zulu_ottawa (zulu_ottawa) wrote,
zulu_ottawa
zulu_ottawa

a great lament

A/N: This has gone through many evolutions – at first just to help my grief over the CS – but as more was publicized about S4 and a suitor was named, I had so many questions that I decided to build his character myself. Though I'm sure the canon Lord Anthony will be nothing like this one. Infinite thanks to lovexwentxred for putting up with my insanity; you are my stick, darling.


i.

you've shown me I've been living in a dream, and now it's time to return to real life.





September, 1921

"How?"

Her father clung to the rungs at the foot of the bed, his shoulders hunched. She watched them shudder, suddenly wanting to crawl across the bed and hug him, shake the words out of his mouth. "The car..." He stopped and started and stopped and wiped his eyes, turning to look at the wall. "The car crushed – "

"Is he here?"

"The lorry driver brought him in but Mary you don't want – "

"I will see him." She could hear how cold she sounded, could feel her eyes losing focus, the baby a weight on her chest, a weight that turned cold but did not leave even as she passed him to his grandfather. "You know I'm no good at hanging back." Mary did not wait to see how he held her son. Her body ached, but she moved down the hall and toward the infirmary with one hand against the wall, like she was blind, palm pressed flat to ease the claustrophobia rising in her lungs. A man sat at the far end of the corridor wringing a hat in his hands, and he stood when he saw her. He lowered his gaze to the floor.

It was like 1918, dark panelled walls, the white shroud of screens around the only occupied bed. On any terms, she thought, I promised on any terms. How did she steel herself before? He was not hers then, she did not know how he acted throughout an entire day, how he slept and woke. She pulled back the screen and it was not the chaos she expected, but just him, on a bed nearly too short for his frame, shoulders arcing up, hands curled.

"Oh, Matthew." She felt the same flood of emotion as years ago, the same helplessness, the same silent pleading for him to open his eyes. She did not know where to put her hands. "Darling." Of their own accord they fisted into his shirt, like she could pull him from this if she were willing. It was a simple thing. Just her palms to his ribs and the cruel glare of her wedding rings, over his heart.

"Mary." She looked up sharply to her mother, holding her hand out, shaking. "Come away, dear."

"No," she immediately snapped. "I – no." Her fingers relaxed against the fabric. "Could nothing... ?"

"You must go back to your son," Cora said. Her voice cracked on the last word. Our son, ours, us, Mary thought, as her mother's hand went to her mouth.

She stared at his face. She carded her fingers through his hair, cool, but not as cool as his skin, grey-shadowed even in the fiery light of sunset that was beginning to tint the walls. "Please go," she whispered to Cora.

Cora went with a silence that was foreign to her, and the room hissed, exhaled, Mary's hands finally finding his. There was no movement of his thumb across her knuckles, the action she had grown so used to, and this was what made her cry in a way she could not with anyone else.

He had seen every sharp edge and softened it, had argued until it became stubborn flirtation, and whenever she spoke he had listened to her words but looked behind them too.





Robert was sat on the edge of the bed, cradling the baby, speaking to him in a low, soft voice. "He was alone," she said, sitting beside him. Cora stood at the edge of the room. Mary reached out for her son, who squawked at the transfer but settled against her. Her father touched his palm to the back of her head, something he had not done since she was small. "My darling girl, I'm – " he said, choked, leaning with elbows on knees to collect himself.

"I should see to Isobel," Cora said, gaze darting to her husband's slumped form. Her hands flitted, and she stepped forward but stopped herself as Robert took a shuddering breath. Mary pressed her eyes shut.

"He needs a name," her father whispered. Mary met his bloodshot eyes and felt tears well.

It was an ache. It was an ache that would not go. "Not yet," she said fiercely, drawing the blankets around her son's waving hands. "My first task is to bury my husband."





It had been calla lilies at the wedding and it was calla lilies now, at the front of the church, on the grave, in her hands. They were the only white in the room, aside from the baby's shawl. He was passed to her mother when she noticed Mary's legs shaking, eyes tracking the coffin back down the aisle to the churchyard, carried on the shoulders of her father and Carson, Moseley, Thomas, James and Tom.

Cora held the baby as Matthew was lowered into the earth. She could avert her eyes from Mary, who was stood still and straight, gloved hands clasped, Violet and Isobel flanking her. The first handful of dirt hit the coffin, the rite finished – in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life – and everyone began to turn away.

Mary did not move. She thought of Matthew stood at another grave not far from this one, leant on a cane, gold and black and so pale, such pale eyes. We're cursed, you and I. I will love you until the last breath leaves my body. She knew he had, he'd said it, but still her son would never hear him, would be held once by him but not remember it. The boy cried behind her and Cora hushed him, but Mary turned quickly and held her arms out, a sudden, spearing ferocity in her chest. "He mustn't get cold," she heard herself say, looking at his slow blinking eyes, the foggy blue of them. The feeling was protectiveness, she realized, something maternal, you are going to be such a wonderful mother. She tightened her grip. "We must take him back to the house."

She felt Granny's hand on her shoulder, patting, gentle, the clawed bones caught up in black lace, as though she was saying 'good girl, good brave girl, you will make it through as I have, as we all must carry on.'





People offered condolences, milling past her in a neat queue. He watched her smiles and polite acceptance, but he could see her twisting her wedding rings over when she thought no-one was looking. She settled back into a corner of the room, passing a hand over her forehead, then slipped beyond the pillars and up the staircase quickly. He knew where she would be going.

The house was awkward and stuffy and cavernously hollow, as it had been after Sybil. Too often it's been like this, he thought, setting down the drink he held but hadn't touched, and heading up the stairs himself.

