I'M GLAD THAT'S ALL SETTLED
A Downton Abbey story
by Rachel Smith Cobleigh
Tony speaks earnestly. "I want you to come away. Just for a week. Maybe less. But on our own, and we'll spend the days talking."
Mary cannot believe that she's hearing him speak so boldly to her, that he's entered her bedroom unannounced—why do men always seem to think they can just intrude on her privacy?—but something stirs in her, just a little. It has been so long.
She must be sure. "And the nights?"
"We'll spend those together, too. I want us to be lovers, Mary. I want us to know everything there is to know about each other. And then after that, I believe you will be sure."
Tony says this last with a very male smirk, and she can't help but think that Matthew would have done it to greater effect, one that would have sent a small thrill through her. She pushes the thought away, because she wants to smile at the fantasy of Matthew standing here instead of the reality of Tony and that is foolishness. And it hurts.
"If Papa were here, he'd hit you on the nose."
Tony continues, undeterred. "I'm trying to convince you to marry me. That's not the normal purpose of seducers."
"I don't think he'd see it that way," Mary replies.
"What do you say to my scandalous suggestion?"
She regards him a moment. What he is offering is appealing on a certain level. She doesn't harbour feelings for Tony that bear any resemblance to what her feelings for Matthew had been, but it seems unfair—not to mention unhealthy—to compare every man she meets to Matthew. She can be happy enough with Tony; she likes him and they are a good match in wealth and status. Besides, this conversation might be a sign of their compatibility. Isn't he offering exactly what she has just told Anna is lacking in traditional courtship?
And it has been so long.
What her father doesn't know won't hurt him.
She looks at Tony. "No one must ever find out."
They look up suddenly when they hear a panicked shouting in the gallery.
Matthew rolls over with a groan.
"Come on, Matthew," Sybil says from above him. "It'll be fun."
"I'm still recovering from the last one," he mumbles into the thin satin excuse for a pillow. He lifts his head just enough to speak. "Why not ask Jeremiah or Lavinia or someone else?"
"Because they've swanned off to somewhere and everyone else is stodgy, you know that."
"Come on, you enjoyed it last time."
He did. It's just that he'd rather sleep right now. He's been rather busy lately.
"You need to get your mind off all of it," Sybil coaxes him. "Just one, I promise."
"Oh, all right," Matthew says, smiling at Sybil's receding cheer of triumph.
Sybil scrambles to her feet as, a moment later, Matthew's arm emerges from the ground. He grabs the base of the entirely-too-ostentatious gravestone and hauls himself up out of his grave.
As he gets to his feet, he reflexively brushes off his suitcoat and trousers. Sybil rolls her eyes.
"You know that you don't actually have any dirt on you," she says.
"Force of habit," he answers, straightening and shooting her an amused look.
"Come on!" She hooks her hand in his elbow, tugging him. "Let's get you kitted out. I can't wait to show you the place I found!"
Matthew rolls his eyes as they vanish.
"That's a great costume, man!" A young bidecker lurches into Matthew.
"Thanks," Matthew answers dryly, righting himself as he collects a disturbingly-green, fizzing drink from the bartender. Trust Sybil to choose something that looks like radioactive waste.
"What are you?" the boy asks.
"A Creepy Crawley."
"Oh!" The boy looks round. "Are there a whole bunch of you here? I just ran into another one...over there..." He points, somewhat unsteadily, at where Sybil is headbanging with another woman in full costume.
"No, it's just the two of us."
The boy has a stricken look on his face now. "Oh, dude, I'm sorry. I was totally hitting on her..."
Matthew chuckles and waits for the bartender to return with his Macallan 60. If he can drink anything he wants, it isn't going to be runoff from a nuclear facility.
"That's all right," he answers, since the boy is staring at him a bit glassy-eyed, with a forlorn, apologetic look on his face. "She's just my sister-in-law."
"Oh wow, really...?"
The dram of whisky arrives—thankfully, without ice in it this time, how anyone could even contemplate putting ice in a priceless Scotch is beyond him—and he picks it up with a nod to the bartender.
"Really, all is forgiven," Matthew says. "Enjoy the party."
