|With All The Time In The World
Author: OrangeShipper PM
They've put themselves in an impossible situation; far too soon for any sort of affection, let alone love. With all the time in the world, perhaps their relationship could develop. But do they have it? Sequel to Fuel on the Fire - an AU from episode 1x02Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Drama - Matthew C. & Mary C. - Chapters: 21 - Words: 85,617 - Reviews: 554 - Favs: 130 - Follows: 217 - Updated: 01-20-13 - Published: 04-22-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8050456
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: Well, hello my dears!
I can only apologise for the delay - anniversary trip away and a STONKING case of writer's block - but here we are again!
My heartfelt thanks for your support and comments, and enthusiasm for me to continue - they mean the world to me! So, thank you, so very much. :) And especially to EOlivet for her tireless encouragement and beady eye on my typos, and Pemonynen for listening to me constantly witter on!
Lots of references to York in this chapter... when I'm awake in the morning I'll post some photos on Tumblr (OrangeShipper if you haven't found me yet!) so you can picture it better :D
ETA: For reference's sake, it's now coming up to April 1913, and M/M have been married nearly two months.
It was a week or so later that Matthew arrived cheerily home from work, his spirits seeming to match the brighter afternoon sunshine now the season was well into spring. He noticed how pretty the garden looked; it was much larger than theirs had been in Manchester (and better tended, with Molesley's enthusiasm), and Matthew surprised himself when his next thought was a fleeting glimmer of disappointment that the brightness and life of the blossoming flowers would be fading in the autumn chill by the time Mary's child was born.
He sighed, saw from the path that the window was open, and went inside to find his mother sitting in the cool draught with her embroidery on her knee.
"Hello," he smiled and looked around him distractedly. "Isn't Mary about?"
"Not at the moment, no." Isobel accepted his quick kiss, and – while she might normally have taken offence at Matthew's distracted dismissal of her beyond the barest courtesy – bore a smile instead of a frown at the fact that he sought his wife without a shadow of despair. "I think she's visiting Cousin Violet for tea. How was your day?"
"Ah." Matthew accepted the cup of tea that appeared before him in Molesley's hands, and sat down to sip it gently. "Fine, thank you," he answered his mother's question at last, sounding not in the least interested as a frown creased his brow. "I hope Cousin Violet isn't too sharp with Mary…"
"Mary can look after herself quite well enough, my dear, you know that."
"Of course, I… Yes of course she can."
He knew it well enough, after watching her cope through the last difficult months from a bitter distance, offering her nothing at all. A quiet admiration for his wife warmed his chest, and he took a deep breath.
He was trying so hard… to see her as Mary. Not his lover, not a woman he had loved, not his wife, not the mother of a baby who must in every way that mattered be his… Just, Mary. In a concerted effort to rebuild even a shadow of what they'd had and what he'd once wished for, he'd built around his perception a careful shield of neutrality. Because if he allowed himself to realise, to behold everything that she was to him… then he found himself assuaged with such powerful feelings for her that confused all his efforts. If he would let himself, he would love her and loathe her; to think of her as a wife, lover, mother made his body burn with lust and shame and memory and… that would not do.
They had started again, as much as they could. And so, she was simply Mary – she was pleasant, pretty, clever, witty, and he could simply take pleasure in her company for what it was. Not for what it had been, or could be, not that pleasure of her soft skin under his lips or her body tight around him… not that. He shivered and pushed those haunting thoughts aside. She was just Mary, and he could enjoy being with her, and for now that must be all of it.
It wasn't much longer before Mary arrived at home, and as the front door opened and the warmth of her voice drifted down the hall Matthew leapt to his feet, splashing tea into the saucer. He put it down quickly and wiped his hands, as Isobel looked curiously on and Mary walked into the sitting room.
"Hello," she said, looking faintly startled, tugging gently at the fingers of her leather gloves till they slipped off and into her hands."I'm afraid I was rather trapped by Granny. Is everything quite alright?"
Matthew finally managed to close his mouth, and licked his lips.
"Yes – quite alright, I'm – well, I'm pleased you're home." He smiled shyly, and Mary delicately, and they both sat down. Molesley brought in a fresh pot of tea, and Matthew felt not for the first time a sincere gratitude to the quiet butler who discreetly replaced his slopped teacup and saucer.
