A/N: Happy Monday! I swear, I swear it now, I am going to reply to EVERY REVIEW for this fic, for those of you who are so kind to do so! I have been admittedly terrible recently at finding the time to, and I'm so desperately sorry about it because I want you to know how much I appreciate it! Bad Claire. Right.
This ficlet is in response to a ponderment over how Matthew would react if, post-CS, he heard Mary refer to herself as "damaged goods" as she does in S1. Thanks go to EOlivet for sprinkling her magic dust!
Hope you enjoy it! :)
It happened one morning, typically, while Matthew was away.
He was at a conference in Liverpool, with people he'd only known since the day before. Not with Mary. How typical. Maybe, somehow, impossibly, that had been intentional - could he put anything past Carlisle? To know when he'd be away and strike then? Who knew.
The first he knew of it was the quiet titters and sniggers from behind hands as he went into the Adelphi hotel's breakfast room. His eyebrow quirked curiously as he sat down between his colleagues, unfolding his napkin onto his lap.
"Anything exciting?" he asked cursorily, noticing how engrossed in the newspaper they were. They glanced from it, to him, back again, as if making their minds up about something.
"Maybe, maybe," one of them grinned. Taylor, his name was. He peered at Matthew. "Are you - any connection to the Downton Crawleys, Crawley?"
Matthew frowned. "Distant cousins. Why?" Uneasiness settled in his stomach. They were looking at a newspaper. Asking about his family. Why?
"You might be alright, then," Jackson laughed beside Taylor. "What about this - Lady Mary Crawley?"
Taylor snickered again. "Lady? Well, if you call something like that befitting of a Lady, I suppose -"
"I beg your pardon?" Matthew's voice was like ice, cold and sharp. His countenance darkened dangerously, and Jackson frowned at the sudden change from the affable, pleasant young man he'd met the day before.
"Easy, old chap - you'd better glance at this. Tell you what though, personally I reckon it's just the romp to give me a brighter start to the day!"
"I'll say," Taylor laughed, casting an exaggerated wink around the other men at the table as they sniggered in response. One of them chimed in, with, "Must've been a weak fellow you know - now, if it had been me, I can say -"
"Don't you dare say," Matthew bit out through gritted teeth. All he'd needed was a glance, and... he didn't even want to read the rest. He felt sick, found himself trembling slightly. The newspaper was crumpling between his fingers as he glared at them, men his own age, he was... disgusted. "For God's sake! You've been through a bloody war and now you're - finding your amusement in such -"
"Steady on, Crawley! It's only a laugh, it hardly matters anything -"
"Only a laugh?" he snapped back incredulously, his fists clenching unconsciously in anger. How dare they! All his fears stormed to the surface and he fought against them, snapping at the insult of these men to Mary, when they didn't even know her. His chair shunted forcefully backwards as he stood up. "Well, I'm glad you find it amusing." He was so angry that the words slipped from his curled lip in almost a snarl. "Perhaps you'd care to share the joke with Lady Mary, if I were to telephone her. I suppose she'd find it hysterical, why wouldn't she? It's only a laugh. You bastard."
"What's it to you?" Jackson pushed himself to his feet, facing Matthew squarely. "Yes we've been through a bloody war, so pardon me if I find some relief in a little gossip and -"
His mindless justifications were cut short as Matthew forcefully grabbed his lapels, fighting every instinct in every nerve that cried out for him to punch the insolent man in front of him. He trembled with the effort of it, instead settling for pulling Jackson's face to within an inch of his own, allowing for no misinterpretation of his low, hard warning as Taylor stood behind him in caution.
"I strongly suggest you find your amusement elsewhere and forget about this."
The smaller man riled against such instruction and glared back at him.
"I'll find it where I like! If they're only your distant cousins you can hardly expect -"
"Lady Mary Crawley," Matthew hissed, "is my fiancée."
He didn't allow even the chance for a reply - it wasn't worth it - before flinging his hands distastefully away and turning to stalk out of the room. When someone had the gall to ask where he was going, his only reply (thrown back over his shoulder at them) was, "Home."
Sod the meetings. Sod bloody everything, the lot of them. If he faced discipline over it, so be it. He would bear it. Nothing was more important than Mary.
On the train, his anger simmered, refusing to cool as he dwelt on their bastard, sniggering faces over Mary. And that was just them... How many more people, how many more breakfast tables, were this morning graced with her story? How many more crude jokes at her expense? Mary...His gut twisted at the injustice of it.
