Very important A/N: from here on out, Lost Time will include some Series 3 spoilers because I think the Ireland story can best be told in the context of coming back and trying to reconcile their new life with their old ones.
Mostly 3x01. Mostly themes and character attitudes towards the Bransons, as well as some glancing references to actual scenes. I don't think it's that spoiler-y, but I'm not the best judge. And I promise I will never, ever ruin a big surprise on the show (like baby Branson).
As always, thank you so, so much as ever for the reviews.
Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come
The words from their wedding could have been written about today- spring in all its glory is on display below the second floor, full trees and verdant fields dotted with wildflowers as far as he can see. He'll never forget them; they will live in his mind forever- the rough brogue of the priest, the rapt smiles traded through her veil. It's still the greatest day of his life, despite the relentless rain, the empty pews, the modest reception; all the greater for its improbability- impossibility- which he feels even now as he watches her, the breeze catching her cotton shift as she stands, folding her day clothes at the edge of the bed, the bed of green and white. He takes a last inhale of sweet air and moves to latch the window.
"Leave it open, would you?" But we always close them at home."The sun is wonderful."
Ah- but at home it always rains. "I will," he says. "And it is."
"It's almost summer," she remarks, then pauses, mid-crease, realizing what that means. By summer, everything will have changed. She sets the clothes on the chair, her palm finding the baby as she gets into bed. He jumps to help her.
Settling against the pillows, one hand in her husband's, the other on their child, she is at peace. This- for her, for now- is perfect. It's not for him and she knows it. They inhabit a big world- one churning with ideals and revolution, an infant country being baptized by fire- and she loves it, thrives in it, but she needs her world to be smaller now. For now. For now. She reaches for his other hand, puts it beneath hers on her stomach- a circle, unbroken.
He searches for a moment. "The baby's quiet today."
"Baby was up all night- maybe he's finally worn himself out," she laughs with a yawn. "He's certainly worn me out."
He smiles. It's still surprises him how, to her, the baby is already a person- with a personality, with preferences and irritating habits like boxing her insides all night or sending dinner back up or deciding to throw a tantrum not two minutes after the ferry leaves port. To him, the baby- our baby- is still an abstraction, a dull thump against his hand. "I'll let you get some sleep then."
"What will you do?" She still frets about him being left alone here.
"Read. Go for a walk." He smiles. "Don't worry about me. I'll be fine."
"You should take a walk. It's so beautiful out."
Here she means- that's what he thinks, but he just keeps smiling. "I will. Sleep well, love." He lifts her hand and kisses it; the thrill- his lips to her- hasn't abated, not even a little. It occurs to him there are many, many people who tire of what they want once they have it. He is not one of them- no, never.
She closes her eyes and he lingers for a moment, two, as an old sentiment scratches at him. Homesickness, he thinks, but no, it's not that specific. Longing is what this is. It hurts, a little, to look at her, like it used to. He hasn't felt it in a long time, not since they left this place for good a year ago. But here they are- upstairs, married, a baby on the way- and it hurts again. It occurs to him it's not the love, it's the doubt, the uncertainty, that's bearing down too hard on his heart right now.
He kisses her head and leaves.
The big, grand house is cool as ever, in both temperature and disposition. It's still strange to descend its imposing staircase, wander its halls, be able to come and go into any room he pleases or ring the bell and be served (not that he ever would of course). It makes him all the more anxious to escape and the wide blue sky is a relief.
A year ago, we left this place- maybe not forever, but certainly for more than less than a year.
Yet here we are.
They were so determined, so sure of the the kind of life they would have, the future they would make- chin up to everyone, her father, his mother, the people who talked and said 'Oh, it's just impulse, the impetuousness of youth' and all that ferocious lust for life will fade like color bleached by the sun. Not us, they'd said.
And yet, here they are.
We failed, he thinks. There's no other way to cut it.
A glorious day, good for sea travel indeed.
"Don't get used to it!" He nearly shouted to be heard over the din on the crowded deck and the rhythmic crash of waves against the boat. "The weather is never this nice in Ireland!"
She looked over at him from the railing of the bow and grinned and even then, he knew: that was the picture that would be immortalized in his mind. Salt spray on her skin, wind battering her cheeks, barreling towards Ireland- and her future, their future- as confident in her course as the ferry slicing and cutting through the water. When he was old and gray and regaling reluctant grandchildren about the old days, she would be in his mind exactly as she was now and, he was pretty sure, that in his heart, he would feel exactly as he did now.
He pulled her closer, so she was in front of him, his arm encircling her waist. "Though who knows?" He spoke into her ear, not caring who saw. They had done so all day, sitting too close in the taxi, standing too close in the ferry queue, touching too much and trading too many disrobed stares for an unmarried couple; anyone with eyes could see they were a little too acquainted with each other. "Maybe the sun followed you. I certainly couldn't blame it if it did."
