It has been awhile since I've done this. It was not really something I was sure I would ever do again. I am out of practice and shaky on my reborn fanfiction legs, but here, have this. I started writing it last December, all but the last few paragraphs that I wrote tonight, soooo...

It is not that fresh or interesting, but is truly the only ~creativity that has come from me in quite some time. I wanted to post it and relive my glory days lol. It is not proof read or fact-checked or anything helpful like that, and I'm following a sort of made up canon I have for Mary & Tom in the world of this fic. It is maudlin and boring, but I was so invested in this non-pairing back during the last series of Downton, what can I say.

I may post a part-two & clear up timelines & specifics & the like - I wanted it to be a little vague, I guess.

& wow, thanks for reading if you are!

On Time

"The children have gone up," Mary said, as she entered the small library, and the weariness was faintly detectable in her voice.

He was a comfort to see sitting there by the hearth, washed in the warm glow from the leaping flames. So much a comfort was he that Mary felt the weight of the day fall off her shoulders, and lighten the tension and heaviness both in her head and her heart.

Tom was rosy cheeked and swilling a drink, and she turned away to pour herself one to swill, too. He had the wireless playing quietly in a dark corner, and it was nice to have a melody to help quiet her thoughts.

"You saying 'the children have gone up' sounds like the most familiar thing in the world," He said, and she saw his crinkly smile as she crossed the room.

Mary could even hear the smile in his voice, and she was impressed he could seem so relaxed on what was such a terrible and hectic day. She supposed this was he now – Steady, and calm. He was not always this way, but age had brought it out in him. He was a pillar against it all.

Mary busied herself with the bottle and prepared her own brandy, albeit neat, and inhaled deeply as she considered his words.

"Doesn't it though? To say that sounds like they're our babies again and not fully grown." She said, reflective.

Tom took the chance to steal an uninterrupted glance at this middle-aged version of Mary. Indeed, she was lovely and lithe as always, even though her hair was streaked with coarse grey and her amber eyes cradled by deeper wrinkles. Her cheekbones and tongue were both still sharp, and her mannerisms still so entirely the same, her voice slightly deeper, but the tone still unnervingly polished at times.

Mary was never going to be one to age badly, and Tom might have been noting that in the moment. She looked remarkably the same; no one could mistake her had they not seen her for two years or twenty-two. She was constant in so many ways.

They had that in common, consistency - Though Mary had always been as such, and perhaps he had learned it from her. It was certainly not a trait he had always boasted - He was reckless, impatient, and hot-headed in his youth, but somewhere along the way he had evened out.

Somewhere after Sybil died (and he would stress, certainly, not before), after Sybbie was born, and in the midst of running the estate with Mary, he had become much more a man than a boy. His head had cleared, his shoulders broadened - He was capable, he was strong, he was consistent, and Mary had taught him that.

"It is nice having them back here, even given the circumstances. It feels like we're home again." Tom said, and it roused Mary from her drink-pouring task, so that she turned to face him and leaned against the bar. She had been lost in a moment of memory, and held the snifter in a tight grip.

"Strange, I think, that it still feels that way. It's been so long." She said, observing how he was nestled into the armchair, slumped way down into it, unlike how they might have sat here in their youth. Things were so much less proper, because they were so much more tired, so far away from propriety and entails.

"We've come and gone, though, but to be here again all together..." His voice was quiet, gruff and thick with drink.

They could not see each other clearly in the dim light of the fire, and had no intention of turning on the light bulbs because these sort of discussions and reflections were meant for the dark.

Mary could detect so many things about him even across a dark room.

"I feel calm for the first time all day, though, Tom." She sighed, and he might have been straining to see her, desperate to see her warm eyes dance round the room, but she needed a minute in the shadows.

"I'm glad." He replied simply, and she knew that he was. He truly was glad to know that she was calmed and not so on edge as she had been earlier.

Mary could hear the relief in his voice, and Tom was her greatest supporter left. Her eyes watered for a minute before she blinked it away.

Eventually, she sidled back over to him and the hearth, perching herself onto the settee, drink held between both hands. They were quiet for perhaps five full minutes, but it was one of companionship.

The ice in his drink clinked tellingly as he drained the last of the liquor from it, and she swirled her own around, mesmerising herself with the way the flames danced off the crystal. The music from the wireless faded in and out softly, depending on the song. Mary could have slept right then and there, so at ease was she.

