A/N: Happy Monday!
Here's the final chapter of OCITE, though it pains me to say it!
I shan't say too much more here, except to thank you so much for your responses so far, and to... reiterate that this is the ending to the fic that has been in my head from its very conception, and well... I hope you'll appreciate it for what it is!
ETA: I really must owe enormous thanks to EOlivet, not only for encouraging this fic from it's beginning but because it was her comment which inspired it to start with, and her LJ post this week on a line of Matthew's in the CS went a great way to building this chapter beyond what I'd originally thought. She's a treasure!
Pleasure. Torture. Desperation. Yearning. Fulfilment. Aching. Love. All these feelings, more, too many, flooded through Matthew in a blinding storm as Mary's lips crushed against his, his arms crushing her body against his, her own hands clinging desperately to him. All thought and sense ground to a halt as her fingers twisted into his hair, and they swayed together, frozen in shock and a kind of awe at the suddenness of their passion.
After an endless moment of stunned, unthinking pleasure, their lips broke apart with a gasp (though their hands kept them prisoner against each other), their wide eyes meeting and questioning.
Only for a moment, though, before they saw passion and desire reflected in the other's eyes, felt their mutual need thrum helplessly through their bodies before they surrendered to it. Because they couldn't possibly, and yet they were, Matthew's broken admission of that which Mary had long hoped for ringing whispered in the air between them. I love you. And she knew it, now, knew it as he kissed her, sucking her lower lip between his own, his nose pressing to her hot cheek as they shifted impossibly closer, she knew it as his hands fisted into her coat, as they slipped up until his fingers plunged into the thick locks of her hair beneath her hat that she tugged off to ease his access. His groan was hot, and desperate, into her mouth as his fingers stilled, careful and considerate as he ever was that there must be no sign of this later.
As their heated kiss deepened, and long-repressed arousal inevitably flamed, they were painfully, desperately aware of where it must, inevitably, lead. Matthew's hands drew back to trace her cheeks, her beautiful, freckled, porcelain cheeks that were softer under his fingers than he remembered from his dreams…
"This cannot happen," he ground out, even as he knew it had already happened, enough to condemn them at least. His eyes glittered with passion and regret but all Mary could see was his swollen, glistening lips, lips which were soft and beautiful and that had said the most beautiful words to her (yet had also caused her such pain, in their past).
"Would you stop it now?" she whispered, willing him to break from her now if he felt he must because she couldn't… She couldn't muster the strength to leave his arms of her own volition, not now that she was wrapped so tightly within them.
Matthew swallowed. "Mary, you're… You have a husband, you are married –"
"By law and deed only! My – mind, and my – heart, are my own and not in any part my husband's –"
"God, Mary…" His eyes pressed closed, forehead leaning against hers as his low, shaking voice sent a shiver rippling through Mary's body. "Don't –" Don't tempt me, he wanted to scream at her. She couldn't know, couldn't possibly know how weak he was to her, how easily he would give, even as he felt himself crumble…
"Oh God, haven't I already been punished enough for my sins?" Her forehead fell to his shoulder, hands clutching weakly at him as they trembled together. "Please, Matthew," she whispered fiercely. "Please, if we are to part for all good then give me this to bear it with…"
"My darling, don't – say that –" It was impossible, and he held her tighter, his lips brushing against her ear as he begged her with the last scraps of control that he had (fading quickly as the affection slipped past his lips) to keep them from this irretraceable path. "Please, Mary –"
"Just – once. This once is all it can ever be, and let me… Let me have this once, to know how it is with someone I –"
"My God –"
"– someone I love!"
She was on the verge of sobbing into his chest, fingers clutching at the lapels of his jacket as his breath trembled in hot pants against her neck. This was all too much, too much… Her admission rocked him to his core. Not only that she… loved him… But, he realised with a sick twist in his gut, she had been… taken, now, by two men who – she didn't love. And she… did love… him.
He couldn't breathe, he felt sick, despair and sorrow churning alongside arousal that stirred low in his belly at the knowledge that she wanted this. Him. And this was… it. This was their one chance, of all the times he had longed for her, to know her, had wished for her in his arms… She was here, they were here, they had the chance and would never again, and it was within his reach and desire to do so, that they might cling to this if they were to part from this day on.
