Author's note - So this comes from a lot of places. First, I have to thank Rachel Smith Cobleigh, who assures me she's not a serial killer or presidential assassin, for providing the spark for this idea by commenting on how Matthew Crawley looked like Bela Lugosi in a particular photo. Then I have to thank whoever did the really weird photoshoot of Mary and Matthew where it's like they were all dressed darkly and it looks like this weird gothic vampire wedding shoot.
So yeah, vampires. It's Halloween. Please don't nitpick the vampire stuff. Yes, I will be using Twilight, and Dracula, and Lost Boys concepts with some True Blood maybe. I like retractable fangs, I like "you need to kill the head vampire" and I like the bling of sparkles.
It started with an innocent question from her son, a question she had feared but knew would eventually come.
"Mama," George said as she tucked him into his bed, "why doesn't Papa live here?"
It broke her heart to hear her three and half year old son ask it, but she had always told herself it was best that she never lie to him. "George, your father loved you a great deal but he died and went to heaven the day you were born. That's why Papa doesn't live here."
George blinked sleepily. "Is heaven really Grandma Isobel's cellar? I don't mind it when I say hello to Papa but I wouldn't want to stay there forever. Even Papa doesn't."
"What… what do you mean, George?" Mary felt a certain odd disquiet come over her. George was in many ways built in his father's image, but he was more like her when it came to fanciful things. She suspected it would have been different if Matthew had lived. Matthew had liked fanciful tales, the library still had his silly science fiction books and speculative novels, but George was built more like her. He wasn't prone to making up stories.
"Papa comes here at night," the little boy said. "He likes to go to your room and watch you sleep. But he says I have to stay in bed."
"Well, you're not supposed to get up out of bed in the middle of the night, are you?" It eased her mind, that whatever he was imagining, it was probably just his longing for a father to be there for him.
"No…" George murmured, already close to sleep, "But Papa misses you. Sometimes he cries when he watches you. Are you mad at Papa? Is that why he has to hide at Grandma's?"
"George, your papa doesn't live with Grandma Isobel, he died. He doesn't come to visit at night. You're imagining things." She didn't want to be cruel, because it was bedtime and not the time to argue with a three year old. "You must have been dreaming. Your papa isn't hiding in Grandma Isobel's cellar."
"He has lots of books there…Sometimes he reads me stories…" And then George fell asleep, leaving her feeling oddly out of sorts. The sad truth was that she had never really talked to George about his father. He was such a little boy and while the time would come where she told him what Matthew was like, she mostly kept it to how Matthew had loved him. Matthew's habits and hobbies had never been talked about, and yet George invoked one of her most favorite images of Matthew, him sitting in an armchair, engrossed by a book and then reading to her the choicest bits. How did he know that, she wondered. How could George possibly know that?
He looked up at the sound of the door opening and then looked at the clock. It was 11pm, late but not unreasonable. Matthew set down his book. "How was your evening, Mother?"
"Awkward and unpleasant," Isobel said as she walked down the wooden stairs into the cellar. She looked at him worriedly. "Did you get…. Something to eat? While I was gone?"
He nodded. "I went out and came back quite quickly actually." He didn't belabor it. She didn't like knowing the details. "What was awkward and unpleasant? Was Cousin Violet rude about you and Lord Merton again?" He smiled as she took a seat on the small sofa and he resumed his spot in the armchair.
"Actually, it was Lord Merton's sons who were quite rude. They're quite opposed to my marrying their father." She sighed. "Larry frankly was quite dreadful. And… I decided I couldn't be a part of tearing apart their family. I can't marry Lord Merton, not if it drives a wedge between him and his sons."
"His sons are dreadful little warts," Matthew said angrily, "and they're grown men who should understand that their father has the right to be happy. I think you should reconsider. You have the right to be happy as well, Mother."
She looked at him, smiling sadly. "And if I marry Lord Merton, where would you go? That's a consideration as well. We still have this… problem to solve."
"It shouldn't be a consideration. It's my problem." He ran his hand through his hair. "Mother, you needn't worry about me. It's not like… right after the accident. I can find someplace else to live." He stood up and began to pace around the cellar. "I should have done that anyway. It's not fair to you. I can go to Scotland, to Father's old hunting cabin. I can change my name, it's foggy there most of the time so I can get out and about more. It won't be difficult. You deserve to have a life, Mother."
"And if you go to Scotland, what about your family?" Isobel asked.
Matthew shrugged. "They don't see me now, do they? I'm not doing any real good here. I'm making you miserable, and myself miserable, and for what? So I can occasionally glimpse the life I've lost? So you and I can pretend that we'll fix this and everything will return to what it was? That's a joke, Mother. Soon enough Mary will remarry, and George is getting old enough to start to really talk and he's going to ask questions and…" He choked up from the emotion. "I was kidding myself, Mother, that I could… be this way and still watch over my family. And you're lying to yourself that I can saved." He sighed. "I'm an abomination, I can't keep denying it. Neither should you. I should go. You need to be able to move on."
