Also: I do not really know what is up with my current addiction to second person POVs.
I tell my love to wreck it all - Downton Abbey ; Matthew, Mary, & Lavinia ; ~3,600 words ; PG ; season two finale AU ; It always seems to come down to surviving the night, and Lavinia does, against all odds.
who will love you?
who will fight?
and who will fall far behind?
(bon iver, skinny love)
It always seems to come down to surviving the night, and Lavinia does, against all odds. When the morning light comes, once she’s woken and Dr. Clarkson’s allowed it, Matthew rushes in to see her. The door is left ajar. You watch them through the open space. You are too full of relief – over Lavinia, over Mama – to feel anything besides glad for once. Matthew calls Lavinia darling and kisses her forehead, his voice so full of feeling that you think he might cry. Perhaps he is crying. You can only see his back. Lavinia is the one facing you.
“You mustn’t kiss me again,” she orders. “I swear it, Matthew, if you get sick, I’ll kill you.”
“I know better than to cross you,” he says affectionately.
“Is Mary nearby?”
“Just out in the hall. Would you like to see her?”
“Yes please. I’ll give her very strict orders to keep you occupied while I’m recovering.”
“I’d rather be at your side.”
“Don’t be silly. I’ll be asleep most of the time. What good would that do anyone?”
“It would do me good to be with you.”
“Oh, Matthew. This doesn’t change anything.”
“What do you mean? This changes everything.”
The look on Lavinia’s face is painful even for you, lingering outside the door. You can’t imagine how she must feel. No, that’s a lie. You can. And so you put on a bright smile and breeze inside. “Has Sleeping Beauty awoken, then?”
“That’s putting a rather positive spin on things,” Lavinia says; pleased to see you, you think.
“Nonsense,” Matthew says. “You’re perfect.”
“You’re the loveliest invalid I’ve seen in ages,” you confess. “But don’t tell Mama.”
“You’re wicked,” Lavinia accuses, her gaze dropping to her duvet as she smiles.
“Devoutly,” you say. “Lavinia, I’m so glad to see you well.”
You sit with Mary in the hallway, the pair of you next to each other with your legs stretched out and your backs against the wall. It’s perhaps the least formal you’ve ever been around each other. The upstairs hallways in this house, at least, don’t seem to demand much in the way of aristocratic propriety. Not on a morning like this. Her feet are crossed at the ankle; you stare at them absently.
“She’s trying to matchmake us,” you report.
“She’s very clever at it,” Mary remarks. “Who’d say no to a woman who almost died? Especially such a decent one.”
“Mary.” You have yet to master saying her name as if it’s any other word. Perhaps you should start practicing. Cauliflower. Boat. Yesterday. Mary.
“I’m sorry,” she says, chastened.
“So am I,” you say; it seems no matter what you do, you’ll always have a lifetime of apologizing ahead of you.
You glance at the door to Lavinia’s room. You still can’t quite trust the joy you felt, seeing her awake and alive. You’ll check on her again in a minute. She’ll scold and tease, but you don’t care. She was not the one who had to watch you nearly slip away. Not this time, at least.
Or perhaps she has been watching you slip away for a long time now. Away from her. Back to Mary. The thought sickens you. When you were as good as dead, when you could give her nothing, Lavinia still swore herself yours, and did not hesitate.
“I hadn’t realized,” you say aloud, because you need to tell someone and you can talk to Mary like nobody else. It’s one of the great ironies of your relationship. “It’s wretched, but it’s true. I hadn’t realized until I watched her in agony in that bed how much I—”
“I know,” Mary interrupts, saving you the pain of saying it to her. “How couldn’t you? I think I adore her nearly as much as you do.”
“But you and I—”
“Don’t trouble yourself.” She turns to face you, eye to eye. This is one of her tricks, you’ve observed over the years. When she lies to you, she prefers to do it directly. Go on. Don’t believe me, her face dares, perfect as marble. “I’m a soon-to-be-married woman, remember?”
“And are you happy with that?”
“What does my happiness matter?” she scoffs, as if she’s sick to death of the topic. “My mother’s alive. Lavinia’s alive. Carson, too. This morning, I’m positively Pollyanna. Don’t worry about me.”
“I’ll always worry about you,” you say truthfully. You nearly reach for her hand; you stop yourself at the last minute, and only press a fingertip against one of her knuckles. A stupid little touch that can’t quite be written off as an accident. She doesn’t flinch in surprise; she stays sure and still as you touch her. You stop. “I’ve had a damned hard time shaking you, you know.”
