Author: ARCurren PM
A search for some of the lost moments in the S/B story. Follows show canon thru the CS, a few mild S3 spoilers. NOW PROUDLY, HAPPILY AU!Rated: Fiction T - English - Sybil C. & T. Branson - Chapters: 61 - Words: 187,147 - Reviews: 956 - Favs: 199 - Follows: 272 - Updated: 05-12-13 - Published: 01-04-12 - id: 7709597
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Thank you so much for the response to the last chapter! Here is 2x05.
In the last summer of the war, revolution was everywhere.
On an afternoon in the garage, in the same month that America broke from Britain and France brought down its Bastille, one revolutionary fire was set aflame as another flickered out to ashes.
Perhaps the weather was to blame; it was wickedly hot.
He was not in the mood for amour. He was grieving, though he had not yet intellectualized it as such, and the first stage of grief is denial. That's the why all the words after "TSAR AND FAMILY EXECUTED" blurred on the page. That's why he seemed to defend it- the birth pains of a new world, some blood must be shed, no mother's ever said her newborn wasn't worth it. A better future is worth it, surely worth even this terrible, terrible sacrifice.
He saw the way she was looking at him, knew what was behind that look. On any other day, he would have leaped for it; the way she hung there in the moment, staring at his mouth, suggested she was waiting for him to move. Maybe she didn't know what to do next, or maybe her ideas of propriety prohibited her from advancing on him. But on this day, her desire- so unquestionably, exquisitely revealed- came as anticlimatic, it fell like a pebble down a deep well, the splash barely registering at the surface.
But he did want to hold her, to hold onto one hope, one ideal, that still lives and breathes, because he knew, even then, that the rest were buried somewhere in unmarked grave in a backwater place he would never see called Ekaterinburg.
She didn't know any of that.
She did not see that he didn't want to talk, how he stayed seated when she came in, how he returned to his paper as soon as the pick-up details were discussed. She did not hear how reluctantly he asked after William after she pushed, uninvited, into his space. She was walking on broken glass, shards of shattered beliefs littered around him, but she didn't hear or see that either.
She only felt- his hand and what it did to her- it was the only sense she had left as everything else faded to detail.
She left in a snit, though her annoyance or upset or rejection followed her desire down the well and into oblivion. He had no spare angst today to fret about how he was failing to adequately manage Sybil's mercurial moods and meet all of her emotional demands from his position an arm's length away.
He took the paper and went home. He entered his room and was struck with queasiness when he saw the piles of newspapers in the far corner; it almost felt like they were laughing at him now. He had saved them all, the London and Yorkshire dailys, the occasional Irish or foreign paper, his own personal chronicle of history.
He gingerly perused the most yellowed stack, the papers from early 1917, when he had first come to believe revolution was inevitable in Russia. He scanned the headlines he knew by heart: "TSAR ORDERS DOZENS OF DEMONSTRATORS SHOT" - "RUSSIAN SOLDIERS REFUSE TO FIRE ON FELLOW CITIZENS" - "RUSSIAN MONARCHY FALLS" - "TSAR, SON ABDICATE THRONE"- "REVOLUTION VICTORIOUS, NEW GOVERNMENT FOR THE PEOPLE FORMED." As hollow as he felt now, he could not suppress the muscle memory of hope and triumph that had swelled in him when he had read the news for the first time.
His eyes fell on a photo insert, a middle-aged peasant woman with a baby in one hand and a protest sign in the other. The caption translated the words: DIGNITY-EQUALITY-BREAD. He recollected another triumvirate, in a deep rumbling brogue, from a place far from here and a time long since gone, the voice of the priest in his ears as he numbly drew pictures in the margins of his catechism, praying If there is a God, let this blasted class be over:
"Faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love."
As she entered her room, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She looked like she had just run a full sprint, even though she had only walked the short distance from the garage back to the house. Her face was flushed, her pupils wide, her hair curling a little around her face from the heat. Her heart was racing and her breathing... Well, the nurse thought, as the heart speeds up, so does breathing, harder, faster and more deeply. To breathe harder, one must open one's mouth.
"How terribly convenient," she spoke softly, smiling to herself, "this human design." She recalled the time she saw a beating heart on the operating table, how perfect it was, impossibly intricate, everything working in concert. Love makes the heart race to quicken a kiss. "Terribly convenient and terribly, terribly clever."
