The lady and the chauffeur

  By Junepearl

chapter one

1924

Tom Branson POV

The smell wakes me up. My head feels heavy, and I feel like I'm slogging through wet muck. But I'm asleep in bed. Ah, the empty crystal whiskey decanter on the bedside table would explain my head. But there's something else. Thick and dark and choking in the distance, and I can smell it. Smoke!

I leap to my feet and throw the bedroom door open just in time to hear Thomas, or Barrow, or whatever he insists on being called these days scream "fire!"

Black smoke belches from beneath Lady Edith's door. Edith, Tom, Edith, you know her now.

I hear Mary scream "Oh my God, George!" Barrow has rushed into Edith's room. I pull on my bathrobe. Hopeless to try to tie it around my now 16 stone form. I charge down the hallway like a bull, or maybe just like a frantic Irishman, to the nursery, and emerge with my daughter Corrie in one arm, and my nephew George in the other. The children are safe.

"Oh thank God!" I hear Mary yell.

"Mary, take them!" her father insists, "Tom help me!"

I help Robert struggle with the firehose. He unwisely sends young Rose up to the top floor to wake Mrs. Hughes. A male servant should do that, and Rose should get outside with the rest of the ladies. The rest of the ladies. The one I don't see is my wife. My estranged wife.

I fight the fire, but long to hand the hose back to him. I have to find her.

"Sybil. I didn't see her, did you?" I ask him, and a look of terror spreads over his face.

"Oh my God", he says.

I hand the hose to him, and run from the room.

"Sybil! Sybil! Where are you? Fire! Fire!" I scream. Nothing.

"Don't be cross, love", I shout, "You can be mad at me, just tell me where you are. The house is on fire!"

I push open the door to a small bathroom on the corner. Nothing. Wait. Dark hair barely above the water line in the wooden tub. She's sunk beneath it, unconscious from smoke inhalation.

"Sybil!" I pull her up and boost her into my arms. Grabbing a towel to cover her naked form, I run from the room with her in my arms.

"Please wake up love, please wake up", I shout, and carry her down the two flights of stairs and out the door into the chilly night. The fire trucks are arriving.

I won't lose you now, my love.



1914

Tom Branson POV

Don't do it, don't speak, she's too far above you, way too far.

"Will you have your own way with the frock, do you think?" My mouth isn't obeying me. But I'm so rarely alone with her, I can't let an opportunity pass me by.

"I'm sorry, what?" she asks, with those perfect full lips.

"From what I heard you say to her Ladyship, it sounds like you support women's rights", I say. First, let her know I'm on her side. Let her know just how much we have in common.

"I do."

"Because I'm quite political", I add. I turn around far enough to hand her the newspaper that's been in my sweaty palm all day.

"It's an article about the vote for women I thought you might like." I say.

"Thank you", she says, genuinely stunned a chauffeur would care about something so complex. "Just don't tell my father or my grandmother about it. I'm afraid one whiff of reform and she hears the rattle of the guillotine." She laughs.

Her voice is low and smoky and feels like a velvet glove against my cheek.

A horn sounds and reminds me to drive and stop staring back at her.

Two years later

War has come to England, and to Downton Abbey, and the most beautiful, most special girl in the world is training to become an auxiliary nurse.

"It's hard to let go, my last link to home", she says.

"Harder for me."

"Branson."

" ;I have to speak..."

"I wish you wouldn't."

What now?

"I've told myself and told myself you're too far above me. But things are changing. After the war ends, the world won't be the same again. I won't be a chauffeur forever..." I need her to know that.

"I know!" she insists.

"Then bet on me. And if your family casts you off, it won't be forever. When they come around, I'll welcome them with open arms...and until then I promise to dedicate my every waking moment to your happiness."

"I'm terribly flattered", she says.

Oh no. "Don't say that", I tell her.

"Why not?"

"Because that's what posh people say when they're getting ready to say no...."

"That sounds more like you", she says with a smile.

"Please don't make fun of me. It's taking all I have to say these things..." I love you. I love you, Sybil. The words stick in my throat.

A year later

Sybil POV

On my way to the garage. It's become such a usual trek for me, I'm surprised my footprints aren't engraved in the dirt.

But everyone is too busy with running Downton as a convalescent home to be concerned with what I do. I'm the daughter who never caused anyone a moment of worry. I'm the daughter who was easy to please, and never involved myself in my sisters' ridiculous dramas. So no one notices that most of my breaks are spent in the garage, with Branson sitting on the car, or under it working on it, and we can talk for hours unnoticed.

I always liked him, and a girl would have to be blind not to notice his handsome face, blond hair, blue eyes, and that sweet little dimple in his chin. He follows me everywhere like a loyal puppy. But lately he seems to be something more. We can talk politics for hours. An Irish rebel firebrand, we share our liberal opinions, and he tells me of the fight for freedom in Ireland he's desperate to be a part of.

He's started to become something else to me than merely an interesting chauffeur. Here is a man who would not insist on standing in front of me, but who would stand beside me, someone who has dedicated himself to women's rights and getting the women the vote, along with his own political aims.

"Morning, Lady Sybil", he smiles when he sees me.

He ate a couple of the practice cakes I made for my mother, and they seem to have gone straight to his waistline.

He has very broad shoulders, which would probably make a taller man look like an Olympic athlete, but at a short 5'9, it merely makes my dear Branson look a lot like a square, as wide as he is tall. Stockily built, he's trim now, but I know it wasn't always the case. I also wonder when I started to think of him as "my dear Branson."

He follows my eyes. Then pats his belly, and I gasp, as my stomach falls to the floor. "I have to be careful not to indulge like that. I was an overweight kid, was teased a lot."

Driven by a force I can't completely explain, my hands go to his small belly and squeeze gently. "Some of us like that, you know."

Oh God. For the first time in my life, impulse bested propriety.

I jump back. "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry..." I can't even speak. I touched him...intimately. My God.

"Don't be sorry", he says in a husky whisper with a smile, "Never apologize for touching me, my lady..."

His big, brilliant blue eyes are focused on mine.

"I wasn't aware you liked that." He smiles wider, trying to calm me down, but there's no help for it.

"Mama will wonder where I am", I say, turn on my heel, and run from the garage.

I wait days to go back to the garage.

"I thought you were avoiding me", he says.

"Of course not. I just...want to apologize, Branson..."

"You've nothing to apologize for..."

Then he looks at me with those eyes, and he smiles, and laughs. A sweet, compassionate laugh, but a laugh just the same, as if he regrets my discomfort but knows there's nothing he can do about it right now. As if he knows what we're going to mean to each other, as if he always knew from the first moment we saw each other, as if he understands that we'll be naked in each other's arms with no formality, no judgment, as if he knows we're a love story being written as I stand here...and then he says, "Don't you think it's time you started calling me 'Tom'?"

Unfortunately it takes illness and loss to bring us together, but we're leaving months later with my father's blessing.
5 chapters, created 9 years , updated 9 years
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Comments

Junepearl 9 years
smiley Thanks.
Junepearl 9 years
Ha ha ha, I wish.
Built4com4t 9 years
so...script for season 6 appears to be already in the can :-)