A/N: Song used in this is Cradle Song written by Thomas Dekker, also used as the inspiration for the Beatles song Golden Slumber. Learn a new thing everyday, eh? I have decided that I really, really, really enjoy writing Mary. It's a shame I don't ship M/M nearly as hard as I do S/B, because there's only so much you can do with Mary in relation to S/B. This spans 1x06 right through past 2x08.
Disclaimer: I write about what Julian Fellowes creates. Thomas Dekker owns the song
"You'll let me know how she gets on." Branson's words made her turn. "Please?" he asked in a weaker voice.
Something about his gait; something about his expression that said it wasn't just his job he cared about. It was unusual; most of time staff in his situation looked for a way to save their own skins rather than worry about who was hurt.
The cynical side of her told her that he was just a good actor. That he thought showing himself to be worrying about Sybil's welfare would serve him well when it came to the inevitable punishment for his actions.
But Mary knew instinctively that there was no way to fabricate the guilt and emotion in his eyes. "If you wish," she said in a softer voice.
"Sybil," Mary said quietly. "I never said anything to Granny, honestly."
"Then why did she suddenly start talking about inappropriate friendships out of nowhere?" Sybil asked tetchily.
"She thinks you must have a beau and if we don't know about him, then you must be keeping him secret. It was just Granny being Granny; don't make such a thing of it."
"I don't deserve to be told off, not by her or by you. Nothing's happened," Sybil said, a little too insistently for Mary's liking. She shut the drawer with feeling and rounded the corner, and Mary followed, not ready to let this subject die.
"Why?" Mary asked experimentally, wondering just how much of this affair she'd missed and how much Sybil would tell her at all. Sybil was a very internal creature and Mary sometimes felt she had to coax the truth out of her rather than just ask her. "What might have happened?"
"I mean it." Sybil dodged the question, her words beginning to rush so quickly out of her mouth Mary had to concentrate to catch the meaning of all of them. "We haven't kissed or anything, I don't even think we've shaken hands, I'm not even sure I like him like that. He says I do, but I'm still not sure."
She hadn't, however, missed the point where Sybil's voice had taken on the strange quality of a child defending herself after being caught with her hand in the biscuit jar.
Mary risked a glance at her youngest sister, who was huddled against the side of the car, as though she wanted to slip through the gap where the car door met the frame. Mary couldn't see her expression, her face turned towards the window. She didn't wail or scream, she didn't even cry-or at least, not out loud.
The sight of Sybil alone was almost enough to make Mary doubt whether she had done the right thing. Almost. But Mary was as sure as she could be without being inside Sybil's head that this was an act of rebellion on Sybil's part or maybe a petty infatuation exacerbated by Branson's foolhardy declarations of love.
Sometimes, she forgot just how young Sybil really was. The war had changed all of them, and Sybil had adapted in the only way she knew how: by helping people and trying to make a difference to the cruel world they'd lived in for four long years. Becoming a nurse had made her grow up and lose some of her youthful naiveté, but it still manifested itself in parts where Mary and the rest of her family hadn't seen, behind the regulation nurse's uniform and mature exterior. This whole business with Branson was just a marker of her inexperience.
But nevertheless, this would affect Sybil for a long time. And Mary would help her get over it, as she would have to.
"Darling," Mary murmured soothingly, breaking the tense silence in the dark car. She put a hand over Sybil's comfortingly. Sybil looked at her, and even in the low light Mary could see the thin tears streaking down her face. Still not a sound though. "I know this is difficult, but it was-"
Sybil interrupted quickly, her voice quiet but pained all the same. "Please don't say it was for my own good, Mary. If you value me at all, don't say it was for my own good."
Mary looked down. "I don't know what else I can say."
"There is nothing. But if you all think this is a childish crush, or that I'll forget about him in a few weeks," Sybil paused in her quiet declaration, rubbing a stray tear away. "Then you don't know me very well at all—and not half as well as he does."
