Author's Notes: Spoilers for the Christmas Special. Please do not read if you haven't seen the episode yet.
Disclaimer: The show isn't mine.
Only You Remain
By Duckie Nicks
"I'm convinced that you must be mistaken. Mr. Crawley was just here." The denial to Dr. Clarkson came quickly, her voice cold, in her peripheral vision, a pale-faced nurse slipping the baby out of the room.
"I am so sorry, my dear, but there has been no mistake."
Papa delivered the news with as much sympathy as his English ways could muster. The words stilted, it was an admission that did not come with ease. There were no tears (Mary hadn't expected them either), only a deep longing for her to understand what had occurred to her husband.
Tongue against the back of her teeth, mouth parted in numbed surprise, she nodded her head. She understood but didn't. Between her father and Dr. Clarkson, the truth had found its way through the thick haze of joy childbirth had provided. Matthew was dead, and he must be for her father to tell her as such. Matthew was dead, victim to his own happiness and the crush of metal. Her husband was gone.
Yet she found such truths hard to accept. Surely she would know if something were wrong. She had felt it when he was at war – her heart racing and malaise overwhelming her with the suspicion that she had lost the future she'd tried to forget when he'd announced his engagement. Mary had felt it, too late, when he'd given up on the idea that she might stand by him without a title, when she'd come to believe that happiness would never be something she'd experience. Intuition was not an area she cared to dabble in, but surely with this she would know. When she felt half whole without him, she would know instantly when she had been cleaved through the center.
She would know.
And if she sat with their child tucked blissfully in her arms, if she did not feel the loss, had such an event truly taken place?
Mary did not ask for proof. They would never let her see it, and even if they did, she would never believe it. Matthew had made a miraculous recovery before. Dr Clarkson had been wrong before, as had the medicine that would pronounce him gone. Sybil's death was nothing if not proof of that.
Outwardly Mary wouldn't, couldn't, let on that hope remained. They would destroy that. She did not ask for confirmation.
"Then," she said eventually with a wan smile. "I suppose you are relieved the baby is a boy. You have an heir."
Papa's bright eyes made the shock in them that much easier to witness. Her mother, his ever-saving grace, slipped from behind the men to be by her side. Speaking before anyone else could, Mama took her hand and said, "Oh, my darling, that's not important right now."
"Quite right." Mary watched her father curtly nod his head as though the remark needed the extra sense of finality. "The business of the estate can wait." He looked like he wanted to say more, as though her reaction was puzzling, maybe even unacceptable to him.
Her mother didn't give him a chance to voice those thoughts should they have existed. "I think Mary needs to rest," she announced.
Dr. Clarkson spoke up for the first time since he had confirmed the death. "I must agree with Lady Grantham. Childbirth is difficult even under the best of circumstances. To say she's suffered a great shock…." He said more after that, but by that point, he had begun to usher Papa out of the room, and Mary no longer cared to hear what anyone had to say.
Once more her mother encouraged her to rest, but Mary found herself unable to sleep. Her mind hardly wished to understand. Yet she was inexplicably drawn to the things she had been told, forced to consider her father and Dr. Clarkson's words.
There had been an accident.
Matthew was dead.
They had told her those things, which was proof alone of its voracity. No one would lie about that, not even Edith. If it had been said, Mary had lost Matthew… even if at the moment, that fact meant nothing to her.
No, she corrected. The words had meaning. They meant she was no longer married; she would be alone. They meant their son would grow up without a father, would only know Matthew through the stories the people around the little boy told him. Matthew would be a character, a hero, a myth.
Perseus until the end.
He would not be a person to their son. Because he wouldn't be there.
Mary wondered if Matthew had had the same thoughts in the final moments. Had he seen death coming? Had he known what he was leaving behind? Or had he been taken by surprise, snuffed out from the earth with the same speed as the animals he'd spent the previous day hunting? She wasn't sure what she preferred for the man she loved.
For the man who loved her – had loved, she corrected. Perhaps a dead man could continue his affections in the life beyond this one, but she was sure she would not feel the result of such emotions from where she was lying. Their son would take on her appearance, dark eyes and dark hair. He would never know his father to emulate him in any way. He would be hers and hers alone.
There would be nothing about Matthew's love that lingered on this earth.
She was alone now, though with her mother.
The fact stung deep inside of her, but she gave the ache little attention. As his body chilled, by degrees so had hers, would hers. She accepted that inevitability though it had yet to happen. Something inside of her shook like a wounded animal, looked upon the future with eyes wild with fear, but outwardly she wasn't sure she was capable of letting that show. The only person she would have felt comfortable showing her terror to was gone. There had been a time in her youth when tears were something she would shed with greater ease – as she left a room, to Carson when she was sure no one else was looking. But that freedom was gone now.
The only person who could soothe the sadness in her breast was her husband.
The only person she felt she could confess all her sins and dreams without judgment to was gone.
Matthew was dead.
Still she refused to cry. The cruelty of the event hit her strongly at that moment: two births, two deaths – a daughter who might have lived if she'd been brought to a hospital, a husband who would have lived if his wife had given birth at home. Everything in balance. Everything with a cost. The years had proven to her that that was how life worked.
A year ago, she would have given anything to have a baby, to ensure the estate's future. She had been selfish, she realized, to ask for so much without being expected to pay in return.
Now, he had died, and with him, he had taken whatever softness she'd possessed. Belongings would be passed on to family members. Her father would name her son as heir. What Matthew had once owned would no longer be his with the exception of the future that had seemed so real only hours ago. He would take with him that life, that joy, what she might have had. He would take with him the person she desperately wanted to be. Of course, if she couldn't be that woman, with him by her side, it didn't much matter what she became.
Her one wish, the only thing she'd ever truly needed, was to be his Mary always. But if he were gone, she would never be his again.
She cried then, the tears taking her by surprise. Sorrow's clutches gripped her where her mother's hands could not reach, where the loss seemed overwhelmingly unbearable.
Mary hoped it would kill her.