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If I Can't Remember My Past I'm Condemned to Repeat It

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry Mr. Molesley. I know that’s not the answer I must have led you to expect.” Phyllis sighed as she buried her face in her hands tiredly.

Joseph was suddenly aware of how close he was sitting to the woman that he’d assumed he had a right to be so close to. “No. I’m sorry.” He insisted as he pushed his weight over to the other side of the stone bench in his father’s garden. “You don’t owe me anything, and you certainly do not owe me that. I shouldn’t have assumed something like this.”

Phyllis sighed as she carefully pulled her hands away from her face, moving them to her lap where they quickly grasped onto the fabric of her tan coat. “No. It’s my fault. You were right to assume - I just can’t.”

Joseph frowned slightly as he looked at her from his now distanced position on the bench.When she’d uncovered her face the tears streaming down it became all he could focus on. He’d made her cry and that was the absolute last thing he wanted, but truth be told he was quite ready to cry himself. “I don’t think I understand.”

“I don’t know how to explain it.” Phyllis admitted, still not willing to meet his gaze.

Joseph nodded slightly, keenly aware that they’d veered into an important conversation of a different kind than he’d expected when he brought her here today. “Would you be willing to try?”

Phyllis looked up at him slowly, unprepared for the incredibly kind and understanding eyes that met her own. “I would but I’m afraid it does not paint me in the best light and I don’t know if I can take it to have you think less of me.”

“I could never think less of you Miss Baxter.” Joseph assured her earnestly as he moved forward, slightly narrowing the space between them again.

Phyllis stared blankly at him for a moment before looking down and taking a deep breath. “I suppose you already know much of the damning part of the story as it is. It has to do with Coyle…”

Phyllis winced as she felt her head slam against the rough brick of the house as Peter kissed her firmly. It was far from the first time they’d come out here for this particular activity and frankly she was becoming far less enchanted with their trysts. Peter’s mouth was against her ear when he pulled away and through deep breaths he whispered anxiously, “Have you done it yet?” 

“Mrs. Benton has given me no reason to despise her and I won’t sabotage a woman who has been nothing but good to me. I don’t know what you expect me to do.” Phyllis sighed tiredly as she felt rough kisses being pressed down her neck.

Peter pulled away and smiled as he stroked his hand against her side. “I need you to help me out baby. I can’t live like this anymore.”

“I know you don’t like Mr. Benton and you are jealous of their wealth but what sort of reason is that for me to steal from Mrs. Benton?” Phyllis tried to argue as she felt his knee force itself between her thighs.

“Because baby, I want to have you like this all the time.” Peter smiled widely as he began to pull at the buttons down the front of her uniform. “I want to marry you baby.”

At that Phyllis moved her hands over his own and stopped him. “You want to what?”

“Marry you.” Peter said roughly as she let go of his hands allowing him to hike her skirt up around her waist. “I want you to be mine. I want us to have what they have. I want us to have a house with a warm bed where I can take you just like this. We deserve it don’t we?”

She certainly hadn’t expected that proposal - as informal as it may have been - and she wasn’t certain whether it was the emotional connection she immediately felt towards a man willing to propose to her at her age with her history or the overwhelming warmth she felt between her legs as he pressed against her but there was nothing in that moment that could have prevented her from making the biggest mistake of her life.” 

“Yes. Yes Peter. Marry me Peter.”

“And of course you know more or less how that ended for me.” Phyllis said sadly after she’d recounted a heavily edited retelling of the proposal she’d accepted over nine years prior.

Joseph nodded carefully as he absorbed the information he’d been given. “He proposed to you to keep you loyal to him.”

Phyllis bobbed her head once in affirmation. “I wanted so much to not be condemned to the life of solitude I’d come to believe I deserved that once the prospect of a permanent partnership was on the table I was far too willing to do whatever it took to keep him happy with me.”

“I understand.” Joseph assured her before frowning in confusion. “Phyllis you don’t think that I would ever ask you to do anything you didn’t want to just because we were..?”

Her eyes opened wide in embarrassment and she closed much of the space between them as she reached for his hand. “No, of course not!” She insisted firmly. “I just worry that if I allow myself to go down this path again… that I’ll make the same mistakes.”

Joseph sat quietly for a moment, brushing his thumb gently across her palm as had become a habit when he was deep in thought in her company. “George Santayana said in Reason in Common Sense that ‘Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual.’”

Phyllis couldn’t help but furrow her brow in response. “I’m afraid you’ve lost me Mr. Molesley.” 

Joseph blushed slightly with a small smile. “Perhaps the next line would help: ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’” He turned toward her intently as he reached for her other hand. “You are far too aware of the mistakes you’ve made in your past to repeat them.”

Phyllis knows that his words are well-intentioned, but she’s all too aware of the parts of her past that she’s shielded from the man she now loves - and she does love him - and it makes it difficult to accept them. It’s only a moment before the sob she’s been holding back breaks through and she pulls away again in embarrassment.

Joseph sighed as he watched her turn away. He’s made her cry again and he feels absolutely awful. “I’m very sorry. I shouldn’t have pushed.”

It’s then that Bill Molesley makes his way out to the garden with a smile on his face. “Miss Baxter, it’s good to see you. Will you be joining us for dinner?”

Phyllis takes a moment to compose herself before standing up shakily. “I’m sorry Mr. Molesley but I can’t stay for dinner. I’ll be needed back to help her ladyship dress soon.” She excuses herself quickly, making her way through the gate across the yard in record time.

“What happened Joe?” Bill asked as he stood above his clearly defeated son. “She didn’t say no did she?”

Joseph looked up at him tiredly. “I’d rather not talk about it.”

Bill nodded as he reached out to help his son up from the bench. “Well the offer for dinner still extends to you, so let’s eat.”

Joseph nodded sadly before following his father back to the cottage he’d been so sure this morning would one day belong to him and his wife - him and Phyllis. Somehow it doesn’t feel quite like home anymore.

Chapter Text

It was nearly a week after his proposal to Phyllis when Joseph made his way up to the big house in search of a certain butler. For the past year there had hardly been a day that he hadn't seen Miss Baxter and while he wanted to respect her space he couldn’t help but worry about her.

After making his way in through the back door he all but ran into Thomas immediately upon rounding the corner. “Ah, Mr. Molesley it’s been a few days since I’ve seen you lurking about. I assume you’re looking for Miss Baxter?”

“I’m actually looking for you Mr. Barrow. Could I speak with you for a moment?” Joseph asked awkwardly as he shifted his weight back and forth. 

Thomas couldn’t help but look surprised when the teacher revealed that he was not in fact here in pursuit of Miss Baxter. “I suppose so. What is it?”

Joseph cringed as he noticed a small group of staff sitting behind them in the servants’ hall. “It’s a bit of a sensitive topic - could we perhaps..?” He awkwardly gestured toward the butler’s pantry door.

Thomas rolled his eyes but didn’t protest as he pulled the key from his pocket and let the former staff member into the room, closing the door behind them.

The pair stood in an awkward silence for a moment before Thomas sighed loudly. “Mr. Molesley you would do well to remember that as the butler I do not have all day to stand here while you try to decide why you’re here.”

Joseph nodded, Thomas’s irritated tone enough to push him to gather the courage he needed to speak. “I’m here because I need to ask you a favor. I’d appreciate it greatly if you would check in on Miss Baxter for me.”

Thomas looked at him in confusion. “Surely you see Miss Baxter frequently enough to know of her well being yourself?”

Joseph frowned as he stared down at his shoes. “I take it she hasn’t told you that I proposed, and that she’s turned me down.”

“No.” Thomas confirmed, his own tone matching Joseph’s concerned one. “She hadn’t.”

Joseph is somewhat surprised by that. Since their reconciliation Phyllis and Thomas have generally acted as a support system for each other and he’d expected that she would have confided in him by now. “I don’t want to pressure her so I’ve been keeping my distance but-” He stopped for a moment, considering the best way to express his concerns. “The conversation we had was quite heavy and I’ve been worried about her.”

Thomas was quiet for a moment before he looked up at him. “She turned you down?” When Joseph nodded again in affirmation he sighed. “Thank you Mr. Molesley, for letting me know. I’ll check on her.”

“Thank you Mr. Barrow. I truly appreciate it.”

It’s late that evening before Thomas is able to catch Phyllis alone. He’s making his way around the house doing the final lock up when he notices his friend hunched over her sewing machine in the servants’ hall.

“Hey stranger.” He greeted her softly as he pulled out a chair across from her.

Phyllis smiled without looking up from her work. “I’ve been here all week Thomas. I’d hardly consider that worthy of your classification.” She chided softly.

Thomas nods before deciding he should cut to the chase. “A friend of yours stopped by today.”

She looked up at that, her face immediately flushed and her hands shaking in anxiety. “I can only assume you’re referring to Mr. Molesley.”

“Yes.” Thomas affirmed softly. “He’s worried about you.”

Phyllis sighed as she jammed the bobbin when she flinched at his statement. “I suppose I deserve that.”

Thomas waits for a moment while she sorts out the garment she’s mending before he adds his own opinion. “Frankly, based on what he told me I’m worried about you too.”

Phyllis’s eyes snap to meet his own as she tries to ascertain what he knows. “What do you mean?”

Thomas smiles sympathetically as he clarifies.“Why did you turn him down Phyllis?” 

Her blush intensifies as she realizes he knows more about her predicament than she’d hoped. “I’m not marriage material Thomas.”

Thomas tries not to laugh at that, well aware from both her behavior and her posture that she’s more than uncomfortable with this line of questioning. “I’m afraid that that is my line here.” He waits a moment before trying again. “Why wouldn’t you be you be marriage material Miss Baxter?"

“Thomas, you know my background.” Phyllis cries exasperatedly. “You know who I come from and what I’ve done.”

“So does he.” Thomas argues firmly.

Phyllis shakes her head quickly. “No. He doesn’t. He knows some about Coyle - but he certainly doesn’t know everything he needs to know to make this kind of decision.”

Thomas’s eyes widen slightly as he remembers what she must be referring to. “You can’t possibly be worried about that.”

“Of course I am.” Phyllis insists firmly. “I don’t come from a respectable family Thomas - you know that. Everyone knew I would never be worthy of marriage - not as a Baxter.”

Thomas hates that this still haunts her. That the actions of her family continue to haunt her far beyond her association with them. That she still believes everything they’d said about her. It had started young for her and she was only ten the first time she was punished for being a Baxter.

“My mummy says that your mummy is a murderer.” Bertha Meyers taunted her after school one day in front of a group of girls from the village.  

Phyllis clenched her arms tightly around herself, her small nails making crescent marks in her forearms as she tried to ignore the nerves coursing through her body. She’s heard the rumors for years but she’s never understood what they meant until now. 

“My mum helps people.” Phyllis argued quietly as she tried to move past the group of girls that had confronted her.

“She killed somebody.” Alice Cook insisted angrily. “My mother told me that she killed Mrs. Morrison.”

Phyllis knows exactly what they’re referring to but she doesn’t have the words to explain what had happened. Why it wasn’t her mother’s fault. How to explain that her mother was a good woman who tried to help people.

Just weeks before Mrs. Morrison had come to their house in tears - just as many women did - begging for Nancy Baxter’s help. Sometimes her mother prepared them “a special tea” to brew at home, and other times the women would stay overnight in her room and she’d spend the night in her mother’s bed. She didn’t really understand what her mother did but she knew that the women she helped always seemed extremely grateful and that when she’d asked her mother a year ago what they were doing there she’d assured her that she was helping them “like a doctor my Philly.”

She’d become accustomed to having strangers in their home and she did her best to help her mother when she could. As far as she could tell her mother was helping these women so she’d never questioned it - until Mrs. Morrison.

As always she’d been asked to leave the house when she’d arrived but unlike usual she’d come home far too early due to a heavy rainstorm that had washed out most of the roads in the village. Mrs. Burgess had insisted Phyllis make her way home before she was stuck somewhere so she’d quietly snuck through the front door in an attempt to avoid reprimand for being home early.

“You’re too far gone for the tea dear. We’ll have to do this the hard way.” Her mother had said seriously.

Mrs. Morrison nodded desperately. “Please. Anything. I can’t do this again.” 

Phyllis knew her mother would be upset if she knew she’d been home so she grabbed a book and hid herself under the stairs for the remainder of the evening - until the screaming started. 

She’d climbed out of her hiding place and was quickly confronted by her mother. “Thank the Lord. Philly I need you to go get the doctor.” Her mother had instructed firmly and she’d hurriedly made her way outside before she remembered that she wouldn’t be able to get to the village.

“I can’t. The rain. I can’t get to the doctor.” Phyllis had bubbered anxiously as she realized her mother’s apron was covered in blood.

“Phyllis, we have to help Mrs. Morrison. I need a doctor to do that.” Her mother had insisted desperately as she opened the front door herself to see several inches of rising water. “Dammit.”

“Mum what do we do?” Phyllis asked nervously as she tried to understand what was going on.

Her mother had grabbed her arm and pulled her with her into her bedroom. “Come with me Philly, I’ll need your help.”

She’d spent the night trying to help her mother stop the bleeding but there was nothing they could do. The next morning she’d been sent to get the mortician and news had spread like wildfire through the village that Mrs. Morrison had died at the Baxter’s.

Of course it was only a matter of time before the girls caught on to their mothers’ gossip which was how Phyllis found herself trapped in a group of girls who were endlessly taunting her about a trauma she hadn’t really processed herself.

She’d been trying to come up with a defense when Charlotte Barrow broke into the circle. “Oy, leave her alone.”

“Why should we?” Alice had challenged almost immediately.

“Because if you don’t I’ll tell Mrs. Mullins that you’ve been stealin’ her roses.” Charlotte retorted instantly. “Find somethin’ better to do with your time or I’ll find it for ya.”

The girls had quickly dispersed leaving a shaking Phyllis behind.

“You alright Phyllis?” Charlotte had asked her carefully as she surveyed her friend for any signs that she’d been hurt.

Phyllis nodded. “I suppose. I just don’t have any friends is all.”

Charlotte smirked at that. “You’ve got me.”

“And me!” A small voice piped in. “We’ll be your friends Phyllis.” A four year old Thomas Barrow had insisted dutifully as he yanked on his sister’s arm while he jumped up and down.

Phyllis had smiled sadly at the Barrow siblings with a small nod before following them back home for a snack courtesy of Mrs. Barrow before making her way back to her own home - to her own room - a place she’d never feel safe in again.

It was several years after the first incident before Phyllis understood what it was that her mother did and by then it was too late to form her own opinion. For Phyllis her mother’s work was an occupation - not a crime, not a sin, just a job.

“Phyllis, you’re not responsible for what your mother did.” Thomas comforted softly.

Phyllis shrugged slightly. “Perhaps.” She took a moment to adjust the bobbin once again before looking up to him. “But those girls were right - I was a criminal’s daughter. I did belong in prison.”

“No you didn’t.” Thomas insisted. “Coyle belonged in prison - that’s why he’s still there. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

The pang of grief she felt at the casual dismissal of her behavior was stronger than it usually was, reinforced by the days since the proposal she’d spent recalling each mistake she’d made with Peter Coyle. It was several moments before she managed to speak again and when she did her voice was small and desperate. “Thomas, please.”

Thomas softened at that, well aware that now wasn’t the time to push his friend. “I won’t push.” He promised quickly. “But you’re not alright - I can see that clear as day - and I think you should talk to someone about it.”

“I can’t tell you.” Phyllis argued, her voice laced with exhaustion and distress. “I can’t tell anyone.”

“You can tell Mr. Molesley.” Thomas countered immediately. “He loves you Phyllis. He’ll be on your side.”

His words reverberate through her mind, immediately bringing her back to just moments after she’d told Lady Grantham about the theft and her prison sentence when she’d run into Joseph by the stairs. He’d been far too kind and she was so afraid he’d be disappointed when he found out exactly what she’d confessed to her ladyship. “I will tell you the story one day, but I’m loathe to forfeit your good opinion, and I know it would.”

“No, you won’t.” He’d insisted immediately. “You don’t trust me yet, but I’m on your side.”

But now is different. She trusts him, implicitly. She knows that he’s on her side, which somehow makes it worse. Her fear that the safety she’s come to know with him could be jeopardized again and that she could forfeit his good opinion now, after all they’ve been through, has paralyzed her. It’s caused her to say no to the thing she wants most in the world and it’s caused her to hurt him.

She sighs as she looks up to see Thomas’s sympathetic smile. “Perhaps you’re right.” 

“Of course I’m right.” Thomas smiled as he stood up. “I have to finish locking up, but I’m here - if you need me.”

Phyllis watched him make his way from the room before she allowed the tears she’d been holding back to fall. Thomas was right, she needed to talk to Joseph, but doing so required courage. Courage she was quite certain she did not have. She’d said no in the first place because she was certain she could survive breaking his heart to protect him but she wasn’t at all certain that she could survive him breaking hers.

Chapter Text

It takes a few days for Phyllis to gather the courage to make her way to the schoolhouse and when she does it’s late Friday afternoon. She’d hoped that she’d waited just long enough so that the students would be gone but that Joseph would still be in his classroom but she seems to have missed the balance since she can hear his voice through the open door as she walks down the hallway.

“Alright you’ve done well here Penny but you’ve forgotten to put punctuation at the end of this sentence. Do you remember what goes here?”

Penny Taylor bit down on the pencil in her hand as she focused on the paper in front of her. “No Mr. Molesley. I don’t remember.” The girl looked embarrassed but she was met by the understanding eyes of her teacher as he pulled up a chair next to her.

“Well let’s take a look at it.” Joseph said kindly as she arrived in the door frame, stopping short in case he’s facing toward it. “What are you trying to accomplish in this sentence Penny?”

“I dunno.” The small girl mumbled as she continued to chew on the end of her pencil.

Joseph smiled sympathetically as he took the pencil gently from her hands. “Why don’t you read it to me?”

Penny nodded at that, confident in her ability to do that. “When did the ball go missing from the yard?”

“Alright, so what is that sentence’s purpose?” Joseph pressed again. “Is it a statement?”

Penny’s eyes lit up at that as she reached for the pencil in his hands. “No sir, it’s a question. I’m asking something so I should put a question mark here.” 

“Very good.” Joseph affirmed as he got up from the chair he’d pulled over. “You’re very bright Miss Taylor.”

“Thank you Mr. Molesley!” Penny exclaimed as she hastily gathered her books and papers and made her way to the door. “Hi Miss Baxter!” She greeted the familiar face in the hallway as she made her way out the room.

Joseph’s head snapped up at that and he was surprised to meet the eyes of the aforementioned woman as she entered his classroom.

“Can I come in?” She asked tentatively as she lingered in the doorframe, nervous that she’d perhaps been wrong in assuming he’d be willing to see her.

Joseph’s hard eyes had immediately softened at her voice. “Of course Miss Baxter.”

She smiled softly as she made her way up to his desk while he gathered his belongings. It took a moment to gather the courage to suggest what she’d come here for and when she did her voice was shakier than she’d expected. “I was hoping we could maybe go for a walk?”

“I’d like that very much Miss Baxter.” Joseph had affirmed gently, holding out his elbow for her arm after he’d gathered the last of his things and guiding the two of them out of the schoolhouse. He led them onto a path that wound around the outskirts of the village and Lady Grantham’s gardens in the hope that with some privacy Phyllis may be more likely to open up to him. 

The pair walked in a surprisingly comfortable silence for over an hour before Joseph spoke again. “As much as I’m enjoying being with you I think it’s important that we discuss what exactly we’re doing here.”

Phyllis stopped suddenly, unprepared for the directness from a man that had always stumbled over his words at the mere implication of a relationship between the two of them. 

Sensing her discomfort he guided her carefully to a low stone wall where they could sit. Once she was settled he took her hand in his own and tried again. “I’m sorry if that’s not what you came to discuss but I need to know if we’re okay.” He stopped for a moment before shaking his head. “More importantly I need to know if you’re okay.”

“I’m not.” She admitted softly without looking over to him. “I’m not because I’ve hurt you and I’ve hurt you because I’m afraid.”

Joseph looked perplexed by her admission. “What are you afraid of?”

“So many things.” Phyllis almost laughed at the question. “But I’m mostly afraid of the things you don’t know about me that I fear would change your mind about me.”

“Phyllis.” Joseph gently reached out and pushed up her chin so she was looking at him. “There’s nothing in the world that could make me change my mind about loving you. I promise.”

She’s well aware that he intends for his words to comfort her but they only serve to remind her of all of the reasons why she’s so afraid. Of similar promises made and broken by a far less worthy party years before.

The night before it happened Peter had unceremoniously pulled her into his bedroom as she walked down the hall. It was only moments before he had her horizontal on his bed with her skirts hiked up to her waist.

“Peter what are you doing?” Phyllis tried to push him back with little success. Her nerves were already frayed from the stress of their impending plans and she wasn’t feeling well enough for this regardless.

Peter smiled up at her as he pulled on his own belt. “I’m celebrating our impending freedom.”

His sickly sweet tone contrasted dramatically with his harsh hands against her legs and she felt her stomach turning for the umpteenth time that day. “Peter I can’t.” She tried to stop him but it was far too late. She’d promised to be his, to love him and marry him. She belonged to him now.

Sensing her hesitation he briefly moved up to kiss her lips firmly. “We’re gonna do this. It’s gonna be okay baby - I love you and I’m gonna marry you and take care of you.” He pulled back to finish removing his own trousers and it was only moments before she felt him painfully pressing into her.

“Peter, stop.” She’d tried to push him away quietly, more than aware of the consequences she would face if they were heard by any of the other staff members who would also be heading to bed. “We can’t do this here. I don’t want to. I don’t want to do any of this. I’m sorry.” Her whispers came in quiet breaths as she tried to ignore the pain between her legs.

“Baby you’re going to do it because it’s the only way.” He violently pulled her neck towards him until she locked eyes with him. “You think they’re going to let you stay here? They’ll throw you out on the streets. It’s the only way baby.”

Phyllis nodded as she bit her lip in an attempt to ignore her surroundings until it was over. He was right, this was the only way. She just hoped that he’d be agreeable to minimal participation on her part.

After he’d finished with her he pulled her firmly against his chest and whispered into her ear. “Tell me again baby.”

Phyllis cringed at the request she’d heard every night for the last few weeks. “Peter, I know it.”

Peter sunk his nails into her thigh at her defiance and her gasp in response made it clear it had had the desired effect. “Tell. Me. Again.” He insisted sharply.

Taking a deep breath she started the list. “The pearl necklace with the ruby clasp.” 

“Yes baby.” He affirmed with a firm kiss to her lips. “So good. What else?”

“The three diamond bracelets.” She added quietly as his lips trailed down to her chest.

“Yes.” Peter praised her as he ran his hands across her stomach roughly. “And?”

“The emerald brooch.” She finished the list of items she was meant to steal the next day while Mr. and Mrs. Benton were out to dinner.

He smiled widely as he pulled her hair from it’s secure bun. “Yes. All of the jewels worth anything. You got it? Then what?”

“I make it look like a robbery.” She recited tiredly as he groaned in completion and fell to her side.

“And then you’ll bring them straight to me.” He instructed for the hundredth time as he suddenly moved on top of her again. “I’ll be in the alley behind the fence waiting for you baby and we’ll go right then.”

“You promise?” She asked anxiously as she once again prepared to ignore what was going on.

“I promise baby.” He crooned quietly. “We’ll be together and we’ll get married and no one will be able to stop me from loving you.”

And for her those promises were enough. Enough to make her feel safe even though she wasn’t. 

The next night as she helped Mrs. Benton get ready for dinner the first cracks in the plan began to form. 

“Miss Baxter I think that I’d like to wear the emerald brooch tonight. The one that belonged to Mr. Benton’s mother?” Mrs. Benton had said as she’d assessed the jewelry her lady’s maid had brought to go with her ensemble. “And perhaps the diamond bracelet Mr. Benton gave me last Christmas? I’d like to make an impression with him this evening.”

Her stomach was tying itself into knots as she managed a remarkably steady. “Yes m’lady.” before going to exchange the necklace and bracelet she’d selected herself for the requested pieces.

“Thank you Miss Baxter.” Mrs. Benton had dismissed her once she was satisfied with her appearance. “Mr. Benton and I will be back late - perhaps ten?”

She clenched her teeth as she lied through her teeth. “I’ll be here then m’lady.”

Less than an hour later Mr. and Mrs. Benton left in a taxi and Phyllis had slipped up to Mrs. Benton’s dressing room to complete her mission. Her mind raced as she tried to remind herself why she was doing this. “It’s for Peter. It’s for us. He loves me.” She whispered quietly as she scanned the trays of jewelry in front of her.

Ultimately there was nothing that would replace that third diamond bracelet and the brooch in value so she scooped a few rings from the bottom of the tray and slid them into her pockets with the necklace and bracelets, praying that Peter would forgive her.

She was about to quietly leave the room when she’d remembered his final instruction. “Make it look like a robbery. They won’t know it was you.”

Panicked she paced around the room as she realized she had absolutely no clue what a robbery would look like. She supposes an open window could indicate someone entered through it so she unlatches the window closest to the trellis up the side of the house. Perhaps some broken things? The room being in general disarray?

She did her best to make the room seem as if it had been destroyed before making her way down the back staircase and out the door.

As soon as she’d made it out Peter grabbed her wrist and pulled her with him behind the decaying fence in the alley. “You got them?”

Phyllis nodded shakily as she pulled the jewelry from her pocket. “The pearl necklace with a ruby clasp, two diamond bracelets, and four rings.” She recounted nervously.

“Where’s the rest?” He asked angrily as he pushed her harshly against the brick well. “Are you so dense you can’t follow simple instructions?”

“They’re with Mrs. Benton - she asked for them tonight.” Phyllis tried to push him back with no success.

With a heavy sigh Peter pocketed the jewels for himself and pressed his lips to hers. “You did alright baby. I’ll come back for you tomorrow.”

Her eyes widened in confusion. “Tomorrow? We’re supposed to leave together.”

“It’s going to be suspicious if we’re both gone when they discover the robbery.” Peter insisted harshly. “I hadn’t thought about it before but it will be okay. I’ll come back for you baby.”

Phyllis shook her head anxiously. “I can’t go back in there.”

“I’ll be at St. Columba’s tomorrow morning. I’ll meet you there I promise.” He pressed his lips firmly to hers, biting down on her lower lip firmly - leaving the last of many marks on her body on her lip as it split under the pressure. “Thank you baby. I love you.” Were his last words before he sprinted out of the alley into the night.

When the Benton’s arrived home hours later the house erupted into chaos. The servants’ hall was aflutter with gossip about the robbery and she wasn’t at all surprised when she heard one of the maids and a footman talking about Mr. Coyle and if he was maybe connected to the theft.

“Mr. Coyle’s a nasty man but he’s not stupid enough to steal from a house the day he leaves. It’s far too obvious.”

In an attempt  to shake off the nagging feeling that something was wrong she made her way to bed early with claims of a headache - certain this time that it would be the last night she’d spend in this house. The last night she’d spend alone. The last night before she started her life with Peter.

But the next morning when she’d finally managed to slip past the police and out the back of the house once again there was no sign of Peter at the church. She’d waited in the chapel for hours before she made her way back to the Benton’s only to be confronted by one of the police officers who had been investigating the robbery.”

“Phyllis Baxter, you are under arrest on suspicion of grand larceny in the third degree. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defense if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”

She hadn’t realized how absorbed she’d been in her memories until she felt Joseph’s hand rest gently on her knee. “Phyllis? Where did you go?” He asked softly as she blinked several times in rapid succession to readjust her thoughts to the present.

 “I’m sorry.” She apologized awkwardly as she tightly wrapped her arms around her chest.

Joseph shook his head quickly. “You don’t need to apologize, it’s okay. I only ask because you seemed quite scared and when you started crying I didn’t know what to do.”

Eyes widening in embarrassment she reached up to her own face and was surprised to find he was right - her cheeks were more than damp with tears. “Oh.” She quickly wiped the back of her hand across her face in an attempt to keep herself from crying even more.

Joseph fumbled for a moment before producing a handkerchief from his pocket and pressing it into her hand. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Phyllis shook her head. “I don’t...and I worry that that’s not okay with you.”

Joseph cocked an eyebrow in confusion but simply waited for her to continue. 

“You are very kind Mr. Molesely and far too understanding.” She tried to explain cautiously. “I worry that you interpret me not wanting to tell you my story as me hiding something. Or not trusting you?”

Joseph nodded carefully but didn’t say anything so she continued. “I know I’ve told you so many times before that I’ll tell you these things someday - and I want to, I really want to - but the things I’ve kept from you are painful for me as well. I don’t know how to manage the things that hurt me enough to explain them to you and I understand if you-”

“No.” He stopped her quickly. “What you’re describing makes perfect sense. It’s reminiscent of Sophocles’ words on the suffering of his characters in Oedipus Rex , ‘I have no desire to suffer twice, in reality and then in retrospect.’”

Phyllis made eye contact for the first time at that but she didn’t say anything so he continued. “I don’t want you to do that for me. I don’t want you to suffer again on my behalf. I trust that you’ll tell me the things I need to know if and when I need to know them. Beyond that I know more than enough to know I’ll love you regardless.”

She nodded before looking back down as if in intense thought. After a significant pause she manages a reply he hadn’t been expecting. “Do you remember when we were in London for Lady Rose’s wedding and we visited those art museums with Daisy?”

“Of course?” Joseph affirmed, a question in his tone.

“You asked me a question.” Phyllis continued, staring intently at the gravel beneath her feet. “Do you remember it?”

“I do.” He affirmed once again.

“Ask me again.” Phyllis suddenly looked up at him, her eyes filled with determination.

Joseph laughed a bit at that. “Why?”

“Ask me again.” Phyllis insisted as she grabbed his wringing hands in her own shaking ones.

Joseph frowned slightly as he asked the question. “Do you want to be safe, Miss Baxter?”

“I do.” She replied firmly. “And I want to do it with you. I want to be safe with you.”

His eyes widened in confusion as he stumbled off the wall in an attempt to put some distance between the two of them. “I don’t think I understand?”

Phyllis smiled sadly as she recognized the panic he was feeling. “I turned you down because I was afraid but I don’t want to be afraid of you. I feel safe with you and I want that feeling forever.”

He paced in thought for several moments before he stopped in front of her and once more locked eyes with her. “You want…?” He tried to find the words but was clearly struggling.

“Joseph Molesley I very much want to marry you if you’ll have me.” She confirmed before nervously biting down on her lip.

Joseph simply stared at her for several moments, his facial expression quickly transitioning between confusion and surprise before settling into an incredibly goofy grin. “Me?”

Phyllis’ own features copied his smile at that. “Of course you.” She confirmed as he moved towards her slowly.

“You want to marry me?” Joseph asked once again, wanting to make sure that he wasn’t misunderstanding before he asked his next question.

She smiled as she felt his hands gently rest on her shoulders. “I want to marry you.”

There was barely a beat before Joseph made his next inquiry. “May I kiss you?”

“Please.” Phyllis nodded and it was only seconds before she felt his smiling lips gently pressing against her own as his arms folded gently against her back.

When he pulled away he quickly met her eyes, his brow furrowed in concern. “That was okay?”

“It was more than okay Joseph.” Phyllis smiled as she leaned forward to rest her forehead on his shoulder. “You make me feel safe.”

Chapter Text

News of the engagement spread quickly through the house and it was just over a week before Lady Grantham brought it up to her lady’s maid herself while she was dressing after breakfast.

“I’ve heard that congratulations are in order Miss Baxter.” Cora queried as she nodded in approval of the outfit Baxter had selected for the day. 

Phyllis blushed slightly as she picked up the garments she’d laid on the bed just moments before. “Yes m’lady.”

Cora smiled as she recognized a familiar anxiety coming from across the room. After everything the younger woman had been through had a soft spot for her lady’s maid. While Baxter’s initial revelation of her past years before had shocked and confused her, her willingness to be forthright when doing so put her at risk of losing everything had earned her great respect from Cora and their relationship had only grown stronger in the years since. “You are happy about this aren’t you?”

“Oh, yes!” Phyllis was startled by Cora’s conclusion. “I’m very happy.” She tried to assure her employer.

“I hope you don’t mind me saying but you seem quite shaken.” Cora observed as she turned around so the buttons on her dress could be fastened.

Using her task to avoid making eye contact Phyllis tried to address the emotions that had been building for days that she’d hoped she was doing a better job at hiding. “I’ve found that everyone seems quite keen on observing me now m’lady and I don’t have particularly fond associations with being observed.”

Cora nodded in immediate understanding. She could imagine that spending time in prison would make being watched something that reminded one of things they’d rather forget. For a brief moment she considers acknowledging her understanding directly but she’s only broken her promise to never mention her past once - at Mr. Molesley’s request when she was summoned for the trial against Mr. Coyle - and she didn’t see a reason to now.

“Well I hope that you’re able to enjoy this time regardless.” Cora smiled brightly at her maid as she turned back to her so Phyllis could make final adjustments to her outfit. “Have you decided on a date?”

Phyllis shook her head. “We’re still getting used to the idea ourselves so we’re not in any real rush.”

Cora looks pensive for a moment before she replies.“Perhaps this is presumptive of me - and if you’d prefer to wait I’d never think of forcing you - but Lord Grantham and I received word this morning that Edith would like us there for the birth and we’ve decided to go to Brancaster Castle for the duration of the summer. It would of course be improper to suggest Mr. Molesley accompany you were you not married, but if you were I expect we could make arrangements for him to come along and for the two of you to take some time off - as a honeymoon of sorts.”

“When will we be leaving Your Ladyship?” Phyllis asked as she absorbed the information she’d been given while trying to do the mental math about how far gone Lady Edith had been when she last saw her and when she’d be due.

Cora smiled sympathetically. “I’m afraid we’re to leave at the end of the month - about a fortnight from now.”

Phyllis nodded in understanding. “I’ll speak with Jos-” She blushed furiously at the slip of her tongue despite her almost immediate correction. “I’ll speak with Mr. Molesley about it tonight.”

“See that you do. I hate to be putting you in this position but I hope you’ll consider the offer. Robert and I have discussed it and we agree we’d like for you both to come with us if it’s what you’d like.” Cora encouraged with another pointed smile. “Thank you Baxter. I’ll see you at the dressing gong this evening.”

Since their engagement Joseph had taken to making the journey to Downton in the evenings to spend time with Phyllis after she was done with her work for the day. When he made his way into the servants’ hall he wasn’t surprised to see Phyllis stationed in a chair by the fire, but unlike most evenings the embroidery she was purportedly working on was clutched between white knuckles and she was staring into the distance.

“Phyllis?” He asked as he pulled a chair over to where she sat. “Are you alright?”

She smiled at the sound of his gentle voice and her grip on the work in her hands loosened considerably. “I suppose so.” She smiled softly as she met his gaze. “Though it somewhat depends on your reaction to a bit of news.”

“Oh?” Joseph raised an eyebrow in curiosity.

“Lady Hexham has asked Lord and Lady Grantham to visit.” Phyllis spoke carefully, trying to gauge his reaction as she delivered the news. “They’re leaving soon and I’m to go with them.”

“Oh.” Joseph let out a sigh that was accompanied by a small frown. “How long will you be gone?”

“The summer.” Phyllis smiled sadly as she reached out for his hand.

“Oh.” This time his sigh was punctuated with a stern stare as he took the outreached hand in his own. “Well, that’s certainly not ideal is it?”

“No.” Phyllis affirmed quietly. “Her Ladyship expressed her sympathies for the situation this puts us in but with Lady Hexham’s baby all but here they’re anxious to make the journey sooner rather than later.”

“Of course.” Joseph nodded in understanding. “I suppose we’ll just have to manage.”

Phyllis smiled at him sympathetically before continuing. “Her Ladyship has made an offer - well more of a suggestion really - but I’m not sure how I feel about it.”

“I am to take it that you would like my opinion on it?” Joseph asked tentatively.

She nodded briefly before taking a deep breath and launching into it. “She’s suggested that if we were to be married before the departure you would be welcome - well more than welcome really - to join us for the trip.”

Joseph’s eyes widened in surprise at that. “But why?”

“I think she feels terribly about separating us when we’ve just now found each other.” Phyllis admits with an embarrassed grin. “She made it very clear that I shouldn’t take the suggestion as direction but I’m not sure how else to interpret it. I’m quite uncertain of what to do.”

Joseph gave a nod of understanding. “Do you… do you want me there with you?” He asked cautiously.

“I do.” She replied immediately. “I don’t want to be apart. Not now that we’ve made our intentions clear.”

Joseph smiles at the slight flush in her cheeks during her declaration and he gives her hand a firm squeeze. “I don’t want that either. I’d like to be with you - if you’ll have me.”

“Does that mean what I think it does?” Phyllis asked tentatively.

“I think we’re getting married, and quite soon.” Joseph confirmed with a giddy grin.

Phyllis shook her head with a smile. “Now no need to be childish about it.” She chided playfully. “But we should probably start getting things in order.”

“That we should.” Joseph affirmed with a brief kiss to her forehead before pulling a pen and notebook from his jacket pocket. “First and foremost we’ll need a date.”

“Friday?” Anna asked with wide eyes as Phyllis focused at the hemline of a light blue dress she’d been working with for much of the afternoon.

“Friday.” Phyllis confirmed with a weak chuckle. “School lets out on Wednesday and we depart on Sunday. It’s the best date given our options.”

“Blimey.” Anna muttered sympathetically before sitting down across the table. “What can I do to help?”

Phyllis smiled up at her with thankful eyes. “Honestly anything you can manage to think of probably needs doing.”

Anna nodded with a smirk. “Well do you know where it’ll be?” 

“That’s about all we know.” Phyllis admitted. “We’re to be married at the church in the morning with a small reception at the schoolhouse in the afternoon.”

“That’s perfect.” Anna assured her with a smile. “What about food? I’m sure Mrs. Patmore and Daisy would be more than happy to help.”

Phyllis nodded. “That would be good. I’m not sure that Mr. Molesley or I have particularly strong preferences on the menu though.”

Anna seemed more than prepared with that as a jumping off point. “I’ll speak with Mrs. Patmore and Daisy about a menu and I’ll speak to Mrs. Hughes about adjusting our schedules so I can take care of Lady Mary and Her Ladyship for a bit.” She moved to get up from the table before she paused and looked over at the older lady’s maid. “I’ve made the assumption that you’ve already thought about what you’ll be wearing but after what we went through with Mrs. Hughes’ I figure I should check.”

“Yes.” Phyllis confirmed with a smirk and a nod to the dress in her hands. “It’s nothing new but I’m hoping with a bit of time and effort it will be something special.”

“I’m sure it will be.” Anna assured her. “Besides, I’m quite sure Mr. Molesley will be more than happy with you however you come.”

“Mr. Barrow do you have a moment?” Phyllis knocked on the doorframe of the open pantry door.

Thomas looked up at her with a sad smile. “I’d say the better question is do you have one? You’ve been so busy this last week I’ve hardly seen you.”

Phyllis frowned at that. “I’m sorry if I’ve made you feel like I don’t want you to be a part of this. That couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Thomas shifted uncomfortably in his seat at that. “It’s alright Miss Baxter. I don’t need to be handled with kid gloves.”

Phyllis sighed as she took a seat across from him and tried to decide how to broach the subject she’d come here to discuss. “Mr. Molesley asked me a question earlier today and I realized I need to talk about something with you.”

Thomas looked surprised at this. “What question would that be?”

“He asked if you’d be giving me away.” Phyllis admitted before she quickly looked down to her hands that were fidgeting in her lap, not wanting to see the hope in his eyes before she inevitably let him down. Again.

“Oh?” Thomas tried to hide his enthusiasm behind his practiced hard exterior. “What did you tell him?”

“Thomas if I wanted anyone to give me away I would want it to be you.” She looked up at him with damp eyes. “You are very important to me and while we’ve gone through some rough patches I very much consider you family.”

“But-” Thomas began for her, his sad eyes mirroring her own. When she didn’t continue he tried to fill in the gaps for himself. “Is it that it’s in a church? Has someone said I shouldn’t be asked?”

Phyllis’ eyes widened at that. “No, no, of course not.” Her expression had quickly transformed from worry to anger at the mere suggestion. “And if anyone had I would have set them straight. You hear me? I want you there.”

Thomas smiled slightly at that but his eyes remained downcast. “So what is it?”

“I don’t want to be given away at all.” Phyllis admitted softly. When Thomas gave her a questioning glance she took a deep breath and tried her best to explain. “After everything that happened with- after everything that’s happened in my past I can’t bear to think of myself as belonging to anyone - not even Mr. Molesley. It’s important to me that I am accountable to and for myself, not to any man. Regardless of how much I care for them.”

Thomas nodded sadly at that but he rounded the desk and pulled her into a firm hug. “Thank you for telling me.”

Phyllis let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. “I understand if you don’t want to be there.”

“What are you talking about?” Thomas pulled away from her immediately as he tried not to laugh. “Of course I’ll be there. It would be truly out of character if I were to miss an opportunity to see Mr. Molesley make a fool of himself in front of the whole village when he forgets his vows.”

“Play nice.” Phyllis warned him gently with a quick peck to his cheek. “I’m glad you’ll be there.”

Late the night before the wedding Phyllis was surprised to hear a tentative knock at her door and she was even more surprised when she opened the door to reveal an incredibly nervous Mrs. Hughes.

“May I come in?” Mrs. Hughes asked tentatively.

Phyllis nodded, opening the door wider to allow the housekeeper to slip into her room while she mader her own inquiry. “I thought you’d left with Mr. Carson hours ago?”

“I did.” She admitted with a curt nod. “But I’ve put something off that I’m afraid I can’t quite shake the need to discuss with you.”

Curiosity piqued, Phyllis guestered for her to take a seat while she sat down at the edge of her mattress. “What is it? Nothing terrible I hope?”

“Oh no.” Mrs. Hughes reassured quickly. “At least not essentially.” There was a long pause before she spoke again. “I’m afraid this is quite a delicate subject but I think it’s important that you’re given the opportunity to discuss it if needed.”

Phyllis’s eyes widened in sudden realization and she opened her mouth a few times in an attempt to protest but found that the words refused to form.

“It’s nothing to be embarrassed by.” Mrs. Hughes tried to assure her despite her own flushed cheeks. “I just didn’t know if you had anyone you could ask and I didn’t want you to be without.”

“Mrs. Hughes… Mrs. Carson.” Phyllis struggled to find the right way to explain that for her this ship had quite sailed. “I know what to expect.”

Mrs. Hughes nodded sympathetically. “I know it may seem that way now but-”

Phyllis stopped her at that, hopeful that she could limit their shared mortification at the revelation she was being forced to make. “Elsie I know.” She said firmly, eyes swimming with tears that she couldn’t quite determine the cause of.

“I see.” Mrs. Hughes looked down at her hands that were now tightly grasped together in her lap. “I suppose I shouldn’t have assumed.”

Phyllis closed her eyes tightly in a vain attempt to keep her tears at bay. “I appreciate your concern but I’ll be fine.” She tried to dismiss the older woman but her wavering voice only served to concern her further.

“You don’t seem fine.” Mrs. Hughes argued gently before reaching out to take one of the shaking hands in front of her. “I get the sense that I’ve brought up something you would rather forget and I don’t need any details but I can put two and two together and I am sorry to have brought this up at what should be a very happy time.”

Phyllis sighed before giving up on keeping her tears at bay and opening her eyes to meet those of the older woman. “It’s nothing you’ve done.”

Mrs. Hughes nodded as she handed her a handkerchief she’d grabbed from the top of the chest of drawers. “I believe the same can be said for you.”

Phyllis laughed slightly at that. “I don’t know that I fully agree, but I appreciate the sentiment.”

“I should leave you be.” Mrs. Hughes sighed as she moved to excuse herself. “I’m sorry to have brought up these feelings - whatever they may be - tonight.” She was about to open the door before she turned back to the younger woman wiping her eyes. “Will you be alright?”

“I think so.” Phyllis tried to reassure her despite the growing pit she felt in the bottom of her stomach. “I’ve sat with this before and I’m certain I will again.”

The housekeeper gave her a sympathetic glance before making her way out of the room leaving Phyllis alone with her racing thoughts. She slowly prepared for bed, willing her stomach to keep itself under control. She took a few deep breaths at the mirror before staring up at her own reflection and clenching her teeth in concentration. “Not now. You don’t get to ruin this. Not again.”

When she awoke to a quick knock on her door the next morning she was thankful to find that the dread that had settled in late the night before had dissipated and had been replaced by a clearly joyful excitement. 

“Miss Baxter?” Anna’s excited voice came with another fast knock. “I don’t have much time since I’ll be dressing both Lady Mary and Lady Grantham but I wanted to check to see if you need anything.”

Phyllis quickly made her way to the door to let the younger lady’s maid in. “I think we’ve handled everything already.” 

“I still haven’t seen evidence of the dress being ready-” Anna joked as she stared pointedly at the tightly closed wardrobe across the room. “-but I trust that I will in due time.”

Phyllis laughed at that. “Today even I would say.” It had become quite the running joke among the women downstairs that no one had seen the dress Phyllis had supposedly been working on whenever she could at all this week. 

“I’m sure it’s wonderful Miss Baxter.” Anna assured with a firm smile. “I’ve got to go for now but Mrs. Hughes and Daisy will be up to help you dress and I’ll be back to help with your hair as soon as I can be. If you need anything just shout for Mr. Barrow.”

After Anna’s departure the morning is a flurry of activity and by the end of it she couldn’t quite say who she’d seen and what’s been done but she’s feeling quite ready for the day’s events by the time Thomas is guiding her into the car to head for the church.

“Are you ready for this?” He asked as he helped her into the back of the car. “Do you need anything?”

“Don’t fuss.” Phyllis smirked back at him as he closed the door before climbing into the front of the car himself. “Thank you for driving me.”

Thomas shot her a quick smirk before turning back to the wheel and starting the car. “Since you won’t let me take you down the aisle I’m taking it upon myself to make sure you get to it safely in the first place.”

And that he did, leaving her with a quick kiss to her cheek and a hasty but sincere, “Good luck Phyllis.” before he made his way into the church to signal to the Reverend that the ceremony could begin.

Joseph and Phyllis had discussed the ceremony at length. It was important to him that they be married in the church he’d grown up in but when he’d brought her the Book of Common Prayer for her to review the ceremony she quickly became uncomfortable with their already agreed upon arrangements.

“Joseph I… I don’t want to say this.” She blushed furiously as she handed the book back to him. “I don’t think we should marry in the church.” 

Joseph looked over at her clearly confused. “What? Surely you’ve heard the words before. What were you expecting?”

Phyllis sighed as she reached for the book once more, pulling it open to the aforementioned section and pointing at a specific line. Joseph looked puzzled but he began to read aloud. “To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for power, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to…” He cringed before finishing the line “to obey.”

“I love you Joseph, I really do.” She quickly reassured him. “But I can’t swear to this.”

Joseph shook his head immediately. “You’re right. I’m so sorry. I should have thought.”

They’d agreed to find an alternative plan but hadn’t settled much of anything before Joseph came back with a proposal. 

It was only a few days later when Joseph sprinted into the servants hall where she was thankfully alone. “Phyllis would you be willing to marry me in the church if the words were different?” He asked through heavy breaths. 

“Joseph you know that the solemnization of matrimony is a requirement for being married in an Anglican church.” Phyllis sighed as she looked up at him, eyes full of sympathy for the man she was to marry.

Joseph nodded quickly. “Of course, but I’ve spoken with Reverend Travis and he showed me the latest revisions to the Book of Common Prayer. I don’t believe we’re the only people to express concerns about the appropriateness of the text because there’s now an alternative form of the solemnization of matrimony.”

“What?” Phyllis looked absolutely puzzled by his claim.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small barely worn book and after opening to a specific page pressed it into her hands. “Read it.” He insisted excitedly.

She quickly scanned the page before smiling slightly and beginning to read aloud. “To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for power, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.” 

Knowing how important it was to him she’d readily agreed to the ceremony with the alternative wording of the vows, glad that she would be able to do something for him on a day that had increasingly become a day that felt largely about her needs. What she hadn’t expected was that him reciting these carefully selected words to her would cause her to feel so unbelievably loved.

They were nearly done with the ceremony before it hit her but when Joseph reached for his hand to place the delicate gold band they had chosen the week before carefully on her finger while reciting the words he had readily agreed upon she felt the tears begin to fall.

“With this ring I thee wed; with my body I thee honour; and all my worldly goods with thee I share; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

She spent the short remainder of the ceremony trying to gather herself but when it came time for the pair to make their way out of the church she was still crying. When they finally stopped outside of the church to wait for the photographer Joseph made a point of kissing her on the cheek so he’d be able to discreetly ask the question plaguing his mind.

“Are you alright?” He whispered softly as he held her hand tightly in his own. 

“More than alright.” She assured him quickly as he pressed another kiss to her cheek. “You’ve truly shown me how much you love me and I can’t thank you enough for that Mr. Molesley.”

“No thanks is necessary Mrs. Molesley.” Joseph replied with a wide grin and a final kiss to her forehead. “Loving you is the greatest privilege of my life.”

Chapter Text

The reception had been an absolute delight. Joseph had more than enjoyed finally having his opportunity to celebrate his love with the village he had grown up in and Phyllis couldn’t deny the joy she felt as she realized that she was finally becoming a part of a family that was respected in a village where people knew and liked them just as she’d commended Joseph for in the past. The dancing had lasted well into the night and by the time the newly married couple made their way back to Joseph’s - now their- cottage they were both anxious to spend some time alone. 

“This dress is magnificent.” He whispered as he gently ran his fingertips across the fabric at her sides.

Phyllis blushed at the praise of her handiwork. She’d spent the fortnight since they’d decided to marry before the summer transforming the once simple pale blue dress by creating a repeating pattern of intricate white embroidery and beading that he had easily recognized as the plants from his father’s garden he’d once spent an entire evening explaining the history and medicinal properties of in an attempt to extend their time together. 

“Evening primrose, chamomile, lavender, and peppermint.” He named each as he traced their outlines across her stomach. 

Sighing softly at the barely there touch she pressed her lips firmly to her new husband’s before making a suggestion. “Joseph, perhaps you’d like to show me the bedroom.”

He looked up at her with a grin and an increasingly red neck before he grabbed onto her hand and enthusiastically guided her up the stairs and into the small but immaculately clean bedroom. “I hope this is okay.” He pulled away somewhat awkwardly as he looked around the room that he’d only ever been in alone.

Phyllis laughed slightly as she pulled him back to her. “It’s perfect. Anywhere I’m with you is perfect.” She reassured, punctuating each sentence with a brief kiss. “Now I think you should help me with the buttons on my dress.”

Joseph smirked at that as she turned around so her back was facing him. “I must confess I don’t have much experience with dressing women.” He mumbled awkwardly as his fingers got stuck in the small loops of her dress back.

She laughed at that, looking back over her shoulder to meet his eyes. “Do you need some help?”

Joseph shook his head resolutely. “I want to do this for you.”

Phyllis smiled at his insistence as she looked back towards the wall. She waited a beat before she added, “You don’t need to learn to dress me Joseph - only the opposite.” laughing as she saw his eyebrows raise significantly at that in the mirror in front of her. 

It was a few minutes before Joseph finished his task, finally standing up straight and letting out a triumphant, “There!” at his accomplishment.

Phyllis turned around and pressed her lips firmly to his once again before pulling away and making her next suggestion. “Take it off.”

Joseph stood almost entirely still for several moments before he managed his own reply. “I-I… I’m not sure if I know what to do.” He stammered awkwardly. 

Phyllis nodded as she realized he was far more uncomfortable with her suggestion than she had expected. “Joseph how much do you know about…” She paused for a moment as she tried to decide what wording would put him at the most ease. “...marital relations.”

“I’ve read about it… in medical texts” Joseph admitted with a bright flush.

“Of course you have.” She laughs softly before pulling him over to the bed with her, sitting down and motioning for him to sit next to her. “We can take this as slowly as you’d like.”

Joseph nodded as he took several deep breaths to calm himself. “I want to… I just don’t want to do anything you don’t want to.”

Phyllis smiled at that. “I want to do this with you.” She assured him firmly. “And I think it’s time you continue your education in this subject.”

The grin she received in response was more than confirmation that he was exactly who she’d thought him to be and it was only moments before the pair had managed through the awkward task of removing their formal attire and were making slow but sure explorations of each other’s bodies.

“I want to stay with you like this forever.” Joseph had whispered into her ear at one point shortly after he’d entered her for the first time and while she had only been able to moan in agreement she wholeheartedly agreed.

By early Sunday morning the pair hadn’t left the room for more than provisions and necessary trips to the adjoining washroom. While she’d expected Joseph to be enthralled with the newness of the act itself, Phyllis hadn’t expected that she would find herself entirely captivated by the novelty of making love with someone who she truly loved and who truly loved her. It was so different and so much better. 

