I found this in my drafts from April, I think, and for some reason I changed my mind about it and never posted it, even though I had finished it entirely. So, that was bizarre but I found it tonight, literally finished, and figured I'll just put it out here to clean up my documents and put to rest some Matthew parts I had explored. It's heavy on the Matthew in the beginning, but includes both Mary and Matthew in the middle and involves Matthew meeting what will be one of the new characters on Downton - Anyway, here it is.

May 1920

The quiet, peaceful months spent in Downton between their new year engagement and their March wedding were some of Matthew's most cherished. Those months were finally still and calm and there was nothing to be done but plan the wedding, and no where to go but for walks together. It was a life unlike either of them had ever lived and they supposed that was the "time to live them together" part. Life was more worthwhile now.

He was weary of train travel by the time Reggie Swire had died in December 1919 and he didn't step foot on one again until their honeymoon. Those secluded, precious months spent with Mary and their family would be highlights of his life – For how nice it was that things were settled, that they were planning their wedding, that he could see Mary freely and happily, or have tea and read books at Crawley House with his mother. Blessedly, from January to March of 1920, there was nothing to worry about of any great consequence.

Matthew slowed down at the beginning of that year and breathed, and looked at the place that would be his home, to which he would be Earl and Mary would be Countess, and finally saw it as such. It never felt like he belonged, or would fit the title of Earl but now he knew it was because he didn't have Mary. Now that they were promised to one another, he could envision a long, full life at Downton...old and grey and becoming Earl, Mary lovely and regal, the Countess she was always born to be...he could see it now.

He had spent long years coming and going and battling himself on remaining at Downton after losing Mary...but lose her he did not, now she was his and he was hers and they were in love and united and this was his home.

This place had called out to him all his lifelong and he finally welcomed it into his heart.

But the calm had certainly lifted. Edith had just been left at the altar by Strallan now that it was May, they had found out news of Downton's impending bankruptcy just before their own wedding, and there was tension everywhere in the house.

Matthew also came and went to London nearly as often as he had travelled during the war. That was his weariness with travel, in general, how much it reminded him of being a rambling soldier. War was hard to shake and there were some days he woke up not entirely convinced that the next stop wouldn't be back to the front. It stuck with him, it lived within him, and there was a dark part of himself that was healing slower than any injury he sustained. He wished Mary was with him during the many train rides to London for business, for she eased his mind so, but his reason for travel was also the reason for contention between them, and he must settle it to get back on track with their life together.

Downton was threatened and the estate was poor, and when Mary told him...the life he had so recently dared to dream of sharing with her there vanished before his eyes. But he was resigned to it, for if there was one thing Matthew could do it was adapt. There were options, there were places to go and things they could do in the wake of losing Downton, and he could handle any obstacle as long as it was with Mary.

As the news of the money lost came, so too came the news of Matthew inheriting Reggie Swire's fortune. He could see Mary's cogs turning even before it had occurred to him, the inheritance he had been offered from Reggie...he could use it to save Downton.

It had hit him hard and made him uneasy to even hear about the inheritance and now to think they could lose Downton...and he sat atop a fortune great enough to save it...his back was against the wall and his morals were battling.

With Lavinia gone...he just figured...there must be someone else, anyone else in the world to deserve it but him...

Of course, there were, two someones, and they were both dead. So, lucky Matthew, given the fortune of a man he shared no blood with. The daughter of whom he was engaged to and died after witnessing indecent behaviour on his part while she suffered with Spanish flu. Lavinia was put in the ground at Downton only for her engagement to him, not for anything homely about the place for her, and her father's ashes now rest at Downton, too.

It was overwhelming, ridiculous, to think that Matthew would end up with their fortune, after everything! This family he had disturbed so, these lives he had intruded upon and would have been better left without him. Those years of the war, Matthew had only been trying to escape Mary, Downton, heartache, and how could he imagine...how could he possibly fathom that both Swire's would meet their end so soon after he knew them...that he would bear guilt for Lavinia's death. The amount of hurt he dealt out over those years was a burden on him and he loved Mary, and was happy, but sometimes remembered how unfair it had been to her and he ached with the want to make it up to her, to love her enough to put behind them the wounds of the past...

