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A Different Road

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The first thing that Anna registered as she began to rouse from her deep slumber on an early April morning in 1914 were her husband's strong arms as they were wrapped warmly around her waist and his thick dark chest hair felt incredible against her back through her nightgown, his chin cushioned upon her freckled shoulder as he snored softly into the crook of her neck and one of his legs were tangled with one of her own beneath their quilt. She and Thomas hadn't been married for long - the wedding ceremony had taken place in the Grand Hall of Downton Abbey just two-and-a-half months earlier - but neither one of them could imagine life without the other being a part of it any longer. The two of them had despised one another when she'd first come to work as a housemaid at the house, neither one of them able to go a day without glaring at each other or rolling their eyes whenever the other opened their mouth to speak. Over time, however, as the two of them had begun to understand that they weren't quite as different as they had once thought, the hatred that they'd felt towards one another had gradually begun to dissipate until they had been laughing together out in the courtyard at the end of every evening and sharing cigarettes.

Their friendship had been purely platonic for several months until one evening, when Thomas had been holding Anna close to him as she had sobbed over the death of her father, she had pressed her lips against his own in a soft and tender kiss. She had pulled back almost instantly before muttering a soft apology and casting her gaze down to her feet, yet had been unable to prevent the smile of joy that had spread across her lips when Thomas had seized her waist and pressed her up against the wall before kissing her passionately. The night air had been bitterly cold due to the fact that there had only been days left until Christmas, and yet as the two had stood there, his large hands running soothingly along her sides as she had threaded her nimble fingers through his thick dark hair, they had both known that they had never felt so warm. Things had progressed relatively quickly from that night onwards and their wedding had taken place just a month after she had been promoted to Head Housemaid and he to Footman. His Lordship and Her Ladyship, being the incredibly generous people that they were, had reassured them that they would take care of everything and that all they'd needed to worry about was finding their ceremony attire.

Their wedding day had been magical from start to finish, with Anna looking beautiful as her hair had been styled into a neat up-do and Thomas looking incredibly dashing as he'd waited for her at the end of the Grand Hall in his tuxedo, and the two of them had had countless photographs taken so that they would never forget the mutual love and joy they'd felt on that day. As she lay in bed beside her husband now, Anna was unable to prevent the loving smile from spreading across her lips. All her life, for as long as she could recall, she had dreamt about one day finding a husband who would love her unconditionally and who would go to any lengths to protect her and defend her honour. She knew that in her marriage to Thomas she would have all those things and she knew that she would never take either he or his love for her for granted. It was a few moments later when she felt his solid bulk shift slightly behind her before he tightened his hold around her hips and brushed the pad of his thumb lovingly over her navel, his warm lips pressing against her neck. 'Mrs. Barrow...' He murmured as he placed tiny sweet kisses along the slope of her neck, Anna covering his large hand with her much smaller one before slipping her dainty fingers through the gaps in his and shuffling back against his chest. 'Mmm...every morning that I wake up with you in my arms feels just as indescribable as the first.' He admitted gently.

'I know exactly how you feel.' She whispered before shifting in his embrace and rolling onto her other side in order to face him, a loving smile appearing upon her soft rosebud lips when he smoothed the backs of his fingers across her porcelain cheek and pressed his lips against her warm forehead in a lingering kiss. 'I longed to wake up with you holding me in your arms for longer than I care to admit,' She giggled, 'And now that I'm blessed enough to do that I hate the fact that we have to get up so early. I just want to stay in bed with your arms around me all day.' She huffed softly as she reached up to stroke several soft strands of black hair away from his forehead, her heart racing as he smiled lovingly at her.

'I want that too.' He admitted as he tucked a strand of her beautiful golden blonde hair back beneath her ear. 'But if I'm to provide for you then we need to go to work, darling.'

'I know.' She pouted, a gentle squeal of delight escaping her as he rolled her onto her back before covering her body with his own. 'This is your idea of going to work, is it?' She teased, slipping her arms slowly around his neck before stretching up to plant a soft kiss upon his lips.

'No, this is my way of saying good morning to you properly.' He chuckled as he nuzzled the tip of his nose against hers. 'Now shut up and let me kiss you.'

And oh, did he kiss her.

It was later that same morning when the two of them finally reached Downton and made their way through the back door, Thomas holding the door for his wife as she made her way through it before Anna rose up onto her tiptoes to kiss his cheek in thanks. 'What a gentleman.' She giggled lovingly, tracing the sharpness of his jawline with her fingertips.

