This story was inspired in 3 parts, I believe. Watching "Freezing" with the ever amazing Hugh Bon and Liz, watching too much "Twilight Zone," and my bizarre mind. This is not an AU, but flirts with that line. It will be as much a Carson/Hughes story as a Robert/Cora one and may turn into a bit of an action fic.
PLEASE PLEASE leave me reviews/comments, etc. I won't continue this unless you all are enjoying it.
Robert turned to look at his wife in the bed beside him and tried to suppress a sigh. While they had reconciled after Sybil's death, it had been a fragile one and he found that his wife was not often "with him" as she had once been. In more ways than one. Robert felt incredibly lonely; a loneliness that crept into his heart and wrapped its vicious fingers around it and squeezed. Squeezed until he felt he would suffocate.
Robert's hopes surged the other day when Cora viciously defended him against Matthew's harsh words, but nothing changed afterwards. Perhaps she had merely been fulfilling her duties as a wife. It further depressed him when he thought of how his heart had briefly soared only to come crashing back down almost immediately.
He wanted to grab her and kiss her. Like he used to. He wanted to tell her how sorry he was about Sybil. He wanted her to know he was trying. Trying SO hard to change. He wanted her to look at him the way she used to. And more than anything else, he wanted to tell her he loved her. Perhaps now more than ever. Why was it SO hard?
He leaned his head back against the pillows, thinking. She looked up after a couple moments and blinked. "What is it, Robert?"
He shook his head. "Nothing, nothing." He turned back to his own book, mentally kicking himself for raising her suspicions.
She squinted at him and then shut her book and placed it neatly next to her on the desk. "What is it, my dear?" She crossed her arms and looked at him. With patience? Care? Annoyance? Robert couldn't tell. He could never tell anymore.
"Do you really think that this arrangement with Matthew and Tom will work?" He blurted without thinking.
Cora frowned slightly. "I don't see why not. You are all grown men, Robert. I have confidence that you will make it work."
"But what if they don't need me?" He fiddled with the bed sheets in front of him, refusing to meet her eyes. Cora scooted closer and rested her chin on her husband's chest, looking up at his face. "They will always need you. We all will."
He looked at her then. Her big blue eyes were staring into his own and they were filled with pity. Pity. He turned away from her, then. Even SHE thought him a failure.
"I'm very tired," he said quietly and reached over to switch his light off forcing her back to her side of the bed.
"Robert?" Cora asked quietly.
He didn't respond.
Carson stared down at his ledger, willing himself to focus. He slammed it shut and looked ahead into the fire. It was after eight and Mrs. Hughes had not been in to see him yet. They always sat up together on Wednesday nights to talk and have a glass of wine.
Yet, he knew. They had gotten into another spat again earlier that afternoon. It was over something rather silly, of course, but she had rolled her eyes at him, nonetheless. She'd been doing that a lot lately. Was his presence such a frustration, such a burden to her now? Lately, it seemed, everything he said upset her.
He knew, deep down, that he'd been difficult recently. Unreasonable, even, about many things. But this was a house of tradition and order. To break that would break everything the house stood for. What he stood for.
Standing up, he resolved to go and speak with her. Talk to her. He could not bear to sit in the pantry alone. Closing the door gently behind him, he walked towards the steps and nearly ran into her coming out from the opposite direction also heading for the steps.
"Mr. Carson!" She started, taking a step back. "You frightened me!"
"I apologize, Mrs. Hughes," he bowed slightly.
She smiled slightly. "Heading to bed so soon?"
"Well, actually…." He trailed off awkwardly. "I came to look for you" he replied quickly.
"Me?" She looked at him strangely. "Whatever for, Mr. Carson? I…" She stopped then and put a hand to her forehead. "Oh, dear me. I've forgotten." She looked up at the butler sheepishly.
"It's quite alright, Mrs. Hughes." He smiled. She did not appear to be mad at him any longer and that alone made him feel better.
