A/N: My muse is on a silly kick right now and this is the first of several strange ideas I have floating around in my head. Inspired by a conversation with the brilliant and awesome Lady Grantham. Many thanks to my sister who listened patiently to my ideas and should be credited with the Anna/Bates idea.

Please be warned, everyone is at least somewhat OOC and I mock, but it's all out of love. Also, this was written quickly to meet a deadline and remains unedited and unbetaed, so please be forgiving of errors.

Oh, and the game sardines, for anyone unfamiliar, is basically hide and seek in reverse. One person hides, everyone else seeks and joins the hider in the hiding spot till there's just one seeker left. Perfectly random fact, I assure you!

Prelude to a Murder…Oh Wait, That's Next Episode

It was Cora's idea, of course.

"What an uncivilized American tradition," Violet muttered, and then repeated herself when no one responded or broke out clapping at her brilliant observation.

She and the other members of the Crawley family, along with many of their servants, were all gathered on the Abbey's side lawn waiting for the arrival of the afternoon's master of ceremonies. It was a beautiful July day, mild and with a few clouds drifting lazily across the bright blue sky, just the sort of afternoon that boded well for outdoor activities.

The situation was simple enough: Cora had proposed a puzzle-based scavenger hunt, Robert had agreed, and before long all the family and staff were enlisted to participate. Robert had suggested inviting a few of the neighbors, which proposal Cora duly carried out, though a few charming smiles at the post-boy and the invitations were conveniently redirected to arrive a week late.

The most difficult task had been the appointment of a puzzle master, someone sly and sneaky and with some brains inside his head, the last criteria unfortunately rather limiting the options. After consulting with O'Brien, Cora duly appointed Thomas to the position and gave him free reign to prepare the puzzles, enlist assistants, and transform the Downton grounds.

At exactly noon, Thomas appeared on the stage to announce the instructions. In honor of the occasion, he had discarded his livery and instead donned eveningwear, complete with tails, cane, and top hat.

"Welcome to the first Downton Hunt," he said to surprisingly raucous cheers from the crowd. (It would be unkind to assume he'd inserted a soundtrack, seeing as we're in the wrong era.) "When I am done speaking, you will have ten minutes to form yourself into teams of three. Each team will receive a map and a small pouch of items, some of which may aid you, but many of which are simply distractions. I will fire a pistol to indicate the start of the competition, at which point you may fan out across the grounds. There are 35 puzzles spread across the lawn, the locations of which can be discerned from a careful reading of your map. Your goal is to solve five puzzles. Each puzzle will come with specific instructions and, if completed correctly, will lead you to collect an item or several. The first team to collect five of the required items may possibly be declared winners. Oh look, no time for questions, so go off and form your teams."

"What a silly way to spend an afternoon. Whatever happened to the dignity of Downton?" Carson complained to Mrs. Hughes as everyone milled about, trying to form themselves into the required teams.

His BFF merely laughed at him. "If you hate it so much, why are you bothering to join the madness?"

Carson puffed up with wounded dignity. "I am choosing to participate because Lord Grantham expressed his wish for everyone to join in what he termed a 'lively afternoon adventure' and it is our duty to set an example for the younger staff."

Mrs. Hughes' patted the butler's arm fondly. "You're being adorably foolish again, my dear. But since you're here, want to form-"

"Carson, would you like to join my team?" Cora asked with her trademark charming smile as she glided gracefully over. "O'Brien has already agreed to join me." She gestured at the lady's maid who appeared almost like an extra appendage, trailing the Countess so closely as she was.

"It would be my honor," Carson said, without sparing a glance for his former best friend. He gave the Countess a deep nod, the butler's equivalent of a bow where his nose met his knee.

Cora beamed. "Our team shall be unbeatable."

"I would expect no less," Carson agreed.

Robert watched in dismay as Carson trailed happily after Cora, lovely images of his dream team crashing down upon head. Perhaps there was still a chance to salvage part of his dream, but when he glanced around for Bates, he discovered his seemingly loyal valet had abandoned him as well. Robert couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so betrayed.

Still, he was nothing if not English, so he choked back a tear of despair and put on a stiff upper lip. It wouldn't do to alarm the staff and all that.

Another glance around and his eyes alighted upon Matthew. The young man would have to do; even if they didn't have a bromance, Robert still was rather fond of his heir.

Matthew was quickly secured. In his joy at this development, Robert was struck with inspiration to do the young man a good turn and perhaps, just perhaps, help cupid along slightly as well. He therefore ordered Mary to join his team and his eldest daughter, to her credit, for once complied without comment.

They had no time to plot a strategy for the starter pistol sounded immediately after and the three Crawleys set off to locate their first puzzle, Mary and Matthew determinedly gazing away from each other. But perhaps strategy was unnecessary as a puzzle soon rose before their eyes.

It seemed quite simple, just a large board covered with what looked to be text. The instruction at the top read "I speak in many tongues, but only one I call my own. Find me in my original form."

