Words cannot express how sorry I am about how late this update is.

Chapter 16:

30th May, 1930.

There's a warmth there, a glint in his eye, that touches her heart just as it did when she was a child.

He's down with the family, Mama having decided to stay on longer (dreading the prospect of staying with Aunt Rosamund without her husband for support.) Papa might stay on a while, too, now that the house is opened up, to see Sybil, more of their grandchildren, old friends perhaps.

He greeted them at the door, masking any surprise as they came through, as they asked to speak to him. She couldn't think of anyone better; Sybil would act as witness, too, of course. They'd telephoned; she'd nigh on squealed with delight. But who better to have stand up with her than dear old Carson, who'd stood by her through every trial, every tribulation. They share their engagement; his congratulations are heartfelt.

And then they tell him of their plans to wed, in relative secrecy, today and the furrow of his brow makes her wonder if she can do wrong in his eyes after all. And uncertainly starts to make its mark.

His tentative attempt to question her actions is enough to know that he doesn't approve. "Forgive me, surely Lord Grantham ought to know-"

"Lord Grantham would have us marry in Yorkshire," She hears herself reply politely, starting to feel terribly small in the hallway, "and if Matthew and I don't do this now..." She looks to Matthew, her fiancé for encouragement and he gives it readily with a comforting smile. She sighs rather shakily, if anyone can understand it'll be Carson. "I'm not a very brave person, I'll lose courage and wait, do what is proper and I don't want that."

"But surely you want the family here?"

She opens her mouth, but isn't quite sure what to say. Carson seems perplexed, like what he says is the most obvious thing in the world. But he doesn't understand. Her family's incomplete, and she has the opportunity to make it whole, without further delay. Matthew's hand comes to rest supportively on her back and it somehow makes her stand straighter, boosts her confidence. After this evening, he can put his hand to her back every day and no one will question. It will all be so delightfully clear; she will be his and he hers.

"Carson," Matthew says gently, but his tone brooking no argument. "Lady Mary and I are going to marry today and we would like for you to be there."

"And not to report your activities to his lordship."

Mary raises her eyebrow ever so slightly; he's got them there. But he says it without a wryness or judgement, a voice of innocence, or however innocent one can sound with such a rich baritone.

"I wouldn't put it like that, exactly," now it is Matthew's turn to gape like a fish, "it's...it's only-"

But Mary knows best of all that there is no fooling the butler: "I would."

She looks unrepentant though, and he can tell that she's quite made up her mind, that this is probably just a matter of going through the motions, but he must protest on behalf of his employer. "But it's your wedding, milady..." He trails off, clearing his throat awkwardly. He didn't have anything concrete in mind, but Mary's heart cheers, in terrible taste, at the forlornness in his voice. This isn't just on behalf of Papa. It's on behalf of being denied an opportunity to host the wedding at Downton, that it won't be the glorious event it should be, the wedding she should have had. It's a wedding, as he rightly says, - and she's having him lie about it.

Matthew could never understand, of course. Even he thought it a bit eccentric to ask the butler to serve as a witness, but Mary didn't care; she already has the reputation of an eccentric in London - among other things. He is too middle class, too used to confiding in his family. Her gaze is drawn to the table by the stairs, the roses in Granny's vase, the photographs along side, of the sisters Crawley as children, of their own children, and even one of Matthew in his regimental. Carson lives and breathes this family as much as he does Downton and has given his best years to service, but there would be no painting hung from her wall to commemorate him, no photograph on the sidetable. And, all of sudden, Mary feels quite forlorn herself.

"If you are there, I'll still have my champion." She smiles beautifully, knowing too well what words would please him most, and happy to deliver them. A nervous laugh escapes her as a sudden impulsive overtakes her. "I know that you don't like doubling duties - but you might stand in for Papa."

Carson's eyes dart to Matthew in something rather akin to horror who can only shrug a little. The butler's head shakes, trying to refuse her as she looks at him earnestly. "Oh, milady, I couldn't possibly-"

"I know it must break so many of your rules," She says hurriedly, but with more conviction, who could possibly be better? If Carson steps up to the plate, well, it's as if Downton has sanctified the union herself; if Carson condones it and gives his blessing - whose opinions are so often in line with Papa's and Granny's and anyone who might put up a fuss - then everything is above board, in a way, isn't it? She steps closer, though does not reach out toward him (she never does), a soft smile on her lips. "But - you know me, you know me better than most," She is encouraged by the wisp of a smile she sees emerging, "- I never give a fig about rules."

