Isobel jumped when she heard the car roll up to the cottage. She had stayed up, not wanting to sleep on the night that might break the curse or worse, take her son away from her forever. Please, she prayed as she ran to the window, please let this work, let this save them both. One fear that had chased her all even was the idea that Mary would survive, would change back, only to realize that Matthew had sacrificed himself for her. Mary was a strong woman, but Isobel suspected she wouldn't be able to bear such knowledge. When she peered through the curtains, she felt a wave of relief as she realized there were two men in the Reliant.
The fear rose up again as Evelyn jumped out of the driver's seat and rushed around to open the passenger door, clearly dragging Matthew out of the car. She ran out the door to help. In the moonlight, she could see that Matthew was bleeding from his head and holding his left arm oddly. "Matthew, oh thank God you're alive!"
"My arm hurts..." he grumbled, his words slurred. He shook off Evelyn's hands and grabbed her with his good hand, clearly unsteady and stunned. She could see blood trickling down his face "Mother, I don't want to play with Evelyn anymore. He's too rough…"
Evelyn, to give him credit, choked back a laugh. "I'm bringing you back a whiny little crybaby, Mrs. Crawley. Apparently, someone has gotten a little spoiled with being a vampire. At one point he was complaining the very air he is breathing hurts."
"It does hurt, Evelyn. Mother, he's been so unkind." Matthew protested softly. He also gripped her like he could barely stand. "It's like burning in my chest… and everything is so muffled…" He swayed visibly and Evelyn swiftly took ahold of his good arm. Matthew shook his head and then winced. "Why is everything so swirly? Why doesn't anything seem right?"
"Because you're in shock," Isobel said as she helped Evelyn drag him into the cottage. "I forgot to warn you that… it can be physically uncomfortable. You'll feel better in a little while." She remembered feeling tired and finding it disconcerting to have some senses like hearing and vision almost disappear while taste and physical feeling roared back. It hadn't occurred to her that Matthew would be nearly incapacitated by the sensations of life returning. They got him into the small bedroom on the first floor and she grew more concerned. His head was trickling blood from a gash just inside his hairline and left arm hung oddly, as though he had dislocated it. "Evelyn, what did you do to him?"
Evelyn rolled his eyes at her. "Well, let's see. I didn't kill him. I let him use me as bait. When he made the mistake of apologizing to the vampire that turned him, I was the one who had to kill the poor bastard." He seemed to realize that she wasn't finding his sarcasm amusing and crossed his arms. "We were in the tower, on a ledge. Mason shoved him off and he fell about thirty feet."
"It hurt a great deal," Matthew added, his voice earnest even as his eyes started to droop shut. "Evelyn said you would fix it, Mother. He said…"
She gave Evelyn a dark look. He rolled his eyes again. "What," Evelyn said after a moment, "you said you were a nurse. And I could hardly take him to hospital, now could I?" Then his expression softened. "His arm looks dislocated, not broken like I first thought. I put a few arms back to rights during the war. I assume you've done it as well. We should do it now."
"While he's muddled and doesn't see it coming," Isobel agreed. If she read the situation correctly, if she remembered her own reawakening to humanity accurately, Matthew was only conscious because of the pain in his dislocated arm. Once the pain was removed, he was likely to sleep for hours if not the entire next day. A worry, with the head injury but there was precious little that could be done, even if they did take Matthew to the hospital. Evelyn took up position behind Matthew and braced himself, and Isobel mentally braced herself. It has to be done, she told herself, he's in pain and it won't stop until you set it to rights. "Matthew," she said softly, "I want you to count to five." She caught Evelyn's eyes and he nodded at her three held up fingers.
"One," Matthew said, unsuspecting. "Two, three…" She yanked his arm while Evelyn pulled back and the dislocated joint went back into place. Matthew yelped and grimaced and then tentatively moved his arm. "That hurt… but it's better now… But why is everything moving?"
She sighed in relief. "There's a doctor's bag in the living room, Evelyn. Please fetch it for me so I can stitch up this nasty gash, and perhaps you could check on Mary?"
"Will she be as entertaining?" Evelyn smirked.
"She'll probably be quite embarrassed," Isobel noted. Looking at Matthew's glazed eyes, she doubted that he'd remember very much about the evening, and considering how unpleasant Mary's shrieking had been earlier, she hoped the same would be true for her. "I don't think I need to tell you to be careful."
If it worked for Matthew, then it worked for Mary, she had to assume that, but as Evelyn straightened up and steeled himself, she knew he'd be cautious. Poor fellow, she thought not for the first time. When we're past the worst of it, she promised herself as she began tending Matthew's bleeding forehead, I will find the time to set poor Evelyn to rights. He's too nice a fellow to be all alone.
