A/N: So it turns out I'm (slightly insanely) starting another AU WIP. I must give credit here to Tripp3235 for suggesting it, because without that I wouldn't have considered the possibility of taking this route AU!
This is an AU continuation of my M-rated one-shot, Fuel on the Fire. If you haven't read it, I suggest you do so first! If you'd rather not due to the rating, to sum it up in a nutshell, this AU stems from the idea that in Episode 1x02 Matthew/Mary's simmering tension all boiled over into ill-advised hate!sex. It was intended as a one-shot, but I did get thinking, and thought actually there's a lot of potential for AU drama, so... here it is!
Thanks to EOlivet and also Silvestria for talking through it with me to arrange my ideas into some sort of coherence!
And with that, here is part one enjoy!
With All The Time In The World
What had he done?
What on earth had he done?
Though it was uncommonly warm for the end of September, Matthew shivered as he lay in his bed, stark moonlight lancing across the room from the gap between his curtains.
Mary. How… how had that happened? How had he let himself be so… overcome, by anger and arousal? How had he let his stubbornness overrule his rational mind, until he cared more for… satisfying some primal desire to not give in, for proving himself more worthy than she believed, to the point of…
He shivered again, squeezing his eyes closed as the faint memory of passion flitted through his veins. It had been… exhilarating, stupid, terribly stupid, and not at all how - well, how that sort of thing was supposed to happen for the first time (for heaven's sake, they'd been in the sitting room! they were not even engaged, they did not even like each other!
More than anything, Matthew was disappointed in himself (more so with every fresh shiver of arousal he felt at the thought of her) and… confused, because… let alone what he had done, what on earth was he supposed to do now?
Of course, the answer was simple. He should marry her. But… he couldn't, could he? Good Lord, they barely knew each other and it could hardly be said that there was any affection between them! Matthew had always imagined, without exception, that he would one day propose to a woman he was in love with, who he could see himself living his life with… and then, all… that would come at the proper time, that intimacy that should only be between a husband and wife; not as they had taken it, each other, and yet - against all his better judgement, he could not bring himself to be sorry for it.
Could he live with Mary? Could she be his wife, here, in Crawley House? He tried for a moment to imagine it. Kissing her on the cheek as he left for work, returning home to her warm embrace, her arms, taking her to their bed and shedding her nightdress and…
He sat up sharply, lowering his forehead to his bent-up knees as he drew several deep breaths. His eyes closed and he focussed on the blackness, letting it swirl and fill every crevice of his mind to rid his thoughts of Mary. Mary, Mary… quite contrary… His lip quirked into a wry, humourless smile. Contrary was absolutely the word to describe his cousin. She'd been so hateful towards him, so hateful, and then they'd shared… that, that… bliss, that glorious intimacy that had overtaken his very being, and who knew what she thought of him now? They were on better terms when she left than when she'd arrived, certainly, but was it anything approaching affection, or… love? How could it be? At the least, she was no longer so cutting towards him (they both realised that to be so was quite impossible, now) and at best she seemed only coolly tolerant!
Perhaps he could imagine Mary Crawley as his wife, if only things didn't get so damned confused in his head every time he thought of her, if every serious thought were not distracted by the memory of her warm body and her lips… but could she imagine herself as such, simply because they'd - well, he hesitated to use the phrase 'made love' - been together? Every objection she had towards him still stood; and though their family was right in that he could give her the position of Countess, that wouldn't be for many, many years and in the meantime she'd have to make do as a simple lawyer's wife. With him. No, he wasn't at all sure she'd take well to that, even now.
Which led him circularly back to the question… What on earth was he supposed to do now?
Sighing bitterly, he flung himself back against his cold pillows and fell, after a long while, into a deeply troubled sleep.
Things did not become any easier over the next week or so. For one thing, Matthew recognised that above all else he simply needed to talk to Mary, and yet… found himself denied time and time again of the opportunity. It was laughable, he thought ironically, how they had somehow managed to inadvertently secure themselves privacy for long enough to get them into this mess; and now that they sought it (or he did; whether Mary was doing the same was impossible to tell) it proved impossible to find.
