A/N: Last one. Thanks to Eolivet and ARCurren as always, and thanks to all of you who've supported and reviewed this. It means a lot.
Preferred Stock 36
They honeymooned in Lourmarin and Scotland, hidden in plain sight. She taught him the ways of a temperamental French farm kitchen, and he taught her how to navigate the coldest of lake waters in a wetsuit. Their unwelcome security details behaved appropriately to the point that Matthew stopped thinking of them, though Mary never did. Mobiles did not ring. They chose a time each day to check on the world outside, silently and without comment to follow. For two weeks, they said nothing of the places to which they had to return.
Not until he slipped into the driver's seat of her old Defender did the world come back to them, and only because they were entirely unsure of where to go.
"You don't have to move in with me," she said. "The right side. Wipers."
He turned on the wipers and waited for the muck to clear. "I have no attachment to my place in London. You love your flat."
"Yes, but I'm not going to kick out Eddie. She needs the studio."
"I don't mind living with Eddie."
"You say that now. Wait until three a.m. when she decides only Eminem at football stadium decibels can inspire her. Or when she decides to paint you. Never mind the fact that Papa seems disinclined to stay anywhere else when he's in London."
"He really did let Charlotte have Grantham House?"
She craned her neck to see past the stone wall before waving him forward and he pulled onto the pavement. "Easier than fighting, and he never liked it that much anyway. He got the art and furniture, which is all that really matters anyway. It's a terrible house."
"Why didn't we talk about this before?"
"My father or where we were living? I assumed your place." Mary turned on the radio. "I'm not doing what my great-grandparents did. He kept saying they'd live alone, but then.." She broke off. "I mean, Downton is enormous, but who wants to face the parents every morning?"
"We can start at my place. I'll have to.." He laughed.
"Unpack," he said. "Where are you going to do your yoga?"
"Jemma's studio's not far from your place."
"In public? Not in a private studio?
"Stop." She started to laugh and pointed behind them. "Can you imagine him in class?"
He glanced at the Mercedes saloon in the rearview, the shadow of two men in its front seats. "No, but I can't imagine the class at all. Madness, I tell you. Madness."
"It's lovely," she replied and stretched. "I can't wait to get back to it."
"What about work?"
"No names, no pack drill," she muttered. "Yes and no."
"Sorry. If it's any consolation, I'm not looking forward to it." He fell silent, and it was just the whip of rain against the window and the answering soft scrapes on glass that accompanied them for miles.
It was with an uncharacteristic squeal that Jemma welcomed Mary into the five-thirty a.m. silent class. "Couldn't get practice in otherwise," Mary whispered as they left the room at seven-fifteen.
"Unless Matthew's going to put a hot room in the flat and I can go back to teaching your private classes. Ooh, get him to join us."
"No chance," Mary replied. "There's no place for it and he's pathologically afraid of heat."
"How are you settling in?"
"It's a nice neighborhood."
"I mean marriage."
"It's a nice neighborhood." Her eyebrows raised to match Jemma's. "It's wonderful, but we're on week three of it, and only week one of real life."
"True." Jemma picked up a mug of hot black tea and handed it to Mary. "But I think you're going to be all right."
Mary drank, the heat a surprising antidote to her own elevated temperature. "Still works."
"Half of them still don't believe me," Jemma hissed as the rest of the class filled up on cold water.
"I believe everything you tell me," Mary said.
"So if I tell you Matthew's not going to last six months at Centerbank, you'll believe me?"
"Last? You mean cut loose?"
Jemma shrugged. "No, under his own power. I don't see him staying."
"What brought this on?"
Jemma exchanged niceties with two of the students, and waited until the stragglers made it into the dressing room. "Let's just say I've enjoyed being right about things recently. I've missed the prediction bits of our work."
"So this is just for your own amusement? Or are you angling for your old job?"
Jemma's eyes met Mary's. "Maybe. Not yet. But no, it's not for my amusement. You're my dearest friend. I love you. It's so you can be ready when he does something that surprises you at a time that may or may not be convenient."
She grinned. "And a little bird told me someone's already sniffing around him."
