|I Carry Your Heart With Me
Author: patsan PM
When Mary walks home from the train station after Richard's proposal, she finds herself at Crawley House. It's just a coincidence, and yet words spoken in a gentle voice come back to her. "Tell him what's in your heart. Then even if he's killed, and he may be, you won't be sorry." And what if she'd done just that? Or at least... tried to? 2x02 onward AURated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance - Mary C. & Matthew C. - Chapters: 5 - Words: 18,920 - Reviews: 103 - Favs: 41 - Follows: 146 - Updated: 03-20-13 - Published: 08-30-12 - id: 8480100
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Good Tuesday lovely Downton Abbey fans and M/M shippers :)
First of all I want to THANK YOU all for all your support and your incredible responsiveness to this fic! It's an AU scenario I've always wondered about, so I'm very happy to see so many people find it engaging as well! And I LOVE reading your comments and how eager you are to find out what happens next! So, yes, thank you so much for this :)
And on this note I must apologize for the tardiness of this update, especially after last chapter cliffhanger! I'm not sorry about that though: you'll agree it was the perfect place to end Mary's part and switch to Matthew's point of view. And about that… well, I know you're kind on the edge of your sits (are you? :P) for Matthew's reaction so I REALLY hope you'll think it in character. As you will see there's a larger use of imagery in this chapter than the previous ones. It seemed the only way to do justice to Matthew's feelings and, well, I hope it works for you :)
Anyway, I've rambled enough. Thank you to EOlivet, who's a darling and keeps working her magic for this fic :)
Disclaimer: these characters are not mine, I'm just, very gladly, borrowing them for fun.
There's no other verb for it. The natural flow of things just... stops. No more wind whipping through his hair, no more sound of leaves and branches swishing around them, no more distant echoes of faraway voices. Or maybe it's just his heart that stops, and his brain right along with it, because in this moment he only feels a hollow space where his heart should be and he can't understand the words he's just heard.
He takes a step back, hardly aware of doing so, but he can't take his eyes off her.
She's standing a few feet from him, perfectly still, head slightly turned to the side and eyes cast down. He can see tears pooling in them, making them shiny and wide and lost.
Time stops and yet for a long, excruciating moment, he can feel life running through her and only her, and it's like the whole universe begins and ends within the boundaries of her body. It's in the slight trembling of her hands, in her fingers flexing restlessly at her sides, it's in the shallow, quick breaths she's taking that make her chest rise and fall so fast, it's in her luminous skin, in the curve of her delicate neck, in the soft lines of her barely touching lips.
He can't voice his thoughts, for he doesn't know them. They're flashes of conscience and fragments of feelings and they keep rushing through his mind, going in circles over and over. There's no stopping them, no rest long enough for him to even put just one of them into phrases and speak to say... something, anything. There's just her name, her secretly treasured name, like a prayer on his silent lips, stuck between his tongue and his heart.
Then she lifts her gaze, dark eyes filled with anguish and sorrow falling over him, and her beautiful face rapidly crumbles under his shocked stare. Her pale hand rises to cover her mouth just as she chokes back a sob and all of a sudden everything rushes back to life.
He can hear and see and feel and the world around him is alive and vibrant. The light of the sun hurts his eyes, the wind ruffles his hair and slips into the collar of his shirt, goosebumps rising on the sensible skin of his neck. A shiver runs up his spine, and his chest is heavy, his mouth parched.
He takes a shaky breath and finally he tears his eyes from her, turning his face away, his gaze resting on the distant house.
It used to be such an intimidating place in those first few weeks, but after a while it felt like home. And then on a windy August day it became the symbol of everything he'd hoped for and couldn't have, the sign of his folly.
He keeps watching Downton and it's like he's in two different times at once, suspended in between two sunny mornings that feel equally cold.
She was crying then too. He'd said he would go away and tears had filled her eyes, tugging at his heart. How he'd wanted to stay, that day, to take her into his arms and comfort her and love her, but she didn't ask for it nor did she plead for him to change his mind. She cried and she didn't fight with him, for him, and that had hurt almost more than knowing she didn't love him.
Only now he knows she did.
It's funny, in a way things are when they really are not, how badly he'd wanted to understand in those weeks after Sybil's ball. He'd wanted to know what was keeping her from answering, from finally giving in and letting them embrace a long awaited happiness.
Now he almost wishes he didn't know.
But everything's fallen into place at last, dissected parts of some strange, heartwrenching puzzle splattered through time finally fitting together and leaving him empty and he... he just...
An endless silence stretches between them. He knows she's still crying behind him, but it's quiet now, and soft, and he can barely hear her. Part of him wants to turn around and make sure she's alright, that need to protect her still so strong even after everything. The bigger, stubborn part of him, however, can't stand the idea of looking at her. And so he stands, almost completely still, facing her with his back, frowning in the warm spring air.
There's a question burning in his mind that he's not going to ask. He doesn't need confirmation to know, glimpses of a red dress dancing in front of his eyes, and the scorching feel of rejection and the bitter taste of jealousy. He remembers all too well.
