AN: I've never written a fanfic before, but after re-watching the Christmas special, this just had to come out. The Crawleys behaved abominably toward Richard at the end, and Mary had to have seen it – I thought he needed a proper defense. This takes place post-Christmas special. But Matthew has not proposed yet, although he has forgiven Mary for the Mr. Pamuk incident.
Special thanks to all the wonderful authors like Ju-dou and MrsTater, who write Mary/Richard stories that are such fun and inspiration!
Warning: The first chapter is a bit talky, but I promise secret passages and guest appearances to come…
Mary could hear her brisk footsteps echo in the crunch of gravel under her feet as she approached Haxby from the south path. It was quite a walk from Downton and she was growing tired, but she did not want anyone to know her whereabouts this particular afternoon, so she walked despite the cold and the length of the journey.
Haxby loomed above her as she followed the path to the front drive, its grey stone facade fading into the clouds of a gloomy Yorkshire day. In the distance a crow called; the sound bounced off the stone as did her footfalls, and that too seemed appropriate to the mansion's harmony with its surroundings. If only she felt a part of it.
Despite roaming its halls as a child, despite very nearly becoming its new owner, Haxby was a mystery to her, Mary mused as she trod round the blue coupe parked carelessly near the steps on her way to the front door. This sprawling, eclectic manor was especially unknowable, no matter how many visits she had spent here. It was something in the amalgamation of different styles – a bit of French chateau, a piece of English gothic, a smattering of Moorish castle, all thrown together at the whim of its eccentric creator. Who could hope to possess such a singular vision without being swallowed up by it completely?
Even the doors were particular to the previous owner, Mary realized as she tried the knob – carved into the wood was the Russell's family crest. No, this was not a place she could make her home. But she pushed the thought aside as she pushed open the unlocked door, the sound of her footsteps now magnified a hundred-fold by the colossal marble entry. On previous visits, the emptiness and the echoes had startled her. She remembered Haxby as full of life, not an empty monument to a fallen family. But today, she was glad of the desolation of the place; it rather suited her intentions this afternoon.
"Now this is an unexpected pleasure," a voice boomed across the vast hall. Mary's eyes darted from corner to corner, looking for its source; for a minute she could find nothing in the enveloping white. Finally her gaze landed on the great staircase, where Richard sat perched on the landing next to what appeared to be a bottle of whiskey.
"Surveying your kingdom?" she asked as she approached the staircase, her eyes sweeping past Richard and following the gracious curve of the banister up to the loggia where they had stood together and surveyed the house themselves, not so long ago.
"I have decided to call it an investment," he replied. "Amazing how the business world has a way of clearing out all the trite little personal allusions that come with the idea of a home, or a kingdom, as you put it. Now, this is just a building that I am going to sell."
"I doubt the Russells saw it like that."
"Neither did I, until last week. Neither will the new owners, in all probability. But what they call it is entirely up to them."
"Have you found a buyer so soon?" Mary asked as she draped her fur coat over the railing and ascended the first stair, feeling rather like a child at the zoo approaching the lion's cage. She knew the animal was contained, but those bars looked terribly unstable...
"I had a meeting with my broker this morning. But there is still work to be finished. I doubt it will be ready for the market until summer." Richard tilted his head to look up at Mary as she approached, quirking an eyebrow when she settled herself on the landing beside him. "Unless perhaps the Crawleys are in need of an annex?"
"Will you give us as good a deal as you managed when you bought it?"
"Oh I'll replicate which end of the bargain I got," he replied slowly, watching her from the corner of his eye.
Mary winced slightly at the bitterness in his tone. She knew this conversation was not going to be pleasant, though she was nevertheless relieved when she found he was here. Now she was less sure.
"What are you doing here, Mary?" asked Richard with a sigh in his voice. "You never condescended to visit Haxby on your own before."
"I was looking for you."
He made a 'ta-da!' gesture to indicate he had been found, the sarcasm dripping from the movement less than appreciated by Mary as she tried to find what she wanted to say next.
