Author: lilabut PM
"Were we only white birds, my beloved, buoyed out on the foam of the sea." - A tragic incident forces Sybil and Tom to return to Downton, but they soon realize that safety is not all that makes one feel secure.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Drama - Sybil C. & T. Branson - Chapters: 11 - Words: 80,239 - Reviews: 94 - Favs: 42 - Follows: 45 - Updated: 10-05-12 - Published: 05-18-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8127829
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Other things may change us, but we start and end with family.
Her feet sank deeply into the barely touched layer of pristine white snow, crunching sounds accompanying every touch of her shoes against the pavement. Sybil looked around the narrow street, not entirely sure where exactly her legs were taking her.
She had only been in this neighbourhood once, shortly after they had arrived in Dublin, looking at a flat only a few streets away from where she was right now, trying to find the hospital. Back then, Tom had, despite the light-flooded and cheap flat, decided against it, the neighbourhood too rough, too dangerous. With him by her side, and in the diffuse glow of excitement at having made it to Dublin with Tom as her fiancé, Sybil had not quite fully understood what Tom did, had not seen things the way Tom did. However, now, all by herself in the early onset of winter, arms wrapped around herself to keep herself warm, and the throbbing excitement and anxiousness at what she was about to find out – the sudden need to be more responsible – Sybil understood.
The street was narrow, and whomever she passed cast her a suspicious glare, almost as if her past was written upon her forehead in the darkest ink. Maybe it was her wildly beating heart, maybe the need to protect herself, that made her see all these things, but what did it matter? She was glad that they had decided against this neighbourhood, that they had their small flat in Mrs Gallagher's house.
Catching sight of the hospital over the nearest rooftop, Sybil realized what this might mean. Their flat was tiny, crammed when they had visitors, perfect for them. The two of them. But if she was right, if right now, she was taking her last steps with the assumption it was only herself she had to worry about, then everything would have to change. Now that they had finally settled, that things went smoothly, that she had gotten used to her work, that they were able to pay the rent on time, everything was about to be thrown over and turned entirely upside down.
Their flat was not the right place to start a family, to raise a child.
Sybil sighed, her hand fluttering to her stomach once again. In the last few days since her argument with Tom, since the explanation for her health issues had dawned on her, she had found herself doing this quite frequently. Her hand constantly seemed to hoover over her belly, both in a curious and protective manner.
Slowly, the afternoon took away all natural source of light, everything tinted in bluish grey. She turned a corner, and was relieved to see the hospital entrance across the street. Taking a deep breath, Sybil took those last few steps, unsure what to think or feel.
A baby. They were really going to have a child. Their child. A son or a daughter, only theirs. Sybil's mind was entirely occupied with the confirmation she had just received, her feet barely moving forward.
This was so tremendously unexpected, such a shock, that she felt as if someone had pulled all solid ground from underneath her feet, and she was merely floating in the air, gently, held up by the turmoil of her thoughts.
Of course she knew that this was the natural consequence. That married couples, if in good health, started a family of their own. That every time she and Tom were all alone, lost in their little world, could have lead to this. Still, now that it had actually happened, the thought of being a mother, of brining a child into this world, of a small human being growing inside of her, seemed so utterly strange and foreign to Sybil.
She was overwhelmed by everything, not sure if she wanted to be happy or sad, scared or enthusiastic, or how she should feel, what was expected of her. It was all different now from how it could have been.
Had the war never happened, she would probably be married for a long time by now, with multiple children calling her mama. A son, an heir, that would be her purpose. Now, she knew that no family member would despise her for giving birth to a girl, that she had her work, that being a mother and wife was not her sole purpose.
But how would this change things? What would they do?
The sudden noise of a crowd as she rounded a corner reminded Sybil that she was, in fact, still settled in reality, that her thoughts had not transported her into a faraway place. It was only early evening, but it might as well have been the middle of the night. Stopping at the corner, Sybil eyed whatever she could make out in the darkness, and from afar.
A few houses ahead of her, a small crowd was bustling along, some shouting, some articulating wildly. Sybil was sure she heard a woman cry for a moment, before a deep and rumbling shout muted all other noise. It only took Sybil a short moment then, to realize what was happening, and when the soldier's torch flickered over the broken shop window, Sybil turned on her feet quickly, crossing the street.
