Disclaimer: Characters are the property of Julian Fellows, etc., etc.
A/N: New story time! This will be a multi-chapter fic, and will stretch from season 2, episode 5 until the end of season 2, but it is almost completely AU. This is a "what if" story, mainly asking "what if" Mary had refused Sir Richard's proposal outright, and Mrs. Bates sold her scandal to the papers? Definitely a M/M story. There will be some lovin' later on, hence the M rating. Unbetad, so mistakes are totally my fault.
Blurb: Mary's decision to turn down Sir Richard Carlisle's proposal leaves her without recourse when Mrs. Bates decides to sell the story of her scandal to the press. When Matthew learns the nature of his injury, he releases Lavinia from their engagement. While caring for him during his recovery, Mary realizes that she needs nothing more from life than to be with Matthew, on any terms. Citing her ruination due the scandal and her desire to one day become Countess of Grantham, Mary convinces Matthew to marry her. How will he react when he discovers her deception? Will there be happiness for them after Matthew's miraculous recovery? A tale of longing, friendship, and passionate love.
Love on Any Terms
Probable Spinal Damage.
Three words, twenty letters, seven syllables, and one life that would never be the same. Mary's heart sank as she read those heartbreaking words. She had been around enough convalescing soldiers to know what spinal damage meant. It meant life in a chair or a bed. It meant total loss of freedom, independence, and, in many cases, loss of all meaning or purpose in life. For many, it meant depression, anxiety, or even anger and bitterness. It meant months of rehabilitation with the best possible outcome being the ability to turn the wheels of a chair without assistance.
Probable, Mary reminded herself. Nothing was certain yet.
"It could mean anything," Sybil tried to reassure her, seeing the fear in her eyes.
Mary nodded and turned her attention back to Matthew's face, sadly riddled with small cuts and tracks of dried blood.
"We'll know more in the morning," Sybil continued, reaching to collect Matthew's folded uniform from the foot of the bed. "What's this doing here?"
Mary looked up to see Sybil holding the toy dog she had given Matthew all those months ago at the train station. Despite the deep sadness that tore at her heart at the sight of her brave, strong Matthew so grievously injured, unconscious, and so terribly pale, it warmed her heart to think that he had had it with him. He had thought of her.
"I gave it to him for luck. He was probably carrying it when he fell," she explained.
"If only it had worked," Sybil lamented.
"He's alive, isn't he?" Mary shot back, mildly angry with her sister for cheapening Matthew's life by insinuating that he would have been better off dead than... than what three words, twenty letters, and seven syllables portended. Mary would never believe that. No matter his condition, she was unfathomably grateful that he was alive and back on English soil, out of danger at last.
Sybil nodded indulgently, catching on to Mary's mood.
"We should wash him," she began. "This bit can be grim. Sometimes we have to cut off the clothes they've travelled in, and there's bound to be a lot of blood."
"How hot should the water be?" Mary asked, determined not to be daunted by Sybil's warnings. This was Matthew. She could, and would, do anything for him. He needed her, and she would be strong for him.
"Warm more than hot," Sybil answered, feeling proud of her elder sister's courage and determination in the face of such tragedy. She knew more about Mary's feelings for their cousin than Mary probably knew she did. Sybil understood Mary's resolve, her desire to care for one whom she loved. She understood Mary's need to act, to do something productive to spare her own sanity. She understood it, and she admired it, very greatly. She would also encourage it.
Sybil decided to show Mary what she needed to know to help care for Matthew, the way a real nurse would. There would always be the need for the help of a real nurse, of course, but she saw in Mary a strength of mind and stomach that belied her lack of training. As piece after piece of fabric was pried from Matthew's inert body, Sybil watched her sister's face for signs of distress. While she did perceive sadness and pity in Mary's eyes, there was also determination, and resolve to face whatever the next stripped-away piece of dirty fabric revealed to them with composure and strength.