The whole thing reeked of shame, of ill-gotten fortune, of curses wrapped up in lucky packaging for Matthew. Yes, he was the heir to another pile of money, but it came with so many catches (nearly more than inheriting Downton) that, if it were just him, he would have scampered the other way.

But it was not just him. Mary and their family could use the money, their livelihood depended on some sort of salvation, otherwise they would be turned out on their ears for a very different life.

He still fought Mary on the issue, though he took seriously the responsibility he now had. And it pained him to take the money, when he pulled Lavinia into a dark world, when she was dead and there they were benefiting from her death. Oh, no, their intentions with the Swire family were never bad, were never this, and he didn't consciously hope for an opportunity to arise from her death.

It was all just neat and convenient, it just looked bad, left a bad taste. Stupidly, he knew, it weighed heavy on his conscience and as much as he promised to Mary that Pamuk's ghost would never arise in their arguments, he wished he had promised the same about Lavinia.

The argument had begun before they married and dominated the early weeks of their marriage, save for their honeymoon, when paradise was too wonderful to worry about anything at all.

Then there was the letter that confirmed Lavinia had written to her father, from what would become her death bed, and her explanation of the situation...of the realization that Matthew's intentions weren't what they thought...and yet Reggie still named him heir, and certainly, it eased some of his guilt sick.

So, Matthew accepted it, he had offered the money to Robert and with some conversation they decided he would be a partner in running Downton. The estate was saved, the family, the jobs, Mary, their future...Matthew's morals were compromised and shred but if there was a Lord above perhaps this would be it, this would be the new start they so desperately hoped for.

And, when he had come to terms with it all...had made peace with the fact that Reggie knew he was no love of Lavinia's life and still gave him the money...had laid to rest the memory of Lavinia, for the umpteenth time...when he reasoned that, perhaps, he wasn't the worst man that lived...he realized that promising to save Downton was the least he could do for Mary.

Oh, for his darling Mary, the home that was her birth right and she would never inherit simply because she was a woman. He could save and secure it for them, their family, their children. It was all she ever wanted, all she longed for and he had put her through so much the years he was gone at war...her engagement to Carlisle...his own to Lavinia...the way she nursed him lovingly even though she had no obligation to, the months he was injured.

No, he couldn't let Downton go, when he really considered it, no matter how he struggled with it...he would have found a way to save it even if it weren't for the Swire inheritance, because Mary deserved to feel at peace and settled, and Downton would do that for her. Matthew would never feel as if he deserved the luxurious life he lead...but he would never leave it because he had Mary...and she deserved it more than anyone.

They had been through thick and thin, and this he could do for her – She would be Countess and while he was no Earl, born and bread into something much different than all of this, she was born and bread to lead the estate through many decades and into modernity and she would do so with grace.

It was that calming thought, that image of Mary growing and changing with the house, through their long lives together, that gave finality to his decision to become a partner in running Downton. There was nothing that offered him more certainty than that, his wife living out her life surrounded by those she loved, in the home she loved, with the title that law and gender denied her but love gave her, and it was one he kept with him all his days.

She was a strong woman, but Mary's basest desires were pure and steeped in love and tradition. Mary simply wanted to run the house she was born to, and she wanted to do so while maintaining security of the estate and its success. Mary wanted to continue her family and their name and their legacy, and who could fault her for that? Who could deny her that? Not he, that was certain by now.

As much as he hurt for Lavinia, and mourned her and the way she passed on...the betrayal he had done to her, the fact he was heir to her father's money...Mary was more important. Finally, finally he was in the position to show her how important she was, more than the dearly departed Lavinia, and perhaps it was harsh but it was necessary for him to realize. Just because Lavinia was dead didn't make her more important than his wife, the woman he risked it all for, compromised himself for – Mary was the most important person and she would have her home.

He was thinking these thoughts, using these reassurances during his day trip to London...when he had met a stranger and after meeting the stranger he was never so glad to return home to Mary.

Matthew hadn't known Patrick, but he had at least met Evelyn Napier and Pamuk, the man who stole from Mary so much, and he knew Richard Carlisle. He had some knowledge of these men, of these somewhat suitors of Mary's. But he never knew Patrick, and he never knew...or imagined...any other man before those he had met...and when he came upon this stranger at the train station...Matthew felt as if he was staring into Mary's past, a man who might have loved her once and this one was alive and well and he'd never heard tell of him.