'Only for you, my love.' He told her with a light squeeze of her gloved hand before she made her way down the steps and towards the hooks on the wall. 'Let me take your coat.' Anna then unbuttoned her overcoat before allowing her husband to slip the article of clothing off of her arms and hang it up for her, a slightly amused smirk upon his lips as he watched her rise up onto her tiptoes in order to place her hat upon the shelf.

'You may be my husband, Mr. Barrow, but that does not mean that you can make fun of my height.' She told him as she placed her hands upon his chest, permitting him to seize her waist possessively in his strong hands before he brought her close and slipped his arms around her slight frame, his thumbs stroking tenderly against the small of her back.

'I happen to love your tiny stature.' He told her. 'I love having to lean down whenever I want to give you a kiss and whenever I want to kiss your shoulder while you make dinner.'

'Oh, do you now?' She shook her head lovingly at him.

'Are you calling me a liar, Mrs. Barrow?' He smirked before unwinding one arm from around her waist and hooking his finger beneath her chin, nothing but love in his eyes as he tilted her head back just a little before bending slightly in order to place a light kiss upon her bottom lip. 'Mmm...' He hummed as he drew back just moments later. 'See? I loved that.'

Anna couldn't help but giggle then before she wrapped her arms around his middle and lay her head down upon his chest, listening to his steady heartbeat through the material of his waistcoat as he held her close to him and ran the palm of his hand along her spine with a slow kiss to her crown. 'I love you, Thomas.' She whispered gently into his chest.

'I love you too, Anna.' He reassured her with a final kiss to her head before they broke their embrace at the sound of Daisy's heels approaching.

'Good morning, Anna.' The young kitchen-maid smiled brightly. 'Thomas.'

'Good morning, Daisy.' Anna replied with a warm smile.

'Hm.' Thomas muttered with a gentle nod of his head towards the brown-haired nineteen-year-old.

'You really do need to work on your people skills.' Anna giggled softly once Daisy had entered the servant's hall and she turned back to her husband.

'Why should I be social when I have you?' He smirked, Anna rolling her eyes as she reciprocated it before she kissed his cheek once more and they approached the servant's hall.

'But I thought Lady Mary was the heir.' Gwen said as her brow furrowed slightly whilst she and Anna followed Ms. O'Brien down the servant's staircase later that same morning.

'She's a girl, stupid, girls can't inherit.' Ms. O'Brien replied coolly. 'But now Mr. Crawley's dead and Mr. Patrick was his only son, so what happens next?'

'It's a dreadful thing.' Anna sighed absently as she continued to carry the dirty bedsheet from Lady Sybil's bed along with a candlestick in her free hand.

The three of them came to a slow stop at the bottom of the staircase when they saw an unfamiliar gentleman stood there, a cane in his right hand and a carpet-bag in his left as he smiled slightly at them. 'Hello.' He said gently. 'I've been waiting at the back door; I knocked but no-one came.'

'So you pushed in?' Ms. O'Brien questioned.

'I'm John Bates, the new valet.' He explained himself with a sigh.

'The new valet?' The lady's maid echoed, John confirming that she was correct. 'You're early.'

'Came on the milk train.' He admitted. 'Thought I'd use the day to get to know the place; start tonight.'

After a few moments of the group of four standing in quite an uncomfortable silence Anna reckoned that she would have to do something in order to show Mr. Bates that not all of the servants at Downton were as unwelcoming as Ms. O'Brien, and so after carefully transferring the candlestick into her already occupied hand, she extended her free one so that she could shake Mr. Bates' hand warmly. 'I'm Anna,' She smiled. 'The Head Housemaid.'

'How do you do?' He smiled politely in response before offering his hand to Ms. O'Brien who refused to take it.

'And I'm Ms. O'Brien.' She informed him. 'Her Ladyship's maid. You'd better come along with us.'

As Ms. O'Brien and Gwen began to make their way into the kitchen, Anna hung back momentarily before sharing a sneaky side-smile with the newcomer.

She could already tell that they were going to become fast friends.

Anna couldn't help but hum softly in contentment against her husband's lips as she was sat atop a packing crate in the courtyard later that afternoon and Thomas's hands were resting upon her perfect waist through her uniform, her legs wrapped loosely around his waist as they continued to kiss passionately and she cupped the sides of his neck in her small palms. 'Alright,' Thomas sighed lovingly after pulling back from his wife's incredibly soft and warm lips. 'What's the matter?' He ran his hands comfortingly along her sides.

'What do you mean?' She asked, her breathing rather heavy as she brushed her thumbs against his warm skin.