She turned, just barely, and brushed her lips against his. They were at the front of the ferry, no one to scandalize but the waves. But a prim, older woman wearing too much perfume had been shooting them disapproving glares all afternoon was suddenly overcome with a coincidental coughing fit. Sybil whipped around with a glare of her own (reminding him that she was reared in the gladiatorial arena of an aristocratic house). "Must have choked on her cologne," Sybil grumbled, though she nonetheless eased herself back to his side. But the censure was quickly forgotten when Sybil pointed outward and said excitedly, "Tom, look- I think I see land!"
He squinted and then he saw it too. "I think so."
"Is it Howth? The first thing I'll see?"
"Tis. There's the lighthouse," he showed her. "And Dublin's just south."
He had not expected it would fill him with such emotion to see Ireland again, his homeland, and to see it with Sybil. He put his hands on her shoulders and she looked up, saw his eyes were cloudy, the past and present colliding in them. "Oh, Tom." She reached for his cheek. "Welcome home."
He nodded, swallowed, and smiled. "You too."
"Yes," she said, leaning back into him. "Me too."
The ferry docked around four o'clock and they disembarked into the melee of a capital city at rush hour: crowded, bustling, and loud, with car horns and tram bells and vendors shouting out sales. He held her hand tightly as they wove through the march of pedestrians on the sidewalk and hired a car to take them to his mother's house.
"Where to?" the red-faced driver asked and Sybil was admittedly startled to hear him speak like Tom- with the same lilt and musical cadence, the same glib loquaciousness. They proceeded to chat like old mates after Tom gave him the address- about what had changed and what hadn't, Gaelic football and local politics. He's at home here, she thought. She was embarrassed to admit it, but between the driver's thick accent and their liberal invocation of Irish and working class slang, she could barely understand what they're saying. The thought of interjecting her own foreign voice into the banter made her feel shy and so, despite her general friendliness, she kept quiet, staring out the window at her new country.
"I know a shortcut that'll get you up to the north side right quick," the driver said. The car jerked around a corner, away from the elegant streets of the city center and revealed another reality- abject poverty. Swollen tenements, filthy children, and the smell- "Slaughterhouses," Tom explained, almost inaudibly and ashamed, he can't believe the driver's taken them this way, on her first day in Dublin.
She didn't respond, just continued to look, wide-eyed, at the streets filled with trash and indigent men with mean eyes. She sucked in her breath as she watched a child chase a football through a puddle that was clearly sewage- cholera, diphtheria, typhoid, tetnus- the nurse in her was fighting the urge to jump out of the car and scrub the boy down with lye. My God- this place is some version of hell.
Tom caught Sybil's stricken expression and reached for her hand. "It's not here," he assured her quietly. "Not anywhere near here."
"Not from around here, are you?" Tom responded with a look that could kill, while Sybil just shook her head. "Sorry about the stench- I should have warned you," the driver winced. "Won't be but a minute and we'll be out of it."
Shortly, the streets became a bit wider, some trees and scraggly grass started to appear around the houses, which were stout and utilitarian, but fairly kept up. It wasn't nice, but it wasn't that. The car pulled up in front of a long line of two-story brick row houses; Tom nodded toward one of them. "That's it there." They paid and stepped out onto the curb. "I'm sorry about that," Tom apologized. "He said 'shortcut'- I didn't think he would take us through Phibsboro. I should have asked."
"No- it's good," she replied slowly. "I admit, I've never seen anything like it, but it exists and I should see it, I want to see it. Don't feel bad for me. I am not the one to pity. God, I'm not." She took a moment to steady herself. "I wonder if there's a hospital around there."
"That's a great idea. We'll look into it tomorrow, what do you say?"
"I'd like that," she nodded, then straightened up and smiled. "So that's tomorrow," she said, taking his hand. "But now, let's go meet your mother."
Mrs. Branson had heard the car and she was standing against the front door, making one final, prayerful appeal. Let her be homely or, if not, the victim of some gross disfigurement, a blighted beauty, a girl whose spirit was belied by her appearance. Please, just let there be some visible, evident reason why she can't marry her own kind.
But she knew that wouldn't be the case; that wasn't her son. And when she opened the door, it was confirmed.
There stood her son, six years older, and her- all glossy dark curls and smart clothes, expensive fabrics tailored to fit only her. She was like a life-size doll from a fancy toy shop, the kind of doll fathers like hers brought home for their daughters. And there's Tom, who had left home not exactly a boy but who now looked every bit a man, holding onto her like a child on Christmas morning.
"Hiya, Mam." Oh, that voice and after so long! He removed his hat and leaned in to kiss her cheek. "Mam, I'd like you to meet my fiancee, Sybil."