Matthew gazed closely at the text beneath. "It's all Greek to me," he observed.

Mary frowned at the board and decided she should take Matthew's comment at the literal rather than metaphorical level. "So it seems we must translate this Greek text, determine the origin of the content, and track down a copy in its original language. Seems rather too involved for a simple summer activity, doesn't it?"

Robert looked at his daughter in surprise. "My dear Mary, nothing could be simpler. Why, isn't the answer blindingly obvious?"

"Is it?" Mary asked faintly, glancing over at Matthew for his reaction. He gave her a friendly smile and a small shrug and she immediately felt reassured.

"Well of course," Robert exclaimed, completely absorbed by the puzzle. "Here it says 'Να πω πως μοιάζεις με μέρα του καλοκαιριού/ Μα συ την ξεπερνάς σε ομορφιά και χάρη/ οι λατρεμένοι μαγιανθοί λυγίζουν στους ανέμου/ και είναι λίγο και λειψό το κάθε καλοκαίρι.' and certainly everyone knows that reads 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?/ Thou art more lovely and more temperate:/ Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,/ And summer's lease hath all too short a date.' It goes on of course, but you see, quite obvious really. If all the puzzles are like this, I think this afternoon shall prove quite a breeze."

"Oh yes, certainly," Mary agreed, relieved to at least recognize the work once her father had provided the translation. Never one to miss an opportunity, she quickly added, "I'll go locate the book of Shakespeare's sonnets, shall I? I think Matthew should come with me as well for I might not be able to reach the book without his help."

"Thank you for letting me join your team," Anna said with a dazzling smile for Mr. Bates.

"How could I possibly turn you down?" Mr. Bates replied with an equally warm smile. "You are the loveliest lady I know."

"Oh, Mr. Bates, you make my heart flutter so with your sweet words and caressing gaze. Perhaps we can take advantage of everyone's distraction…"

"No, Anna! I adore you, but I respect you too much to do more than dance around this subject with you."

"But why?" Anna protested. "Surely you must know I love you, Mr. Bates."

"Thank you, Anna," Bates said, valiantly hiding a pleased grin. "But I can't because I have secrets. I'm unworthy."

Anna sighed. "Oh, Mr. Bates, you are worthy of me. You're the best man I know."

Anna and Bates lapsed into silence, gazing at each other in starry-eyed wonder. And because Newton's second law states that it is impossible for a man and a woman to stare at each other while maintaining a constant distance, they started leaning in towards each other, their lips drawing ever closer.

"Oh look, our first puzzle!" William exclaimed happily, interrupting at just the perfect moment. "Is that a cake?"

Sybil's team also had no trouble locating their first puzzle. Being the friendly, expressive person that she was, she promptly celebrated by launching herself into Branson's arms and attacking his mouth with abandon. He in turn proved his qualification as a good servant by enthusiastically participating in the activity as well.

Unfortunately, they both had to surface for air eventually. Looking at Sybil's flushed face and swollen lips, Branson grinned roguishly. "I don't suppose I could interest you in a tour of my garage?"

"You mean my father's garage," Sybil said primly, before breaking down into giggles. "I would love a tour. Certainly we must check the place for potential puzzles."

He nodded approvingly and conveniently grabbed her hand to guide her in the right direction, since she certainly could not be expected to be familiar with the layout of the estate.

Only now remembering the third member of their team, Sybil glanced back with a faint blush. "Gwen, would you like to join us as well?"

It developed that Shakespeare's sonnets were remarkably hard to locate in a well-organized library. Luckily, Mary and Matthew were dedicated searchers, unwilling to leave any stone unturned in their quest for the elusive volume. Any doubters needed only observe Mary's careful exploration of Matthew's lips and Matthew's equally thorough inspection of Mary's hair to become fully convinced.

While his teammates were busy doing their part in the library, Robert had managed to locate another puzzle, but unlike the first, this one proved to be entirely baffling. This time there were a series of boards, each with a dreary, gray image. The instruction nearby said "What animal am I? I'm less valuable than the sum of my parts. Of most value to you are pieces of my tusk."

Robert squinted at the images – one seemed a flimsy graying fan, another a wrinkly gray tube, a third a solid gray wall, the fourth a thin gray rope – and wished his teammates would hurry back. Perhaps it was just his imagination, but it seemed they had been gone for at least half an hour.

Meanwhile the task was proving quite difficult. "A boxing kangaroo?" he wondered aloud.

"You, boy," Violet demanded, summoning a random extra with unerring efficiency, "bring me some tea. And be quick about it; I won't be foisted off with mumbles about Ealing." She dismissed the nameless character with a quick flick of her fingers and settled back into her lawn chair, shaded by a massive parasol.