Tom would not be home for at least another hour, so there was no need to hurry back home. Feeling more reassured, and with much quicker feet, Sybil turned into a wider street, glad to remember the long way around the more narrow street she had planned to walk along.
It seemed that quite a few other people had chosen this road to avoid the chaotic scene at the vandalized shop, the snow barely recognisable as such, merely a grey, muddy mess. Taking careful steps along the slippery pavement, Sybil was suddenly hit by a flood of anxiety.
What world would her child be born into? What danger, what mess, what chaos, what passion and despair? Was this turmoil what she wanted for her child? Or the golden-coated restraints of the world she herself had been born into, had grown up alongside with?
Wrapping her arms protectively around her midsection, Sybil lowered her head, trying to avoid the harsh, freezing wind that faced her.
The only thing she was sure of as she made her way back home, was that she wanted so much to share this with Tom. The big news, every fear, every moment of joy, every frightful and delightful prospect that this brought. He was as much a part of this as she was, and with each step, Sybil became more eager to tell her husband, to finally tie all loose ends that still tangled around them in the breeze.
They were going to have their very own family.
Putting down her fork, Sybil carefully pressed her handkerchief against her lips – a little sore from the harsh wind. Her eyes were focused on Tom, sitting at the opposite end of the table, staring at his empty plate.
After she had finally arrived home, Sybil had leaned against the closed front door of their flat for a few minutes, grateful for the privacy, for a moment of safety and quiet to think. So badly had she wanted to turn the flat into pristine condition, scrub the floors, polish the cutlery, put new sheets on the bed and prepare a festive dinner. Something inside of her told her the moment to come should be special, something to remember for the rest of both her and Tom's life.
However, one quick glance at the clock had shattered all those plans, and Sybil had barely had time to lit a small fire – although she was proud to have learned to manage this so quickly, and with lots of aid from Tom – and prepare a small dinner. In fact, when Tom had arrived, quietly and kissing her cheek when she leaned in to meet his lips, she had not even taken of her nurses cap. If Tom had taken notice of it, he did not say. Instead, he disappeared into their bedroom for a few minutes, and returned in different shirt and trousers, hair dishevelled in the way Sybil had learned only happened when he was so deep in thought that he ruffled his hair.
"You looked very distracted tonight," she now said, placing her handkerchief next to her deserted fork. Maybe tonight was not the time, she thought, when Tom lifted his head, and looked so distant.
"I wouldn't want to bother you with it," he said with a sigh, reaching for his own handkerchief.
"Tom," Sybil muttered sternly, and Tom sighed again. He knew. Being honest with each other was the very basis of their relationship. Had he never been honest with her, they would not be sharing dinner this night. God only knows where they would be, and both of them always felt so utterly disappointed when the other made an attempt to keep something secret, even for good reasons.
"What happened?" Sybil asked worriedly, "Is Maera alright?"
They had not heard much from Sean and Caitlin since their visit, and Sybil was still as worried about their young daughter as she had been for weeks.
"She's much, much better," Tom reassured her quickly, "It's not her. Sean, he... He almost got himself arrested today."
Sybil's eyes widened in shock, and for a few seconds, she forgot all about the plans she had made, the words she had practised, the reactions she had imagined so vividly.
"Apparently he was being too much f himself around one of the British soldiers. Connelly heard about it, and he figured we were related and told me."
Sybil sighed. This was not the first time there was a mention like this, of Sean getting into trouble. So far, it had been minor things, basically not worth mentioning. But this seemed like the step to something bigger, like a progress in the entirely wrong directions, and Sybil worried about where that path would lead in the end.
"You should talk to Sean, Tom," she said with a serious voice, regarding the frustration and obvious worry in her husband's eyes, "I know how frustrating it all is, for everyone here, and how hard he takes it especially. But he has a family. What are they going to do if something happens to him? Or if he ends up behind bars?"
Sybil was unsure why she felt like tearing out a fragment of her heart as she spoke, why it seemed to hurt and cause her eyes to burn with the ache to cry. But she knew how much more she understood of this now. Now that she was going to have to protect a family of her own.
"He thinks so highly of you, Tom. Maybe you have a chance to get through to him."
