so after loads of procrastination and literally 3 rewrites- here is the last chapter. I have ideas for an epilogue, but now timeline for getting it done. It's crazy how much my life has changed since this started- graduating college, spending a year in Ireland, and most recently starting graduate school. I'm really happy to have had this story as escape through so many of the ups and downs. Thanks for the patience and love that has kept this story going. Enjoy!

Chapter 20: Phase Twenty- Take Me Back to Me

"You're really moving to London?" Matthew said, placing Mary down on the ground.

The rain had finally stopped and the early evening sunlight was casting a gentle warmth across the countryside.

She felt dizzy and giddy. They were okay. They were really okay. And they were going to be moving to London- together.

She nodded, moving forward to kiss, to finally kiss him. After this terrible, disastrous, day, her lips were finally meeting his, moving over each other warmly. There was an eagerness, a desperateness that leaked into their lips: the feeling of being together after nearly losing each other. There was a feeling that if they stopped kissing, this might stop. This moment might end. They might be ripped from each other again.

Her hands moved into his hair, feeling the damp locks between her hands, smooth and slick. His hands were moving over back, then slipping below her sweater to run his fingers light over her spine. Mary thought smugly of her discarded bra and underwear. Matthew pulled back to give her a crooked smile as he made the same discovery.

He ran his hands from her back to her front, his fingers moving lightly over her breasts, cupping one in each hand and moving his thumbs to rub against her nipples until they tightened into buds. It was hard for Mary to suppress the little moan that escaped, which seemed only, and miraculously, to feed Matthew's fire even more.

He lifted the large jumper, his hands brushing against her skin as he pulled it off her, her arms raising to help him. When it was removed, she dropped her hands to his chest, where she clenched his t-shirt in her fists, before moving her hands up, pulling his shirt off him.

Their lips were back on each other, her hands carding through his hair once more, his own coming to rest on the waistband of her leggings. His hands seemed to swipe lower and lower each time till they met the place that made her knees tremble.

They lowered down to the ground, the damp grass tingling their legs.

Mary fiddled with the button on his jeans.

"Are we really doing this?" She mumbled, her brain a little too lust-drunk to care.

"Having hot, make up sex in a forest?" Matthew said, as yanked his zipped down, freeing him, "It looks like it."

"What if one Edith's neighbors sees us?" Mary asked, a little hesitant.

Matthew wrapped his arms around her back, gently lowering her onto the forest floor. The cold grass against her back made her only want to cling further to his warmth.

"Do I know them?" Matthew laughed, "I don't care."

He peeled off of her leggings, tantalizingly slow. The grass felt bizarre beneath her, but at the same time, it stirred something primitive and carnal inside of her. The kind of feeling that made it impossible to pull back, even if her conscience was saying otherwise.

"What about paps? What if someone gets a picture?" Mary whispered.

Matthew stilled above her. His face instantly worryied with lines.

"No, you're right. That's so careless of me. I'm sorry," He said, moving to pull her leggings back up, "After Pamuk, after our scandals- sorry, this is too risky. I shouldn't-"

But Mary caught his lips with a kiss and pulled him back over her.

"Shh, no," she hummed, "Let's just pretend we are normal people for a moment. Let's just do this."

He began to pepper her face in kisses, making a small circle around her face, from ear to forehead to the other ear. Before placing a kiss on her collarbone, between her breasts, her stomach, her lip, and then coming to rest between her legs. Then she was gasping, her hands twisting into grass, as his tongue flicked into her most sensitive of places.

It was later, after he'd found his way inside of her, after she shouted his name to the forest expanse as her walls vibrated around him, after he followed her high collapsing beside her, it was later that lay together in the forest. They laid in silence, her eyes fluttering close as she laid draped over his torso, and his hand stroking her hair lightly. Time stretched on, felt infinite as they lay there. Nothing could touch them here.

A cloud passed over the sun, a gentle breeze whispered over them- reminding them that a real world, outside their forest solitude, existed. Mary shivered and knew that their tiny spell was broken.

"Are you cold?" He asked, moving to grab her jumper.

She nodded sleepily into his chest. He wrapped his arms around her, and helped her sit up.

He laughed as he traced the flecks of mud that trailed up her back, "I'd never expect Mary Crawley to be covered in mud."

"There is a lot you don't expect about me," Mary said lightly.

"How true," He said, slipping the jumper over her head and watching her pull her arms through. "I never would have expected how wonderful you'd make my life."

She smiled, leaning forward to kiss his nose, "I never thought that the man my parents set me up with would end up being the love of my life."

"The love of you life, eh?" Matthew teased, as he helped her to her feet.

