Note: I'm so thrilled that this story has been so well received - seeing the hundredth review motivated me to publish this chapter a day earlier than I'd intended. Thank you all so much for your feedback - I'm glad you're sticking with me so far!
The cab isn't driving fast enough. He sits forward, as if by doing so he might somehow compel the vehicle to speed up. He's listened to the voicemail twice, and the only things that he knows for sure are that Sybil has somehow been injured, is in hospital close to Westminster, and has been asking for him. That must mean she's conscious – that must be good. But he can't stop imagining the worst – Sybil dying, the baby dead, Sybil seriously hurt … he presses his palms together and rests his lips against his steepled fingers. "Please," he mouths silently as they cross the Thames.
The emergency department at St Thomas' is relatively quiet as he bursts through the doors of the entrance from Lambeth Palace Road. It's early, he reasons, and the heavy A&E traffic of the evening and night hours has yet to begin trickling in. He finds a desk, tries to be as discreet as possible as he asks after Sybil, and is ushered, to his absolute terror, to an emergency gynaecological unit on the eighth floor.
"It's mostly a precaution, but her doctor wanted to have a quick scan done to make sure everything's okay," the nurse says, attempting to calm him even as she looks at him a bit strangely. He wants to shout that yes, she's seen him in the papers, and yes, he's fathered a baby that the press don't yet know about, and yes, she needs to keep her mouth shut.
But he just nods and lets her show him to a small private room set apart on its own. He can see Sybil lying on her side on a gurney; she's speaking to someone, but she looks fine. He swallows – perhaps this is all just a series of precautions. Maybe he's gotten himself all worked up for nothing. But as he opens the door and nervously steps inside, she turns her head, and a massive purple bruise is rising all down the side of her face. The skin beside her eye has been split; a row of neat sutures keeps the wound tightly bound.
It takes him a moment to catch his breath. "I'm so sorry," he stammers, watching as the other person – a woman in scrubs – nods and murmurs that she'll give them a moment alone. "I was … I was in a meeting, and my mobile was switched off. I got here as fast as I could … what happened?"
"It was an accident," Sybil says deliberately, as if to really impress upon him the importance of that word. She looks small and drawn, still in her clothes from work, but with her hair tangled and messy and one of her wrists bandaged.
"But what kind of accident?" He sits down in a chair that's been placed beside the bed and pulls at the knees of his trousers. "A car accident? Sybil—"
"Don't get upset," she warns.
He shakes his head. "Saying that pretty much guarantees that I will, doesn't it?"
She sighs, and his throat tightens when she winces at her own action. "I was going home after work, and I got distracted, and I fell down."
"Distracted by what?"
"A camera flash," she says. "A photographer flashed a camera in my face, and I got tripped up somehow, and I hit my head and my hand on the pavement."
His heart starts pounding. "Jesus Christ," he breathes. "Did it knock you out?"
She bites her lip as she nods slowly and carefully. "But a lady who lives in the flat above mine was coming home, too, and she's the one who called for the ambulance, I think. She came with me, just left a little while ago, so it's fine. I promise. I'm okay."
He scrubs at his face with his fingers. "Have they said – is it a concussion? Did you fracture anything?"
"Nothing fractured. But they said it is a concussion," she admits, her eyes a little watery. "My head really hurts."
"Shit. Shit, I'll bet it does." He reaches for her uninjured hand and brings it to his mouth, pressing his lips lightly to her palm. "Sybil, the nurse said they want to do a scan, because the baby—"
"They think everything's fine, they just want to check." She grips his hand tightly. "Because of how I fell, mostly, but I've also – I've had sort of weird cramps and spotting since I came in." She frowns. "Sorry, that's gross."
"It's okay, it's fine," he says, stroking the back of her hand.
Just then the radiographer enters the room, smiling at both of them. "Hello," she says kindly, holding out her hand to him. "I'm Nancy."
"Tom," he replies, releasing Sybil's fingers just long enough to shake the woman's hand.
"I hope you won't be offended when I say that I know who you are," she says with a slight laugh.
He just grunts a little, and Sybil squeezes his hand in a silent warning. Nancy seems not to notice, busying herself with the equipment that she wheels over from the corner. "Well, these aren't the most ideal circumstances, but Sybil told me earlier that you haven't gotten to hear the baby's heartbeat yet," she says, a little too brightly, as she dims the lights in the room.