"Shall we tomorrow?" She placed a hand on his arm and he felt his arm grow warm at her touch. He nodded, ignoring the sensation and she smiled gently. She started up the steps and then stopped, however, and turned back around. Her face was pensive.
"Mr. Carson, I DO believe we need to do something about Alfred and Jimmy."
Carson frowned, then. "Yes, I'm afraid we do," he said rather seriously, his drawl deepening with the seriousness of the subject. "After the Thomas fiasco…."
"Mr. Carson it was not a fiasco…" she rolled her eyes and started back down the steps. There it was. Again. Why such a reaction from her?
Standing on the third step, she was eye to eye with him. "But we must make sure that the boys are able to work with one another. Perhaps if you spoke with them…"
"Me?" Mr. Carson asked, rather shocked. "Whatever for?"
"Well as they serve under you and you are more experienced of the world than they are…"
"If I recall correctly, you have much more experience with that sort of thing" Carson responded, in a huff.
"And what is that supposed to mean?" She put her hands on her hips.
"You know very well to what I am referring," he puffed his chest out and stood up straighter.
She glared at him, turned back around and started marching back up the steps.
"Where are you going?" Carson asked, his voice a mixture of anger, confusion, and desperation.
"I'm afraid my presence taints the mighty ground that Charles Carson walks upon" she responded. She swiveled back around to face him, her hand still resting on the banister.
"Don't be ridiculous, Mrs. Hughes" Carson responded.
"I am certainly NOT being ridiculous. Good NIGHT Mr. Carson" she continued up the steps, slamming the door shut. Carson cringed. His shoulders slumped and he turned back around to head for the pantry. He had tried and, once again, failed. He was nothing but a failure. An old man without a family, without a place in a modern world, without the one person he cared more for than the entire world.
Sunlight streamed into the window and Robert groaned. What time was it? He felt like he hadn't slept at all. He turned over and buried his face into his pillow. Suddenly, he sneezed. He picked his head up and sneezed again. His pillow was covered with dust.
"What the…" He swiped at it with his hand and turned to face his sleeping wife's back. He scooted closer to her and attempted to go back to sleep. He sneezed again.
"Darling…you have a cold?" Cora murmured sleepily next to him.
"Gdfsjsdk…" He mumbled and rolled over onto his back and rubbed his eyes. He opened them slowly and blinked a few times. The canopy of their bed was a different color. He looked across the room, his eyes still blurry with sleep. His wife's wardrobe was gone.
Robert sat up in bed suddenly and rubbed his eyes again before looking up and across the room. Nope. Her wardrobe was definitely gone.
He swiveled his head to face the door and noticed it was wide open. A long thick rope was draped across the opening. "What the…" Robert said again. He looked over next to his wife and noticed the wardrobe sitting in the corner. How had an entire wardrobe moved in the middle of the night…? Robert swung his legs over the side of the bed and attempted to stand up.
"ACK!" He cried. His legs had unknowingly tangled in the sheets and he landed hard on the floor. "DAMMIT!" He yelled.
Cora startled awake and reached for Robert in the bed beside her. She looked over and saw her husband lying on the floor. She scrambled over to the side of the bed, her face concerned. "Robert! Robert are you alright!?"
"No I am not bloody well alright look at our ROOM!" He gestured ahead of him. Cora looked up, then, and observed their surroundings.
She turned back to face Robert her face one of confusion and panic. She threw the covers back and got out of the bed. This set a flying cloud of dust into the air and Robert sneezed again.
Cora scrambled up and walked over to her wardrobe. She threw the doors open. A single dress was hanging, covered in dust. "This isn't mine!" She made a face of disgust before slamming the doors shut.
She walked quickly over to her vanity. A dusty hairbrush lay there alongside a fake set of pearls and some earrings. She picked up one of them. "This is not my jewelry either! Robert! What is going on?!" She turned to look at her husband who was still sitting on the floor, dumbfounded.
She ran over and kneeled next to her husband. "Have we…have we been robbed?"
