Approximately eight thousand years ago, on a comment ficathon I cannot even remember anymore, oliveoyl/the diabolical zlot left the prompt "Mary/Lavinia, a pair of bluestockings." Finally, this exists!
the movement and the spin - Downton Abbey ; Mary/Lavinia ; 3,869 words ; sequel to there is thunder in our hearts. Mary wisely chooses not to include the part where she cannot seem to want to stop kissing Lavinia Swire. Full disclosure is hardly how things are done at Downton, after all.
“How are you, m’lady?” Anna asks one night, pulling Mary out of distraction and back into her bedroom. It is the same as it always has been: dully lovely, so familiar it hurts. Seeming much smaller than it is.
“The same as I always am, I imagine. Why?”
Anna’s fingers at her back are so steady and familiar. Mary never thought to pay attention to a woman’s hands, before. “It’s only that you seem much lighter lately.”
“Do I?” Mary says. “Well, it only makes sense. The war is over, and we can all breathe again.”
“I’m glad.” Anna goes silent after that, for which Mary is grateful.
Mary wisely chooses not to include the part where she cannot seem to want to stop kissing Lavinia Swire. Full disclosure is hardly how things are done at Downton, after all.
Lavinia started it.
(Mary has taken to thinking this sometimes, petulantly, like she might have accused Edith of a hair-tugging battle when they were children.)
Barely a quarter of an hour into 1919, Lavinia stood outside with her in the snow and kissed her to ring in the new year. Perhaps it’s Mary’s fault for turning the kiss into something it wasn’t meant to be. It’s only that she was so exhausted: sick of loving Matthew, and enduring Richard, and keeping up the guise of careful heartlessness. And Lavinia had begun to matter without Mary even realizing it. Until suddenly there they were, standing together outside, a small world apart from the sounds of merriment inside. And Mary was tired, and felt quite convinced that there was no one else who understood.
Mary has always had a knack for loving wrong. She’s been entirely too well-behaved these past few years. Her heart might misbehave, tied with an imaginary string to Matthew’s like in some lurid Bronte metaphor, but she has never let herself move too close. Not once.
So maybe she ought to have expected this.
The first kiss was easy enough to blame on champagne. If only she hadn’t ruined that grand excuse by kissing Lavinia again right afterwards.
And kissing her, and kissing her.
“I think one of us is supposed to apologize,” Mary says as soon as she and Lavinia are alone next.
“That seems about right,” Lavinia replies, her voice smooth and sweet, her cheeks slightly pink.
Mary tries not to stare at her mouth. Of course, once you’re striving not to stare at someone’s mouth, there’s probably no point in denying that you want to kiss them.
She’s quite sick of denying things anyway.
“My apologies, then.”
“Don’t be sorry.”
Mary quirks an eyebrow.
“I’m not,” Lavinia answers. Her hands are folded in her lap. Mary watches her fingers twitch, discontent and lovely.
“You’d best be careful,” Mary advises. “Since you’re the future Countess of Grantham, I suspect it’s my duty to inform you: we don’t just say what we feel here.”
Lavinia looks up at Mary. Her eyes are bright with something that might almost be mischief. “The thing is, I don’t especially care. I’ve always been one to follow my heart.”
And Mary would kiss her again just for that – what is it, this yearning tugging her forward? – if it weren’t for Edith walking in.
“Lavinia,” Edith says, surprised. “What on earth brings you here? Matthew didn’t come along, did he?”
“No,” Lavinia says. “It’s only me.”
Edith catches Mary’s eye. Mary stares right back. She supposes Edith could wreak havoc with this, but they’re older now, wiser and sadder. Besides, she doubts even Edith could sniff out this one.
“Edith tells me you were visiting with Lavinia this afternoon,” Mama says when she pops in to say goodnight.
“That’s right,” Mary answers, setting her book down. She doesn’t mind the interruption. She wasn’t paying much attention to it.
Mama sits at the foot of the bed and just smiles at her for a moment, one of those fond tranquil smiles that Mary will always love her for.
“I’m proud of you,” Mama says at last, reaching across the bed for Mary’s hand.