She was conveniently situated at the top of a slope, giving her the perfect vantage point to observe the tableau playing out before her. She watched with amusement as Cora's team zipped around – most likely the American woman was cheating, but one could hardly expect better of someone of her birth – while Robert looked adorably befuddled as usual. It was too bad Rosamund wasn't born the boy, Violet mused, though Robert would probably be better off had his nurse refrained from dropping him on his head so many times.

Her tea arrived, complete with sandwiches, cakes, and a large platter of scones. She really must have frightened the servants because the food was sufficient to feed a whole battalion so when she noted Thomas standing nearby, she promptly invited him to join her. It may not be regular but then his title for the day included the word "master" and at least he had an adequate sense of humor.

They chatted amiably and all was well until the dowager countess tried a scone which really was as solid as rock, to apply the overused idiom.

"It's impossible to get good help these days." Violet punctuated her sentence by banging the scone against the table. The cups rattled and platters shock, but the scone remained undented.

"Quite," Thomas agreed. "Why, just the other day, William tripped over my foot, making me spill my hot tea all over him, and then had the gall to look like a wounded puppy. And you wouldn't believe the amount of trouble I had getting Kenny the hall boy to stand on his head all day as part of this game. 'Beyond the call of duty,' he said. 'I was mocking him,' he said. 'I wasn't his nurse to listen to his crying,' I said."

Violet patted Thomas' arm in sympathy. "It is intolerable the stubborn fools you and I must put up with." She further gave vent to her feelings by throwing the scone against the table and the two of them watched with interest as it bounced down the table, into the grass and on its way down the hill.

A moment later, the disappearing scone was replaced by Isobel, huffing and puffing up the hill (which had magically grown three times in height), a displeased look firmly plastered on her face. She paused at the top to bend over and take several deep breaths, before gasping out, "Vi- o- let-, w- we- are- wai- ting- for- you."

Violet took a long sip of her tea. "Why Mrs. Crawley, I do not believe I have the pleasure of understanding you. I am sure, as a nurse who is so well-versed in all aspects of health and wellness, you would be concerned at your shortness of breath following such minimal exercise?" Indeed, the hill behind Isobel appeared quite level again.

Isobel regained some of her power of speech. "This is- not a joke. Edith- and- I are- waiting- for you."

"What do you think, Thomas?" Violet asked, after delicately consuming a cucumber sandwich in six bites. "Might elocution lessons still be effective at her age?"

Thomas adopted a deeply mournful look. "Oh, Lady Grantham, I am afraid it is too late. Once they settle into such horrific patterns of speech, there simply is no turning back."

"Violet, I demand you join us at once!" Isobel demanded, annoyed with the mockery.

"Oooooh, hoighty-toighty!" Violet sniffed. "I'm not sure I appreciate your tone. Be off to your silly game; I'm certainly not helping your team."

Unfortunately, Isobel refused to leave, so Violet hurled a scone at her head as encouragement. One turned to several and Violet was rather enjoying herself as she forced Isobel to awkwardly dodge the small missiles.

"Is that a dance move you learned?" Violet taunted as Isobel performed a shuffling step before ducking rapidly to avoid two flying scones. "Perhaps you should look for a different dance master next time!"

But Isobel was made of sterner stuff and, at her next opportunity, she scooped up several of the fallen projectiles and launched them back at the dowager countess. It was a wonderful idea in theory but for some strange reason, though her aim was true, the scones all swerved at the last moment, to glide harmlessly past their intended target. Enraged, Isobel strode forward, determined to stuff a scone in the old dragon's mouth if it was the last thing she did, and Thomas, displaying his well-honed talent for self-preservation, quickly excused himself.

"It's all your fault, you know," Mrs. Patmore reproached Mrs. Hughes as sounds of fighting and several scones floated past their ears.

"My fault?" Mrs. Hughes asked. "Surely even you can't come up with a reason to blame their fight on me!"

"Well whose fault could it be otherwise? They're obviously fighting because of the bad scones."

Mrs. Hughes stared at Mrs. Patmore, disbelief written across her face. "And you don't see some hole in that logic, my dear Mrs. Patmore? Such as, perhaps, the fact that you are the cook and responsible for the production of those horrible scones?"

"Ah, but how quickly you forget, Mrs. Hughes!"


"Yes, that you control the keys to the supply pantries. How can I produce edible food if you don't allow me sufficient supplies?" She beamed triumphantly upon Mrs. Hughes and held out her hand expectantly. "You can hand over the keys now and I won't even ask for a long apology."

Mrs. Hughes spluttered in fury. "You must be mad if you think I'd be likely to hand over keys to the likes of you! I won't be blamed for your inedible food when really it's because you're too blind to tell the difference between baking powder, baking soda, and salt. And besides, with such mush for brains, it's no wonder that's all you can make!"

"You better take that back!" Mrs. Patmore said, while waving about a rolling pin she'd magically produced from down her corset.

"Or what?" Mrs. Hughes retorted. She too produced a rolling pin, though hers was pulled from her hair.

