HERE IT IS! My Downton Abbey Modern AU Christmas Fic! Just in time for the holidays! This is a multi-ship story with a wide range of Downton characters from previous seasons and current one, all in the format of one of my favorite Christmas movies: "Love Actually"! If you're familiar with that film, hopefully you'll see some of the paralleling storylines from the movie with various DA characters. But at the same time, I am aware that not all the DA characters *easily* fit into every single storyline that "Love Actually" had, so I had to be a little creative in putting which character into what storyline, and so forth. Hopefully, you'll find this little fic to be fun and heartwarming, which is EXACTLY what we want/need during the holiday season :o)
As I said, this story is MULTI-SHIP, so hopefully everyone will find something they love about it. I hope you enjoy it, it's been a ton of fun writing just this first chapter, and I am very much looking forward to writing more. Please, as always, leave a comment and let me know what you think! THANKS FOR READING AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS!
Also, I'm going to keep the rating at "T"; there is some strong language used every so often, but I don't feel that's enough to raise it to an "M" rating. Anyway, just wanted to give you a warning about that!
"Love (and Downton) Actually"
By The Yankee Countess
5 Weeks to Christmas (part I)
Everyone winced in the sound booth, save one person. She was used to these tirades.
"Fucking bollocks, shit, ass, wank, and hole!"
She sighed and then leaned into the microphone. "Are you done?"
He glared through the glass at her. "Why are we doing this?"
A groan went up from everyone in the sound booth. "Do you really want me to go over it with you…again?"
"Yes, Miss O'Brien, remind me, again, as you so graciously put, why I'm singing this shit song which is exactly what it is…absolute fucking, ass-wiping, shit!"
She folded her arms and stood up straight, her eyes meeting his through the sound booth's glass and holding his gaze steadily. Everyone, from the back-up singers in the recording studio to the technicians in the sound booth were fixed on her, waiting to see how she was going to handle this most recent tantrum from the one man in all of British pop music that no one wanted to work with…unless they were paid in cash, up front.
"Because at Christmas, everyone loves a good Christmas song." He opened his mouth to say something, but she held up her hand to stop him. "And even shit Christmas songs are considered 'good songs' because it's Christmas, and that's what people want."
Now everyone shifted their focus to him, waiting to see how he would respond (with another colorful tirade? Or perhaps he would throw the music stand across the studio?)
"So we're agreed that it's shit…"
Sarah sighed but nodded her head. "Yes…but it will be solid gold shit…" she put on a smile, one that looked rather painful, before adding through gritted teeth, "if you get the lyrics right." That was the problem; he kept singing the old lyrics over and over, the lyrics that had made this song a hit back in the '90's, an entire century ago. Now it was time to bring the song up to date—with a holiday twist.
Thomas scratched his chin…and then nodded his head. "Alright, let's do this."
A sigh of relief went up from everyone in the studio. "I don't know how you do it, Miss O'Brien…" muttered one of the technicians to her right. Honestly, there were days she didn't know either. But when you worked as many years as she had with a man like Thomas Barrow…you not only learned how to put on a thick skin, you also learned what buttons needed to be pushed in order to get the work done.
The music began again, and soon filled the speakers in the booth and studio. Thomas was lost in his own world, his eyes closed, one hand on the headphones as he listened, the back-up singers swaying off to the side, one eye on their sheet music, the other on him.
"I feel it in my fingers…I feel it in my toes!"
Sarah held her breath, and no doubt so did everyone else in the booth.
"Christmas is all around me…and so the feeling grows!"
"Oh thank you baby Jesus," Sarah groaned, clasping her hands together and looking up towards the heavens. She met Thomas' gaze through the glass, and he actually winked at her, before continuing the song. Yes, a majority of the time that man annoyed the hell out of her and caused her to question why she went into this business in the first place. But every so often, once in a while…she couldn't help but love him.
She was scrambling. She kept glancing at the clock, as if doing so would win her more time. "Oh Lord," she muttered, continuing her search. Where was her earring? "I'm going to be so late!"
A cough was heard behind her, and she glanced over her shoulder at its source. Despite the state he was in…she couldn't help but grin at him.
"The church is only just around the corner," he tried to reassure.
"Yes, darling, I know, but…this isn't just any wedding—it's my sister's wedding! And I should have been there an hour ago!"
He coughed again, then took a tissue and blew his nose. Poor dear, his cold didn't seem to be improving. "I'll pour you a glass of orange juice."
