Cemetery, Downton Village Church, Downton Village, Yorkshire, England, November 1935
He nodded and bowed his head, closing his eyes before muttering something. Mary stepped away, not wanting to eavesdrop on the private moment.
"Our son is practically a man now," she whispered, watching him from afar. "He's almost a full head taller than Sybbie, which annoys her greatly."
Matthew chuckled. "Everyone likes him. His closest friends at Eton aren't the athletes, actually. He gets along with all of them, but he spends the most time in the library with the bookworms."
"He must take after you, then," she joked, smiling at him. "I certainly never sought out the company of that lot."
He chuckled. "And yet you ended up marrying one."
"Please," she scoffed. "Considering that I am far better read than you are, I think calling you a bookworm is an insult to those who truly are."
"You were better read than I was at first," he argued. "That lasted for all of a month. If I had access to a library like Robert's, I would have been just as well read as you."
"Yes, clearly that's the reason since there was no such thing as a library in Manchester when you were growing up," she rolled her eyes.
He laughed and put his arms around her, warming her against the winter wind as they watched their son speak to Isobel. Eventually, he finished, kissed his hand and pressed his fingers to her gravestone. When he rejoined his mother, she smiled at him and they walked together back to the road and headed for home.
More to Give
Downton Abbey, Yorkshire, England, September 1972
"For he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good fellow. For he's a jolly good fellow, and so say all of us! And so say all of us, and so say all of us. For he's a jolly good fellow, and so say all of us!"
George laughed and hugged his friends gathered around him. The rest of the guests clapped and cheered at the scene, the sun shining down on the party. Staff in crisp black pants, white collared shirts and black vests came forward to slice the birthday cake and hand them out to everyone. The big house stood tall and majestic under the blue sky, the first day of autumn remarkably warm.
Squeals and laughter rang out as children of all ages ran about, wrestled on the grass, or chased after little ones. There were dozens of people outside, friends and family who had come in from near and far to celebrate the Earl of Grantham's 50th birthday.
George hugged and kissed his way through the throng before taking two plates of cake and heading over to a white tent set up closer to the house. Ducking into the shade, he grinned and nodded before presenting the desserts to two elderly women sitting on lounge chairs shielded from the sun.
"Vanilla with chocolate frosting, Mama," he announced. "Your favourite."
Mary arched her eyebrow and smirked at her son. "Thank you, darling, but I really shouldn't have all of that sugar. Besides, it's not my favourite, as you well know."
He chuckled before offering the second plate to the other woman seated next to his mother.
"What about you, Aunt Edith?" he asked.
Edith smiled and raised her hand. "No, thank you, my dear. Why don't you go and find your Uncle Bertie? He'll have both, I'm sure, if he hasn't already stuffed himself."
Mary smiled knowingly at her sister.
"Very well. I'll go and find him. I think he was showing his grandchildren a card trick or something."
"Oh, God," Edith scoffed.
He glanced over at his mother. "You all right?"
Mary nodded. "We're fine, darling. Your Aunt Edith and I are just going to take a walk. Go and see to your guests, and do try and keep the music down."
"It's not me, it's Rhys and Octavia," he whinged.
"Who are your children," Mary said pointedly. "This is a birthday party, not a sock hop."
"They don't have those anymore," Edith informed her. "That was about 15 years ago."
"Well, the equivalent for this decade, then," Mary waved her hand dismissively.
"I'll take care of it," he smiled, bowing slightly before leaving in search of the Marquess of Hexham.
"Shall we?" Mary asked, reaching for her cane.
"Lead on," Edith nodded, slowly lifting herself up from her chair.
The two Crawley sisters moseyed out from under the tent and down a well-worn path towards the back of the house. It was the same path that they had travelled since they were children. Each of them would glance up at the house and across the fields, finally stopping to rest when they came to the familiar bench beneath the large oak tree.
"It really is a lovely party," Edith noted.
"Thank you," Mary acknowledged. "Have you gotten any ideas for Marigold for next year?"
"She says she doesn't want to have a party," Edith sighed, shaking her head. "Dinner at her favourite restaurant in London and that's it, apparently."
Mary frowned. "That's rather disappointing. It isn't as if a woman can't celebrate her 50th birthday. She should have a proper party."
"I've tried. I even had Sybbie attempt to sway her but she remains quite adamant. Anyway, we have some time. Her brothers will hopefully convince her between now and then. If that doesn't work, I'll get the grandchildren involved."
"Do what you must. I'll be in London for the entire month, so if you want me to speak to her, I will," Mary advised.
Edith nodded and looked off into the distance. "I can't help but feel that she's being difficult because each birthday is another reminder of how alone she is."
Mary shrugged. "That's most likely part of it. Still, all the family who came in to see George today will return for her, so that should give her some comfort."
"I suppose, but it's not the same," Edith remarked.
Mary rolled her eyes. "Well, keep at it. Not wanting to celebrate one's birthday is rather sad."
She glanced around, the wind rustling the branches above slightly. Over the years, the property had grown smaller as she sold more and more of it to be developed into homes, and opened up fields to the public for use as park space. There were still several thousand acres owned by the Crawley family, the management of which was now George's responsibility, though he essentially followed her business model.