"Certainly," Mary said, "So, you better not mess this up."

"I wouldn't dream of it," Matthew said, remorse rolling over him as he looked for his trousers on the forest floor, "Truly, Mary, I honestly promise to never hurt you again."

"I believe you and I forgive you," she said. He looked up to see her fully dressed.

He noticed that she still shivering and he went to put his arm around her as they began the walk to Edith's.

"Are you feeling alright?" He asked.

She grimaced, "A touch shivery. I was, uh, stuck outside for quite a bit earlier in the rain. Edith was at the shops and I didn't have anywhere to go."

"Mary," He said, looking at her seriously, all of a sudden worried for her health, "How long were you in the rain for?"

"Two hours," she said, her face almost apologetic.

"Oh Mary," He pulled her closer, hoping she'd take on some of his body heat, "You should have told me, we never would have- uh, spent so much time outside."

"No, it's fine," She said, leaning into him, "I've always wanted to try the outdoor sex thing and it was quite the adventure."

"Will you tell me if you feel worse?" Matthew asked sincerely.

Mary nodded, "I'm sure that whatever Edith's making for dinner will pepper me up."

"Crikey," Matthew said, "I forgot she was preparing that. How long do you think we've been gone?"

"Not more than forty minutes," Mary reassured them. They were nearly to Edith's cottage now, as they watched it appear in the distance. "Do you think we look presentable?"

He ran his hand over her hair smoothing it. His thumb rubbed at a bit of dirt on her cheek as she grinned at him.

"You look darling as always, my dear. And I?" He said.

"You've a leaf in your hair," She laughed, reaching to flick it out of his hair, "But you'll do."

He pressed a kiss to her lips briefly, before tugging her forward. "Let's go."

When they walked into the cottage, they could tell that Edith was holding in a laugh at their vaguely bedraggedly states. She clearly knew exactly what had happened in the forest.

"Talk in the forest?" She laughed, as she set about putting dishes on the table.

Mary rolled her eyes, as they went to sit at the table. A roast chicken was sitting out, along with green beans and baked potatoes. Matthew realized how hungry he was. He hadn't eaten that morning and Anna, Rose, and Sybil had stayed true their "no pizza" promise.

"Who would have thought my sister would have become so domestic?" Mary mused, looking it over.

Edith's eyebrows raised, as if trying to assess if Mary was being kind.

"It's a good thing," Mary said, "I'm rubbish at cooking. You'll have to teach me some things."

"Really Edith," Matthew agreed, "This looks delicious."

"You're just saying this to see if I'll forgive you for being late to dinner," She said, "But we'll see."

They all smiled as they settled into the meal. Marigold came and joined them for dinner, but was whisked off to bed after they finished eating. Matthew didn't know much about the little girl, but she seemed to have the sweetest and easiest disposition. If he and Mary ever had children, he'd hope that their child was as docile as Marigold.

Edith got up to pour them all drink. Matthew smiled when he saw her bottle of nice scotch. That was enough to endear Mary's sister to him immediately. He had a feeling they'd become close one day.

"What do we do now?" Edith said, joining them at the table.

"I think we've got to face the family tomorrow," Mary said. "Father's been texting me all afternoon to ensure that I'm back tomorrow, so we might as well all go."

It was clear she'd been thinking about it for a while, the conclusion coming easily.

"All four of us," Mary continued, "We're going to take a stand against our father. It's high time that you get to live the life you want, Edith. Especially if that means following your heart."

"I should tell Bertie tonight then," Edith decided, "Shouldn't I?"

"He'll understand, you know," Matthew said, "I don't really know the whole story, at all really. But if he loves you, he'll find a way to understand."

He reached out to rub Mary's back, before adding, "That's love- having faith."

She smiled at up at him.

"I don't want to expose Marigold to that world," Edith said, "I don't want her face on tabloids or gossip websites."

"I know," Mary said, reaching for her sister's hand, "I hope that the press doesn't explode. I don't think they will. Besides, you're an author of literary fiction. I think the press see you more admirably than they see me. They'll be more forgiving. Honestly, Edith, nothing is worth living your life in secrecy, nothing is worth giving up a lifetime of love."

Matthew reached over to squeeze Mary's hand.

"You're right," Edith said, "I've got to do it."

"We'll be standing by your side," Mary promised.

"Thank you for that," Edith said.

"You should call him now," Mary recommended. "I'm going to escape to bed, I think. I'm rather exhausted from everything today, and you know, from the stupid mono thing. I'll have transport arranged back to the Berkshires tomorrow."

"Right," Edith said, "Let me open the guest cottage for you and Matthew."