Mary murmured quiet thanks as she took her tea, watching Matthew with shining eyes and a fluttery heart. This new peace between them, however fragile and hesitant it felt, was proving a joy day by day. She would have taken anything over his miserable silence, but his breathless smiles and tentative gestures made her hope soar more than any rash, romantic overtures ever might have. This Matthew; a little bashful, unsure of himself, almost flirting with her though she was sure he had not meant or was even aware of it… reminded her so sharply of the man she'd known months ago and had fallen in love with. Their relationship now was too precious and new to spoil with haste in reclaiming their love.
She blinked as Matthew's voice brought her out of herself and into his true presence.
"You see I wanted to tell you, that it seems I need to go across to York tomorrow, and deliver some documents to the courthouse that apparently were forgotten today. Nothing vital, I'm sure, but still they've asked me to go, and – said I might take the rest of the day to enjoy myself!"
He'd looked so intently at Mary throughout this speech that Isobel might have felt quite put out, if it didn't please her so much. Still, she felt slightly relieved when Mary asked him to elaborate, as they neither could understand his odd, nervous excitement.
"Well how marvellous!" Mary exclaimed lightly, and took another sip of her tea, wondering why Matthew had so particularly wanted to tell her but inwardly thrilled if he'd only wanted to share something of his day with her. "But surely you're not the firm's errand boy? Unless you've exaggerated your position to us…"
Matthew laughed gently. "Certainly not! Quite the opposite, in fact. I think I was tasked with it for having spent entirely too much time over my desk just lately, and… seeing as I've been given the rest of the day, and I've not taken the leisure of visiting the city very much yet, I… wondered, Mary, if you'd like to come with me? We could make a day of it. If – you'd like."
For a moment, Mary only stared at him. Then placed her teacup gently down, pressing her lips together as it rattled quietly in the saucer, and folded her hands in her lap.
"I would like that… thank you, Matthew."
"Wonderful! That's… wonderful, I think we'll take the nine-thirty train which should give us plenty of time to make the most of the day. I'm afraid I'll be quite the tourist, though, if you won't mind –"
"No, I won't mind. I think you'll like it very much!"
Matthew nodded, and smiled, and looked more genuinely happy than anyone had seen him look since before Christmas at least. It was as if a breath of fresh air had lightened the room, and Mary felt at once so self-conscious of the breadth of her smile that she quickly picked her tea back up and raised it to her lips to disguise it.
As Mary dressed the next morning, noting with pleasure that this was the fourth day now that she'd not been woken by sickness, she was hardly aware of the extra touches of care she was taking.
"I think the dove grey, Anna, today – yes, and that blouse will be lovely, thank you."
"Of course, Milady," her maid smiled knowingly. The long skirt and blouse had a slim, flattering cut, and Mary had not chosen it for some time. "I'll set the coat out for it downstairs, as well, shall I?"
"Please, if you would."
Mary smiled, watching the movement of her hands as she applied cream to them and then dabbed powder to her cheeks, wondering if she was just imagining that the shadows beneath her eyes were not quite so obvious today, or her skin not quite so dull as it had been. She let Anna dress her, and perched again before her vanity as practised fingers weaved her hair into an elegant knot. "Do you think it will do for the weather, Anna?" she asked distractedly, seeking unknowing assurance of her choice.
"I do, it's light enough for the sunshine, and – if I might say, Lady Mary, I've always thought you look very fine in it. Very fine."
"Oh, thank you, how kind." Her heart fluttered as she wondered if Matthew would think so. Taking a breath against the constraint of her corset, she passed her hands over her tightly bound in waist. The coat had always shown her slender figure off well, and she drew a wry smile. "I don't suppose I'll have the chance to wear it for much longer at all, so I might as well take advantage while I still can!"
Anna laughed, resting her hands lightly for a moment on Mary's shoulders as she surveyed her handiwork, stooping to secure a curling wisp of hair that had strayed. She took the ends of the necklace that Mary looped behind her neck and fastened it quickly.
"Good for you," she smiled, stepping back to gather her lady's nightdress as Mary dabbed on a delicate, floral perfume to her neck and wrists. "But I think you'll look beautiful anyways, Milady, and…" she hesitated, clasping her hands together before finishing more quietly, "I'm sure mister Matthew will think so, too."
"Oh, Anna –"
But the maid had already slipped out, and Mary turned again to her mirror to consider herself… thinking it was surely beyond hope that Matthew could look at her and think her beautiful again, not yet.
