So I promised another update soon and here it is! And things are getting angsty. Thank you again for reading and I hope you enjoy this update. I want to dedicate it actually to Shrike176, who mentioned in her review that she was a bit worried about Sybil leaving Tom alone with Carson after Carson pointed a gun at him ;o) well, you'll find out what happens here! THANKS FOR READING!


Chapter Forty-Five

"Chills"

She had said that she was going to check on Matthew, and Sybil had every intention of doing so.

…Just after she first checked on Tom.

She knew she should feel guilty for the unspoken accusation Mary had left at her feet (Matthew was hurt, and she wasn't there to help him), and a part of her did feel bad for not being there to help when it was needed. But she couldn't think about that right now, the image of Carson, holding a gun to the Irishman was burned in her memory, and even though she trusted Mrs. Hughes, trusted her more than anybody else under that roof when it came to intervening with Carson (not even Mary had that power, Sybil was convinced), she still needed to see him, to truly convince herself that he was alright (and that he was still there).

Why on earth had her father banished him!? What was he thinking!? But that's just it, a voice in her head reasoned. He's not thinking; he's terrified for Mama. They all were, and Sybil felt another pang of guilty at the back of her mind take a nip at her for not pausing to think about her mother, and how she was faring now. And a cold shiver ran down her spine as she recalled the words Edith had spoken, just now in the drawing room, as well as in the car when Tom drove them away from the village.

"She's not in the house…"

When Edith had muttered those words to her, Sybil blinked, completely confused by her sister's declaration.

"What…what do you mean she's 'not in the house'?"

"She's not there, Sybil! The room that Mrs. Hughes had prepared and set aside for Mama…she wasn't there! The bed wasn't even turned down!"

Sybil's brow furrowed. "Well…maybe you had the wrong room—?"

"Sybil—"

"I wouldn't put it past Papa to say Mama would be in one room, while having her in another; it's his way of controlling things and…thinking that he's 'protecting us'," she muttered, somewhat bitterly. "Wait—how did you know what room she was in?"

Edith groaned and rolled her eyes. "I followed Papa! Or at least I followed him for as long as I could without him seeing me."

"And you saw him go into this room?"

"Sybil," Edith groaned, irritably. "You're not listening!"

"I'm trying to, but it's all rather confusing, Edith—"

"I checked the other rooms!" Edith hissed. "The entire East Wing!" she gripped Sybil's hand then, and her dark eyes held Sybil's gaze; she didn't dare blink. "She's not in the house."

It made no sense. None of it. After that speech her father gave, after telling all of them to stay away, even the servants…

Had it all been a ruse of some kind?

Sybil swallowed, not exactly sure what to think. Why would their father lie about their mother? Why would he move her from the house, and why would Dr. Clarkson allow such a thing? Something wasn't adding up; either Edith was greatly mistaken, or…or…

Sybil stopped, and leaned against the rail of the staircase she had begun to descend, that would take her down to the Servant's Hall where she assumed Tom was being kept. She closed her eyes and tried to catch her breath, the pain in her ankle irritating her greatly, and the questions in her mind causing a headache to throb. Tom…right now, she needed to see him. She would come back to her questions later, but right now, she needed to make sure all truly was well. And stop Carson from sending him away.

"Lady Sybil?"

Sybil looked over her shoulder, at the face of Thomas, who was descending the stairs just a few feet above. "Nurse Crawley," he corrected, which did bring a small smile to Sybil's lips. Thomas was the only person at Downton who still addressed Sybil so.

"What happened?" he asked, his brow furrowed as he approached her. "You're…you're limping."

Sybil gritted her teeth and nodded her head. "I sprained it, back in the village," she explained.

Thomas' eyes widened. "You should be in bed, resting—"

"And I will, all in good time," she assured him, more to stop him from "helping her" back up the stairs. "But right now, I need to find Mr. Branson."

Thomas stiffened at the mention of the Irishman's name. "He's back?" he asked, his expression wary.

Sybil sighed, recalling the animosity between the two men (how could she have forgotten?) "Yes, Mr. Branson is back," she confirmed.

Thomas' frown only deepened. "I thought he'd gone? Took his Lordship's car and ran away?"

It was Sybil's turn to frown. "No, he didn't 'run away', nor did he take Papa's car—I was helping him look for his brother," she explained, to which Thomas stiffened again at the mention of Kieran.

"And, um…" he swallowed and looked at her warily. "Did you find him?"

She wished that they had, but clearly, Thomas was hoping for the opposite. "No, Thomas, we did not."

As she had suspected, the former first footman's shoulders seemed to sag with relief at this revelation. He even smiled at her, though that smile quickly faded. "So…so you said that Mr. Branson is back?"

Sybil sighed and nodded her head, before turning away from the staff sergeant and continuing her descent. "Where are you going?" Thomas asked, before hurrying down the remaining steps that kept them separated.

"I already told you," Sybil answered, gritting her teeth through the pain.

"Nurse Crawley, you really shouldn't—"

"Thomas," Sybil interrupted, giving the man a look of annoyance. He was blocking her way now, and was giving her a stern expression of his own. "Kindly step aside," she ordered.