No, he had no doubt in Mary, nothing but trust and love, but it made him uncomfortable to meet this man, and wonder about other men, because they'd known her before...and Matthew had squandered so much time with her...three years of war...and then another injured and engaged to Lavinia. He could hardly believe it was 1914 when he had left Downton and Mary on that lawn, taking back his proposal...and it had taken so long to find his way back again...God, how did he ever manage to find her again. He felt stupid for it, still, and even more so when coming across this tall stranger. Because look at all of the potential she had out there, look at all the men he could have lost her to...and they knew her for much longer than he did.

Matthew simply longed to know about her, to know every year of her life and every secret she ever bore.

The man was tall and broad shouldered, more fit than Matthew could hope to be, and had a sharp jaw and dark eyes. He wasn't altogether dissimilar to Mary, with a regal air about him that Matthew knew must be charming. If he had never known and loved Mary, this was the sort of man he would imagine her with.

Matthew grumbled to himself on the train ride home that he was too damned old to be insecure.

He entered the bedroom just before dinnertime and he was glad for the warmth of May because it meant he could see Mary's bare skin in her sleeveless dresses. And he was glad for the sun in May because as pale porcelain as she was, the sun brought out a dusting of freckles along her forehead and cheeks, so that when she smiled she looked younger than he ever knew her. The sunshine and Mary were great pals, one as bright as the other.

Mary was at her vanity with Anna behind her and he caught his breath, still so unused to these private moments in their bedroom that he felt intrusive and bizarre, almost as if he were the stranger and she was married to someone else.

It was in silence that Mary met his eyes in the vanity mirror and tilted her head some, lips drawn tight, as Anna sifted through her jewelry box. Mary was still tense with him about all they had battled and he figured that she expected him to come home and say he had changed his mind and given the money to an orphanage or the like. He knew that she had faith in him, believed he would do the right thing, but Mary's whole life had taught her not to have too much faith, particularly in men, for they hurt her more often than not. She was stronger than relying on a man but so too wanted to trust him as wholly as she loved him.

He crossed the room, slowly, trying to reassure her by holding her gaze and looking meek. They were still silent as Anna laid the jewelry onto the table and Mary stood, dressed only in silky undergarments, her chemise, and stockings.

Mary's legs, with an expanse of thigh, were visible and his body pulsed as she waited with her hands on her hips, some goddess come to life, as Anna arranged the dress for her to step into. She was exquisite in a way he knew no other woman to be – tall and elegant and somehow still looked like the Lady she was no matter the occasion, even dressed in a nightgown with a braid down her back. She was a woman most others would be intimidated by, but then you would meet her and she would smile and charm and calm your nerves with her honeyed voice. She was clever, quick-witted and well-read, and such a match for him. You wouldn't want to cross Lady Mary but if you needed an ally she was the one to have, for she was generous with a kind of fierceness that no other possessed.

His cheeks reddened as he glimpsed his wife's bottom as she stepped into the dress and Anna pulled the garment up to her hips, Mary slipping her arms into the straps while Anna worked on the buttons. The two of them were a well-oiled machine by now and he hardly believed he was allowed to watch, what was an oddly intimate task, take place. These little perks he found during marriage to Mary thrilled him each day.

Matthew was staring and blinked his unfocused eyes to find Mary back at the vanity, in her dress, hair in place, shoes strapped on, the only thing bare about her now was her neck.

"Here, let me." Matthew moved to take place clasping Mary's necklace, and she continued to watch him in the vanity mirror, then looked at Anna.

"Mr. Crawley can take it from here, it seems. Thank you, Anna, always." Mary straightened herself as Anna left, and leaned forward so he could arrange the necklace with ease. He brushed his fingers along the back of her neck once he completed the clasp and grinned when goosepimples rose along her shoulders and arms, a quiver passing over her in their wake.

"Your hands are cold." Mary murmured, dabbing perfume onto her wrist, and then into the hollow of her throat.

Matthew leaned down to meet her eyes in the mirror and Mary raised an eyebrow, demure, questioning him, ready to spar if he had returned from London with more bad news. But so too was she offering herself up, and he swallowed roughly, seeing her as a challenge. Mary extended her neck, long, noting he was interested, and he buried his face there, inhaling the light-scented perfume and then kissing her skin softly, his lips tingling from the remnants.

