A/N: With excitement and an enormous amount of nervousness, I bring you my first foray into the Downton fandom. Provided you all don't think I'm terrible and lame, this is hopefully the first in an eleven (ish) part Modern!AU set in the British political arena and will probably draw on a jaunty mash up of thrills, spills and sex scandals from my little wheelhouse of British and Australian politics.
There is a link in my profile to a short accompanying guide to British politics (also found at eitoph dot livejournal dot com) for those among you who are interested or find yourselves confused.
For those of you who were expecting Bones fic when my name popped up in your inbox, I'm sorry, but hey, former soldier with self-blame issues and romantic tendencies, along with a coolly logical, intelligent and determined love interest? It's practically the same ship when you think about it. You all should come play in my new DA sandbox.
Finally, thanks are owed to RositaLG and Tadpole24 for feedback and beta - especially the latter, who hasn't even started watching this show yet (get on that Em!).
Not For Turning
Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't. – Margaret Thatcher.
She switches on her television, mindlessly takes in the first few seconds of headlines before almost spraying her toast at the television.
Jesus H. Christ.
Well, this isn't exactly what she was expecting from Monday crack-of-dawn breakfast fare.
Coughing down the last catch of crumbs in the back of her throat, Mary takes a sobering sip of her tea. She allows herself a short groan of frustration – just the briefest moment when she doesn't have to own the problem or be surrounded by the shit storm that is about to become her start to the week – before resolutely shrugging it off.
Because, unfortunately, she's had to deal with this before.
Ian Laming – a man that doesn't understand the principle of keeping it in his trousers.
It wouldn't have been so bad, she supposed, if it were the first time. Or if he'd been at all consistent with the gender of the staffers he'd chosen to lavish with unwanted attention to the point that the Daily Mirror saw fit to put their complaints on the front cover of their newspapers.
Or if Ian Laming wasn't the man propping up the numbers in Charles Carson's limping Tory Coalition, with Mary herself tasked with holding it together with, for all intents and purposes, tape and glue.
The ticker banner along the bottom of her morning news show taunts her for a few moments longer: Male staffer, James Kent, comes forward with fresh sexual harassment claims against employer, embattled Independent MP and Carson Government supporter, Ian Laming.
Yeah, just fabulous.
Choking down the last of her breakfast, she heads back towards her bedroom for her phone. It's only when she sees him, picking around the room for hastily discarded clothing and underwear that that particular problem returns to the front of her mind.
"You must be looking for this," he holds up her phone, "It started buzzing like crazy about five minutes ago."
She snatches it from him with more force than strictly necessary, "And you didn't think to come and find me?"
He sort of grunts, "I just got out of bed. Flipping thing woke me up!"
Mary doesn't dignify this with an answer. Scrolling through her messages and missed call lists, she rolls her eyes and dials.
It's answered on the first ring.
"How the fuck did this happen, Mary?"
Oh yes, the delight that is her boss. She wonders if her grandmother would find that sort of language is really becoming of a Prime Ministerial Chief of Staff.
"Good morning to you too, Richard."
He doesn't even get past the pleasantries. "Fucking Ian Laming!"
Mary takes a steadying breath. "Well, what's done is done and there's no point getting angry, it'll only make things messier. We need to work out what we're going to do about him now."
"We should never have kept him around after the first time."
"If you recall Richard, that was what I argued. It certainly wasn't me that wanted to shield a veritable sexual predator after that Lauren girl came forward; if all for the sake of keeping up our numbers on the floor."
Her implication, a dark and veiled threat, lies just a few inches below the surface. It's a dangerous sort of game to play with Richard Carlisle, but she doesn't particularly appreciate his tone.
"Yes, well, I wouldn't be so quick to judge. Your father certainly seemed sure that it was the best course of action at the time."
It's a kind of dance. She skirts a little close to her resentment – of Richard, of his manoeuvring himself into a job that was supposed to be hers, of his hold over her father and her family, of her miserable mess of a life right now – and he reminds her, ever so carefully, how she's fixed.
Her father agreed.
Her father, Robert Crawley, Conservative Party Chairman, a man with just enough mistakes under his belt to have attracted the attentions of former newspaper magnate, now turned political operative, Richard Carlisle.
Her father, who of course she understands she must protect at all costs.
It's a fucking mess.