He kept an arm around the small of Mary's back as they followed Edith out of her cottage and toward another, slightly smaller cottage in the area. The cold air bit at them in the brief amount of time they were outside. They were happy when Edith opened the door to the warm cottage.

"I put the heat on while you two were on your walk," Edith said. "I've had the bed made up. There is a kettle over there if you need tea. And there is soap and shampoo in the shower. Hopefully it will suit a fashion designer and world famous humanitarian."

"Oh shut up," Mary said, rolling her eyes at her sister. "This is really lovely, Edith. Thank you."

"Let me know if you need anything," Edith said, "I'll be right next door."

"Will you tell me how it goes with Bertie?" Mary said, "I won't be able to sleep unless I know things are at peace between you."

Edith gulped. Matthew could imagine how nervous she was to tell him the secret.

"I will," she agreed.

"And if he's disagreeable about it," Matthew said, "He'll have us to deal with."

He was already beginning to think of Edith as a younger sister.

"Thanks Matthew," Edith said, "I can tell you are trying quite hard to win me over. I'll let you know if you pass the test."

"Good night, Edith," Mary said, giving her sister a push, "And good luck."

Once Edith was gone, it was just the two of them. Matthew pulled Mary into his arms again, her arms wrapping around his neck and her head resting on his shoulder.

"I'm not sure I'll ever be done saying sorry," Matthew said, "I don't know what would have happened if I had lost you."

Mary shook her head, "I'm so glad we didn't lose each other."

"Are you tired?" He asked her, rubbing her back.

She nodded into his shoulder; "I hope we get a chance to rest when we are done with father tomorrow. I think I might be able to sleep for years."

"We do deserve a holiday, don't we?" Matthew said.

"We were just in Burundi," Mary pointed out.

"Mary, that was a business trip to a third world country. We deserve a proper holiday," He said.

"This is coming from a man who uses all of his vacation time to help at clinics in developing places," Mary teased.

"No, I mean it," Matthew said. "We've been through a lot this summer. I think we deserve a moment to escape it all and relax."

Mary pulled back and smiled at him, "I couldn't agree more. Let's take this moment to rest then."

"I'm going to shower," Matthew said, "You get comfy."

"Are you kidding?" Mary said, "I think I still have mud on my back. I'm definitely joining you for a shower."

They wound their way into the bathroom, discarding clothes casually as they went. Matthew warmed the water as he watched Mary lean against the counter. She looked statuesque, graceful. She was such a marvel- how had he been so foolish to not trust her- even just for a moment.

He checked the water and when he discovered it was satisfactory, he tugged on Mary's hand till she followed him under the spray. He was able to sense that Mary was exhausted enough to not try to make the shower into a passionate moment. Rather, he lathered up a loofa and began to scrub at her back, letting the caked mud fall away. Mary, in turn, put some shampoo on her hands and ran them lazily through his hair. Each movement of their hands were careful, something loving to the ministrations. Healing touch, Matthew thought sleepily. There was something healing about caring for each other in this way.

Once their hands stilled, they lingered under the warm water for several long minutes, arms wrapped around each other, hot water drenching them. Matthew put a kiss on Mary's head, moving to find a towel. He patted her dry, before drying himself. Her eyes were already flickering closed, so he scooped her up in his arms and carried her into bed. She curled into a ball and he let his body curve around her, pulling the blankets around their shoulders.

"Are you feeling alright?" He asked.

"I'm okay," Mary said, "Tired and a little cold. I'm glad you're here."

"I'm glad I'm here too," Matthew told her, feeling the words in the depths of his heart.

She was silent for a very long time and Matthew himself was beginning to drift off.

"Did you really hide in the boot of a pizza delivery car?" She asked, her voice raspy and drowsy.

"Will you make fun of me forever if I say yes?" Matthew whispered.

"Surely," Mary said, snuggling down within his arms.

"It's a small price to pay," He said, "In exchange for having you."

"So that's a yes?"

They left early the next morning. Edith bucked them up with coffee and homemade scones, before a car arrived to pick them all up.

"Where are we going?" Asked Marigold.

"To visit granny and grandpa," Edith explained.

"The ones on the TV?" Marigold asked, "Like Auntie Mary?"

Mary rubbed Marigold's hair.

"Like that," She murmured.

Then they were rustling through the countryside. Mary had her iPad with her, sending e-mails to Kings College, scouring her new book list (with Matthew giving commentary on each reading), and catching up with work. Matthew, as well, was arranging work on his phone. "I have to start building a staff for our office. I have a few ideas, but I'm putting out notices," He explained. Marigold fell asleep early into the drive, in her usual fashion. Edith was typing away on a small keyboard, creating what was possibly another bestseller.

