A/N: Wow, thank you for all your reviews and alerts! I feel honoured; I'm so glad you enjoyed the gloop! This chapter is rather less gloopy but hopefully still sufficiently fluffy! And yes, two chapters in two days. I very much doubt this will last!
Matthew awoke to a clatter and a stifled exclamation. Before his eyes opened, however, he became aware that he was incredibly uncomfortable, extremely cold, that his back was stiff and that there was a heavy weight on his shoulder. Then with a warm and pleasant jolt he realised that the heavy weight was Mary's head and that he was sitting sprawled on the floor of Downton's library, leaning awkwardly against the sofa and that he was finally engaged to be married to the right girl. He no longer cared how painful his arm felt, having had it stretched at an unusual angle for hours on end, since he knew that it was around Mary's shoulders. He squeezed her gently and finally opened his eyes to find himself staring through the gloom of early morning at a coal skuttle and the legs of a maid. He raised his eyes and met the very wide eyes of – of Daisy? Yes, Daisy.
As soon as she saw he was awake she took another step back and tripped over the fender again. "I didn't see nothin'!" she exclaimed.
Matthew really didn't know what to say. Being discovered in a compromising position by a kitchen maid on the floor of Downton Abbey with Lady Mary Crawley in the very early hours of the day was not something that had ever occurred to him as a likely eventuality. And surely it was wrong that the thought of it made him smile? He couldn't have woken up properly yet. Fortunately at that moment, with an adorable little moan, Mary shifted against him and woke. She raised one delicate hand and passed it over her face before sitting up straight causing Matthew's arm to fall away from her. She also raised her eyes.
"Goodness, Daisy!" she cried, sounding much more coherent than Matthew felt. "What are you doing?"
"Just lightin' the fires, milady..." She shook her head several times. "I'll go right now; didn't mean to disturb you!"
"Lighting the..." muttered Mary and very slowly she turned her head to meet Matthew's eyes. He didn't need to be any more awake to reach up and cup her face and gaze in rapt adoration at her, quieting her alarm as she came to terms with the situation.
With more clattering, Daisy grabbed her skuttle and brush and made her departure as swiftly as she could, glancing back once with another shake of her head.
"We spent the night together," murmured Mary in wonder, mirroring Matthew's actions and clasping his cheek.
He turned his lips against her hand and kissed her palm. "Not all of it, I think. Dawn isn't breaking yet."
She shivered. "No... I can tell."
Their eyes flickered over each other's faces in the grey, pale light of pre-morning. Mary took in the light dusting of stubble on his chin, his lack of cravat, and the skin visible in the neck of his shirt. She had undone the top two buttons at some point last night, she now remembered, and her cheeks reddened. Matthew remarked fondly the loose hair that had escaped her bun, the goosepimples on her arms and the way his jacket, originally covering her as a makeshift blanket, had slipped down to rest uselessly on her knees.
Instinctively, they moved together, leaning in and kissing each other with consciousness, joy and greater familiarity: it was a new day and they could still do this. Despite the warmth spreading between them, it was extremely uncomfortable and their fingers where they touched each other were cold as ice. They broke apart after only a few moments.
"I really should go this time," said Matthew regretfully, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.
She nodded. "Yes. So should I. We don't need another scandal on our hands." But her expression was luminous and her fingers were entwining themselves with his, so he kissed her again and took his time over it before getting to his feet and pulling her up with him. She swayed on her stockinged feet, stiff from how she had spent the night.
"It wouldn't be so bad though, would it?" murmured Matthew, his lips twitching. "They'd force us to marry and we-"
She laughed gently, a beautiful sound. "Don't tempt fate, Matthew. I'm not good at doing anything under duress; I might refuse."
He lowered his gaze, very knowingly. "You wouldn't."
She softened. "No, I don't believe I would."
Only a faint and distant noise heralding the gradual awakening of the house prevented another delay. When they checked the weather out of the window once again, they were pleased to see that it had stopped snowing and the sky was clear. Matthew shrugged on his jacket, shoved his cravat in his pocket and put on his shoes while Mary gathered up her gloves and her own shoes. Then they moved the sofa back to where it had been, straightened the rug and it was time to say goodbye.