The very idea was terribly, terribly wrong. Wrong. Mary was married… But, hadn't they sinned already? Hadn't he ruined any moral code he'd had when he'd taken her in his arms as Lavinia lay on her sickbed, when he'd left her then to marry a man who had blackmailed her? He grimaced against her neck, shaking, his lips brushing softly against her skin. If he hated himself, loathed himself, after this, wouldn't he deserve to – didn't he deserve to anyway? If he was to be miserable, alone, wretched, punished… God, then let him be punished for this…
His lips shifted more purposefully against her neck, and she whimpered, tugging helplessly at his jacket as she sensed his silent assent. It was inevitable, had been inevitable, they realised, the moment their lips had met in that first, blinding kiss. They were weak, wrong, powerless against this, against each other.
As Matthew's lips found their way back to Mary's, any last shreds of resistance and propriety crumbled. Their kiss was demanding, visceral; eight years of longing and an empty, desolate future crashing together in this glorious present as they took each other as they had only ever dreamed of. Soft pants, groans, whimpering breaths cracked the heavy silence as lips sucked, tongues slid together and tasted, trembling hands sought to shed the restrictions of fabric and modesty as they somehow sank together to the floor, overlaid with a thick, soft rug.
She felt that rug against her back as Matthew undressed her, the heat of his lips following his hands as every piece fluttered from her body. She felt his groan reverberate against her bare skin, his teeth grazing her, marking her, and she laughed through her sob of passion at the sheer wonderfulness of it. His hands were warm… So warm, and soft, his skin as she tugged his shirt from his shoulders was taut, and smooth, and hot… Her hands slid around his torso to his back, fingers marking his scarred flesh as he writhed over her, the soft, heated pressure of his lips dusting her neck… She turned her head to the side to ease his way, biting back tears as her vision filled with his forearm bracing beside her head, muscles flexing as he clutched at the rug, the scattering of thick, fair hair over his arm in contrast to the soft, pale skin on the underside that she ached to press her lips to… and beyond that, the soft piles of silk and cotton where her clothes lay, bunched and discarded beside them.
Was this a dream, or a fantasy, or a nightmare? Matthew truly had no idea. Every cell of his body flamed and pulsed with arousal, arousal at an intimacy that he was stealing, that was not his to take, and he burned with the shame of it… though Mary was giving it to him of her own free will, giving herself to him, and sharp pangs of despair that he must commit it all to memory for it could not be pricked and mingled with the flames of desire, till his body was a quivering mass of pure sensation and emotion. And it… it was too much for him to bear.
He kissed her, deeply, slowly, placing a hand carefully under her head that the rug might not disarray her hair. He could feel her body beneath him, the pure skin of her breasts against his chest, firm and beautiful and he… could not think, could not dream, of how to realise this perfection. His hands trembled, and he allowed her to guide him… Arching his back to watch, breathlessly, as her hand covered his and slid it to her breast, and he gasped as he felt her body beneath his palm, and she moaned as his mouth instinctively followed. His lips closed over her breast, his tongue slicking over and across, around, together in a burning caress and she shuddered at his touch, biting her lip as with every sensation caused by him the memory of those who had taken her body before was purged, as it all faded beyond her consciousness in the face of the heady wonder of Matthew, his every touch that would forever surpass the thought of any other.
Matthew's breath hummed around her breast, releasing in a soft, low moan of pleasure as he felt her buck beneath him. He gasped, passed his tongue over again, and over, breath catching as she caught his hand once more in a tight grip and urged him down… Their hands sliding together down her taut abdomen, his body shuffling down to follow as his lips traced the same path, settling at the top of her thigh as her urgent fingers pushed his own between her trembling legs and… there.
He glanced up at her, once, meeting her eyes in a shock of passion before his lips again followed his hand, in a gesture she'd never expected, anticipated or even dreamed of, as his mouth covered that most intimate part of her and took long, slow, deep tastes of her, and she felt his groan of delight as her hips bucked helplessly against his tongue. She'd been clutching his wrist but now her hand slid to his hair, her teeth clenching against every instinct to scream his name, head rolling to the side as her back arched again… Her hair, but… oh, how could she care! Matthew's lips and fingers stroked tentatively, his confidence, pleasure and arousal slowly spiralling as she writhed against his touch, as his fingers hesitantly sought her, dipped in, further, deeper, his tongue stroking relentlessly over her wet heat, quicker and hotter with less and less thought until her grip on his hair tightened without warning and her entire body stiffened and shuddered against him, her choked cry ringing in his ears.