Mary grits her teeth and forces the warmth back into her voice, "Look, I'll be in at the office in the next half hour and we can talk about it properly then. All we need is a plan."
"Don't I know it."
After the familiar succession of beeps indicate Carlisle has rung off, Mary turns her attention back to the disaster in her bedroom.
"So Ian Laming's at it again then?" Patrick asks.
She nods once, "And with a man this time. Apparently his tastes are varied."
"Jesus, Rob's going to lose his nut."
"I think you should probably head in now so you can slow him down before he does something rash."
As a senior figure inside the party and her father's right hand man, she's more than aware her choice of Patrick Gordon as a casual shag could have been better.
It could have been better on a few too many occasions.
This, she resolves (as she has done, again, on a few too many occasions before) will be the last time.
"Right. That's a good idea."
She turns on her heels as he begins to dress, not looking as she shouts back to him, "The door will lock behind you. Don't bother calling later, I can already tell it's going to be one of those days."
"What? Not even dinner later on?"
She stops half way out the door, but still doesn't turn. "Patrick..."
He likes her, or at least, likes the idea of her. A lot more than she could ever like him. She knows how much her family wish that this was more than it is; her father is so fond of Patrick, looks on him as a son he never had – but for her, there's never been that sort of... spark.
It's just been an all too tempting offer to escape all the mess and to actually feel desired.
"This was a mistake, Patrick. And it won't happen again."
She closes the door firmly behind her and doesn't give him the chance to respond.
Disaster for Carson Coalition
Members of the cabinet descended on Downing Street early this morning as they met to discuss the latest developments with Culture Secretary, Ian Laming who has been accused by a male staff member, James Kent, of sexual harassment in the work place.
Among the high profile names in attendance for the crisis talks were the Prime Minister, Charles Carson, his Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem Leader Richard Clarkson, Chief Whip Anthony Strallan, as well as Baron Crawley, the only son of Violet Crawley and the party's chairman.
Also spotted was Carson's Chief of Staff, Richard Carlisle, the magnate formerly behind the Britannia News Group that first published the scandal. He made no comment to reporters about this development when he arrived for the meeting.
It is not known how the cabinet will choose to address the scandal at this time. Rumours circulated late last year about Laming's involvement with a female employee but he remained in his position in the cabinet and supporting the government. There had been much talk from the opposition about a cover up despite continued denials from Carson and his team.
Commentators in Westminster have largely agreed that Laming's position as a Minister and even as a supporter of the government has become untenable and that he will be forced to resign from the Parliament. It is unclear what options will be available to the Government should it lose Laming's vote and any two of the other four independents he is thought to be able to influence on the floor of the House of Commons, although there has been some discussion about John Bates, leader of the new Britain First Party...
It's not often, Matthew Crawley knows, that one gets summoned to 10 Downing Street before even having the chance to finish breakfast. And it's not at all what he was expecting when he took a job with John Bates not three months earlier.
He'd never exactly seen himself as a political operative as such; he'd studied law before joining the army and had spent the best part of the last five years in and out of Afghanistan. Though he'd thoroughly enjoyed his service, he also knew he was a lucky man to have the option to call time on his military career entirely on his own terms and had done so after a bit of scare that had gone something to the tune of 'serious spinal injury'.
He knew all too well that so many of his former colleagues hadn't had the same luxury.
After that, he'd returned to the law. It had always been the plan after all – a respectable stable profession fit for the upper middle class ideas that others (namely, his mother) seemed to have for him.
But it hasn't been enough, there wasn't that same sense of fulfilment that he'd become accustomed to from his work and he as time went by, he felt more and more unsettled in his own skin.
John Bates had been a client. It had been some fairly benign legal work that had introduced them but their common background – both soldiers, both seeking out something a little bit more after their service – had given them a strange sort of common ground that had prompted Westminster's rising star MP and the leader of the newly-founded Britain First Party, to offer him a job overseeing his office in Westminster and generally managing his growing agenda.
It wasn't at all what he'd expected and exactly what he'd needed.
And now he's hovering outside the office of Number Ten's Deputy Chief of Staff.
"You can go in now, she's free." A mousey assistant, who'd endearingly invited him to call her Daisy, rouses his from his thoughts and waves him through.
Stepping over the threshold, he finally comes face to face with Mary Crawley.
"Matthew, I believe? I'm Mary."
She, too, is not at all what he expected.
