Hello if I know you, and welcome if I don't! Before we begin this story in earnest, let me give you your program notes: I stole this idea (with permission) from Mr. Chaos, who is writing the Matthew version of this (Authors Of Our Own Fate). At the end of his first chapter, he said that he'd first considered the story from Mary's point of view, but had abandoned it. I, however, thought that it was a wonderful concept, and asked for permission to run with it.
And this is the result.
Lady Mary Talbot was dying. She knew it, the doctor knew it, and the doctor knew that she knew it. The reasons for her illness were vague, but when one was one hundred years old, such things were to be expected. However weak and decrepit her body might be, however, Mary's mind was still sharp, and she sat up in bed, her eyes bright as she took in her surroundings.
A nurse came in, carrying a tray with a glass of water and a container of medication. Mary hated the constant waiting and watching, as though they were all waiting for her to kick it before taking a good look at her will to check how much everyone would inherit.
Not much, actually. The Crawley fortune had slowly crumbled, forcing her to sell the estate after the second war. The house was now open to the public, and gave tours, from what Mary had heard. She hadn't been back since she had sold it; the idea of her house―her home―being trampled through as though it were some public museum sickened her, and not a little.
Mary took the water off the tray, and downed the pills. Maybe they worked.
She watched the rain trickle down the windows, as though they wept. So much had happened during her life―not all of it good, not all of it bad. Sybbie had died in the 80's, leaving a daughter―Emma, who still visited regularly. Tom was gone, as were Edith and everyone else from the old Downton. Georgie―George, as he insisted he be called from the age of about ten onwards, had been killed in the Second World War, trying to be a hero like his father. His sister had died only a few days after birth. Henry had been killed in a train accident about a year after their daughter.
No, she was the last holdout. Anna had come along for quite a while, but she was gone now as well, since 1982―the girl had made it to 96 before joining Bates in heaven.
A knock sounded on the door, quiet, hesitant.
"Come in," Mary's voice was papery from lack of use and-dare she think it?-emotion.
Emma's face―so like Sybil's, had she lived into her thirties-appeared, smiling. She came in, and sat on the edge of the bed, facing her great-aunt. "How are you feeling today, Grandmary?" she asked, taking one of Mary's hands in hers.
"Oh, you know," Mary cocked her snow-white head, "Dying."
"Don't say that," Emma's voice took on a slight pleading tone. "Just you wait, the doctor's going to come in here, bearing news of some miraculous new cure, and you'll be well again."
"Think about what you just said, darling," Mary's right eyebrow rose slightly, "miraculous. At my age, one learns that miracles just don't happen. We leave them to you younger folk. And speaking of younger folk," she smiled, "are there any boys lined up, waiting to ask me for your hand in marriage?"
Emma rolled her eyes, as she always had whenever her great-aunt asked her that question; which she had been doing since Emma had been seventeen. "No. You do realize we're not living in the nineteenth century anymore, don't you, Grandmary? Oh, and speaking of nineteenth century―" she pulled a brochure out of her purse and handed it to Mary. "You've been talking about Downton a lot lately, and I thought I might finally convince you to take a tour with me."
Mary waved the glossy pamphlet away. "No. What have I told you, Emma Sybil? I don't want my memories of Downton spoiled by some cheap facsimile! I will go to my grave with memories of the true Downton Abbey in my mind."
"Just look at the brochure, will you?" Emma dangled it in front of her.
Aware that Emma was not going to give up, Mary snatched it out of the air. "Fine," she opened it, determined to give it a cursory look before deeming it unsuitable.
And there was Downton, large as life. "That's the Library!" she pointed to a photograph of the room, in full color. She'd never seen a color photograph of Downton before-all of hers were still black and white. She continued to flip through, exclaiming over various pictures. "Oh, that's the drawing room―and the Great Hall! And the kitchen―not quite like I remember it, but I'll forgive them that." She turned a page, and reared back. "That's...that's…" she jabbed the paper in consternation, "my bedroom! How dare they print such a thing! It's private!"
"Not anymore, it isn't," Emma looked at her with a satisfied expression. "But you can go visit it, if you want to…"
"You've convinced me, my girl. I'm going to see Downton one last time."
