"Well then…" intones the man sitting across from Matthew, "where shall we begin?"
Matthew squeezes his eyes shut for a minute before taking a lengthy glance around the London office of Dr. Thomas Fisher. Where should he begin? How could he sum it all up, the complexities of his mind and heart and life over the past month, in just a short conversation? But looking into Dr. Fisher's calm, kind eyes, he feels safe to try.
It had taken him some time to find a psychologist who he felt comfortable with. The first, the man Clarkson had suggested in York, had been a failure almost from the start. An elderly academic who had almost certainly been there from the very start of the science, his approach was to consider his patients as research subjects, offering scientific platitudes which lacked emotional connection and compassion. It was hardly twenty minutes before Matthew decided he had had enough. Mary had pleaded with him to keep at it, but her brief conversation with the doctor after Matthew had decided to leave was enough for her to know that he was not the right fit.
A second attempt, again with a doctor in York, was even worse. The man, upon greeting Mary and Matthew, had said something condescending about shellshock patients, something which Matthew could not even remember because it had made him so angry he could not even think straight.
Matthew had been ready to give up on the whole thing, certain that there was no one in the world who could help him in a way Mary could not, but Mary was determined. She researched the field of psychology and those who worked in it, and searched tirelessly for the right fit. It had been Dr. Edward Fisher of London in the end, a fellow combat veteran who had dedicated the last years of the war to studying the psychological effects of trench warfare. If anyone understood and would be sympathetic to Matthew's plight, Mary figured, it would be someone who knew what he had been through.
While he was not convinced at first, Matthew agreed to travel to London for a consultation. He had still been struggling to sleep well and was frustrated that since coming back from Scotland, he had made little noticeable improvement. He had missed the freedom and quiet of Scotland; the busyness of the small village, little as he walked the streets, overwhelmed him. Isobel observed, distressed, as he appeared to regress significantly, becoming listless and occasionally disturbed in a way that she had not seen since he had seemed to turn a corner in Scotland.
"Perhaps we shouldn't have come back," Isobel had whispered to Mary one evening, after the dramatic clang of a dropped tray full of dishes had resulted in a dive underneath the table and several minutes of panic. Finally Mary had been able to convince him to come out, but Matthew was clearly shaken. The dinner was over for him before the main course had even been served.
"No," Mary had whispered back. "No, I know it was the right choice. But it needs time." She put an arm behind Matthew's back and helped him to his feet, leading him to sit on the bench in the entryway as they waited for the car to be brought around.
He had let out a shuddering sigh before turning to Mary, tears rimming his eyes. "I'm sorry, I thought I could but then…"
She rubbed his back gently. "I know, I know. It's perfectly alright."
"Will you…" his voice was low, "Will you come to me tonight?"
"Oh Matthew, you know I can't," she said. "As much as I would like to."
"We can find a way. No one would have to know; at least, not if they don't already know," he says. His eyes were wide and pleading, almost irresistible.
But Mary was strong enough to resist. "No. I… can't risk it, especially after my scandal. But tonight had made me think. I'm going to find someone else for you. Another psychologist."
"Because that was so very effective previously," he had whispered, his tone bitter.
She presses her forehead to his. "I'm going to find you the very best. Not just as a scientist or a doctor but as a person. Do you trust me?"
He closed his eyes, squeezing them shut to try and block out the images of the battlefield which still remained. "Yes."
"Then trust me on this. Let me do this for you."
He had nodded, unsure what else to do. The flashback had brought him to a point of desperation, and if Mary could not be by his side, he had little other recourse.
"Mr. Crawley," Dr. Fisher says gently, bringing Matthew out of his thoughts. Mr. Crawley. He feels like it's been an age since anyone called him that. It was Captain Crawley for so long, as if he and the war were one and the same. But this feels right again, normal again. He is not only a soldier. Not anymore.
Matthew looks up, and realizes with a start that he is not unhappy to be here. The first time, of course, Mary had practically had to drag him to London, so reluctant he had been. The next several sessions he had been a willing but not joyful participant. But today, after four months of sessions every three weeks, Matthew realizes that this is a space he is comfortable in, that this is a good thing.
"I can't say I'm sure where to start," Matthew replies.
"How about with the journal?"
Matthew looks down at the leather covered book clutched tightly in his hands.
He had doubted the idea at first when Dr. Fisher had suggested it. "A journal?" he had murmured. "Like a little girl's diary?"
"In essence, it's a similar concept, but there's quite a distinct purpose behind it. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but you strike me as a logical sort of man."
Matthew had shrugged. "I suppose one cannot practice law and be entirely illogical."
