To Keep Downton Chapter 5

The next morning when Anna entered the room Matthew and Mary shared to open the curtains, she was surprised by the sight that greeted her. The couple was asleep in the chair, Mary curled in Matthew's lap.

Matthew woke at the sound of the curtains being opened and the light rushing into the room. Mary, never one to relish the morning, buried her head in her neck, refusing to acknowledge that the morning had arrived. "Anna, please close the curtains. I think we will rest a bit longer. We will ring if we need anything," Matthew directed.

"Of course sir," she replied, closing the curtain and exiting as quietly as possible.

Matthew become aware of the ache in his neck and back from spending the night in the chair. Despite his discomfort, he smiled at the sight of his sleeping wife. When he asked to hold her a little longer, it never crossed his mind that they would spend the entire night in the chair. She was still in her dress from the previous evening and her hair was coming loose from its pins, but he thought she looked so young and beautiful - her face free in sleep from the worry he has seen there all too often during the past few weeks.

He carefully adjusted himself to slide one arm under her legs and the other under her back and then stood carefully to carry her to the bed. He laid her down on what had become her side of the bed, taking care not to wake her. He removed her shoes and stockings before laying down beside her. She soon rolled into his arms and settled her head against his chest once more. He smiled and softly stroked her face with the back of his fingers.

She was right last night when she said he had forgiven her. Perhaps he wouldn't have been able to do so if she told him before the war, before he learned to separate what mattered and what didn't. It still hurt to think of the Turk and what she had done with him, but God knew he had made mistakes too. She had been so young and so angry at the unfairness of her situation when she made that fateful decision, but he had been older and wiser when he wronged Lavinia. He still wasn't sure that his mistakes were forgivable.

"Matthew, why am I still in my clothes?" a sleepy Mary asked as she started to stir.

"I am afraid we fell asleep in the chair my darling."

"That would explain why my neck and back feel so awful."

"I am so sorry Mary. I don't even remember falling asleep."

"You fell asleep first and looked so peaceful that I couldn't bear to wake you or leave you to sleep alone in a chair, so I stayed."

"Mary, you should have gone to sleep in the bed. I would never want you to be uncomfortable."

"I wasn't, at least not then, and this ache in my back will go away soon enough."

"I could rub it for you," he offered.

"You would do that?"

"Of course, but I think it might be a little difficult with your dress and corset still on."

"That can be easily resolved - you simply need to take them off," she said with a suggestive smile as she sat up to give him access to the row of buttons down her back.

"I am not entirely sure I will be able to focus on rubbing your back when you are giving me other ideas," he replied as he began unbuttoning her dress, placing kisses along her back as he went.

"Back rub first. Then we can explore your other ideas."

Much later when Matthew awoke again, Mary was sound asleep with an arm slung carelessly across his chest. A glance at the clock revealed that it was now past noon. Despite the time, he couldn't bring himself to wake her, so opted instead to instead to attempt to leave the bed without waking her. After making it out of the bed, he began to hunt around the darkened room for his discarded robe so he could return to the dressing room and ring for Mosley.

"You can turn a light on you know," he heard her say from the bed.

"I didn't want to wake you."

"I ought to get up. It is past noon. Certainly we have scandalized the house enough already."

"Let us just hope your grandmother isn't around."

"What will you be doing today," she said as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

"I thought I might visit Lavinia and Reggie's gravesite," he said softly.

"Would you like me to come?"

"No my darling, this is something I need to do myself," he said, noting her nod of understanding. "But I would very much like it if you were here when I come back."

"Of course. I can call for the car if you would like," she offered with a small smile.

"No, I think I'll walk. I need time to think about what I want to say," he said as he leaned in to kiss her goodbye.

She caught him by the wrist as he stood to leave causing him to turn around and face her as she stood. "I love you so very much," she told him.

"I know you do."

When Matthew arrived at Lavinia's grave, he looked around self-consciously to ensure that he wasn't being observed. He felt rather odd talking to a grave, but felt compelled to make his peace with Lavinia's ghost and knew of no other place to do it.

"I am not sure where to being Lavinia. There are some things I need to tell you that I was never brave enough or honorable enough to tell you when I had the opportunity. I should have told you that Mary was more than my cousin, that I had proposed to her and then withdrew that proposal. I was still in love with her when I met you, though I would barely admit it to myself. You were so sweet, so kind, so innocent, and I thought you could help me heal, help me forget her. But I was never able to forget her or stop loving her. You didn't do anything wrong - it was all me. I should have released you as soon as I realized that my heart would never be free of Mary. I regret most that in failing to do so, I robbed you of an opportunity to be loved as you should have been loved. I did think I could be faithful to you, that as the years passed, my love for Mary would shrink until I could lock it away in some far corner of my heart. I can't explain what came over me that night. It was my fault, not hers. I am so sorry for what you saw and heard. I am so sorry that I hurt you so badly, so inexcusably. I am so terribly sorry that I made your last hours even worse. I still cannot comprehend how in the face of my betrayal, you still wanted me to be happy, made me promise that I would be happy for your sake. For a long time, I refused to let myself even consider being happy, especially because it is Mary that makes me happy. I've recently come to accept that I would never be happy with anyone else as long as Mary walks the earth. You were right when you expressed doubt that she would marry Carlisle. As it turns out, she married me. She has made me happier than I ever imagined I could be. You must know how guilty that makes me feel even though you said it is what you wanted. I don't feel that I deserve your forgiveness, but Mary says you gave it out of love and would want me to accept it. I hope that is true, for I mean to give Mary the one thing she has asked me for." He took a deep breath before continuing.

"You see, your father did not want to divide his fortune, and he listed me as the third possible heir. I am sure he never imagine both of the others would predecease him, but it turns out they did so once again I find myself heir to something I never wanted. I planned to give it all away. I could not stomach the idea that I would profit from your death as that money should have been yours. But the thing is that without that money, Downton will be lost so Mary has asked me to accept the money and save the only home she has ever known. I didn't think I could before as I thought it would be a further sin against you, but I don't think I can be happy if she isn't. I know you said you didn't have it in you to be queen of the county, but Mary does - it is all she has ever known, all she has ever wanted. If I don't do this, I will rob her of her home, the future she has always wanted, and a large part of what brings her happiness and in doing so will cost me my own chance at happiness for I can't bear to see her sad. I hope you can understand. Please know that I did love you, maybe not in the same way that I love Mary, but I loved you nonetheless. You will always be a sweet memory for me - never a nuisance. I will forever regret the hurt I caused you, but I am going to try to honor that last promise I made you," Matthew said as he laid flowers on her grave and stood there in silence a while longer before he was ready to return home and talk to Mary.