"The truth is that I've not quite been able to sleep since our... confrontation," she said, rubbing her eyes as if to emphasize the point. "I keep turning the evening over again and again in my mind, yet..." she trails off, watching as Richard took a long drink from the glass she hadn't noticed he was holding. There were many things about him she hadn't noticed, she realized.
Fortified by the liquor, his gaze fell back on her impatiently.
"I can't seem to settle on what exactly is bothering me," she said, and then paused. "Is that whiskey?"
"Scotch," he replied, taking the bottle and topping up his crystal tumbler so gratuitously that it was nearly full. "I wasn't expecting company, so I only have one glass." He handed her the bottle, which she raised to her lips with a shrug for a bit of dutch courage.
"Some housewarming," she ventured, "two people and this enormous house and not enough glasses to go around." One corner of her mouth quirked up in a half smile, but Richard just looked at her.
So she resumed, staring straight ahead: "It was a terrible way to end things."
He nodded. "Yes, it was."
They both seemed to consider this for a moment. Then Mary turned to him, screwing up her courage to ask the most important question that had been on her mind over the week's sleepless nights. "Were you telling the truth?"
"The truth?" he echoed, exaggerating the word with wide eyes and a slight shake of his head; she felt like he was mocking the gravity with which she had delivered the question.
"When you said Lavinia knew that Matthew didn't love her, that she said we would all be happier if he would just admit it. Was that true?"
"Yes it was," Richard confirmed, and for a moment he looked so sincere that Mary could not help but believe him. Then his eyes darkened, and he spoke in that careful, indulgent way that sent shivers down her spine because she speaks that way too, when she has thoughts of revenge or anger. "I learned a long time ago that lies are useless weapons. It's reality that truly wounds."
It was better confirmation than his sincere reply. This was Richard's kind of honesty, and she wondered how fully honest he was to people other than her about his real motivations.
"So you told the truth." Mary was trying to wrap her mind around it. "A difficult truth, yes, but the truth nevertheless. And Matthew punched you in the face for it."
At this, Richard actually laughed. "Must we revisit that particular indignity? Being sucker-punched by the Crawley Kid was far from my finest hour. Though who knew the solicitor from Manchester had it in him?" he asked the ceiling. "If you truly want to parade our recent history, there were so many other choice moments throughout the holiday we can drudge up. Perhaps you'd like to reenact the charades game too, if we're to thoroughly investigate the circumstances."
"I mention it for a reason," Mary said, a bit put out by the wall of sarcasm she must confront. "Or would you not care to hear my defense of you?"
"I don't need your noble defense, my Lady; your justifications mean very little to me either way."
"Then I'm sorry you feel that way," she said brusquely, noting that the inflection in her voice took on a slightly sharper edge at the mention of her class. Though their exchange was going much as she anticipated, she was nevertheless dismayed that this, like their every conversation of late, must degenerate into an argument.
He was correct, she had come here with noble defense in mind. Or at least some idea of righting the wrongs of that unpleasant evening. In truth, what occurred that night made her feel ill; not just her behavior, or even Richard and Matthew's. In actuality, she was quite ashamed of her entire family, and this was the first time she had encountered such a feeling.
It had been Granny, of all people, to trigger it. Mary had watched, speechless after all that had occurred, as Richard smoothed his hair and addressed the dowager countess, explaining that she would not see him at Downton any longer. Granny's reply, "Do you promise?" was the soul of brevity and wit, but it nevertheless sounded a sour note to Mary's ear. In fact, she thought it repellant.
More than used to her grandmother's barbed remarks, she still found this one particularly graceless, and Richard's words from earlier echoed in her mind: "What more could I have done?" It was a question she couldn't answer – then, or as the evening wore on and the family reconvened in the drawing room.
Papa, on the other hand, was the epitome of grace and manners and a heavy dose of sanctimony. He was delighted with Matthew, grasping him by the shoulder as he congratulated him on a good show. "I am proud of you, old chap. You came to the defense of Lavinia's good name, and frankly our entire family's honor."