He groaned and rolled his eyes. "Honestly, Syb, you can't hunt for whatever it is you're looking for—"
"My left earring; the little pearl ones that Edith got me for my birthday this past summer."
"Right, well, the point I'm trying to make is that you don't need to baby me and play the role of 'Nurse Crawley' at the same time you're trying to find your earring, when you keep going on and on about how late you are."
She paused her search and looked at him. "Oh Larry…" she went over to the bed where he sat and took his face in her hands and pressed her lips against his.
"Sybil—" he chuckled, but gently tried to push her away. "Sybil, stop—I'm ill, you don't want to make yourself sick, too."
"I don't care," she giggled, meaning every word. "I love you; I love you from the top of your head to the tips of your toes and I love you even when you're sneezing and coughing and looking absolutely disgusting."
"Oh, now there's something to boost a man's ego," he muttered, before giving her rump a little smack. "Now find your earring and be gone."
She laughed and kissed him again, before returning to the search. "It is a shame, though," she sighed, checking the bathroom once more. "I was hoping your health would have improved so you could come with me."
"Ah yes, you know how I love weddings," he muttered from the bedroom, before blowing his nose. "I can just hear your mother now; 'Larry, why haven't you proposed to Sybil yet? Mark my words; it will be you two next'!"
Sybil poked her head from the bathroom and tried to look cross, which she found to be very difficult based on the way he looked at her. "Your American accent is atrocious."
He laughed. "Well, you'll just have to give my condolences—I mean my 'congratulations' to Sir Anthony."
"That's not funny," she groaned, trying to sound stern. She knew that her mother was laying the whole "marriage thing" rather thickly on the two of them lately. Obviously her sister's impending nuptials had inspired her, and like Emma Woodhouse, she was trying to pair everyone off.
"Did you look by your typewriter?"
Sybil's head shot up at Larry's suggestion. She quickly emerged from the bathroom and scampered across the floor to her writing desk, a small nook in the corner of their room where her old, dingy typewriter lay. Sure enough, there was the pearl earring she had been missing. "AH! Oh Larry, Agatha Christie couldn't have done better!" she grinned, quickly putting the earring on.
"I thought I remembered seeing something sparkling there in the morning sunlight," he explained. "And nothing from that old machine sparkles."
"Now, now, leave my typewriter alone."
He groaned and rolled his eyes again. "Really, Syb, join the 21st century! I told you I didn't mind getting you a Macbook—"
"I like my typewriter just fine, thank you very much," she interrupted. "Besides, it has character! That typewriter belonged to—"
"Your great-great-great aunt who was a suffragette and volunteer nurse during WWI, and who wrote many political essays that would go on to inspire the Labor Movement, etc.; yes, I think you've told me this story before…"
"Then you should understand how dear it is to me," she said with her nose up in the air, imitating her grandmother.
"'Dear'? More like 'infatuation'."
"More like 'love', actually," she said with a poke of her tongue.
Larry laughed. "You little minx, don't tease poor, sick Larry."
She giggled and came over to him and once again brushed her lips against his in a soft, sweet kiss. "I do love you," she whispered against his mouth, before moving her lips to his forehead and kissing his slightly fevered brow. "And I won't stay too long—"
"Nonsense," he scoffed. "It is your sister's wedding, after all. Don't come rushing home because of me. I'll be fine; I'm going to stay in bed…and I'll even have some of that orange juice you recommended."
She smiled at him and ran her fingers over his cheek. "Alright…but do look after yourself. And if you're feeling better…maybe Nurse Crawley can make a different sort of 'check-up'?" she teased with a flirtatious wink.
He swatted her rump again, but she didn't mind. "Have a good time," he called out to her as she began to scurry down the hallway to the front door of their bungalow.
She paused at the door and turned. "Did I tell you that I love you?"
She laughed as she heard him groan. "Yes, you little fool, now go!" And with that, she shut the door and hurried down the street, a happy and blissful smile on her face.
The place was utter chaos.
Isobel was getting pushed right, left, and center by the busy crew who were trying to set everything up for the next scene. Amazing, she found herself thinking. Everything always seemed so calm and organized on the telly. Of course, they never show what really goes on "behind the scenes", unless it's a special, and even then, they never show the bedlam that is in fact, the reality.
"Mrs. Crawley?" she looked up and smiled at the director. Or at least that's who she thought he was. "I'm so glad to have you here; please forgive the pandemonium, we're just wrapping everything up for the Christmas Special, you can understand."
