Room 40, Admiralty Building, Whitehall, London, England, December 1918
Matthew organized the papers on his desk in neat piles. One of the office girls came by with a cart and he placed a small stack of books into one of the boxes. Glancing back at his desk, he smiled and nodded to the girl and she pushed the cart away.
Staring back at the piles of papers for a moment, Matthew blinked and opened the drawer of his desk. He smiled as he removed several notebooks. Flipping the first one open, he chuckled to himself as he perused his old notes.
"Don't let them take that one," Nigel said, grinning at him. "You should hang on to that and try and publish it. Could be worth something someday."
"Hardly," Matthew laughed, closing the notebook and setting it aside with the others. "Just the scribblings of a very confused and intimidated young man. God, has it really been over two years?"
"What is it they say about time?" Nigel asked.
Matthew looked up at him. "It waits for no man?" he asked.
"Yes, and it flies?" Nigel suggested.
"I suppose one could say we had our fair share of fun, didn't we?" Matthew asked, looking around the room as staff were moving about packing up.
"More so than the soldiers did," Nigel nodded. "You're sure that you won't stay on?"
"I am sure," Matthew smiled confidently. "Reverend Montgomery spent all last week trying to sway me, but with the War over, I'm no longer needed here. This was a reprieve, a welcome blessing that rescued me from spending the last two years in the trenches, or worse. But, it's time to get back to the real world and stop playing at being a spy. I'm not cut out for this as a full time occupation, and I certainly don't trust myself to teach anyone else how to do it. I'll leave the future of British Intelligence to the experts."
"You just want to return to a country life in Yorkshire with your wife and children," Nigel smiled.
"Most definitely," Matthew agreed happily.
"We'll miss you, Matthew. You have skill," Nigel said. "Perhaps we'll try and lure you back when we're faced with a particularly difficult challenge in the future."
"You know where to find me," Matthew said, extending his hand. "Good luck to you, Nigel."
Nigel de Grey shook Matthew's hand warmly. "And to you, Matthew."
Downton Abbey, Yorkshire, England, December 1918
"Where did these come from?" Matthew frowned as he came into the dining room and looked at the large floral arrangements on the table.
"Don't say anything," Mary scolded him lightly as they walked over and took their seats. "They're for Edith."
"Whatever for?" Matthew frowned.
"You'll see," Mary smiled as she glanced across the table and shared a knowing glance with Cora and Sybil.
Edith and Sir Anthony were soon announced by Carson as they came into the room. Greeting Violet and Cora, Edith sat down next to Sybil while Sir Anthony took his seat next to Matthew across the table.
"Perfect timing," Robert smiled at his daughter. "We're all quite starving."
"My apologies," Sir Anthony waved his hand. "I'm afraid I delayed us. Edith was ready some time ago."
"It's fine," Edith smiled at him. "Papa wasn't bothered for waiting."
"I certainly was not," Robert nodded, looking over at Carson and motioning him to serve luncheon. "Though we are rather eager for information, as well as food."
"Yes," Cora said anxiously. "So, what is my newest granddaughter's name?"
Anthony looked over at Edith and they shared a smile and a nod.
"We've decided to name her Marigold after reading A Winter's Tale," Edith said proudly.
There were polite smiles around the table as everyone weighed the name.
"The flower has been prized since medieval times for its healing properties and in our new world with the War finally having ended we thought it was appropriate," Edith nodded.
"George, Stella and now Marigold," Violet declared, pondering each of the babies' names. "They're all quite nice sounding names, aren't they?"
"They are," Mary agreed, giving Edith a polite smile. Marigold was not a name she would consider, but it was no concern of hers what Edith chose to name her child.
"To Marigold," Robert said proudly, lifting his glass.