"Well, as I'm sure you've discovered by now, the human brain can appear disordered and illogical, especially in times of mental distress. It only makes sense, yes, considering the immense complexity of everything the brain must do, that trauma can throw it off track. Which is where this," Dr. Fisher said, holding up a leather-bound journal, "comes in. I want you to write in this at the very least twice a day; before you go to bed and when you wake up. Before you go to bed, write about everything that happened in your day. If anything caused you distress, or reminded you of the trenches, or even if anything was particularly good that day. Write down your sorrows and your joys of the day, and the more detail, the better. Then, every morning, I want you to write down any dreams you might have had, especially any night terrors. I know it can be had to remember those, but again, please write them down in as much detail as you can. This serves a twofold purpose. Firstly, and unfortunately, trauma does not go away by avoidance. By writing down the things, the memories that disturb you, you will have to confront and expose yourself to what you experienced. It will hurt, but in the end, you will be better for it. Secondly, it is a tool for the logically minded of us. If you compare your entries from the morning with your entries from the night before, you will see how dreams and nightmares are influenced heavily by what we see, what we hear, what we remember the day before, even subconsciously. Becoming more attuned to these factors can show you the logical connections that trauma jumbles in the brain, which I find to be exceptionally valuable insight. Mental distress does not always listen to logic; you can know something to be true and still not be able to believe it, but knowing is the first step to healing."
Matthew had been skeptical even after the doctor's explanation, but he took the journal and followed instructions; he had never not been dutiful. And the first couple of weeks, the strategy seemed to hurt more than it helped; that first week, Matthew noted that he had awoken from a nightmare every single night. But slowly, it got better and better, and he began to notice the patterns of his life which built him or broke him.
He looks across at Dr. Fisher, and back down at the journal. "This is a little bit of a mess, I think. I'm not sure how to describe it."
"Frankly, I'd be concerned if it wasn't a bit of a mess," Dr. Fisher says. "Let's start with the easy things, the statistics. How many nights did you record waking up with a nightmare?"
Matthew flips through the pages of the notebook, counting quietly. "Eight out of… twenty-one."
"And what was it the last time that we met? Eleven, twelve? Now you've slept through the night peacefully more nights than not. That's quite a marked improvement. And did you rate the impact numerically each night? I think we identified one as indicating a nearly forgettable interruption and five as something so jarring that you cannot sleep?"
"Yes, um… I think two of those nights were ones, one was a two, four I categorized as threes, and then there was one night that was a five," Matthew says, flipping through the pages once more. It feels oddly satisfying to be so mathematical about it, almost as if he could put these arbitrary numbers into an equation and solve this whole issue. But no matter what he tries, he is still missing information.
Dr. Fisher nods. "Most are in the low-to-medium impact range which is good. That is an improvement, certainly. And the one bad night- do you know what happened there?"
"I… I got my army discharge papers," Matthew says. "I had to fill out a lot of paperwork and it all felt… very intense. It shouldn't have been, but…"
"We can't consciously control how we perceive things. How you should or shouldn't feel is irrelevant. You are justified in whatever feelings you may experience."
Matthew sighs and leans back. "I find often that I want to hide from those feelings, and yet they find a way to manifest themselves in a manner which is less than ideal."
"Have you found expressing them through journaling helpful?" "Yes, it has been. Even though it is sometimes terribly difficult to be honest."
Dr. Fisher smiles. "Yes, and that may be. But the more you do it, the more comfortable you will become with the expression of those uncomfortable and unwanted emotions in a way that does not inhibit your daily functioning. Has you recognized that happening yet?"
"Yes," Matthew says softly. He opens up the journal to the last page he wrote on and glances over his own words from the night before.
It has been a long time coming, but I think I can see the light at the end of this dark tunnel. The train did not faze me today for the first time since it all- I knew that I was not going back, that I would never have to go back. I have a life ahead of me. And Mary. That life includes Mary. I have spent the past six months without her in my bed, by my side constantly, and frankly I think that has been long enough. Could I make it through the bleakness of life without her now that I am more independent, more stable, more alive? Theoretically, I could. But I would never want to find that out. I once again recognize bits of the man I once was, although I suspect a part of me might be gone forever. Only time will tell. But even if I am somewhat whole again, I am only half myself without her.
We have waited long enough and suffered enough. Why should we put off our joy any longer? There is no war, no pain, no loss, no shellshock that can diminish my love for her.
I will ask her to be my wife.
Oh, how my heart fills at that thought. My heart which will soon be whole again when I am wholly hers.
Looking up from his own writing, Matthew has a grin on his face that he cannot suppress. It is good that he does not want to suppress this.
"This… may not exactly be an appropriate topic of discussion but… I suppose it's relevant. I've… decided to ask Mary to marry me."