"You look lovely," Matthew complimented her quietly, watching her fix a pin into her wide-brimmed hat as he shrugged his coat on.
Mary smiled graciously and dipped her head to hide the faint blush spreading over her cheeks, hurrying outside while Isobel bid them goodbye from the doorway. They walked in a comfortable, almost companionable silence, not quite sure of what to say to each other in this still new, still unsteady, truce of friendship between them. Mary commented on the weather, and Matthew agreed that it was very fine indeed, wondering absently whether the gentle glow to her cheeks was simply an effect of the sunshine and air or something more.
When they reached Downton's train station, Matthew helped his wife carefully into the carriage, making sure she was comfortable before sitting down himself.
"What is it?" he asked when, a minute or so after setting off, she paled slightly.
"Oh, nothing." She sat up a little straighter and pressed her gloved palms to her belly. Her breaths were slow, careful, against the rocking motion of the train. "I've not taken the train in some months, that's all."
"God, I'm sorry – we could've taken the car, I didn't –" Of course he hadn't thought, he glowered inwardly. But Mary quickly waved off his concern.
"No, no, it's perfectly alright. I'm not sure it's the train so much as – my determination to have squeezed into this coat while I thought I still could!" She laughed wryly at her stupid, girlish pride. The same foolish, vain pride that had crumbled their dreams in the first place, dreams she hadn't even known at the time that she'd cherish.
"Oh Mary…" But he laughed, then, with her; because he had to, because there was nothing else they could do. And he stood to open the window, hoping the fresh air would cool her, and when he sat back down his knee brushed hers, cotton against cotton, and he shivered and didn't quite meet her eyes for the rest of the journey.
It might have been awkward, but the journey by train was not long and by the time it drew with a puff of steam and an echoing whistle into the high, vaulted arches of York station, any awkwardness was forgotten in Mary's delight at Matthew's enthralment. It was a grand old station; she'd always enjoyed passing through on the way to London, and though Matthew had passed through himself several times before in his life he'd not often stopped to admire it, or the city beyond.
Without conscious decision he offered his arm to Mary, and she took it with far greater awareness. She laughed at Matthew's sharp intake of breath as they left the station and found themselves faced with the high banks of the city walls, covered entirely over with a storm of yellow daffodils that waved proudly in the springtime breeze.
"D'you know something," Matthew leaned a little closer to her, looking up in awe as they followed the path through and into the city. "It's still legal – some middle-aged law that was never repealed, I suppose – to shoot a Scotsman within the walls with a bow and arrow."
"Is it?" Mary lifted a faintly mocking brow.
He nodded. "Except on a Sunday, yes. Though I don't suppose there's many with bow and arrows handy now to take advantage of it."
"No. Well! I'm glad to see your education in the law was worthwhile for something…"
Matthew's laugh tapered into a bitterly disappointed sigh. "Mary, I know my work seems very trivial to you –"
"It doesn't!" She placed her other hand on his arm, her expression a mask of apology. "I'm sorry, I was teasing. If you must know," she shrugged, "I have rather envied you having somewhere to go every day, and something to do."
"I thought that made me very middle-class," Matthew said, more softly now. "And… I know that isn't what you'd wanted."
"I didn't think it was. But then, I was wrong about a lot of things."
"Don't say that. We both were."
A lot of things, but not everything… and as their eyes met in a sad, understanding, breathless smile they knew (if only in the back of their minds somewhere, not fully acknowledged) that some things, they had been very right about indeed.
Matthew drew a sharp breath, raising his head again to take the fresh air and his mind from the morose place it had been falling into. "Anyway that's all behind us, isn't it, so let's just try and enjoy the day. Shall we?"
They followed the directions Matthew had been given to the courthouse, and Mary waited in the marbled foyer while he was whisked off to some office or other. When he returned, he waved his briefcase at her and grimaced apologetically.
"So much for having the rest of the day… I'm afraid I need to return these to the office before they close up at five o'clock. I'm so sorry – but we've until mid afternoon, at least!"
Mary smiled graciously. "Don't apologise for that, please. There's far more to be seen than we could manage in just a day anyway, and I'm sure we'll be tired enough by then." She certainly would be, she knew, but hadn't wanted to call off Matthew's enthusiasm any sooner than he was willing to.
