|both alike in dignity
Author: thelastcountess PM
"He sees her for the first time in the narrow hallway at Jeremy Keeler's birthday party." Modern AU.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Drama - Sybil C. & T. Branson - Chapters: 23 - Words: 78,199 - Reviews: 473 - Favs: 200 - Follows: 159 - Updated: 04-08-12 - Published: 12-13-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7633348
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Note: Two chapters in one day is not a normal publishing schedule for me, but for this story, I really think the first two chapters are key to getting a handle on the tone of the thing. Updates from here on out will be on something more like a weekly basis, so if you're enjoying this, consider it something of an early holiday treat. (And perhaps leave a holiday treat for me by reviewing if you're so inclined.)
It's raining when he finally makes his way out of his flat and toward the bus stop, and he's left his umbrella behind. The bus is late, the entire space is crowded and hot, and an elderly woman succeeds in upturning his work bag as she jostles to get a suddenly-vacant seat. His files are scattered, and he has to scramble to restore order. And then, when he finally gets to the office, Ian is lounging by his desk, like the harbinger of doom that he is, eating a pot of yoghurt and smiling deviously.
He tosses his bag on the floor and shrugs out of his rain-spattered trench coat. "What's the matter with you?" he asks, raising an eyebrow.
"Heard you had quite the time after you left Keeler's last night," Ian drawls, slurping off his plastic spoon.
Tom rolls his eyes. "Keeler throws a good party."
Ian giggles – he actually giggles. "Not exactly what I heard. I was gone by eleven, but a well-placed source told me that you pulled."
"And?" He fishes a creased and torn file folder out of his bag, starts arranging the notes he'll need for his first meeting.
"And, presumably, you fucked the prime minister's daughter, you Irish bastard." Ian's smile spreads to epic widths.
There's an extended silence. His stomach feels strange. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"So you didn't take Grantham's daughter back to your flat last night?"
"I took a girl back to my flat. I didn't take the prime minister's daughter back to my flat, for Christ's sake." His brain goes into overdrive. He's not sure he knew that the PM even had a daughter.
Ian whistles as he strolls over to his own desk and grabs his laptop, clacking noisily before toting the machine over to Tom's workspace. He plops it down on the desk unceremoniously and jabs a finger toward the screen. "That the girl?"
Sybil's pensive face stares back at him. She's posed beside the PM and his American wife, and two other young women – sisters, maybe? – outside Number 10, presumably after the last general election. She looks so young, but then that must have been four years before. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.
"No, that's not her," he replies, his voice a little too tight.
Ian cackles. He has always hated Ian. "That's bullshit, Branson. Frannie told me this morning that you took her home with you. You seriously didn't know who she was?"
"How the fuck was I supposed to know who she was?"
"I don't know, read a newspaper? Watch a news programme? Those girls are all over the press, especially the oldest one. She's a piece of work, apparently."
Ian clicks around some more, pulls up a Wikipedia page on the PM, scrolls down to "Lady Sybil Crawley" listed among his family members. Lady Sybil. Holy shit. It was her.
He feels himself starting to sweat. Ian guffaws, then slaps him hard on the back. "Shags the PM's daughter without even knowing it. You are a champion, my friend. Best not tell Corin, though, eh? He'll think she was trying to suck all of our secrets right out of you." He snorts and laughs some more as he scoops up his computer and saunters back to his own workspace.
Tom grabs his mobile and fairly sprints to the loo, where he locks himself in a stall and begins to frantically search for information. Googling her name brings up more photos of her at various events, mainly posing at charity soirees with one of her sisters beside her. There's an article from the Telegraph detailing the PM's "rebellious" daughter's decision to work for the UN and to travel frequently to help with famine relief in Africa. There's a gossip item linking her with a rugger from the England national squad. He rubs at his eyes. Sybil in graduation regalia at Edinburgh, posing with her parents at the polls during the last general election, helping to build a school in Ghana.
He skims back through his memories of last evening – her naked body beneath his, the soft press of her lips against his for the first time, the awkward cab ride, the flirtatious conversation before leaving Keeler's flat – and tries to remember more of what she told him about herself. He knows he talked about his job, probably he was pompous and stupid, probably she was laughing at him. She told him about her work, he knows, told him about Africa and hunger and her plans for future studies. She never told him her last name, and she certainly never told him that her father was the Earl of Grantham, Prime Minister, Conservative Leader, embodiment of everything that Tom found repugnant about privilege and status and, just to make things even more awkward, the political opponent of Tom's boss.
He knows that Grantham – Robert Crawley – is the first titled PM that Britain has had for more than a century. And, of course, it was the Labour reforms of the '90s that had allowed him to stay in the Commons even after he inherited his father's title and estates and, subsequently, allowed him to eventually become the party leader and the Prime Minister. The Tories had come back to power the same year that Tom had decided to join Labour rather than one of the Northern Irish parties – technically he was Northern Irish, even with one parent from Dublin and a family background that was far more complicated than he cared to think about most days, and his views on Ireland and union and religion were too complex, he'd decided, to base his political affiliation on them.
There were plenty of things he didn't like about being from the UK or about the UK in general, but that's where he was born, and that's where he felt he could do the most good. For Tom, Grantham's rise to power – the reclaiming of power by a class that inherited its wealth and position – represented all that was wrong with the UK. Being ruled by a queen, even one with a neutered, largely ceremonial position, was bad enough. Having an aristocrat in the highest office of government sent the entire country backward.
