1913

Sybil carries her bucket and broom to the next bedroom on the list Anna gave her, the youngest Mr. Crawley's room. She has yet to see the youngest Crawley, even though he's apparently living here and not away at university or in town or having a world tour of some kind. But she's hardly seen any of the Crawley family, really, since coming to work at Downton Abbey. She glimpsed Lord Robert once as she scurried for the servant's door in the main hall, endeavoring to make herself invisible to him. The Countess came down to the kitchens one afternoon looking for Mrs. Hughes. Most unusual. Perhaps it's because the Countess is American. Well, despite that, she certainly looked like a very well bred and fine lady, to Sybil's eye. The next oldest son, Matthew, she delivered a note to on her first day here. He gave the impression of being a kind man, not at all uppity, saying thank you in a rather sincere way as she proffered the note. And the oldest of the three Crawley children, the oldest son Patrick, well...

Sybil has no love for the aristocracy in a general way, an archaic and divisive institution in her opinion, and no love for employers she's hardly seen and doesn't know, but one can't help feel for a family when something so tragic happens. The oldest son, the future Earl of Grantham, drowned in the Titanic sinking. Unimaginable. She'd of course heard of the sinking when it happened and could hardly comprehend it then, but to eventually end up working in the home of one of the victims made it so much more real.

It's been months and months since the sinking, the better part of a year, but the spectre of the tragedy still seems to settle over the servants from time to time, she's noticed. She can only imagine how much heavier it weighs on the Crawleys themselves. They're aristocrats, yes, but they're also human beings, a mother and father and brothers. If she lost one of her own two older sisters... She feels for the younger Crawley brothers, she really does. Even if she doesn't know them.

Sybil closes the door gently and sets her bucket by the hearth. The room is warm from the morning fire but dim and gloomy and stale. She throws up the sashes to air it out. The cool air still smells of the heavy rain that fell last night. Her shoes are silent on the thick rug as she crosses the room to turn down the bedclothes and air those out, too, while she sweeps the rug and sweeps out the hearth. But as she grabs the top hem of the blanket, just as she's about to yank it down, she gets the scare of her young life when a hand shoots out of the depths and grabs her wrist tight, stopping her.

"What are you doing?" a gruff voice demands from under the covers. A head emerges, dark blonde hair, almost brown, tousled and unruly, a pleasantly handsome face creased with sleep, dark blue eyes fierce and hard from the unwelcome disturbance she's provided. This must be the youngest Crawley. Young master Tom.

"I'm-I'm sorry, sir," she manages to stutter, trying to take back her wrist and get out of there. Tom Crawley doesn't let her go, however, keeping her wrist wrapped in his large hand even as he sits up in bed. The covers fall away and all she sees is the broad, bare expanse of his smooth chest. Extremely disconcerting. She averts her eyes. Her face is getting red, she knows. "I had no idea you were still... I thought you were at breakfast, sir."

He glares at her. "Well I'm not at breakfast. You should've known."

She resists asking how she should know his whereabouts if no one bloody tells her the youngest son is still lying in at ten in the morning rather than being at breakfast (or at university, or at a job of some sort, heaven forbid) like a normal, if over-privileged, man. "Yes, sir. I'm sorry, sir. I'll go."

He's silent and still doesn't let her go. He pulls on her even, pulling her close, pulling her off balance. She'll fall on him if she doesn't brace herself, but she can't touch his bare chest, so she braces herself with her knee, pressing it into the mattress. But she's still too close. He radiates heat and his breath smells stale, like last night's alcohol. Her father's breath used to smell like this. Every man she ever knew growing up in Dublin had breath like this far, far too often.

He keeps pulling on her, trying to pull her down to him, but she resists, straining, trying to turn her wrist from his grip, turning her face away from his. "Please, sir," she begs quietly, firmly. But inside she's quaking, scared. She hasn't been a housemaid for very long, this is only her second job, but she's certainly heard stories and warnings from other servants about how men of the house can take liberties with their willing or unwilling female servants. Shocking and salacious and disturbing and terrible stories. "Please let me go."

"Give me a kiss first," Tom Crawley demands.

She gasps and pulls away from him, as hard as she can. But he's strong. "Let me go or I'll scream," she warns. "I'll tell—"

"Who will you tell?" Tom Crawley challenges. "Who's going to believe you? Miss Sybil Branson from Dublin. I know all about you. Does that surprise you, that the wastrel, drunken, useless youngest son with no fortune knows anything about you? I make it my business to suss out the fresh talent here. You worked as a second maid in the small house of some minor and penniless duchess in the Back-of-Nowhere, Scotland. They gave you a good reference when the old bag bit it, but no one here knows you, you're just poor Irish trash, a nobody from nothing. And I'm your master. I'll just deny anything you say. And they'll believe me, not you. I'll make sure you get sacked and leave with no reference and a very bad reputation. You need this job. You need to send money home to your poor, widowed mother. So what choice do you have but to do what I want, Miss Branson?"

Everything he says about her is true. No one would believe her. She knows it. Still, she looks him right in the eye and answers, "Go to hell," refusing to relent. His breath is hot on her skin and there's the promise of violence in his eyes. She feels his other hand grab her free arm, and her whole body shakes with the effort of holding herself away from his body at this awkward angle. He could easily pull her down onto the bed. She hasn't cut her nails in a few days - she'll draw his blood, if need be; he'll not take her quietly. She'll make him mark her and she'll mark him back.

Suddenly, he's pushing her away, letting her go, and she stumbles back on the rug. "I probably will at that, Miss Branson," he mutters, turning away and sinking back onto the mattress. "Go on, get out of here."

But she hardly hears him because she's already grabbing her pail and broom and running from the room, blood thudding in her ears and hot angry tears blinding her eyes. What an idiot she was for giving an ounce of her compassion and sympathy to Tom Crawley, or to any of them for that matter. She doesn't need to know these people to know she's right to hate them lock, stock, and barrel, and the sooner she gets away from Downton Abbey, the better. She has to get out of this awful place. She's just not yet sure how.


TBC.