Mary took this as a good sign and gave a small sigh, softening some at his advances.

"Are the matters settled?" She asked carefully, not too hopeful nor too accusatory and her eyebrows were high, her eyes glinting amber and gold in the sun that shone through the drapes.

Oh, how Matthew recalled all of their matters – The great matter of the entail when he first arrived, the war, their respective partners, and now his own great matter of Swire's fortune. They must nearly be fresh out of great matters by now.

"They are all but settled," And he squeezed her shoulders as he leaned back, fingering the wisps of hair along her neck before brushing his lips there and then sitting on the bed. "I should have the money by the end of the week. Everything is signed and settled but the bank isn't going to hand a sum that large over in a day. That's the last meeting and then it's in my hand, to Downton's pocket."

"I hope you don't think me as shallow as that makes it sound." The setting sun's rays followed her movements as she turned round to face him, and gleamed off of her intricately woven hair, highlighting a bloom of brunette and auburn strands around her head that wore like a halo.

There was nothing shallow about her.

"I think you considerate and your reasons for wanting to save the estate poignant, Mary. I've never known a woman less shallow than you."

"Well," She huffed, flustered, folding her gloves across her lap. "I only hope that you're as well-intended to keep Downton as I am. I hope it means something to you, Matthew. Don't make me feel guilty to wonder if you're only doing it because I said so."

"Absolutely it means something to me. It's my home now as much as anyone's. And I hope that you know I would have done anything I could to save it, that this just isn't the ideal way to do it. I wish I could offer Downton salvation with money less soiled – I feel a bit useless that it wasn't done by my own hand but instead my dumb luck in being heir."

"Oh Matthew, you can't think that I consider this ideal! I know how it agonizes you, and I would never ask this of you under any other circumstance. You must know that, mustn't you? That I'm desperate enough to plead this of you when I know how you war yourself over it."

"Of course," Matthew said heavily, thick brows furrowed at his wife in dashing concern, deep consideration. "I love you more than anything. Nothing matters but for that and of course I know this is extreme circumstance – that's why I couldn't deny you this, for I know how you feel and I love you for feeling so."

Finally, Mary smiled at him, a yearning, needy smile with wrinkled brow, somewhere between a smile and a cry. There was relief and gladness there, and love, and she was beautiful and she was all-encompassing, for he felt the relief she felt, flooded into his chest as he watched her own breathing speed up. Blessedly, he thought, miraculously, we're on the same page. What ease he expected from the rest of their marriage, what understanding. It moved him deeply to see such emotion from her and he wondered, a small, funny part of him, what else he could do throughout their lives to ensure her happiness.

She gathered the material of her dress into her hands, the flowing fabric swishing as she crossed to where he sat. Her dress was deep navy, with thick straps and netting across her chest. He loved the strappy dresses the best but nothing could beat her peach satin nightgown that slipped against her skin so easily when they were in bed together.

"Thank you, Matthew," She sounded sincere and polite and stood between his knees, holding his face in her hands, twining her fingers through his hair. His eyes fluttered closed at the feathery sensation and she took the opportunity to kiss him deeply. Her kiss spoke more than she could, a desperation that she would never voice. Her lips were soft and smooth, her mouth angled so he could kiss her deeply, and his hands splayed across her back, clutching Mary and the dress close. "I'm relieved."

"I can tell. Darling, I'm so lucky and happy to be settled with you." Her hands through his hair was a hypnotizing pattern and he could have curled up with her by his side and slept the entire night. Now that the Swire battle was closed, oh how he looked forward to enjoying her and only her through the days. Matthew was sure there would be other battles but how could any be a struggle as big as this one? The rest he would welcome gladly as simply apart of marriage and life.

He wished he could have seen this look on her face, of perfect contentment, nearly a decade before when he had first proposed. To think, all he had come to live for was Mary, and they ended up together anyway, what a waste all of that time was...it was hard not to regret so much that he did. But he couldn't, for everything that happened brought him back to her and her back to him. He could beat himself up for not securing her position as Countess sooner but instead he was just glad she would be now – they were together now. Matthew was as relieved as Mary, and far luckier than she – for he had her and she only had him (and he would be the best he could be to balance that out).