On a brilliant Autumn afternoon a week later, the two ladies alighted from their car in front of Downton Abbey. At first, Mary experience a slight moment of confusion―shouldn't there be servants to welcome them? Oh, but there weren't servants anymore. Carefully matching her carved wooden cane with her steps, she and Emma pushed through the double doors into the main entrance hall.
And...oh, goodness. It was, well, almost exactly as she remembered it. She turned carefully, trying not to trip over her own feet. If it weren't for the reception desk over there on the right, it might as well be 1912 all over again.
"May I help you, Ma'am?" A young lady in a dark suit appeared in front of them, her hair scraped back into a bun.
Emma spoke up. "We're here for the tour."
The girl smiled. "Well, then. We've got the next tour starting in twenty minutes, if you'd like to wait there," she pointed to the row of chairs along the far wall, "after signing the guest book."
She watched Emma scribble her name into the leather-bound book before picking up the pen herself.
She paused, the pen hovering over the cream paper. "Emma, what day is it?"
"Not the day of the week. The date, silly."
"Oh, sorry," Emma checked her watch, "the twenty-seventh."
How had she forgotten? How could she have forgotten? September twenty-seventh, 1921. The date was practically branded on her heart. The birth of her son, and the the death of her husband.
Matthew―dear, sweet Matthew. Today was his death-day. How fitting that she be visiting Downton then.
Shaking her head, she pressed the pen to the paper, deciding on the spur of the moment to sign her old name.
Lady Mary Crawley, 27 September, 1991.
She was feeling more like a Crawley than a Talbot today.
The girl―Sarah, her name tag read―looked over their signatures, and her eyes widened slightly as her mouth formed the name on the page.
"Your ladyship," she looked up, awed. "I suppose I should say 'welcome home.'"
"No need to stand on ceremony," Mary waved it away, "I'm only visiting."
"If you'll take a seat," the girl fluttered her hand, "and wait. Will you be needing any assistance?" she eyed the cane in Mary's hand, "there are miles of staircases in this house, and you might find it a bit difficult-"
"I did it before, and I'll do it again." Mary set her jaw determinedly. She'd burn in Hell before she'd need help getting up the grand staircase.
The previous tour group―a busload of Americans―trooped into the hall, talking amongst themselves. Mary caught snatches of conversation― "Oh, it's so elegant!" "Did you see the ballroom?" "Lady Mary was forced to sell, you know." "I wish I could have met her."
Mary bit back a smile and settled herself more comfortably in the chair. She was here purely out of nostalgic reasons, not to sign autographs.
Slowly, new visitors trickled in. None of them quite as old as she was, but a few of them could have given Sybbie some competition, age-wise. Most of them looked around, awed by the opulence of the place. And Mary had to admit that it was indeed quite something. If anything, she didn't remember it being this grand. Had she really lived in this house, thinking nothing of how much went into keeping it so magnificent? She felt slightly humbled, remembering how on-edge Carson and Mrs. Hughes had sometimes been―they were the ones truly running the household, after all. The master was simply given the illusion that he was in charge.
Another woman, this time in a trim white blouse and burgundy skirt, appeared in front of them. "Good afternoon," she clasped her hands in front of her, "and welcome to Downton Abbey. Before we begin, are there any returning visitors?"
A couple to Mary's left raised their hands, as did Mary, although only halfway.
"Yes, I remember you, Mr. and Mrs. Weatherby," the guide greeted them, "although," she turned to Mary, "I don't think I've met you, ma'am."
"I don't think you have, dear," Mary wondered how far she could take this, "before your time," she added kindly. "I was at Downton when the Crawleys still owned it."
As the tour got underway, the guide began her rehearsed speech, telling of the history of the place, how it had been built in 1679, rebuilt over the foundations in the early half of the 1800s, and had passed through the various generations of Lord Granthams, before Lady Mary Crawley, the last Mistress of Downton Abbey, had been forced to sell. Mary followed along with the history that was as much a part of her as her genetic makeup. Downton was her ancestral seat, rich with history and secrets-and hers, no matter who owned it now.
The tour then made its way up the grand staircase, to the upper levels. The guide, whose name, much to Mary's amusement, was Elise Hughes―so close to Mrs. Hughes' name before she had married Carson―took them through corridors Mary was willing to bet good money she could still follow blindfolded.
