A/N: the version of the chapter title song by Robin & Linda Williams is recommended.

Walkin' Down The Line

Monday, December 4, 1916

Matthew set his bag on the hall floor just inside the door. He looked around. The house looked curiously bare.

He had just finished hanging up his hat and coat when he heard his mother coming from the back of the house. He smiled as she saw him and started hurrying towards him. He held out his arms to her.

After the fervent greetings of a mother who hadn't seen her soldier son in almost a year and had been worried sick throughout they settled around the kitchen table, between them the old Brown Betty teapot and a plate of Matthew's favourite chocolate biscuits which she had been hoarding for just this occasion.

Matthew looked around the kitchen, It looked bare. There was a box in the corner with pots and pans in it. "It looks like you're packing" he ventured. He was surprised to see that his mother looked embarrassed..

"I am actually"

Matthew stared at her. "What's going on?"

"I'm taking a position with the Red Cross helping refugees" she paused gauging his reaction "in France."

"What?"

"Don't worry. It's in Paris, it's not anywhere near the fighting"

"You do know the Germans are shelling Paris?"

"Yes, but I've been told it's random; that you are more at risk of being hit by an auto while you're crossing the street."

Matthew had to admit she was right about that. "What brought this on?" Now his mother looked shame faced.

"The Countess of Grantham and I had a disagreement about how the convalescent hospital should be run which got out of hand."

"The Countess? You mean Cousin Cora?"

"I mean Her Ladyship, the Countess of Grantham. Anyway, long story short, harsh words were spoken and I felt that for the good of all concerned I should remove myself from Downton."

"Harsh words? Not just by you I hope."

"No, the Countess more than held her own."

"So I imagine there was something you wanted to do one way and she wanted done another way; how did that escalate to the point you are going into exile?"

"The Countess played her trump card"

"Which was?"

"That it was her family's house, her family's estate and that I was only here as her family's guest." She gave him a wan smile. "And you know a good guest leaves before she gets thrown out."

"So when do we have to be out?"

She reached across the table and grabbed his hand. "No, no you're part of their family now. I am leaving on January 2nd. Mary is having your stuff moved up to the Great House next week and she has arranged to have my stuff stored in one of their warehouses until I can make other arrangements."

"Speaking of Mary, do you know where..."

"She would have been here if she had known you were coming. We all thought you were coming tomorrow."

"Sorry about that, I got away early and all my connections worked out. So where does Mary stand in all this?"

"Don't blame her for any of it. She was going to take my side but I told her she couldn't go against her mother. She did her best to be a peacemaker but once certain lines were crossed there was nothing she could do..."

"You do know that's how this war got started? So where's Mrs. Bird and Ellen?"

"Mrs. Bird has moved in with her widowed sister in Weatherfield. They are going to run a little tearoom close to one of the munition factories. Ellen has left to work in one of those factories."

"And the good doctor? I thought there was maybe a little something between you two?"

"I wouldn't go that far, we were just very good friends, that's all. Given his position he..."

"Sold you out for a mess of pottage?"

She laughed. "Yes, I suppose he did"

"Anyway I will not desert you. You are not going to spend December alone"

"No, you must go..."

"No, you told Mary she shouldn't go against her mother, I will not go against mine. If you've worn out your welcome, I can't be too far behind. Now if you don't mind I'm going to go to bed. I am very tired." He got up and pointed at his mother "And don't be sending that boy up to the Great House with any messages for Mary. The plan was that I would see her tomorrow and I will, when I am well rested."

His mother got up as well. "Well Billy Brown joined up as soon he turned sixteen and I'm certainly not going to go up there myself so you're safe until tomorrow. Do you want me to get you up at any particular time?"

"No, let me sleep in. Oh the station agent is going to arrange for some parcels to be delivered I had shipped as freight."

"I'll take care of them. Now how about you have a hot bath while I get your bed made up?"

Tuesday, December 5, 1916 on

Matthew was having the most pleasant dream. He and Mary were in bed. He was laying on his side. She was cuddled up to his back and her free hand was tracing circles around his belly button and parts south. He felt like purring.

His eyes snapped open. There was a hand tickling him. He reached behind him and ran his hand along a naked hip. He could hear a humming in his ear that certainly sounded like purring.

"Give me a minute to get out of these pyjamas" he said.

It only took him four seconds.

-0-

They lay in each others arms. He was stroking her back.

"Let me know when you're hungry. Mrs. Patmore packed a picnic lunch for us"

"I'll show you what I'm hungry for"

-0-

They were finishing up the last of the fruit cake. Never Matthew's favourite but he supposed it would be a long time before he saw chocolate biscuits again.

"I have something to tell you and I don't want you to get angry" Mary said.

Matthew stared at her. He had a horrible flash that she was going to tell him that she was pregnant, for which he was immediately ashamed, but then he realized she was going to give him her family's side of his mother's banishment. "Go on" he said in an even tone.

"Evelyn Napier is at the Abbey"

That was certainly a surprise. "He is?"

"Yes, he was wounded at the Somme and when he heard that Downton Abbey was a convalescent hospital he asked to be sent here."

Matthew considered this. Ordinarily the sight of the man would get his back up but these were not ordinary times were they? "It's not a problem"

Matthew could see the relief on Mary's face turn to suspicion.

"Why isn't it a problem?" she asked.

"I don't imagine I will see him"

"But you'll see him at the Abbey"

"No I won't. While my mother is not welcome at the Abbey I consider that I am not welcome either."

"But .. but you'll miss Christmas, the Servants' Ball, New Year's and..."

"Mother and I will celebrate here. You're invited. If you want to come."

"But what about after she leaves? Crawley House is going to be shut up .."

He shrugged. "I can always find somewhere to bunk" He paused. "Tell me. This thing with our mothers. Was it all on my mother's part?"

"No. No, my mother gave as good as she got."

"Did your mother really tell my mother that she was only in Downton on sufferance?"

Mary nodded. "More or less"

"Thanks for saying you would support mother but she was right, you shouldn't go against your family"

"But you can"

"Apparently they're not my family"

"Father won't be happy"

"He's going to have to learn to live with it."

"What's it going to take you to come around?"

"Recognition my mother and I are family and are welcome as such"

"Why does my mother have to take the first step?"

"Because she won. It's up to the victor to be magnanimous."

"It may take awhile for my mother to come around"

"I am patient. In some respects." He reached across and picked a crumb of fruit cake off of her bare breast and ate it. "In other respects not so much" He put his hand behind her head and pulled it towards him. "Let us not let the sins of the mothers be visited on their children" and kissed her.