"Oh yeah, man, you too..."
Matthew shakes his head as he threads his way through the dancers on the floor, juggling the drinks, and he finds Sybil.
"Here," he says, thrusting the fizzing green tower at her. She stops dancing and takes it from him, her eyes lighting up as she pulls a long draw through the straw.
He sips his whisky and closes his eyes, smiling. There is a subtle but unmistakeable circle of quiet around him; none of the nearby dancers even come close to jostling him as he drinks. One of the perks of walking the mortal plane in his state.
When he opens his eyes, he sees that Sybil has joined him in his idyll.
"She's falling asleep," he observes.
"Let her," Sybil says. "Stay and enjoy the party."
"I did at the beginning, but now I just want to be with her," he answers. "I'll stay long enough to finish this, though. It's magnificent."
"All right, that and one more dance with me." She grins at him.
"Deal," he answers, returning her grin.
Mary has finally settled in to sleep after the fright with the fire, after George has been put back to bed and the house is once again quiet and peaceful. She sighs and turns on to her side.
"Thank goodness the children are safe," Matthew says quietly, from his place beside her. "If Tom hadn't had the presence of mind..."
"Yes," she murmurs sleepily, content and happy. "Thank goodness."
Then she blinks and frowns and a cold chill runs up her spine. The mattress shifts as someone makes themselves comfortable. She lies frozen, her breath caught in her throat and her eyes wide. There is someone behind her in the bed. The urge to roll and see who it is wars with a horrible crawling feeling on all of her exposed skin and she doesn't move.
Because she knows who it is. She knows how he moved as he settled into sleep, how he sounded as he breathed, and how desperately she wishes for him to be here now.
Her desire wins out and she turns slowly, not wanting to disturb the precious dream. She would happily sleep in her dream without looking at him if that is the price she must pay for his presence, but she wants to see his beloved face once more. Just one look, she tells herself. Just one...
What she sees instantly turns the pleasant fantasy into a nightmare.
The flesh is rotting off his bones, his eyes are dark hollows set in a pale, greyish shadow of his former face, and there is an awful, bloody gash along the side of his head, matting his blond hair with a glistening dark smear and making her gorge rise as she thinks, This is the wound that caused his death! His familiar, smart grey suit—which will always be fixed in her mind in her last memories of him alive—is tattered and ripped and rotted in places. A bit of rotting flesh has even fallen off his neck and landed on the counterpane and she cries out, flinging herself away from the bloody lump in horror and clutching the bedclothes to her chest.
The terrifying apparition, which in all of its gory spectacle had been smiling a horribly-familiar rendition of Matthew's gentle smile, frowns and reaches for her.
She screams and throws herself out of bed, suddenly cold as she is wearing only a thin nightgown. She stumbles backwards until her trembling hands and then her shoulders find the wall. Where can she flee? If she runs through the nearest door, which leads into Matthew's old dressing room, will this thing stalk her? If she tries to dart past it and run out of her bedroom, will it chase her across the gallery?
(She must not run across the gallery, for that leads to the nursery, and that is where George is!)
She is trapped and too terrified to speak, but she cannot look away from the horror of the Matthew-thing as it sits up on the bed. It had been lying atop the covers and it is still reaching out towards her, its movements giving it such an awful sense of familiarity that she wants to cry out at being tortured so.
"Mary?" it asks, frowning in confusion at her. "What's wrong?"
No! she wants to scream. You're dead! But her throat is closed in terror.
The Matthew-thing looks down at itself and then...
It looks up at her, raising its hand now in apology as its grin fades. "Oh, God, Mary, I'm so sorry! I must look terrifying!"
Mary blinks. It certainly sounds like Matthew.
It swings its legs off the bed and comes around towards her. When she shrinks against the wall, it stops, holding up its hands again.
"I won't hurt you, I promise," it says, then indicates the dressing room door. "I just want to go through, clean myself up."
Mary blinks again.
It edges past her very carefully, still holding its hands up in the air, and she watches it go. It doesn't look quite as awful from the back. She cranes her head, waits for it to walk across the dressing room, and then she lowers herself from the balls of her feet. When she is sure that it has disappeared into the bathroom and turned on the light—how strange—she creeps over to the dressing room door and pulls it closed, ever so quietly.