She can feel rather than see Matthew grin beside her, but the smile quite falls off her face at the thought that Carson might refuse her, that he might tell Papa. Her heart sinks at the thought; Matthew will be so disappointed. And yet, it is a distinct possibility. Matthew admitted as much on the way here. Why, he asked, would they need another witness when Tom was to come with Sybil anyway? Carson was liable to come clean. But she insisted. A knot forms in her stomach at the idea that she wants to be caught red-handed, a knot which needs...something. She wonders if Carson is going to drag them from the haze in which they have found themselves and put a stop to this so she doesn't have to.

"Then neither do I, milady." Well, he never could deny Lady Mary. She looks at him hard; he's agreed but he's not happy about it. She's not sure if the disappointment is his own or merely a mirror looking back at her. "I have a funny feeling that tomorrow there's going to be another pretty picture of you in the newspapers."

She loves him for the joke, and so does Matthew. What a bizarre day, they are to have. Matthew smiles brillantly at her and she returns it in kind, scolding herself for questioning any of it when there is such a man in the world, who wants nothing more than to make her his wife. Matthew gives her a gentle wink, his flirtatious manner no longer bothering to disguise itself. "We're all agreed on that."

She blushes appropriately, but as she glances back to Carson who, for a split moment, is completely unguarded, guilt courses through her for putting him in this position. And then, she recognises that knot for what it is. Doubt.

"Well, don't you look smart."

By the mid-afternoon, the knot had only tightened. Mary snapped out of her daze at the words and returned the gaze in the mirror, to see Sybil smiling at her. Poor Sybil - she looked so terribly out of place. It had been too long since she'd last visited a boutique of this kind; she and Tom were hardly living in the gutter but what money they did have, they were not spending on Sybil's wardrobe. Mary returned the smile, shaking her head to rid herself of any daydreaming, thankful for Sybil's indulgence of a far vainer sister.

"I like it." Mary agreed, looking back to her own reflection and raising a chin as she appraised herself critically. A silk, cream dress to the knee, a deep v-neck with long, cuffed sleeves, she thought to the fur-trimmed coat that would keep her warm with it. Some pretty earrings, a brooch perhaps - she would suffice. Her eyes drifted to the fascinators displayed behind her. "With a good hat, this will do very well." Mary sighed contentedly, surprised at how easy it had all been, thinking back to every dress fitting she'd had before - the first time. Mentally scolding herself for thinking about that wedding on the day of her wedding to Matthew, Mary glanced back to her sister for distraction, but Sybil remained smiling. A little too tightly. "What?"

Sybil's smile turned guilty at having been caught out, unsure whether to say anything. "It's quite simple..." She ventured, but quickly correctly herself, "- tasteful, to be sure, but..."

Mary blinked, her scrutinising eye darting back to her dress. It was simple, she knew that. But she still looked well and it fit like a glove. She could hardly marry in a registry office wearing a tiara with a ten-foot train. Her eyes fluttered with annoyance, but she didn't quite snap. Sybil never cared what anyone wore, as long as they happy wearing it. "You love simple. You're always insisting that I should do away with the frivolities of fashion and embrace simple more often."

Sybil's eyes widened slightly, sensing she'd hit a nerve, but that only seemed to fuel her on. She stood up straighter, undeterred, her eye's boring into Mary's, in the looking glass. "But it is your wedding, your wedding to Matthew..." Mary glanced to the floor, knowing too well what her sister was getting at. It wasn't just the dress, it was this whole affair. It was simple, so simple - like it were any other day. Yet, it was her wedding day to Matthew. Matthew Crawley who she'd dreamt of marrying since that late hour, alone in the dining room. He'd drunk wine from the wrong glass, and kissed her. And then, he'd taken her hand so earnestly, so devoted to her even then. Will you marry me, Mary? He had asked the first time, back in Spring 1914. Mary snorted inwardly - 1914. Sat at that dining table just the two of them, it had entered unwittingly into her mind that she was to have a wedding fit for Downton's mistress, after all. And it seemed that Sybil had thought much the same, the same as she, the same as Carson, and probably the same as everybody else but dear Matthew - who only wanted Mary. Sybil shrugged gently. "It's only that you could be queen of the county, - the whole village would turn out for you."

She swallowed at her sister's knack for reading thoughts, but flinched at how self-important it all sounded. "Your idea of the perfect wedding, is it?" She retorted, knowing the answer. Sybil was better than she - she only had wanted Tom; she never gave any thought to weddings.

"No," Sybil said patiently, "but I always thought that was what you wanted. A wedding breakfast at Claridge's..." She trailed off awkwardly at the mention of Mary's first wedding, her wedding to Richard, which painted her as the darling of London rather than the queen of any county. So different to what her Papa had wanted, and so different to today. Sybil licked her lips guiltily at the mention, but she'd always put it down to Richard; Mary had never spoken of a London wedding before. "I thought you wanted bunting and Yorkshire."

