Author's Notes: So this is my first venture into Downton Abbey fanfiction. I've been a fan of the show for some time now, but I've only recently been able to sit down and write about these wonderful characters. I don't think I've ever shipped a couple as much as I ship Matthew/Mary. That, and my shameless addiction to hurt/comfort stories are what inspired this piece. I especially love the idea of Mary being the recipient of comfort. So here we are.
This is the first piece of writing I've completed in awhile, which, I'll be honest, is a relief. Considering how much awesome fanfiction exists for this couple, I am a bit intimidated at posting this. Any kind of feedback is most appreciated, and even if you just read, I'll be glad. :)
The title comes from the song of the same name by the band, Bowerbirds. If you haven't heard of them, I highly recommend them. They make beautiful music.
I would also like to thank my friend Taylor for helping me edit this. I couldn't have done this without you!
Disclaimer: I don't own Downton Abbey or any of its wonderful characters. This was written purely for fun.
Tuck the Darkness In
The March sky loomed overhead, a noxious grey-black mixture that all but guaranteed rain later in the morning. As the bitter breeze swept over the estate, swept down her stiff back, Mary's hands tightened on the reins of her new horse, Perseus. (Her heart still fluttered at the memory of Matthew's reaction to the name, a small, perfect smile blooming just for her. She allowed herself a small smile as the feeling resurfaced for a brief moment.) A beautiful creature whose coat and patience, judging from the way he kept snorting and stamping his feet, matched the sky, Perseus had been an early wedding present from her parents earlier that month. Her papa had said how he hoped she would feel at liberty to come and ride him whenever she felt like it, even after she was married, and for the second time that morning, she smiled, recalling the wistful look in her father's eyes as he grasped at ways of keeping her close to home. Even after the events of the past decade, her papa still had the ability of making her feel like the little girl she had once been.
Inevitably, reality proved intent on dispelling such illusions. She was no longer a little girl, as the paper delivered that morning was only too keen to emphasize with its glaring black ink and even darker words.
Anna, wonderful, faithful Anna, had been scouring the papers for her each morning ever since she had thrown Carlisle over. That particular morning, her most loyal friend had presented the folded paper to her as she stood gazing out the window in her room in the hours just before the rest of the house awoke without another word. Even without taking in the blond girl's mournful frown and empathetic eyes, Mary knew that he had published.
It was rather clever of Sir Richard, she had to admit. Let her dangle for a few months, leaving her to the cruel whims of her imagination while also allowing a gradual hope to take root and almost unfurl. Even immediately after the announcement of her engagement to Matthew, the papers remained quiet on her scandalous former life. Perhaps his vengeance didn't depend upon her humiliation, after all. But even to believe for one moment that he would never publish only proved the recklessness of her pride.
Now, the very month she was due to be married, with only two weeks to go until the nuptials, she had awoken to find that, indeed, the shadow of reality still lurked beyond the bubble of happiness she had taken refuge in since the night of the Servant's Ball.
She had always underestimated Sir Richard, she realized, toying with the delicate and beautifully understated ring Matthew had bought for her, since the day they first met.
"Turkish Delight Soured in the Mighty House of Grantham," she had read aloud, maintaining her blasé attitude even as her stomach threatened to crawl up out of her throat. "A mouthful of a title with pretentions of legitimacy, rather like its author. How fitting." Her hands had begun to shake as she lowered the paper, her eyes beginning to sting.
"Milady, if there's anything - "
"No," Mary had interrupted her, standing up abruptly in contrast to the color draining leisurely from her face. "You've done more than enough, thank you Anna."
She handed the other woman the paper without further ceremony, even as she recognized the echoes of familiar heartbreak in her dear friend's eyes, even as she repelled the support she so desperately needed.
"I'm going out riding, if anyone needs me." If anyone can bear to look at me.
That had been little over an hour ago, and after a slight debate with Lynch in regards to riding conditions, which she had won, naturally, she now sat firmly upon Perseus' back, staring out at the estate and the imminent storm gathering.
A storm braver, if ever I saw one.
She flinched and gasped in one movement, yearning to be both as near to and as far away from him as possible. Her sweet, innocent Matthew whose reputation would now come into question because of her foolish actions all those years ago. Her heart burned that he should have to suffer any more on her account.
