Really unsure how I feel about this chapter - a 1900s Sybil without a 1900s Tom is really hard to write. You will, in the next chapter (which happens to be the last), find out why there isn't a 1900s Tom and I hope it makes sense. For now though, here's the latest instalment - minor spoilers for a major event in 3x03 but I couldn't help it. Please let me know what you think - Enjoy :) x


1919

She can hardly believe what she's hearing as she passes the library on her way upstairs to change for dinner – normally Sybil isn't one for eavesdropping but the conversation her parents are having is one that she can't help but listen in on.

"I hear the Grays are at Lisworth Park again for Christmas," her mother says. "It's been so long since we last saw them.2

"Sybil's ball, I think it was," her father agrees. "He and I have written often, but it would be nice to see them again I suppose."

"We should invite them to the ball in the New Year... if it happens that is."

Sybil's heart feels heavy at this – a dark cloud hangs over Downton as her father's valet and dear friend sits in a prison cell awaiting trial for a murder everyone is convinced he didn't commit. With the trial starting in York in just a few days time, the family had thought it best to decline her aunt's invitation of joining her in London and, truth be told, spending some time with her family is something of a godsend after the hustle and bustle of the war years and having spent the past few Christmases sharing their home with convalescing soldiers, even if she does find herself pining for the days when she had a purpose.

"Their son survived the war, you know," her father continues. "So I suspect we can expect a wedding invitation some time soon."

"Laurence?"

Sybil cringes at the sound of that insufferable prig's name – she can't help but wonder why any woman in her right mind would ever willingly marry Larry Grey .

"They called it off over the summer," her mother says.

"Good," Sybil thinks to herself. "She obviously came to her senses."

"You know, he was always very fond of Sybil."

"Don't," her father warns, obviously seeing where his wife's chain of thought is taking her. "Do you not remember what happened at her ball?"

"I know," replies the Countess. "But they were little more than children back then. War changes people, darling. You only have to look at your own family to see that. It's high time the girls were settled."

The Earl sighs as he admits defeat. "Alright, invite them," he says. "Although I can't say I approve of your matchmaking."

Sybil decides she's heard enough and practically runs upstairs to her room. "I knew this would happen," she thinks to herself as she studies her reflection in the mirror. She had always known that there would be people, her parents included, that would want nothing more than to go back to the way things were before the war. She knows that, if they get their way, then she will lose what little control she still has over her own life once and for all. She can't go back to being that girl again – the doting society daughter who waltzes through the ballrooms of Belgravia dressed to the nines in all her finery in search of a good husband. That girl is long gone and in her place is a woman who has seen and done far too much to ever go back to that old life. She watches as her long dark hair tumbles down in thick waves as she pulls out the many pins holding the intricate style in place. It doesn't take long for her to make her decision. It's a small and somewhat meaningless action, but at least it's something that she herself has power over. Reaching for the magazine she'd pilfered from her sister several days earlier and the scissors she kept in the bottom draw of her dressing table, she grabs hold of a fistful of hair and begins to cut.

-xxx-

2012

From: Órlaith Branson (o_branson98 )
To: Tom Branson (bransont )
Subject: A Novel Idea

I've been thinking – that story you told me about the man in the house, you really should write it. You've got talent, Tom... use it.

Missing you always

Órlaith xxx

From: Tom Branson (bransont )
To: Órlaith Branson (o_branson98 )
Re: A Novel Idea

Ahh, you flatter me a stóirín... but I'm a journalist, not a novelist.

I miss you too

Tom x

From: Órlaith Branson (o_branson98 )
To: Tom Branson (bransont )
Re: A Novel Idea

Really? Because I thought you were just a glorified skivvy :P

From: Tom Branson (bransont )
To: Órlaith Branson (o_branson98 )
Re: A Novel Idea

We're not friends anymore.

From: Órlaith Branson (o_branson98 )
To: Tom Branson (bransont )
Re: A Novel Idea

Love you too.

Tom laughs out loud and shakes his head – he's glad that Órlaith seems to be getting back to her old self. Like him, the girl isn't one to dwell on the past for too long no matter how much grief she may be feeling. She has their mother's strength, their father's warm and loving heart and he just knows that she going to be alright. He'll keep his promise – he'll take her under his wing and she'll thrive and grow into a remarkable young woman. Sitting back in his chair and nibbling on his pen, he wonders if his sister is right – maybe he could pull this off. It's completely different to what he's used to, but he's not afraid of a challenge. Before he can give it a second thought, he's already Googling tutorials on how to write a novel and it isn't long before he's got at least three characters and a basic plot scribbled down on a piece of paper. Lady Louisa Metcalfe is his Lady Sybil immortalised in the written word and Toby Jenkins isn't him as such, but the man he wishes he could be...

A man who is the perfect blend of Órlaith and his father.

