"Good-bye, then," she managed, memorizing the texture of his cheek as trembling lips brushed rough smoothness, absorbing the scent of his uniform as it mingled with the fumes from the train. The blue of his eyes pierced her soul, their hue somehow even more startling in the marked contrast to the grayness of the morning.
She sealed her own eyes shut…pressing these small nuances into her memory just in case… Just in case.
"And such good luck."
The words were nearly a sob, the trembling of her hands somehow keeping threatening tears at bay as she took in every detail of his face. Every detail. She hated herself at that moment, feeling responsible for the fact that he was leaving, thrusting himself into a war he should never have to fight. Her own indecision knifed her gut yet again, and she knew that if anything happened to him…
No—she could not allow such thoughts to even gain a foothold. He would return…would survive…would inherit Downton, marry Lavinia…
She turned to go, knowing she would shatter before him if she didn't flee immediately. But a strong hand clasped her upper arm, preventing her escape, drawing her closer to her own undoing. His gloved palm cupped her cheek, seeing something on her face that would not allow him to let her go. Dark eyes rounded, teeth unconsciously biting her bottom lip, giving away just enough… just enough.
Lips touched down softly, asking, seeking, needing to know. And her response was quivering, overwhelmed, and finally open. Arms wound themselves tightly around bodies, clasping everything close as mouths refused to break contact. She had no idea if the dampness on her cheeks came from his tears or her own, not caring about anything except the heat of his lips, the warmth of his mouth, and the unvoiced feelings pouring from one to the other before time forced their hand.
For this moment, he was hers, searing her heart with the same ferocity with which his tongue branded the very air filling her lungs.
The whistle of a train tore at her, leaving legs shaking as he leaned back and looked at her as he never had.
The world darkened around her, blocking everything from her sight but him as she forced herself to breathe.
"Remember—you promised to bring it back safely."
The smile never reached his eyes, but lips dared one last lingering kiss, his hand a final stroke of her cheek before he turned to board the train. To leave her. She watched until he was no longer visible, a fragment of her heart borne away with him, lost into the wafting steam. She covered her mouth, sealing in the imprint of his kiss while blocking the sobs she knew would overtake her in the privacy of her bedroom. Both fear and regret were chocked down in a swallow, an act of defiance to the deathly stillness of empty tracks.
Then she left behind a whisper—a summons, a prayer, before beginning the lonely journey back to the walls of her home.
"You promised, Matthew. Remember—you promised."