“I know the feeling,” she answers wryly. She looks down at your hands. At the small but certain distance between them. “Are we truly done then, you and I? I think we must be, after this.”
I don’t know, you mean to say. You’re very used to not knowing. But then you realize that it’s no longer exactly true.
You clear your throat. Force yourself to meet her eyes; man up and tell the truth the way she lies.
“I won’t pretend I’m not always going to—” You could kiss her. You could kiss her again. You want to kiss her again, and suspect you always will as long as she is this close. She is brilliant and exhausting; she wakes you up and knocks you to your knees. You will never be quite as well-suited for anyone else, and you know it. But Lavinia is sleeping in a room down the hall, and she is alive and she is your fiancée, your future, and that is enough. Finally, it’s enough. Mary waits, watching you with those big brown eyes. “—to feel very strongly for you.” To love you to distraction; to want you utterly. “But my heart has been promised to her for so long. It’s about time I started keeping that promise in earnest. She deserves that much. I don’t know why she keeps insisting that she doesn’t and trying to end it.”
“Perhaps it’s that she thinks she deserves someone who can give her his whole heart,” Mary answers, lifting an eyebrow. “You men. Always so quick to accuse good women of being selfless to the point of stupidity.”
“Ah,” you say, abashed. “Right.”
Both of you have your heads resting against the wall, and you face each other with sluggish, exhausted looseness. You seem much closer than you were when you first sat down. It would be the easiest thing in the world to lean in, to close the meager distance. Luckily, you both excel at making all of this so much harder than it has to be. If it became easy, perhaps you would fall out of love at long last. Maybe it’s the struggle you’re in love with, more than each other.
But (you think, her dark eyes catching yours) probably not.
In the weeks of your recovery, Matthew spends more time at your bedside than you mean to allow, reading you Jane Austen and holding your hand. You wake once to find him dozing awkwardly in a chair beside you, Sense & Sensibility propped open on his knee. You are sorely tempted to reach for the book and smack him over the head with it. He’s doing this out of duty, out of guilt, and it had taken all you had to tell him what you did, to tell him to let you go and be with Mary and set things right at last. It wasn’t selfishness that took you so long, not exactly, though of course there was a bit of that. It’s more that you’ve always been so scared of grand gestures, of turning your small life big. You do it when you must – like years ago, that awful business with Sir Richard – but it never gets easier. And because you’re fair and small and girlish, no one ever takes you seriously. You expect that from most people, but you thought Matthew respected you more – or you hoped it, at the very least. You wonder how it would have gone if you had Mary’s sure voice, her certain jawline and uncontradictable eyebrows.
“I’m not a child, you know,” you tell Matthew when he wakes. “I can handle a bit of heartbreak, especially if it means two unhappy people finally get to live the lives that will bring them joy.”
“When you act like my words mean nothing, it hurts me much more than walking in on you kissing her.”
He just stares at you, mouth agape, blue eyes wide with incomprehension.
“Oh, of course I saw you,” you say, coming as close to snapping as you ever do. “How stupid do you think I am, Matthew?”
“I don’t think you’re stupid.”
“Well, your behavior certainly suggests otherwise.”
“I hate the idea of just disappearing from each other’s lives,” he says, frustrated now. You find you far prefer this edge in his voice to the gentle sweetness he’s been drowning you in. It is so much easier to believe. “You may be able to handle a bit of heartbreak, but I don’t know that I can, not anymore. Not after all we’ve been through together. Doesn’t it seem like a waste, to just give up when we finally have our chance?”
“No,” you say in the hardest tones you have. “No, Matthew, it doesn’t.”
“I love you, Lavinia.” He presses his hand against your neck, as if he might bring you in for a kiss. You wish you didn’t feel each of his fingertips so. “I haven’t told you enough, and God knows my actions haven’t always shown it, but I do, and I want to be your husband, I want us to get married and have children, I want our life together—”
“Yes, and that’s all very nice,” you say, careful not to let his words soak in, “but what about Mary?”
“What about Mary?”
“I can’t believe you mean that. In fact, I refuse to believe it of you. You’re better than that.”
He just stares at you. It feels like a test. For once, you don’t let yourself look down. In a way, nearly dying – the bits of death still hanging around in your lungs and limbs – has made you feel so much more awake.
“I will always love Mary,” he says at last. “She’s my family, and she’s been an important part of my life, and yes, she and I— There is something. I suspect there will always be something. I won’t do you the dishonor of pretending otherwise. But if I’m to choose, you are my choice.”
You won’t let him off the hook so easily, want to or not. Mary deserves that much. “And that’s all very nice, Matthew, but what about Mary’s feelings in all this? What about Mary’s life?”