"I've told you not to talk that way," his mother said firmly. "You're not an abomination, you're just… not well…"
"Mother… My heart doesn't beat. I don't have a pulse. You all buried me in a casket that I had to dig out of and then I killed a dog and drank its blood. I went out tonight and caught a deer with my bare hands and drank its blood. That's not normal, Mother. That's disturbing. I'm disturbing." He hated shouting at her but it had been three years and they were no closer to a solution than the night he crawled out of the grave with an insatiable thirst, only to find his mother waiting there. With a dog. She had planned well. Of course she had Father's journals and her own experience to know what best to do. "We're never going to find who bit me, and so much time has passed, it's a meaningless victory if we do."
"It's not a meaningless victory. There's a cure and we can find it. "She stood up. "Your father saved me from this fate. I will save you, Matthew."
He considered a protest and then stopped himself. His mother had never given up hope that the evil creature that had bitten him moments before he had died could be found. With three years gone in a dreadful limbo of not life and not death, he was losing hope. "Mother, you know I've read his journals. I know he saved you from this fate worse than death by killing the vampire that bit you. I know he documented other cases where that worked because the victim never drank human blood… but all of those cases were with victims who were turned back within a month. It's been three years and we're no closer to finding that vampire when we started. You need to be realistic. Even I did figure out who it is that's killing woman in York and Manchester by draining them of blood, it might not be the vampire who turned me. Too much time may have passed, it may not work."
"It will work, Matthew," Isobel said sternly. "There's no reason it wouldn't. You're not trapped in this unless you drink human blood. We're not giving up."
"And if it does work, then what?" he asked. "Do you really think our lives will go back to normal? Say I'm cured tomorrow… do you really think I can simply return to Downton and take up my old life with Mary? Do you think she wouldn't be enraged that we kept this a secret? She'll feel utterly betrayed, Mother."
"First," Isobel said carefully, "When the day comes when you are well, and Mary finds out, I will take every ounce of blame for not telling her. It was my decision, and it is my fault. Second," and she seemed to deflate, "I can't deny that things… likely won't work out with you resuming your life at Downton. I'm tired, I don't want to talk about this tonight when I am tired. I assume you have something clever to present, but it can wait until the morning."
"I might go out later," he said after a moment.
"I know," She began to walk up the stairs. "I can't stop you from torturing yourself."
"Yet you're angry that I'm acknowledging my life with Mary can't be regained," he shot back.
She stopped on the stairs. "I'm angry that you're losing hope."
And for that he had no answer. Because part of the reality they needed to discuss was that she wasn't getting any younger and he needed her help in establishing a new identity somewhere else before she died. Then he shuddered at just how cold and calculating he had gotten in the last three years.
She awoke with a start, with the odd sense that someone had been in the room. You're being ridiculous, she told herself as she sat up in bed, the moonlight so bright across the bedding that she could almost read to it. There was no one in the room. Yet, every sense in her body told her someone had been there. She sniffed the air, and was almost overwhelmed. The scent of Matthew's cologne brought tears to her eyes, but she couldn't figure out where it had come from. She had been so lost after Matthew had died, it was as if she looked up one day and most of Matthew's things were gone. Anna told her later that Isobel, and her grandmother had packed away his things, and donated his clothes to charity. His bathroom things, his razor, his cologne, had been among the missing.
And yet it wasn't just his cologne, it was his scent as a man that lingered. Like he had been there, next to the bed. She looked at the armchair he so often sat in, reading a book in his pajamas and robe while he waited for her to come to bed. There was a book there, a book she knew hadn't been there when she had gone to sleep because she had just finished a novel the day before and hadn't picked up anything new.
She slid out of bed and went to the armchair. The book was The Last Man, by Shelley. She knew, even before she opened the book and looked at the book plate, whose book it was. Matthew liked Mary Shelley, he liked her books and was oddly fascinated by what he called the one lengthy house party he wished he'd been able to attend. The lengthy house party led to the book Frankenstein. The Last Man had been a rarity for him, a book he hadn't been able to find until just before he died. He had thoroughly enjoyed it.
She picked it up and sat down on the edge of the bed. Why are you here, she asked herself. Shelley wasn't her taste at all, and it certainly wasn't her mother's or her father's. Matthew's additions to the library hadn't been removed with his clothes, but she knew no one had touched the books. Why does the room smell of Matthew, why is a book Matthew read sitting on the end table by his chair?
Papa comes here at night. He likes to go to your room and watch you sleep. George was a tiny little boy but his words had been so innocent. That's silly, she told herself. Your dead husband doesn't come to you in the middle of the night to watch you sleep and read his books. He can't do that because he's dead. He's dead, dead and gone, and there's no point in being silly about it now. She was firm with herself, she was always firm with herself about the grief. She had allowed herself to grieve, and then she had made herself firmly close the door. Matthew was gone. It was no one's fault, there was no one to blame, and he wouldn't have wanted her to spend her life mourning. But her heart skipped a beat as she looked at the armchair in the moon light and saw blond hairs on the chair that she knew hadn't been there the day before.