Robert shook his head. "I don't think so. Why is there so much dust?" He sneezed.
"I'll ring for O'Brien," Cora replied with desperation. She reached over and pulled the cord by the side of the bed.
"Go check the bathroom" Robert said, standing up and rubbing his butt. Cora walked over and turned the knob. The door squeaked open. The bathub was gone. ALL of their things were gone. Not even a toothbrush left. Cora put her head in her hands and tried to calm her breathing. She could feel herself starting to panic.
"CORA" Robert cried from the other room. Cora turned and skiddes out of the bathroom, nearly falling flat on her face in the process. Robert was standing on the other side of the rope his face ashen.
"Darling what is it?" Cora asked, horrified. Robert pointed to something on the other side of the door. Cora stepped daintily over the rope and saw her husband pointing to a large plaque.
This is where Lord and Lady Grantham would have slept. It was quite common for married couples to sleep in separate beds at the time, however. Note also the bells that they used to ring for their servants. Lady Grantham may have sat at the vanity as one of her lady's maids dressed her.
Mortified, Cora turned to her husband. "What is the meaning of this?"
"This better be a practical joke." Robert's face was slowly turning red and Cora feared he would lose his temper.
"Where IS O'Brien?" Cora cried. She walked back into the room and pulled the cord helplessly.
"She's not going to answer" Robert responded. "Come on. We will get to the bottom of this ourselves. Carson will hear about this."
Cora returned to her husband's side and took his arm. He walked down the hallway slowly. He stopped outside Edith's door and knocked. "Edith? Edith!" There was no reply. He turned the doorknob, but it was locked. He looked back at Cora who shrugged helplessly. They continued down the hallway in front of Mary's room. The door was wide open with a rope draped across the front as well.
This bedroom would have belonged to the eldest son or daughter of Lord and Lady Grantham.
"Robert…it's like our house has been turned into some sort of museum!" Cora hissed desperately. "Where are Mary and Matthew?!" Her voice grew shill.
Robert turned and grabbed her by the shoulders, gently. "Don't panic. Why don't we try the servant's hall?"
She nodded quickly. They turned the corner and stopped in front of the back door entrance. He tried the knob. "It's stuck!" he grunted. He pushed against it, hard, and it shot open.
A cloud of dust fell from the top and Robert coughed and then sneezed again waving his hand in the air.
"I'm not so sure we should go down there…" Cora took his hand and eyed the dusty stairwell with suspicion.
Robert ignored her and began to lead her down the dark stairwell, feeling his way. A mouse squeaked somewhere in the stairwell and Cora let out a shriek. "Robert! Please let's turn back around."
"It won't hurt you," Robert said in the darkness.
They moved slowly down the two flights of steps quietly, feeling their way, interrupted only by Robert's periodic sneezing.
"Look!" Robert cried, excited. A bit of light came in through the door to the servant's pantry and they stopped in front of it.
"Oh Robert, my nightgown is filthy" Cora complained. Robert didn't respond but tried to wipe the grime covering the window to peer through. He then tried the doorknob. Locked.
"You've got to be kidding me." He turned back around to look at Cora who was warily eyeing a spider crawling near her feet.
Robert lifted his fist and started banging on the door. "CARSON! MRS HUGHES! BATES! SOMEONE OPEN THE DAMN DOOR THIS INSTANT!"
Robert rapped on the door harder.
"Robert, I don't think they can hear…"
Just then a muffled man's voice came through. "Bloody hell! Would you hold on?!" They heard someone fiddling with the locks. The door was thrown open.
A man of about Robert's height stood there, facing them. He looked shocked. "What the fuck are you doing in there?"
"I beg your pardon!" Robert cried. "How dare you!"
"Who are you supposed to be?" The man asked, ignoring Robert's exclamation and staring at Robert and Cora as if they were a display in a museum. He took a step aside and let Robert and Cora step into the kitchen.
"I should ask the same of you!" Robert said.
