A/N: I want to make everyone aware that the first scene of this story is of a graphic and violent nature. If that's not something you want to read, then I suggest skipping this chapter, or at least the beginning of it...But I promise, promise, promise that this will be a happy story with a happy ending.
Mary purposely wore red.
Back when she went to see him at his office, to throw herself on his mercy and beg him to help in the scandal, she also wore red. She had no "A" to pin to her dress. A red dress and a jaunty hat–though she felt anything other than jaunty–would have to do. She told herself she would not kneel before him, figuratively or literally, and beg. She told herself she would relay her situation without emotion or desperation. She would simply ask, her chin level, eyes cold. She wasn't above using her beauty, the coldness of it, the way she could hold herself as still as a statue while she waited for Sir Richard's judgement upon her. Would he save her or would he ruin her?
He called her "the cold and careful Lady Mary Crawley" and as her hands tightened in her brown leather gloves, the only movement she allowed herself, she realized that this was a man she could not cross, and worse than that she knew, in the way that women do, that the less she wanted him, the more he would want her. He seemed positively jolly knowing his future wife had a lover before him. Every time he said "the turk" his voice split with joy.
She knew she should be thankful for what he was doing for her but when he called her "the cold and careful Lady Mary Crawley" she felt something she did not quite recognize–fear or revulsion; she could not be sure which. But she simply could not afford to examine those feelings, not then, not when he was rescuing her.
The man himself was such a conundrum, so modern in his thinking but needing badly the approval of a group of people one could only be born into. Sometimes he reminded her of a little boy, who just wanted to be included instead of scolded, saying the wrong things out of nervousness. But other times, most of the time, she saw calculation in his eye: if they don't approve of me, then I will make it so they don't like me at all. He was all extremes, Sir Richard Carlisle.
So tonight, she wore red again. She liked symmetry and it was also a concession. She was already a woman ruined, it would not hurt to remind him of it, so he went quietly out into the night, out of her life, with his demands and bruising grips, reminding him he was only losing damaged goods. She knew she never tried hard enough to make him happy but even if she had, she sometimes thought it would have all gone awry somehow, someway.
"You must see we aren't well suited," she said, her black gloves gesturing gracefully. "We'd never be happy."
"You won't be happy by the time I'm finished with you," he threatened, menacingly pacing, like a lion in cage too small for it, who hadn't been fed for days. She suddenly realized that they were in the smaller of the libraries and quite alone and he was looking at her as if he would like to kill her, simply take his ruddy hands and wrap them around her pale throat and end it. She almost screamed, the cold and careful Lady Mary Crawley, but pride kept her quiet, even as she took a few steps back, knocking aside a table as he loomed over her.
"You know, I wondered after the story with Pamuk, after you sat in my office, how long it would take for you to offer your charms to me. I waited and waited." His face was so close she could see beads of sweat on his forehead. "You took one man into your bed. Why not a second? Why not a fiancé?" Now he did wrap his hand around her neck and squeezed. She could breathe but barely and his hand continued to squeeze. She saw it in his eyes: I could end you in a second. "But you did take a second lover, didn't you? But he was someone else's fiancé, wasn't he?"
She shook her head in denial.
Then his other hand snuck up before she anticipated him. He touched her breast, squeezed until it was painful. "That's all I wanted, Mary," he said almost sadly, the little boy again who'd been denied a sweet. "Well, not quite all." He used both hands to tear the front of her dress open; it was an old dress made of delicate silk. He ruined it in an instant so she stood bared in her corset from the waist up. Then she shut her eyes. Stay cold, she thought. Stay careful, she recited. You can be anywhere. You can be anything. As he lifted her skirts after undoing his own pants she thought, oh God, will you not save me from this? She remembered Matthew whispering with his haunted eyes, "We're cursed, you and I," and for the first time she believed him. Everything hurt, as her back hit the bookshelf. He was rough on purpose. Finally, she did scream; she shrieked, and it was as if this was what he was waiting for, muffling the sound with his mouth. So it was pointless after all, no one could hear her or help her.
When he was finished and let out his final grunt, she slid bonelessly to the floor, her gown ripped open, the hem above her knees. "Will you still publish?" she asked, dazed. She felt the bruises, the scratches, even the blood. But even lying on the floor she refused to give him the satisfaction of actually seeing her broken.
He didn't answer, only buttoned his pants, smoothed back his ginger hair, peeking outside the door to see if he could make his getaway without anyone noticing.
Mary lay there, a broken doll, not at all still, but trembling all over.
"Did you hear something?" Matthew asked Violet, who he'd been speaking to about adapting parts of her will.
"No," but she gripped her stick more tightly in her bony hand. "Where is Mary?"
Matthew smirked. "There is a rumor she's sacking Carlisle tonight. He is missing as well. I can only suppose she found some private place to break the news."
Violet reached for Matthew's arms. "Matthew, listen to me. You and I must find Mary and Sir Richard immediately."
"Sir Richard must face his heartache with a brave face." Matthew replied gamely, inwardly cheered by the night's events. But then frowned because the Dowager Countess had already stood and tugged on the cuff of his jacket.
"Now," she said. "Without alerting anyone else, we must find her."
They met Sir Richard in the hall, putting on his cap and wrapping a scarf around his neck. "Are you leaving us, Sir Richard?" Violet asked. "For good?"
Sir Richard turned from them and without pausing in his retreat. "Oh, I don't know. I think that will depend on a variety of factors. Good Night."
Violet turned away before Sir Richard finished walking down the hall and out the door. "Come, Matthew. We must find Mary. Who knows what havoc Sir Richard has wrought as Mary's parting gift?"
