A/N ~ So on a tumblr request for writing prompts, Orangeshipper left this in my ask box: "Drabble prompt... the first time Matthew and Mary see each other after his first proposal in 1x06 (preferably fluff over angst, but I'll bow to your muse!)"
I discovered I take these prompts way too seriously. I'm still pondering overs others sent to me that weekend…. And I had every intent to be all fluffy and smoochie, but poor Mary! She's just her usual jumble of indecision and wanting to take the right step, and the next thing I knew, the two of them spilled this out for me instead. Angst!Lite with a dusting of Fluff (and a couple smoochies). Kinda glad it ended up being long enough to post up here. [Please note, this scene may or may not come up again in an A/U fic I have brewing in the back of my head. It could end up being a lovely opener….]
Thanks to my usual suspects and Orangeshipper who got to give some direct feedback and beta on this little gift for her.
Trying to concentrate was not working. Certainly not when it came to reading. But in dwelling on last night's conversation with Matthew (well, less on the conversation and more on the kissing), Mary's concentration was just fine. Perhaps a bit too fine as nervous butterflies in her stomach would take over whenever her mind drifted back to those slow, delicious kisses that were unlike any kisses stolen from her by any other suitor. Kisses that stirred up feelings in her she never expected.
And that frightened her.
Mary wasn't a romantic. She couldn't afford to be. Marriage was a business arrangement, and a suitor would be vetted first on his position and financial means. Only then would the future potential for any kind of affection be considered. It was, after all, what her parents had done, and her grandparents before them. But now with this proposal from Matthew she was faced with a very different prospect. Not only would the marriage provide her with the status and security that she required (not to mention title and her first love of Downton), but there seemed to be the promise of something more. Something she had never considered at the onset: a fondness, an attraction. Well, a passion if she was going to be honest with herself.
Honest. That was what all this was weighing on. She wondered if her mother was right, did she need to tell Matthew everything?
Snapping her book shut, Mary stood up from the bench under the tree to pace the path to the gardens, her thoughts less butterfly inducing than nervous fear. If she did tell Matthew of what had happened, that she was damaged goods, he was likely to withdraw his offer. And she didn't think she wanted to lose the possibilities he was offering. But to conceal it, to keep the truth of herself from Matthew . . . .
As if her thoughts had power, she nearly collided Matthew as she turned to retrace her steps. Stumbling back for a step, she didn't even realize at first he had reached out to steady her with a hand on her arm. She was too distracted by his shy grin and the way the sun was catching the bits of gold in his hair. The nervous butterflies were back.
They stared at each other for a long moment, each wondering where to start given where things had ended last night. Matthew finally broke the silence, unclasping her arm with a gentle caress as he did. "I hoped I'd catch you out here. I just spoke to your father."
"Oh?" She suddenly made the connection and shook her head at her own distractedness. Of course he would ask her father. "Oh, yes. I take it he's pleased?"
Matthew looked down for a moment, trying to hide his widening smile. "Yes, well, he didn't seem completely surprised."
Mary chuckled. "I'm sure Mama filled him in last night." She knew she should lower her eyes for at least a moment, show some bit of coyness, but she couldn't. She was too busy restudying his face, the sharpness of the blue of his eyes in the bright morning, how long and dark his lashes were, the very tempting curve of his mouth. He was looking at her with the same intensity, and things were suddenly as charged as they had been last night. She wondered how pink her cheeks were given how warm they felt right now.
Matthew took a step closer, and she found herself blurting out, "I am sorry I need time to consider it all."
He raised his brows, but didn't stop coming closer. "Quite understandable. Besides, I think I might enjoy convincing you."
"You make it sound like a legal argument, all rather cut and dry." She cocked her head slightly, feeling a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth, "Besides, you are a solicitor, not a barrister." Her words held a bit more challenge than she intended.
