Author: Kat Lee
Fandom: Downtown Abbey
Warning(s): Cannon Character Death
Word Count: 3,137
Date Written: 3 October 2018
Disclaimer: All characters within belong to their rightful owners, not the author, and are used without permission.
He’d had too much to drink again tonight after keeping himself purposefully busy all day. The holidays were fast approaching, and this time of the year was always harder. He kept thinking it should get easier -- Mary seemed to have almost put her husband’s death completely behind her --, but he couldn’t forget her sister anywhere near as easily. He didn’t want to forget her, not really. He just wanted to forget the pain, which was why he drank. He never forgot, but it didn’t hurt quite as much when he didn’t have a clear mind. Between work and drink, that was usually a pretty easy feat to pull off, but he never forgot her, not even for a moment.
Tom paused, freezing in the hallway as he heard quiet sobs. He followed them to Edith’s door and laid his hand against the old wood, his heart aching with renewed pain. He wasn’t the only one who was hurting, he knew. Perhaps Mary still cried too for Matthew when she thought no one could hear her. For a moment, he considered going into Edith, but there was nothing he could do to dull her pain. At best, they could simply hold to each other as they cried their eyes out for their lovers who were long dead.
Tom peeled himself off of his sister-in-law’s doorway and continued down the hall. His feet stumbled. He almost fell but caught his balance again at the last moment. He heard a giggle and whipped around, but there was noone there. “Hello?” he called out softly, holding up his lantern, but no further sound came. Then, suddenly, he thought he saw a flash down toward the children’s nursery.
He hurried down the hall, but when he reached the nursery, there was no one there. His daughter slept soundly in her bed as did Mary’s son and Edith’s illicit daughter. He turned to leave but was stopped by a sudden voice. “It’s the first time you’ve seen her all day. Are you really going to be so quick to turn your back?”
He froze again but then forced himself to relax. He let out a nervous chuckle as his guard dropped. He shook his head at his own folly. He’d definitely had too much to drink tonight if he was hearing his conscious speak aloud in a voice that sounded so much like that of his dead wife! Of course, he reflected, the ghost stories that had been being passed around hadn’t helped tonight. All Hallow’s itself didn’t help, he admitted.
Cybil had loved the holiday -- she’d loved any excuse to cut free from so many of the restrictions placed upon herself and her behavior --, and he couldn’t think of the holiday without thinking of the woman he loved. Of course, he reasoned silently with himself, he could rarely think of anything without thinking of her. She was on his mind every moment of every day and night. She affected every single thing he did.
“Yet the very thing I need you to do the most you neglect.”
Ice sluiced through Tom’s veins. His hands shook; he almost dropped the lantern.
“Don’t drop it, Tom. All we need is another fire, and especially one here in the nursery! Or would you like that?” the cross voice countered. “Would you like to see our daughter go up in fire and smoke so that you wouldn’t have to be reminded of me every time you look upon her?!”
Tom whirled around, his heart pounding in his throat. The moonlight was filtering through the thin curtains into the room. It bathed two of the three beds. Tom himself was already paler than the light of the moon when he saw what sat in it -- or, rather, who.
“Hush!” she commanded. “You’ll wake the children!” She reached out and gently swiped their daughter’s bangs out of her face. “Look at her, Tom. She’s so beautiful! How can you ignore her every day? How can you let a stranger raise our daughter?!”
“He is beautiful,” he breathed in admission, shaking from head to toe. “She’s so beautiful! She looks more and more like you every day!”
The woman he’d loved almost since the first moment he’d met her raised tear-filled eyes to him. “Is that why you’ve abandoned her?”
“ABANDONED HER?! I HAVEN’T -- “ Realizing he was shouting as little Sybil squirmed in her sleep, Tom slapped a hand over his mouth. “This is insane!” he whispered angrily a moment later, slowly dropping his hand.
“Insane? Insane is what you’ve let happen in my wake! Just because I’m not here to raise our daughter does not mean she should not be being raised by her father instead of a stranger!”
Tom shook his throbbing head. “I’ve really had too much to drink this time,” he muttered, starting to turn toward the door.
“DON’T YOU TURN AWAY FROM ME, TOM BRANSON!” Leaving their child’s side in a flash as fast as lightning, Sybil streaked toward her husband. She charged him, but he turned back to her and caught her shoulders.
He trembled even more when she felt solid in his hands. What little color had returned to his face drained from it again. “This -- This can’t be real!” he whispered.
