A/N: Would you believe I'd forgotten about it...?
No Light, No Light 2/2
They did not wait for the summons in the morning, choosing instead to take the early train, surprising Matthew when they appeared at the station. Mary wore red, her cheeks flaming to match as she saw him, and he was suddenly heartbroken at the thought of her answering questions, exposing herself to derision and scorn, but even worse in her eyes, there would be those who would pity her. He wanted to hold her, comfort her, tell her it would be all right, but it would be a lie, and she would know it. If nothing else, no lies existed between them, and if there was to be no more than perfect honesty between them, he could live with that. Not happily, said that small voice inside his mind that had been increasing in volume since April, since that terrible day he had buried Lavinia and told himself he did not deserve happiness.
He did not pity her. He did not think she needed forgiveness. He defended her. Now, here they sat, opposite one another in the velvety interior of the first-class carriage, close enough that she could catch the scent of his freshly-shaven skin, the mere knowledge that he believed in her, even if no one else did, even if her father was merely here because he felt guilty, gave her strength somehow. She caught a glimpse of her reflection in the window glass and bit back a sob at the sight of herself in red. The maid had laid out a black dress, but for some reason, she had only wanted the red. Scarlet rhymes with.. She stopped herself. She wasn't interested in judging herself anymore. It had only been through the eyes of Matthew, what she believed he might think that caused her to question her choices. Now, knowing what she did, it was almost as if it was gone, permanently in the past, never to be remembered again.
For she would have to speak of it today, all of it, in public, and a cold, clutching fear began in her stomach every time she thought of it. People looking at her, listening to her, remembering always what she had done.
Matthew would always remember when he looked at her, and that would be the worst of all.
Matthew sent a telegram at one of the longer stops, and so when they arrived, a car was waiting to take all of them to the barristers' offices. "Mary, they'll run through the questions there and try to prepare you for what you might be asked by the prosecution. Obviously, the defense's questions will be friendlier, but they will need to get at the truth."
Mary nodded, the sick feeling returning, pooling deep inside. Her father, who had said nothing to her all morning, took her hand and squeezed it, and she swallowed back tears as they exited the car and walked through the narrow passage to a stifling office that smelled of old paper and damp wool.
The barristers were kind, but the looks on their faces as they looked at their star witness hurt, the judgment, although necessary, was hard to take. Her father stayed perfectly silent, his hands gripping the side of his chair as she described how Mr. Pamuk had entered her room, what he had said to her, and what she had said to try and make him leave. He made an incomprehensible noise when she, her voice wavering, described Kemal's last breath. She never once looked at Matthew.
He could do nothing but look at her, watch her beautiful gloved hands flex in agony, her voice cold and careful as she answered only what she was asked. Oh, it hurt to hear her describe this... this... Rape was not too strong a word for it, for a man to enter a woman's bedroom without permission in 1913, in a grand house where all it would take was one servant speaking to ruin a reputation. He fumed internally at the idea that women put in such positions would be scorned, when it took far more bravery than most possessed to take on such a burden, to have over time sacrificed any chance at her own happiness. That Sir Richard had... It suddenly dawned on him that the woman he loved had been assaulted and blackmailed, and people would judge her for it, not those who had committed those crimes against her. He had judged her for it, if he was to be perfectly honest with himself, and now, watching her bravely answer a question about how she moved the body, he hated himself for it, hated himself for walking away from her six years ago, and hated himself for what he'd said at Lavinia's grave.
"Very good, Lady Mary. I'm sorry to have been so forthright, but it's necessary. Thank you."
She nodded, her lip trembling and she bit it to keep it still.
"Matthew, we'll be going in shortly. I expect to call Lady Mary in a few hours. You're welcome to wait here until then, or come in to watch the proceedings."
He looked to Mary. "Anna might like the company," he said quietly.
"Yes, of course," Mary replied, her voice artificially calm.
She was not called to testify that morning, and Anna did appreciate the company, the smile that flashed across her face at the sight of Mary so heartbreakingly happy, it made Mary want to cry. She could not listen to what was being said, her own story rolling over and over in her mind. She almost didn't hear Matthew, who told them as the court closed for luncheon, that he'd arranged for a private room at the nearby public house where they could eat in peace. She was glad of it, the curious eyes on them all as they wound through the room.
She could have sworn she saw him, for just a moment, in the back, but when she darted another glance in that direction, there was no one save two men deep in conversation. Matthew's eyes, which had barely left her face all day, caught the look. "He's from the Foreign Office. The fellow with him is his counterpart at the Home Office," he whispered. "They were in the court this morning."