She climbs back into bed, desperately wishing that she could wake from this odd nightmare. The bedclothes feel too thin; she cannot get warm. She lies in bed, feeling the slightly-off nature of the dream-world, but also a surprising comfort with her surroundings. If it were not for the apparition, she would swear that she is awake...but she isn't sure.
She jumps when the dressing room doorknob creaks, automatically looking at it despite the growing dread she feels as she watches it turning—
—until the moment it opens and an entirely whole and healthy-looking Matthew pokes his head in. She is immensely relieved and her heart leaps—even as cold creeps through her at the memory that he is dead.
"It's true, I am," he says easily, giving her another achingly-familiar, gentle smile. He steps all the way in now and she frowns at the still-torn and rotted state of his clothing. "So sorry about all that before," he continues. "I hadn't expected you to hear me this evening—you're usually deeply asleep by now, but with the fire and all, I must have caught you in-between when I spoke—so I didn't bother to change." He frowns. "None of my clothes are in my dresser."
"Of course they aren't," Mary answers. "We donated them to charity after...you no longer needed them."
Matthew gives his tattered suit an amused, chagrined look as he plucks at it. "I left my proper suit at Siobhán's flat, so we'll have to make do with this ventilated one."
Matthew chuckles. "A zombie aficionado that Sybil befriended. She always lets us leave our kit at her place."
"What's a zombie?" Mary asks.
Matthew laughs and shakes his head. "Never mind. Suffice it to say that some people find it entertaining to dress up as though they're dead and go lurch about for laughs."
Mary screws up her face in disgust. "Do you find it entertaining to do so?"
"On occasion," he answers, unperturbed by her disapproval. "I find a certain amusement in the irony of it."
Mary remains unconvinced.
"What, don't you like my costume?" Matthew is grinning.
"Shall I remove it, then?" Now he is smirking, that old look that always made her fight to keep her composure.
She tries to appear aloof, then relents with a smile. It feels so good to be playfully dueling with him again.
"I saved a pair of your pyjamas," she confesses, pointing to the bottom drawer of her dresser. "They're in there, under my things."
Matthew's smirk has fallen away and for a moment they look at each other with shared regret at what her confession implies. Then he nods and crosses the room to pull open the indicated drawer. He rummages until he finds his old blue-striped set and he carefully replaces her clothing, closes the drawer, and begins to strip.
She watches, her eyes hungry and fascinated. His body is just as she remembers it, perhaps even more attractive, if that is possible. He is a healthy man in his prime, his form pleasing, the lines strong and masculine. Her body responds in an unmistakeable fashion. She has missed him so terribly much.
When he starts to pull on his pyjama trousers, she puts up her hand.
"Wait," she says.
He pauses and steps out of the garment, straightening. "What's wrong?"
"How real is this dream?" she asks.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, is this just in my head?"
"Of course this is just in your head," he answers. "I'm dead. I've been going to raves in London with Sybil in 2047. Which, I should mention, is a great year for making a splash in period clothing. Everyone's into three-piece suits again. Although, thank God, it's with the new synthetics and not all that hot old tweed."
When Mary just stares at him, uncomprehending, he laughs. "Never mind. You won't remember any of that when you wake. You wanted me to stop…?"
"What's a rave?"
"It's a wild party."
"A 'wild' party?" Mary repeats. "Like American savages dancing around a campfire?"
Matthew laughs. "No…not exactly. It's difficult to explain."
"Try," she commands, relaxing and letting her eyes travel over him. He notices her gaze and his smile warms.
He gathers up the pyjama shirt and trousers and approaches the bed, his eyebrows raised in question. She nods, so he tosses the clothing on to the edge of the bed and climbs up beside her.
"It's like a jazz club, but louder and with more lights. And sometimes clouds of dry ice or smoke."
Mary eyes him with disbelief and he chuckles.
"Never mind," he says. "It's not important what it looks like. The fun part is the drinking and the dancing."
Mary raises her eyebrows. She can't quite picture her respectable Matthew at a 'wild' party, drinking and dancing.