"I'm Frank. I am in charge of upkeep down here. I'm assuming you two are here to play dress up?"
"We are certainly not here to play "'dress up!'" Robert retorted immediately. He exchanged a brief, angry glance with Cora. Frank wore light blue pants of some material neither of them recognized and a bright orange undershirt. It had some strange lettering on top of it as well. Robert debated asking what "AC DC" was but decided against it, considering the circumstances.
"Ok, ok. Sorry. I know you re-enactors get touchy…" the man tapered off. He stared at Robert and Cora for a couple more seconds and then put his hands on his hips, before shaking his head and chuckling. "You two look bloody ridiculous! Why did they put you in nightgowns?!"
"You have a lot of explaining to do" Robert replied angrily. He walked over to Frank and jabbed a finger into his chest. "I demand you to tell me where my family is this instant or I shall call the police."
"Calm your tits old man" Frank shrugged Robert's hand away. "You're really getting into this aren't you?" He shook his head and walked towards the exit. "You're expected upstairs in ten. They're gonna have a hell of a time with you two." He left shaking his head and guffawing.
Cora sat down then, heavily, and put her head in her hands. "Oh Robert" she said. She tried not to start crying. "Something is terribly, terribly wrong."
"There has to be an explanation for this!"
"Well I don't see one!" Cora cried. She picked her head up. "Maybe this is one of those terrible dreams. And we just need to wake ourselves up!"
"We can't be dreaming Cora that is simply preposterous!" Robert exclaimed.
"Then I don't know Robert I really don't" Cora threw her hands in the air.
"We have to find Carson. Or Mary. They will know what…."
"Can't you get it through your HEAD!" Cora yelled. "They are NOT here!"
"Cora, dear, I think you should calm down" Robert walked towards her.
"No I will NOT calm down!" Cora slammed her hand on the table. "Our entire household is MISSING Robert. Missing! Our stuff is MISSING! Our bedroom looks like a museum display and I just…." She broke down into tears.
"Cora! Cora" Robert walked over and took her into his arms, letting her cry into his chest. "We can do something. We can figure this out, alright?" She looked up at him and he nodded at her, trying to be as calm as possible. Inwardly, he was as freaked out as she was.
She sniffed and then wiped her eyes. "Can we please find something to wear?" She gestured down to her dirty, dusty nightgown and Robert couldn't help chuckling.
"You look quite ridiculous too," she added, desperately trying to sound angry and failing miserably at it.
"What are you two still doing down here?" Robert and Cora jumped and turned to see a young woman standing in the doorway staring at them strangely.
Robert and Cora stared at the woman, dumbfounded. She too wore the strange blue pants the man did and a navy blue undershirt.
She rolled her eyes and threw a book down on the table. "Frank said you all were weirdos." She walked over to the sink, filled a glass of water, and chugged it. "Be upstairs in five minutes or you're fired." She turned around and left the room.
"Pleasant" Cora said to her retreating figure. She turned to Robert who looked as if he had just seen a ghost.
"Robert, Robert what is it?"
"Did you see what her back said?"
"No!" Cora swiveled around but the woman was already gone.
"Downton Museum, Cora. It said Downton Museum."
Robert whirled around and grabbed the book the woman accidentally left on the table and started flipping through it. He stopped on a page, put a hand to his head, and started to sway on the spot.
Alarmed, Cora grabbed her husband's arm. "Robert, ROBERT TELL ME WHAT IS GOING ON."
Wordlessly, he handed her the open book. It was a calendar. The date read October 26, 2010. Cora looked up at her husband before flipping backwards. 2010. 2010. 2010. Two thousand. And ten.
"Do you…do…you…do you…know what this…" Robert tried and stopped. He sat down heavily in one of the kitchen chairs.
"This has to be a mistake, " Cora squeaked out.
Robert shook his head slowly before glancing back up at his wife. His face still white, he spoke quietly. "Cora. I think WE are the ones that are missing."