"This is the Master bedroom," Miss Hughes announced as they entered a familiar light blue room. "Well, technically, it was the Mistress's bedroom, but Lord and Lady Grantham threw convention to the wind and shared a room."
Ah, yes. Mary recalled having reminded her parents that, "You know, smart people keep separate rooms," and her father informing her that he kept a bed made up in his dressing room to keep up that very illusion. The room itself was almost as Mary remembered it―save for the fact that the biscuit jar was missing from the nightstand. She almost expected her mother to be sitting in the chaise lounge, reminding her that she was 'damaged goods' and for heaven's sake to find a husband soon.
Ah, happy days. Mary barely kept from stumbling over her cane as she rolled her eyes, grasping Emma's arm for support, tottering a little as the exited the room. Thank goodness feminism had advanced in the past eighty years. She hated to think what her mother's reaction to a woman like Emma would be.
The tour followed Miss Hughes through Edith and Sybil's rooms, a guest room, and then the room Matthew and Mary had shared, still dark green, with its four-poster bed―Mary gave that bed a fond look; the things it had seen, after all―and the dressing table.
"This is the Queen Caroline Room," Miss Hughes informed her charges. "It belonged to Lady Mary Crawley, and later on, after her marriage to her cousin, Matthew Crawley―"
Fourth cousin, Mary corrected her silently.
"―was their bedroom. It would seem that the Crawleys were an untraditional lot, as these two also refused to keep separate rooms."
Did these people have nothing better to do than marvel at the sleeping arrangements of the aristocracy? Mary wondered as they made their way down the bachelors' corridor. It was slightly ridiculous, that all these years later, people were commenting on hers and Matthew's sleeping arrangements.
Part of her wanted to give that Miss Hughes a good lecture about the respect due to one's elders. Another part was too amused―and the last part was, quite frankly, too tired to lecture anyone, or even to be remotely amused.
"And now," Miss Hughes threw open the last door with no small amount of drama, "I present the guest room. Or rather, the most famous guest room. It is here," she said, "that Kemal Pamuk, a Turkish diplomat, died suddenly in his sleep in the Spring of 1913. There are, however, rumors that he did not die in this room, exactly, but in Lady Mary's bed after a...tryst of some sort."
Was that relish she detected in that woman's voice? Really, she was going to have to give her a piece of her mind, thought Mary. Simply airing out the family scandals as if they were the laundry!
To say nothing of the fact that this rumor was indeed true…
As they continued down the corridor, Miss Hughes going on about a kitchen maid who had married a dying footman, wounded during the Great War, to keep his spirits up, Mary began to lag behind. Coming to a halt, she patted Emma's arm.
"You know what, dear? I'm feeling rather tired―"
Emma gave her a look of alarm. "Grandmary, if you're feeling ill, I can―"
"Just let me finish my sentence, please. I said tired, not ill. You go on ahead with the rest of them, and listen to all the fascinating things I've already told you, while I go back and find a quiet corner to sit down and rest awhile."
"Do you need my help finding one?"
"Oh, please," the sardonic look leveled in Emma's direction would have been enough to make a seasoned servant back in the day quake in their boots. "If there is anyone in this house who does not require assistance finding anything, it is me. Now go on," she waved, "shoo."
Emma having been "shooed", Mary retraced her steps, clinging to the moulding and her stick for support. Clearly, she was weaker than she had thought. She blinked as she nearly fell through a door. Taking stock of her surroundings, she realized she was back in her old bedroom.
Well, she supposed, there was no better place than this to take a nap. And if anyone complained, she could wave her name and title under their nose-that would probably take care of any shock at finding her here.
Skirting the velvet rope meant to separate the plebes from the artifacts―because yes, her former possessions were now 'artifacts', neatly labeled and catalogued someplace, she leaned her cane against the nightstand before easing herself onto the mattress―a good deal less comfortable than she remembered, but what else was to be expected of a ninety-year-old bed that hadn't been turned in over forty years?
Mary stretched out her hundred-year-old back, hearing the spine crack in several places, before settling back against the pillows. It felt surprisingly good to be back here. She felt none of the heartbreak she had expected―only peace.