Mary's eyes glazed over, bunting and Yorkshire - it was always how it was supposed to be. The servants waving her off, the villagers cheering after the carriage - but back then, it had always been a faceless man that she'd exchanged rings with. An aristocrat of some variety. In some darker moments, she'd forced herself to picture Cousin Patrick. She shuddered inwardly - was her dream wedding really her choice at all? "Perhaps I did once." But she didn't anymore. Somehow, she was marrying the man everyone had wanted her to marry and she would be queen of the county. Countess of Grantham. Not that that mattered much. And not that it mattered today. She smiled softly again at her sister, willing Sybil to see the sincerity there. "I want something quiet." Honest. Sybil returned it in kind, but she had a look on her face. The look that said Mary was soft after all, and how it was awfully romantic and Mary quickly turned wry. "Anyway, I'm going to be splashing out on a summer tour of Europe for a honeymoon, so I don't want to overdo things. One wouldn't want to be gauche."

Sybil almost rebuked at her for such a superficial remark, but she knew better. Mary liked people to have a certain idea of her, even if it wasn't the most flattering. It would only annoy her to point it out and Sybil supposed a bride should have her day her way. "No, no, one wouldn't that." She smiled on in agreement, still feeling quite out of place. "It's a shame Edith isn't here." Sybil offered.

"To let the cat out of the bag?" Mary retorted, finally turning around to face Sybil, as she stepped down to look at fabrics. "Reporting me to Mama always was her favourite pastime."

Sybil reproached her sister with a look. "She can keep secrets, and she cares for your happiness more than you think."

Mary opened her mouth to fire something back, but another look from Sybil stopped her. Sybil knew her sisters too well. That for some reason, unbeknownst to them, they begrudgingly loved each other and wanted each other to be happy. With age, they had softened, and when Edith had passed through London on the way to Dover, Mary had even been sad to her see her go. Not that she'd admitted it to a soul. She shrugged, placidly. "I know."

"Try on a jacket." Sybil offered, going to sit down. She smiled conversationally. "The children aren't coming?"

Mary opened her mouth again, but paused, frowning uncomfortably. A pang and there was that knot again. "I told Matthew that they weren't fussed by weddings, but now, I..." She busied herself with surveying the jackets on display. "I don't want to do it without them. It's as if I need them to say I do as well, or something."

"If they've found a Saturday fair, they won't be back for hours. I find that it's impossible to drag Charlotte away from a merry-go-round. " Sybil tried, sympathetically. She waited for Mary to turn back to her, but her sister seemed determined to avoid her gaze. "It's probably for the best; Emily often has colder feet than you do."


A change of subject, then. "Another daughter eloping - terribly romantic," Sybil tried again, that familiar mischievous glint in her eye, "but Papa will be vexed."

"It's Caxton Hall, Sybil - not Gretna Green." Mary rolled her eyes, coming to sit beside Sybil and help herself to the champagne that had been put out for them. "Eloping is for the young, - Matthew and I are simply two adults who've made a mature decision to spend the rest of our lives together."

Sybil nodded but wasn't convinced. She pursed her lips with an amusing thought. "Oh, so there aren't any constraints for time, then?"

Too ladylike to choke on her champagne, Mary's eyes only widened a little. "I'm quite sure I don't know what you're insinuating, but I assume indignation is the appropriate response." Sybil remained as amused as ever. Mary rolled her eyes again. "Will you stand up with us, then? Matthew's worried to put you two in such a position; he doesn't want to give Papa another reason to take issue with Tom."

"That's sweet, but Tom and I learned long ago that we can't live our lives to please Papa or anyone else." Sybil said nonchalantly, but rather hoping Mary would take such advice to heart. "How can you even ask? Of course we'll stand with you. You came to my wedding, it's only right that I return the compliment. Again." Sybil grinned, but her sister shot her a withering glare. She sighed inwardly; knowing Mary, her sister's late husband had been purposefully - but rather unsuccessfully - pushed from her mind. "Richard would've been very pleased for you. Insanely jealous, but pleased." She dared to joke, eliciting a small smile from Mary. "He loved you."

"Yes and I, him." Mary replied quietly. " - Even if there wasn't any bunting."

Sybil sighed inwardly as her sister's gaze drifted to her lap. "I'm sorry." She whispered, instinctively reaching out to grab Mary's hand. "I didn't mean anything before. I never cared for weddings, so I never felt deprived...but I don't want you to regret your day."