"I might have a few years ago," Tom replied, a sense of resignation in his voice that was foreign to Sybil, "But ever since I moved to England for work, and since I married you, I think he lost a lot of the respect he used to have. He was disappointed when I left, and it's taking him so terribly long to accept you into the family. If I'm being perfectly honest, had I not gone, I would probably think just like him today."
"But you did go."
They looked at each other silently for a while, each of them imagining their lives planning out without ever meeting the other. The prospect frightened Sybil, and she struggled to find words to end the silence with.
"Still, you two are so close. Couldn't you at least try to get through to him?"
Something seemed to shift inside of Tom, and Sybil knew the second he looked into her eyes. The mild fury, the frustration, reminded her of that argument they had shared after she told their secret to Mary, after she had let him wait for an answer for so long, and still had not been willing to give him one. That night he had broken her heart a little, had disappointed her so much. The night he had to sneak into a corridor of the big house where he had no business being, only to apologize to her before the soldiers began their concert.
"Do you really think I did not already try? I tried telling him that he puts his wife and children in even more jeopardy than all this mess does in the first place, that he isn't doing any good. If he were alone, if it were only him, I'd let him go on without a word, but I made clear time and time again that he is not alone, that he has other ties, that he is bound, that he has responsibilities."
Tom's words melted with the warm silence of the room, and Sybil felt a flood of sadness.
"Am I a responsibility?"
"Am I holding you back?" she asked, her voice a hoarse whisper.
Realization dawned on Tom's features, and before Sybil could really process the movement, he was kneeling in front of her, taking her hands in his.
"Of course not, Sybil," he said decisively, gently pulling Sybil closer to the edge of her chair so her knees where pressing into his stomach, "I'm doing the exact thing I want to be doing. Maybe it is not what I would have wanted to do a few years ago, but what does that matter? I doubt you always planned to marry the chauffeur."
There was a twinkle in his eyes, that hint of confidence that sometimes drove Sybil crazy, and she could not hold back the laughter that escaped her lips.
"That is true, I must admit," she answered, earning a chuckle from Tom, whose thumbs were brushing softly along the back of her hands. With the mood shifted once more, Sybil suddenly remembered what she still had to do, and her heartbeat quickened at the thought.
"Is something the matter with you? Or have I spoiled the mood entirely?" Tom asked with concern and guilt clearly evident in his voice, raising a bit higher on his knees.
"No, you haven't," Sybil assured him with a smile, glancing down at their joined hands, "Only... There is something I have been wanting to tell you ever since you came home, I just could not figure out how, or when, and I suppose I should find a special moment, some way that means something. But I need you to know so terribly much."
She turned her hands so their palms touched, and Tom instinctively curled his fingers around hers.
"What is it, Sybil? You are scaring me a little, I hope you know that."
"I had an appointment with a doctor today," she told him rather bluntly, knowing that waiting much longer would turn her mind into an utter mess.
"Why didn't you say?" Tom asked, no blame in his voice, but obvious surprise.
"I didn't want to distract you. You have been so worried for weeks, that seemed enough to trouble you with."
Tom looked at her deeply, and Sybil knew he did not agree with her reasoning. However, something in her eyes must have convinced Tom that now was not the time to discuss that.
"What did he say?" he asked instead, holding on to her hands a little tighter. Sybil could see all his worries balling up into a tight coil right in front of her, and she smiled softly at him.
"There is nothing wrong."
"Well, that is... good, I suppose?" Tom asked, and Sybil almost had to suppress a giggle at his confusion that was so painfully obvious.
"But there is something."
Suddenly Sybil felt more nervous than ever before in her life. Her heart had never beat this fast, her skin had never prickled this much. Not when she had gotten into the white dress for her first season in London, not before she had left Downton to train as a nurse, not before that night in the drawing room when she and Tom had informed her family about their plans, not before her wedding day, not for a single second during her wedding night.
"I know we have not discussed this much yet, but we knew, I mean..." she stuttered, struggling to find the right words.
"Why are you blushing?" Tom asked, obviously still confused, but concerned, as well.
"We might have to find a new flat."
"Because we are going to have a baby."
It felt like utterly exhilarating. Sybil remembered a humid summer day when she had, along with a reluctant Mary and indifferent Edith, explored the house, and the three of them had stumbled upon an unused bedroom. The windows had been nailed shut, and after an hour of begging and pleasing and putting her shining blue eyes to good use, her father had send someone upstairs to remove the wooden planks from the windows.
