A/N: So. Silvestria, EOlivet and I have this thing where we like to write each other fics for our birthdays. Silvestria's is in June, but today she decided what she'd like her birthday fic to be - forward thinking!

Honestly, I'm kind of amazed this hasn't been written yet; but, I don't believe it has, and so here is my attempt. The handshake scene in 1x04... Well. It's a special moment. It's the moment I became a shipper. I'm not sure I'd even NOTICED Matthew until I saw the handshake preview in 'Next time...' at the end of 1x03. Clearly, their faces and the TOUCHING required a 'what if?' smuttish AU sequel. Seriously, go watch it again, and the hallway scene a little earlier where Matthew is completely checking her out. *sigh*

Anyway! I didn't want to wait until June. And this happened. Thanks to both Silvestria and EOlivet for the polish.

Enjoy...!


Entails and Embers

"Goodnight, Cousin Matthew."

Extending her hand politely, Mary blinked in surprise at the catch in her own voice. It was only when he met her handshake in a warm clasp, that lingered just a moment (no, more than that) too long that she wondered why she'd even made the gesture. She'd never – taken his hand before, never when he'd left with his mother, or if she'd bumped into him in the village or the grounds… Why now? And why couldn't she let go?

"Goodnight."

The air seemed to still around them. For the strangest moment, all she could feel was his fingers curled around hers, warm and – tingling – through her glove, and she couldn't seem to move. The deepness of his voice, of his blue, bewitching eyes and – goodness, were they really that blue? – the way he was looking at her, almost as though… as though…

No.

Shivering even in the oppressive, dark warmth of the room, she suddenly felt very unsure, almost… afraid. What of? She hardly dared think, but something about this scared her and she tugged her hand free, lips twitching in a silent gasp at the hot friction of his fingers sliding against hers.

Good Lord, it was a handshake, nothing more!

For a moment he didn't move. How impertinent of him! She'd bade him goodnight, but he was still holding her with that deep, curious gaze. What did he want from her? She began to tremble slightly. Finally (time had slowed) he moved, breaking the stillness which almost startled her a little. He brushed past her, she felt it, even though he didn't touch her. Instinctively her head turned to follow him, though she didn't look at him; her gaze falling somewhere over her shoulder.

He was leaving. And quite suddenly that terrified her more than… whatever it was that had frightened her just now, deep in his eyes.

"Why?" she heard her voice call out without her own bidding.

Matthew stopped, and frowned.

"I'm sorry?"

"Why does it trouble you?" she asked quietly.

He turned around. Still, she faced away from him; her profile highlighted by the soft glow from the lamps and the fire, the… skin at the top of her back seeming to shimmer.

His heart thudded in his chest. He hadn't considered it. He wasn't sure he wanted to consider it. He only knew that it did, that the injustice of it – to her – was so terribly wrong, and he didn't want to be the cause of it. More than anything, he didn't want to be the cause of her distress, he didn't want her to think badly of him because…

"I don't know," he said quietly, with a little shrug.

Mary swept round to face him, her expression puzzled and frustrated. She hadn't expected… that, and felt some mild sort of indignation at his response.

"I see," she said coolly. "How thoughtful your words were, then, how sincere." Clearly it had meant nothing – she had meant nothing – after all.

To her surprise, Matthew scoffed gently.

"I'm sorry, what – what did you expect me to say? Did you want me to flatter you?"

"Matthew!" The keen outrage that simmered through her was more at the truth of his words than the words themselves. Had she expected, or wanted, flattery? After the way he'd looked at her, the way he'd taken her hand… yes, she supposed she had.

Frowning indignantly, at herself as much as at him, she spread her arms helplessly. "I just don't see why it should trouble you, when you stand to gain – and I to lose – everything." The thread of tension that had been stirring through her all evening (or much longer than that, maybe) spilled over and she couldn't seem to stop. "More particularly why it should trouble you when it doesn't seem to trouble my own father!"

"Mary, it does –" He took a step back towards her, frowning earnestly, reaching a hand out in appeasement. "It does trouble him, of course it does! It troubles anyone who –"

Thankfully, his words died on his lips as Carson opened the door. He whirled, a startled look in his eyes. What had he been about to admit?

"Beg pardon, my Lady," Carson cleared his throat, looking pointedly at Matthew. He had been told that Mr. Crawley was about to leave. He didn't seem to be doing so.

Mary looked between them, feeling uncomfortably flustered. Yes, she had told Carson, but – no, he couldn't leave now, not with that unfinished thought hanging between them! Surely whatever he'd been about to say couldn't be any worse than what she was afraid it might be. She was desperately curious, felt a desperate urge to know, to… know what he thought. Of her, perhaps.