"Here, Here," Matthew agreed, raising his own glass towards Sir Anthony. The rest of the table followed and toasted to the baby girl born just a week prior at Loxley. Edith had a rather fast delivery, and she seemed to be glowing even now days later. Her effervescene was nothing compared to Sir Anthony's beaming expression though. The man seemed rejuvenated and years younger following the birth of his daughter. Discreetly, the family knew his enthusiasm was from Edith having given him a child that he had long ago assumed he would never have. Matthew had even caught him blushing the other night after dinner when Sybil had joked that Edith could now start working on giving Sir Anthony an heir.
"Ah, I see," Matthew smiled at Mary. "The marigolds," he said, nodding to the vases.
"Very good," Mary teased.
Before Matthew could retort, the salad course was served.
Ripon, Yorkshire, England, December 1918
After luncheon, Matthew and Sybil had gone up to the nursery to look in on the children. Much to everyone's amusement, George would often spend time in the afternoons watching Stella sleep before falling asleep himself. The baby was a bit more responsive now, and even Mary's heart melted when she saw her daughter gurgle or coo happily at the sound of George's voice. It was rather random, of course, but both Mary and Matthew found it fascinating.
"I'll be glad to wear my old clothes again," Edith sighed as they walked past some of the shops. "Anthony's too polite to say anything but I feel as large as a cow."
"I know that I won't get any argument from you," Edith grumbled.
"Oh hush," Mary scoffed. "You gained less weight than I did. You'll be back to feeling normal soon enough."
"I hope so," Edith nodded.
They continued on in silence. As Mary had predicted, their relationship had become easier following their respective marriages. Distance helped. Even when Edith was visiting Downton from Loxley, Mary was often not there, having spent over two years in London with Matthew. They simply didn't see each other enough to argue anymore, and time and life had an effect on them as well. The would now snipe at each other almost out of nostalgia than anything else.
"Mary, there is another reason why I chose Marigold for my daughter's name," Edith said quietly.
"You didn't want her to be confused with Cousin Rose?" Mary smiled.
"No," Edith shook her head. She looked at Mary seriously. "The name originally comes from the combination of Mary and Gold. I didn't think it would be as obvious as naming her Marianne."
Mary blinked in shock.
"I…you named her for me?" Mary asked.
Edith nodded. "I expected that Anthony would name her, but he left it to me. I thought about some other choices, but in the end I found I liked Marigold, and the fact it partly refers to you pleased me very much."
Mary shook her head in disbelief.
"I know that we haven't always gotten along," Edith continued. "But I've always regretted what happened when you were…sent away. I didn't say anything, or do anything. The whole situation seemed so strange to me, as though I was watching a drama at the theatre, and it would all end and everything would return to normal. I never imagined that Patrick would…well, I suppose I didn't know him as well as I thought I did."
"I doubt any of us ever did," Mary nodded. "But that is far in the past. I don't think of it anymore, and neither should you. Truthfully, you couldn't have done anything to stop it, Edith. That was the problem. None of us had any power back then."
"And now?" Edith asked.
"What do you think?" Mary arched her eyebrow. "We both have daughters who will grow up in a much different world than we did. We both have husbands who trust us with far more authority than Papa ever gave to Mama. I know it's not enough progress for Sybil, but I think the future is full of promise."
"I sometimes still can't believe it," Edith laughed. "When one of the servants asks me about something, I keep expecting Mama or Granny to walk in and overrule what I say."
"Oh, I have no such hesitation," Mary smiled. "Managing our household in London was great fun."
"I'm sure it was," Edith nodded. "But now that you're moving back, you'll need to cede your authority, won't you?"
"In some matters, yes," Mary said lightly. "Matthew and I are still managing the Estate. Even if Papa wishes to take control back, Matthew's ideas are so far along that he has to let us continue."
"And where do things stand between you and Papa?" Edith asked.
"Where it always has, I suppose," Mary shrugged. "We're tolerating each other, essentially. It's probably better than that, but neither of us wants to assume too much. We're keeping expectations low for now, and it's working."
Downton Abbey, Yorkshire, England, December 1918
"My Lord, we're waiting on the last of the guests. We shall be ready for you shortly," Carson nodded from the doorway.