She gives him this tight little smile that he struggles to read, not rising from her desk and instead indicating that he should sit in one of the chairs free before her. "Thank you for coming quickly."
"Yes, well, you didn't seem to leave me much choice when you called."
"I suppose I didn't. All the same, I appreciate it." There's something about her careful tone that, to an extent, lacks the sincerity he would have otherwise expected from her words.
"I imagine it's been a trying morning for you."
Again, there's her mysterious smile. It must be an invaluable little trick she's mastered because he finds himself a little lost and at the same time a little dazzled by this elegant form carefully perched across from him.
"You mean Laming? Well it wasn't entirely unexpected, but I suppose you're right. He's certainly landed us in a bit of a bind."
"Can I ask what you're going to do with him? Certainly, you won't be keeping him around now?"
"No. The PM has already demanded his resignation from the Commons. It's not, conventionally speaking, within his power to do so, but Anna our Communications Director has a somewhat pointed statement ready to go should he fail to see the merits of going quietly."
"It does, however, leave us with a bit of a problem. With Laming gone, we lose his vote on the floor and as far as we can tell, those of about four of his rather misguided supporters."
He can see where this is going, "Which puts you exactly three votes short in the Commons of any kind of stable government."
"A hung parliament is not a kind thing."
"That all depends on who you're asking. As far as I can tell, a hung parliament is about to have the great Mary Crawley asking me a favour."
She seems almost... impressed. "Am I that transparent?"
"Why else would you want me here before breakfast?"
"Perhaps I'd heard that John Bates had a rather charming Chief of Staff and wanted to see for myself."
A thrill runs through him, "Well, did you?"
She laughs. It's careful, measured, but genuine. "I have to say I did – but that's not why I asked you here."
There's such a big part of him that wants to know what it is she means and who exactly has been talking about him but there's something about the imposing form of the enormous political institution around him – Number Ten – that sees him bite down on his curiosity and keep to the strictly professional. "Ah yes, your favour. I'm eager to hear what it is I can do to please one of Westminster's finest."
Well, there's professional and then there's professional.
He just can't quite help himself.
Though she doesn't address his turn at brash confidence directly, she leans in, drawing herself a little further into their exchange, "Your Mr Bates has done well for himself since the election. Our lot didn't think much of his ideas for a new political party when he started out – we don't like being proven wrong."
"Are you saying that you have been proven wrong?"
She tips her head, "Well, something like that."
Matthew can't help but smile, "I think I'd like to hear you say so."
"You know, you show a great deal of confidence for some from the doldrums of the backbench sitting in the office of a Prime Minister."
"The office of a Prime Minister who needs my help. That much we've established."
"Technically we need Bates' help."
"Because you want his vote?"
Finally, it is put plainly before him. "His vote, and the vote of the four others who've joined his party."
It's not like he wasn't expecting it of course, anyone with half a brain could have seen where this was headed when he'd received a high-handed phone call not half an hour earlier.
What he doesn't know, and what he needs to be able to tell Bates, is how Carson and his team expect it all to work going forward.
He asks the question that's being turning over in his mind since he left for their meeting, "How do you suppose it all would work? The whole point of Britain First was to break away from major party ideas, I'm not sure how easily Mr Bates will be convinced to cow tow to Carson and his friends just because the Deputy Chief of Staff asked me nicely."
"You think I'm being nice?" It appears she rather likes this suggestion.
"As charming as you may be Miss Crawley, it doesn't make Bates any more likely to help out your man in the Parliament."
"For all your protestations, I think Bates and his colleagues should seriously consider what I have to say before they make any decisions."
His charm and his careful ignorance to their suggestions to this point have all been a practised front. Feeling a little like the David to Mary Crawley and Number Ten's Goliath, it's been the best, and really the only, way he could see to stay above their game.
But now they seem to have reached the crux of the matter, he allows himself to be serious, "So what is it exactly that you have to say? What are you offering?"
"You must know that the BFP have voted with the Government on something like 72% of bills before the House."
"You've done some research, I see."
"I find that it's hard to lose an argument when you have facts on your side."
She speaks like someone who is very rarely wrong.
Shrugging it off, Matthew replies, "Well I wouldn't have been able to tell you the exact number, but I knew it was reasonably high. We happen to agree on many things, but then, I get the distinct impression we also happen to disagree on many things."
