|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: Many thanks for your kind comments on the last chapter! I appreciate your support so much :) Special thanks to EOlivet for her encouragement and polish!
Onwards, then... Enjoy! :)
Sitting at his desk in Ripon, Matthew rubbed his fingers in weary circles over his temples. He stared at the will in front of him, not seeing it at all. He'd been resisting the idea but he supposed that at some point he'd have to change his own, now, to include Mary, and… Well, perhaps it wasn't quite so important yet, not terribly urgent. Then the very idea that he might change it according to whether or not he could be certain of his child's birthright sickened him to his core, and he pulled across his diary to clear some space to do it the very next day.
Agitated, he stood up and went to the window which was open and admitting only the slightest breeze. He lifted his chin and took a deep breath, running a hand through his hair. There was a knock at his door, and he turned to see it open.
"Sorry to bother you, Mr. Crawley," his clerk said. "Your wife's here, I wasn't sure if you were busy –"
"No! No, I'm not busy – at least not so busy as to not see her. Please, show her through."
He stood in the middle of the small office, cursing himself not that his first reaction was a little flip of excitement, but that his next instinct was to quash it down again. It was alright, he had to keep reminding himself, that her company should excite him – and yet he fought a continual conflict, to keep any deeper feelings and desires at bay, to protect the new affection blossoming within him.
He sighed, and found her company a more pleasant distraction from his thoughts as she came in.
"Hello dear!" He leaned forward to kiss her cheek, fingertips grazing her waist before he leaned back against the desk, crossing his arms. "What are you doing here?"
"I had a dress fitting, and thought I'd say hello while I was here," she smiled, clutching her purse self-consciously in front of her belly, now curved in a gentle, but definitely visible, swell. "It used to be a trip I was always excited to make, but –"
"I'm sure whatever you've chosen will look splendid," Matthew reassured her meaningfully.
She shrugged. "We'll see, but – thank you. I'm sorry if I've interrupted you."
"Not at all, I appreciate the distraction!" He uncrossed his arms, letting them fall to his sides where his fingers tapped restlessly together. "Actually I'm going to see your father when I've finished, he's had some estimates for the restoration work on the cottages we'd discussed and asked if I'd go over them with him. I'm rather hoping it means he's forgiven me," he smiled thinly. He'd not seen Robert privately since the evening of their announcement a few weeks ago, and hadn't dared to presume an invitation beyond their occasional dinners at the big house.
"Oh, Matthew. You've done little to require his forgiveness, truthfully –"
"Seducing his eldest daughter doesn't require forgiveness? My, the world is changing…"
Mary cocked her head at him, pursing her lips. "I think that marrying her to save the family from scandal and her child and herself from a lifetime of ruin probably serves a little in your favour, don't you?"
"Perhaps." He smiled sadly and reached for her hand, brushing his thumb over her knuckles in a gentle reassurance. Then he stood up, and found himself suddenly so close to her that the breath between them was stolen in a quiet gasp.
"Would you mind if I joined you?" Mary finally said, swallowing as she tried to forget his closeness and the feel of his breath upon her cheek and his fingers around hers. "I'd like to see Mama, and then we could walk home, perhaps."
"Yes, I'd like that."
He stroked her fingers once more and stepped away, feeling it like a physical tug as his breath quickened against the urge to kiss her. Licking his lips, he waved at the swivel chair in front of his desk before sitting down again behind it. "Please," he said distractedly, "do sit down. I've not very much more to do at all, so you can wait if you like. I won't be very long."
So she sat down, folded her hands in her lap and took the liberty of watching him work, noticing the ink stains on his fingers and the way the hair on his wrists curled beneath his shirt cuffs.
There was a new, and yet so stirringly familiar, tension between them as they journeyed the short distance to the abbey. A constant, prickling awareness that had been building ever since that first, unsure kiss. Matthew wanted to ignore it, he tried, and it made Mary ache with longing and fear. They had got it so wrong, before, so wrong… and the fear of getting it wrong again now almost overwhelmed the persistent taunt of attraction.
When they reached the big house and separated, Matthew disappearing into the library at Carson's instruction and Mary to the drawing room where she hoped to find her mother, it was almost a relief. Restraint was becoming an effort, and that it should be so frustrated Matthew.
