|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|
Note: Thanks so much for the great feedback on the last chapter! Some of you have asked specific questions, and I'm going to try to respond to some of them on my fic Tumblr, thetwistedroots. (It's linked in my profile.)
The headlines start coming the next morning. Their surprised faces and intertwined fingers are splashed all over almost ever paper in the city – the Independent excepted, of course. LADY 'S LABOUR LAD, trumpets the Mail. LADY SYBIL'S SECRET, gurgles the Express. He gives them no points for the literary reference, and Sybil texts him, furious about the misappropriation of classic literature by the press – "couldn't they leave poor braddon out of this?" The Sun runs with LOVER OF THE OPPOSITION, which makes him groan out loud when he reads it. All of the papers are stacked prominently on his desk when he gets to work, of course. He swears he can hear Ian snickering somewhere in the background.
He drops off his bag and his coat and heads straight for Corin's office. He's sitting calmly inside, paging through the Guardian, and he beckons Tom inside without even looking up.
"So," Corin begins as Tom closes the door firmly behind him.
"I assume you've seen them," Tom says, gesturing at the newspapers that blanket Corin's desk.
"I have," Corin replies calmly. "Have a seat."
Tom obeys, fidgeting a bit in his chair. His stomach feels like it's twisting about inside. "I'm not sure what to say except that it's true."
Corin finally looks at him, raising an eyebrow. "How did this happen?"
He takes a deep breath and sits back in the chair further. "We met at a party. I didn't know who she was."
"Presumably you do now."
He coughs. "I've known for a while now."
Corin stands up and paces behind his desk. "What do you want me to say to you, Tom? That this is stupid? That you're jeopardizing everything we've been working for? I'm sure I don't need to insult you by suggesting that you don't know both of those things already."
"I do know those things." His mouth has gone dry.
"But she's worth it anyway? Good lord, Tom. How many girls are there in this city? Is a fling with her really, really worth it?"
"It's not…" he begins, then snaps his mouth closed tightly.
"And what if it somehow sways the election her father's way, have you even thought about that? This isn't about gamesmanship, for God's sake," Corin spits. "If we're the party in power, we can make people's lives better, we can make things fairer, we can get good things done." He shakes his head. "I thought that's why you were willing to stay in politics, even after everything else – because you wanted to try to make things better."
"I do want that," he insists. "Jesus, Corin, haven't we worked together long enough for you to trust me at all?"
"I don't know," he says, sinking heavily into his chair. "She's not just some girl, Tom. She's Grantham's daughter."
He takes a deep breath and lets his head fall into his hands. Christ. He's going to have to tell him.
"Well?" Corin presses. "What can you—"
"She's pregnant, Corin," he says softly. "The baby's mine."
Corin's mouth actually drops open. There's a long silence – the longest and most awkward he can remember in almost a decade of working with Corin.
"Jesus fucking Christ, Tom."
He rubs at the back of his neck. "Yes."
"There's an election next year."
"I am quite aware of that."
"Our opponent is her father, and you got her pregnant?"
He mumbles a bit, trying to make words out of sounds, and ends up just shaking his head.
"How many people know about this?"
He shakes his head again. "Everyone who reads a major tabloid newspaper, I'd wager."
"No, no, not just that they caught you holding her hand outside her flat at seven o'clock in the morning," Corin says. "About the pregnancy."
"Um," he replies. "The two of us. Her family. Her doctor. You, now. We're trying to keep it quiet." Well, he assumes they are – he realises that he hasn't actually asked about that. He sits forward. "If this were just a fling … that would be different. But I'm going to be a father, Corin. I won't abandon her, I couldn't do that to her. This isn't a casual thing."
Corin's face visibly softens, just a bit. "No, of course not." He blinks. "I'm not going to lie to you, Tom. This could be a really, really problematic thing."
He sighs. "I know you might have to sack me over this."
"I can't sack you unless you're not doing your job," Corin counters. "Have you been working against us this whole time, secret agent for the Granthams or something?"
"Are you joking?" Tom asks. "That's ridiculous."
Corin shrugs. "Well, then. If I find out that you're not loyal, that's a different story, or if the press gets too distracting, but for now … neither of you are politicians. You're both private citizens. We'll just sort of ignore it, as long as you can manage that. Good God, can you imagine the press if I sacked you over a romance – over a pregnancy? The sympathy would go straight to you, and to her, and to her father. They'd call me heartless." He frowns. "Probably it would be illegal to do that anyway, wouldn't it?"
"Probably. But really, Corin, I would understand."
