Well, here it is. The final instalment! Let me know what you think!
She was on the ground, she knew that much. And her eyes were closed and her face felt numb. That was right; the man who loved her more and could give her all that she ever desired had snapped. She waited for the next blow, for Richard's hand to strike once more, but nothing came. Mary was surprised to hear movements and groans and growls as a blur of blonde hair threw Richard off of her. She clambered to her feet and put her hand to her face, the numbness being replaced by a sharp burn. Her eyes widened, as Matthew's fist collided with Richard's face; her own pain was soon forgotten. Richard stumbled backwards from the force of it and lunged for Matthew himself, but missed. Matthew's second blow had Richard bleeding from the mouth. Mary stood, unmoving, as she suddenly saw her father for the first time. He, like her, was stunned. Robert swallowed as he gazed at his daughter's red cheek, "Dear God, Mary..." he whispered. She shook her head to tell him she was fine, but they jumped as they heard the smashing of a vase and Richard's back collide with the wall. Matthew had him by the lapel.
"Matthew!" Robert shouted, aghast. The situation seemed to be spinning out of control; no one had ever seen Matthew like this. Mary closed her eyes, and shook her head to clear it, in disbelief. When she opened her eyes, her father was suddenly at Matthew's shoulder, trying to pull him back.
But Matthew was seeing red. His eyes unmoving from the man she might have married. "You son of a-"
"Stop!" Robert said desperately, seeing Matthew tempted to go for another punch. "My dear boy, stop, stop..." He lowered his voice and stood calmly, close to Matthew's ear. All three men breathing deeply from the exertion. "Don't waste your freedom, if not your life, on killing such a..." Robert's eyes flared and flickered to Richard "...such a disgraceful excuse for a man – Matthew!" He yanked Matthew firmly back.
"What on earth is going on here?" Cora gasped, as she took in the broken glass and blood dribbling down Sir Richard's chin. She looked to her daughter in askance, before flinching at the sight. "...oh, my darling..."
Matthew forced himself to keep his voice low, as Robert pulled him away. "If you ever lay a hand on her again, I swear to God-"
"S-shouldn't I be saying that to you?" Richard said, wiping the blood from his face and leaning against the wall heavily. "It sounds like you've put a fair few hands on my fiancée-"
Richard was cut short as Matthew grabbed him by the jacket again, the pleas of Cora and Robert going unanswered, determined to hit Richard again until a quiet voice from the corner finally spoke up.
"Matthew..." Mary whispered, coming to rest her hand on the back of a chair, "...don't..."
"Mary..." Matthew replied, desperately. He shook his head; she had no idea what she was asking of him. How could Mary, out of everyone, want him to leave Richard be? He had not turned to look at her yet, scared what he would find. He had heard the last of their conversation, of her love for him...of the crack which echoed in the library as this bastard's hand hit her cheek. During the war, he'd felt anger. When one of your company falls, all one wants to do is hurt and shoot and kill the man who killed your soldier, your comrade, your friend. It was frustration, more than anything, because Matthew knew, when he did hurt and shoot and kill that German on the other side, he'd be killing someone else's comrade, someone else's friend. But this. This was pure and gluttonous rage. This was the man who had stood in the way of his happiness, who had made Mary doubt his own love for her, the man who was prepared to blackmail her into marriage. And yet, Mary had felt guilty for breaking her word. Matthew berated himself for letting her speak to Richard alone. He was a coward; of course, he would have no problem hitting women. It didn't surprise him that, confronted with Matthew, Richard was cowering.
He sighed and let go of Richard. He turned to face Mary. He frowned, not because her cheek looked sore or her hair a little dishevelled, but because she stood there with a small smile on her face.
"It's over..." She whispered, tearfully, gladly. "It's over, Matthew."
And when the love of your life is smiling at you like that, and you think of all that you have suffered and been through together, you cannot help but smile back. And, as Matthew smiled, he felt the anger – which was so foreign to him before 1914 – leave his body and be replaced by an emotion which suited his character far better: hope.