The nursery had been a calming place, just him and Sybbie, but now it was to be a shared sanctuary. Mary sat at the window seat, watching the cars depart, and Sybbie reached up for him from her crib with insistent hands. She was heavy on his hip now, her cheeks rosy from her nap.

Mary's face was white in the harsh sunlight in the window. "You know, Matthew was insistent on William, but I feel I must name him after his father," she said.

Tom nodded, Sybbie squirming and settling into him, batting a hand against his cheek.

"I'm certain he'll look like him," she said, meeting Tom's gaze. "He already has his eyes." They were turning paler by the day, but there was something of Mary's delicacy in his face, his dark hair, and Tom found himself imagining a slip of a boy with his mother's elegance. If he thought of what Sybbie might look like he always saw his wife's face more than his own. He wanted to cry at the cruelty, that what they were left with was to find the dearest parts of their spouse's souls in other people.

"I don't think I could shorten it. Not like Sybbie. Would that make it terribly difficult, do you think?"

"At first. But they've their own personality, in time." He swallowed. "You'd be giving him a strong, honest name."

"Papa might approve, I suppose."

Sybbie babbled, and he put his palm against her back to soothe her. "It's only your decision, Mary," he said roughly.

"Well then." She rocked the baby, constantly moving in a way he recognized as concentration, keeping away the stir of memory that could flood in staying still. "Matthew William Crawley," she whispered into his downy hair. "My only boy."





October, 1921

Moseley asked in his stilted way if she wanted him to do it, but she flat out refused. She didn't spare time on feeling guilty, not yet, not when the augean task was still set. She had thought, each night since the funeral, of what she would keep. For her, for her son, some things that might go back to Isobel. It felt insurmountable, so she started simply, locking herself in his dressing room first, and opening the wardrobe. Suits and shirts and shoes, two overcoats; a trunk at the bottom she knew held his uniforms. She took inventory, as Violet had told her was the only way to apply method. Pulling each item out, the feel of wool and cotton on her palms, set sickness in her stomach and she had to sit more than once to still the feeling. His smell was there, caught in the fibres of the room. It was strongest in one thing, a brown tweed jacket, the one they had found flung across the seat of the upturned car. It was entirely clean, silk lining slipping past her fingers as she folded it and set it aside from the rest. She lingered over his morning suit, but put it in the pile to be taken away.

The trunk was an effort to pull from the back of the wardrobe, thunking loudly on the carpet. Black leather, brass corners tarnished, the clasps shining where thumbs had flipped them open countless times. Train postages crackled over the surface, peeling edges with a thin film of French wording – Gare du Nord, Calais. When she opened the lid, it smelled of cordite and leather.

He had never shown her this. You've lived your life, and I've lived mine.

It was all folded up so startlingly neatly, the greatcoat over the tunic and trousers, riding boots laid flat and tucked to the side. Under one uniform, the red flash of another, the colour causing her nausea to return. His mess jacket was folded with the lapels facing up, and she removed it delicately, setting it next to his other jacket to be kept. It felt strangely intrusive, unpacking this life he had led so separately from her and from Downton, four years he'd hardly spoke of. She'd never seen these things for their true functionality, their unwashed torn edges, mud-caked or worse. What she had seen was the gleam and the glory and if she closed her eyes she could picture him at the end of the great hall, the library, looking at her with pride or diffidence. I'd never have cast you as Florence Nightingale; I'm very glad to see you looking so well.

Beneath the mess uniform were the smaller mechanical possessions. Tucked in his upturned helmet was a canvas bag (gas mask), a whistle (tarnished) on a long rope, a leather belt and gold aiguillette braid. She weighed the leather pouch that held the pistol in her hands. Pushing past the dark panic in her chest, she placed the weapon back next to the helmet. She would not think of the amounts of shots it had fired, or the fact of why he had told her that he was a poor shot with double guns.

Last was a small parcel folded in his cap, documents, tickets, one photograph of him in uniform dated 1915, when he was still a Lieutenant. He stared at her solemnly, and she smoothed her thumb over the still-crisp edge of the paper. It wasn't pride, but a sort of shame she felt gazing at it, so recognizably him, but with age in his face that wasn't as she'd known him. She wondered if this was how he had thought of himself in that time, maturing but as another man, far removed. To simply survive, to do what was asked, duty, was to shut off everything he'd been before and he wouldn't dare think of after, wouldn't dare tempt fate or an enemy bullet in that way. It was two days after Sybil that he'd told her this, in the aftermath on nights when they felt anything could be voiced.

"I have nightmares. Not often, but when – what would you do if I woke up screaming at you in German?"

He'd never been so forward with it, and despite her aching grief she had no reaction but to joke. "I'd be unsympathetic to your disturbing my sleep."

His small laugh. "Seriously, Mary."

Her hand smoothing across his ribs. "I wouldn't say a word until you were ready to tell me."

You'd be as nice as you are." His palm curling around her shoulder.

She had had to show him only once, his whole body shaking, and it was the third time she'd ever seen him cry but in the most panicked way. She hummed and rocked and his breath hiccuped under her hands on his back, blooming hot on her shoulder, his teeth scraping there as his mouth shut. "It's all right. It's perfectly all right," she whispered, her palms moving to his lower back, bumping over his spine, and he clung so tightly she was sure he would tear the fabric of her nightgown.

She kept the greatcoat, too, though she did not know exactly why. Something of her reasoning was still rooted at the train station, the dog she found in his right pocket along with a silver pocket watch. His gloves were in the left with the thumb seams coming unpicked. There was little she kept out of the rest of the house. Three photographs (wedding, uniform, the one she had prayed to), and a book of Greek myths she could only ever read in his voice.

(ch.2)

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