Hi guys! So this is it...the final chapter of the story :) For you it's the last, but for me it's the most important one because it is what inspired me. Some months ago, I dreamt about what you are going to read and asked my precious beta granthamfan to write a fanfic about it. But she persuaded me to try writing it on my own and thanks to her support we've come so far.
At the beginning you will certainly recognise a scene taken from the show...it's about Robert opening his napkin. I had to put it in the chapter because granthamfan and I still think it's one of the sexiest thing we've ever seen :)
I would like to thank everyone for your reviews, for your followes and private messages...I'm really honoured for your kindness and support.
PS: there's a bit of smut at the end of the chapter...not too detailed anyway, because it goes without saying...we all know they always have the MOST terrific fun!
"I thought we were going to have dinner at a restaurant, Robert. But look how wonderful it is here!" Her sparkling eyes and wide smile were proof that she really meant it.
"I'm glad you like it, my dear." He was trying so hard to contain his happiness; he didn't want to risk to spoil everything right now.
"I must say I like it more than being in a crowded restaurant. It's so private here, and besides, I don't have to share you with someone else." She was teasing him, and he knew it very well.
Grinning mischievously at her, he opened his napkin with a quick movement of his hand and placed it on his lap, and she couldn't help but return the grin. There was something incredibly sexy every time he did it, even after 36 years.
The dinner was very good; she would certainly compliment the cook the day after. Since the very beginning of the evening, she had already noticed that the menu offered only her favourite food. Certainly it had been Robert's idea.
"Darling, you shouldn't have told the cook to prepare only my favourite dishes."
"Let me pamper you a bit, Cora, while we are here. When we get home again, you will probably be barely aware of my presence."
She sighed. "Robert, please don't say that. It's not true"
"Cora, we both know it is true; well, almost true. But you know what? I'm so proud of you for all of your hard work and dedication that, as long as you are happy with it, I'm happy, too."
"Thank you for saying that. I just want people to have a better life because, you know Robert, I care for them; I really do care."
"I know you care for other people. And that's one of the things I adore about you."
"You are flattering me, Robert."
"I'm just saying the truth. And the truth is that, despite people having always made me believe that I was the custodian of Downton, now I must say that they were wrong. Because we are the custodians of Downton; together with Mary, Tom and all the wonderful people we have in our life."
"Do you really mean it?" She couldn't quite believe her ears. Her stubborn, English husband was ready to face the challenge of changing times.
"Of course I do, Cora. Now I understand it's time to look at this new world with our eyes. I can't promise we won't have our disagreements, but I promise- and you have to promise me, as well-that we will always listen to each other, and help one another."
"Yes, Robert. I promise."
The rest of the dinner was spent talking about their family and laughing at the various stories of their grandchildren, whom they both missed terribly. Seeing his wife smiling and blissfully happy made Robert almost forget the real surprise.
"Shall we go for a walk, darling?"
"Yes, Robert. The garden is lovely, and I imagine it would be wonderful under the moonlight."
The weather was pleasant and, in fact, even though Cora was wearing that wonderful sleeveless dress, she wasn't cold at all. She couldn't say whether it was due to Robert's closeness, the wine or the weather. But in that moment, she didn't care.
They strolled along the paths of the beautiful garden, illuminated by lanterns Robert had specifically requested for the evening. Cora was still chatting happily, relishing in the memory of the fantastic dinner they had just had, but Robert was growing more silent with every step, his heart thumping in his chest. They were approaching a bench and he knew it was the moment. He noticed that they were surrounded by fireflies and Cora, in that dress, was truly glowing under the moonlight. She was beautiful, and she was his.
He gestured in the direction of that spot, but before Cora could sit he was kneeling in front of her. She immediately stopped talking, seeing her husband on his knees making her heart beat very fast. What was he doing? He was taking her hands in his now, and she could see he was searching for her eyes.
And when their eyes met, he found strength; a strength only Cora could give him. He wanted to be sure, his eyes staring deeply in hers as if they were searching for her soul. He took a deep breath. "Cora, I know I told you this short trip was just a holiday for the two of us, alone; no children, no grandchildren, no estate, no hospital. But this was not the real reason; or, at least, not the most important one."
Cora held her breath, squeezing his hands. She couldn't speak; not now. Because she knew that look on his eyes, and silent tears began to wet her flushed cheeks.
"The reason we are here is because I want to be forgiven for my unacceptable behaviour towards you during all these years. I want you to forgive me for the first months of our marriage, and for having almost destroyed our marriage after the war. Because I'm so frightened that if something bad should happen to me, you would remember only these horrible things I did to you. And the only thing I want for you, instead, is to be happy. I want to make you happy."