"But I don't want a day, don't you see?" Mary squeezed Sybil's hand in earnest. "I want Matthew, with every bone in my body and life is too precious to waste time with - !" She clamped her lips to stop herself. She shook her head and faced her sister head on. "I'm too old to give a damn about what things look like, how they seem. It's about how things are - and I shan't be happy until I'm Matthew's wife, and we're a family." Her tongue hit the roof of her mouth; that blasted knot tightening again: "The four of us."

"Too old? Don't let Granny hear you speak so." Sybil grinned, so pleased to hear Mary speak as she did. "You're wiser, that's all. Wiser than when you begrudged Matthew for coming to Downton. Wiser than when you spurned his first proposal and wiser than the last time we stood before a mirror admiring what you were to wear on your wedding day." Mary tilted her head in acknowledgement. "- You know what's important in this world."

She did. She wanted nothing more than to be Matthew's wife. "...I do."

"Yet?" Sybil asked kindly, seeing her sister hesitate.

The four of us. Mary's stomach churned, wondering what her darlings were doing at this moment. She swallowed, swiftly getting up from her seat to look in the mirror critically again. "This dress is too simple. I'll need a stole. And diamonds. I wonder how well Mamie can pin curls."

Sybil's eyes didn't bother to skim her; she just watched Mary's face, as she lied. But she was sure that she'd used up all her questions for one day, and if Mary wanted to pretend all was well, then her sister would do that for her. "What happened to the frivolities of fashion?"

"Sybil, darling, how can one truly be wise without good taste?"

"I thought you weren't really having a wedding." Tom frowned, awkwardly holding the cake box under his arm, as Matthew and he stepped out on to the street. They both squinted against the sunlight, the morning clouds having long cleared up to make way for a brighter afternoon. Spring had arrived, finally. Matthew smiled at how apt it was; the season for new life and his new life was to begin today.

"Well, we can still cut a cake, can't we?" Matthew said cheerfully, as they began to cut across a park. "Champagne in a garden?" He offered, breathing in deeply the little patch of green in London.

Tom almost rolled his eyes at Matthew's euphoria, but didn't want to burst the man's bubble. "You can't go wrong with a Victoria Sponge." Tom agreed before a wicked grin came across his face. "I wouldn't let Mrs. Patmore know about it, though." Matthew blinked at that, the abbey in all its glory entering forbiddingly into his mind. Tom grimaced, apologetically, shifting the cake box uncomfortably. "Sorry, forget about Downton."

Matthew smiled again to put Tom at ease, but it more a little more subdued, more uneasy. "I can't help but wonder what everyone's going to make of this. Robert will call me out for sure." He added, wondering how much truth there would be to that wry remark.

"A duel with the golden boy?" Tom snorted, without thinking. "You'll still be the favourite son-in-law, don't worry about that."

Matthew went to stop the younger man from putting himself down, but Tom simply raised an eyebrow. They both knew what was what. Lord Grantham may have made his peace with Sybil's marriage and may have even learned to like Tom in his own way, but Matthew had become the son Robert had never had. And Tom couldn't find it in him to begrudge him that; after all, nobody could help but like Matthew. "There's always Strallan..." Matthew ventured, to receive only another eyebrow. Well, it was worth a try. No matter who Robert favoured, however, Matthew was so terribly grateful to Tom for trailing after him as he searched for all of today's various necessities. "Thank you, for supporting us."

"We're honoured that you want us there. Sybil thinks of you more as a brother, - now it'll be official." Matthew smiled at that, their pace slowing to an amble as they passed the park's pond and heard children shriek from afar. Tom shook his head, taking in the pleasant surroundings and how calm Matthew seemed, everything dealt with in a single day."God, I wish Sybil and I had done this instead. My mother was impossible - wanted something befitting an Earl's daughter, but turning the local pub into the Ritz is harder than you might think."

Matthew allowed Tom to lament, but wasn't fooled. "I'm sure it was perfect."

"It was, it was." Tom agreed, as Matthew slowed to a halt and took a moment on a garden bench, looking out on the view. Little old ladies strolling along, a group of children trying to put their paper boats on to the water. "She was so happy that her sisters could be there. It was a shame her parents didn't want to come over for it." Tom could have kicked himself for the comment, but sat beside Matthew silently.

"A shame, yes."

Tom sighed inwardly at Matthew's painfully pensive expression; oh Tom, you do put your foot in it sometimes! - he could hear Sybil berating him already. "At this point, I think Mrs. Crawley will be so relieved that you're marrying somebody, she'll forget all about the invitation getting lost in the post." Tom joked light-heartedly. Matthew took some solace in the fact that he'd made his intentions clear to his mother the previous night. Although Isobel was expecting her to son to return to Yorkshire engaged rather than married, no doubt. Matthew glanced at Tom out of the corner of his eye, the man seeming torn whether to say more. He looked at him questioningly; Tom shrugged apologetically. "Still, good luck with Lady Grantham."