"Very good, Carson," Robert waved his hand. "Make sure everyone has a drink before we go in. Carol singing is all the more pleasant with some fire in the belly, after all."
Matthew smiled at his father-in-law's comment, and the look of surprise that flashed across Carson's face.
"As you wish, my Lord,' Carson nodded, then took his leave.
"Good Lord above, I don't think I've ever looked more forward to hosting the Christmas party before," Robert shook his head, sipping his port.
"It seems we've had a string of parties these past few days," Matthew smiled. Between George's second birthday, Mary's birthday and their anniversary all falling the week before Christmas, it seemed he was constantly carrying gifts here and there through the rooms of the house.
"I keep forgetting to ask you where you found the recipe for Mary's birthday cake?" Robert asked. "Was it from Mrs. Bird? Mrs. Patmore has never made such a creation."
"Mother was careful not to offend her when she brought her the recipe," Matthew smiled. "It's Mary's favourite. My father loved lemon meringue as well."
"It was delicious," Robert nodded.
Matthew smiled at the memory. They were both shocked when Isobel told them that she and Cora had organized a small birthday luncheon for Mary. At first, Mary assumed it was more for George's benefit, but she had been shocked when her father had attended as well. It was the first birthday party she'd had with her family in years.
"I expect everyone will be quite jovial this season," Matthew said. "Even Sir Anthony seems to have a spring in his step."
"You've noticed as well?" Robert laughed. "Of course, an English gentleman should not speak of such matters, particularly when his own daughter is involved, but I've never seen the man happier, and I'm not so old that I can't guess as to the cause."
Matthew blushed slightly and sipped his port to distract himself. It was startling to see Sir Anthony flirting with Edith, and for her to return his sly glances. Not that Matthew was surprised that there was a fondness between the two of them, but to imagine the two of them being playful together, let alone the idea that they…well, Matthew was surprised.
"Have you thought about what is next for you, Matthew?" Robert asked. "With your career in Naval Intelligence over with and you moving back here, you'll need to see what life holds for you."
"For now, it's more important to see my family settled," Matthew answered. "With the War over, I suspect that the world won't return to what it was before. Things have changed, and so must we."
"I used to think I was my father's son and my duty to Downton, my legacy was my only concern," Robert said. "If the past years have taught me anything, it's that the walls of this house cannot keep the outside world at bay the way that they used to."
Matthew looked at the Earl curiously. Robert had been in a rather relaxed mood since they returned from London. He spent more time with his grandchildren than Matthew had expected he would. He even would gloss over some of their Estate discussions and did not scrutinize the decisions that Matthew and Mary had recently taken. Matthew assumed his father-in-law's behaviour was due to relief at the end of the War and that he would resume his old ways soon enough. That day had not yet arrived, however.
"We have a beautiful house, you know," Robert continued, glancing up at the ceiling. "I used to look around these rooms and wonder if the upkeep was enough, whether we were maintaining the same standard as previous Earls did. Preserving Downton was my entire life."
"It's the most impressive house I've ever been in," Matthew said cautiously.
"I was in the sitting room with Cora and the grandchildren this afternoon. George kept pointing to different things – the mantle, the light sconces, the windows even. I picked him up and carried him around the room, telling him about different objects he was interested in, the history of them, when they were purchased, which Earl brought them into the home. Do you know, until that moment, I hadn't truly looked at the sitting room like that? I said to Cora, 'this room is quite splendid'," Robert laughed.
"That must have drawn some reactions," Matthew chuckled.
"I think Mama said something snide," Robert chortled. "But it took your son to show me that perhaps I haven't spent enough time enjoying what I have, rather than worry so much about the future."
"And so you should," Matthew nodded. "Do you know, it's been years since I've come here, and there are still entire hallways that I've never set foot in? George always wants to go exploring. I fear one day he'll wander into a part of the house that even I'm not familiar with."
"You should be so lucky to still have adventures here," Robert smiled.
"My Lord, we're ready for you," Carson called from the doorway.
"Right," Robert nodded, finishing his drink and rising from the table. Matthew followed him.
