The little blue box with signs in English was like a magic box. Tiny but bigger on the inside in a way that would have intrigued him if he didn't feel like every thought in his head was moving through syrup. "What are we… how do we get out of here?" Because he very much wanted to leave the Sycorax ship. It bothered him that Tom looked so nervous at the question.
The man, the Doctor, shrugged as he closed the wooden door. "Oh a little time travel physics, and ions and particle flows…"
"Right…" He wasn't sure what else to say. "I hope that wasn't a rude question…."
Tom tugged at the chains on his hands. "How do we get these damn things off?" The Doctor peered at them and then shined his odd little device on the shackles. The shackles opened, like magic, and clanged to the floor. In an instant, Tom pulled him into his arms. "Thank god you're alive, Matthew."
He returned the hug, conscious suddenly that he was shaking. He closed his eyes and let his head rest on Tom's shoulder, realizing for the first time in months that he was being touched with something other than rage. "I'm sorry… I'm sorry about Sybil's ring."
"To hell with the ring," was Tom's shuddering reply. "Sybil would never have forgiven me if I'd kept it, that's the truth." Tom hugged him gently and then pushed back, careful to keep a hold of him. "Matthew, you need to sit down."
He heard shuffling and in seconds he was seated in a not very comfort metal chair, with Tom draping his jacket over his shoulders. The red haired woman gave him a mug of something warm. It was only after he was halfway through sipping the sweet frothy concoction that he asked, "What is this?"
"It's a chai latte, probably the closest thing to a cup of tea we have," the woman said, not unkindly. "It's from India. It's probably available at specialty shops."
"India…. My mother is from India." He sighed. "Or I suppose not." That his mother had lied to him, had lied to him about something so important…. It hurt. "I didn't… I didn't want to think it was true."
"I'm sorry," the Doctor said. He strode over and knelt in front of Matthew. "I am so sorry." He lowered his voice. "Proving you weren't related was the only way to divert the Sycorax from going after your cousins and your son. That's why we didn't just run in with flamethrowers and grab you, it wouldn't have stopped them from simply recapturing you."
"We have flamethrowers?" Donna asked.
"In the back, behind the popcorn machine." The Doctor put his hands on Matthew's shoulder. "I know this wasn't the easiest way to find out that your mother hasn't been honest with you."
Despite the increasing shock he felt enveloping his thoughts, Matthew got the sense that the Doctor was attempting to be kinder than he actually felt. There was a rage in the man, and it was aimed at his mother. He thought about the visual displays he'd been forced to watch every day, and chanced a guess. "She disappointed you, didn't she? Harriet Jones… you though she would do better than that."
"Yes," the Doctor said, his tone matter of fact. "She disappointed me, as I imagine she disappointed you. But, here's the problem I worry about, Mr. Crawley." If he wasn't increasingly conscious that every inch of his body hurt, Matthew would have smiled. The Doctor said his name the way his old school master used to. "The problem is that I can walk away. I might be angry with your mother but our time together is done. It's unlikely, "and the Doctor seemed to catch himself at that, "that I will ever see her again. However, the current plan for you is to take you home. To your wife and son, your whole family who will no doubt be thrilled to see you… and the woman you thought was your mother. The same woman who's actions led to your not so delightful vacation with the Sycorax. Is that going to be a problem?"
"I'm not… I'm not going to make a scene…" He pulled Tom's coat close around his shoulders. "She made a bad decision…. I've made bad decisions…" He closed his eyes and then opened them, willing away the memories of the war. "I would like to hope that I'd be forgiven."
The Doctor stood up, seeming to take him in with a long glance. "You don't strike me as a man with an unpleasant past, Matthew."
"I'm also told I don't lie very well. Make of that what you like." And fuzzy and slowwitted as he felt, he had the sudden realization that his regrets looked like tiny pebbles compared to the gigantic boulders of regret that the Doctor carried.
The Doctor nodded subtly, accepting the truth. Then he leapt around the many odd devices like a mad man. "Speaking of lying, the good news is that you two won't have to do very much of it. Before we left, Donna submitted a story to a London newspaper about a band of not very pleasant American kidnappers, one of whom looks very much like Matthew Crawley. I wrote Lord Grantham a very vile letter stating how the kidnappers captured Matthew with hopes for a ransom and their confederate who resembles Matthew was killed in the struggle and they have held Matthew these last few months because they were so angry over their cohort being killed. Now they want a million dollars."
"I did the whole American angle," Donna said cheerfully, "what with Lady Cora having American parents, it will divert attention away from the fact that most kidnappers usually want the money right away."