"You don't believe me," he says, pouting slightly.
"I can easily imagine Sybil in such a setting," Mary replies. "But not you. How is Sybil, by the way?"
Matthew grins. "Thriving."
Mary relaxes still more and smiles at the image of her younger sister, happy and dancing in a room with bright lights. "Who does she dance with?" Mary asks. "You?"
"Sometimes." Matthew leans back on his hands. "Usually, she just dances by herself."
"By herself? How humiliating. Why should she do that?"
Matthew laughs. "No, no...it's not humiliating at all. Everyone dances without a partner sometimes. Most of the time, in fact."
Mary frowns. "That sounds dreadful."
"No, it's a lot of fun, truly," Matthew says. "It's like this, see?" And he hops off the bed and starts to move his arms and legs in ways that appear downright silly to Mary. She disapproves, but giggles.
"That's very...undignified," she manages.
Matthew is still 'dancing' to some rhythm that only he can hear, and he holds out his hand to Mary, beckoning for her to join him.
She recalls the last time he did this: he was fully clothed in formal evening-wear and inviting her to dance a very dignified waltz with him. Now he is...
...he is moving his hips in a very suggestive fashion. She feels a shock of warmth and desire at the sight. Such movements ought to be outlawed, she thinks.
Except when Matthew is performing them naked in their bedroom. She covers her mouth with her hands and giggles.
He is grinning and swaying now, and he begins to pantomime pulling a rope—which is clearly meant to be attached to her—still dancing in a quite arousing fashion. She does feel a tug, in a manner of speaking. Her eyes roam over his body and he notices her gesture once again and begins nodding in a very self-assured fashion.
She rolls her eyes.
But he's having none of it; he rolls his hips and "pulls" some more. She can't help the giggle that rises out of her. She hasn't felt this light since...
His movements still and he straightens, now holding out his arms in a formal frame of invitation. She swallows and nods, throwing off the blankets, and climbs slowly out of bed.
Feeling as nervous as a new bride, she moves towards him, drawing closer and lifting her arms to match his. It is the first time that she is touching him tonight, and she is half-afraid that he isn't really there, that he will fade away the moment she realises that she can't feel him—
—but her hands touch his and he is real. He is solid and warm and she can feel the fine hairs on his skin. Her left hand slides up his arm until it rests on his shoulder and he grasps her right hand in his own left hand, completing their frame. His right hand cups her back, just under her shoulder-blade, where it fits perfectly and makes her feel treasured and loved. They sway quietly, their gazes locked together, and Mary sighs and smiles again.
She is floating; dancing with Matthew always makes her feel as though she is floating.
His frame relaxes slightly and she quickly matches him, letting her arms drop and drawing closer to him, because all she really wants to do is press herself against him, be enveloped by his strong arms, and lift her lips softly to his.
He acquiesces without words and her heart leaps at their mouths meet.
Oh! To feel this again after so long...!
It is too good to be true and she never wants this dream to end.
Matthew chuckles. "Oh, it won't, my darling. Not until you release me."
"I never will," she murmurs, and licks the edge of his lips. He captures her tongue with a soft sucking motion and then answers her playful exploration with his own.
The body that she has been admiring anew is now the body she is pressed against, and she can feel his desire growing. She smiles a satisfied, powerful smile, a smile of eager anticipation.
His arms loosen and she whimpers a protest, but he is just turning her until she is tucked against him once more and he wraps his arms around her front. The back of her head now rests against his shoulder and they sway peacefully in this embrace.
"Would you show me the dances that people do together?" she asks.
"With pleasure," he answers. "Although, I must confess to never having tried them, myself. I've only watched."
She frowns. "Why haven't you tried them?"
"Because you are the only one I want to try them with."
"Well, you have me with you now."
"True." His voice is a low rumble and she loves the sound. She remembers his voice vibrating against her skin and feeling it again is such a welcome sensation.
He begins a slow dance with her, encouraging her to slide against him, and she can almost hear a distant music drawing them together.