It took three and a half long hours to return to the castle-hotel where Mary's family was staying. It was nearly noon and Matthew's stomach had began to church in nervousness for Edith. What would Robert Crawley CEO think of her sister's reappearance?

Matthew was surprised when they drove the up drive that the hotel was still decorated for a wedding. He'd have thought that the family would look to hide that sort of thing as soon as the wedding failed. There was even a white carpet going up into main entrance of the house. Matthew cringed, it must awkward for Sybil to see this all being prepared for no reason.

Mary stretched her hand out to Matthew, as they got out of the car. He reached for it as they filed into the grand hotel, Edith and Marigold following hesitantly in their wake.

As soon as they got in, the first thing Matthew noticed was the whole family was there.

There was Sybil standing there, dressed in a spring dress and with well done make up. Her face lit up as soon as her niece walked in.

"Marigold," She squealed, crossing the room quickly to hug the little girl, who instantly hugged her back.

"Auntie Sybil," Marigold cooed back.

Cora's face was less compassionate. Her lips pursed firmly together.

"Edith," She said, "What were you thinking?"

"Come here," Cora said, "This way, Marigold too. Let's go in the library over here and work it all out. Robert needs to speak with Mary and Matthew right away."

"I need to speak with both of you right away," Mary said, launching into a monologue that he'd bet had been building her head all car ride. "What you've done to Edith- all this time. It's total shit. I can't believe you insisted in this bizarre arrangement. Force Edith to be a hermit? Why would you even suggest something like that? I've spent the last four years convinced that my sister was too aloof to spend time with us and you've been the one too aloof to have anything to do with her."

"Mary, stop," The man said.

Matthew's eyes turned to take in Robert Crawley CEO. He was dressed nicely, as Matthew imagined he would be. He had curly hair and a child-like round face. Matthew supposed he'd seen him on television before, but it was something totally different to see him in real life. This was Mary's father. Mary's distant, harsh, and controlling father. This was the man who'd e-mailed him months ago- changing this life for the better. He was the man who sent him a car randomly, because he was too distant to understand why that was impractical for him. He was the man that Matthew never met because he was always off living his life and not with his family. Matthew owed everything to him, because he'd brought Mary into his life. But Matthew also resented him for all the pain that he'd seen Robert Crawley CEO bring onto the family.

"Mary, listen to me," He said, "I've been thinking about what to do and I've found something that will solve all your problems. Your scandal, Sybil's scandal- it might even cover up Edith's. Mary, I have an idea that is going to fix everything."

Mary stared at her father. As mad as Mary was, Matthew knew that there was a part of her that respected her father. He was family. He was successful. He knew that there was a part of Mary that would listen to her father's request.

"What? What is it?" Mary snapped.

"Listen," He said, "Here is what is going to happen. Everything is still done up for a wedding. The guests are still here. You're going to get on the white dress you have upstairs. Matthew is going to put on the nicest suit we can find him. The pastor is still here. The hair and make up crew are still here. You have two hours. Then we'll see you in the chapel."

"What are you talking about?" She asked, "Why would we do that?"

"Listen, Mary, I know it sounds rash- but it really will fix all your problems. No one will think your relationship is fake if you are married. They'll know that it's really true love. No one will notice Sybil's ruined wedding because they'll be too busy focused on yours. Even Edith's problems will be overlooked in exchange for a Crawley wedding. See, Mary, don't you see- it will solve everything!"

Matthew gaped, unbelieving. He turned to Mary, whose lips were pursed together. She gulped.

He had imagined wedding Mary before. He couldn't deny it. When she put on that white dress a few days back- he had seen a future in front of him that he wanted more than anything. He could imagine how she'd pick Sybil and Rose and Anna and Edith as bridesmaids. He could imagine how he'd ask Tom to be his best man. He could imagine a small cousin as a flower girl, Robert Crawley CEO walking down the aisle, and Cora as a teary mother of the bride. He knew that Mary would revel in deciding colors and flowers and cake flavors. She loved to plan and design things. He bet she'd even wear a dress of her own design. He supposed wedding-planning Mary would be a delight to watch- more in her element than ever before. But even more so, he had seen a life that he truly wanted for himself. He wanted to wake up every day beside her. He wanted to watch all her favorite films, travel to all her favorite places, and learn her favorite parts of the city. He wanted to know her deepest thoughts and wildest dreams. They'd built a strong connection over the last 4 months and he felt as though he knew her thoroughly, but he wanted so much more. He wanted a life with her. He wanted to marry Mary more than anything.