"How is your Good King Wenceslas, Matthew?" Robert smiled.
"I had a dreadful time leading the Church choir in singing it when I was about eight years old," Matthew rolled his eyes.
"Excellent!" Robert laughed, clapping his hand on Matthew's shoulder. "Then I've found us a soloist!"
Matthew shook his head and laughed ruefully as they came into the Great Hall. Mary quirked her eyebrow at him in question as he approached with her father's hand firmly on his back.
"Don't ask," Matthew whispered as he reached her side. "And I'm sorry, in advance."
"Whatever for?" Mary smiled at him.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends! Happy Christmas!" Robert announced to the applause and cheers of all in the grand room. "For our first carol, let's have a go at Good King Wenceslas. My heir, Matthew Crawley, will be leading us! Matthew!"
Mary stared at him with wide eyes.
Matthew shrugged and took her hand in his. He turned to the expectant crowd and cleared his throat in preparation.
"Oh, this is going to be memorable," Mary laughed as her husband began the first verse.
"It's all right, I've got her," Isobel smiled at Nanny as she held Stella in her arms. She smiled and made faces at her granddaughter, rocking her gently back and forth.
"Yes, Mrs. Crawley," Nanny nodded. "Thank you. Master George! Come!"
George waddled over to Nanny and took her hand. She helped him over to the motor and got him settled in the back seat with Anna. Isobel and Stella followed, and once they were comfortable, Bates took the front seat next to Branson.
"Go on ahead," Matthew waved. "We'll see you at the train station."
Branson nodded and the car pulled away, turning down the long driveway.
"Have a lovely trip, Mr. Crawley, Lady Mary," Nanny curtsied.
"Happy New Year," Mary nodded and the woman went back into the house.
"Mary," Robert called.
Mary turned and glanced at her father curiously.
"Go ahead," Matthew said quietly, patting her back. "I'll check to make sure all your luggage is loaded."
"You have luggage as well," Mary said pointedly, arching her eyebrow at him.
"I think I may have a pair of shoes buried among all of your cases and trunks," Matthew teased, leaning over and kissing her softly.
Mary huffed at him, then turned and walked over to her father. They had said their goodbyes in the Great Hall as the outside air was chilly and a light snowfall was floating down. George had tried to run around when he saw the flakes, which made the process of saying goodbye to the family rather difficult.
"Happy New Year's Eve," Robert smiled as she reached him. "I'm sorry that you won't be with us tonight, and that you will miss the hunt."
"Thank you Papa," Mary said tactfully. "There will be many hunts in the future. For now, we want the children to have a proper holiday in Manchester."
"And so you should," Robert nodded. He paused, swallowing nervously.
"Was there anything else, Papa?" Mary asked, frowning slightly. He hadn't come out to just tell her this, had he?
"Mary, I…" Robert struggled. "I am…quite impressed at what a wonderful mother you've become."
Mary blinked in shock. She felt a lump rising in her throat.
"Thank you, Papa," she said tightly.
"As strange as it is to hear me say it, I'm sure, and as unlikely as well – my own father never spoke of such sentiments as I'm sure you remember – sometimes one shouldn't be so bound to tradition and old ways when there is truly no good reason to do so, at least not any that I can think of as being important anymore, in light of all that's happened and all that we've been through and…" Robert stammered.
"Papa," Mary interjected, completely flummoxed now at her father's rambling.
"I love you, Mary," Robert said finally, looking at her directly in the eyes. "You…you make me ever so proud."
Mary blinked several times. That word. When Matthew told her that he loved her for the first time, it was probably the first time Mary had heard the words since she was a little girl, and surely the first time she'd ever heard it from a grown man. Since then, he said it almost daily, sometimes casually as though he was saying hello, others with such depth and passion that it made her knees weak. She had gotten used to hearing the word spoken, and found herself saying it in return, to him, to their children, to her sisters even, which she never would have done before her life altering time in Manchester.
But to hear the word from her father was as if the Earth itself had stopped spinning.
