A/N: Happy Monday! (somewhere in the world...)
It feels like FOREVER since I've posted fic, though I know it isn't. I've recently started a new full-time teaching job and it's a bit of a shock to the system! But then, as ever, Downton is too inspiring...
This is very loosely based on a couple of shots from the trailer and some S3 hints for M/M. Nothing particularly spoilery.
Thanks as always to EOlivet for her polish and to Pemonynen for her help with a particular scene!
A House Is Not A Home
"Perhaps we could have tea in York on our way back," Mary suggested casually. Her expression was perfectly neutral as she fixed a hatpin and pulled on her leather gloves. "You rather liked that new tearoom – Betty's, isn't it? – or would that be too out of our way?"
Matthew laughed, slipping his arm around her waist to press a fond kiss to her cheek as he walked past her to their car, waiting on the gravel driveway outside. It was still quite new, still a thrill, and he ran his hand in admiration over the sleek bodywork before opening the passenger door for his wife.
"A worthy attempt, my darling, but I'm still not going to tell you where we're going. You'll see when we get there – it's a surprise!"
"You know perfectly well what I think of surprises." She climbed in without looking at him, picking impatiently at her gloves while he started the motor and settled into the driver's seat.
"I know. But if I tell you now, you won't want to go –"
"Well that's a wonderful incentive, dear –"
"–So if you would just trust me –"
"It seems I hardly have a choice!" she gasped, holding a hand to her hat as Matthew had already started the car with somewhat excessive enthusiasm.
"–I think," he smiled, "you will rather like it. Or… I hope you will, anyway."
Knowing her husband's stubbornness very well by now, Mary pursed her lips and realised, as hard as it may be, that she might as well accept it. She folded her hands in her lap and determined to enjoy the scenery flashing past instead, with the advantage of their open-top motor. She smiled to herself, thinking fondly of Matthew's pride in it, and looked sideways to indulge in the sight of his cheeks flushed from the wind, his boyish smile and the blonde hair that was escaping his driving cap. She could tell by the way his lips twitched up a little and his hands tightened upon the steering wheel that he was aware of her gaze, and it only made her smile more.
"Stop looking at me like that," he said in a low voice, staring determinedly at the road ahead.
"Like what?" she smiled innocently.
"You know perfectly well. It's… distracting."
"But I like it," her low voice washed back over him. The colour in his cheeks deepened, and she dared to graze her hand quickly over his thigh before twisting again to look at the countryside that flew by, a satisfied smile lighting her face.
As they drove through the dappled light cast in the shadows of leafy avenues of trees, they enjoyed the pleasure of the wind whipping past their ears and the freedom they had to do this. They were married, they needed no chauffer, they were under no press of time to hurry back as they would keep no-one waiting. It was exhilarating and blissful to escape Downton for a little while, together, that seemed to have been the centre of all their bickering in recent weeks… But she wasn't going to think about that, not now.
Matthew was quiet as he drove, and Mary watched carefully for clues as to where they were going. Towards Ripon, she thought, and York beyond that, but that was so far as she could tell. Eventually, after driving through a quiet little village called Melmerby, Matthew took them down a quieter road that became a driveway that led to a beautiful red-bricked house with tall windows and a garden that seemed to stretch for miles.
Mary's eyebrows rose sharply as she took it in, lifting her hand into Matthew's to step out of the car. Her shoes crunched sharply on the gravel.
"Matthew," she began apprehensively. Why did he have to do this, why hadn't he told her?
"Please – let's just look," he said, stroking his thumb over her hand in a settling motion. "You don't have to like it and if you don't that's alright, but – give it a chance. Please."