"Not my pig, not my field." Jemma poured another cup of tea. "But be ready for it."
"Six months," Mary said.
She did not get him to come to class, and he did not even attempt to get her to run, and one week turned into four, and two months turned into five and then some, and it was as if it had been forever, and yet still new, separating regretfully in the morning, hands finding each other, the stroke of thumbs always the last touch. The morning rituals, physical first and then mental as they watched three screens and read from two more, always in silence. They spoke of nothing that existed outside the walls, as they had vowed to themselves and to their boards and, in a way, to the press. What had been split between amusement and appalled horror by outsiders had mellowed into a few barbs here and there, some funny, some not.
"Six months," he whispered to her as he covered her eyes and put a long, slim box in her hand, a bracelet she thought was lost to the Crawleys during the darkest post-crash days.
"Six months," she whispered to him as the Oxford pub went dark and then lit up again as the band that got its start on that stage walked up and started playing to the small crowd that until that moment, thought they were only getting a DJ.
"Six months," he said to no one at when he stared down at yet another report that he could not bear to open.
"Matthew?" she called. The flat was uncharacteristically dark. "Matthew," she called again.
"I'll call you back," she heard from the terrace, and then a soft beep. "Mary?"
"In here," she replied, and put down her bag. "You're home early."
"You're late," he said.
"I'm on time," she protested. "Who were you talking to?"
He shrugged. "A friend from New York. About footy."
"No," he said. "Dinner?"
The beat was infinitesimal, but they both sensed it, the moment at which information was omitted.
She did not press it then, and she did not press it when the phone calls kept coming at odd hours, late into the night for the next week. She did not ask why he laughed, why he changed his patterns in the morning to look at sport first instead of finance.
She waited until a Friday, when she walked into the flat to find a riot of flowers and the scent of steaks, crisp-grilled with ginger and garlic. She stole his bourbon to make herself a boulevardier, and he tossed a salad as they sipped at their drinks, the silence a balm on her end-of-week nerves. It was not until his phone jangled suddenly from the other room and he paused for a moment too long did she finally find the words.
"How long have you been cheating on me with football?"
He burst out laughing, as did she. "I wouldn't call it cheating."
"What is it? Using your bonus to finance a losing cause?"
"What losing cause?"
"Soccer. In America."
"What's in a boulevardier?"
"Bourbon, Campari, and sweet vermouth. Don't change the subject."
He pulled out the bottles. "I don't think it's a losing cause, and I'm not financing it. Proportions?"
"A little more bourbon. Investing?"
He stirred the drinks. "Investigating, I suppose. I have a hunch... You know anything about American football?"
"The one that looks like rugby for weak souls?"
He grinned. "Yes. Only it's not and there's a shift in... Parents are thinking twice about putting their sons in it because of the concussion problem. There's a path for any good American football player through school. But footy.. soccer's been this elitist thing for years there. It's travel teams and brutal schedules that interfere with school. There's no real mechanism for finding and encouraging the best talent regardless of their parents' ability to pay. Some teams take academies and under-18s seriously and some don't."
"You seem to be taking this very seriously."
"There's a new club," he said slowly. "In New York. Ground up, build it the way you want to, create a dynasty."
"In New York."
"And you want to do that."
"In New York."
"Exactly." He plated the steak.
"You were serious about getting out."
"Of finance? Maybe."
"You should do it."
"It's in New York." He took the plates to the table and raised his glass. "To you. I saw how you handled questions about the trade deal."
"It won't happen for ten years. No point in starting a stupid panic now."
"Wait nine years and then start the stupid panic."
"Always. Seriously, Matthew, you should do it."
"Run this football.. soccer... thing. In New York."
"Would you have to be there all the time?"
"No," he said slowly. She could see the wheels turning, and so she focused on her food.
"You know," he said when the plates were nearly empty. "Two weeks of every month. I could do that."
He smiled, relieve evident on his face. "You're sure? You don't feel..."
"Abandoned and unloved?" His face fell. "No. I'm glad you want to do something. You've been making me sad."