Dr. Fisher's eyes widen and smile creeps up at the edges of his mouth. "How wonderful. Now, I do hate to bring this up, but we have discussed inappropriate attachments and I'd just like to…"
Matthew shakes his head, his eyes glowing. "This is not an inappropriate attachment. I admit, I came to depend on her perhaps more than was healthy, but at that point, I had no other way to even find the will to stay alive. I have wanted to marry her for a long time, but we both knew that I had to… come to depend on myself again before we could have a healthy marriage. And I believe I've reached that point, or at least I'm beginning to. I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I'm envisioning a life that months ago I never thought I could obtain again. That's what I've been working towards, being able to marry the most amazing woman I've ever known. And now, I think I'm ready."
"I can tell you've thought this through," Dr. Fisher says, pressing his hands together.
"Journaled about it and everything," Matthew replies lightly.
Dr. Fisher nods and smiles. "I wish you the best of luck with it then. You must let me know how it transpires. Now, I will warn you, major life changes can coincide with periods of higher mental distress. But this is also an excellent step forward. Have you come up with a plan for when you will ask?" Matthew raises an eyebrow. "I do. I've had it for a long time. And I think it will be perfect."
Mary picks Matthew up from Dr. Fisher's office around noon, and is delighted to see him cheerful instead of red-eyed, as he often is after a session. "Did things go well today?" she asks.
"Yes, I think so," he says. He does not elaborate, but this is unsurprising.
Mary loops her arm in his. "Well, since it is such a nice day, I thought we might walk back to Rosamund's, rather than take a cab. If you're up for it, of course."
"I'm hardly aching today," he says, as they set off.
His walking has improved quite significantly, although he is still slow and his limp is obvious, the stick still ever by his side. Cold and rainy days make his damaged muscles ache more, but when the sun shines, his pain is much less noticeable.
"It's quite busy out today," he murmurs as they slowly amble along the street.
Mary smiles. "You know Londoners; a ray of sun peeks out from behind the roads and suddenly everyone finds an excuse to be outdoors. Unless they've the money to escape to the country."
"And those who live out in the country, when they have the money, seem to make their escape from that life of luxury to the high society of London," he notes, as they turn a corner into a square and find themselves facing a large crowd.
There is a sort of makeshift stage erected in the center of the square, and some well-dressed man, who Mary thinks she might vaguely recognize as an MP, is standing up there making a speech, surrounded by men in military uniform. The crowd gathered around seems rowdy, almost joyful, but tempered by a sobriety that could only arise from one cause.
"Matthew," she says softly, slipping her fingers into his, "you've been keeping up with the news of the treaty, haven't you?"
"Not in detail; if I study into it too much, I'll be frustrated by the utter futility of it all," he replies, almost offhandedly.
She takes another look at the crowd, and the man whose apathy does not match the despondency she feels when she thinks of the last four years. "But you do remember that today is the day it is to be signed. The war really is over."
"Is it?" he asks softly. He knows that; he could not help but read the article splashed across the front page of the newspaper today. He read every detail. But he is not looking for confirmation; his question is rhetorical. He inclines his head toward the crowd and they begin to move that direction, listening to the MP speak.
"Rest easy tonight, citizens, for victory is once again ours," he says loudly, and with far more conviction than his minimal contribution to the war effort deserves, "Britain has once again triumphed over evil! Know that every sacrifice you have made was worthwhile, for today the world is at peace again!"
The crowd cheers but the men in uniform on the stage mostly seem stoic and unimpressed. Mary takes a glance at Matthew and notices that he looks such the same. She feels a seething anger begin to rise up in her, bubbling under the surface, as the man's shallow and unfeeling words sink in. This was not a war of good and evil, and the sacrifices were far disproportionate to the gain. All she has to do is look at the man standing next to her to understand that.
Matthew clenches his fist and feels his legs almost give out from under him. "Mary…" he murmurs through clenched teeth, "can we…"
She notices his struggle before he can even verbalize it and loops her arm through his, leading him to a bench at the side of the square where they sit down. "I cannot believe the nerve of some politicians to.." she begins. Maybe if she speaks, it will make it better.
Nothing she could say could ever make it better, hard as she might try and painful as the thought is to Matthew. He shakes his head and looks up at the MP on the stage, still speaking although any intelligent turn of phrase was far behind him. "No," Matthew says, "he's coping with it in the only way he knows how. He might not have seen a battle but undoubtedly he lost someone or something out there. He has to believe it's all worth it or he'll fall apart."
Mary wants to protest him on this point; it isn't fair. This man's words ring so untrue, and they seem to hurt Matthew, and Matthew simply excuses it? But she looks him over and recognizes his sincerity. His eyes have pain behind them, but he means what he says. And perhaps this is how he copes. She interlaces her fingers with his. "And you? Do you believe it was all worth it?"