Immeasurably more pleasant to realise was the Earl's ease of manner with him, as they settled back to estate matters and more definite plans for the cottages' restoration. And if he had worried for any awkwardness when they joined the ladies briefly so that Robert could greet Mary before they went home, there was none at all, as they observed (with quiet pride, even) the newly-noticeable swell that her dress could no longer hide. And when Edith commented rather sourly that it seemed really very soon, no-one paid her jibes the slightest bit of attention.
Mary wondered, as they left, whether to walk had been such a good idea after all. Beneath her hands the muscles of Matthew's arm were tight, and she could see the tension in the set of his jaw and his eyes that stared blindly ahead.
For a blissfully short while, it had seemed so easy. That friendship which they'd once known had come back to them, they had laughed, the bitterness was gone… and then, he had kissed her. And it had been… beautiful, but now the problem was that he wanted to do it again, and again.
But to kiss her again… To acknowledge her beauty and his own desire for her, made him remember. And then his body warmed with passion, but to think of kissing her was to remember that another had kissed her, and he didn't want to think of that. Oh, how he wanted to take her in his arms and forget that there had been another! To do that, though… required almost every ounce of his concentration, to focus solely on her lips alone and the feel of her against him, as heat and the chill of disappointment fought for dominance in his breast.
Here, walking down the familiar, shaded paths of the estate, he could only see memories. That tree which they'd leaned against to kiss, that path that led to a copse where they'd sheltered from the rain and her hands had slipped into his coat…
"I hope you can school a cheerier expression by the time we are home," Mary's soft voice penetrated his thoughts and brought him back to her side, back to this moment. "Or your mother will make you tell her what the matter is."
His head turned sharply, finding that her dry smile confirmed the lilt in her voice that told him it was not in the least an accusation.
He chuckled. "Heaven help us! I'm sorry, I was… thinking."
"About something terribly serious, I can only imagine."
"Not very serious, I was just…" He trailed off, licking his lips as he found his gaze lost in his wife's.
Somehow they weren't aware of having stopped, of having turned to face each other, of their hands finding the other's. Mary's head inclined gently, a silent invitation if he would like to take it as such… though there was hardly need for it as his eyes, his very demeanour, betrayed his mind.
He breathed deeply. She was Mary… before him, now, suspended in this moment, her dark eyes and fair skin and rose lips, a woman who challenged him in every way, and… he would not think of the past, of who was in the past… But the memories threatened to encroach on him again and before they could do so he leaned forwards, saw her eyes widen and accept, then flutter shut, and this kiss was new and breathless and theirs…
Mary's fingers tightened around his, her hitched breath the only other response she made beyond moving her lips gently against his, welcoming them. He breathed again, trembling, kissing, frowning with the effort of concentrating upon just her lips, just her scent, just her and nothing else. If he tried, if he concentrated, there was nothing else… and his darker thoughts, or the threat of them, vanished at the pressure of her sweet lips against his.
It was blissful, more than Mary had hoped for, and yet… a part of her could feel his restraint, a shadow of unease that marred the perfection of their warm mouths meeting in the cool air. Gasping for air, she pulled away, eyes still closed as her fingers stroked at the lapel of his jacket. All she could hear were his warm, heavy breaths, her own blood rushing in her ears.
"Matthew, you don't – please, you don't have to do this," she breathed.
"No, I…" His thumb brushed over her cheek. "I want to. Mary, I want to, or I… wouldn't."
He kissed her softly once more, and their sighs breathed together before they parted. As they stepped back Mary saw the conflict in his eyes, and it was that more than anything which testified to his truth. Her head lowered in a gentle nod, and she smiled.
"I know, darling." And that he wanted to, he wanted to kiss her, to… maybe even love her, again (though she hardly dared contemplate that thought yet), when she felt the most undeserving of his affection… was the dearest, and most humbling thought she could imagine.
The days went on, and so did their tentative affection; a lingering kiss in the hallway, fingertips brushing the nape of her neck as he walked behind her at the table, hands searching and finding and curling together in the car as they travelled. That thread of desire that had joined them, that had pulled them together again and again in those months before, renewed and strengthened its tug with every slight gesture. Every inch between them was felt, palpable, uncomfortable… and the effort of restraint even more so. Mary wondered if it had ever truly gone away, that thread, or whether they had simply buried it – but before, she had not known that she loved him. Matthew had been a distraction, she hesitated to believe it of herself but a toy, even… She had enjoyed him, and her naivety had come so close to destroying everything they'd shared. Now she felt it again, the heady delight of his arms around her, his lips tasting hers – but now he was her husband, now she loved him, now there was… a child.