"I would say we disagree on fewer things than we agree. When it comes to party politics, isn't that all you can ask for?" She gives him a moment to think on this, but when he doesn't respond directly Mary adds, "I'd say agreeing with our policies almost three quarters of the time are some better odds than those you'd see out of some of our own MPs at the moment. They do what they're told in the Parliament of course, but behind closed doors it certainly hasn't been an easy few years."
"Well, the influence of coalition government isn't helping you there." Matthew may be new to Westminster, but it doesn't mean the nature of Charles Carson's problem escapes him, "The Lib Dems getting to have their say on every issue passing across the government's desk is angering your party faithful and at the same time, softening your agenda and making it all the more agreeable to centreist parties like the BFP."
He needs to show her that he's not some fool, that he actually understands the intricacies of the situation and that he's not to be underestimated.
When she continues quite plainly, he can't tell if it's worked, "But that's just it – doesn't that level of influence appeal to you? Or to the elusive Mr Bates?"
He's intrigued – surprised even – by how far they're willing to go. "You mean as another coalition partner?"
"Yes. You join us, you get a genuine say in the dealings of the British government. We're willing to go so far as to offer your leader a cabinet position, to truly bring him into the fold."
He feels like there ought to be a catch. "Won't that mean just another set of interests for your lot to compete with? You're either setting out to dilute your message further or to lead Bates and his colleagues up the garden path and I can assure you, they won't take the latter lightly."
"I'm well aware, and I'm not above admitting that we need your help." There's something about the way she says it that feels genuine, "If we end up having to soften our message for your sake, well then that's just the will of the people at work. For the first time in living memory, the major governing party doesn't have enough seats to rule in its own right and that's just how it works. Isn't letting the small interest groups have their say supposed to be good for democracy?"
For the first time in their meeting, he gives an inch, "I suppose you're right."
"I usually am."
Matthew doesn't doubt it.
For a long moment he thinks seriously about what Mary has suggested – it's a generous offer and much more than the show of bravado he was expecting when he was first summoned. This isn't a government flexing its muscle to try to scare he and the people he's working with into submission and he has to respect that much.
He also has to admit this could be a very big opportunity.
"You know it's not my decision to make."
Mary nods, "I was expecting as much."
"I'll certainly encourage Bates to think seriously about your proposition."
"That's all I ask."
He rises in his place and extends a hand that's warmly accepted.
"Thank you for your time, Mr Crawley. I hope it hasn't been in vain."
"And to you too. Though, I can't say the chance to come here and to see Downing Street and the famous Mary Crawley for myself could ever really be in vain."
He leaves her with her coy little smirk and doesn't turn back as he heads straight out of her office door.
There's a sort of buzz that has him feeling good as he goes – a mix of confidence and surprised satisfaction – but it all fizzles out when he's stopped on his way by a face he knows well, even if it's a face he's never seen it in person.
The body language is all wrong; arms crossed, lips set into a firm line and a bit of a sneer about him as the ominous figure peers him over and he's forced to stop.
"You must be that Matthew Crawley they're all talking about."
"...That's correct." He extends his hand to shake, "Richard Carlisle, I believe."
"Well at least you know what's what around here. Can't have you not knowing who's boss." It's supposed to be some kind of joke, but Matthew can taste the threat underneath Carlisle's words.
"That's yet to be seen."
"Oh dear; that sounds a little ominous. Our Mary can't have done her job right if she doesn't have you convinced."
Something about the suggestion riles him, "On the contrary, I think she's extremely good at what she does, it's just not up to me. I'm off to see Bates now, so I'm sure you'll have your answer soon."
Carlisle claps him on the arm once, his affected smile still in place, "I look forward to it."
Matthew watches him go and can't shake an uncomfortable feeling.
Because while Mary Crawley may have been a pleasant surprise, Richard Carlisle is a creep.
Skimming through the rack in her kitchen, Mary quickly finds the bottle she's looking for, twists off the top and pours a generous glass.
She knows tonight, she really deserves it.
"Can I get you more, Anna?" She looks over to the couch, holding up the cab sav as an offering.
Anna is her dearest friend and the Downing Street Communications Director. She's neither particularly political one way or the other, nor the most experienced name that had been thrown around when the Carson campaign team had been first put together, but there is something about her level head, her diplomacy and her wit that has seen her do well in the role.