When the first of many planks had come off, a sudden burst of sunlight had flooded the room, illuminating it, baring everything that time, darkness and dust had hidden. The relief she had felt back then, the sheer excitement, was nothing compared to how she felt in this moment, looking intently into Tom's wide eyes.
"Pregnant, yes," she confirmed, feeling Tom's fingers tremble slightly beneath hers. He was still quiet, simply staring at her in awe, confusion and shock.
"Aren't you going to say anything?" she asked, all her worries suddenly returning to her mind, scared that this was not the right time, that he was not ready, that they were not ready, that this was not the way things had been planned.
"That is...," Tom began, but when he hesitated, Sybil could not hold back the words that threatened to burst from her tongue.
"I know we didn't really take that into consideration, and I feel so stunned, and I barely know what to make of this, but-"
Before she had the chance to put all her worries into words, Sybil felt two warm arms wrap around her, and soft lips pressing against her own.
"I love you so much, Sybil," Tom murmured against her lips, cupping her flushed cheeks in his hands, "So, so much."
Sybil smiled into their kiss, and leaned closer, her own arms acting on their own accord as they wrapped around Tom's neck, fingers sinking into his hair.
"Are you happy?" she whispered softly as they parted, faces only an inch apart, eyes fixed on each other. Tom nodded slowly, stroking his thumb across Sybil's cheek. When her eyes fell shut with a soft, almost inaudible sigh of comfort, the tip of his thumb brushed lightly against Sybil's eyelashes.
"More now than ever before," Tom said, leaning in to press his lips against Sybil's forehead, not retreating as their breathing and heartbeats calmed down, "Are you?"
For a short moment, Sybil wondered, still aware of all the fears that throbbed inside of her. Then, however, she let the warmth of the moment take over. She realized that this moment right now, was not the time for worries, fears and complications to come. This was the special moment she had wished for, the one she would cherish and remember for the rest of her life.
The next two days passed in a quiet blur or happiness and confusion, for both Sybil and Tom. It was still surreal, the knowledge that this time next year, they would share their lives completely with another human being, one that they had created, that was entirely their own responsibility and focus of all the love and joy they had to give.
Tom seemed so natural around Sybil, caring and careful, keeping her close. When they returned to work, neither of them could properly concentrate, their minds wandering around, mapping out all that the future had to give.
It was their secret for now, their little treasure to keep safe and quiet. Maybe until the dust – in their case the sheer joy, but terrifying prospects of the future – had settled, maybe until they had made more plans, maybe until it felt right to let other people share their news. For now, this was purely their own wonder.
"It should be easier to find a new flat, now that we've lived and worked here for a while and haven't had any trouble," Tom said quietly as he lay on their bed, facing Sybil. His one hand rested on the curve of her waist, covered only by the thin white of her nightdress, the other resting between them, Sybil's fingertips dancing across the lines in his palm.
"Do you think we could find one around here?" Sybil asked, pushing her legs closer to Tom's, craving his warmth, "I like it here, and it's so close to the hospital, and it's a nice walk for you, and your mother lives close by. It would be ideal."
Tom nodded, smiling as Sybil scooted closer and closer to him.
"I'll have a look tomorrow. If nothing big comes in I can leave an hour early, so that gives me plenty of time to ask around."
"Do you want to live here, too?" she asked, her voice suddenly much more serious, the mood shifting between them, "I know you said so when we first moved here, but maybe that was for all the wrong reasons."
Tom moved his hand gently from her waist over her arm and neck, all the way up to cup her cheek, even after all these months stunned by the softness of her skin and the fact that she was indeed his wife.
"Keeping you as safe as a I can is as far from wrong as I can imagine, darling. And I do like it here. Very much," he reassured her. The last thing he wanted was for her to believe that she was standing in his way, because he knew the fear so terribly well, the fear of becoming the greatest regret of her life.
"I just don't want you to make the wrong sacrifices."
"I'll be the judge of that," Tom whispered, moving so close that their noses touched. His lips pressed softly against hers, and the moment he heard the soft sigh that escaped her, and felt her relax under his touch, he knew this obstacle was overcome for tonight.
Over the last days, he had found himself calming down every new worry that Sybil brought up, reassuring her, while trying to not succumb to all the fears and insecurities he was facing himself.