Startled by her reaction and sudden limpness he kissed her once more, before raising himself back up her body till he could look down into her eyes but they… shone, and her cheeks flushed with colour, and the base of her throat, and he lowered his lips to kiss her burning skin.
"God, Mary, I – are you –"
"Oh, darling it's alright, it's – perfectly alright, it's… perfect…" she laughed as tears stained her cheeks, wrapping her arms around his neck and tucking her face against his shoulder as she realised he had… no idea, truly no idea, of what he had just given to her. And truly neither did she; only the utter satisfaction that fulfilled every fibre of her being told her that this was right, and how this should be, and her body quivered with passion for him.
Gently, she pressed her hands to his chest until he shifted to his knees, and she sat up beside him. They kissed, deeply, indulgently, arms curling around each other as they shifted closer together, Mary gasping into his mouth at the taste that lingered on his tongue. His fingers skimmed over her back, soothing the burn from the rug that she couldn't think to care about how she would hide as her hands slid down the smattering of hair across his chest, down over his warm abdomen until she found his belt. He hissed against her lips as she shed it, raised himself awkwardly as she tugged everything else he wore down and off, before he settled back to lean against the side of his desk.
He stared, entranced, as Mary stared at him… He saw her pulse flutter at her throat, her eyes wide and blinking, her fingers reaching out to him… His head fell back as she touched him, a low, throaty groan erupting helplessly as her fingers wrapped around him, her palm stroking, up, down, tighter… Absorbed in her task, fascinated, transfixed, Mary stared at her own hand curled around him, in a caress such as she'd never dreamed, never desired to perform as she did so now. But it was instinctive, inevitable, much as it was when she shifted and her head lowered, taking him into her mouth and whimpering softly as he jerked up past her lips. Never before, and never again; she knew it even as her tongue stroked up, and down, her lips closing and tightening and sucking, and his hand curled to the back of her neck… This was only for him, and only for her, and nothing, nobody would take this pleasure, this afternoon, from them for the rest of her life.
Eventually, as his shudders grew stronger and his gasps quicker and louder, she slipped her lips from him and kissed his belly, tongue dipping into his navel before she kissed up, up to his chest, his neck, his cheek, lips… He pulled her desperately to him, clutching her as he sought to answer her intimacy with his tongue against hers, but for both of them now it was not enough.
Matthew ached with arousal, though he felt powerless and overwhelmed by every sensation and emotion she invoked in him. It was far, far too much for him to process; he only knew that nothing in his life would ever compare to it, and for the rest of his life he would bear that pain and deserve to. His fingers gripped helplessly at her hips, gritting his teeth as she knelt above him, watching as she grasped him and guided him into her, as she sank down, legs curling awkwardly around his hips as they settled together in blissful unison. Matthew groaned quietly as hot sensation flooded his body, surpassing the sharp ache where the side of his desk pressed into his back, there was nothing but her… Above him, around him, together…
There was nothing, nothing at all, beyond their two bodies joined as one, hot skin burning against hot skin, dampened by sweat and heat and fire. They rocked, kissed, clung together, breaths quickening and pulses racing as unthinking pleasure overtook them, overtook the pain and regret that this was it. Slowly, they shifted, Matthew to his knees, lowering her tenderly beneath him with his arms curled under her shoulders to protect her as much as he was able. Her head tipped back, exposing her throat to his wet, desperate kisses as he thrust into her, again, and again, punctuated by each moan of delight that wrenched past her lips. He lay over her, thrusting harder, quicker, one hand slipping from beneath her to curl under her knee, his nails digging into her thigh as he clung to her.
That sensation, his desperation, weakness and power, marking her skin, shattered Mary again as his thrusts stoked fire deep within her, fire that burned hotter and hotter, spreading from her belly to her fingertips until she splintered in his arms with a raw cry that she bit into his shoulder as she curled up against him. Forcing her eyes open, her head fell back again as she watched him follow her over the precipice seconds later, his entire body seeming to snap and convulse above her in a way that she recognised but… never before had it seemed so breathlessly perfect, something she welcomed and relished and enjoyed, as when she saw that lust, no, adoration burn brightly in Matthew's glittering eyes. And as his heavy weight covered her when he fell, trembling, into her arms, she welcomed him and embraced him, as she never had and never would another… because she adored him, the way he made her feel, the way he responded to her and her body… She loved him, everything of him, even when he had hurt her so very deeply and injured her with his words and his actions she loved him, and never more than at this moment as they lay spent in each others' arms.
