The story summary says most that I want to say about this oneshot - Other than I'm proud of it and find this time period between their break up and before Matthew goes to war very compelling. I am a sucker for angsty longing and I think the time when Matthew is at war and he and Mary are apart is very interesting to write about - This is a peek into how telling Mary he had enlisted for war would go and what they would have to say to each other. Rated T for some language and romance, minimum. Heavy on Matthew fawning over Mary with his lovely thoughts of her. Pure guilty pleasure melodrama. Please enjoy and leave feedback if you wish! My first take on Matthew's perspective.
It had been weeks, maybe less, he wasn't sure, since Lord Grantham had stood amid the garden party with his hat waving in the air and announced they were at war with Germany.
Matthew told his mother he was heading to the big house and sported his cap, making the trek up the gravel path to the manor he was meant to inherit someday – With a tight feeling in his throat he wondered just how to tell Cousin Robert that he was putting it all at risk.
For Matthew had enlisted.
It was just after dinner but barely dusk, as summer had the tendency of drawing out the days and it was as if the sun never really set and it was a comfort during these dark times that there was light somewhere. The evening was warm but Matthew wore his navy overcoat, a perturbing, enduring chill having settled over him.
His intentions were to visit the house after dinner, mercifully making it easier to avoid the Lady who had stamped misery onto his heart. It would be hard for him to see her because truthfully it was not her fault, their ill-fated coupling seemed to be in the stars – Everything that could have come up, could have challenged something that should have been easy and natural...did.
He believed that she would have said yes, even if her mother not suffered tragedy and borne a son to the family. He never did figure grand, darling Lady Mary to follow him back to the city as a middle class solicitor, so they would adjust their lives accordingly but – together. He figured they would have to consider their lifestyles and he was willing and hopeful to make it work. But after weeks of her being away he decided not to give her the chance to reply, to say yes or no because, as he recalled telling his mother upon arriving in Downton – He was not a puppet. He was not going to be strung along by Mary just because she could ("however much he might have wanted to"...), he was going to maintain a small bit of the pride and while he did, yes, believe she loved him she did not deserve the opportunity to string him along until he was at his wit's end with the whole thing.
It would be hard to see her because now that there was a war he would want her again. He would want to swallow that pride and beg her to let him kiss her once more. He liked to think himself a strong man but in the presence of Lady Mary he was anything but. The world at war brought things into perspective and he was – afraid, hopeful, and uncertain that seeing her would do just that and he would surrender himself to her and a vicious circle of believing himself a prideful man but a man made weak by her would begin.
He thought perhaps Cousin Robert would be walking Isis around that time that evening, that he could find him, share his news, bid adieu and deal with the situation privately. He had told his mother his intentions to enlist and she was the best thing he could ask for because she stood firmly on and never asked of him to change his mind, supported him in the decision and told her son to prepare himself.
Matthew lost his breath as he realized he was at the house – the sunset glow had faded some and he found himself peering through a thicker veil of evening to see of course – of course – her.
He nearly turned on his heel, scuffed his feet trying to stop his tracks and emerged in a poof of dust from the gravel to see Mary – of course, of course – looking at him from where she sat on the bench, her bench, their bench.
"Matthew? Dinner's well over with..." She was polite, always, even after their broken non-engagement (well, he had not seen her since) and it nearly made him laugh how perfectly even she was on the surface but tumultuous just beneath.
She was bare-armed, her dress with thin straps, the one he really liked, and did not even wear gloves up to her elbows. He thought it might have been the most of her he had ever seen and his cheeks burned. It even dipped a little low in the back and he could see her delicate shoulder blades, the curve of her spine. He swallowed, his mouth agape for a second and then spoke.
"No – I just came to speak with your Papa, actually," The appreciative thing about both of them was that neither of them lost their composure quickly around the other. As much as Mary was the Lady with no heart or whatever her title was – Matthew countered her quite easily and both of them kept their bubbling emotions under wraps (until they did, in fact, boil over and a proposal was given or retracted and love questioned and whatever else...).
"Oh, of course, well he had just gone through for drinks as I came out so he should still be there..." Mary offered and Matthew was thankful for the time of night and that the sun was not shining into those eyes of hers because they were the deepest, loveliest, most peculiar shade of – brown, amber, red? - he had ever seen and they turned his insides hot.
"Right, perfect, thank you," his tone was that of dismissal, thanks, farewell and that was what he intended but he did not move and she was still looking at him.