Straightening his jacket and smoothing back his hair. Richard tried to look as haughty and superior as possible; a difficult feat when the living daylights had nearly been beaten out of him. "It'll never be over, you have no idea who you're dealing with, do you?" His eyes were directed at Mary, but he flinched a little as he felt Matthew look back at him. "Every door will be shut to you, the Earldom of Grantham scorned for generations to come – the infamous Lady Mary Crawley who bedded the Turk and-"
"You can scream it from the rooftops for all I care!" Richard tried to mask his surprise at the confidence in her voice. Any guilt he felt from hitting her disappeared as she made her defiance clear. She flung her arms out and laughed humourlessly. "Parade me around the streets of London, have my name smeared across every paper from here to Timbuktu – I do not care, Richard!" She grinned from ear to ear, feeling better than she had in a long time. Perhaps, she thought wryly, a smack around the face cleared the head. "Nothing you do or could do matters to me anymore, I'm free - I'm free and I'm happy."
"You'll soon grow tired of it," Richard said, with more certainty than he felt, clenching his jaw as Matthew made his way to stand by Mary's side. "Being a solicitor's wife – you're capable of so much more. I can give you-"
"Nothing that I want or need." She said, determined. With Matthew standing beside her, she felt no fear in repeating the words which had provoked Richard. She had to say it; she had to be clear. "I love Matthew, and I want to be with him and he wants to be with me - that makes me a very rich woman, indeed."
Richard raised an eyebrow and pouted thoughtfully for a moment. He could feel Cora looking at him warily, Robert wondering if he should take a swing at the man himself and looked into the faces of the two most stubborn people he had ever met. What was the point? Regardless of how he felt for Mary Crawley, he could better. He took solace in the thought that this world, these people who stood before him, were soon to be relics of the past. The Earls and Dukes of this new era would have to make way for the people with the real money and power; the war had seen to that. "I don't know why I've bothered." He sniffed, proudly, glancing up and down at the woman who would never be his wife. "You're moody and shrill, you're ten years older than every debutante-"
"Get out of my house." Robert's words, cut the air like glass.
"God..." Richard sighed, feeling himself begin to shake, feeling tears begin to prick his eyes. He'd waited for so long for her and it had all been for nothing. "You ungrateful bitch."
"Out!" Lord Grantham's voice bounced off the walls. "Now!"
Richard said no more and strode out of the room. Mary and Matthew both breathed a sigh of relief. His hand went to grasp her own, he glanced at her cheek, feeling so guilty.
She rested a brief comforting hand on his chest. It was so like Matthew to blame himself, but there was no point. She smiled and acknowledged that it definitely hurt, but something told her that Richard had held back. That he could have hit her harder, but didn't. It would bruise, undoubtedly, but he had not set out to truly injure her. He'd been hurting and was too weak to express it in any other way. She flinched, as Matthew gently touched a cheek. It would never excuse him, of course, and she didn't doubt that Richard was capable of worse. Thank God she'd never married him. "It smarts a little, but I'll be fine."
"You might as well jump ship, ladies and gentlemen, this family is on the way out!"
All the occupants of the room glanced at each other as they heard Richard's voice in the hall. Quickly, they walked out to see the maids and footmen, still carrying various things for the wedding, stopped in their tracks, on the stairs, on the balconies, by the doors, as Sir Richard spun around to all of them, Carson trying, in vain, to politely usher the man out. Sybil and Edith, too, stood half way up the stairs, frozen as the newspaper magnet seemed determined to make a spectacle of himself.
Cora blinked, astonished. "Will that man ever stop..."
"Oh my God," Sybil breathed, rushing down the steps, as she took in her sister's appearance, the red against Mary's pale appearance so clear in the light. "Mary, are you alright?"
"Girls, go upstairs!" Robert commanded, hoping to shelter his daughters from whatever awful accusations and foul language Richard was to embark on.
"You hit my sister?" Edith, too, came down the stairs, appalled, glaring at Sir Richard. "Who in God's name do you think you are?"
"The good Lady Mary is nothing but a whore," Richard said determinedly. All the ladies gasped but for Mary, Carson's chest puffed in outrage. " – a good headline, but for which newspaper?"
Only Mary's hand in his own managed to keep Matthew sane, but Robert was quick to be riled and rose to his daughter's defence. "How dare you speak of my daughter in that way! If you do not leave this instant, I will have the police remove you-"
"and when you do," Richard informed his Lordship, smugly, lowering his voice. "I'll be informing them of a slight matter – the murder of a foreign dignitary, a Mr. Kemal Pamuk."