"You've missed me," he rumbles in her ear, and she gives a low laugh of disbelief at the depth of his understatement. She moves against him as she gains a sense of confidence in the unashamedly sexual nature of the dance, enjoying the glorious, familiar feel of him fitted against her after such a long absence. Her whole body is filled with delight and relief to have him here again, touching her, arousing her, meeting her where she is and raising her still further. Matthew speaks softly near her ear. "He's not going to be able to do this to you, you know."
Mary gasps and stiffens.
Swallowing, she straightens and pulls away. Of course this dream is far too good to be true. This, she feels, is where it turns the corner and becomes the real nightmare.
Dream-Matthew lets her go and she takes a few steps away from him, separating their bodies. She feels cold and alone, her arousal slowly fading as it is replaced by a sudden, irrational rush of fear at what she'll see if she turns around. At best, it will be an angry Matthew, one who judges her and finds her wanting for betraying him, and in such a crass and businesslike way! At worst, he will have become a soulless ghoul with no eyes, hate burning out of the empty sockets, the face a mockery of the Matthew whom she had loved in life. She shivers at this mental image and refuses to turn. She cannot turn.
No…! She buries her face in her hands and sobs, her back cold and her face and chest and loins hot with grief.
"Shhh," he whispers, and she feels his warm hands on her upper arms. "Don't cry. I'm not angry."
"I'm so alone," she says, still filled with guilt as he embraces her, once again from behind.
"I know." His lips press gently behind her ear. "I'm so sorry, my darling."
He holds her until her sobs quieten and then he plants a soft kiss on her shoulder.
"I miss you and yet I'm so tired of missing you," she sighs, drying her eyes. She wants her heart to be free again. But what is freedom now?
"Rest in this moment," Matthew answers quietly. "Don't worry about the future, don't regret the past. Just enjoy this respite while we have it."
She turns in his arms, determined to do just as he says, and she presses up on her toes to kiss him.
When she draws back, he is smiling down at her and he begins to lower himself, running his hands down her body with a familiar and gentle, but possessive, touch. She yields to him and returns his smile.
He has dropped to his knees and he lifts her nightgown, running his hands up the back of her thighs until he grasps her bottom with a hum of pleasure. She grins as she finishes the job of pulling the nightgown over her head—and she looks down in surprise when she feels his teeth against her skin.
The nightgown drops to the floor beside her as she watches him, giggling at the sight of him pulling her pants down with his teeth.
He coaxes the thin garment off her bottom with his hands and then finishes the rest with his mouth, until she carefully steps out of them, still giggling.
"What is so amusing?" he asks, when his mouth is free again, but he is grinning up at her and there is a mischievous glint in his eyes.
She opens her mouth to answer, but her words are swallowed up by a squeak of surprise when he grasps her bottom and his tongue finds her sensitive places. He hums his pleasure and commences readying her with an air of patient determination.
When he finishes licking and stroking her—his expert fingers having long since joined the exploration—after her body has warmed and become wet and so sensitive and swollen and she is moaning as she clutches at his hair, he gets to his feet with a wide smile on his face and, unexpectedly, hoists her up. His arms are steady and stronger than she remembered; he lifts her easily and she wraps her legs around his waist, intrigued by this new position.
Just as she is reflecting on how wonderful it feels to be held up by such strength, he lowers her and she gasps. She is wide open and he slips into her, more smoothly and fully than she had been expecting. Her eyes widen and she clutches him tightly with her arms and legs. Her mouth has fallen open.
"This...is new," she manages.
"Do you like it?"
Between his arms and his hips, he moves their bodies, thrusting slowly. She rolls her sensitive nub against his hard stomach and emits a low moan. He hums his approval, a satisfied smile on his face.
"Yes...!" she gasps, looking down at him with wide eyes.
Still connected with her, he takes a few steps forward and presses her against the wall. She lets her head fall back as he thrusts, her body rising and falling with the strength of his movements, her back sliding easily against the smooth, cool surface behind her.
The sensation is incredible and she can do little more than clutch at his strong shoulders, breathing through her mouth and moaning, "Yes!" with breathless eagerness. Eventually, she puts her arms back against the wall to steady their movements, her fingers splayed, and her eyes flutter closed. Her legs are still wrapped around his waist, but loosely now, as she gradually trusts him to support her. When she finally surrenders fully to his passion, he gives a low groan and increases the speed of his thrusts.
