silvestria (silvestria) wrote,

University Challenge, Chapter Seventeen

Title: University Challenge
Fandom: Downton Abbey
Author: Silvestria
Rating: PG-13/T
Summary: Modern university AU. Mary is an Oxbridge reject with a past, Anna and John are in the friendship zone, Sybil has a secret life at the weekends, Matthew and Lavinia are stuck in a rut, and Downton is owned by the National Trust. Drama and hijinks naturally ensue.
Genre: Romance/Friendship

Read Chapter Sixteen here!

Chapter Seventeen

Mary woke up to blinding sunshine streaming through the light curtains of the sitting room and felt instantly aware of being very uncomfortable. Her mouth felt furry from not having brushed her teeth the previous night, her eyelids when she opened them were stuck together with make-up, her short, tight dress had ridden up her thighs and felt shorter and tighter than ever, and it was never pleasant to sleep in tights. Hot, sticky, unrefreshed as she was, her second impression on waking up was a kind of new but entirely delightful realisation that she was not alone. An arm across her stomach kept her in place on the narrow sofa and the regular breathing that warmed the back of her neck was both exciting and soothing at the same time.

Mary blinked a few times, rather uncomfortably, and shifted experimentally, trying to work out where exactly her body brushed against his (most places) and whether she could move and stretch without waking him (unlikely). Her legs were stiff and one foot had almost gone to sleep. She wriggled, flexing first one foot and then the other, trying to disturb him as little as possible, but it didn’t quite work. Matthew made a quiet, content, snuffling noise against her shoulder and her breath caught in instant, uncontrollable reaction. She stiffened, not knowing quite how to respond and, as his arm moved unconsciously against her belly in a caress, she jerked in surprise and overbalanced, sliding ungracefully to the floor.

The thump, the “oh!” that she could not hold back, and the loss of her warmth against him was enough to wake Matthew up. He sat up directly in shock, his eyes opening and staring straight at her.

“Oh my God!” he exclaimed, sounding so surprised it was hard to hold back a burst of laughter.

For a moment she stared back at him from where she was sprawled on the floor, her heart pounding, and then his expression softened as he looked at her properly.


The desire to laugh faded and she could not help the slow smile that blossomed on her face.


They stared at each other, not moving, for what felt an eternity. Finally, when Matthew could be sure that she was really there and not going to run he stretched out a hand and gently tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, his hand lingering on her cheek.

“Are you alright?”

Her lips twitched up further. “Are you?”

“I'm so glad to be here... with you,” he replied, his eyes glowing at her and her lips parted in wonder and disbelief that such an expression should be aimed at her.

She broke their eye contact and scrambled to her feet with as much dignity as she could, her tights slipping on the floorboards. Matthew stared up at her.

“I should – I should shower.” Her fingers knotted in front of her as she looked at him in indecision, taking in his ruffled hair, crumpled shirt, and the space next to him on the sofa that she had occupied. On a whim, she bent down and kissed him quickly on the lips before darting away and up the stairs before she could see the look of stupefied longing on his face.

Once upstairs, she went straight into the bathroom and locked the door behind her, taking deep breaths as she leaned on the sink, only raising her eyes to her reflection in the mirror after a few moments had passed. She looked a complete fright, as she had known she had to: blowzy hair, caked make-up – and yet he had looked at her as if... as if she were the most wondrous thing in the universe. It was too much to take in. She undressed as quickly as she could, sighing in relief at finally being out of the constricting party clothes, and stepped into the shower, turning the temperature up.

She remained in the shower as long as she dared, washing away all traces of the previous night's party and shampooing her hair several times. Only when someone started banging on the door did she jump out, wrap herself in a large towel and open the door a crack. It was Sybil, wearing Mary's silk dressing gown. She brushed past her sister, making a dive for the toilet bowl where she retched, miserably. Mary watched her, torn between anger at having her shower interrupted, irritation towards Sybil which was coming back to her despite her reluctance to think about it, and a kind of desperate pity. When she came up for air, Mary handed her the tissue box in silence.

