working on characterization - gotta get in their heads, but i'll get there…

She sat in her room, hands in her lap. Her throat was raw from shouting, and she hadn't quite decided whether she was going to cry or not. Poor Anna - she hadn't meant to snap so, but for once, her emotions had gotten the better of her, and the wide-eyed maid had fled the room as if the devil were hot at her heels.

This was so…so utterly undignified. He ought to know better. But so should you, a sharp voice in her mind reprimanded her.

Ah, yes. So she was going to cry. She laughed a little at herself, trying to make her misery into a joke, a trifle, but even to her ears, the laugh sounded wobbly. For pity's sake, she'd only borne a war, and all the everyday horrors that came with it. She'd endured Lavinia, suffered Carlisle, and now was fully prepared to brave the newspapers' malicious glee. An argument with Matthew bloody Crawley was hardly anything to bat an eyelash at. She wiped at her face ineffectually, wishing she hadn't been so curt with Anna. Anna was always so sensible, so optimistic. Anna was not cold or calculating or cruel. She loved with abandon, choosing to do so even at the risk of…of everything, really. Yet you, the nasty little voice surmised lithely, you are practical to the point of being mechanical.

And the little voice was right, Mary thought, fingering her necklace distractedly. She'd hardly hear any argument from Edith - she'd ruined her sister's prospects a thousand times too many to expect any comfort from her on this matter. Sybil was in Dublin, happily in love with Branson, whom, if memory served, Mary had done her utmost to prevent from getting anywhere near her younger sister. So, distance aside, there would be no sympathy from that corner either.

But it really wasn't sympathy that she wanted, was it? It was Matthew. It was always Matthew.

She massaged her temples, standing to pace again. Matthew bloody Crawley. Matthew bloody Crawley.

They were engaged! They'd gone through everything together, and now they were engaged! That was supposed to be the end of the troubles - it was certainly what Mary had convinced herself while she had languished so pathetically over him during the war and his subsequent engagement. What was the phrase Granny had used? "Juliet in the tomb," that was it.

"Don't play the fool with me, Mary," she had said with that indomitable, low-lidded expression that could set cats and kings alike to bowing and scraping. "When he announced his engagement to that wispy little thing…you might as well have been Juliet awakening in the tomb."

"It doesn't matter," Mary had replied acerbically. Her grandmother's eyebrows had shot up.

"Of course it matters, my dear child. Are you implying that Sir Richard Carlisle" - how exquisitely Granny could spit out her derision in a mere four syllables - "is the man with whom you intend to spend the rest of your life?"

"There's nothing to be done," Mary had said with as much finality as she could muster, but Granny always managed to have the last word.

"Oh, don't be so fatalistic, dear - it's so terribly common."

Granny. Granny had been appalled at her behavior. Mary sat down again, more tears threatening. A knock at the door.

"Mary?"

Oh, no, it was Mama.

"Mary, open the door, please."

Mary wiped her eyes, took a breath, walked to the door, and opened it. Her mother stood there, still in evening dress as well. She looked at her eldest daughter and sighed.

"I haven't had to scold you about making a scene at dinner since you were six," she said with gentle exasperation, but she smiled a bit wearily. "I understand that you and Matthew have had some sort of disagreement, but I'm afraid all the shouting made it difficult to discern the cause."

"Mama," Mary muttered.

"Sit," was all her mother said. And Mary did, her mother beside her.

"It's ridiculous," Mary started to say, but found she could go no further. Her mother watched her for a moment, curiously wistful.

"You know, your father and I used to have the most horrible rows imaginable," she mused after a moment. "Over the most inconsequential things, too. He would leave the stopper off the decanter, or I would fold the newspaper a certain way, and before either of us realized it, we were at each other's throats."

"I never noticed.""Oh, it was long before you were born, dearest. We've been quite comfortable for many years now. But there was a time when we were so terrified of each other that poor Carson all but took to stomping down the hallway before he walked into a room - he wanted to give us as much time to compose ourselves before he entered as possible." Mary felt her neck begin to ache with tension.

