In the moment she fell, he saw the world with clarity for the first time.
The first thought was for her safety – that she was in danger. That she might die.
The second was that if she did die, he had no idea what he'd do.
The third was that it wasn't him losing his job that lead to him having no idea what he'd do. It was the idea of losing her.
The fourth was that this wasn't in the normal manner – that is, it wasn't simply that he didn't particularly want anyone to die before their time. It was that that he had no idea what he'd do without her in his life.
(At some point, after this, he'd begin to wonder when exactly that had happened)
(He'd also hear – from Lord Crawley, and eventually from Sibyl herself – of the way that he was defended, of the threats that had been made, and his heart would soar, before breaking, just a little)
He had never been so pleased to see Matthew in all of his life.
It struck him that if it were a matter of lust, he'd probably be fine. Or, possibly, if it had been another sister – Mary, if the rumours were to be believed, was far from virtuous and Edith? He suspected if she could gain attention, somehow, then she'd do so, with little regard for whether it was good or bad.
Sibyl was not the type to pointlessly misbehave, not the type to slip men into her room (or the small cottage in which the chauffeur may live).
But it wasn't simply lust. These were not the kind of feelings that could be solved by seeking out a girl of easy virtue.
(He was not denying that lust was an element, of course it was, the thoughts crossed his mind unbidden and more often than he wished they would)
She had taken to seeking him out, on occasion, to talking to him about important things, things that mattered to her, that mattered to the both of them. She had taken to arguably pointless jaunts in the car, asked about back roads, about open spaces, about seeing the countryside from another angle.
In weaker moments she would sit beside him, and he would say nothing against it.
He always stood on hand to assist her with getting back into the car, but she had never needed his help (although she took it just the same – due to sympathy, perhaps, or affection).
Today he took his own seat, and she cleared her throat.
"You'll think me silly."
He glanced back at her, trying not to be too obvious – tongues would wag, and if there was one thing the Crawleys didn't need it was tongues wagging. "Never, m'lady."
Oh, that smile.
"I got you a ...it's just a small token. Barely even that." She rummaged briefly in her bags, before finally coming across what she was searching for. "Here."
He couldn't hide his bewildered expression as he took the tiny package from her, and she watched him in delight as he unwrapped it, before chuckling.
"I know, m'lady, I have seen them before."
She felt her cheeks warm a little when he gave her that slightly cheeky grin.
"Are you trying to tell me something? Halitosis?"
She laughed. "No – nothing of the sort, it's just a... It's a daft little present."
"Thank you." He said softly, not daring to turn to her, using the mirror instead.
"Perhaps we could go the long way home?"
"Here, here, stop – look at that lake!" She gasped. "Oh, please, could you just stop, for a moment? We could go for a brief walk. Please."
He couldn't refuse her, looking around him as he skilfully parked the vehicle, dismounting himself before helping her down.
She didn't release his hand as she usually did, instead she held it, squeezed it, laced her fingers between his.
His voice was strained as he glanced down at their hands. "M'la-"
"Sibyl. Please, Tom, call me Sibyl."
His heart ached as she used his name.
"Father has tried to hide it from me – actually, I think he's trying to hide it from himself – but we can all see that there's a war coming. It's only a matter of time before you'll be called to serve your country."
He nodded dumbly, glad they were shielded from the rest of the world by the car.
"It isn't right, Tom." She said gently, meeting his eyes. "You and I both know that it isn't right."
He nodded again. "When I said I didn't intend to be a chauffeur forever, I didn't mean that I'd become a soldier."
"But – you will, won't you?" There was a sad tone of resignation in her voice, and it hurt him.
He wanted to tell her no, of course he wouldn't, he could never do such a thing, never let her down like that.
"I will. I'll have to." He paused, squeezing her hand (how was he daring to do this?) "I must do my duty, Sibyl." (how on earth had he dared to use her given name?)
She flung her arms around him, clinging to him, burying her head in his shoulder, not speaking.
He placed his arms around her, standing firm, stoic, until he allowed himself to rest his head against hers.
He never heard of them being seen that afternoon, although every day he worried that they had been.
Then again, if he had known they were safe then he may have dared a kiss (he may have dared more, but on some level he knew it was for the best that he hadn't). He'd have more of a memory than just holding her.
...but then again, just holding her had been enough.
They had seen less of one another – the girl (woman) was a force to be reckoned with, and she had apparently decided that she would do all that she could to prevent this war. He himself had become busy with appointments, preparations.
"Something was left for you."
He glanced up. "What?"
Gwen was smiling at him, in that odd, sad way that she had sometimes. In many ways they were kindred spirits – undeniable favourites of Lady Sibyl, both wanting more than service in their lives. "This."
She handed a small package, simply marked with his name and an "S".
"I think she meant for you to find it when you collected your lunch, but Thomas was snooping, so William pocketed it." She explained – probably said more, but he was having difficulty thinking straight.
And she'd noticed.
"Thank you." He said at last. "And – thank William for me. I'll thank him myself, but – "
"Just go and open it." She said softly, clearly curious – then again, she was in the privileged position of being able to ask, and they both knew it.
It wasn't a book he'd read – it wasn't the kind of book he could've dreamt of owning, in truth, it wasn't something his income could allow. (In truth he wasn't convinced that Sibyl's could – of course, he should've known better than to expect something like that to stop her.)
She had written a brief note on the inside cover – that this was his, to take with him, that she hoped he liked it, that –
That he had her heart.
There were tear stains on the cover.
"I shouldn't accept such a gift." He said quietly, helping her into the car before the rest of the family assembled. "It is the finest thing I own."
"But you – you do accept it?" She asked, nervous. "All of it?"
"I'm proud to own all of it." He replied softly, knowing she'd catch his meaning. He kept his eyes fixed on hers, all the while conscious of the other sisters arriving. "Even though – "
She shook her head. "You own – all of it. Regardless."
"All of what?" Edith frowned.
"All of his own earnings." Sibyl lied neatly, her eyes not leaving his as he helped her sister into the car.
"Gwen – I think you left something here?" Sibyl called to her. "I don't believe this – "
Gwen closed the door. "It's a gift." She said quietly.
"Oh, Gwen, you shouldn't have, really..." Sibyl began.
"Not from me, miss. From..." She trailed off.
Sibyl opened her mouth, before closing it again, not certain of what to say.
"I really must get on to the other bedrooms, miss." Gwen nodded briefly, before disappearing from the room.
The book was a battered old copy, one that had been read time and again. It wasn't a book she knew, but Tom (she had thought of him as Tom ever since learning his name) had spoken of it, often.
She felt her heart rise in her chest as she realised that this was his copy – although the note at the front of the book suggested differently. It was a promise, a promise that he would rise above his current station, and a promise that she had his heart, too.
The thin band had a dull stone in it – probably meant to look like an opal, but far from convincing.
She knew better than to wear it on her ring finger, but it lived on her left hand.
First thing I've written for this fandom - I love it, utterly... I've got a half-formed idea for a sequel of sorts, but we'll see. I think I'll be writing more of these two, though. All the love and thanks to m'dearest sister for beta-ing it, especially since it was first written at about 2 in the morning... Sorry about all of the breaks, I tend towards short paragraphs and if they weren't here then it'd make no sense whatsoever. Cursed formatting.