This labor was taking too long.

Matthew paced the length of the upstairs hallway, refusing offered drinks and idle conversation. The family meant well, this he knew, but nothing would distract him from the sounds of his wife laboring to bring their child into the world.

A harsh cry from their bedroom raised the hairs on his arms.

His mother and Dr. Meadows had assured him that all was well, that some babies simply take longer to arrive than others, that Mary was strong and healthy and had already borne two healthy children. The anemia she had developed while carrying Christopher had flared up again with this pregnancy, forcing her to rest more often than she had liked and to indulge in the abundance of beef dishes Mrs. Patmore had taken to preparing for her.

Oddly enough, the anemia had not bothered her when she had been expecting Eloise. Mary believed its return was a sign that this baby was a boy.

Matthew did not care about the child's gender. He just wanted this labor to end.

The first pain with Ellie had come while they were strolling the grounds, followed immediately by another that nearly knocked Mary's legs out from under her. Matthew had scooped her up and carried her back to the abbey, the result being that he had to break out his cane for several weeks afterwards. There had barely been time to summon Dr. Meadows before Eloise Crawley had made her entrance into the world, all pink and angry, matted black hair, and cobalt eyes. His daughter had held him as a willing captive from the moment she drew first breath.

This baby was not so eager to leave Mary's womb. His wife's guttural moan broke what remained of Matthew's resistance, and he sprinted to their bedroom door.

"I'm coming in!" he cried, turning the knob and stepping into the melee. God, it was hard to breathe, the combination of June's warmth and human sweat thickening the air until it was almost tangible.

"Matthew!" Mary managed, her body sinking back into the pillows. She reached for him as he threw off his jacket.

"Wash first," his mother instructed, inclining her head towards the water closet, where he rolled up his sleeves and scrubbed both his hands and arms. He dashed back to his wife, clearly in the grip of a strong contraction, allowing her to latch on to him as he did his best to support her back.

God, she was soaked.

"She's doing marvelously," Sybil assured Matthew, handing him a cool cloth.

"I am right here," Mary managed, breathing heavily as the contracting subsided. "Do not discuss me like I'm not."

"Why is it taking so long, Sybil?" Matthew questioned, dabbing the back of Mary's neck.

"Twelve hours is not so long when it comes to childbirth," Sybil stated. "Ellie was in such a hurry that she gave you unreasonable expectations. It took me nearly eighteen hours to deliver Edie, if you remember."

"Bite your tongue," Mary barked, leaning her head back as her husband laid the cloth on her forehead.

Could Mary handle six more hours of this, he wondered? Could he?

"Don't worry," Sybil continued. "You're getting close, Mary. It shouldn't be much longer."

Thank God, Matthew thought.

"Thank God," Mary said

Two hours later, Mary's gown was drenched, her short hair plastered to her neck, her brow determined yet spent.

"It's time to push, Lady Mary," Dr. Meadows instructed, giving them both a smile of assurance. Mary nodded, breathing in to summon what strength she could still muster.

Dear God, this was it.

Time lost meaning as Matthew's hand lost sensation, each push and cry deliberate, until Mary slumped into his arms as new life slid out of her body.

"It's a boy!"

Dr. Meadows' words washed over him as a soft cry filled the room. Another son, another child, a miracle borne of the miracle that was his wife. What he had ever done to deserve such happiness, he could not think, but he breathed a prayer of thanks for the woman now leaning against him as he kissed her cheek, damp with perspiration and tears.

"It's a boy," Matthew echoed, the words bubbling out of him in relief.

"A boy," Mary whispered, smiling through exhaustion, straining to see her baby.

Isobel's pride was tangible, her eyes wet as she passed her newest grandchild into Matthew's waiting arms.

God, he was perfect. Just like Christopher. Just like Eloise.

"My dearest little chap," he managed, speech lost in light of such perfection. Hair the color of honey, skin as fair as Mary's, ten fingers, ten toes, plump cheeks, delicate lashes. He leaned over to kiss Mary again, enraptured by the expression of sheer love staring back at him and this life whom they had created. Matthew laid the baby in her arms, watching as she stroked new skin before bringing the child to her breast.