She took his arm, letting him know it was time to stand up, and she spoke, her eyes never leaving his. "Robert, I forgive you, as I have already forgiven you all those years ago."
This was all he could ask for. He felt a great relief in his chest, and she felt his thumb drying her cheeks. "Cora, do you know why I asked for your forgiveness today? Do you know today is?"
"No," she said shaking her head.
"Today is the day I stopped being a fool all those years ago."
"Oh, Robert" she said, understanding what he was about to say, but he didn't stop because he wanted to tell her; she deserved to know it.
"Today, thirty six years ago, I told you I was in love with you. Now, I want you to know that I will always love you; until the end of time." His voice was steady and low, and he wanted her to know that he truly meant it.
Cora had to wait for several moments before she could speak. She knew how difficult for him this speech had been. She was witnessing one of the rare moments in which Robert decided to let her see his naked soul. In that moment, they were no more the Earl and Countess of Grantham; only Robert and Cora under a sky full of stars, vowing once again their love for each other.
"Do you still remember that day, after all this time?"
"I will remember this day forever, Cora. It was on Wednesday, 10th September 1890: six months, three weeks and four days after we got married. And now that you have forgiven me, you have made it even more perfect."
She could not believe it, and let out a small laugh. "Did you count the days?"
"Of course, I did. But, there is more to it. I hope you know that what happened during that night was just the verbal expression of what I had in my heart long before, but I was too afraid to recognise it. And I don't think I will ever forgive myself for that."
"My love," she said, caressing his cheek with her palm, "there is nothing to forgive. I knew the real reason why you chose me even before we got married."
"Yes, I know that. But, as Mama sometimes reminds me, I could have chosen someone else."
"Someone who could have filled her shoes more easily," she interrupted shyly.
"But, I didn't," he said, pressing his forehead against hers.
"No, you didn't," she whispered.
"Because I think I started falling in love with you the first time I saw you in that ballroom." He had look away from her then. It was too embarrassing to tell, but he knew he had to.
Cora was so overwhelmed that she could barely breathe. How this man could still surprise her, she would never know.
"Look at me, Robert." He did as she bade. "Good. Now, I think it's time you forgive yourself."
How could he deserve such a beautiful creature? "I don't deserve you, Cora."
"I honestly think we deserve each other, Robert."
They were still holding hands, looking deeply into each other's eyes when he started to move, placing Cora's hand on his arm. They didn't need to say anything more; they were both blissfully happy. Robert for having finally told her he had always loved her, and having asked for her forgiveness; Cora for having had the chance to look into his soul once again. She couldn't quite believe how much her husband had changed during these last years. The thing she didn't know was that she had been the means through which he had had the courage to face the change.
When they reached a certain spot in a secluded part of the garden, he held her tightly and placing an arm steadily on her waist, the other one on the back of her knees, he lifted her into his arms. They both started laughing, and Cora noticed that beneath Robert's feet there was a path covered in red petals. He began to follow it and then she saw it: the biggest bed she had ever seen was standing in front of them with white curtains on every side. Everything was surrounded by white candles and petals were scattered on the bed, as well.
She looked at his husband in awe; he was smiling at her. Placing her hands on his chest she asked in a whisper, "So this was the surprise? Did you do all this for me?" a lump forming in her throat.
"Yes, Cora. I did all this for you. The days we've spent and the ones that still have to come were a surprise for you, to celebrate our 'special anniversary', which I treasure as one of the most important days of my life, if not the most important one."
He set her down gently so that she could take some steps ahead of him and appreciate the view. She turned to him, smiling, her dress sparkling in the dark.
"You make me so happy, Robert. Now, will you please show me how much you love me?"
Of course he wanted to show her, and there was only one way he knew to declare his love as he did all those years ago on that night.
Cora, for her part, was thinking exactly the same. There was only one way she could prove to him that he was forgiven; there was only one way to show him how deep her love was.
Their kisses were sweet and slow, their touch light and loving. It was nor lust, nor physical desire. It was their wish to be connected body and soul, and so they started dancing their familiar dance. Their clothes were slowly falling onto the grass, each garment that was taken off was soon replaced by feather-light kisses on Robert's or Cora's body.
"You are so beautiful. I am the luckiest man in the world," he said, sealing every single word with a kiss.