“Mary has never been one to falter when it comes to managing her own life,” Matthew says, in that half-admiring half-bitter tone you long ago learned to recognize and link with her name. “Believe me, she’s in trustworthy hands.”
The blind fool. “Are you sure?”
“What do you mean?”
“Mary is engaged to Sir Richard, and it’s no love match. Do you truly think she’ll be happy with him? I know what he’s like, and I assure you, she won’t. Mary deserves so much more. She deserves to stay at Downton, to inherit what’s rightfully hers. And she’ll have that if she’s your wife.” You put your hand on top of his, meaning to guide it away from you, but instead you get caught in the touch. Just for a moment, you tell yourself. “And she loves you, Matthew. You two are so very right together. I know you feel it. I don’t think a person can be in a room with the both of you and not feel it.”
“So, what?” he asks, with a dark disbelieving laugh. “You suggest a marriage of convenience?”
“Yes, if you want to call it that.”
“And you’re just to be thrown on the sacrificial altar in the process?”
“I’m stronger than you think. I won’t wither and die without this engagement tethering me to the earth, I promise.”
He kisses you. He hasn’t done it very often, especially considering you’ve been engaged for three years; it’s always been very quiet between the two of you. Quiet and patient and polite. You could count on one hand the number of times he’s kissed you. You wish you felt something missing as he does it now, on your side or on his.
“Don’t leave,” he says once you’ve parted, both a little breathless, and he rests his forehead against yours. “Lavinia—”
“It’s the best way,” you insist, “and the only way. You silly boy. You dear, stupid, silly boy. Don’t you see?”
“You’re impossible,” you scold, forcing yourself to pull away. “Here I am, giving you the solution to all your problems. The war is over. Everything’s new. A blank slate. Enough of duty, Matthew, and enough of honor. Search your heart for five minutes, and know that I will be all right if you don’t choose me. What is it that you want?”
He looks as lost as you suddenly feel.
One morning Lavinia asks you to accompany her outside for some air.
“Nurse Crawley won’t like that,” you warn slyly.
“Nurse Crawley needs to mind her own business,” Lavinia retorts primly, “and give her patient some room to breathe.”
“I meant Matthew,” you say, wondering how she could have thought otherwise when Sybil’s run off with the chauffeur.
“So did I,” Lavinia replies, the corner of her mouth a thoroughly charming curve. You’ve given up on wishing you didn’t like her so much, and have decided instead to just enjoy that you do.
You link arms and help her down the stairs and outside. She’s sturdier than you’d expected. There’s something in the sight of her that seems to suggest she’s made of dandelion fluff and butterfly wings; you like this discovery of her flesh-and-bloodness as she leans against you. You thank God again that her body didn’t wind up in the ground like so many others.
You ease her down onto a bench on the lawn and then take a seat beside her. You wait for her to speak first; you find you have no idea what to say about any of this. A rare occasion indeed.
“I keep trying to get him to see that he ought to marry you,” Lavinia speaks up. “But he’s being stubborn. Matthew and his honor.”
It is a little like a dare; she looks at you, then back down at her hands. She’s confessed more in that sentence than either of you have in three years of stolen glances and keeping things carefully unsaid. She nearly died, you understand, and has decided to hell with it. You could hug her. (You won’t. The two of you are being rather unBritish, but not that unBritish.)
“I don’t think it’s just honor,” you say, rising to the challenge. “I think he’s only beginning to understand now how much he loves you. It sounds awful, but I must admit I know the feeling. We’re alike, he and I. At least he’s figured it out now, before he lost you completely.”
“You haven’t lost him completely.”
“I’m going to marry Sir Richard,” you say firmly. “And I won’t take him away from you for anything, if I can help it. I’d call that completely lost.”
“Mary, won’t you break off the engagement?” Lavinia pleads. You wonder if there has ever been a stranger love triangle in history. “For me? For yourself?”
“With what he has on me?” you answer shortly. “No. It wouldn’t be worth it.”
“What do you mean?” Lavinia asks, and you don’t know what to say. She senses it. “You don’t have to tell me if you—”
“You’ve heard about the Turkish gentleman that died here?” Ah. So you appear to be saying all of it, then.
“The widely circulated story neglected to mention that he perished in my bed. But Sir Richard won’t neglect to mention it, given the proper incentive. Imagine the shame that would befall the family. I think it might kill Papa, if he ever hears of it.”
“And your mother?”
“Oh, my mother helped me move the corpse. But then again, she’s American.”