And yet despite all that, something about their kisses – growing more frequent, more impatient, more breathless every day – still felt stolen, forbidden, a secret pleasure in which they should not be indulging. And it was… intensely frustrating. A frustration released in the sweet clash of their lips, hot breaths, palms stroking safely along arms, shoulders, cheeks…that then intensified again the moment they parted, to sit across the dining table or in their different chairs in the sitting room or to dress for bed and sleep in their own, separate beds. And as Mary lay in bed, her body aching with desire and her lips still stinging from the glorious pressure of his, knowing that he was just beyond the wall… she wondered if he felt the same, knew that he did, and wondered if this was perhaps a worse kind of misery than they'd faced before.
No… it could never be that. But it had been easier, almost, to not be taunted with affection that was snatched away and held at bay by their fear. Oh, Mary could understand his restraint. Already, this slight intimacy was crushing their friendship, even as it was trying to blossom, with the frustration it left in its wake. And still, she felt her body burn with equal shame as she remembered what she had done, what the baby she carried meant, and wondered how Matthew could bring himself to kiss her. She could feel, as they kissed, how he struggled – his desire and fear battling, and her own shame made her wary of giving in to her passion. The tension was constant, present, aching… and yet, still, they wanted more.
"I think," announced Mary after dinner one day, "that I must ask Mrs. Bird to write down the recipe for that wonderful dessert… What did you say it was called, Matthew?"
"Apple Charlotte," he murmured happily, settling into his chair with his newspaper. It was delicious, and – he was pleased to see Mary's appetite perking up again.
"Mm. I'm sure Papa would enjoy it. If I could pass it on to Mrs. Patmore…"
Isobel chuckled. "Would Mrs. Patmore appreciate that, do you think?"
"On reflection, probably not," Mary smiled. The pride of Downton Abbey's cook was very well known, matched only to their knowledge by Mrs. Bird's own. "I suppose I could pass it to Mama without comment on where it was from, at least."
"I'd suggested inviting your family to dine, my dear, but I don't think they'd fit around our table," Matthew commented wryly, and was rewarded by Mary's smile.
Isobel watched the two of them laughing together with pleasure, knowing how difficult it had been for Mary to settle to the lifestyle she had committed herself to through marriage. But there had been things far more important than that to bear, and the banter back and forth between the pair now was a joy to her heart.
But however much things had progressed, the nurse knew her son, and recognised the conflict in his eyes. They sparkled but would quickly dull, and when Mary was near there was a perceptible tightness in his manner. As if… he was holding back, denying something to herself, they were not… at ease. And when they would then part, both would sigh out of sight, resigning themselves to whatever it was they felt they must hold to.
She watched Mary stand up and excuse herself to bed.
Matthew watched as well, his eyes having rarely left his wife's figure all evening as she'd shown off her new evening dress that skimmed flatteringly over her rounded waist. And when Mary walked past his chair, Isobel saw his hand stretch out to take hers, and his lips press against her knuckles.
"Goodnight, Mary," he said softly, and his grasp lingered on her fingers before they both seemed to shiver as they parted.
Mary touched his shoulder gently, and Matthew's eyes closed a moment.
As the younger woman left the room and the door closed quietly, Matthew's expression seemed to darken with a fraught tenderness. He stared at his newspaper again, but his eyes were hard and unfocussed on the words, as his finger stroked along his lower lip distractedly.
Perhaps she'd already interfered enough, Isobel wondered. Perhaps she was wrong. Perhaps it would only frustrate him, more, but… perhaps, just perhaps, she might be right. And she wouldn't put anything past her son's stubbornness, and pride – not even this.
"Matthew," she said quietly, a few minutes after Mary had gone.
"What is it, Mother?"
His wary expression signalled his understanding of her tone, as he let the newspaper fall to his lap with a sigh. That he didn't even bristle to an argument gave Isobel cause to hope.
"Might I give you one piece of advice, my dear?"
"Of course, if you like," he muttered. He said it grudgingly, but they both knew that no matter how much he argued, or dug his heels in, he would – eventually – listen.