Mary listened attentively to each instruction Sybil gave her. She worked methodically over his right side, while Sybil worked on the left, cleaning off dirt and dried blood before dabbing antiseptic on each abrasion, bandaging the ones severe enough to require it. Once the front side of him had been attended to, Sybil showed Mary how to help her turn him on his side so that they could attend to his back. This would be the true test of Mary's ability to handle herself as a volunteer nurse. Sybil had tried to pull the fabric of his destroyed shirt from beneath him, but it had been hopelessly stuck to the skin.
"I suspect this is where we will find most of the blood, Mary," Sybil cautioned as they positioned themselves to turn him. "Are you ready?"
Mary nodded, silently praying for the strength to face whatever they were to find.
There was a large brownish stain on the fabric at his lower back which held the fabric glued in place. Using warm water, they gently pried the fabric back until the frightening mass of damaged skin came into view. Mary gasped and felt her eyes begin to cloud with tears. She fought desperately for composure. Matthew needed her. She had to stay strong.
Mary glanced at Sybil to find her sister eying her intently, probably studying her reaction to the worst of what they had encountered. Forcing a deep, steadying breath into her tight chest, Mary nodded to her sister, silently communicating that she was ready to go on.
Once the dried, caked blood was washed away, the wound didn't look so very severe. It was more a large bruise than anything else. There were a few breaks in the skin, but none more severe than those found anywhere else on his body. Mary felt much more optimistic as they applied the final bandage and began the process of redressing him. Seeing that she could be useful elsewhere in the hospital, Sybil charged Mary with the task of attending to the cuts on his face. There was also a great deal of blood and dirt under his nails that needed to be scrubbed out. Nodding to her sister, who immediately bustled away towards the bed of another unconscious soldier, Mary set about her assigned tasks.
Dipping a clean cloth into the water, she gently began to sponge the filth from his face. Now that Sybil's watchful eye was no longer upon her, Mary allowed her features to soften into an expression closer to longing than resolve. Her eyes clouded over again at the pitiful sight of the dark circles that ringed his closed eyes, and she blinked quickly to clear them. Soon, his face was clean, and each cut had been been treated with antiseptic. She gently touched her fingers to his hair. It was terribly matted and as dirty as the rest of him had been. A small movement caught her eye as she gently separated the strands. Lice. She cringed. They all had lice. It was to be expected, but, somehow, the thought made her terribly angry. She wanted to kill all of them, each little parasite that added insult to his already grave injuries. Oh, how she hated them! She would kill them, as soon as he was strong enough for her to do so, and it would be a pleasure. For the time being, she contented herself with running damp fingers through the worst of the mats, taking some of the grime with them.
Next, Mary filled a small bowl with warm water and soap, and rested it in her lap as she perched beside Matthew on the narrow bed. She then set about the task of meticulously scrubbing the grime from underneath each of his nails until all had been attended to. She placed the dirtied scrub brush back in the bowl, but retained one of his hands between her own. As she held it close to her face to study each minute detail, Mary felt, somehow, incredibly privileged to be able to know a part of him so intimately. She studied the delicate half-moons of his cuticles, the size of each knuckle, every line, crevasse, and crease. She turned his hand over between hers and studied his palm, which was now covered in hard callouses that testified to the difficulty he had faced these last years. Seeing some traces of dirt there, she scrubbed at it with the brush, but it wouldn't budge. It seemed to have become a part of him, sealed in by months of constant filth and frequent use. Defeated, she set the bowl aside, and placed both his hands in what appeared to be a comfortable arrangement, crossed over his belly.
There was nothing more for her to do, but Mary couldn't bring herself to leave his side just yet. So, she watched his face as he slept, taking note of each rise and fall of his chest as a reminder that he was still alive, despite his death-like appearance. How desperately she wished he would open his eyes! Simultaneously, she wished he could continue on in blissfully ignorant slumber for a good while yet, rather than wake to face the possibly grim truth about his condition.
Probable, she repeated to herself. Only probable. Nothing was certain yet.
Hesitantly, she placed one hand on his arm, careful to avoid any areas where she knew he had injuries.
"Matthew," she spoke quietly. "Matthew, it's Mary. Can you hear me?"
