"I am a Lady. I'm an heiress. I am..." She glanced down. "I am wearing amazing shoes."
"That's very nice, but I'm not serving you." The barman was remarkably genial – he probably wouldn't have been if Mary wasn't so pretty. Or if she wasn't such a regular.
"But why?" Lady Mary Crawley scowled, folding her arms and glaring for all she was worth.
"You're too drunk."
"I most certainly am not. I can still stand up. And in these shoes."
"I'm sorry, your ladyship." The barman replied gently.
Mary turned around to the man standing behind her in the queue. "He says I'm too drunk? Can you believe that? Lies! Defamation of character! Libel!"
"I think you mean slander."
Mary felt her anger transfer to this individual – this tall man who clearly thought he knew better than she did. Hah! How dare he? How dare he?
"Libel is written, or recorded somewhere. Slander is transitory. It also doesn't apply because it's true. You should really get out of the queue."
She glared, but obeyed – she didn't want to make a fool of herself.
"Fine. I'm driving home."
"No, you're not."
She glanced to find the speaker – not that damned irritating chap who had been telling her about ...whatever those things were... but one of his friends, a tall friend, with –
"You have very interesting eyes." Mary informed him, placing her hands on his shoulders to get a better view of them (any steadying that happened to be involved was a bonus, and definitely not the reason she was doing so).
"Thank you." He seemed bemused. He probably was. "You shouldn't be driving."
"And why not?"
"The same reason you're not being served."
"He – " Mary paused to indicate the barman – why wouldn't he stand still? Damnit. "-is wrong, though, I am not that drunk."
"I'm afraid you are." His hands appeared on her waist – was he steadying her? Or was he doing it to take advantage of her?
Well, much less attractive men had tried in the past. At least it was a shot to her self-esteem. She picked up his wrists.
"I am not in the habit of letting men take advantage of me." She replied snappily. "I am definitely going to go home now. And I am going to drive."
"Let me get you a taxi."
"A taxi will take time, my car is there." She waved, vaguely, in the direction of outside-the-bar.
"How much have you had to drink?"
She narrowed her eyes. "Why should I tell you that? You're a stranger."
"My name is Matthew. Crawley."
She gasped, grinned. "I'm a Crawley, too! Mary. Heiress to the Grantham title."
Matthew – and that was a good name, it really was – smiled slightly. "My father was a doctor, I don't think we're the same set of Crawleys."
She shrugged. "M'sure if you go far enough back you can find at least one relation we'll have in common. Same surname and all."
"I don't think that's true, there are legions of Smiths."
"But we are Crawleys. So much more interesting than Smiths – when did we get outside?"
Matthew smiled guiltily. "Let's find you a taxi."
"But my car is there, look at it, it's all red and sparkly. It's a nice car, isn't it? My pride and joy. M'not leaving her here overnight."
"I could drive you home."
She gave him a look, folding her arms – she probably shouldn't have let go of him, damn these heels, damn the camber of the pavement. "Do you think I'm stupid?"
"Of course not. A taxi, then."
"But my car..."
"If you drive that car in your current state, it won't stay red and sparkly. And you might mar that beautiful face."
She felt a light blush on her cheeks. "That was an incredibly obvious ploy, Mr Crawley."
He smiled. "I believe in honesty, Ms Crawley. Transparency. In the interest of that, were you...of a more sound mind, I would almost certainly be trying to get your number."
She studied him. "It is entirely possible that I would give it to you."
"Excellent. I'm pleased to hear it." He replied brightly, finding a taxi rank. "Right. Do you want me to come with you in the taxi?"
She looked at him for a moment as she settled herself in the taxi. "N- no. No, I shall be quite well. Do – do you have a card I can take? So that my Anna can let you know that I'm home?"
"Your Anna?" Matthew asked, searching in his pockets – he really should remember those cards whenever he left the house, but he always felt a little like a tool, going to a bar with business cards. A piece of paper – receipt for something, he hoped it was something moderately impressive, or at least not embarrassing – that would do. He scribbled down his number.