"Mr. Branson, your story is that you decided to walk home from the train station and you found Matthew walking on the side of the road." Suddenly the Doctor clasped his shoulders from behind, making him jump. "Matthew, you have the easiest part of the story."
"What… no… I don't understand…" He rubbed his head, the aching was getting worse.
"Yes, we are losing you, aren't we?" The Doctor looked him in the eye. "Matthew, if any medical doctor, or police officer, or one of your local tenants ask you what happened, just say this." He paused dramatically. "I hit my head. I don't remember. Say it."
"I hit my head. I don't remember," Matthew said, feeling like he was missing something important. "But I do remember…"
Tom knelt down beside him. "The Doctor is right, Matthew. If you tell people you were locked up on an alien space ship, they'll send you to a bloody insane asylum." He nodded to the Doctor. "They're setting this up clever, Matthew, so you can have your life back. But you don't want everyone thinking you're daft in the head. You have to be careful who you tell and what you tell them. Your mother, and I… Mary later, I know you won't be able to keep it from her but she doesn't need to know yet. Everyone else…. Just tell them you don't remember. Especially the cops and reporters."
Because it will be a scandal, Matthew realized, his thoughts beginning to grow cloudy. "I hit my head… I don't know what happened….Whatever you say, I just want to go home."
"Papa, we must find the money," Mary said, her eyes wet with tears. Her hand clutched the ransom note.
Robert took it from her gently. "It will be found, Mary. If I have to beg or borrow, or mortgage the estate, it will be found." It wouldn't be found *easily*, that was the problem, and the letter the kidnappers had sent made no mention of when the money would need to be produced. Sooner than later, of that he was certain. The real problem was getting it in a timely fashion. Cora's brother might be willing to help out considering the dire situation, and he'd already called several bankers but a million U.S. dollars was an odd request for kidnappers in England.
"I could ask Sir Richard Carlisle," Mary said. "He is wealthy…"
And have you considered the price you would pay if he agreed, Robert thought tiredly. It was wishful thinking on her part. Carlisle wasn't a monster, but he wasn't a kind man either, and he was the fiancé Mary spurned for Matthew and knew it all too well. If he agreed to loan money, and Robert doubted he would agree to it, it would have a price tag. At the very least, he would insist on airing the ugly story in his newspaper. Bad enough someone had already leaked it to Carlisle's paper, with photos of the kidnap gang including one that almost eerily resembled Matthew. Between that, the ransom note delivered, the empty grave, the ugly details were likely going to be headlines for weeks. At least even Carlisle had been willing to admit, in an editorial, that the presumed dead kidnapper was so similar to Matthew that even he had thought it was Matthew in the casket. A lucky thing Carlisle had come to pay his respects. And another clue that borrowing money from him would likely be disastrous. "Mary, there's no need for that yet. We don't even know where they want us to leave the money."
"Oh Papa… what if this is all a cruel hoax?" Mary said it so plaintively; he took her into his arms.
"If it is," he said softly, "then we will be strong and remember that we are no worse off than before. But for now, it is never wrong to have hope, Mary." The dressing gong sounded. There was something to said for routine, he thought as he led Mary into the main hallway.
The routine fell apart in seconds as the front door was flung open. Branson strode in, half dragging, half carrying some poor chap with hair almost as long as a girl's and no shoes, just bloodied bandages covering his feet. Oh dear god, he thought as he met the man's eyes and realized just who Tom had dragged into the house. Mary realized it just as he did.
"Oh Matthew!" she cried as she ran to him. She grabbed him from Tom and kissed him, and then hugged him so tightly Robert was half certain she'd break his ribs. "Thank god you're alive… What happened?" She kissed him again. "Just let me hold you."
Matthew returned the embrace. He looked hollow eyed, scratched and bruised, and Robert could see dried blood in his hair. "I don't think I could let you go…. Are you… I don't… where is the baby?"
"Then don't," Mary said simply. "Don't let go. I'm here, and the baby is here, and now you're here, and everything will be all right, and you don't have to let go of me." For a long moment they held each other. Mary looked up after a moment. "Papa," she said, her voice sounding slightly forced, "I think perhaps someone should call Dr. Clarkson. Matthew, you look quite ill, and these clothes are soaked."
Matthew nodded, and Robert knew what was coming even before the man's eyes rolled back in his head. He stepped in close and helped Mary ease Matthew's limp body to the floor. "He's so thin," Mary said, her voice trembling. "These are the clothes he was wearing the night… the night it happened."
And he'd been beaten to within an inch of his life, Robert realized. He turned to Tom, who had knelt down on the floor with them. "What happened? How did you find him, Tom?"
Tom looked sick with worry. "I got off the train and got it into my head to walk home. I found him on the side of the road." He shook his head. "He didn't… he didn't seem to know where he was and he couldn't tell me where he'd been."