"She's not like her sister, is she? I mean the one who works for her father."
"Mary? No, Sybil works for UNICEF." He rakes a hand through his hair. "She's not political. I mean, she's not in politics." He smirks a little, thinking about their conversation on the floor of his living room the night before, when she confessed that she voted in London last election instead of going up to Yorkshire to cast a ballot for her father. "She votes Labour, actually."
"Oh, Christ, of course she does. I'll bet dear old dad loves that," Corin says. "Of all the women in London, Tom…"
He snorts. "You're telling me."
Corin shakes his head and folds up the papers, pushing them aside. "When's she due?"
"May," he says, exhaling heavily. "I am … it's been a bit hard to imagine being a father, you know?"
"It was like that for me the first time, too." He follows Corin's glance over to the framed family picture propped on the desk – Corin's wife, Maeve, and their two sons, Jack and Henry. "You'll do well, I think." He levels a stern look at Tom. "Are you in love with her?"
"I don't know," he says, rushed. "I care for her. I'm committed to this."
Corin presses his lips together. "If you do anything to cross me, Tom, I'll have you out of here on your arse faster than you can think."
He feels blood rushing to his head, knows that his face is blazing red. "I know, Corin. Her family hasn't exactly been kind to me. There's no reason for you to distrust me."
"Make sure I don't find one." He stands and heads to the door, stopping for a moment to rest a heavy hand on Tom's shoulder. "And good luck with the other thing. Just … keep me informed, will you do that?"
He nods. "I will. Thanks."
Corin just claps his hand on Tom's shoulder once more before heading out the door.
The single paparazzo in front of Sybil's apartment has multiplied by the time he heads over after work. He wonders how much the photographer earned from that single photo. It must have been a bundle. Not even forty-eight hours later, their faces are practically plastered all over the city. He's especially fond of the muppety expression of surprise the photographer managed to capture on his face. He wonders if he'll always be haunted by that awful open-mouthed photograph. They'll probably put it on his headstone, for fuck's sake.
He can tell even from the bus stop, more than a block away, that there's a commotion. He flips up the collar of his coat and hikes his bag up higher on his shoulder. He stops for a second and looks around – a street vendor near the stop is selling the Evening Standard, which blessedly features neither him nor Sybil on the front page. He grabs a copy with a nod to the vendor and prepares to wield it like he's a medieval warrior heading into battle.
At the first flash, he shields his face with the paper and charges forward, his other hand shoved in his coat pocket. They shout at him, ask him questions, try to provoke him with words instead of gestures, and by the time Sybil buzzes him in, he's exhausted. He trudges up the stairs with his makeshift shield tucked under his arm and practically falls in to her apartment when she opens the door.
"They're still there?" She's got dark circles under her eyes.
He nods, dropping his bag on the floor beside her sofa and smiling wearily. "Did they give you a hard time of it?"
She shrugs and hugs her arms around her middle. "It was okay. I was fine." She chews a little at her bottom lip. "Did you talk to MacLeod?"
He motions for her to sit down on the sofa and takes off his coat, draping it over a chair. "It wasn't so bad. It was a lot better than I thought it was going to be, if I'm honest." He sits down at the opposite end of the sofa and rests his elbows on his knees. "He's concerned."
She lets out a heavy breath. "But he didn't sack you?"
"No, he didn't sack me. He wasn't pleased, but…" He hesitates, levels her with a nervous gaze. "I had to tell him about the baby."
Confusion – and, he thinks, perhaps fear? – flashes in her eyes. "Why? Why would you do that?"
"He didn't understand why I'd jeopardize my career, the entire campaign, everything, for a relationship." He takes a deep breath. "I had to make him understand that this wasn't something that I was going to break off, that this was serious."
"Of course it's serious," she says, drawing her knees up to her chest. "It's just … I don't know. I don't know."
He swallows. "I'm sorry, Sybil. Maybe I shouldn't have done it."
"Do you think he'll keep quiet about it? It's not a problem, it's just …"
"He won't say anything. Sybil—"
She clears her throat. "I'm just afraid of how ridiculous things are going to get when it's obvious. I mean, did you count the number of cameras outside tonight?"
He grimaces. "I held a newspaper in front of my face."
This, at least, makes her laugh a little. "What was the headline?"
Shit – oh, shit. Has he accidentally endorsed something remarkably stupid? God, the Mail will have a field day. He launches off the couch, scrambling for the paper and unfolding it. "Okay, good – it's just about Sarkozy's baby," he sighs with relief.
"That's still uncomfortably close to reality." She shifts a little.
