A/N: So I've stolen/borrowed/co-opted EOlivet's theory about the scandal bringing Matthew and Mary back together. Thank you, o amazing one.. I hope this works, because it's a fantastic theory that makes me feel much better about Christmas.
No Light, No Light
He had not been to Downton Abbey since the evening of the funeral, not since he'd walked away in the night after that long, awful day, not letting himself think of anything other than the task he'd set himself. Now, as the train slowed at the station, the light on the platform a beacon in the night, and his watch read eleven on the dot, he was not thinking of that last time any more, only of the reason he had come back so late on this moonless night.
The car was there as promised, the driver a young man he did not know with a terrible scar across his face, who silently took Matthew's bag and drove at a fierce clip toward the dark house.
Carson pointed him to the library as soon as he arrived, and confirmed his request had been granted. Lady Mary was waiting for him.
She was pacing in front of the fire as he entered, and for a moment he was back on that terrible day, in this room, at the only moment he'd allowed himself to look at her. Then, as now, she seemed smaller, crushed, so sad that his heart had lurched in his chest and and on that terrible day, he'd actually started toward her only to be stopped by the yawning chasm of guilt that swallowed him up. When he'd looked again, she had gone and he had not seen her again, not until now, and there were things that should be said, but he wasn't here to say them.
She had not wanted to see him.
She was tired, so tired, the wreck of her heart after Lavinia's death and Matthew's unsurprising rejection leaving her in a permanent state of hollowness, but it wasn't just that. She was terrified for Anna, terrified that this trial would destroy that glimpse of happiness she had known as Mrs. Bates. Anna was in London, at the trial, watching every day, her name already splashed across the papers, already a topic for the rags, and Mary's heart broke for her, broke at every letter Anna wrote.
And then tonight, just before dinner, her mother told her Matthew was coming and he needed to see her. "Something about the trial, his clerk said. He wouldn't say what."
At first, she had resisted, not wanting to relive that last crushing blow he had delivered at Lavinia's graveside. Then, as the hours ticked by, she knew such a visit had to be something important, and just as Matthew had set himself the task of assembling the best counsel for Bates and working for that counsel in whatever capacity he could without being a barrister, she had set herself the task of ensuring Anna had whatever she needed, and if Matthew needed to see her, it must be about the trial and she would stand anything for Anna's sake.
Even if it had something to do with what she had feared for some time, what she told her mother it might be about.
No one announced him when he came in, and as she looked up, she caught the barest glimpse of a look she had not seen on his face for a long time.
"What is it?" she asked, and his smooth, professional mask fell into place.
"You should sit," he said. "Have you heard from Sir Richard?"
"No," she said as she perched on the edge of the velvet chair. "How's Anna?"
"Brave," he said. "You've heard nothing from him?" He sat opposite her and pulled a piece of paper out of his case. "He hasn't informed you about anything that's happening in the case?"
"No," she said again. "Should he?"
Matthew took a deep breath. "Mary, sometime tomorrow you'll receive a summons to testify, presumably after a particular document is revealed and becomes part of evidence. That document is a contract between Vera Bates and Sir Richard Carlisle for exclusive rights to a story." He waited, but she said nothing. "The story is told in some detail in the contract. It describes how a Kemal Pamuk, the son of a Turkish attache, visited Downton Abbey and died in this house. It is a departure from the official story, which had him dying in his bed, presumably from a heart-attack of some sort. This story put Mr. Pamuk in the bedroom of a daughter of the house, namely the eldest, a Lady Mary Crawley. The young man was in her bedroom, naked in her bed when he died..." and he heard the intake of breath, quick and soft, rather like a sob. "And the woman in question, Lady Mary, and her ladies' maid Anna Smith, now Anna Bates, moved the body back to his room, which is where it was discovered the next day. The story was confirmed to the Turkish ambassador by the lady's own sister, Lady Edith Crawley." He began to read from the paper. "It is not known how she came to know the story, but it is believed a servant witnessed the body being moved and informed Lady Edith. The nature of the relations between Mr. Pamuk and Lady Mary Crawley can only be assumed to be sexual in nature, considering the condition in which he was found, and the hour in which it happened." Her face remained impassive, tilted away from him, her twisting hands the only evidence she was anything but calm. "This is what will come out in court tomorrow, and you will be asked questions in court to determine the truth of it, to determine if this means other people would have had motive to kill Vera Bates."
"Other people?" she breathed.
"Not you," he said. "Or Anna. Your whereabouts are not in question at the time of the murder. Anna's have never been in question."
Her head snapped up suddenly. "It says only Anna? Only me?"
"Thank God," she muttered. "Thank God." She brushed at her cheeks, her hands coming away wet and she faced him again, squaring her thin shoulders ever so slightly before speaking. "Thank you for telling me."