"My Anna." She beamed. "She's my housemate, but she takes such care of me, she's so much more. Dating a much older man. Nice, though. Very nice man. Got a limp. Was in a war."
Matthew nodded, passing her the piece of paper. "Any idea how much the fare will be?"
Mary made a face. She hadn't really thought about it. She'd brought her car for this very reason. "...twenty?"
"Just as well you have my number. I expect you to pay me back." He closed the door, passing the note to the driver. "Thank you."
Mary stared at him as the cab pulled away. "He's got lovely eyes, hasn't he? That man."
"That Matthew bloke seems nice."
Mary opened her eyes. Anna. Of course it was Anna. Such a good woman. Adorable. So lovely. And she'd brought tea. Even better.
"I spoke to him on the phone. He said he'd check on your car this morning, apparently he has to go past that bar on the way to work." Anna paused, sitting down next to her and passing her the warm mug of tea. "Sounds much nicer than Patrick. Much less likely to just set off for America without warning."
"I don't want to talk about Patrick. I don't want to think about Patrick. That was what last night was in aid of."
Anna made a small, sympathetic noise. "Would you like breakfast?"
Mary sighed happily. "Oh, Anna, what am I going to do when you become Mrs Bates?"
"I shall just have to make sure you end up in good hands, m'lady." Anna teased gently, giving her best friend a smile. "Oh, Sibyl wanted you to ring her, she rang last night."
"Probably checking I hadn't drunk myself to death or something."
"Edith rang, too."
"Probably wondering if I had a number for Patrick."
Anna tutted. "I don't understand how you two don't get along."
"You haven't met Edith." Mary replied petulantly. "You probably never will." She glanced at Anna's retreating back – going to get breakfast, such a good woman. "Do you think I should call Matthew?" She tried to keep her tone casual.
"Well, you do need to find out how your car is." Anna smiled – Matthew had been charming when they'd spoken that night, seemed genuinely concerned for Mary. "Is he handsome?"
"I didn't notice." Mary lied.
"I think you mentioned him being nice and tall, something about stunning eyes..." Anna replied airily.
Mary groaned, hugging her knees and drinking more tea.
"She was fine – still red, still shiny." Matthew smiled, leaning back in his chair. "Exactly where you left her."
"Good. Very good. Thank you for – keeping an eye on her." She replied, thoughtful. "I owe you – how much was it?"
"Damnit, Anna informs me it's only meant to be fifteen. He didn't give me any change, either..." Mary ranted.
"Well, you can owe me fifteen, what's five pounds between friends?" Matthew replied smoothly.
"Friends, are we?" A smile played at her lips – he could hear it in her voice.
"I was rather hoping we could be. What are your plans for lunch?"
"I was wondering about payment in kind."
"What do you mean?" She asked, cautious.
"I meant you could buy me lunch as recompense – why, what did you have in mind?"
She didn't dignify it with an answer. "Meet me at my car at half past twelve."
That, he was fairly certain, could count as a win.
"You dreamed of being a lawyer?" Mary was incredulous. "Since you were a child."
Matthew nodded. "I have never wanted to be anything else." He smiled indulgently, leaning forward, almost as if imparting a secret. "I am one of those good lawyers. One of the nice ones. I'm almost certain that I could have a series on the BBC."
She gave him a look of disdain.
"Or perhaps ITV."
"I cannot believe that you have held the dream for that long." Mary sipped at her coffee – she was still feeling some effect of her hangover.
He shrugged. "It shifted from being a child's dream to reality – two very different things. The reality is so different from the ideas I had as a child that it doesn't always feel like a lifelong ambition, although I suppose it is." He leaned back, glancing to see whether their food was on its way – not yet. "What about you, then, did you always dream of being a columnist?"