"You will be back soon, won't you?" said Mary. "I'd like you to be there when I tell Papa, and I'm not sure I can keep it to myself very long."
"Oh my darling, try to keep me away!"
Eventually he left. She saw him off before shutting the door quietly on the cold and tiptoeing up to bed. It was all the most perfect dream.
The next time Matthew opened his eyes, he was in his bed at home and bright winter sun was shining through the window. He sat up, instantly awake, aware that it was far later than he normally got up. His thoughts turned immediately to Mary and he wondered if she would already be up. He would have breakfast and walk straight back over.
As he stood up to ring the bell for Molesley, he cast his eyes round the room. He could imagine Mary here. Even a day before he would not have been able to do so, for it would have been nothing more than an airy fantasy he did not deserve to imagine. But now... now he knew what it felt like to have her in his arms with her head on his shoulder, what her feet looked like in nothing but stockings, what it felt like to kiss her over and over again... He shook his head to clear his mind of these thoughts, for they were all pervasive, and he could not stop smiling into space as Molesley dressed him.
He was still grinning when he wandered into the dining room, put butter and jam on his toast without bothering to sit down, poured himself some coffee and strolled into the drawing room with them where he found his mother already sitting with a book.
She looked up when he came in. "Ah, Matthew, you're up! I didn't hear you come in last night. Were you very late?"
He had a mouthful of toast in his mouth and only nodded. Suddenly he felt shy about telling his mother. Telling her about Lavinia he had done by letter and even at the time it had never felt quite so terribly significant. This was forever. This was about him and his life and the future. This was Mary. He suddenly wondered what she had for breakfast. Surely toast and jam was very middle class? Would she want ham and eggs every day in Crawley House? Good Lord, Mary living in Crawley House... living with him... How wonderful, how terrifying – how wonderfully terrifying and terrifyingly wonderful. He swallowed, took a swig of coffee and paced to the window, Isobel following him with her eyes.
"Did you enjoy the ball?" she pressed.
"Yes, very much," he replied, trying to refrain from hyperbole. Had he enjoyed it indeed!
"I saw you dancing with Mary when I left," she continued. "You both looked rather happy. I suppose now that Carlisle has thankfully left-"
"Mother!" he interrupted her, swallowing down his coffee.
"Well, you know what I think, Matthew. And now she's free, and you're free, I simply don't see why you can't both get on with your lives. Together."
She was almost glaring up at him and Matthew nearly laughed. He put his coffee down on a nearby table. "I'm afraid it's too late for that advice, Mother."
"Really, not this again."
"It's too late," he continued, "to take the advice because it's already done."
Now she looked at him properly, eyes widening in realisation, and he couldn't hold back the smile any longer. "She accepted me, Mother."
For a moment, the relief and joy was visible on her face and then she pulled herself together. "I should think so too!"
Matthew looked down, embarrassed for a moment.
Isobel stood up and crossed to him, took the plate of toast out of his hand and put it to the side before taking both his hands in hers and subjecting him to a long and very affectionate look.
"Dear Matthew, I couldn't be happier," she said finally.
He blinked and smiled at her, again almost shyly. "Neither could I." Suddenly feeling very emotional, he embraced her.
It was Isobel who stepped back first. "Now then, I don't know why you're still here. Finish your breakfast and be off with you! I'm quite sure you would rather be at Downton."
She almost pushed him and his breakfast out of the room and for once he was inclined to agree with her. He would rather be at Downton. As he left, his thoughts already with Mary, he did not look back and therefore he missed his mother clutching her handkerchief tightly in her hand and the way her smile wavered just a little bit.
A/N: I happen to be a complete sucker for "reaction" fics but I haven't written one before. Next chapter will be Anna, Cora and Robert. Thanks for reading! As always, reviews make me jump up and down like a six year old. (Actually, they make me roll my eyes and attempt to look totally cool but inside I'm squeeing. :P )