Mary folded into the settee more, curling up like a content cat, and her agility did not betray her age. She rested her chin atop her hand, propping it up on the arm of the settee, and she stifled a yawn. Oh, wasn't this it? Wasn't this all she needed again? Perhaps she would sleep soundly tonight, for the first time in such awhile. Her bones were tired with grief, but she was oddly at ease, too.

"It is almost a relief to be here with you, whatever the situation." Tom tentatively began the conversation again, and for the first time it felt like there were things unsaid, and something shifted between them.

Mary was caught off guard at the hint of palpable tension there was in that moment. It was not like they were apart for long, or didn't see each other frequently – They did, so often in fact that he was the one person in Mary's life she never really missed, so readily available was their time together. But the last few years, she supposed, there had been more distance and also self-preservation.

For, they had both remarried, of course. Henry and Tom were fast friends, and truly spent more time together than Mary did with her second husband. It was charming, it was easy - Mary was glad they had interests in common and eventually their booming business. They two were among the men she cared about most.

Tom left the Abbey to raise Sybbie, plus two more, with his pretty blonde wife on a small property nearby. He still helped run Downton, so Mary truly saw him almost every day, despite the changes that came upon them. In the decades that had gone on there were a handful of years in which Tom and his family returned to Ireland to get reacquainted, and a long few summers when Mary and Henry would leave the country for holiday. Otherwise, he had been a very accessible presence in her life.

"I feel the same," She said, her voice a demure murmur, her cheeks warm. "Oh Tom, it is nearly embarrassing how similarly we feel."

"Have we felt similarly for all these years?" He asked, and his Irish lilt was more pronounced when he spoke quietly and purposefully, and when he drank. She didn't have to look at him to know the way that his mouth moved, or the way his eyes were focused straight ahead as he spoke, not in her direction, his eyebrows slightly high on his forehead, as if what he said surprised even himself.

She knew he looked more serious than he felt, his jaw tight, his forehead wrinkled, lending a look of moodiness to him at certain times.

Mary wondered how it was that Tom Branson ended up being the one she knew like the back of her hand. Everything about him was a stunning comfort.

"I don't know," Mary admitted, turning her gaze to him, the drink dangling from her fingertips, her head still resting on her hand. She felt dramatically sentimental whilst she was with him, and somehow like an entirely different person.

"We couldn't have known, I suppose. That was the point – Not to know." He spoke again, still looking ahead and not even blinking in her direction.

She wondered if he might regret what it seemed he was about to say.

He didn't have to regret it, though – Because he wasn't wrong. If he was going to say what she thought he was, it didn't matter, he didn't have to, because Mary knew it as well as he did.

It was just something they had grown to accept, and never verbally acknowledged, but something that was so obviously there that it needn't be said. Of course it was true, of course it was felt.

When she was with Tom, as she was now, it was hard to imagine she was the same woman. The bond between them was so important that she could scarcely remember details of her former life – Her earlier life. To think she was someone once married to both Matthew Crawley and Henry Talbot, someone who had borne three daughters, who had seen a son off to war, carried a dead Turkish diplomat from her was all so hazy and strange (perhaps the strangest thing was that she was once engaged to Richard Carlisle, long dead himself).

Indeed, she was the same person, but she was so far away from all of those other people now. Tom Branson was the only one with whom she had journeyed the entire way.

She watched his chest push out, as if he was taking a deep breath, and she snapped her head from her hand, holding it straight. She took a deep breath, too, though it was traitorously shaky. She felt somewhere between giddy and depressed, on the verge of some new love. Oh, but this wasn't new.

"Do you ever wish we had simply spent our lives together?" There, he had said it.

Her breath whooshed out of her, she must have been holding it as she waited for him to look at her, and Mary's heart jolted, its fast pace almost painful. She began to think she was too old for this – this kind of talk, this kind of night, this kind of drink. She was well into middle age, but here they were tripping over confessions in a dark room of the Abbey, much like they had both done before, when they were wide-eyed and young.

Finally, it seemed, he looked at her - Though she did not know when she began thinking things like "finally, thank heavens" just to have Tom look at her. She felt tense, her neck tight with nerves, but their eye contact was comfortable - So little between them was anything but, even this.

She might have been twenty again in the moment, excited and wondrous, trying to lower her eyebrows and appear more casual than she felt.

"Tom..." Mary said, and she heard the Irishmen's breath catch this time.