"I know you do," Mary said finally, her voice catching slightly in her throat. She gave Robert a smile. "I'll see you when we get back."
"Have a lovely trip," Robert nodded.
Mary turned and walked slowly to the car. She nodded to William as he held the door open for her. She took a seat next to Matthew and automatically placed her hand in his. As the car pulled away, she turned and looked out the window. William and Carson stood back by the door. The Earl stood in the same spot she left him, smiling and waving to her.
Mary waved back at him.
Train Station, Manchester, England, January 1919
"Cho-Cho," George said happily, "Can we ride the train again?"
Matthew smiled as he took his son's hand on the platform.
"Yes," he told him, "When we go back to Downton, we will ride the train again. But, for now George, we're here in Manchester and we'll be here for a few days."
"Man-chest-ER," George repeated.
Mary laughed. "What are you planning on showing him first?"
"Why not start at the beginning?" Isobel spoke up. "We can take a drive by Fletcher Morris Botanical Gardens where you had your first date."
"That sounds lovely. However, technically the beginning would be the hospital, since that is where we first met," Mary noted.
"We can stop at both places," Matthew said. "But, I have another destination in mind."
"You aren't going to tell us are you?" Mary asked.
"It's a surprise," Matthew replied. "Are you ready George?" he asked as he squeezed his son's hand. The little boy nodded enthusiastically.
When they reached the taxis, Anna and Bates were already waiting for them.
"How is she, Anna?" Mary asked, smiling at Stella sleeping in her lady's maid's arms.
"Perfect, Milady," Anna smiled. "She's been sleeping soundly since we arrived."
"Good," Mary nodded. "Well, you're in for a treat, Anna. Mr. Crawley is intent on giving us all a tour, so you and Bates will get to see all the places that I frequented when I lived here."
Anna grinned, glancing over at Bates before nodding to Lady Mary enthusiastically.
"I can't wait," she said. Mary shared a knowing glance with her as the two cars were loaded.
Mary suspected that her husband intended to lead them to Manchester Cathedral and his father's headstone in the cemetery. However, soon this theory was proved incorrect. Once their cars approached Albert Square, Isobel discreetly dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief. And yet Mary still did not understand where Matthew was taking them. She felt a slight rush of butterflies in her stomach, a sensation that he often provoked in her, ever since they had first met so many years ago. As their motor stopped in front of City Hall, Mary suddenly understood.
Bates stayed behind with the cars, and Mary took Stella from Anna as they climbed the stairs. Isobel and Matthew each held one of George's hands and they all went up together. As they approached the skylight that displayed his father's name, Matthew smiled in anticipation. He picked up his son and held him in his arms as he pointed at the stained glass.
Dr. Reginald George Crawley
Matthew said a silent prayer as he stared, then pointed to the name and smiled at his son.
"That's your grandfather, George," Matthew smiled.
The boy reached out his hand, staring at the coloured glass in wonder.
Mary tenderly held Stella's little hand and waved it in the sunlight filtering down around them.
"The Odyssey is over," Mary said.
"Hope is the thing with feathers, which perches in the soul," Matthew started.
"And sings the tune without the words, and never stops - at all," Isobel finished.
"It's so beautiful here, Milady," Anna said quietly, looking up at the ceiling.
"It is, Anna," Mary nodded.
Home of Isobel Crawley, Manchester, England, January 1919.
"Oh that is a sight for sore eyes," Isobel said fondly as the motorcar approached her home.
"We're fortunate that Davis is here to prepare the house for us," Matthew smiled.
"Castle house!" George said with excitement as he pointed. Matthew ruffled his son's hair as he sat on his lap.
"Just what you used to call it," Isobel said with amusement. "What do you think Mary?" she asked her daughter-in-law as she saw her staring.
"It looks like it always did, like home," she smiled.
Once they were inside, Davis showed Anna to the room that was converted to a nursery for George and Stella. Bates and Matthew brought their luggage upstairs and placed it in Matthew's old bedroom. As Bates followed him down the hall, Matthew stopped and opened another door on the other side of the floor.