"Charles Matthew," Mary breathed as she sank back into the pillows.

"Charles Matthew," he agreed, knowing she had selected this name years ago when they were living in Cumberland.

"I shall let everyone know that he has arrived," Sybil declared, making her way to the door, pausing to look back and smile. "You were splendid, Mary. Truly."

"That you were," Dr. Meadows echoed, cleaning up the afterbirth. "Well done, Lady Mary."

Mary's eyes sought her husband's, and he leaned in to kiss her temple.

"My beautiful storm braver," he whispered, sensing her relax into him as their son continued to nurse.

"Rest, my dear," Isobel instructed, making her way to Mary's bedside. "We shall get you cleaned up after our lad has had his fill."

Mary nodded, smiling through her exhaustion.

"Thank you, Isobel," she managed. "For everything."

Isobel reached out to clasp Mary's shoulder, solidifying the bond they had formed years earlier.

"I don't have to tell you that I expect you to eat something soon," Dr. Meadows stated, picking up his bag as he moved to stand beside Isobel.

"As both my doctor and father-in-law, I'm certain you won't allow me to forget," Mary returned, smiling at the older man's soft chuckle.

"I shall ask Mrs. Patmore to send some food up for you," Isobel offered. "Something nourishing, but not too heavy."

"Thank you, Mother," Matthew said. "That sounds perfect." The older couple left the room, closing the door to give the small family a few moments of privacy.

"Thank God he's finally here," Mary whispered again, her eyes drifting shut to the rhythmic tug on her nipple.

"Thank God, indeed," Matthew echoed. "Now listen to Mother and rest." She smiled as her eyes drifted shut, and he cradled her close, allowing his wife to sleep as he supported both her and their son.

"How are you feeling, my darling? Really?"

His words were soft, blurred, whispered strokes grazing her through a haze of warmth and fatigue.

"Tired," Mary admitted. "And sore. But otherwise alright."

Her words were gravel, her throat still hoarse from the abuse it had endured during her labor.

"You're incredible."

His fingers stroked her arm as Baby Charles slept on her chest, both she and the child cocooned by Matthew.

"I wasn't there when you gave birth to Christopher, and Ellie arrived so fast. God, I hadn't realized…"

His words faded, his expression wondrous, as if he were gazing upon a masterpiece in The Louvre rather than her in such a state.

"His birth was no harder than Christopher's," she said. "Easier, in fact, because you were here with me."

"I should never have left," Matthew countered, smiling as small fingers wrapped around one of his own.

"You were here when it mattered," Mary said. "And now we have another son."

Another son. Another child. It was almost surreal.

"Thank you for him," Matthew stated. "For all of our children."

The baby stirred, this child she had felt moving inside her for months now exploring his new surroundings.

"Before Christopher, I never would have considered myself maternal," Mary confessed, pausing to clear her throat. "The truth is, had our circumstances not been so difficult, had he been born under the same circumstances as Ellie and Charles, I might not be."

"That's not true," Matthew returned. "You would be and are a wonderful mother, regardless of your circumstances."

"How do you know?" she asked, gazing into eyes that warmed her. He paused, looking down at their baby before capturing her eyes with his own.

"Because you're such a wonderful woman." His fingers tipped her chin towards him, kissing her, assuring her, helping her to believe every word he spoke. "What color will his eyes be, I wonder?"

"It's been difficult to predict with all of our babies at this stage," she stated. "They're too murky to tell."

"You told me that Christopher's were darker at birth than Ellie's," he reminded her. "You were adamant that hers would be blue."

"That was more wishful thinking than certainty," she confessed. "Christopher has my eyes. It was only fair that Ellie have yours."

"Maybe Charlie will have one of each color," Matthew grinned, chuckling at the look she shot him. "Since we already have one blue eyed child and one brown."

"God, you've already bestowed a nickname upon him," Mary sighed, stroking hair as soft as spun silk.

"You didn't mind it when Eloise became Ellie."