It felt as though the train were crawling... to Manchester, change for Ripon, then Downton... the hours dragged, painfully slowly, it was taking too long. By the time it pulled into the little station in a puff of smoke, Matthew's palms were gouged with the marks of his fingernails, dug in from his balled fists of bitter frustration and disappointment and worry. Leaving his small suitcase to be taken back to Crawley House, he made his way straight for the abbey, sweltering under the spring sunshine, his jacket and his rage. He felt a strand of hair flop into his eyes and shunted it back, not bothering to knock when he reached the ornate door and pushed it open.
Lord Grantham was in the hall already, at the telephone, his expression grim. As Matthew came in, he put his hand over the mouthpiece and nodded.
"We wondered if you'd heard," he began without introduction. "Or rather, seen."
"I took the first train I could," Matthew's lips pressed into a wry, thin line. "Where's Mary?"
Robert stared past Matthew, his eyes clouding with despair as he released a heavy sigh.
"Out on the estate. Cora worried that she'd hide away in her room, but instead she's - well. She needed the air."
Matthew's brow creased, and he glared at his feet. Of course she hadn't secluded herself in her room. Not... there. Not... now.
"I'll find her," he muttered, pausing only to drop his coat and hat onto the table before he went out again.
"Thank you," Robert murmured appreciatively, but Matthew was already gone.
It didn't take him very long to find her. He'd seen on his approach that she wasn't on the bench they normally favoured, so he followed the path down away from the house to the walled garden. Walking under the brick archway, he walked quickly past the flowerbeds and to the more enclosed, grassy path beyond, lined with dozens of flowering plants and shrubs. He stopped as he saw her, a daffodil in her hand as she despondently picked each petal off, letting them flutter away carelessly to the ground before the stripped stem followed, and she picked another to begin the systematic destruction again.
Matthew approached her slowly, warily. She had not cried, he noticed; there were no tear tracks staining her cheeks. Of course she hadn't. His heart ached sharply and he stepped closer, holding out his hand.
"Mary..." he called quietly.
"Oh!" She turned around, another plucked petal pressed between her slender fingers, her lips gently parted in surprise. "Matthew, I didn't think you'd be..."
"I came back," he said quickly, earnestly. "As soon as I saw it I -"
"You've - seen it, then?" she asked quietly. Another petal floated to the ground, her shoe pressing it into the dirt as she took the smallest step towards him.
"I saw - enough," he smiled bitterly, and humourlessly. "Darling -" He reached for her and she flinched back, away from him. Matthew frowned and swallowed heavily, he wanted to know if she was alright, but it seemed such a stupid, thoughtless question... Instead he licked his lips and settled for, "Is there anything I can do?"
"No," she shook her head quickly, stepping back, away.
"Don't -" She held her hand up, stopping his advance, and they stood blinking at each other through stinging eyes until Mary broke, her eyes dropping to the ground between their feet. "There's nothing," she whispered bitterly. "There's no point."
"No point? Mary, there's every -"
"Don't try to make this better!" she cried suddenly, as something within her snapped, her slender fingers curling to fists and crushing the daffodil still clasped there. She shook her head fiercely, bitter tears finally forcing their way to the surface. "With all the good will in the world, Matthew, you - can't - pretend about it!"
"Pretend about what?" he pleaded with her, trying to reach for her again but once more she shied away, batting his hand with her arm as a sob wracked through her body. His rage flamed afresh at the words, the people, the sniggers, that had made her feel this way, so wretched and so distressed. He hated them, and felt a fierce rush of protectiveness but she wouldn't let him... He frowned deeply. "Darling, whatever people are saying doesn't matter - it makes no difference to you and I, and that's -"
"Oh, Matthew!" Another desperate sob wrenched past her lips, so fiercely that she swayed forwards. Matthew bit his lip in anguish, separated from her at her own insistence even as he longed to wrap her in his arms and protect her and... Her bitter words jolted him back to reality. "Don't you understand? It's true, that's the point, it's all - true-"
"Don't say that." His fist clenched instinctively at his side, as he fought the rising, encompassing ache in his gut.
"Did you read it?" she challenged him. "Did you?"
"I didn't need to -"
"I saw enough and it was -"
"Every word was -"
"Bollocks!" he yelled in her face, his cheeks colouring and body trembling in anger at all of it. Mary gasped, flinching back again, eyes widening at his curse but Matthew didn't back down. "Every damned word was utter-"
"Don't! How can you be so naïve, so - stupid! It makes a difference, don't you see? It makes every difference; I am - damaged goods -"
"You're what?" he gasped, new outrage coursing through him as his expression twisted bitterly. This was what she thought of herself? What she believed he thought of her? His voice shook with suppressed anger, he could not stand for it. He wouldnot. "Don't be ridiculous -"
"I'm not being ridiculous, Matthew, I'm being honest!" she flung back at him, her voice ragged with tears. "How can you want - this, a... filthy, used rag when you deserve to have the purest, newest -"
"My God, Mary!" Matthew's desperate exclamation finally silenced her, and she stared at him with wide, tearful eyes as he whipped away from her. His shoulders were wired and defensive, his fists balled, his entire body seemed to shudder in barely controlled fury as he stalked away.
