A/N: So I've decided to wander into the realm of modern.. not necessarily AU, however. What follows is what I like to think happened to the descendants of Mary & Matthew.. where they would be in today's world. I'm a journalist who covers politics and finance, and so this happened.
There's a soundtrack to this... if you care to listen along, it's Craig Armstrong's "As If To Nothing." The song for the prologue is called "Inhaler."
I hope you enjoy. Let me know what you think...
Preferred Stock 1/?
Thursday, 10 November 2011
It was not her club, and she was glad of it that Thursday night, the air outside as cold as she felt inside as the minutes ticked by, closer to midnight, closer to Friday and the day that would change her life and her family's lives forever. She did not want to be seen in the usual haunts, where London's bankers and financiers who knew everything before anyone else did would look upon her with scorn or pity or a little of both. This club was a haven for artists and writers, the kind of people with whom her sister Sybil and brother-in-law Felix could be found, the kind who would not be able to pick Mary Crawley out of a lineup if they had to, which was just as well, since tomorrow there would be a lineup of sorts in front of cameras, in which a young upstart would be hailed as savior of the grand old investment firm Crawley Martin Thorpe, and she would smile and nod and act as if it wasn't the one of the greatest injustices in history.
Everything was Patrick's fault, and yet no one was punishing Patrick. No one was keeping him off the dais even as the company had fallen to near-ruin about him, even though his idiotic decisions had forced this change, even though he was responsible for far greater crimes than the destruction of an eighty-five-year-old family business. He would stand up there and pretend this was all part of the plan, and Mary hated him for it, for all of it.
"The truth is neither here nor there. It's the look of the thing that matters," had been all her father would say after the German affair, and no matter how often she pointed out that she'd done absolutely nothing illegal or even wrong, he was afraid, always afraid, of how it would look, and so he had passed her over in favor of her cousin Patrick to run things.
"Look where that got you," she muttered, and Sybil's head jerked around.
"Nothing, darling." She picked up her glass, draining the dregs of a lime-spiked tonic, knowing full well she couldn't bear alcohol tonight. "Tell me again what happened when you asked Cameron about NATO and Libya."
Sybil's eyes lit up and she once again recounted the press conference, a story Mary knew well enough to nod at all the right places as she looked around the room. A slightly boisterous group had just come in and parked at a nearby table, and she looked at them wistfully, wishing she herself could be that cheerful. She did not remember the last time she felt like that.
"And then he couldn't remember the timing." Sybil sat back and toasted herself, earning indulgent smiles from Mary and from Felix, who noticed Mary's glass was empty.
"Another?" he asked.
"I'll get it. The same?" Felix nodded and Sybil shook her head as Mary unfolded herself from the banquette and strode toward the bar, studiously ignoring the raucous laughter and toasts at the table next to theirs.
He liked this club, liked that it wasn't full of brokers and blondes, liked the music that fell somewhere between jazz and dirty electronica with a dash of Florence + the Machine, liked that it was just loud enough, and liked that the cocktails were properly mixed as they had been at his favourite haunt in New York. He was just finishing his first, grimacing at the ease at which all his friends were already on their third, when something caught his eye, or rather, someone, a tall woman, with dark, glossy hair halfway down her back, walking toward the bar. He admired the long legs, encased in spiky black boots that came up past her knees, the grace with which she moved, clearly unfettered by alcohol. She leaned across the bar, and the bartender grinned and nodded as she spoke, and then she turned around.
She did not look at him at first, and he was glad he could stare for a moment. The dark locks framed pale skin, deep brown eyes, and a scarlet curve of a mouth that he suddenly wanted to kiss. She wasn't pretty so much as she was spectacularly, uniquely beautiful, and he found himself standing, walking, making his way toward her, his nearly-empty glass in his hand, wondering why she looked so familiar.
She noticed him standing up before she noticed him, tall, slim, but with an air of innate strength about the shoulders as he walked toward her. She admired the slight swagger, earned and deserved if what he looked like underneath those clothes was anything close to what he looked like in them. It was his eyes, however, which drowned her, the ungodly blue gleaming like spotlights in the dark club, and she grinned as a wave of pure desire washed over her, followed by a coldness that stopped her breath.
There was a reason he seemed so familiar.
He was the upstart, the purported savior-genius with a name that was too devastatingly cruel to be a joke. He was Matthew Crawley, allegedly no relation, come back home from his heroic time in New York City rescuing investment firms to reorganize and clean up the business founded by a long-gone Matthew Crawley and David Martin in the 1920s, the business that had turned this branch of the Crawley family into billionaires, the business she had always believed she would take over, the business that was nearly broken by her father's stupid belief in her stupid cousin, and this Matthew Crawley was walking toward her with a smile on his face that made her weak even as she steeled herself against the first meeting of the man who was about to ruin her life.
He could not believe the grin on her face, could not believe that in a matter of seconds he had fallen in love with a woman he did not know, had never even spoken to, and yet, there it was. And yet, there it wasn't, for the smile was suddenly replaced by a cold glare and she deliberately turned her back on him as he reached the bar.
