A/N: Since "Decision 79" is now AU (grrr), this is a variation on the theme. The canon version, if you will.
"It came down to this.."
Mary clicked the off button with a sigh. "Nothing will change," she murmured to herself, words from a thousand years ago that made her shiver. A woman reelected, but a woman she felt sure Sybil would never have supported. The idea made her smile, but even that felt like an effort on this night. She stood up, slowly, and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. "Ninety-five," she said to no one. She stood as tall and straight as she had the day she swanned into Crawley House and first laid eyes on Matthew. Her hair was white and her skin a web of memories, but she was every inch the Lady Mary she had always been.
Tonight, however, she felt different.
Perhaps it was all the excitement over the election, or that her youngest grandchild had telephoned earlier and begged her to stay up so she could come tell her something, but she felt weary and light-headed in a way she could not define. She could have sworn she heard Tom's voice earlier in the day, grumbling about the lack of integrity in vote counting, but Tom was gone these twenty years, his lungs scorched by cancer. "Say hello for me," she had whispered when he was barely conscious, barely able to hold her hand, and he had grinned suddenly as if in the old days. "Oh, the things they missed," he croaked. "But don't leave me too long with these self-righteous do-gooders."
He had died that very night, and now only she was missing from the churchyard, her name still to be placed on the stone that marked the death of her heart. Sixty-six years Matthew had missed, sixty-seven lost to Sybil, years of fear and war, loss and triumph. Her son, nearly killed by German shells, survived to find love and a late and happy marriage. Her grandchildren, bright and beautiful and loving in ways that only more sharply reminded her of the man they never knew. Sybil had missed the vote, and the Troubles, and bluestockings, and her daughter, and rights she had deserved and never known. Matthew.. "Matthew," she whispered. He had held his son only once, and she had never had another child, never had another love.
She wondered, as she brushed weakly at her eyes, how long she would have to wait up for Isobel. Young Isobel, tiny Isobel, blonde and beautiful with a wit as sharp as her grandfather's, and Mary had been so proud when she was accepted to study for the bar. "I'll be there around eleven, Granny darling, if you can wait up?"
She had said yes, of course, because she could never resist those eyes.
A door slammed in the hallway, and Mary put a smile on her face just as Isobel rushed in and kissed her cheek. "What's all this about?" Mary said as she settled back into her chair.
"Philip?" Isobel held out her hand to a young man by the door. "Granny, this is Philip Napier."
"You knew my grandfather, Lady Mary," the man said with a smile.
"I did," Mary replied.
"Philip and I," Isobel started, and then blushed. "We're engaged."
"Oh, my darling girl." She patted Isobel's hand. "That's wonderful."
Isobel began to chatter, something about the bar and she'd keep working because Philip was working as well, and he wouldn't inherit for years to come and it was all silly anyway, but Mary stopped listening, her mind suddenly seventy years in the past, remembering happiness and decisions and hope and her heart fluttered and she was suddenly cold in a way she had not been in those seventy years.
"Are you all right, Granny?" Isobel's voice suddenly broke through.
"Tired," Mary heard herself saying.
"I'll put you to bed," Isobel held out her hands. "I shouldn't have kept you up, it's just you were the first person I wanted to tell."
Mary stood up slowly, and leaned down to kiss Isobel's cheek. "It makes me glad to know that," she said. "I always want to be the first to know."
She walked slowly to the stairs, leaning on Isobel's arm, and a slight dizziness made her stumble at the first step. "Granny, don't you need your stick?"
"You are my stick."
Had she said it? Had she imagined it? Isobel's arm was strong under hers, but as she took the second step, another arm seemed to be there, a warmth she had not felt since... It wrapped itself closer as Isobel helped her to the bed, and as Mary let herself fall back on the pillow, she sensed the weight that had long been gone from his side of the bed, a settling, a wiggle, and a sigh madly, as nice as you are.
"Yes?" Her voice was miles away, in a green room at Downton.
"Would you like some tea? Or milk?"
"Milk," she whispered, and shut her eyes as the door closed.
"So you can be nice."
She smiled and opened her eyes, her head tilting to see those eyes again. "Are you shocked?"
"No," he said. His eyes were as blue, his hair as golden as that day, and she lifted her hand to push back the flop of his hair. "I told you you were... are.. a wonderful woman."
"I've grown so old," she murmured.
"You braved the storm for us all," Matthew replied. "You lived."
"I miss you." His hand caught hers, and his lips pressed against it. "Don't leave me."
Her skin changed in his hands, and the finger that touched his lips was now her own again, pale and soft and young. "This is nice," she whispered.
"As nice as nice can be."
She kissed his grinning lips, and she did not hear Isobel calling her name, did not feel her hands shaking her, did not turn her head again to the light. "There you are," she heard Sybil say. "I can't believe the Conservatives managed to get a woman elected first."