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queen of the castle

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she will never

cover up what we did

with her dress

(she said

‘kiss me

it’ll heal

but it won’t forget.’)

***

 

Mary is worldlier than Lavinia is; worldly and haunted-eyed, calm and still and deadly as a snake. It is her comparative weakness that tempts Mary, she thinks; her weakness and the thought of her with Matthew. Mary may not consciously decide to, but she wants to ruin Lavinia for him.

Honestly, she is quite blasé about the whole thing, which helps to set Lavinia at ease with it all.

And, well— it’s not as if she didn’t go to boarding school, after all. She had known the dark as well as her comrades as a source of privacy and soft, relatively safe pleasures. It wasn’t as if there were any real danger in any of it— they were all heiresses to some small fortune or another, with bright futures ahead of them. They couldn’t exactly ruin those futures for each other with some secretive caresses after the lights were put out.

 

***

 

we were in the gold room

where everyone finally gets what they want.

 

***

 

“Go away ? Don’t be ridiculous,” Mary said, arching a brow and sneering coldly, as if there were nothing more preposterous than the demand that her Sapphic lover be sent off. She wrapped her arm through Lavinia’s, a sharp motion, and raised her chin. “Miss Swire will remain here at Downton for as long as she sees fit.”

Lavinia thought surely there would be some kind of cataclysm, then— that Lord Grantham would drag her bodily from the house in a froth of rage, toss her out and make her walk back to London, friendless and ruined—

but, strangely enough, Lord Grantham seemed to deflate a bit at his eldest child’s words. His face became less purpled with abject fury.

“Honestly, Papa,” Mary went on, folding her hand over Lavinia’s at the crook of her elbow, prim as you please. “It’s not as if I’ll ruin her— or vice versa. Matthew is away fighting, and we need all the comfort we can muster. So what if Miss Swire and I are bosom companions?” It was said so coolly that Lavinia could very nearly believe it herself— that she and Mary were nothing but dear friends who took tea together and shared girlish confidences.

Lord Grantham was already nodding, already accepting that as his truth. As if he wanted nothing so much as to hold that lie close to his heart. “Yes,” he muttered, eyes a thousand yards away. “Yes, of course. Of course. Of course.”

Mary tugged her sharply from the room and Lavinia could hardly catch her breath as she was led out into the gardens, which were unfurling into full bloom at the approach of mid-spring.

“I do believe we need some livening up about the place,” Mary remarked, casually, fingering a tea rose’s petals. Lavinia stopped still and stared at her in disbelief. “What?” She asked, when she noticed the redhead’s gawping. “Oh, that? Honestly, Lav, it’s not like Papa is going to throw me over for something like this. The only people who saw anything are servants. You and I will be perfectly fine. Untouched by scandal. Now, do you think we ought to muster up a party? I do so miss having an opportunity to waltz.”

Lavinia shook her head slightly, which Mary took to mean the matter was closed.

And so, they planned a party.

 

***

 

wanting is

nothing

like

getting.

 

***

 

Mary fits in better at these types of parties than Lavinia would’ve expected— she adapts quickly to it all, a chameleon in silver spangles and silk stockings, the heiress of every hour. The best dancer, for all that she is so aloof. The stoutest drinker, practically foundering on champagne but steadier-footed than the soberest spinster. A goddess in their midst.

Lavinia likes it best when Mary dances and Lavinia does not— when she can watch her across the room, watch the swing of her beaded hems and the way the lights glint off of her coal black hair.

Bachelorette life suits Mary, allowing her to duck out of the mold of the future Lady Grantham. She’s still cruel and lovely, superior and unfeeling, but she has so much more fun in America, getting soused on bootleg liquor as neatly as on smuggled champagne, insulting people in backrooms who don’t know how to start a blood feud over it.

And, oh! Mary’s mouth is the eighth wonder of the world, especially when they have ducked into some private dressing room or other, locked the door behind them and Mary’s gotten down onto her silken knees to put that mouth to (arguably) better use than disparaging the natives.