She nodded and smiled, and as she turned away, she told herself she was imagining the softness in Matthew's eyes, just as she had imagined seeing Evelyn Napier. The luncheon hour went far too fast, and Mary was not sure when they had walked back, when she had been brought into an anteroom, her father squeezing her hand again. Anna pushed a stray hair into place and touched her shoulder lightly before walking out, and Mary was alone, staring at an open door into the courtroom, waiting to be brought before the court. She could hear it called to order, could hear a murmur and then a gasp.
"Could you repeat that for the court, please?"
"The Crown withdraws its case."
There were more audible gasps, a wild chattering through the gallery, and she heard quick steps outside the door. Matthew loomed in front of her. "It's over," he whispered. "He's free."
"What happened?" She stood quickly, and he took her hand without thinking.
"I don't know, Mary. Does it matter?" He tugged at her hand. "Come on. We've got to get her out of there before the crush starts."
It was a mad crush, and they managed to shield Anna between the three of them, taking her down two long staircases until they were in front of a locked door, upon which Matthew knocked.
And there weren't words, as the door opened, and the guards, with a surprising lack of fanfare or drama, released the prisoner into the arms of his wife. Somehow, they got them out the door and into the car, waiting at a dark cellar entrance, and it was not fifteen minutes after that surprise ending that Mary and Matthew and Robert were once again alone, staring at each other.
"Well," Matthew said.
"Yes," Robert replied.
"Oh, for God's sake, Matthew, what happened in there?" Mary's voice burst down the stone hallway.
"I still don't know, Mary," he said. "Does it matter?"
"Yes," she began, but then a door opened above them, at the top of the staircase, and they watched in silence as the man from the Home Office, the man from the Foreign Office, and Evelyn Napier descended the stairs. Evelyn's eyes met Mary's and just as they walked by, he stopped. "Lady Mary," he said loudly, and kissed her cheek. "Don't speak," he whispered against her ear. "It wouldn't do for the circumstances of an assassination to be heard in court."
Her eyes did not flicker as she acknowledged him, and she smiled as he greeted her father and Matthew effusively, before entering a waiting car with the two men. The magnitude of what she had just been told began to sink in. Assassination. Died in our house, my bed just... "No," she said suddenly to Matthew, whose eyes asked a question she would never answer. "It doesn't matter."
They walked, the silence welcome, until Robert stopped suddenly. "My club's around the corner," he said. "Would you mind if I... Matthew, would you take Mary home?"
"Of course," Matthew replied.
"Thank you, Papa," Mary said, and he kissed her cheek.
"I'm sorry, my darling. For everything. I'm just glad..."
"So am I," she said with a smile. "It's all right, Papa."
"Is it all right?" Matthew said as they walked, and she smiled.
"It will have to be," she replied. "Matthew, when you thought... Richard might have had motive? What was it?"
He shrugged. "A letter arrived at Vera's home about a week after her death, from a Mr. Mark Carlisle of Edinburgh."
"Yes," he said. "It contained one sentence of three words, and had neither a salutation, nor a signature."
"What did it say?"
"It was me." Matthew stopped at the edge of the square, staring into the garden. "Might we go and sit?"
"It was me? That's what it said?"
"Yes," he murmured as he sank into the bench with a grimace.
"Oh, God. Matthew. I didn't think. Are you all right?"
"Yes. Just need to rest." He took hold of her hand and squeezed it. "Are you truly all right?"
"I only had to tell three strange men about my personal history," she said dryly. "It could have been much worse."
"I suppose the fact he was attached to a diplomatic envoy is the reason for the Home and Foreign Office getting involved," he said.
"I suppose so," she replied neutrally. "Matthew, that letter. What does it mean.. 'It was me.'?"
"I don't know, and we'll never know." Matthew sighed. "It was enough to cast some doubt, and I hoped perhaps it did mean something, but now... it's over. Bates is free." He grinned up at her. "And you'll need to find someone else to do your hair."
"Perhaps I'll cut it," she said flippantly.
"Please don't." His voice was suddenly hoarse. "I... Mary, I know it's all a mess and we're... but... I'm..." Matthew gripped her hand and lifted it to his mouth. "God, would it be awful if I were to ask... now? Here?"
"Matthew, doesn't any of what happened matter to you?"
"I told you before," he said stubbornly. "And I meant it last night and I mean it even more now. Mary, you're the bravest person I've ever known. You're all that matters.. Your happiness is all that matters to me, and if it's possible for me to make you happy, to help you be happy... Mary, will you.."
She did not let him finish, and did not care who saw her kiss him on that bench in the square. After all, she'd narrowly escaped ruination that very day. She deserved a little joy, she thought as their lips parted and she smiled. "I do hope that was a proposal," she murmured. "Otherwise, what you must think of me..."