Note: This is an epilogue of sorts, because if I don't end it now it will never be finished. Sorry to those who wanted more smexy times. My muse wanted fluff. I'm also sorry if you expected more from the story, but it's been very taxing mashing these two fandoms together, and I'm actually fairly pleased with the results. All endings are downers if you like what you've been reading, so hopefully you'll hate this one ;)
'Lord Grantham, Sir,' the old butler announced. Robert strode into the room, a smile ready to greet his host, only to falter at the sight of Neil Garfield.
'My Lord,' Garfield said as he rose. He had on a light grey three-piece suit with a pink tie. His hair was expertly tousled and his smile was a white as ever. Robert tried not to grimace.
'Mr. Garfield,' Robert shook the man's hand. 'Might I ask where Lord Elsingham is?'
'He's a bit late I'm afraid,' Neil said, leading the way over to the seating area. Garfield sat on the sofa and Robert took the chair farthest away from him, crossing his legs stiffly. 'Jim's been held up by his old great-aunt Murial. So glad I never bothered having a great-aunt Murial. I'm only ever late when I don't want to go. Anyway, we were suppose to have tea together, but I guess you'll have to do. '
'I see,' Robert replied, trying not to purse his lips at the man's weak attempt at charm. He also wanted to flinch at the butchering of James' name. Lord Elsingham was not, nor would he ever be, a Jim again.
'And this gives us the opportunity to get to know each other,' Garfield said enthusiastically. Robert had wanted to take James out for a little excursion into the countryside, away from the prying eyes of society. Instead he was stuck here with someone he had to reassure himself constantly was not his rival.
'I'm sure there will be plenty of time for that another time, but if James isn't here I really should-'
'Oh, he's on his way,' Garfield protested before Robert could get up. 'He made me swear to keep you here.' He grinned. 'You can imagine what sorts of schemes my mind came up with.'
'No, I can assure you I haven't the faintest idea,' Robert snapped.
'Forgive me,' Garfield said, all sincerity. 'I thought you and James were-'
'Well, open, free,' Garfield said simply. 'Among friends at least.'
'I think I know where we have gone wrong.' Robert sighed. 'We are not friends, Mr. Garfield, and frankly I'm astonished a man like Lord Elsingham would consider you one.'
'Of course he would,' Garfield said, not at all offended. Robert was at his wit's end. 'You know Jim, he'd befriend a shark if it smiled at him.' He punctuated that statement - deliberate or not - with a wide grin.
Robert rose swiftly.
'I think I'll be going.'
'No, please, don't,' Garfield, jumping up and suddenly losing his charm. This was sincerity, the real stuff, as his eyes became sad and a little desperate. 'I play games and I never know when to stop,' he sighed.
'What is it you want?' Robert demanded.
'Want?' Garfield looked genuinely confused for a moment, before he narrowed his eyes. 'You think I'm in love with him.' Robert couldn't look him in the eye. Such statements were impossible to bear, but also to deny. 'I'm not, I swear,' he vowed. 'I'm better than a lover, you see,' he said slowly, moving away from the sofa towards the windows. He gazed out across the beautiful bay. 'I'm a friend. A very good friend, Lord Grantham. I don't want to see him get hurt.'
Garfield turned to face him and Robert realised the man meant him!
'You think I would hurt him?' he exclaimed.
'My plan was to try and seduce you,' Garfield chuckled. 'I'm a bit out of practice with men, I'm afraid.' Robert tried not to blush at such speech. This man was intolerable, yet part of Robert wanted to hear more. 'Jim loves you, so much it's rather embarrassing.' Garfield smiled fondly. 'I'm just hoping you don't intend to go home in a few weeks and continue on as Lord of the Manor.'
'What on earth else would I do? And how dare you presume to ask!'
'Because I love Jim, as a brother, mind you. Going back to Highgarden and playing the Lord isn't in him. He's young and passionate. The cane slows him down a bit, I grant you, but he makes up for it in stamina, and not like that!' Garfield chuckled, but it was tinged with worry. Robert could only stand speechless. 'He wants to see the world, but he doesn't even know where to begin. I do. I want to take him to all the best places. Berlin, Vienna, Paris, Naples and so many more. Places where he can be himself, if you catch my meaning?' Garfield raised an eyebrow at Robert.
'I... I believe I do.' Robert tried to keep himself together, but his Britishness was showing painfully.
'They're fine places, Lord Grantham. I'd wager even you'd find a decent time in one of them. And I don't mean buying some pretty boy a drink either. I mean being there, with Jim, just... being.'
'I really must go now,' Robert tried to move, but he couldn't. Garfield must have sensed it, for he took a step forwards, his eyes wide and hypnotic.
'He deserves it,' Garfield said. 'But he's too kind to be let loose on his own. I'll go with him, for as long as my money holds up. He'd pay my way if I let him, but eventually I'm going to have to visit someone's great-aunt Murial.'
'What... what, exactly, are you telling me and why?'
'It's very simple, Lord Grantham. Go with him. Be with him. Everywhere. Always.'
'And how,' Robert stuttered incredulously, 'do you expect me to do that?'
'You have money don't you? You're a widower. Your daughters are old enough to take care of themselves.'
'I have obligations.'
'Yes of course, all those great British traditions that desperately need upholding,' Garfield mocked. 'Take him on a tour then. A short one. Then see how you feel.'
'And how would I explain to everyone where I've gone?' Robert wasn't exactly sure what he was saying, only that he wasn't shouting "no" and storming out.
'There are a hundred thousand excuses for these kinds of situations,' Garfield dismissed. Robert simply gaped, utterly flummoxed.
They heard the door open and the butler hurrying to greet his master. Robert caught Garfield's eye one last time, it was full of hope. 'Stop being ashamed of that beautiful man,' he hissed just as James appeared. He was clearly winded and leaning heavily on his cane.