"It all looks the same as it ever did, doesn't it?" Mary noted, taking in the view.
"It does, thanks to you," Edith nodded. "I honestly thought we would have lost the place long ago."
"We almost did, several times," Mary smiled. "I'm certain that Mama would be aghast at all the tours, weddings and events that come through here now."
"She would have been fine with it," Edith shook her head. "Granny on the other hand…"
They both laughed in understanding.
"How is Bertie?" Mary asked. "He seems in good spirits."
"That's because he's taking his pills again. I'm not letting him get out of it the way I used to," Edith replied. "It does him a world of good, but it leaves him rather run down in the evenings."
"Who isn't?" Mary scoffed. "I had to rest up for most of yesterday just to be able to make it through today. I'll be glad when everyone leaves, though I think George is having a dinner tonight with some of his close friends."
"Is it true about Octavia? Wally mentioned something to me, but I wasn't quite paying attention," Edith asked.
Mary sighed. "She's not happy. I can't blame her. Will is always away and when he is home, they barely spend any time together. If something doesn't change, they're headed for divorce, I'm afraid."
"How long has it been?" Edith continued.
"Six years in July," Mary nodded. "I've tried talking to her. Her mother's tried talking to her. George has talked to him. Nothing's worked."
"I suppose it would be asking too much for all of the children to be happy," Edith grumbled.
"Just be glad that Walter and James and their families are all doing well," Mary replied. "Even Marigold. It isn't as if not being married is so harsh a fate for her. Whenever I hear about Octavia's struggles, it makes me appreciate that George and Rhys have happy marriages. Sybbie and Katharine, too. Overall, we're quite lucky."
"Do you think that Mama and Papa agonised over us in the same way?" Edith smiled.
"Sybil and Tom drove them mad, no question," Mary nodded. "I honestly don't think they worried about you very much at all."
"They didn't think about me very much at all," Edith corrected her. "They never worried about you, once you married Matthew."
"That's not true," Mary objected. "After you married Bertie, all they ever thought about was what would become of me."
"Yes, but you were quite clear that you weren't interested in marrying again," Edith commented.
"That didn't stop them from worrying. If anything, it made them worry more," Mary replied.
"Until you reinvented yourself. Lady Mary Crawley, astute Estate manager, shrewd investor and accomplished event planner," Edith smiled.
"I'd like to think those skills were always within me, but yes, the need to find me a husband wasn't nearly as urgent when they saw what I was capable of," Mary grinned.
"What do you think they would have thought of this era we're living in now? All of this progress?" Edith questioned.
"They never recovered from the Second World War, did they? So, they would have found today rather incomprehensible. I know I do. It just doesn't seem as if anyone cares for the proper way of doing anything anymore. Unions sending their workers on strike constantly, entertainment consisting of watching television rather than having a decent conversation, automobiles and aeroplanes getting faster and faster. I wonder whether the days of our youth were from the same life or not, sometimes," Mary shook her head.
"Well, at least you can take comfort in knowing you've done your duty," Edith nodded. "Downton is secure. George's hands are steady on the reins. You've won."
Mary smiled. "You, too. Brancaster will stand for decades more, with your family in it."
"Not too bad for two toffs from Yorkshire," Edith said, holding out her hand.
Mary laughed and squeezed her sister's fingers. "No, not too bad at all."
"I so hate you, you know."
Matthew frowned and looked at his wife in surprise. "Pardon?"
"I hate you," Mary repeated, shaking her head at him. "Look at you! You're absolutely gorgeous! You make me feel so old."
He rolled his eyes. "My darling, I am six years older than you are."
"You're supposed to be six years older, but you still look 36," she retorted. "I'm literally sleeping with a man over half my age!"
"I suppose that is one way of looking at it," he said slowly. "I can't exactly fix that at all."
"Yes, but what does this mean for the future?" she demanded. "When we're finally reunited, will I look like this and you'll look like that?"
"I can't say," he shrugged. "Why does it matter?"
"It matters!" she spat. "You expect me to spend all eternity looking like a hobbled grandmother?"
"You don't look like a hobbled grandmother," he scoffed. "You're beautiful."
"Please," she rolled her eyes. "You'd rather I look like this forever than look like I did when we were married?"
"That's hardly a fair question," he whinged.
"How so?" she huffed.
"Because if I say yes, you won't believe me and you'll say I'm being ridiculous, and if I say no, you'll say I'm being superficial," he waved his hand.
"Spoken like a lawyer," she frowned. "Just tell me."
He grunted and looked up at the ceiling. "Why would I care? I didn't care that you looked older on our wedding day than you did on the day we first met. I didn't care about your growing older all these past years that we've been together. Who's to say how we will appear to each other when we begin the…the next phase…of our lives? All that matters is that you're with me. I don't care one jot about whether you look older or not!"
She arched her eyebrow, then softened her expression when she saw how perturbed he was.
"Darling," she began, drawing his attention. "The truth."
"You were obviously more desirable when you were younger, yes, but that doesn't mean I love you any less now," he snapped.
She grinned. "You're so easily teased."
"And you're incorrigible," he huffed, leaning over and kissing her softly.
