Author: Chickwriter PM
The twenty-first century descendants of the Crawleys, now without titles, but ruling the new elites with far more power and wealth than Mary and Matthew could ever have imagined. Consider it the AU S55.Rated: Fiction M - English - Mary C. & Matthew C. - Chapters: 27 - Words: 99,371 - Reviews: 743 - Favs: 198 - Follows: 316 - Updated: 05-24-13 - Published: 02-08-12 - id: 7816963
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: Thank you all for your reviews/tweets/flails/graphics/gifsets/betas/support. I'm honored beyond words and I'm so glad you're enjoying it. The chapter's song is "Let's Go Out Tonight" which is on Craig Armstrong's The Space Between Us. (The song playing at the pool? I'll let you guess.)
Preferred Stock 11/?
The music from the pool seemed to get louder somehow and it thumped in Matthew's head as he stared at Mary, her eyes and cheeks suddenly wet. She was only an arm's length away from him, but he had the terrifying sensation that she was retreating, and he had to keep himself from reaching for her.
"Monday," she said.
"Christ," he muttered.. "I shouldn't have said anything, I should have waited."
"Until when? We run into each other in the lift?" She leaned against the rail and smiled sadly. "It has to be discussed."
But they were silent instead, the music wafting up, the lyrics stinging both of them, the richly bitter taste of the Negronis oddly appropriate as the last of the sun's light finally disappeared and the deep orange-red along the horizon gave way to blue.
"Another?" She held up her glass, and he shook his head.
"It's selfish, you know," she said suddenly. "To think we could do this. To think that we could..." She laughed, her head falling back to stare at the sky. "Ethics Violations at Crawley Martin Thorpe, says the Financial Times. CNBC opens Squawk Box with 'Stockholders want to know if Mary Crawley slept with the chairman before or after he ousted Patrick Thorpe.' The New York Times blogs report that Matthew Crawley and Mary Crawley, no relation of course, personally signed off on the anti-fraternization policy they brazenly violated." She brought the glass to her mouth, taking what little liquor was left. "Six months, Matthew. Six months of work, of an entire company coming to life again, all those people... all of them, every single person who works for us, every investor, everyone depending on us to..." She sighed. "Selfish."
"And perception is reality." He repeated Alastair's favorite line.
"Perception is reality," she whispered.
"Just once," he burst out. "Just once, I wish it was about us. About me or you, about doing what I want to do, what you want to do. Nobody else, just us. Just once."
She took his glass, and hers, and put them down, her icy hand finding his. "Matthew, last night, today..." Mary's thumb stroked his. "Tonight. This is about us."
He pulled her close, arms twining around each other easily, as if they had been doing this for years, not hours. "So there is an us?"
She shook, and he could not tell if it was a laugh or a sob. "Of course there's an us, Matthew. There's just nothing to be done about it right now."
"Now," he repeated, his voice steady. "Can you and I keep working together, knowing... this? Without anyone else ever knowing?"
"I can," she said slowly, her fingers playing along his chin as she nestled against his shoulder. "Haven't we been doing just that? Or have I imagined it?"
Matthew kissed her eyes, her nose, the corner of her mouth. "Have I been that obvious?"
"No, you've behaved beautifully. We've behaved.." She kissed him then, hard, demanding, her breath a hissing intake when they broke apart. "Quite properly."
"It's one thing," he gasped as her lips went to his throat, "To behave with no memory of this. And quite another..." He put her down on the white, hard chair behind her, sinking to his knees, pushing her legs apart, tugging at the hem of her long dress, pushing it to the middle of her thighs as she fell back against the cushion.
"Not here," she whispered.
And so he lifted her again as he had the night before, took her to bed as he had the night before, only this time there was no laughter, only a desperate need to know, to mark and soothe, to taste, to feel so that once again, each one would know what the other meant.
"You seem obsessed with hydration," she croaked out as he handed her the bottle of water he'd half-drained.
"I like you wet," he said as he sat up and stretched.
"That cannot happen in the office." She flicked a few drops at him and arched her back again, flexing her ankles with a satisfying crack.
"I should hope not," he replied. "Sex is entirely inappropriate in the office environment. Everyone knows that."