Carson, flustered, ushered every servant out. Robert glared, but remained silent; Richard stood victorious. And then, the sound of a cane tapping against stone neared as Violet walked out of the drawing room. She'd been left alone, twiddling her thumbs, as Cora had run to see as to what the shouting from the library was pertaining. The Dowager had been very generous, she had thought, leaving the young people - relatively so - to sort out their own affairs, but to no avail. If one wanted something doing properly, it was best that one did it oneself. Coming to stand beside her son, she raised an exasperated eyebrow at the weasel who had managed to worm his way into Downton and into their lives.
"And what exactly are you going to say, Sir Richard? That you've heard a rumour?" She asked politely, pleased to see the man reluctant to back down. A challenge, how marvellous.
She smiled. "That my granddaughter was responsible for the death of a Turkish diplomat seven years ago? That you've sat on this information and said nothing until my granddaughter threw you over? Not that a..." She glanced at her beloved granddaughter, her blood boiling as she saw her face. Richard, following her eye line, swallowed nervously. "...gentleman such as yourself would ever dream of creating such a vile rumour as a means of revenge, I'm sure..."
She waited for him to speak, but he said nothing: "And it's not as if we haven't just spent four years and lost hundreds of thousands of good men in a war against many nations, Turkey amongst them – no, I don't doubt the police and the British public will be up in arms about the death of a poor Turk! Of course, everyone will believe your newspapers without question – despite recent events," She waved her stick casually in the direction of Mary and Matthew, "how could you be anything but fair and impartial?"
She did her best to sound sincere, but Richard's confidence plummeted as Violet carried on, relentlessly. "And Gosh, how people's hearts will bleed for you, that you – a ridiculously wealthy man only made richer during the war – are to be tossed so callously aside for a Captain," Violet glanced proudly at Matthew, "who spent years on the frontline, doing his duty. My granddaughter's face may be black and blue tomorrow but it must be nothing to the hurt you must be feeling." She smiled again, feigning sympathy. Sighing, bored, she turned to her son and nearly rolled her eyes at the awe and pride she saw in his own. As if there had been any doubt. "Well, Robert, all this talk of newspapers reminds me that I must take up Viscount Burnham's offer for dinner, he's so starved for company – do you know Harry?" She asked Sir Richard, innocently. "Darling man, owns the Daily Telegraph, you know."
Richard nodded slowly, understandingly and blinked as she delivered the final blow. If he did not heed Violet's advice to not publish the story, then they'd fight fire with fire. Suddenly, he wondered how he'd held on to Mary for this long. Mary's reputation would suffer, it was true, but the barrel he had had her over, wasn't a very good barrel at all.
Robert took in Sir Richard's presence for the last time and stood taller. "...Carson, if you would kindly show Sir Richard out..."
Carson nodded, obligingly; the glint in his eye making it clear to Sir Richard that the butler had no qualms about removing him by force. "With pleasure, my Lord." Richard nodded, again, and turned to walk out.
Richard turned back in surprise, as Mary came towards him. All members of her family were poised to kill him, if he touched her.
Cora stepped forward, anxiously. "Mary, what-"
She fought to keep her nerves at bay, as she approached him. She thought briefly about hitting him, giving him a taste of his own medicine, but she couldn't. God, he looked so...pathetic. Just patiently standing there waiting to be insulted, the rich and powerful Sir Richard – and then she realised it. That had been her. The cold and careful Lady Mary brought down to size, by love.
She'd been wearing that face ever since that summer party in 1914 and it hadn't disappeared until today. To say that unrequited love was hardly fashionable was such an understatement; it was ugly and heart-breaking and tragic. Taking off the engagement ring that had never quite looked right, Mary didn't have it in her to hate the man before her, she could only pity him. She held it out to him. "This belongs to you."
He looked at her, wryly. "You should keep it. You'll probably need to pawn it someday." She remained unmoved. She didn't want it, she couldn't wear it and it wasn't hers to sell. He sighed and took it from her. "Fine, I suppose this is goodbye, then..."
"Goodbye, Sir Richard." Her gaze, unwavering, she didn't know whether to smile or spit in his face. In the end, she shrugged, just a little. Whatever they'd shared was done with and whatever he threw at her now, she'd deal with head on. For now, this day, there was a ceasefire. And then, he had left and Carson was closing the door and she was watching him walk down the long-winding path out of the estate.