'Anna, I've been in love with you for over a year now and we've lived together for the past two-and-a-half months, so I think I know when something has upset you.' He told her.

'Oh, I don't know.' She sighed as she leaned against him. 'I just feel a little ashamed of the welcome that we gave Mr. Bates this morning.'

'What?' He furrowed his brow. 'Why?'

'Well let's be honest, none of us were really hospitable towards him were we? We could have all been at least a little more pleased to see him.' She pointed out.

'You think I should be pleased that this cripple has come to take my job away from me?' He asked, a hint of annoyance in his tone.

'Thomas!' She exclaimed softly. 'He fought in the exact same war that my father did. My father came home from that war with only one arm and you can stand there and speak about Mr. Bates, a man who served alongside my father and was injured through serving King and Country, as though he's not worth anything? You've got a nerve.' The tears were evident in her midnight blue eyes as she tore her gaze away from her husband's, Thomas sighing softly as he hooked his finger beneath his wife's chin before directing her gaze slowly back to his own.

'I'm sorry, darling.' He spoke gently before leaning forward to capture her lower lip in a long and slow kiss, Anna whimpering tearfully against him as her hands rested upon his shoulders. 'I know how much it hurt you to see your father struggle so badly and I know how difficult your childhood was because of it.' She nodded sadly. 'I never meant to hurt you by what I said, I'm just annoyed that Mr. Bates can just walk in and take my job when I've served here for almost a decade and have shown nothing but loyalty to this family.'

'I know that it's disheartening, my love, but if it makes you feel any better I think you would make an incredible valet.' She smiled as she slipped her small arms around his neck.

'How could that not make me feel better?' He smiled with a gentle chuckle before pulling her close and peppering her beautiful face with delicate kisses. 'I love you so much.'

'I love you.' She whispered as she pressed her forehead against his, kissing the tip of his nose. 'Now, I'm afraid I have to go in. Mrs. Hughes wants me to speak to Lilly about how to properly plump cushions.' She rolled her eyes. 'I mean how hard is it to throw a cushion onto the floor then place it neatly onto a settee or a chair? Learning to walk is harder!'

'You seem a little tense, my love.' Thomas chuckled. 'I think a massage is on the cards for you tonight.'

'I would honestly love you forever if you did.' She groaned in delight at the thought. 'I love your massages.'

'No, you don't then!' He tickled her sides playfully. 'More like you're obsessed with my massages, darling.'

'It's not my fault that you're the only person who knows how to get that crick out of my neck every evening.' She laughed, Thomas feeling his heart swell with love for her.

'I never thought it was possible to love as much as I love you.' He admitted as he stroked her face.

'Me either.' She sighed with a slow kiss to his warm lips. 'And now, despite how much I would rather stay here and have you kiss me, I really do have to go inside before Mrs. Hughes sends a search-party.' Then, with a gentle chuckle, Thomas held her waist as he helped her down from the crate before she rose up onto her tiptoes in order to brush the briefest of kisses against his cheek in advance to hurrying through the courtyard as she held her cap in place atop her head before flashing him a beautiful smile before she slipped through the back door.

'She's going to be the death of me.' Thomas chuckled to himself, a loving smile upon his lips as he shook his head before beginning to light a cigarette.

'How could you do something like that?' Anna snapped as soon as the front door to the quaint little cottage that she shared with her husband was closed later that evening, the two of them making their way into the sitting room as Thomas sighed deeply. 'How could you plot to get a man fired on his first day? Especially after you kissed me and said you were sorry for insulting ex-soldier's disabilities!?' Thomas remained silent for a moment as he lowered himself down onto the settee with his cigarette, Anna stood before him with anger in her stormy blue eyes.

'He took my job, Anna.' Thomas reminded her.

'No, it was never "your job".' She informed him. 'You knew from the moment you agreed to take care of His Lordship that your title of Valet was temporary. You knew that you'd only have that title until they managed to find a replacement for Mr. Watson!' Thomas rolled his eyes.

'Where has my supportive wife gone, hmm?' He retorted. 'What happened to the woman who said I would make an incredible Valet?'

'I do think you would make an incredible Valet!' She exclaimed. 'But you and I both knew that you wouldn't be Valet to His Lordship forever and you were fine with it originally!'

'Yes I was, until I found out that the man I was being passed over for can't even lift a tray without dropping it.' He grumbled.

'Why can't you see other people the way that you see me?' She whispered. 'I have a learning disability and yet you support me with it every day, telling me that you still adore me and that I'm the smartest person you've ever met. I've had a troubled past and you're always there to sit and hold me when I need you to. Why can't you be supportive of others?'