Sybil turned her face back to the window and it was clear she would say no more about it. Mary stared at her for a long while, thinking that Sybil had never seemed more painfully mature.
It had been a long, long night.
The house was long asleep by the time they had gotten back, and they had somehow managed to get in without disturbing the house, although it had been a difficult task. Anna had thankfully remembered –even in the rush and bustle of the time after they had found out Sybil had eloped- to take along Carson's set of keys; Mary dreaded to think what they would have done if they had been locked out.
Mary supported an exhausted and still silently crying Sybil along the corridor to her room; helping her out of her clothes and tucking her into bed like she used to when Sybil was upset as a child.
She knew Sybil was in no state to be left alone tonight, so Mary lay next to her on top of the blankets and wrapped her arms around her sister, letting her cry it out.
"Golden slumber kiss your eyes," Mary softly sang the lullaby she, Sybil and Edith had grown up with. "Smiles await you when you rise. Sleep, pretty baby, do not cry, and I'll sing you a lullaby."
She repeated the two verses of the song over and over until Sybil's breathing got slow and heavy and her spidery eyelashes touched dried tear tracks. Once she was sure Sybil was deeply asleep, Mary manoeuvred carefully out of the bed, stopping only to kiss Sybil's forehead tenderly, hoping she slept more peacefully than when she was conscious.
Mary watched the car draw up from out of the early morning mist. If nothing else, at least Branson was true to his word. She had worried that he'd try to get back at them by setting it alight rather than bringing it back like he promised
The car came to a slow standstill outside the garage, still visible from Mary's place at the corridor window.
Sybil came into view mere moments later, still pulling a cardigan over her shoulders as she ran. Mary supposed that if she had heard the sound of the car on the drive then Sybil had.
She watched sadly as Sybil hurtled across the yard and flew into Branson's arms, kissing him fiercely, like she wanted to prove she still could.
Mary supposed she should go out and send Branson on his way, and take Sybil back inside. There was no use in cultivating that which would –could not happen, she knew that well enough herself. She should do something. Although she doubted they'd try to run away again now, it was better to be safe than sorry, surely…
Sighing, she stepped down from the seat to give them some privacy.
"Good luck, darling. Lord knows you'll need it," Mary sighed, hugging her sister. She was the last goodbye Sybil had to make before her new life in Ireland.
Mama was crying her eyes out, Papa was looking on with a worried but hopeful expression, Edith looked happy for her sister and Granny looked as if she had planned the whole thing (at this point, Mary wouldn't have been surprised to learn she had.)
Sybil rolled her eyes as she pulled away. "Honestly, I don't think I will, Mary." She turned and exchanged a look with Branson so saccharine that Mary could have poured it in Granny's tea, and then turned back with a mile-wide smile.
"There's still time to back out, you know." The disgusted expression on Sybil's face was almost comical. Mary smiled, despite herself. "That's what I thought."
Sybil laughed, and pulled Mary into another hug. Pulling away, Sybil took a deep breath then walked to Branson, who looked at her as though she hung the moon. Maybe they would be okay. Maybe.
Sybil waved once more to her family before getting into the car, looking like she was on the verge of tears. But they were happy tears, so unlike the last time. Her whole family watched until the car had left visibility down the drive, then Mama, Papa and Granny went inside, leaving Mary and Edith on the gravel together.
It had been strange to watch them leave; Mary had resisted Sybil and Branson being together for so long. As much as Mary thought the idea of fate was a annoying cliché, maybe they had always been heading this way. Running alongside each other for so long, finally joining. Confluence.
Mary shook her head free of her overly romantic thoughts; she was waxing sentimental now.
"So it's just us two then?" Edith murmured, staring off down the drive way.
"Yes," Mary responded. "God help me."
Edith smiled, and then looked closer at Mary. "Are you crying?"
Mary wiped at her eye quickly. "Absolutely not."