She tossed her head. "I am sorry, Carson, it seems that Mr. Crawley isn't quite ready to leave just now after all." Carson glowered almost imperceptibly (it had been a rather trying evening), so Mary quickly carried on. "But don't let us keep you, please. Mr. Crawley is a grown and capable man, after all. I'm sure he can manage to see himself out. Goodnight, Carson."

Her eyes fixed on Matthew, seeing his own widen at her comment, hearing only dimly Carson's acceptance and departure.

"Go on," she finally said, her voice a low almost-whisper as her eyes flicked up and down him, standing awkwardly there in his very ordinary daytime suit that didn't quite sit right on his shoulders and yet was somehow… endearing, almost… attractive. "You were saying?"

Her tone left him no option but to continue, and he shuffled nervously on his feet, eyeing her warily. The way her dress floated about her, the… glimpse of ankle it revealed, the shimmer of her shoulders beneath the thin, silken gauze… Yes, he could admit, he was attracted to her. That wasn't difficult; he'd been aware of that from the moment he met her. It was only as he'd blurted those words in haste, she meant a 'very… great deal', that he'd shocked himself with the possibility, the awareness, that it was anything seriously more.

He swallowed.

"Mary, it – troubles anyone who cares for you." His brow knitted gently, and somehow he was even closer now. His deep voice rang with sincerity, shy though he was under her pervasive gaze. "Don't you understand that if there was any way I could –" He trailed off with a loud, frustrated sigh, before his tone dropped further, beseeching her to understand. "It's very difficult, I know; this – isn't what I chose."

Mary trembled under the weight of his eyes and his words. Oh, she believed him; everything about him and what he was saying made her believe it. She'd… felt it, when he touched her hand, felt it as he looked at her, seen it in his eyes, that – he – he cared about her.

"Nor I," she shrugged helplessly, her voice sounding small and distant.

When had he moved so close to her? Suddenly her chest felt tight; it was difficult to breathe. Seeping into her mind – oh, she tried to push it away, tried to deny it but it wouldn't be quieted – was the dawning idea that…

God, what was this? She'd liked attention; she always had. Yes, she liked to be flattered, yes, she liked to have men fawn over her. She wanted to be wanted; what girl didn't? She'd been warier of it after – what had happened, but – no, what she felt now wasn't that same wariness. She didn't want mindless flattery from Matthew, she realised, she… wanted his attention, but… She blinked at him, as if that might shake the vision of him that seemed to fill her every sense. It frightened her because she wanted it, because she wanted – could she want? – him.

"Do you really care – about me?" she asked quietly. "Why?"

"I do." His voice had dropped now to a soft murmur, and he was only inches from her. He met her dark eyes; equally helpless, equally afraid. "I don't know why. I can't say. But I do, Mary… I care very much."

The warmth of his admission broke over her, and she physically swayed, clutching his arm suddenly for support. He cared about her.

Matthew. Her cousin Matthew, Matthew who had barged uninvited into their lives, who stood to gain everything, who was nothing to her at all and had no reason at all to pay her the slightest due in any way… cared about her. Matthew, who she'd been so abominable to, who had not the slightest cause to even like her when she mocked him and teased him… cared about her. More than, at this moment, her own father seemed to; no matter what any of them said.

It was the sweetest compliment she'd ever heard.

With a fluttery, racing pulse, her hand trailed down his arm to his hand, and she clasped it tightly. Was she smiling? She couldn't quite tell. But her eyes were wide, and her lips were trembling – perhaps she was smiling!

Slowly, Matthew's hand turned over in hers, his thumb caressing over her knuckles; Lord, it really was a caress, so much more than that brief, intoxicating touch before… and then he lifted it; she watched, watched her hand rise in his and his eyes as he bent his head and kissed her hand, his lips – his lips, how had she never noticed their softness? – touching her, hot, like a flame through the thin satin of her glove.

When he met her eyes again, there was a new understanding there. A breathless realisation, an acceptance, an invitation… and then her eyes closed as he kissed her.

She'd never expected it to happen, certainly never expected that she'd welcome it; Lord she certainly shouldn't welcome it! Not after – oh, it ached to think of that but already it was so different. Where Kemal had been forceful, possessive, Matthew was… gentle, oh goodness! his lips were soft, so unexpectedly soft, she'd never imagined…

It was as though a light had been switched on. Everything suddenly fell into place, into focus with a dazzling clarity. A fuse had been lit. A firework set off, a bottle smashed open, and all at once everything made sense as they kissed, and kissed, and clutched each other under the dim, heavy lamplight. Everything, every feeling, made sense.