Mary had first met Anna at university; she'd been studying law and Anna, public relations. It had been a time of upheaval for Mary, struggling to cross the class divide that she'd become so used to as the privately schooled granddaughter of a Prime Minister, daughter of a Peer, surrounded until that point by wealth and wealthy people. Anna had been the first person to call her out on the air of superiority that she'd projected in her dealings with other students and the first person to look past her privileged background and see her as merely a friend.
When Carson had first asked Mary to help put together a team capable of winning a general election more than two years earlier, Anna hadn't just been a sentimental pick and she'd more than proven herself through the trials that had followed.
Mary can only laugh on those occasions that she allows herself to think of it – when it comes to the choices she'd made for her Carson, Anna had been the dark horse that had stolen away one of the top spots while she instead had been the obvious choice that had seen her dream job slip right through her fingers.
After a particularly generous sip from her glass, she takes the wine with her and collapses onto her couch, returning to a conversation that had been put on hold only long enough for Mary to open their next bottle. Having finally escaped after ten for dinner together, they've already covered Mary's obligatory disaster-sex-with-Patrick story and speculated on her father's no doubt comic reaction to the morning's revelation but Anna seems a lot more interested in a certain other man of note from Mary's rather eventful day.
She's barely settled herself back in her place when Anna begins, "So this Matthew bloke, is he any good?"
Mary takes a moment. "He's... very switched on."
"That's high praise coming from you."
"Is it? I didn't know things were so bad I was supposed to be surprised every time I met someone that knows how to do their job."
"Come off it, you know that's not what I meant."
"Then what did you mean?"
"I'm just surprised you didn't leave the meeting thinking he was some kind of sea monster; in the job a couple of months means he's barely off the bus – being sent to ask him for help can't have been an easy task."
"Well, I sent for him – let's not worry that we've sunk that low just yet. But in all fairness, Matthew was... quite a reasonable person to deal with." Mary lets out a long sigh, "It feels like such a rare occasion these days that I get to work with someone who seems to be reading from the same page as I am, I think he managed to get me to show my hand a little more easily than I would have liked."
At this, Anna laughs, "A rare occasion? With you I would say it was almost never. I didn't think I'd see the day you'd admit it either."
Mary shoots her a look, "I'll happily admit I've met a worthy opponent when they are indeed worthy. If that doesn't happen often, that's not my problem."
"So you're saying Crawley is worthy, are you?"
"He's... charming. If you're into that. And he's intelligent."
"Are you into that? You're being unusually generous."
"No! Of course not; I am capable of being nice." Mary rubs at her eyes tiredly, "It's been a hard few months, it's just nice to come across someone who isn't a complete sleaze – or worse, a moron."
For now at least, Anna lets it lie and Mary is grateful not having to think or explain much further.
"Speaking of morons, what did Carlisle have to say about all the mess today?"
"Oh, not a lot. He phoned some time around five in the morning to get a few choice swear words in but I barely saw him the rest of the day. I think he came by the office in the morning but you know what he's like, this was my problem to solve."
"Well I can't imagine Richard Carlisle would have had the finesse needed to smooth things over today."
Mary laughs darkly at the thought; Carlisle's idea of diplomacy is thinly veiled threats and intimidation. She can only imagine how it might have gone if Matthew had been instead summoned to his office this morning to be harassed by her boss's special variety of negotiation.
"You make it sound like everything's sorted. Matthew merely agreed to take my suggestion to Bates for his consideration. It remains to be seen what Bates will actually have to say."
"But you said it sounded promising."
"I suppose I got an impression. I could be completely wrong though, Matthew Crawley has thus far never quite done what I've expected."
"Do you think they understand how important it is?"
"You mean, do they realise that if they don't agree we'll probably end up at the polls with next to nothing to show for almost two years in government?"
Anna nods over a long pull from her wine glass.
"I think Mr Crawley is better acquainted with the realities of minority government than half of Westminster right now. I just hope I'm not wrong about him and I hope he can get that boss of his to recognise a good deal when he sees one."
Anna has this serious sort of look that Mary associates with her somewhat regularly imparted nuggets of wisdom. Across the couch, she recognises that familiar light in her friend's eye and the set of her mouth as she says, "That's an awful lot of hope for one person."
The funny thing is, Mary knows she's right.
Bates and BFP courted for Commons votes
With the Tories' tenuous grip on power in the balance, it is understood that senior Conservative Party figures have approached MP John Bates and leader of the up and coming Britain First Party for his support on his floor.