She gulped down the brutal, morning air as though it were strong wine. With each breath, she grew more intoxicated, more desperate for the wilderness to claim her.
Like something out of a Bronte novel, she thought to herself and she cackled then, at the ridiculousness of Sir Richard's article titles, the ridiculousness of her horse's name – at the ridiculousness of her own damned life. She laughed as her heart beat fanatically beneath her chest as the grey clouds above her twisted into guns, horses, Lavinia's dying breath, Sir Richard's sneer, and, last of all, Matthew's sad eyes. She laughed until she almost fell off her horse from the effort of trying not to weep instead.
Her hands clenched on the reins as she at last spurred Perseus into motion, setting him at a hard yet steady pace as though she were a determined solider, heading out into war. She wondered, as the first drops of rain grazed her skin like bullets, if she was truly brave enough to weather this particular storm.
She lost track of the time as the skies spilled over. She kept Perseus galloping as the branches of the trees flew past her vision and near silent rolls of thunder registered vaguely in the back of her mind. She knew she was being reckless, stupid, even. She could fall off Perseus' back, or she could run into a tree. But she needed her lungs to burn. She needed to feel the chill all the way through and she needed to be reckless in the woods, on her horse, because it was the one aspect of her life no scandal, man, or newspaper could ever strip away from her.
Her muscles ached, especially those in her legs as she kept up her brutal pace. Yet even as the pain registered her mind she kept them at bay, breathing in the rain deeper as Perseus ran harder. Mary knew that if she stopped, stopped riding, stopped running, she would be left with only her thoughts and the headline from this morning printed obscenely across them.
And that she really couldn't bear.
A sudden bolt of lightning burst off in the distance like a bomb, blinding her and causing Perseus to rise up in revolt. Her years of previous experience helped breathe life into her as she managed to keep herself on the horse. She stroked his head lovingly, whispered words in such a way as she had long dreamed of whispering to Matthew. It was him she thought of as Perseus bucked and neighed. Her own breathing returned to an almost regular pace as the creature calmed and she managed to get him into a canter back to the stables.
They were closer than she realized as the brick building loomed above her moments after the lightning had struck. She felt like a ghost, meandering in to the abandoned buildings. Naturally the yard was empty. All of the sensible people (everyone else but her) remained indoors. And yet she felt strangely peaceful, outside by herself with only the rain and her horse for company.
She slowed Perseus to a trot, starting when she realized the lights were on inside and she caught a glimpse of a shadow flickering against one of the windows. Lynch would of course have notified her father as to her whereabouts. She should have known. She was the daughter of an Earl; she couldn't be trusted even to ride around the grounds without her father's notice. She grimaced as pain shot up her body; her mind came alive with the inevitable scene with her angry father to follow.
She slid off Perseus and let out a sharp cry as her feet hit the ground, cursing under her breath as that morning's ride fully caught up with her in that single moment. She had to lean on the horse so as to remain standing herself. Slowly, she led her companion to the entrance, moving away slowly, almost limping over to open the latch on the stable door.
The creak of the wood alerted the stable's occupants to her presence, and before she could even step inside, Perseus' reins were snatched from her grasp and she found the hay-ridden floor rising up to meet her as she lost her sole support.
Strong, warm arms caught her around her waist as her hands instinctively grasped at the lapels just in her line of sight. He swiftly rid himself of his jacket to wrap it snugly around her. He pulled her up closer to him, bringing her almost flush against him. When she gasped, it was the essence of his beating heart and his blue eyes that she breathed in.
"I came as soon I saw the headlines," his strained voice muffled into her damp hair as he held her. "My darling, I'm so sorry."
Her voice was trembling as hard as the rest of her as Matthew moved his arms around her back, helping her upright in order to lead her away from the open door. Her breathing, punctured by the sharp pain wrought with each step she took forward, grew slightly steadier in his presence. The lights above them flickered as the sound of the door shutting echoed behind them. Mary began to regret staying out in the rain so long as chills crept up and down her spine and he turned to more fully face her.
"Though, really Mary, what were you thinking?" His nostrils flared though he didn't sound angry, more…exasperated as he held her, one of his hands smoothing down her arm while the other held her close. She swallowed thickly, desperate to preserve her typically collected front, in spite of her physical and emotional weariness. "You could have seriously injured yourself, or worse."