Desperately trying to calm himself, overcome with despair at Mary's own sense of worthlessness, Matthew almost staggered to the wall, resting his hands and then his forehead against the cool brick as he sucked in deep, calming breaths, squeezing his eyes shut against hot, threatening tears. Her scornful words echoed in his mind. Filthy, used rag. Filthy. Used. Damaged. That was how she believed he saw her, or should see her, and... Without warning he drew his fist back and roared as his knuckles slammed into the wall with a sickening crack, in a thoughtless, useless attempt to relieve his frustration. And God, it hurt.
Pain speared up his arm from his knuckles, and he let out a weak, dry sob as the sensation flooded over everything else. Good. He jerked when he felt Mary's hand softly upon his shoulder and turned around, shocking her with the depth of anguish written over his features. He was biting his lip so hard that he gradually noticed the metallic taste of his own blood. His hand hung limply between them, the skin broken, torn and blemished.
"Matthew..." Mary whispered, taking his hand gently as he hissed in pain. Her lip trembled again, he was so stupid, to hurt himself like that and...
"Is that what you think?" he hissed through gritted teeth, his eyes narrowed in severity. "Tell me, Mary, is that... what you believe?"
Mary pursed her lips and nodded, slowly, biting back another sob. She couldn't believe still that he wouldn't.
"Oh, my darling." His voice shook as he whispered, looking at her in despair. His other hand rose to hers, then her cheek, his thumb brushing her tears, then... he pulled her into a blinding, searing kiss. Her lips crushed against his, her brow creasing with distress and disbelief and relief as it all overwhelmed her, his mouth and his hands and his arms... searching, assuring, pleading, begging... to see, to realise. For a few glorious, devastating moments she surrendered to him, sucking lightly on his lip where she could taste his blood, then batting her hands at his chest until she managed to push herself away.
"Matthew -" she gasped breathlessly, shaking her head, pressing her eyes shut as she knew she'd be powerless against his gaze. "You can't - you can't just brush it aside, you can't - forget about -"
"Mary," he cut her off, taking her hand in his uninjured one and stroking gently over her fingers, resting his forehead against hers. "Mary... Did it - did it change you?"
Her eyes flew open. How could he even ask that?
"You know - yes! Of course it changed me, I'm no longer -"
"Hush," he breathed, closing his eyes as his lips brushed over her forehead, feeling it crease as she sobbed breathlessly. "Besides - that. Did it make - you different?"
When he opened his eyes again, Mary saw nothing but earnest sincerity. Tentatively, she sniffed and nodded, answering now with more care.
"I... suppose so, yes. I think it - changed how I saw things."
"Right." Matthew inclined his head to hers, bringing her hand to his lips and pressing a tender kiss there. "You see, Mary, it was such a long time ago. It was before I knew you, really, before I... loved you."
"Matthew..." she sighed warily, beginning to see where he was going and... surely, she didn't deserve such goodness but he carried on relentless.
"I love you," he whispered again. "Just as you are; as you are now. So you see, I wouldn't want you any differently - my darling... Not in any way, do you understand?"
"I - see, but you can't possibly -"
"You are perfect," he murmured, this time against her lips, effectively silencing her. "I mean, you're - you're not, but - you are to me." Unable to express himself with any more sense, he chuckled weakly, lips curving as he felt her smile in response. "Anyway..." he smiled wryly. "You speak of yourself as 'damaged goods,' my dear, but..."
He waved his bruised hand between them as if to prove a point, wincing breathlessly as she took it and brushed her lips over his bloodied knuckles in way of apology. It stung, and burned, and his hand was limp, but he watched her tender devotions to him for several moments more before leaning forwards and capturing her lips in his own sweet kiss of remorse. Her arms draped around his neck and he pulled her gently against him, hands curling around her back as he tasted the salt of her tears on his tongue and they sought each other to forgive, to forget, to apologise, to accept. To support. Warm emotion slowly blossomed in Mary's heart as she realised that he would stand by her, that he did love her, despite her every nightmare, and this time she welcomed him wholeheartedly.
She, or the world, might believe her to be damaged goods. But to Matthew she was, and would always be, the most precious, priceless treasure, because she was Mary. And that was – and would always be – more than enough.
A/N: There we are! Thank you ever so much for reading. I admit I do have fun writing angry!Matthew. As always I'd love to know what you thought, your feedback means a lot to me!