Mary shook her head. "I dreamt of..." She frowned slightly. "I'm not entirely certain, to be honest. I believe I wanted to be a dancer for a while. Or possibly an actress. They never suited me – being opinionated and witty, though? That suited me." She allowed him a grin, placing her coffee on the table for the time being, giving him her full attention for the first time.
"When did you discover journalism?"
"Oxford. I studied languages, although I always preferred the written word. I wrote for the university newspaper."
"What brought you here, then – to the Manchester Evening News?"
She arched an eyebrow.
"You're an Oxford graduate, surely you should be writing for the Times, or the Telegraph, or the Guardian – maybe not the Guardian, your spelling may be too good."
She laughed shortly – he felt suddenly as if he had won a great victory. "Not all of us go into sparkling careers – besides, I'm rather fond of the MEN."
He was going to speak on it, but thought better of it – from the look in her eyes, he curbed himself wisely.
"But why Manchester?"
"Patrick." She replied simply, picking up her coffee cup and putting up her guard.
Matthew proceeded with caution. "Is Patrick the reason you were drinking last night?"
She gave him an icy glare, almost daring him to ask more details.
He didn't – he also didn't elucidate on his estimations (but really, the way she'd said the name, with such an affected air – she was clearly trying to be over the man when she still cared far too much). It was a pity, though, and he tried to hide his disappointment.
He had learned the hard way, a long time ago now, that you didn't get involved with someone who was still on the rebound.
"Your car is a beauty, I must say." It was an obvious change of tack – he would never use such an ungainly move in court – but she didn't seem to mind too much, or judge him too harshly.
"I need to call Matthew." Mary muttered, hugging her knees. "I can't believe I was so bloody foolish."
Anna, not for the first time, handed her a cup of tea. "I'm going to have to go soon – John's taking me out for lunch, and then we're going house-hunting."
Mary sighed, taking the cup gratefully. "What am I going to do without you, Anna? Who else will help me get rid of hideous one-night stands who won't leave of their own volition?" She rubbed her eyes. "At least his gap year is almost over." She groaned. "Anna, what has become of me? Sleeping with a gap year student!"
"You didn't really go through a rebellious phase whilst you were at uni, did you?" Anna reflected, sipping at her own tea. "You always had Patrick. Maybe now is just you getting it out of your system. And – " She smiled slightly, gently – in a way that was so... Anna. "He hasn't shown any romantic intention."
"I don't believe he thinks you're over Patrick." Anna replied delicately, studying her housemate.
Mary groaned, burying her head in her knees. "I don't know. I don't know, I don't know, I don't know." She looked up. "But I do want him to know about Kamal. I don't want to lie to him."
"You were with Patrick for a very long time, Mary, it'll be a while until you're over him."
Mary nodded, unable to deny it. "Do you think Matthew will wait?"
"He might, if you ask." Anna reflected. "He clearly cares for you."
The doorbell rang – it was adorable, the way Anna's face lit up, the way she still seemed to feel a sort of girlish glee at the thought of seeing John.
"Enjoy house hunting, Anna, give my love to John." Mary said gently, noting the look on Anna's face. "I'll be fine. I'll talk to Matthew later."
Anna grinned sheepishly. "I don't know when I'll be back."
"I've got a column to write, I could do with the quiet." Mary lied – she didn't want the quiet, but found it very difficult to deny Anna's happiness. "Tomorrow, then?"
Anna blushed lightly – still, after all this time, she seemed to be in the first flushes of love. "I'll bring home something nice."
Mary waved her off. "Go, Anna, he's waiting."
Anna gave Mary a brief hug – the girl was far, far too good – before tripping off to answer the door. The sounds of them reuniting made her insides ache – not for Patrick, but for someone...
Matthew wasn't necessarily that someone, but he was certainly on her mind.
"How's the column going?"
Mary smiled sheepishly at him.
"Ah, so that's why I'm here." Matthew removed his coat. "Shall I go to the kitchen and make us some tea?"
Mary couldn't help but grin. "Thank you, Matthew – although I did want to talk to you about something."