"That's because the nickname came from Christopher," Mary explained. "Eloise was a bit of a mouthful for a three year old."

"Well, Ellie is three now, and I daresay that Charlie will be easier for her to pronounce than Charles," Matthew argued. "Besides, I hear that Carson himself went by Charlie during his younger years."

"Fair enough, although you know Granny won't concede without an argument," Mary stated.

"This from a family with a cousin called Shrimpy," Matthew said, making her laugh.

"Where are the children?"

"Panting to see you both, I'm certain," Matthew replied. "Shall I alert everyone that you're up for visitors?"

"The children first," Mary insisted. "Along with Mama and Papa. And make sure Carson and Mrs. Hughes are told that we wish to see them. I want Carson to meet his namesake."

She gazed at her baby in silence after Matthew left the room, alone with him for the first time since he exited her womb. The rise and fall of his chest mesmerized her, the softness of new skin almost unfathomable. He was so different from her other two children, but still so perfectly hers. Mary's lips touched down on his forehead, claiming him as a human being now separate from her as his head burrowed into her breast.

It was unchanging yet expanding, this primal wave of love that flooded every part of her whenever she laid eyes upon one of her children. It had surprised her with Christopher, elated her with Eloise, and had filled her with deep contentment when Charles had cried out into the world.

Christopher Joseph. Eloise Cora. Charles Matthew. How odd it was to think of herself as a mother of three. Mary wondered if this babe would be her last.

Of course, she had wondered the same thing with both Christopher and Eloise, for vastly different reasons. She had believed she and Christopher would be on their own after his birth, the very idea of having another child as laughable as the thought of turning back time. With Eloise, she had simply felt satisfied: two healthy babies, a son and a daughter, one fair, one dark, both adored by their father.

But three seemed a complete number to her, somehow. She wondered if that was because of her sisters.


Eloise broke free from her grandmother's hand, skipping towards the bed where her mother lay. Matthew scooped her up just in time, depositing her gently beside Mary before she attempted to climb up by herself.

"Remember what we discussed, Ellie," Matthew instructed. "We must be gentle with the new baby."

"Baby Charwie!" Eloise beamed, pointing at her new brother. Mary tossed Matthew an arched brow at Ellie's pronouncement, Matthew's face reddening as he shrugged. Ellie reached out a small finger to touch her new brother before thinking better of it.

"It's alright, my darling," Mary assured her. "You can touch him." Ellie's eyes widened as she stroked her new brother's cheek.

"He's beautiful, Mary."

Cora's words reached out to her, transporting her back to a moment forever locked in memory: the train station, a different baby, a different reality that had transformed into a life she had feared she would never know.

"Would you like to hold him, Mama?"

Cora's eyes glistened.

"I should like that very much."

Lady Grantham took the baby, sitting down with him to allow Christopher a better look. The older boy placed a soft kiss on the infant's forehead, Mary's heart nearly bursting at the sight. Her firstborn was so like his father in temperament: gentle, kind-hearted, and completely devoted to his mother. Ellie burrowed into Mary's side as Christopher looked up at her.

"Are you feeling alright, Mama?"

"I am fine, my darling," she answered, extending her free arm towards Christopher. He ran to her, hugging her tight as she kissed his cheek. "What do you think of your new brother?"

"He's awfully small," Christopher answered, looking very serious. "And he looks like Grandpa."

"Does he, now?" Robert asked, stepping forward to see the lad better.

"He wooks wike a mushwoom," Ellie said, creasing her brows in an expression so very like her mother's.

"He certainly does not look like a mushroom," Matthew stated, trying not to laugh. "You looked very similar when you were a baby."

Ellie sat up straighter, obviously indignant.

"No," she protested. "I wook wike Gwanny."

Ellie's resemblance to Cora was uncanny at times.

"You look like Granny now," Mary agreed. "Babies change as they grow, Ellie."

Matthew ruffled his daughter's dark waves, smiling into eyes that matched his own. "We shall have to wait and see whom Baby Charlie favors as he grows."

"Did I look like a mushroom?" Christopher asked, looking slightly concerned.