"I should hope I'm not entirely incorrigible," she smiled, closing her eyes and revelling in his warm touch across her lips.
"Perhaps not entirely, no," he agreed, kissing her again.
"Mmm, I'm not supposed to be capable of such feelings at my age," she drawled, letting her arms fall open and turning her head to show him her bare neck.
"I think we're well past the point of doing what we're supposed to, Mary," he whispered, running his hand across her body.
Cemetery, Downton Village Church, Downton Village, Yorkshire, England, July 1975
Mary took a deep breath, staring out across the yard from her perch on the iron bench beneath the trees. Despite all the modern changes to Downton and the Village in the past decades, nowhere did she feel the passing of time more than here. When she was younger, her family plot held only the graves of relatives long passed, people she had never met or barely remembered. Even when Cousin James and Patrick perished on the Titanic, their bodies were never recovered, and so while stones were placed here to remember them, their graves were empty.
The plot was well filled now.
First Sybil. Matthew next. Granny. Isobel. Papa, then Mama. Nearby lay Lavinia, Carson and Mrs Hughes. There was nary a row here now that didn't include someone she knew and loved.
Over the years she wrote to everyone, kept in touch with family and friends near and far until there were fewer people to write to, and now she barely heard from anyone at all. When George was but a boy they finally made the crossing to America to see Grandmamma and Mama's side of the family. It was a fun three weeks. She and Matthew strolled through Central Park, walked along the beach in Newport, and enjoyed a world so very different from their own. Her American relations were all gone now. The youngest generation kept in touch with George and his family from time to time, but mainly to send cards at Christmas and little else. Everywhere she turned now, it seemed someone who used to be close to her was no longer there.
So she came here every few days, just to sit and rest, to remember back to days gone by and even chat to a few of them here and there. It felt peaceful and calm here, people left her alone, and she could reminisce to her heart's content.
A warm pride filled her whenever she was here and looked upon the graves of Granny and Papa in particular. 'Look at all I've done' she would think, even say it out loud and laugh. There was a time when Papa wanted to sell some of their lands to pay for Matthew's death duties. She had held on, and now the value of their lands was into the millions. After so many generations of past Earls barely avoiding bankruptcy trying to maintain their way of life, she had finally gotten ahead of it all. Her investments now generated more than enough income to pay for Downton, Grantham House and a comfortable lifestyle for her children and grandchildren. Painswick House had been sold at an immense profit years ago, there being very little need to keep two homes in London anymore. She made her home here, as she always had, and thrived.
Her company managed the tours of the house and grounds and offered bespoke event planning services for clients ranging from banks and businesses to couples wanting to step back in time to an elegant English country home from a bygone era. Corporate retreats, birthday parties, weddings and even scavenger hunts were held on the grounds now. She had officially retired from the business years ago, but George still came to her every so often, knowing it was sometimes easier to ask her for help than struggle through things himself. She would only agree to assist when she was convinced he had already given it an honest effort.
Her ancestral home remained in her family's hands, and would for the foreseeable future. She had helped bring two more generations into the world, and gotten them off to far better starts than she had received. Her life had been a resounding success by any measure.
Now she just had to wait.
Mary looked up and blinked, surprised at the tall woman standing before her. She hadn't noticed anyone come over.
"Yes?" she replied.
"May I?" the woman asked, smiling warmly and gesturing to the bench.
"Of course," Mary nodded, watching as the woman took a seat next to her. "Do you have family here?"
"Oh, no," the woman smiled, shaking her head. "I came here to see you, actually."
Mary frowned, a cautious suspicion rising in her chest. "I'm sorry, do we know each other?"
"No, we don't," the woman replied easily. "I know who you are, of course, but this is the first time we've met. I'm Michelle."
"Michelle," Mary repeated. "Well, what brings you here of all places to see me?"
"I wanted to talk to you about Matthew," Michelle stated.
"Oh?" Mary questioned, glancing over to the family plot. She couldn't see her husband anywhere but expected he would be watching. "Did you know him?"
"I met him after his death," Michelle answered.
Mary frowned. "I beg your pardon?"
"You heard me correctly," Michelle shook her head. "Let me explain."
Mary blinked. Michelle was no longer sitting next to her.
"You see, I'm rather special, like him."
Mary whirled around, her eyes going wide when she saw Michelle standing on her other side. What's more, she wasn't so much standing as she was…hovering…floating above the ground.
"Who are you?" Mary demanded.
"I told you. I'm Michelle," Michelle stated, this time from her seat next to Mary once again.
Mary spun to look at her, her brow furrowed. 'Matthew! I need you! Come quickly!'
"He can't hear you," Michelle smiled. "But don't worry. You aren't in any danger, I promise."
Mary swallowed. "Very well. Explain the meaning of all of this."
"You may have heard of my husband – Alex Lewis. He's a lawyer. Matthew's lawyer, in fact," Michelle began.
Mary's mouth fell open. "I wasn't aware that Alex had a wife."
Michelle laughed. "He tends not to mention it. It's not that he's ashamed of me. It's exactly the opposite. He just doesn't want to confuse any of the candidates under his charge with such details."
Mary nodded slowly.