“What do you mean?”
“Believe it or not, Mary, I do know you pretty well. I know how easy it would have been for you to tear Lavinia to pieces, if you’d chosen to.”
“Oh, please, Mama. You make me sound like Medea.”
“Is it so far off the mark?”
“Yes,” Mary says firmly, feigning offense.
Mama just laughs softly at that.
“She’s done nothing to deserve my wrath,” Mary says wryly. “And besides,” she adds after a moment, playing absently with the corner of her blanket, “I like her.”
“She’s a sweet girl.”
“It’s not just that,” Mary protests, feeling more defensive than she should. “Everyone assumes she’s just a selfless darling because she’s been so good to Matthew and she’s quiet. But there’s more to her. She isn’t afraid to fight for what she wants.”
“You’re not so different.”
“Aren’t I? If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that it’s best not to want anything at all.”
“Best, maybe,” Mama says. “But impossible, too.”
“Is it?” Mary puts on a smile. “I mean to give it a try anyway.”
“You’re a good girl, Mary,” Mama says after a moment, and kisses her forehead.
There’s still Matthew. Mary spends whatever time with him she can. Her love with him is so deep and old that she goes long stretches without noticing it now. It simply is. She hardly even remembers to want to fight for it anymore. In a few years, perhaps she won’t even feel it.
In a few years, she thinks, and pictures Lavinia. Still here. Countess of Grantham.
(Or will she be? Won’t she flee? Follow her heart somewhere else, now she knows that Matthew doesn’t want it?)
“You’re quiet lately,” Matthew observes. “What are you thinking of?”
Mary smiles at him, gently as she can, and wonders if, after all this agony and waiting, she’ll be the one to break his heart. Again. “Nothing important.”
Sir Richard seems to sense that Mary isn’t as interested in Matthew as she once was.
“On days like these, I almost suspect that you’ve resigned yourself to me,” he observes dryly, the two of them arm-in-arm walking around the grounds. The snow is almost all gone.
“Stop or I’ll blush,” Mary retorts.
He smiles at her, one of those we’re too alike for our own good grins. Mary thinks sometimes that if they’d met in another life, they would have made excellent partners in crime.
“Maybe we ought to live in London,” she says.
(Maybe Lavinia will go back to London. Break off the engagement, and return home to her father. Maybe she and Mary will meet up on eager spring mornings - travel the shops and sidewalks together like adventurers, so lost in the bustling world that no one takes any notice of them. There are too few people here, and too much empty space to fill. Mary knows she’ll never get lost, so long as she’s in the country. Everyone will always know just where to find her. Once, all she wanted in the world was a big empty house in London where no one could bother her, where she could do just what she chose.)
“Oh?” Richard says, interested.
“I wouldn’t hate a busier life. Maybe I’ve given enough years to this place.”
“Surely that’s not Lady Mary talking. I thought your heart was in the stones of these walls.”
“We’d be leaving anyway, to go to Haxby. Why not make a cleaner break of it?”
Richard stares at her for such a long time that she’s finally forced to relent and meet his gaze. He is handsome. It’s a shame they’ve become such enemies. “What’s gotten into you?”
“I’m restless, is all,” Mary says. “And ready to begin a new chapter.”
Richard clasps her hand in his as they continue on. She wonders just how good a liar she might be. How long she might be able to keep it up.
Then one day, Lavinia knocks over a tea tray, and Matthew stands up to help her.
The whole house is wild with joy. They have the happiest supper Mary can remember. During it, Matthew announces his intent to marry Lavinia as soon as possible. Lavinia smiles, radiant, and doesn’t catch Mary’s eye once. Mary feels her whole family sneaking glances at her. She thinks of London – London, full of strangers and frenzy and peace.
Afterwards, Lavinia excuses herself, claiming she has a headache. Mary offers her room, follows her upstairs.
As soon as the door’s shut, Lavinia starts to cry. Not the dainty ingénue tears that Mary is accustomed to, either. She shakes with sobs now, and seems more furious than sad.
“I could kill him,” Lavinia mutters over and over.