"I didn't have you down as being much of novelist," Gwen says as she finds him working in the old drawing room.

"Nor did I," he laughs. "But my little sister is incredibly persuasive."

"What's it about?"

"I don't know yet," he replies. "Well, not entirely. Órlaith thinks I have some kind of gift... a talent that I'm wasting."

Gwen smiles. "Well, I expect a mention in the acknowledgements for all the cups of tea I've ever made you. Now, come on Shakespeare, we're all going to the pub."

"Shakespeare wrote plays, not novels."

"Whatever."

-xxx-

1920

Alright, she admits it.

Larry Grey is a changed man.

That still doesn't mean she likes him though – she'll make polite conversation with him and dance with him when he asks, but that's about it.

"Sybil, dear," her grandmother says. "Can't you do something about your hair? You look like an Amazonian woman... it's positively wild."

"You say that like it's a bad thing," she replies. "The Amazons were remarkable women. An entire culture that thrived without the need for men to tell them how to govern their lives... I think we could learn a thing or two from them. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I need some air."

Stunned by her granddaughter's retort, the Dowager Countess purses her lips as she turns to her daughter-in-law sitting beside her.

"That girl needs a husband," she says. "Young men are in short supply these days and if we don't move quickly then all the good ones will be gone."

"I quite agree," replies the Countess. "You know Sybil as well as I do and I fear that she's so much like her sister... she'd never marry anyone we threw at her."

"My dear," the Dowager replies. "None of us really know Sybil... and that is perhaps the thing that worries me most."

She steps outside, shivering in the freezing January air and smiles as she watches the flurry of snow falling around her. As much as this life frustrates her sometimes, even she has to admit that there's nothing more beautiful than Downton in a snowstorm.

She's suddenly enveloped by warmth as a jacket is draped over her shoulders. At first, she thinks that it belongs to her cousin, but then she remembers that he'd been rather preoccupied dancing with her sister – oh, when were those two going to admit the truth and just be together like they were destined. If it isn't him then she knows who it is and suddenly she finds herself contemplating whether frostbite would be a more preferable option.

"It's a beautiful night," he says. "But one which pales in comparison to your beauty."

Sybil smiles awkwardly. "You flatter me, Mr Grey."

"Oh really, Sybil," he chuckles. "I thought we were on first name basis a long time ago."

"We were," she agrees. "Before you lied to me in an attempt to seduce me and make me look like a fool at my own ball when your fiancée arrived unannounced."

"Hettie and I have long since ended things," he continues, moving to stand in front of her and running a frozen finger down her cheek. "I realised my mistakes. I realised that it was you I wanted all along."

She quirks an eyebrow. "Is that so?"

"I like a challenge," he says. "There are some who say that I'm mad to try to attempt to tame such a free spirit but, given time, I think you'll make a wonderful wife and we can forget all about this silly suffragette nonsense."

Sybil pulls back from him and stares at him in utter disgust. "How dare you!" she says. "How dare you treat me like some prize to be won or some sort of experiment. I can't even believe you'd have the audacity to even assume that you could ever be the kind of man I'd want to marry. I shouldn't have to marry a man who expects me to change who I am for him and if that means that I'm destined to be a spinster for the rest of my days then so be it." She yanks his jacket off her shoulders and practically throws it back in his face. "Good evening, Mr Grey," she says haughtily before heading back towards the house, turning to him one last time just to deal her final blow. "Oh and, one more thing," she says. "It still is and always will be Lady Sybil to you!"

And, just like that, she realises that while she may not need a man in her life, she's absolutely certain that she's in love with one who isn't born for another seventy years.

-xxx-

He won't see her tonight.

It's close to two in the morning when they finally arrive back from the pub and all he wants to do is to crawl into bed and sleep for the next few days. His mind, however, seems to have other ideas. He can't explain why he's doing it, but he finds himself searching the internet for a family tree of the House of Grantham.

Grantham Group

"My parents are the Earl and Countess of Grantham."

Impossible.

Completely impossible.

At first glance, the same names appear over and over again across the generations like some sort of family tradition – there are Roberts and Marys, Violets, Ediths, Patricks and James'.

And, of course, Sybils.

He traces the line back – the Robert Crawley that he works for is the grandson of the youngest son of the seventh earl. The seventh earl married the eldest daughter of the sixth earl.

"Christ this is complicated," he thinks to himself and scratches his head. "And is that even legal?"

And that's when he finds her. The youngest sister of the seventh earl's wife.

Sybil
b. 1898
d. 1978

What he's seeing on the page before him is like a knife through his heart and never once has he ever found himself questioning his own sanity as much as he's doing in this moment...

He's in love with a woman who has been dead for over thirty years.

-xxx-

1920

"You're sad," he says to her as she cuddles up to his chest, her fingers toying with the buttons of his shirt.