"I take it that tea comes first." Matthew smiled, going through to the kitchen. Mary followed him through, glancing to the window – not looking at him.
"Actually, it doesn't."
Matthew frowned. "Something important?"
She ignored the question, not certain how to answer it. "I...had a one-night stand last night."
Matthew fought not to let the jealousy show on his face, focussing on finding teabags in the cupboards. He spoke after a moment's awkward silence. "And why are you telling me this? You're a grown woman, it's..." He trailed off, not quite able to tell her that it was none of his business.
"I'm telling you, because..." She hated this. She hated saying these words, hated letting her guard down, hated feeling so damn vulnerable. "I didn't feel like I'd betrayed Patrick. I...felt like I'd betrayed you."
Matthew turned to look at her. "Like you'd betrayed me."
She nodded. "I... I knew I had to tell you." She paused, trying to work out how to phrase this – he was looking at her, trying to discern what she was going to say, no doubt using skills he'd picked up in court. "I'm not ready for...a relationship. I was with Patrick for so long..." She sighed. "I care about you. And, if I'm not mistaken, you care about me, too."
He busied himself with making tea. "So what does this actually mean, Mary? Give me the bottom line."
"This means that I'm asking you to wait for me." She replied quietly. "You deserve to be more than a rebound. But at the moment..." She took the mug he handed her. "I'm afraid that's what you'd be."
Matthew seemed to mull it over, taking his own tea through to the living room and sitting on the sofa. "You're asking me to wait for you." He said finally, looking up at her.
She nodded, sitting down opposite him, laptop beside her – a half-written column looking at her accusingly. She suddenly felt very much in the middle of a rock and a hard place.
"What, exactly, do you mean by that?"
He looked almost as if he was going to begin drawing out a contract, make some sort of legal arrangement; initial here, sign here.
"I mean...I mean that I want to be with you, but I'm not ready yet. And it's not fair of me to start anything with you when I'm still not over Patrick."
"But it is fair to ask me to wait." Matthew replied mildly.
Mary rubbed her eyes. "If...if you want to be with me, then yes."
"And what does waiting involve?" Matthew asked, his tone near-emotionless – he may as well have been asking about the weather.
"What do you mean?"
"What are the rules of waiting? What do you intend to do, whilst I wait? Will you be living single life to the fullest? Am I allowed to take a particularly pretty colleague to dinner?" Some emotion was beginning to show now. Irritation. Frustration.
"I – I don't know. I know that I'm not ready yet, but I want to be, and I don't want to – " She faltered. "I don't want to do you a disservice, Matthew. I don't want to hurt you, and I don't want to – I don't want to toy with you." She breathed deeply, composing herself – she wasn't entirely certain that she was making sense, and he appeared so damn calm. "I want us to have a proper chance."
"Do I get a choice in the matter?" He asked, although there was a slight smile on his face now – the ghost of a smile, enough to tell her that it would be alright, eventually.
"Of course." She braved a smile of her own.
He sat, thoughtful, before finally speaking. "I care about you, Mary. Very much. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't attracted to you." He stopped, apparently thinking again. "I suppose I've been waiting all along."
She met his eyes. "You...you'll wait, then."
"Not forever." He replied mildly. "But... There's been something between us since we met. And I don't think it's alcohol." He smiled – a genuine smile this time, a real one; there was hope. "Or rather, not just alcohol."
She sat beside him, slipping her fingers through his, leaning against him. "Thank you. I'm not entirely certain I deserve you."
"You do have a point." He rested his head against hers. "Maybe you will, by the time you're ready."
"Or you'll have disgraced yourself." She replied, smiling, suddenly feeling that he wouldn't be waiting for very long.
"How was dinner?"
Her smile was tight, her tone a little too cool and controlled.
Was he in trouble? Matthew found himself grimacing as he placed his coat onto the hook – Mary had invited him over for the evening, presumably for innocent reasons. As much as anything she did was innocent.