'Because I don't love anyone else.' He told her. 'You're my wife, Anna, and I love you no matter what has happened to you in the past and whether or not you have a disability.'

She blessed him with a small smile.

'Come here.' He patted his knee gently before she began to make her way over to him, a warm smile upon his lips as he lowered her down slowly into his lap. 'You are the most beautiful woman I have ever set eyes on and there is never going to be another woman more right for me, Anna, I mean that. I know that there are days when your disability gets you down and is worse than usual, and I support you with that because I know you need me to. Those up at Downton don't need my support and I can tell if people would care if I was in their position. Take Bates for example, I know that if I broke my leg working tomorrow he wouldn't bat an eyelid. You, on the other hand, would be beside me instantly.'

'Because I love you.' She whispered as she slipped her arms around his neck to steady herself.

'Exactly.' He nuzzled his nose against hers. 'We both support each other more than we do others because we don't love others like we love each other. Do you understand?'

'Yes. I do.' She reassured him. 'I know that there are days where you doubt my love for you because of the way things once were between us, but there's something that I can tell you that should make certain that you never feel that way again.'

'Go on.' He smiled, brushing his thumb against her hip.

'Our lives are going to be completely different in seven months' time.' She admitted, a gentle giggle escaping her as she saw the confusion on her husband's face. 'Do you need another clue?'

'Please.' He nodded with a chuckle before she slipped from his lap and made her way across the room the the small chest of drawers, removing a small wrapped box from the second drawer down. 

'I was going to give you this on Valentines day next month but I can't wait until then. I can't wait another month to see your face when you open this.' She blushed slightly before lowering herself down onto the settee beside her husband and handing him the box, Thomas smiling lovingly at her as he allowed her to snuggle against him before he pulled on the end of the ribbon that was tied around the small box. 'You have to tell me what you think it would be used for.' She whispered softly into his ear before kissing the creamy skin of his neck just below his earlobe, Thomas chuckling as he removed the wrapping paper.

His heart immediately began to pound as he opened the box and saw what his wife had placed neatly inside of it. There was a small lace bonnet with matching mittens and socks, clearly sewn by Anna herself. 'Are we - are you - am I?' He stammered, completely lost for words as he turned to face her just seconds later and his grayish-blue eyes sparkled with tears of joy.

'Yes, Thomas.' Anna nodded with a smile as tears choked her voice. 'I'm pregnant and you're going to be a father. We're going to have a baby, darling!'

Still lost for words moments after his wife had revealed to him that he was going to be cradling his son or daughter in his arms in less than a year, he did the only thing that he could think of in that moment. He set the box down carefully in his lap before cupping Anna's face in his strong hands and drawing her into a passionate kiss that said all that words couldn't in that moment, her soft whimpers against his lips as she ran her fingers through his hair only making him fall more in love with her. 

'Have you seen Doctor Clarkson? Are you and the baby alright?' He asked, his breathing slightly erratic as he pulled away from her just minutes later.

'The baby and I are completely fine but I've been told to ask Mrs. Hughes to shorten my workload when I start showing. I don't want to give up work, Thomas, I don't want to be on my own all day whilst you're up at Downton. I want to stay with you.' Thomas shushed her gently with a lingering kiss to her brow, brushing his thumbs against her cheeks as she smiled lovingly at him when her eyes fluttered open once again.

'You don't have to be anywhere that I'm not.' He reassured her. 'I don't want you out of my sight whilst you're in this condition, Anna.'

'I'm going to be a Mummy, Thomas.' She breathed in slight disbelief. 'We're going to be parents.'

'Yes, my darling, we are.' He chuckled as he placed his hand upon her lower abdomen through her uniform, brushing his thumb lightly over where their baby was slowly growing. 'Oh, I love you.'

'I love you too.' She sighed, leaning forward to press her lips against his own. 'Now, I believe you promised me a massage?'

He groaned playfully, feigning exasperation. 'Go and get comfortable.' He smiled, his heart swelling with the deep love that he possessed for her as her face lit up and she pecked his cheek before standing from the settee and making her way out of the sitting room before heading upstairs to their bedroom.

As Thomas listened to his wife enter their bedroom he couldn't help but smile. He was going to be a father. A year ago he never even thought he would be a husband! He knew that he wouldn't change the life he had with Anna for anything in the world though, and that he would love her until the day he drew his last breath. She was definitely a whirlwind and certainly kept him on his toes, but he didn't mind in the least.

Because she was magnificent.