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Apparently this is a thing I still do? I have to admit to a lot of nerves, since I haven't written anything not related to graduate school in aeons. Crossposting this to LJ and it will go up on AO3 soon too, now that I finally have an account there.

I blame my total infatuation with Downton Abbey. And Robert and Cora. This one's set pre-series.




TITLE: Not So Long as That
AUTHOR: MC Donovan
FANDOM: Downton Abbey
CATEGORY: Robert Crawley/Cora Crawley
SUMMARY: “At least I pretend we sleep apart, isn’t that enough?” When Robert stopped sleeping in the dressing room. Title is taken from Robert and Cora’s conversation in episode 1 about how long it took him to fall in love with her.




Downton, October, 1890

Cora goes riding after breakfast, because even an unfamiliar horse feels more like home than the house. She likes the riding habit because she bought it herself, before she left New York. She still has to take her cues for how to dress from Tolliver, who was a “gift” of sorts from the Dowager Countess. She’s only been married seven months--it’s far too soon to replace her maid without risking a row. Privately, Cora thinks her mother-in-law is still bribing the housemaids for access to the bedlinen, just to make sure she’s doing her duty in every respect. Violet would never be satisfied with just a financial transaction, no matter how large.

Cora has never had illusions about why she was sought after, but she’s also never told Robert why she accepted. As she thinks of her husband, the friend who is also a stranger, Lysander breaks into a trot.

He was kind, and he knew how to take no for an answer. Whether it’s English good breeding or his own good heart, it’s enough to build a life on. He offered her distance, the chance to be an ocean away from her mother’s fussing over trifles. The Countess may regard Cora as an extension of the ancestral lands, but at least this makes her worth taking notice of.

--

After her ride and a bath, Cora is free for a few hours, since Mrs. Nesbit has had the menu fixed since yesterday. There are guests expected for dinner, Sir Miles Napier and his dreadful bore of a wife, who will talk of nothing but having produced an heir, and look pityingly at Cora’s flat stomach.

Carson’s eyes crinkle as he comes upon her in the front hallway, nearly a smile, but only if you know where to look.

“Is his Lordship inspecting the cottages?” Cora likes that Robert is popular in the village, and has clearly always been so.

“I believe he’s in the library, milady.”

Well, there’s no help for it-- she’s out of books upstairs, and she won’t pass up a few hours of reading just because Robert might feel obligated to speak with her. She knocks on the door and is greeted with Robert’s laughter. It’s an unfamiliar sound, but not unwelcome.

“Please tell me what you’re reading is appropriate for a lady,” Cora says.

Robert looks up with a start: he really hadn’t heard the knock. “Oh, I think even Mama cannot argue against Mr. Dickens. At least, not against Mr. Pickwick and the expiring frog.”

“On a log?” Cora queries, just to see if he will laugh again.

He does, and beckons her closer. “Could I trouble you to read to me? I find Pickwick is best in company. And I haven’t...well, Father was the last person to read this.” As proof, he shows her the chocolate trail on the flyleaf. Cora never met the late count, but his sweet tooth is still the stuff of legend in the kitchens.

She is never cruel if she can help it, so she sits and lets him pass her the book. When the chapter ends, she finds that his right hand has drifted to her cheek. It’s the first time she’s sure he’s truly dying to kiss her, but he looks away, suddenly shy. When he meets her eyes again, he asks her to pick another book, and takes her hand.

--

That night, she is reading in bed as he knocks on the door.

“At least one can always count on Napier to be a dreadful bore,” he comments as he sits on the edge of the bed. He’s trying not to crane his head to see what she’s reading. He raises his eyebrows as she holds up Middlemarch.

“You’re lucky Mama would never intrude here-- the ideas about female education contained in that book are enough to bring on the vapors.”

Cora is tired, and more than a little annoyed after having her fertility questioned so politely. So before she can stop herself, she says, “Your mother only has the vapors when her authority is questioned. I may not have produced an heir, but I’m no fool.”

Robert’s expressive face never fails her: it’s one of the reasons he’s so easy to be married to. He considers laughing, then takes her hand as mirth becomes dismay.

“My dear, you musn’t let that vapid woman worry you. I assure you...I’ve no complaints.”

Cora bites back several vulgar retorts, determined to retain her dignity. Suddenly she longs for the library, for Pickwick and his faithful Sam.

“Shall I read to you?”

He falls asleep next to her that night, in time for Dorothea Brooke to become a widow. The next, she asks him to stay, murmuring something about how this bed is more comfortable for him. He doesn’t argue.

--

February 1891

After the doctor leaves, Cora creeps down to the library for his father’s copy of Pickwick Papers. She’s nearly shaking as he enters their bedroom. Medical fact somehow makes it all real, even if she hasn’t been able to eat more than toast for breakfast in three weeks.

“I saw Dr. Grimes in the hall. Are you ill, darling? Is it...?”

She puts her hand on his lips and grins, somehow not able to summon the words, even if this is the best of all possible news.

Robert nearly knocks the book off the table as he takes her into his arms.





Notes: This story assumes that Mary was born in 1891 or 1892, since in episode 7 she has just completed her fourth London Season and Sibyl is 18. I’m assuming Carson has been butler about as long as Cora and Robert have been married. Cora does quote the terrible poem from Pickwick Papers. And in case the story itself weren’t enough of an indication, I’ve assumed both Robert and Cora are bookworms, based on the size of Robert’s library.

.

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