From the background Mary looked on, astonished. So her little scandal now cast aspersions across the whole family. And some inconsequential fistfight seemed to remedy the situation, as far as honor was concerned. But what good was that performance to her? Richard was probably still going to publish the story; if anything, the fight with Matthew provoked him further.
"I'm just thrilled that awful man is out of our lives," Mama said, "even if it took a boxing match in the library to get rid of him."
Matthew nodded regretfully, "I wish it hadn't come to blows."
"Though that is as final a rejection as one can issue," added Granny. "And Mary is now free of the newspaper man once and for all."
"Honestly, Mary, I don't know what you saw in him in the first place," her mother addressed her with a shake of her head and her wide-eyed expression of perplexity.
They were carrying on as if the display from earlier was a play they had seen on an enjoyable night out – no one seemed to recognize that Mary had just lost a man who had been her fiancé for two years. Two years was a lot of history to share with someone – countless luncheons and walks in the garden, cocktails and dancing, shared dreams and future plans. Yes, it was Mary's decision to break it off; she believed it necessary and right, and she didn't regret it. But she was in no mood to celebrate, either.
"We all make mistakes, Cora dear," replied Granny. "I remember a handsome young soldier who caught my eye when I was about Mary's age. He seemed quite intriguing in uniform, until he opened his mouth and I realized immediately he was not our kind of people. It just took Mary a little longer to realize it."
"That is an important lesson," Robert mused. "One I fear Sybil will likely learn as well."
This comparison was almost more than Mary could stand. It wasn't as if she was about to run off with the chauffeur – she had planned to marry one of the Empire's wealthiest and most influential men!
She knew her family had been against it from the start, and that no one could appreciate the advantages, even the charm, she found in Richard. But their outdated creed of lofty ideals was nothing but hypocrisy, she was beginning to realize, a defense mechanism where honor was code for self-righteousness and "our kind of people" was a group Mary was uncertain she wished to belong to.
Her father had told her earlier that he wanted an honorable man for her, the implication against Richard quite clear. So, he preferred a suitor who went around punching people, despite being very clearly in the wrong, as opposed to a fiancé that went to considerable lengths to protect the family from one of many scandals that seemed to congregate around Downton. When she thought about it, the Bates affair was no less damning than her own indiscretion, though Mary didn't hear Papa talk about the compromised honor of the family in that situation.
Richard was not 'their kind of people', yet the Crawleys were perfectly content to use him for whatever advantage he could provide. All the while, they disparaged him at every opportunity, and, when he dared object, they closed ranks and feigned amnesia of his contribution. His methods were questionable – Mary knew that first-hand – but if the Crawleys were to navigate the tough world they now inhabited, they could no longer hope to remain above the fray while the common people did their dirty work. At least Mary was honest enough to admit the messy conditions they all lived in, and get a bit muddy herself.
In the face of all that commotion that evening, she believed it had been Richard, ironically, who emerged with the most dignity intact. He was not honorable. But he had succeeded in proving that neither were they. She felt rotten; for using him, for throwing him over, for not appreciating what he had offered. She felt embarrassed; for Matthew who couldn't control his guilt and Granny who couldn't control her tongue, lashing out at her heartbroken former fiancé. She felt repulsed; for Papa and the rest retreating behind a veil of false civility that served only to confirm their own sense of superiority.
She went to bed that night thinking about all of this, and so began her sleepless nights. Richard was hardly blameless, obviously. Yet she was beginning to understand why he so despised her class of people, and her family's appalling conduct that night was what shocked her out of her complacency. They moved in the world guarded by concepts of honor and virtue, and she had never questioned it. But what a dangerous idea honor was, in the wrong hands.
Richard knew nothing of the family's conversation after he had stormed upstairs to pack, though Mary suspected he had an idea. The evening continued much in the manner it had begun, until Mary could no longer tolerate one more smug, self-congratulatory word. If her family only realized, she contemplated with a small degree satisfaction, that their remarks would lead her here four days later, back to the side of her dishonorable blackmailer.