A/N: Something a bit different, from me, today. Response to a tumblr request for Matthew being there for Tom after Sybil's death in 3x05 - something I'd been thinking needed to happen, at some point. I'm not sure I've ever written Branson before, certainly not beyond a line or two, so... here goes!
Thanks as ever to EOlivet whose support and encouragement to me is boundless. :)
In the morning, Matthew wasn't quite sure what to do. A while ago, he'd been aware of Mary waking, though her eyes hadn't yet opened. She'd asked, in barely a whisper, whether it had all been a dream... Begging him to tell her that anything else was true than the cold, hard truth, as cold as her darling sister's body down the hall. Matthew shuddered, stroked her hair back from her face, and wished so desperately that he could.
"Would you like some breakfast, darling?" he asked softly.
"Not just yet, no."
He nodded, and resolved anyway to ask for a little to be sent up for her.
To lie in bed was to have no distraction from remembering, no distraction from the sadness of his wife, who he felt guilty for having, still, to comfort. He rose and dressed, determined not to let himself fall down that path.
But once dressed, what to do? There would be no Lord Grantham at breakfast, he was sure; nor Tom of course, nor Edith.
Standing alone in the cavernous hall, unsure of where to go or what would be appropriate to do, he felt once more out of place with this big house and its people. The house was sad, and it should be, for the loss of a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother. To everyone in the family, she'd been one of those things, only... not to him. Not really.
A cry drifted down from the gallery, and it awakened something within Matthew to a more purposeful action. He hadn't known where to look for his friend, hadn't wanted to intrude, but now the night and the morning had passed and it seemed right to do so.
Going upstairs, he followed the sounds to the door, and waited a moment outside. Was it right to intrude, on this?
"Please don't cry, love," he heard Tom's broken voice trying desperately to comfort his child, who couldn't possibly understand. "Please, please, don't cry. God knows I'm crying enough for the both of us, please... don't cry, love."
Pressing his lips together, Matthew pushed open the door and sought his friend's permission to enter. Tom looked up at him, distraught, tear-stained, numb... and Matthew knew that it was not a rebuttal.
He stepped in, and opened his mouth, and didn't know what to say. Are you alright? Of course he's bloody not alright. What can I do to help? Nothing, absolutely nothing, he already knew that. I wish... God, didn't they all.
Unable to bear the bitter, awful reality in Tom's eyes, Matthew's own fell, to the tiny, wailing bundle in her father's arms. Almost as if she knew.
"She's completely beautiful," he said reverently.
Tom smiled through the sob that broke from him as he looked down at his daughter.
"I want to call her Sybil," he managed to say. "We'd... thought about names, but not decided, and I need... I can't be without her, not..." and then his voice broke into wracking sobs, man and daughter crying together over the woman that joined them.
"God, of course." Matthew's hand came to Tom's shoulder, a tight grip of comfort and solidarity as he watched him in sorrow.
But Tom was oblivious to it.
"Please, love," he was whispering again through his tears. "Please stop crying, I can't bear it, please, love."
Matthew's heart broke again at the familiarity of his friend's broken, impassioned pleas. Tom looked up at him, stricken. "I don't know what to do, I can't - I need - oh, God, Sybil would have known, and I -"
"May I?" Matthew said quickly. He didn't know what to do either, but at least he could think of some people who would, and the babe was only intensifying Tom's distress. There was a moment's resistance, a moment's hesitance and unwillingness to part, before Tom reluctantly nodded and passed little Sybil into Matthew's arms.
The baby felt awkward, and squirmed, and he was terrified of dropping her, his heart racing uncomfortably in his chest. God, how did... how did people manage this? Especially this, especially now, especially with... what had happened.
He pushed open the door with his back, and looked desperately up and down the hall to see Cora coming towards them, her instinct stirred by the baby's cry. Matthew smiled, and waited until she reached them so that Tom could see his baby passed into her grandmama's adoring arms.
When Cora had taken her, cooing softly in her sorrow to the precious baby she could take comfort from, Matthew turned back to his friend. Their arms hung by their sides, useless, empty, with nothing to do that could possibly matter. Tom looked utterly bereft.
"I'm so sorry," Matthew said uselessly. Tom chuckled bitterly. They were all so sorry, as was he, but all the sorry in the world would not bring his love back. Matthew licked his lips, uncomfortably, stammering through the pithy, comfortless platitudes that one must fall to in these times. "I know I wasn't... her family in quite the same way as you all, but you must know I-"
"What? Don't be ridiculous," Tom laughed suddenly, brushing brusquely the tears from his face with the back of his hand. "Do you know how many times Sybil told me how thrilled she was to have a brother, at last?"
Matthew blinked. "No, I..."
"Well, she was, and you were. And I'm glad of it, you know. She was so glad to have you for a brother, and I was glad of it too." His lip quirked up into a sad smile. "Least of all 'cause it meant that we were brothers, too, in a way."
"Well, of... course," Matthew shook his head, chuckling. "And we are, still, you must know that - of course that doesn't change. It wouldn't."
"No, I know."
They shared a contemplative smile. Brother-in-law, Matthew realised, was no less a brother. He'd always assummed it was lesser, by right, but... why did that have to be? If Sybil had thought him a brother, then... she had truly been his sister, and the realisation of the worth of his sorrow made it sting all the fresher in his chest, as tears sprang to his eyes. She had been his sister, she had loved him, and cared for him, when he'd needed it in the darkest time of his life. She'd cared for him without pity or shame, with humour, with kindness, with that pure and unapologetic love so precious to Sybil.
"God, I'm sorry, you don't need this as well," he muttered as he brushed his falling tears away. But it only made Tom laugh, which made him smile, and they laughed together as they cried.
But eventually, the laugh died along with everything else, and the freshness of new tears cooled to the dull, relentless ache of loss.
"Tell me something about her," Tom said suddenly. "Something lovely about her I never knew."
"Oh, I'm sure there's nothing -"
"And I'm sure there is! Come on, please. I need... I need to remember something nice, something not from myself as I'll only torture myself with that. Please."
"Well, alright," Matthew murmured, pursing his lips in thought. What could he say, that would possibly do justice to her loveliness? A memory pricked into his consciousness, and he smiled. "Years and years ago, she bought a new frock, only it wasn't quite a frock, but... harem trousers, I believe they're called, and - well, you should've seen everyone's faces! I think that was what I always admired so about Sybil. That she simply didn't care what anyone thought."
Tom grinned against the sob that rose in his throat.
"That she didn't. And... I know it, I was... peering through the window."
Shocked, Matthew burst into a laugh, that was soon crushed by the fresh realisation that these memories were all they had left. And as the realisation took fresh root, and intensified, Tom's shoulders began to shake again as he sobbed and this time Matthew embraced him, his arms tight and strong as it was the only strength he could give.
"Good God, I miss her," Tom wept upon his friend's shoulder. "I miss her so much, already, and I can't bear the thought that - I can't -"
And his voice dissolved again, and Matthew's eyes closed in bitter sorrow as he remained silent, strong, supportive. He didn't say anything as there was nothing he could say. And Tom was grateful that he didn't.
A/N: Thanks so much for reading. I know it was more Matthew-focussed as I'm more familiar with his character, and also if I'd have thought too much about how Tom was feeling... I don't think I could've. It's just too much, and I wouldn't have been able to write for being a sobbing wreck. But I hope you enjoyed it, and I'd love to know what you thought. Thank you! :)