It is not long before she crests and peaks, crying out, and he kisses between her breasts as he draws out her pleasure until she is spent. Her body sags, tingling all over, and her heart is pounding in her chest. With trembling arms, she cradles his head and presses her lips against his skin in desperate gratitude. He chuckles.
He is not breathing hard, she notices. He has a pulse—she can feel it jumping softly in his neck—but it is calm.
He smiles, still connected to her, and holds her securely in his strong arms as he turns and carries her across the room. She dreads the moment when he will withdraw, but instead of doing that, he smoothly manages to keep them fitted together as he lowers her to the edge of the bed. She grins, recognising this, one of their favourite positions, and wraps her legs around him more securely.
He matches her grin, leans down to give her a quick kiss, and then begins to pound into her. His eyes flutter closed and she is struck by the look of peace on his face, amidst the strength of his movements. Smiling, she reaches up and plays with his nipples and he hisses and thrusts hard, drawing a new moan from her.
"Yes!" she cries. "Yes, Matthew...!"
He soon peaks with a groan, finishing and bringing her with him. Just as she did when they were dancing earlier, she feels now as though she is floating. This time, though, she is buoyed up on a warm sea that relaxes every muscle in her body. The enveloping water laps gently around her neck and arms and it teases at the sides of her breasts.
She gives a long sigh of contentment.
Matthew laughs softly and she opens her eyes to see him still propped up above her. He doesn't seem to need to collapse on to her as he used to, and his face is glowing.
"What an unexpected pleasure," he murmurs. "Thank you, my darling. I love you so..." He pauses to kiss her. "...terribly..." He kisses her again and she gives a light laugh. "...much!"
She laughs again, cupping his beloved face with both hands.
"Oh, my darling, me too!"
A few minutes later, they are curled up together under the covers, naked and warm and facing each other. Mary does not want to look away from him for any longer than absolutely necessary, for she knows that she will be forced to release him soon. He cannot stay indefinitely.
"That was invigorating," she observes with a smile. "Why did we never try it before?"
"I couldn't manage it," he answers. "My back would have begun to hurt."
"Oh," she says, feeling foolish for not having seen the reason herself.
"It's all right." Matthew chuckles. "I'm unimpeded now."
Mary grins. "I'll say."
"I'm glad you enjoyed it. That idea occurred to me ages ago and I regretted never being able to try it."
She only smiles demurely and runs her hand over his chest, idly stroking his hair there.
"Why did you fall in love with me?" he asks. Mary frowns. Why does he want to discuss this now? Isn't it a done thing? Does he want reassurances that she still does love him?
Because she does. She always will, even though he no longer walks the earth.
He smiles, a sad smile. "You will one day be happy with someone else, and you have my unreserved blessing to be so. Seeing you happy again will give me great joy." He pauses, caressing her arm. "And for tonight, I do walk the earth beside you."
She looks down. His question wasn't an invitation to stroke his ego; no, that had never been Matthew's manner. He is as unassuming now as he always had been.
Of all the men she'd known, he is the only one whom she can truly call 'humble'. Stubbornly confident and infuriating, certainly—
"Think back," he says. "When did you first start to realise that you loved me?"
It had been a long time ago, long before she'd admitted it to him or even to herself.
"Was it when we met?" His question is simple, but from the humour dancing in his eyes, it is clear that he knows the answer is 'no'.
She shakes her head, recalling the night she first knew. It comes back to her with striking clarity. "It was when you told me I mattered," she says, meeting his eyes. "When I discovered that you had tried to find a way to break the entail for my sake, thus damaging your own prospects. And when you had to tell me that it wasn't possible to break it, you did it with such gentleness and regret that I..."
"...loved you for it."
He is watching her, his eyes shining with love and approval.
"And then you touched me for the first time," she whispers.
He lifts her hand to his lips and kisses it, echoing his action from that night and reminding her of how far he had wanted to go. He had nearly revealed himself that night and, shockingly, she had found herself wishing that he had gone through with it. She'd begun to see him in a different light after that, as a truly gentle man and no longer as an adversary.
