be. What she agreed to. What she can cope with. She can be a team. Partners. Lovers, even. But loved? By Sir Richard? post-series twoRated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Mary C. & R. Carlisle - Words: 3,903 - Reviews: 20 - Favs: 18 - Follows: 6 - Published: 11-12-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7545229
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Who We Are
The wedding goes off without a hitch-except, of course, in the one desirable sense.
"Such a vulgar expression, getting hitched," Granny had said with a cringe when Mary trotted it out a few days before she was to marry Sir Richard Carlisle. "Only American could think of describing a wedding in those ghastly terms." But though she'd given Mama a look as if to say she were somehow responsible for this affront to the English language, it was to Mary that the cool blue eyes flicked as Granny had added, heavily, "Although I suppose that for some marriages, it's an apt descriptor."
It certainly is for what Mary feels as she stands docile and veiled in ivory at the front of the church, as the man she has promised to obey-indeed, already has obeyed, in agreeing to marry him in the first place, lest he destroy her and her family with a word-slides the cold platinum band onto her finger. Hitched, indeed, like a horse to a cart or a plough. Exactly how she expected to feel, and no more. But no less, either, and there's a lot to be said for predictability and expectations met, of knowing who she is, and who she's getting married to, for better or for worse. Probably for worse, in this case. Undoubtedly.
Richard meets all Mary's expectations of predictability during the ceremony: his eyes as vacant as her soul feels as the vicar goes on about the mystical union of Christ and His Church, but meet hers with a gleam from beneath raised brows during the bits about preventing fornication; his hand around hers feels like a handshake during a business agreement at the mention of marriage being for mutual society and help, and, she notes with satisfaction, during the pause for the declaration of impediments, beads of perspiration form at the line of his immaculately combed and pomaded hair, and his eyes dart sidelong in the direction in which Matthew is seated.
It's after they are pronounced man and wife that things take a turn for the unexpected.
At first the changes are subtle. Mary feels the familiar proud swell of his chest as he draws her arm through his to walk her down the aisle out of the church, but it's in his fingers that the difference lies, curling gently around her hand instead of possessively gripping as on the few occasions before this when he's held it. And though she's braced for him to do something gauche like kiss her as soon as they've set foot outside, where the village children are gathered to shower them with flower petals and newspaper photographers to blind them with camera flashbulbs, she is not at all prepared to find that her new husband doesn't taste of cocktails and cigars and control like before, but something sweet, something…
...not like Sir Richard at all.
Mary breaks away, abruptly, and looks up at him to see the certain withering look of displeasure. Instead he takes her arm again and resumes their walk to the house, his face lit by a smile that dazzles her more than the cameras.
He flashes it at her again from across Downton's great hall before the wedding breakfast, where he's broken ranks from the receiving line to talk with some of his associates-Mary doesn't think Richard actually has friends-who came up from London.
"Doesn't he look exactly like the cat that ate the canary?" mutters Papa to Mama.
"Robert, please," Mama hisses through her smile. "I know you're not fond of Richard, but you did just give him your daughter's hand in marriage before God and everyone else who matters. If his wedding day isn't the time to give your son-in-law the benefit of the doubt-"
"Why should he?" Mary asks coolly, though her face has grown very warm. Because of Richard's social gaffe, she tells herself, not because of Papa's disapproval; this is one of Richard's attractions, after all, that he doesn't fit in. Though she's learnt there is little satisfaction to be had from stirring the pot when the only thing you appear to stir is pity for yourself, and Papa can't even look at her now-he could hardly meet her eye in the church as he placed her hand in Richards-he's so sorry not for what he said, but that it's the truth. "That's precisely what Richard has done."
Only she's been more mouse than canary, she thinks, and she, too, steps out of line, under the pretence of fetching her wayward husband, lest they see how red her face has got.
Before she's quite out of earshot, she catches Granny saying, "No, Robert, you're wrong. Have you known a cat look truly happywith the canary? Smugly pleased to have caught what he was after, most certainly, but that's not how Sir Richard looks. Not at all. How very interesting."
"It would be more interesting," says Mama, with a sigh, "if Mary looked as happy with Richard as he seems to be with her."