"Alex and I work together. I was the one who actually saw your husband's case first. I looked it over and gave it to Alex, and he took it to appeal," Michelle continued. "He was the one who had Matthew declared your Protector, as you know."
Mary shook her head in confusion. "All right. And what is your business with me?"
"We've been watching Matthew and we've been watching you. You both have done so very well together through all of this. I'm truly impressed by both of you," Michelle smiled.
"Thank you," Mary muttered, still unsure of where this was going.
"I want to talk to you about what comes next," Michelle stated.
Mary blinked. "You…you know?"
"Sort of," Michelle nodded. "You see, Alex and I, we were very similar to you and Matthew. Alex was my Protector, in a way."
"I never knew," Mary said.
"Matthew doesn't know. Alex didn't want to tell him because he didn't want to give him any ideas," Michelle explained. "It's also not particularly important for him to know about it."
"So why are you choosing to tell me?" Mary asked.
Michelle smiled. "It's for you to know. I wanted you to know our story so that you are well prepared for the next part of your life with Matthew."
Mary nodded. A sense of anticipation bubbled in her chest, despite the absurdity of the situation. Here she was sitting in the cemetery speaking with a ghost? The ghost of a woman who she never met before.
"You see, I died quite young. Alex and I were only married for a brief time. I went to market that day, as I always did. Our home was on the coast of the sea, and I walked my usual route. Unfortunately, I wasn't paying attention and stupidly slipped on the rock and fell. I was unconscious when I hit the water and drowned," Michelle whispered, shaking her head at the memory.
"I'm sorry," Mary said.
Michelle smiled sadly. "It was stupid of me. Anyway, Alex refused to let me go. He prayed and prayed, made sacrifices, and a Guardian took pity on him."
"A Guardian?" Mary frowned.
Michelle grinned. "I'm sorry for the confusion. There's no need for you to remember all of it. A Guardian is someone who watches over loved ones. Guardians aren't as powerful as Protectors. Anyway, this Guardian appeared to Alex in a dream and told him that he could be with me if he wished, but it would come at a price."
"A price?" Mary questioned.
"He could only be reunited with me in death," Michelle stated. "And his duty, the duty for both of us, would be to represent candidates at their Judgement."
"Like Matthew," Mary said.
"Most of our clients are nothing like him," Michelle smiled. "It's actually quite a boring job. We go through countless candidates where we already know how they will be judged. Matthew was a very unique case because of who he was, and because of you."
"Our jobs give us certain privileges," Michelle noted. "We are some of the few able to pass between worlds. We cannot interact with everyone, and we're not supposed to interact with anyone, really, but we are permitted to be here, as well as visit Paradise when we wish."
"We've been at this for a very long time. Alex has been trying for ages to gain our retirement. If he was ever to successfully win an appeal, he would be granted an audience to make his argument for us. That was why he took Matthew's case. That was why he fought so hard to win it," Michelle explained.
Mary arched her eyebrow. "But he did win it."
Michelle shook her head. "He won a decision, yes, but not the remedy he was seeking. Alex asked for Resurrection – the highest award available to the Court of Appeal. He wanted to restore Matthew to where he was just before he got in that car accident. He wanted to return him to you."
Mary gasped and covered her mouth with her hand. Her pulse sped up dangerously.
"Instead, they ruled that Matthew be your Protector, because they felt he hadn't earned Resurrection, despite Alex's arguments," Michelle said.
Mary closed her eyes and shook her head. "Oh, Matthew."
"It is unfortunate, I know, and I do not tell you this to make you feel sad. You've lived a wonderful and fulfilling life with Matthew, even under your unique circumstances, and you should be glad for that," Michelle advised.
Mary sniffled and nodded her head. "I am grateful for it. I just sometimes wish…"
"I know," Michelle nodded sympathetically. "But the next step is rather important. I cannot tell you how your Judgement will go. Matthew was never put before Judgement because Alex intervened. The odds are very much in your favour to pass on, I believe, and you will be together, but I do not know for certain where exactly that will be."
Mary frowned. "What? But what about my sister Sybil? What about my parents and Granny and Isobel?"
"I can't tell you about them," Michelle shook her head.
"But if we – Matthew and I – if we were in your position, we would be able to visit them, if they were in Paradise, as you say," Mary suggested.
"Yes, that's correct," Michelle nodded.
"I see," Mary said.
"I'm not here to try to deceive you or influence you, Mary," Michelle shook her head. "If you were to make a plea that you wish to join our department, the chances that Alex and I would be able to retire would be greatly increased. It isn't a request that just anyone can make. The only reason that it's possibly available to you is because of your situation."
"But it would mean we would be together, if we were accepted to your…department…and we would have your privileges?" Mary asked.
"Yes, but you would have to work, as Alex and I have," Michelle warned.
Mary laughed. "I can assure you that the prospect of work would not dissuade my husband one bit."
Michelle smiled. "No, I suppose it wouldn't. That's why I'm not telling him, though. It's not his decision to make. He's already received the benefit of the Court by being made a Protector. It's not for him to ask for this additional privilege."
"My presence here is not a harbinger in any way, Mary. I have no clue about the date of your passing, or what the future holds for you. I just wanted to let you know. I've been watching you and Matthew for over 50 years now, so I thought it was time we had a chat, just us girls," Michelle smiled.