"You're probably right." He shifted the briefcase to his other hand so she could take his arm again, and they set out in the direction of where they could see the towers of York Minster rising above the city. "But there's no need for you to be delayed going back by Ripon with me – of course you must go straight home if you like."
"Certainly not!" she countered him immediately. "I'd like to come with you, if you wouldn't mind."
"No, I… wouldn't mind."
Something approaching fondness (though he'd never acknowledge it as such) haunted Matthew's expression, as he watched her wander across the little cobbled street to peer into a window. They went along slowly, into this shop and that, and by the end of the street where the Minster towered high in front of them, Matthew's briefcase carried an additional three novels, a new silk tie that was more elegant than he usually wore for work but it was Mary's preference, and a pair of dainty lace gloves for her that Matthew had insisted upon when he'd seen her admiring them in the window.
"Well, what do you think?" Mary couldn't help but beam at the way Matthew's eyes widened and lit up as they approached the Minster.
"Remarkable," he breathed, craning his neck to look up at the intricate, gothic arches over the doors. "It's smaller than Manchester's cathedral but… far prettier, certainly."
Mary lifted a hand to shade her eyes, trying to spot precisely what had Matthew so fascinated, then nodded as he pointed for her.
"I supposed most things in Yorkshire were far prettier than Manchester," she commented drily, and was pleased when this time Matthew laughed rather than taking offence.
Enthusiasm radiated from him as they walked below the tall, vaulted ceilings inside, and Mary listened with genuine interest as they ventured down into the crypt where Matthew could point out to her the Roman and Norman foundations of the site. She had never been a great historian, not of this sort of thing, but Matthew's excitement was infectious and it was hard not to be impressed at the church's grandeur.
By the time they returned to the street and the sunlight, both were quite exhausted and really quite happy, awareness and memory tingling through them of a happier, easier time. It was easier, now, to remember the many hours they'd spent talking, teasing, laughing, before… they'd confused everything and themselves with stolen kisses and hidden caresses that they should not have indulged so soon. They were more careful, now, burned once… and found themselves cherishing the tentative ease of companionship now.
When Mary suggested they take some lunch, Matthew heartily agreed, and after some deliberation chose an inn that intrigued them with its curiously angled floors and ceilings, worn with age.
"I've heard before that it's haunted…" Mary whispered loudly as they stepped inside, wobbling and leaning closer against Matthew to recover her balance on the steep floorboards.
"It's haunted, or its clientele inebriated?"
"Which do you suppose is more likely?" she laughed. "I wonder if inebriation would make it easier to navigate…"
Matthew frowned, and at the direction of a nearby waiter helped Mary to a table. Even the table sloped rather alarmingly, but they were too charmed by it to mind.
"Either easier if it becomes less noticeable, or harder if you were already unsteady… I'm sure I couldn't say!"
"And I'm sure that's probably a good thing!"
They were interrupted by the waiter.
"What can I get for your lovely wife and yourself, Sir?" the young man asked cursorily.
After quickly choosing what they fancied and placing their order, Matthew turned back to Mary with a prickling kind of eagerness at continuing their easy chatter… but his smile fell at the curious frown on her face.
"What is it, my dear?"
His throat tightened instantly as the words slipped out, and he flexed his fingers upon the table top. Mary had evidently heard it, too, for her eyes widened a fraction before her smile became more impossibly sad (however she tried to hide it).
"Really, Matthew, nothing at all –"
"Please – don't pretend, Mary, don't say it's alright when it isn't," he urged her softly, flexing his hand again before it instinctively reached to cover hers. He flinched at the contact, but did not remove it. "We've done enough of that, please… tell me."
"Oh, Matthew…" She shook her head in resignation, and wouldn't quite meet his eyes. "It just – strikes me, still, to be called your wife. Because I don't – quite feel like it, always."
She released her remaining breath in a rush and looked hesitantly up. It was ridiculous, really, she could almost laugh – to be very soon clearly with child, to have been married so many weeks, and yet still not feel like a wife. But she couldn't find his gaze, for it was downcast.
Matthew wet his lips. "I'm so sorry." His voice was shaky, quiet, and she had to strain to hear him (though the note of apology, of regret in his voice was clear enough). "You are, though. By all law –"
She hadn't meant to say it so sharply, and her breath hissed as Matthew's hand withdrew to his lap in shame.