He'd hoped to bump into her when he visited the Abbey on business with Lord Grantham, the day after their… encounter… but, no luck. Instead he had to sip tea and laugh about his mother and Cousin Violet and receive a lecture on staff management from the Earl (deserved, he knew, though he blushed to think what his dismissal of Molesley to other tasks had led to). Then dinner, several days later, only he could hardly speak to Mary about anything of importance when surrounded by family in the drawing room. Still, she smiled at him - he did notice that - and he smiled back, and felt a sort of warmth between them. And while she made no effort in the slightest to actually speak to him properly, at least she was not cold towards him, or cruel, as he would have braced himself for previously. Then, the instalment of his mother on the hospital board was not for another week, at which he was forced (of course) to sit beside her. It was torturous! She'd breezed past him as she arrived, with a cool smile and a warm "Hello," and her eyes dipped just a little enough, at least, to send a shudder of warmth down to his toes. He took his hat off and clutched it tightly between his hands, resting it on his knees as he sat down beside her, not daring to look at her and yet so, so aware of her being only inches to his side… Concentrating upon every breath, in, and out, he tried to ignore the greater warmth he felt on that side, smiled politely at all the right times, clapped when he was supposed to, tried to ignore her…
After the short ceremony had concluded, he stood quickly and held his hand out to Mary. She did not need his assistance to stand, but took it anyway, her eyes flashing nervously. In that moment, he realised that Sybil and Edith were already walking back to the door, his mother was still on the raised stage - they were alone, just for a moment –
"Mary," he said, mindful of his hushed tones.
"What?" she hissed back, tugging her hand quickly from his grasp which he had not yet relinquished.
He glanced around. "We've not had a chance to talk, since -"
"I was quite aware! And you really think that now is the time to, do you?" she raised her eyebrows incredulously.
"No, I... No. I just wanted to make sure you were alright." It was pathetic, really, and he blinked in frustration. But she was right, of course they couldn't talk now, his mother and Cousin Violet were already saying goodbye to Doctor Clarkson…
Her eyes glittered strangely, transfixing him. "Well, we'd better hope so! Else -"
Too late. "Mary?" the Dowager Countess swooped in and took her granddaughter's arm. "Come, take me to find your father," she grumbled, and Mary was quick to follow her. She cast one, hard, look back at Matthew as she went, and he stared at her and then… grasped the back of the chair beside him as he saw her hands fold neatly across her abdomen.
He lurched around to see his mother bustling up beside him. Naturally, she instantly took in his sudden paleness and discomfort. "Are you quite alright, my dear?"
"Perfectly," he swallowed and smiled tightly. "A little tired, I suppose. Congratulations, Mother - come on."
As they left the hospital, he trembled and blinked against the harsh, cold sunlight. Why hadn't he thought, how had he been so ignorant… Perhaps he would not have to decide whether or not he might marry Mary after all. Perhaps… that decision, that choice, was to be robbed from them also. In which case… she would only hate him even more, he was sure of it. Chilling tendrils of unease curled in his belly, and he felt suddenly sick. What a poor… poor start to a marriage that would be. It… hardly bore thinking about! How had he been so stupid? Slowly and surely, he felt every dream of the sort of marriage he'd always wished for slipping from his grasp. This was wrong, all wrong, for how could they ever hope to achieve a marriage grounded in love, now?
Still… it was still only ifs, and maybes, and perhaps. For there was no way to know yet, not so quickly, and… he must, he absolutely must, find a way to speak to her properly, and soon.
After a fitful night and barely any sleep, Matthew struggled through work the next day. His mind was elsewhere, driven mad by Mary, by worry, no - terror. Even if she were to accept him (and she'd have to, surely!), for the sake of propriety, surely their family would suspect… He knew his mother would. Once more, he cursed himself for how terribly they'd met. To announce an engagement now, after an openly fiery acquaintance of only a few short weeks, would look rash by anyone's standards. Of course there would be questions, particularly if they'd have to insist on the wedding being as close to immediate as it could be; no-one could possibly imagine that their desire for each other's companionship was so intense! And it would come out, of course it would, how could it not? He could only imagine his mother's disappointment, and the Earl's; never mind that a marriage was what they'd all hoped for, everyone bar he and Mary, at least… But, he supposed, without that disastrous introduction to stoke their resentment, they wouldn't have driven themselves to such… angered passion in the first place.
Good heavens it was impossible!
He gulped down the tea placed hesitantly in front of him by his clerk, too quickly, and the hot liquid scalded his throat. By the time he left his office at five o'clock he felt an absolute wreck of a man.
While half of him wished he could excuse himself from meeting with Lord Grantham on his return to Downton, the other half hoped desperately that he might meet Mary while he was there. After a torturous discussion of cottages and plans over brandy (Matthew really wasn't sure how he was supposed to look the Earl in the eye, just now), he decided that had been a futile hope and made his excuses to leave as quickly as possible, just as dusk was falling.
Shrugging his coat on and taking his hat and gloves from Carson, Matthew nodded politely (thankful of the Earl's lack of comment on his distraction, if he'd noticed) and hurried out into the dim evening. Now, he just wanted to get home. He very nearly walked past the bench on which Mary was sitting with a novel, stopping sharply when her quiet voice broke into his tumultuous thoughts.
"Matthew. Matthew!" she hissed, standing up. He whirled around and stared at her for a moment, as if making sure she was quite real, before she waved him to sit beside her. It only took a second's hesitation before he did so, as she shivered in the cool breeze and tugged her coat more tightly around her.