"No," Thomas refused. He wouldn't dare speak to any other member of her family like this, but during the War, the two of them had stopped seeing each other as "mistress and servant" and more as medical colleagues, equal unto each other. The consequence of this being that, he had developed an annoying habit of standing up to her when he thought she was wrong.

Sybil met his eyes, and without blinking, all but growled, "Please step out of my way, Sgt. Barrow."

Thomas didn't budge. "Why are you bothering with someone like him?" he asked, making a face as he spoke the words. Sybil's eyes widened in shock. "I mean, you could do so much better; don't waste your time on—"

Sybil pushed past him, refusing to listen to another word. "Hey!" Thomas called after her, recovering from the near stumble she had given him from her motions. He recovered and was chasing after her, but Sybil didn't stop, if anything, she increased her pace and fought through the pain every step was giving her.

"Lady Sybil—"

"Thomas, I swear, if you try to stop me—"

"I'm not going to," he muttered, before earning a gasp from Sybil when bent his body to offer her his shoulder to lean on and help remove some of the weight from her ankle. "Even if I did, you'd more than likely push me down the stairs."

Sybil had to bite her lip to keep from smiling. She didn't care one bit for the words Thomas had uttered against Tom, but he was still her friend, or so she wanted to believe.

"Thank you," she murmured, and she genuinely meant it.

Thomas just rolled his eyes, but Sybil thought she saw the trace of a smile curl at the end on one side of his mouth. They didn't speak anymore after that, he simply helped her the rest of the way to the bottom, but beyond that, did not go any further. Which was fine with Sybil; she could maneuver herself more easily on even ground and she didn't need Thomas hovering over her shoulder as she spoke to Tom (and she would speak to him because he had to be there).

"Lady Sybil!" a voice gasped as she came around a corner, and Sybil recognized it to be Miss Swire. She smiled at Lavinia, who in turn was staring at her in surprise. "I um…" Lavinia glanced to the stairs Sybil had just descended from. "I saw you upstairs…I thought you were with Lady Mary—"

"I was," Sybil cut in, anxious to set formalities and any other questions aside and find Tom. "Forgive me, Lavinia, but…have you seen Mr. Branson?"

Lavinia frowned in confusion. "No…no, I've not, I mean, he hasn't entered the house—"

"At all!?" Sybil cut in again, panic rising at the possibility that despite Mrs. Hughes' reassurance that all would be well, Carson had made good on her father's instruction to "banish Branson".

"No…" Lavinia looked over her shoulder, back towards the kitchens where Mrs. Patmore and Daisy's rather loud "whispered" voices could be heard. "But I believe Daisy saw him standing outside, not too far from the garage."

Sybil's heart leapt to her throat. "How long ago was this?"

"Not that long," Lavinia answered honestly. "But I don't know if he's still there—"

"Thank you!" Sybil was already hobbling towards the door that would lead her outside, to the door she often used when she would go and tend to the graves. She didn't care if Mrs. Patmore or Daisy, or even Carson for that matter saw her. If anyone tried to stop her, she would run them over, hobbling feet and all.

Thankfully, it didn't come to that. She reached the door and as soon as it creaked open, she could hear two familiar voices arguing, though she had never heard the two speak with such a level of passion before; was this really Carson and Mrs. Hughes?

"You heard what his Lordship said! You were standing right there!"

"His Lordship was upset, but I'm sure if he were thinking calmly and clearly—"

"Why are you defending him so?" Carson demanded. "We hardly know the man! He could be some kind of…of…of Irish terrorist, planning on blowing all of us up while we sleep!"

"Oh, Mr. Carson, really!" Mrs. Hughes groaned. "You're being irrational!"

"Am I!?" he argued.

"Yes!" Mrs. Hughes fired back. "He saved Lady Sybil's life, or have you forgotten?"

Sybil didn't have to see Carson's face to know that Mrs. Hughes had brought back a sore memory of when he had "failed" to shoot the Walker that had invaded the orchard and attacked Edith and Daisy.

"One good deed does not outweigh a lifetime of sin," Carson muttered under his breath.

"Lifetime of sin!?" Mrs. Hughes sputtered. "What sin? We don't know anything about Mr. Branson's past—"

"Precisely!" Carson hissed. "So why defend the man? He clearly has no regard for rules, he took his Lordship's car without asking, and then took Lady Sybil!"

"She went with him," Mrs. Hughes groaned. "And quite willingly, it seems."

This part was spoken under the housekeeper's breath, and Sybil couldn't help but blush deeply at the insinuation. Thankfully, Carson hadn't seemed to hear.

"Then he should have brought her back!" he growled. "And need I remind you, Mrs. Hughes, that Mr. Branson has also previously endangered Lady Sybil's life?"

Sybil swallowed at Carson's accusation. No doubt he was referring to the time when both she and Tom had fought off an entire horde of Walkers at the petrol station. But like today, and as Mrs. Hughes insinuated, she had insisted on going with him, practically begging him to "tag along".

She made a face at the words her mind had come up with, but at the same time…she couldn't deny that she had been responsible for putting herself in danger…and likewise, she was the one responsible for getting Tom into trouble.

