A/N: after last night's episode, I felt the need to explore the conflictual, impossible situation these two characters have been thrown in. And because I'm not any good at writing metas, I tried to express it through a fanfiction. It's mostly been a personal catharsis.


.

She lets the strain of the day wash away from her, as she leaves the safe cocoon of her bed to stand by a window, her still-warm hand against the coolness of the glass. This is how it begins - the first night of her last week in Downton.

Fears, regrets, failures, a miscellaneous of voices battle in her head, deafening her for a moment, until she chooses to shut it all down. For now she need not think of anybody. She needs to be herself, by herself. To be silent; to be alone.

And yet she feels relieved when strong, familiar arms find their place around her. Maybe she has been alone for too long.

"I hadn't meant to wake you up."

She senses him nodding, his nose brushing against her hair, bodies swaying together absentmindedly. He's tired of talking, she's tired of silence.

Looking through the window, she sees a view she's known all her life: covered by the night like a velvet blanket, stars shining over the fields, careless of the tempest that the whistling winds seem to be announcing. Words from a book now forgotten come to her lips, and she speaks before her mind can properly wrap around them.

"When you consider things like the stars, our affairs don't seem to matter very much, do they?"

She hadn't meant for it to sound so sad, but her voice, rough with sleep, breaks on the last syllable. Happiness and melancholy are all but divided by a subtle knife, in this cold, long May. Funny, she realizes, her mind suddenly elsewhere - she had been warm almost all Winter.

Matthew's hot breath against her ear brings her back to now, there, them. He knew she had been flying away, and has reached out for her.

"I love you, so terribly much." he kisses the spot behind her ear, the sound of a smile seeping through his declaration, "I've never stopped loving you."

He can see the reflection of her little, sad smile on the glass of their window, wind raging furiously against it. Unconsciously, his embrace becomes tighter, to remind himself that she's here, and won't vanish away like a dream.

"That's what scares me.", she breaths out, closing her eyes for a moment, her fears leaping from her in a whispered confession. "You loved me when you left Downton, not a word for two years. You loved me when you encouraged me to marry Richard, lest you would leave again, never to return. You loved me when you kissed me, and were still prepared to marry another woman in a few days. You loved me when you told me we could never be happy, you loved me when you told me it was the end. Loving me never stopped you from running."

She's glad for their stance - bodies so close she can feel his heart beating furiously against her back, but unable to see his face, to see the hurt in his eyes or, worse, an apology. Maybe this is the only way they can have this conversation. Impossibly close and inevitably hidden.

"Oh God, Mary," he murmurs in her hair - words spoken out loud, somehow, feel wrong in the stillness of the night. "I never would...I never could hurt you. Please, stop...punishing me."

She shakes her head; there are tears in her throat, but he can't hear them. "I'm not."

"I can't do what you want. Would you want me to…murder, and steal, for this family? Because that's what I'd be doing if I accepted that money to save the estate."

It all comes down to this. The great matter. An inheritance once again between them. And something clicks in her, the emotion she had been controlling for weeks - she steps out of his embrace, facing him, locking her eyes to his, hands moving frantically as she speaks, painting the words she cannot find.

"Oh for God's sake Matthew! Don't you see? Do you think I would want you to accept that money?" she spits out the word as if it burned her tongue, "It's never been about the money. You believe I can't understand your conscience – don't you know I love you for it? For your goodness and stubborn self-righteousness, overwhelming kindness and flawed principles? Do you think I want you to look at me, at this house, at the bright happy future we might have, with guilt gnawing at you, telling you you don't deserve it, that it all comes from breaking a woman's will to live? Do you think I want that poison in our marriage? I…I've never wanted it. I want us to shout and be angry and be honest and love despite all…instead you're drowning away in guilt, silently, when I..." she halts, collecting her thoughts for a moment, "You freed my ghosts, but you cling onto yours."

Her breathing is uneven, her heart is beating faster, and she has the sudden feeling of being out of her own body, witnessing a scene she fears and craves at the same moment. Matthew's eyes are of an impossibly clear blue, heart and conscience and brain and stubbornness battling within him. But it's not a fight that he's after. With a sigh, he finally looks back at her.

It's far harder to kill a phantom than a reality.

"Mary..."

"Forget I said anything. We're both tired, we should sleep."

She turns around, heading for their bed, chastising herself. She loves him – however cliché it might sound, and if Downton should crumble down tomorrow she wouldn't give a toss as long as she could have him. But is she ready to let it crumble?

Suddenly Matthew's hand takes hers, tenderly but decidedly, his fingers soft on her skin, drawing circles, caressing every inch they can find without releasing its hold.

"No. You're...right. I can't let it go...I don't know if I ever will. But please, my love, don't ever think I'm not on your side."

A part of her would just want to forget – run in his arms, murmuring words of love. But the other part of her, the warrior who's unable to step out of a fight, pushes her to end this confrontation, to unburden her chest. Never backing out has always been her weakness and strength.

"Then BE on my side. Don't act as if you were relieved Downton was going - as if you were happy not to have to take on the bother, the sacrifice that running a house like this would entail nowadays! Don't act as if losing it meant nothing!"

"The hard truth, Mary, is that I can never love it as much as you do."

"Funny, because technically it's your legacy I'm trying to save."

His eyes skip to the ceiling, looking for answers he won't find there. He looks around – the teal walls, the hardwood of the floor, the dark furniture that is so intrinsically Mary.

"It's just a house…my home is where you are. "

She shakes her head because…of course he'd say that. And it infuriates her, sometimes, the way he can be so openly romantic and completely insensitive at the same time.

"I know it's damaged, and high-maintenance, opulent, old fashioned, but it has a heart, too, Matthew. I've sat within these walls for so long, that I'm imprinted on them, as they are on me. I want you to love it, I want you to think it's worth saving, because I can't just walk away, not now. Help me fight for it - forget Swire's money, they're a curse of their own. But fight with me - should we lose, it'll be side by side, with our chins high, and no regrets behind."

She's standing tall, eyes sparkling, cheeks flushed, hair undone – fierce and raw and honest. With a smile and a nod, Matthew steps closer to her – hands still entwined, the tip of their feet almost touching: he's always known what he had been marrying into, and he's as in awe with her as he'd been that first time she crossed his threshold and left with a sharp flicker of tongue. A stranger who became his best friend. His wife. His Storm Braver.

And suddenly he knows.

I mean nothing in all this.

On the contrary, you mean a great deal. A very great deal.

"It won't be easy," he says, not a trace of doubt in his voice, knowing she needs him in a way she can't admit. For some time, he thinks, with a twinge or regret, he just failed to listen.

"You know me. I do like a challenge."

They finally go back to bed, not a word spoken in the following hours, but many promises made, vows sealed, trust regained. They have wasted too many years protecting their feelings from each other, and now it's time for sharing, embracing, pushing and pulling, but never holding back. It's time for a leap of faith.

Everything looks better in the morning.


.

Note: the words Mary remembers are from Virginia Woolf's 'Night and Day', published for the first time in 1919. I've always believed that Mary would've been a huge fan of Virginia Woolf in the future. And the future is here!