Author's note – its rated M for rape, not fun sexy times. Also I am open to sequel suggestions. I've had some thoughts but no real plot ideas yet.
The unfortunate reality of her life, Mary realized as she looked about her bedroom, was that when she had a problem of a distinctly female nature, it was hard to find someone to talk to. No, she told herself, the real problem is that the best person to talk to, Sybil, was dead. Sybil, with her practical nature and compassion would have cut to the chase, and made sense of her feelings. And possibly lectured her on being selfish and all about herself instead of Matthew, but Sybil would have been a font of good sense.
Edith was useless or next to useless. Sympathetic, of course, but there was just nothing there to work with and worse, going to Edith for advice would be the worst sort of concession. Edith also had a tendency to blab when she was angry.
Her mother was also useless, for different reasons. She would be sympathetic, but Mary didn't want sympathy, she wanted advice and she already knew that it would look better in the morning, and that was usually the sum of her mother's advice.
Despite almost always being a better choice for advice, there was no way she was approaching Isobel for help. Isobel was, she suspected, one of the few people in the family who hadn't gotten the full story. God knew Matthew had barely made it through the debacle of the dinner party describing how he'd remembered being beaten and humiliated and left for dead in a ravine filled with bodies. Isobel had been shocked, horrified, and yet she hadn't made any effort to push Matthew any further. A surprise, except… not really. Mary didn't consider herself much of a mother in comparison to Isobel, it was something that she already could foresee rows with Matthew over how George was to be raised. Matthew sometimes even wanted to have George's crib in their room. He wanted George raised the way he'd been raised, without a nanny. Some of that came from missing the child's first year, so as long as he allowed the nanny to stay and handle things, she was willing to concede on George occasionally sleeping in their room and not going to boarding school until he was eleven. It was already hard to compete with Matthew's idea of the perfect mother, she wasn't going to add fuel to the fire by asking Isobel for advise on how to best handle her son's unwillingness to bed her since he'd explained in express detail how he'd had more sex with more men than she even knew.
Isobel didn't want to know, and Mary suspected Isobel was willfully ignoring the rumors of the Duke's homosexuality to spare Matthew even more embarrassment. Matthew hadn't asked for people to not tell other members of the family, it just seemed best to not intentionally share out the details. She knew Matthew had told Tom, and her and her father. Bates knew, and she knew that Thomas Barrow knew. Her father would have told her mother, that was just understood, while Tom would take it to the grave. Barrow was a wild card, but for her purposes, he wasn't someone she was going to talk to
Bates would have told Anna. Unless, of course, he had decided to spare her sensibilities but Anna was sharp, as sharp as Isobel Crawley who surely knew what wasn't being said about the field of bodies and the Duke's all male staff. So when Anna came in to the room to help her with her hair, she made her decision. "Anna, would you just… sit down? I need someone to talk to."
"Of course, Lady Mary," Anna said easily. She took a seat on the edge of the bed. "Are you all right? Between the party last weekend, the… unpleasantness Mr. Crawley recalled and all of the things happening since…. And then the holidays…."
"The unpleasantness," Mary said. She found herself laughing. "The unpleasantness. Oh good god, Anna, did Bates tell you? The real unpleasantness? And how it could all still come toppling down on Matthew?"
Anna hesitated just for a moment and then took her hand. "He did… but I had guessed most of it. The Duke's valet wasn't… subtle about some of his remarks. I'm sorry that happened to Mr. Crawley, I really am, Lady Mary. Mr. Bates told me that… the confrontation with the Duke was very bad."
"He told me that Matthew liked it, that Matthew tried to please him." Despite her control, the tears came. "Matthew didn't…. hasn't denied it…."
"Oh Mary… "Anna pulled her into a hug. "You know… sometimes I think you and Matthew are two sides of the same coin. You're more alike than you are different. I remember once how angry you were that he could only see the issue with the inheritance from Mr. Swire in black and white, good and bad. You're doing that right now. You're not seeing that it wasn't as simple as saying yes or no."