"I want you to be happy. You have the luxury of being able to make that choice. You have the luxury of being able to make any choice. Most people don't. So do it. Make a difference." She grinned. "Enable a miracle in the World Cup. The U.S. making it out of group play."
"You really are all right with this?"
Her hand reached across the table and took his. "If you're all right with this, then I'm all right with this." She forked up the last piece of his steak.
"I'm going to sleep on it." He leaned over and took her drink. "Fair," he said at her protest, and against her lips.
"He's in for a long disappointment. Americans don't go in for sports that involve grown men acting like babies. Isn't that right?" Sybil's hand stroked the small dark head against her shoulder and was rewarded with a resounding yawn.
"You think he ought to stay at Centerbank?" Mary took the boy from his mother's arms. "Come on, John. Your mother has gone soft on me."
"No, I haven't."
"Yes, you have. Your columns have been distinctly gooey." Eddie dropped onto the floor with her camera and focused in on the now-sleepy face of John Stuart Friedrich ("I couldn't decide") Maier.
"Take that back."
"No." Eddie looked down at the display. "I should just specialize in baby pictures now. It's practically all I've done for months."
"And the consulting." Holly took the camera from Eddie, and flicked through the pictures. "You're still consulting."
"The Sherlock of the art world," Eddie droned. "If I see that one more time..."
"Sybil, since when do you use the word cute?"
"I'm a yummy mummy, Mary. I say things like that all the time."
"Eddie, why aren't you painting?"
Eddie sighed. "I am painting. It's just not... for anyone. Not yet."
"Not even for Ben?" Holly asked.
"Definitely not for Ben." She stood up. "Are you going to let Matthew go off to America?"
Mary grinned. "I don't think there's a 'let' in it. He's tired of finance. It's an interesting opportunity."
Sybil giggled. "You'll be an actual WAG instead of just a bank WAG. All over the Daily Mail with your wardrobe and the speculation over whether or not you're pregnant. You're not pregnant, are you?"
"No," Mary said slowly.
"It'll be nice going back and forth," Eddie said. "You'll have fun." She watched her sister, eyes sharp, and said nothing else.
"Football?" Rob passed her the Financial Times and picked up The Wall Street Journal. "Odd. I'd have thought he would have gone for a startup or something if he was bored. I suppose it is startup football, but still..."
Mary glanced at the opinion pages Centerbank on sure footing again... Crawley Martin name change official, as is the resurgence... "You don't approve?"
"A chairman at a top bank decides to chuck it and supervise a bunch of sweaty man-children with a predilection for dramatic falls and crying?"
"He wouldn't be a coach."
"No, but he'd be responsible for their behavior all the same."
She smiled. "I don't suppose they're any worse than bankers."
Rob laughed. "No, they're probably not. Well, good luck to him."
"It's not my place to approve or disapprove. It seems a bit early for a midlife crisis. If it was my..." He grinned. "I'd start an orchestra."
"Not a band?"
"God, no. A full-sized orchestra somewhere. Give some musicians some jobs and then force them to play all the Philip Glass I wanted them to."
"That's your planned midlife crisis?"
"Well, I didn't have one." His face clouded for a moment. "There didn't seem to be the right moment."
"You could still do it."
"I'm busy enough. I'm quite enjoying not having much real responsibility other than the estate. It needs some care and I'm happy to provide it."
"How's Granny Violet?"
"Interfering. She's put her foot down on updating the bathrooms again. I keep thinking I can sneak things by her, but she knows somehow."
"It was her house," Mary said. "It's in her blood."
"It's in mine and yours as well," Rob said. "And I'll be damned if I have to put up with bloody bad water pressure."
"You know what time it is?"
"It is six o'clock in the morning." Aurelie pressed the silver button and got a satisfying hiss out of the machine.
"In London. Do you know what time it is in Rio?"
"I'm asleep in Rio, so... Yes, you should." Greg rolled away from the wall. "What is it?"
"I have a story you won't believe and it will cost you a weekend in New York City."
Greg grinned. "That the owners of the new football club in New York City want someone you and I both know very well to run it?"