Though Mary's back is to her parents and grandmother, and though if they could see her face they would never accuse her of looking as happy, or smug, or whatever emotion it is that prompts Richard to look so daft as he does at this moment, she smiles back at him. He tries to takes her hand when she joins him, but she twines her arm through his instead as he introduces her to the men he does, apparently, call friends. Do they return the sentiment? she wonders. Or are they merely here for the promise of the meal which Downton Abbey, like too few houses these days, can afford them? Like Ebenezer Scrooge's business associates who will only attend his funeral if luncheon is provided.
That thought renders her momentarily incapable of making polite conversation that will not belie the decided lack of bridal bliss she feels, so she begs Richard's friends or associates to please excuse them and tugs him back to their proper place at the head of the receiving line.
Before they reach their families, she pauses in the centre of the room, pretending for the photographers who insist on capturing the moment for posterity, or at least those who live vicariously through the society pages, that she's straightening Richard's cravat while she says to him through her thin smile, "You must try to tone it down a bit. People will comment how radiant you look. No one's supposed to outshine the bride on her wedding day, least of all the groom."
"There's little danger of that." Richard covers her hands, which have been brushing his lapels, with his own and gazes at her in a way that she might call tender-if he were any man but Sir Richard, who once cornered her against a wall and looked at her with the eyes that were even less gentle than the hands that held her there. "You're the most beautiful bride to grace the society pages this year."
"Only this year?"
"If you're worried, perhaps you might try letting yourself be happy." He leans close to her, so that his lips brush her cheek and his warm breath somehow manages to send a shiver down her spine. "Who knows? You might even find you enjoy it."
Happy? Mary very nearly says aloud. They don't talk about the moon and the June, they don't get excited, and they certainly are not happy. That's not who they are.
But she says none of that. She merely adjusts Richard's buttonhole and shrugs. "I enjoy not looking like a fool in the papers. But if you don't mind it, by all means, continue smiling."
And, rather than take her roughly by the arm and remind her of how the papers are his and therefore say whatever he wants them to say about how he looks, and how she looks, so she daren't cross him and damn well better look happy, he does her bidding-though he made no vow to obey-and smiles all the way through breakfast. Like the Cheshire cat.
Leaving Mary to wonder: who is Sir Richard Carlisle?
He doesn't keep her wondering for long.
When they arrive at Haxby-home, she supposes she must call it now-that night after the ball, Richard hands her down from the car only to sweep her up in his arms to carry her across the threshold. Mary rolls her eyes at the action, which, though meant to be chivalrous, strikes her as decidedly Philistine; he might as well have dragged her in by her hair, or thrown her over his shoulder.
Although however humiliating, this does serve her purpose, if not Richard's; coupled with his having arranged for the full staff to meet them in the hall at such a late hour, Mary remembers the other reason why she agreed to marry this man-apart, of course, from blackmail: to spare him a life of ridicule. Now she'd much rather see him squashed by her kind of people-or, better yet, she'd like to squash him herself-but sadly improving his behaviour will be as much to spare herself from ridicule. And perhaps it will kill both birds with one stone.
In spite of her undignified entrance, when her feet find the floor again, Mary stands tall and gracious at her husband's side, and cannot help but think how much better suited she is for the role of lady of the manor she is than when Mama came to Downton as a bride. Which also makes tears spring to her eyes at the thought that she might have done this one day at Downton herself, if she'd had the sense to marry Matthew when she'd had the chance.
"Thank you all for being here to make me feel so welcome," she says to the staff, marshalling control of her voice so as not to betray herself with so much as a quaver, which her jealous husband would surely notice. "Though I'm sure you would all much rather be in your beds and get better acquainted with me at a more humane hour."
She pauses for the polite titter of laughter, and darts her eyes sideways at Richard, hoping to find him looking cross at her for pointing out where he has erred already with the management of their servants in front of the servants. Disappointingly, he appears rather grateful.
"You're dismissed," she adds, in a tone less confident than the one before, but it does nothing to undermine her authority as mistress, and the staff disperse.
"Not you, Helen," says Richard, beckoning to one of the housemaids. "Lady Carlisle will need help undressing."
"Lady Mary," Mary corrects, rolling her eyes again; how can he still not have learnt the ins and outs of titles? It's really not that difficult, she had learnt peerage as a little girl, and, unlike Richard, was at the disadvantage of having received her education from a governess. "And yes, thank you, Helen, but I promise not to keep you long."