"Thank you," Mary nodded. "I'm glad you did."
"So am I," Michelle replied. "Good day, Mary."
Mary opened her mouth to return the pleasant salutation, but Michelle was already gone.
"You all right?"
Mary blinked as Matthew appeared next to her.
"Hello, darling," she smiled.
"Hello. How are you feeling? There isn't much going on at the house, but Anna is coming over in an hour and you ought to head back soon," he informed her.
"Yes, that's an excellent idea," she nodded, taking up her cane and rising to her feet with his help.
Downton Abbey, Yorkshire, England, August 1979
'I wouldn't want to push in.'
Mary smiled, her eyes closing for a brief second as the memories washed over her. She found herself drifting off more frequently now, but she didn't mind. Her days were becoming so monotonous. Sometimes she barely felt like rising from bed or going out for her walk. Wandering through the house was both inspiring and sad, and more often than not she stayed in the sitting room and had the staff bring her whatever she needed.
"I just don't know, Granny. Sometimes I look at him and it's all I can do not to throttle him!"
Mary blinked and smiled wanly at her granddaughter Octavia. The young girl – not that young anymore, goodness – was complaining about her husband yet again. She married during college, much to the family's reservations, and it seemed to be a constant struggle, from the heights of joy to the depths of despair, no one knowing what each visit would bring. Her husband, Will Logan, a banker with Barclays, was a nice fellow, but entirely obsessed with work. They lived a very comfortable lifestyle in London, but Octavia had grown up at Downton Abbey and never known anything else. They had no children yet, which was a lucky stroke, Mary thought. She had predicted that her granddaughter would be the first in the family to divorce in generations, but still she persisted.
'Marry a man who can barely hold his knife like a gentleman?'
"Do you love him?" Mary asked quietly.
Octavia blinked. "What?"
"You heard me," Mary said pointedly, arching her eyebrow in the same classic manner she always had. "Do you love Will?"
"Granny," Octavia scoffed. "He's my husband. Of course, I love him! He's just maddening, that's all!"
Mary smiled. "Do you love him because he's your husband, or do you love him because you love him?"
Octavia frowned. "Well, I do love him, yes, and not just because I have to, or am expected to. I just wish it was more like when we were in school. He worked very hard back then also, and so did I. But we took time for each other, we put each other before anything. It's been years since we did that. Everything seems like an obligation now."
Mary nodded in understanding. "So why do you stay?"
Octavia swallowed tightly. "You think I should leave him."
Mary shook her head. "Forget about what I think. Why do you stay if things are so terribly bad between you?"
Octavia looked down at her lap. "Things aren't terribly bad. At least, they aren't terribly bad all the time."
"Ah," Mary noted, looking smugly at the girl.
Octavia blushed. "Granny!"
Mary kept her hard stare focused on her.
"All right!" Octavia gave up, shaking her head and blushing deeper. "He's absolutely fantastic in bed, even after we argue, sometimes especially after we argue. There. Are you happy now? Your granddaughter is a bloody harlot."
"You can't be a harlot for enjoying sleeping with your husband," Mary replied.
Octavia laughed and covered her mouth with her hand for a moment. "God, if Mummy and Daddy could hear me now."
"Octavia, you're a grown woman," Mary scoffed. "But yes, let's not try and shock them too much."
Octavia nodded. "He's a good man, Granny. I know he is. I just wish he would be a good man more often."
Mary smiled and nodded.
'If you really like an argument…we should see more of each other.'
"There was this one time a few months back," Octavia smiled, looking out to the windows and the grounds beyond. "It was some stuffy charity event that we were required to go to. He took me out on the dance floor and we danced. I thought it was just the usual – all for show to his partners and clients – but we just kept dancing. I asked him if he wanted to stop and he said no. He just smiled and held me and we danced. It was glorious."
"I just want what you had, Granny," Octavia sighed, shaking her head.
Mary's eyes widened. "Pardon?"
Octavia shrugged. "I used to talk to Auntie Anna and Uncle John when I was a child about you and Grandpapa. They told me so many stories. I asked about you all the time, until finally I just started writing everything down so I wouldn't bother them as much."
"You never told me that, and neither did your father," Mary frowned. "You asked me about Matthew plenty of times, but I didn't know you spoke to Anna about us."
Octavia smiled. "I didn't want to make you rehash the past. I just know that you loved Grandpapa very much."
Mary smiled. "Yes. Yes, I did. I still do."
"And he loved you," Octavia stated.
Mary nodded. "He did."
"That's what I want. I know you didn't have a perfect courtship or a perfect marriage, but I want that kind of story – I want to know that, no matter what, I can count on Will."
'You're on my team now.'
"Do you think you can? Count on him?" Mary asked.
"In a crisis? Yes," Octavia nodded. "But I want to be able to count on him each day. I want to know that he still loves me, that he's not just with me because it's another checkmark on the list of things he's supposed to accomplish in life."
"So ask him," Mary nodded.
"Granny, we've argued about this countless times. You've had to witness some of them," Octavia grumbled.