"Let's wait for his Lordship to return before anything is decided," Mrs. Hughes attempted to reason, her voice sounding tired. Sybil waited for Carson to argue otherwise, to refer once again to her father's instructions on banishing Branson, but instead, the Downton butler's voice became soft, and was filled with concern.

"Mrs. Hughes, are you unwell?"

Sybil swallowed and dared sneak a glance behind the crates she was hiding to catch a glimpse of the pair.

"I'm fine," Mrs. Hughes insisted, taking a step away from Carson, who had placed a concerned hand on the woman's shoulder. Sybil noticed that Mrs. Hughes was rubbing her temples, as if she were trying to relieve a headache.

She couldn't see Mrs. Hughes' face, but she could see Carson's, and Sybil was struck by the change in the man's demeanor. As a child, she sometimes found Carson to be quite intimidating, and it was rare that she had seen the man smile (though Mary could always manage to bring one out). She certainly had never witnessed a "softer side", as she was seeing now. But really, was it all that surprising? After all these years of working together, it was only natural that a closeness would develop.

Carson did seem genuinely sorry, and murmured in a soft voice, "I do not like quarrelling with you, Mrs. Hughes."

Mrs. Hughes gave a weary sigh, and Sybil even thought she had heard what sounded like a sniffle. "Neither do I, Mr. Carson, neither do I."

Silence passed between the pair, and Sybil wasn't sure what to do. Make her presence known and ask where Tom had gone? Or try and find him on her own? Lavinia had said he had last been seen near the garage, perhaps he was—

"Mr. Carson!" Daisy's voice gasped not too far away from Sybil, and she pressed herself further into the shadows so she wouldn't be seen. "Mr. Carson, his Lordship is back!"

Sybil's heart leapt from her chest into her throat at this announcement. If it was true, that her father had ordered for Tom's banishment, then whatever time she had left was limited. She needed to plead his case, to convince her father to take back his original order, but most importantly of all, she needed to find Tom and speak to him herself!

"Thank you, Daisy," Carson replied, his stern demeanor returning once again. He turned to Mrs. Hughes and with his back straight and head up, muttered, "Come along, best to inform his Lordship of this…latest development."

Mrs. Hughes snorted, which seemed to shock Carson. "Latest development," she muttered, repeating what Carson had said. "You simply want to use me as a scapegoat if he becomes angry that you didn't show Mr. Branson on sight."

Carson looked genuinely shocked by her accusation. "Mrs. Hughes! I would never—"

"Oh, wouldn't you?"

Despite the tender moment the two of them seemed to have shared, Mrs. Hughes seemed quite angry and irritated with the Downton butler, and before Carson could say another word, she had stormed off towards the Servant's entrance, leaving the man to stand there and stare after her in utter surprise, before quickly following and muttering as he went, "Well, his Lordship WILL demand an explanation!"

Sybil waited, pausing for two heartbeats, before finally emerging from the shadows and moving quickly across the drive towards the garage where Tom had last been seen. A light was on, that much she could tell from the dirty windows; her hand wrapped around the door handle and she tugged—

Nothing. It didn't open.

She tugged again, harder than before, and her eyes widened as she realized it was locked. And the only reason she could fathom to why it was locked—

"Tom!?" she called, trying to keep her voice low, but wanting him to hear her. She shook the door again, hoping at the very least that that would alert him to her presence. "Tom!?" she called again.

"Sybil!?"

Oh thank God! A long, shaky breath escaped her lungs then. He was still there, he was still alive!

"Tom! I can't open the—"

"They locked me in here," he muttered, and though she couldn't see his face, she could imagine a wry smile spreading across his lips at the situation.

Sybil bit her lip and looked back over her shoulder at the house. Mrs. Hughes would have the key (she had a key to everything) but no doubt Carson was keeping an extra close eye on that particular key, and if there was an extra somewhere, she didn't know where it might be (and she wouldn't put it past Carson to already have his hands on it, too).

"Is there…?" Sybil began looking around the garage. "Are there any loose boards? Or have you tried one of the windows?"

"I hadn't," Tom answered, "but mainly because they were standing just outside; I could hear them arguing."

Sybil wondered if Tom had heard the same argument she had. She wondered what his thoughts were on the exchange between the butler and housekeeper. But then he probably didn't give the matter much thought, as no doubt his mind was preoccupied on other things.

Sybil looked at the few windows in the garage, grimacing at how small most of them were…save one near the back. "Go to that back window—on your left!" she instructed through the door. "Do you think you can climb out of it?"

"Aye," he answered after a moment. "Stand back," he told her, and Sybil nodded her head, then rolled her eyes at herself, before turning and glancing nervously once again at the house. She couldn't see the front drive from here, but she knew that if her father truly wanted to, he could simply have Sir Richard drive his car around and confront them then and there.

"Hurry," Sybil hissed. "Papa's back, and—OH!" she gasped when a shower of glass went spraying to the ground. She looked back at the window and saw what looked like a hammer being used to knock out the remaining shards. "Careful!" she whispered, both for fear that someone might have heard, as well as for fear that might cut himself in the process of climbing out.