Matthew stretched back on the bed, grasping Mary's waist to ease her on top of him, and they lay like that for long minutes, lips and hands roaming, limbs clutching and bodies writhing together, a dance they fell into with ease. She smelled like vanilla and tasted like cinnamon, a heavenly combination. She gasped softly against his lips when his fingers found her thigh, her dress pulled high on her hips. Mary pushed herself up, hovering above him, filling his line of vision. Tendrils of hair framed her face and her lips were pink from their kisses, her cheeks dewy, and Matthew could never remember loving every bit of someone before her. The long years he was at war, he had thought of her so often that he could imagine her as clear as day – smiling a little more than normal, perhaps, but always as clear and beautiful as she was now. There was no need to exaggerate Lady Mary, for everything about her was as lovely as imagination.

Her mouth curved into a smile and her eyes were amber red, nearly matching the sunset outside, and she put a hand to his chest, resting over his heartbeat, kissing his cheek before extracting herself from his arms. She was flushed and warm and her chest rose and fell quickly.

"I'm already wrinkled," She tutted and Matthew took pleasure in her quick breath, her pink glow. "You should hurry."

"Absolutely." He grinned, teasing, his hair strewn from her fingers, and he smoothed it into place as he sat up, catching his own breath.

After Mary straightened herself and Matthew had located the clothes Moesley had arranged, he thought of his day in London and began to share with her.

"I met someone in London." Matthew said, toeing out of his shoes and removing his coat, loosening his tie. They fell into their own pre-dinner ritual, as she sat back on her vanity and watched him try to get ready in time.

"Oh? Should I be worried?" Mary asked in her most innocent tones, turning on her seat to face him as he went about the room, undressing, and hanging things up.

"No, not ever."

"I was jesting, Matthew."

"I know. It's a bit of an interesting story, actually." He was rummaging for cufflinks and then stripping his thick socks off, pulling a dress pair on.

"Is it actually interesting or one of those that turns out terribly dry?" Mary sighed theatrically, her eyes crinkling with her teasing as Matthew frowned at her.

"Just listen, please?" And Mary nodded, although with a roll of her eyes. "I didn't know him. When I was leaving the train station they thanked me as Mister Crawley and this man overheard and asked if I was maybe the Crawleys he knew."

"Oh, interesting." Mary raised her brows, watching Matthew closely as he replaced his undershirt with a clean one and he stood naked from the waist up for a moment, cheeks burning from her open gaze. He nearly forgot where he was until she prompted him to continue and that was the thing about Mary, he thought, that she could take him out of place and time and leave him stranded in this moment of desire, floundering and flustered and a man acting very much like a boy.

"I told you so. I said, well, I was Matthew Crawley and asked who were the Crawleys he knew."


"Well he knew you," Matthew said pointedly, and they both raised their brows at each other; she in surprise and he in question. They were bantering and challenging and he was taking his time relaying the story because it was one of the simplest pleasures in the world, these playful moments with Mary. They felt nearly ten years younger as they did, reminded of why they were attracted to one another in the first place, debates at the dinner table before they had loved each other, although they were destined for it. "As soon as I said my name he picked up on it. Said he'd heard that Mary Crawley had married a Matthew."

"So I know the man, then?"

"I suppose you must. He asked if it was true, if we'd married. I told him yes, blessedly we had, and he congratulated me because you were a fine woman. He said he couldn't believe it and was glad Mary, you, were doing so well. High praise from a stranger no less."

"The suspense is killing me, who was it?" Mary watched as he sat on the edge of the bed, in trousers and a fresh dress shirt, gaping open.

"I don't know, a Mr. Guillotine or something like that."

Mary laughed, looking at her husband incredulously.

"A Mr. Execution contraption, was he? I see, well, I don't know anyone named that."

Matthew sighed and glowered, recalling the pleasant man and his pleasant looks and the pleasant way he smiled when they talked of his lovely, loving wife. Yes, the meeting with this stranger, after which he hurried home to Mary, vowing to himself to never miss a minute with her, for all of the men out there who would trade places with him in a heartbeat...kind strangers in train stations remembering Mary Crawley and judging the man she had married, thinking to themselves, oh, I could do better than this tow-headed flop.

"I think you may mean Anthony." Mary said quietly, Matthew's eyes decidedly distracted from contact with her.