He's feeling a little floundery, and he decides to try humour. "Hey, I am a far sight better than Sarko, thank you very much."
She smirks. "I'm not exactly Carla Bruni myself."
"You're right," he replies, earning a faux-shocked gasp from her. "What I mean is that you're much, much lovelier." He plants a kiss on the top of her head.
"I can't believe MacLeod was okay with everything," she says. Her eyes follow him as he leans against the wall.
"He wasn't, really." He shoves his hands into his pockets. "I've worked with him for a long time, so he knows me pretty well, but he was shocked."
She just nods slowly.
"It's not you. He doesn't know you. It's just the situation that makes him nervous, I think."
"But surely if he knows you so well, he knows that he can trust you." She rubs her temples. "He has to know that you're not going to do anything stupid."
"I think he does."
"Hm." She stands and disappears into the kitchen.
He sits down in one of the armchairs by the fireplace and closes his eyes. He's tired. His brain is buzzing – he's beginning to grow weary of the topic, and all he really wants to do is go home, put on his tracksuit bottoms, and fall asleep on his couch. You're really a catch, Tom, he thinks, sitting back. He can tell that she's tired, too – if they're not careful, he decides, they're both going to feel burned out and resentful.
Just as Sybil appears again, clutching a glass of water, his mobile springs to life. "Go on, you should get that," she directs, sipping slowly.
He nods, but when he sees the display, he hesitates. "Christ. It's my mother."
Her eyes widen. "Oh."
He grimaces as he answers the call. "Hi, Mam."
"Thomas Daniel, what am I seeing on my television screen?"
Sybil, apparently able to hear his mother from across the room, scurries to her bedroom. He sighs heavily. "What do you mean?"
"You know very well what I mean. You, holding the hand of the prime minister's daughter, looking like you've barely slept at all. What in the world have you gotten yourself into?"
"She's a nice girl, Mam. You would like her."
His mother actually snorts. "And what does Mr MacLeod think about her? Does he think she's a nice girl? Daughter of the prime minister you're trying out oust … for shame, Tom."
He feels like a broken record. "I didn't know she was the prime minister's daughter when we got together."
"Oh, so she conveniently failed to mention that, did she?"
"Mam." He sits down and presses the heel of his hand to his forehead. "She's not like that."
"You've worked so hard, why would you let a woman ruin things for you? That's not like you."
"She's not ruining anything." He cringes. "It's not a casual thing. We're serious about this."
"Oh, are you now? So you've met her family, then?"
"I have. We had dinner at her grandmother's house last week."
His mother chuckles. "Buckingham Palace?"
"Oh, for God's sake, Mam."
His mother pauses. "Tom, I'm serious now. If they're taking photographs of you and putting them in the papers and on the telly…"
He realises that his mother's going to explode when she finds out about the baby, and not with happiness. She's just as radical as his father ever was, even if her brand of radicalism involves less violence and more rhetoric. Having a grandchild who's half aristocrat isn't going to go over well. "You'll like her. I'll introduce her to you next time you're here. I can't talk now, though."
"She's not in the room," he says. "And it's just as well, with you shouting on about her." He shakes his head. "She's not a detriment to anything, Mam. I promise you that."
His mother is silent, and so he says goodbye quickly and ends the call, sitting back. He doesn't know how long he stays in that position, clutching his mobile loosely in one hand, but eventually Sybil's cool hand on his forehead startles him into alertness.
"I didn't hear anything," she promises. "But your voice sounded less than happy. I'm so sorry."
"Why are you sorry?" he asks. "She's difficult, always has been."
She rounds the sofa and sits down next to him. "Are we going to be like our parents, do you think? I mean – you know – with this one?"
"God, I hope not. Not like mine, anyway." He frowns. "My mother loves me, I know that, but she's just … she's just difficult. That's the only way I know to explain it."
"She thinks I'm taking advantage of you? Or that I'm ruining your career?"
"She doesn't know anything about any of this." He drapes one arm over her shoulders. "And you? Are you going to be like your parents?"
"I don't know," she says. "I'm not going to be prime minister, I know that much."
He snorts. "Good to know."
"Are you ever planning to become a politician?" she asks. "You know, just so I can plan the day that we cut ties completely."
"Charming. No, I'm good at the words. I'm not so good at the performance of them."
"Ah." She nods sagely. "That's good. We can stay friends then."
"Excellent. Let's call a press conference outside on the pavement. You can tell the photographers to naff off, because we plan to stay friends."
She laughs. "Simple, yet effective."
He smiles against her hair. "I told you I was good at words."