And when they reappear in the hallway, Mary seems no worse for wear, except for the canary-eating smirk on her glossy mouth, half-hidden behind her champagne flute. Then it is her turn to watch Lavinia dance; the redhead is that much more graceful when she’s just seen the stars, when her knees are so weak she’s got to make a concentrated effort at staying upright. She’s a more enthusiastic dancer than Mary is, anyway, and in America it does not matter that she is married. Married women do as they like here, whether that be lay in bed all day or dance wildly at mysterious island parties thrown by mysterious New Money benefactors.

Lavinia likes them better than parties at Downton, anyway.

And, though she would never admit it, she suspects Mary does as well.

 

***

 

how good it felt, to want something,
and pretend you didn’t,
and get it anyway.

 

***

 

“Chaperone?” Mary looked the picture of surprise, and Lavinia was beginning to realize a pattern in the way she spoke to her parents. Start with a question that seemed to imply they were being ridiculous, then speak as if to a small, unreasonable child. “But Lavinia will be my chaperone, of course! We will take Anna with us, so as to have a proper lady’s maid, and stay with Grandmama when we arrive. What could be more proper than that? And you said it yourself, Papa,” she turned on him in reproach, reminding, with a glint in her eyes. Sometimes, Lavinia didn’t doubt Mrs. Hughes’ opinion that Mary was, in fact, some demon sent to bring ruin upon them all. “I ought to ride out the scandal that Richard will bring in America.”

“Darling,” Cora began, helplessly, “I don’t think that Lavinia wants to spend her first months as a married woman traipsing about with you in America, instead of with her husband.”

Mary practically cackled- Lavinia could see it in the set of her shoulders. Instead, she smiled angelically and turned upon Lavinia herself.

“Oh, but Lavinia knows that Cousin Matthew will be so busy here, and she’s such a dear friend to me that I could not bear to leave her behind when I know she would be so dreadfully lonesome by herself. No offense, Mama, but you must admit that Lavinia and I are closer friends than anyone anticipated we would be.”

She had them; Lavinia could see it plain. Mary had them on the hook, so skillfully that they had no idea they were even caught.

“Well,” Cora said, glancing at her husband and his placid expression. “I suppose …”

 

***

 

see you in the hall like ‘hello, hello’

up against the wall like ‘let’s go, let’s go’

 

***

 

Matthew is all-too-aware of their closeness.

He does not hate them for it. This surprises Lavinia, at first, until she realizes that he hates himself for it, which she should have expected. Matthew believes all things in his world to be caused solely by himself and his own actions. He would’ve blamed himself, had she succumbed to the Spanish flu, of this she is certain. He blamed himself for Mary’s near-engagement to the dreadful Sir Richard Carlisle. He blamed himself for ‘trapping’ her into a match with a cripple.

It was this self-absorption, this preoccupation with his own gravitas, that had made it so easy for Mary to snap her up, she thinks. She’d been an easy mark, feeling second-best and resentful of the notion of being silently resented by her oh-so-noble Matthew Crawley, future Lord Grantham.

He had brought her to Downton knowing full well that she couldn’t handle being Lady Grantham. Not on her own.

This is what made Mary so attractive, too- the knowledge that Mary would have made the perfect Lady Grantham. Perfectly in control of herself, pragmatic, regal.

Except when she was being touched by Lavinia. Under Lavinia’s hands she became the sort of writhing, hungry, dark creature that Lavinia imagines she must’ve been with the Turkish diplomat, Mr. Pamuk.

She likes that side of Mary. Likes being the only one alive to bring it out in her. Likes having a leg up on her martyrish husband in something.

 

***

 

will you still love me
when i’m no longer young and beautiful?

 

***

 

Mr. Douglas is an impossibly rich, impossibly ancient man that Mary hears about from one of her newly-made New York society friends.

Mary’s icily pragmatic nature is never so evident as it is when she’s scheming, conniving. When she’s about to get exactly what she wants, by whatever means necessary.