"Is it true?"
It was not the question, but the tone that crushed her, calm and unutterably sweet and coming from him, after all that had happened... She held his gaze. "Matthew, I've imagined a hundred ways to tell you, a thousand places or times I could have said it." Her breath caught in her throat and he could barely hear her. "Never once did I think it would be you telling me the story."
"Is it true?" he asked again, but before she could answer, a great crashing sound came from above and a door slammed. He jumped to his feet.
"Oh God," she whispered. "I think Mamma must have told Papa."
Matthew's clerk told him the message was left with Lady Grantham, but now he began to wonder at the wisdom of that choice. "Your mother knew?" he asked.
"It took three of us to carry him," she replied, and rose just as her father stormed in.
"Is it true?" he thundered, coming at them with such speed that Mary backed away, stumbling, reaching for the mantel to hold herself upright. His voice dropped to an ominously low growl. "Mary, did that man die in your bed?"
She nodded. "Yes, Papa."
"My God!" he roared, and Cora, who was just behind him, flinched. "First Sybil, now you with the utterly shameful behavior."
And Mary's head dropped. "Papa, I..."
"Shameful?" Matthew's voice rose. "Do you believe Mary wanted him in there?"
"Why else would he be in her room? How else would he know where to find her?"
"Since a servant seems to be the one who made a point of sharing this inside and outside the house, and with Lady Edith, I would think a servant could have shown him the way. You really believe she asked for him?"
"She was taken with him. You saw that, anyone who was at that dinner saw that." Robert laughed, a cold sound that cut at Mary's heart. "How could anyone believe anything else of her?"
"How dare you believe that of Mary? HOW DARE YOU?"
And Mary's head rose at Matthew's roar, but she could no longer see her father. Matthew was between them, his shoulders a wall between her and her parents and seeing him stand like that, a part of her she'd learned to lock away inside began to come to life. He was breathing as if he'd been running, his jaw clenching, and the look she could not see on his face was apparently enough to make her father take a step back.
"If this man entered her room at night, uninvited, do you think he would have left if she said no? You think she could have physically forced him to leave? If she'd screamed, called for a servant, ran out into the hall, wouldn't you think exactly the same thing you're thinking now?" His voice was quiet now, a terrifyingly calm quiet. "For God's sake, no matter what happened in the past, she's been put in an untenable position. Your daughter has to answer questions in court. She has to talk about this publicly. Mary's name will be dragged through newspapers and she will be judged by people who are not worthy to judge her, as you have already judged her. And if you are worried about your name..." and he sucked in a hissing breath. "Think of this. Your child faced death in a way no woman should have to. I've watched men die, and so have you, but we can talk about that. Mary has been forced to keep this secret for years, borne this burden in silence, to protect this family, your precious name, your wife, even as her own sister exposed her. The least you could do, that any of us can do, is support Mary now. Nothing can be done except that."
"You can't stop it?" Cora sank into a chair, her eyes wide.
"You're not mentioned, Mamma." Mary whispered. "Is she, Matthew?"
"No," he said. "For some reason, you're not. But Mary has to answer truthfully tomorrow, and she may not be able to avoid naming you." He turned to look at Mary. "I'm sorry, my dear. There's nothing to be done about that."
"Sister?" Robert asked. "You mean to tell me Edith..." He looked up and turned.
"Papa, no." Mary's voice stopped him. "Don't. Leave it until morning when we've all calmed down."
Cora began to cry.
"I won't have calmed down!" He began to pace. "How did she know?"
"I don't know," Mary said. "I suppose one of the servants told her. But she wrote to the Turkish ambassador."
"What?" Cora's voice cracked. "She was the one?"
Mary nodded. "And she didn't deny it." On seeing her mother rise in fury, she put up her hands. "It's done. Now it will be out." She took a deep breath. "And I'm sorry. I didn't invite him in, and I told him to leave, but I let him stay. There is no way to explain it away, no excuse other than I didn't have the strength to make him go away, and perhaps I didn't want to. That's the truth. I'm sorry. I will never be anything but sorry. It has ruined my life and now it will ruin other lives as well."
They were silent for a moment, the gravity of the situation beginning to weigh upon each of them. Cora continued to sob as Robert paced, his fists flexing. Mary kept breathing, in, out, concentrating on the sound so she would not cry.
Matthew turned to look at her and his heart lurched as it had all those weeks ago, only this time the guilt did not swallow him up. He clasped her hand, his fingers twining around hers. "I'm so sorry, Mary," he whispered. "If I could have prevented it..."
"No," she said. "You're doing your job. You're helping prove Bates' innocence. No one could expect you to do anything else."
