My first Downton Abbey fic although I have written period drama based fic in the past. I think I've also developed a serious Lord Grantham crush and this is my attempt to cure it!
A one-off story based on a kiss and a snatched glimpse of the series 2 finale. I have no idea what's going to happen but somehow I don't think it will be this.
Until the Morning
It was wrong of course. Terribly and utterly wrong. But even as Robert lay naked and entwined with a woman who was not his wife, he could not quite bring himself to regret his actions. Undoubtedly the morning would bring forth a thousand regrets but as he lay in the darkness and listened to soft breathing of Jane, the woman he had taken to his bed, he pushed the doubts away.
It was an impossible situation. He was Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham and she was...no one. In comparative terms at least. Jane Moorsum was a relatively lowly housemaid at Downton Abbey, not particularly beautiful although pretty enough to be sure. And yet there had been something about her that had appealed right from the start. It could have been her shy vulnerability he supposed, the way she looked at him as startled as any deer in the forest. Or it could have been her situation which had appealed to his essentially caring and chivalric nature – she was a widow with a young son and her situation could have been perilous had he not agreed to take her on as housemaid. And yet all of this would have been nothing without the crisis which had precipitated this sudden lunge into immorality.
Jane stirred in his arms as though disturbed by the unwelcome musings of her lover. Robert gentled her back to sleep and kissed her forehead. Time enough for worries when she awoke.
No, he knew exactly how this disastrous turn of event had come about and there was only one person to blame. Himself. His increasing sense of impotence, which had been building steadily since his rejection by the army, had only increased with Cora's seeming rejection of him. Oh of course he didn't blame her. Not entirely. He wasn't really very good company these days and she led such a busy life with her lunches and charities and committees. She had really come into her own during the war and now seemed reluctant to return to the more sedate pace of the past. And so he had turned to Jane. Gentle and sympathetic, forgiving him his crass attempt at seduction – a kiss that had been so rough and ungentlemanly that he still blushed to remember. But she had forgiven him, offered to leave Downton to spare him any embarrassment. But that was the last thing he had wanted.
So they had muddled along together – it wasn't that difficult in a house of this size. But he increasingly found himself looking forward to their snatched, mundane conversations, the shy smiles when no one was looking. Of course he should have sent her away – but why should she have to suffer for his sins?
And so the situation had meandered on, his obsession with her receding into the distance as the household prepared for Matthew and Lavinia's wedding. Or so he had thought. But he hadn't counted on the fact that every facet of his life seemed to be so full of frustration that he felt fit to burst. His daughters' all apparently intent on ruining their lives, his wife at her most distant and remote and a house that was too big and too cold and….Robert stopped and almost smiled. He knew he was making excuses for his outrageous behaviour – when there was really no excuse at all.
He had been unable to sleep and had finally shrugged on his dressing gown and made his way downstairs towards the library. It was his favourite room, a place of refuge from this house of women and he had mourned its loss during the war years when it had been commandeered by the convalescing soldiers. It was hardly surprising that sleep had been difficult to find. Once again he had exchanged harsh words with Cora just before she had left the house to go on an extended visit to London. She had an important meeting with Isabel and the refugee committee that was obviously more important than any feelings he may have had on the matter. He had nursed his bruised ego all evening, dining alone, his daughters having more pressing engagements of their own. Even Isis, his faithful Labrador had abandoned him.
Once in the library he relit the fire which had been dampened down many hours ago and then settled himself in his favourite chair with a book, a light to read by, and a large glass of whisky. Carson would no doubt disapprove of all of these activities – especially the lighting of a fire by a belted Earl but Robert liked to occasionally prove that he wasn't totally useless around the house. He settled down to read but it wasn't long before the book was forgotten and he simply stared into the firelight, lost in thought. He didn't even hear the door slowly opening.
Robert shook himself from his reveries, and was prepared to be annoyed at being disturbed here…until he saw who had disturbed him. Her hair was loose about her shoulders and even though she wore a comfortable but deeply unflattering dressing gown, he thought he had never seen anything lovelier.