He remembers dark eyes and a crooked smile that looked like a snarl. He remembers a predator chasing his prey and a naive young girl brushing everyone aside, leaving him behind, while the two of them disappeared through a richly decorated door.
"When it comes to cousin Mary, she's quite capable of doing her own flinging."
Suddenly he feels bile rising up in his throat and he has to swallow hard, over and over, and shake his head, squeezing his eyes shut to try and chase these memories away, to keep at bay all the unwanted fantasies that rapidly populate his overactive brain.
He dips his head, breathing hard and this time, when he takes a step away from her, it's a very deliberate one.
Her voice is barely a whisper, a weak, broken whisper, but it makes him flinch and just like that he can't stand it anymore.
God, he knows everything, and a wave of sickness hits his gut like the kick of a German rifle. He stumbles with the force of it, taking a deep breath to calm himself, but he can't do it, he can't do any of it and he can't stay. He has to move away, he has to go, the need to remove himself from her presence so strong he feels like he's drowning.
"I'm sorry," he says, and his voice sounds broken too and he hates that it does. "I'm sorry, I- I have to go."
He turns slightly towards her, dipping his head in her direction, scarcely looking at her - she's standing tall, now, and her eyes are dry - and then, finally, he starts walking away.
He walks away from her - from a part of his life that feels like a whole, terrible mistake.
He walks away from her - from long lost dreams of silky hair falling on marble skin.
He walks away, in long, hurried steps, his feet quickly covering the distance to the house. He walks past the recovering officers and the nurses wandering around the grounds, right up to the entrance door and into the crowded hall. He finds his cap and gloves where he'd left them earlier and stops a housemaid asking her to please inform his mother he's gone back home, that he'll see her there.
He takes a breath before heading back outside, turning down the street that leads back to the village.
He keeps his head straight, focusing on his path, but it's not long before his eyes move on their own accord, drawn - how typical - to the place he's left her standing mere minutes ago.
She's nowhere to be seen.
It should make him feel relieved, and yet, for some reason, it does not.
The days blur together.
He travels via car, sometimes via train. He stops in a different town every few days, visiting city halls and training camps. He listens to the speeches of his superiors and does some of his own. He talks to young men willing to sacrifice their precious years and even, if it comes down to it, their own lives for their country and the kingdom.
Just a few of them are in it for the glory, dreams of epic battles borrowed from adventurous novels written all over their childlike faces, but the majority of these men have a shadow of such fear in their eyes that not even the pride of being trained for the British Army nor the inspired words of general Strutt, hero of the Somme, can scare away.
And then there are a few among their ranks, and Matthew can spot them so easily, who are just trying to escape a life of misery or heartache or maybe both. He recognises them, standing in a crowd with their chests out and their squared shoulders or sitting on a chair frowning while listening to this or that officer.
Some days when he looks at the young soldiers or soldiers-to-be lining up in front of him, so many of them much younger than he is, Matthew wonders if they should be considered men at all. He's tempted to take them by the arms and shake them, yell at them what are they even doing here, why aren't they with their mothers and fathers, with their betrothed or at school.
Sometimes, instead, he watches them all and feels like praying. The war is still very far from being over and the price this country has paid is already too high. And yet there's always need of new soldiers, and the ones that are shipped to France or Italy day after day are each time a little younger, a little more scared, a little less trained. It all seems so pointless one day, but the next one it's the most important thing in the world.
There's rarely place for thoughts of Mary during these days.
He learnt long ago how to deal with a broken heart and he knows how to keep his mind focused on what he needs to do or say. So if general Strutt suddenly looks at him from his chair and asks, "Crawley, what do you think?" in the middle of a meeting, he can articulate his opinion quite well, so much so, in fact, that afterwards the older man would smile, proudly, and declare to the ones surrounding them, "I knew that having a lawyer in our lot would do us good."
Matthew smiles back, dipping his head as a sign of respect and gratitude, but he can't help thinking that that's not what he is anymore. Even after the war is over, after he marries Lavinia, even living at Crawley House - if he comes out of this alive and in one piece, of course, but he doesn't usually dwell on that - he would never be just a country solicitor, no matter how much he liked to think himself as one once upon a time.
Downton is his future and has been for quite some time. The Future Earl, someone calls him these days, and he just shrugs, like it is nothing strange or important, but it is, his whole life turned upside down by a long letter delivered on an otherwise ordinary morning.
He's embraced his role a long time ago, and has no qualms about it, truly, but making peace with all that his role entails, that's a very different matter. For a time he'd thought he knew exactly what was his place in the world and his part in other people's lives, but there's a person who can always turn everything he believes around and leave him wondering what to do with the truths he's uncovered.
He sighs loudly in the small office they've assigned to him along with two other officers. He's done writing his report for the day and the long hours of the night stretch in front of him like a dark alley with no end in sight.
Yes, he can keep his mind sharp and focused during the day, but when the night falls there's nothing stopping it from travelling all the way back to Downton, up to the long street that leads to the big house, under the cedar trees that stand in the gardens like ancient guardians out of some fairytale book. It stops not far from the elegant Corinthian temple Robert's grandfather built, and finds her there, always there, speaking his name in a little broken voice that splinters his heart every time.
