The touch of your hands

As days turned into weeks and weeks into months, Robert and Cora spent all their free time together. Rosamund had been of great help with the cancellation of the wedding and she also did her best to spare Robert from all the gossip.

In the end it turned out that Cora had been right when months prior she had suggested that the 'wedding scandal' could have been managed rather easily. It took the medias only a couple of weeks to lose interest in the sudden change of mind of the Earl of Grantham and his former fiancée.

Violet was still not pleased by her son's decision. It was true that their company had not suffered the feared loss of their best customer, but it was also true that Patricia's money were definitely gone now.

Cora was visibly improving, she was convinced now more than ever that she could come back to her old life.

She had changed. The terrifying situation she got herself into had undoubtedly changed her, but since she couldn't change the past, she was determined move forward to a better future. Since she wanted to recover in the best possible way from all the ordeal, she was also attending some psychological meetings for violence victims and she found herself very close to their psychologist, Phyllis Baxter.

Robert had been her greatest strength, making her see the light when she found herself confused, trying his best to comfort her. She had understood, though, by the way he still hesitated, or by the uncertainty in his eyes that he feared she could feel uncomfortable with him. The truth was she felt safe with him, safer than with anyone else. He made her feel at peace. Oh how much she blamed herself during the first week of recovery, when they only left her apartment to have long, relaxing walks in the park. But Robert had been adamant in making her understand she was not to blame. It hadn't been her fault.

The Earl of Grantham, on the other side, was a turmoil of feelings; always fighting his own instincts to wrap her in a blanket and cuddle her forever. He couldn't understand himself.

This profound sense of protection he had felt for her from the very beginning even before all this ghastly ordeal took place, was startling him, but it seemed so right at the same time.

When he was with Cora everything seemed to fall into place. It was as if all his feelings were pieces of a great puzzle that she could easily recognise and put together to make a wonderful picture. But when he wasn't with her and his mind began thinking about himself and who he really was and all the things he had been taught during his life, he couldn't quite recognise himself.

She hadn't changed him though, she was probably the only person who could see right through him and bring out the best in him.

Today he had decided to take her to Brighton. He wanted to surprise her and to celebrate her strength, because he knew she had been sleeping in her room -in her bed- for the last week.

The day was wonderfully warm, despite being early November and while parking his car in the street outside Cora's apartment, he couldn't help but think of how things had changed for them. From the day he kissed her in the park - the only kiss they had shared and that unbeknownst to Cora still kept him awake at night - to the present day, through all the heartbreak and the fear. Yes, it was definitely a good day to celebrate!

As he made to ring the bell, the door flung open and there she was, turning around and half bumping into Robert, her hair tickling his nose as he put his hand on her waist, careful not to let her fall backwards.

"Good morning! You look gorgeous!" he said taking in her appearance. She was wearing a pair of dark gray trousers with flat shoes, as he requested her, because they needed to be comfortable, and her favourite leather jacket.

"Are you ready?" He asked as she rewarded him with one of her biggest smiles. He had missed her smiling like that.

"Hey, you don't look too bad yourself, Robert! Where are we going?" Her eyes were shining and she was laughing, he loved making her happy.

He took her hand as he lead her to his car "I'm taking you to Brighton…if you like"

She put her free her mouth to cover her surprise and excitement "I'd love to go! Thank you Robert!"

"I thought we could visit the city, take a look at the beach and tonight there's a fireworks display, if you're up to it"

"Of course I am!" and she kissed his cheek before climbing into the car.

The day passed quickly and they had a very lovely time together visiting the Palace Pier, the world's oldest aquarium and the Toy and Models Museum in which Robert got surprisingly excited over a 1930s three-rail O-gauge layout. They decided to forego the Art Gallery because it was already getting late and they had to get to Preston Park on time to see the show.

As they took their place, Robert noticed that Cora had grown increasingly silent during the last hour.

She also hadn't looked at him in a while and she was toying incessantly with her hands.

At first Robert thought she could be cold, but a closer look at her told Robert that she was not shivering. He extended his arm and covered her hands with his left one. He squeezed them tightly, until he felt Cora relax and finally she met his gaze. With his right hand he proceeded to spread the blanket, he had previously removed from the boot of his car, on the both of them, never leaving her and whispered, as the roaring noise of the fireworks could be heard in the background. "You can talk to me, you know that, don't you?"

He could see the coloured lights of the fireworks illuminating her face, as seconds, probably minutes ticked by, until she answered "Mother wants to come and visit me in December"

As soon as she said those words her eyes flew back to the show taking place in front of her. For some moments Robert didn't know what to do, knowing there were things going on inside her family that she wasn't pleased with…and as far as he knew, Cora's mother had been a topic she didn't talk about very often. Recalling, though, a conversation he had with Cora's psychologist who now was more a friend to her, then a professional, in which she told him that sometimes Cora needed to open up herself with someone, Robert decided that maybe he could try to talk to her about this.

Therefore, after some internal debate with himself he tried again "Isn't that a good thing? I bet she can't wait to spend some time with you".

At this she let out a half laugh and whispered, her eyes never leaving the sky "I don't know if I can stand her, now. She is surely going to snoop around my house and I'm not used having her around. I had a hard time in keeping her away from me after everything that's happened and I don't know…I also feel guilty for saying it, but it wasn't her the person I needed"

He could see that she was struggling with herself and he couldn't help but entwine his fingers with hers under the blanket. He was so sorry for her.

"You only did what you thought was best for you and I've never seen a stronger person in all my life"

Finally she found some strength to meet his eyes and mouthed a thank you only for him to hear.

Then he suddenly had an idea "You know what? When she leaves, you can come to Downton with us and have Christmas together. What do you say?" He couldn't wait for her to see his estate and childhood home. He already knew she was going to love it. They could explore the grounds and the house and he could already imagine the look on her face at the sight of the portrait of Charles I by Van Dyke.

Cora hated to disappoint him, because she could see the look of hope in his eyes, but she couldn't risk to ruin her relationship with Robert because of her mother's bossiness "She is going stay here at least until Christmas, Robert and before you extend your invitation to her as well, please let me tell you that it is not a good idea".

"Oh, well" he said nonchalantly trying to masque his disappointment, but the look on his face didn't fool Cora, not for one bit.

"I'm sorry" she whispered in his ear, since the people sitting in their vicinity had already cast some surreptitious glances at the couple.

He smiled at her and bringing his hand close to her cheek, he stroke it with the back of his index finger "You'll come for New Year's Eve, then. I won't accept a no for an answer this time"

"Alright, then I'll come. But what will your mother say?" she was glad to finally see what Robert had so meticulously described to her -after she had asked him to- as his childhood home.

She could see by the way his eyes lit and by the way his gaze drifted to some unidentified place on the horizon, that he could picture Downton just before his eyes whenever he talked about it and that, of course, he loved that place.

"Don't worry about that, I can handle her"

She was about to ask if he was sure of what he was saying because as far as she knew, Violet's strong will had always prevailed on her son's choices, but she bit her tongue not wanting Robert to feel useless or somewhat weak.

After that, they watched the last part of the fireworks display without exchanging a word, their hands still entwined under the blanket made all the 'talking'. Cora would sometimes tighten her grip on Robert's hand when she could spot a marvellous pattern made by the fireworks, Robert would answer by caressing the back of Cora's hand making little circles with his thumb, their hearts both running wild in their chests.

They both relished these little gestures, giving comfort to one another when words were sometimes difficult to be spoken and when feelings were still too overwhelming to be understood.