Disclaimer: I don't own anything.

This was supposed to be for a challenge on the Highclere Awards forum, but it changed a bit as I was writing it and it ended up not fitting with the prompt. I liked it, though, so I'm publishing it anyway and I'll do another one later. Which will be happier. I am determined.

Anyway, I'd really like to know what people think - I've not written this pairing before (although it has grown on me, despite my Sybil/Branson shippy heart telling me how utterly wrong it is).

...

She doesn't mean to cry about it.

She hadn't really expected to get the job anyway, but to see it written there in black and white, to know that she went through all that and still wasn't good enough in the end, still hurts.

She's staring at the typed lines and her mind is wandering – the stroke on the 't' is far heavier than the one on her typewriter, but the 'u' is much fainter – so she doesn't have to see that the 'u' stands for 'unfortunately' and 'unsuccessful'. Then suddenly the letters are blurring and smudging together. It's almost a shock to notice that her tears are soaking into the paper, contorting the letters and turning the black to grey.

...

She doesn't mean to go to the garage.

She barely even knows what she's doing, why she's walking there with the unreadable letter crumpled in her hand and tears rolling down her face. She can't face any of the others, Anna's sympathy or Miss O'Brien's snide remarks or Mrs Hughes's meaningful exchanged glances with Mr Carson. So why is it so easy to see him?

Miserably she thinks about how he's the only one who understands her: they both have ideas 'above their station' and they don't want to spend their whole lives in service.

She doesn't bother to consider any other reasons.

...

She doesn't mean to kiss him.

She honestly doesn't, because she knows about Sybil – you'd have to be deaf and blind not to notice that she's started going on unplanned jaunts alone in the car with increasing frequency. Sybil is as close as she has to a friend upstairs, and it was Sybil who got her the interview in the first place, and, oh God, what is she doing?

But Tom is so kind and his face is so close to hers and it helps her to forget.

She knows that he doesn't mean it either. That he's only doing this because he pities her, probably, and he's imagining Sybil's dark curls running through his fingers, not her red hair.

The next morning they will be embarrassed and brush it off, or try and ignore the fact that this ever happened. She'll be ashamed that she acted so rashly and he'll go back to talking politics with Sybil.

The letter falls from her hand and she lets it lie.

She isn't the sort to go around kissing young men for no reason.

Perhaps, if she let herself think about it, she'd realise that there is a reason, and she means this more than she lets herself believe.

...

She sees them holding hands that day in the garden.

It barely registers at the time, because she's in such a cloud of excitement and delight, but it hurts, just a little.

Later it hurts more.

Goodness knows, she never meant to fall in love with Tom Branson. But she's done plenty of things before that she never meant to do.