Robert wasn't surprised by that. He looked up to see Carson bustling towards them. "I've called Dr. Clarkson," Carson said as he held out a blanket, "and Mr. Matthew's mother. The Dowager was with her so they will all be here shortly. Mr. Barrow is preparing things for Dr. Clarkson." He looked with concern at both Matthew and Mary. "Lady Mary," he said gently, "I think Mr. Matthew would be more comfortable upstairs in a bedroom."
Mary didn't look away from Matthew's face. "I can't let go of him, Carson," she said as she held his hand.
"Of course not," Robert said, catching Carson's eye, "but let Carson, Tom and I help you get him to bed." It was, he thought suddenly as he saw Cora and Edith, and the servants all gathering towards them, as if the light in the house was finally back on.
He realized suddenly that he felt awake enough to think. He'd been awake before, he realized as he opened his eyes. He could remember someone, Dr. Clarkson he thought, asking him if certain things hurt, and people, the family, asking him what had happened. Someone, Mary, had helped him drink some juice. For the first time though, he felt like he could keep his eyes open for longer than a few fleeting moments. He started to sit up, and Mary was at his side in an instant. He realized, as she carefully fussed with the pillows, that she had spent the entire time at his side. "Mary… what time is it? I feel like I've slept for days…"
"I think it's three o'clock in the afternoon, so just almost one day," she said cheerfully as she tucked a pillow behind him. "Dr. Clarkson said you were to sleep as much as you needed for the next few days, so don't worry. "She took a seat beside him, and took his hand. His hand and arm, he realized, that was bandaged and wrapped. "How do you feel, Matthew? Would you like something eat?"
"I must look a fright," he said simply. He touched his chest with his other hand, beginning to feel oddly startled that at some point during the last day he'd been washed, bandaged, dressed in pajamas and put to bed and he remembered none of it.
Mary leaned in and kissed his cheek. "You look like one of those frightful Egyptian mummies right now. Dr. Clarkson was quite cross with all the work you gave him last night. You look much better than last night, don't worry" She smiled reassuringly. "The doctor said you should recover easily, but that you're not to push yourself and we're not to stuff you with holiday goodies until you're more used to eating regularly." She squeezed his hand gently. "Dr. Clarkson said there might be some scarring and you'll be sore and stiff until all the bruising and cuts and scratches heal, but you're very lucky that your feet, your toes… they're already healing and you shouldn't have any difficulty walking..." She looked at his feet under the blanket. "Does it hurt very much?"
"No," he said reassuringly. "They ache and I shouldn't like to go dancing any time soon but truth be told, everything else aches about as much, including my head." He touched the side of his head and wasn't surprised to find a swath of bandaging. "What… what day is it?"
"It's December 12th. You were gone three months, Matthew. Three terrible months. We thought you were dead. I think my heart broke every day…" She shook off the emotion as if surprised at her admission and smiled reassuringly. "Do you remember anything? You said last night that you didn't remember anything but you were quite out of sorts."
"No," he said after a moment. He could see it worried her so he tried to be reassuring. "Nothing solid…. I remember being hurt…. Being hungry and frightened, and frightened that you and George weren't safe but details…. I remember driving down the road and I saw some sort of light… and then Tom was wrapping his jacket around me, asking me who did this and where had I bloody been…"
Her eyes narrowed slightly. "You don't have to protect me, Matthew. You know that, don't you?" She pulled him into a gentle hug, which he returned.
"If there's one thing I do remember," he whispered to her, "it's how desperately I wanted to keep you safe, and yet also hold you. I think… I think my love for you and the baby was the only thing that kept me alive. I love you, Mary."
"Oh Matthew, I love you so." She kissed him on the lips. "It's as if we've been given a second chance."
The next time he awoke, it was less pleasant. He awoke with a start, his hands clenched around the blankets. For a long instant, he didn't know where he was. Worse, he didn't know why he was so frightened. He sat up abruptly, slowly focusing on the bed covers and accepting that whatever had been chasing him had only been in his dreams.
"Matthew, it's all right, you were having a nightmare." He turned his head with a jerk, and instantly regretted it. The room spun and for what seemed like forever, all he could do was cling to the proffered arm. "You're all right," his mother murmured, holding him tightly, "You've injured your head, and you moved too quickly, and the dizziness will pass. Just keep taking deep breathes."
She was right. In the soft electric light, he saw how tired and worried she looked. Worried for him, of course, that was something no alien interrogation could make him doubt. Worried that something was irrevocably broken between them, that he was about to cast her off into the dark of night. Ironic that it was night. "Where is Mary? What time is it?"