She frowned. "I don't see why you're so determined that Downton isn't adequate for us to live in, or is too much, or…" Her breath expelled in an agitated sigh, and she shrugged. She didn't want to argue about it anymore! "You say you want a simpler life, for now at least – but to me, spending an extravagant amount on a new house when we needn't seems far less simple than living where we are anyway, in the house that we know will be ours one day without the upheaval of moving elsewhere! I don't see why –"
"You know why! I want us to –" His voice rose sharply and he withheld it just as quickly, letting her hand go as he stared up at the house before them. It was so frustrating. He swallowed and took a step back towards his new wife, purposefully softening his expression and his voice in conciliation. "I want us get to know each other, to learn about who we both are without – everyone being there."
Mary softened in response to him, and shook her head.
"It is a big house," said, for the fifth time since they'd argued about this. They had their privacy, they had their own rooms, they hardly needed to see her parents or Edith if they didn't want to. It didn't seem practical to move for the sake of it, and anyway – she liked her home! But Matthew knew all that, just as she knew his arguments, for they'd shouted their opinions at each other over and over these last few weeks.
Matthew sighed. "It's a lovely house. It's your home and I want it to be my home, too – and it will be, ours, just – in due time!"
"Precisely!" Mary leaned against the side of the car, holding her hand out which he took in reconciliation. "Why disrupt that for the sake of it?"
He kissed her cheek softly. "Because… I would like us to forge our own life, our own household, while we learn to live together. Unless of course you feel you need some refuge from me –"
"Matthew!" she chuckled, and smiled when his lips curved happily up. She leaned up and kissed him, a gentle apology, though they had not really resolved anything. But what were they to do?
"Well," he said quietly. "Seeing as we're here, now, anyway – why don't we have a look, at least. If you're still determined after I've shown you around, then we'll talk again, but please don't dismiss it without thought."
In response she stepped away from the car, turning towards the admittedly very pretty house, taking a deep breath and determining to do as he asked and try and see it with an open mind. She supposed she could give him that – and wasn't that what marriage was supposed to be about, knowing which little sacrifices to make for the sake of harmony without compromising one's principles? She hardly knew; but this, at least, she could do.
"Alright, I suppose so." She turned while he caught up with her and raised an eyebrow. "So you've been here already, to investigate the lie of the land?"
"I… came last week, yes."
"I see. Who does it belong to?"
"No-one, at the moment." He stooped down to shift a flagstone by the door, revealing a key where he'd been told there would be one. "It's been empty for months. I think it was the property of a family called Brigstow but their sons were killed in the war, I'm told, and they couldn't bear to stay."
It was a familiar story, and Mary shivered as they went inside.
He'd been right; it was empty. A few pieces of furniture remained here and there, but they were clearly old and had been left for a reason. But despite that the beauty of the house was still evident. Mary smiled as Matthew took her coat and hat, laying them on a solitary small table by the door with his own, and tried not to think about another time not so very long ago that a man had shown her around a house he'd wanted to buy for her. It was a desperately uncomfortable thought, and she shook it off.
It was clear as they toured the ground floor that Matthew had put a great deal of thought into his offer. Mary couldn't help but smile as he showed her each room, his arm snugly around her waist as his other hand pointed out where she might set her table to write letters, or where she might keep her books. The dining room and the drawing room were easily big enough to host dinner for her entire family if she'd like, and yet there was still an intimacy fostered by the pale wood panelling that was not entirely dissimilar to Downton's halls.
Her husband's quiet enthusiasm was infectious, and as they went round she too began to imagine them living here (or try to, at least). It was… so different. But… not impossible, perhaps. Her heart beat quicker in her chest.
They went upstairs. Matthew showed her the room he rather liked for an office; though he hadn't returned fully to work since the war he still wanted a place for his books and his files, until he was quite ready to.
The next room was light and airy, at the corner of the house with large windows on two sides. Matthew slowed as they reached the door, hanging back a little as Mary went in and turned in a slow circle in the middle of the room.
"What?" she asked when she realised he was still in the doorway.
"I thought… this would make a pleasant nursery." His cheeks coloured in a gentle blush, and Mary stopped breathlessly. "When – the time comes, for all that, I mean."