He threw something over the edge of the window—it looked like, of all things, the old chauffeur's livery jacket Pratt had worn all those years. After the jacket had been placed, she saw Tom's hands grasp the windowsill and held her breath as she watched him hoist himself up, his head emerging from the window first, and then…

Tom frowned. "This is going to be a tight fit," he grumbled, and Sybil bit her lip as she watched him struggle to get his shoulders through the frame. A hiss of pain escaped his lips as one of his shoulders scraped the edge of the window. But he didn't stop; he kept pushing himself forward, sliding his chest across the jacket before he finally managed to get both of his shoulders through.

Sybil kicked away the broken shards of glass on the ground, and then reached forward, as if offering her hands for him to hold onto as he pulled the rest of himself free. He smiled at her offer, but warned her to step out of his way for fear that he might collapse on top of her in his efforts to escape. There are worst things, she couldn't but think, and then instantly blushed at the thought.

It was not a graceful landing, despite Tom's efforts to hold onto the sill for as long as possible. He had emerged headfirst, and his body did a bit of a flip as he attempted to push his hips and legs through the broken window, causing him to do a rather unceremonious somersault, before collapsing on the ground in a thud. Still, he quickly scrambled to his feet and groaned as he straightened his body, Sybil rushing to his side then and inspecting the cut on his shoulder.

"It's nothing," Tom assured.

"I'm the nurse, not you," she muttered, her eyes on the task, and ignoring the cheeky grin that had spread across his face. "It's not deep, but at the same time, it needs to be cleaned—those windows are filthy, and you don't want dirt getting into—"

"Sybil…"

She lifted her eyes in surprise, not because he had spoken, but because of his tone. There was a warning to it, a graveness, and she didn't like it one bit.

Tom looked at her for a moment, and then his eyes fell to the ground between them. He hadn't said anything further, but he didn't need to, she knew what he was thinking and she was already shaking her head in protest.

His gaze fixed on her ankle and he began to tut. "You shouldn't be out here—"

"Tom—"

"Your ankle is going to swell like a balloon if you don't rest—"

"Oh, hang my ankle!" Sybil groaned in frustration, knowing exactly what he was trying to do—distract her from the obvious. "Are you actually thinking about leaving!?"

There, she had done it, she had voiced the metaphorical "elephant". Tom sighed and lifted his eyes to hers. "Maybe it's for the best—"

"THE BEST!?" Sybil sputtered. She couldn't believe she was hearing this! She staggered backwards, staring at him as if he were a complete stranger. In many ways, he was! "This afternoon you all but…but…but begged me to come with you!"

Tom groaned and ran one of his hands through his tousled hair, causing his fringe to fall across his brow. Oh, how her fingers itched to brush it away, or rather, to simply touch his hair, but now was hardly the time.

"I shouldn't have done that," he whispered, though it sounded as if he were speaking more to himself than to her.

Sybil's heart plummeted at his words. She recalled the near-argument they had had earlier, when in a moment of frustration and hopelessness over finding his brother, he had asked her to leave Downton and join him on his journey to York. The request had stunned her at the time, and while a part of her dearly wanted to say yes, for the simple reason that she didn't want to be separated from him, she knew that she couldn't, certainly not while her mother was recovering. But even then, even if her mother wasn't sick, could she do it? Could she just…up and leave her family like that?

She honestly didn't know; it was not a decision one should make lightly. And yet now, hearing him whisper those words, that he shouldn't have asked her to come with him, after murmuring that it was for the best that he leave…it felt like a douse of cold water in her face.

Sybil swallowed, her eyes staring back at him, stinging with unshed tears. She tried to gather her courage to ask her next question, though she dreaded the answer. "Do you…do you want to leave?"

She saw the muscle in his jaw flex, and his Adam's apple bob in his throat for a moment, before he lifted his eyes back to hers. "I want to find my brother," he whispered.

His brother; his brother who…for all intents and purposes, was no longer in the village, at least as far as they could tell. His brother, to whom his loyalty lay deeper—it always had. After all, hadn't he said as much when he first arrived on their doorstep? That the two of them had been separated and he needed to find him, but that they had formed a plan in the event of a separation, which had always been York. Go to York; they would find each other again.

Perhaps…if this had been several days ago, this understanding that they would soon be parting ways, wouldn't hurt as deeply?

Perhaps, even two days ago, she could believe that he would go to York, find Kieran, and then come back?

But after kissing him for the first time, after falling asleep in his arms, after fighting beside him, after hearing him shout, while she dangled over a broken hole filled with hungry walkers, that he wasn't going to lose another person whom he loved…

It was unbearable, the thought of him leaving, the thought of never seeing him again. And she knew that was what was going to happen. The moment he left, she would never see him again. Because why else would he beg her to leave Downton and come with him? Only now…he was taking that all back. And she felt her heart shatter at the reality.

She staggered a second time, but he reached out to steady her, his hand catching her elbow. Sybil sucked in a breath and lifted her eyes once more to his…and then felt fire and rage flood her chest.

She all but yanked her arm out of his grasp. "Then I suppose it's just as well," she muttered, her tone bitter and angry. "Papa's banishment couldn't have come at a better time."

Tom's eyes widened briefly…and then they narrowed, and despite the darkness around them, she could see fire and anger glowing in their depths.

"That's not fair," he growled. "I don't deserve that."

She stuck out her chin. "Don't you?" she challenged.