Only it didn't make sense, it was impossible; but it was undeniable and happening and real. Matthew's arms slipped around her waist, holding her closely, his lips coaxing hers apart… They were sweeter than he'd ever imagined. And she was… responding to him, anticipating him, seeking him with absolute reciprocity that he couldn't grasp. She was kissing him, her mouth was open, she was eager, her fingers slid into his hair, oh God… and somehow, quite by accident as the kiss deepened impossibly, he felt her tongue glance against his own, and… he shuddered, hummed softly in pleasure as he sought it again and she let him.

Mary trembled in his arms. Her dress was thin, torturously thin, like gossamer, and Matthew remembered how she'd looked in the hallway. How he'd watched her, could see such a beautiful expanse of her back, of her shoulders moving under the dress and her skin, her beautiful skin, her slight sway as she walked… Hesitantly, his hands traced up her back until he reached the edge of her dress and slipped up past it, and her skin was every bit as smooth, as silken as he'd imagined. The touch was electric; his bare fingers against her skin! And she whimpered, squirmed closer to him, wordlessly begged him to touch her again. And he did.

Every ounce of his care, his adoration, came across so perfectly eloquently with every touch, every brush of his lips as they dropped to her creamy, freckled neck. She gasped. It wasn't enough. She clutched at his back; he teased the delicate strap of her dress aside, and kissed her shoulder, it was more shockingly intimate than anything he'd done before and it felt more intimate to Mary, that simple, perfect touch. His lips and his… tongue, on her skin…

They stumbled to the settee, Mary falling back into the deep red cushions while Matthew sank to his knees before her, leaning over her lap, reluctant to allow their lips to part. Mary's arms hung around his neck, over his shoulders, pulling him against her, forgetting every shred of propriety she had.

But… Matthew was not improper, surely. And this was so… so right, it felt so right, and true – there was not an ounce of the fear, the nervousness she'd felt before. This time there was only elation, fulfilment… joy, and – well, her parents had been harping on at her about their union! – surely this could not be wrong. If it was, she couldn't care, not when he was doing – that, and it was Matthew! She felt even more delight at the unexpectedness of it.

Their kisses had deepened, and were punctuated now by little gasps and sighs, and the gentle sound of their lips, sliding over each other, meeting, parting, tasting, the little appreciative hums of breath… And the more satisfaction they found, the more it wasn't enough, was not enough… Then somehow Matthew's jacket was on the floor over there, his hands sliding her gloves off, the satin slipping against her skin with his fingers, then Mary gasped as the golden chain of Matthew's pocket watch shattered over the carpet, links spilling everywhere… No matter.

As he leaned over her, his lips exploring her own, her neck, her… chest, or all of it that he could reach (he wanted to taste every freckle, he never imagined that skin could taste so sweet and it was so smooth), his hands braced on her lap, flexing on her thighs, gliding up to her hips but that slid her dress up a little… A quiet moan slipped past her lips and Matthew pulled back, gazing at her with such wonder and adoration that his eyes alone caused a surge of arousal in her and she whimpered again, and he answered her plea with another searing, devastating kiss. She hummed softly in protest as his hands came down again, back over her knees but then they were… sliding up, up – under her dress, skimming over her silk stockings… She shuddered with desire so strong it was nearly painful, so piercingly strong. He wanted her, he cared about her, he wanted to make things right and this made everything, everything right.

Instinctively she moved closer, leaned forwards into him, her knees sliding either side of his waist as she shuffled to the edge of the settee to be nearer him, against him. She wondered if she should feel some shame, surely she should, with her dress bunched almost to her hips and only a frighteningly insignificant scrap of silk protecting what remained of her modesty and then – not even that. But she didn't care, not even that was enough, as she responded to Matthew's hands on her hips pulling her impossibly closer… No, it wasn't enough, there was too much still and before she could even consider what she was doing her fingers were at his belt – it couldn't be so complicated, surely – slinging it to the side and then working at his trousers.

Her boldness should have shocked Matthew. It did, but he was powerless to even consider stopping it, or questioning it. He didn't want to. He finally realised, that this – no, not this, but her – was what he wanted, and she wanted it too, and that justified it all.

He forgot where they were. He forgot everything. He might have forgotten his own name if she were not whispering it repeatedly against his ear, her breath hot and taunting.