“Oh, Mr. Douglas,” she says, soft and sweet, the darling English Rose that every American industry king aspires to marry, after she has caught him in an engagement. “I would so dearly love to live near my home. I know there are many estates that have come under the management of realtors near to Downton Abbey… would it be foolish of me to plead my case for one of them to be our home?”

Mr. Douglas practically is eating out of the palm of her hand, and Mary smiles at Lavinia with a triumphant gleam in her eyes. You see, darling? those eyes say I was never going to abandon you.

Lavinia thinks it says something awful about her that she’s relieved by Mary’s web of deceptions succeeding.

She also thinks that she doesn’t particularly care what it makes her; she is quite sick of being respectable.

 

***

 

i wanna wear my tux

and see you in your gown.

 

***

 

They return triumphantly to Downton with Mary’s new husband in tow, toddling behind them on his cane. Reginald Douglas isn’t actually even that insufferable, honestly— he’s rich and childless and the estate he will leave to Mary is gloriously unentailed. He’s also a bit of a wit and he plays a mean hand of gin rummy. He’s content to sit on the settee with a glass of port while she and Mary lounge about or dance to the newest jazz on the gramophone. It’s… pleasant .

Haxby is a labyrinth of an estate that Mary doesn’t even terribly worry about— they chase each other through its cavernous hallways and make love in every closet on the second and third floors.

Matthew doesn’t know what to do with them, it’s clear— not to mention the rest of Downton’s residents. Mary appears to have gone wild in that she cares nothing for what they think of her anymore. The first time she dances the Charleston in front of her grandmother, Lavinia has to nearly crack three ribs in order not to laugh. Her cropped hair gleams like obsidian beneath the Downton ballroom chandelier; her skirts whip against her legs and her grin lights the place up more than electricity could.

 

***

 

like a flame burning brightly,

but when she left, gone was the glow of

blue velvet.

 

***

 

“Oh, Lav—“ Mary says, ardent, and presses her companion up against the wall. “Can’t we go back to New York?” She breathes, smelling of spirits, and Lavinia laughs, a bell of a sound. Mary’s leg insinuates itself between hers. They slipslide against each other, silk stockings and silk skirts.

“You know we can’t,” Lavinia breathes back, but grins anyway into Mary’s mouth. “Not for a while yet.”

Mary laughs, too loud, and Lavinia laughs again too because she adores Mary Crawley, because she adores this, because everything is alright and nothing can touch them.

Nothing.

(They should’ve known better.)

 

***

 

money is the anthem,

(of success.)

 

***

 

“A baby ?” Lavinia repeats, staring at her husband in abject disbelief. “But—“

“Lavinia, I have let this… charade go on for too long!” Matthew thunders, slamming his hand upon the nearest flat surface— a delicate end table that upends, sending china shattering into the ground. She jumps at the sound of it breaking, feels nauseous and trapped. Charade? What she and Mary have— what has Matthew experienced that is as real as what they have? She wants to scream .

She aches inside. “But, a baby— Matthew—“ she tries, and really looks at him, not just letting her eyes skip over his form as she’s dashing out with (or to meet) Mary. His face is pinched and— and ashamed, and that is what he feels when he looks at her. Shame.

“I realize that I have exposed you to this—“ he begins, tightly. “This— Sapphic entanglement. I brought you here, and my selfishness towards both you and— and Mrs. Douglas—“ he trips over Mary’s married name; even after all this time he still loves her and Lavinia cannot even blame him because she loves Mary, too. “Led to this… occasion of sin.”

Her cheeks are hot with anger and embarrassment. “But you have a duty to me. You swore vows to me.” Matthew continues, and scrubs his hands over his face, sounding exhausted.

She wants to weep. She wants to strike him over the head with a vase. She does neither of these things.