"Mary, my darling girl, I'll telephone for Dr. Clarkson at once!" She heard her Mama, but didn't reply.
She heard her father's dry tone, amused once again. "Well, you were quite something, Mama."
"I always am." She could hear the smugness, well-deserved, in her grandmother's voice. "When your wife stops flapping about, tell her to meet me in the drawing room, we have a wedding to call off and, I'm assuming, another wedding to plan."
She could hear Sybil's concern as she ran up to her. "What a horrible man, Mary – do you want me to look at your face?"
Mary smiled, half-heartedly; always the nurse. "No, it's alright."
"Well, thank God for that," Whether Edith was addressing everyone or no one, she wasn't too sure. She just kept looking outside as that figure, who had taken up so much of her time and thoughts over the last few years, grew smaller, "- can you imagine having Christmas with him for the next forty years?"
"Now we don't have to." Sybil's voice sounded further away.
"Good. Mary," Edith must be on the stairs, Mary thought, feeling Carson come to stand beside her by the window. "I'm having a new bridesmaid gown when you marry Matthew."
"Oh Edith," Sybil berated her, her voice further away, "how can you think of that now?"
Silence descended once more. It felt so odd, after the shouting and the insults and the fighting that had come before. She had said that it was over, now she needed to believe it herself. Carson's deep timbre warmed her up, though. "Good riddance, my lady."
"Yes, Carson," She smiled softly, as Sir Richard disappeared completely from sight. "I think you're right."
"I know I am."
At last, she drew her gaze from the window to glance up at her old confidant in surprise, but Carson wasn't looking at her. She turned to what he was staring at, so fondly.
Matthew. There he was, stood in the centre of the hall, having not moved an inch or said a word. He looked so nervously awkward and so right-at-home at the same time. He was a young lover waiting for the assurances from his beloved that all was well; he was the good Captain, the good lawyer, the good man, who would make a fine Earl one day. There was something missing from the picture before her, but as Carson nudged her forward she realised what it was: herself. She would be stood beside him from now on. They would be married and have children and when it came to be his time to be the Earl of Grantham, Mary would be there, supporting him, loving him. And, as she came closer, and breathed a sigh at the look of pure adoration on his face, Mary could feel the tears threatening to fall. Tears that hadn't made an appearance when Richard had hit her, or insulted her, or left. For the first time, in a very long time, she was thinking about the future, not the past, and her future no longer looked bleak. In fact, her future was looking bloody wonderful.
She quickly erased any worry Matthew may have had, with her brilliant smile. All was well and, now, they could finally get on with the rest of their lives. "Well, that was certainly some ending!" She joked, breathlessly as the weight of the last few years evaporated off of her.
"Ending?" He repeated, surprised by her choice of words. He shook his head at her fondly, his eyes caressing her face. "...No, not an ending, my dear."
It was all she needed to hear. And then her arms were around his neck and his arms were around her waist and they were kissing each other like there was no tomorrow, because they could. Because they were together, would be together for as long they both drew breath and everyone who was important knew it. She smiled into his mouth as he pulled her closer, happily ignoring the voices that she could hear coming their way. At Downton, no silence ever lasted long.
"Mary, all the wedding gifts need to..." Cora trailed off and blushed at she saw her eldest in Matthew's embrace. "Oh."
"Cora, stop flustering, I'll..." Violet sighed, but looked up to see what had rendered her daughter-in-law near speechless. She raised an eyebrow; nothing could make the Dowager blush anymore. She frowned; young people in love did like to kiss a lot, but they'd grow out of that soon enough. "Really, there's a time and a place."
"Mama..." Cora chided Violet quietly, so not to disturb Matthew and Mary, who had come up for air – though you wouldn't know it for how close their faces were – and were now smiling and whispering to one another. A mother's heart could only melt at such a sight. "They're in love."
Violet rolled her eyes; Americans could be awfully soppy. "Well, some might say 'sealed with a kiss', but I shan't be content until I see that marriage license." She said, determined to see it through. "Now Cora, you'll have to telephone guests – I really don't care for it and the last operator I spoke to was, frankly, rather rude- but not before you telephone Isobel to tell her how I have finally forced these two to come to their senses and-"
Cora sighed, inwardly. "Shall I call for some tea?"