"I mean," she said as she rolled toward him and slid her body up his back, breasts brushing his spine. "That kind of talk. Anything that even.. I won't be able to keep a straight face." She nibbled at his cheek as she hugged him.
"Very well," he said as his hands came up to find hers. "It'll be hard, though."
"Stop it." But she was laughing, and his eyes met hers in the half-mirror of the window, the lights of Barceloneta edging the Mediterranean below, and the awful knowledge that this would not last made her shiver. "Is it terrible to want to just order room service again?"
"No." He stroked her arm. "But I want to take you to dinner tonight. I don't know when..." He left it hanging as he stood up, lifting them both and she tightened her arms around his shoulders again as he carried her into the shower, and as she knotted up her hair, the promise they had made to each other only minutes before, as he lay in her arms, still inside her, tonight as if we can, as if it's possible rang through her mind.
"I know," she said, as she pressed her face against his back. "I hope my dress is salvageable."
It was, the slim knit tracing every angle and curve as he slipped it back over her head. She found her bracelet on the bed and slid it back on her arm as he buttoned up his pale blue shirt and ran his hands through his hair. "Where are we going?"
"A place I fell in love with when they had the IMF meeting here and they made us all stay at the Mandarin," he said. "It's like New York and Paris rolled into one. You'll see." He offered his arm, and as she took it, he leaned down and let his lips linger against her forehead. "Mary, earlier... why did that upset you at first? Besides what we said, besides what everyone would think?"
"You said 'us,'" she murmured. "And it was lovely."
She made the taxi drop them off near Casa Batlló so they could stare up at the dragon-scale roof, at the wild balconies and windows, and they walked without speaking up the wide boulevard until he took two short turns and they came upon a small place, awning extended over an open door and plate glass windows. It was packed, but they had a table saved, so Mary and Matthew squeezed in, the noise and bustling cheer suddenly welcome. They ordered wine, and much to the amusement of the waiter, argued over the selection of plates, with Mary pointing out he'd have to get his own carpaccio huevos fritos because she wasn't sharing hers.
"You're like a nightmare tourist," he said as he watched her mash up the nearly raw egg yolk into the crispy fried potatoes. "It's egg and chips."
"Cretin," she said and swirled the fork in her mouth. "It's nothing like egg and chips." She pointed at his plate. "Can I have some of your oysters?"
"No," he said. "Get your own."
There was a bit of a standoff with forks, and he thought if someone at this moment chose to take a picture of them, they would look less like two of the most powerful executives in the world and more like two children who shouldn't be allowed to eat in proper restaurants, and even as they grinned at each other across the tiny table, he found that he felt irrevocably sad. Not even the dessert, a play on French toast that made them both swoon in memory of great New York brunches, could cheer him, and as she sneaked the last bite away from him, her eyes and her lips told him she felt exactly the same way.
They walked a few blocks down the Passeig de Gracia, slowly, looking in shop windows without really seeing, always hand in hand. She thought of the way his skin felt against hers when she tucked her face against his neck, and he tried to memorize the scent of her hair, the feel of it under his lips. "It's six months," he said quietly.
"It has been six months," she said.
"No, I mean, it's six months until the... until we decide if we get paid and if we get bonuses again." His arm wound around her shoulder. "Mary, I never intended to stay past that, if things were working."
She stopped. "You'd leave?"
She let go of him. "You'd walk away from the firm just like that?"
"I didn't take the job to grow old in it. I came to.." He held his breath. "Prove to myself I could fix the unfixable. Only it's not me that's fixing it."
"Listen." He embraced her, his mouth close to her ear. "I'm not talking about Alastair. At the beginning, his expertise mattered and his name mattered. But whose name is in the news? Who's quoted constantly, and for all the right reasons? Who is the smartest person in the world right now after Friday's IPO debacle? You. And at the rate we're going... the rate you're going... by the time we hit December, the shareholders won't want anyone but you. I'll be the guy who left. That's what I want. That's what I've always wanted."
"But what if things aren't working? What if it's clear the shareholders want only you?"
"But what if they do?"
"Mary. They won't. And then I can leave and then..." His fingers pushed back her hair and he kissed her, gently.
"Matthew." Her lips fluttered against his. "Where would you go?"
