Amiens, his last battle, is really no different than every other battle he's suffered through.
His hands shake as he fastens his tie.
His eyes can't seem to focus.
He tries to give a rousing speech to his men. His voice shakes and when he begins to raise it, in an attempt to empower everyone, it cracks.
He is falling apart.
It has been normal since the begin of the war. He's just getting worse and worse at hiding it.
This battle is normal, but it changes everything.
The world is really no different after Amiens. No major losses, no major gains. Most survive to fight yet another pointless battle.
After this battle, however, he is different.
He doesn't have much recollection of it. Running out on a muddy field with shots and shells ringing around his ears, just praying that none hit him... it seems entirely indistinct from the last four years of his life.
But he will remember Amiens.
He wakes up in a prison.
He wakes up in a hospital bed in a tent.
He's horrifically sore, and his leg throbs with a vengeance, but he's okay. He's alive and he can move and all of his senses seem intact. He's going to be fine.
Or so he thinks.
He panics when he thinks he hears Germans. His heart drops in his chest and he tries to push himself up into a seated position but to no avail.
His ears focus on the sound and he realizes that English is being spoken.
He is not in a German prison.
Rather, a prison of his own mind.
Such a prison is not yet apparent to him.
He blinks. His eyes focus on the bedside table next to him.
One minute, it's normal. The next, there are two black, beady eyes staring at him. Cold. Unblinking.
A rat stares at him, a large, grey one, the kind that take up residence in the trenches and bite all the men and eat all the food. One has to kill the rats.
He has no weapon, but he has his hands. And somehow he believes his hands will be enough.
His eyes meet those of the rat, and he stares at it, without blinking. He is still. The rat is still. There is a standoff.
He raises his arm and brings his fist down to hit it.
He hits an empty bedside table.
But the rat is still taunting him. He can't kill it. Yet he could kill so many other men who were innocently thrust into a war beyond their control.
He raises his fist again to come down onto the rat. But no matter how good his aim, he still misses.
He raises his arm multiple times, and brings it down again and again and again and again until it is aching and sore and red and the rat still won't die.
With each smack of his hand against the table, he cries out louder. Someone will hear. Someone will help him kill the rat.
Someone does hear. An orderly rushes in, hearing his cries, and comes to his bed and restrains his arm. "Captain Crawley," the orderly shouts. "What are you doing?"
"The rat..." Matthew replies weakly. "He wouldn't die."
"There is no rat," the orderly assures him.
A head shake. "No. It was there. It was staring at me and then I couldn't kill it. I could kill so many men but I couldn't kill the rat!"
The orderly tightens his grip on Matthew's arm. "There was no rat. You're safe now." He turns to a nurse who has walked in behind him and murmurs something. He turns back to Matthew and smiles. "Now sleep. We'll have you back to England in no time."
The nurse joins the orderly at the bed and tips something cool and sweet into Matthew's mouth.
Before he drifts off, Matthew notices the orderly take out a tag sitting by him and scribble something down.
She deserves this.
She deserves to be sitting in this cold, uncomfortable, straight backed chair, nearly shrinking under the cold stare of Sir Richard Carlisle. She wishes she could shrink, but Lady Mary Crawley would never do that.
Then again, Lady Mary Crawley, or at least the Lady Mary Crawley that society knows, would never confess to something like this.
She tells her story, and it is difficult, but every single torrid detail comes out. Time seems so slow. She asks him to save her. It is so hard, so humbling.
Oh yes, she deserves this. She deserves to sit in this circle of hell, cold, unmoving, listening to the clock tick away, taunting her endlessly. Every minute is penance for what she has done.
This is punishment for her idiocy.
She has no one to blame but herself.
She puts out of her mind Bates, and his wife, and how if they weren't on such terrible terms, she wouldn't be here right now.
But then again, this situation is just giving her what she deserves.
This is not Bates's fault, she reminds herself.
She tries to forget Edith. While Edith had no right to tell her secret, she has grown. And Mary recognizes that now, Edith never do it, if given the choice. So she will try to forgive, even if Edith doesn't deserve it.
But Mary, oh Mary, she certainly deserves this.
Richard, too, taunts her. He doesn't give her the grace of sitting, of looking into her eyes, of understanding. Instead, he paces in front of the window. It gives him power. This is his territory, he is marking it, and Mary is only there by his mercy.
His eyes glitter coldly, a calm smile never dropping from his face. He isn't shocked. He is placid, and if there is any part of him that is surprised, he hides it well.
He is completely in control, and Mary knows it, and she deserves it.