"She's asleep in her bed. It's after midnight. Cora and I convinced her that she needed to rest. She's been at your side since last night, like a soldier keeping watch. She wouldn't leave until we promised her that you wouldn't be left alone. Shall I get her?"
"No," Matthew said, feeling oddly tired. "She needs to rest… and we need to talk, Mother. About the alien space ship you blew up when you were prime minister of England in the year 2006." He laughed, despite himself. "The Doctor, and Tom, were right. I sound as mad as a hatter."
His mother chuckled. "You do. I'm sorry that ever had to be said but yes, you sound as mad as a hatter." Her mirth ended almost as soon as it started. "I don't expect you to forgive me for this."
"I do forgive you," he said simply. He took a deep breath. "I'm angry… I'm so angry… Every moment I snap at you in the future, as much as I forgive you, I am so angry…. But I don't want to be the man who rescued me. I don't want to be so angry with the ones I love that my rage rolls over on them and I can't forgive." He looked at his mother, his eyes intent. "You made a mistake. You made a mistake in not telling me the truth when I was old enough to understand, and I forgive that because Father loved you and I love you and I assume he had some part in the decision in not telling me and I love you both too much to be angry over something that in a better world, I never would have known. "He took another deep breath. "And I forgive what you did with the Sycorax… Because I can't look you in the eye and say I behaved better. Everyone acts like I'm such a saint… I'm not."
His mother's hand gripped his tightly. "I somehow doubt you managed the equivalent of hundreds of thousands dead, Matthew. World War One wasn't that devastating."
That jarred, but he didn't let it deter his words. "I shot a man in the war. He surrendered to me and William and then he put his hand in his jacket. I thought he was reaching for a gun, so I shot him. It was point blank, he died instantly." He sighed. "He was reaching for a bible. When I searched his uniform, I found the chaplain insignia. I covered it up before William saw, because I was ashamed that I had just killed a man of God for nothing and I put it out of my mind because the next German soldier reaching inside his jacket was going to be reaching for a gun. I'd never had a reason to trust them. It was a war and it was safer to… not be charitable. And it was a mistake, and it's one I have to live with. And worse, if I was in that same situation, I can't say I would act differently. So, I hate what you did, because it was wrong, but you couldn't have known how it would end up. If I ever expect forgiveness for myself then I have to forgive you."
"I don't deserve that forgiveness, Matthew," she said after a moment.
"Would you feel better if I said no, you don't?" He felt his temper rise. "How's this. I spent every waking moment of the last three months wishing I could die, just so no one else would suffer in my place. When I wasn't being beaten or burned or starved by creatures from an H.G. Wells novel, I was completely and utterly alone. Everyone who ever knew me went to my funeral. My wife thought I was dead. My toes were cut off with a dull pair of shears and were left on my grave. The last ninety days of my life have been a waking nightmare that I can't discuss with anyone but you, and you're the reason it happened, and I love you because you're my mother and I don't want to be enraged with you for the rest of my life." He started to cry. "Just let me forgive you."
In seconds she was holding him, letting him cry on her shoulder. "Thank you," she said softly. "I don't deserve it but I accept your forgiveness and I am so sorry this happened. You didn't deserve this, and you mustn't feel like you can't be angry. You have every right to be angry." She hugged him tightly. "I told the Doctor I'd rather have you here alive and hating me than the alternative. Anything better than that is a blessing."
Matthew wiped his eyes. "It already is beginning to feel like a terrible nightmare." He chuckled suddenly. "You were Prime Minister of Great Britain. You can never tell Cousin Violet that. You might kill her."
She patted his shoulder and laughed. "Cousin Violet has her own secrets, which she intends to share with you when you're more recovered. Suffice to say, she knows, and she is astonished that the future is so horrifying. Now, it is close to one in the morning. You may not realize this, but Mary has been like a wild tigress. If she finds out I've had you up half the night when you were supposed to be resting, she will have me thrown out of the house and forbidden to see you." She brushed the hair from his eyes.
"I must look like a girl," he said as he laid back in bed.
"Carson did want to cut your hair," Isobel said, her voice tinged with amusement. She brushed it again. "I didn't let him. I thought it was the last thing we needed to be concerned about. And in the future, this would be stylishly short for a man and you'd be considered very handsome."
"Fashion sounds abysmal in the future." He hesitated. "I'm sorry the Doctor couldn't forgive you." The thing that had frightened him was that he thought the man had wanted to forgive, and just couldn't, that something was broken inside of him.
Isobel took his hand. "He will, Matthew. One day in his future, a day I've already lived, I will get him to where he needs to be and he will forgive me… and hopefully he'll be able to forgive himself."