"Nice enough, the restaurant is rather good, there's a risotto that I really thi – "
"Matthew." She looked at him seriously. "You know what I mean."
"I'm here, Mary." He replied softly. "I could quite easily be elsewhere, indulging in much less savoury activities. She made that much very clear. But I'm here instead. Facing the third degree – are you sure you shouldn't be practising law?"
She hadn't noticed how tired he looked until now. Had he been looking that tired over the last few weeks? Had she done that, caused that?
"I'm...thank you. Thank you for being here. And not there." She stepped towards him, closing the distance, finding herself smiling – it was those eyes, there was something about them that did such pleasant things to her. She placed a hand on his cheek, leaning to kiss him –
He stepped back. "You're ready, then."
She nodded, bemused, uncertain of what was happening now.
"And you'd really rather like me come to heel with a click of your fingers, wouldn't you?"
"It isn't like that, Matthew – "
"I believe it is, Mary. I believe it's exactly like that." He breathed deeply. "I can't deny how I feel about you, but I will not be toyed with."
"Matthew – "
"This isn't an even ground, Mary, I refuse to be at your beck and call. If this – if we are going to work then we can't be playing games. It can't be a struggle for the upper hand." He eyed her, stoic, unspent anger bubbling just below the surface (she only knew because she knew him – and that was precisely it, she knew him, she loved him)
She'd never found him more attractive than when he walked out of the door without another word.
"I wondered whether you might like a cup of coffee. In that nice cafe, the one near your office." She felt like she was sixteen again, almost expected to hear Sybil giggling next to her, hugging her knees.
She could hear the smile in his voice – smile, she was certain, not smirk as she'd feared. "I should think so. Around one?"
"Yes, I thought so." She felt almost as if she were breathing again now he'd said yes. Laptop in bag, she strode into the cafe itself, settling herself in the corner, ready to write the moment she put the phone down. "I'll see you – "
She'd been wrong. He was smirking. But he was also proffering coffee.
"You can be a touch predictable at times."
She took it from his hand, unable to stop the smile from crossing her face. "Then I shall ensure I'm at my most unpredictable in future."
He sat down beside her, arm lazily around her shoulders, leaning to kiss her forehead. "I don't frown on predictability."
"I am certain that Papa is going to love you." She smoothed his jacket absently, wiping away imaginary creases. "As far as Granny is concerned, you work in London – just refer to Manchester as 'the City' and it'll be fine."
He raised his eyebrows.
"London is, obviously, the heart of the universe." Mary explained, as if it were obvious.
"Anything else I should know?"
"Just follow my lead. Sybil's going to be here – home for the summer." Mary smiled. "She's just finished her first year at Oxford, isn't that exciting?"
Matthew visibly relaxed. He'd met Sybil – he liked the girl, she seemed down to earth enough. "Anyone else I've met?"
Mary shook her head. "Edith is coming home tomorrow, but she'll like you well enough."
He looked at her oddly.
Mary shrugged. "You're mine – she'll almost certainly like you too much."
"You really don't like her."
She took his hand. "We never really got along all that well. Middle child, you see, always wants the attention, never gets it." Mary wrinkled her nose. "And she's incredibly irritating."
This was going to be a long weekend.
"So. What are your intentions towards my sister?"
It was odd, being threatened by what was, for all intents and purposes, a fresher. She may maintain that she had finished her first year and had, therefore, reached the lofty heights of second-yeardom, but she remained a little too young in his eyes.
"Oh, Sybil, do leave poor Matthew alone." Edith rolled her eyes, smiling sweetly at Matthew. "I'm so sorry about her."
Sybil gave her a look – a few years ago Matthew was fairly certain she would have stuck her tongue out (and probably, in a few years time, she'd revert to such behaviour) – and returned her piercing gaze to Matthew. "You haven't answered my question."
"I'm in love with her." He replied simply.
Sybil nodded, as if she found this answer satisfactory. "And?"