I deserve this, she says, over and over. I deserve this. I deserve this. I deserve...
"No," Richard responds, derisive of her request. His clear voice cuts through her thoughts, no different than usual, so calm, so collected.
The even tone angers her, but she calms herself. After all, she deserves this.
Still, the word stings. "I know it was quite a favor to ask," she says quietly. Her fingers clench into a fist inside her leather glove.
This is exactly the response she deserves.
"It is, I'm afraid," Richard says. He doesn't sugarcoat anything. He is still as even as ever. "But, Lady Mary, I believe you've done me a favor."
He waits for Mary to take the bait and question him, but Mary does not. For a second, she is in control. This calms her. This angers Richard.
His voice raises ever so slightly. "You've told me every detail of your sordid affair. I have this story straight from your own mouth. I don't even have to buy it. Of course, I'll embellish it. And it won't hurt me, not a bit. After all, we're breaking off any sort of relationship after this. I'm afraid I can't be seen with such a woman. This will only profit me. People are tired of hearing about the war, they want something new, something intriguing. This will sell papers, and that is what I am in this business to do. To sell papers."
Mary's face almost falls. She keeps it steady. "I'm sorry?"
"A shame, really. We would have done well together, but a woman with such a past? If I do this, the situation is to my advantage. I'm sorry, Mary."
She stands. "You're sorry?" She is about to fight back, and then she remembers.
She deserves this.
She doesn't fight back.
"I am sorry," Richard says. His voice sounds so sincere that she almost believes him. "I almost loved you."
Mary turns her back to him. Almost is not enough.
But she deserves this. If this is her punishment for what happened with Pamuk, so be it. She'll be ostracized, she'll never marry, her family will find out... Papa will know. She gulps. Matthew will know.
She takes a breath and walks out of Sir Richard Carlisle's office.
She deserves this.
She doesn't leave London right away. If she gets on the last train, maybe everyone will be in bed by the time she gets home. Then she won't have to face them, not tonight. She'll have to tell them all, of course. It will hurt, but it will hurt more if they read it over breakfast.
But that can wait until tomorrow.
She wanders around London in a daze. In years past, it would have been a dream to have this much freedom. To trod up and down Oxford Street without a chaperone, to stare at the paintings in the National Gallery without being talked to by some stranger, or worse, some socialite that she knows, or that she should know. Any of this would have been a dream before the war.
But now she does it. Nobody gives a second glance to the young woman walking up and down the street, her head down, clad in a fine red traveling suit. Everyone else keeps their heads down too; eye contact only brings pain. They can't look at the wounded soldiers who silently beg on street corners, horrific reminders of a war that still hasn't ended. They can't look at the bright patriotic posters and flags that provide such a contrast to the gray day and the gray mood of London. They can't, and neither can Mary, and she blends in.
She makes her way to King's Cross eventually. She sits on a bench by the platform, far away from the southern bound trains and the sea of khaki uniforms. She can hear the clamor of young soldiers kissing their sweethearts, hugging their mothers, shaking hands with their fathers, for what may be the last time. Bile rises in her throat, and she wants to cry. But she can't. Lady Mary Crawley doesn't cry.
Then again, Lady Mary Crawley doesn't sleep with a foreign Turk, kill him (accidentally, of course), and then proceed to hide the evidence.
Mary is hit with a realization that this could be the last time she can comfortably show her face in London.
I don't care, she tells herself. I deserve this. I deserve this.
The mantra works, at least outwardly. Mary glances around the station, taking it all in. Before she can look too hard, a train pulls up, and the conductor calls for the passengers to board, and she is swept away.
A few soldiers board the train, most likely home on
leave. One smiles at her politely. He offers to take her bag.
She stares at his eyes. They're gray, stormy, like Richard's. The sight of Richard's cold eyes rejecting her only hope of salvation from her stupidity.
She pulls away from him.
The train chugs along toward Downton, and she tries not to think. She tries not to cry. She stares out the window and cannot see anything in the darkness.
Mary has never been afraid of the dark. Yet right now, she almost thinks she is.
Matthew has never been afraid of the dark. But he is, he is now, and wherever he is, it is dark and he is afraid.
He begins to breathe heavily. Where is he? Is he trapped? Did the dugout cave in? He's heard of that sort of thing happening to other regiments.
He blinks. Something is moving below him.
He blinks. There are other shadowy figures, wherever he is. They shift, slightly. They're alive.
He blinks. There are cracks of light coming from somewhere.