He groaned weakly into her shoulder, his lips nestled against her neck.
"It's alright," she whispered, stroking his dampened hair with shaking fingers. But her words died and she squeezed her eyes shut, biting back a sob that he couldn't see, as she realised it was not alright. It was not alright at all, for their ecstasy heralded the end of it, the end of this, the end of them.
"How can it be alright," he murmured, raising himself to his elbows to look down at her, forehead resting gently against hers. He closed his eyes and breathed in their scent of her love, of them, and it shuddered out of him a moment later. "Mary…"
It was as if he had read her thoughts, and her weak voice trembled as she blinked up at him with wet, glistening eyes.
"It has to be," was all she could manage. "It will be hard, Matthew, but… we will have this, we'll always have the memory of –"
"I don't want you to go back to him," Matthew whispered fiercely, fingers twisting uselessly into the rug.
"You know I – God, of all people you know I must!"
"You can't, Mary, not now –"
"I can now," she tried to soothe him, futile though it was, as tears stung her eyes. She stroked his cheek, her thumb brushing away the tear that had slipped down it, forcing him to look at her no matter how painful that was. "I can bear it now because of this, don't you see?"
She shook her head fiercely. "No. You know it's impossible for me to divorce him. He'd never – let me, Matthew, would never give me cause."
"Damn him," he muttered under his breath, rolling from Mary onto his back and pulling her against his side, his arms warm around her. Except it was not really Carlisle that he was angry at. It could not be, for what had he done besides marry the woman he wanted to, and treat her with generosity and – to all intents – kindness? No, damn himself, for if he was bitter now it was only because he had let her go to him, he'd practically shoved her into Carlisle's waiting arms and God, he hated himself now for it. If, if, if only he'd not been so damned blind and stubborn and foolish… He had ruined them.
Of course there was no way. The only way out was if Carlisle were ever to… hurt her, and it could be proved, but… Mary was certain without measure that violence was something he would not rise to.
Matthew turned his head to look at her very seriously, glad of it in his heart for he could not bear the thought of her in any pain, refusing to comprehend the very pain of her existence as his wife without any love. He swallowed, speaking tentatively. "What if… he found out about – this."
"He won't," Mary shook her head again, flexing her hand where it lay on his waist. "Even… if he were to discover it – do you think he'd give me the slightest leeway to leave him? He's… clever, Matthew. He knows the law as well as anyone, and he knows that it would give me cause. And that would give… us, everything we wanted. Somehow I can't see that, can you?"
"No," Matthew sighed, tracing his finger over her wet cheek, leaning to kiss away her tears. "I'm… so, so, sorry Mary. You cannot imagine how sorry I am, for so many –"
"Hush," she placed a finger to his soft, full lips. "There's no point in that now." Slowly, a gentle smile spread over her features, and Matthew frowned until she spoke again.
Something very striking had just occurred to her – not particularly surprising, considering their circumstance, entwined together and naked on the floor of his study. "After – Kemal," she whispered, "I believed that I – finally understood what it was to be happy. And I was sad because I knew I never would be again."
"No, you see – I was wrong. I was so very wrong, because – I am happy – now."
Her smile trembled into a sob as he kissed her, and she kissed him back, and she realised the overwhelming truth of her silly, girlish belief all those years ago. Now, she was happy, in Matthew's arms… And now, she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she never would be, never could be, again.
The shadows in the room were beginning to deepen, as finally, and slowly, they dressed. The marks and reminders of their love were covered, lost, hidden away… not to be forgotten, though, not ever. Mary squinted into the window, using it as an imperfect mirror in the growing darkness to pat her hair back into shape, praying that her maid would not question any disarray before she was able to loosen it for a bath. Matthew watched her, his heart aching with grief as every piece of clothing they reclaimed took them further from each other, further towards their proper roles, their proper futures… without each other.
"What do we do now?" he asked softly, helplessly, as his belt buckle snapped closed under his fingers and Mary pinned her hat back onto her head.
She smiled bravely. "We remember, darling."
He nodded, taking her hands. "Alright. I only – God, I wish –"
"You mustn't. There's nothing. Let's just – be thankful for this, Matthew… As I always will be."