They went back to the bedroom and Sybil crawled into the bed to sip her water while Mary got dressed.

“You really are pregnant then,” she said eventually.

“I guess.”

A part of Mary had hoped it had all been some terrible mistake or a bad dream but the frightening sight of her little sister suffering from morning sickness before her very eyes had cured her of that delusion. “How do you feel?”

Sybil just groaned.

This she was less sympathetic about. “Serves you right for drinking too much last night!” She swung round to face her. “Sybil, what were you thinking? Don't you know what the consequences of drinking alcohol are when you're pregnant?”

“I didn't know I was pregnant, did I?” she shot back, folding her arms over her chest.

Mary rolled her eyes. “Oh, because people who don't think they're pregnant take pregnancy tests all the time!”

“Leave it alone, can't you?”

“Why should I? No-one else will.” She sighed. “I don't know how I feel about you right now but if you think I'm going to suddenly forget this then you're quite wrong.” She turned back to the vanity table and began to re-apply her make-up.

Sybil watched her in sulky silence for a minute before saying very reluctantly, “Why do you think I waited until I was here to do it then?”

Mary looked up, meeting her eyes in the mirror. “Why did you?”

“Well, better you than Mummy.”

“Better me than – Good Lord, do you think you can keep this from her?”

“Yes! No, I mean, obviously not forever but I don't have to talk to her just yet, do I?”

“That depends on what you decide to do,” mused Mary in response, judiciously tilting her head as she considered the effects of her mascara before adding casually, “Oh, and Matthew's here.”

Sybil had looked down at the bed clothes. Now her head shot up again. “Matthew? What's he doing? Why is he here?”

“Don't you remember anything from last night? He brought you home after you passed out at the party.”

Her expression was blank. “I don't remember... Why's he still here? Where did he sleep?”

“On the sofa.”

“He slept on the sofa.” She considered this. “Where did you sleep?”

“On the sofa,” repeated Mary coolly, her face so close to the mirror that it was impossible to distinguish her blush.

“Mary...” Her sister could hear the growing smugness in Sybil's voice. “Is there anything you want to tell me?”

“I don't think my kissing Matthew Crawley is quite on a level with you being pregnant, is it? I wouldn't want to rain on your parade, darling.”

“Oh for God's sake!” scoffed Sybil. “Like that's the point. But seriously, you kissed? That's amazing but what are you still here for? What's up with that? Matthew's downstairs and you've been poking at your face for about half an hour now and you can't even tell.”

Mary sat back on her stool and flung out her arms. “Unlike you, I like my make-up to be subtle. And I haven't even blow dried my hair yet anyway.”

Sybil slid off the bed and winced before crossing the room to stand behind her sister. “Rubbish. As if Matthew will care two straws about your hair being wet. Go! I need to get my clothes from downstairs anyway.”

She half pushed her off the stool and towards the door, following close behind. Her hand on the handle, Mary stopped and turned. “I told him – about you being pregnant.”

Sybil's eyes widened. “You told him? Mary, why-”

“I'm sorry.” She twisted her head away with a sigh. “I just – I needed to tell someone. I didn't mean to. He won't breathe a word.”

“That's not really the point though, is it?”

Without waiting for any reply, she opened the door and called down the stairs. “Matthew?” She clutched Mary's dressing gown more tightly round her.

Immediately Matthew's head popped round the sitting room door as if he had been standing close to it. He grinned up at the sisters. “Morning, Sybil! How do you feel today?”

“Much better, thanks. Head still throbbing like hell but I'll live.” She began to descend the stairs, clutching the bannister rather more tightly than she would normally do. Mary, hovering on the landing, thought Matthew's continued presence was a good thing if only because it forced Sybil to behave herself. “Mary told me what you did for me last night. It was kind of you.”

“Oh, any time...”