Almost instinctively by now, his hand slid back down, feeling the goose bumps his touch caused as his fingers trailed down the side of her neck, before the palm of his hand came to rest on Sybil's lower stomach, feeling the bare hint of swelling there. Perhaps he was imagining it, wishing for it, for this physical evidence of the life they have created. But for now, it was enough to rest his hand on her warm skin, and imagine their child here with them.
"There is something else that I have been thinking about," he murmured after a while, unwilling to part their lips, but knowing that this was something they needed to discuss sooner rather than later.
"What is it?" Sybil asked hoarsely, eyelids heavy with sleep.
The deepness of her sigh told Tom that he has not been the only one to think about this.
"I know," Sybil muttered, and the resignation in her voice frightened Tom more than he had anticipated. Taking a stronger hold of her hand, he came to rest on his back, pulling Sybil gently on top of him.
"I want to do everything I can to make sure you can go back to work," he said determinedly, resting his free hand on Sybil's back, thumbs drawing every shape he could imagine and more, "I know how much it means to you, and how fulfilling it is to you. Whatever I can do, I will do. I promise."
"I simply do not see what there is to do. If I am to go back to work, who will look after the baby? I can hardly bring it to work with me."
"You underestimate my mother's enthusiasm for her grandchildren," Tom said with a light grin on his lips, and he could see Sybil's eyes lightening up slightly, "She'd take him or her in for the rest of her life if we let her."
"But I could never ask that of her," Sybil sighed, and Tom kissed her cheek softly, having anticipated this reaction, "It seems so rude and forward. This is our child, and to ask it of someone else to look after him or her because we can not find the time, what will that say about us as parents, Tom?"
"Darling, a child has rarely been raised by two people alone. After my father died and my mother had to earn all the money, she rotated us from relative to relative. Sometimes I didn't see my siblings for days at a time, because it was hard to find someone who could afford to take all four of us in. It could not have been easy for my mother, but there simply was no other way."
Sybil looked deeply into his eyes as he finished, and Tom could see her thoughts twisting and turning, attempting to imagine what his childhood must have been like in comparison to her own.
"I think I'd like to spend as much time as I can with the baby, at home," she finally whispered, resting her hands on Tom's shoulders.
"That is alright, whatever you think will make you happiest."
"It is only...," Sybil began, her eyes losing focus as they always did when her family became a topic in a conversation, "My mother was never much around when my sisters and me were younger. Later on, yes. But I don't remember her as part of my childhood all that much. It was always someone else looking after us, teaching us, playing with us. And I want that to be different for our child. I want to be there."
"This is your choice, Sybil. Whatever you choose, I'll do everything I can to help."
"They might not even want me back, you know. At the hospital."
"You can't know that now. Let's cross that bridge when we come to it," Tom replied, fingers sifting through Sybil's soft hair, "And if they don't, we'll find a hospital that will."
Sybil smiled lovingly, leaning forward to press her lips firmly against Tom's. Their breathing grew ragged quickly, both of them overly eager, yet tired and exhausted from all that was going through their minds. As they parted, both with a similar heavy heart, Sybil rested her cheek against Tom's chest. The sound and feel of his heart beating beneath her almost instantly lulled her into sleep, but her mind would not allow her to rest just yet.
"Does it feel just as odd to you?" she asked, eyes focussed on the soft movement of the curtain as the wind howled outside.
"Not odd, no," Tom whispered, nudging his nose against the top of her head, "I never felt like anything was more perfect than this."
"Our child," Sybil murmured, her eyes becoming too heavy with sleep for her to keep them open.
Tom softly kissed the part of Sybil's head that he was able to reach, feeling her breathing evenly in his arms.
"Good night," he whispered, wrapping her up in his arms, as his own eyes fell shut.
"I don't think it's quite the time yet."
They were sitting comfortably at their small table, fire cracking in the background, cutlery clinging and the beef stew steaming. Tom nodded, reaching for the loaf of bread placed between them.
"I'll let you decide when you feel like it is the right time to tell people, but don't you think your colleagues should be aware of it?"
"They'll send me home, Tom," Sybil said determinedly, setting her spoon down, "Whether they'll allow me to come back in the future or not, when I tell them that I'm pregnant, they won't risk keeping me working. And I need some distraction, Tom. This is all so much to think about, and I don't want to over think it. And simply to imagine doing nothing earlier than I have to, that's such a horrid thought."