"Future plans, dreams, hopes, aspirations? Any unplanned jaunts to America?"
Apparently the youngest sister hadn't forgiven Patrick for disappearing – from the look in Edith's eyes, she hadn't either (she attempted to bury her head in the book across her lap but it was difficult to miss the pain in her features).
"I plan to have a family, I dream of a better world – although still one where lawyers are required, I hope to own my own home, I aspire to a reasonable level of greatness...and I have no plans for an unplanned jaunt to America."
Sybil leaned back in her chair, apparently weighing things up. She was silent for a few moments, before nodding her head sharply. "I think that you and I should play chess, Matthew. So that I may judge your character."
"Have you been reading period romances again?" Edith looked up just in time to receive another of Sybil's glares.
Mary lay, her head on his lap, looking up at the ceiling. He was reading her column, aloud, speaking in his measured, metered tone – it was how her column should always be heard. Her eyes closed – somehow the words that had worked well enough on the page were brought to life, given a significance she could never have anticipated.
It had been eighteen months – not easy months, but good ones. They had argued – of course they had, she was stubborn and refused to let things lie, he was easily riled and passionate (blessing and curse, she was sure) – but they had worked.
This was their house, now – Anna had moved out (Mrs Bates – a beautiful ceremony) and Matthew had moved in a matter of months later. They had fallen into rhythms – a call from the office at lunchtime to see how the column was going, dinner on the table roughly half an hour after he returned (Mary had perfected the art of minimalist cooking – she needed as few distractions as possible from writing – the slow cooker had become her dearest friend), weekends spent seeing friends, or meandering the city streets.
Somewhere along the way they'd carved out a happy little life, without even trying.
He stopped the reading, moved the paper so that he could see her. "I'm almost certain that's how it's pronounced."
She smiled. "It is, you were right – it's nothing to do with the article." She sat up, turning to face him, placing her hands on his knees. "I've been thinking."
He nodded slightly, apparently uncertain of what to expect.
"I don't want to spend my life with anyone other than you." She said it slowly, almost as if she were realising it for the first time, surprised to hear it. "Marry me."
He stared at her. "You're proposing."
"I think I am."
He began to laugh.
She scowled – this wasn't how it was supposed to happen, not at all. It was meant to be...romantic. Distinguished. Moving.
He wasn't supposed to laugh.
"Earlier this week, I emailed your sister, and your Anna. I asked them if they knew your ring size, and if they thought you'd like the ring I'd picked out. The next time we went to Downton, I intended to ask your father for your hand. And now you've proposed to me."
"Have you ever known me to be predictable?" She grinned, arms going around his neck, knowing that he had – knowing that he had known her be almost all things, and loved her regardless.
"I should have known. Have you asked my father's permission?"
"Of course not, it only just occurred to me."
"Your spontaneity is charming as ever." He picked her up, standing – a grand, sweeping romantic gesture he felt befit the occasion. "Does this mean your parents will finally believe that we intend to stay together?"
"And that I will never be returning to Patrick, yes. Papa will be happy, he's very fond of you." Mary replied chattily, almost as if she hadn't noticed what he was doing. "You realise that you haven't actually said yes yet."
He grinned, opening the bedroom door and lowering her to the bed, a wicked glint in his eye.
I loves me some modern AU, oh yes I do! This one has been half-written for ages, but I was reminded of it this evening so I've picked it up, dusted it off and published it before I decided it was a bad idea. As such, I apologise in advance for any horrendous mistakes (I am fairly certain I have the correct type of practising in there...?) and hope that you enjoyed it. I really, really enjoyed writing it.
The title, incidentally, comes from a Crowded House song that is currently renting most of my brain. I'm paticularly fond of a Boy and Bear cover, although James Blunt does a rather nice one (things I never thought I'd say...) It bears...some relation to the plot?
Anyway. All reviews appreciated, I hope you enjoyed this!
(Edits - missed a word, and a line break. Dear me. Bad author, no biscuit.)