Tom had always enjoyed dancing, but he knew that his favorite part about dancing was holding a pretty lass close. It was the way people danced in Ireland.
Tom wasn't in Ireland anymore he was in England, and tonight he wasn't dancing at the pub at the end of the street, he was dancing at the Annual Servants' ball at Downton.
This was his first Christmas away from home, and he missed his family deeply. It had been years since he had lived at home or gotten to spend Christmas day with his family but it had been nice, knowing they lived nearby. If his employers back in Ireland had no need of his services he could head home and have a meal with his family.
It would have taken him a full day to get to Ireland and another to get back. It had made his holiday season a little lonely, so when he heard about the Servants' ball he decided to go. Tom hated to admit it, but he was enjoying himself. He didn't think he would, but then again it was a dance. He told himself that it would be a boring affair. Probably a bit of chatting and a dance or two but nothing too interesting. He arrived a few minutes into the ball, having gotten lost in a good book. As soon as he arrived he was dragged into a dance with Gwen; she had never been to a dance hall let alone a ball before and was eager to hit the floor. When she pulled him into the dance she had remarked to him, "Sorry if I caught you by surprise, I would have asked William but he already asked Daisy."
Tom liked Gwen. She was young and full of spirit and he considered her a good friend. She had dreams. Gwen wanted to leave servitude and become a secretary. Some of the staff had scoffed at her ambitions but Tom liked her for them. He was a dreamer too and hoped she would go far and follow her dreams of becoming a secretary.
After that, he had danced with Daisy, Anna, Gwen again (the girl loved to dance!), and even Mrs. Hughes.
Tom had been talking to Mr. Bates and Anna when it happened. Anna remarked that this was one of her favorites while looking at Mr. Bates when Lady Sybil had walked over to them.
The three of them gave Lady Sybil a respectful head nod with a polite "Lady Sybil" attached.
They had expected her to smile politely and walked past or to ask for something but she didn't. So the three servants stood there, not knowing what to do or say. Though this ball was thrown for the servants and during this night they were allowed to mix ranks a bit, it was rare when people did mixed ranks. It wasn't that they weren't allowed to talk to her, so to speak, but, unconsciously, everyone had arranged themselves by rank. Servants spoke to servants while the family talked amongst themselves. So suffice to say, none of them knew quite what to do.
After what seemed like an eternity, Anna decided to speak. "Lady Sybil is there anything we can do for you?"
Tom had been about to ask, similar words on the tip of his tongue, when Anna spoke. He was relieved that he was not the one who had to speak. The words would have tasted strange his in mouth, stiff and formal. His words were never like that around her.
Since he had come to Downton Lady Sybil had become a breath of fresh air, a like-minded ally, a friend. He had gotten used to talking to her in a familiar manner, not in an inappropriate manner but familiar in a sense of how he would talk to Anna or Gwen or any friend really.
Tom was brought out of his thoughts by her reply to Anna. Sybil smiled shyly, looking down at her hands, as she said, "Yes actually, Branson" she paused and seemed to take a breath before looking right at him. Smiling sheepishly she continued, "would you like to dance?"
He blinked, sure that his expression showed his surprise but quickly feeling a large grin spread across his face.
"It would be my pleasure, Milady," he bowed a little as he offered her his arm. She smiled back and placed her small hand in the crook of his arm.
They walked to the center of the hall with her hand still resting in the crook of his arm. As he turned towards her his mouth went dry realizing that dancing with Lady Sybil meant touching Lady Sybil. Suddenly the task seemed rather daunting.
Lady Sybil did not seem to think so. With no effort at all she pulled his hand up with hers and to the correct position while placing her other hand on his shoulder. Not wanting to let on about his sudden nerves he placed his hand oh so lightly on her waist. He felt like he was fourteen again, having his first dance. It was with Kathleen Mullan and it had been a disaster. His hands had been sweaty and he kept stepping on her feet. Tom looked up as they began to dance, wondering if she was nervous too. She wasn't. Not wanting to let Lady Sybil have the upper hand, Tom decided to do something he knew he could do: Talk.
"Now correct me if I'm wrong milady, but I thought that a gentleman is supposed to ask a lady to dance- not the other way around."
She grinned at him as she said, "A lady doesn't, but then again you're not a gentleman."
He chuckled at that, remembering the conversation they had a week prior about society and the restriction of social classes. She had laughed when he had stated 'that he was not a gentleman and hoped he never would be.'
"Yes, I suppose you're right Milady."
She laughed and he wondered if there was anything more beautiful than her laugh. He doubted it.
"Well the truth is, Branson, you gave me no choice."
"Did I now?"
"I have been waiting quite some time for you to ask me and since you seem to have no intention of doing so, I had to take matters into my own hands."
Tom's heart started to beat faster, had she been wanting to dance with him as much as he with her? Surely she didn't mean that, with a deep breath he said, "Oh have you now?"
"If you hadn't noticed Branson, there are very few men to dance with."
Tom felt his heart drop into his stomach, and he scorned himself for letting his heart react this way. Of course she didn't. Why would an Earl's daughter want to dance with him?
But he refused to let that sinking feeling, spoil the dance. He chuckle and said "Glad to be of service Milady."
Lady Sybil grinned widely, and he couldn't help but return it.
"Good. Because I plan to dance a good while longer and I'm going to be counting on you to be of-"and she bowed her head a little as it she was embarrassed and laughed, "- of service."
Tom was sure that he was grinning like the Cheshire cat. "And what would you do milady, if, say my services were otherwise engaged?"
Lady Sybil laughed again. Tom wondered if she would laugh like this during her season, when she was dancing with other men, or if this laugh would be his and his alone. She looked at him in that mischievous way she did when she was about to say something rather modern.
"I suppose I'll just have to take matters into my own hands once more," And they both laughed as they spun around the room, not caring that they were getting strange looks. Tom looked down at Lady Sybil's face; her eyes were shining and her cheeks were a little pink from laughing or dancing- he wasn't sure which- and her lips were pulled into a large smile that just wouldn't go away. And as they danced Tom couldn't help but think, 'yes, he very much enjoyed dancing.'