Not many things change after that night.
After all, they are still the same people. The only difference—the great, significant difference that changes the smell of the air around them and the weight of the world on their shoulders—is that they have finally found what they'd been looking for: in each other.
They both need to be close, need to feel that new bond between them, re-establish it over and over again—and yet, sometimes the mere awareness of being able to touch is more important than touching itself.
They find each other on those rare occasions when the house is quiet, the family away. After dinner, in the quiet of the late evening; early in the morning, even before the maids rise. Time slows down, captured like a moth in amber liquid: closed off in the shimmering of light over her collarbone, or the calm, monotonous rhythm of his breath.
Breathe in, breathe out. Closer. Warmer. Together-er.
Oh yes, then they do touch.
And it feels like coming home.
He doesn't tell her that he loves her. This isn't the right word; it doesn't even cover everything he feels for her. It's not enough to say: 'my husband', or 'my wife'.
He doesn't ask her to marry him, doesn't want to reduce her to a woman who's dependant on someone—even if that someone is himself. She has proven to be so much more than that, over and over again. But when they retire, many years from now, he would very much like to share a house with her: have something that would be truly theirs, his and hers. Something real.
"Do you regret it?" he asks her sometimes as they climb the stairs together, and the keys at her waist dangle with a quiet promise.
"Never," she answers with all the calm in the world, a shadow of a smile lingering in the right corner of her mouth, the one that always tastes of sweet, strong tea.
"Are you tired?"
When he closes his eyes at night, he knows he will see her first thing in the morning.
She's a constant in his life—very much like Downton.
After all, the most important things always stay the same.
A/N: I could have probably dragged this story on forever… which is precisely why I decided to end it here, before I had a chance to lose myself (and whatever is left of my "talent and inspiration"), completely. Still, I hope you enjoyed it, and thank you for all your kind reviews and the support you've given me along the way. (And a special, fat thanks to Vee: she knows precisely for what.) See you soon, I hope!