This is set on the eve of the Servant's Ball. Please be gentle as this is my first foray into Downton,
"..and sometimes," O'Brien added, "He's there even before she's finished undressing."
"It would do you well not to speak of that," Carson barked shortly, ending the conversation with an order which even O'Brien would have to abide by.
He went from the room and all of the maids joined in a covert giggle. Even Mrs Patmore offered a hearty chuckle. It would be fair to say that all of the staff were slightly scandalized by how the Lord and Lady went on about their marital business, but nor was it new to the older members of staff. In fact, O'Brien often baptised the new members of staff with this kind of unfitting introduction to Lord and Lady Grantham. They shared a bedroom, and though all of society knew – a piece of solicitous information which could only be attributed to the staff – it was something that all of their circle chose to ignore. Even the Dowager Countess. A fact that O'Brien truly delighted in.
"Must be because she's an American," Catherine, the new maid, offered by way of conclusion, her cheeks bright with colour. She lifted the sewing box and began about fixing Lady Ethel's dress.
"Or because, what with being an American, Lady Cora's more willing -"
"Thomas!" Carson came bounding from the adjoining room, "It would do you very well to be careful of how you speak of any of the family, but particularly Lady Grantham!"
But of course, this story was nothing more than that any more. O'Brien and Thomas both knew that they had begun conforming to what society expected – and it brought a sadness that even O'Brien was surprised she felt. Lady Cora's adjoining door had been firmly shut for a very long time.
Robert had divested himself of the formality of knocking on the adjoining room of the door around a year after their matrimony. God, it had been but another life entirely. The poor, American heiress who offered him such a tempting financial prize. How callous he had been to not recognise the other riches she could give him. He scolded himself, for even to voice it in such a romantic way seemed less English than he would like. It was considered frightfully unfashionable to be so in love with one's wife, particularly a wife who was American and honest, but it was entirely true on his part. His hand hesitated on the brass know for a moment, and one of those crippling, ugly moments of guilt flooded him. He thought fleetingly of Jane and of the baby and of Sybil and of his own, unforgivable inability to see what she needed. He hadn't turned the handle of this door for nearly a year, and they pretended still. His hand wavered again. But now seemed like the right time, it was a time of new beginnings after all.
She turned swiftly as the unused door fell open, from her seat in front of the dresser. O' Brien looked up to, and left the braid in Cora's hair half undone.
"Robert," though she tried to mask her surprise, it was evident, "O'Brien, would you leave us?"
Once O'Brien had gone, she looked at him, "Really Robert, now they will talk more than they used to."
He would be grateful if the staff could talk again, particularly if it involved the unusual love story between Lord and Lady.
"Cora, I-" suddenly his coming here seemed foolish. He thought of Mary's words once, "Really smart people have separate rooms." Maybe that was where they had gone wrong; they had fallen in love, they had broken long-established rules.
But then he thought of how ridiculous it would be to not take this chance, the coming of 1920 had invigorated him to recover some of what he had lost.
"Cora what you said about Sybil earlier? And her child, and even Branson...I entirely agree."
Cora's face softened considerably and he was pained to recognise that her face hadn't softened like that in the longest time. Tonight in the library had been the first time, when she offered her hand to him, that she had reached out in a very long time. And all he could do was kiss her chastely. He should have fallen to his knees in the library and begged her forgiveness.
"You do, Robert?"
"Cora...I," he stood before the bed, "May I sleep here, with you?"
"Yes," she watched him remove his housecoat, and could not resist finding him attractive. She stood up and came towards him, "Happy New Year Robert. 1920...who would have thought?"
He resisted the urge to take her in his arms, heaven forbid he take her in his arms when he was not fully deserving of being in her heart.
"These last few years Cora, I cannot apologise enough..." he sunk onto the edge of her bed and looked around the room. He had forgotten how this room comforted him. How she comforted him. And he needed to say it now, he had to say it now.
"I became so, so..." he searched for the words, "So unable to change. My whole world, you, the girls. No one needed me and the maid-"
"Don't Robert," she turned to him, and fire blazed in her eyes, "Don't speak of her. I have given you my forgiveness Robert, I left you to adapt to a world in which I relished and you floundered. I have forgiven you, even for your indiscretion with Jane, must you continue to punish yourself?"