"This is for you and Anna, Bates," Matthew said plainly, motioning to the room. "Davis can help you with your luggage if you wish. The bathroom is down the hall on the right."
Bates was surprised that an upstairs guest room had been set aside for he and Anna to use.
"This is very generous, sir," he said quietly.
"Well, where did you expect that we would have you sleep, Bates? In the basement?" Matthew chuckled.
Bates shook his head and moved to catch up as Matthew continued on down the hall to the stairs.
Isobel sighed happily as she settled into her favourite chair in the parlour, taking a moment for herself while everyone else was getting settled. She looked around the room, fond memories and family moments from her past warming her. She wasn't entirely sure what she would do in the coming months and years. She knew Matthew assumed she would stay at Crawley House, and she probably would, to be near her grandchildren, but Manchester still felt like home, and a part of her wondered if perhaps she wasn't better off coming back here now that the War was over and Mary and Matthew had a family of their own.
"I know that look," Mary smiled as she came into the room. "And I object."
"To what?" Isobel asked curiously.
"You're reminiscing, and plotting," Mary said, taking a seat on the sofa. "Planning your escape."
"I've taught you far too well," Isobel laughed. "I should have expected that all those conversations we had about how a woman needed to always have a plan for her future would come back to haunt me."
"I knew a fair amount already before I met you," Mary nodded. "But you did make me brave, so you can blame yourself for that."
"You were always brave," Isobel smiled. "If I did anything at all, it was just to remind you of that."
"Well, you'll need to be on alert when we go to the hospital," Mary replied. "In my present mood, if I were to run into Cassandra again, I might say something rude."
"And I may not stop you," Isobel grinned.
"Grandmamma!" George called as he bounced into the room.
"Hello my darling boy!" Isobel laughed, taking her grandson in her arms. He automatically reached for her necklace and put part of the pendant in his mouth as he sat on her lap.
"George, darling, please do not do that," Mary scolded him.
"At least not in front of company," Matthew joked as he came into the room with Anna and Bates.
"Davis," Isobel called. "Please bring Anna and Bates into the kitchen and help them get something to eat. Mrs. Bird will be here later this evening, but I expect you can make do?"
"We'll find something, Mrs. Crawley," Bates nodded. "Thank you."
"Now, why don't we take a look at your Grandmamma's scrapbooks?" Matthew smiled, going over to the bookshelf and retrieving the large albums.
George squealed happily as Matthew brought the scrapbooks over to the table.
Midland Hotel, The Pearl Suite, Manchester, England, January 1919
"Lemonade, Strawberry preserves, what else do we need to re-create one of the famous picnics that we used to have?" Mary asked, looking at the items she had spread out on the table.
"Well," Matthew said, smiling at her from his chair. "For one thing, you would be wearing far fewer articles of clothing."
"I'm talking about the food," Mary frowned, looking back at him over her shoulder.
"So am I," Matthew smirked. "Dessert in particular."
"Stop it!" Mary blushed. She turned around to face him. "I know what you were looking at. Can you only think of one thing whenever we're here?"
"No," Matthew replied easily. "When you were turned around, I was thinking of one thing, and now that you're facing me, I am thinking of something else entirely," Matthew said, deliberately moving his eyes from her face to her chest.
"Matthew Crawley, you devil!" Mary smiled, walking over to him. "Your wicked thoughts are entirely transparent and your stare is completely lecherous."
"Well, if you read my thoughts as wanting to strip you naked and have my way with you right now, then you would be correct," Matthew growled, pulling her down on to his lap.
"Matthew!" Mary exclaimed as he kissed her neck, his hands grasping her bottom as he pulled her towards him. "The picnic!"
"Later," he hissed, reaching for the buttons on the back of her dress.
Mary grasped his shoulders and moaned as he deftly undid her dress and pulled it down her arms. His lips and tongue lingered on the sensitive spot where her neck met her shoulder, then down across her chest. His efforts were rather clumsy given that they were seated in a chair together, but he made up for that in sheer enthusiasm.