He'd imagined the family they'd have. The moment's he'd seen Mary interact with Marigold had warmed his heart and he knew that he wanted that. He wanted them to have a family of their own. He imagined Sunday mornings, cooking breakfast together as a family in their pajamas. He imagined outings in London, the kids playing in the park, laughing and giggling. He imagined arguing over where to send them to school, if they should go to certain events, and what sort of trips to take them on. He relished the thought of all of it. The very thought set his heart on fire.

Of course, he would marry her.

But there was no way that Mary would agree to this. After all her speeches about standing up to her father, about how too much of their lives had been about protecting their image and not living their lives- after all that, there was no way that she would agree to that sort of a thing. He knew already that Mary, his storm braver Mary, would never, ever agree to marry him- just because her father said so. And Matthew loved her for it.

So it didn't surprise him, or disturb him when she opened her mouth and snapped, "Fuck no."

Robert's eyes looked as if they would pop out of his head.

"What do you mean no? You don't have a choice."

Mary rolled her eyes, "Sure I do. It's 2016, not 1916. You can't just order me to marry someone. Of course I have a choice."

"But you'll be letting your sisters down. You'll be leaving them and yourselves vulnerable to the press," Robert said, sternly.

"Who cares? I'm so, so absolutely completely done with living my life to please the press or please you. I'm going to do whatever I want to do, not living purely because I'm afraid of the press or ruining our family name," Mary explained.

Robert raked his hand over his face. He turned to Matthew, raising his eyebrows.

"What do you say Matthew? It's your name on the line as well," Robert said.

"I stand by Mary," Matthew said, "Wholeheartedly, and always."

Robert rolled his eyes, "How romantic. She says she doesn't want to marry you and you stand by her anyway."

"That's not fair," Mary said, "You're putting words in my mouth that aren't there. Of course, I want to marry Matthew. I love him. But we've been dating only since May. It's too soon. If we are as happy as we are now in a year or two, sure, gladly. We're so new now. I want to get married in our own time. I want our love story to be ours, not forced by you or anyone else."

Matthew reached for her hand and squeezed it.

"You are far too sentimental," Robert chastised, "You need to be realistic."

"No, you do," Mary said, "If we rush into a wedding now, we'll look like a laughing stock. Everyone has been following our drama for days now. Another wedding will only make our story look more ridiculous. We don't need that right now. We need to get our name out of the press. Lie low, maybe take a holiday- not dive into another silly scheme."

Matthew nodded. Mary was smart. She knew how to appeal to the logical side of Robert.

He was grimacing, which meant that Mary was probably getting through to him.

"Well, clearly, my thoughts are not respected here, so I'm leaving," Robert said, "I need to be at a gala event in Tokyo tomorrow anyway."

He moved to storm past them, but Mary put her hand on his arm to pause him.

"Father, Papa, you I care for you dearly," she said, her voice soft, "I love you and respect you immensely. You and I both know you are being rash and angry. I hope in time you realize I'm right."

He let out a huff.

"I'd love to see more of you in our lives. Take some time, calm down- but we'll be in London and if you ever want to visit, you are always welcome," Mary said.

Robert frowned a little, "We'll see, Mary."

She put a little kiss on his cheek, "Enjoy Tokyo."

They all watched as Robert Crawley CEO walked out of the hotel.

There was a moment of silence. Mary and Matthew stood in the entrance of the hotel staring at each other. They could hear Cora and Sybil and Edith chattering the library nearby. Time seemed to freeze for a moment. There had been so much all at once and now it was all over.

"So that happened," Matthew said.

"That indeed," Mary remarked.

He closed the gap between them by reaching for her. She exhaled into his hug. He rested his cheek on the crown of her head.

"I'm still sorry about yesterday," Matthew said, "I think I will be for the rest of my life."

"As you should be," Mary laughed gently, "I'm joking, I forgive you. Let's move past it."

They were silent for a moment longer. The warmth of Mary felt so comforting. He could feel her body move as she breathed and he wanted to hold on to her for forever.

"I meant what I said, Matthew," She said, "I do want to marry you one day. I hope you weren't upset that it isn't now."

"No, you wouldn't be my Mary if you said anything else but what you did to your father," Matthew said, "It's one of the many, many reasons I'm so proud of you."

Mary hummed and wrapped her arms tighter around his waist.

"So what do we do now?" Matthew asked.

"I say we go take a nap," Mary suggested, "Then maybe a walk around the grounds to plan out that holiday of ours."

"That sounds absolutely perfect," Matthew agreed.

Mary woke up a few hours later to a knock on her door. It was no doubt getting ridiculous the amount the of times in the last few day's she'd woken from a nap to someone knocking at the door. That or she just took far too many naps. She blamed the mono.