There was a sparkle to his eyes as he smirked back at her, inching ever closer, the space between them defined only by the palpable tension. "This is wooing, not court," he murmured.
If only the pounding of her heart wasn't so loud. "Wooing?"
"Wooing." He reached out to gently slip the book she was holding from her grasp. Her breath caught as he held her gaze for one more moment, then looked down to study the spine of the book. "I've not read much Wharton."
She watched his fingers trace over the embossed lettering on the leather. Those fingers that had traced over her cheeks, caressed down her neck last night. Long fingers and strong hands that had entwined with hers as he had looked at her so steadily, so openly and asked her to marry him. Those elegant, capable hands that belonged to an honest and worthy man. She looked at his face again and she knew. She knew two things so completely and yet feared they could not both be.
She was in love with Matthew; she wanted to accept his offer because of that. And she had to tell him the truth about herself because he deserved to know.
It was if a cold breeze had wrapped around her, and she shivered. "Matthew," and when he met her eyes again, she faltered. "I —"
"Hmm?" He pressed the book back into her hand, wrapping his hand around hers, his thumb stroking across the back of her hand. He lowered his face closer to hers, ducking slightly under the wide brim of her hat. "You were saying?" he whispered just above her mouth.
She caught her breath, wishing she could just burst out with the awful truth, and have him still look at her with the adoration and passion that held her spellbound right now. If only she could let those words spill from her lips and have him kiss her to make her clean and worthy again. Wouldn't he have that power? Couldn't soft feathery brushes of his lips on hers — exactly like he was doing right now as her head spun — couldn't those kisses wipe away all her misdeeds?
They jumped apart at the sound of Sybil's voice, Mary reaching up to hold on to her hat as Matthew had nearly knocked it off.
Sybil rounded the hedge, smiling as she spotted Mary. "There you are!" Mary noticed Sybil's smile widen and her eyes light up as she spotted Matthew. "And, Matthew, how wonderful! I wanted a chance to thank you properly for for last night. When I think what could have happened if you hadn't been there…."
"Well, I am glad that I was there, but honestly, I think that's thanks from everyone by now." He glanced at Mary and she was between wanting to blush at his suggestion and to laugh at his discomfort at being the object of Sybil's sudden infatuation.
Sybil continued with enthusiasm, "You will come visit us in London, won't you? You have to come for my ball, I know my parents will want you there as well."
Matthew edged slightly closer to Mary. "Of course. In fact your father has already extended the invitation, and I am looking forward to it. For several reasons," he looked intently at Mary, smiling slightly, and this time Mary did blush.
Needing to not lose herself again in his gaze, Mary turned back to Sybil and saw that Matthew's glance and words were being pieced together by her sister. Sybil's eyes grew slightly wider as she looked at Mary and then back at Matthew. "Oh," surprise and disappointment tinging her voice. "This is wonderful. I am looking forward to it." She smiled brightly at him.
"And I hope to be promised at least one dance with the debutante," Matthew grinned at Sybil. "But, at the moment I really must be going. I was supposed to take the morning off from the office to deliver some papers, and I think I am now officially late." With a grin, he nodded to Sybil, and to Mary, a look that lingered just a bit too long before turning back down the path.
Mary watched his retreating figure, finally able to let out a tiny sigh of nervous energy. Then Sybil was beside her, her fingers wrapping around Mary's. "Mary, did Matthew —?"
Mary looked at her sweet sister whose face was bright with happiness. She nodded. "Yes. He … he asked me to marry him."
Sybil squeezed her hand then gave Mary a quick embrace. "Oh, tell me you've said yes!" she laughed. "You have to have said yes."
Mary shook her head and disentangled herself from her sister. "I said I'd consider it is all."
"Consider it? Mary, what is there to consider?" Sybil fell into step with her on the path back to the house.
Mary sighed, looking up at the sunny morning sky that was quickly filling with gray clouds. "Quite a lot, Sybil darling. Quite a lot."