"Or this!" Mrs. Patmore said and rushed forward to smack Mrs. Hughes sharply on the shoulder with her cookware-cum-weapon. Mrs. Hughes retaliated with a sharp jab to Mrs. Patmore's side and soon the two were a mess of flying limbs and cooking utensils, impossible to distinguish.

Daisy sighed. She'd harbored such high hopes for a peaceful afternoon with perhaps a puzzle or two solved, but it didn't seem her teammates would be ready to participate anytime soon. Normally Mr. Carson could be called upon to separate the older women when they got this way, but he was busy with his team and she didn't dare interrupt him. Well, perhaps she'd take a walk while she was waiting…

He felt the world fading as his life force drained away. He tried to fight, tried to unglaze his eyes, but his will to live continued to seep away, flowing, flowing out through his fingers and his skin.

Snatches of conversation floated past his ears. That voice. He was helpless as long as that voice continued droning.

"…change the structure of the gases between the electrodes. Once the voltage exceeds the dielectric strength of the gases, the gases become ionized. The ionized gas becomes a conductor and allows electrons…" it was saying right now.

Through the haze before his eyes he managed to glimpse Gwen, eyes shining as she leaned forward to peer into the bonnet of the car before lifting her head to gaze worshipfully at Sybil.

And Sybil. Oh, Sybil. For a moment he felt the energy flow back, his limbs lose some of their numbness as he gazed upon her lovely form, her exultant smile. She was still the epitome of perfection to him, despite her bewildering love for cars and her exposition of all their technical details. He just wished he'd realized that when she expressed interest in a tour of the garage, she actually meant a tour of the garage. Next time he would have to distract her elsewhere.

"..exact terminal construction varies depending on the use…" she said and he was lost again.

Cora's prediction for her team's success proved to be incredibly accurate. Within a space of 30 minutes, while other teams wandered about in circles or found other methods of entertainment, her team had already solved four puzzles and collected the required bottle of brandy, lady's corset (the butler politely adverted his eyes from the object at all times), wooden stake, and coconut. (Why Carson just happened to have a ripe coconut sitting in his pantry Cora chose not to inquire.)

All that stood between them and victory was successfully completing their final task, which was to collect six filmy scarves, one from each of the bags that had been given to the teams at the beginning of the competition. It was a task that required a degree of finesse so of course it fell to Cora to approach the other five teams.

The task proved much too simple. With three of the teams – her mother-in-law's, her housekeeper's, and her youngest daughter's – she'd simply floated past them and plucked the needed item from their unguarded bags.

She visted her husband next and informed him that she just needed to check his bag and surely he wouldn't mind? He didn't – he was muttering about the macropod, mink, and mongoose – as she quickly divested him of his property

William, holder of the final scarf, proved the least distracted and therefore the greatest challenge, but still no match for Cora. All she did was unleash her heart-melting smile. "I just adore the beautiful scarves and surely you wouldn't mind sharing yours?" she asked and William was only too happy to do his mistress this service.

So now they'd completed their challenge and could settle in to watch the other teams compete for second place. Carson, overachiever as always, quickly became restless and insisted on zooming around, attempting to collect all thirty other items as well. The countess and the lady's maid had no objection; they had other, more pleasurable activities in mind and a third person would only be in the way.

"We really should go back before even Papa becomes suspicious," Mary breathed, gently pushing Matthew away. She deftly stepped around him to approach the register and sign out the needed book. "Why don't you locate the volume? It's on the east wing, third case, second shelf."

She giggled as she pinned up her hair, watching with amusement as Matthew attempted to complete his task, hindered by an inability to keep a straight line. She'd always been a quick study and now it appeared it'd been worth her while to learn those Turkish techniques before letting that not-really-gentleman die. It seemed even foreigners had their uses after all.

Many minutes later, after Matthew was finally put to rights, the cousins re-joined Robert on the lawn.

"…quahog, quail, quetzal, quokka…" the Earl was still muttering to himself. He suddenly noticed his teammates. "Oh, you're back. Wonderful, wonderful! You can help me identify this animal. I was thinking perhaps a manatee?"

Matthew and Mary exchanged a glance, uncertain how to break the news to the Earl that not only was the animal patently not a manatee, it was also rather obvious to identify.

"I think it might be a land animal, since we don't see any water," Mary ventured carefully after an awkward pause. She had no interest in waiting around while her father struggled with such an obvious clue and she turned to peer up at Matthew from beneath her lashes, shooting him a lascivious grin and flicking her tongue over her lips with intention.

He gulped.

"Matthew and I are just going to look for more clues by that tree," Mary informed her father sweetly before leading her hapless cousin away.

Anna and Mr. Bates had distractedly allowed William to eat the cake, barely noticing when he choked upon a dried pea. Once he'd recovered, the footman was sent ahead to locate the next puzzle and Anna and Bates strolled leisurely, arms linked, across the estate grounds.