"What are you talking about?" She was suddenly curious.
Anna looked her in the eye. "I want your word, as my friend, that this stays between us. Servants aren't supposed to tell tales, you know."
"Of course. What is it?" She waited.
"Lady Mary…. You've never been a servant. You don't understand how sometimes… All you want is for your employer to be pleased." Anna looked down at her feet, obviously carefully considering her words. "This is a good house to work at and yet, there are days where everyone wants nothing more than for your father, or you, or your mother, to just be pleased with the work being done, and to stop complaining or threatening to turn someone out. Mr. Carson isn't a bully, but he can be very harsh. I used to find William crying in one of the backrooms, upset that yet again he'd made a mistake and displeased your father in some way. He was afraid of being sent away, that he'd disappoint his family and have a bad reference and never get a good job again. Mr. Bates told me what happened with Mr. Crawley, that he'd been in a work house and told he had to please or else. He said he was beaten, beaten for not pleasing. That doesn't happen here, but I worked at a different house where… the lady of the house was quite free with her hands and with her riding crop. And I knew I couldn't leave without having another job lined up, so I had to put up with it and do whatever I could to please her. When you're in service, Lady Mary, everything relies on your employer. That's what happened to poor Ethel. She made a mistake, and she was fired with no reference and her life was destroyed. "
"And this is a good house," Mary said thoughtfully.
"It is," Anna said, "and no one is beaten here, and Mr. Carson doesn't allow bullying or cruelty and yet we all dread the days we're not pleasing. And Mr. Crawley…. When your father brought him here after his time away… he reminded me of William, in how shy, and how terrified he was at the idea he'd make a mistake. If… if he wanted to please the Duke, it was because he was afraid of what would happen if he didn't please. In that house, what do you think not pleasing would have meant?"
"Nothing good," Mary said after a moment. There were plenty of dead footmen. At last check the body count was at nineteen. "I'm not… I'm not angry with him. I don't blame him, you know that."
"I do," Anna said. "And I know that the Duke is a vile man who put that thought in your head, that Matthew enjoyed it just so he could turn the knife one last time. Do you think Matthew is now a homosexual? That he doesn't want you anymore?"
Mary started to cry. "We haven't been together since before this awful party."
Anna pulled her into a hug. "Have you considered," she said quietly, "how humiliating and embarrassing this has been for him? I know the worst didn't come out publically, but he did have to tell the people he loves best in the world what happened. He might be worried that you don't want him, that he's somehow soiled in your eyes."
"But he's not, oh God, Anna that's so far from the truth. I don't care at all. I know what he was like before his memory returned. He wasn't choosing to be with men, and he was in no mental state to prevent it. I know the law doesn't consider it rape but it was. Had something so terrible happened to me, Matthew would laugh at the notion of forgiving me because he would insist I had done nothing wrong. He has no reason to be ashamed with me." As she said it, she felt bolder, and better. "He has always been far too hard on himself. But… what do I do? I want…." She hesitated.
Anna giggled. "You want to throw him down on the bed and show him how much you want it." The younger woman blushed and so did Mary. "I understand, I do. When John came back from the prison, he was so hesitant about it and I didn't want to push him but… I just wanted to leap on him and have my way. In fact I did leap on him." Anna gave her a shy grin. "I don't recommend being that forward with Matthew. I think, all things considered, you might… hurt his dignity if you don't let him come to you."
Mary sighed. "This is another lesson in patience, isn't it?"
"Mr. Barrow, I was wondering if I might have a word with you?"
Internally, Thomas sighed as he turned to look at Matthew Crawley. Of course you want a word, Thomas thought tiredly. The only other homosexuals you know are terrified you're going to destroy them by telling how they at best took advantage of a mental incompetent, and at worst were buddies with the Duke of Crowborough also currently known as the Mad Murderer of the Moors.
The problem of course was that he didn't have it in him to be cruel to the man. "What can I help you with, Mr. Crawley?"
Matthew stepped into the library and closed the door. "I wanted to ask you some questions… about some of the things that happened… with the Duke…."