"No," he says bluntly. "Absolutely not. It was four years of death and hell and horror and the worst that humankind can do to itself for absolutely no concrete reason. For God's sake, an Austrian royal got murdered in Serbia so then millions of British men had to go fight the Germans in France and Belgium. How ridiculous does that sound?"
"It's absurd. But how can you be so understanding? If I had gone through everything that you have, I would have run up to the stage to beat that man up," Mary says, and while her smile says she is joking, her tone is serious.
"Well, I'm afraid my running would be awfully slow for a start," he says, trying to suppress a smirk. "But I think it's something I talked about with Dr. Fisher. About different coping methods and how people in different contexts have dealt with it. Some are angry at the government and protests every chance they get, others protect themselves by claiming it was all worth it and listening to men like that who say what everyone wants to believe, and then me… I didn't have a way to cope with it. For a long time. I was so damaged and disillusioned, and of course there were more serious symptoms in my case, but I had no real way to cope. Until you. Of course, I couldn't do that forever, and now I've started to find myself again, my values and beliefs and hopes and dreams and everything that makes me who I am, with or without the war. But having been in that darkest place where I really had nothing to hold on to… I can certainly give people more grace now."
Mary doesn't know how to respond but she can feel her heart beating faster in her chest. His words strike her powerfully, and she thinks she could never love him more than in that moment. It takes all of her willpower not to kiss him right then and there in the middle of the crowded park. Finally, the words come back to her. "You're alright then? When I saw what was happening I was afraid…"
"That I would break down?" he interjects. At Mary's hesitation, he shakes his head. "No, I understand. I was too. But… I didn't! And I really couldn't tell you how, because in the past this would have certainly set me off. Truth be told, I'm still on a bit of a precipice but I think I can hold on."
She grins unabashedly in response. "I'm so proud of you." She has never spoken a more genuine sentence in her life.
Matthew looks down at his lap and blushes. "It's not over for me, it probably won't ever be."
"But think about how this would have affected you six months ago! You're stronger now, and braver, and still changed by the war, yes, but for the better. For the best," she says softly.
The crowd is beginning to disperse, and Matthew lets out a sigh that he didn't realize he had been holding in. It had taken a lot of energy to control his reactions, to school his thoughts in the way that Dr. Fisher had taught him, to remain calm when alarm bells were ringing in his head that something was terribly wrong. He would not say this to Mary though, not yet at least.
He pushes himself up from the bench and offers his hand. "Are we ready to continue back?"
"Lead on," she replies, grinning broadly.
Mary finds herself in a grand entryway entirely alone. Aunt Rosamund had practically dragged her to a society gathering celebrating the signing of the Treaty of Versailles- Mary could not have been less interested. She had attempted to convince Matthew to join her, but he had claimed exhaustion after the events of the day, and she could not blame him. She could see just how difficult it was for him to restrain himself from demonstrating the difficult feelings that the gathering in the park had stirred up in him, and a party like this was a particularly bad place for anyone who might struggle with emotions of any kind.
But as she stands in the hall, Rosamund having quickly abandoned her, Mary has never felt more out of place. How long has it been, she wonders, since she attended a party in London? Maybe in the first year of the war, when everyone thought it was a triviality which would be through by Christmas. Certainly not since the publication of her scandal…
Rosamund had assured her that the publication of her scandal was old news, but as Mary stands, lonely and unable to begin a conversation with any of her societal peers, she begins to wonder if that is actually true. She has been to London a few times since, but every occasion was for Matthew's sake and they had not strayed far from Rosamund's house, only leaving for Matthew's appointments. There had been no risk of societal contact there.
Why had she agreed to come, she wonders, as the party seems to circle around her in a dizzying manner but never touch her.
Her darting eyes fall on a familiar face: Flora Worthing, who she had come out with in what feels a lifetime ago, and she steels herself to make an effort to connect. "Flora!" she says, her face demonstrating a joy and comfort that she most certainly does not feel.
Flora turns around and smiles politely. "Oh my, Mary! It's been ages, hasn't it?" She almost seems genuine, but Mary can sense a little hesitation. "I haven't heard much of you lately!" she says, and hesitates before continuing. "Of course, being out of the papers is probably preferable nowadays anyway."
She is so polite, but the jibe behind the words stings. The world knows your shame. "Yes, well, I'm afraid the war has prevented me from joining society much as of late. But that is all behind us now, is it now?" Even to herself, the words sound shallow, but there is little else she can say. She will do anything to avoid the topic of the article. How had this ever been a place she reveled in?
Flora nods. "Yes, yes, thank goodness. I'm so looking forward to being able to staff footmen again; our poor butler is practically keeling over. And the cook is beside herself, trying to work through the rationing."
"You're running a household now?" Mary asks. She searches her memory for any new developments she had heard about over the past few years, but she comes up blank. She has not cared enough to commit the Court Circular to memory. And the papers have held little interest to her; Sir Richard Carlisle already owns her shame and dignity but he does not deserve a penny more.