"No, not yet," he says quietly. Sybil lies back, slipping her hand out of his as she pushes up her shirt and unbuttons her trousers so that Nancy can spread goo all over her stomach. He hasn't really spent much time staring at her bare belly, and he realises for the first time that there's just the faintest bit of a soft swelling there now.
"Alright," she says. "Let's see what we've got here, shall we?"
Sybil turns her head slightly so that she can look at him, smiling weakly. Her fingers sift through his. He just nods, his brain a bit on edge. He can't believe they hurt her. They have to take legal action now. Things can't go on this way…
But then he hears a soft, rolling swoosh from the direction of the machine as she rolls some sort of instrument over Sybil's bare abdomen, and his entire brain quiets.
"We've certainly got a baby here," Nancy says with a smile. She points at the fuzzy grey image on the monitor. He feels like someone has stuck cotton in his mouth. He's frozen in place. "Here's the head, and the spine." She traces her finger across the screen.
They watch quietly for a while; every now and then Nancy interprets the image for them. He thinks he can see fingers and toes, and then, just as he's figured out the image, the foetus moves suddenly, wriggling about, causing Nancy to laugh.
"Can you feel that?" he asks Sybil.
"No," she says softly, sounding just as enraptured as he feels.
Holy fuck, he thinks. That's his son or daughter. "Everything looks normal," Nancy says. "The heartbeat sounds fast, I know, but that's the way it's supposed to be. And we're still measuring at twelve weeks."
"So still May?" he asks, and she nods.
"Would you like a picture?"
"Yes, we would," Sybil says, her voice a bit croaky. "I know we have to pay – can we have two?"
He can't take his eyes off the screen, off the tiny, wriggling being that the two of them have made. Not just an idea anymore – that's their child. He can barely breathe.
But then the machine is switched off and rolled away, and Sybil is cleaned up and helped to the edge of the gurney. She's unsteady and seems absolutely exhausted, and he lets her lean against him as they go over care instructions with a nurse – how often she can sleep, when he's supposed to wake her, what she can and cannot take to manage the pain.
There's a horrific list of symptoms that would require another visit to hospital, and he wonders fleetingly how he's supposed to differentiate between concussion vomiting and the morning sickness that often manifests itself as afternoon sickness or just-before-bed sickness or really any-time-at-all sickness. He strokes the top of her head softly, and she leans the unblemished side of her face against his ribs with a sigh. It seems he's going to get to prove to the Crawleys that he can care for their daughter far earlier than he'd anticipated.
She gives him permission to send Edith to her flat to collect several bags of her belongings. They take a cab back to his place, where they slowly climb the stairs to his door. He helps her into her pyjamas and gives her the paracetemol tablets that the nurse sent home with them before tucking her into bed, telling her that he'll wake her in a few hours. She just reaches up and fleetingly touches his face before slipping into sleep.
He sits down on his couch with a heavy sigh, glancing down at the pile of medical documents on the coffee table. He pulls the two sonogram pictures out from the pile and arranges them on top, taking a long moment to decipher the shape of their baby from amid the mass of grey and black. He rests his chin on his fist, swallowing hard, and traces the image with his fingers.
A knock at the door half an hour later yields Edith, with several bags of Sybil's things in tow. "I didn't really know what to bring," she says apologetically. "So I brought lots of clothes, her toilet bag, some books…"
He nods. "I'm sure that'll be fine for now. Thank you for doing this."
She smiles quietly. "Well, one of my sisters lets me treat her like family. I shouldn't like the squander that opportunity." She hesitates. "Can I look in on her? Is she sleeping?"
He directs her to the bedroom door, and she slips inside for a few minutes, worrying at her bottom lip when she returns. "It looks terrible."
"Her head's just about killing her, I think." He crosses his arms over his chest. "It's definitely a concussion."
Edith shakes her head and exhales loudly. "While I was at Sybil's I stopped by to thank Mrs Tyler for helping her."
"That's good, that's – thank you for doing that." He's not even met the neighbour who came to Sybil's aid that afternoon.
