A/N: Happy Monday!
I was hoping SO MUCH for there to be one last M/M scene after the dinner party in last night's episode. I really felt there needed to be. And there wasn't, so... I wrote it instead. Judging by next week's preview I'm 90% sure this will not have happened, but... it COULD'VE. Well. I wanted to write it, anyway. :P
Thanks as ever to EOlivet for her encouragement and polish!
Matthew leaned against the doorway of the drawing room, watching the last of the guests leave, feeling utterly exhausted by the strangeness of the evening.
"Are you alright, Matthew?" Cora touched his arm as she walked past.
He smiled. "Quite alright, thank you. Just tired. It's been quite the eventful evening!"
"It has, hasn't it," she laughed. "Thank God it's over! Has Mary gone up already?"
"Yes, I think so." She'd excused herself shortly after he'd seen her talking with Violet and Mrs Levinson, and judging by the former having left for the Dower House equally soon, he reckoned he could take a pretty fair guess at what the outcome of the conversation had been.
He sighed, and uncrossed his arms, without energy for further conversation – particularly considering the one he sensed he was about to have. "And, I suppose I should turn in myself. Goodnight, Cora."
"Night, Matthew. I hope Mary isn't too disappointed," she added plaintively as he started to walk away.
"So do I."
Nodding his goodnight, he climbed the stairs and went to their bedroom, resting his hand hesitantly on the doorknob for a moment before pushing it slowly open.
Inside, his wife stood with her back to him, tugging off her long evening gloves and flinging them over the back of the chair. Glancing down, he remembered his own apparel and how that had disappointed her, too, and he pulled off the black bow-tie from around his neck with a dark frown.
"Your grandmother wouldn't help, then?" he said quietly, softening.
Mary turned around, and though he was hardly surprised he still flinched in pain to see her distraught, tight expression.
"No," she shrugged, lips twisting to a bitter smile. "It seems Downton has had its share, and there's no more to spare for it – only for Mama's dress allowance, or other such nonsense."
"I'm so sorry, darling…"
Her hairpiece clattered onto the dresser.
"Are you?" she snapped at him. "You didn't approve in the first place, don't pretend otherwise–"
"Of course I am!" Stung, Matthew took a careful step toward her. "It was important to you, and I'm sorry you've been let down."
"Oh, don't pretend that!" She was angry, and though this evening wasn't his fault, her grandmother's money being tied wasn't his fault, the words still stung her as hypocritical and she lashed out. "How can you claim to care when you're letting me down the most of all!"
"Mary! How can you–"
"No, Matthew, how can you?" she cried tearfully, pacing angrily away from him and then back again. "How can you stand there and say you're sorry when you hold the means to save us, our future, yourself? When you'd happily see Downton crumble –"
"Darling, please!" He felt breathless with anguish, with crushing sorrow that she believed that of him, and that he was causing her this pain. He reached a hand out to touch her elbow but she flinched away and he felt his chest tighten with remorse. "Do you really think – do you truly believe that I want us to lose this house?"
She shook her head at him, her eyes wide and angry. "Well don't you? If you're letting it fall from our grasp without a fight?"
Her own anger at him terrified her. How was it possible? To love him, so very much, and yet despise him for principles which would ruin them?
He stared at her in distraught disbelief, so close to her, and yet a chasm of misunderstanding ached in the inches between them.
"My darling, if I could –"
Mary laughed. "Oh, Matthew! But you can, that's–"
"No," he shouted back at her, "I can't! Not in good conscience, not after what I–"
"Don't… Please." She held her hand up, stopping him, bringing a silent and painful truce between them. "I'm trying to understand you, darling, really I am. But you don't make it very easy to. I know that you can't forgive yourself, but must you punish us for it!"
When he took her hands, this time, she did not pull back; though felt her muscles tense warily. She used his hands as a distraction, stared at them, fixated on them, so that she wouldn't have to look in his eyes. His tearful voice was hard enough to bear.
"Do you think," he said, terribly quietly, "that I feel this way gladly? My darling, my wife… I know that Downton is your home, and – it should be, and if there was anything else I could do to give it to you, I would. But I can't – I could not live here knowing that the roof was over our heads – over the heads of our children – thanks to Reggie Swire and his mistaken belief in me."
A sad, weary sigh escaped her lips and she blinked up at him, feeling her anger subside and an aching wound of sorrow seared in its place. Oh, she knew he loved her, she could never doubt it now, but… how, then, could he hurt her so terribly?
"Oh, darling, at least then we would have a roof over–"
"And we will, whether it is Downton's or not!" he exclaimed. Mary shrank back from him, pressing her lips together, and he lifted a hand to touch her face. "My darling, please understand that… I want us to have a home, and a future, and a family, but – I want it to be our home, our own, and not… one gained dishonestly. And so I couldn't be happy having taken Reggie's money, I–"
"Not even… knowing what Downton is to me? It's not just my home, it's my–"
"I know, darling." Oh, he knew that very well, too well. To imagine Mary without Downton, or Downton without his darling Mary, was so very wrong… Hadn't he known that when he'd asked her to be his wife, when he'd married her, even with Swire's inheritance hanging over them? He knew it. His thumb stroked over her cheek, and his heart ached with adoration and sorrow as she leaned into his touch, even so slightly. He whispered, "And I know that it's causing you sorrow , and I know that you blame me, and my darling if you could know how much it breaks my heart to add to that…"
He shuddered to feel her hand over his heart, her palm warm against his beating chest beneath his jacket. And though his body instinctively warmed at the contact, it was a wary sort of truce, because he wasn't sure how they'd come to it or what it even was, when they still disagreed so fundamentally. But how could they argue any more, then, what more was there to say? It was impossible.
Mary stepped closer to him, close enough for him to feel her breath and the frisson of heat between her skin and his.
"Kiss me," she whispered, and the tips of their noses brushed gently together. His hands grazed over her shoulders to clasp her arms, with every ounce of his usual tender affection.
"No," he breathed.
His hands tightened on her arms as she flinched back, blinking up at him in surprise. Never… he'd never refused her, not this, and she didn't understand.
"No, I won't kiss you," he murmured, but… there was that smile tugging at the corner of his lips, that heavy warmth in his voice, his eyes fluttering shut… "Not… until you agree to let me show you how sorry I am, for this evening, darling, and for – all the rest, too."
"Oh," she gasped quietly, feeling her pulse race in a much more pleasant way than anger as his hands slipped from her arms to her waist, and back, hovering by the fastenings of her dress, his breath against her lips. She felt his hair beneath her fingertips and trembled. "Well, darling, if you insist… then – alright."
"Oh, I do," he positively purred, and… he did.
A/N: Thank you so much for reading :) I just had to get this one off my chest. I'd love to know what you thought - the money issue is stirring up a lot of strong feelings in the fandom, and so I hope I've done some kind of justice to each of their viewpoints - because truly, I feel them both. It's an impossible one. Anyway I'll stop rambling - thank you so much!