A/N: Hello and welcome to the beginning of our epic! We're incredibly excited to be finally posting this. We've been writing it since last summer and it currently stands at over 50,000 words... and we haven't even finished Part One yet! So we very much hope that other people will like it too because this is a long term project and it would be great to have readers!
The inspiration for this story came from the RPG on the Downton Forums where OrangeShipper writes Matthew and Silvestria, Mary. One of our first RPs there (and indeed at all as writers and friends) was what eventually became "Storm in a Tea-cup" which was then followed by the argument at the castle. We then decided to write an AU version of that scene in which, well, what happens in this story happens! Hence the long-running nickname of this story, "Castle AU". This was simply going to be a smutty AU one-shot but we continued it and continued it... and it soon became a fully fledged story with character development and plot and issues and interest... oh, and lots and lots of smut. :P
Over the subsequent months, we have continued writing it and indeed reading it. We think (or at least Silvestria does and she's pretty sure OrangeShipper feels the same way) that it contains some of our best writing both individually and collaboratively. We keep re-reading it more than any of our other stories: when we're bored, when we're procrastinating, when we need a pick-me-up.
So to bring this A/N to a close, we really are incredibly excited to be finally posting this and we very much hope you will enjoy it.
N.B. This is technically the sequel to "Storm in a Tea-cup" so we strongly recommend (re-)reading that first to get yourselves into the appropriate atmosphere. Oh, and the rating will go up... A lot...
Consequences of the Castle
Relations between Matthew and Mary were at an all time low. None of the family could precisely understand why. Admittedly Mary had behaved foolishly in brushing him off at the dinner with Sir Anthony Strallan, but surely it had not been enough to cause this amount of coldness. They had appeared to tolerate each other at least at the flower show.
"Can't you make just a little effort to be nicer to him?" complained Cora in incomprehension on an almost daily basis till Mary wanted to scream from frustration.
What none of them knew was that Matthew and Mary had met after the flower show. A chance meeting in the village had led to an invitation to tea and that in turn had led almost imperceptibly to a misunderstanding and that had led to Mary storming off in disgust. Matthew was still not quite sure what he had done to merit such a reaction. All he had done was compliment Mary's charity work to his mother – surely something anyone might be proud of? Apparently not. And it was hardly his fault if she took umbrage at his involvement in running the estate he was going to inherit; what else was he meant to do? Such a change from her good humour only a few weeks previously. He did not know what to make of it and could not help being offended by her current icy coldness towards him.
The less they had to do with each other the better, was Mary's opinion. He infuriated her with his complete inability to see how he affected her. Did he not realise how hurtful it was to see him take over everything that could have been hers? He constantly got everything wrong and it was all the worse because she had been starting to actually like him. He had been going to take her to see the cottages. Well, it would not happen now.
While Matthew steamed, shut up in his office in Ripon all day every day, and Mary steamed, imprisoned by her never-changing life at Downton, the weather outside got hotter and hotter until the whole world steamed along with them.
A week of this passed before Lord Grantham pronounced that he could take no more of it and booked the entire family into the Crown Hotel in Scarborough for a week.
"At least it'll be cooler by the sea," he pronounced, as if the spa facilities would somehow magic away all the problems in his domestic circle.
Matthew booked a week off work very happily. He had never been to Scarborough before and was looking forward to its potential for fresh air and freedom – walks on the beach, exploring its castle, even swimming if the weather held. Preferably solitary and far away from Mary and her cutting remarks, long-suffering sighs, and angry glares (as well as his own mother's comments on the matter).
Unfortunately the weather did not hold. They were blessed with pleasant, warm sunshine on their first day but after that it got increasingly muggier and stickier each day with frequent heavy showers and unpredictable strong winds. The party managed one dispiriting walk along the beach every day but it was hardly the summer holiday they had hoped for.
Matthew was fortunate because he could go out on his own to get away, but Mary did not have that luxury and found herself even more confined indoors than she had been at Downton. The three sisters, their mother, grandmother, and cousin Isobel spent their days in the drawing room of the hotel reading or sewing or fanning themselves and making the same dreary comments about the heat, or daring to dash from the shelter of the hotel to the shelter of an art gallery or the pavilion for tea and cake.
Then there were the meals, taken all together. If Matthew and Mary had thought they might have been able to avoid each other and the stares of their relatives better on holiday, then they were sadly mistaken. Breakfast and dinner became rituals of torture. The poisonous atmosphere rubbed off on the others and by Tuesday evening Mary was unsurprised to find herself summoned to her mother's room for a lecture on how badly she was behaving and how she was single handedly spoiling the holiday for everyone. Mary, who felt that the fault was at least half Matthew's, unsurprisingly resented this.
"What I simply don't understand," said the countess in bewilderment eventually when she had finished working out her irritation on her silent and truculent daughter, "is why you simply can't talk to each other like rational human beings."
When it came down to it, they didn't know either.