"May I buy you a drink?" His voice, deep and lovely, thrummed in her and she bit back her first reply as she turned briefly in his direction.
"It's probably better if you don't," she said. "Thank you."
"Fair enough," he replied. The hot-to-cold confused him. He ordered a Negroni.
"Bitter," she remarked.
"A little," he said. "I'm Matthew, by the way."
She shot him a look, terrifying and icy, and did not reply, and he did not try again, even as the idea that he should know who she was burned at him. They stood silently, watching the bartenders expertly mix the cocktails at a speed favored by snails.
"See you tomorrow," she said inexplicably as she took her drinks back to her table.
Why would she say that? He took a sip of the Negroni, and the word bitter came back into his head and as he watched her walk away, an awful coldness struck him.
He'd just introduced himself to Mary Crawley.
She kept her head up as she made her way back to the table, her blood like fire, tears pricking the back of her eyes. She would not cry. "Here," she said, handing Felix his drink and banging hers down on the table. "I'm leaving."
"Who was that?" Sybil asked.
"That," she said as she wrenched on her jacket. "That's the new chairman. That's Matthew Crawley."
"No!" Sybil turned her head quickly to look at him and looked back. "Did he know who you were?"
"No," she said. "Will you be there tomorrow?"
Sybil laughed. "Watching from the safety of the Guardian offices. Give Eddie my love, will you?" She looked back at Matthew. "What's he like?"
Mary shrugged. "Full of himself." She kissed her sister's cheek, and Felix's. "Just make sure the picture they print of me is a decent one."
He made his way back to the table after she left, internally fuming at the knowledge that her companions now knew what he'd done. He did not know them either, but he felt sure he was supposed to, which only made him angrier. He hoped people at his table hadn't noticed the exchange, but as he sat down, Ben was already frowning.
"So what did you and Mary Crawley have to talk about? She left in a bit of a huff."
Matthew looked over at his oldest friend. "I didn't recognize her."
"You idiot. Did you read the briefing books?"
"Yes, I read the bloody briefing books."
"I told you to memorize that family. That's where your problems are going to come in, not with the business. You know how to handle that. These people.." Ben shook his head. "Make it up to her and make friends with her. If you do nothing else in the next ninety days, make friends with Mary Crawley."
Ben Macmillan leaned forward and stole his Negroni. "Because she's the smart one. Because no one in this town can understand why the old man passed her over in favor of that idiot Patrick Thorpe. Because if you have her as an ally, you can get rid of that idiot and the rest of the dead weight at Crawley Martin Thorpe and cement your reputation as the best mind in this business and retire before you're thirty-five."
Matthew shook his head. "I don't know. You didn't meet her. I'll be lucky if she lets me make eye contact again."
The loft's main room was dark, the only light from the city itself, shining in through the glass and steel. "Eddie?" Mary called, tossing her keys onto the hall table. She could hear music echo across the space, and Mary crossed the living room and walked through the door it came from.
The studio was two stories, one wall just sheets of glass that ordinarily welcomed the perfect light by which to paint. Tonight, the shades were drawn, and the illumination came from the huge film lights that hung from the ceiling, drawing Mary's eye to the giant new canvas and she gasped.
It was only the beginning, a rough oil sketch at this point, but it was already clear what the critics raved about, why they were describing this artist as the descendant of Caravaggio and Sargent and Freud, why paintings signed E.C. were being snapped up at unheard-of prices, why gallery owners and dealers were clamoring to know who this mysterious artist really was and creating buzz at events by swearing that E.C. would be at the show. "Eddie, it's wonderful."
Their eyes met, and Mary was reminded yet again why she really hated Patrick as she looked at her sister's face, the twisting scar across the cheek that wound deep into the golden hair and the flat grey eyes that were once so full of light and happiness, but now showed no emotion.
Patrick had stolen Mary's birthright, put the family's fortunes and the fortunes of others at risk with his terrible judgment, but worst of all, he had been the one driving the car that wrecked on the road from Downton Abbey, the drunken man who had walked away without a scratch, but who had left her baby sister Edith in that car with a smashed hip, that cut across her face, and her tongue all but bitten off. Because it happened on private property, her family was able to cover it all up, to prevent a terrible scandal, but it came at too high a cost. Her beautiful sister was destroyed physically and emotionally, her angelic voice a memory, and her once-graceful walk now a step and a drag that Edith could not bear to let people see. She broke her engagement after her fiancé flinched at the sight of her, and now this silent wreck of a girl answered only to Eddie, painted twenty hours a day, allowed only her sisters Mary and Sybil to see her, and tolerated Felix, who was her link to the art world and her champion.
Mary's fury flared up in a great, hot wave, and as she saw the clock turn to midnight, she had no qualms about adding another person to her list, a person who would likely ignore her and push her aside as her father and Patrick had done before, and for some strange reason, it pleased her to feel this way.
She hated Matthew Crawley.