"Well, not… properly, I suppose," he muttered, unable to look at her. The air between them cooled, seeming to darken and crowd and push them apart with the shadows and bustle around them. He shivered. "God, I'm so sorry."
"Don't be!" He was too far across the table for her to reach, but her fingers still twitched restlessly for him. He looked up at last, searching her gaze, but she was all sincerity. "Not now, Matthew – not today. Let's not think about all that, we promised."
They were supposed to be enjoying themselves. And suddenly it seemed completely absurd, and Matthew had to cough back the laugh that rose in his throat. Mary's lips twitched helplessly in response until she laughed as well, and somehow Matthew's fingers found her hand again across the table, and this time he only let go once their food was placed in front of them.
But despite Mary's plea, it could not be forgotten entirely. Pushed to one side, to the back of his mind, buried under conversation and jokes and debates, perhaps… but never entirely forgotten. She could not be truly his wife, not properly, until they'd broached that which still seemed so impossible, that which made him still simmer and chill in equal measure… and through the afternoon which they filled with dismissive smiles and forgettable chatter, he couldn't – however much he tried – keep his mind from shying to the thought of intimacy with Mary.
As she'd promised, she left the train with him at Ripon. She'd been many times before, of course, and would come again soon for new dress fittings. But Matthew's law firm was quite new to her, and she looked up at the pretty, ivy-clad building curiously.
"So this is where you have hidden yourself away each day!" she smiled, following him into the dark, wood-panelled reception.
He chuckled, handing over the file he'd brought back to the clerk behind the desk.
"I stopped hiding here at least a week ago, thank you."
Mary laughed delicately and followed him again through another door, to what she supposed must be his own office as he scanned through the pile of letters quickly on his desk, picking out those which needed more immediate address.
She liked it, she decided. It was cosy. Pleasant. The smell of wood and ink and leather was strangely comforting, and reminded her of her father's library. It was so easy to picture Matthew at the swivel chair behind the desk, writing, talking, his jacket and hat on the stand and – she liked to imagine – his sleeves rolled up a touch as he worked. She found herself warming at the thought of it, and wondered at how she would have laughed with scorn at herself for this only a few months ago.
"Well, if you had to hide somewhere, I can certainly think of worse places to do so than here," she proclaimed at last. Her smile confirmed her approval, and Matthew turned to her happily at the realisation of it, and her acceptance.
"I thought so," he shrugged lightly, "but… it isn't quite so comfortable as home."
It wasn't too much longer before they reached their home, again, pleasantly drained from their day's excursions.
"I think I've had quite enough excitement for one day," Mary murmured wearily as she took off her hat and allowed Molesley to help her out of her coat. She felt immediate relief from its tightness, and breathed deeply.
"Quite," her husband agreed.
Molesley had disappeared with his usual efficiency down the hallway to prepare some tea, and before Mary could do the same and retire to the sitting room Matthew gently touched her arm.
She turned to him, shivering as his fingers lingered at her elbow, brushing through the thin cotton to her skin. He pressed his lips into a trembling smile. "Thank you, Mary, for… the loveliest day I've had in a long time."
The ebb and flow of her heartbeat in her chest quickened, and her eyes flicked over his face, hardly daring to recognise the… tenderness, that lit it.
"It has been lovely, hasn't it," she replied breathlessly, pressing her lips and her fingertips together. "Thank you, too."
He nodded wordlessly, his body seeming poised in hesitation or anticipation. And before he could provoke himself otherwise, Matthew bent his head and kissed her cheek, allowing himself for the first time in their marriage to realise and relish the sensation of her soft, porcelain skin against his lips… just for a moment.
Mary gasped, her eyes fluttering shut as she felt his lips and his fingertips at her elbow tighten. Before she opened them she felt him shift, and then for the most precious moment his lips brushed hers, still parted in a silent gasp. Stabs of heat rushed within her stiffened body, for a second that felt like an eternity… until he drew back, and their eyes met, closed, opened, and everything was as it had been.
He mumbled an excuse about needing to sort out his papers, and withdrew hastily on trembling legs to his study, to calm himself before seeing her again. And Mary reminded herself to breathe, once, twice, before smoothing her hands over her belly and readying her smile for Isobel, making her way quickly to the sitting room to regain her strength from sitting down and a cup of tea.
A/N: Thank you so much for reading! I'm curious as ever to know what you think, and am continually touched by your thoughtful comments. Thank you! :)