Author's Note: So I have officially taken the plunge and written my first fanfiction! This idea has been haunting my thoughts for ages, so I finally decided to do something about it. The story is an AU that takes place after Lavinia's death, but before the CS. I have to give the world's biggest shout out to La Donna Ingenua, who encouraged me to write this story, and helped me shape it into what you are about to read. Here's hoping you enjoy it!
It could have happened to anyone, really- even an experienced rider such as herself- but she was already being reckless. She shouldn't have gone out in the first place, not in her current state. She was hurt and confused, but more than anything, she was mad. And if she was honest, she was madder at herself than anyone else. She could write a book filled with her regrets, but she still had to live with them. She would go back and shake the girl she once was if she could; the one who was so haughty and foolish, so stubbornly proud. She would warn that girl that should her attitude not change, she could ruin things forever. That certain things, once done, could not be undone; once broken, could not be fixed. For now she wished so much that something, anything would feel normal again. But what was more normal for Mary than a ride around the grounds on her beloved horse?
The weather was unpredictable at best, and the ground was soft from the previous days of rain. Lynch had strongly advised against her riding out, especially alone, but she dismissed his fears with assurances of her competence as a rider. As she pushed Diamond harder, and he ran faster, she thought for a moment that she really could run away from it all: from Richard, from Downton, from her obligations…from her feelings for Matthew. Oh Matthew…what a mess they were. She wondered vaguely if they really were cursed as he had said, but she shook the notion quickly from her thoughts. She shut her eyes tight for just a moment and felt utterly free. But when she opened them up it was all still there. She hadn't run away from anything. Cursed indeed. She was so tired of everyone telling her what she could or should do- what was supposedly best for her. Why did no one seem to understand that she could make her own decisions? Why did they all insist on offering their insipid advice? As the first drops of rain began to fall, she thought for a moment about going back, before pressing her heels firmly into Diamond's sides and urging him forward. At least he didn't seem to doubt her capabilities. Even if she couldn't distance these thoughts from her mind, she could physically distance herself from their origin.
She'd ridden this way dozens of times before, so she thought little in the way of caution. They were flying down the trail now, as fast as they were able. But the mud on the ground was as thick as pudding, and ever so slippery. The rain was stinging her skin as she raced against it, which was first unpleasant, but then exhilarating. The weather seemed to be getting worse, but she knew that she only had to circle around for a few more minutes before she would be able to see the house again, so she did not slow her pace. She certainly wasn't in a hurry to get back, but even the thought of slowing down felt like a resignation; like she would be letting her problems win- proving to them that there was one more thing that she could not do. She was absolutely covered in dirt and grime, and she smiled to herself thinking of the reception she would get upon returning to the house. Her mother would certainly scold her for being so careless. Anna would look at her knowingly, but say nothing. Sometimes, especially lately, Mary found herself wishing that bounds of class were not such a barrier between them. Anna had been a true friend and ally to Mary, but there was so little she could do, at least publicly, to show her appreciation. They could never be friends socially, however much they may wish to be. How unjust it all was. Poor Anna didn't even have the luxury of trying to escape her own (now numerous) demons on horseback.
As Mary rounded a sharp corner, she was just distracted enough by these thoughts that she didn't notice the tree that had recently fallen casualty to a storm. Diamond, however, did notice, and the horse came to a jarring stop. If Mary had been paying attention, they could have easily made the jump. But she wasn't. Diamond had stopped himself in plenty of time, but the momentum of his former pace to his currently suspended state had sent Mary sailing from his back. When she had not returned in time for tea, and especially in such weather, it was decided that Robert and Matthew, who had been animatedly discussing the recent progress made with the cottages, would go out and search for her. They started at the stables, where they discovered a muddy Diamond, still saddled up, with no sign of Mary. Panic set in immediately, but Matthew had enough sense to follow the freshly laid tracks left by the horse in the mud. He sent Robert back to the house to phone for the doctor," just in case".
When Matthew did eventually stumble upon Mary, he was utterly unprepared for what he saw. She was on the ground, covered from head to foot in mud, looking utterly lifeless. Her riding cap was some distance from where she lay, and her hair was matted to her face. As he assessed the position in which she was laying, and the tracks leading up to the tree, he slowly pieced together what had happened. As the realization sunk in, he felt a strange sensation surge throughout his body, a sensation with which he was not altogether unfamiliar with- paralysis. He was frozen in place for who knows how long as he simply looked at Mary, his Mary, who was always so strong, lying helpless and broken on the ground.
Before he even knew what had happened, he was standing outside the front door of the house, shouting as loudly as he could for help, with Mary cradled as gently as possible in his arms. As he waited for someone, anyone to get to the door, his awareness slowly came back to him. How he had scooped her up from the ground, how she was both terribly light and troublesomely heavy. How he had tried to run as fast as his legs would carry him, but the viscous mud had clung to his feet and slowed him down to a brisk trudge. Mud, of course, always made him think of the trenches, but he would not let his mind go there- not when Mary so desperately needed him to be strong. Then he thought about how much he regretted their most recent conversation, and how he desperately hoped that it was not their last. And now, standing at the front door, he was aware of how heavy he was breathing and of the tears that were streaming down his face. He was aware of the limpness of the woman he was holding, and the alarming way that her arm was drooping to her side, as if it didn't really belong to her anymore.