"Ask me again in six months, Mary." His upper lip brushed hers, felt that perfect, sculpted dent against his skin, and their foreheads touched as the noise of the city whirled around them. Lights turned, people walked by, and no one noticed that the lives of one man and one woman had changed irrevocably on that small square of sidewalk.
"Six months," she said quietly. "All right."
There was nothing more that could or would be said. He waved down a taxi, and she curled against him, legs over his as they raced through the city and along the long stretch to the hotel. They made their morning arrangements separately with the concierge car to airport on 10:40 flight, of course we'll have your breakfast at seven is there anything else we can bring you tonight and they entered the elevator without a glance at the other. It was not until the doors opened on the 21st floor that anything was said, and it was Mary who looked at Matthew and whispered "mine."
At first, they were greedy, possessive, even selfish, his mouth on her neck as the door shut, as she kicked off her sandals and let him put her against the wall, his hands already working off her dress again, her legs twisting around him. She could not get him close enough, even after tearing his shirt away, the irrational, aching need to tear open his chest and crawl inside striking her as she bit softly at his shoulder. Wrists were pinned, first his as she pushed him to the floor and forced him on his back, naked above him, teasing him as she dragged her cheek the length of him, and then hers as he took his time tasting every part of her, lingering over the back of her right thigh and the heated skin of her breasts, already flushed from his touch. It was fury, madness, need that drove them both, everything forgotten save the feel of her around him, the sensation of him inside her, the sound of her cries, his gasps before he collapsed in her arms, and then she kissed him.
She kissed him, and for what seemed like hours they did nothing else, first wrapped together on the floor, then on the bed, slowly and sweetly, the smiles in between both breaking their hearts and sending them skyward.
And then they talked, of places they had only seen from hotel rooms and business dinners, of cities where they had dreamed of escaping, of feeling entirely alone in rooms full of people. Matthew spoke about Alice, about how proud he was of her success, but that it made him happiest to know that they had grown up to be friends. Mary ran a bath as she told him of Sybil's meteoric rise at the Guardian, and then they spoke of absolutely nothing as she crawled into the bath on top of him, fitting together as if they'd done this a thousand times. Only the sound of water off skin filled their ears, time forgotten again, and later she could only remember the ease of it, how naturally it all came to both of them, this ability to satisfy the other, this need to please the other.
They dried each other, shivering slightly, and wrapped up in the duvet, they were silent again as he laid his cheek on her breast and she played with his hair. A lifetime in one weekend, she thought sadly. There was no sleep that night that either could remember, only quiet punctuated by sounds,the rustle of cotton against them, her voice and his mingling, words they had never said before, promises they had never made before, and then, one last, heart-wrenching time, he came inside her, the air around them gone, and she kissed his eyes as he rested. "Six-thirty," she told him, and he finally dragged himself up and away from her. He laughed when he realized their clothes were all in the other room, and when he re-emerged, clothed and rumpled, she laughed with him, kneeling up so she could put his hair into some semblance of order.
"Don't," he groaned. "I'll just get undressed all over again." His hands danced over her, finally wrapping around her waist and pulling her up against him. "This," he said softly as he held her. "I want to be able to do this every day, every morning."
"Six months," she whispered. "And every day I'll be thinking the same thing."
"No," he said after a moment. "That doesn't make it better." He let go, reluctantly, and she sank back into the bed. "I'll see you downstairs, Mary."
"Matthew." He turned back, and her heart constricted at his face, at the slightly parted lips, his beautiful eyes, that unruly lock of hair across his forehead. "Us," she said softly.
"Us," he replied.
She ached for him already, her breakfast barely touched, the tea all she could stomach. She could not begin to comprehend that when she saw him again, she would not be able to touch him, save for the safest of handshakes or friendly greetings. Her text alert trilled, and for a moment she hoped... But it was Eddie, telling her to keep the plane in the air, and asking what she wanted for dinner. Sybil and Felix are coming, so prepare for a lecture on the Leveson inquiry.
It hurt to look at her in the lobby, to know what was under that fabric, what that slip of skin beneath that shirt tasted like, to see the shadows under her eyes that spoke both of sleeplessness and sadness. They were silent in the car, and as they walked through the concourse to the gate, they barely looked at one another. Mary was both disappointed and relieved to find they were not seated together, although the look on his face as he glanced at her in the cabin made her want to cry. She curled up in her seat, declining drinks and food as she slipped off her shoes, and as the plane lifted off, and Barcelona fell away below her, she let the tears come, knowing he would not see them.