"Which one?" It was Matthew's turn to snort.

His eyes scanning the small landscape before them, Matthew was drawn to the children by the water, espying their mothers watching them from afar. One always had to be vigilant, he supposed. A little boy struggled to tear off some stale bread for the ducks, his face wary as the birds waited impatiently. Reminded him of Rabbit. Matthew swallowed; he'd missed Mary so very much, but he hadn't realised quite how much it would hurt to be away from the children. Peter had been his faithful companion for so many months now, and Emily and he were on the way to being firm friends, too. She had a dry humour that he couldn't help but love. So much like her mother, and yet so much her very own person.

Matthew smiled as the boy was approached by, who he could only assume to be, his young brother, barely a toddler. He trotted over confidently to the older boy, and reached to pull the bread out of his hand. His brother obliged him and tore him off a piece.

Rabbit would make a wonderful big brother.

"You all right?" Tom asked, interrupting his thoughts, and following Matthew's eyeline. He grinned. "Oh, you can look forward to that."

Matthew returned the smile, but had learned long ago not to get his hopes up. "Do you think so?"

"I don't think you have a choice," Tom informed, adopting a rather posh lilt, "- it's your duty to Downton."

A little prince for the kingdom. "It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it." Matthew replied, feigning a desperate sigh.

"What a martyr."

Matthew grinned at Tom's mutterings, but looking back at the two boys playing together, squabbling together, he felt a pang as he wondered what Peter and Emily were doing right now. Mary and he were to become a family today, and yet two of the family's most important members weren't going to be there. Emily may not care to be a bridesmaid, but he was quite sure they'd never hear the end of it anyway. He sighed inwardly, eyes squinting uncomfortably against the sun again. Perhaps the pang was guilt - an emotion that Matthew was well-versed in. Or perhaps it was rather fear. The fear of disappointing the most darling children in the world (of that he had absolutely no doubts). He knew how to love Mary - he'd done so for many years now - and today he'd been given a chance to do so openly, truthfully, honestly for the rest of his life, however long or short it might be.

But fatherhood - well, it was a whole other kettle of fish, wasn't it? He could only pray that Mary would forgive him for all the mistakes he was sure to make. He knew that trying to fill Richard's shoes wouldn't do, but the man wasn't here anymore. It would fall to Matthew to be the father and to support Mary; to impress on Rabbit the responsibilities of being a man - to defend his principles, to be respectful through life; to let every boy know who passed Emily's path that he couldn't possibly be good enough, to reluctantly give her hand to the best of a bad bunch - to someone who encouraged and loved her almost as much as he did. God, such ground they'd made - was today going to ruin everything? They'd seemed pleased at the prospect of he and their Mama marrying, but he couldn't help feeling that they were selfishly rushing everything. He and Mary wanted nothing more than to be together, but their actions today could hurt others. There was that guilt again.

Matthew swallowed; he would rather deal with Cousin Violet a hundred times over than see their little faces forlorn this evening.

Sybil shook her head slightly, as she watched her sister once more pace the foyer of Caxton Hall, abundant with energy and yet seemingly tired all at the same time. Mary looked so awfully pensive; she was worried that she'd pushed her too far, pried too much. Sybil berated herself, how like Granny she had been? She should have shut up and been supportive - that's all she had ever wanted when she'd married.

But then Sybil's heart soared, as Mary stopped in her tracks, a smile gracing her features as a rather breathless Matthew opened the door and came towards her. Tom soon followed, winking at her as he came in and kissing his wife firmly on the cheek.

"Look at you." Matthew said, now breathless at the sight of Mary. Her eyes shined; no compliment was needed, his face said a thousand words. And didn't he look well, too. It was a pity about the lounge suit, but seeing as they weren't marrying in a church, she supposed it was appropriate. Mary scolded herself inwardly; only she would be able to be this happy and still find something to criticise.

She briefly raised an eyebrow, as Matthew's eyes lingered on her. A few hours apart and he'd missed her. And she'd missed him, and yet - she bit her tongue, sure that she'd break his heart to say it.

"Rings!" He suddenly blurted, a hand shooting to his pocket. "I have rings! Engagement - and wedding." Matthew offered nervously, holding them up for Mary to see, but she barely glanced at them. "This, this is my grandmother's - Mother gave it to me last night. I think I was supposed to propose with this one. Do you want me to get down on my knee again?" He grinned cheekily, before taking note of her somewhat glazed expression. "You don't like them. Oh, God-"

Mary snapped to at that, shaking her head vehemently, placing her hand to his cheek. "You make me the happiest woman alive." She assured him quietly. "Savour that, I'm not one for..."

