She doesn't know why she came outside without a shawl. Only that the room had felt stifling, despite the snow outside, and the servants did too good a job stoking the fire in between dances with the family. Everyone always got a little too flushed at the Servants' Ball, where the champagne and flirtations (however innocent) flowed freely.

As a little girl, she'd danced till midnight, standing on Carson's toes as he twirled them around the room again and again. She'd enjoyed the rush of it all then, the almost-confusing mixing of upstairs and downstairs, the way Papa laughed, the feeling that she was still the special one in the room. There was something fantastical about it.

Now Mary was grown, and anything fantastical anymore was too good to be true, but still there was a pleasant sort of air at the Servants' Ball, and Carlisle was gone, and they were all slightly cheered over Bates's second chance…

Well, all things considered, this was one of the better nights Mary could remember at Downton.

Then Matthew is there, flecks of snow in his hair, and just as he speaks, there's a fleeting thought that if he could have known her when she was that young girl, untouched by the politics of the estate, things might have been different for them.

~*~

He kisses her, and it's been so long, she's almost forgotten what it was like. Not kissing—- no, Richard Carlisle had kissed her here and there during their engagement, enough at least to push their wedding date another few months further back each time, until "June" became "late fall," and late fall became "undecided." Thank God all that was over.

Thank God Matthew's talents far exceeded Richard's.

No, she'd forgotten what kissing Matthew was like. There's a funny sort of feeling in her chest, something so repressed she nearly doesn't recognize it. Dear God, it's happiness.

How utterly provincial of her, she thinks, closing her eyes.

He spins her, actually spins her, and damned if it doesn't bring back the memories of spinning around at the ball as a girl, really ihappy/i, uncomplicated, warm.

Let's go in, he finally laughs. We could tell your father.

No, she says. No, let's stay here for a moment.

You're cold, he says.

No... no, I'm all right.

He puts his jacket around her shoulders, and they both laugh again, because it's such a cliché, and that's not who they are, but it doesn't matter.

She's all right.