Her face fell. "You heard?"
Indira laughed. "I told you he'd know."
"Say hello to Indira. Of course I knew. I'll still take you to New York, though. I miss you."
"Everything all right?"
"Very," he said. "You'll meet him in New York."
"I slept on it," he said as the door closed.
"I know," Mary said softly. "I was there for it."
He smiled. "I can do ten days there, five days back."
"Of a sort." He pulled out his smartphone. "That's for the first few months. It may stretch to weeks, but it's in the contract that for every ten days I get five days back here. Until the beginning of 2015 and then..."
"It's real. It begins then?"
"Playing in Yankee Stadium at first, and then if it goes well, its own home." He swiped through the calendar. "It'll be a lot, but.. you're sure?"
"Even if.." He broke off. "I know at some point it won't be just us."
"You're going to let me have a dog?"
"I know what you mean." I always know what you mean, she thought. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it." She took his hand, her thumb nestling under his, nudging until the dance began again, the same and yet, as always, new and thrilling mine, he is mine, a thousand miles away or here with me.
21 December, 2014
New lights beamed across the Manhattan skyline, the bright new spire a beacon as the last stripe of blue on the horizon turned to black. The players on the field unconsciously turned to it again and again during the game, shivering from cold and, for some, in memory.
There were professionals among them, but for the most part, these were the ones who had never quite left the game behind, the Division I scholarship winners, the longtime adult league champions, the part-time athletes who did Ironmans for fun. They played to win on Fridays and Sundays, and celebrated as if each match was a World Cup.
Matthew pulled off the thick sweatshirt. "In," he called, and exchanged places with a lanky man who looked as if he might collapse if forced to run one more step and he did the second he crossed the line.
"Get on the ball, Crawley!"
And he did, the cold air speeding into his lungs as his feet took control of the ball for mere seconds before a former Arsenal player neatly took it away from him. He played for ten minutes before collapsing next to the still prone Luke, who was casually drinking a beer with eleven minutes to play.
"Electrolytes," he said laconically. "I think, anyway."
"Right," Matthew said as he picked up a matching bottle. "Congratulations on the elopement."
"Thank you. I highly recommend it, if you go for a second round."
"No, I'm in this one for life," Matthew replied.
Luke nodded. "Is she coming for Christmas? Or are you flying home?"
"We have twelve days of Christmas. She's coming here for the start and then we'll go home. My family, her family, her friends, my friends, New Year's, a long weekend in France... "
"And then you're back for the MLS season?"
"March to December."
"We'll make it to playoffs this year. I know it. This is a good team. And I'll still split my time between here and London. So will Mary. Crawley Martin's expanded its presence here. We weren't going to travel quite so much, but things change."
"GET ON THE BALL!"
The scream made them both jump. "God, Scraps does not want to lose this one," Matthew muttered.
"She never does. And my wife is even worse. Mary doesn't play, does she?"
"No, I don't. Get back in, Crawley. I didn't fly all this way to watch you drink a lager off the pitch."
Matthew stood up with a groan. "I'm finished for the night. You missed me brilliantly passing to Thierry."
"I didn't think Thierry was on your team." Mary pulled back her hood and tipped her face to his.
"He's not." He kissed her, his lips warm against her wind-cold skin. "How was the flight?"
"Very quiet, thank goodness. Slept the whole way. I'll trade you for the drink."
He handed her the bottle and took the warm, sleepy bundle of down jumpsuit from her. "Hello, Lilou."
She was too young to answer, but not too young to smile, and so she did, toothless and bright-eyed, and his heart went soft again as she took hold of his thumb and did not let go.
Mary watched him introduce his daughter to his football team, who passed her around like an American football, much to the baby's delight. She ignored the soft buzz in her pocket, knowing it was only a reminder of her two morning meetings. She ignored the cold as she listened to Matthew whisper things in English, things she would say again in French to their little unexpected wonder who bore a ponderous combination of family names that old Aimee had, upon meeting her in Paris, immediately shortened to Lilou.
"This is going to work," she murmured with a soft smile.