With Helen following them from a wary distance, they make their way up the staircase, which really is so much finer than Downton's, especially now all the work's done-Mary has to hand it to Richard, he employed the very best craftsmen to maintain the integrity of the house, even if they did put in modern bathrooms-he pauses on the first landing to peer over the banister at Mr Pitt the butler, who waits dutifully for them to reach the top so he can put out the lights-and the smile falters for the first time since the vicar pronounced them man and wife.
"If Carson had taken the job, he'd never have let me make a hash of that down there."
And though, just a moment ago, Mary's darling wish had been to triumph at Richard's expense, the desire has left her-for now. After all, he's clearly paying. She squeezes his arm and leans her shoulder into his.
"No, but Carson wouldn't have looked quite so pretty as me when he gave you a disapproving scowl and told you how it's done, would he?"
Chuckling, Richard turns to her and cups her face in his hand. "And I certainly couldn't have kissed him to show my thanks."
Richard does exactly that, and Mary kisses him back until she feels the press of a wall behind her, which reminds her too much of the first time she felt his kiss, given in the same breath as he threatened to destroy her.
She breaks away-not because it was such a traumatic experience, but because the memory of it restores the status quo and, ironically, gives her a measure of control. Her eyes dart sidelong toward the staircase, where Helen is stood stock-still pretending to find the new carpet fascinating.
"Not in front of the servants, darling," says Mary, gathering up the train of her ball gown. Her other hand on the banister, she resumes her ascent, looking back over her shoulder at Sir Richard. "Can't have them getting the wrong idea about who we are, can we?"
Kissing, as it happens, isn't the only thing Mary is uncomfortable doing in front of the servants at Haxby. Helen has never been in service before, much less as a lady's maid, and her fingers tremble as she tries to work the buttons on the back of Mary's ball gown.
"No need to be nervous, Helen," says Mary to the girl's pale reflection in the dressing table mirror. "After all, it's not your wedding night."
But jokes don't get Mary's ball gown unbuttoned any quicker, and the girl's seeming inability to utter a word only makes Mary miss Anna, who would have relieved the awkwardness of this moment with pleasant conversation about the ceremony and making little innocuous observations about what she'd seen and overheard during the breakfast and the ball, and known just what to say to make the wedding night seem a good deal more bearable.
Or maybe she wouldn't have. Anna, after all, believes in love, at any cost. Though Mary wonders whether that would change at all if Anna knew that this night, and all the nights after, in this house, with Sir Richard, are the price of her marriage to the man she can't even be with right now. And may never be with, if Bates can't clear his name.
"It's very late," says Mary to Helen. "Run along to bed. Sir Richard's a self-made man, you know. I daresay he remembers how to work a button."
When she goes through to the bathroom which adjoins her dressing room to his, she finds him already in his dressing gown, brushing his teeth. Seeing Mary in no further state of undress than when he left her to prepare for bed, Richard finishes, quickly, and makes anxious inquiry as to whether the maid is incompetent or otherwise unsatisfactory.
"Not that I at all mind doing this for you," he says, smiling at her in the mirror as he stands behind her in her own room and unbuttons her. Slowly-though not, Mary thinks, out of nervousness. There is none on her part, either, strangely enough; perhaps because Richard is the only thing in Haxby who is not strange to her.
"Maybe you ought to let her go, and take full responsibility for dressing me for dinner."
"Tempting." He's reached the lowest buttons now, at the small of her back, and she feels his hands skim a little lower than is strictly necessary for the task. "Though I'd probably be a bit rubbish at doing your hair."
"Don't sell yourself short. You've rather a knack for pomade." Mary's eyes drift upward to study his hair in the middle; she thinks he might have added even more to his coif while he was readying himself for bed, and pities the laundress who must get it out of his pillowcase. "And I could always cut my hair like all the Parisian girls are doing."
"If you like."
Does he really mean it? Or does he simply recall, as she does, the time Matthew argued so vehemently against short hair and rather likes the thought of her making some change to her appearance that may make her unattractive to his rival?
Not that Matthew is anyone's rival anymore, at least not for her heart.
The more likely answer is that Richard isn't really listening to her at all. Her buttons undone, he places his hands on her shoulders to push the straps of her gown down her arms, then bends to touch his lips to her skin where her gown had been as the bridal ivory satin slides away from her body and pools on the floor at her feet with a whisper.
