"…Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us…"

The words washed over him…Romans, he recognized, faintly. Chapter five. As a child he'd cheerfully memorized passages from the Bible, not because of any remarkable religiosity, but from a school-boyish need to know more than everyone else. How clever he'd thought he was, then, reciting psalms and sonnets and Keats to his indulgent mother and father after dinner.

How much simpler everything had been.

Matthew Crawley's eyes drifted up to one long and elegant arch of the church, choosing to count the bricks on the wall instead of dissecting the passage. Still, he couldn't help but think, for Christmas Eve Mass—Romans seemed an odd choice. He felt a disconnect from the familiar scripture, as though it were being spoken from outside his own life.

For the last seven months, God had seemed like something that happened to other people.

Mother has been glad of his company, at any rate. Not even he could've stayed in Manchester for Christmas, as much as he would've liked to. London was a possibility, except that it reminded him of her…and then there was Downton.

Downton reminded him of everything.

He didn't want to go up to the big house for dinner. Tomorrow he would have to, of course, there would be supper and presents and some inane parlor games, he didn't wonder. He would have to bare it, whether he wanted to or not. Tonight, he decided, would be his own. So he begged his excuses to Mother and just stayed in the village church. Church was a comfortable place where the specters of his past life could not touch him.

"You really do believe, don't you?"

Almost could not.

The tilt of her neck, quirked eyebrow, haughty smile, warm eyes—he could see it all in his mind, perfectly.

Matthew didn't need to turn.

"…Don't you?" he asked, finally.

"I've never been sure. But then—" she continued, breezily. "I'm never much sure of anything in life. How could He be any different?"

Matthew smiled in spite of himself. Lady Mary Crawley—the never changing Mary—or maybe she was always changing, and he was the one frozen in time and space.

"It used to be one of the things in life that I was sure of. I'm not anymore, though."

"You would be sure of God." Elegant heels clicked softly on a stone floor. "I wonder how you reasoned it out."

He twisted around, at last, and stood, facing her.

"I examined the world, in all of its facets—natural law, beauty, mankind—and concluded that there was no way that everything could be, as it is, through chance alone." She was not more than five feet from him, almost close enough to touch. "It was all too wonderful to not have been put on this earth for a reason."

Instead of saying anything, the eldest daughter of the Earl of Grantham merely looked—drinking him in, and Matthew could not ignore the pity he saw reflected in those eyes.

"You must think me a romantic fool with naively stupid notions about the world."

"Even if it was stupid—" Mary's voice softened. "That wouldn't make the idea any less beautiful."

They stood in silence for a long moment.

"I did start to believe in Him, during the war—at least, I thought I did. I prayed for the first time without being made to, at any rate."

"What did you pray for?" The question was out of his mouth before he had time think what possible business it was of his.

"…I'm not sure you're ready to hear."

His eyes fell on the altar again.

"You're probably right."

She walked over to the candle box and picked up one gold-plated stick, examining it idly. He wondered if the Earl of Grantham owned this church, too—he owned everything else in the county—or if it simply didn't matter to her.

"Is He a redemptive one?"


"The God you may or may not believe in—does He simply create it all and then leave us to muck it up or…" She set the candlestick down again and looked at him, searchingly. "Do you think we have the possibility to make up for what we've done?"

"Didn't you yourself once say that we were all stuck with the choices that we make?"

"It's easy to confuse the things that happen to us with the things we do."

The church was so quiet, now—so still, their voices nearly swallowed up by the rafters and stone. Despite that, what she said rang as clearly in his ears as if it had been shouted.

"I was asking what you thought, anyway—I think the stars have all aligned more times than we've agreed on anything."

"We may be more in agreement now than we ever were before," he said, thinking of words exchanged long ago about blackand white. "…I don't know. If there is redemption, it seems to me that some people must be beyond all hope of it."

"Really? You don't think that, if it exists, no one is beyond it?"

A sudden, almost violent urge to argue the point came over him. It was like stirring from a dream—waking up from whatever it was that had been hanging over his head for so long.

"Are you coming down for dinner tomorrow?" she suddenly changed course, and he felt a stab of annoyance at himself for letting the point drop.

"Of course. Why wouldn't I?"

"It's just that, well…I wonder if you should." Mary continued, casually. "Christmas is going to be a trial enough, with Sybil and Branson coming in on the morning train. If you don't want to, Ican make excuses for you."

"Is this your tactful, aristocratic way of telling me I'm not wanted?" Despite spending an entire week dreading the party, the notion that she might not wish to see him on Christmas Day irked him irrationally.

"Christmas is supposed to be jolly, Matthew." One delicate eyebrow quirked, wryly. "One hardly wants to play charades with a man who can only pantomime Mr. Rochester."

"I'd no idea you were the authority on Yuletide cheer," he replied, brutally sarcastic. He was as irritated by her description of him as he was by its correctness. "I'd hate to be a damper on the festivities. Better that I stay at home than upset everyone, sobbing over the turkey, as you all seem to expect me to."

"Do you think we sit around discussing the potentiality of your taciturn behavior?" she rejoined, tartly. "Give us credit for having more interesting conversation topics."

"I never said—"

"Besides—" Despite the steel in her gaze, the ghost of a smile played around her lips. "You're far more likely to mope about the potatoes or brood into the pudding—or even find a mince pie over which you can contemplate the miseries of life."

He opened his mouth to reply (he had not prepared for this spar with Mary, that was the problem) when he pictured himself, grasping a tray of pastries as if it were Yorrick's skull and he couldn't help stop himself from bursting out laughing, right in the middle of church. Mary, usually the queen of self-possession, could not help herself either, laughing too—more lightly, but freely, and Matthew reveled in how good it felt to see.

"I'd forgotten how much you loved a good argument," she said, finally, caustically serene.

"It's been a long time since we've had one." Too long. "I'd forgotten what fun you make losing."

When was the last time I really looked at you? Really saw you?

"It's been even longer since I've seen you smile," Beneath the breezy veneer, her tenderness peaked out. "It suits you."

"Do you think I can keep it up, or will I be back to whimpering into the asparagus tomorrow?"

"I have faith in you." She began to walk towards the doors of the church. "Besides, you'll have plenty of material for sport." The sleek head turned, and he could see those brown eyes glittering with mischief amid the dying candles. "I've had Mrs. Hughes arrange it so Branson and Granny will be across from each other. I think it might push out Sir Anthony Strallan eating a mouthful of salt for the title of 'greatest farce at a Crawley dinner party'."

As he watched her walk down the aisle of the church, away from him, a million things sprang to mind to say, things he'd been bottling up for weeks, months, years—I know what you did for meIt wasn't a mistakeI didn't mean what I saidI don't blame youI always missed youI'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry

"…I'll see you tomorrow, Mary."

He didn't need to say all of it now—or even tomorrow. There would be time enough to say it all, to tell her. After all, it wasn't just the end. It had never been just the end.

Tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope

"Happy Christmas, Matthew."

It was the beginning, as well.

Scripture verse here is from the King James Version of the Bible, which I assume would be used at an Anglican Church service in 1919. Mary's marriage to Carlisle was left deliberately ambiguous in this story because I'm so not prepared to deal with the consequences of that (DO NOT WANT.) I guess one's own head canon applies here.

Reviews are love! Can't wait for the Christmas special, but until then, we shall all have to seek solace from fic and the amazing fandom.