"You would despise me," she'd said.
He's asked himself this question many times in the past weeks, and he always comes up with the same answer. No, he does not. Whatever happened in the past, whatever will be in the future, he can't despise her. Never. He doesn't think he has it in him to ever think ill of her.
The truth is he doesn't know exactly what he feels, for he feels so many things at once. Her words keep ringing in his ears making his head spin, a thousand questions pervading every part of his mind.
Some nights he can't stand it anymore, so he gets up in a hurry, busying himself with reading a report or going over the details for the next town they're scheduled to visit, making sure everything is in order and ready. Sometimes he's too spent to even contemplating getting up and so he lies on his back, helplessly staring at the roof of whichever room they'd decided to assign to him, watching with tired eyes as the weak light of a new day chases away the darkness of the night.
When he feels bold and the memories are so vivid it's like she's standing right next to him, he revels in them. It's a sick challenge, it's a slice of heaven that tastes like hell. How much can a man take before going mad?
And yet, under all the anger and the disappointment, under the pain and the shock, and the fear and the sorrow, the sultry images and the unwelcome memories, under the guilt that usually squeezes his heart when he finally forces his thoughts to focus on another girl (a sweet smile and big trusting eyes looking up at him), under everything that he feels and wouldn't want to, there's a shadow that he can barely acknowledge, because acknowledging it would mean uncovering a part of himself that he can't afford to face, a part he locked away a long time ago.
There's a young man in there, who was in love and thought his love was lost (and what if he learns he was wrong?). There's a woman who watches him with a twinkle in her eyes and wants him to shine by comparison. There are stolen kisses and brushing fingers and a beautiful, blessed night that held all the promises and kept none.
There's the bitter taste of regret and the dangerous land of what if. And there's doubt, the terrible doubt that leaks out from the darkness and calls to his heart.
Matthew stands up abruptly, taking a deep breath and wiping a hand through his hair. That's when he sees his reflection in the nearby window, trembling and glowing in the dark from the dim light on his desk. He stares at it for a moment, frowning, wondering how can he still look the same after... everything.
He sighs and slowly makes his way out of the office. He stops just outside the door, looking around for a familiar face until he spots a small group of men smoking under the closest street lamp. He forces every thought out of his mind and joins them, declining a proffered cigarette with a shake of his head.
He listens to their chatters, he chuckles at their jokes, and finally, after much insisting, he shares some memory of his own training. His tale of that one night when the wind slammed open the door of his dormitory to reveal him changing into his nightclothes makes them laugh out loud.
"And the worse thing about the whole matter is that one of my fellow companions pointed my naked buttocks out to the others and cried 'he's getting dressed to go to bed!', which most of them didn't, of course. They just slipped out of their clothes and sunk into their beds naked as the day they were born."
There are louder laughs and many sympathetic looks, and Lieutenant Miller almost chokes on his apple, which causes even more hilarity among the officers.
It's late in the night when the two of them part from the group and head back towards their rooms.
"I've heard you're taking the general to visit a convalescent home next week," Miller asks after a while.
"You heard right. My cousin's house has been converted into one last month and when I told him about it Strutt asked me to make arrangements for him to visit."
"It will be good to be back, eh?"
Matthew smiles, a little tighter than the other man is perhaps expecting, but thinking about Downton leads to memories of Mary and with the night ahead of him that's not a course he wants his thoughts to take.
They separate when Matthew gets to his room. He closes the door behind him, pausing against it and focusing on the silence around him, eyes closed. After a while he pushes away from the door and changes for bed with slow, mechanical movements.
When he finally slides under the covers a tired sigh escapes his lips.
Sleep is a long way from reaching him so Matthew turns on his side and looks outside the window at the faint lights of the camp.
He keeps staring at them till the order to retire is shouted from the loudspeakers and the lights are turned off.
To be continued...
And so chapter four ends.
I really hope Matthew's reaction to Mary's confession didn't disappoint you. At this point of their shared and personal history I think it couldn't be any different. But as always with these two things are so very complicated, it's impossible to categorize them and Matthew walking away from Mary it's only one side of his reaction. I hope the writing – not only this chapter, but the whole fic – did convey this... emotional mess they both are right now, but I'd say especially Matthew, who is so "romantically confused" at this point, way more that Mary is, and trying so hard to keep everything together.
Of course I CAN'T WAIT to know what you thought about this chapter, which I must confess, wasn't an easy one to write. It had many editions, working on the slightest details to take it right where I wanted it. I'm kind of satisfied with it now, and I can only I hope Matthew's confusion and all his burdens came across for you. As I said and as many of you pointed out in your kind reviews he's such a mess in S2, duty and denial making him conflicted, and the war of course, and his lingering and not fully conscious feelings for Mary.
By the way the tale Matthew shares with the other officers is a true one, as told in a WWI memoir of a British soldier that can easily be found on line. I just changed a few details.