"I made a promise to my brother!" he hissed. "I promised him that should anything happen—"

"I know!" she interrupted. "God, I…WE ALL KNOW!" she threw her hands up into the air in frustration. "You remind us all regularly! And yet…here you remain…"

Tom was taken aback by her words, and Sybil knew from the pained look on his face that she had struck a nerve. Good! Later she would feel regret for saying these things, but right now she was just so angry with him, that a horrible part of her just wanted him to hurt as much as she was hurting.

"I honestly don't know why you've stayed for as long as you have," she muttered, wrapping her arms around herself. She didn't look at him as she spoke these words; she didn't want to be reminded of what he had said earlier. "It's not like we need you…"

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see him stiffen, and she heard him take in a heavy breath through his mouth, before releasing it from his nostrils, like a bull ready to charge.

"I suppose not…" he whispered, his voice so cold that Sybil couldn't help but shiver at the sound. "Well…" he turned around and grabbed hold of the livery jacket that was still dangling in the window, and with a tug, freed it and tucked it under his arm. "I'll be on my way then."

Oh God, he really was going to leave! Sybil watched with wide eyes as he turned toward the woods of all places, and all he seemed to be holding was that bloody livery jacket! "Tom!" she called after him. He paused, but he didn't turn back to face her. "You…you can't just go like that!"

A sound of cold amusement escaped his lips then as he looked over his shoulder at her.

She ignored the look and made a gesture to the jacket that he held. "You have no weapon! No…no supplies!"

He looked down at himself and the jacket before returning her gaze and giving a dismissive shrug of his shoulders.

Her eyes widened even further. "Tom!"

"WHAT DO YOU CARE!?" he hissed, turning around and confronting her. "I thought you wanted me gone!?"

No, she didn't want him to leave, she wanted the exact opposite. But HE wanted to leave, and while a part of her understood why, the other part of her just couldn't bear it, and she hated that he didn't seem to care, or that it didn't seem to bother him as deeply as it bothered her.

He started to advance upon her then, and Sybil stumbled backwards once more, but he kept coming. "What do you want, Sybil?" he growled. "What do you want from me?"

Traitorous tears were streaming down her cheeks. Tell him, tell him what's in your heart.

Her breath caught when he was suddenly right in front of her, and her heart stilled when she felt his fingers, warm and tender, touch one of her tear-stained cheeks. Despite her best efforts, she couldn't look away, her eyes met his and the anger she had seen there just moments ago was gone, replaced, it seemed, with the same anguish with which she was feeling.

"What do you want…?" he repeated again, his voice an urgent whisper. Sybil leaned her head into his hand, and a shaky sigh escaped her lips at the feel of his thumb brushing away one of her tears. She looked back at him and then her eyes fell to his lips, and his did the same. Tell him, tell him now before he leaves! Tell him that you love—

"SYBIL!"

She stiffened at the voice shouting from behind her. She swallowed and turned her head slightly, though Tom's hand had yet to fall away from her cheek. If anything…he seemed to be stepping closer to her.

"Get away from him!"

Sybil closed her eyes and groaned, cursing the man who had interrupted them. "Go away, Larry," she all but growled, but she knew it was hopeless. Despite the kinder side he had shown her earlier, this "possessive" and interfering side of him was the man she remembered, and the man who approached them with angry determination.

"Step away from her!" Larry ordered, ignoring Sybil now and focusing entirely on Tom. Tom's hand fell away from her cheek, but he didn't exactly ease away from her, at least not to the distance Larry clearly desired.

"Go back inside, Sybil," Larry muttered, never taking his eyes off Tom.

Sybil groaned and turned fully to face Larry, then gasped when she realized he was holding a pistol and pointing it directly at Tom. "Larry, put the gun down—"

"Go back inside, Sybil!" Larry repeated, his tone rising as he cocked the gun and aimed it at Tom's head.

"Larry, put the gun down!" Sybil shouted, her voice becoming hysterical. Why were there so many people determined to aim guns at him this evening?

"Do as she says," Tom growled, his eyes dark and cold and eerily calm. The exact opposite to how she was feeling.

Larry laughed (laughed!) and moved the pistol even closer. "I hardly think you're in a position to give orders," he muttered. "And you shouldn't talk back to your betters."

Tom cocked an eyebrow at this, before answering, "I wasn't."

The arrogant smile that Larry had been wearing melted completely, and he growled before threatening to shove the barrel of the pistol into Tom's forehead, but Sybil hissed a third time, "Larry, put the gun down NOW!"

Larry gritted his teeth, his eyes never leaving Tom, who continued to gaze back Larry in such an unnerving manner that it sent a shiver down Sybil's spine. Larry didn't lower the gun…but he did take a step back, and then reached out and grabbed her by the elbow with his free hand. "Come on," he growled. "It isn't safe out here."

Wasn't safe for whom? She tried to shake Larry's grip off her arm, but he only tightened his hold before starting to haul her back towards the house.

"Ouch!" Sybil groaned, both from the rough way his hand was tugging at her arm, as well as the rough movement on the ground and the effects it was having on her ankle. She squirmed and wriggled, but Larry's grip remained firm and unyielding. "Larry…" she hissed, "Larry, let go!"