She rolled her head to the left, to find herself looking into a very familiar, very dear set of piercing blue eyes.
"Matthew." Her voice no longer felt scratchy and papery, but strong. "What are you―" she reached out a hand to touch him, stopping just before she did, lest he disappear.
"What am I doing here?" He stretched out his long, tweed-clad legs in front of him. "Being dead, for one thing. Missing you, for another."
"Does that mean I'm...dead?" she hesitated with that word. It sounded so very final.
"Yes, you are. Or very near to it, I should say," Matthew smiled calmly. "Either way, I'm glad you're here, because I can finally―"
"I thought I heard you two," Lady Grantham's dark head poked into view around the door, and she stepped in, oblivious to Matthew's groan of, "Is there no peace in this house?"
Cora Crawley stepped over to the bed and kissed her daughter on the forehead. "Now, I haven't much time to say this, darling, so I'll be quick. You must go back."
Mary sat up with a jolt. "Go back where?"
"To the beginning, of course," her mother smiled again.
"Our beginning, to be more precise," Matthew joined in. "You're the only one who can."
"Save Downton," the Earl appeared, his blue eyes bright as he stared her down.
"Save us," chorused Sybil, William, and Lavinia from the foot of the bed.
"All life is a series of problems which we must try and solve," the all-too familiar voice of the Dowager Countess rang out over them all. "Remember that, dear, when you're there. And don't be a defeatist―it's terribly middle class."
Matthew reached over and pressed her hand. "Don't mind all of that. Just make it right, darling."
She felt wave after wave of confusion break over her. "But...I don't understand. Make what right?"
And suddenly she was falling...
Falling through mist…
Falling through time…
She felt herself land with a soft thump, before losing consciousness and slipping under a wave of blackness.
A rustle of fabric, a scrape of curtain rings as the drapes were flung open, and a beam of sunlight pierced the gloom. It also pierced Mary's right eye, and she moved her head out of the way with a muffled groan. Good God, what had happened to her? She felt as though she had spent a month at Woodstock, then been trampled by an elephant. And then, for good measure, been shot to the moon and back.
A soft voice came from the far corner. "Good morning, milady."
That sounded suspiciously like―she opened an eye to make certain. "Anna? What are you doing here?"
Amusement and confusion warred for dominance on the lady's maid's face. "Opening the curtains, milady, same as I do every morning."
"But...you died nine years ago."
"I don't think so, milady. I'm very much alive," Anna smiled slightly.
Mary passed a hand―a smooth, unwrinkled one―over her eyes. "It must have been a dream, then. Where's Matthew?"
What kind of a joke was this? "My husband. The first one."
Now worry was spreading over Anna's face. "I can assure you, milady, that you have never been married―and certainly not twice."
But she could hear Matthew's voice, telling her to 'make it right'. And she knew that hadn't all been in her imagination. How did Anna not know who he was? Unless…
"Anna, what day is it?"
Worry turned into full-blown anxiety. "Milady, are you feeling well?"
"Yes, yes," she waved away her maid's concern, "I'm feeling fine."
And she did feel fine, she realized. All the little aches and pains that came with being a century old were nonexistent. Sitting up in bed, she noticed that her back didn't make atrocious noises when she moved. And her hands were are smooth as they had been the day she married―
Oh, good Lord. She was young again. The question was, how young? She was at Downton, and Anna didn't know who Matthew was, so...that meant that everyone was still living!
She swung her legs out of bed, pulling on her robe as she tore out into the hall, ignoring Anna's shocked exclamation of "Milady!"
Rushing down the corridor in her bare feet, she burst into her parents' bedroom without knocking, to see her father standing at the window, while her mother sat in bed, reading The Sketch. She looked up at him from her paper, a grief-struck look on her face.
"Isn't it terrible?"
And suddenly, Mary knew what day it was.
April 15, 1912.
And there you have it. I'm going to do my best to update this (and my other story) fairly regularly, although I can already tell you that my schedule is not going to be a pleasant one for the next few months, so I make no promises.
If, however, this chapter has been enough to entice you to follow along with me, do click that 'Subscribe' button, and maybe send a review my way. I'd appreciate it, as this is my first time doing a Downton fanfic.
And many thanks to Mr. Chaos for letting me play with his brainchild. It's been fun!