“You will bear my heir. You… that is the least of what I can ask of you.” The least, he says, and Lavinia finds herself furious enough, suddenly, to kill him. She wishes she could kill him. “If you do not agree— then… perhaps it is time that we leave Downton. Leave behind everything… start fresh somewhere.” Somewhere without Mary , he means to say. She hears it clearly, hanging unspoken between them.

“A child is not a debt to be paid,” she whispers instead, her voice a quivering thing, something belonging to the easily-frightened girl that did not know Mary Crowley. “Nor a threat to be made.” It is all she can say before she’s hurrying out of the room, up to her boudoir.

 

***

 

your love is my poison

and I’m drinking it down.

 

***

 

She turns her head away from Matthew’s panting mouth, stares blankly at the wall and curls her fingers into her nightdress, bunched at her hips.

For his part, Matthew is not ungentle . It doesn’t hurt. It feels— well, she imagines it would feel quite good, if it weren’t the last thing she’d like to be doing at this moment. If she weren’t so used to Mary’s touch, cool and soft, that Matthew’s makes her repulsed just from the contrast.

Mary , she thinks, and squeezes her eyes shut.

 

***

meet me in the parlor

when no one is around;

it smells just like last year,

show me your anger.

 

***

 

“I’ll kill him.” Mary says, low and deadly. She is stiller than nature, pale as a ghost, an apparition in Lavinia’s sitting room, perched upon the settee. “I will. I will kill him.” Her eyes trace every inch of Lavinia’s face, looking down at her hands, trembling in her lap. She is still so disgusted. She is still so raw. Everything makes her want to cry or vomit or scream.

“You can’t.” Lavinia whispers tonelessly. “Mary, you can’t. What of Downton? The entailment.”

Mary seethes. “Damn Downton!” She thunders, and leaps to her feet. “Damn the entailment! Damn Matthew, and damn my father, and damn everyone in the entire bloody world except for you and I!”

Lavinia stares, at Mary, undone. Mary, succumbed finally to mortality. Mary Crawley, the Snow Queen of Northern England, visibly furious. Mary Crawley, who could burn down the whole country if she were allowed. Mary Crawley, selfishness on high.

“I love you terribly,” Lavinia says, almost in surprise. Almost shocked that she’s saying it aloud. “Mary. Mary, Mary, Mary.” She flings her arms around the other woman and presses their lips together. The daylight streams in around them. Lavinia does not care. She does not care who can see them.

“I would tear them apart with my bare hands for you.” Mary whispers hoarsely, weeping into her soft, peaches-and-cream skin. Overcome by her own emotions.

“I know.” Lavinia murmurs, and strokes over her silken hair, like the goddess Sif’s after Loki had cut it. That had always been one of her favorite stories as a child.

Sif, a goddess of war.

Mary Crawley-Douglas, an English Sif in the flesh.

 

***

 

i won’t lie and say i’m sorry when i’m not

 

***

 

She endures the coupling thrice more.

After the fourth time of her staring in the opposite direction from Matthew’s gasping face, she misses her courses. The doctor confirms the pregnancy, and Mary embraces her for a long, long time.

“A boy,” Mary murmurs, and closes her eyes. Her lashes are soft as a monarch butterfly’s fluttering against Lavinia’s cheek. “It will be a boy.” She speaks it with as much conviction as one might say the sky is blue.

Mary is planning something, her face wan and pale and her mouth drawn tight and furious at all hours of the day. She smiles with icicle chill.

“A boy,” Lavinia agrees, and wonders what if it’s not?

 

***

 

Christmas comes to Downton, and they all rejoice. They all arrive at Downton, and everyone is gay and gorgeous and alive, and Lavinia’s stomach has rounded sweetly with the pregnancy. She doesn’t even mind it, she finds. She adores feeling the kicks of her child inside, adores the way Mary smooths a hand over the center of it, casually proprietary, as if she knows that this baby will be partly hers, too.

Matthew avoids her, stiltedly refers to her as darling or my love or madam when he speaks to her at all. She walks on eggshells around him, and counts the hours until she can go back to Haxby, to Mary, even to dear old Mr. Douglas, who smiles jollily at her and inquires after her health every time he sees her.