She smiled, all teeth and merriment, clasped her gloved hands together. "It's so lovely to meet you at last." Her voice was full, confident, and gratingly English.
Mrs. Branson could muster a nod, no more. "Lady Sybil."
"Just Sybil please." It's a direction, not a request, Mrs. Branson determined. People like Lady Sybil did not make requests of people like her. "Thank you so much for your hospitality. I'm very grateful for it- as is my mother, naturally." It was a gentle attempt at humor, at solidarity. As if her mother and I could have anything in common. Her son laughed. She did not.
"Don't even think of it," Tom jumped in. "This is your family too, now." Mrs. Branson turned before Lady Sybil could see her reaction to that.
"Don't just leave her standing here on the doorstep," she scolded her son from the hallway. "Bring her inside!" Beaming, he swept her inside, into the small hallway which ran down to the kitchen; to the right was the parlor, a dining room, and the stairs which led to the bedrooms and the bath. That was it- that was the house. Regardless, Lady Sybil lied that she had "a lovely home." She could use some new adjectives.
Tom took her coat, ushered her onto the sofa- a ridiculous portrait, an immaculate young lady poised in the middle of her musty parlor. Nonetheless, Tom was taking every pain to make sure she was comfortable, as if a girl like her could ever belong in a place like this. "Do you need anything- some water, the bathroom?"
"No, thank you. I'm quite alright." Her face turned upward and he couldn't help it, his fingertips found her face as she smiled secretly at him. Mrs. Branson lifted her eyes heavenward and prayed for strength- at least the strength to hold her tongue.
"You must be tired from the journey," she said, sitting down stiffly. Her son sat down opposite her, too close to Lady Sybil.
"It wasn't so bad," Tom replied. "Plenty of sun, the water was calm. And the train from Yorkshire was lovely." Jesus, not him too.
"Yes, we rather enjoyed ourselves," Lady Sybil chimed in.
"That we did," he agreed. That made Lady Sybil giggle- an airy sound quickly stifled with a dainty hand to her lips- and then Tom was hanging his head, trying to hide his own amusement. Young and in love, Mrs. Branson thought bemusedly, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. A couple of fools.
"Punchy from the trip, are you?"
"I suppose so," Tom demured, cheeks still dimpled, as he took Lady Sybil's hand.
"I'll make some tea then." Mrs. Branson shot up, grateful for the escape. "Dinner will be in an hour."
Sybil nodded Tom to follow his mother into the kitchen, where he found her filling up the kettle at the sink. He came up behind her and dropped a kiss on her head. "Ah, Mam. It's nice to be home."
But the affection only reminded his mother of how Lady Sybil was ruining this long-awaited reunion, to say nothing of her son's future. She pushed past Tom, setting the kettle down too hard on the stove. "She is too beautiful," she rued.
He grinned. "I know."
"What is she doing here?" she cried, the words strangling in her throat. Tom seemed completely stupefied by the question. "You will never be able to care for a girl like that! And the worst part is, I'm sure she doesn't know it."
"We love each other."
"Oh, well then." She tried to swallow her frustration, shaking the tea leaf too hard out of the tin. "It'll be grand then, just grand, won't it be!"
"Who's to say it won't be?"
She whipped around. "Are you stupid, Tommy?" she charged, one hand on her hip. "Because you weren't when you left!"
"I know what you think, Mam," he began with forced patience, although she could tell he was becoming annoyed. "But you're wrong. You'll see. Once we're settled, in our own home-"
She scoffed. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves!"
"What do you mean by that?"
"Lets see how Lady Sybil does after she's been here more than an hour. There's a reason they make you wait a month." She shooed him out of the way of the cabinet and took down the cups and saucers. "I were a gambler, I'd wager on her being tucked up in her bed in England over walking down the aisle with you."
"She's not going back. Get it out of your head."
His proclamation was steely and severe; it told her not to trespass, as did his stance- arms crossed, jaw square- as she regarded him across the cramped kitchen. But advance she did, staring him directly in the eye as she did so. "And why is that?" He said nothing, which said everything. "Oh, I see," she nodded. "Well, I will add that to my already high regard for Lady Sybil."
"You don't know her," he countered.
She relieved the kettle starting to whistle. ""I know enough about her," she countered. He watched as she poured the boiling water into the pot, an errant splash scalding her finger.
"Let me carry that, Mam," he offered, moving to pick up the tea tray.
"No, leave it." She lifted it, then set it down again and spun around to face him. "You know the trouble with women who walk out on their families? They're women who walk out on their families. She did it to her own- do you really think she wouldn't do it to yours?" She thrust the tray at him. "Go and take it in to her. You'll probably have to show her how to pour it too." Disgusted, Tom took the tea and walked out; Mrs. Branson sank into a chair and started to cry.