Her body was shivering under his touch, and she found herself unable to move. But when she saw the pure adoration in his eyes she gently placed her left hand on his cheek, pulling him closer until he was on top of her and she crushed her lips to his.
Her eyes spoke for her the assent for which he had always silently asked and they both gasped when their bodies were finally connected. The feeling they were sharing was so deep that Robert found himself speaking without thinking, as if the words were flowing directly from his heart.
"...Because I love you."
"I love you too, Robert."
And even before they knew what was happening their eyes grew wide in astonishment. In that moment, while making love to each other, they knew they were recalling in their minds the exact scene of 36 years before.
They had fought that night; of course they had fought. Mama had complained about her again, but at least Robert had the decency to defend her in front of the family. Not in the way she wanted him to, but at least it was something. And then that strange behaviour again. So detached, so cold...he had been behaving so oddly in the last few weeks.
When he had entered her bedroom she thought their fight was not over, but she was wrong. He had instead been so caring and sweet. Then, not even knowing how, she had found herself on her bed with Robert on top of her. But this time it was different; HE somehow was different. Everything was so natural and he was so perfect. He was whispering sweet endearments, never stopping kissing her and caressing her as his only desire was to pleasure and adore her. When she nodded her assent he immediately buried his head in her neck and she felt Robert's tears wetting her shoulder.
She placed her hands on his chest, and he suddenly stopped. She wanted to look into his eyes. There was really something strange in him. Why was he crying? Kissing his cheek tenderly she was still unaware of what was going to happen until she found herself staring in his eyes.
"Why Robert? Why are you doing all this?"
"Because I love you."
"I love you too, Robert."
The feelings this memory evoked in both of them were of pure and mutual belonging and of the deepest love two human beings can feel. Suddenly she felt she had to tell him.
"I'm yours, Robert. Always yours."
"You are mine, Cora. Mine. And I will be forever yours."
There was no need for them to hold back any longer, and so they simply let it happen, waves of mutual bliss washing over them.
Robert held Cora in his arms that night under a sky full of stars, and he couldn't stop thinking it was the best sensation he had ever felt. They spent the night pampering each other, talking and sleeping until dawn.
When Robert woke up she was still in his arms, her hands gently placed on his chest, her fingers grazing the scar as if she was trying to protect him, still trying to ease his pain and he couldn't help but admire the beautiful woman he was so proud to call his wife.
"Good morning, my beautiful princess," he spoke, kissing her lips. "The sun is rising. Look."
The last thing she had in her mind was to wake up, too afraid to leave his reassuring embrace. "Mmm. Please tell Prince Charming that I need another kiss in order to get up."
He kissed her again and replied, chuckling, "I don't want you to get up; just open your eyes."
The sight of the rising sun was breathtaking. The sky was divided into two parts: the lower one was bright pink, while the upper part was still dark blue and she could still clearly see the stars. She turned her gaze to her husband who was smiling widely when she saw he was holding something in his hands.
"This is for you."
She sat back, covering herself with the white blankets, her chocolate curls falling down on her shoulders. She took the velvet blue box from his hands but before opening it, she let him speak.
"This is to remind you, to remind both of us, who we are and what we have. You make me a better man, Cora. And I can't live without you because you are my heart."
She opened the box and she couldn't believe her eyes. A golden heart-shaped pendent with diamonds was right there in front of her eyes. She lifted it with her right hand and, while looking at it more closely, she noticed that the intricate patterns of the golden etchings formed an R and a C entwined. Her heart was full of love; she knew how hard it was for him to show and to verbalise his feelings and this trip, which was far from being over, had been an incessant demonstration of his love.
He had truly surprised her.
"Robert, it's beautiful. I don't know what to say."
He leaned forward to kiss her, but stopped just one second before to whisper on her lips. "You were the first to give me your heart, and then I had given you mine. This is the tangible proof that you still have it, and nothing could change it. Don't forget it; even if I don't tell you that often."
She had to kiss him, to let him know she truly believed him. "Will you please help me? I'd like to wear it, and I promise I'll never take it off so that your heart will always be where it belongs: next to mine."
They both knew that, at the end of their holiday, returning back to their everyday life, things would be very different from now. Cora would be busy running the house and the hospital, while he would have helped running the estate; and then there were their children and grandchildren.
But they also knew these memories would always be secretly treasured in their hearts, and every time they would have looked at Cora's pendent they would have been reminded that their love was destined to last forever.
...and for those of you who are not bored of my writing, yet...I'd like to say "Stay tuned!"
I'm working on a new Cobert fanfic (modern AU). I hope you will enjoy it as well :)