Thomas drew himself up, standing almost at attention. "The first thing you need to understand, Mr. Crawley, is that it is very unwise for you and I to be alone together. I know… that you have questions and I am willing to answer them, but you need to be extremely careful right now. People are tolerant here, but I was almost arrested for sodomy. The last people you need to be seen with are people like me."
Matthew nodded. "I don't want to endanger you."
"You're not. You just need to be careful. You're the one who has the most to lose." Why is he so pretty, Thomas mused. A part of him completely understood why the Duke had been so foolish. There were good looking men and then there was Matthew Crawley. The problem as always was one of interest. If he'd sometimes wondered, even now he wasn't getting a hint of interest. No, he understood completely what Matthew wanted.
"I… wanted to talk to you…. "Matthew managed to look as awkward as possible. "How… how did you know? That you liked men?"
The doubt made it more exciting and he forced that thought away. It wasn't a game, or rather it was a game he didn't want to play with Matthew. "I suppose," he said carefully, "that I should ask you when you decided you liked women. But that would be rude and accusatory. So instead, I will just answer. I always knew. Even… even when I was a very little boy, I always knew what I was. Did you always know you liked women?"
"I don't think I knew it when I was a little boy… Girls will always so odd when I was little." Matthew smiled. "They got a lot more fascinating when I was fourteen or so…. I just…. It just doesn't always make sense…."
"Because not every time was horrible?" Thomas asked gently. "Because it wasn't always being chased in a field by a bunch of savages? And sometimes, if it was someone being gentle instead of rough, it didn't hurt? It wasn't always awful and now you think that since you bore it, it must mean you have leanings?"
"Yes… something like that…" Matthew said.
Again, Thomas sighed. If there had ever been a chance it was lost the second Matthew was violated so savagely. "Would you believe that I have had sex with women? And it wasn't awful?"
Matthew nodded his head. "I suppose… That I just assumed that you had tried it. I mean, why wouldn't you? If it wasn't awful, then why do you prefer men?" He paused. "It seems like your life would be much easier, all things considered."
"But, that it isn't awful doesn't make it good," Thomas said patiently. More gently, he said "if you weren't miserable, that doesn't mean you prefer it. It just means that it didn't hurt and maybe someone felt guilty about what they were doing and tried to treat you kindly." He rather doubted that. He suspected that Charles Blake was a rare bird indeed, and that most of the Duke's guests hadn't really given a damn about any of the servants they were using. Blake was a nice chap, all things considered, more's the pity that he had never met Matthew formally.
And as much as he wanted to take advantage of Matthew's doubt, he wasn't such a fool as to think it wouldn't have consequences. For starters, people were watching, Bates in particular, and Bates would run to the Earl if he even suspected such a thing. The only reason Matthew wasn't already being ridiculed by the public at large was because he had managed to bring out an even bigger crime against the Duke. In private, he was certain that certain circles of people were talking. God knew that the Duke wasn't the only ponce with a title and Matthew had likely had sex with any number of them. Those people were willing to keep silent but there would always be rumors. Once Matthew was more settled in his mind about what happened, he would feel taken advantage of, if the under butler convinced him to try consensual sex with a man.
It was also much too late to make a leopard change its spots. In a different time, Matthew was exactly the sort who might have been convinced to experiment on a lark after a few drinks. In a different world, he might've been another Charles Blake. The signs were there. But it was much too late now, the man had been raped and was unlikely to ever associate sex with a man as anything other than shameful. It was too late to turn the man's head to a different path, and truth be told he wasn't sure he had the patience to deal with the bundle of neurosis and issues that Matthew Crawley represented. Not to mention that if he was caught he would be fired. No, he thought sadly, this is a case where I can look but never touch. So it was time to do the next best thing.