'Lord Grantham! I hope Neil has been entertaining you. I'm so dreadfully sorry I'm late.'
'Not at all,' Robert said automatically, his manners perfectly able to function independently of his inner turmoil.
'Well, now you're here, I'll be off!' Garfield announced.
'Oh, you don't have to,' James said. 'We could all take tea.'
'No, I really must go.' They hugged goodbye and James smiled fondly as he left. As the butler showed the guest out James moved as quickly as he could towards Robert.
'I missed you,' he whispered. Robert stared at him for a moment, a whirlwind of images battling it out in his mind. He leaned down gently, startling James with a soft kiss. Once begun, he found himself lingering. James placed his free hand on Robert's cheek, moving his lips slightly, but not deepening the kiss.
They pulled away when they heard the butler coming. James looked about as shocked as Robert felt.
'Shall I bring tea, My Lord?'
'Hmm? Oh, yes, that would be good. Tea, yes.' Robert was smiling before he knew why, but of course, it was a selfish pleasure in taking James' breath away with a kiss. He wanted to do that again. In fact, he wanted to do that in front of other people, so they could see that even though this perfect young man deserved someone as young and beautiful as himself, that what he wanted was him, of all people.
'I want us to go away together,' Robert said, taking James' free hand in his.
'I thought we were away, right now, and we're together,' James smiled.
'No, I mean just us, on a tour.'
'A grand tour?'
'Not quite... more like a secret tour.'
'What on earth do you mean?'
Robert smiled. Vowing to get Garfield back here immediately so they could start planning. They would need his expertise.
'Just say you'll come.' James looked at him like he'd gone mad, but in a fond way.
'Of course I will. I've always wanted to travel, but how on earth are we going to manage it?'
'Let me worry about that,' Robert whispered, leaning in for another kiss. 'Let me worry about everything.' He kissed James' smile.
The clubs of Europe. Robert had never entertained the wildest dream that such places existed. He knew of course that there were places of ill repute everywhere, but this was... beyond that. This was a liberation of the self and of the senses.
The greatest pleasure, however, came not from the pretty boys leaning close to each other or staring blatantly at them with interest, but from James' rapt attention to it all. He blushed every time some young cherub passed his way, though he shied away from touch. Robert was glad of that. Perhaps he should be less selfish, but the overwhelming pride in being observers, not hunters, was intoxicating.
Then there were the evenings. Their hotel rooms were connected by a door. Robert had gone to great lengths to find a hotel that offered every comfort yet did not contain guests Robert or James might be expected to know or dine with.
So, after coffee shops and dark clubs or a show - some of which were completely innocent - Robert could step into James' room like he would his own.
The first time had taken his breath away. James had been standing by the doors to the balcony, Berlin laid out before him. The moon had been shining, like their first meeting, a world away now. Whirlwinds of silly poetry had danced through Robert's mind, but he wasn't a man to speak such flatteries.
'Let's stay in bed till noon tomorrow,' James suggested with a grin. 'I want to be awake all night tomorrow. I want to watch the boys watch us. It tickles delightfully.'
A whole week in Berlin, another two in Paris, always following the suggestion of their guide. He left them suddenly in Naples, when his funds ran out and he went off to fall in love with a dowager.
Two months passed, but in the end, the letters caught up with him.
One from Mary, asking how he was and how long he would be gone. None from Sybil - she was home in Dublin and probably too busy.
Three from Edith. The first two were much like Mary's, but the last one was not at all.
I hope this letter finds you well. Everyone is in high spirits here. Mary and Matthew seem to finally be getting somewhere, but I am sure she has told you all about that in her own letter.
I ran into Mr. Garfield recently in London. He was entertaining the Dowager Mayfair. He said he had left you both in good spirits in Naples. There was something in his voice that made all the pieces fit together - or rather, made me see what the puzzle was depicting. I'm not sure how to put this sort of thing into words. Us Crawley's are not known for our frank ways.
I do wish you would write back, or let me visit. I understand why you stay away, but not communicating at all is simply cruel.
I hope Lord Elsingham is in good health. I wish you every happiness. Truly, I do.
Your Loving Daughter,
PS: I haven't said anything to anyone, but I think Thomas might know. He had a look about him when he heard who you were travelling with.
'What is it?' James asked. He was sipping his coffee, the smell mingling with the morning sea breeze from the open balcony doors. Robert didn't know what to do. He re-read it several times, then slowly handed it over. James' eyes skipped through the contents, widening with surprise.
'Well, this is... good, isn't it?' he asked, searching Robert's face for some reaction.
'I don't know,' Robert said, shaking his head.
'But we're happy. They're happy. Isn't it all enough?'
'It won't last. It can't.'
'Nothing lasts, Robert,' James said gently, like he was speaking to a fond child. Robert's attention snapped to him, and he frowned. James smiled. 'That's why we should cherish everything all the more.'
'But it might end badly.'
'Then it ends badly. All the more reason not to dwell on the ending when we're in the middle of the story.'
'The middle?' Robert hadn't thought that far ahead. He had snatched James away on Garfield's insistence, convincing himself it was all for James.
James sighed and slowly pushed his chair out, getting up and forcing Robert to do the same. He leaned on him instead of his cane, and they made their way outside. Their little town was far tucked away in Southern France, perfect for a little break from all the clubs and touristy things. James looked at Robert.
'Trust me, it's the middle,' he said, and Robert believed him. James seemed to have shed something - was it youth? - but it calmed Robert. He touched James' chin, feeling the stubble he hadn't gotten rid of yet. They should visit a barber in town today. Yes, that would be nice, and then a walk along the habour.
'As you say,' Robert agreed.