“I am real! I have always been real!” she cried. “I look in after you and our child every single night! You haven’t felt me,” she admitted, “because I haven’t been strong enough, but tonight is All Hallow’s -- “
“There have been other All Hallow’s,” he said, cutting her off, “and I haven’t seen you then! You can’t be real! This has to be a trick!”
She looked at him, hurt showing clearly on her beautiful face and in her eyes which seemed to glow a little. “Isn’t it? Aren’t I real? Wasn’t what we had real? Or was it all a lie to you? I refuse to believe that!”
“I loved you -- “ he cried, his fingers flexing around her thin shoulders. “Or, rather, I loved Sybil!”
“I AM SYBIL!” she cried out with such force that the windows rattled. A chilly wind blew through the room, extinguishing his lantern in a single puff, but he could still see by the moonlight. And his imagination was still showing him the woman he loved.
“You can’t be -- “ he breathed, shaking his head. “This can’t be real! I would’ve seen you before now!”
“I’ve tried to show myself,” she told him, “to you a thousand times, but either I’ve never been strong enough or you’ve simply never been willing to see me! Our daughter sees me! She knows her mother still loves her, still cares -- But she certainly can’t say the same about her father!”
“But I do love her! I love you both! Why do you think I’m still in this world?!” Tom demanded, flinging a hand out in their daughter’s direction. “I know Sybil needs her father! Otherwise I would have gladly ended my life long ago!”
“Tom, don’t you talk of such!” Sybil’s eyes flashed with angry warning. “You’re Catholic! You know where suicides go!”
“Which is exactly why I’m still here!”
“Mummy? Daddy?” a small voice called to them both, stopping Tom yet again in his tracks.
His eyes widened in stunned disbelief. “She does see you!” he whispered in awe, realizing that if his daughter could see her mother, it wasn’t just his imagination that was making him see his dead wife’s ghost that night!
“Of course she does!” Sybil shot at him, the shutters on the windows again battering on the walls outside the nursery. “I told you I’m real!”
“But -- But -- “ Tom chattered.
“Hush!” Sybil demanded, as bossy in death as she ever had been in life. “Our daughter needs us!”
She pushed against his hold, and Tom let her go, still too shocked from the realization that she was not just a figment of his alcohol-impaired imagination but very, very real to try to keep her. Sybil rushed back to their child’s side and smoothed her hair. “It’s okay, sweetheart. Mommy and Daddy are just having a . . . conversation.”
Her little girl frowned up at her. “I’ve never seen you together before,” she whispered. Tom slowly came up to stand behind his wife. His daughter seemed to glow with beauty as she smiled up at them. “It’s . . . nice.”
“It’s a nice dream,” Sybil said gently, leaning down and kissing her forehead. “Now go back to sleep so you can enjoy more of the nice dream.”
“Yes, Mummy,” little Sybil whispered, closing her eyes.
They waited until they were certain she was asleep, her little chest rising and falling with her subdued breathing, before Sybil spun back up to her feet and glowered down at her husband. “See?” she hissed. “I am real!”
“You are,” he said, shaking his head slowly from side to side and beginning to weep, “and I have been a fool.” He reached out, clutched her arms, and pulled her to him.
Sybil still glared crossly at him. “Yes,” she bit off, “you most certainly have!”
“Can you ever forgive me?” he asked.
“Oh, Tom, of course I can forgive you! I can forgive you for not seeing me! I can forgive you for trying to lose yourself in the drink and trying to escape the pain! But what I can not forgive you for is your continued absence in our daughter’s life! You have to be there for her!” Tears had already filled Sybil’s eyes, and now they began to streak down her ghoulish pale face. “I can’t!” She sobbed.
His hands moved swiftly up to clasp her face. “You are,” he told her. “You have been more than I have been, and for that I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! And I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you!”
“It was my time,” she said sadly, “but I can not rest any more than you’ve been able to, not seeing you and her in such pain! She needs you, Tom, just as much as I needed you when I was alive -- just as much as I still need you to be there for me and for her!” Her bottom lip trembled; outside, the wind wailed for her.
“I will,” he vowed. “Give me another chance. One more chance.” He closed his eyes momentarily. God, it all hurt so much! Reopening his eyes and intent on gazing upon his wife’s beautiful, if sad, face, he swore, “I won’t touch the thing again! Just promise me you’ll still be with me!”
“Oh, Tom! Tom, my dearest! I am always with you! Even when you can not see me, I am always here!” One hand pressed softly against her husband’s still beating heart as her other wiped tears from his handsome face. “I will always be here! I swear it! But you must be there for our child! She needs you, Tom!”
