A/N: Hello! Me again. Terribly sorry.
Yesterday someone asked me about whether or not, in the CS scene before the servant's ball, Robert had known about Matthew/Mary in regards to Lavinia when he says "You can't be responsible for feelings beyond your control". There seemed to be something very knowing about it.
While it would of course have been pretty easy to suspect anyway, from their behaviour, I figured something else potentially must have happened, or been said between them, to make Robert more sure than simply guessing. They needed to have a conversation at some point.
I don't know... anyway, I liked the idea of it, and this happened! I'm dashing out so forgive me for any spelling errors or faults as it's not checked! Hope you enjoy!
Those Things Unsaid
In the thick silence following the heavy click of the door as it swung shut behind Sir Richard, nobody seemed to know quite what to do. The loudest sound remained Matthew's ragged, uneven breathing, though he had calmed a little now (his discomfort more from shame than exertion). He was horribly aware that he looked a mess. He was still shaking a little.
"Matthew, I think you'd better tidy yourself up before dinner," Robert said flatly, staring at the strewn cushions in front of the fire and the shards of vase. What else could they do but be practical? "Carson will show you to my dressing room, that's best."
"Yes, of course. Thank you," Matthew muttered quietly, carefully avoiding their eyes as he hurried out, pushing back his hair as best he could manage. He only glanced at Mary, who hadn't moved yet from beside her grandmother. Oh, God. How had he lost control like that? He… knew, exactly how. And was terribly ashamed of himself, now the adrenaline was cooling.
As he silently followed Carson up the stairs, he replayed it over and over in his mind. What had he done? In front of… Mary, her family… Not that he could bring himself to regret it.
He smiled gratefully as Carson showed him into the small room, and surveyed himself in the mirror.
"Might I do anything else for you, Mr. Crawley?" the butler's deep voice interrupted his thoughts, and when Matthew turned he was very surprised to see the ghost of a smile on Carson's lips.
"No… No, thank you, Carson. I'm… terribly sorry."
Carson raised an eyebrow. "…Don't be, Sir," he said very slowly, before bowing his head and leaving Matthew to it.
It seemed, Matthew thought with some relief, that the butler's sentiment was shared by the rest of the family. It couldn't be denied; when they finally sat down to dinner the atmosphere was far lighter than it had been since… well, for a long time. Edith and Cora, not to mention his mother, were full of questions but it fell to the Earl to deflect them all, to Matthew's gratitude. His own part was not mentioned, and he was glad of it; for he truthfully hadn't helped matters at all. Mary had ended it, she had been the strong one, and he smiled at her with quiet pride.
He had to admit, he felt some sort of triumph in the fact here he sat at the dinner table with all of them, while they were all terribly aware of Carlisle eating from a tray in his bedroom. He shied away from the notion of the idea that he had won, somehow. He hadn't won anything. Mary was free. That was all that mattered. But Carlisle's words kept ringing in his ears, ringing… She knew it, you know. She knew you never loved her… Bastard. His throat closed up and he swallowed with difficulty. You never loved her. Never loved her. Hadn't he? Had he been so transparent – to everyone but himself? Or had he known somehow all along? We might all four of us have had a chance.
Gripping his silver cutlery, his gaze slid to Mary's, blinking as she glanced quickly away as though she had been watching him and been caught. He took a shuddering breath and a deep sip of his drink. Deep down, he knew exactly why he'd become so angry. Because Carlisle was bloody right. And a part of him hated himself for that. But… Lavinia had known it, certainly by the end… It was only that he didn't want to face it. He couldn't. Everything he'd believed before still stood, he… didn't deserve anything, he didn't deserve Mary, he'd been so… so stupid. For so long.
Before he could think any more about it, all at once the ladies were retiring and he found himself with a tumbler of port in hand, facing Robert who seemed to be looking very determinedly at him. He braced himself, settling back in his chair.
"Well, now," the Earl said contemplatively. "Now the ladies are gone… I confess I'd been apprehensive as to Sir Richard's reaction to Mary breaking things off, but I hadn't anticipated it would warrant that –"
"I know." Matthew shrugged. "It wasn't the wisest thing I've ever done, I'm very aware of that."
"And yet I'll daresay not the stupidest thing you've ever done, either." A wry smile tugged at Robert's lips.
Matthew chuckled bitterly. "No. No, it certainly wasn't that." Matthew was painfully, painfully aware of having done far stupider – and far more hurtful – things in his life than punching Richard Carlisle. As uncomfortable memories began to read again in his mind, he took a deep swig from his glass before staring thoughtfully into it, as though it might drive all other images, other memories, from his mind.
"In fact I think my dear mother, for one, is very glad that you did! You'll be in her good books for a year, now, at least." He watched Matthew carefully, saw his shoulder relax a little as he laughed, then more carefully still his reaction to: "Mary, too."
Ah; there. Matthew immediately stiffened, his eyes flicking to Robert's in alarm before dropping to his drink again. He started to tap the fingertips of one hand against his thumb, watching the muscles of his hand shift reflectively, his jaw set resolutely. Robert leaned back. "I don't think she's very used to anyone standing up for her honour. I'm certain she'll appreciate –"
"Don't, please," Matthew shook his head, still not meeting his gaze. "I only wish that I – had been. I wasn't, and Mary certainly has no reason to thank me." In truth his own motives for fighting Carlisle appalled him. Not that it hadn't been satisfying, just… wrong.
"It – doesn't matter."
Robert frowned. "Are you quite sure? I know you're not disposed with a violent temperament so –"
"– I'd assumed he must have said something pretty shocking to set you off like that."
Matthew's lips pressed tightly together, his nostrils flaring a little as he breathed and tried to compose himself. He couldn't – he could hardly say that – it was none of his business!