"Matthew," she swallowed, gasping as he removed her arms from her sleeves, lifted her camisole over her head and undid her brassiere before she even knew what was happening. She shifted in his lap, feeling him press against her thigh before he took her closed his lips over her breast and she groaned.
"Bed…the bed, Matthew," she managed, holding on to him as he teased her with his lips, tongue and teeth.
"Can you only think of one thing whenever we're here, woman?" Matthew smiled against her heated skin.
Mary opened her mouth to retort, but could only groan as he resumed his attentions on her breasts and lifted her into his arms. He carried her into the bedroom, cradling her head on his shoulder as his mouth never stopped moving on her.
He placed her on the large bed before removing the rest of her clothes. She sat up to help him with his, but he pushed her gently back down and shook his head.
"Be still," he said darkly.
She swallowed, blushing as his eyes roamed her naked body while his fingers removed his suit. Heat spread through her as he revealed more and more of himself to her wide eyes, and exhaled out loud once he cast his pants and shorts aside.
"Open your legs for me," he snarled as he leaned over her and kissed her firmly, his tongue stabbing into her mouth, his hands pressed on either side of her body. She shivered as she parted her legs on either side of his hips, moaning into his mouth as he dragged his fingers across her breast, down her stomach and lower still.
He pressed lightly across her centre with his fingers, her anticipation spiralling. She blushed under his kisses as he felt the proof of her arousal, and her breath caught as he shifted forward, the warmth and weight of his body signalling his intent.
Mary cried out as he pushed into her. She lifted her legs and wrapped them around him, her arms pulling him fully on to her. Matthew was usually careful about being on top of her, not wanting to cover her completely, but she needed him now, as close as possible, to feel his skin against hers.
Matthew kissed her neck, the scent of her perfume filling him and driving his hips faster. There was always something special about loving her like this, being with her away from Downton, away from family, away from responsibility and duty. Downton was her family home. London was where she made her debut. But Manchester was theirs and theirs alone. There were no more illicit meetings for them, no more hiding, no more daring to push the bounds of propriety as they did when they were younger. But this was still their place, their sanctuary, where they had fallen in love, where they were simply Matthew and Mary, and where just being together was always enough.
"God!" Mary cried out as she released, holding him tighter as pleasure crashed inside of her. "Don't stop!" she managed to croak as Matthew began to ease his motions. He resumed at her urging, and she teetered on the precipice of another wave.
She forced her eyes open as his movements became more erratic. Framing his face with her hands, she pulled his head back slightly so she could see him, their eyes locking on each other. He bared his teeth as his hips thrust forward, his eyes widening, blue meeting brown in a familiar stare.
"Say it," Matthew demanded harshly. "Say it, Mary."
"I love you," she gasped. "I love you, Matthew. I love you."
"Mary!" he shouted. "God, I love you so much!"
"Go," she nodded, her voice tight. "I want you to."
Matthew pressed his forehead against hers, their eyes still staring at each other as he grunted and let go, Mary joining him seconds later.
Downton Abbey, Yorkshire, England, January 1919
"Sy-bil…Sy-bil…" Sybil smiled, nodding to Stella as she held the baby in her arms.
"Syb-Syb!" George called, sitting next to her on the carpet.
Mary shook her head at the sight. "I think you have quite a while to wait until she can say your name, darling."
"It can never be too early for her to learn who her favourite aunt is," Sybil said in a sing-song voice as she continued to coo at the baby.
"Don't be so sure about that," Edith said pointedly, sharing a knowing glance with her Mama as she sat on the sofa. "Stella and Marigold will be the best of friends, so naturally she'll think I'm her favourite aunt."
"That isn't fair!" Sybil grumbled, glaring at her sister. "You can't use Marigold to get into Stella's good graces!"
Mary smiled as she put on her gloves.
"Will you be back for dinner?" Cora asked, looking over at Mary.
"Yes," Mary nodded. "We're just going to take a stroll."