Mary realized she had fallen asleep on the floor when she felt someone place a blanket on top of her. She pulled it around herself and sat up, realizing as he smirked at her that it was Evelyn Napier who had found her lying naked on the floor.
"Should I ask why every stitch of clothes you were wearing is literally in shreds all around the room?" He cocked his head, clearly amused.
"Never mind that, is Matthew all right?" She already felt the relief washing over her. Evelyn Napier wasn't the man she thought she knew, but he wasn't such a cold monster that he'd be jovially smirking at her upon returning from their mission if Matthew was dead. Still, she needed him to say it.
"To listen to him, being alive a hideous torment but yes, Mary, he's all right. A bit worse for wear but," and he seemed to consider it carefully, "that might work to his advantage, all things considered."
"I must go to him," Mary said as she rose to her feet, wrapping the blanket carefully around herself. The room spun and she wobbled. Before she could take a step, Evelyn grabbed her by the arm and steered her to the bed.
"Sit down, Mary," Evelyn said, his tone gentle. "Matthew will be fine, and you're still unsteady. Let Mrs. Crawley set Matthew to rights and get him a little more presentable." After a moment, he smiled brightly at her and gestured to the chains on the floor. "Do tell me how you got out of the chains?"
His genuine curiosity struck her, as did his words about allowing Isobel to help Matthew. She gripped the blanket around herself. "I… used the wires inside my corset to pick the locks open." She thought anyway. She had been in a sort of frenzied blur of rage, screaming obscenities at the people she knew were only trying to help her. "Evelyn, I am so sorry for what I said to you…"
Evelyn chuckled. "Oh Mary, I accept your apology gladly and I took no offense. This may shock… or perhaps not, but I've been called worst." He chuckled again. "Using the wire in your corsets… that's far cleverer than I expected from a female vampire. You went quite mad, you know."
She nodded. "There are things I know I did… and things I'm not so sure of… there were sheep and…." She found herself blushing at the memory of what happened after she feasted on the blood of the sheep.
"And then you and Matthew had a conjugal visit in the field that I suspect was a long time in coming," Evelyn added. "It's lucky this place is isolated. It was like there was a glittering sun in that field making wild animal noises."
"Oh my god… Why are we talking about this?" Mary covered her face with her hands, embarrassed beyond belief.
"Because you can often be unkind, Mary," Evelyn said, his tone still amused but more serious. "I don't mind being called a limp dick queer by a vampire, I know the vampire is mad. I know what Matthew did with you was entirely to trick you into submission, and it worked. Right now, you're too embarrassed to resent it, but I think I know you well enough to know it will cross your mind to be angry that Matthew tricked you. That's why we need to talk before you go see him. You need to know the truth."
"I would never be angry with Matthew," Mary protested, but even as she said it, she knew it was a lie. The truth was that she had many reasons to be angry with Matthew. He had kept her from knowing his true status for years, she knew it wasn't entirely Isobel, and she was already convinced that things would have moved much more quickly if she had known he wasn't entirely dead. And as much as she understood she would have been useless and even treacherous on the hunt for William, there was a bitter ball of rage that she'd been tricked so easily by Matthew. "What… is the truth?"
"He planned to die tonight, Mary." Evelyn took her hand and held it. "He was going to die for you, to save you. The cure… in the past it has only worked on women, and then on women who were only briefly turned. The plan was that once Mason was killed, I would kill Matthew." He hesitated. "I almost did. I was seconds from killing him. He was knocked out from the fall. I thought I'd gotten lucky, because frankly I was afraid he was going to turn on me, because vampires always turn on the innocent. The only reason your husband didn't die tonight is because I saw blood on his forehead and realized he had to be alive in order to bleed. And Matthew knew it, Mary. He knew what my plan was, we discussed it. He loved you enough to die for you. So, when that anger wells up, and it will because I know you better than you might realize, remember that this night, he intended to sacrifice everything for you. Everything he has done has been for you." Evelyn gripped her hand reassuringly. "You're getting a second chance, Mary. You both are. And frankly, Matthew doesn't seem the sort to drag this all up in a fight and throw it in your face. In fact, he can't, without admitting he was the reason that raising livestock in the vicinity of Downton has been so unprofitable."
"They should have told me sooner," Mary said. She gripped Evelyn's hand, thankful for his support. "Let me say it now, so I can get it out and be done with it, so I don't let it fester. Isobel should have told me, I should have known Matthew was… undead. Part of why we were apart for so long was that the two of them couldn't effectively investigate York because they didn't have a car. This could have ended years ago."
