WATCHING THE SHOW
A modern Downton Abbey AU story
by Rachel Smith Cobleigh
"Don't you see what this means? Don't you see what a difference this makes? It means that you're not on our side, Matthew. It means that deep down, you're not on our side!"
"Oh, for the love of––!" Mary threw a pillow at the telly, almost perfectly in time with the letter cast by the dark-haired woman on the screen. Matthew chuckled.
A prison interior appeared on the screen and Mary grabbed the remote and hit 'pause', getting up from the couch and stalking into the kitchen, muttering imprecations under her breath all the while.
"I think you're getting too involved in this show," Matthew called dryly, reaching for his glass of water.
"And whose fault is that?" Mary shot back.
Matthew took a sip, grinned, and set the glass down. "I thought you'd like it. I was right."
"Oh, stop being so smug," she said, stalking back into the living room.
"Did you forget your glass and bowl?" Matthew asked, wondering why she was back from the kitchen so suddenly.
"Smug," Mary said, shooting him a sharp warning glance as she picked the items up.
"At least you're not engaging in your hobby again," he said with a grin.
"I'm pregnant!" she snapped, stalking past him again. "It's not my fault that the baby is sitting on my–" Then she paused in her movements and sighed. "And now I have to go. Again. Thanks."
"Here," he said, hopping up from the couch and taking her glass and bowl. "I'll wash those, my lovely, suggestible wife." He stole a kiss and she pushed him away with a playful growl before going off to the bathroom. He gathered up his own dishes and walked into the kitchen.
"I don't see why you're so upset," he called, amidst the washing up. "He obviously can't accept the money."
"'Obviously'?" she shot back. "He's being selfish!"
"No, he's not," Matthew replied with a frown, twisting around. "He's being the opposite of selfish. Didn't you hear what he said? He can't allow himself to profit from something he doesn't deserve."
He heard the sounds of her finishing up in the bathroom and then she emerged, coming to stand beside him at the sink. "But he's weighing unnecessary abstract ideals against a practical reality with material benefits for his loved ones! He's being so–" She lifted her hands, gritting her teeth and giving a wordless growl as she tried to express herself. "–so infuriating!"
Matthew rinsed the last dish and set it in the rack to dry, then picked up the towel to dry his hands as he turned to face her.
"I can't help but think that we're not talking about Downton Abbey anymore," he said quietly.
Mary dropped her hands with a sigh and calmed herself with a visible effort. She had been on the verge of tears, he knew. He set down the towel and reached out to put a comforting hand on her back, rubbing it gently. She sighed again.
"We're going to have a baby, Matthew. I don't see why it's so bad if we have a little extra income, saved up in case something happens."
Now it was his turn to sigh. "I know. I know you want the peace of mind that my promotion would give us. But it's blood money, Mary. I can't accept it."
"It is not blood money, Matthew! Her death wasn't your fault. You need to stop blaming yourself for it."
He frowned and turned away with a shake of his head, using a puddle on the edge of the sink as an excuse to occupy his hands with the towel. He mopped the water up. Mary pushed off from the counter with an angry sound and walked towards the living room.
"I'm rather tired," Matthew said. "I don't think I want to finish the rest of the episode tonight."
"Neither do I," Mary snapped, using the remote to turn everything off. "This show has started to hit too close to home."
"...'started'?" Matthew echoed. "It's been eerie since day one. Those actors look just like us!"
"Oh please, I'm far more posh than she is," Mary said with a straight face as she came to stand in the entryway to the kitchen.
"And I'm much better-looking than he is," Matthew answered, grinning.
"Mmm," she said, tilting her head. "He's got at least a stone on you. And you've a beard and glasses."
"Some women wouldn't consider those things assets," he replied with a smirk, raising an eyebrow as he folded the towel and left it near the sink.
"All the more for me, then," she said, letting her eyes trail over him appreciatively.
"I must confess that with all the publicity, more people have started to notice me," he said, walking towards her and repaying the compliment. He did so love her pregnant form. "It's been weird being approached by strangers looking for autographs. It was fun at first, but now it's just getting old."
Mary chuckled as she watched him approach her. "I can't argue with that. If only your mother hadn't told us we should watch the show. Then you wouldn't have gotten any of your ideas."
"Any of them?" he asked, coming around behind her and slipping his arms under hers. His hands rubbed the sides of her growing belly. "I like to think that some of my ideas are original to me."
"Mm," she said, closing her eyes and leaning back against his strong frame. "All right...I'll grant that some of your ideas have been original."
"Which ones get your approval?" he murmured, pressing a soft kiss to her cheek.