"She told me that she thinks one of the photographers was carrying a video camera," Edith explains. "That perhaps he was filming when Sybil fell."
"Or was tripped."
"Is that what she told you?"
He clears his throat. "No. She said that a flash startled her, and she lost her balance. And maybe that's what happened. But they've been so relentless over the past few weeks…" He shrugs. "I just think it's a possibility. I know they've come close to hitting me a couple of times, whether it was intentional or not."
She gives him a look. "But she's going to be fine, isn't she? The baby's fine?"
"They seemed to think that she'd recover quickly enough, and yeah, the baby's fine. They did a scan." He retrieves one of the pictures and presses it into Edith's hands.
"Oh, goodness," she says softly. "That's it?" She looks up. "I didn't mean it – your baby's not an it – I meant he or she or…" She gazes down at the picture, then pulls out her mobile and snaps a quick photo of the image. "I can't believe she's having a baby."
He just nods slowly.
"Listen, Tom – I'm not saying that I think that anyone hurt Sybil on purpose, I don't really think that's what happened. I know you're upset and angry, but … anyway." She punches a few buttons on her phone. "I'm texting you Matthew's number. I think we should try to find out if there's video footage. At the very least, even if it's just an accident, it's pretty good evidence for a PCC complaint."
"We've talked about it a little even before this. Neither of us is a celebrity or a public figure – I don't care if your father is the PM, she's not public property."
"You don't have to convince me of that," Edith replies with a small smile. "Anyway. Call Matthew. It's not his area exactly, but he'll know who you should call." She picks up her handbag and turns to leave, adding, "And please, please let us know how she's feeling."
"I'll tell her you wanted to know. Maybe she'll want to call you." He may have had tea with the dowager, but he's not about to go behind Sybil's back and feed information to her family if she doesn't want that.
"Thanks. Take care of her."
"I will. Thanks again." He shuts the door and turns the locks.
Sybil's irritable and cranky when he wakes her for the first time, growing even more so when he refuses her more medication. "Doctor's orders," he says, rubbing her back, trying to soothe her.
"Damn it," she mutters, burrowing her face into the pillow and groaning softly. "Don't go, please don't go."
His throat tightens. "I won't. I'm not going anywhere, I promise." He kneads at her neck and shoulders until she's sleeping once more.
It's getting late, but he picks up his mobile and sits down at the dining room table, dialing Corin's personal number. "Sorry," he begins when Corin answers the phone abruptly. "I wouldn't call if it wasn't important."
"Have you picked up some covert information from Grantham?" he asks sarcastically.
"Corin," he groans. "Sybil's been hurt. I wanted to let you know that I'll have to work from my flat tomorrow."
His boss's tone immediately turns apologetic. "What happened?"
He gives a quick outline of the evening, trying to condense as much as he can while still impressing the gravity of the situation on Corin. "So, they said she can't be left alone for seventy-two hours, so I might have to take Friday, too."
"We've got Skype, it shouldn't be a problem," Corin assures him. "And it will piss John off, which might make you feel marginally better."
He chuckles. "Fringe benefit."
"Is the baby okay?"
"They did a scan and didn't find any problems. It's just Sybil."
"Well, take care of her."
"I think we're going to file a complaint about the photographers."
"Yes. Just so it's not a surprise to you."
"After some of the pictures I've seen in the papers, I'm surprised you haven't done something yet, honestly." Corin clears his throat. "Anyway. Thanks for letting me know. We'll speak in the morning, during the scheduled meeting time, if that's okay."
"That should work. Thanks." He ends the call and sits back. He thinks about calling Matthew Crawley now, but he honestly just wants to go to bed, to lie down beside her. He shuts off the lights, double-checks the locks, and heads to the bedroom.
Sybil is curled up, fast asleep, on one side of his bed. As he strips down to his boxer briefs, he takes the chance to really have a good look at the bruise, which has darkened even since they arrived back at his flat. He frowns. Bastards. Utter, utter bastards.
He sets his the alarm on his phone for Sybil's next wake-up call and slides under the blankets, running his fingers gently across her abdomen. He tries to reconcile the fuzzy sonogram image with the flesh-and-blood Sybil sleeping beside him, tracing the baby's shape around her tummy button. It's a long time before he can finally fall asleep.