But the problem was that Lord Grantham, by all accounts, was a fair and just man. Sympathetic at times, even. He clung to ridiculous traditions in a way that harmed rather than helped, Tom thought, waving at royal weddings and all of that tosh, but he'd occasionally taken courageous stands that had won him the ire of his own party and the grudging respect of the opposition. He may have been raised in privilege, educated at Eton and Cambridge, but he'd also supported a worker's union in a significant strike and endeavoured to improve benefits to the poorest in the country.
A little voice somewhere deep inside Tom's socialist brain whispers that Grantham hadn't chosen to be born an aristocrat anymore than Tom had chosen to be born in a divided and dysfunctional family in Belfast during one of the most heated periods of violence in that city's history. But if Tom had been born in Grantham's position, he liked to believe that he would have renounced his title on the principle of it. Surely he would have done.
Had she known, though? Known who he was, that is? When they were crammed in that little hallway in Keeler's flat, and she turned to him the first time, nearly knocking the breath right out of his lungs, had she known that she was looking at one of the speechwriters for the Leader of the Opposition? Was this some sort of plan? The woman he'd brought back to his home last night hadn't seemed like that kind of person. Even the newspaper articles seem to confirm that. They made her out to be idealistic and a bit foolish, but not conniving.
But he can't get rid of the sneaking suspicion that she's sitting in one of the rooms at Number 10 right at that moment, sipping champagne with her sisters and laughing over the wunderkind Irish Labour speechwriter who had brought her back for a one-night stand and, for some reason, made love to her tenderly instead of just fucking her like he was supposed to do.
That doesn't seem right, though. She'd been kind and lovely, and the way she'd touched him hadn't felt like she was using him or making fun of him. His mind drifts back to the night before, to her soft hands on his face and her lips against his temple. She could have shagged him and left immediately, could have slipped away in the middle of the night, but he knows she slept beside him in his bed for hours, tucked against his side.
Jesus Christ. What the hell has he gotten himself into? He shakes his head and shoves his mobile in his pocket before walking out of the stall – washing his hands, half out of habit – and heading back to his desk. Corin's going to want to go over the speech draft, and he's going to have to sit down with the other writers to make changes. Long day, much work, plenty to keep him distracted. Or so he hopes.
She doesn't get in touch with him. True, she doesn't have his number, but there were enough mutual acquaintances at that party that she could have weaseled it out of someone. Maybe she's embarrassed, doesn't want people to know what they did? (To be fair, he hasn't tried to get her number, either, but after all she's the one whose father is the prime minister, for Christ's sake. And, really. Everyone who saw them leave knows what they did.) Six weeks later, after the party conference, after Corin has relaxed them all into a more normal work schedule and Ian's smugness has dialed back to more normal levels, he wants to have forgotten all about it, but he's still wondering.
When he's trying to sleep, images and memories from that night filter endlessly through his brain – the soft side of a breast, her teeth pulling at her bottom lip, the quiet cries that escaped from her mouth. It gets to the point that he almost can't stand it anymore, and he decides he needs to get out and find a girl and forget about Sybil once and for all.
There's a nice girl who serves coffee from a little cart near his office, and after work one afternoon, he asks her to have a drink with him. Jennifer. She's got curly red hair and pretty green eyes, and when they go to a pub a few blocks from his flat, she's charming and smart. He doesn't take her home that night – she says she needs to get back, that she's got family coming to visit the next day – but three days after that, he invites her over to dinner at his place, and she says yes.
Dishes are done this time; the table is set with a nice cloth that his mam brought when he moved in. He's got a roast chicken with lemon going in the oven, and there's a salad and a bottle of wine on the counter. He fiddles with the cuffs of his shirt and paces a little bit, his eyes darting around the room for traces of dust that he's neglected.
She's supposed to be there at eight, but at half seven, while he's still on the sofa watching Fifth Gear or something, there's a rapid series of knocks on his door. He stands up with a start, looking around nervously – surely she isn't early? No one's ever early for something like this.
He swallows and heads over to the door, but when he opens it, it's not Jennifer on the other side – it's Sybil, disheveled and nervous. She looks up at him, and her eyes are puffy and red, and he feels himself start to panic. "What is it?" he asks, immediately feeling stupid. He should have said hello, should have been kinder or smoother or something.
But she just shakes her head, dark curls shivering. "Can I come in please?"
"Yes – I mean – yes." He backs away from the doorway and lets her shuffle inside. He watches her take in the state of the room, the table and the food on the kitchen counter, and she stiffens.
"Oh – you're busy. You're – I can come back, maybe."
"No, no," he assures her. "No, it's okay."
She bites her lip and wrings her hands a little. He feels something tighten in him as he takes in the expression on her face. "There's something wrong, isn't there?"
"Yes," she says, and her voice is small. She fidgets. "I don't even know how to say it." She takes a deep breath. She looks like she's going to be sick, and he feels like he could, too, to be honest.
Finally, he blurts, "Just tell me," even though he's pretty much worked out in his head what it must be. Either he's going to be fired, or he's going to be a father. Nothing else could put a look like that on a woman's face. His entire body goes numb.
It's the second. "I'm – I've found out that I'm pregnant, and you're the only one who could be … who it could be."
And from then on, everything changes.