"I thought you'd heard, I married Lord Pennington three months ago. There's the large estate in Derbyshire, as well as the London house of course, and the home in Scotland, although we haven't been there yet since our marriage. It's quite overwhelming, but my mother prepared me well. And we had the most lovely wedding, practically the whole of English society" Flora replies. Her face seems to darken as she realizes the misstep she has made; Lord Pennington's family is well connected to Mary's. But of course, there had been no invitations. Not since the scandal. "I thought we'd sent a wedding invitation to you, but perhaps it got lost in the mail; these things are so unreliable in wartime."
Mary neglects to mention that for all practical purposes, the war was over more than three months ago. There is no mention of her scandal and yet she feels it in every word dripping off of Flora's tongue. "Most unfortunate," Mary replies, unconvincingly.
"I can't imagine you've any enticing prospects on the horizon," Flora says. Mary schools her initial shock into a dull look, but she cannot decide if Flora is being air headed or malicious. "Society is needlessly cruel and quick to judge, and there are so few men left now," she adds, and the dig is clear, even if her tone is sweet and conciliatory.
"In fact, I'm in quite a serious relationship with an heir to an earldom, so my prospects are quite positive at the moment," Mary says, behind clenched teeth. She had not really meant to reveal that, but she is being tested, and she has held back for far too long. Why had she thought this was a good idea? She could never face society again, not as long as this scandal was over her head. The society she had once delighted in is lost to her forever, and the reality of that prospect overwhelms her. "Excuse me, I think I need a bit of air."
She turns away and walks quickly toward the garden of the big house, taking a seat on a bench still warmed by the setting sun. Why had this distressed her so much? Hadn't the past several months, seeing what Matthew went through, made her realize the utter vacuousness of her former life? She had always cared too much about what people thought of her of course, but what should that matter now? She is happy, isn't she? These people, this life, they hold nothing for her now. And yet she cannot help but mourn the way she once fluttered around a ball or party with all eyes on her, mysterious and fascinating and beautiful. Much as she hates to admit it to herself, she sometimes wants that carefree young girl back.
She hasn't brought up the scandal much in the past months; she hasn't really needed to, and she figures it wouldn't help Matthew any if she were to complain. Every member of her family has danced around the subject since that first time it was brought up. And yet it is still always on Mary's mind. She has kept her ruin close to her heart; perhaps, others will forget. But she doesn't know if she ever can. She's come to terms with that. She deserves to suffer with it. No matter what Matthew says about it not being her fault, she will never fully convince herself of her innocence.
Especially not when the absolute last person she wants to see in this instance is ambling cheerfully towards her.
Sir Richard Carlisle looks much the same as he did on the day they last met: tall, imposing, cold, calculating, and handsome in an almost villainous sort of way. Mary tries to get up from the bench to leave but it is too late; she has made eye contact and Sir Richard is holding out his hand, indicating for her to stay seated.
A million excuses run through her head for why she should go, how she could run away, but none of them make it to her mouth. Maybe for the best, she thinks, because the familiar mantra comes back to her. I deserve this.
"Lady Mary Crawley," Richard drawls slowly, as he takes an unwelcome seat next to her. "I must say, I wasn't expecting to see you here tonight."
"And if I had known to expect you, I never would have come," Mary retorts, although her voice feels choked in the back of her throat.
Richard shakes his head. "Oh Mary, you're not still on about that, are you? You understand that I had to do it. I explained that to you, did I not? In any case, you've weathered the damage fairly well. You made it here, at least."
Mary shakes her head. "You… you irrevocably changed my life. You destroyed the chances of marriage for my sisters and tore my family apart. I trusted you with my story, with my deepest shame, and you exploited me." She stands up, moved by her anger. "I hope you made a mighty profit off of that story, because you sold your soul to publish it."
The anger that has been hidden deep inside of her is bubbling to the surface, and she cannot hide it anymore. But it is a relief; she is in control, and the burning of her anger is a welcome contrast to the icy presence that Richard brings.
He stands up as well, shaking his head. "I did in fact make a mighty fortune, and I see nothing wrong with reporting the truth. You told me a story, and I figured the world ought to know what really happened when the Turk came to stay. What do you want me to tell you? That I'm sorry you suffered consequences for your actions?"
This almost takes Mary down. Almost. For a minute, she wants to slip back into her old way of thinking. To whisper I deserve this to herself and take his abuse, take his mockery with a stoic face. But she is not that same girl who sat in his office a year ago. And even if she doesn't always believe it, she knows the truth of what happened that night. And she does not deserve Richard's abuse.