"Not Strallan, Mary." He dismissed her, and he was being flippant on purpose, not wanting to know just who the man was, or if she'd had a relationship with him, or if he was another man he should worry that loved his wife before he did. It was childish but he was unfamiliar with feelings of jealousy and protectiveness (except when it came to Sir Richard and that had boiled over, hadn't it?) and didn't want to sit and pout in front of Mary just because there were other men in the world who knew her first.

"You're being difficult, aren't you? Lord Anthony – Gillingham."

"Ah yes, Gillingham, that sounds right."

"My, what a long time ago that was now," Mary sighed, looking back at herself in the mirror, adjusting her hair. "How did he look?"

Matthew scoffed, thick brows knit together, flipping the collar of his shirt as he buttoned it quickly.

"Tall dark and handsome, how do you want him to look?"

"Matthew! Is that normally how you'd describe a man to your wife."

"No, but my wife wouldn't normally ask."

"I only mean to say he's been to war, darling," This gave Matthew pause and it was his turn to sigh, tucking in his shirt and buttoning his cuffs. "Does he have his limbs? His vision?"

"Oh – yes – he's in one piece. Scruffy and all."

"Oh, Anthony."

"How do you know him, Mary?"

"He was a pal of the family's. He was here during the summers while we were all growing up." There was a tone in her voice that gave him no ease, although it wasn't longing or desire or even nostalgia, but closer to wistful than he had expected. He supposed Mary missed being young, missed when her family was alive and in tact – He supposed she didn't always resent Patrick Crawley for being the heir to whom she didn't want to be engaged but was for familial purposes.

"When's the last you saw him?" His voice was lower, less playful than before.

"Well, I invited him to our wedding but he was abroad after the war, in America, I think. I suppose the last time was once while we were convalescent, he came to visit an injured,-"

"I was here then, why didn't I meet him?"

"You weren't here everyday while we were convalescent, there were year long gaps when you were...at war, you know..." Mary tugged her dark gloves up her arms, her eyes watching their progression instead of his own blue gaze and her long lashes shadowed her high cheekbones.

"Right. You're right. I'm sorry. I don't mean to antagonize, Mary. I suppose it seemed quite clear he knew you for a long time before I ever did and – that's hard for me to swallow, still. I wish – I wish I knew you all my lifelong."

"Hmm. Someday, when we've been married fifty years, it will be easy to say we did know each other our whole lives, don't you think? Twenty years without seems big now but it won't when we're eighty." She smiled, nearly shy, supposing about their lives together in such a long term way, and her teeth grazed her lip as she watched him.

"Then I only hope to live so long to have known you my whole life." Matthew said sincerely, too seriously, and then they laughed at his dramatic pledge.

"That's the spirit." Mary buoyed, eyes crinkled with her grin.

Then, Matthew turned his back to her, leaning over the bed to retrieve his tie, and also more comfortable without her deep, dark stare on his as he laid out his last insecurity of meeting Gillingham.

"Should I be glad it was not him you were engaged to, however?"

"Oh Matthew, don't you think if I ever wanted him, I could have had him? We were only children when I was promised to Patrick, I never thought of Anthony that way at all." Mary spoke softly and he knew she meant it, that she really was so young when her life was promised away to Patrick, when she had closed off at all other expectations of love and life. So young and so secured to a close childhood cousin, and yet, here they were...nothing worked out like it had planned...more blessings in tragic disguises for Matthew.

"I'm not sure I'd say the same for him."

"My, my, are you jealous of a man you didn't even know I knew?"

"I'm selfish with your company, aren't I? I don't mean to be. He seemed like a perfectly pleasant man and I can see you've known him for a long, long time, so that's – that's important."

"You'd like him, Matthew. But I don't care if you do or you don't, so long as you still like me so well."

"Oh, I do, I like you more each day, Lady Mary." He cocked an eyebrow, sly and charming.

"And love, what say you of that?"

"I never think I can love you any more than I do, but then the sun rises on you and I realize..." Matthew inhaled sharply as Mary tilted her head to gaze at him with eyes slanted lovingly, and he swallowed hard, a catch of emotion in his throat. This declaration was soppy, too, just much truer than he knew until the moment he said it. He realized love for Mary Crawley knew no bounds.