You wonder if she’ll be terribly shocked, but instead she laughs a bit. And there – just like that, you’ve confessed your worst sin. You imagine it drifting into the open air, away from you.
“Were you in love with him?” Lavinia asks after a long while.
You almost laugh at the absurdity, though of course it’s a reasonable assumption. “God, no. I barely knew him. And I wasn’t sure I liked what I did know.”
“But you thought him handsome?”
“I don’t know. I mean – yes. He was. Very. But he made me uncomfortable. I suppose I just wanted to play with him – I was rather good at that – and the game went too far.”
“So you didn’t want him in your room?”
You stare down at the green grass, and remind yourself that you are here and now. “He said he knew I wouldn’t scream. That I wouldn’t do anything to stop him, because I wouldn’t want us found. And he was right, wasn’t he? I was ruined the second he stepped into the room. So I tried to make the best of it. It wasn’t as if I wasn’t curious. Who isn’t? What did it really matter, who it was with, or when—”
“Mary,” Lavinia interrupts – mercifully. Her expression is entirely unlike Mama’s or even unrelentingly sweet Anna’s. Lavinia looks as if her heart is breaking for you. Even if it is only for a moment, and only a little.
“Do you think me very scandalous?” you say in a voice that barely wavers. You and your stone heart.
“Nothing could alter my opinion of you,” Lavinia says firmly, putting her hand on top of yours. Her fingers are cool – perhaps you should have insisted on gloves. You are certainly the inferior Nurse Crawley. “And especially not that. I’ve never admired another woman more. And I think perhaps Mr. Pamuk deserved what he got.”
You move your hand, just a bit, to clasp her fingers in yours.
“And so, you see, I must keep Sir Richard quiet. Perhaps I could love him. We do understand each other.” You try very hard not to think of him shoving you against the wall to kiss you and set you straight. It won’t always be like that. Especially not if Matthew marries Lavinia, and Richard is left with nothing to worry about.
“Matthew accused me of sacrificing myself by trying to end our engagement,” Lavinia says. “But I’ve done nothing next to what you’re willing to give up.”
It is, you’re fairly certain, the first time you’ve ever been called selfless. “When I was younger, I used to shudder at the thought of giving my whole life to this house, as my father has. I couldn’t fathom feeling that kind of loyalty to a bunch of old stones and pretty furniture. What a rotten brat I was.”
“I understand it. I don’t know when the change happened, but it has. Maybe that means I’ve grown up at last.”
“If only we didn’t have to,” Lavinia sighs, “and could do what we pleased.”
“We could all three of us run away together,” you invent. This poor conversation deserves some light in it, no matter how ridiculous. “And you could have Matthew on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I’d take Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.”
“Sundays off for church?” Lavinia asks, giggling a little.
“No, Sunday’s for us,” you say matter-of-factly. “Obviously.”
“Perhaps your poor maybe-cousin with the ruined face will come back and be proven the true heir,” Lavinia speculates, “and Sir Richard will lose his memory in an unfortunate accident.”
You do like that. “A piano could fall on him.”
“A piano? I think he’d lose a bit more than his memory!”
“A vase, then?”
“A very heavy vase. And we’ll disappear somewhere, the three of us, you and Matthew and I.”
“To the city, or the seaside, or Australia.”
“Live happily ever after?” you suggest, not expecting the peculiar pang the phrase brings.
“Or something like that,” Lavinia replies, smiling.
“That’s a very good story,” you say.
“The sun feels lovely, doesn’t it?” Lavinia says after some silence. “That bit of bite in the air, that just makes it better.”
“Yes. It is nice.”
“Let’s just stay out here until someone finds us and forces us in.” She puts her head on your shoulder, as if you’re sisters – the Jane Austen sort, no less. After a few seconds of awkward uncertainty, you rest your head on top of hers.
Matthew does find you eventually. Lavinia has dozed off – you can tell by the evenness of her breathing – and so it is only the two of you, in a way. You smile up at him, and he smiles back.
To the city, or the seaside, or Australia.
“All right,” he says after a minute or so, and wakes Lavinia with a gentle tap on the cheek. “Back inside.”
“Nurse Crawley’s orders,” you tease.
“Exactly right,” Matthew agrees, straightfaced.
“You’ve become very unbearable, do you know?” Lavinia tells Matthew, smiling as he helps her up.
“You’re a bit of a rebel as far as patients go, yourself,” Matthew retorts fondly.
Lavinia loops her arm through his; on impulse, you take her other arm and win a bit of her smile for yourself. And the three of you walk together back to the house, slowly as you can.