Isobel smiled. "I only wanted to say – to reassure you, really – that it's quite, quite acceptable, Matthew, to be in love with your wife."
He stiffened immediately. "What? I don't – Mother, you don't know –"
"That's all," she held a hand up to stop his tirade of self-defence before it began. "I shan't tell you what to do about it, that is up to you, but I just want you to think about it."
A deep sigh shuddered from Matthew's chest, and he did not answer her again until he bid her a subdued goodnight a little while later.
Friends. That was all he'd been trying to achieve. Mary. To build up that friendship, that companionship… Could he love her again? He had, once, he'd loved her so fiercely – and that had been their destruction. As he silently let Molesley ready him for bed, he dwelt on his mother's words, and wondered at the sharp ache that had been sitting in his gut for weeks, longer than that, that he'd been trying to ignore and push away.
There was something locked within him, that he'd been too scared to contemplate.
He got into bed, and lay beneath the cotton sheets, and closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. And unlocked what it was that he'd hidden.
He thought of Mary. He thought of talking with her, kissing her, being with her… He saw her with the child they'd raise together, his arms around them both, his lips in her scented hair, and… a part of the puzzle didn't fit. Not that; it was missing entirely. He knew exactly what it was, and saw that until that piece was found and fitted, this frustration would never let them go. For the first time since they had married, Matthew realised that he wanted… a marriage. With Mary. Wasn't that what he had always wanted?
How long had he thought he might fool himself otherwise? But as he realised it now, his heart surged with feelings that he'd denied to himself for so, so long – that he had denied to himself from almost the moment that he'd first whispered them to her, before they had fallen apart.
It was like a storm within his mind, unleashed from the floodgates and overwhelming in its strength. He trembled, felt constricted, claustrophobic, and scrambled from his small bed with sweat prickling at his brow.
Mary heard the quiet, frantic little knock at her bedroom door. She hadn't been asleep, yet, and put her book gently down on the bedside cabinet.
"Yes?" she called quietly.
As Matthew came into her room, covering the distance to her bed quickly, there was something almost wild about him that made Mary almost want to laugh, that it might not frighten her. He sat down beside her and took her hand, and her body warmed instantly from his presence.
He kissed her hand then looked up at her, his eyes dark and gleaming in the moonlight.
"Mary, my darling…" he said, so softly she thought at first she must have misheard him. Her heart leapt.
"What is it?" She stroked his hand between hers, frowning gently.
Matthew smiled faintly. "I think – Mary, I think –"
He couldn't voice it, not yet, and leaned forwards to kiss her. And the very moment their lips touched and heat sparked between them, Mary felt that it was different. The restraint, the frustration… had gone. She whimpered quietly against his mouth, parting her lips and clutching his shoulders as his tongue flicked against the tip of hers, and she felt the thin cotton of his pyjamas brush against her nightgown.
They kissed, brimming with a fearful kind of passion that terrified them both as much as it exhilarated. Sinking down against the pillows, his arms came tightly around her and the quietest, softest moan touched the heavy air.
It was Matthew who eased away first, letting his lips slip over hers as his thumb brushed tenderly across her cheek.
Now, in the moonlight, in her arms… perhaps…
"I love you," he whispered. "I'm not sure that I ever stopped and I –"
Mary kissed him again, her voice breathless and tearful with happiness that she felt in every pore of her body.
"Do you believe me now?" she breathed against his lips. "Do you know that I have loved you, and that I do, though – darling, you've made it very difficult to at times!"
"I know," he sighed happily, and kissed her again. "I know."
Somehow it only now occurred to Matthew that they were lying in bed together, in his bed, in their home, and… he loved her. He swallowed heavily, his voice shaking with nervous fear as he looked into the precious darkness of Mary's eyes. He didn't know if he could do this, if they could… if they could forget, and remember only each other. But for the first time, consciously at least – he wanted to try.
He kissed her again, gently, and hesitantly asked her. "Mary, would you mind if – can I… stay?"
A/N: Thanks ever so much for reading! They're progressing... I'd love to know your thoughts, as always, and I hope you enjoyed the chapter. :)
Also, I'm going on holiday at the end of the week, for two weeks without internet - so this may be the last update for a little while. I'll see what I can do though! You're all terribly lovely, and thank you so much for your kindness!