"Did you expect me to just lay back and think of England as soon as the scandal spread?" The crack in her voice relaying such poorly chosen words was obvious, even to herself. She met his eyes, her voice softening as struggled to stand on her own. "I had to do something."
"Of course I - " He let out a long breath, his blue (God they were so blue) eyes searching her intently. "I will never have to endure being the center of a scandal like you. I know that this isn't easy, Mary -"
"It will never be easy for us." She buried her head against his chest, inhaling the mixture of brandy and books that was so essentially Matthew. She allowed herself to glance up at him as he tucked back a damp, chestnut strand from her face.
"No, it won't be easy all the time," his expression softened at her words, "but we will have each other even when things seem as bleak as Dickens."
She laughed at that, leaning in closer to him as she played with the edge of his shirt.
He grinned with her for a moment before turning serious again. "Mary, darling. I wish I could have been with you, when you got the paper." He stroked the top of her head with gentle reverence. "I'm sorry."
His words, and the look on his face, of pure empathy, heartbreak and love at that moment cracked her normally sound resolve and she fell against him, her breathing rapid and uneven.
"You shouldn't have to be sorry. You shouldn't have to suffer because of me." She spoke into the cloth of his shirt, suddenly aware of the bare skin of his neck only inches from her. "It is my mistake, and I should - "
"No." His fingers, so soft and warm, slid under her chin, tilting her to face him again as her breath caught in her throat at their proximity. "Mary, you've suffered so much for too long on my account. You must know that I would suffer through anything for you. Anything."
She was shaking again, as he drew her even closer to him. She had never felt so loved in all her life. Nothing but his presence in her life seemed so necessary, so right. His arms, one settled sturdily around her, the other almost perched on her shoulder as he gently caressed her cheek, felt as much as a gesture of unity as the ring upon her finger. She felt her heart lighten, as though a balloon released from the iron grip of a child, as Matthew drew closer, leaned his forehead against hers.
"We shall face it together, Mary." The whisper of her name felt like a prayer coming from his lips. "Sod the papers. In two weeks, we shall be husband and wife." His lips upon her forehead felt like grace itself. "No one, not even that bastard running those papers, can take that away from us."
Suddenly, her hands tightened on his shirt, twisting the fabric in a determined grip as she realized Matthew was right. She was getting married to the love of her life, and as her fiancé made so eloquently clear, not even the entirety of her self-doubt, of her ruined reputation, could get in her way now. Not when she loved so fiercely, and was loved just as fiercely in return. Her heart pounded in her chest as her growing confidence flickered brightly in his eyes.
His vehemence lent her strength, and she moved back slightly in his arms so that she could kiss him properly.
Their lips came together as the thunder crashed above their heads. The pain of her aching muscles faded into the back of her mind. She moved her hands into his hair as he grasped at her waist and lower back, bringing them as close as they could possibly be. Warmth spread throughout her as his kisses grew more intense, as her hands tangled in his hair and his tongue glanced into her mouth. She whimpered and he groaned as he pressed her against, almost into, the stable wall.
She didn't care about the past. She didn't care what the papers said or what society would make of the headlines. She didn't care that Lynch had likely gone to alert the household as to her return, and would likely return himself with her father in tow. In this moment, she threw herself into the wilderness of Matthew, reckless in a different, more satisfying way than she had been this morning.
"I don't know that I can wait two weeks," he murmured as he broke their kiss and began nuzzling her neck. She leaned her head further back, granting him more access. She smiled as he placed several sweet, languid kisses directly underneath her chin.
"I love you." Never had those words felt as right as he pulled back, meeting her gaze with wide eyes and an even wider smile. It wasn't the first time she had told him, but the way in which he cradled her face in his hands made her feel as though she had never spoken the words before.
"And I love you." He kissed her again, chastely, without the burgeoning intensity of before. "So perhaps I should take you inside, before our mothers kill me for letting you catch cold so close to the wedding."
She laughed in response. "But of course. We couldn't have a sick bride nor a dead groom, now, could we?" Teasing him came so naturally to her, and she felt all the lighter for it.
She made to move out of his embrace, feeling able to at least walk to the nearest stool or chair, when those same strong arms reached under to sweep her off her feet.
"Matthew!" She squeaked, flailing a bit at the unfamiliar sensation of being carried. "What are you doing?"
She felt his grin against her cheek, as he moved towards the threshold of the stable.