"No," Mary says. "You exploited a naive young woman who was coerced into a situation which she had no control over, who was betrayed by her own sister, who was exploited by the man who she thought could be her husband. I've had time to think about my own role in what happened that night, and the more I look back, the more I realize how little control I had over that situation, compared to how much of the blame I received." She looks down at her feet and shakes her head. She cannot look at his icy eyes. This is too important for her to be distracted. "Now, I know I'm ruined in society forever. No one here will dare make eye contact with me, or if they deign to talk to a fallen woman, it is stilted and uncomfortable. I've suffered the consequences of my actions, and probably will continue to suffer for the rest of my life. But you know what I've realized? I don't deserve this."
Richard raises an eyebrow and moves a step closer, only for Mary to back up again. "Now, Mary, you must realize you broke the rules and there are…"
She lifts her head up and looks him in the eye. Her gaze is sharp and intense and unmoving and shuts him up before he can say anything else. "You have no right to speak to me like that. You've done your damage, you've made your profit. I've lived with the consequences and come out stronger on the other side. My life is different now, but I'm happy. I know my worth, and I know I don't deserve what you've done to me." She does not blink, but turns her head away from him. She cannot look into those cold eyes any longer. "We have nothing more to discuss, so I would suggest you leave." She does not blink.
"Oh Mary," he says, stepping closer yet again, his cold eyes flashing. "To think I wanted you for my own. And really, we could have done quite well together. That is, if you weren't such a slut."
Without a second thought, she slaps him across the face. As she removes her hand, she can see red marks. She breathes heavily, but does not show the emotions that are welling up inside of her. "I know my worth, and I'm sorry you're too small of a man to make your way without degrading others. Now, if you'd rather the other cheek not suffer the same fate, leave. Now."
Richard opens his mouth to say something, still reeling in shock from the slap, but notices Mary's eyes narrowing and shakes his head. "Very well then. Good night, Lady Mary, and I wish you all the best."
Mary does not dignify him with a response.
She watches as he strolls back down the garden path into the house. He turns back, once, but she keeps her face impassive. She cannot give him the satisfaction. He has not won.
His pause is brief, and suddenly he turns and is gone.
Mary collapses back onto the bench with a sigh of relief and pent-up emotions which she cannot identify. She wants to cry, she thinks, but she does not. Lady Mary Crawley doesn't cry. Not in public.
And certainly not for Sir Richard Carlisle.
Five minutes later, she finds herself walking out of the house and through the streets of London.
She isn't entirely sure how she escaped, if she's honest. She didn't speak to anyone else, she didn't even indicate to Rosamund that she was leaving. No need for the car, the house isn't too terribly far, and the night air is warm and soothing, a gentle breeze attempting to cool her blazing anger.
She doesn't think. She can't. If she tries to process what just happened, the dam will break and she will find herself flooded with emotion and catharsis and her own feelings which she cannot identify. So she lets her feet take her home, her face stoic and silent and blank.
She has half a mind to slip in through the servant's door and attempt to be unnoticed, but if she were caught, it would require more explanation than she has the capacity to give. She slowly takes the front steps, one at a time, and rings the doorbell.
"Lady Mary?" Rosamund's butler looks surprised.
Mary nods. "Yes, I had to leave suddenly. All's well, but I simply walked back," she says, and excuses herself to go up the stairs. Back to her room, where she can collapse and maybe, finally, cry the tears that she has been holding back for so long.
But her feet do not take her to her own room.
Instead, she ends up in front of the room of the only person who can make her feel again.
She hesitates, not wanting to disturb his peace, for she knows peace is hard to find.
But she cannot be without, so she knocks.
Matthew is in bed, yes, but he is not asleep. Not even close, for that matter. He is sitting up, his journal open on his lap, without a single word written. He doesn't have the words. Between his appointment and the official end of the war and everything going on in his heart, he isn't sure where to start.
Start with the good, Dr. Fisher has told him. And so he thinks of the good of the past day.
The war is over.
The war is actually over. He thinks back to himself four years ago, in the hell of the trenches with no end in sight. He couldn't have imagined then that he'd still be here today; damaged, yes, but alive and with hope for the future. There is no armistice, there is no chance of going back to battle. The world has stopped turning, if only briefly. And while it is hard to be joyful after the hell that he experienced, the relief is palpable.
He is not naive enough to believe conflict is over; the treaty will not fix what has been broken. But for now, it is good.
I walked three miles today without pain.
He had been surprised that when he finally sat down in the front room of Rosamund's London house, after walking back from his appointment with Mary, that his leg did not throb and ache. In fact, he had walked all that way with barely a twinge. He might feel it in the morning, but this is better. This is good.
He taps his pen against his chin as he thinks of the next good thing.
Only one word comes to mind, and he cannot let it go.