"Thank you for letting me join your team," Anna said gazing up at Mr. Bates.

Bates felt his breath catch at the look in Anna's eyes. "How could I possibly turn you down? You are the loveliest lady I know."

"Oh, Mr. Bates, you make my heart flutter so with your sweet words and caressing gaze. Perhaps we can take advantage of everyone's distraction…"

"No, Anna! I adore you, but I respect you too much to do more than dance around this subject with you."

"But why?" Anna protested, pouting adorably. "Surely you must know I love you, Mr. Bates."

"Thank you, Anna," Bates said, gazing adoringly at his dearest, loveliest Anna. "But I can't because I have secrets. I'm unworthy."

Anna defended him fiercely. "Oh, Mr. Bates, you are worthy of me. You're the best man I know."

Anna and Bates lapsed into silence, gazing at each other in starry-eyed wonder. And because Newton's second law states that it is impossible for a man and a woman to stare at each other while maintaining a constant distance, they started leaning in towards each other, their lips drawing ever closer.

"Oh look, another puzzle!" William cried, waving enthusiastically towards his teammates and interrupting at just the perfect moment. He squinted in puzzlement at the image on the canvas before them. "Does anyone else think that looks like Mr. Carson dancing on a stage?"

Daisy was confused. Or, more accurately, Daisy was even more confused than usual and that was really saying something.

She was sitting at a long table under a tree in front of a house she'd never before seen. True, she rarely ventured above stairs, but she was quite certain even she would have noticed or heard tell if a new house were built upon the estate. Besides, her companions, a large hare, an odd little man in a humongous hat, and a sleeping dormouse, struck her as slightly peculiar.

"Have some wine," the hare said to her, smiling encouragingly all the while.

"I'm not allowed to have any," Daisy replied nervously, wondering if this were some test.

The hare frowned. "Well there isn't any anyway," he said rudely, "and you're not welcome to have any if there were." He turned his back and proceeded to ignore her.

The man with the large hat now addressed Daisy. "What day of the month is it?"

Daisy counted carefully in her head, afraid to give the wrong answer. Why, this was worse than facing Mr. Carson, for he never asked questions that required more than a 'yes' or 'no.' But how could she be expected to know the date when all her days blended one into the other, the same endless routine of scrubbing pots and dishes?

"Two days wrong!" sighed the odd little man, though Daisy had yet to make a sound. "At least you must know what time it is."

"Is it…tea time?" Daisy ventured hesitantly after a careful glance at the cups and pots and tiny cakes littering the table.

"Yes, it's always tea-time here. Take some more tea. Or really, bring us some more tea for I want a clean cup now."

Daisy had no idea where to find tea, but she was nothing if not obedient so she rose and ventured towards the house, hoping the solution would be inside. She was quite wishing she had been more careful and never tripped over that white rabbit, for that had been the start of all her troubles.

Presently Daisy returned with fresh brewed tea and pretty little cups, to approving shouts from the hare and the little man, but they turned unfriendly as soon as she set the items down. "No room! No room!" they cried out, waving her away vigorously. The shouts woke the napping dormouse.

"Twinkle twinkle little cup, you will want it very much," the dormouse told her sleepily, pressing the piece of crockery into her hand before nodding off again.

More confused than ever, Daisy accepted the cup and dropped it into her apron pocket, to join the thimble she'd discovered resting in there and the tiny, white gloves she had picked up earlier. She was uncertain where to go, but walking had served her decently well earlier, so she ventured forth.

Not far from the table, she came upon a large mushroom, different colored spots upon each side. Thinking it beautiful (and possibly delicious), she plucked it and added it to the treasures within her pocket.

A few steps more and she discovered a garden, full of the loveliest roses she'd ever seen. Since she never got a chance to visit the estate's gardens, Daisy made full use of this opportunity, venturing forth to sniff their heady scent. But she was saddened by their lack of color – hadn't Mum always told her roses were red? – till she was struck with inspiration. Hurrying back down the path, she discovered a large jug of ketchup in the kitchen and with it she proceeded to paint all the roses red.

Daisy had barely finished when a gardener (a strange gardener, oblong and flat, hands and feet at the corners), rushed past, shouting "The Queen! The Queen!" before flinging himself flat.

Daisy gazed around in wonder – she hadn't realized Queen Mary had been invited to the Downton Hunt – and was so dazed she forgot to curtsey (not that she knew how) when her majesty paused before her. The Queen, Daisy noticed, really looked quite different from her picture.

"Who is this? What is your name, child?" the Queen asked.

"Daisy," the scullery maid answered, pleased for once to be asked a question she could answer.

The Queen pointed to the roses. "What lovely roses. Did you paint them red?"

"Yes," Daisy answered, wondering if she should lie, but quite certain it was treasonous to do so and could lead to a beheading.

The Queen turned crimson with pleasure and ordered a rose to be bestowed upon Daisy before requiring the girl to join her for a round of croquet.