Mary’s hand hovers over Lavinia’s back, the polite ghost of a touch, never quite bold enough to land.
“He’s marrying me to repay me for being faithful to him. And everyone in that room knew it.”
“There are worse reasons,” Mary reminds her.
Lavinia wipes a tear away, almost violent in her impatience. No one could call her a quaint English rose in this moment. Mary likes it. She likes this Lavinia – this stormy, indelicate person. “That doesn’t mean it isn’t bad enough.”
“You used to tell me you’d die without him.”
“So what if I did?” Lavinia glares at her. Lavinia Swire, glaring. Everyone downstairs would perish of shock. “Why must we all keep pretending that we haven’t grown up at all?”
“Because things don’t change. Not here.”
“Then let’s leave.”
“Let’s?” Mary laughs shortly. It’s all she can do with the idea; otherwise, she might start to believe in it. “You talk like there’s an us to contend with.”
Lavinia wipes another tear from her cheek, and meets Mary’s eyes. “Who says there isn’t?”
And it isn’t so very unfamiliar, this moment. Once they sat on her bed and Lavinia cried, the two of them bound by a love that neither of them could ever fully possess. And now –
Well, God knows what’s going on now.
“What am I to do, then?” Mary demands. “Abandon everything I’ve ever meant to have and – and be companions with my ex-fiance’s ex-fiancee? A pair of bluestockings in a dowdy old city flat? Edith might be able to pull it off, but not me.”
“Edith might make for nicer company,” Lavinia snaps.
Mary tries not to feel that one. “The gloves are off, I see.”
“So what you’re saying is it’s everyone else’s choice and not yours?”
“Women like me don’t have choices.”
“I used to admire you so much,” Lavinia says, looking strangely betrayed. “You never needed anyone to like you, and I always thought that must keep you so free. I never thought you were a coward.”
Mary feels she could cry – wishes she would, almost – but her face is as much a mask as always. Cold and careful. She digs her fingernails into her palms. “When we fight, isn’t it supposed to be over Matthew?”
“Ah yes,” Lavinia scowls. “Wouldn’t want to buck against tradition.”
She stands so abruptly that she’s out of the room before Mary even quite realizes the weight of her words.
“Lavinia—” Mary starts. But the door is shut already, and following after would be the brave thing to do.
Matthew shows up the next morning. He asks whether Mary might come out walking with him. Mary is tempted to refuse – to play sick in bed all day – but it seems too weak. Lavinia’s accusations of cowardice are still stinging in her thoughts.
They walk in silence for awhile, and then Matthew abruptly says, “Lavinia ended things.”
“But she seemed so happy last night,” Mary says a moment too late. She sounds appropriately numb with shock, at least.
“She must have sensed that my heart wasn’t in it,” Matthew says. As soon as he does, Mary realizes how much she had hoped he wouldn’t. “Though God knows I was trying.”
They’re passing the trees – hidden, for once – and she wonders if he planned this. In any case, he puts a hand to her neck and kisses her. Mary sinks into the kiss for a moment: first to process the fact of it, and then to try to kiss back.
She finds she can’t.
“Oh, Matthew,” she says, breaking the kiss and resting her cheek against his. “Don’t.”
His breathing is shallow. “Why not?”
“You haven’t kissed me for seven years.” Mary is quiet a moment, wondering if she’s gone mad. She adds, “We’ve grown up.”
“Then I’d say we have a lot of making up for lost time to do,” Matthew says warmly, and moves to kiss her again.
Mary takes a few steps back. It kills the moment quite effectively.
Matthew is frowning. “Is it Richard? Because God, Mary, you don’t have to keep your promise to him, especially not now.”
“What do you mean, not now? Since you’ve cast off Lavinia, and she was the paragon of all things virtuous and true, then surely I can shake off my tawdry newshound?”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Matthew says, frustrated, “but yes, if you insist on seeing things that way. If I can end things with Lavinia, the kindest soul any of us has met, then I’d say Carlisle earned the boot a long time ago.”
“She ended things,” Mary points out crossly. “Not you. You would have been content to make eyes at me over dinner for the next thirty years while she was kind enough to pretend not to notice.”