"It was a…" He wanted to say a cruel thing, but… really, had it been? He glowered and licked his lips nervously. "A very low thing to say. But – well, it's done now."
Robert shifted more comfortably in his seat, lighting a cigar, offering one to Matthew who just shook his head. What the agitated young man was saying wasn't quite adding up, and his brow furrowed in thought as he watched Matthew's jaw flex and clench.
"I see. I wondered if – he'd insulted Mary, you see. Considering things." His voice was low, slow and very careful, as if he were talking to a frightened or angry child.
"No, he didn't. Not in my hearing." If he had done, Matthew thought distastefully, Richard would not have been able to get up again so easily. He would've made sure of that.
"Good." Robert wondered, then, if Matthew knew… If it hadn't been that… With his tone perfectly measured, and innocuous, he asked, "Do you know why she broke it off with him? Besides that she couldn't stand the sight of him, the – other thing."
Now, Matthew met his eyes, and they glittered with bitterness or sadness or something, but – Robert was glad to see – not a scrap of judgement.
"Yes. Well, I – I know why she'd been reluctant to do so until now." He licked his lips again and shrugged. However much he'd come to accept it, didn't mean he wanted to think about it much more. "They were – shouting about something before I got there. That's why I went in; maybe it was that. I don't know."
"Right," Robert nodded once, and puffed thoughtfully at his cigar as Matthew took another sip of his drink. The smoke swirled around them, lingering amid the smell of port and meat and cream that hung in the air after their meal. Silence weighed heavily, as both men wished in some way that they could talk about it all only without quite knowing how to. Robert felt a weight in his chest, looking at Matthew; the tension across his brow, the rigidity of his shoulder, the persistent ring of his nails against his glass.
So many things sprang to Matthew's mind. How brave Mary was to do it, how difficult it must have been for her these months, how proud he was of her for standing up for herself… and yet he couldn't bring himself to admit to any of it. For that would mean admitting to having thought about it – about her – and that was his own matter alone. She was free, now. They could… only they couldn't. Of course they couldn't, they'd both agreed, hadn't they? It wouldn't be – right, it couldn't ever be, not after what he'd –
Fortunately, perhaps, Robert interrupted this dark, dangerous train of thought. "I must say, Matthew, I'm glad to see you having taken it in hand so well. Mary will need our support, particularly now, and I know it means a good deal to her to have it after having spent – well, years, believing we would lose our minds and shun her."
Matthew's eyes snapped to his with an immediate denial of such a prospect.
"God, no, I'd – hope that would never have been the case."
"I admit I hope the same, but – I think our perspectives on it now are very different to how they might have been some years ago." Robert certainly knew his own were, would have been so very different, before the war… It seemed like a different life. When Matthew nodded his agreement, he decided to push his luck a little, mirroring what he had wondered to Mary. Just to… see… "You see, I wondered if that was what had kept the two of you apart. Before the war."
Matthew stiffened, with a sharpness in his eyes almost approaching panic, but before he had a chance to deny it for himself Robert pressed on. "Only Mary said there were reasons to do with – Lavinia – and so… I wasn't quite sure where that left things."
Every muscle in Matthew's body had tensed uncomfortably, his demeanour reeking of agitation. Robert noticed his faintly bruised knuckles were white around his glass. All this only testified to Robert's suspicions… that there had been more between them, still, of some nature more recently than that painful break so long ago. It took Matthew a long time to be able to answer, and when he did it was forced out through gritted teeth.
"It left things – nowhere! I don't – I don't expect you to understand."
"I'd rather not talk about it, Sir. If – you don't mind. Really."
Robert sighed deeply, seeing the young man clam up visibly, his very air impenetrable. He'd hoped… he'd hoped they were close enough, now, had enough of a bond that Matthew wouldn't need to hide any truth from him. Particularly if it concerned his own daughter, and the very issue being so dear to all of them, but… it was obvious as Matthew's shoulders seemed almost to tremble with tension that it would not happen.
"As you wish, my dear boy," Robert eventually murmured. It took a long while for Matthew to even visibly relax, even a shred. "If you… did ever want to. If there was anything I could do – you do know that –"
"Yes, I – I do." Matthew turned to him then, his lips curving just gently into the ghost of a smile. "Thank you."
Robert nodded, and almost jumped, so lost in thought was he, when Carson appeared at his shoulder to ask if they'd like the port decanter filling again. He shook his head, waving Carson away.
"No, no, I think – in fact, shall we go through, Matthew? Best let them get in here and clean up."
"Yes, alright." He stood up, tugging down his dinner jacket to straighten it and took a deep, calming breath after draining the last of his glass. As they walked out, he apologised again for having caused a scene earlier, and for his… reticence in discussing it. "It's terribly difficult for everyone," he muttered in way of an excuse.
"Terribly so," the Earl agreed, walking beside him down the hall. "And it will be, I'm sure – we'll have to rally together, for Mary's sake."
Matthew's nod was stiff, and Robert almost smiled to himself. There was… something. If he'd suspected it at times throughout the war and after, now surely there could be no doubt, there was something between them… There had to be. And if that was the case, maybe Lavinia had suspected as well, maybe… maybe. It was all only maybe.
He wouldn't know more, couldn't know more, not with Matthew so closed up whenever Mary's name was mentioned. All he could do, he supposed, was watch, and hope, and carry on trying. One day… Maybe. For today, they could simply be happy that Mary was free of Sir Richard – which reminded him. He must remind Matthew to never, never apologise for that again.
A/N: There we are! Thank you ever so much for reading - I'd be very curious to know your thoughts on this scenario, or what might have really happened in the CS. Generally your thoughts! as it is something I've been very curious about anyway. I do hope you enjoyed it! Thank you!