Then they were both standing and his hands roamed up and down her sides, grasping her small frame gently, as she began to knot his tie. They both breathed quickly, the gentle curve of her breasts brushing against his chest as she worked on the tie. Her hands were fast and nimble at their task and oh they would save Downton, but how he longed for the rooms to be empty sometimes, just for these stolen moments with Mary, of which he didn't want to let go.

"You'd write a great drama, I think, Matthew, with the things you say – I like to hear them, though," She smoothed the material down against his chest, kissed his jaw softly, and smiled at him. "All done."

Mary took his proffered arm as they went to dinner and they remembered their time in France, strolling the streets at dusk arm-in-arm, young love personified. They decided to keep news of the fortunes arrival quiet until he could securely offer it to Robert. Mary's eyes danced with wonder as she mused about the grand plans he must already have for the estate and he sighed, telling her he was prepared for those arguments, too. He pressed his hand low on her back before they took their seats at the table, a loving touch just intimate enough to remind her they would be alone later.

Later that night, when the weight of the world was off of his chest, when Matthew felt more level with Mary than he ever had, he was glad it was him going to bed with her, knowing Gillingham was no actual threat...Matthew himself was the only man with whom she would build a life. He didn't need to be envious of anyone for finding her desirable, for many must envy he for having the love of a woman so strong-willed and good-hearted...

Yes, Matthew contented himself with Mary's assurances, and his own ability to help her keep her home and the graciousness she displayed for that. Matthew truly believed he would be the last man in Mary's life, the one to fulfil and love her for all of their days. It was a great comfort to him, and they laid in bed together, somewhere between wakefulness and sleep, murmuring their love, and dreaming of their future. They wondered about children and Mary was adamant for a boy, though Matthew thought of a darling little daughter that looked so like her mother...they thought, maybe, if they were to live somewhere else it should be while they were young and while Downton was still technically her parent's home...and they dreamed of the places they could spend a year, perhaps France or Stateside.

Everything seemed possible in those early months of their marriage, before anything too tragic befell them, and they had convinced one another so of all the life they could live together.

Before they drifted off, Matthew's hand trailing up and down her arm, soft skin warm and lulling him to sleep, he whispered into her fragrant hair wishes of sweet dreams.

"I'll see you in the morning, my darling." Was his sigh and there was nothing outside of that moment, for nothing could be better than that.

May 1922

But Matthew died in 1921, and all of their dreams and wishes became sad lies. That was never the way they intended, none of the quiet hopes they shared for their future were said lightly or without real desire...but it became suddenly out of their control – out of Mary's control. She would never reflect on her husband and roll her eyes of the way he so desperately wished they had more time together. For, if at the time he seemed melodramatic and soppy, now it seemed her only want, too. There was an ache inside of her that could only be filled with more memories of him, more years married to him and she assumed this was what a broken heart felt like.

He would become just a drop in the bucket of the years of Mary's life. When he died, he had known her ten years...and that wasn't very long at all...not when she lived for decades more. Oh...Matthew Crawley knew her for the rest of his life, of course, but Mary, his wife and love, her life went on and away from him. When he had been dead longer than she knew him, he became someone she struggled to remember clearly...not for lack of love or want...but because of the way time fades all things, even those that are most beloved and cherished.

The sound of his voice was lost to her, something she swore she'd never lose...but, eventually, her memory could no longer hang onto it, and the way he said her name was suddenly gone one morning. The smell of his coat was, too...even so would be the colour of his eyes, if their only son hadn't inherited them to remind her each day.

Mary would look in the faces of many more men, who Matthew would never know, and she would remember the way he worried about any other loving her. But one other did love her, a lifetime apart from when her departed husband had, and she hoped that...though Matthew did not exist or breathe anymore...that he somehow did know that it didn't change what was between them.

She laid George into his crib, though she still felt heavy after letting him go. Even when she wasn't carrying her child, she was carrying something – she was carrying everything and everything was so, so heavy on her mind and body. She had not been fragile through any of this, on the contrary, but she felt so when the day's end came and she was still standing, though she didn't know why. There hardly seemed purpose anymore.

George slumbered peacefully, even as his mother moved about the room, and she noticed how his hair shone lighter and blonder each day, the sun kissing his forehead. Mary turned to the window, pulling the drapes, as long shadows stretched across the lawns, the sun setting on that bright spring evening.