"Oh… Matthew." She was alarmed when her throat seemed to close up, and she felt her eyes sting at the swell of emotion at his tender admission. They hadn't really talked about children, not yet, though it was bound to happen someday she'd always supposed… Certainly bound to happen if their marriage continued as it had started, and – she rushed to his waiting arms, leaning up to kiss him to express her love. Oh, how she loved to kiss him… And though they had certainly not been shy in their kisses through their engagement, since their recent wedding it had all only gotten… better.
They stood, forgetting everything else in the doorway, wrapped in each other and their soft lips that slipped together over and over in a sweet caress, and thoughts of the children that they had only begun to dare to think of.
When at last they broke breathlessly apart, gazing at each other through shining eyes, Matthew's lips quirked up as his hand slid down the blue cotton of his wife's sleeve to take her hand in his.
"There's something else I want to show you," he said, and led her down the corridor.
The room he took her to was breathtaking. At the back of the house, it was larger than the rest upstairs and overlooked the acres of tended garden and woodland behind. An intricately carved surround sheltered part of the room to the side, and the two curtained windows allowed light to shine brightly in and onto the pale walls.
Mary wandered over to one window, taking a deep breath as she looked out. Slowly, she turned and walked back to the middle of the room where she smiled down at the thick, patterned rug that lay over the floorboards.
She felt Matthew come to stand behind her, his hand come to rest familiarly on the curve of her hip. She felt his breath on the back of her neck, and her skin warm from the strength of his gaze. She breathed in, and twisted her head to smile brightly at him.
"It's a beautiful room, darling," she conceded, almost glowing with happiness now at his proximity and his pleasure.
"I'm glad you think so," he murmured, and Mary looked breathlessly down again as she felt her heart race. "I thought this could be our bedroom."
"Oh?" Her noncommittal response was undermined by the way her body nearly trembled from his closeness, the warm desire that radiated from him and between them.
"Mm. So you see it's a pretty good job that you like it…" His lips dropped to her neck in a series of delicate, open-mouthed kisses. "Because it would be a dreadful shame to spend so much time in here if you didn't."
Mary's eyes fluttered shut and open again. "Heavens, what are you suggesting?" Oh, she knew perfectly well… but there was something so completely, gloriously, thrilling about hearing Matthew – dear, sweet, gentle Matthew – hint of such things to her.
"What do you think?" His mouth found the warm skin behind her ear, and she clung to his arms that were tight around her waist as she whimpered in pleasure.
After only moments, she couldn't bear the heavenly torture anymore and turned in his arms to kiss him, their lips parting instinctively together as they quickly descended into rapture. In the back of her mind, barely consciously, Mary was astounded again and again by how easy this was… How perfectly simple it was, to kiss her husband, and want him, and have him. He was hers to have, and she was his to take, gladly, and the thought sent ripples of pleasure from her core to her skin that flamed wherever he touched. Now that she knew the perfect seclusion of their bedroom, and them in it – all those so recently forged memories flashing through her mind – she wondered how they had lived for so long without it. Life, breath, being, seemed senseless without this secret they now shared.
As her hands founds his face, palms skimming his smooth cheeks and fingers delving into soft blonde hair while his hands in turn roamed her back, they clung closer and closer together in this breathlessly, newly familiar way. Since discovering the intoxicating freedom of being together, being wholly together, in their marriage… they had not yet learned restraint. Oh, it had been easy when they couldn't… But now, they could, and having indulged in the pleasure of each other whenever they wished on their honeymoon and in their own bedroom… they had never yet had cause to not. But now, they stood locked together, rendered senseless by the wanton caress of tongues slipping together and lips sliding apart and fingers on skin… in an empty room, in an empty house, and surely…
"Darling," Mary gasped at last, her forehead hot against his. "We – shouldn't, I – think –" Oh but she couldn't think, not when he held her so closely to him that she could feel his warmth, his evident desire…
"God, I know." His breaths were ragged and uncontrolled and he hardly knew where they were anymore, only that… he wanted… "We should – go home. I think we need to go home, darling."