"You've not been up since the garden party," Mary mused, perfect nonchalance and composure. "Either the war has you startled or the end of us does."
Matthew was not in the mood to play and found himself feeling much darker the more she spoke. There was nothing light about any of it, neither them nor the war.
"I've come to tell Cousin Robert..." He paused, he felt he owed her at least a decent word, an explanation. "I wanted to share, Mary, that I've enlisted..."
She was on her feet.
"No." The word a breath in the night between them and he feared this, he did, he feared that look would be on her face, that she would not be as unfeeling as she could be and would stare him down and arise all of his doubts about his decision.
Mary was not sure he heard her say no, she had not meant for him to, she did not want to appear weak when he was standing before her being so, so strong.
"I'm young enough, I may not believe in all of the politics surrounding it but I am able-bodied and in the position to help, Mary, when so many others will have to go, leave their families poor and broken and I've not that kind of thing to worry about...It's a responsibility," he could not let her interrupt. "It's not some brave choice," he mocked, almost laughing at himself. "It's not me trying to prove my masculinity or even that I would feel belittled and left out if I did not enlist – I have a sense of unity and duty,"
"You're running away," she countered and though they stood four feet apart she radiated heat and Matthew tugged at the tie around his neck, undid buttons on his coat because the chill in his bones was ebbing away with her so close.
It seemed Mary wanted to argue.
"From what, pray tell?" Matthew stepped toward her and recognized that may be a mistake because he could see all of her skin, lightly freckled in places, awash in the blue evening light and she seemed to glow, so ivory and contrasted to the night. A bright spot in the evening.
"Me. Us. Our failure," she all but spat. "You, Cousin Matthew, have a knack for making me feel shameful over things beyond my control. You retracted the proposal, you could not believe I would be sincere in my acceptance of it after my Mama's tragedy – You took it out of my hands and you never even gave me the chance to answer, truly! You said you would leave Downton on the tail of our demise and here's your chance." Mary's voice trembled and this was one of those boiling points – where they were calm, steady, floating along and something triggered and then neither of them could contain themselves. Matthew knew she could not really think he would go to war just to get away from her, just to prove them done – Matthew knew by her wide, wide eyes that she was hurt over their relationship, scared at the news of war and lashing out on him for fear of what was to come.
"For God's sake, Mary." Matthew's lip was curling with the effort to not shout back at her. Or kiss her. Or both. "Do you really think I want to get away from you so badly I welcome the opportunity of war? On the contrary, I wish things were much different so I wouldn't have to entertain the thought of leaving at all," He meant their entire situation, their relationship, their fall. "Away from you, Mary? That's not..."
She was closer now.
He was determined in his finishing. "That's not what I want."
"Perhaps you should go see Papa before it's much too late, he'll be turning in..." It astounded him how Mary could manage to be so volatile but completely innocent at the same time.
"We can't have this conversation again, Matthew, we're both too, too hurt." She was so close to him now. "You can't say things like that when you're the one who made all these declarations of leaving and being uncertain of all things including my feelings for you,"
She was too close to him and he knew it was because it was difficult to see one another, the night was darkening rapidly but he could hear her breathing and he was suddenly very warm, sweat on his brow and a catch in his throat.
"It doesn't change anything, what I'm saying...It's true, I don't want to be away from you but we can't spend time together like this either, butting heads, blaming one another, dancing around one another until there's no happiness left in either of us."
He knew he should not have seen her that night. He knew he should avoid her until he was on the train to the front, because there would be no turning back then, no saying things he should not say because he did not want to marry her anymore (but he did), he did not want to be among Lady Mary's playthings for any longer (it was torment). But that pride, like he worried earlier, evaporated when she was standing so close.
Mary shrugged her small shoulders and looked fragile for one of the first times to him.
"Oh Matthew," His lips quirked of their own accord as she said her benediction, Oh Matthew. "War is going to change everything," It almost sounded like she might be smiling but he was not strong enough to look at her lips. "None of this is going to matter, nothing will be the same, not even Downton."
The front doors opened and Cousin Robert emerged squinting down the drive and asking for the source of the shouting.
Matthew was relieved because he was not sure what would happen between them if he stood there a moment longer. He could only notice her cheekbones were kissed by the soft light of the evening and he did not mean to wax poetic but the Lady Mary brought it out in him. He tipped his cap to Mary and without another word strode into the house to relay the news.