He was restless on the flight, desperately wanting to stand, to look back three rows and see her, but it could not be done, and he consoled himself with music, songs he had not listened to in years, lyrics he had all but forgotten now suddenly, sickeningly true. Six months, he thought again and it made him slightly ill. He had been longing for her for six months, and just that taste was enough to make him absolutely certain that his plan of leaving as soon as this year ended was the only possible choice.
There were a dozen people separating them in the passport line, and once he passed through, he could not find her near the baggage claim. His phone rang just as he spotted the driver, who was curiously with a second man, taller than himself. "Hello?"
"Mr. Crawley? It's Jason Soltz."
His pulse jumped at the sound of the firm's security chief's voice. "Yes?"
"We tried to reach you earlier, but you were in flight. I'll get to the point. We're not entirely happy with what happened to the jet, and we're not entirely sure it wasn't sabotaged. We're putting a detail on you and on Miss Crawley until further notice."
"Sabotage? You're joking."
Jason did not laugh. "The mechanics didn't like the look of it, and until I'm sure that they're sure it wasn't deliberate, I'm keeping details on you both. There should be one of my men with your driver right now."
Matthew eyed the man. "Yes."
"Please ask for his identification. His name is Chris Lebedeva."
Matthew rolled his eyes at the cloak and dagger, and once he'd seen the man's ID (and his freakishly large hands) and Jason had informed him he would not be using his motorcycle for some time to come, he hung up just as he saw Mary with an equally imposing bodyguard. "Mine's taller," he said quietly as he walked up to her.
"I can't believe it," she replied. "It's that one," she said to her driver, pointing at the black case. She turned back to Matthew, eyebrows quirking up. "Alastair left me a message to apologize. Says it can't be helped until they clear the investigation."
"Who on earth..."
"It doesn't matter," she said smoothly. "What will you do with the rest of your day?"
She was a foot away and he couldn't do what he desperately wanted, needed to do. "Go see Alice, I think. You?"
"Eddie's making dinner and Sybil's coming with Felix. I will be quizzed on the Leveson inquiry at a level Rupert Murdoch would find intrusive." She laughed. "And apparently, this bodyguard will be joining me."
"No driving for a while." He indicated his own bag to the driver, and realized this was it. "Until tomorrow, then."
She nodded, arms crossed, and smiled up at him. "Tomorrow."
"Eddie's making dinner?" he asked suddenly. "You know, when you said she was hurt, and that she lived with you, I thought... well, I thought that she wasn't.. I didn't think of her as being able." Mary let out a small sigh. "I'm sorry, that seems odd and rude, it's just.. You rarely speak of her."
"She limps a little. There's a scar on her face, which she hates." Mary paused. "She doesn't talk. That's the worst of it. I miss hearing her voice."
"She can't talk?"
"I don't know if she can." She shivered. "Alastair wants to meet at seven-thirty tomorrow to brief on Lisbon before we meet with the rest of the team."
"I'll see you then." He held out his hand. "I'm glad it was us out there."
She smiled as she took it, their thumbs brushing briefly. "I'm glad it was us."
Alice threw herself into his arms almost before he was out of the car, and he wondered at how to explain the terrifying stranger who insisted on checking the house before he could enter. Alice took it in stride however, remarking that he should have security after all this time.
"You look good," he said as they sat down at the kitchen table and she poured his tea.
"I feel like hell," she muttered. "They keep telling me I'm almost through the worst of it." She looked longingly at his teacup. "I hate having to be good. I just want a bloody cup of tea. Or coffee. Or Camembert. Or something that's bad for me."
"You'll have them eventually."
"I know," She put her head on his shoulder. "I just want them now. I'm awful. Enough about me. How was being trapped in Barcelona with Lady Mary?"
"Mary," he said with a grin. "And it was very nice, to be honest."
"You're blushing!" She poked him in the ribs, as she had done for most of her life. "Matthew's in love with Lady Mary."
He poked her back, gently. "I'm not in love with Lady Mary. Where's Daniel?"
And as Alice went outside to call for her husband, Matthew ruffled his hair and felt his heart swell. Us, he thought with a smile.