It became the most imperative mission. To get to home, to bed, to each other, to nakedness, to delight… though it was barely three o'clock in the afternoon, that didn't matter. They hurried out to the landing, but could not let go, could not stop touching, could not stop kissing…
They hadn't even reached the bottom of the stairs before they succumbed, sinking down, Mary's back arching against carpeted steps as her husband's lips closed hotly around her breast through her thin blouse, even as his fingers scrabbled to free her from it. It felt brazen and wild and wrong, but… wonderful, exposed like this for the first time not in the privacy of their bedroom in Downton. She gasped at the sensation of cool air against her hot skin, and noticed how the daylight filtering from the high windows in the hall lit Matthew's shoulders when she threw his shirt over the banister above her so differently to how she had ever seen before. And then she saw his tousled head lower again, felt his fingers graze up her thighs and she moaned, and the sound echoed loudly under the high ceiling.
The carpet was rough against her back but she didn't care, could barely notice it when Matthew's arm curled supportively under her, and forgot it entirely when she felt his body drive within her, rocking her sharply against the step.
"Oh… God," he groaned sharply, and the sound speared arousal through Mary's veins. He thrust again, and she cried out, and her hand shot out to grasp the banister as they crashed together over and over. It was a stark contrast from the soft mattress and clinging sheets of their bed, it was awkward, imperfect, and blissful. They shifted, twisted, and she was above him clutching his shoulders as he gripped her hips and pulled her down to him, more quick and hard and frantic until it ached too much and they found themselves entwined on the floor at the foot of the stairs… lips and hips clashing together and fingers grasping at glistening skin, time and reality and sense disappearing in the storm of their love.
When his hand slid down her body between them, his thumb circling in agonising bliss with his erratic thrusts, she screamed in climax that rang loudly in the lofty hall. Matthew's lips were crushed to the crook of her neck when he shattered moments later, his entire body stiffening in her arms and continuing to shudder for long minutes afterward.
He pulled his jacket over them, only just able to reach it where it had fallen, and slowly they calmed and did not speak. Words seemed a waste in this moment, when lips could tender the sweetest declarations of affection in soft, adoring kisses against cooling skin and tousled hair.
Mary blinked slowly, lazily, appraisingly up at the ceiling high above them, her head nestled back against Matthew's shoulder.
"It is a beautiful house, darling," she murmured. "It really is."
His fingers traced delicate circles along her arm as he looked up as well, and a heavy sigh left his lips.
"It is, isn't it? But…" He smiled, and kissed her hair. "It isn't Downton."
She twisted in his arms, leaning up to look down into his eyes as she lightly stroked his cheek. And looking into his eyes – though she couldn't have explained it – she knew, absolutely, that they felt the same thing. It was a beautiful, beautiful house… He couldn't have chosen a finer one. But it was not Downton.
Matthew gazed up at his wife, ignoring for the moment the ache beginning to twinge in his back on the hard floor. It was not Downton, and that meant… it was not home, and could never be. He wasn't sure when he'd come to feel that way; he hadn't been aware that he did. But now he was sure of it. Because Mary… Mary was Downton, in some way, in his mind. She and it were tied in some intrinsic way that he had never understood but always known in his heart. When he thought of Mary… he thought of Downton… he thought of home. It had been that way for longer than he knew, for years.
"Darling?" he murmured, lifting a hand to stroke loosened wisps of her hair back from her flushed face.
"Shall we go home?"
She smiled, and leaned down, and kissed him warmly.
And so, only a little while later… they dressed, and they did.
A/N: Thanks so much for reading! I do hope you enjoyed it but I'd love to know what you thought :) :) And... LESS THAN A WEEK TO GO!