"My dear, that's the first sensible thing you've said all day."
As it happened, Violet didn't have to wait too long for a marriage license. Though her parents had been more than happy to throw a lavish wedding – thinking it wise to use much from her wedding to Sir Richard, which Mary thought rather in poor taste – the happy couple had opted for something smaller, more traditional and intimate. A month after she ended her engagement to Sir Richard Carlisle, Lady Mary Crawley married Matthew Crawley in her village church with their families, close friends and residents of Downton in attendance. Together with Anna, Mary created a dress which was fit for any bride, be she a lawyer's or an Earl's, as long as she was in love, accompanied, of course, by some lovely Grantham heirlooms. Violet and Isobel got along very well that day and Cora couldn't stop crying. Sybil couldn't keep the smile from her face and Robert almost burst with pride. Mary insisted that Carson dance with her and he certainly didn't complain. Even Edith was content in a bridesmaid dress of her own choosing.
In the end, marrying so soon had put them in good stead. Sir Richard only wavered for a week before his wounded ego could not take it lying down and scandal broke of Lady Mary and the Turkish diplomat. But, with the entire family united, including Lady Edith, in declaring to all it was nonsense, it was hard for society to condemn Mary completely - particularly when the Daily Telegraph highlighted the fact that it was Lady Mary's rejected and abusive former fiancé who owned all these horrid tabloids breaking said scandal. Her hurried marriage to Mr. Crawley was to some a quick fix, but to many others, terribly romantic, with a Sergeant here and a Corporal there earning a bob or two selling their story about what a fine Captain Mr. Crawley had been. It seemed both Mary and the general public were more ready to put their trust and confidence in Matthew rather than Sir Richard.
Nevertheless, they took themselves off around the world, keeping James' promise and helping to keep society's door well and truly open for the rest of Mary's family. They walked alongside the Zambezi River and stood over the great gorges of Victoria Falls. They saw Rhodesia, like James had wanted, and they saw so much more. From Morocco to South Africa, from India to Italy – all the sights and sounds were beyond anything of which Mary or Matthew could have ever dreamed. They had adventures, together. Six months later, they returned home, Mary's scandal long gone - replaced by Duchess suffering from nymphomania and a rather cocky footman - and to find Sybil married to Branson. This, it seemed, cemented into everyone's minds that the sisters Crawley were lovers of romance and the idea that Mary Crawley, future Countess of Grantham, would ever share a meaningless night of passion with a foreigner seemed fairly preposterous. It was a bit of anti-climax amongst some circles when Lady Edith married someone sensible: Sir Anthony Strallan.
Sir Richard wasn't put off marriage, but made to sure to tie his fiancée down far quicker. He proposed to the young and pretty, if slightly vain and stupid, Honourable Susan Franklin in 1922 and had a couple of children; they divorced sometime in the early 1930s. Miss Lavinia Swire, meanwhile, happened to fall in love with a lovely young architect, a Mr. Christian Parker, who came from a good family and settled in London. Mary could only assume that poor Lavinia had been heartbroken when she'd read all the newspapers of her marriage to Matthew and wrote a letter as a way of apology and explanation. Lavinia never replied, but when the two ladies bumped into each other at Charing Cross Station some years later, they talked and asked of one another's lives with only the sincerest interest and smiles.
When they returned, Matthew threw himself happily back into his work and helped with the running of the estate, whilst Mary threw herself, albeit unintentionally, into something quite different. Their son, James, was born September 1919, their second son Robert was born two years after that and their daughter, Violet, a year after that, every member of Downton, from the scullery maids to Lord Grantham more than content to have children in the house once more.
And when Matthew assumed his father-in-law's mantle and their sons came home from the next war, safe and sound, Mary didn't regret any of it, not for a moment. All the heartache and the sorrow had been a small price to pay and she could only thank God that, all those years earlier, she accidently let the cat of the bag.
So that's it! I hope you've enjoyed my fic, I tried to keep it Mary-centric to the end and shied away from writing a wedding scene or anything (mainly because there are many people who can do that much better!) But I hope you liked how I ended it. I hope you like the compromise I made on Sir Richard – he's a twat for hitting her and blackmailing her, but he's not evil incarnate. Please let me know your final thoughts. Now, to get on with my other fic, Home Is Where the Heart is!