"It'll be too dark for you to read for very much longer," he said softly, glancing at the novel in her lap and unsure of how to begin now that he found himself at last alone with her.
"Then it's a good job I don't intend to be out here for very much longer!" she snapped back, looking derisively at him. "I was waiting for you."
"I see. Well, I'd hoped to see you!"
Their eyes locked together and Matthew licked his lips warily. "Mary, I -"
She held up a hand, silencing him; but then it took a few moments to gather her words. He waited, as patiently as he could manage, feeling terribly aware of his chest rising and falling with each breath and the prickle of goose-pimples he could see along the back of Mary's wrist, between her glove and coat sleeve.
"I wanted to let you know," she eventually began, quickly, and so quietly that he had to lean forwards a little to hear her, "that you needn't worry. I am quite alright, as it happens, so you needn't trouble yourself any further over it."
Matthew frowned gently, surprised (though he supposed he shouldn't be, really, not now) by her directness.
"I needn't - you're - what?"
Her lips pursed. "I'm not with child, Matthew. So, there you have it. You are quite safe."
Struggling for shallow breaths, Matthew twisted to face her more directly and gripped the back of the bench. Relief had poured over him, instantly soothing, as he felt the delicious release from an impossible choice. But it was still, so soon!
"Oh! Mary, are you - quite, quite sure?"
"Perfectly sure," she said flatly. Then, when he continued to simply stare at her, she continued in a dry tone, "I can furnish you with the precise details of my proof if you like but I hardly thought you'd wish to hear -"
"God, no!" he spluttered, realising now instantly what she meant. Without thinking he reached out and grasped her hand, and though she flinched sharply she did not tug it away.
"So you see," her voice trembled quietly, and Matthew had to fix his gaze upon her lips in the gathering dusk to make out what she was saying. "You are released from any obligation you no doubt felt to propose to me."
There was a delicate vulnerability hiding behind her cold words that took Matthew by surprise. And realising it, though he knew she was quite correct - he would have felt obliged, that was all it would have been - he suddenly knew with a quiet certainty that perhaps he really wouldn't mind marrying her, after all. She had every right to hate him, would have had even more right had they been forced to marry this way and in the same instant he understood her mockery and her coldness; for it stemmed from exactly the same reasons as his own bitterness and indignation at being thrown into this society at all. It was little to do with him, and his own resentments nothing to do with her - it was merely the misfortune of their circumstances. His heart softened, and beat quickly in his chest.
"Do you -" he started hesitantly, still holding tightly onto her hand. "Do you still find the prospect of being my wife so completely objectionable?"
It was not a proposal; certainly not of marriage, at the very least. But after what they had shared… how could their opinion of each other possibly be the same as it had been? He looked at her earnestly, almost hopefully.
She understood him, and smiled very gently, relaxing visibly. "No, or… not so objectionable as I did, at least," she replied carefully, and still did not withdraw her hand.
Matthew nodded quickly. "Right." He licked his lips, suddenly shy (though what reason he had to feel shy before her, now, he could not think). There was an odd feeling in his chest; lightness, or warmth, or… something. His crooked smile spread a little further, and when he said nothing further, Mary flexed her eyebrow gently.
"What about you? Am I quite so abhorrent to you, now?"
He appeared to consider this for a moment before replying softly, "No."
Her responding smile was warm, and… perhaps Matthew only imagined the faintest air of invitation in it, or maybe they were only giddy from their release of any consequences, but… the sharp frisson of heat that suddenly shivered between them was undeniable, and all at once the air had shifted. Her perfume lingered in the air, her fingers curled softly around his hand, her lips were there, and…
"I'd better go in," she said breathlessly and stood up, smoothing down her skirt.
He stood up, equally shaken. "Of course. Thank you for telling me, Mary -"
"Oh, don't - well, good evening."
She blinked at him then hurried inside, clasping her novel tightly between trembling hands, and Matthew stood and watched her. He watched her until she'd disappeared into the warm glow from the Abbey's large, welcoming door, before turning to walk into the cooling evening.
He was released. He felt as though he could almost weep in relief. But… that did not make it right, did it? Anyway it was too soon, still, far too soon… They could hardly be termed friends, even, yet not on the basis of one conversation in which they spoke in peace! But maybe it was not… impossible. Maybe not anymore.
At least now, they had time. Time to discover their feelings, their natures, themselves and each other… Time to discover where they stood (where they might stand) with each other. And Matthew was deeply thankful for it, if only a little less troubled.
Time would tell.
A/N: Thank you so much for reading! Obviously, introducing sex to their relationship in 1x02 is a pretty huge leap from canon. I'd love to know what you think about it, and if you enjoyed this start then of course I'd love to know! Thank you!