A shadow, too, appeared in the doorway and she quickly turned to see, for she saw shadows, felt shadows, imagined shadows so very often lately that she had to know if she was losing her mind or if someone was truly there, or perhaps – perhaps him, perhaps – and she was both glad and disappointed to find it was a very real man in the doorway.

"I saw you ducked away. I haven't even had a chance to speak to you tonight." The voice was warm and polite and called up memories buried beneath the suffering of the last two years.

"Please don't come in," Mary said and she meant it, holding a hand out to halt him though he had made no movements. "His father never set foot in here, never held him in here, I don't want anyone to. Not just you, please don't feel slighted, my own father doesn't cross the threshold. Carson did once but that's – that's different. You mustn't, though, please."

"I won't," The man agreed in a deep, smooth, suave voice, as if she were speaking sensible, as if it was a reasonable thing to bar all access to her son's nursery. "I met him once, you know, your husband."

"I do know that," Mary breathed, looking at the familiar man but not really seeing him, the way she didn't really see anything anymore. "He told me. He muddled up your name but we deduced it was you."

"Indeed it was. I heard him called Crawley – and when he said he was – when he said his name, I knew it was the man you'd married. Mary Crawley's husband, I knew, for there are no others to make a man smile like he did."

"I don't need to hear empty reassurances about him." Mary said thinly, dressed in black, drenched in sorrow, nothing left in her to be courteous.

"Certainly not, but there's nothing empty in saying he was the happiest chap I've ever met. I think I skipped and hummed a tune after we shook hands, just for the fact he was contagious. And why not? He was blessed, he said."

"Blessed," Mary scoffed softly, regarding Anthony Gillingham with hollow eyes, his own dark ones cautious but crinkled in friendliness. "Cursed."

"I wanted to extend sympathies, Lady Mary. I wish I'd known the two of you together."

"Mmm, because it's no pleasure to know me without him." She said and they were having a conversation, but she spoke so quietly, so darkly that she might not have been addressing him at all, she could have been scoffing to the spectre of sadness that lingered all around her.

"I hope your son offers you some joy. It's nice to be back at Downton, you know – I wouldn't mind coming round more often, now that I'm on home soil."

"Visit whenever you'd like, Anthony. I don't disprove of company when it's so needed in this damned house." She finally looked alert and crossed the room, to stand at the end of George's crib. He looked different from when they were growing up but he was a big, kind presence that soaked up some of the rotten, aching loneliness that spilled out of her.

"We've all...lost so many this last decade...the Crawleys are especially prone, aren't they? I could use some rebuilding after war, too," He smiled at Mary, nearly, and she stared back at him. He was tan, she noticed, and she looked a ghost herself next to him. "I don't want to out stay my welcome, so, I'll be off."

Mary stood at the door now and grasped his extended hand in a shake, her grip limp in his strong one, and her lips never smiled but he was warm and she was so cold these days.

"Thank you for saying hello, Anthony. I've such fond memories of our summers here."

"As do I, Mary. Take care of yourself, you never know when I'll be along again." He let go of her hand and turned to rejoin the party but Mary stepped into the hallway with him, shivering slightly.

"Anthony," He stopped and looked back at her and he had a nice face, a strong jaw. "Did he really say – Matthew, my husband, what else did he say," She faltered and her forehead creased, her voice nearly hopeful, for what she didn't know.

"He said you had married and he was lucky, because much had stood in your way. And that yes, Mary Crawley was his Mary, that I had heard right. His chest swelled, I think, as a man's tends to when they're proud over something."

"His Mary," Mary exhaled, tired eyes suddenly moist, and she held his stare, unblinking. Oh, if Anthony knew their whole story, if someone would listen to their whole story...

She clutched her arms across her middle, eyes flitting to the sides, for she often wondered if her husband was standing just out of view.

"Please be well, Mary."

"Yes. Goodbye then."

The dark-haired Anthony, such a contrast to the man she had loved, descended the stairs and Mary felt nearly calm for the first time in months. For it was nice to be reminded of her youth spent at Downton, those carefree years with Patrick and Edith...Sybil...Anthony himself...But mostly it was nice to be reminded that she had been his Mary...her husband's Mary...all along.

His Mary always.