Daisy had never before played the game and she was rather amused by rich folks' proclivities when she discovered the game involved live flamingoes and hedgehogs and soldiers doubling themselves up to make arches. Life as a servant really was so much simpler.

Still, once she managed to properly hug her flamingo, she discovered she played rather well even if she had no comprehension of the rules. The Queen, always a joker, shouted "off with his/her head" at random intervals and another player would be dragged away, kicking and screaming in good fun. Soon it seemed to be just her and the Queen still competing. Daisy squeezed tightly her flamingo and prepared to take the game winning shot-

Crack! Daisy woke with a resounding headache and Mrs. Patmore wrinkled face press close upon her own. "Fool girl, have you been napping again?" the cook asked, poking the maid threateningly with the end of her rolling pin.

"No, no, I've found the items," Daisy protested meekly, displaying the contents of her pocket to a surprised Mrs. Patmore.

"Oh well, stay here and guard them, girl," Mrs. Patmore ordered. "I've got some business to finish with that housekeeper yet."


Matthew reeled back and glared at Mary. "What the bloody hell?"

She shrugged unapologetically. "Papa was looking and we can't give him the wrong idea."

He remained unmoved. "Don't play games with me. You can't just kiss me one moment and slap me the next."

"Oh can't I?" she asked suggestively before she leaned in to give his lips a quick nibble. She smiled in satisfaction as his eyes began glazing over again. "Can't I?" she breathed again, this time close against the corner of his mouth.

Brain no longer fully engaged, he merely nodded and shivered and reached forward to pull her close. But she laughed and slipped away deftly, partway down the path before he'd even registered what had happened.

"Don't just stand there," she called back. "Papa's not going to solve those puzzles by himself."

Edith was having a miserable afternoon. She'd had no luck finding any puzzles (to be fair, they were quite tough to locate if one deemed it beneath one's dignity to search), her teammates had abandoned her in favor of hurling battlescones, and she'd snagged her dress on a branch. But those were minor inconveniences when compared with the true source of her misery.

She had started the day with such high hopes. After Thomas ordered them to form teams, she'd determinedly approached Matthew only for Papa to speak over her and invite her cousin to his team. That wasn't a disaster; she'd purposely wandered past them several times so she'd be asked to make up the third, but Papa had looked right through her and invited Mary instead. She was eventually snatched up by cousin Isobel, seemingly fit company only for old ladies.

It would not have mattered so much if Mary acted her usual self and drove Matthew away with her cutting wit. But Mary was nothing if not contrary and right when it would have pleased Edith to see Mary sharpen her tongue, the older sister had turned quiet, wordlessly leading Matthew into their house.

So Edith had looked for Sybil, hoping for a sympathetic face and friendly smile to relieve her boredom and solitude, but that sister too was occupied, only she was shamelessly groping the chauffer.

And then even Mama was behaving atrociously, unashamedly rolling in the grass and kissing her maid. Why were all the other women in her family having fun while she, the most proper, the most loyal, the best, was doomed to loneliness?

But now her luck finally seemed to be turning. She was hiding behind a bush, peering at the blond head floating among the tall grass. Mary was either back to playing games with Matthew or he had finally come to his senses and tired of her. Whatever the reason, he was waiting there, waiting to be comforted by a more sympathetic, kinder, lovelier sister.

She giggled quietly to herself, but perhaps not quietly enough for her prey twitched and tensed. Wasting no more time, Edith leapt from behind her bush and charged. Her target half-turned and she glimpsed huge blue eyes, a mouth falling open in alarm and then she was upon him.

"Maybe a hippopotamus?" Robert suggested, sounding for all the world like a little boy who'd been promised a cookie if he only guessed the solution correctly. He glanced over at his teammates who appeared fully attentive as always.

"I don't think that's the right snout," Matthew ventured hesitantly.

Robert immediately looked crestfallen.

"Why don't we go on to the next puzzle?" Mary suggested kindly. "Perhaps you just need a little break from studying this picture. I'm sure the answer will come to you in time."

Robert nodded eagerly and lumbered off to search for another puzzle while Mary efficiently dragged Matthew behind another tree.

"Thank you for letting me join your team," Anna said, smiling sweetly at Mr. Bates.

"How could I possibly turn you down?" Mr. Bates replied, all sincere admiration. "You are the loveliest lady I know."

"Oh, Mr. Bates, you make my heart flutter so with your sweet words and caressing gaze. Perhaps we can take advantage of everyone's distraction…"

"No, Anna! I adore you, but I respect you too much to do more than dance around this subject with you."

"But why?" Anna protested. "Surely you must know I love you, Mr. Bates."

"Thank you, Anna," Bates said, reaching out to stroke Anna's cheek tenderly. "But I can't because I have secrets. I'm unworthy."

Anna shook her head vehemently. "Oh, Mr. Bates, you are worthy of me. You're the best man I know."