He had raised his eyes to find Mary's, Sybil already forgotten as she passed him. Judging from his expression, he did not look like someone who cared about her make-up being only half done and her hair being wet. Taking a deep breath and smiling a bit unnaturally, she ran lightly down the stairs to join him. As she reached him, he caught her wrist and drew her close to him, raising one hand to stroke her cheek.

“You're so...” His eyes flickered over her face and she could see his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed. “So beautiful.”

She barely breathed, her lips parting. It was the loveliest compliment she had ever heard and she leaned in to meet him as he brushed his lips against hers, gently at first but with increasing intent as she responded.

“I can't find one of my shoes!” called Sybil from the sitting room and Mary pulled away reluctantly.

“Try under the bookcase!” she called back, rolling her eyes at Matthew in apology. She stepped away from him, but he kept hold of one her hands as long as he could, until he was forced to let go, his fingers sliding from hers as she preceded him into the room.

“Oh!” she exclaimed as she entered. “You really shouldn't have.”

While she and Sybil had been upstairs, Matthew had cleared away all the mess from the previous night and started on the washing up.

He gave her a lopsided smile. “That's okay. I'm sure you've got things to discuss.”

Sybil emerged triumphantly from where she had been scrabbling about on the floor, shoe in hand. Mary half smiled and suppressed a sigh. “I suppose we do.”

“But I do hope you'll give me a look in at some point even so,” he added, taking her hand again and looking at her very intensely. He released her and went back to the kitchen, leaving her feeling suddenly light-headed.

Her eyes still on Matthew's back, she addressed her sister. “Darling, come and sit down with me. We need to consider what you're going to do. There's someone you need to talk to before you even think about Mummy.”

“You mean Tom, I guess.” She flopped down next to Mary.

“I should think so. How do you think he'll react?”

Sybil made a face. “How should I know? It's not like we spend all our time talking about babies.”

“I can't help wondering whether you spend any time talking at all!”

Out of the corner of her eye at the sink, Mary saw Matthew's lips twitch.

“What if he hates me?” asked her sister after a pause. “What if he wants nothing to do with me? He's only a guy and we're just – we're just dating! It's not been exactly serious.”

“Well, it's serious now whether you like it or not. I should be prepared for him turning tail though,” she added a bit too complacently for Sybil's liking.

“Mary! You're hoping that he dumps me! How could you?”

She rolled her eyes. “You have to admit it would be easier to deal with Mummy and Daddy if Tom isn't in the picture.”

“That's a horrible thing to say! And Tom's – he's fine. I know he'll stick by me – whatever happens. We're not all as cynical as you.”

“No need to get defensive; it's a valid point.” She smiled up at Matthew as he crossed the room and handed her a glass of orange juice. “And I'm not so very cynical, not all the time anyway.”

He had lived with her for a week and remembered what she liked to drink in the morning.

“Do you want anything, Sybil?”

She shook her head and Matthew retreated back to the washing up.

“This is beyond the call of duty,” Mary shot after him.

“I'm sure you can make it up to me later!” he murmured just loud enough for her to hear and her eyes widened. Sybil looked between them keenly – she was enjoying herself too much – and Mary quickly continued, “So when are you going to tell him?”

“I could tell him tomorrow,” she replied reluctantly. “Otherwise I don't know when I'll see him.”

“Tomorrow! That's very – will Mummy let you go out so soon after getting back to London?”

“Oh, she knows all about it. It's Livia Fitzgerald's seventeenth and she's getting The Tomcats to play.”

“A party. I see. Yes, you could catch him then.”


She lapsed into silence and Mary sipped her orange juice, distracted by watching Matthew's shirt stretch over his shoulders and thinking about just what making it up to him would consist of and when on earth she would get a chance.

“Will you come?”

Mary's eyes snapped over to her sister. “What?”

“Will you come with me to the party?”

“Sybil, I-” She bit down a retort at the pleading expression in her eyes. “What good would I be? I'm not telling him for you if that's what you're wondering!”