"Is that a new coat?" Sybil asked.
"Yes," Mary nodded, looking down at her tweed coat and matching long skirt. "I was going to wear it for the Hunt, but since we missed that, I thought I'd wear it now that it's warm enough."
"Darling," Matthew called, coming into the room. He smiled and nodded to the other ladies.
"Ready," Mary smiled as he came up to her.
"Say goodbye to Mama and Papa! You get to spend the afternoon with your favourite aunt and with aunt Edith as well," Sybil said, getting up and bringing Stella over to her parents.
Edith rolled her eyes at Cora.
Cora watched as Mary and Matthew both smiled and waved at Stella. They both wore brown hats, and Matthew's long coat matched Mary's outfit. Standing together, they looked quite sophisticated, the future Earl and Countess of Grantham dressed for a walk across their domain. Cora blinked several times and smiled, the image of her eldest daughter and her husband filling her with pride.
"We'll see you later," Mary announced.
"Have a lovely walk," Cora smiled back.
They wandered across the ground, the slightly frozen grass crunching beneath their feet. The sun was shining overhead despite the cold of winter, and all of Downton seemed to shine. They walked for several minutes in silence, each of them lost in thought, their steps in sync as though they already knew where they wished to go without speaking.
"We never did speak about where we would live once the War ended," Mary said after a time.
"I always assumed we would come back here. Isn't that what you want?" Matthew asked, taking her gloved hand in his.
"Of course, but our time in London was so much fun, just the two of us," Mary smiled at him.
"The four of us," Matthew corrected her. "And Anna, and Bates, and the other servants."
"The dozen or so of us, then," Mary rolled her eyes.
"Perhaps if we didn't know each other before," Matthew said. "If we were like a normal married couple and needed to learn about each other without everyone being there, then moving somewhere else would make sense. As it is, this is our home, isn't it?"
"It is if you say it is," Mary smiled.
They kept walking, the big house disappearing behind them over the horizon. Mary looked around, seeing trees and hills and parts of her family's land that she had walked as a child, or galloped past on Diamond. This was all hers now, hers and Matthew's, to share with her family and eventually with her children and the generations to come. She had vowed when George was born that she would raise him and her other children differently from how she and her sisters were raised, and she had already spent more time with George and Stella in these early days than Cora had spent with her through her first five years of life. The land would be managed differently as well. Matthew had already seen to that, and would continue to do so. She knew when War broke out years ago that she would never be able to go back to the life she had before she was sent to Manchester. Now, with War over, she was quite glad to never go back to that world again.
"So, about what we were discussing last night," Mary said.
"Yes?" Matthew asked, smiling at her.
"I think that five is a good number," she said, arching her eyebrow at him.
"Five!" Matthew sputtered. "Truly?"
"Why not? We're both young and we aren't lacking for people to help us take care of them and raise them," Mary noted.
"Five…" Matthew repeated. "I don't know…I was quite hoping to have you to myself after perhaps three."
"Don't be selfish," Mary teased. "Besides, you do realize what is involved if we are to have five?"
Matthew grinned and nodded. "That's the best argument in favour of five that I've heard yet."
"You're so predictable," Mary laughed.
"Well then…I suppose five it shall be, then," Matthew said. "I don't know if I can think of three more names."
"Well one of the boys must be named Reginald," Mary said.
"Mary…" Matthew rolled his eyes.
"No! I won't be swayed this time! I let you have your way with George and Stella. The next one is my choice entirely," Mary said haughtily.
"You chose Stella!" Matthew objected.
"Only because I knew you wouldn't let me name her Isobel!" Mary shot back.
"So how is it my choice if you are the one who comes up with the name?" Matthew asked in disbelief.
"Because!" Mary exclaimed.
They kept walking, hand-in-hand, arguing and gesticulating to get their points across. Mary and Matthew continued at an easy pace, the sound of their debate carrying on the wind, interspersed with the occasional huff, grunt and laugh. Downton Abbey was far off in the distance, and the acres before them stretched to the horizon seemingly without end.