"You're not a homosexual," he said bluntly. "If you're worried, you shouldn't be. You would've known a long time ago. If you don't believe me, then ask Mr. Blake. You like women, you were forced into doing things that you didn't like because you were afraid for your life. You had reason to be afraid. If… Every once in a while, it wasn't terrible, it wasn't because you were enjoying it. And if, perhaps, you reacted by… Becoming aroused," and judging by the sudden loss of color in Matthew's face, he had just scored a direct hit, "then you need to remember that it's not that difficult to get a rise out of the little soldier. It happened to me in the war after being shot at… Possibly the very worst experience of my life, and nine times out of 10, at the end of a battle, I usually had to throw a coat over myself to hide it. And I bet that happen to you." He waited until Matthew sheepishly nodded. "So that was hardly an erotic moment and there we are. You don't have to worry, you didn't catch anything. For what it's worth, I abhor what happened to you. No one should be forced, and the Duke had no right to do that to any of those men. You're the lucky one in this, you're still alive, and you have a family that cares about you. You shouldn't be worried about things that aren't true. You don't have to punish yourself with terrible thoughts just because your body responded to being touched by something other than a woman's hands. Flesh doesn't know the difference."
After a long moment, Matthew nodded. "I suppose… That you have a point. Thank you, Thomas."
The problem, Thomas realized, was that if he knew Matthew Crawley at all, that probably wouldn't be the end of it. At least, he told himself, I did the right thing for a change. Although it was a damn shame he had to be the honorable one. He knew, if he had suggested it, that he could have talked the man into bed. Matthew was an easy read in that respect. Thomas found himself grinning. It wasn't worth the risk at all but it was still fun to think about.
He tossed and turned and finally threw the covers off and got up. He put on a robe and left his room. For a moment, he considered going into Mary's room and simply joining her. Then he decided against it. She was likely already asleep and while he knew she'd insist she didn't mind, he was quite certain that was Mary being a good soldier.
Mary was as trapped by the circumstances as he was. So far, they had been lucky, extremely lucky, that no accusations or insinuations had been made. The Duke was in jail, awaiting trial, and with so many dead bodies on his property, it was looking as though he wouldn't be the only one to hang for the crimes. Hightower, Bill Murdoch, the head of the work house and several others were also under arrest. There was going to be several trials, he had already been told that he would have to testify. If the Duke decided it was worth it to have his petty revenge, Mary would be hit by the backlash and he was no fool about who it would be worse for. He had never needed or wanted to be a member of the high society. If he had to, if he had just himself to think about, it would have been simple. He could just leave. Leave England if he needed to. America wasn't awful, neither was Australia, and both were big enough that he wouldn't have to spend his life being ridiculed about his past. But Mary wasn't like that at all. She loved her home and would be miserable if she had to leave. And she was clever enough to understand how trapped she was by being married to him. If she left him, she would be a pariah for leaving her husband, but if she stood by him, she'd be stained by the same brush. Worse, in her way, Mary was honorable, a good soldier. She had spent her entire life preparing herself for marriage. That meant she had to stand by him, no matter how horrified she was by what had happened.
She had been horrified, he knew that. She had covered it well, she really was a good soldier in that respect, but he had seen the disgust and outrage in her eyes. There was no way to change what had happened and she was stuck attached to a man that had committed unspeakable acts. He couldn't assume that he was welcome in her bed, he felt guilty about the times they'd been together before his memory had fully returned.
He put on a robe and went down stairs. If I can't sleep, he decided, I can at least enjoy a good book. He was perusing the shelves when the door opened. Much to his surprise, Tom walked in, also wearing a robe. "Tom… I hope I didn't wake you."
Tom shook his head. "No, I was checking on little Sybbie… she has been having nightmares and the nanny has trouble soothing her. Why are you up?"
"I suppose I couldn't sleep," he said. "Too many thoughts in my head. What with the trial…. Or trials I suppose…" He sat down in one of the chairs
"Are you worried about… people finding out that the Duke did more than beat and murder his servants?" Tom took a seat as well.