"Not until you're safely inside and away from this madman," Larry growled back, his eyes still on Tom.

Sybil rolled her eyes and tried to free herself once again, but Larry's grip only tightened and he began to tug her a little harder and faster, practically causing Sybil to trip and stumble. "Ouch! Larry, stop it! You're hurting me, let me go!"

Larry turned his head away from Tom in that brief moment to look at her (or perhaps to snarl at her to "shut up" and move faster), but that had been Larry's mistake, because suddenly another hand was gripping her arm, or rather, Tom's hand was on top of Larry's, his fingers wrapping around Larry's wrist in a threatening manner, before warning, "let her go."

Larry's eyes widened, but his grip on Sybil's elbow only seemed to tighten, causing her to wince.

Something that did not go unnoticed by Tom.

"Let her go," he repeated, his voice lower and his accent thicker than she had ever heard it. "I'll not repeat myself again."

What was so chilling was the calmness with which he spoke. He didn't blink either, and it occurred to Sybil how both now with Larry, and earlier with Carson, when both men had a gun aimed at him, Tom didn't flinch or cower or bat an eye. He was perfectly calm, and seemed unafraid…as if he knew something they didn't.

Sybil swallowed. "Larry," she entreated. "Do as he—"

"Who do you think you are?" Larry barked, ignoring Sybil and glaring back at Tom. He sneered at Tom, and gave him a dismissive "once over" with his eyes, before chuckling to himself as if he found the sight of the Irishman comical. Larry was a good foot taller than Tom, and like most men who were taller than others, seemed to assume this gave them an advantage to their opponent.

But Tom made up for his lack of height with muscle. He was much broader across the shoulders, chest, and back, compared to Larry, and while she wouldn't doubt Larry could be a formidable foe, she had seen Tom fight, even seen him kill. And he wasn't a man to waste his time with words…

"Well?" Larry demanded, looking at Tom with annoyance. "I asked you a question!"

Tom's tilted his head slightly to the left. "And I told you to let her go."

Larry rolled his eyes. "Do you know who I am? Who my father is?" But before an answer could be given, Larry carried on. "Your superior, that's what! And you're just a 'grubby little chauffeur'—"

"LARRY!"

"—that clearly needs to be reminded of his plaAAAAAAH!"

Larry never got to finish his sentence. His voice became a howl of pain as Tom, moving faster than Sybil had ever seen him move, lashed out, grasping Larry's arm, the one that was holding the gun. He twisted Larry's wrist, the gun immediately falling from his fingers, but that wasn't all. The disarming movement also caused Larry's body to twist until he was down on his knees, his back now to Tom, his elbow helplessly folded behind his back, but he didn't dare wrench it free, because he was very much in danger of having his shoulder dislocated, or his arm broken. And Tom knew it.

The power had shifted.

"LET ME GO! LET ME GO!" Larry wailed, his other arm flailing for something, anything, the hand that had been clutching Sybil letting her go the instant Tom began twisting his arm. "PLEASE!" Larry begged, and Sybil's eyes widened as she saw tears of pain roll down his cheeks.

Tom was unmoved. "Why?" he growled. "You didn't let go of Sybil when she cried out in pain."

"PLEASE!" Larry sobbed. "SYBIL! SYBIL, HELP ME! PLEASE!"

Sybil took a trembling breath and turned to Tom, her own eyes flooding with tears. "Let him go, Tom, please." She wasn't begging or crying because she pitied him, but she couldn't stand hearing his painful whimpers, like an animal suffering in a trap.

She didn't have to repeat herself. Tom let go of Larry, who crumpled to the ground, panting and moaning and wetting the earth with his tears. He made no attempt to get up; he didn't even try to roll over onto his back. He just lay there, face-first to the ground, his nearly-broken arm limply lying beside him.

Sybil stared at Larry's heaving body, and then slowly brought her eyes back to Tom. She stared at him, not entirely sure what to make of him; he was so…different, to the man she loved. In some ways, she felt as if she were staring back at a stranger. His eyes were clouded and dark, and he almost seemed more…animal, than human. But then he looked at her—really looked at her—and something in his eyes changed, something that once again gave her a glimpse of the Tom Branson that she knew, the Tom Branson who had won her heart perhaps since the moment he had arrived at Downton.

"What's going on!?" demanded a stern Scottish voice to Sybil's left. She turned her head and saw Mrs. Hughes rushing out towards the garage, only to slow her steps at the sight of Larry, crumpled on the ground.

Sybil sprang into action, before the housekeeper leapt to conclusions. "He's alright," she muttered, gesturing to Larry. It wasn't a complete lie; Tom could have broken his arm, but he hadn't. And to be fair, Tom had warned Larry, twice, to let her go. And Larry had been holding a gun to Tom's face.

Mrs. Hughes frowned at the sight, and her frown only deepened as she looked back and forth between Tom and Sybil. "Lady Sybil," she calmly muttered. "You're needed inside, at once."

Sybil bit her bottom lip and glanced again at Tom. "What's going to happen to—?"

"Mr. Branson," Mrs. Hughes continued, addressing Tom. "Go and wait inside the chauffeur's cottage, please."