"I know." He replied gently, wondering at her seriousness. "There's a cake." He tried smiling again, glancing to Tom who held up the box, grinning, before taking in the emptiness of the room. "Where's Carson?"

"He's not here." Mary shrugged imperceptibly. Ah, Matthew thought, her disappointment coming off in waves. "I don't think he's going to come. It was a lot to ask; I shouldn't have asked it of him." She muttered, more to herself than to anybody else.

"Oh," Matthew, shrugging a little himself, an awful feeling starting to form in the pit of his stomach; he settled on what he knew to be true. "You look beautiful."

"Matthew..." Her voice no more than a whisper, her eyes shining again. He knew it wasn't happiness, and he knew what was coming. He'd probably known since they'd parted ways those few hours ago.

She bit the inside of her cheek unhappily, miserably watching Matthew piece it together. The four of us. She couldn't do it without them. She wouldn't do it without them, her babies. Their babies - if he'd still have her after this. And she couldn't do it without her parents, either. After everything that she'd put them through over the last few months, over how strained their relationship had become over the years. They had finally understood her, they let her leave Downton for London without any desperate attempts to keep her or comments on the selfishness of her actions - which Mary, herself, was beginning to appreciate -, they'd let her go and loved her from afar. Her eyes flicked to his button hole flower, a cream camellia. She wondered if he'd been to a florist - she hadn't even bothered with a bouquet. She bit harder to stop herself from crying.

"I know."

A mere whisper, but she knew that he'd understood her perfectly. Tears sprung her eyes; he didn't even sound that surprised. "I can't." She said pointlessly, letting out a small sob.

He had understood her perfectly. He'd seen the doubt as they'd spoken with Carson, how quiet she'd been as they parted ways with a kiss on a street corner. They'd been so caught up in the moment - and what a beautiful moment it had been! - before they'd fallen back to earth. Matthew sighed to see her cry, his hands now coming to her cheeks as he wiped the tears which were free flowing - how desperate she looked to disappoint him. He wasn't sure that he could love her anymore. Mary opened her mouth to explain herself, but he shook his head firmly. No words were needed. He understood.

"I know."

Sybil stepped forward with confusion, as Mary kissed Matthew desperately. Pulling back, Mary wiped away what mascara there might be under her eyes. "Can't what? What's wrong?"

"You were right," Mary offered her sister, her grateful eyes still on Matthew, "- this might as well be eloping."

Sybil blinked, glancing at Matthew's resigned expression. God. They weren't going to go through with it. "Oh, what do I know?" She insisted, suddenly desperate for her sister to grab this opportunity with both hands. God forbid that this somehow pull Mary and Matthew apart once more. "You're a grown woman, Mary. You don't need Papa's permission."

"No." Mary agreed, sighing tearfully. Papa had been so proud of her when she'd left Downton, how she'd picked herself up and soldiered on. Carry on, he'd said. "No, but I want his blessing." Her words caught in her throat; she needed his blessing. She needed her family. "Matthew, I love you, but...I..." She prayed that he wouldn't hate her for today - she was more or less jilting him, after all.

And yet, he still soaked in the sight of her with such devotion, such love and understanding that she was quite sure that she didn't deserve him. He shrugged, casually. "Family is everything; you would think that we'd have learned that by now." And he really meant it. He was a father now; he'd made the last selfish decision he was ever going to make.

"Today was so romantic; it was perfect." Mary promised him, her hand reaching out to grasp his. "But all I can think is that they'll be back at Aunt Rosamund's, with a toffee apple for me or some milk bottles...Emily's feet will be sore and Rabbit will have such stories to tell," She smiled wistfully at the thought of it, "and they will all be wondering where we are, hoping that we've come to our senses - "

"Which, thank God, you have."

Matthew looked up to the voice, and Mary followed suit. Blinking as her teary vision cleared, she knew that she'd heard Granny's voice, but could only feel disbelief to see her, cane in hand, Carson steadying her elbow at the foyer's entrance. With Isobel, with Papa and Mama holding the children's hands, with Aunt Rosamund coming in from the door.

Unable to look at their faces, God forbid what she saw there, she turned to Sybil and Tom in askance, but one look told her that her sister and brother-in-law were just as taken aback as she was. She half-expected Edith to come trailing behind, Anthony in his peaked Captain's cap, both smelling of the ocean. Mary looked back to her family, her jaw clenching, not knowing what to say, not knowing whether to be embarrassed or indignant, not understanding why they here. To put a stop to this charade, she supposed. Risking a glance at her father, she sighed inwardly to find his expression quite unreadable. She couldn't believe it and found herself quite wanting the world to swallow her up.