“That’s not fair.”
“St. Lavinia the Mercifully Blind. No wonder she left. If I had to put up with a marriage like that, I’d shoot myself in a month.”
“What’s wrong with you? God, Mary, I’ve missed you. Haven’t you missed me?”
“Yes, I missed you,” Mary says – shouts, almost. It registers dimly in her mind that Lady Mary Crawley does not talk like this. “For years I missed you. I had to watch you nearly die, knowing I’d grieve like a widow for the rest of my life when you weren’t even mine. I watched you stand beside Lavinia and sneak glances at me, and I did love you, Matthew, I loved you until—”
“Until?” He’s looking at her almost as if he fears her. Or at least what she’s going to confess.
“Until I couldn’t anymore,” she admits weakly, and it’s only in this moment that she knows it’s true.
Matthew’s silent for a long while. The look on his face makes Mary’s heart ache. She wants to take it back, to kiss him, to apologize for being a fool and let herself fall into the life she’s let herself want for so long. But she can’t seem to move.
“Is it Carlisle?” he asks at last.
And it would be easy, in a way. I never thought you were a coward. “It’s Lavinia.”
Some of the hurt falls of Matthew’s face, replaced by sheer confusion. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
For a split-second, Mary does think about it. Telling him about New Year’s Eve. The snowfall. The kiss.
But even she isn’t that cruel.
“She’s my friend, Matthew,” she says at last. “Perhaps that was never meant to happen, but it did, and I can’t keep playing tug of war with her over your heart. You see, she means more to me now than winning.”
Matthew stares at her for a long time. The poor thing looks like his brain and heart might quit altogether. She wonders again if she’s gone mad, doing this to him. Matthew. Her Matthew.
“She told me to go to you,” he says. There’s an odd hint of something almost like laughter in his voice. “She said she’d been standing in the way of what was meant to be, and we mustn’t waste any more time.”
Kind, selfless Lavinia, twisting the knife into Mary’s heart and giving Matthew eternal cause to sing her praises all at once.
It’s hard not to admire that.
“She did,” Mary says flatly.
“She’s always been a very good judge of character. I thought it best to listen to her.”
Mary kisses his cheek – because he looks so lost, partly, but it’s also a test. Maybe if she wants to linger, things might still be easy someday. She will stay with him, and Richard will be gotten rid of somehow, and at last Downton will have what it’s always needed: the heir and the dutiful daughter, the convenient happily ever after. But it’s easy to pull away from him, and that is how she finally, finally knows.
“She missed the mark this time, I’m afraid,” she murmurs, and presses an apologetic hand to his cheek.
Matthew leans into her touch. She pulls her hand away quickly, knowing it’s best.
She goes to Crawley House to see Lavinia off. Isobel greets her pleasantly enough, considering the circumstances; Matthew musters a smile, but avoids her on the whole.
Lavinia is alone in her room when Mary goes up – all the luggage is downstairs already, and she seems to be surveying the space for anything she might have forgotten. Mary is stupidly thankful that her back is turned. It makes it all much easier. She closes the door behind her.
“At the beginning,” Mary says, careful to keep her voice quiet, “I hated Matthew. I know it sounds very Pride and Prejudice, but I really did. Watching Papa welcome him into the family with open arms – everyone deciding straight away that I had nothing to complain about anymore – all I had to do was marry him, and all my problems would be solved. I’d be the Countess of Grantham, safe and sound. Never mind that I only got there by marrying some middle-class lawyer from Manchester, when it ought to have been mine in the first place. I could never quite want to marry him, even after we—It would have been insulting. Like everyone else had always been right about me, and I was a fool for wanting what was mine.”
Lavinia has gone very still.
“I think I only really let myself love him when he was yours,” Mary finishes, “and it was impossible, and I wasn’t playing into anyone’s hands anymore.”
“Lavinia, dear, are you ready?” Isobel calls. “The car is here.”
“Just about,” Lavinia calls back. She turns to look at Mary. Her eyes are shining.