Tom lifted his chin, then glanced briefly at Sybil, before returning his gaze to Mrs. Hughes. "For how long?" he softly asked.

"For as long as I say!" Mrs. Hughes groaned, before grabbing Tom about the elbow as if he were a nothing more than a naughty boy caught with his hand in the biscuit tin, and hauling him off towards the very cottage she had mentioned. "Inside, Lady Sybil!" Mrs. Hughes ordered, any traces of understanding or sympathy long gone. "Inside, this instant, or I will drag you off in a similar manner to that of Mr. Branson!"

Sybil took a step back, and glanced quickly at Tom one more time, her own eyes filled with the same question that his were: what was going to happen now?

Larry groaned from where he lay, and turned his head slightly, so it was no longer in the dirt.

"I'll deal with Lt. Grey!" Mrs. Hughes called back, answering a question that Sybil hadn't even thought to formulate. "Now get inside, milady! At once!"

Sybil sighed and did as the housekeeper said, turning and trudging back to the house, ignoring Larry's whimpers as he called out to her, as well as her own longing to turn around and see Tom once again. But she knew she could trust Mrs. Hughes, no matter how loud the woman growled. Mrs. Hughes was fair, and Sybil knew Tom was in no danger, at least for the moment. And as much as she hated leaving his side (again), she also knew she (though she was loathe to admit it) she was doing him no favors by continuing to disobey the various orders being shouted at her to remain in the house and away from him. Her father would have the final say on Tom's fate, and right now, that was who she needed to make her pleas to. Plea to not send him away, plea to understand how valuable he was to their very survival!

But a gnawing voice at the back of her head wouldn't stop muttering.

"…But what if he doesn't want to stay?"

Tom Branson was the master of his fate; not her, not the Earl of Grantham, no one. This meant that no amount of pleading to her father would matter, if Tom truly wanted to go. Right now, she honestly didn't know the answer to that question.

And she was too afraid to ask it.


Mary sighed as she reentered Matthew's room. He was still sleeping, no change there; Evelyn had stayed with him, as she had asked, as he had promised, and then politely bowed his head and murmured he would go and see if Miss Swire needed any assistance.

Evelyn made no mention about Sybil coming in to check on Matthew as she had said that she would when she "dramatically" marched out of the drawing room. Perhaps if Mary weren't so emotionally exhausted after everything that had occurred that evening, she would go in search of her sister, and drag her away from the damned chauffeur (it was no secret to whom Sybil had really gone to see). But…the truth of the matter was Mary couldn't be bothered. At least not this evening. After everything that had happened that day, from her mother's illness, to learning about what had really become of her mother, to Matthew getting shot...not to mention everything that had happened the previous days, including her confrontation with Sir Richard…

Mary had been grateful for the solitude. She thanked Evelyn, then returned to the chair she had occupied before her sisters had returned, and simply sat in silence with Matthew, his hand rested between both of hers.

Yes, she was grateful for the solitude, but at the same time, she desperately wished for him to interrupt it. To feel his fingers twitch and see his eyelashes flutter, while he groaned for a glass of water, or make a hiss of pain when he tried to move his body. She would then openly weep in front of him, not caring what he or anyone thought of the sight; dear Matthew would probably smile and mumble something cheeky which would earn an inappropriate laugh followed by a roll of the eyes from her, but…oh, how she yearned for him to waken, to assure her that despite everything that had happened, it would all be well. She certainly could use some reassuring words from him. Matthew had always told her she was stronger than she let on, that she could weather anything—a "storm braver", he had once called her. Despite the cold exterior and haughty nature she sometimes perceived, the truth of the matter was, Mary did lack confidence in herself and her abilities. She wasn't like Sybil, whose fearlessness dangerously came close to carelessness, but who met each and every challenge presented to her head on and feet first. She wasn't timid like Edith, but she was careful, or rather, cautious.

She guarded herself; she guarded her heart, she had been doing that since she was a child, since she learned early on that just because she was the first born child of the Earl of the Grantham, that didn't matter because she was a daughter instead of a son. The house and land that she loved would never truly be hers, at least not completely. Yes, she could have it if she married her father's heir, but even then…it just wasn't the same. That was her first heartbreak, and she learned at an early age to mask it. So when other heartbreaks followed, she perfected her mask, and strengthened the fortress that surrounded her heart.

But then Matthew Crawley had to go and "ruin it". He arrived at Downton with a chisel, tapping away at that stone barrier until finally, he found the chink, and the fortress she had so steadily built throughout the years, began to crumble.

For the first time in her life, Mary began to contemplate something she had never truly given a great deal of thought to: what if she actually loved the man she married?

But despite that biblical passage about Love being patient, Mary soon discovered that Love could be quite demanding, and didn't like to share. She found this to be true between people…and things. She loved Matthew…but she also loved Downton. And suddenly she found herself wondering if perhaps the love she believed she felt for Matthew was only a result because she knew by marrying him, she could have everything: Matthew and Downton. And now that her mother was pregnant, and there was the possibility of the child being a boy…

That was the problem with giving someone your heart, and allowing them to tear down the barrier you had so carefully erected. Because now when heartbreak came, the pain was so much worse.