He blinks. The movement comes to a stop.
He blinks. Wherever he is, it fills with light.
"Captain Crawley," says a voice. It's not one that's he's heard before. It's calming, though. Almost. "Captain Crawley, shh. Quiet. You're alright, and we don't want to wake the others."
Only then does he realize that he has been screaming.
His mouth tries to form words. Questions. But he's just crying, yelling incoherently, and whoever is standing by him is keeping a firm hand on his shoulder and talking to someone else.
"You're on your way home to England," the voice says.
This should calm him. It doesn't calm him, and he doesn't understand why.
He is sedated for the rest of the trip home.
Somehow, Mary knows that something is wrong. She shivers.
The car rattles across the drive up to Downton and pulls up in front of the house. She knocks on the door, expecting a hall boy to answer it.
To her surprise, it's Carson who opens the door. The small optimistic part of her brain tells her that it's just Carson being Carson, wanting to wait up for her. But the grave expression on Carson's face, and the much larger pessimistic part of her brain, tell her something different.
"I'm glad you're home, milady," Carson says. His deep growl, usually so comforting, is unsettling to her.
Mary tries to force a smile. It doesn't work. "What's wrong?" she asks. She knows. It isn't cold, but she she's shivering.
"His Lordship would like to see you in the library."
Mary's heart pounds in her ears, like it used to do after jumping a creek on Diamond or after running around as a child. She hasn't felt the sensation in years, and it unsettles her. It used to have more pleasant associations. Now it does not.
She runs to the library, like she hasn't since she was a child. The light is on, and a small crowd of servants is gathered outside the door. They all make way for her, and Mary hardly notices them.
"What's wrong?" she breathes, again. Her question is directed at her father. He has the same grave expression on his face as Carson.
Robert takes her shoulder and leads her to the settee. Mary almost refuses to sit, but his look tells her that, for once, she should obey him.
"Matthew's been injured," Robert says. His voice is filled to the brim with emotion, and it's such a wonderful contrast to Richard's placid tone that she almost wants to cry in gratitude. Of course, she's so distracted by the words that her unconscious appreciation of her father's tone is just a subconscious registration of a hatred deep inside.
But Matthew. It's Matthew he's talking about, and Mary cannot think about anything else.
She thinks of how they used to flirt, how happy they used to be.
She thinks of how they danced at Sybil's ball, far closer than propriety would usually allow and far more happily than any other couple attending.
She thinks of how she threw away her chance at happiness because she didn't trust him enough. She didn't love him enough.
She thinks of how she lost him, lost him to another woman.
She thinks of how she sent him off to war. The little dog he carries in his pocket. Did it really bring him luck?
She thinks of how he would... how he will react to her scandal.
She thinks of how everything with Matthew is so complicated, so damn complicated and here this is, to complicate everything more.
She thinks of how much she loves him.
All other thoughts evaporate.
Love is that complicated and yet that simple.
"How badly?" she breathes. For the first time, she notices Mama and Sybil and Edith. They're all here, they must know, and they look at her with such sadness and fear
Robert presses his lips together. "We're not sure. He's coming back here, so it's serious enough for that, but we don't know anything further.
Mary closes her eyes. "I have more bad news," she says. She can't think about Matthew right now. She has this on her plate already. "Our house will soon be involved in scandal, and I'm afraid it's all my fault."
For the second time that day, Mary recounts the story of the Turk, and of her stupidity, and the time ticks away slowly again, and it's so hard, and once again, she deserves this.
Maybe she didn't get what was coming to her soon enough, and now Matthew is suffering, and she deserves all that suffering, and she damn well deserves this.
She knows it's irrational, but there's no other way to think.
"I'm sorry," she says, when she finishes. She doesn't look at any of them. She keeps her head down, like all the people in London, and she leaves the library.
She doesn't cry until she reaches her bedroom.
I promised I'd post another long fic eventually and it may have taken a long time, but here I am again! I've been working on this fic for over a year now and I've loved writing it although it's been very hard to write at times (and in later chapters you may understand why). It's very different from Close Enough, in plot and style. This story is very much character focused, and intentionally so. It may seem pretty dark at times, but trust me, I have a happy(ish) ending planned. Hopefully I'll be able to update every two weeks again- ideally it will be every other Saturday but this website has been giving me trouble the last few days. I have a substantial amount of the fic written already so as long as I can stay ahead of what I need to post when it gets closer to the end it shouldn't be a problem to update regularly. Thank you so much for reading, I hope you enjoy, and reviews make writers very happy so please drop a review!