Unsurprisingly, there was no response. Self-consciously, Mary looked about her, feeling a bit silly for speaking to a man who was obviously too full of morphine to hear a word she was saying. Returning her eyes to his face, she continued to speak to him in her mind, hoping that, on some level, he could hear her, though the entire exercise was more for her own benefit than his.
"I'm here Matthew. I won't leave you, I promise. I'm here for as long as you need me."
Mary sighed aloud. He wouldn't need her for much longer, as Lavinia had been sent for. Lavinia would be a wonderful nursemaid. She was sweet, gentle, and demure. Mary had never been of much use to anyone who needed comfort. Even when she was a child, she would chastise Sybil and Edith for crying over scraped knees or elbows, rather than offer comfort. Mary had always despised weakness of any kind, both in herself and others.
It was this sentiment that had prompted her to refuse Sir Richard Carlisle's proposal. In a rare moment of clarity, Mary had realized that she had been using Sir Richard as a crutch, something to lean on and hide behind in an attempt to mask her dismay that Matthew had moved on and she hadn't. Mary Crawley didn't need a crutch. She could, and would, brave the storm on her own, standing on her own two feet and relying on her own strength and iron will to see her through. When, or, more recently, if she married, it would be because she wanted to get married, not because she wanted the coward's way out of a difficult situation.
Turning her attention back to Matthew, she was, once again, struck with the desperate desire to see his eyes open.
"Oh, Matthew, I do hope you wake up soon. I so long to see those lovely blue eyes of yours. Do you know how captivating your eyes are? I never told you, did I? I am sorry for that. Your eyes were the first thing I noticed about you. They've always made my heart flip, whether I liked you at the time or not. Since you left Downton, I have studied your photograph quite often, and I always lamented the fact that there was no color. I adore your eyes so. Please, Matthew, please, please open them again. If you do not..."
Mary was jolted from her mental rambling by the escape of a stray tear from the corner of her eye. Immediately angry with herself for becoming so ridiculously emotional, she wiped the tear roughly away with the back of her hand. She jumped quickly up from her place on the bed, and made her way, without looking back, to the hospital exit.
She wouldn't cry. She wouldn't.
"The story of you and the Turkish gentleman, milady," Anna repeated. "Mrs. Bates has threatened to sell it."
Mary was horrified. After all this time, that story had reared its ugly head again. As if her horrendous mistake hadn't already caused enough grief...
"Who is she going to sell it to?" Mary asked.
"She didn't say. Just that there was nothing we could do to stop her. Mr. Bates has given every last penny to keep her quiet, but she's tricked him. Now he's got nothing left to bargain with."
"Well, you must ask him how much he gave her. I will be sure he is reimbursed."
"I'm sure he won't accept, but thank you just the same, Lady Mary," Anna replied as she slipped Mary's evening gown from her shoulders.
Mary stepped out of the dress, and padded over to the vanity stool, woodenly dropping herself onto it.
"Oh, Anna, whatever am I going to do? There must be something...more money, perhaps. Do you know where she is?"
"She left earlier today, milady. Didn't say where she was going."
"She's gone to London, no doubt. The newspapers seem the most likely target for such a scheme."
Anna stood quietly for a moment, her mind desperately searching for some encouragement, some help, to offer her mistress.
"What about Sir Richard?" Anna began at length. "Perhaps he could help."
Mary laughed humorlessly at the mention of her almost-fiance. For the first time, Mary wondered if she had done the right thing in refusing him. His help might have proven invaluable. As it was, the man probably hated her for leading him down the garden path, then refusing his proposal when he finally proffered it.
"No, he wouldn't want to help me. In fact, he would probably jump at the chance to print the story himself."
"Well, you mustn't fret just now, Lady Mary," Anna offered cheerfully. "Something could still happen to stop it. Mrs. Bates may have been bluffing just to get to Mr. Bates. Nothing's certain yet."
Unbidden, the word probable flashed before Mary's mind's eye.
Probable. Nothing was certain.
I promise the story won't always be this depressing! There will be a happy M/M ending, so hang in there, guys!
Please let me know if you want me to continue. I really love this plot idea, and I hope you all will too! Matthew fans will be especially pleased, I think.
Thanks for reading!