Matthew left Lord Grantham after a considerable number of nightcaps, more than normal, more than he was accustom to and he was flush cheeked and a little wobbly on his feet. Robert bade him goodnight with his own ruddy cheeks and did not wait for Matthew to leave before he ascended the stairs to bed (most of the house was already asleep as Carson had been sent off, Matthew assuring him their talk would be long and he did not want to keep him up just to be seen out of the house).
It was gone midnight, he thought, although he could not see the clock quite well with his hazy vision and the dark of the house. The dark of the house, that is, save for one room on his way to the foyer. Someone had the remnants of a fire lit which wasn't all that odd for the summertime because the house kept a chill to it but for the hour it was odd. Matthew, boundaries blurred by the liquor, wandered off toward the room, not taking care to keep quiet or appear something other than nosey.
He sighed audibly because of course it was her – would it ever be anyone but her? Could he ever walk without her shadow alongside him now? To have loved and lost Lady Mary...
"You should be in bed, asleep, I think," He stumbled over his words a bit and if he was drunk he regretted that it would be this moment to be drunk because he had no defences or inhibitions around her at the best of times. "It's late. I'm sorry if your Papa and I kept you up."
She quirked one of her eyebrows at him as she turned away from the fire and as opposed to the way she glowed earlier – stark and cold in contrast to the blue evening – she was glowing now from the dying fire, warm and rosy and her hair had tumbled out of her gibson tuck down her back.
"Not at all, I couldn't sleep and this is the only fire in the house tonight, although I had hoped to catch you...Was rather unfinished earlier...But you might be a little incapacitated..." She was not wearing her dress from earlier, no, she was wearing a bed robe, silky but large, over a blousy nightdress and he swallowed, worried someone was about to come in and assume all sorts of wrong (little did Matthew know Mary had seen all sorts of wrong and emerged the other side of it in one piece and was not sure she could ever share that shame with Matthew, although part of her knew he was too good of a man to ever judge her for the Pamuk scandal).
"And I might agree with you about that," Matthew stood in the doorway with his hands in his pocket, his tie undone and slung over his shoulder.
"You and Papa seemed to have a bond tonight, though," She was sitting on the settee close to the fire and Matthew felt unsettled about stepping further into the warm room where she was in a thin summer nightdress and his head was thick with drink.
"He assured me not to worry, I wasn't leaving the family, understands how obliged I feel, he's proud, even, worried for the state of things afterwards though – Who knows what I'll have to come home to, that sort of thing...I've had one too many," He sunk into the armchair beside Mary with a sigh.
"You're allowed, I think, to enjoy your drink before you..." The words died in her throat and Matthew knew they were going to have a very different conversation now.
"Mary," His voice gruff but quiet. "You said all will change and none of this will matter and you're right, I can't believe that if I survive I will want to come back here hostile toward you over some long forgotten near engagement. Perhaps, then, let it all air out? I could love or hate you tonight and leave in the morning and nothing will matter after the war, everything will have shifted and we can't know where we'll stand, so how about some honesty?"
"This isn't the proper setting for honesty, I don't think, you drunk and I in my night clothes but you were never one to do things proper, were you, Matthew?" His name a taunt on her lips and he was emboldened by the drink for he was staring right at them as she spoke.
"Never, cousin Mary,"
Then suddenly she had crumpled in on herself, a heap of silk robe, shaking limbs and muffled sounds. She bent over to her knees, hiding her face and body, crying. Matthew was wholly alarmed and let it happen for a few moments before sitting beside her and realizing he had no idea how to comfort her without touching her – but touching her meant...meant that silky thin fabric and her warm skin and he was not – he was not a man who should be touching silky fabric and warm skin just then, particularly Mary's.
"What is it, what's the matter," And he touched her shoulder despite his hesitation and it was – it was warm and silky. She then drew upright, peering up at him through wet eyelashes with eyes the size of globes, deep enough to drown in.
His throat worked hard as he swallowed and tried to keep his mouth closed.
"I can't bear to think you're going to war. It's nothing about our coupling, we matter none in this – You at war, though – None of us could bear it if something happened." He grasped both of her shoulders and could hardly understand what she was saying, Matthew could not reconcile war, blood, death, fighting with the trembling, feminine, wonderful woman sitting in front of him. How could there be such a thing as war in the world when there was a Lady Mary? His own lips nearly trembled with emotion as he stared at her.
"We've a rapport, Mary, a spark and it's why we burned out so quickly and it's also why you will never be just nothing to me. I'm logical about it and I will do all I can to stay alive. No one will be untouched by war so you need to wear that stiff upper lip we both know you have. You can't go to pieces over me, I've my...my strengths and my country needs me," Was he trying to reassure her or himself? He thought to himself with furrowed brow.