She nods and feels ever so slightly better when he kisses the top of her head. She had never been so happy to see him. Today his presence is a welcome reprieve from the heartache she feels inside the house.

"She's so hurt," she mutters, fighting against the tears that threaten to spill again. "I just can't believe he did that... at the altar of all places!"

He says nothing, just sits there and listens as she pours her heart out to him.

"I like your hair," he smiles after several moments of silence. "I've been meaning to tell you but we've been otherwise occupied."

She runs a hand through her newer, shorter style and laughs. "I did it at Christmas," she tells him. "It caused quite the scandal."

"I bet it did."

Giggling, she leans up and kisses him before getting an idea. He whimpers slightly at the loss of contact as she pulls away and gets to her feet. "When I was younger, we used to go swimming in this lake all the time during the summer months. Our parents put a stop to it as we got older though... they said that it wasn't appropriate behaviour for young Ladies."

Tom cocks and eyebrow and leans back against the tree – their tree – unable to suppress his grin. "Something tells me you don't really care about what's deemed appropriate behaviour."

"Absolutely not," she smiles and, loosening the fastenings of her dress, lets the lilac and white lace material fall to the floor and pool at her feet. "Because life would be awfully boring otherwise."

Tom's jaw drops – in her chemise and stockings, she's wearing considerably more modest clothing than about ninety-percent of the girls he had encountered on nights out in Liverpool during his university days, but there's just something about this entire scenario that he finds incredibly... erotic. The way she stands there in front of him, so bold and empowered – a woman so very ahead of her time – makes him feel as though his heart is about to burst from the sheer amount of love it holds for her. It may have only been a matter of days in his world but, deep down inside, it feels as though he's known her for the six years it's been for her.

The next thing she does astounds him further – pulling off her stockings, she discards them in a pile alongside her dress and plunges into the lake with an excitable scream.

"Well, are you coming?"

"I will be in a minute if you carry on like this!" he thinks to himself and, pushing all (alright, most) of the vulgarity out of his mind, he strips down to his boxers and joins her in the water.

"Fuck, it's cold!" The expletive leaves his mouth before he can even think about stopping it.

Sybil giggles and swims towards him. "You'll get used to it," she says, wrapping her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist almost instinctively.

"I'm sure I will," he grins and it isn't long before they're kissing again. "What happened to you?" he thinks to himself. "What kind of life did you have in nineteen-seventy-eight? Were you happy? Were you loved? Because you are now... so very much."

Sybil's thoughts too are absolutely racing. She knows where this is going – she knows where she wants it to go – and nothing has ever felt more right. "Control your own life, Sybil... know what it is like to love and be loved in return. Know what it is like to live." She sighs his name as she pushes his sopping wet hair out of his eyes and moves his hand to rest upon her breast, right over her heart. "Please," she whispers.

Pulling back from her slightly, he searches her face for any sign of doubt or uncertainty. Finding none, he kisses her tenderly, lovingly, and somehow manages to pull the chemise up over her head and toss it behind him onto the grass with the rest of their clothing.

He knows what she's asking of him and he knows that they probably shouldn't, but he's fallen under her spell and he's powerless to stop it. He loves her with every fibre of his being and he wants nothing more than to show her just how much she means to him.

-xxx-

Basking in the warm summer sunlight with a beautiful woman sleeping in his arms, Tom hasn't felt this happy or content in such a long time. Smiling, he runs a finger across her cheek and takes a moment to appreciate the length of her bare legs and how wonderful his shirt looks on her, recalling how the supple flesh it covered had writhed underneath him and her moans of pleasure had sounded like music to his ears.

She wriggles in his arms as she starts to wake up, stretching her limbs to try and alleviate some of the aches in her muscles caused by their earlier activities.

"Hmm... hello," she smiles. "This is nice."

"Very nice," he agrees before kissing her softly.

She grows pensive for a moment after they pull apart and looks straight into his eyes with absolute sincerity. "Have you... I mean... have you done that with many women?"

With a sigh, he nods – he can't exactly lie to her now. "There have been... a few," he says. "Things are different in my time though. It's far more socially acceptable."

"What about for women?"

"For women too."

Sybil looks at him and smiles. "I think I'd like that... being able to do this without shame or being led to believe that it was nothing more than a wifely duty because that isn't how it felt at all. It was actually quite wonderful... for the most part." She squeals with delight as he catches her off guard and rolls on top of her again, lavishing her neck and jaw with open-mouthed kisses. "Tom," she protests. "Tom we can't. I want to... God, I want to so much... but I have to get back to change for dinner."

"Well in that case then," he smirks. "I'm going to need my shirt back."


Next Chapter: "Find the sad girl, Tom," she sobs. "The one I saw all those years ago. Find her if you can and make her happy. Please... for me."