"How can I not be worried about that? Tom, that particular sword will dangle over my head until the day I die. All it will take is for the talk to begin." Although he did think the worst was past in that regard. The plan had worked in that respect. The continuing horror of more bodies being found at the Duke's estate meant the public would merely scream louder for the man's head if he added sodomy to his crimes. And the various participants at the many parties weren't fool enough to come forward. They were probably too worried about blackmail.
After a moment, Tom shook his head. "That's not it. Have you been with Mary? Since the party?"
He almost said something ugly because it was the last thing he expected to hear from Tom, but he stopped himself. Tom knew, Tom knew everything, every ugly moment. Robert and Mary had borne the details well, but he hadn't missed the horrified flinching. Tom had heard it first without faltering and was genuinely concerned. "No," he said finally. "I haven't. How can I be with her, how could she ever want to be with me again after knowing that?"
"Matthew…."Tom sighed and leaned back into his chair. "Do you think Mary thinks you… had any control over what happened?"
"I could walk. I wasn't in chains. I can't tell you I couldn't have left." It was a potential problem at the trial, the prosecutor had already remarked on it. "I let them do what they did. I can't deny it, if Mary asks. I can't deny what he said to her that night, that I tried to please him."
Tom was silent for a long moment. Finally he said, his voice intent. "I would almost laugh except that I think you really believe that you had a choice. That's ridiculous, by the way."
"It's not," Matthew insisted.
"It is," Tom shot back. "Tell me. Did they tell you that you couldn't leave? That if you did leave, it would be worse for you? That the workhouse would send you someplace even worse. I know they told you that, because you told me that they did. If you made mistakes, you were beaten, and almost everything was a mistake. The Duke knew you didn't remember anything about yourself, you told him that. He knew what he was doing. He ground you down until you were too afraid to do anything. You had no idea what was right and wrong, no one told you anything but what the Duke wanted you to hear. Every time you balked at anything, you were beaten and told how stupid you were."
"Yes but…" he sighed. "I don't know how I was so stupid."
"Well, you were so badly injured you couldn't remember your name. You said it yourself, people could tell you things and they didn't register on you. It couldn't be helped." Tom said it firmly. "You do realize that that when Robert first brought you here, that you were…. So obviously not well, Robert lectured the family and the servants together on how to best handle you."
"That's…. not exactly heartening," Matthew said after a moment.
"I'm not saying that to embarrass you," Tom said quickly. "I'm trying to give you some perspective. I don't agree with Robert and Mary on your recovery. Part of what makes them angry is the idea that if you had just… been found alive in the cold storage, that somehow you would have been completely better months sooner. I don't think that's true. I don't think you think that either."
After a moment, Matthew found himself nodding. "I would have been better sooner but I… really was in a daze. You probably would have spent four or five months telling me that my name was Matthew and what day it was. I was… getting better when I started working in Manchester, I knew I was getting better because I could… remember the people I had worked for and where I had been. That… took a while to happen."
"So… stop and think about that. Even if you had been here from the beginning, after the accident, you would have been in a state where you could barely think and you would have needed to be protected because you were suffering from a head injury." Tom leaned forward. "Now you are better. So tell me, how could you have left the Duke's estate without being caught? I believe you, that you weren't in chains and you could walk. But how far could you have gotten? Before someone noticed you were gone? The closest town had the workhouse that gave you to the Duke. You said they never paid you, so if some one asked, you'd be a penniless wanderer who didn't even know his name and where does that get you? Back to the local workhouse. If you haven't thought about this, I know I have, because you were the lucky one who escaped and there were nineteen poor bastards who weren't so lucky. Some of them did try to walk away and the bastard that ran that workhouse has already admitted he sent them right back to the Duke. Where I suspect they were whipped and beaten bloody and then murdered after being violated."
Matthew nodded again. "I understand but…Do you know how hard I used to hope that… I could please him? That I could perform… an act for him, and he'd enjoy it and…. I'd be safe for a little while." He could remember that all too well, knowing that if he pleased the man, he could stay in the bedroom and sleep and someone else would have to finish his many chores because his grace liked to sleep in and got very angry if someone came looking for the stupid daft footman too early in the morning.