"I'm sorry my lord. I was on my way to the kitchen and I thought I heard something. "She turned to leave.
"Don't go," he said quickly. "Come. Sit with me."
She moved hesitantly into the room and closer to the fireside.
"Couldn't you sleep either?" Robert said, as he rose and poured a second glass of whisky.
She shook her head. "I don't know why. I normally sleep like a log but these past few weeks I…." She blushed as she glanced towards him. "I just can't seem to settle. The house is so quiet at night and then my mind just gets to thinking and then it won't stop."
Robert smiled as he handed over the glass and seated himself in front of the fire. "I know exactly what you mean. Perhaps a drink will help us both."
She grimaced slightly as she took a small sip of alcohol. She'd never really drunk much before – not even a tankard of ale. But she felt it warming her right down to her stomach and then when she looked up at Lord Grantham she felt another kind of warmth, one which set her toes tingling and her cheeks blushing. She ought to leave now. She ought to thank him kindly for the drink and get up and leave. But somehow she couldn't seem to make the words come and her body refused to obey her command to stand up.
"Are you alright Jane?"
She nodded. "I was just wondering…wondering what sort of thing keeps a man like you awake. Beg your pardon sir but I wouldn't have thought you'd have much to worry about."
Robert smiled kindly. "Yes I suppose that's a fair comment."
Jane took her courage in her hands. She really did like Lord Grantham and he had done such a lot to help her out since her Freddy had been killed in the war. She didn't like to see him so unhappy.
"They say if you talk about what's troubling you then it's a problem halved…or something like that." There was a long pause and he looked at her with an intensity that made her catch her breath.
Finally he shook his head. "I couldn't burden you dear Jane. I have already imposed on you enough." He remembered the fleeting madness of that snatched kiss and the consequent guilt. But he still couldn't help wondering what it would feel like to kiss her again, and to have her respond to his touch. When he looked up again she was standing by his chair.
"I wish you knew how much I want to help." She gently placed her hand on top of his hand and he felt his body immediately respond even to that simple touch.
"Do you?" His eyes burnt into hers as he left the loaded question dangling dangerously between them. Did she understand what he was asking?
"Yes," she whispered.
She leant down and kissed his cheek. She smelled like lemons and carbolic soap, fresh and clean and free of complications. He turned his face slowly giving her time to pull away if she chose to do so. But to his immense relief she didn't and their lips finally met. This time he was gentle with her - he wanted this kiss to last, to mean something. If this was all he could have then he wanted to remember every detail. She wrapped her arms around him as he pulled her onto his knee and deepened the kiss. His body awoke from its long slumber and responded to the closeness of another warm human being. He wanted more, much more than Jane would or should be prepared to give him.
But she was moving now, standing before him and holding out her hand to lead him away.
"Are you sure?" He prepared himself for the crushing disappointment if she came to her senses.
"I've never been so sure about anything."
"It will change everything," he warned. "Nothing will ever be the same again. For you or for me."
She nodded. "I understand"
She led him away, out of the library and towards the stairs, only hesitating when she realised that she didn't really know which way to go. They could hardly go to her room which she shared with Anna and while there were dozens of empty rooms at Downton she was not so confident that she could lead him there.
Robert noted her hesitation and took charge. "Come with me." He took her hand and led her down the silent corridors and towards the wing that he and Cora shared. Of course he would not be so crass as to make love to another woman in his wife's bed – but he had a bedroom of his own that was perfectly serviceable. And if this was to be done, then let it be done well.
His own bedroom which adjoined Cora's was warm and cosy – he had been spending more time in here recently than in previous years. The fire was banked but still gave off a little heat as he led Jane towards the large bed that dominated the room.
"There's still time to change your mind. It's not too late."