"Of course," she smiled, looking around and trying to admire the majesty of the sets and costumes, despite the hurried atmosphere. "I must say, it's quite an honor to be here; I've always been a great fan of this drama, but I never imagined—"
"Forgive me, but we are on a bit of a tight schedule, so if you don't mind, I'm just going to introduce you to Ethel, the actress you'll be consulting?"
"Oh! Oh yes, of course, I am honored to meet Miss Parks!" Isobel felt rather star-struck at the thought. She loved these period dramas; they were her favorite programs to watch on Sunday evenings. As a little girl, it was her love for such shows like "Upstairs/Downstairs" that drove her into studying history, especially that of the late Victorian/Edwardian period.
"Oh, and you should also meet Richard—where is he? RICHARD!"
A silver-haired man with a gray moustache emerged from one of the sets that were made up to look like a WWI convalescent home.
"This is Richard, Dr. Clarkson," the director clarified. "He's also a consultant, and the two of you will probably be working close together, so it's best to get introductions out of the way."
Isobel smiled at the silver-haired doctor and offered her hand to him. He returned her smile and quickly shook her hand. "Ah, so you'll be the expert on nurses and midwives?"
She actually felt her face blush, which she found a little strange. She didn't blush easily. "I am; my grandmother was a midwife in Manchester during WWI, and her sister served as a volunteer nurse for the Red Cross."
"Excellent," Richard smiled. "But as you heard, I am actually a doctor, and not a historian—I'm here more or less to advise the actors on how to properly hold scalpels and such."
She laughed at this and felt her insides warm up. Despite the chaos that was going on around them, something that could easily intimidate anyone who wasn't used to the life of being a popular program on the BBC, Isobel did feel at ease, and she knew it was all because of this Dr. Richard Clarkson.
And in many ways it was strange—she had just met the man, but already…she felt she had found a kindred spirit.
The mobile on her desk began to buzz with life, and one glance at the screen told Elsie that if she didn't take the call, she wouldn't hear the end of it later.
"NO! I TOLD YOU THAT CAKE GOES TO THE PRINCESS LOUISE BALLROOM! NOT THE PRINCE ALBERT!"
Elsie winced at the shout. "Beryl, what's going on?"
A curse was muttered, before the voice came back onto the phone. "Sorry, but I have to deal with these daft—ALFRED! JIMMY! WHAT DID I JUST SAY? THE PRINCESS LOUISE BALLROOM!"
Elsie sighed; conversations with Beryl Patmore were never dull.
"Lord Christ, almighty!" Beryl groaned into the phone. "If Mr. Carson doesn't keep those lads in line, I swear I'll be forced to—"
"A bit chaotic?"
Beryl muttered something under her breath. "Just your 'typical' Saturday at The Edwardian," she grumbled. "Can you believe we're hosting three wedding receptions today? THREE! And they're all happening at approximately the same time?" she muttered another curse, and then muttered something else to a waiter or kitchen worker in passing. "I swear, Elsie—my retirement can't come soon enough!"
Despite her friend's grumbling, Elsie couldn't help but smile. She knew how much Beryl loved her job, even if it did drive her mad sometimes. "If it helps, things are a bit chaotic here, too."
Beryl muttered something incoherent. "Do you have waiters scrambling around, delivering the wrong cakes to the wrong reception halls?"
"No, nothing quite like that—"
"Then you don't know what chaos or insanity is," she muttered. "I never thought I would say this, Elsie, but thank God one of these wedding parties brought in their own caterer."
Elsie was surprised by this. She knew how seriously Beryl took her cooking, especially as head chef for The Edwardian. "I didn't think you allowed that?"
"We normally don't, but the caterer is a former employee, and she's only handling the hors d'oeuvres. Quite frankly, when I learned we were going to have three weddings on the same day and around the same time, I welcomed the girl with open arms—NO, DAISY, THE FISH GOES THERE, NOT THE BEEF, THE FISH!" Beryl muttered something else that was incoherent before resuming their conversation on the phone. "My new sous-chef; she's a good girl, but honestly, I've had kitchen maids who're less thick!"
"I think I'll leave you to it, then," Elsie sighed. She knew that Beryl had only called to unleash some of her frustration. "We'll sit down tomorrow over a nice cup of tea and you can tell me everything then."
"Probably for the best," Beryl groaned, before shouting once more at the people around her. "WILLIAM, DON'T JUST STAND THERE! What's gotten into you, lad? Have you gone deaf? Oh, saints preserve us, WHERE IS MR. CARSON?"