But Matthew lay completely asleep on the bed beside her, so maybe it was more than just the mono. They'd been through a lot recently. Stress was exhausting.

She extracted herself from Matthew's arms. A chill hit her when she vacated the covers and she realized that she was naked. She blushed, remembering the moments of soft intimacy that had preceded their nap. She reached to grab some underwear and a romper, quickly pulling them on before she opened the door.

"Sybil," Mary said softly, closing the door behind her, and taking in her sister.

Her hair was in a braid, dressed in a colorful pair of cropped leggings and a tank top. It was crazy to think that today was supposed to be her wedding day. She looked like a normal girl, in her twenties, recently graduated, with her whole life in front of her. For all the pain of the weekend, Mary was grateful that Sybil and Edith now had futures full of freedom.

"Hey," She said, "I heard about what happened with you and Father. You were brave. You did the right thing."

"I know I did," Mary said.

"I'm not sure I'd have the same courage," Sybil admitted. "Someone needed to stand up to him. I'm glad you did it."

Mary nodded. Sybil was being kind, but Mary wasn't sure this was worth waking up for.

"Anyway," Sybil laughed, "I didn't actually wake you up to shower you in compliments. I had a call."

"Oh?" Mary said, intrigued.

"The internship in DC. Someone dropped out last minute and they offered me the place," Sybil told her, pride unmasked making her cheeks glow.

"Oh Sybil!" Mary exclaimed, "That's marvelous! I'm so proud of you."

She reached forward to hug her little sister.

"I've booked a flight home for tonight," Sybil said, "I'll pack a few things and have the rest sent over by mother. But I'll be in DC by tomorrow."

"I'm so happy this is happening for you," Mary enthused, pulling away from her sister. "You deserve the best of everything."

The door behind Mary opened and Matthew came out, wrapping his arm around her waist from behind.

"Mmm, what's happening?" He asked sleepily.

"It's Sybil," She said, "She's got the internship."

"That's brilliant," Matthew remarked.

"I didn't just come here to brag," She said, giving a wry smile, "I was wondering if you could do me a favor."

"What kind?" Mary asked, leaning back into Matthew's touch. She realized he'd put a shirt on since they'd crawled into bed. She found this rather unfortunate, but knew that it could be amended later.

"Well, you see, I've had a honeymoon booked and paid for this next week," Sybil explained, "I won't be able to take it anymore, as I'll be in DC. And fucking Larry doesn't get anything. So, yeah, would you two like to go on the trip? I figure you two probably deserve it after everything that happened this week. And it will help you lay low after all the gossip."

"Where is it?" Mary asked, her conversation with Matthew about needing a proper holiday flicked through her head.

Sybil gave a coy smile, "I'm not going to tell you. All I can say is that a private jet is going to be leaving tomorrow morning to take someone on a fabulous holiday. Someone might as well take it."

Matthew mused, "What do you say, darling? Shall we go?"

Mary let out a small laugh, "I mean I suppose we can. It would be a pity for such a lovely holiday to go to waste. Besides, we could use a bit more surprise in our lives."

"Brilliant," Sybil said, passing them a folder, "Well here is everything you need. I'll leave you to it."

"Thanks, dear," Mary said, "Will you send a text when you are settled in DC?"

"Yes, of course," Sybil said.

Mary smiled and then reached forward to give her sister a hug, "You do know I am incredibly proud of you, right?"

Sybil nodded into her shoulder, "I do. We both were put in hard situations, but we survived and we're better for it."

When their hug ended, Matthew said awkwardly, "And well, Sybil, about Tom. What he did was inexcusable. I'm really sorry for the mess he caused you. But just know that he did what he did because he cares about you a great deal."

"Sure he does," Sybil snorted.

"I'm serious, Sybil," Matthew said. In a man as sincere as Matthew, it was hard to hide his earnestness. "I'm not saying you have to forgive him. I'm not saying that what he did was right. But he does care for you. I can promise you that."

"Okay," Sybil said, "Good to know. But I'm still pissed at him."

"As you should be," Matthew agreed. "Just know it comes from a bizarrely kind place."

Sybil laughed and then pursed her lips, a thoughtful look on her face. Hopeful, Mary decided it was.

"Enjoy the holiday, love birds," Sybil said finally, giving them a final grin.

"Enjoy DC, my darling," Mary said, reaching out to give her sister's hand a squeeze. "And safe travels."