Until Matthew held her hand a little tighter.

"You needn't look so shocked, Mary dear." Violet continued, leading the pack and sweeping across the hall to her eldest granddaughter. "Carson may be the keeper of all Crawley secrets, but it's awfully naughty of you to expect him to keep secrets between us. Allegiances are difficult to break. You may be Countess of Grantham one day, but today is not that day."

Matthew saw Cora's eyebrows rise at the insinuation, but Mary barely heard what was said, too entranced by that old twinkle back in her grandmother's eyes. Granny was pleased. She could hardly believe it; none of this was by the book.

Rosamund almost rolled her eyes, as her mother left it at that, and jumped into the foray. "Carson telephoned Mama, who telephoned Cousin Isobel, and they both came down on the first available train and found us back at Eton Square, wondering as to where you two had gone. Shall we?" She gestured to the next room. Her tone tried to be scolding, but it was difficult as she admired how well Mary looked. The shock of the family's arrival dissipated as quickly as it had arrived, and Sybil, grinning, rushed forward to kiss her mother in greeting, Peter tugged on his grandfather's hand to talk, and Carson cast his eye around the room.

Isobel stepped forward away from any chatter before her son. Matthew blushed guiltily, and went to apologise, but she shook her head, raising a gentle hand to her dear boy's cheek, quite unbelieving that this day had finally come. Things were being set right; she looked to his side, to dear Mary, and smiled. There wasn't really any other way this could have gone. No other woman he could have stood up with, made vows to, and meant them.

"My only son getting married - wild horses couldn't have kept me away."

Matthew smiled, still uneasy, the ring she'd given him feeling heavy in his hand. He couldn't bear to disappoint her and, if it hadn't been for Mary's hesitation, he would have married her - without his mother. "I'm sorry, I..."

"That's enough of that." Isobel tutted at the apology. "I heard you. We all heard you. You wanted us here, and now here we are."

Matthew nodded thankfully. "You must have been travelling all day."

"Hmmm." Isobel agreed, dropping her voice a little. "With Cousin Violet, so have pity." A thought occurred to her, and a wicked grin settled on the older woman's features. "Or with your Granny, should I say." Leaving her son with that thought, she patted her son on the cheek and decided to follow Sybil and Tom, who began to lead an impatient Rosamund and Granny through to the right room. Matthew raised an amused eyebrow as he watched Violet demand of some poor unsuspecting gentleman whether the room was fitted correctly, the look of mortification on Tom's and his mother's faces - and looks without surprise on Sybil's and Rosamund's. He glanced at Mary to see if she, too, was watching them go, hoping the mood was lightening, but she seemed so pensive, her eyes flicking to her Papa, to Carson. She bit the inside of her cheek as her Mama came closer.

"Depriving your mother from putting on a wedding." Cora sighed gently, a small smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. Her heart ached to see her daughter so worried, and she instinctively reached out to get rid of the last traces of mascara from under Mary's eyes. "I wouldn't have held it against you - not for very long, anyway." She wrinkled her nose, lovingly. "We love you so much, darling. Now, dry your tears, hmm?" Mary nodded obediently, but her eyes glistened once more as she looked to her father. Cora sighed, gesturing for her husband to come forward. "Robert..."

Mary grinned tearfully at her two angels, as Rabbit let go of his Grandpapa's hand to hold on to his mother's dress. She ran an adoring hand through his hair, smiling at Emily as she also let go of Robert's hand to launch herself at Matthew, demanding to be picked up, no doubt worn out from the fair. Of course, Matthew obliged.

For a moment, Robert looked bereft, as his grandchildren left him, but taking in the scene before him, he was finding it difficult to begrudge his daughter anything. Despite his heart sinking at the idea that she would keep this day away from her family.

Mary swallowed. "Papa, I..."

But Papa's attention was soon on Matthew, and Matthew stood a little straighter. He didn't doubt that the older man loved him, in many ways, as one would love a son, but seeing Robert's eyes stray to his daughter, Matthew felt nothing more than the man trying to win the favour of the father of the woman he adored. Robert's eyes softened, as Emily tiredly wrapped her arms around Matthew's neck. "You better love my daughter as much as I think you do." Robert said seriously. "As much as I do." He cleared his throat, as his voice caught, gazing once more at Mary. "Though I don't see how that's possible." Mary smiled softly, as her Papa sniffed before his emotions got the better of him, kissing her quickly on the cheek before she could even blink. "Now, I'm going to sit with Mama." He asserted, almost rolling his eyes as Cora looked between her daughter and husband too fondly. "Your hand is not mine to give away. You've grown into quite the woman, Mary Crawley." Mary nodded, overcome, and Robert berated himself as a frog formed in his throat again. "Anyway, I think these two would do a much better job of holding your hand."