Prime Minister Charles Carson had little to say on the matter during recent public appearances; after a press conference on Monday condemning Mr Laming's actions, welcoming his resignation and declaring that he was confident that stable government could continue without the former Member playing a part, he has refused to comment further. The famously stoic PM has appeared unmoved by yet another scandal, maintaining a full schedule of appointments since the story first broke.
John Bates' rise in British politics has been meteoric. Entering Parliament at the last election as the sole member of his party, a fortunate mix of defections and by-elections have seen the numbers within the BFP now rise to five. Strong on family values, sustainability and community infrastructure the BFP's general ethos has proven more palatable for the electorate at large than many other minor parties looking to make a name for themselves in London. Their views have also been largely compatible with those of the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition, voting with the Government a majority of the time.
While their initially small numbers meant the BFP was never a contender when the tenuous Coalition was formed after the election almost two years ago, their remarkable growth and this apparent agreement on key policy areas has lead some commentators to suggest their support is an obvious fix for the Government's current problems.
Sources in Westminster have said the approach to Bates has been made carefully and without involving the Prime Minister directly. Wary of tying himself further to this scandal and being seen to strong arm the BFP leader, Carson has instead kept his distance and has thrown himself into public engagements across the country.
Picture: PM Charles Carson at the opening of a new secondary school in York.
It's not known how Bates has responded to the Government's advances, with the Member having failed to make a public appearance since the Laming's story surfaced and he became the focus of talks about the Tories' future. Most commentators agree that accepting a deal with the Government, one that is likely to include a cabinet position for Mr Bates, would be a good move for the
He has not returned The Times' calls for comment...
"So you're telling me that the whole matter is to be seen to by two people who are for all intents and purposes tax-payer funded lackeys?" She spits the words out as though filth, her eyes wide with incredulity.
"Oh Granny, do you really think me somebody's lackey?"
"Mary, my dear, while you know I have the utmost respect for your chosen vocation, this is the sort of business that must be handled by those in the highest positions of power. The future of the British Government must not be decided by the faceless and unelected."
Violet Crawley is a political legend. As the country's first female Prime Minister, she'd spent the best part of the eighties (and most of Mary's early childhood) trying to drag Britain out of recession and had become a national treasure on the back of her iron will, quick wit and capable use of home truths.
Though her grandmother's strong opinions and candid honesty can often make for some trying exchanges, Mary has long since taken it upon herself to come for tea whenever political scandal is afoot. Yes, Violet Crawley may be senior in years, but her insights remain surprisingly relevant.
"I acted upon the direction of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet – they all agreed we ought to test the waters with Bates and I made sure the whole approach was a clean as possible. It's very hard for Carson you know, he can't be seen to be chasing after anyone who'll give him their vote."
"That sounds awful like a problem I had with some of my Cabinet Ministers; except it wasn't votes so much as sexual favours."
Her mix of earnest concern and amused reflection makes Mary laugh. If nothing else, these brief meetings always more than a little enlightening.
Coughing down a sip of tea, Mary tries to explain, "But you see how the same principle applies?"
"It's the look of the thing that matters, I know that as well as anyone." With a sniff, she moves onto her next concern, "What of this Bates fellow? Do they really think he'll abandon the lofty heights of his so-called impartiality to support the Government? Hung parliaments really are such messy things."
"That seems to be the expectation."
"The expectation or the hope?"
"A little of both, I imagine. They've offered him big things, things they think will be hard to walk away from so now it's just a matter of hoping he can see the value in them."
"Hmm," She purses her lips as she considers this piece of information, "He's the crippled one, isn't he?"
"Granny! You're really not supposed to use words like that anymore."
"Then what shall I call him?"
"He's a war hero – he injured his leg serving in the Gulf."
"Well doesn't that make for a story the press will eat up; I find the more pain and suffering there is involved, the more the media seem to enjoy it."
This is a truth that Mary can't exactly disagree with. Richard Carlisle, everyone's least favourite media tycoon, has more than seen to that.
She is schooled by her grandmother on the finer art of government for a little while longer ("I don't understand this notion of social media. The media is not at all social – they are, for all intents and purposes, well dressed versions of farm animals. They barely know how to hold their knives, for Christ sake!") until her phone goes and she knows she can't afford much more time without facing some kind of major crisis when she returns.