"Are you listening to yourself? That you were so terrified that all you could hope for was to maybe feel safe for few moments?" Tom leaned forward, his eyes intent. "Do you think Mary wouldn't understand that?"
"Tom, I don't ever want her to know that." He couldn't even imagine saying it to her.
Tom put his hand to his head as if to stave off a headache. "Matthew…. For god's sake, do you really think she hasn't figured it out? I mean, the Duke as much told her. She knows, Matthew. She knows that you were in a state where you didn't understand that no one should have been asking you for…. For sex. She knows that everyone in the Duke's household told you that it was part of your job, and that you were punished if you balked at anything. She knows you were whipped senseless and sodomized in a field and left next to a pile of dead bodies. You're not going to shock her with anything. She knows all of this."
"How could she want to be with me then? It's disgusting. I'm disgusting." He sighed. "I've been with more men sexually than she'll ever be formally introduced to. I don't think there's any way to expect her to get past that. I'm dirty, soiled, and she knows it. She hasn't even hinted at wanting me to join her in the evening and I know why. It's because her husband is a disgusting ponce." Saying it, it felt right.
Tom gaped at him. "Matthew… you couldn't be more wrong. Mary…." It was almost amusing to see Tom turn such a brilliant shade of red. "Mary doesn't want you to feel like you have to go to bed with her. Because… because you were so scattered and out of sorts, and especially now, knowing that people were forcing you… She didn't want you to feel it was required simply because you're married. She doesn't think you're dirty or disgusting. She's been worried beyond belief about you, that this happened and that you'll somehow consider yourself at fault for it. Do you know she was planning to kill the Duke? And that Bates talked her out of it? And that she has told all of us that anyone who ever judges you as anything but an innocent victim won't be welcome in this house? Do you know that she spent the first six months after she thought she buried you barely able to get out of bed? Cora and Robert were genuinely worried that she wouldn't snap out of it, that she would just…. Fade away."
"She said she was very upset…" He put his head in his hands. "I try not to think of how awful that must have been, for her, for my mother, all of you…"
"And I didn't mention it to make you feel bad, by any means, but this house was filled with despair, Matthew. And now it's not. You are alive and you're not soiled by what happened, and you need to stop thinking that way. Mary knows all of this and stood by you. She's nothing like Sybil in most ways, but in one important way she's exactly like Sybil. She knows what really matters is that she loves you and you love her and that part of being married is knowing the worst and understanding how little it matters." Tom got up and sat down next to him and put his arm around him. "Matthew, she is more worried about you, that this is going to break you into pieces, than she is about anything that you did. She even told Bates that she didn't blame you for anything that happened because she knew if the situation had been reversed you would have told her there was nothing for you to forgive. She considers you blameless in this, because you were injured."
He said the first thing that came to him. "What was the worst? That you told Sybil?" Because he did believe that, that Tom and Sybil had shared secrets, had been intimate in a way that he'd always found difficult.
He could feel Tom's hand on his should tremble just a bit. "I know what it's like to feel dirty and stupidly tricked, Matthew. Sybil wondered why I wasn't much of a church goer, since I was catholic and she'd always been taught that catholics attend church. And I told her why." Tom looked him in the eye. "I was an altar boy and… the father told me that part of my duty was to…. Attend him. While he bathed. And there were other duties that I don't think I have to describe to you but that I thought were things I was supposed to do. And when I told my mother why…. Why I was bleeding…. She slapped my face and told me to stop lying about our priest and to never ever tell anyone what happened."
"That's… that's awful, Tom. I mean… you were a child." It was hard to believe that such a terrible thing could happen. "What did Sybil say? Why did you tell her?"
"I wanted her to know the worst thing about me," Tom said easily. "So that she would know who she was running away with, that I was a terrible, stupid person who was always going to be dirty in her eyes. And do you know what she said?"
"If it was Sybil, then something kind, I am sure," Matthew said.