She had mourned the loss of Matthew's love, that day when the world as they knew it came to an end and War was announced. They parted ways and she believed, deep in her soul, that they would never see each other again. She grieved his departure; she even wore black for a brief period of time. And then…in the weeks and months that followed, she slowly gathered the chiseled pieces of her heart's fortress, and bit by bit, restored them. But it would never be the same again. Even when she thought Sir Richard Carlisle would be a perfect for her, she didn't quite know what that meant anymore. She didn't quite know what to…feel, any longer. But again, that all changed when Matthew returned to Downton, and she realized at last…she would never be satisfied…or happy…with anyone else.

This was why she sat here, by his bedside, holding his hand and watching his sleeping face. There was no other place she wanted to be.

A light tapping on wood, and a soft clearing of a throat, drew Mary's eyes away from Matthew's face to the door, where they widened and she gasped softly, "Anna!"

Anna smiled at her, and it looked so genuine, so…relieving, actually. "I beg your pardon, milady," she murmured, lowering her eyes to the floor. "I don't mean to interrupt—"

"It's alright," Mary assured, releasing Matthew's hand and quickly rising to her feet. With her hands clasped together, she crossed the room to where Anna stood, and motioned for her to enter, before quietly shutting the door behind her (after a brief glimpse down both ways down the corridor). Satisfied that there were no eavesdroppers within plain sight, Mary turned to the housemaid and looked at her with concern. "Oh, Anna, I'm so sorry for not having checked—"

"It's alright, milady," Anna reassured, her eyes glancing off to the side at Matthew. "You've had your hands full, I know."

Mary moved around Anna until she was blocking the housemaid's view of Matthew. "How are you?" she asked, looking over Anna with urgent eyes. She had heard from Carson and Mrs. Hughes, as well as Evelyn, that Anna had been shaken from the ordeal, that she had been some sort of state of "shock".

"I…" Anna swallowed, and Mary saw the lump in her throat. "I'm fine, milady, I…" she kept trying to look around Mary, look at Matthew, and the more she did so, the more choked up Anna seemed to become.

She blames herself, Mary realized. She had forgotten what she had been told, that it was Anna's bullet that had wounded Matthew. Of course, Mary didn't for a second believe that Anna would ever purposefully harm Matthew, and she also believed there was more to this story than was being told.

"Anna," Mary took hold of the housemaid's arm and gently guided her out of the room and into the corridor. She didn't like talking in the open air like this, but at the same time, she knew it would be better for Anna to speak without the distraction of Matthew's unconscious body in sight. And Mary wasn't comfortable leaving him completely unguarded. "Now," she turned to Anna and put both hands on her shoulders. "Tell me everything that happened."

Anna bit her lip and a worried look fell across her face. Oh Lord, surely she wasn't afraid of her?

"Anna, I assure you, I do not hold you in any blame for what happened," Mary encouraged. Anna knew her better than her own sisters, surely Anna trusted—

"Thank you, milady, I am glad to hear that, I will not deny," Anna mumbled, her cheeks flushing slightly as if embarrassed. "But…but you are in grave danger."

Mary's eyes widened at this. "Me?"

Anna nodded. "We all are," she whispered. "But especially yourself and Capt. Crawley."

Mary stiffened and straightened her spine. "Sir Richard…" she all but whispered. She figured he had a hand in the afternoon's accident, but at the same time, she had desperately hoped it was just that: an accident. This is all my fault…

"I came upon him with his gun aimed at Capt. Crawley," Anna whispered.

A chill ran down Mary's spine at this. She wasn't surprised, but that didn't mean it didn't shock her.

"There were Walkers, yes, but…but I swear to you, Lady Mary, I know he was planning ill-will upon—"

"THEY'RE BACK!"

Both Mary and Anna jumped at the shout coming from the Hall below. Mary rushed to the closest balcony and looked down, seeing Ethel scramble from the door that led below stairs to the Servant's Hall, making way for Carson who came thundering up with Mrs. Hughes at his heels. The library doors opened and her grandmother emerged, gasping "Robert! Where on earth have you been!?" yet her grandmother's voice began to fade, and the steps of both Carson and Mrs. Hughes slowed as the Earl of Grantham did not enter the house, but rather…Sir Richard.

"Where is Robert!?" Violet demanded, looking past Sir Richard as if expecting to see her son emerge at any second.

"He isn't here, Lady Grantham," Sir Richard simply answered, as if someone had asked him whether they thought it was going to rain.

"WHAT!?" Carson sputtered, and he too looked past Sir Richard, even going so far as to rush to the door and gaze outside to make sure that the man spoke the truth.

"WHERE IS HE!?" Violet demanded, though usual air of aristocratic haughtiness was unable to hide the obvious dread in her voice.

"He'll be back soon," Sir Richard assured, without giving a satisfactory answer to anyone.

"What?" Violet gasped, looking at Sir Richard in bewilderment. "What does that mean!? BACK FROM WHERE!?"

"Do not fret, Lady Grantham," Sir Richard crooned, smiling at the dowager countess and ignoring the look of irritation she was giving him. "As I said, he will be back shortly, and in the meantime…" he turned his gaze away from Mary's grandmother and looked up then, causing Mary's heart to freeze in her chest as his eyes locked with her own. "…He put me in charge."