"In my experience, it's very rare that one's actual thoughts are ever expressed in an argument," Mary remarked. "Try talking to him, truly talking to him."
"Daddy already did, so did Rhys," Octavia shook her head.
"Yes, but perhaps speaking to your father and brother does not have quite the same effect as speaking to you," Mary smirked.
"And if he puts me off?" Octavia asked quietly.
"Then you'll have you answer, won't you?" Mary said. "Octavia, you're an intelligent, beautiful woman. Stop avoiding your problems for fear of the consequences and take charge of your life."
Octavia huffed before softening her expression and reaching over to squeeze Mary's hand. "Thank you, Granny. I love you so much."
"I love you, and you will be brilliant no matter what happens. You'll always have your family, a home, and a life of your own. If you want something more with Will, then go and find out if he wants the same."
Octavia nodded and reached for her tea.
Mary looked over to the wall and smiled at Granny's portrait looking back at her.
"Octavia seemed in surprisingly good spirits tonight," George noted as he escorted his mother to her bedroom. "Rhys said he heard her laughing on the phone and shockingly, she was talking to Will."
Mary smiled knowingly. "Will wonders never cease?"
"Thank you, Mama," he said warmly, helping her into her room and over to bed. "I know you spoke to her."
"Do not thank me yet," she scolded him, sighing as she eased herself into bed. "This might just be a brief reprieve for them."
"Marriage is a long business. Isn't that what you told me?" he joked, pulling the blanket over her.
"Your Great Granny told your father that once," she nodded. "I think she'll be fine, George. No matter what happens with Will, she'll be fine."
"I'll make sure that she is," he confirmed.
"Yes, you do that. And call Sybbie tomorrow, and Marigold as well. The three of you need to keep in touch. It's so very important," she mumbled, lying back against the pillows.
"I will, Mama," he nodded. He leaned over to kiss her. "Good night. I love you."
"I love you, darling," she whispered, closing her eyes. "Good night."
George watched her for several moments before he stepped away and headed for the door. His mother slept with one lamp on in the room and the curtains open. He found it rather peculiar, but he didn't care. Taking one last look at her from the doorway, he smiled and closed the door behind him before returning back downstairs to his family.
"Matthew," Mary whispered, keeping her eyes closed.
"Yes, darling?" Matthew replied, appearing next to her, his arm wrapped across her waist.
"Is it time yet, do you think?" she asked.
"I don't know, my love," he answered.
"Mmm, I so wish it was," she sighed. "I'm so tired, and I miss you so very much."
"I'm right here," he smiled.
She smirked. "I know, but I want to be able to be with you properly."
"You wanton woman," he chuckled.
She frowned, keeping her eyes closed. "Don't be vulgar. That's not what I meant."
"Not even a little?" he teased.
"Maybe a little," she admitted.
His laugh warmed her as she began drifting off.
The summer had been rather hot. Rhys brought his wife and children up for a visit and Octavia decided to come along to get out of London for a few days. The reunion was most welcome. George and his wife kept busy enough with running Downton and their businesses, but the house always seemed brighter when the children and grandchildren were back.
She had spoken to Tom and Rose today briefly. They were both returning for the Garden Party in a few weeks' time with their families. For once, dozens of people would be at Downton, and Mary was a bit concerned about the noise and ruckus, but she was glad that everyone would be together. The old folks, as Tom called their lot now, would just sit around and chat over tea, but the children – most of whom were no longer children, and had children of their own – would have a wonderful time. No matter how often any of them came back to visit, there was always some area to explore and discover, either inside the house or across the fields. George hired extra staff for the month to accommodate everyone, and even brought in horses to be available should anyone wish to ride. No one in the family pursued the sport as much as Mary had in her youth, but they all got along well enough. It was more likely to find everyone out by the swimming pool or playing tennis or football on the lawns. The family cricket match was often a disaster, but that was all part of the fun.
"Matthew," she called quietly.
"Yes, darling?" he answered, his voice warm and soothing.
"I love you so terribly much," she whispered.
She could hear his smile in his voice. "I know you do. I love you, my sweet Mary."
Home of Will Logan and Lady Octavia Logan, Kensington, London, England, November 1979
Octavia rolled her eyes and shook her head. She put the newspaper down and got up from the sofa. Her footsteps rang out through the large house as she stomped down the hallway and into the study.
"You bellowed?" she said plainly.
"I called for you," Will stated pointedly, turning around in his chair and glaring at her. "You're late."
"Late for what?" she shrugged.
His eyes narrowed and he stood up. "You know very well for what."
A smirk crossed her lips and she arched her eyebrow. "I'm afraid I'm at a complete loss."
"Don't play with me," he snarled, advancing towards her.
She grinned and backed away until she came flush against the wall. "Did we have an appointment?"
"Yes. Yes, we did and we still do," he grinned, cornering her and putting his hands on either side of her body. "It's two o'clock in the afternoon, which is the time that we agreed that I get to ravish my wife until she can barely walk."
"Hmm, I didn't seem to see that in my book for today," she frowned. "Aah! Will!"
She squealed with laughter as he picked her up and carried her over to the sofa.
"You naughty temptress," he growled, quickly undoing the buttons of her blouse. "You know what that little game of yours does to me!"