Mary nodded, again, her hand pushing back the hair from Peter's face, as he quietly watched his Mama and Grandpapa, Nicholas under his arm. She was a mother; she hardly needed her father to give her away. And yet, she was certain that she'd never loved her Papa more. She smiled beautifully at him, sure words wouldn't do justice, and Robert nodded, understandingly, taking his wife by the arm and following the rest of the family.

Mary's eyes watched them go for only a moment, before they rested on the last family member in the foyer. For he was family. Standing awkwardly, unsure of the right thing to say - he'd never seemed less like Carson and more like a Crawley. This day certainly hadn't turned out the way she'd expected and it was all thanks to Carson. She smiled inwardly as she caught his gaze and he naturally stood taller, his arms coming behind his back. A small intake of breath: there was still that warmth there, a glint in his eye, that touched her heart just as it did when she was a child.

"I'll go back to the house, milady. Have the cook put on a wedding breakfast of sorts." Carson said, clearly feeling out-of-place, speaking before spoken to. Very un-Carson. "It's a private family affair."

"I know it is." Mary agreed, without pause. "- So, why are you leaving?" Carson's brow raised slightly, taken aback, at her determination and sincerity. Mary swallowed back any emotion; she'd already cried enough in front of Carson to last her a lifetime. "There's sure to be a seat next to Aunt Rosamund." She said, with a tone of wryness, but her voice brooking no argument. Carson's place was here.

And he knew it as much as she did: "Very good, milady."

Finally, breathing a quiet sigh of relief as Carson made his way forward, Mary dared to look at Matthew. His eyes hadn't strayed from her for some time. Her head tilted lovingly to see the tiniest frown grace his face, worried at how she was. That was Matthew: caring to a fault. Impulsively, she rubbed a thumb over his frown to somehow smooth it, and kissed him gratefully, feeling almost light-headed at how things had turned out today. Here, they stood in the foyer, about to embark on the rest of their lives. The four of them. She felt Matthew grin into her mouth, as squawks of disgust rose in protest. Pulling back, Mary tugged on one of her daughter's plaits, feeling just as cheerful as she was supposed to feel on such an occasion.

Matthew smiled at the children. "You two terrors ready?"

"Is it going to be very long?" Peter asked, starting to suck his thumb.

"Hardly, it's all a let-down really." Matthew assured them, grinning as Mary swatted him. He winked at Rabbit playfully. "But then we can eat cake."

Peter's eyes lit up at that, and Mary looked to her daughter for her thoughts. Emily shrugged, quite content to be in Matthew's arms. "Any excuse to eat cake, Mama."

Mary couldn't agree more. "Hmmm, quite. It's a shame that Aunt Edith couldn't be here."

She said it conversationally enough, but Matthew grin only grew wider as he wondered what had quite come over his wife-to-be. Family truly was everything, he supposed. "We're going to become a family, today." He announced, looking to see what the children made of that.

Emily and Peter shared a confused look. "We weren't before?" Rabbit asked, puzzled, demanding his mother hold his hand.

"Matthew and I are putting it in writing." Mary clarified.

"Papa and I are putting it in writing." Emily corrected her mother, quite forgetting herself, and blushing. Matthew smiled at Mary, pathetically pleased with himself; Mary rolled her eyes. "Till death us do part." Emily pointed out to Matthew, making sure he was serious. "I asked Grandmama - that's the rule."

"It is." Matthew nodded, feigning solemnity but still sincere. "I will. To love and to cherish. All of you - and for the rest of my days." His tone softened, as he saw it was Mary's turn to blush. "We'll go in together, shall we? The four of us?" Mary nodded, those tears daring to make another appearance and kissed Matthew hard, braving the complaints from the children.

"The four of us." Rabbit grinned, his eyes looking between his parents, before a thought struck him: "And Nicholas!"

And with that, Matthew led his family away from the foyer, putting a kiss to Mary's brow and offering her his grandmother's ring as he did so. Though they were far from Downton, he was quite sure that he'd never felt more at peace, more in love, more at home.


There we have it! I wanted to end it on a positive note, and have a complete story, but this won't be the end of Rabbit and Emily :) I am so sorry about how late this update has been. It would be an understatement to say that I've been a bit busy and apologies to those who've been waiting. I'm ready to start writing more fics again, so any inspiration would be greatly appreciated. I was thinking of doing a sequel or prequel to Home is where the heart is, so thoughts on the matter are really welcome. Thank you so much for all your reviews! Keep 'em coming! (p.s. wanted a nice but simple ending without being too saccharine, I realise this is difficult to pull off, eek!)