"Oh Matthew," she whispered, as he pulled her towards and… onto him, and slowly, beautifully, wondrously slowly, they connected and joined and hot flesh met hot flesh as they rocked into place. "Oh! Matthew…" The only response he could muster was a low groan, his eyes fluttering shut as the sensation of her swam over him. He'd never… never thought anything could feel like this; so perfect, so complete, so utterly whole. Together they sank to the rug, Matthew easing onto his back as she came down with him, his arms wrapped tightly over her back with the silk of her dress bunched into his fists. Her hands were in his hair, on his face, then… slipping under his shirt…

With a deep groan, he rolled to bring her beneath him, gazing down in rapture at her pale skin infused with a warm blush at their intimacy, their heat, and all of it tinted and lit with a greater warmth by the flicker of firelight beside them. The flames crackled, matching their passion, and the light picked out all the chestnut shades in her hair. She looked utterly beautiful. Holding her carefully, Matthew stretched behind him to tug a cushion from the sofa – the rug was soft, but not that soft, and Mary deserved more – and she arched her back in response as he pushed it under her hips, and another (smaller, even softer) under her head. She smiled, and it was the most genuine, honest smile he'd ever seen from her.

He loved her. He desired her, he cherished her, he wanted her… and he took her, or she gave herself to him, or him to her – did it really matter? They were together, their hips rocking and lifting and bucking together as they clung to each other, Mary's dress falling in a soft wave across the top of her thighs as the slowly building force of Matthew's movements arched her back up, again, and again, and again…

"Oh God, Mary," he whispered, and again, murmuring softly against her neck where his lips rested. They were quiet – unconsciously aware, perhaps, of the need for it – but the near-silence fostered an intensity that was torturously intimate. Their rhythm settled, built, rose, everything rose, and quickened, and Matthew grasped her hip instinctively, gasping against her skin as her leg curled around his waist.

It shocked Mary, and dazzled her. She'd thought she might know what to expect, but this… this, was so exquisite, the beauty and the intimacy and Matthew… It was new, brand new and perfect, and she twisted her fingers into his hair as he drove against her, into her, over and over. Warm, tight tension coiled deep in her belly, lower than that… Building as he quickened, tightening, deepening, all together into a frenzy as she could no longer keep track of each single movement, every one blending and melding and soaring until it was – oh, too, too much! Her throat constricted and her lips parted to a silent cry, she clutched him tighter and stiffened, tightened (more? How was it possible!), jerked against him as his thrusts suddenly lost all semblance of control, and he shuddered violently against her in a glorious release, hands tightening upon her and his teeth biting hard into the delicate fabric at her shoulder until a deliciously heavy peace seemed to settle over them.

They were comfortable, and content, and for some long, endless moments they lay entwined, the fire beside them burning down to warm embers, until they realised that the floor was not so very comfortable after all.

Easing to their feet, stretching out muscles unfamiliar with such exertion, they wordlessly reclaimed discarded scraps of clothing, replaced the cushions, and then stood before each other with a new, intimate depth of understanding. Matthew took her into his arms, rubbing softly over her back, inhaling the warm, nutty, heady scent that clung to her.

Warm and safe in his arms, Mary smiled, tears pricking at her eyes. She whispered softly.

"You – you really do care for me. Don't you." It was a statement rather than a question.

"Very much," he softly replied, voice deep and weighted with emotion. Words simply could not express it, and so he kissed her again, softly, with a greater tenderness than the urgency of earlier.

"Everything seems quite changed," Mary eventually murmured. Her whole world. Everything.

Matthew smiled. "It is changed. We've changed it."

Nothing seemed to matter. The entail… What did that matter? Matthew had wanted to make things right. He… loved her. He was going to marry her, he decided then and there. Tomorrow he would speak to her father. And then he might not steal her inheritance after all. This way… he could give it to her. It would be theirs. That seemed right.

"Thank you," Mary whispered. She seemed to understand all this even without him saying it.

"I love you." He kissed her again, and once more, stepping away from her then. The fire had died now, completely, and the night was cold. "I must go, but… I will come, tomorrow. After breakfast. If – if you'd like." The walk would do him good, cool him down.

She smiled; again, that beautiful, honest, open smile that withheld nothing from him.

"Yes. Yes, I would like." She rose to her tip-toes, resting her hands on his chest as she kissed him one final goodbye, before stepping back.

Her face lit by a gentle smirk, she extended her once-more gloved hand. "Goodnight, Cousin Matthew."

Matthew took her hand, held it… kissed it.

"Goodnight."

Fin


A/N: And there we have it! Thanks so much for reading. I'd love to know what you thought; reviews are always very gratefully received and appreciated enormously! Thank you!