Before he can expand on that (for of course he could write paragraph upon eloquent paragraph of how Mary is the good in his life) he hears a knock at the door. He glances at the clock. It is really not all that late. It would be surprising if Mary was back already. But somehow, he can't imagine it being anyone else.
"Come in," he says, putting the journal on his bedside table and sitting on the edge of the bed, about to stand up.
But he does not have the chance to.
Mary rushes to him so quickly that he does not have time to process her appearance, and practically collapses down next to the bed, burying her head in his lap.
She is crying.
He has never seen her cry. Not like this.
His mind races, trying to determine what could possibly be wrong. A wave of anxiety almost overwhelms him as he wonders what could have distressed her so. But he steels himself; she has never faltered in helping him, and he desperately wants to return the favor. He strokes her hair gently, letting it fall loose from its updo. She is still in her party dress; clearly, something went wrong there.
"Mary," he whispers, leaning over to rest his head on hers. "Mary, what's wrong?"
She looks up at him with red-rimmed eyes. "Carlisle," she manages to choke out, before biting her lip and shaking her head.
"Oh Mary…" he whispers, patting the bed next to him and giving her a hand to get up from the floor. "Was he there?"
She nods, pressing her lips together tightly. "He, along with every other member of society who intimately knows what I've done. I could barely get any of them to look me in the eye, and then Flora… I guess she'd be Flora Pennington now, well I knew she had a malicious streak behind that saccharine smile, but even if she didn't directly address it she implied it plenty…"
Matthew cannot conjure up a face to match the name, but the essence of the conversation is clear in his mind, and he reels in disgust at how she has been treated. "And then you said Carlisle…"
"Oh yes, he couldn't help but gloat. I told him off, but it just… it stung. To know that despite what he did, Sir Richard Carlisle is walking around, ingratiating himself into high society with lurid and exaggerated tales of exploited young women and…" she shakes her head and looks down at her lap. "I don't know, I came back here and I felt so overwhelmed by encountering him. I couldn't look anyone in the eye, I couldn't stay."
Matthew puts an arm around her back and brings her closer to him. "You're encountering your past traumas, and let me tell you from experience, that is not pleasant. But it's alright to feel overwhelmed. You've been through a lot, and frankly, I think you've been too busy trying to keep me sane that you haven't had a chance to heal yourself."
"I don't know if that's… it's just…" she sighs and looks into his deep blue eyes, which are wide and full of concern. He cares, she knows, and he will understand better than anyone her distress. "I have a confession to make," she says. She might be changing the subject, but it is something he needs to know and understand, because she has felt awful about distancing herself. "The reason I would never come to your room when we were at Downton was because I was terrified of being caught and of what society would think. Absolutely petrified, really. In Scotland, it didn't seem to matter, but then at Downton, where I had already faced the very real consequences of being in bed with a man… it was just too much to bear."
"Oh Mary," Matthew whispers, rubbing her back gently. He has nothing to say, but he understands better than most.
She blinks back tears again. She hasn't had this many tears since the night before they left Scotland, and she certainly has never cried this many tears in front of someone in who knows how long… perhaps she never has. "I was afraid that if I was caught again, it would exacerbate the scandal, and even if it was just confined to my family, that would be a problem, for I know they already judge me heavily for it. They may still love me, but that does not negate their judgment. So I couldn't… I couldn't risk it, for the sake of my own mind. Much as I wanted to be with you, and much as I'm sure you needed me. Just like I needed you."
"I understand," Matthew says. "I wish you could have told that to me before, because I would have understood then, and not felt so abandoned, which now of course, I feel better knowing the reason why."
"I would have told you," Mary replies, "if I had understood it myself."
He laughs softly and leans his head on her shoulder, beginning to intertwine his fingers with hers. "We're both rather abysmal at recognizing our feelings, aren't we?"
"No wonder it took us so long," Mary says, a slight giggle escaping her.
His face turns more serious as he notices her quick change of emotions. Mary is so good at hiding what she is really feeling, but he doesn't want her to have to do that. She shouldn't have to hide, not around him. "Mary? Are you sure you're really alright?"
Mary turns to look at him, opening her mouth and beginning to say something, before abruptly turning away and shaking her head. When she turns back to him, her eyes are once again watery. "I don't know," she says. "I really don't. I thought I was for so long. I thought that running away to Scotland solved all of my problems, that if I avoided the immediate pain of scandal and rejection maybe I would never have to face it all. But that's not how pain works, is it? Eventually, you have to feel it. And tonight, for the first time, I got a picture of how much my life has changed. And I hate it!"
She stands up and begins to pace around the room, her frustrated emotions now uncontainable. "And what's worse, I hate how much it bothers me. I'd love to think that I don't care for the opinion of society anymore, that the war and what we've been through has cured me of all my shallow desires. But I'm still the same!" She catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror and stops, her boiling anger coming down to a simmer. "I'm still the same shallow bitch I've always been, desperate for the approval of society and the appearance of perfection. And what's worse, I was happier when I was honest about it! I was so much happier before the war, before all of… this changed me."