She kissed him and of course it was her, of course she kissed him before he could kiss her because he was prattling on.
Having had only kissed Mary once before, and now kissing her this time – his head swimming with alcohol, the embers of the fire creating a strange haze that seemed to cling to her hair, the curve above her lip – it was enough to make his heart thump in his chest.
He did not know where to put his hands, and it was with frustration, uncertainty, that he groaned, not comfort or submission into the kiss but Mary mistook it as desire (perhaps uncontrolled) and pulled back looking nothing short of wanton and breathing rapidly.
So he put one hand low on her back and the other in the cascade of hair down her shoulders and they kissed again.
It was inappropriate, unplanned that he had thrown his overcoat off when he sat into the armchair and now he was next to her without it and kissing her and he could feel her hands on his neck, in his hair, under the collar of his shirt and his next groan was with desire.
"Oh god, Mary," He spoke against her cheek, their chests rising and falling and hers brushing against his and she gave a soft, contented sigh and Matthew realized his lack of willpower, boundaries, morals, pride (he had left her and had a resolve not to let this happen but here he was).
"You, Mary, have a knack of making me forget of everything else in the world. When you're near, it's only you," Honesty, the theme of the night, he had asked for honesty as caution was thrown to the wind and everything seemed so small in the light of war; quarrels and ego were nothing.
He cupped her cheek, his thumb grazed her lips, and then ran his fingers along her neck just to feel it, just to see that expression on her face that was red-lipped, wide-eyed, flush-cheeked – it made him able to imagine her doing all sorts of things.
Mary was glad to be kissing him but could still go on crying because as real as he was then, in her house at a scandalous hour, touching her neck with warm, strong hands, he would soon be gone and it was her that decided nothing mattered in the face of war so either did this and she realized she must really, truly, deeply love him, for when Patrick died her heart did not ache, she did not love him as she should have and Matthew waltzed in and bowled her over, still sitting right in front of her but she was a sobbing heap just at the idea of him not safe at Downton.
"Matthew," His hands were roaming from her neck, her shoulder was bared where the dressing gown had slipped and he touched it, then along her collarbone. He somehow, impossibly, adventurously stroked her bare knee. Matthew should not have seen her bare-legged, she should have a little modesty but she wanted to feel this way before he left.
She tasted faintly of mint and tea (and tears) and something very sweet that could only be Mary and the whole sensation was so delicious he thought he might pass out (perhaps literally pass out because the world was spinning).
He had a flash of thought, swimming with her in the summertime, smoking from a pipe as they walked through the foliage in the autumn, on a horse and sleigh in the winter, basking in the first traces of sun in the spring – Sharing a life with her. Living with her in whichever way he pleased and he had never been more sorry than in that moment – with Lady Mary before him, vulnerable, willing, close – of the way their relationship ended.
"I did love you enough to spend my life with you, Matthew, and I may still...Self-preservation aside...I do still." Her words were a whisper and her eyes were closed, she spoke against the skin of his throat, lips brushing there.
He unfolded himself from her – his hand untangled from her long hair (he wished she would wear it down all the time), the other from the smooth material of her robe (lingering on her leg), his nose from the crook of her neck, lips from her skin, before he smoothed her hair behind her ears (she was the most endearing thing he had ever seen and what if they had just both cried together?). He tried to find a voice again, tried to remember just who in the hell he was because all actions that night were out of character (or perhaps not out of character but out of line).
"I'm sorry I've – I've practically pawed at you, good lord – Um," His own hair was mussed and shirt collar upturned and he was coming back into himself, realizing he had to leave and do so quietly because it was blessed no one was up to find them.
She smiled at him, that crinkly eyed smile, and he wondered if he should let her know that it was his undoing, that smile, that she could control the whole bloody world with it. Her eyes shone, the fire glinting off her unshed tears and he kissed the corner of her eye, then her nose, her lips one last time.
"I'll find a way back to you, we'll meet again here, I know it."
His chest ached with longing and unfulfillment as he left the house (he someday would love to see the sun dawn here but knew that was not the time) and Mary, all in white, practically a ghost in the night watching him leave from the window and the cold was back upon him, in his bones, something he carried through the entire war. He flipped his collar up around his neck and goosebumps rose almost painfully as he recalled her touching him only moments before.
He'd find his way back.
- fin -