The ghost of his hand proved relentless. It had followed her home, into her room, onto the bed where she now lay in her nightdress on top of the coverlet. It stalked her, made it impossible to sleep, impossible to read or to think of anything else. It joined with its pair and moved in tandem, tangling in her hair, dragging down her face, tickling her neck, tracing circles around her collarbone and then lower. It taunted her tummy, its thumb brushing over her hip bone, making a mockery of the notion of an unsolicited touch.
He had withdrawn his hand into his pocket this afternoon, but what if he hadn't? What would it be like if that hand were here now, its owner seated on the edge of the bed, leaning in, leaning down, pressing his mouth to hers...
Her hand flew in shock to cover her mouth, but of course no one was around to hear the sound she had just accidentally expelled.
She sat up, shaking her head. A cool bath would do. But she couldn't help but imagine what would transpire if he were here tonight, with so many hours before dawn and no one awake to know.
He was being chased by an entirely different type of ghost.
Five ghosts to be exact- the ghosts of the Romanov children. Maybe the ghosts of their parents too. And the ghost of his own cocksure belief that it didn't make political sense for the architects of the new world to hurt them. But the family had been hauled down to the cellar, one terrifying night, seated against the wall as if posing for a portrait, and summarily executed. There was so much gunfire that the smoke and sulfur had forced the shooters, staggering for breath, from the room. And then, the next line in the article that he knew he would never get over, they went back in.
As the water rushed into the bathtub, she thought about the last time her body had taken control, when she was 12. She had an American mother and two older sisters, so when she felt it, she was pretty sure she knew what it was. She had dropped her embroidery and run from the room so fast she almost knocked over the tea service. Locked in her bathroom, she found her body- which she worked so hard to train and shape and constrict and moderate, to force to bend to her will- had indeed provided undeniable evidence of its independence. It had decided it was time for her to grow up, it had not asked for her input and it didn't care that she didn't approve of its timing. Nearly a decade later, she confirmed it had done so- more demurely, but just as undeniably- again.
But this time, she didn't put her head in her hands in despair, shouting at a parade of inquirers to "Leave me alone please!" until the only person she wanted to confide in, to comfort her, came and she unlocked the door.
Although maybe, in a way, it wasn't all that different.
Salt burned his eyes as he stared at their faces.
The oldest, Olga, was 22; her sister, Tatiana, 21, just about Sybil's age. They had both been volunteer nurses with the Red Cross in Russia; he'd seen pictures of them in their nursing uniforms in the newspaper. The youngest, the former heir to the throne, was just 14, but still old enough to know what was happening when a team of armed men burst in. Someone read aloud a verdict from a sham court- their relatives had been found guilty of conspiring to overthrow the nascent revolutionary government and it had been judged they should die in consequence.
That the executioners had delayed the death sentence, subjected these poor, quivering souls to several minutes or more of living with their murders, all for the self-righteous vanity of a new government on a victory lap, disgusted him.
In the bath, she takes stock of herself for probably the first time since that original change. She's pretty- enough people have said so that she believes it- but is she attractive? What is attractive to men? What do they want behind closed doors? What does he want?
She had no idea, although her work had provided her with a surprisingly comprehensive cache of information about sex. However, she suspected most of the exploits the soldiers boasted about came courtesy of a few pound notes and she's not clear what's permissible, or desirable, for a woman to do to demonstrate her feelings in the context of a love relation.
All night he thought about the Romanov daughters, born around the same time and into similar privilege as Sybil. Had someone loved them? Had they ever been in love? Surely at some point they had been made hopeful or foolish by their feelings, as everyone was. He thought not just of his own beloved daughter of privilege, but of Lady Mary and Lady Edith.
He saw how Lady Mary suffered the hopefulness and foolishness of her love for Matthew in silence, to preserve the chilly facade that was expected of her, even though everyone knew, anyone with eyes could see it. Lady Mary, for all the outward imperiousness and classicism she displayed, had shown him great decency in some critical moments. Besides the fact that he was still employed, with no one the wiser, months after she found out he had proposed to her baby sister, there was that strange, unspoken compact they had forged the night of the count. He had come to take her Crawley House and to Sybil; she in turn, had promised to let him know how Sybil got on. The chauffeur had no right to ask and standing in the moonlit drive, he could see her weigh his request. She decided to treat him as a person, and not as a chauffeur, and granted it. He would never forget that and because of it, an ill-word against Lady Mary Crawley would never, ever cross his lips.
He saw how Lady Edith had never frustrated, never quit, when she was learning how to drive, although she was not a natural. But wasn't that the story of her whole life? A daughter who, born into any other family, would have been praised as pretty and bright had the misfortune of being born into the shadow of Lady Mary's stony perfection. Yet Lady Edith bore the daily humiliation of being the least of three by turning inward and with her own quiet strength.