"Possibly," Evelyn agreed, "but frankly Mary, the much more likely event is that your son would be an orphan and at a much younger age. Seriously consider just how poorly this went. If I hadn't been around… say you drowned me in the tub the way you had planned, or if I had gone to France the way I had planned. Mrs. Crawley was a good hunter in her younger days, I won't deny that, but while she seems quite fit, she's a grandmother. You aren't trained at all, and neither is Matthew and while he's a brave man, even as a vampire he's probably too kind a soul for the work of hunting. And none of us can turn back time. I'm glad you said it, because you needed to. In a perfect world, you're right, they should have told you… and in a perfect world none of this would have happened. You're getting him back… you love him, even when you thought he was gone. That's why I never pressed you. Remind yourself, when that anger rises up inside you in the next few years, that you have received a miracle and that your husband was willing to die to see you safe. Promise me that, Mary."
She was genuinely overwhelmed by his concern, and she squeezed his hand affectionately. "I promise, Evelyn, and I promise to cherish the friendship I have with you. The truth is that I always seemed to dismiss you and I realize now there's more to you than what's on the surface and I regret that. Perhaps, now that this is over, we can become better friends again?"
"Well, I would like that," Evelyn said, smiling. "After all, you decided to not drown me in the tub. That means we're friends, I think."
"In fairness," Mary admitted, letting herself smile as well, "It was actually Matthew who convinced us to drown you like a kitten."
Evelyn chuckled. "Then I shall strive to kinder to him over his current state." He waved his hand at her concerned look. "It looks worse than it is. He'll mend and you two will need to decide what you will do next."
"We'll go home," Mary said easily, although the daunting task rose up in her mind. Matthew had died, had been buried… Never mind, she told herself, that didn't matter. Whatever the future was, she would have Matthew with her. "We will… have to figure things out, but it will happen. I should go to him." She started to rise and remembered the basic problem, that she was wearing nothing but a blanket. "Evelyn… would you be so kind as to find some of my other clothes?"
"Of course." He had, she realized, discreetly kept his eyes away from her body, but now was gesturing to the shreds of her prior outfit littered on the floor. "So, I understand why the corset was torn up… what happened to the rest of your clothes?" He eyed her quizzically. "I've never been able to ask a vampire what they were thinking, you know…"
'Oh…" She hugged the blanket around herself. "I was very angry and I thought… I should make a rope. To strangle Isobel with." It had made perfect sense at the time. "And then I was just… ripping things up and throwing the bits at the door, to break it down with the strength of my magical powers." She shivered at the thought. "I imagine it's probably best that I didn't gain any magical powers. Lucky for my mother in law in any case. I seem to recall screaming my every base thought about Isobel through the door."
"She is already past it, I suspect," Evelyn said. He left and returned with an armful of her clothes and she dressed quickly while Evelyn waited outside. She paused only for a moment to put her hair into some semblance of order, Matthew was unlikely to care but he was her husband, she didn't want to go to him looking a complete fright. Then she followed Evelyn to the small bedroom that Isobel and Matthew were in.
Matthew was lying on the bed, his eyes closed and the right side of his head bandaged, while Isobel was fussing with an old doctor's bag and its contents. He was still in the clothes he'd left in and she could see that they were spattered with blood. In seconds, she was at his side. "Is he all right? Why isn't he conscious?" Although as she spoke, his eyes began to flutter.
"He should be all right, Mary," Isobel said. Mary picked up on the obvious. Isobel was worried but wasn't overwhelmed or putting on a brave face. Matthew was all right. Hurt but alive, and not so hurt that his mother was panicked. Mary felt almost dizzy with relief as she took his hand in hers. Isobel smiled warmly. "He's badly shocked right now… I didn't think to warn him that his senses would bear the brunt of the change… He'll need some time to adapt, I suspect"
Mary wondered at that but pushed it out of her thoughts as Matthew's eyes fluttered more. "Matthew, wake up darling! You're alive! Please wake up…" She almost gasped when his eyes opened. It wasn't as though his eyes had changed in any real sense, they were the same brilliant blue but… She hadn't realized how cold and flinty his eyes had been when he had been undead. She had been too overcome at the idea of even seeing him again to nitpick over his pale, almost ghostly complexion, or that his eyes were often closer to grey than blue in his vampire state. Now though, as actual life sparkled in them, she realized how dull and filled with despair they had been, and how beautifully alive they were now.
"Mary…" he said haltingly, "Are you really there? Free of the curse?" He waited a moment. "If you're free, then kiss me."
"Yes, yes of course, Matthew." She leaned in and kissed him, not quite chaste, but mindful of both his injury and his mother. "Does that help?"
He sighed, and smiled as he closed his eyes. "It's the only thing that hasn't hurt."