As she goes to leave, Violet as stiff and proper as ever, pats her on the arm and tells her to get on with the job for the country's sake.
Sometimes, Mary decides, her grandmother knows just the right thing to say.
Mary isn't expecting to see him sitting by her office, two cups of coffee in hand, when she arrives at work a day and a half later.
"How did you get in here?"
Matthew Crawley is even more resourceful than she'd imagined if he'd managed to get around Downing Street security.
His half smile exudes confidence, "Maybe I'm just that good?"
It only takes the practised arch of an eyebrow.
"I called ahead to your assistant. She seemed happy to help."
"So the Matthew Crawley charm strikes again? You really ought to give Daisy a chance, poor thing."
"Oh, again is it? You think I'm charming?"
She's pretty sure she walked into that one.
"You know, my granny would tell you there's a point where confidence stops being quite so attractive."
"Good thing your granny isn't here then."
With a smile, she waves him into her unlocked office and swipes a cup of coffee from his hand.
"You could say thank you."
She takes a sip and notes that he's also gone to the trouble of finding out her usual order. Though she's not one to concede lightly, there are some benefits to being nice that Mary can admit...
"Thank you, Matthew."
"You're very welcome."
For a moment, they seem to measure each other up across her desk.
"So, are you here to tell me you've got any kind of answer for me? Many of my colleagues have been, shall we say, eager to put the matter to bed."
"And not you?"
"Of course I'd be pleased to have it all sorted out, but I understand that these things take time – I didn't want to push you unnecessarily."
He seems to appreciate this and smiles, "Well I'm here to tell you that I almost have an answer for you."
"I can't make things too easy for you, can I?" His smile widens to a grin.
"Trust me; in my line of work it's never easy."
"That I can believe."
She can scarcely let herself hope, "So am I to assume that this is a good 'almost' if you've gone to all this bother?"
Matthew nods slowly, "I would say it's pretty good. "
"Then what do I need to do to convince you once and for all?" There's no avoiding there's a little meaning behind the look that passes between them at her words.
"He wants to talk to Carson. Directly. No minders and no spin – he wants to hear all the promises from the horse's mouth."
Mary makes a show of considering this.
Bates, she decides, is a man who's got some game.
"I think I can manage that."
She pulls her coat in tighter for warmth and swings her legs over the edge of the community centre wall.
"Are you cold?" Matthew asks and when she nods, he shuffles further along their perch as some kind attempt at sharing body heat – a little ridiculous really given the gentlemanly distance he seems determined to maintain.
On Mary's word, they'd shown up on John Bates' doorstep, bundling him into a car and rushing him halfway across the city to the site of the PM's first engagement for the day. Sneaking him in the back entrance and shutting two of the country's most powerful men (be that a new honour bestowed or not) in the drab back room at a community centre that had seen better days, she can't help but smile at the unglamorous face democracy has taken on on a cold and unremarkable morning.
"He's a decent man, you know."
"Yes. He's... very dear to me."
"I had a feeling."
"He worked for my father growing up, so I've always known him." She hesitates, "There are times, I suppose, when he was more of a father to me than the one that gave me his name."
She doesn't really know why she's telling him this – part of her wants to think it's to reassure him given the enormity of what's happening in the next room and to show him that Bates hasn't made the wrong choice but then, she's not sure that would be the whole truth.
"Is that why you're still working for him then, even though Carlisle's a creep on a power trip?"
Mary should be surprised that he would see and that he would understand. She doesn't know how he's stumbled onto the right track when it comes to their complicated office dynamic but she's grateful for a new ally.
Matthew seems like a good kind of ally to have.
"It's... something like that, yes."
"I can admire that."
Her legs swing against the wall for a long and pensive moment. She doesn't know how to be anything but cryptic when she responds, "You might be the only one. I'm not sure I admire myself most of the time."
He seems to be reaching for the appropriate way to react to her words when the door opens and their respective employers step into the cold.
It's a proud smile and a nod from Carson, the best kind of 'well done' she can ask for from the most unmoving man she knows, that finally makes her feel a little better after three days of mess.
It's not much, but from Carson, it's all it takes.
Moving to slide off her perch on the wall she elbows Matthew, "Looks like we're going to be seeing a lot of each other from now on."
She doesn't look back as satisfaction buzzes through her.
Yes, things are finally looking up.