The Romanov children were human too, just like the Crawley children he knew, but they had been denied their humanity in that cellar.
He couldn't imagine it, for it was truly unimaginable, but he thought it would be many days before he could walk by the staircase that led down to the servants' quarters without his stomach churning and the smell of sulfur singeing his nostrils.
His little snipe about "randy officers" a few months back had been absolutely accurate. Good grief, one of her primary duties was to bathe the men when they arrived after months at the front- many, many, lonely months, far away from the fairer sex. What do you think happened with those who weren't too wounded to be aware of the warm water and a woman's hands? She remembered the first time she had to do it; she had been quite surprised (curious too, as anyone would be) and the supervising nurse had pulled her aside afterward, instructing her that "It's a perfectly normal, natural response, Nurse Crawley. Man is a sexual creature. Don't take any offense, don't even notice it."
In fact, all Sybil had taken offense to was the assertion that man was a sexual creature.
She was surrounded by bodies in her work, whether it was in the bathtub or in the unmistakable sounds that came sometimes from under the blankets, when she sat at the desk on the nightshift, updating patient ledgers and supply order forms, pretending (as all the night nurses did) not to hear. Then there were the tutorials that came during the nurses' smoke breaks (yes, she had smoked on occasion; it's just what they did and what else could one do to take the edge off after seeing some of the things they had seen?) riffing about their own marriages, or other's affairs, or ahem, the non-combat maladies of the soldiers. Through these sessions out back by the brick wall, she came to know there were types of sex that carried no threat of pregnancy, things one could use to prevent it in the traditional type, and that having sex with a person from France could lead to wretched infections down there. (No soldier ever credited anyone but the French for their condition; thankfully, she had not heard anyone mention the Irish).
But the asymmetry of what she knew, versus what was actually known to her, could not have been greater. The question was how- and when- she would start to close that gap. She rested her cheek against the cool ceramic and sighed.
DIGNITY-EQUALITY-BREAD. The last word rended his heart; it was what had motivated him to take up the fight in the first place. He had seen firsthand the unspeakable degradation of poverty, babies back home who were fed white bottles, like all babies, except theirs were water colored with a spoonful of flour because their fathers had no money for milk and their mothers were too malnourished to provide it. This was the inheritance of his parents' generation, the children who had survived the English-exacerbated famine that had eliminated nearly a third of a population. No mouse has ever been so cleanly killed.
The byline on the article with the picture of the peasant-woman protester, like the byline on today's cover story and so many others, was Mr. Edwin Boggs, the Russia correspondent for the major London paper. He almost felt like he knew him personally, as he had spent at least a few days a week digesting his reports and observations on the unfolding revolution, which were by far the most insightful of any he had read.
He was not sure what compelled him to write, but he picked up the pen nonetheless.
Dear Mr. Boggs,
I've followed your reporting from Russia with great interest...
He explained how the reports from Russia have changed his opinion. He composed the question that must be asked: how do they answer for this atrocity, when the entire revolution was premised on the idea of universal human dignity? The revolution was not fought to swap the indignity of the poor for the dignity of the rich; it was fought because dignity was the birthright of all human beings, rich or poor, irrespective of class. Transcendence of class must be believed to be possible in both directions. Like Sybil, with her beautiful soul that wanted instinctively to help, to heal, who had never once used her station against him; she would not deserve to be judged for who she was born as instead of who she had become.
The dead Romanov children did not deserve to suffer for who they were born as and even if they had never wanted for bread a day in their lives, they deserved to have the world bear witness to the injustice done to them in that dark room below stairs. He thanked Mr. Boggs for bearing witness for them.
He concluded the letter was a jumble of disjointed impressions and reactions, but he had to write it, seal and send it; it was a profession of lost faith, his own self-imposed excommunication.
She stepped out of the bath, put her nightdress back on, studied her reflection in the mirror. What she had not been able to figure out in her mind was now literally staring her in the face.
She knew it was not a reflexive response; she had seen Mary, many times, visibly saying no- to Patrick, to Evelyn Napier, to Richard Carlisle- even when her words were saying yes. Daisy to William looked very much a no. Even Edith with Sir Anthony Strallan, clearly proposing to want it, seemed strangely vacant in all the nonverbal ways.
None of them looked the way she was looking right now.
A look that would send her father into a conniption and probably threatening to send her off to a convent.
It was very much, undeniably, in every way, yes.
So that was the answer then.