"I don't know how you ever managed it," Tom replied, and Sybil felt confused.
"Your life before the war. Doing whatever it may be posh people do all day long," Tom answered with a genuine, but bitter-sweet grin, "Now you are so tense when you simply have one day without a task."
Sybil understood exactly what he meant now. Some days, when she was running around the hospital with the soles of her feet burning, blood coating her apron and pain-fuelled shrieks echoing from one tiled wall to the other, she found herself wondering how, not so long ago, she had spent all her days with dress fittings, paying calls and dinners. All had been so quiet and serene, perfectly in order, when, somewhere else, the real world was happening. Was demanding her attention.
"I suppose I only managed it, because I did not know any different," she said, reaching for the last piece of bread to soak up her sauce, "I never knew what it was like to work, and to have a purpose. Now I do, and I don't want to miss it out."
"If you feel well enough to work, then I don't see why not."
"I do," Sybil insisted, running her fingertips along the seam of her handkerchief, "I'm feeling much better than I did a few weeks ago. I'm tired, and I think Edna is getting suspicious because I need to take bathroom breaks so often, but I feel up to work for a little while longer, at least until I have to tell them."
It was true. Over the last two weeks, her headaches had faded away slowly, leaving only the memory of the pain behind, a dull echo in the back of her mind. Still, more than once a day, she would find herself making up excuses to run to the bathroom. The smell of blood especially began to bother her lately, and she was considering changing wards at the hospital, if even for the few more weeks left until she would not be able to keep this a secret any more.
Sybil watched quietly as Tom finished the rest of his stew, and she smiled softly as he looked up.
"That assassination attempt at Phoenix Park, is that why you came home so late last night?" she asked, swallowing nervously.
Her mind had reeled with worry the night before, when she had finished dinner, and got dressed for bed without any sign of Tom. Only when she had been about to put her coat on and go outside, had he stormed through the front door, cursing the snow storm outside.
"Yes," Tom replied, taking Sybil's plate to put on top of his own, "Connelly didn't let anyone go until everything was settled and we knew if there were any casualties."
Last night, both of them had been so tired from worry and exhaustion, that Tom had simply muttered work against her lips as he leaned further into their kiss, and they had gone to sleep before the last glim of the candle had faded away.
"There was one, wasn't there?" Sybil asked, the lump in her throat almost choking her, "I didn't have the time to sit down and read the paper yet."
"One, yes. A few injured, and the British General they were going to assassinate survived. It was an IRA volunteer who was killed."
Tom's voice sounded indifferent, factual, and Sybil suspected he had repeated every detail of what had happened a dozen times until long after sunset yesterday.
She sighed, eyeing the weathered wooden table.
"What is it?" Tom asked, and Sybil hesitated shortly, contemplating whether what was going through her mind was of enough substance to speak out loud.
"Whenever I heard about these incidents, or see someone being arrested, or anything like that... I just can't help but imagine what might happen to Sean."
"Sean is not in the IRA, Sybil," Tom said firmly, and Sybil felt confirmed in her suspicion that this conversation might wake the protectiveness that Tom felt towards is cousin.
"Are you sure?" she asked, looking up with a dead-serious expression on her face.
Tom stared back at her, forehead wrinkled, deep in thought. He never answered her, and his silence gave Sybil all the answers she had feared.
"And then I imagine you," she murmured, kneading her hands in her lap.
"Me? Sybil, you know I would never-"
"I know, Tom," she interrupted him, holding up her palm to silence him, "Of course I know you're not a part of that, and that you have different ways of reaching your goal. But I still imagine, that... You said the other day that, had you never come to England, you might think just like Sean."
They both silently recalled the conversation, and as the minutes passed by on their own accord, Tom reached across the table to take Sybil's hand, his fingertip tracing the line of her wedding band.
"I wouldn't have joined, one way or another," he reassured her, remembering how much his life had changed since he had met Sybil, how much better it had become, what other goals she had offered him, "I won't deny that I understand their reasoning, but what they do, they are taking it too far. And further each day."
"I'm only worrying, that you'll get caught up in the middle of it one day."
They look at each other for a long time, gaze never breaking, both plagued by the exact same, achingly exhausting fear.