But she reached for him, untying his dressing gown and pushing it from his shoulders. He did the same service for her, catching his breath as he revealed her demure nightgown underneath, her pale skin contrasting with the serviceable linen garment. He picked her up in his arms and they lay down upon the bed and began to kiss, hands trembling as they began to explore. The bedside lamp cast a golden glow on the proceedings and when Robert finally removed her voluminous nightgown to reveal pale, flawless skin, he was absurdly glad that he hadn't got around to installing harsh electric light in this particular bedroom.
"You're very beautiful." He stroked her perfect skin from shoulder to thigh – and everywhere in between, lavishing attention on her body. He wanted her to know that this was no accident, no quick fumble in the dark that could be brushed aside. He meant it when he said that things would not be the same between them again. Guilty pleasures had a price – but it was one he was willing to pay.
To his amusement she insisted that he remove his pyjamas – a thing that was almost unheard of for an aristocratic Englishman in the marriage bed. Or at least that's what he thought. She gently cajoled him into nakedness and then rewarded him for his efforts, praising his physique and boldly caressing him until he moaned with pleasure.
It was the novelty of course, his mind insisted on telling him. But his body didn't care about the notion of novelty and only cared about touch and feel and the ultimate satisfaction. But even in the throes of passion he hoped that he wasn't a selfish lover. He caressed her body expertly, delighting in her unbridled response to his touch.
The end came much quicker than he expected but there was no way to hold back – nor did he want to. He felt the warning tingling of desire as she bucked underneath him and wrapped her legs around him. With a cry he jerked and convulsed as the pleasure washed over him and for a blissful moment of oblivion the cares of the world went away.
He responded to her voice as they lay facing each other. He brushed his thumb over her cheek. "My dear, I think given the circumstances, you had better call me Robert."
She blushed prettily. "I'm not sure that I can. I mean…it wouldn't be right."
"There is nothing right about our current situation. You calling me by my given name will hardly rock the world on its axis." He hadn't meant the words to sound quite so harsh and so he kissed her to soften any hurt. "Besides," he said once the kiss was over, "I hope my ego is not quite so monstrous that I need such flattery in the bedroom."
"Your ego is not monstrous at all…Robert."
"You're too kind of course. But I fear it is my ego has got us into this terrible predicament."
Jane frowned as she considered his words. They were in a bit of a predicament she supposed, although she refused to allow him to take all of the blame when she had known exactly what she had been doing in allowing herself to be led astray. Oh yes, the seduction had been entirely mutual.
"I'm no young girl to be led astray," she said gently. "I knew exactly what I was getting myself into so there's no use in trying to take the blame." Although she did love him for trying. But she was a widow and she knew the ways of men. She could have turned him down, left the house and she would have done too except….except that she recognised a kindred soul, someone lonely and looking for affection. They might have been separated by the circumstances of their birth but they were both human in the end and they both had human needs.
However she was also a realist. And realistically she knew that nothing permanent could come from this. He was an Earl and she was a housemaid – she knew her position just as he knew his. Yes of course the world was changing – but not fast enough for them. And besides, she had a feeling that Lord Grantham still loved his wife. This was simply physical. They were lonely people who had reached out to each other and found comfort. She sighed and sat up, swinging her legs over the edge of the bed.
"I should go now. Before it gets light."
"There's plenty time for that surely? Its still the middle of the night." He placed a hand on her shoulder. "Stay. Just a while longer."
Unexpected tears threatened but she fought them back. She couldn't afford to be sentimental about this. Oh, but he was making this so difficult. She turned slowly towards him. "I can't stay. If I don't go now then it's going to be so difficult for me to leave you at all."
"It will be difficult," he admitted. "But for both of us Jane, not only you. Now, come back to bed and leave reality until the morning." He held out his hand.
She hesitated only a moment before she capitulated and took his hand, crawling over the bed towards him and back into his arms. She felt safe there, wanted and needed and that was something she hadn't felt for a long time.
"Until the morning," she whispered.
She hoped the morning would never come.