"I mean it." He took another step toward her. "I can't begin to explain how awful this is going to be for you, and I can't protect you."
"This is enough," she whispered back and squeezed his hand, and something cracked between them, a little light in the dark.
"Mary," Robert said softly. "I'm sorry. Truly. Forgive me. I wish..." He stopped. "Why is this coming out now?"
Matthew reluctantly let go of Mary's hand and handed a sheet of paper to him. "That's a copy of a contract signed by Carlisle, purchasing the Pamuk story from Vera Bates."
"That's what she knew? Why Bates left?" He glanced down at the paper, and stopped at the bottom line. "Mary, this is the day before he announced your engagement." He looked up at her. "Is this why you agreed to marry him?"
The current shifted, the fury now flowing a very different direction.
"Mary?" Matthew's voice shook. "Is he blackmailing you?"
Her laugh was humorless and short. "Is it blackmail if you give him the information to do it?" She looked to Matthew for the answer, only it came from her father.
"I'll kill him," Robert said.
"Papa, stop. I'd agreed to marry him before I told him this."
Matthew shook his head. "Mary, why did you tell him?"
"Mrs. Bates was threatening Bates with selling it to the papers. I couldn't bear the idea of it coming out, so I asked Richard if there was something he could do."
"And so then he's threatened you with it ever since." Matthew's voice was bitter, and she flinched at it.
"Has he threatened you?" Robert's voice was rising again.
"Yes." she said quietly. "After Lavinia came back." A flicker of something crossed Matthew's face and she hated herself for bringing it up.
"Why isn't he here?" Robert asked. "Why isn't he the one warning you that this might come up?"
"He's probably trying to save his own skin. It's not going to look good for him, being connected to the victim like this." Matthew watched Mary for a moment before retrieving his case. "I'm going to go to Crawley House now, Mary. I'm taking the first train back. The summons will likely come first thing, and you'll be expected in court in the late afternoon."
She nodded. "I'll walk you out. I have a few more questions."
"Mary," Robert's hand reached for hers. "I'll go with you tomorrow."
She gripped her father's hand quickly before following Matthew out.
The hall was nearly dark, a lone lamp lighting the place where Matthew's hat and valise had been placed and Carson stood waiting. She noticed with a pang Matthew still needed his stick, and was leaning rather heavily on it this evening. "Carson, could you have the car brought round?"
"Mary, I can walk."
"No," she said sharply. "Thank you, Carson." She waited for him to leave and turned back to Matthew.
"Mary, that wasn't necessary."
"I'm not asking questions in front of Carson."
"Clever." He smiled at her.
"Not too clever." She did not smile back. "Exactly what will I be asked?"
He shrugged. "I can't know. They'll probably read the contract and ask you to verify each sentence as true or false. Then they might ask you more about the night in question."
"I see. And so I'll have to tell them exactly what he did." Her voice began to shake.
"Would being... shall we say... like a medical book be the best way to approach it?"
"I don't know," he said slowly.
"Matthew.. be honest. Please." Her cheeks were a dark pink, and he ached for her, ached for what this would cost her. "How do I tell them what he did? What we did?"
"I don't know if there's a way for you to say it that won't sound bad." Her eyes closed. "But I think if you're frank about it, it might be easier for you. All I will tell you is answer only the question they ask. Don't offer anything more. It may be the only way to keep your mother out of it."
She nodded. "Will you be there in court?"
"Yes." He picked up his hat. "I'll be there."
"So you'll be my stick," she said softly.
"Always, Mary," he replied, and they both heard the gravel under the wheels as the car approached. He picked up his bag. "Mary?"
He paused, not looking at her. "Was this the reason you wouldn't say yes?"
"Your prospects were an excuse for delay, but... they mattered a little. I won't lie. But mostly I just couldn't bear the idea you might not love me anymore. I couldn't bear to know what you would think of me."
"And now you know." He stepped out the door and put on his hat.
"Do I?" she whispered.
And he turned around, and she could see his face and she did know. She'd known when he stood between her and the fury of her father, known when he demanded her family support her, known when he told her he was sorry. In some way, she had always known.
"Would you have been so forgiving then?" she asked.
"Oh, Mary," he said. "There was nothing to forgive."
It was too much now, she thought. Perhaps after the trial, no matter the outcome, they could fix themselves, but for now... She smiled at him. "Thank you, Matthew."
He smiled back, and for the first time, the light of times past was in his eyes. "Thank you, Mary."
He handed his bag to the chauffeur. "For you."
The warmth of those two words washed over her and she watched him limp toward the car. One question remained, and she was not sure she wanted the answer.
"When you said other people with motive, you meant Richard, didn't you?"
The pause was infinitesimal. "Yes." he said.