And then it's his whisper in her ear, as one arm slides around her to cup her small breast in his hand through her slip and corset. "We're alone now, Lady Carlisle."
Mary opens her mouth to correct him again, but turns her head to kiss him instead; to paraphrase Mama at breakfast, if there was ever a time to give a man the benefit of the doubt, surely it's on his wedding night? Especially when it's your wedding night, as well.
And, anyway, isn't that who she'll be to everyone who laughs behind her back because of her ill-bred husband Sir Richard Carlisle?
"Well?" he asks, when he's finished with her. He lies on his side next to her while Mary remains on her back, looking up at him and searching his expression for any sign of the cat with the canary, but turning up bewilderingly nil as Granny had. "What did you think?"
That it had been surprisingly nice, actually. Passionate, even, if slightly awkward and untidy at times. But of course she cannot-will not-tell him so.
She reaches for the sheet, which has got rather bunched up around their legs, and draws it up over them. An unnecessary bit of modesty, considering that one of Richard's hands still rests upon her bare breast beneath it.
"The bar was set pretty low for you," she says. "All you had to do was not die."
She thinks of that day in Richard's London office, when the slightest lifting of his eyebrows and the quirking of his lips had been his only reaction to the scandalous confession that could destroy her and her entire family if the public got a whiff of it. She shouldn't be surprised that he takes it differently now that they're husband and wife whom no man, not even a newspaper man, can put asunder, but she nevertheless is when he draws her close, peering into her eyes as he strokes her cheek with the backs of his fingers.
"I think a part of me did die today," he says.
He's in earnest, she knows it, but Mary cannot restrain a snort of laughter. "The little death? How metaphysical of you."
"A pretty big part of me, actually," Richard goes on, all the lines of his face tugging downward in a frown, his voice lowering, too. "The part where I hide the depth of my affection for you."
"Affection?" Mary's eyes open wide with her surprise, and though she's practiced at the art of keeping the tone from her voice, the vulnerability of her situation, her nakedness and his, makes it more difficult than usual to don the cloak of cold carefulness. "Dear me. I believe the act of love has made you sentimental."
But Richard will not be dissuaded from this line of thinking.
"The thing is, Mary," he says, positioning himself above her when she starts to move away, and brushing an errant lock of hair back from her face, letting it curl about his fingers, "I'm in love with you. And I have been since almost the first moment I saw you at Cliveden."
Mary's breasts recede a little from his chest as she lets out the breath she hadn't realised till now she'd been holding. She tries to look away so she won't have to see the truth written in his eyes which she's avoided all day since that damned smile first blossomed on his face, but he won't let her. He makes her look, makes her see him-just like he made her marry him-and what she sees is a man who is-dear God, Granny was right-happy. A man who gets excited, and who talks about love, and whose next words will probably be some drivel about the bloody June.
But Richard doesn't talk, thankfully, only starts kissing her again. Her cheeks, her neck...And he's heavy on her, more a dead weight than ever Kemal was.
"If you loved me all that time," Mary asks, unable to stop her voice from hitching, "why pretend this was a marriage of convenience? A business arrangement?"
That's what this is supposed to be. What she agreed to. What she can cope with. She can be a team. Partners. Lovers, even.
But loved? By Sir Richard?
"Would you have had me any other way?" His lips still touch her collarbones, but he lifts his eyes to meet her gaze. Shameless.
"Only under duress. Oh, but you've got that one covered, as well." She tries to roll onto her side, to escape him, but his hands press into the mattress on either side of her shoulders, effectively caging her.
"I've behaved abominably," he says hoarsely, "but I'll do better, Mary, I promise."
"Your apology might have been a trifle more effective if you'd made it before you had me till death do us part."
She walks a fine line, and she fears she might have stepped over it. No, not fears, hopes. Richard's anger, his roughness-those she's steeled for.
But his touch is light as he takes her left hand and kisses the finger that bears his ring. "I'll make you love me," he says in a voice that's as much a caress as his hands and lips, though the threat is the most terrifying one he's yet made. "Every day, I'll do whatever I can to make you love me. And one day you will."
Mary doesn't argue, in part because Richard has claimed her mouth with his. But also because she's too intrigued by the questions he doesn't even realise he's posed:
Who is this Lady Mary Carlisle that could ever love Sir Richard?
And could there be any more unfortunate fate than to become her?