Elsie sighed and hung up. No doubt her friend would have many interesting stories to share when they next saw one another. In some ways it was funny; Beryl Patmore worked at one of the most exclusive and luxurious hotels in all of London, whereas she, Elsie Hughes, worked at one of the most exclusive and secure homes in the entire country. And yet Elsie knew, despite the title of her employer, Beryl's stories would always dominate their conversations.
The church was filled to the brim. Sybil groaned, wondering where on earth she was going to find a seat.
"Sybil, you're late!"
She turned and smiled up at her father, who was trying to look stern, but she could tell he was shaking and nervous, and who could blame him, really? One of his little girls was about to get married.
"You look very dashing, Papa," she grinned, rising up on her tip toes to give her father's cheek a kiss.
She turned and gasped, staring at her sister in her finery. "Oh Edith…you look so beautiful!" she went over and gave her sister a hug, congratulating her again on this happy day. "Oh, Sir Anthony won't know what hit him when he sees you."
"Oh stop," Edith laughed, blushing behind her veil. "And it's 'Anthony', now; no need to be so 'formal' with your soon-to-be brother-in-law."
Sybil took her sister's hands and gazed at her with loving eyes. Oh she really was a vision. Edith, the Crawley sister who some had called the "ugly duckling", or if they were being polite, "the plain one", but those people would be eating their words right now. She was dressed to the nines in a gorgeous vintage-style gown that looked to be made of white satin and pearls, like something out of the 1920's, hers and Edith's favorite historical era. "Oh, and Granny got you—"
"Yes," Edith blushed, reaching up and gently touching the silver and diamond studded hair clip, which truly was from the 1920's, something their grandmother had received from their great-grandmother, the last "Countess of Grantham" back when that old aristocratic world had existed (at least in their family).
"Sybil, you best get inside; the ceremony will be starting any second," her father hissed. "I'm sure your mother has a spot for you."
"Actually," Sybil peered through the crack in the church doors. "I see one next to Anna; I'll sit by her, that way I won't cause a huge distraction."
Sybil kissed her sister and father once more, before disappearing through a side door into the sanctuary. Robert stood by his middle daughter and took her arm, clasping it to his and smiling down at her. "Ready, my dear?"
"Yes…" Edith sighed. "Yes, Papa, I think I am."
"Your sister is right," he murmured, looking like he was going to cry. "You truly do look so beautiful—"
"Oh Papa, stop," she pleaded. It wouldn't take much to get her crying right now.
"I wish your sister could be here—"
"Well she is a little busy, trying to run the country," Edith whispered with a slight shrug of her shoulders. "Besides, isn't that why Evelyn agreed to film the whole event?"
Meanwhile, in the sanctuary, a nervous gentleman stood with his back to the congregation, his hands clasped tightly together, his head bowed as if in prayer. In fact, that was exactly what his best man was thinking when he looked at him.
"Having second thoughts?"
The groom's eyes snapped open then and he looked at his best man. "God, no! I just…" he took a deep breath. "I just hope she's not having any," he confessed. "I'm not exactly a man in the 'prime of my youth'."
The best man laughed and clasped a hand on the groom's shoulder. "Don't worry; she's proven that she likes 'older' things."
Anthony tried to glare, but he couldn't help but chuckle. "Well, thank God for that; there's still a chance for me, I suppose."
Just then the organ music began to play, and everyone began to rise to their feet and turn their heads to back of the sanctuary. Anthony took one more deep breath, before turning himself. But just before he did, his best man reached forward and clasped his hand. "Good luck," he whispered.
"Thank you, Evelyn," Anthony replied, but just before releasing his hand, asked, "No surprises, yes?"
Evelyn looked innocent. "Your bride is coming," which wasn't exactly the answer Anthony was looking for from his best man, but he turned then and a smile of relief and joy washed over him…as his lovely Edith began to come down the aisle, smiling happily and lovingly from beneath her lace-trimmed veil.
Gwen looked up from her desk and murmured a thankful prayer, before rising to her feet and rushing towards the door, straightening her suit jacket and standing at attention with some of the other members of staff. A few seconds passed, and then the door opened, while what seemed to be thousands of flash-bulbs illuminated the dull, gray background.