She sighed with pleasure. "The ones that involved you waiting patiently for me to come around."
Matthew chuckled. "Yes, he was an idiot. Not talking to her for two years? Proposing to someone else on the rebound? What a tedious waste of time for them both. I'm so much smarter than that."
She chuckled. "Yes, darling," she said in a dry tone.
Matthew pulled away in mock affront. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well," she said, drawing his arms back around her, "you are blaming yourself for a woman's death and it isn't your fault."
Matthew's arms tightened around her and he sagged slightly. "If I hadn't argued so forcefully for her guilt and succeeded at winning a conviction, she never would have committed suicide. There was reasonable doubt. I could have refused to take on the case. I've done an innocent woman harm."
"You couldn't know that she would do that," Mary reminded him gently. "You can't take responsibility for everyone. And reasonable doubt does not equal innocence. You know that."
"But I had real doubts..." he sighed. "I should have followed my conscience and recused myself. I let an over-eagerness to prove myself influence my decision to take on the case."
"Yes," she said, turning in his arms. "Perhaps you should have passed it up. But someone else could have argued the case just as effectively and she would still have chosen to hang herself. You were just doing your job. At least you treated her with respect; you never allowed anyone to mock her in the courtroom. And who knows? Perhaps she chose to do what she did because she had a guilty conscience."
"Perhaps," he said heavily. "But she did not deserve the severity of the sentence, or the public scrutiny. If someone else had led the prosecution, they might not have attracted as much attention and there would have been less political pressure on Judge MacAllister to see her punished to the full extent of the law. She might have gotten away with a lesser crime and she'd still be alive today, able to appeal her case."
Mary lifted her hands up to cradle his face and stroked her thumbs over his beard. "Darling, you can't let the visibility of my position stop you from doing your professional duty. The case was sensational: there was bound to be public scrutiny about it even if you hadn't been associated with it."
"But it certainly didn't help that I'm married to an MEP," he said. "I brought notoriety to you, as well."
"Never mind me," she said. "I'll just keep doing my job properly and no one will remember this whole affair in a year's time."
He frowned, but didn't answer her.
"What is it?" she asked softly.
"I can't take the promotion," he said. "I just can't. I'll never be able to forget how I got this far."
She stroked his beard again, getting his attention, and he gave her a slight, apologetic smile and bent over her belly to kiss her.
"Switch to defence," she said when they parted. "Join a firm or start your own. Argue cases against the Crown instead."
His eyes focused on her. "That'll be even more uncertain a future: I'll need to raise a client base, and it'll mean more hours away from you and our child."
"So it's a trade-off between being battered by your conscience on one front or another?" she asked dryly.
He chuckled and dropped his head, then looked up at her with a self-deprecating sigh.
"You think I'm a drama queen, don't you?" he asked.
"A little," she conceded. "But a very fit one."
He laughed and kissed her again, and she gave a little moan of pleasure.
"Ohh," she sighed against his lips and drew back. "Can we put off the existential waffling until tomorrow? I can think of something much more fun for us to do..."
He hummed his appreciation, drawing her closer. Pregnancy had done wonderful things for their sex life, once she had gotten through the first trimester. "I think that can be arranged."
"Good," she said, turning and tugging him towards their bedroom. "Because I want to get your kit off right now."
"Your humble servant, as always, my lady," he said with a smirk, goosing her as she went ahead of him.
"That's 'Lady Mary' to you, sir," she said in a low tone, and pulled him into the bedroom as their laughter mingled together.
This story was based on a prompt from P. W. Gates : "I was wondering if I could off a suggestion for a prompt? Maybe a one-shot of M/M cuddling in bed and talking- something along those lines anyway."
I'm not sure I really fulfilled the "in bed" part, but there is definitely cuddling and talking...and they do eventually end up in bed. :) I wanted to briefly tackle an aspect of their relationship that I don't usually see in modern AUs: their conflict over whether to accept Swire's money, and the philosophical differences between them that this conflict brought to light.
This was a fun little challenge and very different from my usual story-writing mode. I can see why so many people enjoy writing to prompts. So: thanks go to P. W. Gates and God for the inspiration! :)
I welcome feedback: if you, dear reader, have any suggestions for how this story could be improved (particularly Britpicking!), please do let me know. Thanks for reading!
I do not own any Downton Abbey properties, nor do I make any money from the writing of this story.
Dialogue excerpts from Downton Abbey Series 3 Episode 1 (2012) © Carnival Film & Television, Masterpiece.
This story released under the GPL/CC BY: verbatim copying and distribution of this entire work are permitted worldwide, without royalty, in any medium, provided attribution is preserved.