Matthew thought there was something familiar about where the jet was landing. The azure sea, the mountains in green and dusty brown, the coastline dotted with sun-soaked buildings- he'd been here before. It was hard to place because sleep still clouded his eyes. They had left the hotel so early in the morning, the couple scrambling to pack in time. Both he and Mary had fallen asleep just after take-off. They'd dozed through the flight, only to have been woken moments ago by the attendant who passed them steaming cappuccinos. Leave it to the Crawley's to have an expresso machine on their private jet.

Mary stirred from his shoulder and looked outside.

"Nice," She declared.

Oh, yes, Nice. Cannes. That's why this looked familiar. They were landing at the Côte d'Azur Airport. The last time he'd been here was months ago when their whole journey was starting. The irony, the full-circleness of the moment wasn't lost on Matthew.

The cappuccinos were perfect for landing, both popping their ears and rousing them from their slumber. Matthew reached to grab their bags, but saw that the attendant was already taking care of it. They'd left their wedding finery behind at the hotel, knowing that it would make its way to the Eaton Square house somehow.

They walked off the plane and into the bright, late-summer sunlight of the Côte d'Azur.

"Excusé-moi, Madame Crawley?" A man said, running right up to Mary.

Matthew listened, enraptured as always, as Mary chatted easily with the man in French.

"He's going to drive us to the boat," Mary translated for Matthew.

A boat? Whatever, he was up for anything as long as Mary was with him.

He watched as the car wove dreamily along the coast. Mary laid her head on his shoulder and drifted back into sleep. Matthew couldn't take his eyes off the beauty of the coast, the beauty of his dozing girlfriend.

After what seemed like a few hours, they pulled over to a dock in St Tropez. Matthew woke Mary with kisses in her hair, tugging on her hand to take her out of the car. They boarded a small yacht that appeared to be waiting for them. Mary and Matthew took seats on the deck, taking in the sunshine and fresh air. Mary laid her head in Matthew's lap, her eyes gracefully closed.

"There's likely a bed inside, darling," Matthew said, "If you'd prefer a softer place to nap."

"Mmm, no, I want sunshine," Mary said, "My pale English skin simply craves it."

A bit later, an attendant came out of the cabin with champagne and a lunch of Mediterranean specialties. Mary roused for the meal, clinking her glass with his, a smile on her face.

As they were draining their glasses, an island came into view.

"Is this it?" Mary asked.

The attendant nodded.

They both watched as the island approached. The water was a perfect blue, shaded by the lush green hills with dusty brown peaking out in between. It was Provencal paradise.

They docked at a marina covered with private yachts. They climbed into another car waiting for them. The island had a small town. Matthew was sure that they'd explore it more in the future. For now, he just wanted to get their lodging.

It was a villa, an old building, with modern furnishings. It was hidden in a pocket of mountains with a small beach beside it and their own patch of deep blue horizon.

Matthew's arms wrapped around Mary as he helped her from the car. She hummed and leaned into him.

"Do you want to sleep more, darling?" He asked softly, as they walked into the house. There was a flight of stair in the entrance that he was sure led to several private and luscious bedrooms.

Mary shook her head.

"I slept nearly the whole way here. I'd rather spend time with you, exploring our little paradise," Mary said softly.

"Let's explore then," He said softly.

They walked through the house, hardly taking in the luxurious interior, as their mirroring thoughts took them through the front doors onto the beach.

In the distance, they could hear the chauffer driving off after having placed their bags in their house. In the present, they heard simply the sound of waves and their breaths alongside each other.

There was a sacred moment of stillness between them. And then Mary was shucking off her dress and running into the sea. Matthew chuckled, marveling in her spirit and form, as he watched her. He quickly stripped and took off after her.

The water was fairy warm, having all summer under the Mediterranean sun to heat. He splashed his way to where Mary was standing, wrapping wet arms around her.

"We made it," She whispered.

Matthew didn't know if she was referring to the sea, to France or them, their relationship. Regardless, they'd made it. They were happy, safely unmarried, and terribly and blissfully in love.

"We did," Matthew sighed, turning to kiss her.

They returned to the beach that night, after they'd tried to make dinner together- a colorful salad made from ingredients they found pre-stocked in the fridge, and fresh baguette. When they finished, Mary discovered a bottle of rosé and a carton of strawberries from the fridge, which she snatched up before sashaying out to beach. She could tell they were bought fresh from a market today and she itched to go explore. Maybe tomorrow, she thought lazily, already imagining her in a sunhat with Matthew on her arm perusing a Provincial market.

Matthew spread a blanket out before them. Mary stretched out upon it, placing their picnic before them.

"Don't fall asleep," Matthew teased, uncorking the bottle of rosé.

"Very funny," Mary said, smacking him, as he sat on the blanket beside her. "I can't believe how much I've slept in the last few months."