He kisses her lips now as her fingers thread into his hair. His touch and taste and smell are familiar and she aches, not knowing when he might kiss her like this again.
"This is only the beginning of the story," he says, drawing back with a soft smile. "You're only in the prologue, and I am only in the first chapter. One day, you'll join me and then we will go on together, turning each page, discovering delight upon delight, and the story will never end."
She is looking at him with tears in her eyes. "Truly?" she asks.
"I promise," he answers softly.
Her lips tremble as she smiles. "I loved you in that moment because you cared more for me than you did for wealth or position or any of the things that everyone puts so much stock in."
He nods. "And I loved you because, when you aren't afraid, you are generous and kind and challenging and intelligent and you, too, know that love means putting the other person's needs first. You cared for me when there was no advantage to be gained from it. You loved me when you believed I could never be a proper husband, when I faced a lifetime in a wheelchair."
She mulls this over, feeling as though she doesn't quite deserve such a glowing assessment of her character. "Technically, you were Papa's heir during that time."
He smiles. "And did that ever once enter your mind when you came to me and bathed my wounds and held the bowl for my sick?"
"No," she whispers.
He raises his eyebrows and presses his lips together, his expression suggesting that he has made his point. Then he smiles. "The satisfaction of our lovemaking grows out of our love; it does not create it."
She mulls this over, knowing what he is leaving unsaid, and she nods.
He strokes her hair and her eyes close, but she clutches at his side.
"Don't go," she says. "I don't want you to go."
"I must," he answers, regret thick in his tone. "But I shall remain with you until you fall asleep, and I will never be far away. Remember that."
She smiles, her eyes still closed, and relaxes. His body is warm against hers and she sighs peacefully.
"Please tell Sybil I love her," she mumbles.
She hears his soft laugh. "She already knows," he says. "But I will tell her."
She nods, drifting, contented, happy.
When she wakes, dawn light is shining through the curtains. She turns her head and sees that Anna has been and gone, for the tea-tray is set on the bedside table. Mary feels warm and relaxed and...
She frowns, realising that her centre is damp and she feels as though she has...finished. Her limbs are heavy and her body is satisfied.
She recalls the vague outlines of a sexual dream and a notion that Matthew was in it, and her heart twists a little. It is unusual for her to wake feeling satisfied; usually, dreams of that sort leave her frustrated when she wakes and she must consciously bring herself to completion.
She closes her eyes, trying to recall the details of the dream, but it has slipped away.
Eventually, she climbs out of bed and goes over to the chest of drawers, wanting to touch Matthew's pyjamas and remember, just for a moment, even though it hurts so terribly. She pulls open the bottom drawer—
—and finds his blue-striped pyjamas folded neatly atop her own clothing.
Mary frowns. How did they get to be on top of her clothing? Did Anna move them without telling her? But Anna would have had no reason to move them; she knows about them and knows what they mean to Mary.
Mary sinks to the floor, feeling both a chill and a warmth shoot through her. She reaches up and touches her hand to her lips, remembering something…
The whisper echoes and then is gone.
She smiles and thinks of George's sweet face and his big, trusting eyes. Eyes that remind her of Matthew...and for the first time, it doesn't hurt.
As she kneels to put the pyjamas back in the bottom of the drawer, she resolves to bring George to visit Matthew's grave this morning, and then to leave it behind and walk the paths she used to tread with him until she finds her way again.
The impetus to write a Matthew/Mary one-shot came from patsan, who organized MM Tribute Day on Tumblr; the title and invaluable assistance came from Apollo888; "Creepy Crawley" as a description of Matthew as a zombie came from Dan Stevens.
Many thanks to God, for inspiration and for pushing me to write this, even though I was tired. It was worth it. :)
Thanks so much for reading! If you like this story, or if you have any suggestions for improvement, please let me know. I don't mind if you leave suggestions in the public comments, and I also welcome private messages (PMs).
I do not own any Downton Abbey properties, nor do I make any money from the writing of this story.
Dialogue excerpts, written by Julian Fellowes, are from Downton Abbey Series 5 (2014) © Carnival Film & Television, Masterpiece
This story is 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.