Tom laughed. "No, she said she wished that priest was right in front of her so she could kick him where it hurts and castrate him, and that my mother deserved a horsewhipping for calling her own son a liar." He smiled reassuringly. "That's the worst. Her worst? She nicked a bottle of whiskey and got drunk with Gwen out by the folly gates and the two of them kissed like silly school girls."
"You know my worst," Matthew said, "And I know Mary's…."
"The Turkish fellow that died," Tom said with a shudder. "You're a braver man than I… "
"You know that? Did she tell you?" Then it dawned on him. "You all know." He felt a twinge of shock. "Every single servant in this house knows what happened with Pamuk and what was really said to the Duke the other night." Because they always talked around the servant table.
Tom shrugged. "We are lucky in that we have both been able to see both worlds. But no…. the details of what was said to the Duke aren't being discussed because Bates won't talk, and Barrow knows better than to talk and Robert hasn't shared the details to anyone else. And no one has asked. I know you have a hard time believing this but the servants downstairs all hate the fact that you were mistreated while doing a job similar to theirs." He waited a long moment. "Mary means it when she says she loves you. She doesn't think you're a disgusting ponce. I'm not disgusting because of what happened to me when I was a child. You're not disgusting, because you're not at fault, and you need to start believing that. Because your wife wants you far more than she cares about anything else."
She heard the door open, and felt her heart clench. Oh please be Matthew, she prayed. He was struggling, and she didn't want to push him, but she had to admit, Anna was right. She wanted her husband in her bed. It had taken time to get him to touch her during his early recovery, but once he'd had the first major breakthrough, they had engaged each other almost as much as when they were first married. Until the party. Please be Matthew, she thought again as she kept her eyes closed.
"Mary," he said quietly, and she let out the breath she had been holding. Matthew was in her bedroom, unbidden. "Are you awake? I thought perhaps I would join you tonight. If… if you don't mind."
"Of course I don't mind, " she said as she threw back the covers. "I've been missing you the last few days."
"I'm sure you're exaggerating," he said as he slid into the bed. "I'm sorry…. I'm sorry I've been so closed off the last few days…. The arrests, the trial talk… it hardly feels like Christmas is almost here." She felt him tense up. "I haven't even gotten you or George, or Mother any gifts."
"It's been busy, what with the party, the arrests, Papa chasing reporters off the property. Don't worry about presents. George isn't old enough to notice, and your mother and I got our present three months ago." Christmas was three days away but everything was such a mess, it was lucky she had bought Matthew's gift before the party.
"Still…" he sighed.
"Last year was the worst Christmas of my life." It wasn't a good lead in to what she wanted from him, but she didn't want to let it go. "Papa tried to insist that I at least join them for Christmas dinner… I told him to go to hell. He slapped me, I slapped him. Then we both cried and drank a bottle of whisky. I spent most of Christmas evening vomiting while Carson held my hair. I have no idea what everyone else was up to. So, let me be honest, that you end up handing me a pretty scarf or a silly hat you find in the village shops will in no way ruin the holiday."
"Maybe I should get you a bottle of whiskey, and we could start a new family tradition? After we play charades and let the servants go, we could get drunk." He chuckled. So did she, and after a moment, he curled around her. "If you're not too tired… I thought we could be intimate. Would you like to?"
Oh thank god, she thought. "If you'd like… I didn't want to push you about it, because the last few days have been so ugly. But yes, I would very much enjoy it." Enjoy it was probably far too small of a word, she thought.
"Are you sure?" he asked carefully. "Only… I thought… I thought you might be bothered by what… what happened." Then he jumped. "What are you doing?"
"I'm undoing your pajama bottoms. That's how bothered I am. If you want to keep talking, that's lovely, but I'm ready now." She climbed on top of him and hesitated only for a moment. "I don't suppose you learned anything clever from all those men?"
"Nothing I think you'd like," he gasped as she went to work. Then his hands began to move across her body in the most delightful way. "But I did see something in a book that you might like…"
It was, she thought later as she laid next to him, thoroughly sated, hard to believe his liking books would pay off so marvelously.