"But I -"
"Oh heavens, Robert! There are men in your circle who have done so much worse than been tempted by a maid. Give yourself the credit of stopping before it became truly hurtful. It really was painful Robert, but we both must shoulder some blame. After the baby. I was not as attentive to your..."
She stopped mid-sentence and a tiny, pitiful sob gathered in her mouth, "He would be 8."
Robert was overcome with shame and embarrassment. Their son would have been 8, he had almost forgotten that. He had forgotten, at the garden party long ago, that their son had been taken from them.
"We forgot to talk about him, the War came and took even that from us."
"Would you Robert, would you have spoken about the possibilities? I know how disappointed you were."
"Not disappointed in you, never in you. You must know that."
"Jane offered you a moment of relief," she said quietly, incisively, "I know she did Robert. She worshipped you and you forgot, in your haste, that I did too. Only I did it quietly, as you had always wanted and as once, you had needed. Was that the problem? My quiet adoration of you, my abiding by English manners, seemed perfunctory."
Shame gathered in his chest. In their younger years, he had ravished her when all propriety could be pushed aside. And he had wanted, in those brief moments, to show Jane that passion too. He had, though he was loathe to admit, felt that Cora no longer wanted him.
"The problem is Cora, I have committed a sin much worse than those men in my circle– I have fallen in love with my wife. And when you lay there, dying, I was suddenly so aware of how I loved you. And aware of how you loved me, in that quiet way that the War had taken from us."
She smiled; a bright, blistering smile and the pain that had been etched on her pretty face moments before vanished.
"Robert, if you continue spilling your heart like this even my adopted English sensibilities will become unconformable."
He laughed for the first time, at one of her pithy quips, in a long time.
"Robert, we can choose to live out our lives regretting what the War took from us, or we can regain it. I never intended on loving you, and nor did you intend to love me, but it happened. Little less that a year after you married me. And with that comes reality and hurt feelings. And learning to grow into what we have become."
"Much less than a year," he interrupted lightly, he couldn't remember not loving Cora and to think of it made him feel weak.
He was so much weaker than her, and in his pride, he had led that poor maid on. In his pride, he had forgotten to show Cora how he loved her. Damn his pride!
"You have taught me to be humble Cora," he took his hand in hers, "I am not worthy of you."
"Oh but Robert," she squeezed his hand, "Oh Robert, your honesty and shame makes me love you. The fact that you love me makes you love me. And honestly, this bed has missed you...I have missed you. This forward, passionate American has missed her husband."
"Cora," he grabbed her shoulders, and all their hesitation and propriety and awkwardness disappeared. Her lips crashed onto his, because she had forgotten her manners, and because she wanted him in her bed. She wanted him never to leave.
"Robert, I want you. I want you so very badly to touch me, to make love to me."
She felt him tense as he pushed her back onto the bed and fear filled her, "Robert, what is wrong?"
He laughed delightedly and relaxed again, "My dear Cora, even after all these years of marriage you never fail to shock me with that American tongue!"
"Oh please, in our youth your tongue graced me with far less mannerly requests," she began untying his nightgown, "Requests I would delight in hearing again. And you have starved me so."
"Forgive me for that," he brushed a tendril of hair from her face, "I must make up for that, my darling, my only. And you can have anything you want. I was afraid you would never want me again, that is why I became so fearful."
"Robert, all I ever wanted was you."
"Cora, you may have me, forever. And I will always be trying to make it up to you."
"Why not begin right now."
And being well practised in this area, over a number of years in his marriage, he had not forgotten how best to begin.
It struck both O'Brien and Thomas odd that neither Lord nor Lady had rung for them, and O'Brien became almost prostrate with worry by noon. How unlike Lady Grantham. She decided eventually to make her way to the room and entered through the adjoining dressing room.
The sight that met her eyes, of blissful, marital sleep was enough to make her run, silently screaming. Had she been the way inclined of men, she would have spent more time staring at Lord Grantham's not unattractive sleeping form. Though that was entirely hard to see when she had to discern the Lady's body from his. Of course, she went straight back to the kitchen with the titbit that was not ungratefully welcomed by all staff. She could tell even Carson, though he huffed disapprovingly, was glad that the adjoining door would soon need oiling.
And everyone, even Edith, noted Lord Grantham's far more chipper attitude when he appeared for luncheon an hour late, Lady Grantham following behind, The entirety of the staff was grateful when at least one thing that the War had taken from them had been returned. So was Cora. And so deeply, so truly, was Robert.