Anna and Bates lapsed into silence, gazing at each other in starry-eyed wonder.

"Do you ever get the feeling we've had our conversations before?" Anna ventured bravely after a few moments of tilting towards each other, but before William had a chance to interrupt.

"I'm sure I agree with whatever you think," Mr. Bates replied. "You are right and perfect in every way."

Anna blushed, but determinedly kept to her point. "It's just I have this sense we're repeating ourselves, but I can't quite seem to remember what we've said before."

Mr. Bates nodded. "I do know what you mean. I have the same sensation, but then again, I do get lost in wonder every time I gaze into your eyes." He started tilting towards Anna again.

Anna gently tilted herself back, resisting her urge to kiss him with every fiber of her being. "But doesn't it bother you, this memory loss? I wish there was some way we could know for sure."

"I guess we could ask William," Mr. Bates suggested, giving up his attempt to kiss Anna for the moment.

Anna beamed. "Good idea. What do you think, William, do we repeat our conversations? William…? William…?"

"He doesn't seem to be here," Mr. Bates deduced brilliantly after several calls failed to produce the missing footman.

"Oh, you're so smart, Mr. Bates." Anna gazed at him with eyes full of admiration. "Thank you for letting me join your team."

"How could I turn you down?" Mr. Bates returned with a heart-stopping smile.

"AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" a scream disrupted the peaceful afternoon, before it was cut off and replaced by sounds of a desperate scuffle.

Alarmed, all the competitors stopped what they were doing to search for the source of the despairing cry. Mary pulled away from Matthew, though not without giving him another slap for good measure. Sybil cut short her discourse about spark plugs causing Branson to suddenly de-glaze. Anna and Bates were unnerved as the flow of their discussion was interrupted, but nobly joined the rest in their search. O'Brien, reluctantly detached from Cora, quickly put her mistress' hair to rights, resorting to some creative tricks to make up for the missing hair pins. Violet remained unperturbed, but Isobel loaded herself with battle scones while Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore linked arms and marched towards the miscreants, rolling pins raised threateningly.

The search was quickly over and soon the contestants were gathered in a circle, gazing in horror at the reason for the scream. Robert, last to arrive and blocked from view, inquired of Carson what everyone was gazing at.

"It appears that Lady Edith has become unexpectedly attached to William's face by way of her mouth, presumably in an impressive imitation of a barnacle," Carson explained politely.

"Who's Edith? And who's William?" Robert asked blankly.

Those who could manage to tear their eyes away from the disturbing scene turned to stare incredulously at the Earl.

"Ah, just joking," he said with a nervous laugh, elbowing his way forward in hopes that seeing the scene himself would aid his recognition. Unfortunately, it did, all too well.

"EDITH!" Robert roared. "Remove yourself immediately!"

Edith remained either unperturbed or unaware of the attention she had drawn. She was busy pinning a weakly struggling William to the ground and attacking his mouth with abandon.

"Would you like Mrs. Patmore and I to separate them, my lord?" Mrs. Hughes asked when it became apparent Edith was incapable of taking that action herself. "It would be our pleasure." Beside her, Mrs. Patmore nodded eagerly as she waved her rolling pin in a complex pattern through the air.

"Er, thank you for the kind offer, but that will not be necessary, Mrs. Hughes."

Robert moved forward to pull Edith up himself. It took him a few tries, but he was eventually able to bring her to an upright position. Unfortunately, she was still clinging to William and it took Carson's assistance to pry the two apart.

"What were you thinking?" Robert asked as soon as he'd recovered his breath. Cora approached as well, for once without a charming smile on her face.

"I didn't know it was him- I mean, don't you dare blame me! Mary and Sybil were kissing men as well today! I saw them!" Edith protested angrily, a crazed look in her eyes to match her wild hairstyle.

"Your sisters?" Robert looked over at his two other daughters, who both appeared especially demure and retiring and appropriately shocked. "I can't believe you are trying to pin blame on your sisters, when they have always behaved with propriety. I am certain they would never kiss a man, especially not a servant!"

"But they were! Even Mama was kissing a servant! I saw her with O'Brien!"

"Oh Edith, don't be ridiculous," Cora said, with a death glare for her daughter and a charming smile for her husband. "Robert, you know better than to give credence to such baseless rumors, don't you, dear?"

"Of course," the Earl said, feeling the full force of his wife's charm and goggling at her dazedly before remembering the daughter he still grasped. "What a ghastly thought, Edith! It's bad enough you shame us by kissing a servant, but then to make up such horrific lies about your family. It is un-English, I tell you, un-English!"

He started steering her towards the Abbey, scolding her all the way. "And look what you've done! Broken up a perfectly good afternoon's entertainment prematurely. I was just about to crack that code, if you could have controlled yourself a little longer. It's confinement to your room and a diet of gruel until I can convince Sir Anthony to take you off my hands."

