The July following...

A/N: This does contain some Mary bashing. But with full eventual happiness. I am rushing a bit to put this up before I trod off to work.

ahem: GO TEAM EDITH !


Cora was so glad to have everyone back at Downton Abbey, even if it was only for a few days. It gave her a chance to pretend nothing had changed. At least not changed for the worse. Cora was all right with change, as long as it was for the better, she decided...

Sybil, Edith and Anthony were back from London, and Robert was back from the training depot at Aldershot.

Sybil and Mary had been told specifically not to make any plans for these few days.

The war had done all this. It had pulled the family in different directions. Made ridiculous choices seem somehow normal.

Cora had been nothing short of astonished when Robert had been recalled to active duty. She was sure that the army would send him home as soon as he reached London and the regimental headquarters. As soon as they realized the man was 47 years old, they would certainly send him home...

But they hadn't.

Only a month later, Edith had followed Anthony to London when the War Department had recruited him.

Sybil had then insisted on going to London to work in a hospital there, as she would not be satisfied with anything less than the most difficult cases.

Mary had stayed behind with her mother.

But they were all together now, and it was a beautiful day. Edith was still inside for the moment, but Cora and Sybil sat in chairs facing the great lawn of Downton Abbey enjoying the weather. Mary stood behind them under their canopy. All of them were watching Robert and Anthony walk in the distance. The men were, no doubt, breaking Cora's recent house rule of no talk of the war for the few days they had together.

It was no surprise that it was Mary who broke the amicable silence. "At least the army is not so incredibly blind as to think it could call up someone as old as Sir Anthony." Of course, Mary was not actually happy that her brother-in-law had been saved from such a thing. They all knew, she was just spiteful enough that she felt the need to point out the man's age.

"He is only a year older than your father, just a little more worn," Cora sighed without so much as a glance at her daughter. "And as he has never been in the military, it seems late to start."

"Were you actually more aware, Mary, you would know that he is filling a very important post in London," Sybil said. "He is at Whitehall."

"What is at Whitehall?" And the thought that Mary nearly voiced was 'an old farmers' union?' but she knew her comments had fallen out of favor months ago.

"It is the Directorate of Military Intelligence. Section 6. MI6, they call it," Sybil told her.

"Intelligence?" the elder daughter seemed to mock.

Cora only shook her head, and then she informed the young woman, in the driest tones. "Yes, your brother-in-law and neighbor, whom you could have taken the time to get to know at any point in the past decade, is not only frighteningly intelligent, but fluent in German and French. And apparently some dead language, as well. But that really doesn't matter. At least not to you."

"And you are going to pretend that you knew this before 6 months ago?" Mary snipped.

"Yes," Cora replied with a well-practiced, social smile.

"And Edith had to follow him out to London to live in some tiny place within walking distance of this... job." Mary asked.

"She works there, as well, Mary. I thought you had known that," Cora said.

"She is an assistant in his department," Sybil added, sounding pleased.

"She is a secretary more likely," Mary drawled.

"Apparently, your sister has a real head for codes," Cora said then with passable maternal pride.

There was a pause then. Some talk of the weather possibly holding. The women wondered when Edith would be joining them at last. And there was a mention of the tenant farmers and the church fete schedule.

"God help us," Mary then announced as she jutted her chin toward the two men still out in the field. "Sir Anthony looks like a blind parrot out there, squinting in the sun without his hat on. I do not call that intelligent."

"Some men are bright to the point where they do have a bit of trouble with the day to day things," Cora sighed. "Luckily, he has Edith."

"Yes," Mary said, as if the word could poison.

"There she is now," Sybil said as she pointed toward the corner of the house. And she laughed good naturedly. "Edith is headed out to them and I am sure she has his hat with her."

"I'm sure she does," Cora commented.

"And I will bet you that rather than merely hand it to him, she is going to put it on him, fawn over him, and then kiss him," Mary complained.

"Well, that would be a rather stupid bet for me to take," Sybil said with a biting smile. "Edith ALWAYS does it that way. I think we can call it a family tradition at this point."

"Must we?" Mary droned.

"No, you mustn't, dear. Only we shall," Cora said with amusement.

"His hat is as bad as her dress. The two of them must be a huge hit in London..." Mary started.

"Oh, the dress isn't her fault," Sybil piped in.

"Sybil..." Cora warned.

"We aren't telling?" the youngest woman whispered to her mother.

"That announcement is for Edith to make at dinner tonight. Although, I can't believe your father needs telling. He has apparently gone as blind as a bat," Cora replied quietly.

"Well, Mary doesn't know either," Sybil quipped into her sleeve.

"What does any secret have to do with that horrid dress and the equally ridiculous hat?" Mary demanded from behind them.

"That hat we can't help," Cora said, pretending to sympathize with Mary. She paused then to chuckle as they watched Edith in the distance performing the feared hat ritual with her husband. Once they saw the hat was safely on the man's head and a kiss was placed soundly on his cheek, Cora continued. "It does at the very least keep the sun out of the poor man's eyes."

"The dress, Mary, is cut so horribly to hide the fact that Edith is pregnant!" a frustrated Sybil chimed in. "Whitehall wouldn't let her work any more if they knew."

"Pregnant? Good Lord," was all the eldest Crawley daughter managed.

Cora was beaming. "I can't wait. I really can't. She will have to come back here soon. And she will have the child here. And stay with us then. It will be wonderful to have a baby in the house."

Mary was feeling rather disorientated suddenly. Reality, at least her version of it ,was hopelessly set on its ear. The world was moving, it became quite clear. There was the notion of speed all about her as she stood there. Everyone and everything was going somewhere. Getting somewhere. While she was standing still. Rooted. Motionless...

...and quite obviously, she was the one who was lost because of it.

"You can see how happy they are from here." Sybil always was the sensitive one, so the comment didn't even surprise Mary now.

But she did wonder how Sybil had gotten to be... well, Sybil.

Mary stared at her now, and then looked out again to the trio. And for once, she tried to close out everything her mind was trying to tell her and just see the world the way her sister did.

"That is it, Mary." Sybil continued wistfully as she pointed at Anthony and Edith. "In case you are ever chasing joy, you can see there what it looks like."

They watched Lord Grantham, Edith and Anthony walk toward them. This was their signal to move from their spots and head inside for some refreshment. Sybil was already walking out to meet them, and Cora was left standing next to Mary.

"I was waiting for you to make some horrid joke complaining that you can't understand how she even got pregnant being married to Sir Anthony, Mary. Are you slipping?" her mother asked pointedly then.

"I'm not slipping. No. As of this moment, I am trying ever so hard to grow up, I suppose. I don't understand it. And I will never understand them," Mary said as if far away, her eyes locked on the couple ahead of her.

As Cora began to walk toward the approaching trio, she addressed her daughter. "No, you won't understand them, and that is perhaps a better way to approach this rather than worrying about how they fail to meet some strange set of rules in your head,"

Cora had thought the conversation finished until she heard Mary's strangely poignant pronouncement.

"You are right, mother."