WARNING: Spoilers – this is pretty AU on the spoilers for series 2 though some of the events and people that will appear on the telly appear here too, probably just in a different order and with different personalities than the one's we'll see on Sunday.
Pairings: Twisted Mary/Matthew with Matthew/Lavinia and Mary/Sir Richard.
Summary: One mistake can change whole lives. Paths that were meant to be taken will lead elsewhere and people that were never meant to be loved could become someone's whole world. We can only adjust to the change as well as we can.
July/August 1916. La Boiselle, Somme, France.
The sound of gunfire ripped through the air as Matthew Crawley sprinted forward, missing the bullets soaring around his head and trying to capture enough land before he was shot dead and joined the poor sods scattered about his feet. The adrenaline flowed through his system leaving a bitter taste in his mouth, the fear pushing him on, making him oblivious to the men dropping like flies around him. He ran and ran and then… There he was, finally, in the trench in front. No time to stop, no time to think, just grab the gun and fire. He performed without thinking, not allowing himself to dwell on the fact that the men he was shooting at were probably just as terrified as he was. They were all just pawns in one huge game of chess, and everyone knew that pawns were disposable, that they just did as they were told and never thought for themselves. The sweat was pouring off him, but it just blended in with the mud, dirt and blood (he wouldn't allow himself to think whose blood it was) that were now his uniform and his skin. He refused to let the fear destroy him. Whenever a shell came soaring out of nowhere, he didn't let himself think he was going to die, he would just keep performing to the best of his ability, do his duty.
"Are you a creature of duty?… When you laugh with me, or flirt with me, is that a duty?"
Whenever it got too much, too overwhelming, he would think of her. Of her hair, her eyes and how they lit up when she laughed. When pulling the trigger he would imagine her wicked sense of humour, when running from trench to trench he would hear her comments that he wasn't meant to listen to, that apparently he should ignore. He hadn't seen her for two years and yet hardly a day went by where he didn't think of her, or fought the urge to do so.
It was always the hardest, as he fired that gun at someone he didn't know and now probably never would, when he thought that maybe they had a Mary waiting at home for them, a woman that they would do anything and everything for and who they would love until the end of time. Not that that mattered now. He had just received Sybil's latest letter, and all hope was gone, and it was entirely his own fault.
On Christmas day, 1914, when the fighting had stopped and a game of football had spontaneously started (to this day, he never knew where they had found that ball), and everyone had been talking to each other, French, German, British alike, he had found out that the men he was trying to destroy weren't so different from him. His level of German was extremely poor – he had always been better at French, but a German called Rudy had once been a translator, and they had talked for hours, just the two of them. He had told him about Mary, making it sound as if they were engaged and waiting to be married, instead of what they really were which was something worse than strangers, and Rudy told him all about his family – his wife Liesel, and their beautiful daughter Rosa. They had talked about their lives, and this man, his country, his beliefs, had fascinated Matthew. And at the end of the day, he had had to leave his new friend, and return to his trench, ready to fire another round of ammunition at more people like Rudy, more men he didn't know and would have possibly liked. They had their Marys, their Liesels, and slowly, with each pull of his trigger, he could be taking one of them away, meaning they would never see their beloved again.
Later that day, or night (he could never really tell – there was mist and gunpowder everywhere throughout the air of the Somme, the smoke constantly making it seen like dusk) he lay in the dark and wondered whether Rudy was still alive. He generally tried not to think about it too much as the thought of his acquaintance lying in a trench somewhere, and Liesel grieving for him back in Germany, it made his heart sink, the whole thing. Like his friend, Lieutenant Philip Greene, a young and eager Canadian boy who had dreams of serving his country and bringing honour to his family, had Rudy been shot down in his prime? And for a ridiculous cause too? For the British army could tell them that they were fighting for freedom and honour, but there was no honour that Matthew could see, just an ugly, drawn-out war and the deaths of young, able men who shouldn't have been soldiers in a fair world. There was extreme bravery, of course, but what did that matter when you were dead? Would that really help your family in their time of grief?
He lit a cigarette and pulled the smoke in his lungs. He had never smoked at home, but things change. People change, he thought, though he wouldn't dwell on that tonight. He should really have been writing letters back to his correspondents – to Lavinia, Sybil, Edith and to his mother, but the thought that he wasn't writing to Mary just made him feel worse. That he couldn't tell her what was on his mind, that he was having severe doubts, that he didn't want her to… Well, it was probably for the best if he didn't think about that either, though it was difficult. He once again ran a finger over the edge of Sybil's letter which he kept at all times in his top pocket, as he would sometimes need proof that he wasn't just imagining the contents.
At times he would think he was a stupid fool and others he thought that he was the most sensible man alive. How could he be happy without Mary, she was the very idea of perfection? How could he ever be happy with her, when she toyed with him, destroyed his hopes and dreams and made him feel like the smallest person alive? She was a paradox and she was making him a contradiction. He no longer knew how to feel, especially with this damn war on; he could slowly feel his personality slipping away, the Matthew of before was changing to someone he didn't recognise and he was having to confront this new being, to figure him out and realise just who he was. It had taken him a little over a year to realise that it was Mary who was holding him to the old-Matthew, that if he lost his love for her, he would completely lose who he was and that she was keeping him from being not only a stranger to everyone around him, but also to himself. After months of trying to move on this came as somewhat of a blow, the realisation that if he succeeded in forgetting his feelings for her, he would forget himself. He had already lost so much of himself though, he couldn't afford to lose his lifeline to old-Matthew, and so he stopped trying to forget Mary and instead focussed on her to keep himself sane.
Now he realised that all of this – his sanity, contemplation of his feelings on life and love – counted for nothing when he had ruined everything, and there was no chance of him ever ending this war with Mary. And it was completely his fault, entirely his doing. He had tried to convince himself that he no longer cared for her, and now he would be forced to try to, but not yet, not out here on the Somme, where his whole identity was in the balance. Because his uniform may now be made of blood and dirt, his skin composed of sweat, mud and pain, but his mind and soul – they were made of Mary. If it had not been for her, he would have been dead by now. He owed her his life without anyway to repay her, and without any future for the two of them.
If you get the chance, please review. I'm having a lot of fun writing this story, so I'll try and update as often as possible. :)