Until it wasn’t.

She couldn’t say for sure what had done it - whether it had been a specific touch, a specific sound, or a specific feeling - but in one moment she’d been in Joseph’s careful and loving arms and the next she was back in the sharp and angry ones of Peter Coyle.

It was late when her door opened and she hadn’t been sure she hadn’t imagined it until she felt a heavy weight on top of herself and she met a familiar pair of dark eyes with her own.

“Peter what are you doing?” She asked anxiously as she tried to pull away from him.

“I want you.” He’d said firmly as he pinned her down against her small bunk. “I told you today that I love you and I want to show you how much.”

Phyllis shook her head furiously as she tried to push back against his hands on her forearms. “Peter I don’t want-”

“Me? You don’t want me?” Peter asked with a sneer. “After everything I’ve done for you? Without me you’d be nothing.”

Phyllis shook her head anxiously as she tried once again to wriggle free from the bruising grasp. “Peter I haven’t-”

“Really?” His eyebrows cocked in surprise as he looked down at the woman beneath him. “You expect me to believe a whore like you hasn’t done this before?"

“Peter please.” She’d pleaded desperately as she felt his nails scratching against her neck as he’d pulled her nightgown down from the top with one arm, the other holding her hands firmly against the wall.

“Baby, what’s the matter?” He asked as he adjusted himself on top of her, pressing himself against her stomach and putting his hand across her mouth. “This is what you want. I promise. I’ll make you scream.”

While she hadn’t screamed then she certainly was now and it wasn’t until Joseph’s frightened voice calling her name broke through the memory and her own fear that she stopped, clapping her own hands over her mouth almost instantaneously.

“Phyllis?” Joseph asked again, more intently this time his own anxiety at the intense shift in the room rising by the second. When her eyes focused enough to meet his own he calmed slightly. “Did I hurt you?”

She closed her eyes firmly at that, shaking her head as she tried to catch her breath.

“Darling, what’s the matter?” Joseph asked carefully, trying to figure out what could have possibly happened to make her so suddenly distressed.

At that Phyllis pulled away from him her body shaking and her mind racing. “I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry.” She whimpered as she pulled the duvet cover firmly around herself.

“What can I do?” He asked anxiously, placing his hands gently on her still bare shoulders.

“Don’t-” She cried out softly at the touch. “I’m sorry… just... please don’t touch me.”

“Phyllis?” He pulled away but he didn’t know what to do and he desperately needed for there to be something he could do to help. “Should I get the doctor?”

She shook her head again as she tried with no success to find the words to explain. “No...I’m sorry. I’m… I’m sorry.”

“You don’t need to be sorry.” He tried to comfort her as he pulled himself up and out of their bed. “Just tell me what I can do.”

Phyllis’s stomach dropped as she realized how much better she’d felt the moment he’d left the bed and she couldn’t find the words to explain that she probably needed to be alone.

Joseph pulled on his pants and anxiously paced around the opposite side of the room, not taking his eyes off his wife. Eventually he stole a glance at the clock and felt his own stomach drop at the realization that whatever this was it likely wouldn’t be resolved before they were expected to meet their train.

“I...I think I should take a bath.” He tentatively broke the thick silence that had settled in the room. “We’ll need to be at the station in only a few hours.”

Her watery eyes met his own and she nodded once in understanding before he briefly went into the washroom to start running a bath. Only moments later he came back into the room and crossed over to her slowly. “You’ll tell me if I can help?” He asked softly as he knelt down next to her and it wasn’t until she managed a small nod that he made his way back out of the room.

“Mr. and Mrs. Molesley!” John Bates greeted the pair with a smile at the platform. “We were beginning to wonder if you would make the train.”

Joseph smiled as he gently gave Phyllis’s hand a small squeeze. “We were just finishing up battening down the hatches at the cottage for while we’re away and it took a bit longer than expected.” He excused their tardiness as he handed both his own and Phyills’s suitcase to the porter who had motioned for them.

“Well you’ll be sharing a cabin with us.” Anna smiled as she hiked Johnny up on her hip. “I’m hoping this little man will sleep most of the way since he was up for most of the night babbling about the train ride but I’m afraid it’s quite possible he’ll continue through the journey.”

“That’s not a problem Anna.” Joseph reassured her. “I find trains quite fascinating myself so the two of us will probably have a lot to talk about.”

It was then that the porters made the final call and the five of them hurried into the car and their assigned passenger cabin. They were nearing York before they’d really settled in - Anna and Bates on one side with Phyllis and Joseph on the other. After Joseph had pointed out the train tracks outside the window as they were leaving the station Johnny had scrambled over to his lap and was now sitting there happily as Joseph pointed out the various things they were passing that he thought would be of interest to the small boy.

Anna smiled as she wondered to herself whether there would be a little Molesley in due time before she frowned slightly as she noticed that the new Mrs. Molesley had moved quite far away from her husband, her frame folded neatly into the corner nearest the cabin door. “Are you alright Mrs. Molesley?”

Phyllis had forced a smile as she met Anna’s eyes. “Just tired.” She tried to excuse her unusual behavior with an embarrassed flush and she was relieved when Anna nodded to express her understanding allowing her to close her eyes and pretend to sleep for the remainder of the journey.

Upon their arrival at Brancaster Castle the Downton staff members were guided by the housekeeper to the living quarters they would be in. “I’m sorry it’s quite tight. As I’m sure you’re all already familiar with, these quarters were built long before it was thinkable that members of staff would be married at all.” Mrs. Brown apologized as she showed Phyllis and Joseph into a small room with two bunks and little space for anything else.

“It’s not a problem.” Joseph reassured the kind woman. “We’ll be more than happy here.”

“Well let me know if either of you need anything.” Mrs. Brown requested earnestly. “I look forward to working with you starting next week Mrs. Molesley.” She finished her greetings before making her way out of the room leaving the strained couple alone once again.

Phyllis had quickly taken a seat on the bed closest to the door and Joseph took that as a sign that he should take the other. He quietly took the time to unpack his own things and had moved to do the same for his wife when she suddenly stood.

“I need to get some air.” Phyllis said quietly as she got up from the bed and moved toward the door.

“Phyllis.” Joseph sighed, his voice laced with concern and exhaustion. “What can I do?”

This time instead of brushing him off she turned back to him, her own frustration obvious on her face. “I don’t know.” She admitted quietly. “I wish I could… if I knew how to explain...” She bit her lip in an attempt to hold back tears. “I’m hoping some air will help.”

Joseph nodded with a sigh of his own. He opened his mouth a few times before he successfully formed the question he was hoping she would answer in the affirmative. “Would you mind if…would it be okay … could I join you?”

She was struggling to find an answer when in a rush Anna arrived at the open door, placing her hand on Phyllis’s shoulder to signal her presence. “Mrs. Molesley would you mind terribly keeping an eye on Johnny while we unpack the family? He’ll be joining Master George and Miss Caroline with Miss Marigold in the nursery but now that he’s asleep I don’t want to wake him.”

Phyllis tried desperately not to panic at the weight of her hand and she was certain she was moments away from tears when she heard her husband’s voice answer for her. 

“I’d be happy to.” He assured Anna quickly, causing the younger lady’s maid to race out of the corridor and down the stairs herself leaving his wife to try and calm herself after the unexpected shock to her system. 

Looking up at his wife with a sad smile he knew he needed to let her go. “Go ahead. I’ll be fine.” He assured her. “Just promise you’ll come back?”

Phyllis smirked slightly at that. “I’m not leaving you.” She whispered hoarsely, hopeful that she was able to convey how much she meant the sentiment despite the uncertainty in her voice.

Joseph nodded with a smile of his own. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

Late that night Joseph had given up on waiting for his wife to return and had made his own way out through the meandering gardens just south of the castle. It had taken some time but eventually he found her sleeping restlessly in a small clearing of lawn. Frowning he’d quickly moved to her, scrambling down next to her in a hope that he could help but he was surprised when he realized she was speaking.

“No. Stop. You’re hurting me. Stop please.” Her voice was quiet and shaken but her pleas were clear.

His heart dropped at the words and for a fleeting moment he wondered if they were meant for him before he refocused on the “Phyllis it’s me.” Joseph tried carefully to wake her before she began shaking more. “Phyllis come on my love, I’ve got you.” He pressed more insistently, this time gently pulling her head into his lap. “I’ve got you. I promise.”

At that her eyes snapped open and she burst into tears as she met his eyes instead of the dark and angry ones she’d been expecting. She bolted upright and he was all but certain she was going to run when she turned around and threw her arms around him tightly.

Entirely confused by another unexplained shift in his wife but grateful for the opportunity to hold her close once again he carefully placed his own hands on her back. “It’s me. I’ve got you.” He assured her gently as she buried her forehead into the crook of his neck.

Several moments passed during which Joseph was certain she would pull away but he was more than thankful that she didn’t. “Darling how can I help?” He whispered anxiously as he felt her relax into his arms. ”What do I do?”

“I don’t know if you can.” She whispered back, her own anxiety radiating from her voice. “I’m so sorry.”

Joseph shook his head. “No my love, you’re hurt. You never have to apologize to me for being hurt.” He insisted, quite certain of his words even though he didn’t understand how or why. “I want to help you. So please-” His own tears broke through as his voice cracked on his plea. “Tell me how I can help.”

When she didn’t reply he pulled back slightly and was relieved to see she’d fallen back asleep, this time far more peacefully. He sighed as he gently tightened his arms around her to keep her stable as he moved to a more sustainable position that would allow him to look up to the stars above as he whispered a fervent prayer. “Help me. Help me help my wife. I need her and this…” He stopped as he looked down to her, desperate to find the woman he’d been in love with for years. “This isn’t her.”

Chapter Text

Things returned to a semblance of normalcy for the remainder of the week. Since Cora had granted Phyllis a week off as a honeymoon of sorts they’d spent it together but neither had broached the topic of Phyllis’s breakdown or the now stark lack of intimacy between them. Instead the pair had spent their days walking around the gardens at Brancaster Castle and their evenings in the nearby village visiting local pubs and churches. One afternoon they had taken a trolley car into Hexham proper to visit the local history museum and they’d stayed late into the evening while Joseph explained the context of a variety of displays to Phyllis who was more than happy to learn from his expertise. In so many ways it was familiar which made it comfortable - except for the frequent reminders of the barrier between the two of them that neither could really explain.

A few days after their arrival Joseph had been awoken by his wife gently shaking his shoulder and she’d asked him to switch beds with her. He’d happily obliged without complaint but when the next night he was woken again with the same request he couldn’t hide his concern. 

“Phyllis what’s wrong?” He asked softly as he shifted out from his covers and offered her the requested bunk.

She sat down at the edge of the bed and buried her face in her hands as she tried to think of a way to explain herself without revealing more than she was prepared to discuss. “I… I don’t feel safe.” She finally admitted after a long pause.

He couldn’t help the gasp that came out at that and he cringed when she visibly flinched at the sharp sound. “Oh, my love…” He whispered as he shifted awkwardly on his feet in front of her. “Can I sit with you?”

Phyllis nodded as she moved over slightly to give him room to sit next to her without necessitating any contact between them. She sighed deeply in relief when he read her cues and carefully took his own seat next to her leaving a small but visible gap between them.

“So you don’t feel safe.” Joseph repeated gently as he tried to process the revelation once again. “Is… is it something I’ve done?”

She shook her head firmly at that. “No. No of course not.”

He smiled uncomfortably at that. “Well… that’s good I think.”

Phyllis nodded but did not return the smile, her own features carved into an expression of concern and frustration.

Joseph took some time to sort through his own concerns and frustrations before he settled on a question that he thought wouldn’t make things worse. “Is this something that you’ve felt before?”

“Yes.” Phyllis replied immediately, her voice more certain than it had been in days. “It’s been some time - but yes.” 

His next question was immediate. “When?”

Phyllis sighed at that, not wanting to bring up memories that she knew her husband had his own feelings about but not wanting to keep anything more from him either. “When I first came to Downton, while Thomas was blackmailing me.”

“Of course.” He bobbed his head in understanding, his features trying to keep his anger from reaching his face. He sat quietly for another few moments before asking his next question. “Did someone… Is someone trying to hold your past over you again?”

Phyllis couldn’t meet his eyes as she shook her head and quietly whispered back, “Only myself.”

After that night she’d slowly become more comfortable around him. While she hadn’t been able to fully explain what had happened and they were both still ignoring the standstill she’d put on their mutual affection she had at least given him some context for where her behavior was coming from. 

Joseph, ever the quick learner, had taken the little information he had and adjusted his behavior accordingly - always checking to see if something was okay with her before moving forward with it and making a habit out of asking if she needed anything from him throughout the day. 

While Phyllis had initially repeatedly insisted that he didn’t need to treat her like she was made of glass she quickly found that his actions did in fact help her feel safer and rather than trying to stop it she did her best to make it clear how much she appreciated it.

It was their last night before Phyllis would return to work and they were walking side by side through the village after dinner, their hands loosely joined together when she pulled him closer to her side and whispered, “Thank you Joseph. For being so patient with me.”

Joseph smiled awkwardly back at her as he tried to calm his fluttering heart at the intentional contact from his wife. “Of course. I just want you to be alright.” They walked in a comfortable silence until they were approaching the house and Joseph sighed as she pulled away from him slightly. 

“I should take a bath tonight.” Phyllis sighed tiredly. “I have work in the morning.”

Joseph nodded in understanding and he was about to open the back door when he stopped. “Do you want to switch beds again tonight?”

His question was meant to be practical and she knew it - if she was bathing tonight it was more than likely that he would be in bed before she was back to their room - and she shook her head almost immediately, fairly certain by now that it wouldn’t help. However, his question had sparked something inside of her that she wasn’t expecting and she stopped him from opening the door once again with a question of her own. “Will you hold me tonight?”

His eyes widened significantly as they met her own, searching for some indication that he’d misunderstood the question. He finally choked out an, “In… in the same bed?” awkwardly in response. 

“Yes. I want to be close to you.” Phyllis assured him confidently as she grabbed his hand firmly. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again -you make me feel safe.”

He smiled brightly as he gave a quick squeeze to the hand wrapped around his own. “I would like that very much.”

The next morning when Phyllis returned to service happened to be the morning Edith’s water broke. When she’d responded to the first bell of the day from Cora’s guest bedroom with a breakfast tray she’d been surprised to find her already out of bed and in the process of getting herself dressed.

“Oh Baxter, thank goodness you’re back. Edith’s in labor.” Cora reported quickly. “Miss Wilson - Edith’s lady’s maid, and Anna are already with her but it sounds like it’s coming fast so we need all hands on deck.”

“Of course m’lady.” Phyllis replied as she abandoned the tray on the bed before moving to help Cora finish fastening the back of her dress.

“I’m on my way to Edith’s room now, I’ll show you the way.” Cora informed her as soon as she felt the last button fasten against her back.

Phyllis nodded before quickly following her down the hall and up a flight of stairs where Cora only paused briefly to knock at the door before opening it and allowing the two of them into the room before Phyllis closed the door behind them and turned around to take in her surroundings.

While Cora had said the baby was coming fast she wasn’t prepared for the chaos in the room around her. Edith was sitting at the edge of the bed grasping firmly onto one of Mary’s arms while the other was wrapped around her shoulders in an attempt to keep her upright. A short older woman who she presumed must be Miss Wilson knelt beneath her with a blood soaked towel laid across her lap and she appeared to be examining Edith’s progress though she wondered why when it was obvious to her from across the room that the baby was crowning. Anna carefully wiped a cool cloth across Edith’s forehead as she cried out desperately at the pain that she was so obviously experiencing.

“Oh god.” Phyllis swore under her breath as she took in the scene.

Cora was immediately at her daughter’s side, opposing Mary’s position at the other. “Darling it’s going to be alright. Your baby is just very eager to meet us all.”

“It hurts… It hurts so much.” Edith panted between groans as she tried to adjust herself into a position that would relieve any of the pressure she was feeling.

Anna nodded as she tried to provide a counterbalance as Edith moved. “We know. It’ll be over soon.” She moved quickly around to the other side of the laboring woman before continuing - her voice certain and no nonsense in it’s support. “However before that, you’re going to have to give us a few big pushes so let’s get you into a position where you can do that hm?”

When Edith let out a scream Phyllis immediately realized that she couldn’t be there. “I’m sorry… I have to go.” She whispered to no one in particular before fumbling with the doorknob that she had never really let go of in the first place and wrenching the door open to allow her to escape into the hallway where she nearly collapsed against the wall as she tried to calm her once again racing heart.

It was late at night a few months into her prison sentence when she was woken up by a sudden yelp from the bunk below her.

“Ida?” Phyllis asked softly - well aware that drawing attention to themselves was not in their best interest. She waited anxiously for a response from her cellmate but didn’t receive one and so she’d dismissed it as something she wasn’t meant to hear and did her best to fall back asleep.

She couldn’t say how much time had passed before she was woken again by a gasp and a stifled groan that more than convinced her to investigate what was going on. She carefully climbed down from her bunk above and knelt down on the hard floor as her eyes adjusted to the light and she took in the highly distressed form of her heavily pregnant cellmate. 

“Ida how bad is it?” She asked anxiously as she reached out to give her a hand to hold onto.

“I’m okay.” The young girl had tried to insist despite her now firm grip around Phyllis’s previously offered hand. 

“You’re not.” Phyllis insisted anxiously as she started counting in an attempt to get a sense of how much time was passing between the pains. It was barely a minute before she felt the grasp on her hand tighten once more and it was more than enough to tell her that either Ida’s baby was well on the way or that something had gone terribly terribly wrong.

Or as it turned out was the case - both.

After helping her through the most recent contraction she’d carefully lifted herself from the concrete floor and made her way to the cell door. “We need a doctor!” She desperately called out into the corridor - well aware that no one would be there this time of night. “Please! A guard anything!” She called out again despite 

It was then that the girl behind her let out a muffled scream and she whipped around to see a dark puddle forming between her legs. 

Her heart racing a mile a minute she carefully climbed into the bunk of the younger woman. “Okay Ida, I think we should try and find out what’s going on.” She tried to hold her voice steady and was thankful when she nodded in agreement without protest. 

Phyllis pushed up the grey uniform and pulled down her blood soaked knickers to reveal not a head, but a single foot. She’d desperately wanted to panic, to cry that she didn’t know what to do and try calling for help once more but she was pulled out of her own head by a blood-curdling scream. 

“It’ll be over soon Ida.” She’d tried to comfort her despite the growing sense of dread in her stomach as she realized just how much blood was around her. “You just need to push. Your baby’s right here...”

She was pulled suddenly from the scene that was replaying in her head by the extremely concerned voice of Mr. Bates. “Mrs. Molesley? Is everything alright?” 

Her head was splitting and all she wanted to do was scream but she knew that would only make the situation worse. “I… I’m not feeling well.” She managed an excuse as he held out his arm for her to pull her upright. “I was meant to be helping with the birth but I don’t seem to be able to hold myself upright.”

Bates smiled sympathetically. “Hopefully it’s nothing serious but we should get you to your room.” He offered pointedly as he tried to offer his arm to her as a means of stabilization.

“I think I can manage on my own.” She declined tensely as she flinched at the sound of another scream coming from just behind them. “But an escort would be appreciated.”

Bates nodded before following her up the back stairs to the small room where the Molesleys were staying. “I believe Mr. Molesley is reading downstairs. Would you like me to send him up?”

“No.” Phyllis tried to reassure him. “I’m sure I’ll be fine. I didn’t get a chance to eat breakfast before I was pulled into the excitement and it’s probably low blood sugar.”

“Then I’ll send your husband up with something for you to eat.” Bates replied pointedly before nodding once to indicate his intended departure and closing the door behind himself.

Phyllis sighed as she fell backwards against the mattress. She knew that Bates would give her husband far more details about the state he’d found her in than she preferred and she was already dreading his impending arrival.

No more than ten minutes passed before the door opened quickly to reveal an incredibly frazzled Joseph Molesley carrying a small tray that he quickly abandoned on the empty bed in the room before crossing to check on his wife. “Hey-” He started to greet her, gently placing his hand over her own. 

“Don’t!” Phyllis cried out almost instantly at his touch, scrambling backwards and nearly off the opposite edge of the bed. 

“Whoa.” Joseph put his arms up in surrender. “Okay.” He tried to cover up his own frustration at the situation as he took several deep breaths. “Something’s happened?” He observed with a questioning tone.

When she didn’t respond he tried again. “Bates said he thought you were… hurt when he found you.” Joseph began carefully as he sat down on the opposing bed. “Phyllis I need you to tell me what’s going on.”

“I can’t.” She whimpered softly. “I can’t explain it because I don’t understand it.”

Joseph sat quietly for a moment as he tried to figure out how to express the ever increasing frustration he was feeling towards this situation without making his wife feel even worse. Eventually he took a deep breath before admitting, “I feel like a fool for not knowing how to help you.”

Her breath hitched at that and she wiped furiously at her cheeks in an attempt to hide the tears that were streaming down them. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry.” He tried to dismiss her apology. “Just let me help.”

It was then that she snapped. “I can’t!” Joseph’s eyes widened at the volume of the sudden outburst. “I can’t let you help because I’m beyond it!”

“Darling-” Joseph started to try to comfort her as he began to stand from his position across from her, feeling the distinct need to act on her distress.

“Please don’t.” She stopped him before he could get any closer to her. “I appreciate that you want to help but you can’t so please… just go.”

Joseph sighed as he resigned himself to doing as she asked. “I’m going to go because I want to give you space if you need it but I’ll be just downstairs if you need me - I’m not going anywhere you can’t find me.”

It wasn’t until she heard the door latch behind him that Phyllis felt herself relax slightly. She hated that she felt so relieved by his absence but there was no denying the difference in how she felt. 

When she was around him she was terrified he would find out the things she was trying to protect him from and his absence helped lessen the burden. But it came with it’s own price. While the fear of revealing too much dissipated almost entirely in his absence it was replaced by an all too familiar sense of loneliness and regret that came with its own sense of fear. 

Crossing the room she sat down on the bed she had shared with her husband the night before where Joseph’s pajamas were carefully folded at the foot of the bed. Reaching down she took his nightshirt carefully into her hands, carefully tracing her fingers along the frayed edges of the garment as she held it close to herself before laying down, burying her head in the pillow, and crying herself to sleep.

She was incredibly disoriented when she next woke up to the feeling of a small hand against her cheek. Her heart was already racing when her eyes snapped open to meet the curious eyes of Johnny Bates. 

“Hi.” Phyllis greeted him softly with a weak smile as she tried to calm herself down. “What are you doing in here?”

“Johnny!” She could hear Anna’s voice calling down the corridor almost in response to her question.

“Are you supposed to be with your mummy?” Phyllis asked softly as she carefully sat up, cautious not to destabilize Johnny’s precarious perch next to her. 

Johnny looked up at her briefly before burying himself into her torso - wrapping his small arms around her the best he could. It was then that Anna passed by her open door before doing a double take and returning to the doorway.

“Mrs. Molesley I’m so sorry I don’t know what’s gotten into him-” Anna apologized profusely as she entered the room, more than prepared to extract her son with minimal disruption to the older woman when she realized that something was more than clearly wrong. “-Oh.” She whispered in sudden understanding. Between Phyllis’s bloodshot eyes and tear stained cheeks and her son’s tight grasp around her middle she was quite certain what had happened.

Between her time in prison and the attacks she’d experienced in the past there were many nights where she experienced incredibly vivid nightmares. Starting when he was incredibly little Johnny had been able to pick up on her distress and he would cry out for his mother for comfort and reassurance. But over time his understanding had evolved and he now sought her out on his own when she was upset, snuggling himself into her chest until she’d calmed down enough to satisfy his concerns.

Right on schedule her son pulled away from the woman and he stood next to her. “All better?” Johnny asked with a bright smile as he met Phyllis’s still teary eyes.

Phyllis didn’t know how to respond and looked desperately to his mother for help.

“I’m sure you did a very good job Johnny.” Anna assured her son with a bright smile that didn’t quite meet her eyes as she lifted him into her arms. “Thank you for being so sweet with Mrs. Molesley.” She took a moment to assess the woman in front of her before making her next move. 

“Let’s get you to Daddy so I can talk with her for a bit alright?” She directed her question to her son but made a point to meet Phyllis’ eyes with her own and whispering. “I’m going to be right back okay?” before carrying her son out of the room.

Only a few minutes passed before Anna came back to the room and gently closed the door behind herself. “I don’t want to push you but I can tell that something’s wrong.” Anna said softly as she sat gingerly on the edge of the bed across from Phyllis. “And if I’m right something’s been wrong since before we arrived?”

When she received a blank stare in response she tried a different approach. “You seemed upset when you left Lady Hexham’s room this morning. Do you want to talk about it?”

“Did Mr. Bates say something to you?” Phyllis asked defensively as she anxiously fiddled with the buttons of her husband’s nightshirt that was still in her hands.

“John told me you weren’t feeling well so I could cover your duties but that’s all he said and I didn’t ask anything more.” Anna assured her quickly. “But when you left that room you weren’t really there. I could tell from your eyes.”

Phyllis was surprised by how quickly Anna had picked up on what she was experiencing and she found herself incredibly uncomfortable with how vulnerable it made her feel.

Once again Anna seemed to instantly pick up on what she was feeling and she quickly tried to relieve her discomfort. “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to but if you need someone to talk to about anything-”

“Can I ask you something?” Phyllis stopped her suddenly much to her own surprise. 

Anna nodded instantly. “Of course.”

“I suppose I should be more specific.” Phyllis amended herself. “Can I ask you something about when you…” She stopped herself, unable to figure out the right way to ask her question.

“When I was raped?” Anna supplied for her with a furrowed brow. When Phyllis nodded in response she shifted slightly but nodded herself in confirmation. “Yes.”

Phyllis sat quietly for several minutes before taking a deep breath and asking the question that she so desperately wanted an answer to. “Did you have trouble with intimacy after it happened?”

“I did.” Anna confirmed almost immediately. “For a few weeks I tried to keep it from John entirely and during that time I couldn’t stand to be touched at all. But even after he knew I struggled for a long time. Truthfully I sometimes still do.” She wasn’t particularly surprised when the other woman’s features filled with obvious relief at her response. “I assume you’re asking because you’re experiencing something similar?”

Phyllis barely nodded before looking back down at her hands and fiddling with

“Do you mind me asking if it happened recently?” Anna asked softly as she tried to decide what may be helpful for the other woman to hear.

Phyllis took a few deep breaths before cautiously supplying her response. “It’s… been some time.” 

Anna nodded with a verbal confirmation of “Okay.” to ensure Phyllis knew she understood before asking her next question. “Does Joseph know?” 

“No.” Phyllis confirmed shamefully as her cheeks tinged a light pink. “It was so long ago that it didn’t seem worth bringing up but I suppose it makes me quite the dishonest bride to have kept this from him.”

“Oh Baxter no. I didn’t mean that.” Anna stopped her quickly, horrified by the misinterpretation of the reason for her question. “I’m sorry - Mrs. Molesley.” She corrected her own slip before continuing. “I asked because it was really important for me later on in my recovery to talk with John about what had happened and I thought you might be able to find some relief if you were open with him. I didn’t ask because I think you owe him any information about whatever you’ve experienced. That’s entirely up to you.”

Phyllis gathered her thoughts for some time before  “I am so afraid that if I tell him why I… haven’t been able to be with him he won’t want to be with me again and I don’t know if I can survive that.”

Anna sighed deeply as her suspicions were confirmed. She had recognized the other woman’s behavior on several occasions over the last week and she’d thought about mentioning it to John to get his opinion but now that she knew for sure she was very grateful she hadn’t. “I can’t tell you what will happen for sure but I can tell you that I’ve known Joseph Molesely for over a decade and I’ve watched him love you for nearly that long. He’s a very kind man and I don’t think there’s anything you could tell him that would make him love you any less.”

“Do you really think so?” Phyllis looked up at her with tear-filled eyes.

“I do.” Anna replied confidently. “You don’t need to tell him anything you don’t want to but if there are things you’re hiding from him because you think he can’t handle them, I can tell you from experience that you can’t protect your husband by destroying yourself to hide them.”

It was then that there was a cautious knock at the door from Joseph and he opened the door a smidge.

“Anna?” He was surprised to see the other woman in his room. “Is everything alright?”

Anna nodded with a soft smile. “I was just checking in on your wife since I heard she wasn’t feeling well.” She masterfully disguised the real reason behind their conversation in case the other woman wasn’t up to talking with her husband just yet. “I should go help Mr. Bates put Johnny to bed but if you need anything let me know alright? I can cover for you tomorrow as well so please don’t worry about work. Just focus on feeling better.” With a final sympathetic smile Anna made her way out of the room for the night.

“It was nice of Anna to check on you.” Joseph said conversationally as he gathered the things he needed to get ready for bed. “Are you feeling any better?” Phyllis shook her head as her eyes followed him around the room. He paced around the room a few times and looked through the wardrobe before turning back to her. “Have you seen my night shirt? I could have sworn I left it right...” He stopped as he noticed the light grey fabric in his wife’s hands.

Phyllis blushed as she raised the now tear soaked shirt from her lap. “I missed you.” She explained quietly as she held it out to him.

He smiled sadly as he took the garment from her hands. “I miss you too.” He assured her before gathering his things and making his way to the bathroom to get ready for bed.

When he returned to their room he was surprised to find Phyllis now frantically pacing around their small room. “Phyllis?” He asked anxiously as he quickly closed the door behind him. “What’s wrong?

“I’ve made you feel a fool and I don’t want that.” Her voice was more firm than it had been in nearly a week and he was entirely caught off guard by her certainty.

“Phyllis you don’t…” He tried to stop her, feeling incredibly  guilty about his similarly worded confession earlier in the day.

“I know I don’t have to but I need to.” Phyllis insisted urgently. “I need to try to explain what’s been happening to me. I want you to be able to help me.”

“Okay.” Joseph nodded. “Should we sit?”

Chapter Text

“That night when it started something happened to me.” Phyllis was anxiously shifting her weight back and forth as she started to try and explain what was going on to her husband. “And it happened again today but I don’t quite have the words to explain it.”

Joseph’s face was filled with nothing but concern and support as he nodded along. “That’s okay.” He assured her firmly. “You can try different words to see what fits best.”

Phyllis smiled slightly at that before she remembered what Anna had said about her behavior earlier that day. “Anna said that this morning it was like I wasn’t there.” She admitted readily. “And I wasn’t.” 

Joseph squinted slightly in confusion but he didn’t stop her. 

“Of course I was… I was physically there I suppose... but it felt like I was somewhere else entirely.” She explained cautiously. “Somewhere I’ve been before. Somewhere I didn’t want to be.”

There was a long pause before Joseph replied and his voice was quiet when he spoke. “Can you tell me where you were this morning?”

“Holloway.” Phyllis replied immediately and Joseph closed his eyes at the familiar name of the London women’s prison. “I was in Holloway with a girl I shared a cell with when I first arrived.”

Joseph nodded as he carefully absorbed the information she was giving him. He was preparing to ask a follow up question when she continued quietly. “Her name was Ida. And it was when she died.”

“Oh my darling.” He gasped. “What happened?”

“She was pregnant.” Phyllis was careful as she spoke - not wanting to take herself back there again nor divulge anything about her own experience she may wish she hadn't. “The baby came on fast during the night and I couldn’t get anyone to come help. I tried… I tried to help but I couldn’t do anything. I didn’t know what to do and she and her son died.”

Joseph was shaking as he tried to gather the strength to comfort her. “My love you didn’t-”

“Please don’t.” She stopped him quickly as she furiously wiped at her wet cheeks. “I know I didn’t do anything wrong but I was there. I was the only one there and when I went back there it was like it was happening all over again. I had to watch her die again.”

“I can’t even imagine.” Joseph whispered quietly as he watched her begin to shift nervously back and forth again. He was waiting patiently for her to continue when he had a realization of his own. “Lady Hexham’s baby came on quickly this morning didn’t it? Did it remind you of that? Is that why you think it happened?” 

Phyllis shrugged. “It did - and perhaps that’s why - but I’ve attended multiple births since and I’ve never...” She stopped mid-sentence before firmly meeting his eyes. “I think something happened that night.”

“At the cottage?” Joseph clarified nervously.

“Yes.” She confirmed with a sharp nod. “I’ve had feelings like this before - when an anxiety or fear that reminds me of the past I’d rather forget - but I’ve never… I’ve never experienced anything like these moments where I just disappear. And that's when it happened first.” 

“Was it something I did?” Joseph asked anxiously. “Did I hurt you?”

Phyllis sighed as she threw her own head back in frustration. “I want to tell you where I went that night, but I need you to be patient. You must let me tell you everything before you say anything or before you try to apologize.” She requested anxiously. 

Joseph nodded intently as he leaned forward slightly, his expression steeled. “I’m listening.” 

“It won’t surprise you when I tell you that it involves Peter Coyle.” She met his eyes anxiously but was relieved when he didn’t visibly react. “Shortly after I began working at the house he found out something incriminating about my mother. I don’t know how he did - maybe a news article or a court document - but it doesn’t really matter. He used that information to make me feel small and unimportant and broken. And he told me he loved me anyway. He made himself the only person I could trust.”

She paused briefly then to gauge her husband’s reaction and gather the courage to continue. Once she was satisfied Joseph would keep his word and that she had the strength to get through the remainder of the story she took a deep breath before launching into the memory itself. “I really thought I loved him. But one night he came into my room. He told me he wanted to show me how much he loved me. He pinned me down to my bed - arms above my head under one of his hands with the other over my mouth - and he… well I assume you can fill in the rest.”

When she looked up at her husband again his eyes were red-rimmed and his fists were clenched firmly against his thighs. She waited a few moments before cautiously indicating she was finished. “Well?”

“I don’t know what to say.” His voice was softer and calmer than she expected. “Other than that I never want you to go back there again.”

Phyllis smiled at that, surprised by how much better she felt now that he had some sense of what was going on. “I appreciate that.”

He sat quietly for several moments before meeting her eyes ”Did you go there every time we…?”

“No. No I didn’t.” Phyllis assured him quickly. “I wasn’t suffering through our wedding night Joseph. Being with you was wonderful and I felt so close to you in a way I never did with him.”

He shook his head in confusion. “Did I do something different? Something wrong?” 

“I don’t know why it happened when it did.” She sighed tiredly. “One moment I was safe in your arms and the next I… wasn’t.” She waited a while for a response before she realized that one wasn’t coming. “Joseph? Please tell me what you’re thinking.”

“That I don’t know how I’m supposed to protect you from this.” He choked on a sob at the end of his admission, bringing his still clenched fist up to rest against his mouth while he stared blankly ahead.

Phyllis sighed as she got up from her spot across from him and sat down next to him, carefully lacing her fingers through the still clenched fist at his thigh. “I don’t know if you can protect me from this.” She whispered sadly. “But I want you to help me learn how to live with it.”

“I don’t want that for you.” He shook his head angrily. “After everything you’ve been through - everything that bastard put you through - I just want to give you the perfect life.”

“Oh Joseph.” Phyllis wrapped her other arm around his shoulders. “I love you for wanting that for me but that’s not what I want.”

“Why not?” Joseph pulled away himself, frustrated at her lack of willingness to let him take care of her. “Why won’t you let me try to fix it?”

“Joseph you can’t.” Phyllis stopped him firmly. “I’ve lived with the damage of his actions that night, and many nights after, for years. And there are other things - about my past - that I’m not ready to tell you about. Things that can’t be fixed.” She admitted softly. “And as much as I wish for your sake I could leave them behind, I can’t. Despite the hurt and pain they’ve caused, they’re a part of who I am. And you fell in love with me. So please don’t try to fix me.” 

Joseph sighed deeply as he tried to negotiate his own emotions with her words. “I don’t want… I didn’t mean that I wanted to fix you.” He balled his free fist in frustration as he tried to find the words he needed. “I just want you to feel safe.”

“Me too.” Phyllis assured him. “And I want us to figure out how to do that together if you’re willing.”

“Of course my love.” He agreed readily. “Together.”

The several weeks following Phyllis’s explanation were a tenuous balance for the newly married couple. While sharing her troubles had helped Phyllis to feel somewhat more secure around her husband she was also well aware of the increased scrutiny her actions were under. On his part Joseph was struggling to balance supporting his wife with his deep concern for her wellbeing. 

“I think you should ask Her Ladyship for some time off.” Joseph had suggested firmly one evening as they readied for bed. “You’re not looking at all well.”

Phyllis sighed as she sat down next to him. “I am not going to do anything of the sort.”

He sighed as he felt the increasingly familiar feel of her head resting on his shoulder. He knew that pressing her would only lead to an argument but he can’t help but worry. “Phyllis can we at least-?”

“Discuss it?” She questioned as she pulled away from him slightly. “No we cannot.”

Joseph sighed as he laced his fingers through those of his wife’s hand that she had rested on top of his own. “I only fret that you’re not caring for yourself as you should.”

“I will not take advantage of Her Ladyship’s kindness.” Phyllis replied firmly. “And as we have discussed countless times before it does neither of us any good for you to assume I can’t handle myself.”

Joseph’s ever rising concern and Phyllis’s continued anxiety and exhaustion had made her work a relatively frequent topic of argument between the couple, but by late July the pair had struck a reasonable balance between his concern and her need for independence. 

Phyllis had returned to her normal work schedule with the promise that she would take it easy whenever possible which was relatively often given that they were away from Downton. Meanwhile Joseph had readily taken advantage of the opportunity he’d been given by Lord Hexham who had come down one day to grant Joseph access to his library once he’d learned there was a teacher hiding away in the servants’ hall. 

“I loathe to think of the books I won’t be able to finish before the end of summer.” He bemoaned one evening as he trailed behind his wife as she finished her evening tasks.

Phyllis smiled as he followed her into the boot room, pulling out a stool for her to sit on and leaning against the large table himself. “Darling, I hate to break the news but we’re going home in just a few days.” 

Joseph’s eyes widened in apparent concern for a moment before he broke out in a goofy grin. “I get to take you home?”

“Mr. Molesley.” She warned with a smirk of her own. “There’s no need to be impertinent.” 

Joseph’s face turned serious at that. “Mrs. Molesley there is certainly nothing untoward about wanting to take my wife home.”

“No. I suppose there isn’t.” Phyllis admitted with a small smile before moving to the sink to wash the riding boots that Lady Grantham had muddied that afternoon. “Lady Mary is anxious to return now that Mr. Talbot’s gone back to work and Lady Grantham didn’t think it right to send Anna home but insist Mr. Bates remained so we’re all going home on Friday.”

Joseph chuckled at the story that was clearly meant as a cover for whatever real reason the family had for returning home nearly a month early. “Surely one of the members of the Brancaster staff could act as valet to His Lordship.”

Phyllis rolled her eyes as she returned to the table and carefully began to shine Lady Grantham’s evening shoes. “You didn’t hear it from me, but Lord Grantham has grown quite tired of being caught in the crossfires between Lady Hexham and Lady Grantham without any means of escape.” Joseph laughed slightly at that but made no further comment. “I believe his words this morning were, ‘three months is more than enough time spent in the ladies’ world without reprieve - four would certainly be unbearable.’”

“Well I for one am excited to take my wife back home.” Joseph smiled as he pressed his lips gently against her shoulder. He stood quietly for a moment while she moved on to the next pair of shoes before he spoke again. “How are you feeling about...”

“Going back?” Phyllis frowned slightly as she turned away from the task at hand to pull his hands into her own. “I’m nervous.”

Joseph frowned himself at that. “I never want you to feel that way about our home.”

“I’m not nervous because of you.” She reminded him firmly. “I’m only afraid because we’ve figured things out here and I don’t know what a shock to the system - even a very welcome and much wanted shock - will do.” Finishing her work in the room she quickly stood from the stool she’d been seated at only to pivot back and press her palms firmly into the edge of the table.

Joseph quickly grabbed her arms to help stabilize his wife and he couldn’t help himself when an all too familiar question fell from his lips. “My love are you sure you’re feeling up to this?”

The glare that met his own eyes was enough to warn him off the topic but she addressed him anyway. “I need to work Joseph. We’ve discussed this before and I know you know I need to work.”

“I just worry.” He sighed as she regained her footing and gathered the shoes she needed to return to the upstairs closet.

“I know you do.” Phyllis assured him with a quick peck to his cheek. “And while I appreciate your concern, I just stood up too quickly. There’s no reason to raise the alarm.”

“You’ll tell me the instant that there is?” Joseph queried anxiously.

“Joseph.” Phyllis warned him tiredly. “Please.”

Joseph frowned as he handed her the boots from near the sink. “My love I know you want me to promise not to worry about you but as we’ve discussed endlessly before I’m going to worry regardless of if you’re made aware of it so I will not swear to it.” 

She smirked at that. “Then perhaps you’d be willing to consider trying to hide your concern a bit better.”

“Well I wouldn’t want you to feel unloved.” Joseph returned her smile while opening the door. 

“Oh I see.” Phyllis laughed as she made her way into the hall behind him and nodded to the back stairs as she took her leave. “I’ll take these up and be up to bed shortly.”

The train ride back to Downton largely mirrored their ride to Northumberland many weeks prior. In their passenger car the Bateses and the Molesleys sat across from one another with Johnny Bates crossing the divide to sit in the now well-known lap of Mr. Molesley. The pair had spent many afternoons in the summer wandering around the grounds of Brancaster Castle - Mr. Molesley pointing out plants and wildlife while the younger boy repeated as much of the information as possible with his still limited vocabulary.

“He’s very sweet with Johnny.” Anna observed as she watched her son tug mercilessly on the tie around Mr. Molesely’s neck while he tried to divert his attention over to the apple orchard they were speeding past.

Phyllis smiled with a slight nod as she observed her husband herself. The neverending patience he had shown her for the past several months was written all over his sleeve as he passionately rambled about the importance of orcharding as a profession. “He is.” She affirmed softly before settling into her seat and closing her eyes to focus in on Joseph’s calming voice and quickly falling asleep.

She didn’t wake until several hours later when she felt her husband’s familiar hand on her shoulder and his barely there whisper of, “Mrs. Molesley we’re home.” Phyllis shook her head as she tried to acclimate to her surroundings while disembarking from the train. 

There were several moments of confusion she managed to recalibrate enough to help Mr. & Mrs. Bates identify and load the family’s luggage onto the rears of the waiting cars and was getting ready to climb into the front of a car to make the journey back to the house to finish work for the day when Anna gently pulled her aside.

“I’ll take care of unpacking and dressing Her Ladyship this evening.” Anna informed her quietly but firmly. “You need a break.” 

Phyllis sighed as she tried to assess her own willingness to accept her directions. Entirely out of habit she began to protest. “Anna I-”

“Mrs. Molesley you are positively green.” Anna stopped her pointedly. “You should go home and rest. You’ll do no one any good if you run yourself into the ground because you can’t admit you’re ill.”

She was about to argue again when Joseph cautiously approached the pair. “Is everything alright?” He asked nervously as he noticed both Phyllis’s pale complexion and the tension radiating from her body.

“Take your wife home and make her rest.” Anna instructed quickly. “I’ll be covering for her tonight. If she’s feeling better in the morning I will see her then, but if not she should take tomorrow as well.”

“Mrs. Hughes-” Phyllis began to argue before she was abruptly cut off once again.

“Would send you back home the moment she saw you.” Anna replied knowingly before making her leave. “Go home. I’ll see you later.”

The couple stood quietly as the cars took off towards the house before Joseph placed their cases down so he could take her hands in his. “You’re not alright are you?” He asked softly as her tired eyes finally met his own.

“Take me home.” She conceded tiredly. 

Upon their arrival home Joseph had run a bath for her which she had promptly fallen asleep in leading to a prolonged negotiation about the merits of her remaining in the bath indefinitely. Eventually he managed to convince her that she would regret not getting into bed before slowly helping her back into their room and onto the bed before she fell asleep again until late the next evening.

When her eyes fluttered open accompanied by a small groan Joseph was at her side in an instant with a glass of water in hand. “You’re up.” He observed softly as he hovered at the side of the bed.

“What time is it?” She asked tiredly as she looked around the room in an attempt to assess the answer to her question herself. 

“It’s late Thursday.” He informed her with a grimace as he helped her sit up slightly.

Phyllis groaned again, taking a slight sip from the offered glass before shakily pushing it away. 

“You’re not well and you’ve not eaten nor taken fluids in over a day.” Joseph observed nervously as he placed the still full glass on the table and sat down next to her. “I should probably fetch the doctor.”

“Please don’t.” She sighed tiredly, screwing her eyes shut in frustration.

Joseph watched carefully as “Darling I know you don’t want me to fuss but something is clearly wrong. I just want to make sure you’re alright.” 

“I know.” She confirmed quietly as she curled up against his chest. “And I know you mean well but I don’t want to be examined every time you’re concerned. If that were to happen I would have to take up residence in hospital.”

Joseph was silent for several moments before he spoke again. “You’re right.” He admitted quietly. “I worry about you - for an infinite number of reasons - and I’m afraid it makes me far too eager to try to fix things for you - or perhaps even about you - and I can only assume that it’s all made you feel quite fragile and I’m sorry for that.”

Phyllis smiles softly as she recalls his own admission years before, “Miss Baxter, I do know what it’s like to feel fragile.”   She loved him then for noticing she needed support that she didn’t have (though she wouldn’t have admitted it at the time) and she loves him now for noticing that she’s feeling these things again. “I know you’re trying to help because you love me, but I can’t always be a broken thing you’re trying to fix.”

He nodded seriously at that, furrowing his brow in thought for several moments before voicing a quiet query. “You know I don’t consider you broken? That all of my concern is about the things that have and continue to hurt you - not about the fact that you’re capable of being hurt?”

“Joseph…” Phyllis took a deep breath as she tried to find the words to express her increasing frustration. “Please don’t pretend that your concern isn’t just your way of expressing that you find all of this fragility to be too much.”

“No, my love. I don’t.” Joseph stopped her immediately “I worry about you because I remember what it’s like to feel lost and alone. I remember how it felt to worry that your past will define you in ways that you can’t control. But most of all I remember all of the times I’ve seen you climb this mountain before and I worry that you won’t survive another fall if you try to do it alone. I worry because I need you more than I’ve ever needed anyone else and if you weren’t here I don’t know what I would do.”

At some point during his speech Phyllis had wrapped her arms firmly around his middle and buried her head further into his chest. He could tell from her posture that she was struggling to handle the emotional load he’d just placed on her and he instantly regretted it. Carefully he pulled away so he could meet her eyes as he tried to diffuse the tension with an awkward smile. “I’m just selfish really.”

“No you’re not.” Phyllis insisted with a small smirk of her own. “And I am incredibly grateful to have you with me through all of this.”

“I want to be here.” Joseph reassured as he felt her yawn against his chest. Carefully he adjusted himself into a position that would allow her to lie down without losing contact with him. “So for tonight I’ll be right here if that’s alright with you.”

Phyllis smiled as she settled into his arms, barely managing a whispered “Thank you.” before falling back asleep.

Chapter Text

The negotiation for Phyllis’s return to work that morning had been more than heated and by the time Joseph dropped her off at the house - per the terms of their negotiated agreement - they were both on edge.

“I’ll be here after dinner to walk you home.” Joseph promised as he pulled open the back door for her. 

Phyllis rolled her eyes but didn’t protest. “I think I can take it from here.” She muttered under her breath as he followed her down the hallway. 

“You said I could speak with Mrs. Hughes.” Joseph argued pointedly as he pointed to the door of the housekeeper’s sitting room that was still beyond them.

“I think you would find that you said you would be speaking with Mrs. Hughes.” Phyllis corrected. “I did not give permission for this.”

Joseph softened slightly but maintained his position. “It’s important to me that someone’s looking out for you. You’ve been out sick for nearly a week and you can’t argue that you weren’t feeling well before that.” He reminded her pointedly. “I’m very glad that you’re feeling better but I know you well enough to know that you will insist you’re fine regardless of the truth of the matter.”

She was ready to protest again when the back door opened again to reveal Mrs. Hughes and the Bateses filing into the hallway from their own morning walks to the house from the village. 

“Mrs. Molesley.” Anna smiled widely as she saw the older lady’s maid. “Are you feeling better?” Phyllis nodded but Joseph’s concerned expression was more than enough to tell her that she wasn’t back to full working condition. “Well, I’m glad to have you back. I’ve got some embroidery I’ve been fiddling with for Lady Grantham all week but I just don’t have your touch. Could I show you before breakfast?”

Phyllis smiled at that - she was more than grateful to feel useful again - before turning to give her husband a quick peck on the cheek. “Don’t spend your whole day fretting. I’ll see you tonight.” 

Joseph frowned slightly as he watched his wife follow Anna and Mr. Bates down the hall and into the servants’ hall and he had almost forgotten he wasn’t alone when he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. 

“Mr. Molesley we’ll take very good care of her.” Mrs. Hughes reassured him with a sympathetic smile.

Joseph nodded but his brow was furrowed in concern as he turned to face the housekeeper. “Would you mind if we spoke in private for a moment?” 

Mrs. Hughes frowned herself as she led him into her sitting room and motioned for him to take a seat. She waited for several moments for him to begin but when he didn’t she sighed and pressed for more information. “I don’t presume you to be a man who believes he must speak for his wife.”

“No.” Joseph affirmed instantly, looking up so his tired eyes met the concerned ones across from him. “I suppose that  ultimately I’m here for some reassurance for myself.”

“I see.” Mrs. Hughes replied as she tried to mask her suspicion. “What is it that you feel that you need reassurance about?”

Joseph sighed as he tried to figure out how to phrase his request. “I need to know that someone here is aware that Phyllis hasn’t been well for some time.” When Mrs. Hughes’s raised eyebrow indicated her lack of understanding he sighed once again before carefully trying again. “I won’t be making her private life a matter of gossip so I won’t be telling you the details but she’s been struggling for months now and while I find that while I am more than happy for her to return to her job - which she loves dearly - I want to be sure that if she’s doing so she has someone looking out for her wellbeing.”

Mrs. Hughes pursed her lips as she considered his words. “I won’t ask for any details as I appreciate your prioritization of her privacy, but I trust that you would tell me if you knew that her returning to work would be a danger to her health?”

Joseph nodded earnestly. “I would.”

“Well then I’ll take it into account accordingly.” Mrs. Hughes assured him with a soft smile.

Joseph sighed in relief as he stood from his chair. “Thank you Mrs. Hughes. I don’t want to ask you to be overly cautious but can I ask that you’ll let me know if in your judgement you ever find that you’re concerned for her?”

Mrs. Hughes smirked at his mumbling but was more than happy to reassure him as she opened the door for him to leave. “Certainly Mr. Molesley.”

“Oh god.” Phyllis swore softly as she felt her knees buckle beneath her as she made her way down the stairs for what seemed like the millionth time that day.

While she’d started the day feeling much better she was now feeling the symptoms she thought she’d rested off the week prior coming back in full force. She was beginning to regret that she’d insisted on returning to full time work off the bat, but it was almost time for the dressing gong and soon enough she’d be able to go home and rest again. Steeling her nerves and her now unsettled stomach she continued the descent down the stairs only to find herself wobbling forward once again before quickly dropping to take a seat and releasing the dress in her hands in the process. 

She sat there trying to gather herself once more for what felt like forever before she heard a pair of heels quickly making their way down the stairs above her signaling the arrival of another member of staff.

“Mrs. Molesley!” A brusque scottish voice called out immediately upon making the final turn down the staircase “Mrs. Molesley, are you feeling quite alright?” Mrs. Hughes asked nervously as she appraised the scene in front of her, reaching down to retrieve the fabric from the steps beneath her.

Phyllis jumped slightly as she realized how far out she’d been from reality. “I apologize Mrs. Hughes.” She whispered softly as she pulled herself back to a standing position. 

“There’s no need to apologize.” Mrs. Hughes reassured her as she handed her the dress she’d dropped. “I don’t mean to press this point as I’m quite certain you’ve heard enough of it from your husband but I feel the need to ask if you’re sure you’re fit for duty this evening.”

“I’m fine.” She insisted tiredly as another set of footsteps approached signaling the arrival of Anna. 

“Oh Mrs. Molesley I’m glad I caught you. Her Ladyship asked me to let you know she’d like to wear the purple dress this evening.” Anna smiled brightly as she rounded the final stair landing herself. “I told her that you’d finished the repair on the blue gown’s hem this afternoon and were planning on bringing it up but she - wait are you alright?”

Phyllis sighed as she fought to remain upright. “I’m just a bit fatigued, I will be perfectly fine.”

“If you need to go home early I can-” Anna began to offer before she was abruptly cut off by Thomas’s arrival at the bottom of the staircase.

“I don’t recall your positions involving congregating on the staircase so that in addition to the three of you not completing your work you’ve created a hazard to anyone trying to do so.” Thomas’s dry voice called up toward them as he stood with his arms crossed.

“Mr. Barrow there’s no need-” Mrs. Hughes began to defend them before he stopped her once more.

“There is every need to ensure that the staff isn’t spending their working hours gossiping in the stairwell.” Thomas sneered as he looked over the situation again, this time noticing the shaking hands of one of the women in front of him. “Now I think you’ll all find that you have things to do before I ring the dressing gong in a moment so I would get to it.”

The three women began to make their way towards their intended destinations, with Mrs. Molesley and Mrs. Hughes finishing their descent towards the servants’ hall and Anna making her way up the stairs.

Phyllis all but sighed in relief when she made it to the bottom of the staircase but her solace was short lived and she flinched when she felt Thomas’s hand wrap around her wrist to stop her from continuing on.

He pulled her gently but firmly around the corner before turning so he could meet her eyes. “You look terrible.”

“What every woman wants to hear.” Phyllis griped as she extracted her wrist from his grip before sighing and meeting his gaze. “Thomas I have work to do. What do you want?”

Thomas softened slightly as he tried to read her expression. Eventually deciding that he wasn’t going to figure out what was going on just by staring at her he furrowed his brow in concern before softly asking, “What can I do?”

“Nothing.” Phyllis replied tiredly. “I’m a bit tired but it’s nothing I can’t handle.”

“You’ll tell me if I can help?” Thomas asked anxiously, his concern plain across his face. It wasn’t until after Phyllis nodded with a small smile that he stood up straight once more, plastering his no-nonsense mask back on. “Well then if I were you I would get a head start making your way upstairs to dress Lady Grantham.”

Phyllis nodded as she smoothed the now unneeded dress across her arm before turning to make her way back up the stairs to put away the garment and retrieve the requested attire from the closet. 

She’d managed to make her way to Lady Grantham’s room and lay out her clothes across the bed before she felt dizzy once again, this time accompanied by a throbbing headache in addition to the all too familiar nausea. It became immediately apparent that pushing through had been absolutely the wrong call and the last thing she remembered was trying to make her way to the door to call for help before everything went black.

Cora was late making her way to her room to dress for dinner so she was surprised when she wasn’t greeted by her lady’s maid ready and waiting to help her make a quick transition to her evening wear of choice. Scanning the room as she began to cross to the vanity she was even more perplexed to note her clothes laid out and she was about to call out for the woman in question when her tread was interrupted by an unexpected obstacle.

“Oh my Lord!” Cora exclaimed as she all but tripped over a limp body that was sprawled across her bedroom rug. Quickly kneeling next to her she was desperately searching for any sign of what could have happened when she heard a sharp knock.

Shaken by the exclamation from his wife Robert had quickly moved to the door connecting their room, rapping quickly before calling through the door. “Cora, darling is everything alright?”

“Robert come quickly!” Cora called back leading to the door opening to reveal Robert half-dressed for dinner with his white shirt still untucked. “It’s Mrs. Molesley. She’s collapsed.” She looked up at him over the bed that blocked his view.

“Bates get in here!” Robert called behind him, quickly reaching over to ring for additional help before he hurried to his wife’s side. “What happened?”

“I don’t know.” Cora murmured anxiously as she tried to sort through what she knew about the woman’s health. While it was true that she’d taken a significant number of days off during their time in Northumberland and she’d taken the last week off due to an unspecified illness she hadn’t been led to believe that there was any reason for her not to return to work.

“Your Lordship?” Bates questioned as he arrived in the room before he rounded the bed and swore quietly, “Dear god.” as he took in the scene in front of him.

“Can you help me lift her?” Robert asked quickly and Bates nodded before setting his cane aside and awkwardly maneuvering to the opposite side of the collapsed woman. 

“Support her head.” Cora muttered tearfully as she watched her neck roll backwards sharply as the pair lifted her up and over to the bed. It was only a matter of seconds before she sat down next to her, vaguely aware that she was crushing the dress that had been laid out for her earlier by the woman who was now entirely unconscious. She took several shaky breaths as she tried to come up with what to do next but was pulled out of her stupor by a knock at the door.

“Your Ladyship?” Andy’s voice sounded through the door which Bates immediately opened. “Mr. Barrow said that you rang but that he thought Mrs. Molesley was up here already.”

“I need you to call for Dr. Clarkson now.” Cora instructed quickly as she carefully held onto the wrist of her lady’s maid searching desperately for a pulse. “And ask Mr. Barrow to send someone to fetch Mr. Molesley.”

Andy nodded quickly with wide eyes before racing out of the room leaving the three of them alone with her once again.

“Lord and Lady Grey are downstairs for dinner.” Bates suddenly remembered. “Lady Grey may be able to be of some assistance while we wait for the doctor to arrive.”

“Would you go for her?” Robert asked urgently as he watched his wife focus fervently on the woman in front of her.

“Of course M’Lord.” Bates assured him before taking his own leave.

Robert gently placed his hand on his wife’s shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze. “Did you know?”

“No.” Cora affirmed softly as she pushed the younger woman’s hair behind her ear. “She’s been unwell but I had no idea she was this poorly.”

Robert sighed sympathetically before the door opened once again - this time allowing entry to Anna.

“Mr. Bates told me what happened. How can I help?” She asked anxiously as she took in the sight of the pale woman on the bed. 

Cora shook her head. “We’re waiting for the doctor.”

“She’s been unwell for awhile.” Anna confirmed softly. “I didn’t realize it was taking such a toll on her body.”

Cora hummed in agreement as another knock sounded at the door which opened to show the arrival of both Isobel Grey and Thomas Barrow.

“What happened?” Thomas asked angrily as he quickly moved to grab her free hand with both of his own.

“We don’t know.” Cora said firmly as she moved to allow Isobel access to the patient. “She had collapsed on the ground some time before I got here about ten minutes ago.” 

“I sent her up almost an hour ago.” Thomas’s eyes were wet with unshed tears as he watched Isobel examine her. “She could have been there the entire time.”

Isobel spent  “I’ll need to do a more thorough examination. Other than some dehydration it’s not at all clear to me what’s going on.” She moved to push back her hair that had fallen slightly out of her bun as she looked around the room for the first time. “Mr. Barrow, Robert, you shouldn’t be here.” Isobel registered who was present before she continued her examination.

“No.” Thomas protested anxiously as he gripped harder onto his hand. “I won’t leave her.”

“Thomas let’s go.” Anna encouraged softly. “We can wait just outside but she wouldn’t want us all to see this.”

“Anna I could use your help.” Isobel stopped her sympathetically. “We’ll need a loose gown for her to wear and I could use a basin of water with a cloth.”

Thomas was ready to protest again when Bates spoke signaling to the room his presence. “I’ll sit with Mr. Barrow.” He volunteered immediately. 

Robert nodded in approval of the plan before turning to his wife. “I’ll go down to dinner if it’s alright with you darling? Mary and Henry have an early morning and shouldn’t be held up.”

“Of course.” Cora nodded as the room emptied quickly, leaving only her and Isobel with Phyllis. Moments later Anna returned with a nightgown and the trio focused on changing the woman out of her uniform and into the loose garment that would allow for a better examination. 

Anna dismissed herself once again to gather the other requested supplies as Isobel continued her examination, Cora’s eyes closely watching her for any sign of ailment. She’d nearly given up on finding any external evidence of what ailment had suddenly afflicted the unconscious woman when her hand brushed across her unusually hard abdomen and her eyes widened in shock.

“What is it?” Cora questioned anxiously as she registered the surprise on her face.

Isobel paused as she palpated the stomach further before looking up at her with a perplexed expression. “Is there any chance she could be pregnant?”

Cora’s own eyes widened in surprise at that. “I suppose it’s possible but isn’t she old enough that we shouldn’t assume as much?”

“You’ll remember you also became pregnant around her age - a year or so beyond it if I remember correctly.” Isobel frowned as she tried to come up with an alternative explanation. “It could be some sort of gastrointestinal distress but I’m inclined to believe given the positioning that it’s a baby.”

Cora racked her brain for any signs she may have missed and while the previously unexplained symptoms mapped relatively well onto a pregnancy it occurred to her that in order for Isobel to have felt the baby she would need to be fairly far along and there were no visible signs. “She doesn’t look at all pregnant.”

“Some women carry small.” Isobel replied with a slight shrug as she pulled away from the patient. “An internal examination could tell us more but neither I nor Dr. Clarkson will perform one on her while she’s unconscious unless it’s an emergency. Frankly, I’m more concerned with addressing her dehydration.”

As if on cue Anna returned with the requested basin of water that she quickly brought to the table beside Isobel before backing away and watching nervously as the older woman pressed the damp cloth to Phyllis’s lips.

“Do we know what’s going on?” Anna asked tentatively - entirely uncertain of her place in the room but far too anxious about the woman’s well-being not to ask.

“Not for certain.” Cora replied quickly before Isobel had the chance to disclose anything. “Is there any word on Dr. Clarkson or her husband?”

“I didn’t see either of them but I’ll go check now m’lady.” Anna nodded quickly before taking her leave once more.

Cora paced nervously around the room as she waited for something to happen“What do we do now?”

Isobel sighed sympathetically as she pulled the chair from the vanity next to the bed. “We’ll just have to wait.”

Fortunately, they didn’t have to wait all that long. Joseph arrived shortly after Anna had left to check on his whereabouts and had quickly taken up residence in the chair Isobel had vacated upon his arrival. His shaky hands were tightly gripped around one of his wife’s that he had pulled to the edge of the bed. He had been softly whispering a prayer into her hand for some time when he was stopped by a barely audible groan and a light squeeze from the hand in his own.

“Phyllis?” Joseph whispered anxiously as he leaned forward to comfort her. “You’re alright. I’m right here.” He as Phyllis slowly began to regain alertness.

“Oh thank God.” Cora sighed in relief as the younger woman’s eyes fluttered open.

“What happened?” Phyllis croaked as she looked around the room, mortified as she registered that not only was she in Her Ladyship’s bed but that her uniform had been removed and replaced with a nightdress that she easily recognized as belonging to Lady Grantham.

“You collapsed.” Joseph replied thickly as he tried to swallow the tears he’d been holding back. “You’re in Lady Grantham’s room. The doctor’s on his way.”

Phyllis cringed as she noticed her employer sitting across the room a concerned expression plastered across her face. “I’m sorry your Ladyship.” Phyllis managed through a dry throat and Cora was ready to dismiss her apology when Isobel intervened.

“You are very dehydrated.” She informed the patient firmly as she handed Joseph a glass of water. “I don’t know for certain what caused the collapse but I am certain that the dehydration contributed. You are to work on drinking this while we wait for doctor.” Phyllis sighed tiredly before conceding to being taken care of and allowing her husband to help her take small sips from the glass while they waited.

Dr. Clarkson had arrived within the hour and was now talking with Isobel in hushed tones across the room. Joseph was trying to hide his growing fear but the longer the pair talked before they examined his wife the more nervous he became.

Eventually the pair crossed the room and Dr. Clarkson spoke carefully but confidently. “Mrs. Molesley, Lady Grey found that there is abnormal firmness in your abdomen that will require further examination. We’ll need to ask your husband to leave for a moment but he’ll be able to return shortly.”

“I want him here.” Phyllis replied anxiously as she shook her head. “Whatever it is he needs to know.”

Dr. Clarkson remained firm as he opened his medical bag at the end of the bed. “Mrs. Molesley we need to conduct a rather personal examination and it is not appropriate for your husband to be present.”

Phyllis’s eyes widened in sudden understanding and her grip on Joseph’s hand tightened ten-fold. “I need him here.” She managed a barely-there whisper as she tried to process what was happening.

“Mrs. Molesley the examination will only-”

“I’m not leaving.” Joseph stopped him firmly as he watched his wife’s increasing panic. “If she wants me here I’m going to be here.”

“Dr. Clarkson.” Cora stepped in as she sensed the tension in the room rising. “I don’t believe there’s any need to put Mrs. Molesley through additional stress.”

“Yes Lady Grantham.” Dr. Clarkson sighed before turning back to his patient. “I will be conducting a brief pelvic exam. Mrs. Molesley would you please remove any undergarments that may impede the examination?”

Joseph’s eyes widened as he suddenly began to guess what everyone else in the room already knew. Despite his shock he stood to provide support for his wife as she briefly rose herself to prepare for the examination before he and Isobel helped her lay closer to the end of the bed.

The examination was brief but uncomfortable for the already anxious couple. Phyllis’s mind was desperately trying to ignore the number of hands touching her while also trying to process the now incredibly obvious culprit behind the symptoms she’d been experiencing for weeks. For his part Joseph was also quite certain he knew what had been going on and he was keenly aware of his wife’s rising distress at the scenario as her grip on his hands increased dramatically, nails digging slightly into his skin. 

When Dr. Clarkson finished the examination he pulled away from the patient and gently tapped her knees to indicate she could move to a more comfortable position. He waited until she was back leaning against the pillows before announcing his opinion. “Mrs. Molesley I have some questions that we should review but I do believe that Lady Grey was correct in her assessment that you are expecting.”

Chapter Text

The moments after Dr. Clarkson had confirmed her pregnancy were incredibly fuzzy. She was aware of Joseph’s hand firmly squeezing her own while Dr. Clarkson and Lady Grey discussed her condition with him. While she knew her husband had asked several questions she couldn’t say what any of them had been. It wasn’t until she felt Joseph’s hand press gently against her cheek to turn her face towards him that she realized she was being spoken to.

“It’s alright darling.” Joseph comforted softly before nodding toward the doctor across the room who was now obviously asking her a question.

Dr. Clarkson sighed heavily once he’d realized the patient hadn’t heard anything they had said to her. “Mrs. Molesley I know this may be a shock to you but I need to ask you a few questions to assess your health.”

“I’m sorry.” She apologized softly after refocusing on the room around her. “Can you repeat the question?”

“I need to assess how far along you are but my examination has led me to conflicting conclusions.” Dr. Clarkson repeated. “While the womb is easily palpable through your abdomen indicating that you’re at least three to four months along your fundal height suggests that you’re still in very early stages. Do you know when you may have conceived?”

“Late May.” Phyllis replied immediately, distinctly aware that every pair of eyes in the room was on her.

“You’re certain?” Dr. Clarkson asked with a raised eyebrow. “That would put you at nearly four months?”

“I’m certain.” Phyllis replied sharply.

“Forgive me for asking but do you remember the date of your last menstrual period?” Dr. Clarkson pressed further. 

Joseph cringed as he felt his wife’s nails dig into his palms once more. He was well aware that his wife was correct in her assessment but he wasn’t certain whether it was his place to step in so he simply ran his thumb across the back of her hand in an attempt to provide some support.

“No.” Phyllis ground out tiredly. “They’ve not been consistent for years.”

Dr. Clarkson nodded before pressing his hands against her stomach again, causing her to visibly flinch away from him but there was no audible protest so he continued his examination. “I think that May is a bit too early. I would guess the middle of July at the earliest. Your symptoms are likely from the period of intense growth that’s seen during this period.”

“Dr. Clarkson I can say with absolute certainty that this child was conceived at the end of May. In fact I could give you an exact date if that would appease you.” Phyllis finally snapped, cheeks flushed equally from embarrassment and frustration.

“Ah.” Dr. Clarkson’s eyes widened in realization as he noted the identical redness in her husband’s face. “I see.”

It was then that Cora intervened. “Dr. Clarkson I sincerely thank you for coming here so quickly. Unless there’s anything emergent you’d like to discuss with her I think it’s perhaps time to give Mrs. Molesley a moment to rest. I presume she can follow up with you tomorrow in clinic?”

Taking the hint Dr. Clarkson nodded and closed his case firmly. “I’d like to see you soon to discuss the symptoms you’ve been experiencing - their severity is concerning to me given your timing in the pregnancy - but it’s certainly nothing that cannot wait until morning.”

“Would you allow me to arrange something for you to eat before you head out?” Cora offered pointedly as she firmly ushered both Isobel and Dr. Clarkson from the room. “In fact I’m quite certain we can arrange a ride back to the village for you with Lord and Lady Grey...” Her voice trailed off as the door shut behind the three of them leaving her alone with her husband.

It was only a moment before she burst into tears.

“Oh my love.” Joseph whispered softly as he carefully moved onto the bed next to her, no longer concerned with maintaining the already shattered social norms that made it entirely inappropriate for him to do so. Uncertain of how to proceed he decided on gently pulling her into his arms while quietly asking “Is this alright?” to allow her to protest if necessary.

“Yes.” Phyllis sighed slightly in relief as she buried her head in his shoulder while wrapping her own arms firmly around his torso.

Well aware that rest was what his wife needed at the moment he gently ran his hand across her back while her shaky breaths slowly calmed and he was certain she’d fallen asleep. Truthfully he was elated by the news that they would be parents. It was something they’d spoken about briefly before their wedding but Phyllis had assured him that she was far too old and that regardless of her thoughts on the matter it wouldn’t be an option. It hadn’t occurred to him until now that she had never voiced what exactly her thoughts on the matter were and he felt his heart drop into his stomach as he realized that perhaps this was something she didn’t want.

Come to think of it he couldn’t really remember any instances of his wife intentionally interacting with children. She had always been kind to his students and he could remember a few instances where she had helped Thomas do something with Master George or Miss Sybbie but she certainly didn’t seek out time with any of them. Racking his brain further he realized that in every instance he could recall she seemed to avoid it.

Before he had the chance to think any further he was interrupted by a tentative knock on the door and Thomas poking his head through the doorway.

“May I come in?” He asked tentatively as he took in the far too intimate position the couple were in on Lady Grantham’s bed. 

Joseph groaned internally at the arrival of the butler but he nodded anyway. While his feelings on his wife’s friendship were conflicted at best he knew that by now he must be a nervous wreck and there was no point in keeping him from checking in on her.

Thomas stood awkwardly just beyond the door as he tried to make sense of the scene in front of him. At first glance he’d assumed that Phyllis was just resting and he’d wanted to conclude that the doctor’s relatively swift departure indicated that she was absolutely fine but she was still incredibly pale and her clenched jaw gave away enough for him to tell that everything wasn’t quite alright. 

He carefully considered how to address the man who he was barely cordial with for several moments before settling on the question he thought would give him the most information about her condition. “How’s she doing?”

“I’m not entirely certain.” Joseph replied honestly. “But the doctor is fairly certain she’ll be fine.”

Thomas nodded seriously, not taking his eyes off from the visible side of Phyllis’s face. “I need you to let me know how I can help. I need to do something to help.”

“Mr. Barrow, I think that we can handle this alone.” Joseph tensed visibly at the prospect of Thomas interfering with their private affairs.

Thomas shook his head at that. “I can’t just sit and watch her hurt. Not after-” He paused to swallow the tears that had quickly come to the surface. “Not after everything she did for me.” 

Joseph sighed deeply as he felt his wife stir slightly against his chest before settling back against him. He knew that Thomas still felt he owed a great deal to Phyllis after she’d spent weeks at his side while he recovered a few years ago and he wasn’t surprised that the incident today was bringing out Thomas’s need to repay his debt. 

“You can both stay in the attic tonight.” Thomas replied immediately, his posture quickly transitioning to one of confidence that he was able to provide a solution.

Joseph smiled thankfully before looking back down at his wife. “I’m not sure what she’s up to but would you be able to carry her up the stairs if necessary?” 

“Yes.” Thomas affirmed immediately. “I can do that, no problem.”

Joseph sighed before carefully unwrapping his hold around his wife. “Phyllis, darling.” He woke her gently with a soft squeeze to her shoulder. “It’s getting late and we should get you out of Lady Grantham’s room.”

Phyllis shook her head as she tried to re-establish the lost contact before softly murmuring “Can’t move.”

“I know.” Joseph acknowledged sympathetically. “We’re just going upstairs for the night and Thomas can carry you - if that’s alright with you?”

Her barely there nod served as permission for the butler to cross the room to help Joseph extract himself from beneath her before carefully hoisting her into his own arms and making his way out of the room and towards the back stairwell.

Thomas had been surprised by how light she was the moment he’d lifted her from the bed. He knew she’d always been fairly slim but now that she was in his arms he couldn’t help but think how incredibly small and fragile she looked curled up against his chest. 

It took some awkward maneuvering but eventually Thomas and Joseph had helped her settle into one of the beds in the empty double room at the end of the attic that had once been occupied by the newly married Bateses.

“Do you need anything?” Joseph fretted nervously as he tucked the duvet around her for the tenth time in an attempt to help her get comfortable.

“Joseph, please.” Phyllis protested slightly as she pushed him gently away before turning slightly to meet Thomas’s concerned gaze. “Thank you.” She whispered tiredly before her eyes fluttered shut once again. 

Joseph sighed as he buried his face in his hands and he was surprised when he felt a firm hand on his shoulder. 

“It’s late, you should go get something to eat.” Thomas said pointedly as he nodded toward the dark window. “Mrs. Patmore made up a plate for you earlier. She said she’d leave it in the oven to keep it warm.”

Joseph shook his head firmly before protesting. “I can’t leave her.” 

“You’re no good to her if you starve into illness yourself.” Thomas replied pointedly. “I could certainly bring the plate up here for you, but you look in need of a reprieve. I’ll sit with her until you’re back.” He offered as he took a seat in the chair at the end of the bed.

Joseph considered the offer for a moment before nodding in agreement. “Thank you. I’ll be back soon.” He assured Thomas before leaning down and pressing his lips to his wife’s forehead and whispering reassurances to her as well. “Thomas is here. I’ll be back.”

Joseph had just finished his dinner in the servants’ hall and Mrs. Patmore was replacing his plate with a steaming cup of tea when John Bates made his way into the otherwise empty room.

“How is Mrs. Molesley doing?” Bates asked sympathetically as he took a seat at the table.

Joseph took a large sip of tea to buy himself time to come up with a reasonable response that didn’t involve spilling the increasingly conflicting emotions he was feeling about the day’s events. Eventually he settled on an overly strained “She’s resting.” while he stared into his teacup.

Bates seemed as if he were debating how to respond when Anna entered with an incredibly energetic toddler at her side who ran to Joseph’s side with a wide grin. “Mr. Mosey!”

The young boy’s smile was contagious and Joseph couldn’t help but grin himself as Johnny climbed into his lap. “Hello Johnny Bates.” He greeted the young boy who was now fiddling with the already loosened tie around his neck. “Did you have an enjoyable day?”

Johnny babbled on for a bit and while Joseph couldn’t make out most of the words he was certain he’d heard mention of Caroline Talbot somewhere in there “Ah yes.” He affirmed with a smile at the suddenly pressing thought of his own child joining the ever growing group of children at Downton. “Is the young Miss Caroline your friend?”

“Yes!” Johnny replied enthusiastically before quickly becoming distracted by the sight of his stuffed rabbit in his father’s arms and scrambling off from Joseph’s lap and onto John’s.

“How is Phyllis doing?” Anna asked softly as she stood next to Joseph.

Joseph sighed as he watched the young Bates boy play quietly with his toy. “She’s sleeping upstairs. The doctor’s certain she’ll be fine physically but I can’t help but worry.”

Anna bobbed her head in understanding. “It was truly frightening. Of course you’re concerned about her.”

It was then that Johnny let out an exaggerated yawn followed by a slight whine. Anna met her husband’s eyes with a knowing smirk. “It sounds like someone is ready for bed.”

“No.” Johnny protested softly as he snuggled further into his father’s arms as he stood from the table. 

“Of course not.” Bates affirmed with a smirk of his own. “We should probably get going.”

Anna nodded before turning back to Joseph with a sympathetic frown. “Is there anything we can do to help tonight?”

Joseph shook his head as he watched the family prepare to leave for the night. It wasn’t until they’d made it all but out the door that something occurred to him “Actually, Anna can I ask you something?” Joseph stopped her before the trio could make it out of the room.

“Of course.” Anna replied with a soft smile while she nodded for her husband to carry on with a quick reassurance, “I’ll be home soon.” before following Joseph back to the table. 

It took several moments for Joseph to gather the courage to broach the topic he wanted to ask about and when he did his voice was shaking slightly. “Phyllis told me months ago that she talked to you about what happened the day Oliver Pelham was born. Did she say anything to you about why she’d reacted the way she did?”

“No, not particularly.” Anna replied honestly - though she immediately was on edge by this line of questioning. While she’d hoped the other woman had opened up to her husband about the topic they had discussed she didn’t know for certain if that was the case.

“No need to apologize. “Joseph reassured her with a weak smile. “Just trying to make sense of some things.”

Anna nodded sympathetically. “I’m sure you already know this but the best way to do that is going to be with your wife.”

Joseph nodded immediately. “Of course.” He affirmed quickly. “I’m only worried that I’ve missed something important and I’d wondered if you could help me figure it out. But if she didn’t say anything then… I’m probably worried about nothing.”

Anna softened as she watched his brow furrow anxiously while he babbled on. “There is certainly nothing wrong with worrying after everything that happened today.” 

Joseph sighed at that before returning his attention to his now cold tea. The pair sat quietly for a while before Joseph spoke again. “Anna, could I ask you something else?”

Anna smiled slightly at his insecurity. “That is why I’m here.”

Joseph didn’t look up from his tea as he rambled through his query. “I ask because it’s perhaps too personal a question and I hope you don’t find me impertent for asking, but I was wondering if you could tell me about how Holloway handles prisoners when they’re ill.”

Anna cocked her eyebrow at that - entirely lost by the connection of her brief time in prison to the rest of their conversation. She certainly wasn’t keen on discussing anything related to her experience at Holloway but she couldn’t see the harm in his question and it wasn’t really that personal. “I couldn’t really say.” She replied truthfully before elaborating. “They separate out sick women to prevent any outbreaks. Even pregnant women are in an entirely isolated ward. But why do you ask?”

Joseph’s eyes widened slightly as if he’d been caught out for something and his voice wavered heavily when he replied. “I’m sorry I shouldn’t have taken your time with this now… I just thought…I have been doing some reading about the history of the penal system and healthcare seemed a glaring omission in the books I’ve found. ” He lied clumsily. “I shouldn’t have asked.”

“It’s alright.” Anna comforted him with an awkward laugh before glancing at the clock. “I should get home and you should get back to your wife. Make sure she knows not to worry about work until she’s well. I’ll work everything out with Mrs. Hughes.”

Joseph nodded with a forced smile as he watched Anna take her leave and it was only a few moments until he got up himself and deposited his dirty dishes in the kitchen sink before making his way back up the winding staircase to the attic.

When he entered the room he was relieved to find Phyllis fast asleep with Thomas still seated in the chair he’d left him in but now reading a book that he recalled had been on the dresser when they’d arrived. Thomas smiled slightly at him but didn’t say anything as he returned the book to its original resting place before exiting the room.

Given that Phyllis was asleep it became clear that there wasn’t much for him to do other than prepare for bed himself. He was relieved to find that the washstand pitcher had been prepared at some point and he set about his normal routine from his time at Downton before coming to the realization that he didn’t have any nightclothes to change into. Eventually he settled on stripping down to his pants and vest before sliding into the bed across from his wife in the hope of settling his still racing mind.

He had initially hoped that Anna could perhaps shed some light on whether Phyllis had indicated she was uncomfortable with pregnancy or children the day that they’d discussed her swift departure from Lady Hexham’s labor but it wasn’t too surprising that his wife hadn’t confided in her. More than anything Phyllis was careful about the information from her past she let out at any given time and he should’ve guessed that she wouldn’t know anything he didn’t. 

Then it had occurred to him that perhaps Anna could tell him whether or not another theory he’d been considering for some time was probable. Her intense avoidance of doctors over the last several months had made him concerned that his wife had had some sort of traumatic medical experience in the past and it logically followed that the most likely place that may have happened was in Holloway. It was then that the statement that had followed her initial response finally registered.

“Even pregnant women are in an entirely isolated ward.”

His eyes widened dramatically as he sat up and looked over at his still sleeping wife as he connected the new information with the story she had confided in him that day about a pregnant woman she’d shared a cell with who had died in childbirth. 

“Oh god.” He swore quietly as his heart began to race while he stared at his sleeping wife. The pieces were falling together quickly and he was almost entirely certain of what - or perhaps more accurately who - had led to her being in that position. He clenched his fists and his eyes tightly for some time before looking back at his wife and softly whispering through his now freely falling tears. “My love, what did he do to you?”

Chapter Text

The next morning found the Molesleys sitting in the waiting room of Dr. Clarkson’s clinic at the hospital. Joseph’s leg was bouncing anxiously beneath him while he gently rubbed circles with his thumb on the back of his wife’s hand that was clenched around his own. Upon their arrival the nurse had made it clear that antenatal checkups were held in the women’s ward and that Joseph would be unable to attend the appointment with her but had offered to allow her to wait in the general waiting room until her appointment when she noticed that Phyllis had started shaking at the mere mention of leaving her husband behind.

For her part Phyllis was focused almost entirely on keeping down the breakfast Mrs. Patmore had insisted she eat before they’d managed to make their way out of the house. Having stopped in the servants’ hall to give her a break from walking the cook had placed two plates in front of the couple at the table over an hour after everyone else had finished their breakfasts. “You’ve not been to a meal in over a day and you’re thin as a rail. You need it more than anyone else.” She had insisted with a stern glare and unwilling to bring any more attention to herself Phyllis had made a rather pathetic attempt at clearing the plate she’d been given. Despite the small amount of food she’d actually managed to eat her stomach was making a point of letting her know it did not approve.

Meanwhile Joseph was desperately trying to focus on the issue at hand - Phyllis’s current and seemingly quite difficult pregnancy - but he was continually distracted by the accidental revelation that had kept him up for most of the night. While he couldn’t be certain that his conclusion was correct the longer he thought about it the more holes it seemed to fill in his wife’s past. On top of his exhaustion from scrutinizing whether or not a pregnancy would even fit into the few details he knew about her relationship with Coyle the possibility ultimately raised more questions than it answered and he wasn’t certain how long he’d be able to go on without knowing the truth.

“Mrs. Molesley.” A short nurse called from the now opened doorway causing both Joseph and Phyllis to look up as they were suddenly pulled from their thoughts. “Dr. Clarkson is ready for you.”

“I’ll be right here.” Joseph assured her with a tight squeeze to her hand as he helped her up from the chair.

Phyllis gave him a small smile before following the nurse back into an exam room where she was directed to sit on the narrow bed behind the folding room divider. “The doctor may want to examine you - if that’s the case there’s a gown here.” The nurse pointed to the neatly folded white garment laid across the back of a short wooden chair before leaving her to wait again.

She couldn’t say how much time had passed after the nurse had left her before Dr. Clarkson arrived but it had been more than long enough to work up her nerves to the point that she was more than ready to bolt when she heard her name.

“Mrs. Molesley. It’s good to see you looking better.” Dr. Clarkson gave her a quick smile before pulling out a small notebook as he took a seat in the larger chair across from her. “How are you feeling this morning?”

“Anxious.” Phyllis replied honestly as she fiddled with the buttons at the end of her dress sleeves. Dr. Clarkson gave her a pointed look and she amended her response to include her physical symptoms as well. “I’m still feeling a bit dizzy and the breakfast I ate isn’t settling well.”

“Alright.” Dr. Clarkson nodded as he jotted something down. “Can you tell me about any symptoms you’ve noticed over the last few months?”

Phyllis shifted uncomfortably as she tried to figure out how to explain that the last few months had been among the worst of her life and that while she’d felt unwell throughout she hadn’t paid all that much attention to the ways in which she’d felt so. “I’ve been under a great deal of stress and I’m uncertain that I noticed anything in particular.”

“New marriages can indeed cause unanticipated conflict.” Dr. Clarkson replied knowingly causing her to stiffen in frustration as he moved onto his next question. “Did you have any suspicions that you may have been expecting prior to my examination yesterday?”

“No.” Phyllis replied through clenched teeth as she desperately tried to hold back her tears. 

“And the last time you were intimate with your husband was in May?” Dr. Clarkson asked again to verify his notes. When Phyllis nodded he sighed and set the notebook down. “Mrs. Molesley I worry that you’re carrying very small. By now we would more than expect you to be showing visible signs of pregnancy but-”

It was then that Phyllis stopped him, eyes firmly closed while her hands clenched at the fabric of her dress. “I’m fairly certain that’s just me. I carried very small with my first baby as well.”

Somehow both Phyllis and Joseph were feeling worse by the time they left the hospital later that morning. Phyllis had come out to the waiting room with red-rimmed eyes and a list of suggested food items from the doctor to try and help keep up her strength without increasing her nausea. It had taken everything Joseph had to keep from demanding to know what had happened to upset her which had translated to an incredibly tense air between the two of them throughout their walk home.

Needing something to occupy his mind and hoping to help Phyllis feel somewhat better Joseph had run a bath that he’d helped her into before channeling his energy into straightening up the house that had fallen into disarray during the last week of illness he’d been nursing his wife through. 

He’d just pulled the sheets from the bed when Phyllis came out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel and clearly ready to lie down. “Oh, I’m sorry.” He apologized awkwardly as he nodded toward the still folded fresh linens. “It will only be a few minutes.”

“No it’s alright.” She assured him softly as she accepted the clean white nightgown and blue dressing gown he held out for her. “I’d like to try and stay out of bed for a bit. Doctor says that slowly returning to normal activities may help.”

Joseph nodded nervously as he watched her return to the bathroom momentarily to change before making her way back out to the room and insisting on helping him put the new linens on the bed. 

“I think that’s about all I’m up for.” She frowned as she firmly gripped onto the bedpost in an attempt to stay upright. Springing into action Joseph was at her side to guide her to the bed before she shook her head firmly. “I’d like to go downstairs.”

Joseph furrowed his brow in concern and he began to protest, “I’m not sure that’s the best-” before she stopped him anxiously.

“Please don’t hide me away. I won’t survive this.” Her voice was shaking and her eyes were full of tears.

Joseph’s heart dropped at that and without further protest he nodded gently before moving to her side and helping her down the stairs and onto the settee. He fussed for a while - offering blankets, pillows, and tea in an attempt to get her comfortable - to no avail before giving up on figuring out what she needed and asking, “What can I do?”

Phyllis blushed as she looked up from her now propped up position across the sofa. “Will you just sit with me?” 

“Of course.” Joseph softened immediately before sitting next to her on the settee, smiling softly when she shifted to lay against him with her head resting in his lap. They chatted quietly for a few minutes and Phyllis tried to stifle several yawns before Joseph shook his head with a small chuckle. “It’s okay. Go ahead and get some rest. I’ll be right here.”

It wasn’t long before she was snoring lightly and his mind quickly wandered back to the questions that had kept him up for most of the night. He was entirely tempted to wake her to get some answers but after a lengthy internal debate he decided against it and reached for his long abandoned copy of Anna Karenina that he’d begun in the spring during his deep dive into Russian literature at the suggestion of Atticus Aldridge.

It didn’t take long for him to get absorbed in the text and it was hours later when he was pulled out of his reading by his wife whispering quietly against his chest. “Joseph I need to tell you something.” 

Immediately he set down his book and gently brushed back her hair so he could see her face. “What is it love?”

She took a deep breath before “It’s about Peter Coyle.”

Joseph’s eyes snapped to hers at that and he pulled her up into a sitting position. “Okay. What about him?”

“When you found out about the theft I told you that I would give a limb to rewrite that chapter of my life. Which you understood on some level then, and you understand more now, but there’s something I still haven’t told you that I probably should have.” She rambled while she nervously fiddled with the seam at the edge of Joseph’s shirt.

He gulped anxiously before offering reassurance. "It's alright. You can tell me now."

Phyllis stared blankly ahead for some time before she managed in a barely audible whisper. “We have a daughter.”

He shouldn’t have been surprised by the revelation but he felt his heart stop entirely at the confirmation of his suspicions. His eyes slammed shut and his jaw clenched down firmly in an attempt to keep from crying out at the sudden inexplicable pain he felt surrounding him.

“You’re angry.” Phyllis bit her lip anxiously. “You have every right to be. I should have been honest with you-”

“No.” Joseph stopped her urgently, eyes flying open in a panic. “I’m not angry with you. I’m worried about you.”

Phyllis nodded with a frown but refused to meet his eyes. “That’s very noble Joseph but you’re allowed to be angry. I’ve been quite dishonest with you because I never thought anyone would need to know.”

“I’m not angry darling.” He insisted gently as he took her hands in his own. He waited a long time for her to respond before softly squeezing her hands with a quiet reassurance. “I love you.”

Phyllis smiled slightly as she met his eyes for the first time since her confession. “I love you too.” She whispered desperately before looking back down at their joined hands and giving a squeeze of her own. “I don’t know how much - if anything - more you want to know about this, but after my appointment with Dr. Clarkson today I realized that I needed you to know about it.”

Joseph shook his head with a slight frown. “I think what matters more is whether you want to talk about it.” 

Phyllis paused for a moment before nodding anxiously. “I do.”

“Then I’m here to listen.” He assured her gently.

There was a long pause before Phyllis spoke again but when she did it was with more certainty than before. “You already know that early on during my time working at the house he forced himself on me. That continued - two or three times a week. He told me that he loved me which I suppose served to convince me that I wanted it - and truthfully I suppose I did.”

She looked up then and met his hard eyes and had to take a break before continuing. “Of course the natural outcome of that was a baby.”

It was then that Joseph surprised her by mumbling quietly,  “I can’t imagine he was happy.” 

“When I told him he was furious.” Phyllis affirmed, grateful that he’d said something. “He wanted me to get rid of it but… I couldn’t…”

“Peter please I’m not feeling well.” Phyllis protested tiredly as she shifted forcefully under his familiar weight as he pressed kisses harshly against her breasts. “I don’t want to do this.”

Peter smirked with a slight shake of his head. “Baby what’s wrong? I’m gonna make you feel so good. So much better. I’m gonna take care of you.” He insisted before continuing his pursuit.

She sighed in frustration and tried to ignore his ministrations but it wasn’t until he moved to remove his trousers that she placed her palm firmly against his chest and hoarsely whispered. “Peter I’m pregnant.”

“What?” He hissed angrily as he stared angrily back at her. “What the fuck do you mean?”

“I’m going to be having a baby?” She replied anxiously, confused on whether he didn’t understand or if he was preparing to berate her. Of course, it turned out to be the latter.

“No you’re not.” Peter insisted firmly as he shoved her back against the wall before reaching for his previously abandoned shirt. “You’re gonna handle it you hear?”

Phyllis shook her head firmly as haunting memories from her childhood flooded her mind. “I can’t Peter. I won’t.”

“Since when are you a bloody saint?” Peter asked angrily as he towered over her, pinning her hands beneath him so she couldn’t try to leave. “You’re a fucking whore and you’re not going to ruin me like this. You understand?”

Phyllis could feel his weight pressing down against her wrists and she was certain there would be dark bruises to contend with in the morning but this was one thing she wouldn’t be giving up on.. “Peter please. I love you and I want this baby. I know it’s not ideal but-”

“Not ideal?” Peter stopped her with a harsh laugh. “You’re not going to take me down with you. Handle this yourself.” He stood up and had reached for the door handle when Phyllis jumped up from her bed and crossed the room to keep him from leaving.

“Peter please. I don’t want to lose you.” Phyllis begged tearfully as she pressed her lips desperately against his. “I love you Peter. Let me take care of you. I’m sorry. Please.”

Peter’s eyes darkened immediately as he recognized the opportunity in front of him. “You’re gonna take care of me.” He affirmed as he reached for his belt once again. “You’re gonna take care of me because you love me.”

“I do Peter.” Phyllis affirmed desperately as she nipped at the spot along his collarbone that she knew he liked. “I’ll do anything but I don’t want to do this without you. I love you. I love you.”

“Of course he took advantage of the situation.” Joseph mumbled angrily through his clenched jaw. 

Phyllis nodded tiredly. “He proposed a week or so later - which I’ve told you about. Then he convinced me that in order to keep our baby safe we’d need money - hence the theft. I tried to back out of everything. The engagement, the theft - I even briefly considered doing what he'd originally asked - but I stuck it all out because I thought I loved him. I didn’t though. And then he left me.”

“He used you.” Joseph affirmed sympathetically. “He hurt you and used it to hurt you further. He’s a bloody devil.”

Phyllis broke at that and began to sob violently - her whole body shaking as she desperately clenched his hands in her own as if she was frightened he would disappear. Joseph immediately tried to comfort her and it took a few moments for her to hear his voice over her own sobs, “What can I do? Can I hold you?” but eventually Phyllis was firmly tucked in his arms while she took careful deep breaths at his direction.

Once she’d regained her composure Joseph contemplated what he should do. Eventually curiosity got the better of him and he pulled away from her slightly so he could see her face again. “You said you had a daughter?” Joseph asked tentatively, uncertain if he was allowed to ask, but desperate for more information.

“Yes.” She confirmed with a sad smile. “Her name was Emma Jane and she was absolutely perfect.”

Joseph took a few deep breaths to steady himself, gently pressing his lips to her forehead in an attempt to convey his support. “Can I ask what happened to her?”

Phyllis took a deep breath as she tried to hold back tears once again. “I don’t know.” When Joseph’s eyes widened in confusion she sighed as she prepared to explain the final part of her story. “As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now I gave birth at Holloway They allowed me to keep her with me for about a year so I could nurse but after that she was taken to a babies home in East London when I refused to name her father or an alternative guardian. I was told I would be able to regain custody once I was released but when I got out she was nowhere to be found.”

“Surely they knew where she was?” Joseph felt sick to his stomach at the prospect of her child being taken from her against her will.

Phyllis shook her head. “No one would tell me anything. Only that she’d been there and that she wasn’t anymore.”

“Certainly there must be some sort of record-” Joseph began before trailing off at the sight of her frustrated expression. “But you would have thought of that.”

Phyllis nodded. “I spent the months after I was released searching for anything that could tell me more but I never found anything. Eventually I moved home to stay with my friend Charlotte Toogood, née Barrow, until I could get back on my feet.”

“Thomas’s sister?” Joseph clarified.

She bobbed her head in confirmation before continuing even more quietly. “That’s how Thomas found out about everything and when I received his letter regarding the position at Downton I was at my lowest. I wasn’t able to get a job without a reference and I’d given up on myself and my daughter. I truly believed I had nothing to live for. I’d been considering…” She paused briefly to consider her wording. “I’d thought at length about ending things myself before that letter came. In a way Thomas saved me.”

“I’m so very glad he did.” Joseph whispered through his own tears as he held on tightly to his wife. “And I’m so very sorry for what you’ve been through - and that you’ve been made to go through it alone.”

“You’ve been there for me in ways you didn’t understand.” Phyllis assured him with a firm squeeze to his hand. “You were by my side every time I was made to face him again, even if you didn’t fully understand what that meant.” 

“But I pushed you to confront him.” Joseph argued anxiously. “I thought you were being selfish for not wanting to face him. If I’d known what seeing him would be putting you through I never would have-”

“You made me unafraid of him.” Phyllis stopped him with a confidence he hadn’t seen in her in months. “You helped me - without knowing anything about him or our history - realize that I was a good and decent person who didn’t deserve whatever he’d put me through. You helped me through a grieving process that you didn’t know I was experiencing. You saved me too.”

“I hate to think that I contributed to your grief.” Joseph sighed tiredly. “I pushed you into going to the trial. You saw that bastard again because of me.”

“Peter went to prison because of you.” Phyllis argued before a sigh of her own. “Besides, I would have gone to the trial anyway. I didn’t want to be forced to testify but I wanted to be there because they would have acknowledged any dependents during his sentencing.”

Joseph’s jaw dropped in sudden realization. “You thought he had your daughter.”

Phyllis gave a noncommittal shrug. “He didn’t want her but he could have leveraged her to manipulate me further. I know it sounds silly but-”

“It doesn’t.” Joseph stopped her gently. “You didn’t want to give up hope on your child. There’s nothing naive about that.”

“I suppose.” Phyllis replied sadly as she moved to rest her hand against her firm stomach. “But I was wrong.” 

Joseph frowned as he moved his own hand to cover hers, his mind racing to process everything she’d revealed to him. He hadn’t realized how much time he’d spent sorting through his thoughts until his wife sat up and tried to pull away from him with tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry that once again I’ve proven to not be who you thought me to be. I understand if this changes things between us.” 

His eyes shot open in panic and he quickly pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Phyllis Molesley you are the strongest person I know.” He whispered fervently. “It is an honor to be your husband and there is no one else I would rather spend the rest of my life with. Nothing is going to change that you don’t want to change.”

“Are you certain?” Phyllis met his eyes with her own anxious ones. “I don’t want you to feel that you owe me anything.”

“You are my wife and the mother of my child and I love you so much that my heart aches.” He assured her tearfully. “There is nothing you could do that would change that.”

Phyllis nodded as she wiped away her own tears before pressing her lips firmly against his. “I love you Joseph.”

“I love you too.” He assured her just before she let out an exaggerated yawn that signaled to him that she was also feeling the overwhelming exhaustion he’d begun to experience himself. “Let’s make something light to eat and then make an early night of it, alright?”

She nodded with a small smile before he carefully moved out from under her so he could help her from the couch and to the table where the pair quietly ate some fruit and toast he’d prepared them for dinner. It wasn’t until he was finishing up cleaning the few dishes they’d used that either of them spoke again. 

“Thank you Joseph.” She whispered quietly causing him to turn back towards her. 

“What for?” He asked curiously as he dried his hands on the dishcloth he’d just finished drying their plates with.

“For being absolutely nothing like him.”

Chapter Text

It was a week and a half after they’d found out Phyllis was pregnant that Joseph’s classes resumed for fall instruction. He’d fretted about their situation for days leading up to it to the point of suggesting he ask for some time off from Mr. Dawes.

“Joseph, no.” Phyllis insisted confidently. “You love teaching and I am doing much better. I may not be fit for service just yet but I can certainly spend my days unsupervised.”

“What if that changes?” Joseph asked anxiously, wringing his hands as he paced around the cottage. “What if something happens and I’m not here for hours?”

Phyllis sighed as she grabbed his wrist and pulled him down next to her on the sofa. “I stand by the point that we can’t live in fear of that indefinitely but if it would make you feel better I think we should talk to your father.”

“He has his own life Phyllis.” Joseph shook his head in frustration.

“He’s desperate to be involved with his grandchild.” She reminded him patiently as she pulled his hand to cover her still flat belly. “He would be more than happy to check in on me at lunch until I’m doing well enough to return to work.”

Of course she’d been right. Bill Molesley had been overjoyed to have the excuse to regularly check in on both his daughter-in-law and his grandchild and with his father looking out for Phyllis Joseph had no choice but to return to his classroom.

It hadn’t taken long for him to remember exactly how much he enjoyed teaching but he found that it was harder than usual to focus on his lectures and that even the simplest questions gave him pause. While he was happy to be back with his students his focus was still at home on his wife, and the daughter that had been unceremoniously taken from her.

He took to taking long walks on his way home as a way to give himself time to think through things without giving Phyllis reason for concern. It was a few days into teaching that his walk led him to Downton where he tentatively knocked on the door to the butler’s pantry before receiving permission to enter.

“Mr. Molesley.” Thomas greeted in surprise. “How is Phyllis doing?”

“Alright.” Joseph affirmed with a small smile. “She’s hoping to be back at work soon but we’re being careful.”

“Of course.” Thomas nodded. He was still confused about what was going on with his friend but he didn’t feel like pushing her or her husband after everything that had happened. “I take it that means you’re not here on behalf of your wife. How can I help you then, Mr. Molesley?

“I was hoping you’d allow me to speak with Lord and Lady Grantham about a private matter.” Joseph mumbled awkwardly as he stared down at his shoes.

“Mr. Molesley I’ll need more information than that.” Thomas replied dryly, not looking up from the schedule he was reviewing for the coming week. 

“I’m trying to help Phyllis.” He admitted anxiously, successfully grabbing Thomas’s attention before he continued tentatively. “I don’t feel that it’s appropriate for me to tell you the details but there is a legal matter of sorts that I believe they may be able to help with.”

“This has to do with Mr. Coyle.” Thomas replied knowingly. “What’s going on?”

Joseph shook his head. “I can’t tell you - it’s not my place to do so.”

Thomas’s eyebrow cocked in suspicion. “Does she know you’re here?” Another shake of Joseph’s head confirmed his assessment. “If I understand this correctly you are unwilling to provide me with the details of the situation because you consider them to be of a personal nature but you believe it’s appropriate to apprise her employer of the situation without her knowledge or consent?”

“Mr. Barrow you know as well as I that Phyllis has had more than her fair share of disappointments in her past.” Joseph replied coolly. “I’m not at all certain that Lord and Lady Grantham will be able or even willing to help and while it’s important to me to try I don’t wish to put her through another lost hope that isn’t explicitly necessary. Especially not while she’s already so fragile.”

Thomas sighed as he considered his appeal. He knew from experience how the family felt about gossip from downstairs but he also knew that they cared for their staff and if there was something they could do to help Cora’s lady’s maid they would certainly want to know. Ultimately it was the reminder of his friend’s still fragile state just two weeks after her collapse in Lady Grantham’s room that broke his resolve. 

“I’ll have to speak with Lord and Lady Grantham but I anticipate they’ll be available tomorrow evening before dinner.” Thomas made a note in the schedule in front of him before rising from his seat. “I’ll let you know.”

Robert and Cora had been more than willing to see him and the next evening he arrived nearly an hour early for their scheduled meeting - opting to come straight from the schoolhouse rather than returning to the cottage and giving his wife the opportunity to sense his mounting nerves.

“Mr. Molesley, it's very good to see you.” Lady Grantham greeted him warmly as he entered the library at the appointed time. “How is Mrs. Molesley doing?”

“Physically she’s recovering her strength.” Joseph reassured her with a small smile. “But truthfully I remain concerned about her wellbeing.”

“I see.” Cora nodded seriously as she motioned for him to take a seat on the large red sofa across from where she and her husband were already seated which he awkwardly did - balancing precariously on the edge of the seat in an attempt to avoid the appearance of impropriety. “Mr. Barrow suggested that you believed there was something we could do to help?”

 “There is an unresolved matter from my wife’s past that is causing her a great deal of distress.”

“And you believe this is a discussion we should be having without your wife present?” Robert cut in with a furrowed brow.

Joseph nodded confidently. “I spent quite some time considering whether it was even appropriate to bring this to you and while I’ve decided it’s necessary I am also entirely certain that giving her false hope on this matter would only serve to harm her further.”

Cora was conflicted by the situation she’d been presented with. While she would normally be inclined to request that the man return with his wife to make his request she was well aware of the fragile condition Mrs. Molesley was in and it didn’t seem to make much sense to add to her stress. “I think you better tell us what this is about.”

“Lady Grantham will know who I mean when I refer to a Mr. Coyle.” Joseph began hesitantly, waiting for Cora’s tentative nod before continuing. “He’s a nasty man who took advantage of my wife many years ago. Lady Grantham also knows that Phyllis - I mean Mrs. Molesley - was asked a few years ago to testify against him at a trial that has sent him to prison for some time.”

Robert’s eyes had widened as he took in the entirely new information about a member of their staff. He received little comfort from the knowledge that his wife had known about these details without finding them necessary to mention to him, but that certainly wasn’t the fault of Mr. or Mrs. Molesley.

“Has he tried to contact her again?” Cora asked nervously as she recalled the period shortly after the man’s sentencing when Baxter had been debating visiting him at his request. At the time she had been in favor of the closure she thought it would provide her lady’s maid but she certainly didn’t believe a prison was any place for a pregnant woman.

“No, he hasn’t.” Joseph assured her quickly. “But I have been considering speaking with him.”

Cora’s eyes narrowed in confusion. “Whatever for?”

Joseph took a deep breath to still his wavering stomach before continuing his explanation of the situation he found himself in. “While you know some of the story I don't believe that my wife will have told you that Mr. Coyle also took advantage of her physically - many times. And I am absolutely certain that she had not told you that this resulted in a child.”

“Oh my lord.” Cora cursed quietly as she clung to her husband’s hand in an attempt to maintain her composure. 

Robert frowned as he noted his eyes racing to process the information. Sensing that she needed a moment longer he stepped in with a question of his own. “What happened to the child?”

“That is what I am here about.” Joseph admitted. “The baby was taken from her while she was still in Holloway. They’d told her she would regain custody when she was released but when she tried to do so the child was gone without a trace.”

“I’m certain that you’ve misspoken when you said that the child was taken from her in Holloway. Robert stopped him angrily, overwhelmed by the reality he was being presented with. “It would be entirely inappropriate for a member of our staff-”

“He did not.” Cora stopped her husband with a firm grip to his knee. “Baxter told me about it herself and I determined of my accord that she did not deserve to be punished any further for the actions of that man.”

Robert shook his head in frustration. “Cora it is not your-”

Cora stopped him once again. “It would also be entirely false to make the claim that having a previously imprisoned member of staff is something we are opposed to given everything we supported the Bateses through.”

“The Bateses were innocent.” Robert argued, entirely forgetting the man that sat across from them.

“You’ve just learned that she was manipulated and assaulted by a man who has been sentenced to prison.” Cora argued passionately before pointedly turning back to Joseph. “There is nothing criminal about being taken advantage of and I refuse to let you suggest that there is in front of a man who is clearly trying to help his wife recover from experiencing exactly that. Furthermore it is absolutely my place to make that decision regarding the staff members I work closely with.”

Robert had the good sense to look ashamed before returning his attention to the conversation. “My apologies.”

Joseph smiled weakly. “I understand that is a lot to take in. I continue to be overwhelmed by much of it myself.” 

Cora returned his weak smile with a sympathetic one of her own. “This is all very unfortunate and I can only imagine the toll it is taking on Mrs. Molesley during this time but I’m not certain that I understand how we can help.” 

Joseph bobbed his head as he took a deep breath before launching into his request. “I’d like to look for her daughter and I believe that having your support would increase my probability of being successful.”

“How so?” Cora asked curiously as she tried to follow his reasoning.

“Phyllis looked for her daughter for some time after she was released with no success and I am inclined to believe that at least some portion of that was due to her reputation.” Joseph explained carefully. “It’s entirely possible, perhaps even probable, that I’m incorrect in my assumption but I feel the need to try. And I believe my best chance of success is with your support.”

Cora and Robert sat quietly for some time before Cora broke the silence. “I’d like to help.”

Robert nodded firmly and followed his wife’s lead. “We’d like to do whatever we can.”

Joseph wasn’t at all surprised by Lady Grantham’s eagerness to help but he hadn’t expected her husband to follow suit so quickly. “I was hoping that you would allow me to consult with your counsel, Mr. Murray about how to proceed.”

“Absolutely.” Cora replied immediately. “Robert, we should call him now. See when we can make an appointment that works with Mr. Molesley’s teaching schedule.”

He met with the Granthams and George Murray only a few days later and by the end of the week he found himself in the back of a car with the family’s lawyer en route to HM Prison Ripon to speak with Peter Coyle.

Murray had insisted that if he had known about the pregnancy he was the first place to start, at the very least to ensure that he was willing to relinquish his parental rights if the child was found. Joseph’s stomach turned at the realization that legally the man who had terrorized and abused his wife had any rights when it came to his child but he’d insisted on joining him on his visit to the prison.

“You must remember that you are only here to observe and that I will be referring to you as my assistant.” George Murrary reminded him seriously as they approached their final destination.  “And you are certainly not to mention anything of a relationship to Phyllis Baxter do you understand? Doing so will only put her and yourself at risk.”

The knot in his stomach grew significantly at the thought of putting Phyllis in any danger but he nodded seriously as their car pulled into the yard outside the prison. “I understand.”

It wasn’t long before he was sitting across a small table from the man that haunted his wife’s dreams. He was easy to recognize from the ways Phyllis described him after her particularly bad nightmares, tall with harsh angles and dark but captivating eyes. Of course he had also seen him before when he’d accompanied Phyllis to the trial nearly three years prior but he wasn’t sure if that contributed as much as her descriptions. It hadn’t occurred to him until he’d sat across from him that perhaps he would recognize him as well. 

Luckily it seemed that he was none the wiser as he sized up the pair in front of them. “So you lot are lawyers? What’re you lookin for? I’m already locked up.”

Joseph felt his skin crawl at Peter’s gravely voice and he was entirely thankful he had enlisted the help of the lawyer rather than attempting to confront the man alone when Murray began speaking. “My name is George Murray and this is my assistant. We are here as legal counsel on behalf of the Earl of Grantham about a member of his staff - Phyllis Baxter.” 

Peter’s brow raised significantly as he examined them for a moment before leaning back against his chair. “Well you’ll be smart enough to know I can’t deny knowing her, so what does he want to know?”

“Lord Grantham has been appraised of your relationship with Miss Baxter and he wishes to clarify some details with you.” Mr. Murray continued as he pulled a notebook from his jacket pocket. “Can you confirm that you expressed an interest in Miss Baxter while the two of you worked at a home in Ovington Square.” 

“I guess.” Peter raised an eyebrow as he tried to understand the line of questioning. “But flirtin’ isn’t a crime, even at work.”

Joseph clenched his jaw at the lie while Murray continued his questioning. “It’s not. However it is my understanding that the two of you were far closer than that. Is it true that you fathered a child with Miss Baxter?”

“No.” Peter lied smoothly. “If that bitch is tellin’ you I’m the father of her little bastard she’s lying. I never even touched her.” 

Murray nodded as he pulled a form from the pile of papers he’d brought with him that with a single glance made Joseph’s blood run cold. “Then would you care to explain this guardianship order in your name for full guardianship of Emma Jane Coyle, daughter of Peter Coyle and an unnamed mother?” 

“What?” Peter asked angrily as he grabbed the paper, his hard exterior faltering for a moment as he stared down at his own signature. “Where did you get this?”

“Court documents are public record.” Murray replied coolly. “Even in Wales. It was smart, given that you were trying not to be traced, to take the girl to Cardiff. It’s an entirely different jurisdiction and most people wouldn’t think to check there. But I’m smarter than most people, and your sister lives in Cardiff, so I did.” 

Peter was visibly unsettled but his tone remained harsh and indignant. “Well you know I don’t have the girl now so what’s the point of all the questioning? So what if that whore used me to get a baby?”

“The point is that you wrongfully terminated the parental rights of your daughter’s mother and I would like to know where she is.” Murray replied firmly. “And I’ll remind you before you respond that during your sentencing you failed to name her as dependent, which is perjury, a crime that could increase your prison sentence by another ten years.”

“Except that bastard isn’t my dependent.” Peter replied nastily. “I saved her from that home because I thought I owed her that much - given that her mother was a fucking prison whore - but I couldn’t do it. I took her to Cardiff to be with my sister and I, hoping to give her a better life, but I wasn’t cut out to be a father so I took her back to the home just months later. Did your fancy title tell you that Mr. Holmes?”

“Can you verify the name of the home you took your daughter to?” Murray asked patiently, entirely unaffected by the jabs.

“It was a name that started with an ‘h’. Harrison or Hoffman or somethin’.” He shrugged noncommittally.

Murray flipped through his research for a moment before asking, “Hutchinson House?” 

“Yeah that’s the one.” Peter confirmed, his voice dripping with hate. “That enough for you?”

“Thank you for your cooperation Mr. Coyle.” Murray nodded as he collected his notes and papers before guiding a shellshocked Joseph out of the visiting room.

Joseph made it out to the yard before promptly keeling over and losing the contents of his stomach. 

“I know those words must have been difficult to listen to but this was a success Mr. Molesley.” Mr. Murray assured him sympathetically. “If Mrs. Molesley tried to track down a young Baxter because she didn’t know that Mr. Coyle had changed her records she wouldn’t have been successful. There’s a good chance of finding out more based on what Mr. Coyle told us today.”

Joseph nodded weakly “I know. I only wish that he didn’t have anything to do with her.”

Phyllis returned to work just over a week later. The modified diet and rest had done wonders for both her energy and her strength and she’d arranged with Lady Grantham to begin by only work half days beginning in the afternoon for now.

“Mrs. Molesley this letter came for you while you were gone.” Mrs. Hughes smiled as she handed the envelope that was clearly addressed to Phyllis Baxter to her as she finished her lunch. 

“Thank you.” Phyllis smiled back as she set the envelope down before moving to clear her dishes. 

“I’ll take care of it.” Mrs. Hughes assured her quickly as she picked up the neatly stacked dishware herself leaving Phyllis alone to read the letter before moving on to her tasks for the afternoon.

She examined the envelope further and was entirely confused by who it could be from. There was no one she was in contact with outside of Downton and the lack of return address only contributed to the intrigue. It wasn’t until she opened the letter itself that she recognized the handwriting.


I don’t know what your employer’s got over you but you don’t go dragging me into it you hear? I never thought you’d be too much of a coward to confront me yourself but I guess I was wrong. Whatever your problem is you bring it to me, not someone else. We were better than that. We are better than that. We can be better than that together, you just gotta help me out.

Come visit me and I promise we’ll find a way to be together with Emma. We’ll be happy. It’s what we always wanted.

P. Coyle

As soon as she finished the letter she shot out of her chair and began pacing up and down the servants’ hall, muttering quietly under her breath as she tried to calm the anxiety that was overwhelming her system.

It was then that Mrs. Hughes came back into the room, entirely confused by what had changed. “Mrs. Molesley?” She asked tentatively as she tried to figure out what to do but it was quite obvious the woman couldn’t hear her. She was about to call for help when Thomas walked briskly down the adjacent hallway. “Mr Barrow!” 

Thomas rounded the corner and his eyes widened in panic at the sight of her. “Phyllis?” He asked nervously as he guided her towards the chair by the fireplace while her breathing continued to quicken dramatically. “Hey, you’re alright.” He tried to comfort her before turning back to Mrs. Hughes. “What happened?”

“I don’t know.” Mrs. Hughes replied anxiously. “She had a letter come here that I gave to her. I only left the room for a moment but when I came back-”

“Give it to me.” Thomas nodded to the abandoned envelope on the table and Mrs. Hughes complied before she thought to question it. 

“Is it really appropriate for you to read-?” She began to ask before he cut her off with a sharp nod as he finished scanning the letter.

“Oh god.” He swore angrily, entirely certain that whatever her husband had spoken to Lord and Lady Grantham about had something to do with this. “Send someone to fetch Mr. Molesley from the school.” He directed forcefully before kneeling down in front of Phyllis and taking her shaking hands firmly in his own. “Hey. You’re alright. You’re safe.”

“How does he... who told... what happened?” She asked anxiously between frantic breaths. “I don’t understand why he’d do this to me.”

“Coyle is a monster.” Thomas replied harshly. “You can’t listen to him.”

“Not him.” Phyllis corrected anxiously. “Joseph. He told… he must have told them. Why would he tell them?” She questioned in frustration, tears trailing down her cheeks.

Thomas gave up on trying to follow what was going on and just focused on helping her calm down as much as he could. “You’re alright. I’ll keep you safe. It’s going to be okay.”

It was nearly an hour before Joseph arrived and by the time he did Phyllis’s reaction had entirely shifted from scared to angry. 

“What the hell did you do?” She asked angrily as she met his eyes squarely with her own.

“I’m sorry?” Joseph shook his head in confusion. “Andy said you were having some sort of-”

“Nevermind that.” Phyllis shook her head angrily as she handed the letter she’d been clinging to for the last twenty minutes and repeating. “What did you do?”

He scanned the letter with wide eyes before looking back to her. “Darling, I was only trying to help. Can I please explain?”

“What does it matter?” Phyllis shook her head angrily. “Why is it any different to tell Thomas,” she paused to gesture towards the kitchen where she was certain a number of people were eavesdropping on their conversation. “Or even the whole staff, about this?”

“Please calm down you’ll…” Joseph trailed off as he realized how many people were privy to their conversation.

“You want me to calm down? You’re worried I’ll hurt the baby?” Phyllis shot back angrily, entirely tired of trying to maintain pretenses. “You should have thought of that before you did whatever the hell you did that caused this.”

Thomas stared up at her with wide eyes at the revelation and he tightened his grip on her hands in an attempt to offer whatever support he could.

“Phyllis, please.” Joseph begged quietly. “Can I just explain what I’ve done?”

“No.” Phyllis shook her head in frustration. “I’m sure you believe you had a perfectly good reason for doing whatever you did but digging into this without me crossed a line and I need to handle that without you.”

“You can’t do this.” Joseph argued anxiously, entirely overwhelmed by the prospect of being unable to support her. “You need me.”

Phyllis shook her head angrily. “You don’t get to say that. You don’t get to act like him.”

“Phyllis…” He approached her again causing her to flinch backwards.

“I don’t want you here.” Phyllis whispered hoarsely with her eyes snapped firmly shut prompting Thomas to move himself between the two of them. “So please, just go.”

It was then that Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Bates entered the room, both having overheard the entirety of the conversation. “Mr. Barrow, would you please take Mrs. Molesley to my sitting room to give her some privacy?” Mrs. Hughes directed as she made eye contact with the woman in question to ensure it was alright with her before turning to Joseph. “Mr. Bates will you please escort Mr. Molesley out?”

“Phyllis I-” Joseph tried to protest before he was abruptly cut off by a stern Scottish voice.

“Mr. Molesley, she has made it entirely clear that she would like you to go right now.” Mrs. Hughes stopped him firmly. “I am certain that you will know the moment that changes.”

John frowned sympathetically before following the instructions he was given and guiding Joseph out the back door and to a seat on a discarded barrel. “Are you going to tell me what’s going on here?” Bates asked after a few moments of awkward silence.

“What have I done?” Joseph whispered anxiously in response as he buried his head in his hands. “I was trying to help. I needed to help her.”

John nodded knowingly. “I can tell you from experience that that doesn’t always turn out the way you would hope.”

“You don’t understand.” Joseph insisted. “I couldn’t sit by and watch her suffer. Not when there was something I could do to help.”

“Did she ask you to help?” John asked with a knowing frown.

Joseph shook his head before protesting further. “She wouldn’t have wanted me to do what I did but it was entirely necessary.”

“If you knew she didn’t want you to do it and you did it anyway why would you expect that she’d be okay with it when she found out?” John questioned pointedly.

Joseph sighed heavily at that before admitting. “Because I thought she wouldn't.”

John nodded in understanding before offering his advice. “I know it’s hard - especially given her condition - but you need to give her the space she’s asking for. Pushing her will only make things worse. You can do whatever it is you feel that you need to do for yourself, but you don’t get to pull her into it.”

“But this is something she needs.” Joseph argued.

“It doesn’t matter.” John stopped him firmly. “Your job is to support her, not to control her. You’ve made her feel that you’ve prioritized the latter. Now it’s your job to fix that.”

Joseph pinched his brow in frustration while muttering under his breath for some time before taking a deep breath and admitting, “I don’t know if I can.”

John raised an eyebrow in curiosity but didn’t argue with him. “Then you need to be prepared for your relationship with your wife to change accordingly.”

“I don’t want that.” He protested tiredly before burying his head back in his hands and muttering an anxious prayer. “God help me that I am doing the right thing.”

Chapter Text

By the time Thomas had convinced Phyllis to take a seat in his pantry they’d been joined by both Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore who were both fussing over her in an attempt to assess her condition while she stared blankly ahead, entirely incapable of comprehending the ongoing conversation in the room about her.

“Should we call Dr. Clarkson?” Mrs. Patmore asked nervously as she fiddled with her apron tie. 

“I’m not entirely certain that’s necessary.” Mrs. Hughes replied, her voice betraying her true uncertainty about the situation. “Mrs. Molesley, should we call for the doctor?”

“I should get her some tea.” Mrs. Patmore decided suddenly before bustling from the room and leaving Phyllis with the butler and housekeeper.

Mrs. Hughes continued to ramble on about how to best handle the situation, making several suggestions “Perhaps she should lie down. We should let Anna know so she can take care of Mrs. Molesley's work.” and asking a variety of questions “Should we inform her Ladyship? Should she even return to work today given the circumstances?” in an attempt to handle the situation. 

Thomas had become increasingly frustrated with the woman’s rambling and was about to cut in with his own assessment when he realized Phyllis’s lips were moving.

“Please stop talking.” Phyllis was whispering repeatedly to herself with her eyes clenched shut as if she were in pain. “I just need you to stop talking.”

“Mrs. Hughes.” Thomas stopped the housekeeper with a sharp whisper as he motioned towards the clearly distressed woman behind his desk. “I think it would be best if you let me handle this.”

Mrs. Hughes crossed her arms in disapproval. “While I appreciate that you may feel that you are personally better equipped to handle the situation, Mrs. Molesley is a member of staff for whom I am responsible.”

“That may be true but this matter has nothing to do with her employment here.” Thomas snapped back. 

The pair argued quietly for some time before Phyllis gathered the strength to open her eyes and interrupt. “I want Thomas.”

Mrs. Hughes frowned at the request but didn’t protest further, quietly informing Thomas that, “You’ll keep me updated.” before taking her own leave from the pantry.

Phyllis let out a deep breath when the door clicked shut, finally leaving her with the one person she still felt she could trust. “Thank you.” She whispered quietly before closing her eyes and taking several shaky but intentionally-timed breaths. 

“Of course.” Thomas reassured her quickly as he squatted down in front of her, placing his hands over her knees in an attempt to convey his support. They stayed that way until Phyllis’s eyes opened again to meet Thomas’s concerned ones. He smiled gently and gave one of her kneecaps a quick squeeze before quietly asking, “A baby, huh?”

Phyllis nodded. “A baby.”

“I wouldn’t have thought-” Thomas began before awkwardly stopping himself from making a comment about her age and redirecting his focus towards her again. “Is this a good thing?”

Phyllis sighed as she adjusted her weight slightly in the chair that she’d now been slouching in for nearly an hour before quietly admitting. “I don’t know.”

Thomas nodded in understanding, offering another squeeze of support before asking his next question. “Was it a good thing before the incident this afternoon?”

Phyllis shook her head tiredly in response. “I’ve had reservations since I found out.” She assured him softly. “Though I will admit that this afternoon hasn’t helped matters much.”

Thomas smiled sympathetically before furrowing his brow in concern. “I’m quite sure it’s not my place to ask this - and you are more than welcome to tell me off for daring to do so - but who is Emma?”

Phyllis froze at that, her heart plummeting into her stomach at the realization that Thomas had noticed the brief reference to her daughter in Peter’s letter. She had half a mind to bolt from the room in an attempt to avoid the question before she realized that without returning to the cottage there wasn’t really anywhere for her to go. 

It took what felt like an age for her to find the words and Thomas was certain his impatience would get the best of him but eventually he was rewarded for his endurance when Phyllis managed a quiet whisper. “Emma Jane Baxter. She’s my daughter.”

Several hours later Phyllis could be found in Lady Grantham’s room dressing her for dinner. Thomas had tried to convince her to take the rest of the day but she’d insisted on returning to work that evening. 

“Thomas I need to focus on something - anything - else.”

And working had been helpful. The soothing familiarity of preparing Lady Grantham for dinner had entirely distracted her from the day’s events until the moment Cora turned towards her with a pensive frown. “Mrs. Molesley I’m afraid that I owe you an apology.”

“I beg your pardon your Ladyship?” Baxter furrowed her brow in confusion as she prepared the day clothes Cora had worn to be taken from the room.

“Mrs. Hughes appraised me of the events downstairs this afternoon and it is clear that I owe you an apology.” Cora explained carefully, more than aware when the other woman’s knees began to buckle. “Why don’t you take a seat?”

Phyllis shook her head in frustration as she stood her ground. “I’d rather not if it’s all the same your Ladyship.”

Cora softened slightly at that but didn’t budge on her request, motioning towards the chair she’d vacated at the vanity as she sat herself down at the edge of her bed. “I would like you to sit so that we don’t have a repeat of a previous incident.”

Phyllis sighed heavily before sitting precariously at the edge of the designated chair and staring down at her lap.

“I must apologize because I chose to ignore my better judgement and interfere with your personal affairs without discussing it with you first.” Cora began seriously. “It is not normally something I would do but I felt that the circumstances warranted it. Now I see that is not the case and I sincerely regret it.”

Cora waited several moments before speaking again. “I would like you to feel that you can be frank with me in this conversation. While I am your employer I don’t believe I have acted in good faith in that capacity so it would be unfair to expect you to maintain a decorum I have abandoned.”

Phyllis sighed and took a deep breath before nervously asking the question that had plagued her mind since she’d read the letter from Peter earlier that afternoon. “What do you know?”

“I am aware of the crime Mr. Coyle committed against you as well as the natural consequence you faced as a result.” Cora affirmed gently.

Phyllis flushed as she looked back down to her hands fidgeting in her lap. “I am sorry that you were made to know that your Ladyship.”

“There is absolutely nothing for you to apologize for.” Cora stopped her sternly. “In fact I am quite glad that I’m aware of the true situation as it will allow me to support you better now.”

Phyllis frowned as she brushed her palm briefly across her now barely-there bump. “That is entirely unnecessary.” 

Cora shook her head in disagreement before insisting otherwise. “It is not. You may be a member of staff but after this many years together I also consider you a friend and regardless of anything that may have happened in your past you are a very much wanted and well-respected member of our household.”

Phyllis was still trying to process the sentiment when Lord Grantham entered the room after a brief knock, clearly there to escort his wife to dinner. In a panic she shot up from her chair, grabbing awkwardly to the back of it to steady herself as she bowed her head in apology while murmuring a quiet, “Lord Grantham.”

Robert shook his head with a sympathetic frown but said nothing to his wife’s lady’s maid instead focusing his attention toward Cora. “Shall we go down?”

“Yes.” She smiled softly to her husband before briefly turning to Phyllis. “Thank you Mrs. Molesley. I’ll be up early tonight - perhaps around half nine?.”

“Of course m’lady.” Phyllis replied with a nod, her fingers still clenched against the back of the chair in an attempt to keep upright until the door closed behind them allowing her the reprieve of returning to her seated position.

She was surprised by the amount of relief her racing mind felt once she’d sat again and she’d only intended to close her eyes for a moment but the next thing she knew there was a gentle hand on her shoulder accompanied by Lady Grantham’s concerned voice. “Mrs. Molesley?”

“Oh my god.” Phyllis swore loudly as she shot out of the chair once again, this time finding counterbalance by grabbing onto Cora’s outreached forearms before her eyes widened in embarrassment and she unceremoniously fell back into the chair to her own chagrin. It took a few moments for her to gather her bearings enough to speak and when she did her voice was shaking heavily. “Your Ladyship I am afraid I need a moment to collect myself.” She apologized profusely.

“Please sit for as long as you need.” Cora encouraged as she set her shawl down across the end of her bed before taking a seat herself. After a moment she stood from her spot and returned with a small glass of water. “Would some water help?”

Phyllis considered the offer briefly before she nodded weakly, hopeful that may help settle her once again rebelling stomach.

The pair sat quietly while Phyllis sipped at the glass of water for some time until Cora spoke again. “Would it be alright with you if I spoke?” Phyllis sighed deeply but didn’t protest so Cora continued. “I would like to provide you with context about the discussion your husband had with myself and Lord Grantham.”

“Your Ladyship I do not need an explanation from you.” Phyllis dismissed her quickly. “You did not make the choice to be brought into this.”

“No I did not.” Cora agreed. “But I chose to act based on the information I was provided with and I believe you should be made aware of the circumstances.”

“Mr. Molesley approached myself and Lord Grantham to ask for our assistance in searching for your child.” Cora reiterated quickly. “I was hesitant to do so without your involvement but was convinced by your husband’s belief that our assistance would increase his likelihood of success - primarily through the employment of our legal counsel under the name of the house. Your husband expressed concerns about involving you given your condition and I agreed with him but I recognize now that that was entirely out of line. However, I do hope that you will consider speaking with your husband about the progress that has been made. We’re very optimistic.”

“May I speak frankly?” Phyllis asked quietly once she was certain she had finished.

“Certainly.” Cora allowed immediately. 

“I have been through this process before - more than once - and it is unbearably painful to go through.” Phyllis began hesitantly. “I can appreciate my husband’s naivete with regard to how the state treats people like me is what fuels his optimism in the matter but ultimately I am unwilling to go through this heartbreak again.”

She could tell from Cora’s expression that she was frustrated by her response but when she replied she provided nothing but support. “I appreciate your candor and respect your position.”

Phyllis smiled gratefully before steeling her nerves and successfully rising from the chair for the first time in hours, quickly changing the topic of conversation back to work before Cora had the chance to say anything further. “I believe it’s time that I help you prepare for bed.”

Cora assented to the suggestion and the pair returned to their normal nightly routine, providing both of them a welcome reprieve from the tension that had built between them since before dinner. It didn’t take long but they’d used the majority of the time before Lord Grantham arrived for bed himself talking so by the time Phyllis was gathering Lady Grantham’s clothes Robert was entering the room.

“Thank you Mrs. Molesley.” Cora dismissed her, frowning slightly as she watched her lady’s maid close the door firmly behind herself.

“How did it go?” Robert asked sympathetically as he pressed a quick kiss to his wife’s forehead before climbing into bed himself. 

Cora sighed heavily as she adjusted the duvet across her lap. “Well enough I suppose. She seemed receptive to my explanation of how we became involved in all of this and I’m fairly certain we’ll return to a relatively normal rapport soon.”

“That sounds like it went very well.” Robert replied with a raised brow. “Is there something that I’m missing?”

“Not on our end.” Cora assured him with a soft frown. “I only wish that she’d agreed to speak with her husband.”

Robert nodded in understanding before pressing his lips gently to hers. “I know you mean well darling but it’s certainly not our place to interfere any further.”

It was late by the time Phyllis gathered the strength to make her way up to her old room in the attic that Mrs. Hughes had assured her she could stay in for as long as she needed. She had just closed the door behind herself and was preparing to change into the nightgown someone had left for her when the door opened again to reveal an incredibly concerned Thomas Barrow.

“Where have you been?” Thomas whispered anxiously as he quietly shut the door. “I haven’t seen you for hours.”

“If Mrs. Hughes catches you in here she'll hang you by your toenails.” Phyllis remarked dryly, avoiding his question entirely as she gingerly sat at the edge of the freshly made bunk.

“So be it.” Thomas dismissed her with a smirk before wringing his hands in concern. “How are you doing?”

The entirely sincere question from the usually unfeeling butler  was the final straw for Phyllis’s already fragile emotional state and she burst into tears before breathlessly admitting, “I want to go home.”

“I can walk you.” Thomas offered, immediately regretting it when she began to cry harder. “Or not.” He sighed heavily before moving to sit next to her on the bed, hopeful that she would accept a shoulder to cry on or some other form of comfort. 

She shook her head anxiously as she pushed herself away from him. “Please, don’t touch me.”

Immediately throwing his hands up in surrender as he increased the distance between them himself he tried to reassure her. “I won’t. But I’m here - so tell me how I can help.”

“You can’t!” She hissed angrily before awkwardly choking on a sob and once again falling into a fit of tears.

Thomas waited patiently while she cried, entirely aware that she didn’t want him there but unwilling to leave her alone in this state. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed when her shaky voice finally asked, “Why would Joseph bring him back into my life?”

“I expect you’ll have to talk to him to find out.” Thomas replied sympathetically.

“I don’t know if I can.” She hiccuped tiredly. “He never should have gone to Peter without talking to me first - he doesn’t know what he’s capable of.”

“He’s trying to help you find your daughter.” Thomas replied knowingly causing Phyllis to narrow her eyes in suspicion. “Look, it doesn’t take much to read that letter and guess what’s going on. I agree with you that he should have spoken with you first but you can’t fault him for wanting to help you.”

“But he’s not helping.” Phyllis argued anxiously. “He’s putting us in danger. He’s putting our baby in danger.”

“He didn’t know that.” Thomas reminded her gently. “He believes the best in people.”

Phyllis nodded tiredly in assent. “I know.” She admitted before biting down firmly on her lip in an attempt to keep from crying any harder.

Thomas frowned sympathetically as he stood from his seat on the bed, realizing that she’d hit a wall and that pushing any further tonight would only make things worse. “I think it’s well past time for you to get some rest.”

“Thomas-” Phyllis began to argue before he stopped her gently.

“You need to take care of yourself.” Thomas insisted. “No matter how you feel about it right now you are responsible for your baby and I won’t let you put yourself or your baby in any unnecessary danger. I won’t let you do that.”

Phyllis sighed tiredly as she nodded in agreement. “I suppose you’re right.”

“Of course I’m right.” Thomas quipped with a smirk before he made his way to the door. His hand was firmly resting on the door handle when he turned back to her with a furrowed brow. “You should know that I’m proud of you.” He whispered quietly.

Phyllis wiped at her tear stained cheeks as she shook her head in confusion. “Why would you be proud of me?”

“Because you have found yourself a family - something that you’ve always wanted - by being vulnerable despite every bone in your body telling you not to. It shows you to be a very brave person.” Thomas replied firmly before softening slightly. “And I believe that you and your family are going to get through this, no matter what happens.”

Chapter Text

Phyllis stayed at Downton for several days after the letter arrived, not yet ready to confront the reality of Joseph’s actions or his feelings on the subject. Staying at the house provided a sanctuary filled with distractions from her own life by focusing on the lives of the family and other staff members which was working surprisingly well until the morning Lady Grantham burst the bubble.

“I feel that I should tell you that Mr. Murray is visiting this morning.” Cora informed her carefully as she worked on her hair. “And that your husband will be here as well.”

“I see.” Phyllis replied quietly as she adjusted several pins in the curls in front of her. “Thank you for telling me.”

Cora frowned but didn’t say anything further until Phyllis had finished getting her ready for the day. Her lady’s maid was getting ready to leave the room when she stopped her. “Mrs. Molesley I think you should join us in the library for our meeting with Mr. Murray.”

Phyllis frowned and stared down at her shoes as she whispered her reply. “I would rather not your Ladyship.”

“I know.” Cora replied gently. “But given the current circumstances I would feel much better discussing your personal affairs with you present and it’s important to me to encourage you to reconsider.”

Phyllis shifted nervously as she considered the situation. While she had no interest in confronting the situation Joseph had put her in, the prospect of missing more conversations about herself between her employers and husband made her feel even worse. “What time shall I meet you?”

It was only a few hours later that she sat uncomfortably on a plush chair in the library waiting for Mr. Murray and her husband to arrive.

“It’s going to be alright.” Cora reassured her quietly as she offered her a cup of tea. 

Phyllis shook her head with a whispered, “No thank you.”

Cora was prepared to insist when the door behind her lady’s maid opened causing Phyllis to jump out of her seat in surprise.

“I came up from downstairs.” Joseph explained sheepishly as he realized they’d expected him to enter through the other door. “I’m sorry to have frightened you.”

Phyllis was trying to formulate a response when Lord Grantham and Mr. Murray entered through the other door. 

“Ah, everybody is here.” Robert observed with a small clap of his hands. “We can jump right in then.”

It took a few moments for everyone to get situated - Joseph and Phyllis eventually sitting at an awkward distance on the settee across from the one Robert and Cora sat on while Mr. Murray sat at the edge of a chair by the coffee table he’d set down a large pile of papers on.

“You must be Phyllis Molesley.” Mr. Murray acknowledged the new face with a sympathetic smile. “I’m very sorry for what happened with your daughter. I hope that what I’ve found may be of some help.”

Phyllis nodded nervously with a forced smile that made Joseph shift anxiously as he suppressed the urge to physically comfort his wife.

“I’ll get right to it then.” Mr. Murray announced as he pulled a file from the top of the pile in front of him. “I’m fairly certain I know where Emma is.”

That was all it took for Phyllis to reach out for her husband’s hand which he quickly took in his own, giving her a gentle squeeze in an attempt to convey as much support as possible. 

“As you are aware Mrs. Molesley, Emma was taken to Hutchison Home for Babies while you served the remainder of your reduced sentence.” Mr. Murray began to recap to ensure everyone was on the same page. “I was able to determine and confirm with Emma’s father that he had removed her from the home within weeks of her arrival, only to take her back. When he did so Emma was registered as a new child at Hutchison Home, Emma Jane Coyle, whose birth certificate listed no mother.”

Phyllis was shaking, mortified that her worst fear had been entirely accurate and that she hadn’t been smart enough to think to check for her under his name. 

“I’ve spoken with a number of workers at Hutchison Home, including Matron Barton who was head matron at the time Emma was in the home.” Mr. Murray continued, now carefully reporting new information as he handed Joseph and Phyllis a small file. “This is a copy of Emma’s records from both periods she spent in the home. You are free to keep them to read on your own time but I’ll cut to the chase. Hutchison’s was a home for babies and once Emma was old enough they needed to find a new home for her. She was sent alongside a number of other children aging out of the house to Dr. Barnardo’s Home for Girls.”

There was a pause in Murray’s explanation as he shuffled through the papers in front of him again and Joseph jumped in anxiously. “Have you spoken with the staff at Barnardo’s?”

“I have.” Mr. Murray affirmed with a curt nod. “Her records from Barnardo’s indicate that she was there for a few years, from 1921 to 1924, before she was selected to participate in the Home Children program when she turned of age.”

“The Home Children program?” Cora narrowed her eyes in confusion. “I’m afraid I’m unfamiliar.”

Joseph clenched his jaw as he quietly interjected - hoping to soften the blow to his wife by having the explanation come from himself instead of a near stranger. “It’s a program run through the Anglican church where orphaned children who have no adoption prospects are sent to British colonies to find homes or provide additional labor support.”

“But where is she?” Phyllis asked in confusion, shaking her head as she tried to comprehend what her husband was saying. “She’s not even nine years old. Where could they have taken her where she could serve as labor support?”

Cora flinched at the revelation of Emma’s age, quickly realizing that the little girl that had been the topic of these conversations wasn’t any older than her eldest grandchild. “Mr. Murray, certainly this is a mistake.”

“I’m afraid it’s not.” Mr. Murray interjected confidently. “Children are eligible for the Home Children program as young as four. Dr. Barnardo’s houses eligible girls until age five.”

“But where is she?” Phyllis asked angrily, the frustration that had been building for days flooding out of her. “Where is my daughter?”

Mr. Murray cleared his throat before handing her another folder. “I believe your daughter is in Canada.”

“Canada?” Joseph asked in confusion. “I thought the children were sent to Australia?”

“Many of them are.” Mr. Murray confirmed. “However, a portion of the children in recent years have been sent to Canada. While her records at Barnardo’s do not specify where your daughter was placed in the Home Children program, a five year old girl named Emma Coyle is listed in the 1925 emigration records in the London office as a home child passenger departing to New York, the port most commonly used for children being sent to Ontario.”

“Do you know where she is though?” Phyllis pressed suddenly. “Knowing the country or even province you expect my daughter to be in is one thing but knowing where she is is another entirely.”

“I’m working on that.” Mr. Murray assured her quickly. “I’ve sent a telegram to a trusted colleague who moved his practice to New York a few years ago. There should be records in the United States confirming her arrival that will likely tell us more about where she is.”

Phyllis shook her head in frustration. “You don’t know where she is. Why can’t you just admit that?”

“Phyllis.” Joseph whispered quietly as he moved slightly closer to her. “Mr. Murray is doing everything he can.”

“I didn’t want him to do anything.” Phyllis argued back angrily, pulling her hand out of his. “You did this and you think that this is progress but it’s just more false hope and I can’t live with any more of that.”

“I understand that this is very difficult Mrs. Molesley.” Mr. Murray interrupted quickly. “But I can assure you that this is all very good progress. I expect it will only be a matter of days before we hear more about Emma’s whereabouts and then we can work on getting your daughter home.”

The promise of her daughter returning was too much and Phyllis quickly vacated the room, hand clamped against her mouth to stifle her sobs. 

“Follow her.” Lady Grantham directed quickly and he made his way from the room, quickly identifying her path down the stairs and out the back door to where she had slid to the ground against the wall outside the entry to the boileroom. 

“Hey.” Joseph greeted her softly to alert her of his presence before squatting down in front of her. She met his eyes briefly before closing hers tightly and shaking her head in frustration as she tried to take deep breaths between her sobs. He took a deep breath of his own before speaking again. “I know you’re upset with me - and you have every right to be - so go ahead and yell at me. Scream or shout, do whatever it is you need to do. Just talk to me, please.”

“I don’t want to yell at you.” Phyllis admitted tiredly as her red eyes met his own, her shaking hands reaching out to him. 

Joseph sighed tiredly as he adjusted his squatting position so he could take her outstretched hands in his own.“Phyllis I know you’ve dealt with so much pain in your life and that this feels like another source of pain but you deserve to be with your daughter.”

“You don’t understand.” Phyllis shook her head as she clenched onto his hands. “But I am afraid that you would find my objections far from acceptable.”

“Try me.” Joseph challenged gently, his expression schooled in an attempt to prevent her from scaring any further. 

Phyllis took several deep breaths before closing her eyes once again and finally admitting, “I don’t want Emma back.”

“What?” Joseph’s question was a barely audible breath and it took him a moment to regroup before he could say anything further. “Darling she’s your daughter. Surely you-”

“She’s his daughter too.” Phyllis replied angrily. “She’s far more likely to remember him than me. There’s nothing I can give her that she doesn’t already have.”

“That’s not true.” Joseph argued passionately. “She doesn’t have you.”

“Why would she want me?” Phyllis retorted easily. “She doesn’t know anything about me and even if she did I’m just her whore mother who gave birth to a bastard in prison and then never came back for her.”

Joseph was about to argue back but he stopped as he recognized the self-deprecation in his wife’s voice. He should have realized earlier that everything about this would bring back all of her feelings of inadequacy in full force. “Because you, my very brave wife, will help her heal.”

“What are you talking about?” Phyllis shook her head in frustration.

“Emma Jane Baxter is an eight year old little girl who presumably doesn’t even know her real name who was taken from her mother when she was far too small, largely at the hands of her abusive father, before being shunted around the country for years only to be unceremoniously taken from it.” Joseph’s voice was gentle as he explained his perspective. “That little girl needs someone to help her understand that she didn’t deserve what happened to her and that it was never because she wasn’t loved.”

Phyllis stared at him blankly for a while before choking on a particularly strong sob as she whispered her deepest fear. “What if I don’t love her? What if she looks like him and I can’t love her?”

“Oh my love.” Joseph sighed quietly as he moved to sit next to her, his calves burning from crouching for so long. “You told me once that you like it when something good comes from something bad. I don’t know what you’ll feel if she reminds you of him but I can hardly imagine you not loving her. You faced him in court in hopes of finding her. She is surely something good.”

“That was when I didn’t have you.” Phyllis whispered quietly as she nestled her tired head onto his shoulder. “Or our baby.”

“Are you worried that I don’t want Emma?” Joseph asked in sudden realization. “Or that we can’t have her and our baby?”

Phyllis shook her head again in frustration. “I don’t really know.”

“I suppose now is as good a time as any to tell you that I’ve spoken with Mr. Murray about options for Emma when we find her.” Joseph sighed as he brushed the hair out of his wife’s face. “He’s certain that your parental rights will hold up in court because they were stripped without your knowledge or consent. So if you want Emma you have every right to bring her home.”

“But Peter-” Phyllis began to protest.

“Terminated his parental rights when he signed the paperwork at Hutchison House and has no claim to her.” Joseph stopped her gently. “Mr. Murray has also assured me that I will be able to adopt Emma and that as soon as that’s done as far as anyone else is concerned we will be her parents.” When Phyllis pulled away from him with a furrowed brow he felt his heart drop into his stomach, suddenly aware that she would likely see this as another place he didn’t belong. “Of course that’s only if you’d like me to be. I am perfectly content to support you and Emma however I can regardless of who I am to her. Or you.”

Phyllis shook her head in confusion for several moments before turning back to him. “You want to adopt her?”

“I do.” Joseph affirmed quietly before amending his statement. “But if that’s not what you want-”

He was cut off abruptly by his wife’s lips pressing firmly against his own, her tears quickly dampening his own cheeks as he tried to process her reaction. 

“I want that.” She affirmed confidently once she’d pulled away. “I want you to want her. I want you to be her father. I didn’t realize that’s what I wanted but I do - so very much. I want her to be a part of our family, not a part of a past that I never wanted.”

“Then she is.” Joseph replied with a small smile. “Emma is ours and we are going to do whatever we can to make sure that she comes home.”

If he hadn’t been sure of his decision before this moment he was entirely convinced that this was the right thing for his family when he felt his wife fully relax into his arms for the first time in weeks. He relished the comfort he felt for some time until he realized that Phyllis was moments from falling asleep. Laughing slightly as he pressed his lips to her forehead he leaned down to quietly ask, “Can I take you home?”

Phyllis looked up at him with a small smile. “Please do.”

It was only a few days later that Thomas approached her in the servant’s hall while she was bent over her sewing machine working on repairing a hem of one of Lady Grantham’s coats.

“Your presence is requested in the library.” Thomas informed her with a sympathetic frown when she paled significantly in response.

“Is Mr. Murray here?” Her voice shook as she carefully removed the garment from the machine in front of her.

Thomas frowned sympathetically as he noted the obvious fear in her voice. “He is.”

“Is Joseph here?” She asked as she stood from the table and unplugged the machine.

“I believe Andy was just sent for him.” Thomas replied sympathetically before moving to lift the machine himself. “I’ll take care of putting this away. You go on up.”

Phllyis nodded before slowly making her way to the library, knocking once and waiting for an invitation to enter before making her way to the room that was once again occupied by Lord and Lady Grantham and their solicitor.

“I was told my presence was requested.” She murmured quietly when no one said anything upon her entrance. 

“Of course.” Cora assured her quickly, getting up herself and gently guiding her obviously nervous lady’s maid to the settee where she could be joined by her husband upon his arrival. “Would you like to wait for Mr. Molesley?”

Phyllis nodded firmly but said nothing else as she sat motionless at the edge of her seat, desperate for her husband to arrive so he could guide her through her increasingly mounting anxiety. 

“There’s no need to worry.” Mr. Murray tried to reassure her awkwardly. “I assure you that I only come bearing good news.”

“Please wait for my husband.” Phyllis stopped him angrily to the surprise of everyone in the room.

Cora frowned before nodding to her husband who took her cue to pull Mr. Murray aside and ask him about another matter while they waited for Joseph to arrive. “Is there anything I can do?” She asked softly as she sat across from her lady’s maid. 

“No.” Phyllis assured her quickly. “I just need my husband here.”

“Of course.” Cora nodded in understanding. “We’ll wait until he can get here.”

It was over an hour later that Joseph abruptly entered the room, an apology falling from his lips as he rushed to his wife. “I’m sorry. I was in class and Andy didn’t want to interrupt so I only found out you were waiting not ten minutes ago.”

“It’s alright.” Lady Grantham reassured him as she motioned for the other men to rejoin them. “I think we better get into it though before your wife’s nerves fray entirely.”

Joseph frowned as he felt his wife’s hand latch onto his own with a vice grip as soon as it was in reach but didn’t say anything, opting to follow Cora’s lead.

“Well as I told Mrs. Molesley I have some good news.” Mr. Murray assured the couple quickly as he took a seat himself. “My colleague was able to locate the city where your daughter was placed based on her immigiration paperwork in New York. She was placed in The Children’s Society Home at Niagara which is just across the border from upper New York.”

“Would she still be there?” Joseph asked quickly. “From my understanding she arrived over four years ago.”

“It’s some journey from New York and my colleague simply does not have the time to make the trip so I haven’t been able to confirm her current whereabouts. However, The Children’s Society keeps very good records. I am optimistic that they will be able to tell us Emma’s exact location as soon as we are in contact with the right person.” Mr. Murray assured them quickly. “I’ve sent a telegram and am waiting for a response any day now.”

“What are the next steps?” Joseph asked as he watched his wife’s face harden in frustration.

“As soon as we know Emma’s location we’ll file the paperwork with the London office to reinstate Mrs. Molesley’s parental rights.” Mr. Murray explained as he handed Joseph a small stack of papers. “Then it will just be a matter of securing her passage home. It will likely be a few months before someone is available to escort her home but I expect we’ll have her home before Spring.” 

“We have to go.” Phyllis muttered quietly as she shook her head. “If we need someone to bring her home we can go. We have to go.”

“Phyllis you can’t.” Joseph stopped her gently. “I know you want a resolution to this as soon as possible but you’re in no condition to travel.”

“Then you can go.” Phyllis argued firmly. “You have to go.”

“Mrs. Molesley, you need your husband with you.” Cora interjected gently. “But I agree that waiting until someone with the society is available to bring her home is not the right solution.”

“Frankly, Lady Grantham I’m uncertain of what other options we have.” Mr. Murray replied sympathetically. “While it’s inconvenient it’s imperative that we’re certain of the child’s safety in her travels. She’ll need to be accompanied by someone reputable, we can’t simply hire someone to do it.”

“Mrs. Molesley if you will allow it I would like to talk to my family about your situation.” Cora suggested firmly. “I won’t provide any unnecessary details but I expect that my mother will have connections that I expect will speed up this process.”

“Lady Grantham I couldn’t ask you-” Phyllis began to reply before she was quickly cut off. 

“You didn’t ask. I offered.” Cora corrected her firmly. “If you’ll also allow it and if Robert agrees I also think we should contact the Aldridges. My mother will have connections but she won’t be able to travel.”

“This is far too much-” Phyllis tried to protest before once again being cut off, this time by Lord Grantham.

“We have offered to help in any way that we can and this is a way we can help.” Robert was firm in his response before turning back to his wife. “Rose and Attitcus are planning a visit for Christmas anyway. I expect they would be more than willing to extend their trip if necessary to get her home as soon as possible.”

Phyllis’s hands were shaking as she tried to process the offer she was being presented with. While accepting help was something she’d been trying to be more open to it was entirely out of her nature and the situation at hand was quickly escalating out of control. 

Cora quickly sensed her distress and softened her approach considerably. “With your permission I would like to make a few calls. There’s no need to plan too far through this process until we know more. We can discuss the details of what you’re comfortable with as we go.”

Phyllis let out a deep breath as she rested her right palm against her small bump. “I suppose that would be acceptable.”

“I promise I’ll be discreet.” Cora assured her with a sympathetic smile. “Is there anything else we should know Mr. Murray?”

“I should give you the contact information of my colleague in New York in case your mother would like to contact him.” Mr. Murray began to converse quietly with the Granthams leaving Joseph to focus on his clearly nervous wife.

“Are you okay with this?” He asked carefully, not wanting to scare her off but needing to make sure she wasn’t being pressed too far. 

“I don’t know.” Phyllis admitted softly. “I hate feeling that I owe anyone anything - especially an employer - but I need this to be over. One way or another, I can’t handle the stress on top of everything else.”

Joseph nodded in understanding as he gave her hand a sympathetic squeeze. “Let’s get our daughter home.”

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry to barge in but my mother called and Robert and I agreed you should both be brought up to speed as soon as possible.” Cora apologized as she took the offered seat in the Molesley’s living room. It was late in the afternoon on her lady’s maid’s half day and she’d debated waiting until the next morning but it seemed cruel to leave her in the dark for any longer.

“Has your mother made any progress?” Phyllis asked anxiously as she gingerly sat down herself with the help of her husband. “Do we know where Emma is?”

Cora bobbed her head quickly with a small smile before  “Emma is with Rose and Atticuis Aldridge at their home in New York.”

“What?” Joseph couldn’t help his exclamation and he blushed furiously as the women in the room turned to him in surprise. “I’m sorry I must have misheard you. I thought you had said that Emma was-”

“Emma is with the Aldridges. My mother saw her herself this morning.” Cora confirmed, her smile much wider now.

Phyllis shook her head in confusion. “But how? Just last week your mother thought it would take another month to hear back from her contacts at The Children’s Society as they were out of town.”

“Lord Grantham and I reached out to the Aldridges about serving as an escort for Emma and potentially adjusting their travel plans accordingly and they insisted on helping more.” Cora explained carefully, well aware that her lady’s maid would be resistant to help that she hadn’t asked for. “Atticus took a train a few days ago to Niagara with all of the papers we’d already arranged with my mother and Mr. Wilson. The Children’s Society Home helped him find her quickly and the next day he was able to pick her up as an authorized escort by the New York office.”

“She’s safe?” Phyllis questioned anxiously.

“She’s perfectly fine.” Cora assured her. “She was training as a hall girl in a country home. From what Atticus could tell she was treated well.”

“She’s only eight.” Phyllis protested with a shake of her head. “She shouldn’t be working yet. She’s not strong enough.”

“It’s not uncommon in the Home Children program.” Joseph interjected softly. “They look for both homes and careers for children based on what’s needed in the area. Someone must have been interested in a younger girl.”

Cora nodded in affirmation. “From what Atticus was able to explain over the phone, the housekeeper at the home - a Mrs. Edmonds - had taken on a number of young girls who had yet to find homes to train them in service so they would have a chance at supporting themselves. He seemed confident that Emma had been safe and well cared for there.” 

“Oh my god.” Phyllis whispered softly. “And they’re sure it’s Emma?”

“They had her birth certificate.” Cora affirmed with a small frown before amending. “Well, her modified birth certificate.”

“It was all correct?” Phyllis questioned anxiously, terrified that at any moment everything would fall out from under her. 

Cora pulled a small piece of paper from her pocket and handed it over. “I took notes to be sure.”

Phyllis’s hands were shaking as she read through the notes time and time again, before whispering under her breath. “Emma Jane Coyle, born in London, England on the 24th of November 1919. Father: Peter Coyle of Cardiff, Wales. No mother listed.” 

“That’s our daughter.” Joseph whispered quietly, quickly pressing his lips to her forehead before turning back to Lady Grantham. “I don’t mean to be impertent but can I ask when we can expect her to arrive?”

“Of course.” Cora dismissed his concern quickly as she carefully managed her own emotions about the impending reunion. “Rose and Atticus booked passage for next week. They had considered earlier but there was minimal availability and it would have been a tight squeeze in a small cabin with two children. They depart on The Cameronia on the second of November with a planned arrival sometime between the eighth and tenth.”

“Oh my god.” Phyllis repeated quietly as she covered her eyes in an attempt to hide her now freely flowing tears. “She’ll be here before her birthday.”

“And what a birthday it will be.” Joseph smiled softly as he pulled his wife into his arms. “Thank you Lady Grantham, so much. For everything.”

“I am so glad we’ve been able to help.” Cora reassured him with a smile of her own. “You deserve happiness with your daughter.”

Phyllis nodded awkwardly as she forced herself to meet the eyes of her employer. “I can’t thank you enough.”

“You owe us nothing.” Cora replied firmly. “And I want you to know that Emma is as welcome at Downton as the young Mr. Bates and as your young one will be in due time and if anyone tries to make you feel otherwise you’re to let me know.”

“Lady Grantham.” Phyllis shook her head in protest. “I can’t allow you to risk the name of the family on me. I shouldn’t even be working for you once this becomes known.”

“Don’t be absurd.” Cora stopped her with a wave of her hand. “There is nothing shameful in the circumstances around your daughter and no one needs to know anything more than the basic details. Besides, Lord Grantham and I agree entirely on this matter so there’s nothing left to discuss.”

“You’re far too kind.” Phyllis blushed as she relaxed slightly. “But I appreciate the kindness more than you could know.”

Cora nodded with a smile before standing up to make her leave, cringing as she watched the now visibly pregnant woman try to rise quickly from her own seat before reaching desperately for her husband’s hand to balance herself. “Please, there’s no need.” She insisted quickly. “Mr. Molesley can show me out. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

Joseph carefully resettled his wife on the couch before leading Cora out the front door, following her out through the garden to open the gate for her as well. “Thank you Lady Grantham, for everything.”

“I am very happy for you both.” Cora gave him a final reassuring smile before beginning her walk back to the house.

It was late that evening when Joseph and Phyllis knocked at Bill Molesley’s door. They’d spent the better part of the afternoon adjusting to the news that Emma would be with them in less than a few weeks before Joseph had realized in a panic everything that needed to be done. 

The next hour or so was spent with Joseph dictating a list of things to do aloud as he scribbled it furiously on the top of a pad of paper he’d previously left on the kitchen table. Phyllis had occasionally chimed in with things to add until he stopped suddenly, hands shaking.

“Darling?” Phyllis asked worriedly as she approached the table slowly. “What’s the matter?”

Joseph blinked a few times before turning to his wife and whispering quietly, “We need to tell my father.”

After a significant debate Phyllis had insisted they tell him sooner rather than later - Joseph’s preference having been to wait until Emma had arrived to prevent his father from saying anything untoward - and the pair agreed to visit Bill Molesley after dinner.

“Joe, Phyllis!” Bill greeted them with a smile as he noticed his daughter-in-law’s now visible bump that betrayed the news of his impending grandchild. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“We have some news.” Joseph stammered nervously as he followed his father into the familiar living room, helping Phyllis to take a seat in one of the two armchairs before quickly grabbing a wooden chair from the kitchen for himself. 

“Son, I’m certain the two of you remember telling me that you’re expecting?” Bill questioned suspiciously as he sat down in the remaining chair. 

“Of course.” Joseph reassured him quickly. “And we are so glad that you’re excited about the baby, but there’s something else you should know.”

Bill frowned as he noticed his son shifting nervously in his chair. “Nothing bad I hope?”

“No.” Phyllis interjected quickly. “In fact it’s something we’re quite happy about. It is however, complex.”

Bill nodded thoughtfully as he observed his daughter-in-law, not yet familiar enough with her mannerisms to guess how concerned he should be. “Well, one of the pair of you ‘ought to tell me don’t you think?”

“Is it alright if I do?” Joseph quickly met his wife’s eyes and waited for her nod of confirmation before carefully proceeding. “Phyllis and I are going to have two children.”

“You’re having twins?” Bill’s eyes widened in surprise as he examined the still relatively small bump.

“No.” Joseph shook his head quickly. “No, we’re not, at least not that we know of. I’m going to be adopting an eight year old little girl.”

Bill’s eyes widened further at that. “I beg your pardon?”

Phyllis smiled sympathetically at her husband before she interjected. “Her name is Emma, Emma Jane Baxter, and she’s my daughter.”

“I don’t understand.” Bill shook his head in confusion, his voice raising as he tried to process the information. “How could you marry a man without telling him you already had a husband and a child?”

“It’s not like that.” Joseph stopped him firmly, suddenly having gathered the courage he had lacked before. “Phyllis was separated from Emma under circumstances that were far beyond her control and we are both overjoyed to have her joining our family.”

“But the girl’s father?” Bill protested, now directing his frustration toward his son.

“Is none of your concern.” Joseph stopped him again. “He has no right to the child and will not be a part of our lives.”

Bill laughed tiredly as he watched his son defend a woman he was quickly losing his own trust in. “Joe you must be smart enough to know that’s not how these things go. How could you be so naive as to agree to this?”

“Father stop.” Joseph’s voice was ice cold as he tried to figure out how to protest the accusations that were flying dangerously close to being directed as his wife. “You don’t understand what you’re saying.”

“Then who is the child’s father? And why didn’t she tell you about him or her daughter? Or did she and you’ve known about this the whole time?” Bill retorted immediately. “What exactly don’t I understand?”

“Emma’s father is a man named Peter Coyle.” Phyllis spoke confidently before her husband could manage a response. “Peter Coyle and I worked together in a London house for some time and during that time he repeatedly forced himself on me, which led to a child. Due to circumstances outside of my control I was unable to care for her for a period of time and during that time she was taken by her father, who is now in prison, without my knowledge or consent.”

She stopped briefly as she gauged the reaction in the room. Joseph’s hand had slipped over her own, his expression a mixture of shock and pride as he listened to her confidently recount her past for the first time. Bill’s eyes had widened as far as possible and were now filled with shock and regret as he processed the revelations his daughter-in-law was making and the implications of his accusations from only moments before. 

“I looked for my daughter - Emma - for some time but eventually I gave up hope.” Phyllis continued. “As you can likely imagine, finding out that I was expecting brought the unresolved feelings I had hidden about that period of my life to the forefront and your son has been nothing but supportive since I told him. It’s because of him that my daughter is coming home.”

Joseph nodded firmly in support of his wife as he found his voice once more. “I understand that this is far from traditional but I am going to be supporting my wife in this. She deserves this far more than you’ll ever understand and I am grateful that she’s allowing me to be a part of Emma’s life.” 

Bill sat quietly for some time, his eyes darting back and forth between the pair in front of them as he tried to process the news. When he managed to speak his voice wavered significantly as he quietly admitted, “I owe you both an apology.”

“It’s alright Mr. Molesley.” Phyllis gave him a small smile before wincing as she felt Joseph’s hand tighten around hers.

“It’s not.” Joseph stopped her quickly. “You do owe Phyllis an apology. I don’t care what you think about me or my judgement but Phyllis is my wife and you were far too eager to dismiss her the moment things got hard. She’s had more than enough of that in her life.”

Bill nodded in agreement. “You’re right. Phyllis I never should have jumped to the conclusions that I did. My assumptions were harsh and unfair and they painted you as something I know you are not. You have made my son very happy and I can’t thank you enough for that. I hope you’ll allow me to be involved with your children but I understand if that’s not something you find appropriate after this.”

“You have raised a very good son Mr. Molesley.” Phyllis replied with a soft smile as she recognized her husband’s compassion and empathy in his father. “He is a kind man because you are his father. I understand that your concerns and unkind remarks came from a place of love for your son and I don’t hold them against you.”

Bill smiled sheepishly before meeting his son’s eyes. “I’m sorry Joe.”

“You can show me how much by being an excellent grandfather to both of your grandchildren.” Joseph replied with a pointed look.

Bill nodded firmly with a sincere smile. “I am very much looking forward to it.”

The next morning brought Phyllis’s own panic in regard to their preparations for Emma’s arrival when she realized that she would be facing her own family’s judgement on the situation sooner or later.

Joseph was surprised when he woke with the sunrise to find Phyllis sitting up in bed, staring straight ahead as she quietly muttered to herself. “Are you alright?” Joseph asked anxiously as he sat up himself. “Did you get any sleep last night?”

Phyllis shook her head before leaning back into his outstretched arms. “We have to tell the staff about Emma.” Phyllis whispered quietly as she tried to calm her racing heart. 

Joseph smiled sympathetically as he gently rubbed her back. “We do.” 

“Joseph what if they don’t understand?” Phyllis turned to him anxiously. “What if they ask about her dad? What if they want me gone?”

Joseph frowned as his wife’s breathing increased rapidly signaling her growing distress. “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” He tried to calm her down. “It’s going to be alright love. The staff likes you and they’re going to want to support you.”

She shook her head in frustration as she turned back to him. “I don’t know if I can do this.”

“You can.” Joseph assured her gently. “We can do it together.”

After another hour of back and forth - questioning and comforting - in an attempt to lessen Phyllis’s anxiety they finally agreed to arrange a meeting with Thomas and Mrs. Hughes for that afternoon and despite Phyllis’s lessened distress on the matter she found that the time arrived far too quickly.

At Mrs. Hughes’s insistence they were meeting in her sitting room and it was clear from the tension in the air that the housekeeper was frustrated by how little she knew about the premise of the requested meeting while Thomas seemed perfectly involved already. 

“When did Mr. Molesley say he’d be here?” Mrs. Hughes asked pointedly as she checked her timepiece for the third time since she’d let Thomas and Phyllis into the room nearly twenty minutes prior. 

“He’s coming straight from the schoolhouse.” Phyllis explained quickly. “He’ll be here.”

“And we can’t discuss this matter without him?” Mrs. Hughes asked impatiently as she began to straighten the china cabinet in an attempt to find something to occupy her mind.

“We should wait.” Thomas interjected. While he wasn’t entirely certain what this meeting was about, he was far more aware of the maid’s personal affairs than the housekeeper was and he didn’t see any benefit in forcing her to discuss whatever she’s already shaking about alone.

Mrs. Hughes had sighed heavily and was moving on to her desk when a quick knock at the door announced the arrival of an incredibly apologetic Joseph. “I’m terribly sorry, I was held up with a few students who had a disagreement - well a fight really - and I needed to see them to Mr. Dawes office.”

Phyllis smiled as he quickly took a seat in the chair next to his wife, immediately resting a hand on her knee in an attempt to ease her clear anxiety. “It’s alright.” She assured him softly before waiting to be addressed. 

Mrs. Hughes took a moment to settle herself at her desk before looking back to them. “I’ve gathered from context that whatever this is is important so we might as well get to it.”

Phyllis nodded, taking a deep breath before launching into the explanation she’d rehearsed in her mind throughout the day. “I have an eight year old daughter that I was separated from during my time in Holloway that I am to be reunited with soon. I know your primary concern will be the family so I want to assure you that Lord and Lady Grantham already know and are very supportive. I hope that I’ll find similar support with the staff but I understand that you will have questions about the situation.”

Mrs. Hughes's expression was unreadable for several moments as she processed the news that she was fairly certain her male counterpart had already been privy to. When she finally managed a response her voice was certain. “I do have questions but I want you to know that none of them come from a place of distrust or suspicion. I only wish to know how to best support you in this.”

Thomas’s eyebrows raised in surprise but he didn’t question her response, instead choosing to quickly add his own support. “We will certainly do anything we can to help.”

“That’s very kind.” Phyllis blushed as she wiped away the tears that had quickly sprung to the surface at the unexpected response. “Thank you.”

Mrs. Hughes smiled gently as she handed Phyllis a handkerchief before turning to Joseph. “I assume your presence here indicates that this is something you’re alright with?”

Joseph nodded firmly. “I will be adopting Emma in due course and she will be a part of our family permanently.”

“May I ask about the girl’s father?” Mrs. Hughes asked cautiously as she eyed the still teary-eyed woman across from her.

“You’ll remember a Mr. Coyle I was asked to provide a character witness for.” Phyllis replied quietly, certain she was confirming a suspicion more than anything else.

Mrs. Hughes nodded with a sympathetic frown. “Am I correct in presuming that the child is a result of a relationship in which you did not choose to participate?” Phyllis’s eyes widened in surprise at the housekeeper’s intuition but she nodded in affirmation. “Am I also correct to assume that this is something you would prefer was not public knowledge?”

Phyllis nodded once again, this time meeting Thomas’s angry eyes across the room. His expression was much the same as it had been when she’d told him about Emma, and how she’d come about, the first time. “Thomas?” She asked softly, hoping that his response to the mention of Peter’s actions would be far less explosive than it had been then.

“You’re sure you don’t want people to know the truth?” He replied cautiously, brow furrowed in concern. “People here will think the worst of you and you don’t deserve that.”

“We can avoid that while still protecting your privacy.” Mrs. Hughes interjected firmly. “All anyone needs to know is that she’s your daughter who you were separated from.”

“People will ask about the father.” Thomas argued back. “You know the staff as well as I and it won’t take but a week for the rumors to make their way upstairs and beyond the house.”

“It’s my understanding that the family is already aware of the situation.” Mrs. Hughes retorted smartly. “And there are other reasons besides criminality for an absent father.”

Phyllis looked up suddenly in recognition. “You want me to say he’s died.”

Thomas immediately took issue with the suggestion. “What happens when that low life comes here looking for her?”

“I won’t push you to do anything you do not think appropriate.” Mrs. Hughes assured her gently, trying to calm the now visibly agitated woman across from her. “But it does seem the most obvious solution to this predicament.”

Thomas quickly took issue with her argument and began to pursue an agenda of his own causing the pair to quickly lose focus on the issue at hand. Joseph sighed as he watched his wife’s eyes glass over as she tried to tune out the argument taking place across the room and moved his chair in front of hers in an attempt to regain her attention. “Phyllis, look at me. How do you want to handle this? It’s entirely your choice.”

It took several moments Phyllis’s eyes to slowly focus on his own and her voice was barely audible when she whispered her response. “He’s dead to me. He might as well be the same to everyone else.”

“Then that’s the plan.” Joseph reassured her quietly, his hands wrapping tightly around her shaking ones before he turned to the other pair in the room, raising his voice in an attempt to regain their attention so he could get his wife out of this conversation. “Phyllis agrees with Mrs. Hughes. Do either of you have any other pressing questions?”

Thomas and Mrs. Hughes turned back to them, both blushing slightly as they asked in unison, “When will she arrive?”

At Joseph’s request they’d waited a few days before making an announcement downstairs. Phyllis hadn’t slept at all the night after the conversation with Thomas and Mrs. Hughes, constantly waking Joseph to ask whether he thought she’d made the right decision and how he thought various people would react. He’d been supportive, more than willing to listen to the concerns she had while simultaneously reassuring her that everything would be fine, but it had left him with his own reservations about how the staff would take the news and he found he was far more on edge than he’d anticipated when Thomas stood before dinner on the agreed upon evening.

“If you’ll all take a seat Mr. and Mrs. Molesley have some news that they would like to share.” Thomas crossed his arms at his front as he waited for the group to settle, turning his own attention to the couple seated to his left. “The floor is yours.”

Joseph waited several moments for his wife to speak as they’d agreed upon that morning but when he looked over to find her panicked expression it became clear that this was something he would need to help with. 

Clearing his throat as he stood from his chair to stand behind his still frozen wife he carefully began to speak. “Mrs. Molesley and I wanted to let you know as a group about an upcoming change in our family.”

“We already know about the baby.” Daisy interjected with a smirk from behind him, serving as a welcome icebreaker for the incredibly nervous man who managed a small chuckle in response.

“Yes of course. This is about something different.” He affirmed with a smile in the direction of the kitchen maid before furrowing his brow in concentration as he relayed the speech his wife had given to him multiple times. “Due to circumstances outside of her control Mrs. Molesley was separated from her daughter before she came to Downton. Recently we have had the good fortune of receiving some information that has allowed us to find her and very soon she will be coming to live with us, permanently.”

There was a significant amount of chatter around the room but it was once again Daisy’s voice that met his ears. “Mr. Molesley what about her father?”

“The girl’s father passed away.” Mrs. Hughes quickly supplied for him, meeting Daisy’s eyes with sharp ones of her own. “Not that it’s entirely any of your business.”

“The family is aware of the situation and has already shown their support to the Molesleys.” Thomas added quickly, hoping to nip any other potentially embarrassing questions or objections in the bud.

Daisy, suitably admonished but still curious spoke up once again. “How old is she?” 

“Emma will be nine next month.” Phyllis replied with a wary smile in the younger woman’s direction. Daisy smiled back as the various conversations around the room took over.

“Anna, Mrs. Molesley will take a week after Emma arrives.” Mrs. Hughes noted seriously. “We’ll need to discuss the arrangements for Lady Grantham during that time.”

“Of course.” Anna nodded immediately, making sure to send a friendly nod towards the Molseley’s at the end of the table. “I can certainly handle Lady Mary and her Ladyship.”

“If there are any concerns from members of staff Lady and Lord Grantham have made it clear that they should be brought directly to them. Understood?” Thomas quickly regained the attention of the room with his brusque tone.

“I don’t believe there’s anyone here who has concerns about Mrs. Molesley’s happiness.” Mr. Bates interjected with a small smile towards the clearly nervous couple across from him and his wife. 

“We’re all very happy for ya both.” Mrs. Patmore affirmed from the doorway to the kitchen where she and Daisy stood with the trays for the staff’s dinner before turning back to Thomas. “Now I don’t mean to be impertinent but may we serve the dinner now Mr. Barrow?”

Thomas nodded with a small grunt of disapproval before taking his seat and allowing the meal to continue without further formal interruptions.

While there were a few questions throughout the meal, Phyllis and Joseph were both relieved to find that the members of staff simply seemed to want to know more in an attempt to be supportive rather than to judge their situation or to find gossip to fuel the rumor mill and soon the staff had dispersed to do their evening work leaving the Molesleys alone with Thomas in the servant’s hall.

Phyllis sat quietly for some time before turning to Thomas with a perplexed expression. “That went well didn’t it?”

“It went well.” Thomas assured her with a smile. “I told you that people like you.”

Phyllis blushed as she shook her head. “I suppose but I never would have thought this house would be so open to such an unfamiliar situation.”

“Why not this house?” Thomas challenged with a smirk. “I’m the butler after all.”

Phyllis frowned at that. “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” She insisted before being quickly met with a quick peck on the cheek as Thomas registered the drawing room bell ringing.

“I won’t.” He reassured her softly before hastily making his way up the stairs leaving Phyllis and Joseph alone.

“What?” She challenged with narrowed eyes as she tried to gauge the odd expression on her husband’s face.

Joseph shook his head with a smile. “I was just thinking about how glad I am that you have someone like Thomas on your side.”

Phyllis smirked at that, remembering that it wasn’t long ago that they’d had conversations of quite the opposite nature at this very table. “I know that you and Thomas don’t necessarily get along, but he’s important to me.”

“I know.” Joseph affirmed immediately. “And while he and I will likely never have the best of relationships, I’m very glad for yours.”

“You’re a very good husband Mr. Molesley.” Phyllis replied quietly, taking the opportunity of being alone to pull his hand over to rest on her stomach. “And you’ll be a very good father.”

They sat quietly for a while until the bell rang signalling that Lady Grantham was ready for bed.

“That’s me.” Phyllis smiled sadly as she carefully stood from her chair before offering her husband an out for the evening. “Why don’t you head home? I can certainly walk myself.”

Joseph shook his head as he pointed to his long abandoned briefcase in the corner of the room. “I brought marking to do. I can wait as long as you need.”

With a quick kiss and a quietly whispered, “Thank you” Phyllis made her way upstairs to finish work for the day, more than hopeful that she’d be done soon enough to spend some more time decompressing with Joseph before it was entirely too late. 

She finished her work relatively quickly and was about to leave the large dressing closet upstairs when she all but bumped into Anna.

“Oh, Mrs. Molesley I’m sorry.” Anna apologized profusely from behind the pile of dresses she was carrying. “Lady Mary wanted to try on a number of pieces for an event she and Mr. Talbot will be attending this weekend and I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew in carrying them all at once.”

Phyllis smirked as she reached for the top garment. “Let me help.”

The two chatted while they worked for some time before Anna broached the question she’d been holding back since dinner. “Mrs. Molesley I hope you don’t mind me asking but... your daughter. Her father’s not dead is he?”

Phyllis’s eyes widened in shock at the question, her hands losing their grip on the dress she was holding as she stammered a response. “I… I don’t know what you mean. Why would you… what makes you think that?”

Anna shook her head in regret as she watched the other woman begin to panic. “No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I just-” She stopped and took a deep breath before continuing, careful as she selected the words to explain herself. “It’s not proper for me to make this sort of assumption but the man who hurt you, he’s her father?”

Phyllis managed a small nod as she blushed furiously at the realization that Anna had so quickly put the pieces of the puzzle together.

“I won’t tell anyone” Anna assured her quickly, immediately regretting the awkward position she’d put the older woman in. “Dead or alive, I couldn’t care less. I only wanted you to know I think you’re very brave for facing that part of your past again and to offer a listening ear if you ever find that you’re in need of one.”

Phyllis sighed tiredly before leaning down to pick up the dress that she’d dropped.“You’re very kind to say that.”

Anna frowned sympathetically, reaching over to take the final dress from the now visibly exhausted woman as she apologized again. “I’m sorry for asking. I shouldn’t have said anything. It wasn’t my place to-”

“No.” Phyllis stopped her suddenly. “It’s alright. I find that I’m rather glad to know that you’d guessed. I appreciate your transparency.”

Anna gave a nod of understanding as she finished adjusting the dresses in front of her before turning back to the older woman. “Mr. Bates is almost waiting downstairs with Johnny by now if you’d like some company on your walk home.”

“Joseph is also waiting.” Phyllis replied with a shy smile. “But thank you for the offer.”

The pair made their way down to the servant’s hall to find both of their husbands sitting at the table with Johnny Bates and a deck of cards clearly attempting to teach him some sort of game that he had no interest in learning.

“Mummy!” Johnny announced excitedly as soon as he saw Anna, throwing the pair of cards his father had finally convinced him to hold onto into the air as he scrambled off his chair. 

Anna smiled as the toddler crashed into her legs at full force. “Oh boy, someone has far too much energy for this time of night.” 

“That’s almost certainly my fault.” Joseph apologized as he gathered the cards that were strewn across the room. “I thought Johnny might enjoy a game of go fish but it seems he’s still a bit young for the concept.”

Anna laughed as she picked up her increasingly impatient son. “It’s alright Mr. Molesley. Thank you for keeping my boys occupied while I finished up this evening.”

“Oh of course.” Joseph waved as the three of them made their way out the back before returning the box of cards to the mantle and turning to his wife. “Are you ready as well?

Phyllis bobbed her head in affirmation as she carefully sat down. “I thought you had grading.” She chided softly as he grabbed his bag from the same corner it had been in when she’d departed earlier. 

Joseph smirked as he pressed a quick peck to her cheek. “It’s done, I promise.” He assured her before meeting her eyes in concern. “Are you alright?”

Phyllis sighed before giving him a reassurance of her own. “I’m alright, just tired.”

“You’ve had a long day.” Joseph affirmed quietly. “Let’s get you home.”

They had made it nearly halfway home when Phyllis stopped suddenly, unbuttoning the midsection of her coat and pressing her hand cautiously against her small bump. “Phyllis?” Joseph’s panicked voice met her ears and she shook her head with a small smile.

“It’s okay. I’m fine.” She assured him as she took his hand in her own and guided under her own. “Just wait a moment.”

Joseph furrowed his brow but did as he was told and it was only a few moments before he looked up at her in shock after feeling a small tap against his hand. “Is that?” He asked as he desperately searched for confirmation that he received in the form of a small nod. “Oh my god, there’s a baby in there.”

“Of course there is.” Phyllis smirked as she pressed her lips against his. “That’s your baby Mr. Molesley.”

“Oh my god.” Joseph exclaimed excitedly as he crashed his lips back onto hers, only pulling away to quietly whisper over and over, “I love you. I love you so much.” 

She moaned softly in response and it wasn’t until she abruptly pulled away that he realized that he may have accidentally crossed an unspoken line. “Is everything alright?

Phyllis managed a smile as she nodded, re-buttoning her coat and taking his hand in hers. “Yes, I’d just like to get home.”

“Well then let’s go home.” Joseph replied with a forced smile of his own as they continued their walk, all the while praying desperately that he hadn’t done anything that would add to the stress that he already knew she was feeling about their relationship.

Please don’t let this ruin anything.

Chapter Text

“Mr. Molesley!” Ginny Patrickson’s egar voice called his attention back to her raised hand and the class in front of him. 

Joseph shook his head as he tried to refocus on the debate his older students were having about the pros and cons of parliamentary and presidential democratic systems. “Yes Miss Patrickson?”

Ginny sat up slightly straighter as she darted her eyes angrily towards a clearly agitated Paul Jones across the room before turning back to their teacher. “Is it fair to say that the American presidential-congressional system is largely based off the parliamentary system in that it attempts to accomplish a similar result through opposing means?”

Joseph took a moment to re-acclimate to the discussion before managing a response that set off a new round of debate that he knew he could check out from for a few minutes. While he loved his job, he was finding it entirely impossible to focus on it today. 

In the week since they’d found Emma he and Phyllis had spent their evenings trying to prepare the cottage for both of their impending arrivals. The small room behind the kitchen that had once been used for storage had been sorted through and cleaned out and was filled again with some of the furniture from Joseph's own childhood bedroom. The small iron bed frame he had once inhabited was tucked firmly in the corner behind the door alongside a short bookshelf that Phyllis had spent an evening painting a light green color in an attempt to bring life back to the well-worn piece before Joseph had filled it to the brim with books. Mr. and Mrs. Carson had volunteered a small chest of drawers they’d purchased a larger replacement for that they positioned opposite the bed with a mirror mounted above it. The final corner of the room was occupied by an intricate wooden crib that one of his father’s friends from the village had insisted on passing on for the newest Molesley with a gifted moses basket from Lady Grantham waiting inside. A trip to Ripon on the weekend had furnished them with the necessary linens and supplies for both children and new mattresses that would be delivered in the next few days. 

While he’d hoped that getting things in order would help calm Phyllis’s continually mounting nerves it seemed to have had the opposite effect. He hadn’t realized throughout the week that she’d been using the projects as a distraction from her thoughts and now that they’d run out of things to do she’d become even more agitated and distant which was what was now diverting his attention from the history class he was meant to be teaching.

After stumbling through a few more questions he was finally granted a reprieve from his increased frustration in trying to simultaneously manage his personal and professional life when the bell rang to signal the end of the day.

There were a few lingering students with questions about books he had lent them from his personal collection, but soon enough he was left alone in his classroom with his thoughts.

It was a Thursday which meant that traditionally Phyllis would come home for dinner before going back to dress Lady Grantham for bed, but tonight he’d made other plans. Hopeful that a night out in town would be a welcome distraction for her, he’d made a reservation at the hotel restaurant for the two of them last week. It had seemed a good idea at the time but he was starting to doubt himself after her outburst last night after his father had stopped by unannounced.

Bill Molesley had just left the small cottage when Joseph turned to his obviously angry wife and cautiously asked, “Is everything alright?”

“What the hell do you think?” She snapped angrily.

Joseph took a moment to steady himself before managing a surprisingly calm, “Phyllis.”

“I only wish that you’d consult me before scheduling events I’m expected to be at.” She tried to explain her agitation.

Joseph sighed as he sat down next to her. “I didn’t realize my father visiting constituted an event.” His wife’s own sigh was signal enough that that was not the point and he cringed as she awkwardly hoisted herself from the settee. “I’m sorry my love. If it’s too much for you right now to have him dropping in like this-”

Phyllis shook her head tiredly. “No. That’s not fair to you. I just… I need some space right now.”

He was startled out of his thoughts by a knock on his classroom door frame signalling the arrival of his father.

“You look awful son.” Bill greeted him with a chuckle as he made his way across the room and placed a neatly wrapped bouquet of flowers on his desk. “Brought these for Phyllis, thought she looked like she could use some cheering up last night.”

Joseph sighed with a frown as he met his father’s eyes. “It’s that obvious?”

Bill shook his head with a frown of his own as he pulled a chair from a nearby desk and sat down with his son. “I was mostly joking but now you’ve got me worried. Is something wrong?”

“I don’t know.” Joseph admitted quietly.

Bill’s brow furrowed as he observed his clearly distressed child. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“I’m afraid not.” Joseph sighed tiredly. “I’m not entirely certain what’s going on myself, so I couldn’t say what would be helpful.”

Bill bobbed his head in understanding before softening and placing his hand gently on his son’s shoulder. “I just hope that you know you can talk to me.”

“I do.” Joseph affirmed quickly. “And I truly appreciate that.”

Phyllis needed distraction, which was how she found herself in the boot room after dressing Lady Grantham for dinner, elbow deep in shoe cleaning and repairs that she and Anna always seemed to run out of time for. She shifted her weight uncomfortably as she scrubbed at a pair of boots Lady Mary had worn when she’d taken Master George and Miss Caroline out to see the pigs at Yew Tree Farm nearly a week prior. 

The memory of the three of them returning to the house entirely caked in mud pulled at her emotions more than she would like to admit as she briefly allowed herself to imagine such an outing with her own children. She shook her head anxiously and shifted herself once again, carefully placing the freshly cleaned shoes on the counter to dry before drying her wet hands on her apron and moving on to a heel repair that she’d been putting off for some time.

She was just beginning to make progress on the job when the door to the boot room flew open to reveal a somewhat disheveled Thomas. “Mrs. Molesley can you help me?”

“What seems to be the trouble Mr. Barrow?” She smirked slightly without looking up from her task.

“Mr. Bates has informed me that somehow all of His Lordship’s dinner shirts are missing a button.” His voice was exasperated as he nodded to the small pile of white shirts carefully laid across his arms. “Normally he’d have Anna help but Lady Mary is still dressing and I-”

“Can’t replace a button.” Phyllis finished for him with a nod as she motioned toward a pile of linens in the corner. “Bring me a sheet to place on the table - no use in soiling the shirts in the process - and then get my sewing kit from the cupboard.”

It took a few moments of concentration but it wasn’t long before Phyllis handed him a repaired shirt with a small smile and he bolted out the door.

When he returned he wasn’t surprised to see a neat stack of shirts folded at the edge of the crisp linen that had been haphazardly thrown across the table. What he hadn’t been prepared for was her  staring aimlessly at the final shirt that was firmly gripped in her hands. It had been apparent for several days now that something was wrong, but they hadn’t had a moment alone until now.

“Hey.” He whispered softly as he placed a hand gently on her shoulder, cringing when she flinched away from him. “Are you alright?”

“Perfectly fine.” Phyllis assured him through gritted teeth as she refocused on the task at hand. “Just a bit distracted.”

Thomas sighed as he sat on the stool across the table from her in an attempt to bridge the obvious gap between the two of them. “Please, let me help Phyllis. Whatever it is, you can tell me. You know that.”

“You can’t help.” She finally snapped as she folded the final dress shirt and added it carefully to the small pile before awkwardly rising to her feet while pressing her hand against her side. “I have to go, I’m going home for dinner. I’ll be back to dress Lady Grantham for bed.” Thomas sighed as he watched her storm clumsily from the room, entirely aware that he’d made things worse rather than better.

When she rounds the corner into the servant’s hall she can hear her husband speaking with Mrs. Hughes in hushed tones. “Are you certain it’s alright?”

“Of course Mr. Molesley.” Mrs. Hughes dismissed him swiftly. “Don’t worry about us, Anna can handle Her Ladyship this evening. I will warn you that she won’t want to go in her work clothes.”

Joseph nodded in agreement. “I’ve planned enough time for us to stop at home and change.”

Phyllis raised an eyebrow in confusion at his words, her stomach lurching uncomfortably at the sudden uncertainty that had been introduced to what she’d expected to be a predictable evening. “Stopping at home to change?”

“I hope you don’t mind but I’ve made us a reservation at The Netherby this evening.” Joseph smiled as he helped her into her coat. “I thought we could use a night out before Emma arrives.”

Phyllis’s eyes had widened slightly at that but she simply nodded without protest as he reached down to take her hand in his. The brief walk home was quiet but her tight grip on his hand reassured him that she wanted him there.

“I’ll just be a moment.” She excused herself as he helped her back out of her coat before slowly making her way up the narrow stairs to their bedroom. Joseph couldn’t ignore the obvious tension in her shoulders as he watched her leave the room.

When she came back downstairs she seemed even more agitated, her hands fiddling with the seams of her tan and black drop waist dress that her belly was now pushing obviously against.

“You look wonderful.” He tried to compliment her but she simply shrugged noncommittally as she took her coat back from him.

“We should get going.” She reminded him quietly before making her way back out the front door and waiting for him to follow.

The walk into town somehow seemed even quieter than their walk to the cottage earlier and Joseph tried to ignore the sense of dread that was settling in his stomach as they made their way into the small hotel restaurant.

They’d settled into their table for only a moment when their server came over to get their order and Phyllis’s disinterest in the menu only made him doubt himself further. When his father had suggested this he thought it would help her relax but it was clear that the opposite 

The conversation was notably single-sided and he was trying to find it in his heart to not be frustrated with his clearly overwhelmed wife but the longer she went without replying the more amplified his own agitation became.

“Is your meal alright?” Joseph asked after watching her once again push the food around her plate without taking a bite.

“It’s fine.” She shook her head awkwardly as she continued to noncommittally shove the food around the plate with her fork.

“Then what is wrong?“ Joseph finally sighed in frustration. “Something’s been bothering you so why don’t you just tell me what it is so I can help?”

Phyllis’s eyes slowly scanned up to meet his and he wasn’t at all surprised to see them shining with tears. “I can’t.”

“What could there possibly be left that you feel you can’t tell me?” Joseph snapped in frustration. “After all we’ve been through how can you still not trust me?”

She visibly flinched at his harsh whisper and looked back down to her plate before softly whispering. “It’s not that I don’t trust you.”

“Then what’s the problem?” Joseph asked again, regretting his exasperated tone less than a moment later when her tears began to freely flow. 

Phyllis shook her head in frustration. “Joseph, please don’t do this. Not here.”

“Is it something I’ve done?” He tried again softly as he handed her the handkerchief he’d pulled from his pocket. “Phyllis - please - talk to me. Tell me how to help.”

“You should pay the check.” She whispered suddenly as she shakily rose from the table, well aware that much of the restaurant had eyes on her as she tried to decide how to handle the now overwhelming anxiety that had coupled with her discomfort. “I need some air.”

Joseph signaled for the Matire d’ and settled their bill before hastily making his own way outside to find his wife leaning tiredly against a stone wall. He cleared his throat gently to alert her to his presence, hopeful that she’d provide some sort of explanation. When she didn’t reply he gently spoke. “Phyllis?” 

Phyllis stared at him for some time before finally whispering, “I’d like to go home.” 

“Then we’ll go home.”

As soon as they’d arrived home Phyllis made a bee line for the washroom upstairs, locking the door firmly behind herself in a last ditch attempt to avoid the conversation that she knew was inevitable. It took longer than she expected but eventually there was a timid knock at the door.

“I’m sorry Phyllis.” Joseph apologized through the door. “There is far too much going on right now for me to be putting any additional pressure on you.”

Phyllis sighed but didn’t budge from leaning against the door behind her, wrapping her arms tightly around herself in an attempt to calm the panic that was rising quickly in her chest. 

“I hate to think that you feel that you need to forcibly shut me out.” Joseph replied quietly as he moved to sit at the end of their bed. 

He couldn’t say how much time had passed but eventually the door separating them opened and Phyllis nervously made her way back into their bedroom, wringing her hands as she stopped to stand in front of him.

“I’m sorry Phyllis.” Joseph apologized once again. “I shouldn’t have sprung dinner out on you like that. You’re overwhelmed enough as it is.”

Phyllis shook her head tiredly at that, shifting her weight nervously before managing to speak in a quiet voice. “I want…” She bit her lip in frustration as she looked down at him. “I need help with something but I’m scared.”

“Is something wrong with the baby?” Joseph jumped up in a panic, gently pressing his hand to her stomach before she jumped backwards and into the wall behind her as she shook her head frantically.

“The baby is fine.” She reassured him between deep breaths before looking up at him with teary eyes. “It’s me. I’m… I’ve found myself in a rather uncomfortable predicament and I… I don’t know what to do.”

Joseph shook his head in frustration as he tried to understand what was happening. “My love, I’m afraid if I’m left in the dark much longer my mind is going to come to conclusions far worse than the truth is so would you please try to tell me what’s going on?”

Phyllis nodded slowly, allowing him to guide her to the edge of the bed where she carefully adjusted her position several times before she spoke again, her voice shaky and quiet. “I haven’t wanted to bother you with this because I don’t feel ready to do anything about it but it’s been almost a week of nonstop pain and I don’t know how much longer I can take it.” She met his incredibly concerned eyes which made her blush furiously and stare down at her lap before somehow lowering her voice and admitting, “God Joseph, I ache for you.”

Joseph’s eyebrows shot up in surprise at her admission, “You what ?!”

Phyllis bit her lip firmly as she tried to find the words she needed to express her internal struggle. “When you kissed me that night - on our walk home - I felt a twinge of something I haven’t felt since… well our wedding night.” She explained softly. “And at first it was wonderful to feel that for you again. It gave me hope that one day we would be intimate again - which I want, I really truly do - but I’m not ready for it.”

“Darling you don’t need to...” Joseph began to comfort her before she firmly gripped onto his hands to regain his attention.

“I know that.” She reassured him quickly. “I know that you want me to feel safe and that you would never pressure me into anything I didn’t want to do.” She paused awkwardly as she shifted her weight beneath herself once again. “However, my body seems to be playing by a different set of rules.”

Joseph’s eyes widened slightly as he remembered how this conversation had started. “You said you’ve been in pain?”

Phyllis nodded as she wiped at the tears that were now streaming down her cheeks. “It was only uncomfortable at first, but it’s settled into a deep and sharp throbbing that hasn’t stopped.”

“Oh my love.” Joseph moved to put his arms around her before stopping abruptly at the realization that his touch would likely only make things worse. “How can I help?”

Phyllis laughed miserably at that, feeling a painful shock of pleasure at the prospect of simply giving in to her body and asking him to take her then and there. “I’m quite certain from experience that you already know the answer to that.”

Joseph shook his head with a deep frown. “I don’t want to do anything that you’re not entirely certain you want.”

“Joseph I can’t live like this.” She protested immediately. “I’m scared of what could happen but I need… I need…”

“You need release.” He finished gently for her, pausing for a moment before quietly reassuring her that he understood. “You shouldn’t be in pain like this.”

“And yet I am, with no means of relief.” Phyllis sighed sadly as she adjusted her position once again in an attempt to relieve some of the pain she was feeling.

“Darling you can’t go on like this.” Joseph shook his head, frustrated by her now obvious pain.

Phyllis shrugged noncommittally. “What choice do I really have here?”

Joseph sighed, sitting quietly for several moments before blushing slightly himself as he made a suggestion. “Have you considered taking care of it yourself?”

Phyllis’s eyes snapped open in shock. “Joseph I… it’s certainly not appropriate for me to do that when I’m unable to fulfill my marital duties to you.”

Joseph shook his head firmly. “You owe me nothing Phyllis and I don’t want you to suffer out of a sense of obligation to my needs particularly when your own are far more pressing.”

Phyllis seemed to consider his position for a moment before sobbing once more as she managed to choke out, “I want you though.” 

“I want you too and one day we will.” He reassured her gently. “When you’re truly ready you and I will be together again, I promise, but until then we need to find a solution for you.”

Phyllis sighed deeply before she carefully rose from the bed and began pacing slowly around the room. Joseph watched anxiously as his clearly uncomfortable wife rounded the room, mumbling quietly to herself as if in a heated debate. She was in the middle of her umpteenth circle around the bed when she stopped and met his eyes. “Joseph can I ask you for something?”

“Of course.” Joseph assured her immediately.

“I’ve been avoiding addressing this largely because I’m scared that something will happen when… that I’ll go back there again.” Phyllis admitted quietly. “It’s not at all fair of me to ask but I don’t want to be alone in this.” When he didn’t respond she returned to her seat next to him and took his hands in hers. “I need to feel in control so I think your suggestion of… handling myself... is the best solution here but...but I want you here - if you’re willing?” 

“Okay.” Joseph nodded in understanding. “I’m happy to be with you but I need you to tell me what that looks like.”

Phyllis frowned thoughtfully for a moment before meeting his eyes nervously. “Will you hold me?”

“Of course my love.” He reassured her again as he shifted to make space for her next to him.

She sighed thankfully before anxiously pressing her lips firmly against his as she moved more fully onto the bed. It was mere moments before she was whining quietly against his ear. “Help me out of this dress. Now. Please.” 

More than ready to assist, Joseph helped her to her feet before carefully lifting the shift dress over her head and laying it across the back of the chair behind him. When he turned back to see her in the corset that now clung tightly to her chest and abdomen, clearly betraying her pregnancy. It took a moment for him to collect himself before he could manage to ask if she wanted it off and a longer moment to help her out of the corset and knickers as requested before gently helping her back to the bed as she continued to meet his lips with her own.

While the kissing was certainly a pleasant return to something he’d long missed, the soft grey silk of her slip was the only remaining layer between himself and his wife and he was far too aware of his own reaction to the sight in front of him to allow her to continue so he gently pulled away and adjusted his own position against the headboard, legs just far enough apart to allow her a spot between them. “Let’s get you comfortable.”

Phyllis blushed dramatically at his direction but nodded in agreement as she allowed him to help her lean back against him, his legs moving slightly around her to provide support as well as an electric pressure that she can’t seem to ignore. 

Once they’ve resettled she lies still for what seems like forever, taking deep breaths as she contemplated whether or not she was really going to follow through on this plan. While Phyllis knew Joseph wouldn’t have suggested or offered any of this if he hadn’t been okay with it she felt a deep sense of shame that was preventing her from moving forward. She’d been more than ready to vacate to the washroom when she felt her husband’s hands gently rubbing up and down her shoulders and heard his voice softly encouraging her. 

“Phyllis it’s alright.” He pressed a gentle kiss to her neck. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Phyllis groaned at that, finally allowing her shaking hand to trace down her stomach, pausing only briefly at the hem of her slip before allowing her legs to fall open and giving her access to herself. This is certainly not the first time her hand has provided her with this relief and she’s almost embarrassed by the realization that her clearly practiced movements would give this away to her husband but she’s unable to hold back for long as the deep ache she’d nearly become accustomed to began to sharpen in intensity.

Joseph bit his lip as he closed his eyes, trying to drown out the now nearly constant string of moans that were bringing his own needs to the forefront. He’d just managed to fully distract himself when a sharper, clearly frustrated moan pulled him back to the present. Looking down at her it was obvious even from his limited experience that she was on the edge of coming undone but that something was stopping her from achieving her much needed release.

“You’re doing so well darling.” He whispered gently, jumping slightly himself when she let out a heady whine in response to his praise. “You’re doing so well. Remember that you’re in control here and it’s okay to let go. I’m right here and I love you.”

She bucked visibility at his last statement before groaning in frustration and looking up at him with tears in her eyes. “Tell me again...  that you love me.”

“I love you.” Joseph affirmed quickly as he pressed his lips to her forehead. “I love you so much and I want this for you so please let go my love.”

Not a moment later there was a muffled scream as she snapped in his arms, burying her face in his shoulder as she rode out the obviously intense waves of pleasure before breaking down into heaving sobs.

“You’re okay.” Joseph whispered softly as he pulled her tightly against his chest. “I’m here and you’re safe. I’m not going anywhere.”

Chapter Text

The day of Aldridges’ arrival had the house in a frenzy. Between the preparations for an early start to the holiday season upstairs and the mounting nerves among a number of members of staff at the arrival of a new member of the Molesley family it seemed a miracle that much was getting done at all.

The Molesleys had arrived at the house early that morning  in spite of the time off that Lord and Lady Grantham had insisted Phyllis take to get acquainted with her daughter and to begin adjusting to being a parent and the anxious pair had taken up residence at the back corner of the large table in the servant’s hall.

Throughout the day various members of the staff had stopped to check in with them only to quickly realize that the two of them weren’t really up for small talk and other than Mrs. Patmore who kept returning with various offers of food people had stopped checking in on them as they became engrossed in the preparations. 

While Joseph remained aware of their surroundings as he maintained his supportive position next to his wife it was apparent that her focus had slipped away almost entirely. While a part of him worried about this given her history of slipping further from reality than either of them preferred he didn’t notice any signs of distress and until or unless that changed it seemed best to let her be.

It was just after noon when she was pulled out of her daydreaming by an abrupt exclamation from the other end of the table.“As it is the nursery is bursting at the seams, how are we to add Miss Victoria and Lady Hexham’s children for over a month?!” Mrs. Hughes cried out as she negotiated with Anna on the sleeping arrangements to be made for the holidays.

She was further disoriented by Thomas’s voice suddenly reaching her ears. “From Mrs. Patmore.” Thomas smirked at the women across the room as he placed a fresh mug of hot chocolate in front of his friend on the table before taking a seat across from her and whispering conspiratorially, “Just between us - Master George and Miss Sybbie are vying for rooms of their own sometime soon and I expect today’s the day they’ll make their move.” Phyllis blinked a few times as she met his eyes, clearly still confused by the interruption to her thoughts.

“Sorry.” Thomas apologized immediately with a small frown. “You’ve of course got more important matters to worry about today.”

“It’s alright.” Phyllis reassured him softly. “I’m just…”

“Preoccupied.” Thomas finished for her. “Are you sure you both don’t want to come to the station with me? Lord and Lady Grantham have approved it if you change your mind.”

Phyllis shook her head firmly, reaching down to grasp Joseph’s hand in her own. “I’d much prefer the privacy of Mrs. Hughes’ sitting room for this particular occasion.”

“Of course.” Thomas nodded in understanding as he moved to get up from his chair before stopping and meeting Phyllis’s eyes intently. “You’ll tell me if there’s anything I can do?”

“Just… be there.” Phyllis requested quietly. “I want you there with us.”

Thomas cocked an eyebrow as he turned to meet her husband’s gaze. “Are you alright with this?”

Joseph nodded with a small but reassuring smile. “You’re family Thomas.”

Thomas’s eyes widened in surprise but he simply nodded before turning back to Phyllis with a reassuring smile of his own. “I’ll be there, whenever you need me. You just have to say the word.”

It was late in the afternoon by the time the Aldridges’ train arrived from London and Phyllis had worked herself up into such a state that Joseph and Mrs. Hughes had both insisted that she lie down until Thomas had left to the station at which point they’d helped her settle into the sitting room with Joseph while Mrs. Hughes’ waited for their arrival next door in the pantry so they could make sure Phyllis was ready when Emma arrived.

This turned out to be for the best when the girl arrived in a state of her own.

Rose had smiled softly as she led the small girl in front of her through the doorway to the Butler’s pantry where Mrs. Hughes was waiting for them. “I’m sorry to intrude but I’ve been made somewhat attached.” She joked as she nodded toward the vice grip of a small fist around her fingers. 

“I’m sure the Molesleys won’t mind Lady Rose.” She dismissed quickly before introducing herself to the small girl. “I’m Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper, here at Downton, and Mrs. Carson in the village.” 

“Emma Coyle, Miss.” The girl managed a small curtsey in Mrs. Hughes’s direction without letting go of Rose’s hand. 

“Oh, there’s no need my dear.” The housekeeper assured her with a small laugh. “But it’s very good to meet you Emma.” She turned to Thomas with a slight nod. “They’re ready for you.”

After a short journey down the corridor Thomas knocked lightly on the door in question, pushing it open only slightly before cautiously asking. “Phyllis, can we come in?” When he received a hesitant nod of approval he opened the door fully, allowing Lady Rose and Emma into the room before closing it firmly behind them.

There was a long silence as Phyllis stared at her daughter from her seated position, mouth slightly agape until she subconsciously covered it with her hand in an attempt to compose herself, well aware that every pair of eyes in the room was on her.

It was Emma who eventually broke the silence with a slight nod of her head and a clearly rehearsed, “Good day Mr. and Mrs. Coyle.”

Every pair of eyes in the room snapped to her.

Joseph had been so focused on his wife’s reaction to Emma’s arrival that he hadn’t truly absorbed until that moment that the young girl was the spitting image of his wife. Her pale skin and brown eyes were instantly recognizable and the hair in two french plaits that nearly reached her waist was undeniably familiar.

It took all the focus he could muster to return his attention to his now visibly distressed wife. “Phyllis?” Joseph whispered quietly as he placed his hand on the trembling ones in her lap. “Do you want me to-”

“I can’t.” Phyllis suddenly bolted up from her chair. “I need a moment to... I’m… I’m sorry.” She excused herself before wrenching open the back door of the sitting room and rushing out of the room with Joseph following quickly behind.

The room once again filled with an awkward tension as Emma grasped tightly to Lady Rose’s hand, looking to her for answers that she didn’t have.

After a moment of tension Thomas crossed the room and knelt down to Emma’s height. “Hello Emma.” He greeted her quietly. “My name is Mr. Barrow, but you can call me Thomas.”

Emma immediately looked back to Rose for confirmation that it was alright to directly address the man who had driven them from the train station and up until this point hadn’t addressed her directly.

“Mr. Barrow is the butler here at Downton.” Rose explained with a supportive nod. “As I understand it he’s a good friend of your mother’s.”

“Am I going to be working here now?” Emma asked nervously as she straightened the ribbon tied around her waist with her free hand.

“Oh no.” Thomas shook his head firmly. “I couldn't say for sure but with Mr. Molesley for a father I can only assume that you’ll be going to school.”

“My father’s name is Mr. Coyle.” Emma shook her head in confusion. “My name is Emma Coyle. I was told I was coming back to my parents.”

Thomas grimaced at that as he was reminded exactly how much explanation there was left to do. “Yes, of course.”

Joseph had chased Phyllis out the back door and through the courtyard before he reached out and grabbed her wrist with his hand. “Phyllis, wait.”

“Don’t touch me!” Phyllis snapped angrily as she tried to pull away from him.

“Darling, please don’t run.” Joseph pleaded quietly as he slowly let go as requested, careful not to let the force of her pulling result in a total loss of balance. “I’m sorry. I know you’re afraid but you can’t be out here running across the ice. Especially not in your condition”

She’d stopped but hadn’t turned back to face him when she finally spoke. “You don’t understand.” Phyllis whispered as she shook her head in frustration. “I don't want to do this anymore.”

“Okay.” Joseph sighed heavily. “But what does that mean for our daughter?”

Phyllis turned to face him, angry tears streaming down her face. “She’s not your daughter!”

“I know.” Joseph acknowledged gently. “But we’ve talked about this. We have a plan.”

She laughed anxiously at that. “That plan didn’t include Emma thinking you were him.”

“I know.” Joseph nodded again, slowly approaching her and placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. “I know this is hard, but we always knew this would be complicated. It’s going to be messy but we have to go back there and explain this to her.”

“How?” Phyllis stared back blankly. “How do we tell a child that she was born out of fear and hatred? That her father is such a vile man that I sincerely wish more than anything in the world she never has to meet him? How do we explain that?”

Joseph stopped at that, finally registering the sorrow just beneath the surface of his wife’s eyes that had been hidden behind a mask of fear. “We tell her how much she’s loved by us, how much we want her to be a part of our family.”

“What if that’s not enough? What if she doesn’t want me?” Phyllis was shaking now. “What if I can’t love her?

“Oh my love.” Joseph whispered softly as he pulled her into his arms. “I don’t think you have to worry about that. You carry your heart on your sleeve and as afraid as you are right now it’s entirely apparent that that fear comes from a place of love.”

“How?” Phyllis demanded anxiously. “How can you be so sure?”

Joseph sighed softly before pulling back so he could see her face as he explained his certainty. “Because you love so fiercely and I can see it in your eyes that you love her and want to protect her. It’s the same way you look at Thomas.”

After a lengthy deliberation on how to best approach the impending conversation Phyllis and Joseph returned to find Emma and Thomas sitting on opposing sides of Mrs. Hughes’s desk playing what appeared to be a makeshift game of checkers and Lady Rose apparently long gone.

“I’m sorry.” Emma apologized profusely as soon as she’d noticed they’d returned. “I didn’t mean-”

“You did nothing wrong.” Phyllis stopped her softly as she carefully lowered herself back into the chair she’d vacated nearly an hour prior. “And I’m very sorry that I made you feel as if you had.”

Emma nodded hesitantly before tilting her head to the side and examining the pair in front of her. “You’re my mother?”

“Yes.” Phyllis affirmed with a small smile.

“But he’s not my father.” Emma observed further.

“No.” Phyllis replied, somewhat harsher this time as she shot a glare in Thomas’s direction, certain that he had taken it upon himself to try and fix the unfixable.

“I explained to Emma that she’d misunderstood who Mr. Molesely was. Nothing more.” Thomas reassured her gently.

“I’m very sorry that I offended you sir.” Emma apologized again as she turned toward the man that she didn’t entirely understand the presence of.

“No apology necessary Emma, you did nothing to offend.” Joseph reassured her quietly from his standing position behind his wife. “My name is Joseph Molesley and I’m very pleased to meet you.”

Emma tilted her head to the side once again - a trait that undeniably reminded Thomas of a young Phyllis Baxter - as she tried to piece together what was going on. “Mr. Barrow said that my mother is a lady’s maid but he didn’t say what you do here.”

“I’m a teacher at the village school.” He smiled softly as he carefully placed a hand on his wife’s shoulder in an attempt to offer her support while he bought her time. He knew it was important to her that she be the one to tell Emma who he was but he also knew that she wasn’t quite ready yet. “I teach English and History.”

“Oh.” Emma frowned slightly, her brow furrowed. “Why are you here?”

Thomas snorted slightly before he received a damning glare from the man in question that caused him to compose himself almost immediately.

“Joseph is my husband.” Phyllis finally spoke again, her voice shaking slightly as she began the conversation that she’d been dreading since the day Lady Grantham had told them she’d be coming home. “And while he’s not your father by birth he’d very much like to be a part of your life.”

“Oh.” Emma frowned further, her eyes squinting as she considered the information she’d been presented with. “Did my father die?”

“No. But you won’t be meeting him.” Phyllis corrected tiredly. “I’m happy to tell you more about why and answer any questions you may have but I need to be clear right now that your father won’t be a part of your life.”

Emma stood quietly for a moment, obviously trying to make up her mind before forming her response. “I want to know why.”

“Alright.” Phyllis nodded before turning to Thomas and suggesting, “I think we’ll need some tea.”

Thomas easily took the hint and moments later he’d returned with a tray filled with four cups of tea, two mugs of hot chocolate - ‘just in case’, and a heaping plate of biscuits. “Mrs. Patmore insisted.” Thomas explained when he received a questioning look from the other adults in the room before helping the three of them settle in around the tea service he’d placed on the desk. 

He hesitated a moment before turning to Phyllis and quietly asking, “Would you like me to stay?” 


Thomas nodded before retaking his post by the door just in case anyone came looking for Mrs. Hughes.

Emma remained silent as her mother cautiously explained the circumstances surrounding her birth. It was obvious to her from the expressions on the faces of the adults in the room that there were parts of the story she wasn’t fully comprehending, but the general message was abundantly clear.

Her father was an evil man who couldn’t be trusted. He’d hurt her mother before she was born and had taken her away from her mother as a baby. Her mother looked for her for a long time but she hadn’t had the resources to find her. If her mother had known where she was she never would have been taken out of the country and she would have grown up with her. 

Her father was in prison for hurting his mother and other women like her and she was to tell someone immediately if he ever tried to contact her.

And her mother was so very sorry for any hurt this caused her too.

The room was silent for some time before Emma finally spoke. “So is my name not really Emma Coyle then?” She asked nervously as she fiddled a still uneaten biscuit in her hands.

“Emma is your given name.” Phyllis assured her quickly. “But your last name was mine at the time so your birth certificate reads Emma Jane Baxter. Your father filed a falsified version when he took you, presumably so I would be unable to find you.”

Silence took over the room for much longer this time and it wasn’t until Phyllis had excused herself to go to the washroom that Emma spoke again.

“It’s all very sad.” Emma whispered as she met the eyes of the man seated across from her.

“It is.” Joseph affirmed. “But I want to make sure that you know we aren’t sad to have you with us. We are very very happy to have you here.”

Emma nodded slightly but the small sniff she gave betrayed the tears she’d been trying to hide by looking down at her lap.

“Is there anything you’d like to ask me?” Joseph asked gently as he handed her a clean handkerchief from his pocket.  

Emma thought carefully for a few moments before she looked up nervously to meet his eyes. “What’s she like? My mother I mean.”

“She’s the kindest, most generous, and most loving woman I’ve ever known.” He offered with a sincere smile before lowering his voice conspiratorially. “Just between you and me, I think you’re going to like her.”

Emma smiled at that but didn’t say anything more when the door opened once again to announce Phyllis’s return. Joseph was quickly at her side, lowering his voice as he helped her back to her seat. “Are you doing alright?” 

Phyllis nodded with a small smile. “I’m fine.” She reassured him before directing her attention back to Emma. “Now I believe I promised to answer your questions if you had any. Is there anything you’d like to know?”

Emma had been watching the interactions between her mother and  intently, “Are you to have a baby?”

Phyllis nodded with a slight smile as she moved to rest her hand against her stomach. “Yes, at the beginning of the new year.”

“Then why look for me?” Emma asked curiously before blushing nervously at the concerned looks she received from the adults in the room. “If you’re having a baby I mean… why would you need me here?”

“Oh.” Phyllis was taken aback by the question, not prepared for her own insecurities to be laid out in front of her in such simple terms. “I understand how it may look that way but I can only say that finding out about this baby reminded me of how much I was hurt by losing you.”

“Why didn’t you look for me again sooner?” Emma turned her head to the side once again.

Joseph cringed as he glanced at his wife, expecting to see the pain that usually accompanied this discussion but instead surprised to see that she’d managed to take the question in stride. “After I couldn’t find you when you were a baby I didn’t believe I had another chance.” Phyllis had admitted quietly. “I’m very sorry for that.”

“It’s okay.” Emma replied softly as she stared down at her lap, her hands beginning to fiddle with the ribbon tied around her waist.

There was a long pause between the mother and daughter before Joseph gently intervened. “Is there anything else you’d like to ask us Emma?” 

Emma shrugged noncommittally before something occurred to her and she looked up to meet their eyes. “Do we live here?”

“Oh no.” Phyllis shook her head. “We have a cottage in the village.” She waited for a moment for a response before she realized that this was perhaps as good of a stopping point for now as any, especially given the now obvious restlessness in her daughter. Her daughter.

It took a moment for her to recompose herself before she met Emma’s eyes again and asked, “Would you like to see it?”

Emma nodded enthusiastically, jumping out of her seat and bouncing up and down on her toes.

Joseph smiled as he helped Phyllis back up from her chair. “It sounds like it’s time for me to get my girls back home.” He gave Thomas a nod as he handed him the small suitcase Emma had brought with her before they followed his lead out of the sitting room and down the corridor to the back door.

Phyllis and Joseph were retrieving their own coats when Emma all but bolted out the back door only to be stopped by Thomas’s arm blocking her path. “Now we can’t have you forgetting your coat. It’s snowing out there.” He reminded her as he held up the small black coat that she hastily slipped her arms into.

“Thank you Mr. Barrow.” Emma smiled before ducking under his arms and out the back door.

“I guess we’re going now.” Joseph smirked as he quickly followed her out the door, hopeful that he’d be able to convince Emma to moderate her pace so that Phyllis could keep up with them.

Phyllis was about to follow them herself when Thomas stopped her gently with a hand on her shoulder. “Everything alright?”

Phyllis sighed but nodded. “I think it will be.”

Thomas nodded with a smile before gently pulling her into a hug and quietly whispering, “You handled that beautifully and you’re going to be a magnificent mother.” He reassured her with a quick kiss to her cheek. “Now, go home and get some rest with your family.”

Late that evening Joseph had just finished some final revision tables Mr. Dawes had asked for a few days before and he planned to check in on his wife before preparing for bed only to find that she was nowhere to be found. A deep sense of dread filled his stomach as he raced up the stairs to ensure he hadn’t missed her in their bed when he’d checked the bedroom only moments before and her confirmed absence had sent his anxiety sky high until he saw a familiar silhouette outside.

Quickly grabbing a blanket from their bed making his way down the stairs and out the door, he was by her side in a matter of seconds. “Hey, what are you doing out here?” He shivered slightly as he tried to assess the situation.

Phyllis met his eyes sadly as she shivered herself. “I’m sorry. I needed to think.”

“Outside?” Joseph questioned as he wrapped the blanket he’d brought out with him around her shoulders.

“I don’t want her to see me unhappy.” Phyllis admitted quietly. “She shouldn’t feel that we’re anything but thrilled to have her here and I’ve already done enough damage on that front.”

“You’ve done nothing of the sort.” He assured her gently. “Besides, she’s been in bed for hours now. I think we can find you some privacy upstairs where I can keep you both warm.” He suggested pointedly as he gently covered the hands she’d rested on her stomach with his own.

Joseph carefully guided his wife back into the house, locking the door behind them and turning out the lights as they went. As they passed by the door to the room Emma slept in Joseph smiled as he remembered the girl’s reaction to it earlier that day. 

“This room is all mine?” Emma had asked with wide eyes as she looked around the small room they’d prepared for the children.

“Until the baby’s here and old enough to sleep through the night.” Joseph confirmed as he’d set the small suitcase filled with clothes the Aldridge’s had seen fit to furnish her with on the end of the bed. “Then you’ll have a roommate if that’s alright with you?”

Emma had nodded enthusiastically as she flopped onto the bed herself before she spent much of the evening periodically exploring the other areas of the small cottage only to end up back in her room, quietly talking to a well-worn teddy bear that had been nestled in with her clothes.

It wasn’t until Joseph had his wife tucked carefully into bed that he spoke again, sitting himself down at the end of the bed so that he was facing her. “Talk to me. Please.”

“I didn’t want her. Hours ago I saw her as a problem that I needed gone and now I can’t imagine my life going on without her.” Phyllis whispered quietly between deep breaths. “How am I going to do this when I wanted to give up so easily?”

“You’re not doing it alone.” Joseph assured her gently, taking her hand in his. He hesitated for a moment before he carefully asked, “Do you remember when Thomas first told me about your past?”

Phyllis’s eyes snapped up at that. The pair had largely avoided the topic of Thomas’s behavior during her early time at Downton because of the tension between them on the topic and she was surprised he wanted to broach the subject now. “Of course.” She croaked quietly.

“I didn’t believe him.” Joseph recalled honestly. “I didn’t believe you either. I insisted that there must have been something that made you do it but you insisted that there wasn’t.”

“We both know that was a lie.” She argued tiredly. “Peter had me wrapped around his finger and I was foolish enough to let him make me like him.”

Joseph shook his head firmly. “You didn’t do it for him.” He corrected insistently. “You did it for Emma.”

Phyllis’s brow furrowed as she considered his argument. “But I lost her because of what I did. Emma would have stayed with me if I hadn’t been in prison. I put her in danger-” 

“You believed you were doing what was best for your daughter.” Joseph stopped her gently. “He promised you a home to raise your baby in and you believed him but you wouldn’t have - you didn’t do it for him.”

“No.” Phyllis shook her head anxiously as she considered the story that had been presented to her. She’d spent the last ten years believing that she’d done something wrong to win the love of a man who never loved her and the proposal of an alternative explanation had her stomach turning. “I… I did it. I made the choice. I chose to steal.” She argued passionately, the tears she hadn’t realized had begun starting to inhibit her ability to speak.

“Oh my love.” Joseph sighed sadly before carefully moving to the top of the bed and gently pulling her into his arms. “I know you’ve been forced to take responsibility for this but you don’t have to with me. It was not your fault. You didn’t choose any of it. You’ve been so strong for so long, but it’s okay to break now. I’ve got you.”

It was only a moment before she did exactly that, sobbing into his chest as she tried to catch her breath. Joseph adjusted quickly to accommodate her as he wrapped one arm around her back to support her as she mourned the years she’d lost to the lies he’d told. 

When her sobs slowed into shaky breaths Joseph loosened his arms and helped his wife carefully rest against his chest before he reassured her further. “She was the cause.” He whispered quietly as he gently stroked her hair. “She was the reason. You did it for her and I most certainly would have done the same.”

Chapter Text

The first few days Emma spent with them were surprisingly uneventful. Emma’s agreeable temperament meant that she quickly adjusted to life in their home. While it seemed that she enjoyed the time with them, after spending two days exclusively in and around the cottage with Phyllis and Joseph - alongside a myriad of visitors from Downton and Joseph’s father - for company she’d clearly become restless and Phyllis insisted that Joseph go back to school with her the next day to begin the next transition for further acclimating Emma to the village.

Emma had spent the entirety of dinner that evening rambling on about the school and the other children in the village, seemingly having made a number of friends already. Joseph’s confirmation as they prepared for bed that Emma had adjusted easily to the classroom had been the final confirmation Phyllis had needed to begin to soothe her own anxiety about Emma being unable to adjust and they were both optimistic that it would allow her to get a much needed night of sleep.

That night they were startled awake by a bloodcurdling scream.

Joseph made it downstairs first. “Emma?” He questioned anxiously as he reached up to turn on the light. “Emma are you alright, what’s happened?”

Emma was scrunched firmly in the corner of her bed where the two walls met, trembling slightly as she clutched her duvet against her chest with her frightened eyes wide as saucers.

There had been no response by the time Phyllis arrived in the room, hand pressed firmly against the bottom of her belly where the baby was kicking in protest at the sudden and hasty movement. “Emma?” Phyllis asked softly as she gingerly sat on the opposite corner of the bed. “Did you have a frightening dream?”

Emma nodded firmly but made no other movements.

“Would you like to tell me about it?” Phyllis asked gently, trying to ignore the persistent protest from her other child in order to focus on the crisis at hand.

“I can’t.” Emma whispered quietly before burying her face in the duvet.

Joseph had since noticed his wife’s obvious discomfort and leaned down to their level before quietly whispering a query, “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine.” Phyllis dismissed quickly, immediately returning her attention to her daughter. “Emma you can tell me anything, I promise.”

Emma peered back up at the pair of still-near strangers at the foot of her bed for a moment before murmuring. “I don’t want to upset you.”

“Darling, there’s nothing you can’t tell us.” Phyllis reassured her softly, hoping the anxiety that was slowly crawling down her throat was unfounded.

Emma seemed to question her, looking to Joseph for reassurance. “We can handle anything.” He quickly affirmed. “That’s what we’re here for.”

Emma nodded hesitantly before quickly mumbling, “I had a dream that my daddy came to take me away from you and I had to go live with him.”

“Oh.” Phyllis went rigid immediately, turning only slightly to meet Joseph’s eyes in an attempt to convey her need for help.

“That’s a very scary dream indeed.” Joseph stepped in quickly. “Was there more that you’d like to share?”

Emma shrugged, staring down at her lap for a while before looking back up at Joseph and whispering. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“Oh darling no.” Phyllis chimed in quietly, her voice still somewhat shaky but her need to comfort her daughter winning out for the time being. “You’ve done nothing wrong and you’ve done nothing to upset me.”

“But you’re upset.” Emma argued passionately.

“I’m upset because of your father, not because of you.” Phyllis corrected quietly, adjusting herself further onto the bed so she could rest her back against the wall. “Truthfully, these are dreams I’ve had myself.”

Emma looked at her with wide eyes, seemingly confused by the willingness of an adult to be vulnerable with her. “You have?”

When Phyllis nodded in affirmation Emma turned to Joseph for confirmation and he gave a nod of his own. “We’re both afraid of anything that hurts you.”

“I’m sorry.” Emma apologized quietly.

“No, no, no.” Joseph shook his head, kneeling on the floor across from her. “You, never, never , have to apologize for us caring about you. You matter so much to your mother and I and we want you here.”

“But I’m the reason that you’re afraid.” Emma reasoned anxiously.

“No, you’re not darling. I’ve been afraid of your father since before I knew you existed.” Phyllis was surprisingly calm as she managed her response. “You are not responsible for anything, anything , your father has done or anything that he will do and I never want you to apologize for him.”

“Our responsibility is to protect you from him.” Joseph added gently. “I understand that that alone won’t make the fear go away but I want you to know you can tell us when you feel this way. You don’t have to protect us.”

Emma nodded, wiping the tears from her eyes with the cuff of her nightdress before scrambling across the bed and into Phyllis’s arms.

Phyllis took a shaky breath as she adjusted to the feeling of her daughter in her arms for the first time in years. She met her husband’s gaze briefly, calming significantly when he mouthed ‘ You’re doing wonderfully my love. ’ to her with all of the confidence in the world.

She turned back to her daughter, adjusting slightly to allow her to run her fingers through the long dark hair that was splayed across her lap. “I’m right here darling. You’re safe here. I’ve got you.” 

The next morning brought Emma’s birthday which found the Molesley family at the big house preparing for the impromptu party Thomas had insisted on the staff holding that evening during staff dinner.

“I really appreciate you both doing this.” Phyllis commented as she sat down on a stool in the kitchen to observe Daisy as she decorated the small cake in front of her.

“Of course dear.” Mrs. Patmore dismissed easily. “Emma is a part of your family and her birthday deserves as proper a celebration as the young Mr. Bates’s.”

“It must be lovely to be able to celebrate her birthday with her after all this time.” Daisy said with a wistful smile as she set the piping bag down. “I know Andy and I haven’t been blessed with a little one yet but I can’t imagine being away from a wee baby for so long.”

“Daisy.” Mrs. Patmore chided immediately. “There’s no need to bring any of that unpleasantness up.” She shot a sympathetic smile toward the pregnant woman across from them with a gentle reassurance, “We’re all very happy for the Molesley’s that she’s here now.”

Phyllis forced a smile in return but the anxiety that had settled in the pit of her stomach was growing by the second and she slammed her eyes shut in an attempt to shut it out.

It was then that Thomas entered, immediately noticing the tense energy coming from her. He was at her side in an instant softly whispering, “Are you alright?” low enough that he was certain the otherwise preoccupied staff members in the room wouldn’t overhear him. The small shake of her head was more than enough to tell him that she was moments from breaking down, “Daisy, would you mind finding Mr. Molesley and asking if he can meet me in my pantry to confirm the flowers his father is bringing this afternoon?”

Daisy’s eyebrows raised slightly as she appraised the request. “Surely delivering messages is not in my job description anymore?”

By this point Mrs. Patmore had caught on to the distressed energy radiating from the other side of the table and she quickly intervened. “Go ahead Daisy. We’re about done here and I think Mr. Molesley’s outside with Andy and the Bateses. You might as well take a break.”

Daisy nodded with an enthusiastic smile and made her way out of the room before Thomas spoke again. “Are you up to moving to my pantry?”

She opened her eyes and gave another small nod, grabbing onto his outstretched hand and clinging on for dear life.

He carefully led her down the hall and into his pantry, closing the door tightly behind them before gently helping her into the armchair. “Just take some deep breaths.” Thomas coached softly, glancing toward the door in hopes that her husband would be there soon.

“Don’t go.” Phyllis whispered anxiously as she felt him move slightly away from her.

“I’m not.” Thomas refocused quickly. “I’m right here and Joseph should be here soon.”

It took longer than he’d expected but eventually a knock sounded at the door. “Mr. Molesley?” Thomas called toward the door, prompting Joseph to open the door and glance inside. 

“Daisy said you wanted to know ab-” He’d started before he saw his wife. “Phyllis.” He rushed across the room, kneeling down next to Thomas and taking her free hand in his. “What happened?”

“I’m not sure.” Thomas admitted. “I found her in the kitchen having a conversation with Mrs. Patmore and Daisy but it was obvious something was wrong.”

Joseph nodded, turning back to his wife and gently placing a hand on her cheek to get her attention. “Phyllis is it the baby? Is something wrong with the baby?”

“No.” Her voice was certain as she heavily exhaled her response, clearly drawing strength from their presence. “Baby’s fine.”

“Okay.” Joseph calmed slightly at her response. “Can you tell me what’s wrong?”

Phyllis met his eyes with her own watery ones and sighed heavily. “I’m not sure we can get into this right now. Emma can’t be left alone for long so one of us-”

“Would you like me to mind Emma?” Thomas stopped her gently. “You know we’ll be fine and you can both stay here as long as you need.”

Phyllis nodded. “Thank you Thomas.”

“Of course. Come join us when you’re ready.” Thomas quickly pressed a kiss to her cheek before making his departure.

Joseph pulled a chair from across the room so that he could sit directly in front of her, taking her hands in his own and giving them a supportive squeeze. “What’s going on?”

“It’s Emma.” Phyllis admitted softly.

Joseph let out a heavy sigh as he absorbed the admission. “Honey I promise that you’re doing wonderfully with her. I know you were worried you wouldn’t be able to-”

“No it’s not that.” Phyllis cringed slightly at the suggestion that she was still having doubts about her ability to care for Emma. “It’s about… it’s her birthday.”

“My love, we've already sorted the party and her gift.” Joseph smiled softly. “I’m not sure that there’s much left for us to do.”

“No… not like that.” Phyllis sighed, trying to figure out how to explain what she meant. “Her birthday, as in the day I gave birth.”

“Oh.” Joseph’s eyes widened in surprise. The two of them hadn’t discussed much about her pregnancy or time with Emma in the past beyond the details of how she’d come about and when she’d disappeared and he wasn’t inclined to push his wife for more information but he should have known she’d be thinking about it today. “Do you want to… would you like to tell me about it?”

Phyllis shrugged as she wiped the tears from her cheeks. “I don’t know if it will help.” 

“Are you up for finding out?” Joseph suggested gently. 

Phyllis nodded hesitantly before trying to decide where to start. “It wasn’t all that eventful really…”

The pains had started early that morning but she hadn’t given them much thought. It wasn’t until several hours after what she would later realize was the beginning of her labor had started that the pain intensified to anything beyond a dull ache that ebbed and flowed.

Her work assignment - sewing and repairing uniforms in the main laundry - provided a welcome distraction until she felt a strong cramp that caused her hand to slip forward suddenly, only narrowly missing what would have been a truly inconveniently timed injury.

She took practiced deep breaths before she tried to once again focus on the seam in front of her but it proved impossible as another cramp wrapped it’s way around from her lower back to the top of her stomach bringing with it an overwhelming sense of nausea.

Waiting until the most recent pain had ended she cautiously raised her hand to signal she needed a break, hopeful that the shaking she could feel spreading throughout her body was less visibly apparent than it felt.

With the nod of approval from the floor matron she’d turned her machine off and slowly made her way into the adjoining lavatory before cautiously lowering herself onto the closed lid of the toilet with a small groan as the return of the pressure against her legs sent a shot of pain up her spine.

She was determined to maintain some privacy for as long as possible - well aware that none of the floor matrons would bother to check on her unless a queue formed for the lavatory - and she’d managed to keep quiet for nearly an hour before she felt a painful shift toward her back. “Ohh.” She hissed quietly, her eyes screwed shut as she tried not to yell out. As terrifying as laboring alone was after what had happened only months before she knew it couldn’t be worse than when she was moved to the infirmary. The doctor assigned to the maternity ward at Holloway was far from gentle and his probing hands during examinations often reminded her of someone and something else entirely which made the prospect of his assistance through this process less than desirable.

She had just adjusted to the new pressure against her back when a much sharper pain shot between her legs causing her to buckle forward with a cry that she couldn’t bite back.

It was only a moment before a matron came through the doors to investigate, clearly irritated when she saw the obviously laboring woman before her. “Of course.” She’d sighed impatiently at the realization that she had clearly been in here for much longer than she’d realized. “Alright let’s get you to the infirmary.” The strong grip around her shoulders as she was roughly pulled from her seated position and forced forward several steps.

“Wait. Please.” She’d begged quietly as she stumbled as she tried to manage the intense pressure standing had created on her hips.

“I have to take you directly to the infirmary. It’s protocol.” The matron had softened slightly at the visible terror on her face, moving her grip lower on her arms in an effort to provide more support, but she didn’t slow their movements through the prison hallways toward the infirmary.

The matron had only stayed for a moment, helping her onto the bed and delivering a clipped promise that, “The doctor will be in soon.”

But the doctor didn’t come.

She couldn’t say for sure how much time had passed - the constant contractions keeping her from focusing on anything but getting through the pain - but there eventually came a point when she realized that the baby was coming, help or not.

Phyllis stopped suddenly, and when Joseph met her eyes he noticed a familiar panic behind the tears in her eyes.

“You’re safe Phyllis.” Joseph hastily assured her as he moved forward, awkwardly half-wrapping his arms around her shoulders in an attempt to ground her back in reality. “You’re right here with me and you’re not alone.”

“I was so frightened.” Phyllis choked on a sob as she shifted, allowing Joseph to pull her more fully into his arms.

“Of course you were.” Joseph affirmed gently. “You never should have been left alone like that.”

Phyllis shuddered as she nodded in agreement, burying her head in his shoulder as she slowly relaxed into his arms. “I don’t even really remember when she was born, I just remember being so afraid.”

“I’m so sorry my love.” Joseph whispered into her hair, pressing a kiss to her forehead before trying to reassure her further. “I’m sorry you were left to do this alone, but you did such a good job.”

Phyllis shook her head against him. “How can you be so certain?”

“Because that little girl out there -” Joseph pulled away just enough so he could point toward the yard. “is the result of the hard work that you were forced to do alone, and she is magnificent.”

“But-” Phyllis began to protest before he stopped her firmly.

“I know you feel that she’s a result of everything but your circumstances but that’s simply not the case.” Joseph was gentle but firm in his redirection. “You protected her inside of you under unimaginable circumstances and managed to deliver her safely despite being left alone to do so. On top of all of that, you’ve faced an impossible past this year to bring her home. You’ve done so, so well.”

Phyllis nodded into his chest, taking several deep breaths before looking up to meet his eyes. “I couldn’t have done this without you.”

Joseph smiled softly. “You are stronger than you think, but I’ll never leave you to handle anything alone that you don’t wish to again. I promise.”

Chapter Text

The month following Emma’s birthday was swiftly followed by a number of difficult transitions for the Molesley and Grantham families alike. While Emma had continued to thrive socially at school a few weeks of instruction revealed that academically she was significantly behind the other children her own age. It wasn’t surprising to Phyllis or Joseph given her history but Emma hadn’t taken to the necessary change lightly. Her poor performance at school meant that she’d been moved from Joseph’s history and English classes into Mr. Dawes’s introductory courses with the younger village children and no amount of reassurance from Phyllis that the change wasn’t Joseph’s way of saying he didn’t want her there seemed to be able to slow the rift forming between her husband and daughter.

Meanwhile, despite consistent appeals from Joseph not to, Phyllis had returned to work earlier than planned after the Dowager Countess had taken a turn for the worse. The Grantham family’s stress about their matriarch’s now rapidly declining health alongside the preparations for the Christmas celebrations the following week meant that there was far more work to be done than Anna could handle alone. “Joseph, Lady Grantham needs my support and after everything she’s done to support our family, being present at the job she pays me to do is the least that I can do.”

Despite reassurances from Thomas and Mrs. Hughes that the staff truly wouldn’t begrudge missing the traditional events under the circumstances, the entire family - Dowager Countess included - had insisted on moving forward with the celebrations as planned which had only served to increase the stress of the family and their staff alike, something that the Molesleys certainly didn’t need. 

“Emma Jane Baxter!” Phyllis snapped as she pounded angrily on the door to her daughter’s room. “Open this door this instant!”

Joseph had quickly made his way down the stairs upon hearing the commotion, his tie slung awkwardly over his shoulder and socks in his hands as he rounded the corner into the kitchen. “What’s going on?”

Phyllis sighed deeply, pressing one hand protectively over her bump and the other to her temple as she turned to her husband. “She’s locked herself in.”

Joseph shook his head in confusion. “That door doesn’t have a lock.”

“I believe she’s barricaded the entry.” Phyllis explained tiredly, moving slowly to sit on one of the stools across the room.

Joseph quickly moved after her, providing support as she gingerly sat on the edge of the stool facing the door in question before shooting her a sympathetic smile and attempting to cheer her up. “You’ll be glad to know that I believe this particular behavior is more an indication that she understood our class discussion of Les Misérables than anything else.”

Phyllis’ tired frown in response made it clear that she wasn’t in the mood and he quickly pressed an apologetic kiss to her forehead before crossing the room and assessing the situation himself. It didn’t take long to identify that Emma had in fact barricaded her door with the wooden dresser meant to be along the opposing wall. “Emma, you know we’re to go to the house this morning to help Thomas get ready for the party tonight so why don’t you open the door?”

When he received no response he tried a different approach. “Emma, I’m going to give you one minute to get out here or you won’t be coming with us for lunch and dinner at the house.” 

The sharp look he received from his wife in response made it clear that this had been the wrong thing to say and he knew she was right. Despite assurances from Atticus Aldridge that the home Emma had been in seemed as suitable an environment for a young girl as possible (at least given the circumstances) it had become increasingly clear to both of them that something, or perhaps someone, had managed to sow many of the same fears and insecurities that Phyllis had developed at the hands of her father.

Threats of punishment - particularly any related to access to food - transformed the small girl’s usually bright eyes into dark pools of fear that neither of them have truly learned to manage. 

Joseph mouthed an apologetic, ‘ You’re right, I’m sorry.’ to his wife before turning back to the door to try “Emma you can come out now, and we can all go up to the house or I’ll have my father come by to stay with you for the day. Those are your options. Can you tell me which you’d prefer?”

There was a long silence before Emma’s slightly shaken voice responded. “I want to go to the house with you.”

“Alright.” Joseph replied as both he and Phyllis let out a sigh of relief. “Can you move whatever you’ve placed in front of the door?”

The sound of the dresser scraping across the wooden planks of the floor sounded only for a moment before Emma cracked open the door and slid through the small opening.

“Can you help me?” Emma asked nervously, eyes darting between the two obviously overwhelmed adults who were staring right at her. “It’s heavy.”

“It’s not meant to be moved, and particularly not when it’s filled with your things.” Phyllis sighed tiredly as she motioned for Emma to sit next to her while Joseph began to manage the difficult task of maneuvering through the much-too-small opening without toppling the furniture behind the door.

Emma stared down at her feet as they dangled beneath her as she sat on the stool. “I’m sorry.”

“I know.” Phyllis nodded with a small smile, reaching forward to push her daughter’s hair behind her ears so it stayed out of her face. “Is there a reason you don’t want to go this morning?”

Emma shrugged noncommittally before folding her legs up underneath herself and turning to the breakfast that Joseph - now finished putting her room back into place - had set in front of her.

“You won’t have to spend the day with us working, you know.” Joseph tried to cheer her up. “Lady Mary and Mr. Branson are driving the children into York to the Christmas Market this afternoon and they’ve invited you and Johnny Bates to join them along with Mr. Carson.”

Emma looked down at her plate but made no show of enthusiasm about the plans for the day.

“Emma do you not want to go with them?” Phyllis asked, aware of the sudden change in her daughter’s demeanor at the mention of the special plans for the children this afternoon. “I thought you liked playing with them. George and Sybbie, you said they were your friends?”

Emma nodded slightly at that, shifting awkwardly on the stool until she was seated on her knees.

Phyllis was getting nervous now. While she’d been somewhat concerned about the potential for conflict between her daughter and the family’s children she’d been comforted by the fact that Anna seemed confident the children all loved having Johnny around. Things seemed to have been going well, but more and more recently her daughter seemed disinterested in doing things with the family. “Emma did something happen with the Crawley’s?” 

“No.” Emma replied, firmly this time. “George and Sybbie are my friends. So is Marigold I guess, I just don’t know her very much.”

“Then why wouldn’t you want to go into York with them?” Joseph asked curiously.

Emma shot him a glare, clearly displeased by his choice to interfere in the conversation, but didn’t say anything further.

“Emma?” Phyllis asked gently. “Did something happen?”

Emma sighed deeply as she finally met her mother’s eyes. “I just don’t want to go to York with them. I want to stay with you and Thomas.”

Phyllis sighed deeply as she gave a puzzled glance to Joseph. “What do you think?”

Joseph tried to hide his disappointment - but not surprise - at being left out of the short list that Emma felt comfortable with as he tried to puzzle through the scenario himself. It wasn’t like Emma to want to stay inside all day but he couldn’t really see the harm in letting her spend the day downstairs. “If she promises to stay out of the way I can’t see any harm in it. If that’s what she really wants?”

Emma nodded enthusiastically with a small grin before finally digging into the breakfast in front of her.

Late that afternoon Emma was getting ready for the party in Mrs. Hughes’ pantry. The housekeeper had helped her change into a red dress the Aldridge’s had bought for her in New York and she was waiting for her to return with some ribbon to tie her hair back with when the pantry door suddenly opened to reveal someone else entirely.

“What are you doing in here?” Mr. Carson’s voice boomed as he glanced around the room for his wife.

“Mrs. Hughes… Mrs. Carson…” Emma stumbled over her words as she tried to figure out how to not upset the man any further. “She’s helping me get ready for the party. She went to get some ribbons for-”

“That’s impossible.” He stopped her firmly. “Why would you believe that you would be attending the Servants’ Ball this evening?”

“I was invited.” Emma whispered anxiously, staring down at her stocking covered feet while biting down on her lower lip in an attempt to keep the now pressing tears at bay.

“Certainly not.” Mr. Carson replied incredulously. “It simply won’t do to have bastard children representing the household. Particularly not with the number of visitors this season.”

It was at that moment that Joseph opened the other door to the room. “Excuse me, Mr. Carson?”

“Mr. Molesley.” Carson looked rightfully startled at the sudden appearance of the girl’s purported father figure. “I wasn’t aware you were-”

“Clearly not.” He stopped him angrily, quickly turning to Emma who was shaking like a leaf and kneeling down so he could whisper into her ear. “Mr. Carson is the reason you didn’t want to go to York?”

Emma’s slight nod told him everything he needed to know and he gently pulled her behind him before turning back to the larger man.

“Stay the hell away from her.” Joseph growled angrily, gently squeezing the small hand that was gripping onto his own. “One more word like that about our daughter and I’ll go directly to his Lordship. I swear it.”

“Mr. Molesley.” Mr. Carson scoffed dismissively. “Surely you don’t believe it’s appropriate to-”

“What’s going on here?” Mrs. Hughes entered her sitting room, surprised to find more than the young girl she’d left in here only moments ago. It didn’t take long to sense the tension in the air and her eyes snapped to her husband’s. “What’s happened?” 

“Nothing’s been said that didn’t need to be.” Carson replied coolly. “There was simply a misunderstanding about who would and would not be attending the party this evening.”

“Oh Charlie.” Mrs. Hughes sighed heavily as she quickly surmised the situation for herself. She loved her husband dearly, but complicated situations such as the one the Molesley family faced were not his strong suit. “Miss Emma was invited to attend this evening by Lord and Lady Grantham themselves. If there’s been a misunderstanding it is on your part.”

“It’s not appropriate for-” Carson tried to justify himself to his wife before he was quickly cut off.

“It’s not 1910 anymore Charles.” Mrs. Hughes scolded firmly. “Miss Emma is a welcome part of the staff family at Downton and if you’ve done anything to make her feel that is not the case you are the one who has acted inappropriately.”

“Elsie.” Carson tried to reason once again. “Certainly you don’t believe it’s acceptable-”

“You’ll apologize to Miss Emma.” Mrs. Hughes stopped him again with a firm shake of her head. “And if you don’t wish to spend the next fortnight on the settee you’ll come to your senses about how to treat people with respect, especially a child.”

“I apologize.” Mr. Carson grumbled with a sigh of defeat before meeting his wife’s angry eyes once again and choosing to make his leave before he made things any worse.

Mrs. Hughes swiftly pressed the door closed behind him to offer some privacy before turning back to see the small girl collapse against Joseph in sobs. “I am truly sorry for whatever Mr. Carson has done.” She apologized anxiously herself. “Is there anything I can do?”

“Could you find Phyllis?” Joseph requested softly, carefully brushing Emma’s soft curls to the side as she pressed her face firmly into his stomach. “I’d like her to be here.”

Mrs. Hughes nodded, before swiftly leaving the room in search of the woman in question. Several minutes later the housekeeper led Phyllis into her office to find things much the same as she had left them.

“What happened?” Phyllis’s eyes flashed with rage at the sight of her daughter breaking before promptly crossing the room to the pair and trying to assess the situation herself. Her hand was firmly pressed against her daughter’s forehead when she looked up to her husband and whispered, “Is she alright?”

“I believe I’ve discovered the reason why Emma’s been cautious about her interactions lately.” Joseph whispered back. “Unfortunately there’s been an incident with Mr. Carson.”

Phyllis’s fiery gaze snapped back to Mrs. Hughes. “Did you know about this?”

Mrs Hughes shook her head firmly as she began to pull a pair of chairs out from under the small table along the nearest wall. “I don’t know what happened, but it’s my understanding that my husband has said something that he shouldn’t have.” 

Phyllis sighed tiredly before taking a seat in the offered chair. “What happened Joseph?” Joseph sighed himself as he adjusted his position so that he sat opposite his wife with Emma clinging awkwardly to his chest as she sprawled across his lap.

“I should give you some privacy-” Mrs. Hughes began to excuse herself before Joseph stopped her.

“I believe It would be best if you were made aware of the incident as well Mrs. Hughes.” Joseph sighed deeply. “I want to be certain that this never happens again.” He waited until Mrs. Hughes nodded a confirmation of her intent to stay before returning his attention to his wife. “I overheard Mr. Carson questioning the appropriateness of Emma’s presence in the house on the basis of her legitimacy.”

Phyllis’s eyes darkened considerably before she shut them tightly as she processed his statement. After a few measured breaths she looked back to her husband and ground out, “What did he say?”

“That it would be inappropriate for bastard children to represent the household.” Joseph relayed honestly before quickly adding his own perception of the incident. “It also seemed that it was not the first time that Mr. Carson referred to Emma in this way.”

“Emma?” Phyllis asked softly as she gently lay her hand against her daughter’s still trembling back. “Darling, can you look at me?” Emma slowly pulled away from Joseph enough to meet her mother’s eyes. “Has Mr. Carson called you this before?”

Emma nodded nervously as she eyed Mrs. Hughes across the room. She took a deep breath before launching into an explanation. “But it was my fault. I had done something naughty and-”

“Emma, no.” Phyllis stopped her firmly. “Whatever the circumstances, he is an adult and you are a child. The things he’s said are inappropriate regardless of what you’d done.”

“He’s right though.” Emma sat upright as she looked between her mother and Joseph. “I am a bastard aren’t I?”

Phyllis inhaled sharply, biting her lip to keep from swearing herself before looking to her husband for support. “Joseph...”

“Emma, the circumstances of your birth are not the business of anyone but our family.” Joseph jumped in quietly, firmly taking Emma’s hand in his own. “Regardless of the way the law categorizes these circumstances, it is never appropriate for someone - especially for an adult - to use them to make you feel inadequate.” 

Emma nodded firmly in understanding before throwing her arms around Joseph and giving him a firm hug before crossing to her mother and wrapping her arms around her neck and quietly whispering, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”

“You don’t have to apologize.” Phyllis assured her before pressing a firm kiss to her forehead. “I’m sorry we weren’t there for you.”

It was then that there was a sharp knock at the door and Thomas poked his head in the room surprised to find more than the entire Molesley family along with the housekeeper in the middle of a clearly intense conversation. 

“Is there something we can help you with Mr. Barrow?” Mrs. Hughes attempted to divert the butler’s attention from the scene in front of him. 

“I am here in search of a one Miss Emma.” Thomas straightened up seriously, eyeing the small girl across from him. “She had promised to help me with something before the party but I see that she’s otherwise preoccupied.” He shot a questioning glance in Phyllis’s direction with a raised brow.

“I think we're about done here.” Phyllis assured him quickly, more thankful in this moment for the safe harbor she knew Thomas provided for her daughter. “You can go with Thomas if you’d like.”

Emma nodded eagerly, scrambling to find her shoes from the pile of clothes she’d abandoned upon Carson’s abrupt arrival.

Thomas met Phyllis’s gaze and carefully mouthed, “Is everything okay?”

Phyllis shook her head gently but didn’t elaborate which Thomas rightly took as a sign that he should remove Emma from the situation. “Come on Emma.” He encouraged, flashing a conspiratorial smile. “We’ve got a lot to do and not much time to do it in.”

Emma nodded seriously before taking his outstretched hand and following him out of the room.

There was a long stretch of silence in the room after the door clicked shut before Joseph abruptly stood and began pacing the room. “I just don’t understand how he got the impression that Emma’s circumstances were appropriate to question.” He muttered angrily. “The whole purpose of lying to the staff was to prevent this from happening.”

“The purpose of lying to the staff was to protect me.” Phyllis snapped back anxiously. “My motives were entirely self-serving and I must have let something slip to the wrong person because I wasn’t thinking about her.”

“I’m afraid I must admit responsibility here.” Mrs. Hughes interjected nervously. “Mr. Carson suspected that Emma may have something to do with the man you’d been asked to be a witness toward and when he asked I didn’t see the point in lying.”

Phyllis sighed heavily at the revelation. She’d suspected that Carson would have been made at least somewhat aware of the circumstances of the trial several years prior but her suspicions hadn’t been confirmed until now. “Of course he would have put the pieces together.”

“I must apologize for being forthright with details of your life that were not at all mine to discuss.” Mrs. Hughes apologized profusely. “I didn’t see the harm in confirming a suspicion but I have put you in an impossible position by doing so.”

“Thank you for telling us.” Joseph managed an even response as he stopped behind his wife and placed his hands gently on her shoulders. “Would you mind giving us a moment?”

“Of course.” Mrs. Hughes nodded immediately, making her way to the door with another apology, “I’m so very sorry. Take all the time you need.” before she pulled the door shut behind herself.

Joseph waited a moment before circling around to kneel in front of his wife, taking her shaking hands in his own and pressing his lips firmly to her palms. “Tell me what you’re thinking, my love.”

“That I’ve failed her. Again.” Phyllis admitted quietly, pulling one of her hands from Joseph’s to wipe at her eyes. “That I put her in harm’s way. Again.”

Joseph sighed heavily as he looked up at his wife. “You’ve done everything that you can to protect her.” He tried to reassure her.

“And it’s not enough.” Phyllis replied dejectedly. “I can’t protect her from this.”

“We can.” Joseph stopped her softly. “With your permission I’d like to speak to Mr. Carson honestly about Emma’s circumstances. He ought to know better regardless of the details, but he knows enough that it seems to be doing more harm than good to allow him to fill in the gaps.”

“No, Joseph, you don’t have my permission.” Phyllis stopped him gently. “You said it yourself, that our family’s circumstances are the business of no one other than our family. He doesn’t need to know.”

Joseph initially seemed perturbed by her rejection of his plan but he quickly recognized her need to take control of something. “What would you like to do?”

“I want to get ready for the evening.” Phyllis suggested tiredly. “It’s going to take some effort to fasten the back of the dress I’m wearing this evening and I’d like to get it over with. The sooner this night is over so we can take Emma home, the better.”

Nearly an hour later the party was in full swing and Phyllis was staring absentmindedly into the crowd from her seat on the sidelines.

“How are you feeling?” Joseph interrupted her thoughts, offering her a mug of hot chocolate as he sat down next to her just having completed a dance with Lady Rose at her request. “I know you’re not up for much dancing but you usually love this event.”

“I’m worried about Emma.” Phyllis replied immediately as she gratefully accepted the warm drink. “I haven’t seen her since she left with Thomas earlier and I can’t help but fret.”

“Thomas won’t let anything happen to her.” Joseph reassured her firmly as he scanned the room himself surprised to find that the Butler remained conspicuously absent. “I’m sure they’ll be here soon.”

And sure enough, it was only moments later that Thomas led four giddy children down the stairs, each of whom carefully lined up on the edge of the landing above the party in full swing below.

“Ladies and Gentleman.” Thomas signaled to the string quartet to stop their music, moving several steps down so he could motion to the children above him. “I am happy to present Master George Crawley, Miss Sybbie Branson, Miss Marigold Pelham, and Miss Emma Baxter who have prepared a small surprise for their families downstairs and upstairs alike.”

Phyllis met Joseph’s eyes expecting to find an explanation in his expression and she was surprised when his features matched her own perplexed ones. 

It was only a moment before the piano began playing softly, Lady Edith acting as their accompaniment, and the four children began a clearly rehearsed chorus of The Holly and the Ivy .

Phyllis met her husband’s eyes once again, motioning for him to help her to stand so she could see through the crowd that had formed on the dance floor and he quickly rounded the table to provide the requested assistance.

Joseph watched as Phyllis’s expression slowly morphed from one of shock to one of pride and his heart melted at the sight. “She’s gonna be okay.” He whispered quietly, pressing a quick kiss to his wife’s cheek before wrapping his arms around her. “The proof is she’s standing here, in a household full of people who adore her almost as much as we do. We don’t have to protect her from this.”

Phyllis relaxed into his arms, smiling fondly as she watched her daughter sing confidently alongside the children she’d watched grow up while she longed for the same for her own child. While she’d never get those years back, seeing her daughter’s confidence blossom under the care of this house was indeed proof enough that she would in fact, be alright here.

The song concluded and the four children scrambled down the stairs in search of their respective families and it was only a moment before Emma reappeared.

“Did you see!?” Emma squealed excitedly as she crashed into her mother’s side, wrapping her arms around her. “Did you like it!?”

“Darling, careful of the baby.” Phyllis reminded her gently as she felt a strong kick of protest at the abrupt movement before she pulled her into her arms. “I did see and I absolutely loved it.”

“We’ve been working on it for weeks.” Emma chattered excitedly as she pulled out of her mother’s hug and began bouncing on her heels. “Thomas helped us find a place to practice and it was mostly Sybbie’s idea and she convinced Lady Edith to help but I was the one who suggested the song because I remembered Joseph explaining the importance of symbolism in the Advent and the importance of understanding what it is that we’re celebrating during the season as a whole and I thought you’d like it and I just…”

“Whoa there, don’t forget to breathe.” Joseph stopped her with a smirk in an attempt to get the girl to calm down before she got too out of breath. “You made an excellent selection Emma. My father would have been particularly pleased as it’s his favorite.”

“I know.” Emma giggled with a wide smile. “I asked him to help me learn how to read the music. I’m still not very good but I’m much better.”

“We’re very proud.” Phyllis assured her with a smile of her own before her eyes darkened suddenly as someone approached her daughter from behind.

“Miss Emma I wanted to thank you for your performance.” Mr. Carson’s voice warbled nervously, hoping not to startle the girl but certain that what he had to say couldn’t wait. 

Emma looked between her mother and Joseph nervously, gripping onto Joseph’s outstretched hand before she turned around to face the man. “Thank you Mr. Carson.” She mumbled anxiously.

“I need to apologize for my behavior.” Carson continued awkwardly, eyeing both Phyllis and Joseph as he “I allowed my own misconstrued prejudices to dictate your place in a home that I have no real place in myself and I did this on a number of occasions. For this I am deeply sorry.”

Emma nodded but made no effort to respond and Phyllis quickly seized the opportunity to defend her daughter. “While we appreciate your apology Mr. Carson you’ll understand that Mr. Molesley and I would ask that you stay away from our family for the foreseeable future. We have no interest in allowing those who choose to make our children feel small to feel more important themselves be a part of our lives.”

Carson nodded once in understanding before swiftly making his way across the room back to where his clearly exasperated wife awaited him. 

“You didn’t have to do that.” Emma mumbled quietly as she turned back to the pair behind her. “He’s important here and in the village. You don’t have to-”

“I absolutely did have to.” Phyllis stopped her firmly. “We do not condone that type of behavior in our family and we expect the same from our friends. So while we’ll be civil to Mr. Carson when we see him we will not be allowing him into our lives any further.”

Joseph nodded firmly in agreement as he took her small hand in his and gave it a squeeze. “You are our priority. Whatever anyone else thinks about it is no concern of ours.”

“Okay.” Emma nodded, her brow still furrowed in concern as glanced between them.

“Now, I believe you both owe me a dance.” Joseph swiftly diverted her attention, reaching for his wife’s hand with his own.

“Together?” Emma asked with a wide grin as she reached for her mother’s other hand.

“Joseph I’m not up for-” Phyllis began to protest anxiously as she eyed the other dancers who were swiftly moving across the floor.

“Together.” Joseph affirmed softly as he motioned toward the back corner of the dance floor. “We’ll take it slow. I promise.”

Phyllis nodded apprehensively, following her daughter and husband to the floor and allowing them to sway back and forth slowly with herself between them for some time before she choked back a sob. 

“Are you alright?” Joseph asked tentatively, slowing their already gentle movements to a stop. 

“It feels right, the three of us together.” Phyllis admitted tearfully.

Joseph briefly let go of Emma’s hand to wipe at the tears running down her cheeks. “Soon enough it will be the four of us.”

“How soon?” Emma asked excitedly, always jumping on an opportunity to ask about the baby’s arrival.

“It’ll be another couple of months.” Phyllis reminded her for what seemed like the thousandth time. 

“But just you wait.” Joseph warned with a wide grin as he glanced to his wife for approval before making a revelation they had been waiting for the right time for. “Between the rest of the Christmas season and returning to my classes in the new year the baby will be here before you know it.”

“Really!?” Emma’s eyes widened in shock. “I can take English and history again?”

Phyllis nodded with a smile herself. “Mr. Dawes doesn’t think you’re reaching your potential with the younger students and he recommended the change.” She explained before adding the catch. “But it’s on a trial basis under the assumption that you work with Joseph on your reading and writing outside of school.” 

“Yes, yes, I promise!” Emma practically squealed as she jumped up excitedly, turning toward Joseph and throwing her arms around him. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

“It’ll be some hard work, but nothing we can’t handle.” Joseph assured her. “Now, why don’t you go try the desserts so you can tell us which one is the best?

Emma nodded enthusiastically before rushing across the room to join the other children that had gathered around the dessert table. 

“She’s fine.” Joseph assured her once again.

“I know.” Phyllis nodded confidently this time, pressing her lips firmly against his for just a moment before fervently whispering, “Thank you for helping me keep her that way.”

Chapter Text

January brought with it a nearly unprecedented snowstorm. With over a foot of snow and it still falling, Downton had begun preparations to shut down for a few days until the roads were passable. Mr. Dawes had announced that the school would be closed for the remainder of the week and the staff at the big house were in the midst of negotiating familial and work duties.

“Are you certain you don’t want me to join you?” Phyllis asked as she packed the embroidery she’d brought home with her the night before in a lidded basket. “I’m afraid I’ve left behind quite a list of unfinished tasks over the last week and it seems unfair to use the weather as an excuse to leave them to you.”

“There’s no point in it.” Anna assured her firmly. “John and I will be staying up at the house for the next few days as it is and I’m more than happy to care for Lady Grantham as well as Lady Mary until the roads clear up. You just stay here and get some rest.”

Phyllis smiled gratefully, running her right hand along her stomach in an attempt to soothe the very active baby beneath her touch. “Truthfully I’ll appreciate not making the trek to and from the attics for the next few nights.”

“The stairs are a monster in your condition.” Anna replied knowingly before shooting a glance at Joseph and Emma sitting at the table. “Take this opportunity to spend some time with your family. With Lord Grantham’s mother doing so poorly we haven’t had much time for personal business, and it’s likely to only get worse before it gets better.”

“Thank you Anna.” Joseph stepped in, placing a freshly baked loaf of bread into the basket his wife had packed and handing it to the woman in question. “I truly appreciate you stepping in here. Are you certain you’ll be alright to walk to the house?”

Anna nodded with a grateful smile. “John is waiting at home for me and we’ll be going up as soon as he’s finished packing for Johnny. I’ll be fine.”

“Thank you again Anna. Please let us know if there’s anything we can to help you and Mr. Bates in future” Joseph insisted as he led her out, shivering as he closed the door behind their visitor before returning to the kitchen where his wife had joined Emma. “It’s been ages since we’ve seen a storm like this in Downton.” 

“This is nothing.” Emma replied, handing him the essay she’d just finished revising. “In Canada snow like this is all there is.”

Joseph smiled as he looked over the writing “This is very well written Emma. Your hard work is paying off, it’s truly some of your best work.”

“Tuck in.” Phyllis directed both of them as she set the final dish on the table. “I won’t have you both messing up your schedules because of a few days off.”

“I could say the same to you.” Joseph quipped as he watched his wife’s hand snake to her back and press firmly into it. “Are you certain you’re feeling alright?”

“A bit restless.” Phyllis admitted with a smile as she sat down herself. “The baby’s not used to sitting around the house all day and they’re protesting a bit.”

“Perhaps tomorrow we can go for a walk.” Joseph suggested with a sympathetic smile. “Give baby a tour of what Downton looks like in the snow.” 

“Yes!” Emma exclaimed excitedly before continuing to ramble  “I want to see the church in the snow. Frosted stained glass is my favorite thing in the snow. Oh and the school. Can we go to the school when it’s empty since you’re a teacher? What about...”

Phyllis smiled as she met her husband’s eyes across the table, mouthing a quick “That would be lovely.” before serving herself some dinner, more than content to simply listen to her husband and daughter discuss places they should visit on their walk tomorrow while she ate.

Early the next morning Joseph woke to a firm knock on the door immediately followed by an irritated groan from his wife next to him. “I’d just managed to fall asleep.” Phyllis ground out as she shifted to the side to turn on the lamp.

Joseph offered a sympathetic kiss to her cheek before sliding out from beneath the covers and crossing the room to retrieve his dressing gown with a promise to his wife, “I’ll take care of it.”

He’d just closed the bedroom door behind himself when another knock at the door increased the speed of his descent and he opened the door to reveal a shivering Bill Molesley and at least another foot of snow than there had been the night before. “Dad? What’re you doing here? It’s a blizzard out!”

Bill slid through the opened door and sealed it behind himself with a sigh of relief before he managed a response. “That bloody blizzard has caved in the roof on the back of my house.”

“Oh Dad.” Joseph sighed tiredly. “I’ve told you it needs replacing.”

“Much good that advice is now.” Bill retorted smartly. “I need some help clearing out the snow and patching up the roof.”

“Dad I’ve got a family to take care of. I can’t just up and leave them in this storm.”

“I can help!” Emma offered excitedly. “Mrs. Edmunds had us help clear the kitchens when the storms blew the windows open in the night.” 

Joseph sighed tiredly as he eyed the already over-excited child across from them. “Emma you’re meant to be helping your mum and I with chores around the house today. We can’t leave all that work to her.”

“We’ll be back later today.” Emma retorted, crossing her arms firmly across her chest. “I want to come and it’ll go faster with more hands and then we’ll both be back to help here sooner.”

A bit more back and forth ended with Bill on Emma’s side and Joseph making his way back up the stairs to inform his wife of the change in plans for the day.

“Phyllis, my Dad’s here.” Joseph began to explain as he pulled his warmest clothes from the chest of drawers. “The snow’s caved in the roof at his house and he needs help clearing the room and getting something up to cover the hole.”

“It’s freezing out there.” Phyllis replied incredulously. “Perhaps your father should just stay here?”

Joseph sighed heavily as he buttoned up the first of many shirts he’d pulled on. “I just don’t see him going for anything other than what he’s come here for. My Dad isn’t one for trekking through the snow so I expect that with or without my help he’ll be returning to the task himself.”

“You’re probably right.” Phyllis conceded tiredly as she watched him pull on a third pair of socks. “Just be careful.”

“Oh! I suppose I should also run this past you.” Joseph realized suddenly, looking towards his wife guiltily. “Emma’s convinced us she’d like to come and help. Dad’s helping her bundle up now and I’ll keep her away from anything precarious, but you say the word and she’ll stay here.”

“I suppose that’s fine.” Phyllis agreed softly. “I’m not feeling up to much at the moment anyway. Perhaps with you lot out of the house baby and I can get some sleep.”

Joseph smiled sympathetically as he approached the bed. “Let your mummy get some rest today.” He directed firmly, pressing a quick kiss to her belly followed by one to her forehead. “I love you. Take it easy, alright?”

Phyllis chuckled tiredly as she gently pulled his hand to rest beneath her own on her stomach before promising, “I’ll do my best.” and with another kiss for both her and the baby her husband left once again with a promise that they would both be back soon.

It was far longer before the pair returned than they’d originally expected and when they did they were soaked to the bone.

“Phyllis, we’re back from Dad’s!” Joseph called as the pair stomped the snow off their boots just outside the door before quickly shutting the cold out behind them. He turned to Emma and helped her untie her boots before looking back up to her. “Go ahead and change out of those clothes and hang them to dry by the stove. I’m going to check on your mother and then we can sort out something for tea.”

When he opened the door to their bedroom he was somewhat surprised to find his wife still in bed but he didn’t see a sense in waking her so he quietly slipped into the lavatory to change out of his own wet attire and clean himself up a bit before returning downstairs to deliver on his promise of finding some supper for the three of them.