Mary tugs her into an unused sitting room on the ground floor, away from everyone. “Happy Christmas, my darling,” she whispers, pressing her red-painted mouth to the very corner of Lavinia’s lips. Her deft fingers tug off Lavinia’s right glove, and then something cool slides onto her ring finger.

It’s a ring, of course, a sweetly-set thing on a dainty band, a stylized flower made of diamonds. Very much so an engagement ring, and Lavinia looks at Mary in rosy-cheeked shock.

“I know it’s not official-” Mary says, half-apologetic, before she shakes herself and stands straight. “You and I, Lavinia Swire. Lavinia Crowley. You and I, and no others. It will be so.” It’s a vow, and the kiss she presses to Lavinia’s cheek is sweet, drugging. She smells of her heady French perfume, the kind she only brings out when there’s a party.

The rest of the night is a blur of food and party games and dancing and everyone else drinking, and Lavinia is so tired by the end of the evening that she’s very nearly asleep on the sofa, when all of the commotion happens.

The commotion being, of course, that Matthew has fallen down the stairs and is quite, quite dead.

 

***

 

i thought that i was dreaming
when you said you loved me.

 

***

 

Lavinia cries numbly for three days, uncomprehending. The doctor gives her sedatives, though nothing too heavy that it would harm what is potentially the next Earl of Grantham, residing in her womb.

She cries not entirely from sorrow and not entirely from relief, but some confusing mixture of the two, and hears from Mrs. Crawley that Mary has also shut herself away in her grand bedroom at Haxby to weep inconsolably.

(Lavinia wonders if it’s for guilt or for mourning the man who had once been the love of her life, her other half, the man she wanted more than anything. She has enough sense, even drugged and sobbing, not to breathe even half a word of this to anyone.)

On the fourth day, they bury Matthew.

On the fifth, Lavinia rushes off in the night to Haxby, swathed in haphazard mourning blacks in the backseat of the car that the Earl had lent them use of for the duration, choking on her own indecision.

There is no more of that when she sees Mary, though- she flies into Mary’s arms like a child reunited with its mother, like a moth drawn to a flame, and lets herself shake apart in Mary’s strong, willowy grasp. They end up in the drawing room, tearstained and unconscious on the sofa, and wake to the maids bringing tea and hot compresses for their faces, blankets draped over them and Lavinia’s hastily-discarded shoes settled neatly in such a way that she can just slip right into them when she stands up.

“You and I,” Lavinia whispers to Mary’s back, curled into the sofa deeply with the blankets wrapped around her shoulders. Mary’s shoulders tense and hunch and then straighten again.

“Yes,” she murmurs, and half-turns her head. “You’ve got the idea, now, Mrs. Crawley.”

 

***

 

you outshine the morning sun,

my son.

 

***

 

Ge orge is born early in the afternoon on a Monday, and Lavinia screams herself hoarse with the effort of bringing him into this world.

Mary perches silently at her side, unafraid. Unmoved by disgust or terror. Mary wipes the sweat from her brow and murmurs there’s a darling girl every time Lavinia cries out with pain.

George is born and everyone exclaims a boy! A boy! and Mary kisses her full on the mouth, lush and warm and so proud.

“I told you,” Mary says, triumphant. Glorious. Sif, indeed.

“I love you,” Lavinia says, and then she has her arms full of squalling infant.

She looks up at Mary, enthralled by the sight of her so like Madonna and Child, and then laughs. “Here, take him.” She puts the child into Mary’s arms, laughs when Mary pulls a face so very like horror.

“I love you,” Lavinia laughs, and keeps laughing. “I love you, I love you, I love you.” She doesn’t know if she’s speaking entirely to Mary or entirely to young Georgie, or maybe to both. She loves them both with a wide and vast enormity that rivals the Atlantic.

 

***

god bless the daylight
the sugary smell of springtime.

 

***