A/N: I cannot make myself stay away from this little universe I'd created in "Inside, Outside…" and "Chase You Like The Rain". And some people have been kind enough to tell me not to. So there you go. I hope you like it…
Sometimes, when he thinks back, he cannot quite say when it has all started. Perhaps on the day when she'd helped him with that old, tattered jacket, so alike himself in many ways. Perhaps on the train back from a ceremony during which he was given no award, although he did win something important all the same.
Or maybe when he first spoke to her, welcoming her at Downton.
He doesn't know, and it doesn't bother him.
Lady Edith—Miss Edith at the time—the reader in the family, had once told both of them about a custom still practiced somewhere in the Eastern Europe: on midsummer's eve young people, loving and wanting to be loved, would each make a wreath of fresh flowers, place a candle in its middle and let it float in the water: a lake, a pond, but most often a river. Tens of such little lights move gently over the waves, drifting with a current until somebody catches one. They say that person will forever keep the heart of the wreath's owner, hold it as their own.
He can remember her frown slightly upon hearing this, pondering the implications, a thousand images indubitably flashing in front of her attentive eyes. "What happens if two wreaths meet in the water, Miss Edith?" she'd asked, genuinely interested, leaning forward and encouraging the girl with a smallest smile. Miss Edith frowned right back.
"I think the people who made them would hold each other's hearts forever, Mrs. Hughes," she answered at long last, obviously proud of her own reasoning.
When he thinks back, he is strongly convinced that's what happened to them.
Their hearts floated towards one another, gently but determinedly, to be forever kept by the other person.
Naturally, he would never tell her that, fearing that she'd laugh at his softness, and the overly romantic side of his nature that is usually kept well hidden under the layers of propriety, professional restrain and seriousness.
And yet, when he opens the door and she raises her eyes to meet his, he knows that's precisely the case.
"Are you tired?" he asks, walking over to where he most likes to sit in that small, quiet room that has already seen so many things, been witness to so many conversations.
She gives him a smile—sometimes a genuine and bright one, sometimes no more than a shadow ghosting over her features—and always answers in the very same way: