So I wrote this after re-reading some old fanfiction on my computer and online. Because sometimes it’s nice to borrow other people’s characters instead of analyzing your own.
Author’s Note: I want my season 2 of Downton Abbey now. I saw this clip and of course, my mind spun off into directions. Also, I can’t remember the last time I wrote a fanfic based on a show or a movie, so….be gentle.
Disclaimer: I don’t Downton Abbey. Obviously. If I did own it, it would be the Branson and Sybil show.
Their mornings were much the same as ever.
Lady Sybil rose, rang for Anna to come upstairs and help her dress, and then once decent, made her way down the grand carpeted staircase to the dining room. William, now the first footman, opened the cavernous door for her.
It was rather cloudy outside and the light that filtered in through the great windows was muted, gray. Rather appropriate, Sybil thought, for she felt rather muted herself as of late. A little down, Mama had pronounced just the other day.
“Darling, perhaps you needn’t read the papers as much,” Mama had said.
“But Mama,” Sybil argued in a reasonable tone. “There’s a war on. It’s unpleasant, but I feel I must know what is going on. After all, Matthew is there.”
Mama had pursed her lips and urged Sybil to sit and help her knit socks for their poor boys in the trenches. Sybil felt as if she had been knitting ever since the war had started.
Carson stood beside the sideboard, breakfast sitting in a variety of dishes over burners. Sybil smiled at the butler and perused the food.
Papa was already sitting at the head of the table, dressed in his military uniform. He was reading a letter with a great deal of concentration. The uniform meant only one thing: that Papa would take the train to York today, where he often carried out his duties as the new Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire.
Mama sat at his left, reading a letter.
The newspaper lay beside Papa’s plate. Sybil itched to read the headlines. How was that endless battle going? How many more men had it taken?
“Good morning, Papa, Mama,” Sybil said, laying her half-filled plate down and pulling out her chair. Mary waltzed into the room then, her expression glum.
“Good morning, Sybil,” Papa murmured.
“Good morning, dear,” Mama said, glancing away from her letter for a moment to give her daughter a smile.
Sybil sat. Mary soon sat across from her, her plate nearly empty. Edith entered and though she sat beside Mary, they did not acknowledge each other’s presence.
Carson approached the table. There was a message for Edith and letters for Mary and Sybil.
Sybil read hers slowly. It was from her friend Georgiana Macdonald. They had come out as debutantes together two years ago and had known each other as occasional playmates since they were very young.
We’ve had some terribly sad news. You know that my brother Vivian left his law firm to go to the front last year? His letters had stopped last month and as the fighting was reported to be particularly awful, we thought that perhaps Viv was much too busy to write. Mama, as you can imagine, was anxious.
Sybil heard a chuckle. She scanned the table to see her sisters engrossed in their letters, but Papa was sitting back with a satisfied expression.
“I don’t believe it,” he said.
“Please say it’s something nice,” Mama said with a warning in her voice.
I can scarcely believe it myself, Georgiana wrote.
“General Robertson has invited me to be the colonel of the North Riding Volunteers.”
The letter from his superior officer came not two hours ago. Vivian is dead.
“Oh, Robert,” Mama sighed.
Sybil felt her breath leave her body in a rush. She felt light-headed, then blinked, and she felt fresh, hot tears swim in her eyes before leaking over.
Vivian Macdonald—dead? He was Georgiana’s elder brother and a rising barrister in the London courts. He had a serious demeanor, his suit always in place, his brown hair never unruly, but he danced divinely. Once, when they were all very young, Vivian announced that he would be glad to rescue Sybil from any dragon or monster. Sybil had huffed; why ever would she need a boy to rescue her?
He was at least the fifth man that Sybil had grown up with to be taken by this blasted war, the third man that Sybil had spent time with during that fairytale first Season to die.
Sybil swiped away the tears, tried to breath normally. Breakfast finished soon enough. Mama went to meet with Mrs. Hughes. Papa asked Carson to have Branson bring the car around. Edith went somewhere. Mary walked in the opposite direction.
And soon, Sybil could have at Papa’s newspaper. She didn’t want to read about any more horrors, didn’t want to hear any more about young, vital men being killed.
Yet, as she tucked the paper under her arm and let the tears flow freely, she couldn’t stop from torturing herself with the news.
* * *
Branson returned from dropping His Lordship off at the station. He stopped the car just outside of the garage, intending to see about the engine, which was making an odd noise. Sybil waited in a chair placed nearby, engrossed in the paper. She often did this, sitting outside the garage on a sunny morning or afternoon for anywhere from a few minutes to an hour at a time, claiming that she needed the time away from her sisters.
Seeing how Lady Mary and Lady Edith had been pointedly not speaking to each other—or at least, not speaking any more than was absolutely necessary—he understood why Sybil needed her escapes. The last time he’d driven the elder Crawley daughters to Ripon, all Branson could hear was an occasional barbed remark and an unrelenting silence.
He heard her low muttering from a few feet away. She often did that, as well, he had come to learn.
“You know, milady, muttering to yourself is the first sign of—” Branson’s voice drifted off as he stopped directly in front of Sybil. “Sybil? It’s not Mr. Crawley? His Lordship didn’t say…”
She threw the paper on the ground. “No!” Her eyes felt all cried out. She shook her head. “No.”
Branson crossed himself. “But it is someone.”
“Yes,” Sybil nodded. “I’m sorry. I know I always come to you when someone I know dies and it isn’t right for me to burden you with it. You don’t know them.”
Branson kneeled down. Sybil played with her fingers. Her eyes were red and puffy. Her hair looked as if she had run her hand through it several times, coming loose as it was from its pins. She looked utterly pathetic and yet, utterly beautiful.
“You listened when I was all a-twitter about the news from home about the Rising,” Branson pointed out. He had fumed for weeks—his blood still boiled, thinking of the occupation of his hometown in the aftermath, the unjust executions of his countryman—and Sybil had listened and asked questions. She soothed and sympathized.
“Who was it?”
Sybil met his gaze. “Vivian Macdonald. I’ve had the news from his sister Georgiana, who—”
“Who you made your debut with.”
Sybil nodded, her lips quivering. She took a slow breath.
“In the Somme. It was a shell. He was—he was so kind. He was a barrister. He had a brilliant career ahead of him.” Her voice cracked. Branson shyly took one of her hands, which was in the process of twisting her skirt, and squeezed gently.
“Oh, God, Tom. Sometimes it feels as if all the men I’ve ever danced with are dead.” She sent a glare worthy of the Dowager Countess toward the newspaper on the ground. “This war is an evil. I’m glad you’ve not gone.” And she gripped his hand and squeezed back and though they had touched hands before, every time she intertwined her fingers with his, it sent a jolt through his arm.
“I think I should do something,” Sybil continued, with some of her old determination. “Instead of sitting about, knitting and visiting the hospital and playing referee between Mary and Edith.”
“As long as you don’t plan to march to the Somme yourself, my lady.”
“I really don’t see why women shouldn’t fight.” Branson couldn’t help but grin at that. “There would certainly be less war if women ran the government.”
“I suspect that to be true. So you want to contribute. What will you do?”
Sybil sunk into silence for a few minutes. Tom rose to ease his knees, though he kept his fingers interlaced with hers. But he made sure to look about him, to be sure that there were no prying eyes. The war may have relaxed protocol somewhat, but it would still be a scandal if they were found like this and he would, in all likelihood, be reprimanded, if not outright sacked.
Sybil smiled slowly. “What do you think of this? I shall ask cousin Isobel to teach me nursing. I can nurse in the village hospital.”
He pretended to think about this. “So you can.”
She sobered. “Perhaps I can save some poor chap’s life. Some lad who danced with a girl before the war.” She stood. “Do you think I could make a good nurse?”
“Yes, my lady.” She would, actually. She was intelligent and thoughtful, learned quickly, and was compassionate.
Sybil smiled and did something she’d never done before. She tiptoed up and kissed him on the cheek before leaving to go back to the house. Branson stood there for a long time afterwards, feeling the sear in his cheek where her lips had pressed.