Disclaimer: The characters and situations depicted herein do not belong to me. This story is purely for entertainment purposes. No infringement is intended. Title taken from The Head and the Heart song of the same name.
Author's Notes: This is my first foray into Downton fic, and to be quite honest, I'm terrified to post it. But in honor of a friend's birthday, I decided to jump in head first. Any and all comments and concrit are happily welcomed.
Additionally, I am American, so I apologize for all the "misspellings." : )
Thanks for reading.
The haze encrusted summer sun is setting, dipping gently behind the trees that line the edge of the property, leaving trails of best wishes in streaks of pink and orange. The trees bend forward in anticipation, straining to take stock of all that's happening within the walls of Downton.
The scenes inside the house are far less serene. There is a frenetic energy buzzing through the rooms, and it feels as though one might be hit with a charge if stepping on the carpet. Anna is running ragged from the service hall, simultaneously balancing towels and a bowl of hot water in her experienced arms. Doors are held for her as she moves upstairs, and she gives a half-distracted but appreciative nod for her fellow house staff on the other side of the hinges.
She knocks on a familiar door with her elbow, sense of propriety innate even in this moment, and offers a small smile and a final nod of thanks to Lady Edith as the maid rushes past her back into the room.
For her part, as Anna places the supplies on a table beside the four poster bed, Edith returns to her post, crawling up on the bed next to her eldest sister, just as they did when they were children; it seems appropriate somehow to do so in this experience. The frigidity between them – as well as the fragility – has gone, swept from the room like the fog that sometimes covers the dip in the road leading to town. It's simply not important now; not here, not today. It's not a clean slate, but it is a new one, and as she looks to Sybil, who has been standing on the other side of the bed just as steadfast as Edith has been, she knows the warmth in the room is not a result of the season. She mimics Sybil and lays her hand on Mary's shoulder, a smile on her face, encouraging her with murmurs of half-formed words that mean nothing and everything at the same time.
Sybil stands as her sister sits, calmly taking the towels from Anna and dipping them in the water beside her. She's been here before, remembers her first time down this road not traveled, and being back is an odd combination of fear and fortitude; she was so scared the first time that she was shaking from the emotion and not the contractions rushing through her like hot lava. It's why she's here, why she traveled all the way from Dublin, because she would have given anything to have a hand to hold; sometimes that's a bit more important than trying to breathe or knowing when to push.
She wonders if Mary's baby will be fair like Matthew or dark like its mother. Her own child is a perfect combination of her parents, dark haired and light eyes. She's just beginning to speak, saying "Mama" with a bit of a brogue. She chuckles to herself when she thinks of the probability that her niece or nephew will say "Papa" first, given how absolutely ecstatic Matthew has been from Mary's (white as a ghost, if unrelenting, unmitigated shock is as inherited as the family name) announcement that she was expecting; the likelihood of him spoiling this child, boy or girl, absolutely rotten is as given as something can be in an ever changing era. And yet, Sybil knows, having seen the world beyond the gilded cage of Downton, knows the price of love is not caught up in material possessions but instead within people themselves. Love is worth a price above rubies; a commodity that cannot be bought or sold. Instead, it's the one thing Mary will not have to learn, either from their Mama or from her younger sister's previous experiences, when raising her child.
The room turns their full attention on Mary as another contraction rolls through her like a static wave, invigorating and dangerous at the same time. It feels like yet another lightning bolt in this tempest of a storm, with the shore and salvation so out of reach, and she wants to scream out for direction or encouragement but fears her voice, like so many times before, will be lost as she yells into the wind. What scares her most, though, is not the pain. The lines that wrinkle her porcelain face are not etched because of the physical ordeal she's enduring. Instead, it's the worry as unwavering as the contractions that she is not suited for motherhood; not as inherent or natural as the process currently changing her existence forever. She looks to her mother standing at her bedside, that kind, natural smile on her face, and remembers how her Mama's temperament rounded the burdening, sharp edges of the status placed on her children. She'd never been aloof, never been unapproachable, as Mary had often felt and thought of herself in her younger days, and she wonders if she too will be able to bridge that gap without falling into a furious river of failure in which to drown, or actually find success on the roads and paths laid before her in the wake of such a monumental occasion. She looks to her youngest sister, eyes once so full of excitement and wonder and agelessness, aiding her with a steady hand and knowing gaze, and wonders if she herself will ever command that outward steadfastness and wisdom . She glances finally to Edith, who in her time of need is there not with an acidic tongue but instead with a gentle hand that is a balm to the eldest Crawley sister's scorching soul, and wonders if she will be able to do as Edith has done: apologize for her mistakes, and forgive those who had trespassed against her.
And of course there's Matthew. There's always been Matthew, who challenges her as much as she cherishes her; who has been there through innumerable starts and stops to their lives. He's come back from the brink and brought her with him, giving her the one thing even her beloved Mama and Papa couldn't provide: a new view on life; an actual purpose of which she can be proud. They've traversed so many paths together and separately, encountered many dead ends and crossroads, lost in a wood lined with trees of both their best intentions and biting missteps. But now they've carved out the path they'll walk together, not searching for the destination but instead understanding the importance of enjoying the journey, and they take on the roadblocks together, hands linked tightly just as their hearts are.
She does not hear the midwife tell her it's time to push over the realization that motherhood is not about beast or burden, not about falling into nebulously vast rivers or having to prove something. Instead it's about knowing and appreciating that when she jumps, the people that surround her will tell her she can fly, and should she fall, they'll be right there to catch her.
Downton will no longer echo emptiness, just possibilities and a redesigned sense and definition of family.
She starts to feel the urge to bear down, and wraps the fingers of her left hand around Edith's as her sister sits up properly next to her. Her mother takes the other, bending and resting her forehead against Mary's temple, whispering encouraging words that they both struggle to hear first over Mary's screams and then the cries of her baby.
She realizes rather belatedly that there are tears in her eyes, and wonders when she'd started crying. It melts into a watery laugh, and then a high melodic one as the midwife places the baby on her stomach. She blinks furiously to clear her vision and looks to the women in the room. For the first time since Matthew had gone missing during the war, she speaks to God, albeit silently this time, to thank him for the women in the room with her, the people of her past welcoming her future.
With tears in her own eyes, Anna says softly that she'll go get Matthew from one of the upstairs sitting rooms in which he'd no doubt been pacing for hours, and all Mary can do is nod her assent, far more focused on ten fingers and ten toes and familiar blue eyes gazing up at her. She runs a hand over the soft crown of the baby's head and wonders if there are any words for an occasion as momentous as this.
The door swings open and Matthew comes hurriedly in. She tears her eyes away from the newborn and smiles what feels like the most genuine, pure smile she's ever expressed. Just like the idea of being a mother, it's lovely and foreign all at the same time, but in the space between those emotions, there is quiet acquiescence, a feeling of calm companied with determination. Matthew's expression matches hers as he leans down and kisses her on the cheek, and then presses his lips to the baby's head in greeting.
She lifts her arms a bit in a silent question as to whether or not he wants to hold the infant, and he eagerly accepts, wonder written all over his face. She readjusts the pillows behind her and watches as the last streaks of light bend back toward the horizon illuminates her husband meeting their child for the first time. She is certain all the artists in France could not accurately portray the entirety of the beauty before her eyes.
As her Mama – now a Grandmama in her own right – places a loving, congratulating hand on Matthew's shoulder and gets a good look at her second grandchild, just as precious as the first – Mary realizes that they've reached the end of their first road together. Another one lies ahead, for in every ending is a beginning; with every birth a rebirth, and she cannot think of two better companions to accompany her.