“Visit me in London,” she asks, and clasps Mary’s hands in hers, “when you can.”
“Yes,” Mary says faintly. “Of course. Of course I will.”
Once they’re down and outside, it’s too quick to be properly awkward. Lavinia hugs Isobel and lets Matthew kiss her cheek. The two of them stare at each other for a long moment, not speaking, and for the first time, it’s easy to believe that there was something between them that Mary had nothing to do with. Matthew murmurs something into her ear too soft for anyone else to catch, and Lavinia smiles wistfully.
She catches Mary’s eye just once before she steps into the car.
“It will be strange without her,” Isobel says, sounding truly sad.
Mary carefully doesn’t look at Matthew. He returns the favor.
“I think I might go pay Aunt Rosamund a visit,” Mary tells her parents. “I’d like to see Sir Richard.”
“So soon after Lavinia and Matthew called off the engagement?” Papa says, looking disgruntled.
“Why should that matter?”
“I think he’d like you by his side at a time like this,” Papa points out.
Mary rolls her eyes. “I think Matthew’s earned a bit of time off from the women in his life.”
She catches Mama’s gaze.
“Do whatever you think is right, darling,” Mama says, smiling. “We trust you.”
Mary knows her mother’s definition of ‘whatever you think is right’ must be rather narrower than the reality of things. Then again, she is American. Maybe anything goes.
Mary steps into Sir Richard’s office in London on a relentlessly bright March morning. As soon as his secretary closes the door, leaving them be, she begins.
“I’ll marry you. I made a promise, and I won’t go back on my word. But it will always be like this, you know. A fight every day of our lives. Don’t you want better? God knows I do.”
Richard has long since abandoned the papers on his desk; she has his full attention. “What’s brought this on?”
“Matthew and Lavinia split. He tried to patch things up between us, but I turned him down.”
“On Miss Swire’s account.”
This is enough to surprise her into a bit of silence.
His mouth quirks. “I’m good at spotting the details most people miss.”
Mary laughs starkly. “I suppose you would be.”
He just looks at her, handsome as ever – handsomer, maybe, in the morning light without Matthew to worry about. She thinks, again, of marrying Richard Carlisle.
Or perhaps she’ll just be brave.
“I think I’ll go away for awhile,” she says. “With Lavinia, if she’ll have me. I’ll write if you’d like. I think we could use the time apart. It will give you a chance to think things over.”
“Yes, well. Everyone at home would claim it’s Miss Swire’s angelic influence.”
“I’m glad someone finally doesn’t have their head in the clouds over that girl. I always thought the fine people at Downton would underestimate her to their own peril.”
“Where will you go?” Richard asks.
“Good luck to Paris. And may your hair survive the excursion intact.”
Mary smiles, wry. “I make no promises about that.”
He chuckles. For the first time in ages, she likes him.
“That was fast,” Lavinia says when Mary shows up at her doorstep.
For a moment, Mary only looks at her. She looks stronger here somehow: less sweet and shrinking-violetlike. The mistress of her own bright world. The sunlight gilds her hair, and Mary’s planned dry remarks about city girls answering their own front doors all fall to nothing.
“We’ve wasted enough time as it is,” Mary answers instead.
“He told you,” Lavinia surmises, recognizing the words.
“You were counting on him to.”
“Maybe a little.”
“Thank you.” Lavinia inclines her head in mock graciousness. She takes a moment, then, just to look at Mary. “What’s on the agenda, then? Straight to bluestockinghood?”
“I thought we might allow ourselves an adventure or two first.”
Lavinia smiles. “I’d like that.”
“Good,” Mary manages.
Lavinia comes forward to kiss her cheek. Her lips are soft, and more inviting than polite. Mary wants to turn the few inches she needs and meet Lavinia’s mouth with hers. Her eyes flutter closed, and she is lost in Lavinia and sun and city sounds: and here they are on stone steps in the open air, the whole world passing them by. It does not stop for them – nothing stands still here, not like at Downton. Instead, the world whirls on, and all it asks of Mary is that she join it.
“Come in,” Lavinia says, her voice laughing and warm.