"Frightened," she repeated, somewhat tartly.

"Your father and I did not marry for love," Cora said bluntly. "I wanted a title and he wanted a fortune. And yet, the more time we spent with each other, the more we realized that there was something not quite…platonic about our relationship."

"I'm not quite sure what you're trying to - "

"You and Matthew have spent the last nine years dancing around each other. You've been through a world war together, not to mention Matthew's injury, his engagement to Miss Swire, your engagement to Sir Richard - you've both been quite attached to each other for years, but have been able to do very little about it. Suddenly, that's all changed." Mary frowned, frustration level steadily rising.

"I'm afraid I'm still not sure - "

Cora interrupted her as smoothly as if Mary had not spoken.

"You're swinging back and forth between relief and fear that something else is going to swoop in and snatch it all away again. It's a perfectly normal reaction, dear, but one both you and Matthew have to acknowledge. Your father and I realized that we had a relationship; that can be as terrifying as it is wonderful. Now you and Matthew are free to pursue your relationship - it's only natural you both should be somewhat reluctant to adjust to that idea."

Mary was silent for a moment, studying the wall.

"Has he left yet?" she asked. Cora hid a smile.

"He's in the library with your father, who I imagine is telling him much the same thing I am telling you." Mary glanced at her mother, eyes questioning. "I see no reason why you shouldn't be able to catch him before he leaves."

She watched as her daughter stood, straightened her dress, and squared her shoulders. She strode to the door, her determined gait very much her father's. She paused at the door, however, not quite turning all the way around, but looking over her shoulder in her mother's general direction.

"Thank you, Mama."

Cora waited a moment, smiling to herself, before getting up and walking downstairs. Her husband stood at the bottom, rubbing his forehead.

"Have they made up yet?" she asked, and Robert looked up at her, tired but amused.

"I daresay they will soon if they haven't already. Poor chap. He's quite muddled, to say the least." Cora nestled under his arm, leaning against his chest.

"She's just as confused as he is, I'm afraid. We really ought to have stepped in before this, particularly with Carlisle's threat still hanging over their heads - they're still so very young."

"And we are veritable museum artifacts," Robert chuckled. Cora laughed, and he kissed her forehead.

"Grandparents," she remarked, and Robert pulled a face.

"Do you think they'll ever bring the child to Downton?" he asked, flippancy fading from his voice. Cora gently drew out of his arms, straightening his collar.

"Perhaps," she said carefully, avoiding his gaze, "we might invite Sybil and Bran - Tom for the wedding." A shutter fell in Robert's eyes, not quite managing to suppress the unexpectedly vulnerable look that flickered over his face whenever his youngest daughter and her chauffeur-husband were mentioned. "We'll discuss it later," Cora said quietly, touching his cheek, meeting his eyes again. "But I think it's high time we meet our grandchild."

Mary's delighted peal of laughter came from the library, followed by the lower, unintelligible tones of Matthew's voice. Cora gave Robert's collar one more satisfied tug, lips quirked. She'd missed her daughter's laugh; it had been far and few between since the start of the war. Perhaps she would allow herself to be happy, and Matthew, too.

"That's that," she murmured, thoroughly pleased with herself. A throat cleared.

"Milord. Milady," Carson said with a slight incline of his head to both. "May I presume the library is…available now?"

"I'd stomp a bit first, just to be safe," Robert said with a perfectly straight face while Cora hastily turned her giggle into a cough. Carson bowed, a hint of a smile on his face.

"Of course, milord."

"They'll be fine," Robert said quietly as Carson walked away, perhaps a tad louder than usual. "They'll be fine."

"We all will," Cora replied, taking his hand. He smiled at her, squeezing her hand.

"We will, indeed," he agreed, and they stood together for awhile, listening to the sound of their daughter's laughter.