"PRIME MINISTER! PRIME MINISTER!" shouted various reporters, but no questions were answered, no interviews were given. Instead, the newly elected Prime Minister simply waved her hands at the crowd, which erupted into cheers and caused more flash-bulbs to go off, before finally retreating inside the safety that was Number 10 Downing Street. Only when the door shut behind her, did the Prime Minister lower her hands and let out a sigh of relief.
"Oh thank God that's over," she groaned, before looking at Gwen. "And I really must work on my wave."
Gwen and the others laughed softly. "Welcome, Prime Minister," she greeted, beaming from ear to ear.
"Hello, Gwen," the Prime Minister sighed, leaning in and giving her personal assistant a quick hug. They were not strangers, after all. Not only had Gwen worked closely with her during the campaign season, but Gwen had a "slight" history with their family, as Sybil's roommate during their university days.
"It's good to have you here, ma'am," Gwen said with a smile.
"Yes, although I doubt I'll hear the end of it from my parents," she sighed. "My sister is getting married today."
The Prime Minister shook her head. "Edith. No, Sybil and her boyfriend continue to 'live in sin', to quote Mama. But no doubt she'll be married long before me. Of course, having a partner is half the battle I suppose," she joked.
Gwen smiled and then put on her "professional" PA face, before turning and gesturing to the other members of staff who were standing at attention and waiting for introductions. "Let me introduce you to some of your household," she smiled and began first with an older woman who was beaming and looking very excited. "This is Elsie—Mrs. Hughes," Gwen clarified.
"Hello, Prime Minister," the woman greeted in a warm Scottish accent. "I'm the housekeeper."
"Ah, lovely!" the Prime Minister smiled. "Well, I think you will find that I'm quite different from the last PM who resided here. No infant children, no rebellious teenagers, no sloppy husband who can't pick his socks off the floor."
Mrs. Hughes softly chuckled. "Well, I'm still a little new, actually. I only began service here a few months before the last Prime Minister left office."
"Ah, I see," the Prime Minister nodded. "Good, then we'll both be bumbling about trying to figure out where things go and what room is which, together."
The staff laughed and Gwen continued down the line, introducing different people until she reached the end…where a handsome young man, with blonde hair and a charming smile, waited. The Prime Minister froze at the sight. "And this is—" Gwen began.
The young man grinned and yes, even blushed a little. "Hello, Mary."
A small gasp went up from around the assembled staff. One didn't just refer to the Prime Minister by his or her first name, even if you were familiar with the family, as Gwen was.
Matthew's face reddened and he looked down at the ground. "I apologize, I mean 'ma'am'," he corrected.
Mary blushed as well. "That's alright…Mr. Crawley," she corrected herself. She then turned her attention to the assembled staff and felt an explanation was in order. "Um…Mr. Crawley—Matthew," she added. It felt so strange referring to him by his surname, especially since it would raise a few more eyebrows considering who she was. "He's my cousin," she explained.
"Distant cousins," he added, and for some reason Mary felt her face grow hotter at the detail.
"Yes, but…" she turned and looked back at him, her brow creased with confusion. "But I haven't seen you since…when was it?"
"Your 18th birthday, perhaps?" he grinned. "One of those 'family reunions' up in Yorkshire, at Downton Abbey?"
"Oh…oh yes, of course," Mary whispered, remembering the party, but struggling to believe that it had been so long since they had seen one another, or spoken to each other.
"I went to law school, and had a practice in Manchester until a few years ago when I came to London and got involved in politics," he explained.
"Yes," Gwen intervened, as if trying to once more take control of this somewhat awkward conversation in the middle of the front hall at 10 Downing. "And now he's serving as your new Press Secretary."
Mary's eyes widened in surprise. "I…I didn't realize…" Oh she could kick herself. How could she not know about something so detailed about who her press secretary was?
"Well…" Gwen cleared her throat. "Let me get my things, and then let's sit down in your new office, Prime Minister," she added for emphasis. "And fix the country. Shall we?"
"Yes, of course," Mary said, coming out of her awkward stupor and smiling once more at the staff, before nodding her head at Gwen, the professional air once more washing over her. "Good to see you again, Matthew."
She turned and walked away, smiling at other staff members as she went, but just before reaching her office, did turn and glance over her shoulder one last time. The others who were in the front hall hovered around Matthew, looking curious and asking questions. She should be concerned with what he was saying; not the best way to start one's first day on the job with gossip hounds within your own household. And yet…that wasn't what was on her mind as she shut the door and leaned against its surface.
"Oh no…" she groaned, closing her eyes and shaking her head. "That is absolutely, bloody inconvenient."
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