"Do I?" she teased, reaching down and grasping him through his trousers. "Ah, I see."
He kissed her fiercely, humming into her mouth as she finally joined him in removing their clothes.
"God, I love you so much," he gasped harshly, spreading her legs and moving to take her.
"Yes! Will! Yes!" she cried, wrapping her arms and legs around him.
"Having sex in your study in the middle of the day, Will Logan? You scoundrel," she drawled, slapping his bare chest as she snuggled against him.
"I prefer the term 'making love to my wife'" he countered, running his fingers along her back. "And I shall never apologize for it."
"Mmm, well that takes care of your study. What's the next room on the list?" she asked playfully.
"I don't know. It's your list," he noted.
She laughed freely. "I think my closet is next, though we must be careful. The shelves may not be able to support both of us."
"We'll make do," he chuckled, kissing the top of her head.
"Mmm, have I ever told you how happy I am?" she smiled. "These past months have been incredible."
"They have, and I'm sorry that I…" he replied.
"Shh, stop it," she scolded him lightly. "No more apologies. We stopped ourselves from making a terrible mistake. Let's just be happy we did."
"Sounds good to me," he agreed.
She kissed his neck lightly. "We owe Granny immeasurably, you know? It was her advice that made me have that talk with you that turned everything around."
"We owe her more than you know," he whispered.
She blinked and lifted her head, looking at him curiously. "What do you mean?"
He smiled. "Wait here."
He untangled himself from her body and got up from the sofa. Seeing his naked frame move gracefully across the room sent a jolt of arousal through her. He rummaged in his desk for a moment before turning around and returning to her. The view of him coming back was far better than the one of him facing away.
"Control yourself, woman," he joked, sitting down and pulling her to him once more.
"I think it's you who needs to keep calm at the moment, sir," she giggled, giving him a light squeeze.
"Octavia, wait," he laughed. "I wanted to show you this."
He handed her an envelope. She gasped, recognizing the handwriting immediately.
"Granny wrote to you?" she whispered, afraid to even touch the letter.
"She did," he confirmed. "It was sent the day you went up to visit back in August. I got it before you came home and we had our talk."
"What does it say?" she asked, staring at the envelope.
"It's basically her taking me to task over being an idiot, as she wrote," he smiled. "You can read it for yourself, but the main message that I got out of it was that it's important to understand what truly matters in life before it's too late. And she was so very right."
Octavia smiled, tears gathering in her eyes. "I should have known Granny wouldn't just leave things to me to deal with."
"Well, I think she understood that both of us needed a bit of a push. I'm just glad she found me worthy to continue being your husband," he grinned.
"As am I," she agreed, kissing him lightly.
"Would you like to go up for a visit? We can set aside a weekend and see your parents," he suggested. "I know the funeral was just a few months ago and we'll be there for Christmas soon enough, but I know you miss her."
"I do miss her," she sniffled. "But that's all right. She would want me to focus on my life and my marriage, not go and blubber at her grave constantly."
"All right, if that's what you want," he hugged her close.
"Mmm, can you guess what I want now, sweetheart?" she said sultrily, moving on top of him.
He took hold of her hips to steady her. "Whatever you wish, my Lady."
She leaned down and kissed him.
Law Office of Alexander Lewis, January 1980
"Alex, come on," Michelle called, standing in the doorway with her arms crossed over her front.
Alex made some notes in the margins of the brief, a frown of concentration on his brow. "Just a second, my dear."
"We're going to be late," she complained.
"Just a bit more…" he muttered.
She rolled her eyes and leaned against the door, resigned to wait for him yet again. She could have gone ahead without him, but they were supposed to leave together.
"Done!" he declared, sitting back with a proud smirk on his face.
"Miracle," she sighed.
"Now, now, be nice," he teased, getting up from his desk and taking the brief with him.
"I'm always nice," she noted.
"And always demanding," he said, coming over and offering her his arm.
She frowned before taking hold of him. "You're lucky that I am."
He smiled and kissed her, slipping his tongue into her mouth playfully and blinking in surprise when she pushed back with her own.
"I tell myself that every day, my love," he grinned.
She smiled and followed him out. He placed the brief on one of the desks before they came out into the larger front area.
Cheers and applause rang out as they entered. Smiling in embarrassment, Michelle waved and nodded to the assembled guests. Alex soaked it all in, far more willing to bask in the adulation than she was.
"You didn't have to do this, honestly," Michelle mumbled.
"Of course, we did," Mary answered, coming over and giving her a hug. "You didn't think we would let you leave without a proper send-off, did you?"
"But we aren't going anywhere," Michelle protested, smiling and nodding to Matthew. "We're just not working anymore."
"Even still," Matthew smiled. "Just getting rid of Alex is cause for celebration. The entire Bar wanted to come to the party, and most of the Judges."
"You were so much more tolerable when you were a wide-eyed newbie," Alex frowned.
They all laughed.
"Oh, yes! Thank you, Mama," Mary smiled, taking a wrapped gift from her mother. "Alex, Michelle, you remember my parents? Cora and Robert."
"Yes, of course," Alex said, shaking hands with Robert and nodding to Cora. "Thank you for coming."