When he reentered the bedroom Phyllis hadn’t moved from her position facing the opposing wall and he’d decided to head out of the room while shutting the door behind him to allow her to get the much needed rest when he heard a strained whisper, “Joseph...wait.” 

Eyes wide with fear he rounded the bed to see his wife’s face contorted in pain and her brow covered with a sheen of sweat. “Oh lord.” He cursed softly as he knelt down so he could meet her tear filled eyes. “Phyllis, is it the baby?”

Phyllis nodded slightly, reaching out to grasp his hand in hers. “I don’t know if it’s time but… it hurts badly.”

“How long?” Joseph asked seriously as he glanced at the clock across the room. He’d been gone for most of the day and he dreaded to think how long he may have left her to manage this alone.

“I don’t know.” Phyllis admitted quietly. “Most of the morning I suppose. What time is it?”

Joseph groaned anxiously as he rose to his feet once more. “It’s going on six. It took longer than we’d expected it would to clear the snow from the room and then the rest of the roof.” Joseph replied before shaking his head and turning back to her to confirm what she’d said, “You’ve been like this since this morning?” 

Phyllis bobbed her head, whimpering slightly when his hand slipped out of hers as he began to pace around the room. “Alright.” He turned back to her decidedly. “I’m going for help.”

Phyllis grasped firmly onto his hand and shook her head furiously, her eyes clenched shut as she held her breath through the most recent pain. It wasn’t until she’d let out a low groan of pain that she met his eyes and pleaded, “Please don’t leave me. You promised me I wouldn’t have to do this alone.”

Joseph stopped suddenly, her reminder of the circumstances surrounding Emma’s birth increasing his guilt tenfold. “Phyllis.” He whispered anxiously as he looked out the window for any sign of a neighbor he could send for help. “I don’t want to leave you but It’s very early for the baby and I don’t want to risk either of you getting hurt. I need to go for the doctor.”

“He’s not in.” Phyllis reminded him. “He’s staying at the house during the storm to help with the Dowager Countess’s care.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake.” Joseph swore angrily as he racked his brain for anyone nearby who knew their way to the house well enough to get there in the storm who wasn’t already there.

“Is something the matter?” Emma asked cautiously as she peered around the door, aware that something must be amiss to warrant such language from the normally mild-mannered man.

“It seems that the baby may be ready to join us today.” Joseph softened significantly at the frightened expression on the small girl’s face.

“Now!?” Emma’s eyes widened in shock as she looked over the room, suddenly aware of the nervous tension between the two of them. “But it’s not meant to be here for another month!”

Emma’s presence provided Phyllis with the motivation to turn from her side onto her back so she could provide some semblance of reassurance to her daughter. “It seems that baby has other plans.”

“Who isn’t at the house? Who can help?” Joseph asked suddenly, still trying desperately to come up with someone who could provide the assistance they needed.

“Mr. Carson.” Phyllis sighed tiredly. “We have to send Mr. Carson to the house for the doctor.”

“I’ll do it.” Emma volunteered immediately.

“Emma, no.” Joseph stopped her firmly. “You’re too young to go out in this in the dark alone. Not to mention that Mr. Carson isn’t meant to be alone with you after what he’s done.”

Emma shook her head emphatically. “I am not.” She argued back. “I know the way to the Carsons. It’s only a street over and I can go through the back garden. It’s less than five minutes there and back. I can do it!” 

“No, you can’t.” Phyllis stopped her softly, reaching out for Joseph’s hands to help give her purchase to sit up. “Not in this storm. But you can stay with me so I’m not alone.”

“Are you sure?” Joseph asked softly, watching as Emma quickly settled in next to her mother, her posture emulating how seriously she was taking her prescribed duty.

“We’ve done this together before.” Phyllis offered a quiet reassurance before posing a question of her own, “And you’ll be right back?”

Joseph nodded, pressing his lips firmly to her forehead. “Five minutes, there and back.” He promised before shooting back down the stairs and out the front door.

True to his promise Joseph had gone and returned quickly to find his wife and her daughter in much the same position he had left them in

“Mr. Carson’s on his way to the house.” Joseph informed her softly, taking her hands in his and giving them a firm squeeze. “Help will be here soon and in the meantime you have us.”

It was just over an hour when a knock on the door signaled the arrival of the awaited assistance and Joseph quickly went to let in the doctor only to be surprised to find Anna and Mrs. Hughes at the door. Uncertain of how to proceed he simply decided to lead them upstairs to his wife. Phyllis’s perturbed expression upon their arrival made it more than obvious that she’d also not been expecting this outcome. 

“Doctor Clarkson was out when Mr. Carson arrived so you’ll have to settle for us in the meantime.” Anna offered an explanation as she peeled off her coat. 

“You know that we’ve experience in this department, no need to fret.” Mrs. Hughes added as she watched the conflicting emotions flit across the laboring woman’s face. 

“Mr. Molesley, if you’d be so kind as to put a pot of water on to boil?” Anna turned to the other two individuals in the room. “And Miss Emma, could you collect some clean towels and a couple of aprons for Mr. Molesley to bring back up to us when he’s done?” 

Joseph furrowed his brow but didn’t argue with the directions he’d received, hopeful that the confidence of the women who’d just arrived was indicative of their ability to help his wife. He gave a brief nod before taking Emma’s hand in hers and guiding her out of the room and closing the door behind them.

“How are you doing?” Anna asked sympathetically as the other woman excused herself into the next room.

“You can’t both be here.” Phyllis shook her head in confusion. “Who will manage the-”

“Never you mind.” Anna stopped her gently. “Lady Grantham and Thomas insisted that you have us both with you until Doctor Clarkson’s been tracked down and arrived. The only thing you have to worry about is delivering this baby safely.” 

It was at that moment that the housekeeper emerged from the washroom with clean hands and a sympathetic smile. “From what my husband managed to communicate it sounds as if you’ve been at this for some time. You should have sent for help sooner. Perhaps you would have caught Doctor before he left.”

“I’m so sorry Mrs. Hughes… Mrs. Carson…” Phyllis struggled to decide on how to address the woman before shaking her head with a sigh.  “I’m not sure what to call you here. I’m sorry.”

“The formality certainly isn’t necessary under the circumstances my dear, not to mention the apology.” She smiled gently. “Elsie is perfectly fine and you’ve nothing to apologize for. Now how often are the pains?”

Phyllis shrugged as she shifted . “It comes and goes but it’s nearly constant. They just aren’t as strong as I remember them being.”

“Alright.” Elsie nodded with an encouraging smile. “Would you mind if I took a look at how you’re progressing?”

“You’re welcome to look but I don’t expect much.” Phyllis sighed tiredly as she pulled her knees toward herself. “I’ve been having these pains since this morning, but nothing else.”

Elsie helped her into a reasonable position for examination before taking a look. “There’s dilation but not a significant amount.” She informed her with a sympathetic frown before turning to the other woman who had just returned from the washroom Phyllis hadn’t noticed she’d entered in the first place. “Anna would you take a look?” 

“Is that alright?” Anna waited for a confirmatory nod from Phyllis before following suit, pulling away with a slight frown. “Did your doctor say anything was unusual about your labor with Emma?” She asked seriously as she tried to think through the possible explanations for such a prolonged first stage of labor. “Or do you remember anything similar to this in the early stages of your labor?”

Phyllis bit her lip in frustration as she tried to decide how much to divulge about her experience nearly a decade prior before deciding she may as well get things out in the open. “I had Emma in Holloway and the doctor didn’t attend to the birth. He was meant to but... truthfully I don’t know what happened. The floor matron took me from the workroom to the infirmary but he didn’t come until long after Emma was born. I did this alone.” She admitted tearfully, avoiding the eyes of the other women in the room.

“Well I never.” Elsie muttered angrily under her breath as she absorbed the admission, biting her tongue to keep from saying anything untoward.

The other woman was unphased by the revelation, quickly moving to hand Phyllis her handkerchief. “There are many unspeakably cruel people in Holloway.” Anna said knowingly. “In my experience few of them were there under sentence.”

Phyllis had expected a stronger reaction from the younger woman given that she’d just learned of her time in prison but she quickly found she was grateful to have someone who could truly commiserate with her experience. She nodded slightly in agreement with Anna’s sentiment as she wiped her eyes before following up her admission with what information she did have. “Emma came much more quickly than this - in a matter of hours - and I don’t remember anything that felt like this.”

“Would you mind if I felt to see what these pains seem to be doing?” Anna asked tentatively. “I understand if you’re uncomfortable with it but I’d like to see if we can get a better sense of what’s going on.”

Phyllis sighed before nodding in approval, wincing slightly at the feel of cautious fingers probing her inside, while the other hand pressed firmly against her stomach. 

“That’s a pain?” Anna asked just as a new wave rolled through her back, frowning when she received a nod in affirmation. Gently she removed her hands from their respective positions and guided her legs back into a more comfortable position. “They’re certainly contractions. They just don’t seem very strong.”

A sharp knock on the doorframe was followed shortly by Joseph’s nervous voice asking, “May I come in?”

“Please.” Phyllis bobbed her head eagerly at the questioning glances from the other women. 

It wasn’t a moment after the door opened and Joseph had deposited the requested towels and aprons on the end of the bed that he was at her side, pressing his lips firmly to her forehead before meeting her eyes and quietly asking, “How are you doing?”

“The same.” Phyllis sighed tiredly. “Anna believes I’m contracting, just weakly.”

“What does that mean?” Joseph furrowed his brow in concern. 

“It means we’re in for the long haul.” Elsie took charge quickly, beginning to orate the list she’d been keeping mentally since her arrival. “There’s some things we’ll need prepared for baby just in case doctor isn’t here in time. We’ll need some heavy string - preferably something relatively clean. And you’ll need to use a portion of that boiling water to sterilize the sharpest pair of scissors you have and wrap them in a clean towel-”

“I need him here.” Phyllis interrupted the older woman softly, her cheeks blushing furiously as she tried to figure out how to explain to the clearly perplexed woman in front of her that she wouldn’t make it through this without the only person she truly trusts at her side.

“Of course you do.” Anna stepped in suddenly, her stern eyes meeting Elsie’s to shut down any potential protests. “You weren’t in control last time, but you are making the decisions now. If you’d like Mr. Molesley to be here he will be.”

“Yes.” Phyllis whispered anxiously, burying her face in Joseph’s shoulder as she shifted with the pain of another contraction. “Please.”

Joseph gently ran his fingers through her hair in an effort to provide physical reassurance alongside his quiet promise, “I’ll be right here. As long as you want me to be.”

It was early the next morning that the visitors in the Molesley cottage were awoken by Joseph calling for help from the bedroom upstairs. 

After a few more hours of constant, but still weak contractions, Anna and Elsie had both decided it was necessary for the already exhausted laboring mother to get some rest. After helping her find a comfortable position - lying on her side with pillows supporting her in the front and Joseph up against her back - they took to the living room for some rest themselves with a reassurance that they were only a shout for help away.

The pair were up the stairs in a flash, not at all surprised to find that things had progressed significantly since they left hours before. Joseph stood at the edge of the bed where his wife sat, bent down so she could wrap her arms around his neck that she had buried her face in the crook of.

“Her waters have just gone.” Joseph informed them softly. “She’s been awake for an hour or so with stronger pains but they seem to have gotten much worse very quickly.”

“Alright.” Anna nodded in understanding, quickly pulling on the apron she’d abandoned late the night before. “Just help her through this contraction and we’ll see what we there is to see when she’s ready to move a bit.”

It took some wordless negotiation but eventually Anna and Joseph were able to help Phyllis into a position that would allow for an easier assessment of her condition. “You’re not ready dear.” Elsie frowned sympathetically. “There’s been some progress but there’s work to do yet.”

“Not on my back.” Phyllis whispered quietly, gripping anxiously onto her husband and Anna’s hands as she tried to communicate the urgency of her request. “It’s much, much worse on my back.”

Elise and Anna quickly moved to help her shift her weight forward so she was resting on her forearms and knees, her head pressed firmly against the mattress while Joseph looked on in concern.

“Still nothing from Doctor Clarkson?” Joseph asked nervously. 

Elsie shook her head sympathetically. “Lord Grantham wasn’t certain where he’d gone, only that he’d received an emergent house call.” It was only when she saw the blood draining from the man’s face that she quickly added, “But there’s no need to panic. Women have babies without a doctor every day. I know it was planned as a precaution but she’s truly doing very well.”

Joseph watched as his wife’s face contorted in pain, her back arching forward in a desperate attempt to find relief from the nearly constant sensation in her spine and he found himself sick to his stomach at the suggestion that this was normal. “This is doing well?”

“Labor is called labor for a reason.” Anna chimed in softly, offering an encouraging smile to the clearly anxious man in front of her as she continued to rub circles into the laboring woman’s back in an attempt to provide some relief. “It’s quite a bit of hard work and she’s been at it for some time now. Labors this long are not common, but they’re not unheard of. The best thing we can do is support her through it.”

Joseph nodded seriously, refocusing his attention back to his wife, taking over Anna’s task and softly whispering what he hoped were words of comfort. “My love, we’re right here with you and you’re doing so well.”

Another few hours passed in this position with little conversation between anyone in the room. Everyone was far too focused on reading the minimal signs the laboring woman was giving of how she was progressing and beyond the deep breaths that coincided with each contraction there was little to go off from until Phyllis met her husband’s eyes and quietly whispered, “I need to stand.” through a ragged breath.

Joseph’s eyes widened in surprise at the request and he looked to the other women in the room for guidance.

“She can stand.” Anna assured him firmly. “It may help things to progress if gravity is on her side.” 

Between the three of them they managed to help her out of her prone position and off of the bed with relatively little difficulty and she quickly wrapped her arms around her husband’s neck in order to maintain her balance on legs that were far too sore to be holding her up without assistance. 

“I’ve got you.” Joseph murmured as he wrapped his arms around her in turn, mindful to only provide support rather than putting any weight back on her. 

Another hour of pain came along with the shift to the afternoon and Phyllis and Joseph had made several rounds in their pacing around the bed before she stopped abruptly and threw her head backward with a shallow moan.

“Phyllis?” Joseph asked anxiously as he tried to assess what had changed.

“Baby’s head.” She whispered quietly. “It’s pressing against… I must push now.”

Joseph’s eyes widened as he relayed the message to the other women, “She says she needs to push.”

“Let’s help her onto the bed so we can take a look.” Elsie directed as she made to 

“No.” Phyllis shook her head firmly, solidifying her grasp on the collar of Joseph’s shirt.

“Phyllis?” Joseph asked quietly, pulling back just enough to meet her eyes with a questioning glance. Wordlessly she grabbed his hand and pulled it between her now shaking legs. “Oh my god! Is that a head !?”

The other women in the room quickly jumped into action, Elise moving behind her to provide additional support while Anna moved to her knees to take a look for herself.

“That’s a head.” Anna confirmed quickly. “Baby’s coming now.”

“Let’s get you up on the bed dear.” Elsie tried once again, this time with Joseph helping her to guide the laboring woman back across the room.

No .” Phyllis repeated forcefully, leaning forward heavily onto her husband as she planted her feet firmly to the ground.

“She’s not moving if she doesn’t want to.” Anna stopped them from her position on the floor, well aware from her vantage point that this baby wouldn’t be waiting for any adjustments in the name of convenience. “She’s well in the thick of it now and her body knows what it needs.”

Joseph nodded seriously as he tightened his arms around his wife’s back in an attempt to provide further support and she sighed gratefully at the increased counterpressure it provided. “We’re right here my love. Whatever you need just ask.” 

Phyllis nodded in understanding but made no requests beyond tightening her hold on her husband and squatting slightly in an attempt to relieve some of the once again mounting pressure.

“If you feel up to it try giving a push with this pain.” Anna directed gently, reaching out for the towels Elsie had collected from the bed. “That’s all you have to focus on now.” Phyllis bobbed her head slightly as she pushed down with the next contraction whimpering quietly at the peak of the pressure. 

“It’s alright to verbalize the pains dear.” Elsie tried to comfort the younger woman. “There will be no awards for quietude when all is said and done.” 

Phyllis closed her eyes tightly, holding her breath through the rest of the contraction before exhaling heavily and whispering into Joseph’s chest, “I need help squatting down.”

“She needs to squat further.” Joseph relayed as her arms dislodged themselves from around his neck to grab tightly onto his forearms.

Anna was up from the floor in a moment, quickly providing support under Phyllis’s arms as Joseph slowly moved to his knees to allow for the shift in position before turning to the clearly overwhelmed woman standing awkwardly across the room. “Would you like to take over for me here or catch the baby?”

Elsie’s eyes widened and she swiftly moved to take over her current position. “Is this alright?” She asked nervously as she provided the directed support. “In all the births I’ve assisted with I have never seen-”

“I have no interest in trying to control how Phyllis handles this. She’s had more than enough of that.” Anna stopped her with a certainty that left no room for questioning. “She knows what she needs and unless there’s any sign of danger I will be supporting her in this and I need you to help make that happen.”

“The pain.” Phyllis managed to choke out. “Worse this time.”

Anna nodded as she quickly reclaimed her position on the floor. “Go ahead and push whenever you feel the need. I’m ready for baby.”

Phyllis took to the task quickly and it only took a few contractions of concentrated effort before she felt the shift from the pain of the head to the unbearable burning of the baby’s shoulders as she gave a final push with a slight whimper.

Joseph’s eyes managed to widen further as he watched Anna catch his child securely in the waiting towel. “It’s a girl!” She announced as she quickly brought the baby up to Phyllis’s shaking arms, helping her to hold the small bundle up to her chest.

“Oh my god.” Joseph choked through the tears now readily streaming down his face. “Phyllis, she’s beautiful.” 

Phyllis shook her head anxiously as she waited with bated breath for a cry that hadn’t come from her arms. “Is she okay?”

“She’s perfect.” Anna reassured her quickly, well aware of the quick movements of the baby’s chest beneath her hand. “Just give her a moment”

It wasn’t a second later that the girl’s first cry sounded through the room, causing her mother to sigh in relief and her father to cry even harder. 

Anna waited for a few moments before gently placing her hand on Joseph’s arm. “Could you fetch the scissors and the string?” She asked quietly and a few minutes later the cord had been cut and Phyllis was settled carefully onto the bed at her request with her husband seated at her side.

“My love, we have a daughter.” Joseph whispered softly, pressing quick kisses to her forehead. “You did it, you’re done.”

“Not quite Dad.” Anna smiled sympathetically as she met Phyllis’ exhausted eyes. “We’ve a bit of time but unfortunately we’ll need to deliver the afterbirth before we can call it a day.”

It was only a few minutes before the pains returned and Elsie and Anna gently helped her through the final stages of labor while Joseph held the small newborn firmly against his chest with one hand and his wife’s hand tightly with the other. 

Once the afterbirth was delivered and she’d been cleaned up a bit, Phyllis was fighting off long-overdue sleep as she tried to formulate a question. “The baby… where’s the… Joseph?”

“I’ve got her right here.” Joseph quickly crossed the room with his daughter in his arms, leaning down so his wife could see for herself. “She’s safe. It’s time for you to get some rest my love.”

When Phyllis woke it was to a gentle shake of her shoulder by Anna who seemed to be the only remaining occupant of the room. “Where..?” 

“Joseph is downstairs with the baby.” Anna explained quickly as she recognized the disorientation in the woman’s eyes. “Doctor Clarkson’s here and would like to see you.”

Phyllis nodded and Anna motioned for the doctor to enter the room. “You’ve done an excellent job without my assistance Mrs. Molesley.” Doctor Clarkson assured her as he placed his bag on the dresser. “Baby Molesley is a bit small, but she’s strong and fit for fighting. The only thing left to check on is you.”

“Of course.” Phyllis nodded as she allowed Anna to help her spread her legs apart, wincing at the soreness between her legs that was amplified by the movement. 

“I can’t imagine this will be comfortable but you’re welcome to squeeze my hand as tight as you need.” Anna offered as she took her hand in hers and Phyllis was quick to take advantage as the examination exacerbated her soreness even further.

“Everything looks to be in order Mrs. Molesley.” Doctor Clarkson assured her as he concluded the examination. “Mrs. Bates has offered to help you with adjusting to feeding if that’s your plan for the babe.” The doctor continued as he helped her back to a relaxed position. “But if you’d prefer to have a nurse stop by, or are in need of some formula, I can arrange for that as well.”

“I’ve nursed before.” Phyllis reminded him honestly. “Anna’s assistance should more than suffice.”

“Then I’ll have Mr. Molesley bring baby up on my way out.” Doctor Clarkson replied firmly. “You should feed her sooner rather than later or she’ll lose too much weight too quickly.” He warned seriously as he retrieved his bag from where he’d placed it. “If you have any trouble my surgery should be open again tomorrow.”

“Thank you doctor.” Phyllis nodded as she watched the man depart, giving Anna’s hand a final squeeze before attempting to readjust her position.

“Is there anything I can get you?” Anna asked as she helped her back under the covers. “You haven’t eaten in some time.”

“I just want my baby.” Phyllis admitted anxiously. “I need to see her.”

“She’s right here.” Joseph interjected softly as he rounded the top of the staircase with a bundle of blankets in his arms.

Overwhelmed by the sight of their baby in her husband’s arms, Phyllis choked on a sob as he moved toward the bed, only managing a weak, “How did I do?” before he pressed his lips firmly to hers.

“You’ve done so well.” Joseph promised softly as he carefully transferred his daughter into his wife’s arms. “She’s absolutely perfect.”

Phyllis nodded slightly as she carefully observed the small features of her daughter’s face, gently running the back of her hand against her cheek before whispering, “She looks just like Emma.”

“She’ll be very pleased to hear that.” Joseph replied with a small snort. “She’s absolutely smitten with her.”

“Is she alright?” Phyllis asked suddenly in a panic. “I didn’t even think to check on her once things truly started. Did she have supper... or breakfast? Who kept her company? Was she-”

“Emma is perfectly fine.” Joseph stopped her gently. “Thomas allowed Mr. Carson to take over his duties for the next few days and he’s been here with her since late last night.”

Phyllis blushed furiously at the realization this meant that three of the prominent members of staff had spent the better part of the last day away from their jobs. “I’m afraid I’ve caused quite an inconvenience to the Granthams.” 

“You’ve done no such thing.” Anna interjected delicately. “Lady Grantham sends her best to you and the baby and asked that I ensure that you don’t worry about the disruption. Mrs. Hughes returned to the house earlier this evening and has surely delivered the good news to the family and the rest of the staff by now.”

Phyllis nodded with a small smile as she relaxed slightly against her husband’s chest before looking back to the baby in her arms. “I could stare at her forever.”

“You and your daughter need to eat.” Anna gently reminded her of the doctor’s instructions. “Let’s get you situated to take care of her while Joseph finds something for you.”

“No.” Phyllis grabbed her husband’s wrist as soon as she felt him shift away. “I want you here.”

Joseph flushed slightly as he met Anna’s eyes, hopeful that the open mindedness she’d exhibited during his daughter’s birth would extend as far as his wife requested. Her simple nod was permission enough and he settled his arms back around his wife and newborn daughter. 

“I’ll see about finding something for Mum to eat.” Anna amended her previous directive. “You just give a shout if you have any trouble, alright?”

“Thank you Anna.” Phyllis smiled softly, not looking up from the bundle in her arms until long after the door had closed behind her and her husband’s voice broke the comfortable silence.

“How are you feeling?” He asked quietly.

“A touch sore and quite spent.” Phyllis replied honestly, reaching to adjust the blankets around her daughter as she added, “But very happy to have her safely here.”

Joseph nodded solemnly, watching  as he wrung his hands before  “I’m not entirely certain how to broach the subject but I feel the need to do so to ensure you’ve the opportunity to talk about it if need be. You did so well but - I worry you’ve held something back to protect me. Weren’t you frightened?”

“I was.” She nodded with a frown. “Before you returned home I was certain I would suffocate from the fear that I felt.” 

“But after I came home - you were so... I was frightened within an inch of my life and you were… so certain of yourself and our child.” Joseph was in awe as he stared at his wife and daughter. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Your strength made me strong Joseph.” Phyllis replied certainly. “There was nothing to be feared because you were here.”

Joseph smiled as he remembered the day on the beach when his wife - then simply a friend -  had told him the same thing under very different circumstances. “You keep saying that.” 

“I keep meaning it.” Phyllis assured him gently, smiling when his lips pressed gently against her own.

“I’d like to take the girls there - to London - one day. Take them to the museums and the beach.” Joseph whispered softly as he lay his head on her shoulder. “Show them where our family started.”

Phyllis nodded, looking down to the baby girl who was now fussing lightly in her arms. “I suppose she’s still a bit young, but I would very much like to do just that.”

It was then that the baby let out a harsh cry as she began to squirm in her mother’s arms.“In the meantime, I believe we’re under doctor’s orders to feed this little one.” Joseph reminded her gently. 

“I suppose you’re right.” Phyllis conceded, shifting the baby into one arm and lowering the neck of her nightgown to allow her daughter to latch onto her breast which she thankfully did with ease.

Joseph was a bit surprised at how remarkably his wife and daughter seemed to fit together, but his thoughts were quickly diverted to the periodic winces that flashed across his wife’s face. He observed quietly for several moments before asking, “Does it hurt?”

“A bit.” Phyllis admitted as she adjusted her position slightly. “It took some time to adjust to with Emma but we got there before all that long. This little girl seems to have a better sense of where to start though.”

“This little girl needs a name.” Joseph noted, giving a small squeeze to his wife’s shoulder. “Have you any ideas?”

“I’d like to name her after your mother.” Phyllis replied immediately. 

“Oh.” Joseph’s eyes widened as they met hers. “Phyllis I don’t-”

“Is that not…” Phyllis began to panic, worried that she’d made a grave mistake. “I was under the impression that you and your mother were quite close but I certainly know that’s not always the case.” 

Joseph shook his head quickly, realizing his surprise had been misread as displeasure. “No, no, no my love. You’ve done nothing wrong. I’m only surprised, is all. You didn’t have the good fortune of knowing my mother so I’d never of thought-”

“I’d very much like to honor the woman who raised the kindest man I’ve ever known.” Phyllis stopped him with a peck to his cheek. “Without her I wouldn’t know what it’s means to feel loved.”

Joseph grinned cheekily, whispering, “I love you.” before pressing his lips firmly against his wife’s until he frowned slightly and pulled away. “I would suggest we consider the same honor for your mother but I am under the impression that the sentiment would not be appreciated.” 

“No.” Phyllis affirmed. “My mother deserves no such honor.” He kissed her once again before she looked down to their daughter with a smile. “Hello Elizabeth Molesley.” She whispered softly, running her hand gently against a soft pink cheek as her daughter continued to nurse. “Is she to have a middle name?”

Joseph thought for a moment before smiling and nodding his head. “Phyllis.”

“Would you care to share it with me?” Phyllis looked back to him 

“I have.” Joseph smirked. “Our daughter’s name will be Elizabeth Phyllis Molesley.”

“Joseph that’s not-” Phyllis startled.

“You are the reason I know what it means to feel loved.” Joseph stopped her steadily. “And there is not one person responsible for the woman you’ve become other than yourself and I’d very much like to honor you for it.”

Phyllis nodded tearfully as she looked down at her daughter. “Happy birthday Elizabeth Phyllis Molesley. Welcome to our family.”

Chapter Text

“Go ahead and get started on your assignments.” Joseph instructed as he took Emma’s coat from her and hung it next to his own by the front door. “I’ll be in to help after I talk with your mum.” Emma nodded seriously as she took her book strap from him and made her way to the kitchen table, well aware of the news he had to deliver.

Joseph smiled slightly at the sight of his wife on the settee with their now three week old daughter in her lap. “Phyllis there’s been some news.” He whispered quietly as he watched his wife absentmindedly fiddle with their sleeping daughter’s toes.

“It’s Old Lady Grantham isn’t it?” She replied sadly, knowing what he had to say the moment she’d met her husband’s eyes.

Joseph nodded as he sat next to her. “Daisy stopped by the school this afternoon to share the news. There will be a funeral on Friday and the family asked that we be invited - and that we be told there’s no expectation for us to attend.”

Phyllis gave no response for much longer than Joseph had expected and when she did speak her voice was incredibly strained. “I know I should want to make a show of support after everything the Granthams have done for our family but I find myself entirely uninterested in attending.” 

“You’ve Elizabeth to care for. There’s nothing else anyone expects of you right now.” Joseph assured her with a brief kiss to her cheek. “Perhaps Emma and I could go?”

She felt a pang of offense at his words but she forced a smile and a nod in his direction before turning her attention back to the baby in her lap. While it was true she didn’t have her usual work on top of her family duties she’d been feeling overwhelmed by all of the seemingly endless demands on her time.

“I’ll talk to Dad about putting together some flowers for the family.” Joseph carried on after not receiving a verbal response. “It’s still winter so there won’t be much that’s ready but he’s spent so much time on that covered garden area that I’m sure there’s something...”

He rambled on for some time and while Phyllis had picked up pieces here and there - certainly he’d said something about the village flower show - but she couldn’t manage to focus on any of it. She had nearly fully tuned him out when his voice managed to permeate the thick haze she’d fallen into with a clearly concerned, “Phyllis, is something wrong?”

“No.” Phyllis lied as she slipped a small smile across her face. “I think asking your father to send something is more than appropriate.”

Joseph raised an eyebrow in confusion as he took in his wife's response. “I asked if you wanted me to hold Elizabeth so you could clean up a bit.”

“Oh.” Phyllis flinched at his words, well aware that while his intent was not to suggest she was in need of such a break but feeling the sting of it anyway she sighed tiredly. “Yes, I suppose so.” She carefully lifted her daughter from her lap and into her husband’s arms, passing him the knitted blanket at her side. “Keep her warm. You’ve let a draft in with you.”

“I know love.” Joseph tried to reassure her, only aware in the immediate retrospect that his reassurance could just as easily be read as a dismissal when she flinched at his words. “Phyllis I-”

“It’s alright.” She dismissed him quickly, groaning slightly as she pushed herself up equally by her purchase on the arm of the settee and Joseph’s outstretched hand. “I think a bath may do me some good.”

“Take as long as you need.” Joseph offered her a sympathetic smile until their daughter squawked in his arms pulling his attention away from her once again.

Phyllis took the opportunity to slip into the stairwell, sighing heavily as she looked up the stairs that seemed to take more energy than she could muster these days before resigning herself to another cautious journey up them.

A shaky ascent later Phyllis found herself in the washroom staring at her reflection in the mirror. The dark rings under her eyes seemed even more pronounced than they had been in the weeks since Elizabeth’s birth and the dressing gown she wore was beginning to show signs of the nearly constant wear it was receiving.

She set the hot water running into the tub before opening the drawer in the small side table near the sink to retrieve a new bar of soap. As she shuffled through the drawer her heart caught in her throat as she eyed the small metal box that she knew held Joseph’s razor and any extra blades he had on hand. 

Her hand seemed to clasp around the box of its own accord and she was more than surprised when she heard herself thinking, ‘ He certainly wouldn’t notice if one were missing .’ 

It was only a moment later that an eerily clear memory of Thomas overtook her mind and she shoved the box into the back of the drawer before slamming it shut only to realize that she hadn’t found the soap she’d opened the drawer for in the first place and she found herself consumed by the fear of reopening it.

It took a small amount of water splashing over the side of the tub to pull her back to the present and she sighed heavily at the cold water spilling from the tap when she reached to turn it off, resolving herself to pulling the plug to allow the water level to lower slightly before getting into the now lukewarm bath.

“You’re fine.” She whispered anxiously to herself as she sank further into the water. “You’re safe. There is nothing that is wrong. You’re absolutely fine...”

At the end of the week it was decided that Joseph and Emma would attend the funeral with Bill - providing him some assistance with the flowers they’d arranged with the family to provide for the church services - and as expected Phyllis would stay home with Elizabeth.

While there had been no protest from the latter party at the time the decision was made, she found herself increasingly agitated by the things she was missing and her husband’s in-depth description of the memorial service he’d just returned from certainly wasn’t helping matters.

“Lord and Lady Grantham have decided to keep Mr. Spratt and Miss Denker on, at least temporarily.” Joseph relayed the staffing updates he’d received through the grapevine that afternoon. “Miss Denker will be tending to Lady Grantham until you’re ready to return - so there is truly no rush - and there’s discussions of keeping her on after so you can take more half days to be with the girls.”

Phyllis nodded slightly, forcing a smile before looking down at her shaking hands and taking a few deep breaths as she tried to formulate a response.

“Phyllis?” Joseph’s brow was furrowed in concern as he watched his wife’s expression slowly entirely crumple. While Joseph wasn’t certain what was happening he knew from his wife’s expression that she was in a considerable amount of pain. “Darling what’s wrong?”

She couldn’t manage a response as she tried to catch her breath, the burning sensation in the back of her throat precluding her ability to speak even if she could find the words, and soon the tears she’d tried to hold back were falling rapidly down her cheeks.

“Oh my love.” Joseph sighed sadly as he pulled her gently into his arms. “Is this alright?”

A brief nod was the only confirmation he needed to tighten his arms around her as she sobbed anxiously into his chest, her own arms slowly managing to tighten around him as she tried to draw comfort from his embrace.

The small amount of support she drew from him lasted until Elizabeth reminded them of her presence with an angry cry from her place in the moses basket at the end of their bed. “She’ll need to feed.” Phyllis managed to whisper through her mounting anxiety and Joseph sighed as he recognized the immediate change in her demeanor.

He carefully helped her sit up in the bed, several pillows behind her and another in her lap as she preferred before retrieving their daughter and gently placing her in his wife’s waiting arms. He was almost certain he should be used to the sight of his wife feeding his daughter, but it never ceased to amaze him. Hopeful he could offer some support to his still clearly ancious wife he pressed his lips gently against her forehead with a soft murmur against her skin. “I love you so very much.”

“I know.” Phyllis tried to reassure him, though the shaking of her voice provided little comfort.

“Would you like to talk about what’s bothering you?” Joseph offered with a sad frown as he settled back next to her. “I’ve not wanted to press you but I suppose that could have been just as easily interpreted as my not caring.”

Phyllis considered his question as she adjusted Elizabeth’s latch slightly in an attempt to make herself more comfortable. Eventually, once she’d settled her daughter she took another shaky breath before trying to find the words to explain herself. “While I certainly don’t miss the days of being Miss Baxter I do long for the certainty of days in service.” She admitted sadly, taking a deep breath before finding the words to voice the fear that’s been the root of many of her troubles. “I find myself feeling more and more as if I’m slipping into irrelevance.”

Joseph frowned as he considered her words. “Have I made you feel that your work at home is not appreciated?”

“No of course not.” Phyllis shook her head, trying to keep her frustration out of her reassurance. “You’ve been wonderful. I’m afraid this has much more to do with me than you. Between the increased nightmares and the waking every few hours to feed Elizabeth I’m more than expended.”

“Let me help.” Joseph replied immediately, eager to ease any part of his wife’s burden.

“Which of those tasks do you envision yourself taking over?” Phyllis asked with a small smirk, not taking her eyes off from her nursing baby. “I’m afraid that this is a cross that I must bear.”

Joseph blushed slightly, more than aware that his wife was right but hopeful that there would be something he could do to help regardless. “I suppose neither would make much sense, unless we switched Elizabeth to formula?”

“No.” Phyllis stopped him immediately, her mind flooded with the guilt she felt each time she’d considered this herself. “It’s better for Elizabeth if I feed her and it’s… it’s the least I can do for her.”

“My love, you do so much more than that.” He insisted firmly. “For not only Elizabeth, but our whole family.”

“I suppose.” Phyllis replied softly, not wanting to burden her husband with the doubt she felt at the accuracy of his words.

“Well, Mrs. Molesley.” Joseph smiled softly as he pressed his lips to her cheek. “I for one am very glad you’re here. I don’t know how we’d get along without you.”

Phyllis forced a weak smile, not looking up to meet her husband’s eyes as she tried to block the ever intrusive thought that they would in fact be much better off without her there.

It was nearly a month later that Thomas stopped by on his half day, eager to see his friend and her daughters for the first time since Elizabeth’s birth. He’d been catching her up on the happenings at the big house for some time and truthfully she couldn’t say when she’d stopped paying attention but it became apparent that she had when she felt his hand on her shoulder and heard his questioning voice, far more gentle than usual. “Phyllis? Are you alright?”

Gulping nervously she managed a small nod, quickly busying herself with adjusting the blankets around Elizabeth as she pulled together an entirely unconvincing, “Perfectly fine.”

“You’re not.” Thomas insisted gently. “I’ve never seen you like this. Please tell me what’s troubling you.”

Phyllis shrugged noncommittally as she stared back at him, her eyes simultaneously betraying her distress and giving no hint to the cause or reason behind it. “I don’t know really.”

Thomas could appreciate that, all too familiar with the torment that an unnamable stressor could cause. “When we last spoke, albeit several weeks ago, you were so very happy.” He observed softly. “Something has obviously changed.”

Phyllis grimaced at that, hopeful that he wouldn’t make the obvious connection she found occupying her mind at all hours. “Nothing’s changed, at least not truly.”

“Is it Elizabeth?” He ventured carefully, noting how quickly tears had sprung to her eyes. “I’ll take that as a yes.”

“But it’s not.” Phyllis argued angrily, holding the infant in question tightly against her chest. “I don’t know what it is but it’s not her. It’s not my husband and it’s not my daughters. There’s absolutely nothing wrong.”

Thomas considered her claim for a moment, struggling to reconcile her claim with the visible anguish in her features. “Phyl, something’s wrong. It’s alright if you don’t know what it is, but I won’t leave you to suffer it alone.”

Phyllis shook her head slightly, pulled fully to the present by the use of her childhood nickname. “How can you help me when I don’t know what’s wrong?”

Thomas paused for only a moment before adjusting his position slightly and seriously addressing her question.“You were there when I couldn’t name my pain.” He replied calmly, gently pulling her free hand into both of his. “I want to be here even if you can’t name yours.”

Phyllis was still formulating a response when the telltale click of the front door signalled the return of the rest of her family. 

“Thomas!” Emma exclaimed excitedly as she took in the sight in the cottage, stopping only briefly to kick her loafers from her feet and drop her books by the front door before launching herself toward the butler and he easily caught her in his arms.

Thomas’s concerned expression had been immediately replaced with a wide smile of his own as he hoisted himself from his chair, holding his arm out to allow her to twirl beneath him. “Well well, well. I was wondering if you would show up.”

“I was at school.” Emma pouted briefly before frowning further and meeting his eyes. “What are you doing here anyhow?” 

“I stopped by to visit my favorite children in the world - don’t go telling Georgie or Sybbie though.” Thomas replied conspiratorially.

“Will you stay for tea?”

“I’m sorry Miss Emma but as butler I have certain duties to attend to in the evening that preclude my ability to stay for dinner.” Thomas frowned seriously before smiling and with a stage whisper making a suggestion. “I do think I have enough time to go down to the chip-shop for a snack.”

“Oh can we?” Emma turned to her mother, excitedly bouncing up and down on her toes. “I don’t have any assignments to do tonight.”

Phyllis looked to her husband who had just arrived in the room for confirmation before giving a nod of affirmation herself. “I don’t see a reason why not.”

Thomas smiled as he watched Emma rush to put her shoes back on before turning back to her. “I’ll stop back in on the way back to work.” He reassured his friend firmly. “I haven’t a chance to hold the baby yet and if you think I’ll leave without doing so you’ve another thing coming.”

“Thank you Thomas.” Phyllis managed softly as he pressed a kiss to her cheek. “For everything.”

“You just tell me when you need me alright?” Thomas whispered back. “Anytime, anywhere.”

Another few weeks passed with little fanfare in the Molesley cottage. Their routine was simple really, but it allowed frustratingly little time for the family to spend together. Joseph woke early to prepare breakfast and subsequently wake Emma before school while Phyllis tried to get as much sleep as possible before Elizabeth’s next feeding. Some mornings this meant that Joseph and Emma would have left for school before she made her way downstairs while others they managed breakfast as a family. The middle hours of the day found Phyllis caring for Elizabeth and attempting to manage as much housework as she could until Joseph returned to take over what he could for his wife while Emma completed any schoolwork she had remaining before finding other ways to entertain herself. 

Taken together this often meant that the first time their family would spend together on an average day would be around the dinner table which had prompted Joseph to take it all the more seriously.

“Emma!” Joseph called toward the back room. “Emma, shake a leg it’s time for tea.”

Phyllis stopped him with a gentle hand on his forearm. “Please don’t shout, there’s no need to wake the baby.”

“Of course.” Joseph shook his head in regret. “I’m sorry, I don’t know how I forgot. I’ll go get her.” He apologized with a quick kiss before poking his head into the room adjacent to the kitchen only to turn around in bewilderment as he tried to think back on the day’s events.

“Joseph?” Phyllis asked as she set the final plate in front of Emma’s usual place at the table. “What’s wrong?”

“She’s not here.” Joseph blinked in confusion. “She was… we came home together. She hasn’t come out of her room since she-”

“Check upstairs.” Phyllis stopped him tiredly, not at all convinced that the mounting frenzy was necessary. “She likely slipped past while you were reading something or another.”

Joseph took the stairs two at a time on his way up and back down the stairs, his breathing somewhat ragged as he tried to think of where the girl could be. “She’s not upstairs.”

Phyllis shook her head in confusion. “Have you checked-”

“Phyllis, Emma’s not here.” Joseph stopped her firmly. “Did you see her come through? You were in the living room all day.”

“And you were in the kitchen.” Phyllis snapped pointedly, her mind not yet caught up with the reality her husband was presenting her with. 

Joseph took a deep breath to keep himself from snapping back before responding. “It doesn’t matter now, wherever she’s gone we need to find her.” He moved to grab his jacket from the back of the chair he had left it on after arriving home only an hour or so before. “We should start at the other cottages - the Bates and the Williams in particular - or perhaps she’s gone to the big house to visit with Thomas.”

Phyllis was still trying to wrap her head around what was happening when a sharp cry sounded from the  “She’ll need to feed, she was too fussy to eat much this afternoon.” She tried to hold back the tears that were rushing to the surface. 

Joseph sighed sympathetically as he rounded the table, placing his hands firmly on her arms in an attempt to offer some comfort. “You stay here with Elizabeth.” He directed gently. “Someone should be here in case she comes home anyhow.”

“She wouldn’t have gone somewhere if something wasn’t wrong. We must have done something wrong.” Phyllis shook her head in distress. “I just don’t know what it could have-”

“None of that matters right now.” Joseph stopped her softly. “Let’s just focus on finding our daughter.”

Her husband had been gone for going on two hours and Phyllis’s pacing round the living room was beginning to wear a hole in the already worn rug when a firm knock landed on the front door of the cottage.

“Mr. Carson.” Phyllis blinked in surprise at the unexpected guest, wrapping her dressing down more firmly around herself in an attempt to reassure herself. “I’m sorry to be so forward but we’re having a bit of a rough evening here, is there a reason you’re here?”

The older man nodded with an uncomfortable cough as he avoided making eye contact with the woman who had opened the door in her nightclothes. “I expect that Mr. Molesley is out looking for Emma given that she’s at our cottage.”

Phyllis’s eyes widened in relief as her gaze snapped directly to his. “What?”

“Mrs. Carson and I just got in from an evening at the pictures and found her asleep in the sitting room.” He explained awkwardly. “We woke her but she’s in such a state and Elsie sent me to fetch-”

“Of course.” Phyllis nodded in immediate understanding, quickly crossing to the moses basket across the room and gathering the bundle of blankets around her sleeping daughter before slipping her bare feet into the long abandoned uniform black heels that stood waiting by the front door.

“Would you like a moment to change?” He raised his eyebrow in concern as the woman made to follow him. 

“Respectfully Mr. Carson, seeing my daughter is far more important to me in this moment than propriety.” Phyllis pushed past him, careful of her other daughter who was asleep in her arms as she made her way out and around through the back garden. 

The walk to the Carson’s cottage was short but more painful than she’d expected - amplifying all of the once toned muscles Phyllis hadn’t been using in the months since her daughter’s birth - and she was beginning to question her decision to try to make the journey quickly until she crossed the threshold into the living room to find her daughter weeping anxiously against Elsie’s chest.

“Oh Emma.” Phyllis whispered softly, startling her daughter mid-sob and causing the pair to look to her. “What’s happened?”

Elsie sighed sympathetically at the sight of the girl’s mother, gently disentangling Emma from her arms before moving to the woman across the room. “Let me take the wee lass. I believe you’re in a far better position to offer comfort to your eldest daughter at the moment.”

Phyllis gratefully accepted the direction, more than certain that Elizabeth would be fine with her while she saw to Emma’s needs.

“Emma.” Phyllis pressed gently as she carefully sat in the position Elsie had vacated only moments before. “Talk to me. Please.” 

Emma simply buried her face further into her shoulder. While Emma calmed somewhat over time she made no effort to verbally respond to her mother and they remained in much the same position until Elsie’s voice could be heard directing someone into the room.

“Oh thank the lord.” Joseph sighed tiredly as he took in the sight of his family safe and together. “Emma where have you been? What on earth were you thinking running off like that?”

That was all it took for the girl to burst into tears again, this time pulling away from her mother as she pressed her knees up against her chest and pressing her forehead firmly against them.

“Joseph please.” Phyllis hushed him immediately before turning her attentions back to her daughter. “Emma, I know you’re afraid but you aren’t in trouble. Please just tell us what’s happened.”

Emma sniffed a few times before looking up only slightly and whispering, “I don’t belong here.”

While Phyllis caught on to her daughter’s meaning almost immediately, her husband did not. “I’m afraid I don’t understand what you mean.” Joseph furrowed his brow.

“You don’t need me.” Emma choked on a quiet sob. “I’m not really a part of your family.”

Joseph was visibly perplexed as he tried to understand her meaning. “Emma have we done something to make you feel that you aren’t wanted here?”

Emma shrugged noncommittally as she avoided the stares she was receiving from both her mother and Joseph. “It’s just obvious isn’t it? I’m not a Molesley am I?”

“Emma you’re just as important a part of our family as anyone else.” Joseph tried to reassure her only to be surprised when she angrily rose from the settee to stand across from them, eyes rimmed with red as tears continued to fall down her cheeks.

“No I’m not!” She shouted angrily. “It’s always Mr. and Mrs. Molesley, and baby Molesley, and Mr. Joseph Molesley, Mrs. Phyllis Molesley, Miss Elizabeth Molesley and then at the very end sometimes it’s a Miss Emma Baxter. You don’t even want to be a Baxter anymore so why am I one!?”

Phyllis winced at that. She knew all too well what it meant to feel shame in your name and it wasn’t all that surprising to her that her daughter felt the same. While she wished she had the time to ask more about how her daughter had come to the entirely correct conclusion about her own feelings about her maiden name it seemed far more important to address the larger concern. “Emma you don’t have to be a Baxter if you’d like not to be. Joseph would very much like to adopt you if that’s something you’re open to.”

“What?” Emma’s expression went blank as she stared across the room at Joseph. “Why would he do that? I’m not… I’m a… a mistake… a bastard. Why would he want to-”

“Oh my darling no.” Phyllis stopped her gently. “None of that matters a bit to us.”

“Before I’d even met you I wanted to adopt you.” Joseph assured her gently. “It’s always been a part of the plan.”

“We should have talked with you about this.” Phyllis added softly, her daughter now leaning heavily into her side. “We worried that it was all too much too soon - learning of your father and being offered a new one all in one go, but our holding out has clearly hurt you my darling girl and for that I must apologize.”

Emma wiped her cheeks before sitting up more fully. “I’m going to be a Molesley?” She asked, eyes darting between her mother and her husband. 

“If that’s what you want.” Phyllis affirmed. “But we would both understand if you had reservations.”

“No! I do!” Emma exclaimed anxiously, nervously turning to Joseph. “If you’re certain you’re alright with it.”

“It’s absolutely brilliant.” Joseph replied immediately. “You are an absolutely wonderful girl and being allowed the privilege of calling you my daughter would be among the highest of honors I can imagine.”

Emma nodded excitedly, jumping up from her seat next to her mother and running to wrap her arms firmly around his neck. “Thank you so much.”

“No thanks is needed.” Joseph assured her firmly, wrapping his own arms around her small waist in an attempt to offer additional reassurance. “You’re our daughter.”

Chapter Text

Only a few weeks after Emma had run away plans for her adoption were well underway Phyllis and Joseph had submitted all of the necessary paperwork and were simply waiting to hear on a date the adoption could be finalized at the court in York, information Joseph had expected to pick up from their solicitor’s office on his way home from the schoolhouse.

“We were under the impression this would be straightforward.” Joseph shook his head in confusion as Mr. Brown informed him that instead of a date for adoption he had received a date for a hearing. “Why would there be a need for a court hearing?”

“Well, a judge is required to formalize even the most straightforward of adoptions.” The man replied sympathetically before pushing a letter across his desk towards the man. “But there’s been a petition made about Mrs. Molesley’s fitness, so this is unfortunately not a straightforward case.”

To Whom it May Concern,

The petition for the adoption of Emma Jane Coyle brought forth by Mr. Joseph Molesley and his wife Phyllis Molesley ( née Baxter; biological mother to Emma) has been made under the pretense that she is more qualified than Emma’s father to provide adequate and reasonable care based on his criminal history. However, Phyllis Molesley’s own criminal history casts significant doubts on the accuracy of the claim and raises specific concerns about her character and moral fitness to provide a child with a safe and stable home.

While Mr. Coyle continues to face the longer sentence for the perpetration of the crime of theft, Mrs. Molesley’s involvement in a series of violent offenses against the person at a formative age casts significant doubt on her fitness to be the sole biological guardian of a child that was brought about by her own immorality and indecency.

Given Phyllis Molesley’s criminal history and her failure to petition for custody herself prior to making the petition for adoption I formally request that the petition for the adoption of Emma Jane Coyle by Mr. Joseph Molesley be denied and that Mr. Peter Coyle’s full custody of the child he fathered be reinstated upon the completion of his sentence in five years time.


Mr. Fletcher Hopkins Esq. 

Joseph read the letter three times before finally absorbing it all. “This is unfounded on all fronts. Mr. Coyle signed away his rights when Emma was a baby.” He snapped angrily as he put the letter back down on the desk. “Who initiated this?”

“Mr. Coyle did sir.” Mr. Brown replied with a sympathetic frown of his own. “Mr. Hopkins is Mr. Coyle’s legal representation.”

“It’s Emma Baxter.” Joseph corrected angrily as he tightened his fist, his fingernails cutting slightly into his own palm as he tried to keep himself calm. “Besides, Peter Coyle is in prison and Mr. Murray assured us he’d terminated his rights when Emma was an infant. Why has he been informed of this at all?”

“As you’ve seen here, the same argument is easily presented based on your wife’s history Mr. Molesley.” Mr. Brown replied pointedly. “Even at best her records are contraindicated - with each birth certificate identifying only a single parent - there’s nothing about this that is straightforward.” His expression softened slightly as if he felt sorry for the man across from him. “I’m afraid there’s no getting around it. Custody decisions for Emma must be finalized in court. There’s nothing more I can tell you before the hearing.” 

Joseph sighed heavily, as his head fell into his hands. Phyllis and Emma were both still plagued by nightmares that Peter would come back for them and the last thing either of them needed was to be proven right on that fact. Of course, it also wouldn’t do to try to hide it from them. “May I take the letter with me? I’ll need to explain what’s happened to my wife.” 

“I’m afraid Mr. Hopkins did not send a copy and it’s necessary for court records.” Mr. Brown replied with a small frown. “If you wished a secretary to transcribe a copy of the text I would be happy to put in a request.”

“No.” Joseph stopped him firmly - not entirely keen on anyone else in Downton reading the contents of the all too damning letter no matter the purpose. “I’ll do without. Thank you.” 

He correctly interpreted the solicitor’s nod in response as his dismissal, quickly vacating the chair and making his way outside, leaning heavily against the exterior stone of the office as he tried to figure out how he would tell his wife and daughter about what had transpired during his purportedly simple errand this morning. 

The short walk home served to clear his mind and he had clearly outlined how he intended to tell Phyllis about the letter in a way he expected would be the least distressing but all of his preparation was washed away by the sight of his wife and their daughters sitting in the garden as he fully realized just how much they stood to lose. 

Phyllis smiled softly as he approached them, thankful for what she expected would be a reprieve in the neverending task of entertaining their eldest daughter during the summer break from school only to mirror his distressed expression as he came closer. “Joseph?”

“Good afternoon my loves.” He greeted the three of them with a forced smile before joining his wife on the small bench. “We need to talk.” He whispered softly, pressing his lips gently to her shoulder in an attempt to draw the courage he needed to deliver his news.