“No! But you could – you could meet him and then that might help when I tell Mummy... And you'd be there if – if something went wrong.”

“What makes you think my meeting your twenty-two year old car mechanic boyfriend with no A Levels would be at all helpful to anyone? Anyway, it's in London and I have an exam next week.”

Sybil stood up abruptly. “Aren't you on my side? I thought I could count on you at least!” Her bottom lip trembled dangerously.

“I'm on your side, darling; that doesn't mean I'm on his.”

“Can't you at least think about it?”

Mary shrugged expressively and promised she would think about it. She also had to think about Matthew and was happening between them and she needed to think about Anna and what was happening to her. As the thought occurred to her, she grabbed her iphone – no messages or missed calls. She put it back down, feeling a shiver of worry. But surely if something had happened, Anna would have called her? Hopefully she was still asleep at Gwen's. It was still quite early.

There was a lack of clattering from the kitchen. Matthew had wandered over to them and looked between them rather diffidently.

“I couldn't help overhearing and – you can tell me to get lost if you want but – would it make any difference if I came too?”

“You?” Mary's eyes opened very wide. “Why?”

He stuck his hands in his trouser pockets and smiled faintly at her. “Because then you could support Sybil and I could support you. I've finished my exams, I don't need to start looking for a flat in Edinburgh yet, and I would really like to spend time with you, even if that is on a train and crashing a birthday party.”

It was left to Sybil to say, “That's so sweet!” and touch his arm in gratitude. Mary just stared up at him, feeling confused at why anybody would want to put up with so much inconvenience even to spend the weekend with her. She wouldn't have volunteered to do it, she didn't think, if their situations had been reversed.

She swallowed. “Well... What kind of party is it? If it's pass the parcel and balloons then I'm not doing it and Matthew certainly isn't.”

Sybil laughed. “She's seventeen, not seven! It's going to be an absolutely massive gig at their house in Wimbledon with plenty of adults doing their networking stuff while we party. You know what Mr. Fitzgerald's like – never misses an opportunity for doing business. Liv's making it themed – characters from fantasy.”

“Oh God. Olivia always was a bit nerdy, wasn't she?” Mary made a face. “What are you going as?”

“I'm going as Princess Leia. I got the bikini off the internet last week.”

“You're pregnant and you're going as – You know what, I don't care. We'll discuss it later.”

She was acutely aware of Matthew standing there, of not quite knowing what to do with him, of not having any kind of plan for how to deal with Sybil, and of starting to feel really in the need of a proper breakfast.

Once again, Matthew came to the rescue without even knowing he needed to. “Look, Mary, you're not the only one who needs a shower this morning and I'm just in the way right now. I'll go home now and change and then if you like we can have brunch in an hour or so?”

Brunch! She stood up to face him, feeling a sense of unreality wash over her. But she could not help smiling in response. “Alright. That sounds nice.”

It was a rather unsatisfactory reply but he grinned happily anyway. “I'll be back soon then.”

He picked up his jacket and slung it over his arm and then crossed back to her, drawing her into an embrace and kissing her cheek, holding her close a moment longer than was strictly appropriate as she let her eyes close just for a second as she revelled in his warmth and stability. Then he drew away, gave Sybil a quick hug too, and was gone. Mary felt instantly bereft.

“Now he's a keeper!” commented Sybil sounding amused and a bit envious, and she spun round.

“I'm not sure I exactly have him,” she replied lightly, clearing up her empty glass to cover her sudden embarrassment, “so it's a bit early to talk about keeping him. He's not even asked me out.”

Behind her, her sister laughed lightly. “He doesn't need to!”

As she automatically put the glass in the sink and turned on the tap, her heart beat faster and she wondered about what their relationship was now – and what it was becoming.

Read Chapter Eighteen here!
Tags: downton abbey, fanfiction, matthew/mary, romance, university challenge

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