"Thank you," Robert nodded. "We understand we have much to thank you for, counsel."
Alex smiled and looked over at Matthew. "I was just doing my job, sir."
"Yes, it's really Michelle we have to thank," Matthew chimed in.
"I would punch you in the face if your mother wasn't here," Alex warned.
They all laughed again.
"Come on, I want to introduce you to my sister, Sybil. The two of you are so very alike," Mary smiled, taking Michelle's hand.
The ladies wandered off together. Cora and Robert left as well to go back and take their seats next to Violet, Isobel and Matthew's father, Reginald.
"Well, are you ready for what comes next?" Matthew asked.
"I was about to ask you the same thing," Alex joked.
"Try and stay away for at least a little while, won't you?" Matthew said. "You and Michelle need some time alone together. Don't come rushing back here to check on us so soon."
"She won't let me. I expect she has a long list of places for us to visit and things for us to do. After all, she's been waiting for this for a long time," Alex nodded.
"Good," Matthew approved.
"I'll deny I ever said this if you ever bring it up, but I owe you, Matthew," Alex said quietly, his eyes looking across the room to where his wife was laughing merrily with Mary, Sybil and Anna. "I owe you more than you could ever know."
"I think I have some idea, actually," Matthew replied, his eyes taking in the same scene. "Let's just call it even."
"I think that's everything," Sybil said, looking around the office.
"It's fine, darling," Mary called from the other side of the room. "Matthew will only end up rearranging everything anyway. Thank you so much for your help."
Matthew came out of the inner office and smiled at the two sisters. "Ah, perfect. Everything organized and put away. I won't ask how you were able to sweep up all the confetti."
Sybil smiled and came over and hugged him. "It's so good to see you."
"You, too," he chuckled, smiling over at Mary. "We missed you, Sybil."
"I know you did," Sybil nodded. "And I appreciated all the times you talked to me. I heard every word."
"I'm glad," Matthew nodded. "Now, get on out of here. Go and check in on your progeny, Great Granny."
"Don't you ever call me that!" Sybil slapped his arm.
"I'll set him straight, don't worry, darling," Mary assured her.
Sybil kissed and hugged her sister before leaving the office and closing the door behind her.
"Well, Lady Mary," Matthew smiled, taking his wife in his arms. "You happy?"
"I am," she nodded, kissing him softly. "Though having long hair again will take some getting used to, not to menton not having Anna to take care of it for me. I will admit that it's so very nice to spend time with her again, as a friend and not as a lady's maid."
"I quite like your look," he leered at her, running his fingers through her rich dark brown tresses. "Just be glad that you don't have to wear a corset."
She laughed. "Speaking of proper attire, I wanted to ask you. They don't expect us to wear wigs in Court, do they?"
He chuckled. "No. Alex said they stopped that practice a while back. How do your court robes fit?"
"They're huge. I'm practically swimming in them," she grumbled. "The sleeves are rather long as well."
"Get them adjusted," he nodded. "You need the use of your arms when making an argument. You know how you like to gesture."
"I'll take that as a compliment, for your sake," she frowned.
He kissed her in apology. "Are you sure about this? We can always change our minds."
She laughed. "Are you truly afraid about working with your wife for the foreseeable future?"
"We've been working together for the entire transition, but now that we're taking over, I'm afraid that everyone will quickly learn that you're a far better lawyer than I am," he sighed dramatically.
"Don't worry, darling. I won't show off too much, I promise," she teased.
"Thank you for that," he smiled, kissing her again.
"Mmm, darling?" she moaned against his mouth.
"Yes?" he asked between kisses.
"We haven't broken in my new desk yet," she smirked, pressing herself suggestively against him.
"That's a rather scandalous idea, don't you think?" he struggled, his arousal evident.
"We're married. Everything is permitted," she replied. "And I want you to make love to me, properly this time."
"Mary, we've done little else since we arrived," he noted. "We've made up for lost time both properly and improperly."
"Fine, I want you to make love to me in our new office," she added.
"As you wish," he declared, scooping her up off the floor.
She laughed in pure joy as he carried her into her new office. Their two desks were set up next to each other so that they could share the space. He brought her over to hers and set her down on top of it, his eyes devouring her as she undid her blouse.
"Are you sure you can handle this?" she taunted him, slipping her top off and undoing her brassiere. "It's one thing when we're at home, but being so adventurous isn't like you."
He fondled her breast and drew a moan from her mouth.
"I think I can manage," he growled.
He leaned in close and kissed her. "I love you, Mary. I'm so grateful that you're here."
"I love you, darling," she grinned, closing her eyes and pulling him to her. "Forever."
Author's Note: Many thanks to all of you who stayed with this story throughout. It took far longer to finish than I originally thought and expected. I originally conceived it as both a catharsis against the injustice of canon, as well as a way to experiment with a concept that was far different and unconventional to my usual writing. I do think I prefer a world where Matthew and Mary are happily alive and well, but it was fun to take the events of Series 4 through 6 and spin them around a bit. Completing this story has also inspired me to return to canon period AU for a different story, which was not something I anticipated. I'm looking forward to bringing that to you in the future and seeing what you think of it.