“Now?” Phyllis replied in a quiet whisper of her own, surprised at the severity of his expression as he nodded back. “Is everything alright?”

Joseph didn’t respond to that, instead turning to the girl sitting on the ground just a meter away. “Emma why don’t you go fetch the honey and jam from Dad’s house for the Bateses.” He suggested with another forced smile. “Mrs. Bates and Johnny should be home this afternoon so you could try to drop them off as well.”

“Alright!” Emma replied excitedly, jumping up from her place in the grass and shaking the dirt residue from her skirt before placing the flower crown she’d been crafting carefully on his head with a giggle. “Honey and jam?”

“Dad will know just what to give you.” Joseph reassured her, smiling sadly as he watched her all but skip out of their garden and up the street towards the village. 

Once Emma was out of sight Phyllis turned back to her husband with a concerned frown. “Joseph what’s going on? You’re scaring me.”

“We should go inside.” He replied softly, gently taking his sleeping daughter from his wife’s arms and helping her up from the bench with his free arm before guiding her to the kitchen where she set about making a pot of tea at his request while he settled Elizabeth in the crib in the adjoining room before eventually joining his wife at the table.

“What’s going on?” She asked more firmly this time. “You’re shaking like a leaf.”

Joseph sighed, taking a long sip from the offered cup of tea before finally managing to break the dam. “We have a problem with Emma’s adoption.”

“What?” Phyllis’s eyes snapped wide open in surprise. “Mr. Murray said there wouldn’t be any complications. What problem could he have not predicted?”

“A solicitor has sent a letter on behalf of Peter Coyle.” He decided not to avoid the truth any further, entirely aware that nothing could soften the blow of news of this nature. “It claims you to be an unfit mother on the basis of a ghastly accusation about your past that simply is not the case.”

Phyllis was quiet for a long time before she finally asked, “What exactly was this reason given?”

“My love that’s not of any importance just now.” Joseph replied quickly.  “It was untrue and we will fight it. It will simply make for a much messier process than we’d expected.” 

“No, it’s important.” Phyllis shook her head sadly. “I expect that it said something in reference to my involvement in a certain offense.” 

“It does.” Joseph admitted, confused as to how she might have guessed the contents of the letter with such accuracy. “Has he lied about your involvement in something like this before?”

Another long silence passed before Phyllis spoke again, and when she did her voice was shaking. “It’s not a lie.”

He was startled by that. “What!?”

“My mother was an abortionist.” Phyllis managed quietly, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment as she recounted the details of her past that she’d hoped were long forgotten. “Though I wouldn’t have been able to say what she did as a girl. I didn’t truly understand what it was that my mother did, only that the women in our village came to her for help and that they had for as long as I could remember.”

Joseph sat quietly, staring into his teacup as he tried to figure out what to say. “How does this implicate you?” He finally asked. “Surely your mother’s crimes - as abhorrent as they may be - have nothing to do with you now?”

“As I got a bit older my mother enlisted my help - as a set of chores of sorts.” Phyllis explained carefully. “After an accident with one of the women she changed her practices to be more precise and she had me take on some of the simpler tasks, sterilizing instruments, sorting herbs, and the like. Nothing criminal, but enough to implicate me if anything were to come of the investigations taking place all over Hampshire.”

Joseph sighed heavily as he finally looked up to meet his wife’s eyes that were filled with tears. “I take it that something came of them.”

Phyllis nodded, sniffing slightly as she tried to keep herself composed enough to continue speaking. “I was fourteen when someone reported my mother by name. The police showed up in the middle of the night and took us both to the station overnight until we were both transferred to Aylesbury. We were there for a few months before the trial where I was released.”

“You were a child.” Joseph whispered angrily as he fully absorbed the implications of his wife’s words. 

“Yes.” Phyllis affirmed quietly. “I was.”

Joseph sat silently again for some time before asking, “Surely you weren’t charged with anything?”

“No, I wasn’t.” She confirmed with a brief nod. “But my involvement is in the court records and it certainly doesn’t paint me in the best light.” 

“Where was your father in all of this?” Joseph shook his head in confusion. “How could he have let them lock you up like-”

“My father left when I was young.” Phyllis stopped him matter-of-factly, not entirely interested in discussing her short but harrowing time in Aylesbury any further. “He certainly wasn’t going to reappear to intervene on my behalf over a decade later.”

As Joseph continued to process the revelation he found himself entirely focused on how he could have been unaware of such a significant part of his wife’s history. “What happened to you? Where did you go?”

“I stayed with the Barrow’s for a time.” Phyllis explained softly. “Thomas’s sister Charlotte and I were friends and Mrs. Barrow had always treated me as if I was her own so it made some sense. But Mr. Barrow wasn’t all that keen on having another teenager to feed and Mrs. Barrow found Charlotte and I both places working as laundry maids at the nearby estate and I moved on from there.”

“Until you worked with Peter.” Joseph replied knowingly.

Phyllis nodded. “He recognized my name, lord knows how, and he held my past over me from the day that I arrived. He used it to convince me that I was unlovable, that no good man would ever be able to see past it.” She paused then, looking down at her lap before softly whispering, “Which I suppose is a theory we’re putting to the test in this moment.”

“Oh, my love no.” Joseph reached out for her clenched fists across the table, carefully easing her fingers apart and breaking slightly at the numerous small crescents punctured into her palms. “There’s nothing you could do, past present or future, that would keep me from loving you. Surely you know that by now.”

“I don’t.” Phyllis replied with a sad smile. “But that has far more to do with my own ability to believe I’m worthy of your love than with your ability to show it.”

At that Joseph was out of his chair, rounding the table to pull his wife into his arms, his voice immediately working to comfort her shaking form. “We’ll fight this together.” He reassured her firmly. “Emma is our daughter. We’re going to do whatever we have to do to keep her safe and I’ll do whatever I need to to protect you too.”

Phyllis nodded lightly against his shoulder as she tried to quell the overwhelming sense of dread that had solidified in her stomach. Everything is going to be alright. You’re safe here. We can fight this. Together.

It was only days later that Phyllis entered the servant’s entrance at Downton Abbey at considerable speed, nearly running into the housekeeper as she tried to focus on the task at hand.

“Mrs. Molesley!” Mrs. Hughes exclaimed in surprise at the sight of the younger woman. “I wasn’t aware we were expecting you today.”

“You weren’t.” Phyllis replied tersely. “I’m sorry… I came to speak with Thomas. Is he... here?”

Mrs. Hughes’s eyes immediately filled with concern at the demeanor of the normally even-tempered woman. “Is everything alright dear?”

“Fine.” Phyllis lied with a smile that she was certain wasn’t convincing. “I simply had a question for him and I had a free moment this afternoon that I wanted to take a walk during so I figured I may as well come up here.”

“No need to overly explain yourself.” Mrs. Hughes laughed slightly in an attempt to diffuse the obvious tension her question had created. “I believe Mr. Barrow was in the kitchen just a moment ago.”

Phyllis nodded and ground out a “Thank you.” before slipping pas

“Good afternoon Mrs. Molesley.” Mrs. Patmore greeted her with a smile. “It’s been some time since we’ve seen you around here. Are you fixing to come back with us?”

“Uh…” Phyllis bit her lip anxiously as Thomas looked her over before remembering that the cook would be expecting a response to her question. “Not just yet, Mrs. Patmore.”

Thomas had spun around immediately at the cook’s mention of her name and he knew from the sight of her that something was wrong - an opinion that was only confirmed by the tension in her voice. “Phyllis?”

“I need to talk to you.” Phyllis winced at the shakiness of her own voice. 

Thomas nodded seriously, quickly relaying the pudding request he’d received from Lord Grantham when he’d served tea earlier before gently guiding her to his pantry. He didn’t say anything further until he had a sudden realization as they approached the pantry door, “Phyllis where is Elizabeth?” 

“I don’t know.” Phyllis snapped before shaking her head slightly as if to erase her initial answer.  “She’s with Joseph’s father.”

“Okay.” Thomas was thoroughly shaken now, her eyes were betraying an emotion that he couldn’t name but that was eerily familiar. “You need to sit down.” She slumped heavily into the chair he guided her to, pulling her arms fully around her middle and her knees up to her chest which only served to increase his already racing heart. He closed the door to his pantry before slowly kneeling down next to her and gently asking, “Phyllis what’s wrong?” 

Phyllis opened her mouth as if to speak before shaking her head and burying it in her knees.

Thomas sighed heavily, frustrated at his own inability to read between the lines given the increasingly tense energy radiating off of the quivering woman in front of him. “You said you needed to talk to me. I’m right here. What do you need to tell me?

“I need to talk to you because you understand what it’s like to want to-” Phyllis stopped herself with a small sob before burying her face in her knees.

Thomas’s eyes widened as the pieces fell into place and he instantly snapped into crisis mode. “When did this-?”  He began to ask before realizing that when she started feeling this way was certainly less important than getting her the help she needed. “I should fetch Doctor Clarkson, or Joseph.”

“No.” Phyllis shook her head furiously. “I don’t want to talk about this - not with you and certainly not with anyone else. I just want it gone .” 

“Oh Phyl.” Thomas whispered softly, trying to hold himself together as he watched his best friend fall apart in much the same way he had only a few years ago. “That’s not the way this works. You know that as well as I do.”

Phyllis shrugged slightly, not looking up at him as she internally debated the merits of trying to explain something she didn’t truly understand herself. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’ve felt off since... well I thought I was getting better but… I’m not… I didn’t know what I was doing...”

“Tell me what happened.” Thomas requested gently, his eyes filled to the brim with concern. “If you don’t want to tell anyone else surely you can tell me.”

Phyllis remained silent for such a long time that Thomas had been preparing to press further when her voice broke through the silence, barely a whisper but audible nonetheless. “It was the stove.” She admitted quietly. “I had turned it on to boil some water and gotten distracted while looking for the matchbox and by the time I realized it had been on too long I felt... better?”

Thomas frowned slightly but said nothing, hopeful that she would continue if given the space and time to do so.

“I suppose it’s just been so long since I felt anything other than afraid that once the dizziness took hold I-” Phyllis sobbed slightly as she tried to explain herself further. “I didn’t mean to do it at first but then the possibility of all of this pain going away set in and… I didn’t want to stop it.”

“But you did.” Thomas tried to reassure her when she didn’t say elaborate further. “You’re here. You stopped it.”

Phyllis shook her head, her face clearly betraying her frustration at the inaccuracy of his assumption  “Joseph’s father stopped by and he turned it off. If he hadn’t come I don’t think I would have…” She trailed off as sobs began to take over once again.

“Does he-?” Thomas stumbled as he tried to figure out a polite way to ask whether he’d suspected anything about what he had really walked in on.

She managed another shake of her head, taking a few deep breaths before elaborating further. “He assumed it was an accident. He insisted that Elizabeth and I needed some fresh air. He’s taken her for a walk around the village and I… I came here.”

Thomas’s heart had dropped into his stomach at the realization that Elizabeth had been at home with her when this had happened. While he was all too familiar with the guilt that came from living after trying to end things for yourself he wasn’t at all equipped to help her deal with nearly doing the same to her daughter. 

It took him some time to pull his thoughts together again and eventually he took a deep breath before steeling his own nerves and preparing for a fight. “Phyllis I’m calling for the doctor.”

No. ” Phyllis replied angrily, her eyes filled with hot tears.

“We don’t have to tell him everything.” Thomas reassured her gently. “All he has to know is that there was a gas leak at the cottage and that we need him to check you over. We should have him do the same for Elizabeth.”

Phyllis stopped suddenly at the mention of her daughter, the reality of the potential consequences of the day hitting her like a ton of bricks before she buried her face into her knees once again.

Thomas took her clear need for a break in the conversation as an opportunity to phone for the doctor, briefly explaining the situation and reassuring the woman on the phone that as far as he knew everyone was fine and that they just needed a quick examination when he had the time.

Once he’d hung up the phone he knelt back down next to her before softly outlining the next step he intended to take. “Phyllis we also need to send for Joseph.” 

“No.” Phyllis choked out immediately. “He shouldn’t have to know about this. I can’t put him through this.”

“He needs to know.” Thomas stopped her gently this time. “I love you dearly and I will move whatever mountains I can to help you but Joseph loves you too and I need his help to keep you safe.”

Phyllis took in a shaky breath as she met his eyes for the first time. “I don’t want to be locked up again.”

“I’m not going to let that happen.” Thomas assured her quietly. “You’re going to stay right here where we can help you, but you have to let us help you. Please Phyl.”

There was another long silence - this time her eyes boring into his own with a silent plea to not make her face her husband - but eventually her eyelids closed and she nodded with a small whisper, “I want Joseph here.”

“What happened?” Joseph was in a panic as he skidded into Thomas’s office nearly an hour later. His sprint from the schoolhouse to the house coupled with the fear he felt at the note he’d been brought by a hall boy he only vaguely recognized just as he’d started his lunch that simply read, ‘ Phyllis needs help. Come now.’ in Thomas’s messy script had his heart racing and his fear wasn’t quelled a bit by the presence of the doctor and his father in the room.

“There’s been a bit of an accident.” Thomas explained calmly. “Everyone is fine, doctor’s just here to make sure of it.”

As if on cue the doctor addressed his patient. “Mrs. Molesley everything looks to be in order with both you and your daughter.” He reassured her gently. “I know things like this can be quite a scare but I assure you that you’re both perfectly fine. Just try to be more careful in the future.”

Thomas thanked the doctor and showed him to the kitchen for a previously requested cup of tea leaving the Molesley family alone in his pantry.

“Phyllis what happened?” Joseph asked anxiously, kneeling down in front of his wife in an attempt to meet her eyes that were glued to the floor. “Are you alright?”

“Your stove.” Bill explained for her with a sympathetic smile. “It was leaking gas when I stopped by earlier and Phyllis was in a bit of a daze. Elizabeth didn’t seem to mind it but I got her out for a bit of fresh air and your wife’s done the same. As you just heard from Doctor Clarkson they’re both perfectly fine.”

Joseph nodded in understanding as he tried to pull the pieces together for himself. While the accident certainly sounded frightening it wasn’t at all aligning with the message he’d received from Thomas and his wife’s mannerisms suggested that he was still missing something. Before he could make any progress on the puzzle Thomas had returned with a tray of tea and a solemn expression. 

“Mr. Molesley, doctor suggested that Elizabeth would benefit from all the fresh air we can get her.” Thomas flashed a grin in the older man’s direction. “Would you be able to take Elizabeth out for another walk? Both of her parents look as if they need a bit of a rest before pursuing the same.”

Bill nodded with a smile, carefully taking his granddaughter from her mother’s arms and making his way towards the way he came in not all that long before. “We’ll go for a bit of a stroll and meet Emma at the schoolhouse and then see you both at home later.”

“Thank you Dad.” Joseph replied with a small smile before the door was shut firmly behind his father by the butler and he turned back to question him with an entirely perplexed expression. “Shouldn’t Phyllis also-”

“I lied. Doctor didn’t say anything about either of them needing more fresh air. Though I’m certain it won’t hurt either of them.” Thomas cut him off immediately. “You should sit down.”

Joseph was taken aback by the certainty and directness of a man he wasn’t entirely convinced belonged in what was looking to be an emotionally fraught conversation with his wife but something in the back of his mind told him that he would regret pushing back so he followed his direction before gently turning to his wife and asking, “What’s going on?” She had yet to look at him since his arrival and her lack of responsiveness only worried him further. “Phyllis? What’s happened?”

“You have to tell him.” Thomas pressed gently. “We’ve got you. I promise.”

“Phyllis?” Joseph asked expectantly, his body nearly shaking with fear as his mind continually tried to fill in the blanks only to be terrified of every reasonable possible explanation.

“I… I’ve been having these thoughts.” Phyllis whispered quietly, her body frightfully still as she tried to find a way to explain herself without having to say it outright. “Like I did after I found out Emma was gone.”

Joseph’s eyes widened as he immediately clicked the final piece of the puzzle into place. Her admission not long after she’d told him about Emma ringing in his ears. I’d thought at length about ending things myself before that letter came. The memory played through his mind over and over before he suddenly shouted, “My love, no ! You can’t … we need … why would-?”

“Joseph please stay calm.” Thomas stopped him gently. “She’s scared enough as it is.”

Joseph bobbed his head anxiously, palms wiping furiously at the tears that were now falling down his cheeks as he tried to absorb his wife’s now all too obvious pain and fear. “My love. I’m so sorry.”

“No. I am.” Phyllis whispered softly, looking up to meet his eyes for the first time. “I thought I could handle this. I’ve been handling this for so long and now I… I can’t.”

Joseph was taken aback by this. The possibility that she’d been suffering without him noticing quickly taking over his thoughts. “How long has this been going on?”

Phyllis shrugged slightly, uncertain of the answer herself but well aware of the only connection she’d been able to make herself. “I suppose at least in part since Elizabeth was born.”

His heart broke at the shame that tinged his wife’s cheeks and he struggled for a moment with his own shame at not noticing her suffering before he quietly asked, “My love, it’s been nearly seven months. Why didn’t you say anything sooner?”

“What was I supposed to say!?” Phyllis shouted back angrily, overwhelmed by the kindness that she was more than certain she did not deserve. “That every time I look at our baby that I so very much wanted I feel as if she’d be better off without me?” She shook her head anxiously as if trying to understand it herself. “I was trying so hard not to believe it but now when everyone else will know it’s true… I don’t know how to deny it any longer.”

Joseph all but crumbled himself as he at once fully reckoned with the weight that had been so heavily burdening his wife and the recent events that had so clearly added to her already unbearable load. “They’re wrong my love, so very very wrong. You are a wonderful mother.”

“Am I?” Phyllis snapped in disbelief. “I nearly killed myself and our baby today because I didn’t want to do this anymore. What kind of a mother does that make me?”

“This won’t affect that.” Joseph tried to reassure his wife though his own confidence was slipping rapidly. “They have no way of knowing what’s happened today.”

“I’m sorry to interrupt but I’m afraid I don’t follow. Who’s been saying anything about your skills as a mother?” Thomas stopped them gently, entirely lost by the turn the conversation had abruptly taken. 

Joseph sighed heavily as he met the other man’s eyes, his own visibly filled with tears. “You’ll find out eventually so I suppose you might as well know now that there’s been a problem with Emma’s adoption. A solicitor has made a petition on behalf of Peter Coyle about Phyllis’s fitness as a mother due to her own record.”

“Doesn’t that say more about him than you?” Thomas squinted in confusion. “It’s awfully conceited for that bastard to even try to argue that the crime you committed on his behalf means that he’s more fit to parent than you are.”

Joseph met Phyllis’s eyes for permission to elaborate but he received no response and after a long pause he realized that if Phyllis had stayed with the Barrow’s after she was released he must have an idea of what had happened himself. “Unfortunately it’s to do with an older record than that, having to do with her mother.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake.” Thomas cursed quietly, he more than anyone knew how long her mother’s choice of trade had haunted her. Memories of a young Phyllis Baxter, with dark curls in pigtails tied with ribbons his own mother had given her, crying on their stoop after particularly bad days in the school yard filled his mind and it took everything in him to keep from taking her in his arms has he would have when they were children. “I’m so sorry Phyllis.”

Phyllis didn’t move an inch in acknowledgement of him, simply whispering a barely audible, “I told you they were right.” and he knew there was nothing he could say to comfort her. The only choice they had was to face this head on.

“We need a plan.” Thomas spoke cautiously, looking for any sign that his direction was unwelcome from his friend or her husband. “We need to keep Phyllis safe and we need to make sure Emma’s adoption goes through.” He softened significantly as he placed a hand gently on Phyllis’s knee to ensure he had her attention. “This first and foremost means we aren’t leaving you alone until you’re feeling much better.”

“We can’t.” Joseph shook his head in frustration. “We both have work and-”

“We’ll make it work.” Thomas stopped him gently. “There’s no reason Phyllis can’t spend the day here and there are plenty of people here who would be happy to keep you company.” He took a steadying breath himself before addressing Phyllis again. “I’d like to speak with Anna and Mrs. Hughes about why you’re here. They needn't know the details but I would feel better if your friends knew that you’re in need of some extra care. Would that be alright?”

“I suppose.” Phyllis allowed quietly, not truly wanting any part of this made any more public than it already was but unwilling to make things any more difficult for the two men who she had burdened with it.

“I’d wager it will do you some good just to get out of the cottage.” Joseph encouraged with a strained smile. “You’ve said how much you miss it here.”

Thomas easily recognized the uneasy expression on his friend’s face and took the opportunity to pivot their focus. “We also need to plan an approach for Emma. Have you spoken with Mr. Murray?”

“He’s out of town.” Joseph shook his head in frustration. “I’ve considered asking Lord Grantham if he knew when he’d be returning or for a reference to another solicitor but we’re barely scraping by enough to pay for the adoption license.”

“I more than expect that the Grantham’s would be willing-” Thomas began to suggest before he was startled by a sharp sob from his friend.

“Please.” Phyllis protested for the first time in their negotiations. “Not the Granthams. You can tell anyone else just- I don’t want Lady Grantham to be put in the position of deciding between the reputation of her family and helping me… again .”

“If it’s what’s best for Emma-” Joseph began before Thomas shook his head in understanding.

“So we do what we can to keep things quiet.” He adjusted their plan accordingly. “We’ll ask Anna and Mrs. Hughes for statements of character that can be submitted directly to the justice and we’ll make an appeal of our own that the adoption proceeds as requested in the best interest of Emma.”

Phyllis nodded thankfully, grabbing anxiously onto Thomas’s hand that he’d forgotten was rested on her knee. “Thank you Thomas.”

Tears pricked at his own eyes then, the weight of the afternoon’s events hitting him full force as her hand managed to crush his own. “Everything’s going to be fine Phyl. We’ve got you and your girls, you just hold on as tight as you need.”

Late that evening found the Molesley’s back at home, an absolutely exhausted Phyllis already fast asleep in bed while Joseph shuttling between helping Emma with dinner and in preparing for bed and checking on his wife, all the while keeping Elizabeth close by just in case she showed any delayed adverse effects from the afternoon’s incident. Meanwhile Thomas had been tasked with requesting the necessary assistance from Mrs. Hughes and Anna.

“Is everything alright Mr. Barrow?” Mrs. Hughes asked as she set down the tray of tea she had prepared at his request in her sitting room.

“I’m afraid it isn’t.” He admitted easily, his stomach flipping uncertainly as he eyed the cup of heavily sugared tea the housekeeper was certainly preparing for him. “I’m also not certain I can stomach tea at the moment.”

Anna was on high alert at that. Something had seemed off when the butler had issued his request that she stay after dinner to speak with him and Mrs. Hughes but she’d thought little of it until now. “Mr. Barrow what’s happened?”

Thomas  “There’s been a problem with Emma’s adoption paperwork - which I’ll tell you more about shortly - but it’s brought to the forefront some areas in which their family could use some assistance from us.”

“Oh no.” Anna whispered softly, immediately setting down the teacup that she’d just been offered. “Their poor family can’t seem to catch a break can they?”

Thomas nodded sadly in agreement. “As you can imagine this has put Phyllis in quite a fragile state of mind and I am frankly concerned about her spending her days alone.” He could tell from the housekeeper’s expression that the true extent of his concern hadn’t registered with her but it was apparent from the ghostly pale complexion of the younger woman that she had easily put the pieces together. “I had hoped, Mrs. Hughes, that you would be agreeable to allowing her to spend the hours while Mr. Molesley is at the school here with us and that you both would consider helping me keep an eye on her while she’s here.”

“I sympathize greatly with the horrible position this puts their family in but I am not entirely convinced that a grown woman who is as familiar with the goings on in the house is in need of supervision. Of course, I can’t see the harm in allowing her to spend some afternoons in the servant’s hall if you believe it would help.” Mrs. Hughes replied, taking a sip of her own tea.

“Respectfully Mrs. Hughes, I believe that Mr. Barrow is trying to communicate that such supervision is indeed necessary.” Anna replied quietly. She had easily recognized the uneasiness in Thomas’s expression as the same that she had seen on the woman in question when she’d requested the same care on his behalf. “He wouldn’t be asking if it weren’t.”

“Oh.” The housekeeper’s brow furrowed slightly as she absorbed the meaning of her words, the weight of their meaning heavy on her concise as she thinks of all the ways she’s seen the staff member in question suffer since her arrival years before. “Has she..?”

“I’ve promised not to betray confidences.” Thomas replied shortly. “But I’m asking for help and I’m hoping you’ll take my word that it is needed.”

“What can we do?” Anna asked earnestly. 

“As I’ve said, if Phyllis would be allowed to spend her days here with us looking after her at least for the time being it would take a load off from their burden.” Thomas reiterated before making his additional request. “I have also been asked to see if you would both be willing to provide character witnesses on Phyllis’s behalf.”

“You said there’s been a problem with Emma’s adoption, I assume this has to do with that?” Mrs. Hughes probed further. 

“Yes.” Thomas nodded sadly. “I’ve also been asked to ensure that you’re both apprised of the details of the issue and what will likely be brought to light should we also need your testimony in court.”

“Is it really that serious?” Mrs. Hughes’s eyes widened in surprise. “All of this trouble for an adoption?”

“Emma’s father has made a claim that Phyllis is unfit to be a mother.” Thomas explained, his own frustration obvious in his body language. “Obviously he’s unable to do so on the basis of her time spent in Holloway for theft as he is serving sentence for the same crime so he’s brought up something else from her past that paints her in an unfortunate light.”

“He raped her.” Anna ground her teeth angrily as she tried to come to terms with the situation she was being presented with. “He attacked her and she and Emma are being punished for it. How is it possible for the law to allow things to go so wrong so much of the time? What is the point of it all?”

“The same could be said of the other incident in question.” Thomas replied in equal frustration. “Her mother was an abortionist and she spent time in prison for her association with her when she was about fifteen. She was never charged with anything since she’d done nothing wrong but I can’t imagine a judge will see it that way.”

“My god.” Mrs. Hughes marveled aloud. “How is it possible for such a kind woman to have a life filled with so much darkness?”

“I wondered much the same myself for most of my life.” Thomas admitted quietly. “I only regret the time I spent contributing to her pain. It makes me no better than the rest of them.”

“Well I for one am glad of the opportunity to help.” Anna stopped him seriously. “Mr. Bates and I owe both of them a great deal and I’d very much like to begin to repay that debt.”

Mrs. Hughes nodded in agreement. “Mrs. Molesley deserves help as much as the rest of us. You just tell us what she needs and we’ll do whatever we can.”

Chapter Text

The impending adoption hearing the following week had everyone involved on edge and the extra strain on Phyllis’s emotions meant that everyone else was focused on one thing - making sure that she felt safe and supported. This was a task that turned out to be easier said than done most days, but it wasn’t until the week before that it became impossible.

Phyllis had shown up to Downton much later than usual with Joseph and Emma at her side. After a quick explanation from Joseph about the panic attack he’d woken up to his wife having that morning and the trouble they had getting Elizabeth to sleep the night before and a warning to keep an eye out for them both the two of them had rushed to the school leaving a clearly exhausted Phyllis with Thomas.

Thomas followed her into the servant’s hall before popping into the kitchen and returning with a breakfast plate. “Will you be alright?” He asked softly as he set the plate down at the table for her. “I’ve just got to confirm meal plans for the week with Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore and then I’ll be back.”

“I’m quite certain I can manage for ten minutes alone.” She stopped him firmly, brushing the hair from her sleeping daughter’s face before adjusting her position in her arms. “We just had a rough morning is all.”

“Joseph said to-” Thomas began before stopping at the glare she gave him.

“I know what he said.” Phyllis snapped tiredly. “Am I not allowed to have a bad day without you all thinking I’m a moment away from breaking?”

“No, of course not. I’m sorry.” Thomas apologized softly. “Just settle in and eat if you’re up for it.” He gave her shoulder a light squeeze before quickly making his way back into the kitchen.

While she wasn’t particularly interested in the fairly heavy meal sitting on the table she was considering the merits of simply eating what had been offered rather than asking for something lighter when she caught sight of a magazine lying open on the table. Eager for a distraction she began to lazily skim the words in front of her until one of the headlines on the page it was open to caught her attention and she snatched it from the table.

Criminal in Plain Sight! The Unmatched Con Artist in Servitude Resides Undetected in Downton

The recent publicization of the criminal record of Phyllis Molesley raises considerable concerns about security in the Village of Downton. The lady’s maid who has served the Countess of Grantham since 1922 has a storied criminal record that began in childhood. Her mother, Nancy Baxter, was charged with more than a dozen instances of criminal offenses against the person as outlined in sections 58 and 59 of the 1861 Act, all of which Phyllis Molesley, then Phyllis Baxter, was implicated in.

After spending less than a year in prison and managing to have the relevant charges removed from her record the young woman entered service in her hometown before ultimately working her way up to a senior position in the house of Mr. George Benton of Ovington Square. Six months into her position there she was arrested and charged for the theft of a number of jewels belonging to her mistress which were never returned.

Baxter served sentence in HMPS Holloway starting in 1919. In the same year the now twice charged criminal found herself in the indelicate condition of bearing an illegitimate child born of a romantic entanglement with another servant, Mr. Peter Coyle, of the Benton’s household. Upon delivery of the child Baxter failed to accurately report Coyle’s right as the child’s father on their little girl’s birth certificate or to Coyle himself before she was sent to a home for abandoned babies. 

Released from prison two years prior to the end of her sentence the woman managed to find an even more prestigious position in service as lady’s maid to Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham where she has managed to stay largely out of the legal system with the notable exception of the times she’s sought to drag the man that she’d already wronged down with her.

In 1925 Baxter testified against the father to her long-abandoned daughter in a trial where he was charged with involvement in the theft that she herself committed despite there being no evidence apart from the testimony of a handful of women, including Baxter, who would be widely considered by medical professionals to suffer from Hysteria. His sentencing for the crimes is to last ten years.

This year the now Mrs. Molesley has seen fit to drag Mr. Coyle back into her theatrics once again by requesting that he allow Mr. Joseph Molesley of Downton to adopt his daughter. Mr. Fletcher Hopkins, Esq. Coyle’s solicitor spoke to us and expressed significant concern about the fitness of the woman as a mother considering her extensive criminal history and seemingly endless ability to escape justice being served. Hopkins made it clear that Coyle has no intention of allowing the woman to continue to deceive her now husband into raising yet another child brought about by her licentiousness.

How many other crimes this woman has managed to conceal is unknowable but what is certain is that she has intent to continue to deceive until she has what she desires. Her actions have had far reaching consequences already, ruining not only the name of the man she’s fooled into caring for her bastard children but the reputation of the house of the Earl and Countess of Grantham in the process. Who else she will ruin as she tries to escape accountability for her crimes remains to be seen.

Midway through her reading of the page she saw someone enter from the hallway but she hadn’t fully registered she wasn’t alone until she looked back up to see Miss Denker sitting across from her, a small smirk on her face.

“Where did this come from?” Phyllis asked quietly as she put the paper back down, her mind racing as she tried to process what was happening. 

“It was just here.” Miss Denker shrugged noncommittally. “I believe the more pertinent question is where did you come from? Based on this you ‘ought to be locked up and the prison service should have thrown away the key.”

It was that moment that Thomas returned from the kitchen, “I beg your pardon?” Thomas stopped her sternly, “Based on what?” he asked before following the older woman’s still pointing finger to the open tabloid on the table taking it in hand.

Phyllis shook her head furiously as she watched Thomas begin to skim the paragraphs that she was certain would seal her fate. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” She stammered anxiously. “This isn’t the whole -”

“I certainly do.” Miss Denker spat back angrily as she stood, rounding the table to confront the younger woman across from her. “It’s a shame that Lord Grantham’s wife can’t recognize when a fallen woman such as yourself is destroying her already fragile reputation by taking advantage of her naivete to conceal the fact that you’ll never be anything but a common whore.” 

“Miss Denker that is quite enough!” Mrs. Hughes rushed between the women, her left hand reaching behind herself to provide what she hoped would be enough support to keep the shaking woman behind her from dropping her daughter as she tried to process what exactly she’d walked in to. “Such language is never appropriate in this house and it certainly should never be directed towards a valued member of staff or her Ladyship for that matter.”

“See for yourself.” Miss Denker nodded with a smirk toward the paper that had held Thomas’s focus since he’d realized what it was. “It’s not uncalled for if it’s true.”

Before anyone else managed to respond the bell for Lady Grantham’s room rang providing a more than adequate excuse for the woman to remove herself from the room, leaving the butler and housekeeper to clean up the mess she left behind.

“Mr. Barrow what’s happened?” Mrs. Hughes asked softly as she reached for the paper he was now holding out to her.

“The worst thing.” Thomas whispered quietly as he moved to wrap his arms gently around Phyllis and move her daughter from her trembling arms to his hip before pulling her firmly against his other side in an attempt to provide some sort of physical support until he could figure out how to provide it emotionally.

He was still trying to determine what to do next when a collection of gasps announced the arrival of several housemaids in search of the housekeeper and it wasn’t a moment before a harsh voice asked. “What is she still doing here?” 

“I beg your pardon.” Mrs. Hughes turned to the group of maids, her mind unable to process the question as she tried to make sense of the paper in front of her.

“She’s a criminal.” The youngest of the three blurted out anxiously. “That paper you’re holding says so. We should be callin’ the police.”

“You’ll do well to mind your business.” Anna interjected from her place at the doorway to the kitchen before she swiftly moved to Thomas’s side and lowered her voice. “I just heard. Get her out of here. Now.”

Thomas nodded, his arm loosening just enough to wrap around Phyllis’s shoulders to guide her from the room and into the sitting room just across the hall away from prying eyes and ears.

“But Mrs. Hughes!” One of the other maids continued to protest as the butler slipped out of the room with the woman in question. “I don’t feel safe with a criminal in the house.”

“Lucy, Mrs. Molesley is not the criminal here. You shouldn’t so easily believe everything you’re told.” Anna replied sharply before deciding that the easiest way to manage the overly-excitable maids would be to get them back to work. “You three have linens to change now that the family is downstairs. It would be wise to get back to work before your positions here are questioned.”

Anna waited until the girls had left before crossing the room to where she could see the now slightly crumpled paper in the housekeepers hands. “How bad is it?” She asked as she briefly scanned the nearly half a page that was devoted to destroying the reputation of the woman she’d come to consider a close friend. “All I heard was one of the housemaids whispering with Nanny Forsythe about the scandal of it all.”

“Thomas was right.” Mrs. Hughes sighed heavily. “This is the worst thing.”

Much of the staff was beginning to wonder if they’d have time for luncheon at all by the time their butler arrived when Thomas stormed into the room nearly ten minutes late with a fire behind his eyes that had the room out of their seats at twice their normal speed.

“Where the hell did this come from?” Thomas stood at the head of the table as he clenched the paper tightly in his hand. “It didn’t just appear here and I know that together you lot know the ins and outs of this house so you’ll tell me, who’s responsible for this?”

The room was silent with the exception of a few members of staff awkwardly clearing their throats as he stared them down one by one. 

“Mr. Barrow the maids have rags of this sort all the time.” Mr. Bates finally spoke. “Why do you care about this paper in particular?”

“I care because it’s been used to terrorize a member of staff.” Thomas snapped back causing the valet’s eyes to widen in surprise. It figured that Mr. Bates would have been left out of the loop given that the only maid he spent any time with was Anna and she had been with Phyllis for most of the morning. “So I’ll ask again. Who brought this into this house?”

The staff returned to silence and Thomas was ready to give up when he saw a flitting frown pass across Daisy’s face. He momentarily considered calling her out then and there but he knew Daisy well enough to know that a private approach would get him much further. “We’ll proceed with luncheon now as to not keep the entire staff from their duties further but when I find out who is responsible for this there will be consequences.” He snapped angrily before taking his seat.

He was quiet during the remainder of the meal, waiting until Daisy had returned to clear their dishes to make his request. “Daisy would you mind helping me select the silver for dinner this evening?”

“You’ve never asked for my opinion before.” Daisy replied with a raised eyebrow. “Is there something special about dinner this evening?”

“Just some damage to one of our normal trays. I only want to ensure our plan aligns with yours.” Thomas lied swiftly before guiding the woman down the hall and into the silver closet before closing the door behind them.

“Mr. Barrow?” Daisy’s eyes betrayed her fear as she found herself alone with a man who was not her husband. “Did I do something wrong?”

“I’m sorry I haven’t meant to frighten you. It’s only that I think you may know something about this paper and I know you well enough to know it wasn’t you who brought it in.” He offered her a small smile. “You’d much prefer one of your dull books to a gossip rag.”

Daisy considered his  “I believe… no I know I saw Miss Denker leave it open on the table after breakfast.” She whispered, checking behind herself several times to ensure that no one had followed them into the room. “You’ve said it said something about a member of staff didn’t you? Who is it?”

Thomas softened significantly at Daisy’s obvious concern and there was really no use in hiding it now, the maids had all read it so it would only be a matter of time before she knew who was referenced and what it had said. “It’s made public some private matters of Mrs. Molesley’s that don’t paint her in the best light.”

Daisy furrowed her brow in confusion. “What sort of private details of one of us would be of any interest to a fancy paper like that?”

“That will have far more to do with the scandal they could bring for the house than interest in Mrs. Molesley uniquely.” Thomas explained sadly. “I’m sure the housemaids will fill you in with the details in their entirety in due course but suffice it to say that she’s had quite a rough go of it in life and there are people who believe she’s responsible for the harm that’s been done to her.”

“That’s awful.” Daisy whispered quietly as she considered the implications of his words before frowning further as she met the butler’s eyes. “Does Mr. Molesley know?” 

“He knows about what the paper says but not that the paper’s said it.” Thomas replied, instantly understanding the concern she felt for the man she considered a mentor. “He’ll only be hurt because it’s hurting the woman he loves not because he’s unaware of the past it describes.”

“If Mr. Molesley doesn’t have a problem with it I can’t see how it’s any of our place to judge.” Daisy snapped angrily. “We’ve all had hardships and we wouldn’t want ‘em plastered round the house in print.”

“No. We wouldn’t.” Thomas agreed quietly, taking a few deep breaths and preparing for what would be next before turning to the cook and murmuring, “Thank you Daisy. I truly appreciate it.” as he made his way out of the room and down the hall, not stopping at the sight of the housekeeper who followed him as he made his way into his pantry.

“What have you found out?” Mrs. Hughes asked brusquely as soon as she’d closed the door behind them.

“It was Miss Denker who brought in the paper and I have been advised that Phyllis finding it as she did was not an accident.” Thomas replied as he reached into his desk for a packet of cigarettes. 

Mrs. Hughes sighed at that, well aware of the late Lady Grantham’s lady’s maid’s penchant for gossip. “No. I wouldn’t have thought so.”

“How is Phyllis?” Thomas asked as he pulled his lighter from his pocket.

“Not well.” Mrs. Hughes admitted with a sad shake of her head. “Anna and Mr. Molesley are with her but I’m afraid the damage has been done.”

Thomas nodded, taking a strong drag from his cigarette before unsuccessfully trying to swallow a sob which caused him to flush dramatically as he met the far too sympathetic eyes of the housekeeper. “I’m sorry. We’ve a job to do and I can’t even hold myself together.”

“Mr. Barrow it’s alright to care.” Mrs. Hughes reminded him gently. “Lord knows she cares for you.” 

“I don’t deserve it.” Thomas replied quietly, pressing his cigarette firmly into his ashtray as his stomach turned violently as the smoke mixed with his own regret. “She should despise me.”

The housekeeper was puzzled by the sudden anxiety in the man across from her. She knew from experience that Thomas had always had trouble accepting care but in recent years his relationship with Phyllis Molesley had provided her comfort that he was learning to do so. Clearly, there was something she was missing. “Thomas, is there something I need to know?”

“When Phyllis first arrived I… I took advantage of her past to get what I wanted.” Thomas’s lungs burnt with shame as he tried to explain the part of his past that he’d come to regret more than anything else. “I knew about the theft - not the circumstances around it mind - and I used it to make her afraid of me to get just what I wanted. If Mr. Molesley hadn’t intervened, I don’t know if I ever would have stopped. I’m as much of a devil as Coyle.”

Mrs. Hughes was quiet for a long time before she placed a careful hand on his bouncing knee. “I’ll not ask for details of what you accomplished by blackmailing another member of staff only because I know that you are no longer the same man that you were then.” She noted sharply before softening her expression and offering him some advice. “You would do well to remember that yourself.”

Thomas frowned further at that. “I told Mr. Molesley.” He admitted quietly. “I was so angry she was making friends with the man who kept getting in my way that I tried to turn him against her. He never doubted that something was missing from the story, insisting that there must have been a reason, which of course there was. She did it to protect her baby, to protect Emma . God - I am a monster.”

“Thomas…” Mrs. Hughes sighed sadly before realizing she didn’t know what to say to comfort him and once again allowing silence to fill the room.

“Somehow she never gave up on me.” Thomas whispered quietly, thinking back to the countless number of times she’d helped him after all he’d done to her. The compassion in her eyes after his failed treatment had made him feel less a fool and when he woke after the worst days of his life it was her soft voice reassuring him that everything would be okay that pulled him through. She never once minded that he was any different from anyone else and he had tried time and time again to push her away. “I tried to destroy her and she kept… saving me anyway.” 

“Well now’s your chance.” Mrs. Hughes’s voice cut through the heavy silence, her features conveying the determination behind her words. “What do we do to make it right?”

Once the housekeeper and butler had solidified a plan they made their way next door to check with the Molesley’s and get their approval before moving forward.

Joseph sat stiffly in a chair that had been moved to the far corner where Phyllis had sat upon their arrival in the room hours before. While she hadn’t moved much Joseph now had his wife’s head resting in his lap while his fingers carded absentmindedly through her hair that had managed its way out of the tight bun she’d adopted as of late in an attempt to keep Elizabeth’s hands from tangling in it.

Across the room Anna sat behind Mrs. Hughes’s desk with a rather restless Elizabeth Molesley fitfully asleep in her arms, a long abandoned bottle of formula that she had refused to take a number of times on the desk in front of her. 

Thomas quickly crossed the room to rejoin Phyllis on the floor, easily filling the spot he had left between her and the wall when he’d left earlier. “I’d ask how you’re doing but I already know the answer.” He began quietly, his hand reaching across her lap to take one of her shaking ones into his own before he continued. “We need to talk about how we’re going to fix this, and we need to do so soon, but I don’t want to until you’re ready.” 

“Not yet.” Phyllis murmured hoarsely. “I know we have to. Just… not yet.”

“You’re in charge.” Thomas assured her gently. “You say when.”

Phyllis nodded against her husband’s knees while simultaneously gripping tightly onto Thomas’s hand. “Thank you.”

“Thank you for trusting us.” Thomas replied softly as he offered a small squeeze of his own. They sat quietly until the clock on the wall struck three, suddenly reminding him that someone who would normally be here around this time was missing. “Joseph, where’s Emma?”

“I took her to my Dad’s.” Joseph assured him quickly. “He knows what’s happened and will keep her as long as we need.”

Meanwhile, the other two women in the room had focused their attention to the youngest Molesley who had once again started to cry quietly despite being entirely uninterested in anything they had to offer her.

“She’s not taking the bottle?” Mrs. Hughes furrowed her brow in concern.

Anna shook her head. “She’s never had one before and it’s not really surprising she’s not opening up to something new while her mother is shaking in fear across the room.”

“No. I wouldn’t suppose she would be particularly interested.” Mrs. Hughes agreed sadly as she offered the baby her finger to hold onto. “This little one’s mother needs a break.”

“I can only imagine she’s in pain.” Anna added quietly. “A missed feeding is as uncomfortable for mother as it is for baby.”

Mrs. Hughes frowned at that. “She’s not mentioned anything of the sort?”

Anna shook her head again. “I think she’s just too scared. Nursing might help them both but I’m worried about pressuring her.” She admitted softly before looking down to the fussy baby in her lap and sighing in defeat. “Though sooner or later Elizabeth will need to eat and I’m not optimistic about this bottle.”

It was then that Elizabeth let out a scream that caused Phyllis to flinch harshly against her husband. 

“It’s alright.” Joseph tried to calm her as his gaze shifted from his wife to his daughter. “She’s alright.”

Anna grimaced at his chosen words as she tried to figure out how to broach the subject at hand. “Actually, Phyllis do you think you’d be up for trying to nurse Elizabeth?” She asked gently as she stood to bounce the crying baby in her arms. “She’s not taking the bottle and I’m not sure what else to try.”

“It hasn’t been warmed in an hour or so, maybe try warming it again?” Joseph suggested softly as his gaze travelled rapidly back and forth between his distressed wife and hungry daughter. “I’m not sure if-”

Phyllis shook her head in frustration as she felt her body responding to her daughter’s insistent cries before cutting him off. “I need to nurse and she needs to eat.” 

Anna frowned knowingly as Joseph and Thomas carefully helped her to her feet and into the armchair by the window before she carefully settled Elizabeth in her mother’s arms.

Mrs. Hughes could sense both the hesitancy and the urgency on the younger woman’s part at the prospect of nursing with so many people watching her and took the cue to suggest that they move forward with their plan. “Perhaps while you care for Elizabeth you’d allow Mr. Barrow and I to make some arrangements on your behalf.” 

Her eyes snapped up from her daughter at that, her voice shaking as she asked, “What kind of arrangements?”

“With your permission Mrs. Hughes and I would like to go to Lady Grantham.” Thomas explained carefully, keenly aware of the increased tension radiating from her skin as the words left his mouth. “We’d like to ask for Miss Denker’s dismissal and for a character witness on your behalf.”

“I’ve told you no.” Phyllis shook her head sharply. “I don’t want her Ladyship involved in this. The family shouldn’t suffer from my mistakes.”

“I know deep down that you already know this, but the family is already implicated here. That paper has made more than sure of that.” Thomas replied firmly. “You keeping them in the dark won’t help.”

“Her Ladyship cares for you.” Mrs. Hughes interjected gently. “She’s asked after you and your family countless times during your absence and I am certain that she’d wish to help you now.”

“My love, for your sake and for Emma’s please let them help.” Joseph encouraged softly as he saw the determination in her eyes begin to soften. “You want this back in the ground and buried and this is our best chance at doing just that.”

After a long silence Phyllis turned back to Thomas and met his eyes, clearly looking for more reassurance. 

“It’s the only move we have.” Thomas admitted quietly. 

She leaned her head back in an attempt to keep her tears at bay as she tried to come up with an alternative option only to choke on a sob as she realized they were right. “If it’s the only way I suppose there’s no point in delaying the inevitable.”

Thomas nodded gratefully, leaning down to kiss her brow. “You hold on.” He whispered against her clammy forehead. “We’ve got you.”

Less than an hour later Thomas and Mrs. Hughes had arranged to speak with Lady Grantham in the library after Lady Mary and Tom had gone out to the estate office and while Lord Grantham was occupied with his grandchildren.

“What can I help you both with?” Cora asked as she gratefully accepted the tea Mrs. Hughes prepared for her from the tray Thomas had brought up with them.

“My Lady I’m afraid there’s a situation downstairs that we must ask for your intervention in.” Mrs. Hughes explained nervously as she stood across from her employer. She could count on one hand the number of times she’d asked a favor of Lady Grantham in the nearly forty years she’d spent in the house and while she was certain it was necessary now she couldn’t help but feel anxious at the unfamiliarity of it all. “Namely, we’re asking you to dismiss Miss Denker.”

“Whatever’s happened?” Cora asked in surprise, setting down . While changes to staff weren’t entirely uncommon and she was used to being asked for approval for them, she couldn’t recall a time she’d been asked to dismiss a member of staff herself. “I have no complaints about Miss Denker’s work for me and my mother-in-law made no complaints about her service that I’m aware of.”

“No.” Thomas allowed with a nod. “Our concerns involve a personal matter of another member of staff that Miss Denker has seen fit to make gossip downstairs.”

Cora frowned at that. “I’m afraid I’ll need to know the details myself before I can decide whether to agree to your request.”

“Given that the staff member being targeted is Mrs. Molesley it’s prudent for me to bring you up to speed on some things that have happened with the Molesley family.” Thomas explained cautiously. “Emma’s adoption is still under consideration by the judge in York and based on a petition brought forth on behalf of Mr. Coyle about Mrs. Molesley’s fitness as a mother things aren’t looking to turn out in their favor. The details of their initial court hearing were evidently sordid enough to gain the attention of a gossip rag which Miss Denker happened upon and she’s made it her business to ensure that every detail be committed to memory by the more impressionable members of staff.”

Cora shook her head in frustration. When Phyllis Baxter had first told her some of the details of her past she hadn’t known how to react, but something had told her that the woman she had already grown to trust simply needed someone to give her a break. She was tired of being proven right. “She has never wanted these details known publicly. Is there any way we can keep her from knowing what’s been printed?”

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible.” Mrs. Hughes interjected sternly as she held out the magazine to her employer. “Miss Denker made certain herself that Mrs. Molesley happened upon the paper in a matter of hours. Anna and Mr. Molesley are with her in my sitting room now.”

“She is here?” Cora’s eyes widened in surprise as she skimmed the page in front of her. “I hadn’t thought she’d returned to work.”

“She hasn’t.” Thomas spoke up, well aware that seeking to drop the formalities would likely speed things along. “May I speak frankly, your Ladyship?”

Cora nodded in permission. “I believe under the circumstances that you must.” 

“Truthfully, and I’m sure this won’t come as a surprise to you, Phyllis has been struggling for some time. Peter Coyle’s petition only added to her burden and we felt it best that she not be alone. Her husband, Mrs. Hughes, Anna and I have worked together to ensure that she hasn’t been.” Thomas explained clinically. “She has been spending the day downstairs with us for nearly a month.”

Cora considered his explanation and found herself perplexed further. “I can’t say that I mind but I don’t understand the secrecy. Why haven’t any of you told me?”

“I believe that Mrs. Molesley didn’t wish you to feel as if you needed to support her in something she feels shame in herself.” Mrs Hughes explained carefully.

“You know as well as I do how much she values privacy in this matter.” Thomas added with a nod. “We believed that your involvement - while it would be much appreciated - would likely have attracted unwanted attention to what we had hoped would be a brief day in court.”

“I can appreciate that.” Cora allowed, scanning the remainder of the article with a heavy sigh. “I do feel the need to ask whether the claims detailed here are true.”

“There is some accuracy to it.” Thomas allowed before quickly predicting her next question. “As you might have already guessed there are also significant omissions of details that dramatically alter the story at hand.”

Cora bit her lip in frustration as she scanned the page once again. “You said Miss Denker has taken it upon herself to bring attention to this rather than reporting it to one of the two of you or myself?”

“Yes.” Mrs. Hughes confirmed firmly. “As much as I would like to believe that it was out of concern for you and the house, her words to Mrs. Molesley this morning do suggest otherwise in my opinion.”

“I see.” Cora frowned significantly at that. “Would you care to share the words that were exchanged?”

Thomas could sense Mrs. Hughes’s hesitancy at repeating the  “Her words were - and I do find it necessary to make clear that I am quoting - that, it is a shame that Lord Grantham’s wife can’t recognize when a fallen woman is destroying her already fragile reputation by taking advantage of her naivete to conceal that you’ll never be anything but a common whore.’”

Cora’s frow deepened at his explanation and there was a short silence before another,  “I see.” fell from her lips, her voice much harder this time as she handed the paper back to her housekeeper. “I will dismiss Miss Denker this evening after I’ve had the time to apprise Robert of the situation.”

“Thank you, your Ladyship.” Thomas let out a sigh of relief.

“I will ensure that you are taken care of by myself or Anna until a suitable replacement can be found.” Mrs. Hughes assured her firmly. “We don’t wish this to cause any interruption to you.”

“Please don’t worry about any of that just now.” Cora stopped her gently. “I would frankly much prefer to have Mrs. Molesley back when it is possible, rather than hiring another temporary replacement. Is there anything else I can do to help make that happen?” 

“There is.” Thomas affirmed quickly. “The hearing for Emma’s adoption will take place next week and we would like to ask if you would be willing to provide a character witness on Phyllis’s behalf.”

“We don’t yet know what form that will take as the Molesley’s haven’t been in contact with their solicitor since the publication of these details but we expect anything you are willing to say on Mrs. Molesley’s behalf will help the court see her the way we all do.” Mrs. Hughes explained further.

“Of course.” Cora interjected before the pair could explain any further. “Providing a character witness is the least we can do. I only wish Mr. Murray were here to advise us further on the matter.”

“I don’t believe the Molesley’s would have wished to inconvenience you with the costs of that.” Thomas tried to dismiss her concern.

“It would be no inconvenience.” Cora stopped him firmly. “Robert and I will do whatever we can to help ensure that Emma stays here where she belongs. Just keep us apprised of when and where we are needed.”