"Maybe you should go to the doctors again," Matthew suggested, his words sputtering out into a monologue, "I've been looking up stuff about mono. Sorry if that's too worrying of me, but I just wanted to know more about what you are going through. I read that some people develop anemia from mono, that might have happened with you. It would explain why you've been so exhausted."

Mary shrugged. She didn't want to talk about illness, or things getting worse. She just wanted to enjoy this stolen honeymoon with Matthew. "It's not a big deal. I've got enough on my plate with starting grad school and moving and-"

"That's exactly why Mary," Matthew said, his voice more adamant now. "You are so driven. I'd hate for you to miss out on all you want to do."

She nodded, still uncertain about the proposition, but reluctantly knowing that he was partly right. She didn't want to tell him that, so instead she reached for the bottle of rosé. She took a gulp straight from the bottle.

She smiled, "Do you remember our first day together in Paris?"

Matthew grinned, "Drinking by Seine. We didn't have cups, so we just drank from the bottle."

"You aren't very fastidious about these things," Mary told him.

"But you love me for it," Matthew teased, raising his eyebrows.

"I do," She said, the tension of the previous moment diffused, "I love you for it."

They were silent for a while, listening to the waves and passing the bottle between them.

"Where will we live in London?" Matthew asked. "We'll have to start apartment planning soon."

"What if we moved to the house in Eaton Square?" Mary suggested, the idea already on her tongue, an echo of a thought that'd been fluttering through her head for the last few hours. "It hasn't been a proper home in years."

"Really? Eaton Square?" Matthew asked.

"I've been having this dream for a while now, where the house is ours," She said, thinking of the reoccurring dream, the room after room, the feeling of finally having it be a home.

"It's rather excessive, isn't it Mary?" Matthew said, hesitantly, "I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable in a place like that."

"We could redo it," Mary said, rattling out plans, surprised by her own imagination suddenly roaring to life. "I have a friend who does interior design. We could make it more minimalist- less regal, more subtle. Art that we bring back from Burundi. Upholstery that I design. Maybe some vintage tennis racquets on the walls. Make it ours, truly."

Matthew bit his lip, "I trust you Mary, if you think it can be a good home for us, I believe you."

"See look at our compromising," Mary laughed, "We're practically a married couple." She flinched a bit, sitting up, rethinking her words, "Too soon for those jokes?"

Matthew smiled warmly at her, "It's fine Mary. I stand by what I said yesterday, you wouldn't be my Mary if you had agreed to your father's demands. You are stubborn and feisty, and that makes you you." He placed the bottle in the sand, his hand lightly on her cheek, "I love you."

"I know you do," Mary said, "And my whole life is better for it."

"My whole life is better for you too."

He reached forward to kiss her, letting his hand slide into her hair. She moved forward to straddle him, her hands resting on his chest.

As she felt his warmth beneath her, her thoughts drifted to the very beginning. Seeing him at that press conference on the TV, Cora exclaiming that he was the solution to all their problems. The awkward first date, where he was drunk and she was rude, but they managed to dazzle everyone regardless. That morning they both showed up with Starbucks in Central Park; when he stood up for her at Hamilton in front of Lavinia's friend; and Paris, their dazzling, heartbreaking first weekend together in Paris. Who would have every guessed the way that their relationship would evolve into the breathtaking love story they had found in each other?

Mary thought of Sybil in the bridal store, talking to Tom, so long ago. "He's going to give her her life back." Mary had thought that fake dating Matthew would take her back to the place she'd been before the scandals erupted and tarnished her public appearance. What she didn't realize was that he hadn't taken her back, he had taken her forward. She cared more about the world now. She had more compassion, more softness. She had a hunger to learn for the first time in a very long time. Not that she had been insufficient before, but she felt more fully fleshed out now. She felt stretched and challenged and authentically Mary. His love for her had let her evolve into a new version of herself that she'd never experienced before.

"Mmm," Matthew said, pulling her from her mental montage, "This is a private island, right?"

Mary nodded into her kiss.

"Excellent," Matthew said, tugging at Mary's shirt and lifting it over her head.

"Please do," Mary encouraged, smiling, bending down for more kisses.

She pushed lightly on his chest and in a moment, he'd flipped them, her back against the sand, him above her.

As the hazy pleasure of making love settled over her, she thought of how lovely this moment was- the smell of the sea, the stars hanging above them, the only noise the waves and their breathing, and tender ecstasy that was making love to Matthew. This was worth it all. It was worth the fake dating scheme, the sickness, the moments of breaking that led to their healing, the scandal and headlines- it was worth it all for this moment, this future, this love.

so that's it. I hope that this sweet last chapter was worth the wait. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Much love xo Megan