Matthew places a hand on the bedpost and stands up, moving slowly towards her to stand behind and wrap his arms around her waist. "I was too," he says softly. "I was stupid and judgmental and priggish and moralistic. But I was happier. But that was because life was easier. If we hadn't gone through everything we have, we wouldn't be the better people we are today."
"I just… I wish I didn't take going through all of this to make me a better person. And I'm not so sure I am, considering I'd give that all up in a heartbeat to go back to the life I had before."
"Would you?" Matthew asks. "I seem to recall you complaining about how vacuous and empty your life at that time was. Something about being in a waiting room?"
Mary bites her lip, almost smiling. "Sometimes I wish your memory wasn't quite so impeccable. Yes, I suppose the grass is always greener on the other side, isn't it?"
After a long pause, he whispers softly into her ear, "I think if the old Mary saw you today, she would envy how wise, how caring, and how utterly, deeply loved you are." He presses a kiss to her cheek as if in confirmation.
Mary shakes her head slightly, those stupid, irrepressible tears beginning to well up again in her eyes. "I wish I didn't miss all of it as much as I do."
"I know," he says. "But it's alright to miss something desperately, so much that you feel that it might just tear a hole inside of you, and still recognize that you've grown because of what you've lost. And it's hard, it's awfully hard, but such is life. But you should never feel as if you're not allowed to mourn."
She nods and puts her hands on top of his on the front of her waist. "I hadn't… even let myself consider it really, not until tonight. It all hit me at once. But you're right, I think, I just need to let myself believe you."
"That's half the battle, isn't it?" he says, speaking from more experience than he can say. "You've had a difficult evening, a difficult day really, and you ought to rest. Now, I have no expectations because I know what you're going through tonight but my bed is open if you'd rather not be…"
Mary barely takes any time to think. "I think it's been far too long since I've spent the night with you," she says, turning around quickly and putting an arm around his back to help him back to the bed.
"Only if you're sure, Mary, because I know that it's a fraught decision and at Rosamund's…"
She shakes her head as she goes around to the other side of the bed. "Not tonight. I know what I need tonight, and it's you by my side. I can forget about society, and the scandal, and all the stupid things I cared about in the past. I have you now, and that's enough."
Matthew grins as he lays back, pulling himself under the covers. "I was hoping you'd say that, because…"
But he never gets to finish the sentence, because Mary's lips touch his before he can say another word.
Never has their kissing been so intense, so desperate, so full of love and understanding and togetherness that only two people who have walked through hell and back together could ever really have. It is utterly blissful, and utterly uninhibited. And no wonder; it has been almost six months since they were really together like this, aside from stolen kisses in the garden or in the hall when no one was around. But they are finally, truly alone again, and they do not have to steal kisses anymore. Instead, they give.
Matthew, unthinkingly, overwhelmed by the passion he feels, begins to tug the shoulders of Mary's dress down. This, however, stops her in her tracks.
"Please… don't," she whispers softly in between kisses, although she does not break their connection. "Not until we're married." She is still terrified that anything like that will bring back Pamuk, and she can't bear the thought of yet another scandal confirming to society and her family what they already believe about her.
This does not faze him, for he understands and respects her anxieties. He will wait until their wedding night, and he will be as gentle and sensitive with her as he possibly can. The ghost of Pamuk will no longer be in her life; he is determined to see that be true.
Their wedding night… as Mary finally flops down next to him, her fingers intertwined with his, their breaths in sync and their hearts beating as one, Matthew ponders their wedding night, which he prays will be soon.
Yes, very soon. Because he knows how he will propose to her. And he knows he's ready to do it.
He drifts off to sleep, dreaming of Mary's soft lips.
She does not dream so easily, but when her mind sees fit to impress upon her Carlisle's snakelike face in her sleep, she senses gentle hands playing with her loosened hair, and a soft, deep voice telling her that all will be well.
She finally believes it.
I know it's been a while, because life has a way of getting in the way of writing (until we're all stuck in our houses and then suddenly it doesn't). But I finally got this finished! I know I said this would be the last chapter, but of course I started writing and it got so long that I realized I really needed two chapters to wrap things up. So next chapter will likely be the last, unless that gets absurdly long as well. I also just want to make a note on the psychology information in this chapter- I was trying to walk the line between psychologically accurate and also period accurate (and if you know anything about the history of psychology, you will know it's kind of mess), so I did my best, but also as someone who is currently mired in the study of psychology I figured I'm probably obliged to give a disclaimer. But anyway, thank you so much for reading, enjoy, and please, if you can, leave a review!