"Always," he whispered fiercely, gripping her hands tightly.
He felt wretched. Utterly, utterly wretched, as he opened the door and slipped downstairs, checking to see the path was clear before he beckoned her down to follow him.
Quietly, as quietly as they could, they went to the outer door. Matthew turned the lock, but let his hand rest there for a moment, turning to her one last time. He couldn't… couldn't let her go; it was impossible, simply unbearable…
"God, Mary, I can't – I can't let you go."
She pressed her lips fleetingly, sweetly to his, and took a deep breath against her tears.
"And that is exactly why you must, Matthew."
"I know, I – know." God, it was hard. He felt weak, destroyed, as if a part of him were leaving forever with her and it was his fault, all of it his fault… He gasped back a shuddering breath, almost a sob.
It had to be goodbye. They both knew it, and the overbearing realisation and finality of it hung between them, a knell that would destroy everything they had shared, everything they might have shared, beyond their memories. There was no way out, and it was wretched, and if only…
But it was too late for that. They were cursed. They… deserved every ounce of unhappiness they must bear, Matthew believed, or – he very certainly did – for all the wrong he had done to her, to everyone around him. And it hurt. And it should.
Mary squeezed his hand, smiling with a rueful fondness as she recalled his words from so many months ago, so clearly, indelibly burned into her memory.
"Let's be strong, Matthew," she whispered. "And let's accept – that this is the end."
His lips pressed into a thin, trembling line, his voice shaking even as it had then.
"Of course it's the end," he replied bitterly. "How could it not be?"
He clutched her hand, for as long as he could, until she breathed 'goodbye,' and eased his hand from the doorknob to open it. They stared each other for one long, devastating moment… seeing everything that was beautiful and painful and wonderful and hurtful in the other. Their whole relationship, their shared memories, played out over their faces in that gaze until finally, with difficulty and a terribly, terribly anguished heart, Mary pulled her hand till her fingers slid from his grasp and she closed the door behind her. Not even then could her tears fall, for she had to get back into the village, back to Haxby, back to her husband, before she could be allowed that…
Matthew sagged weakly against the closed door, the cool wood pressing against his burning forehead. It was the end. She was gone, back to her husband, who would go to her bed and… and… He felt sick, and pressed a fist to his mouth as he swallowed back the hot bile that rose suddenly in his throat.
His body thrummed with tension, with the memory of her, as it ached in sorrow for the loss of her. But he welcomed that ache, embraced his own anguish because it was right, and he deserved every ounce of it. God, he was a mess.
Turning slowly, he traced his hand along the wall as he made his way back down the corridor. Only now did he see the flicker of firelight from the sitting room doorway, and when he passed it, he saw his mother sitting calmly in the armchair with her embroidery. He had no idea when she had returned, how long she had been sitting there.
"You should – put the light on," he suggested, finding he had to force the words from his dry throat.
"Would you?" she asked. And in her tone, and her glazed, hardened eyes, Matthew saw entirely that she knew, had heard, had understood. Her lips parted to speak as he flicked the light switch to flood the room with harsh brightness.
"Don't – for God's sake, please – do not lecture me. Not now."
He bit the admonition out and turned his back on her cold, knowing gaze, fleeing upstairs before her thoroughly earned reproach could follow him. And he locked himself in his bedroom, as he hadn't done since he was a small boy, to mourn his loss and his folly. To remember all the pain and ecstasy that had coursed through him for… Mary. A woman he felt now that he had never deserved, and whose life he had cast into darkness with his own stupidity and selfishness. And he hated himself for it. They could never be happy; he would never deserve to be.
Of course it was the end. How could it not be?
A/N: Firstly, thank you so much for reading!
Secondly, now we are at the end, I suppose I'd like to say that... I'm well aware that this may not be the ending that some of you had wanted. I'm also very aware that though it is the end of this fanfiction, there are many, many paths that M/M could take from here. What if Mary was pregnant? What if Carlisle found out? What if Matthew stayed in Downton and this progressed to a full-blown affair? However - it was only ever my intention to bring them to this point. I know it's not happy, but I hope that you'll appreciate it, and see it as in keeping with their characters and motivations had things progressed in this way.
Anyway, despite all that I hope you found something to enjoy in it - and, either way, I'm very curious to know what you thought, so if you feel so inclined do please let me know!
And thank you again for sticking with me through this - I very much appreciate it :)