That evening, all the participants reconvened in the music room for the awarding of prizes. Edith was marched in by both her parents – her punishment momentarily suspended in deference to this momentous occasion – and tied to her seat, though that didn't stop her from making eyes at a shy William whenever he was visible from his hiding location behind the furniture.

Once everyone had settled in, Thomas spun around in his swivel chair by the fireplace and leered at the group. The shadows played tricks with his pale features, stretching and distorting, causing him to resemble an albino version of the headless horseman with his pumpkin upon his neck.

"I brought all of you together to name murderer," Thomas said once he deemed a sufficient number of the assembled were observing him uneasily. "It was the butler, in the bachelors' corridor, with the poisoned brandy."

An indignant squawk emerged from the direction of said butler.

"What?" Thomas asked, startled. He pressed a finger to his ear, as if listening intently to an earpiece that wouldn't be invented for several decades yet. "Oh yes, of course," he agreed with the voices in his head, "that's not until next week's episode, when Lord Grantham suggests we play sardines."

"It's uncanny! How did you know I was planning that?" Robert exclaimed. Everyone ignored him.

Thomas leveled his gaze on the assembled crowd again. "Please excuse the interruption," he said, giving them his version of a comforting smile. Whether his audience agreed remained debatable. "Of course I meant that we are announcing the winners of today's competition."

Thomas snapped his fingers and Lily the housemaid immediately surfaced to carry out her sole duty in this story. She deposited a sealed envelope into Thomas' waiting hand before promptly popping back out of existence.

Thomas rotated the envelope slowly, making no move to break the seal. "Today was a great day in the history of the Downton Hunt," he said. "We had a larger turnout than ever before and though the puzzles were harder than in previous years, many of you rose to meet the challenge. It was my great pleasure to be Chairman of this year's Hunt and I think I have done all of us proud with the unparalleled success we have achieved under my direction. In fact, this reminds me of the time-"

"Okay, cut it short and announce the winners already," Carson was heard grumbling, though afterwards he would have denied such un-butleresque behavior.

"But it was such a fabulous speech!" Robert protested, smiling enthusiastically. "Really, Thomas, have you ever considered standing for Parliament? Oh, and say, what was that animal?"

"'T'was an elephant, milord."

"An elephant! Just amazing! Such imagination, such flair. Marvelous, I tell you, just marvelous."

"Perhaps we are getting a bit distracted from the subject?" Cora interjected before Thomas could reply. She smiled charmingly at everyone, causing a sense of peace to descend upon the room as all those present forgot what they had been thinking just a moment previously. "Why don't you open the envelope, Thomas?"

Thomas did as she suggested, slowly drawing out an enclosed card to maximize the suspense. "The winner of today's competition and the recipient of this fabulous Levinson Cup should come as no surprise-"

"Yes!" Carson shouted, jumping to his feet and tugging Cora and Sarah with him as well. "Of course we won today!"

He made to step forward.

"Not so fast, Mr. Carson," Thomas said with a deadly smirk. "The actual winner is the Dowager Countess of Grantham."

"And Isobel and Edith," Isobel prompted once Thomas lapsed into silence. "You can't forget our contributions."

"Oh, I certainly shan't forget the entertainment you contributed," Thomas replied. "But no, you and Edith did not win. It's just Lady Grantham."

The room was silent as a smug Violet went up to claim her prize. Carson glumly regained his seat, still unable to say a word of protest against the aristocratic old bat, while Robert exercised his jaw muscles by wordlessly opening and closing his mouth several times.

"A speech from the winner, perhaps?" Thomas asked, enjoying the reaction.

Violet turned to the crowd. "Why are all of you gaping like a school of fish? This may be a silly American game, but there's no beating us English since we always know the right people to threaten or bribe."

"Hear hear!" said Thomas and the first Downton Hunt drew to its close.

Epilogue for the M/M Monday Madness-ers

The Hunt didn't affect the course of Mary and Matthew's relationship, for they remained as stubbornly proud as ever, determined not to confirm what was blindingly obvious to everyone else.

For many years there was no second Downton Hunt; the war and its aftermath saw to that. Eventually, worn down by time, Mary and Matthew married and in due course inherited the great estate. Perhaps they had fond memories of the first Downton Hunt because they reinstated the activity that first July and continued it devotedly for 30 years. The only change they instated were teams of two instead of the previous three.

Oddly enough for such competitive individuals, they never won but never seemed to mind. And if three of their children were born in April and grew up to be talented puzzle solvers, surely that was merely a coincidence.

A/N: Hope you enjoyed! Feedback of any sort is always welcome. :)

Sybil's discourse on spark plugs is copied from Wikipedia. The plot and some of the lines for Daisy's story are of course loosely borrowed from the incomparable "Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll. The Greek translation of Shakespeare's sonnet was borrowed from the forums at translatum(dot)gr. I can't claim to understand any Greek, so please excuse any inaccuracies.