Matthew followed but he did think Cousin Violet was being a bit dramatic, especially when it came to Mary, who always, if nothing else, was the most capable woman he knew. "Surely Sir Richard wouldn't hurt Mary?"
"Surely nothing, Matthew. I have lived a long life and known many people in it. If there is one thing I know of Sir Richard's character it is that he is dangerous if crossed."
They found her in the small library. The light of the hall illuminated her foot and a bit of her calf with its ruined stocking. Violet entered first. "Matthew, you must not come in," she commanded. But Matthew had seen that foot, the shoe hanging off the heel, the run in the stocking. It was the leg of a doll that had been thrown in the corner by a child who found something better. He did not listen to Violet's request and even in the dim lighting it was as if Mary's pale skin illuminated her and the scene. It took only a moment to assess the ruined corset, the angry red scratches on her shoulders, and the bruises already forming on her arms. Near the back of her head, there was a small wound that was seeping blood and drying in her hair all at the same.
"Matthew if you will not obey my wishes then I must insist you close the door," Violet demanded in a low tone. "Now." She knelt very slowly to Mary, laying her walking stick down. "Mary," she said, gently but firmly. "Mary."
Mary's eyes fluttered for a moment and then closed as if even that was too much.
"We must call Doctor Clarkson," Matthew stated as he wiped his hand over his mouth. "And the police."
"We will call no one," Violet insisted in a guttural tone. "Her whole life would be ruined."
"But she's hurt...You can see what he done..."
Violet stroked her favorite grandchild's hand, a safe place that had yet to turn black and blue. She wanted to weep but could not. "Matthew, she is hurt but her wounds will not kill her. No, Sir," and the word sounded like a curse in her mouth when she said it, "Sir Richard would not believe in a mercy such as that."
"I will kill him," Matthew said and meant it.
"I want you to," Violet agreed. "But that's not the answer Mary needs. That won't help her."
But it will help me, Matthew thought, his fists clenching and unclenching in helplessness.
"Granny?" Mary whispered. She was parched, absolutely parched, and a little cold.
"Yes, Mary. I am here. I am here. Don't worry. It is over." Violet lied to her. It was not over. It was only just beginning.
"I'm cursed, did you know that?" She found out she was crying because she tasted salted tears on her chapped lips. "Matthew told me once and I found out tonight he was right. D'you know?"
Matthew knelt beside Mary and took her hand in his. "I was wrong to say that. You aren't cursed."
"How can you say such a thing now, now when I am the living, breathing Tess of the D'urbervilles?" Her eyes were still closed. She thought she may never open them again and her mind began to clear a little more moment by moment. "You told me I must sack Richard. I did. And then he..." Yes, her head was clearing a great deal. "Cousin Matthew, I think it very inappropriate that you should see me in such a state. I must ask you to leave."
"Mary," Violet urged her to open her eyes but she only squeezed them tighter like a child who believes that shutting your eyes can render you invisible. "I know what we must do. Matthew will carry you up to your room. No one will see you. I will be sure of it. Then...we will see what we can do with your wounds."
"I don't want him near me," she cried petulantly and Matthew cringed. "Don't you see? My god, it was only a kiss and a dance and this is my curse?" She paused, wet her lips. "I'm sorry, please excuse me. I am not myself. May I have a glass of water?"
This, Matthew could do. He held the glass to her lips while she sipped at it. "May I look at...the wound on your head."
"How could examining my head add to the shame I feel? Yes, go ahead," she snapped. The bleeding was sluggish and almost finished. "And I can bloody walk up stairs on my two cursed feet." For a moment she sounded exactly like old Mary but then her voice broke. "The only problem is...the problem is that he tore my dress. Quite violently. It would be unseemly for me to leave this room in such a state." Her eyes were still closed but she'd begun to tremble. "Have Anna bring me a dress. She will dress me. She will walk me upstairs. And then she will undress me."
"I know you are fond of Anna but can we trust Anna's complete discretion in this case?" Violet asked. "I am only thinking of you, Mary."
Mary smiled, and opened her eyes. "Granny, Anna knows all my secrets. One more cannot hurt."
Six weeks later, the Dowager Countess read from a piece of paper with shaking hands, in the drawing room, surrounded by the entire Crawley family.
To my family,
Allow me to apologize in advance for the dramatics but I wanted you to all hear the news at the same time. I have left Downton and I will not return. Please believe me, if I could tell you the reason I would. Trust that I will be safe wherever I am going. Trust that this is necessary. I am not being foolish or rash. This is not a silly rebellion or an adventure. I am not eloping. I am not in love. But I must go away all the same. Finally, I must beg one last favor. Please do not badger Granny with questions. She knows no more information than what this letter contains. I only asked her to read it aloud. I take pieces of all of you with me. Please do not look for me.
Six months later, Cora walked into her mother's house in New York. She'd realized, moments after stepping off the ship, that although in Yorkshire her accent was considered "so american," here people inclined their ear, wondering where she was from. She did not quite fit anywhere, except with her family, with her girls, with Mary.
She hadn't been to the house in New York in years. She didn't know the butler or the carpet by the door. But when he led her to the sitting room, she recognized the woman, all dressed in black, the long line of her neck, the dark hair, staring out the window, out into the city.
"I asked you not to look for me, Mama," Mary said quietly.
"I'd prefer not to have this conversation with your back, Mary," Cora replied evenly.
"Alright." But when Mary turned, both hands on her belly, one above and one below, where surely a baby lived, kicked, and breathed.
A/N: Rape is never, ever, ever (and I cannot emphasize this enough) okay. Ever. Ever. Ever. At the same time, I can promise you that Richard will get his.