"No," Mary assured him. "You have always looked like your father."

Their eyes met and held, old pain buried long ago not allowed a resurgence–not here, not now. Christopher took Matthew's hand, melting what little remained solid inside Mary's heart. Such the pair, she thought to herself yet again. It was completely foreign to her now that she had ever considered keeping the two of them from each other.

"Carson is on his way," Sybil announced a few minutes later, stepping into the bedroom.

"Then we shall give you some space," Robert said, accepting his grandson from Cora's arms before begrudgingly returning him to Matthew. "He is a beautiful child, Mary."

"You're saying that because Christopher thinks he looks like you," Mary returned, accepting a kiss from her father.

"Obviously," Robert replied. "It seems only fair, as your mother already has her own pint-sized doppelganger."

"And Matthew has his," Mary noted, gazing over at Christopher standing beside his father. "I suppose I shall have to make due without one."

"You can always have another baby," Sybil stated, tossing her sister a mischievous grin.

"Now is not the time to propose such things, and you know it," Cora gently admonished before moving to Mary and kissing her cheek. "Well done, my darling. Don't entertain for too long. You need your rest."

"I won't, believe me," Mary agreed. "I'm even wearier than I look."

"Tom has offered to take Christopher and the E's down to check on Anastasia's kittens," Sybil added, prompting Eloise to nearly bounce off of the bed in excitement.

"What's a baby brother to a litter of kittens?" Matthew chuckled as his daughter practically sprinted towards her aunt.

"Nothing, evidently," Mary grinned, hugging Christopher tightly as he wound his arms around her neck.

"Come with us, children," Cora instructed. "We shall deliver you to your Uncle Tom."

"I'll come back later, Mama," Christopher whispered. "With some flowers."

"I should like that very much," Mary returned. "Now go and see that Edith and Ellie don't frighten the kittens too badly."

"I won't let them," Christopher assured her. "I promise." And with that, they were off.

"Tom is quite brave," Matthew noted, holding his new son close to his chest. "Taking on the hoard like that, especially the E's."

Only four months apart in age, Sybil's Edith Margaret and Mary's Eloise had been thick as thieves since the moment they became aware of each other. More like twins than cousins, their combined energy was indeed a force with which to be reckoned.

"Don't think too highly of him," Sybil admonished with a grin. "Mrs. Patmore has promised them all biscuits and lemonade."

"You should go and lie down," Mary instructed, looking at her sister. "You were on your feet for hours, Sybil, and I know what that feels like at this stage of pregnancy."

"I'm going to do just that," Sybil replied. "Yet another reason Tom has agreed to wrangle the children for a bit."

"Have you any ideas for names yet?" Mary asked, taking a sip of water.

"I believe we're having another girl, so we've narrowed it down to Emily, Esme or Earnestine."

"God, not Earnestine," Mary muttered. "But the other two are lovely."

"Earnestine was a favorite spinster aunt of Tom's," Sybil expounded.

"I rest my case," Mary replied.

"So you'd be adding another E into the mix," Matthew stated. "God help us all if there are three of them dashing about."

"Crawley women should come in threes," Sybil stated. "Even if their last name is Branson."

"And if you have a son?" Mary questioned.

"I'm not sure," Sybil confessed. "Collin, perhaps, or Craig or Ciaran."

"All C names," Mary observed. "How very tidy."

"So he can fit it with his cousins," Sybil stated. "I may have started the E's, but you started the C's, Mary. It's only fair, you know."

"If Charles and Colin Ciaran Craig are as close as our girls, we shall all have to remain on our toes," Mary mused, grinning at her sister's laughter.

"True, but I'm fairly certain it's a girl, so the boy names are of no real significance." Sybil smiled at Matthew's expression of feigned offense. "Carson and Mrs. Hughes are waiting outside. Shall I send them in?"

"Yes, please," Mary replied. "And go rest, Sybil. You've taken excellent care of me. Now it's time to take care of yourself."

"And I thought I was the doctor," Sybil mused, resting a hand on her rounded abdomen.

"Aren't you the one always telling me that doctors make the worst patients?" Mary returned, acknowledging Sybil's silent nod. "Now go."

"Yes, my lady," Sybil stated. She smiled back at her older sister before opening the door for a man almost reluctant to enter.

"You wanted to see me, my lady?"

He stepped in slowly, followed by his wife, his swallow audible from across the room.

"Yes, Carson," Mary replied. "We wanted you and Mrs. Hughes to meet the baby."

The butler stood taller at her words.

"On behalf of ourselves and the entire staff, may we offer you our sincerest congratulations," Carson said, daring another step closer.

"Thank you, Carson," Matthew returned, taking the boy from Mary's arms. Charlie squirmed, flailing small arms about in a world still foreign to him.

"And have you decided upon a name?" Mrs. Hughes asked as Matthew moved towards them.

"We have," Mary answered. "We would like you to meet Charles Matthew Crawley."

She heard the older man's intake of breath, saw the utter shock upon his face as understanding took root.

"Charles Matthew?" Carson clarified, gazing down at the child in wonder.

"In honor of the one man who has never let Lady Mary down."

Matthew's unexpected words struck deeply, bringing fresh tears to her eyes. He looked back at her, smiling and whole, his admission a statement of fact rather than one of self-condemnation. Dear God, how far they had come.

Carson stood speechless before them both, his chin quivering.

"That's incredibly generous, my lady,'' Mrs. Hughes responded, touching her husband's arm. "And quite an honor, I must say."

"I could think of no two men whose names I would rather him bear," Mary said, capturing Matthew's eyes with her own. His smile broadened before he turned back to the older couple.

"Would you like to hold him?" Matthew asked.

The butler nodded, large hands accepting the babe with utmost tenderness.

"I don't know what to say, my lady," Carson finally managed, his voice unsteady.

"You don't have to say anything," Mary stated. "Just look after him the same way you have always looked after me."

Carson's eyes met hers.

"That will be an honor and a privilege," he stated, practically beaming. Mary knew he meant every word.

Matthew returned to her side, allowing Carson and Mrs. Hughes to make over Baby Charlie.

"As if he weren't devoted enough to you, already," Matthew mused, taking her hands within his.

"I meant it, you know," Mary said, reaching out to touch his cheek. "I wanted Charles to have your name, too. It was important to me."

He sniffed, claiming her hand and bringing it to his lips.

"I remember when you feared that I would be upset that you had not given my name to Christopher," he murmured. "When I would have been utterly shocked if you had."

She leaned forward and kissed him, her lips lingering upon his.

"I hope you're not shocked now," Mary breathed, unable to keep from smiling.

"No," he returned, looking from his new son to his wife. "I actually feel as if I've swallowed a box of fireworks."

"Please don't say that in front of the children," Mary hummed. "There's no telling what they would get up to."

He chuckled before accepting Charlie from Mrs. Hughes, both of the Carsons congratulating them again before exiting the room. Matthew handed the child to Mary before kicking off his shoes and removing his jacket and tie, sliding into the bed beside her and enveloping her in his arms.

"Why don't you sleep now, my darling?" he whispered into her hair. "You've managed something quite miraculous today."

"I believe that I might," she acquiesced, allowing her body to ease into his as sleep began its slow, deliberate ascent.

"Good," Matthew breathed. "I shall be right here when you wake up."

The combined warmth of her husband and her son weighed on her eyelids, drawing her under, wrapping her up. Mary heard him humming, knowing the lullaby was intended for the baby, even as it set her adrift. She smiled, sighing contentedly as one thought pressed itself out of her mouth.

"Blue, I think," she whispered. "Charlie's eyes."

"I'm rather hoping for brown" he whispered as she teetered on the edge of consciousness. "I have a partiality for them, you know."

"You had better," she managed, smiling to herself, feeling his chuckle reverberate across her limbs.

"I love you, Mary. So very, very much."

It astounded her where their lives now stood: Matthew loved her. She loved him beyond reason. They were truly and deeply happy. And with those thoughts pressed into both memory and bone, she allowed herself to sleep.