“I will be!” he vowed. “I will be!” He dared to lean forward and touch his lips to hers. To his utter amazement, her mouth felt as real against his as her body felt in his hands. He gripped her unconsciously harder, desperate to keep her with him, as he deepened their kiss. She opened her mouth willingly beneath his, and the wind outside became gentler and moaned as his tongue swept into her mouth.
He kissed her long and deep and could have easily stood there kissing her all night if young George had not awakened. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and looked blearily toward his uncle, who appeared to have his arms circling in the air about himself and to be making kissy faces at, as far as the boy could see, absolutely nothing. “U-Uncle Tom?”
With great reluctance, Tom released his wife. “Go to him,” Sybil whispered, touching her husband’s shoulder. “I’m still here. I’ll always be here. But he needs you too. He needs a man to guide him.”
“O-Of course,” he whispered and inclined his head in a dutiful nod. He felt her move with him as he turned around and walked to George’s bedside. “I’m sorry to wake you, George,” he said, trying to sound pleasant.
“It’s all right.” The child smiled up at him. “You looked kind of silly, though.”
“I -- I was talking to Lady Sybil, your aunt, Lady Sybil.”
“Tom!” Sybil cried. “I’m not so sure -- “
George’s smile widened, however. “That makes a lot more sense,” he said approvingly. “You know, I talk to my Father often. He visits me many nights. But Mummy can’t see him. I’m glad you saw her. Aunt Sybil, that is.”
Tom nodded and ruffled his nephew’s blonde hair. “It has to be our secret though, okay, champ?”
“Okay,” George readily agreed, still smiling pleasantly. “I don’t want you to say anything to Mum about Papa, either. She probably wouldn’t believe us and would be upset. She’d think something was wrong with us.”
Tom had to grin. He’d certainly thought the same thing when he’d first seen Sybil tonight! “Very well, George. They are our secrets, okay?”
The boy nodded. “Okay,” he said. His eyes started to slide shut, but then, with some obvious effort, he reopened them and looked up again at his uncle. “We have to keep them safe, you know.”
Tom frowned. “Who do we have to keep safe, George?”
“Mummy. And Auntie Edith. And Grandmama. And Sybil too. All the women. Daddy says so.”
Tom smiled again though unshed tears were shining in his eyes. “Your father’s right,” he said. “I always thought he was a very smart man.”
“He is,” George agreed, his eyes closing again. He didn’t realize the error in his tense usage, and Tom didn’t point it out to him. After all, if his Sybil was still with them, there was every chance that Matthew was too.
“Are they?” he asked suddenly, turning to look inquisitively at his wife.
She frowned at him. “Is who what?”
“Matthew,” he answered, “and Michael. Are they still here too?”
“I see Matthew every night,” Sybil answered honestly, “and I have seen Michael, although I do not know if he stays here the entire time. I suspect he’s never far from Edith, however. Just as I -- “ She smiled. “ -- am never far from you.” She slid closer to him and stroked his handsome face. “I am so grateful you can see me tonight, Tom!”
“But you’ve been with me the whole while?” he asked breathlessly.
“Yes!” she cried, shaking her dark head with enthusiasm. “Oh, yes!” The night wind seemed to be knocking against the old castle’s walls now. “Oh, yes! The whole while! I have seen you suffer, my poor darling,” she exclaimed, almost sobbing while still stroking his face, “and it hurt me so much to know I was powerless to reach you! But there is a certain magic on All Hallow’s Eve,” she continued to explain, “that makes it a lot easier to see through the veil that separates the living from the dead.”
“Then why did it take until this year for me to see you?”
“I do not know!” she answered honestly, shaking her head. “Perhaps the stars finally aligned right, or perhaps you finally had enough of that awful alcohol to open your mind up to the idea that I was still here! I honestly do not know, but whatever it is, I am thankful that you see me tonight!”
He grabbed her hands and held her tight. “I do not want,” he protested, “to ever not see you again!”
“Oh, Tom! Sweet, dear, wonderful Tom! I have no control over that! If I did, you would have seen me long ago! A night would not have passed when you would not have known my presence!”
“It’s going to happen again?” he demanded. “Isn’t it?”
“Yes.” She looked sorrowful. “Yes, I’m afraid it will. When daylight comes, even if I can hold this visage that long, you will no longer be able to see me, but I will still be here! I have been here every moment of every day! I am always with either you or Sybil! Always! You must know that! You must believe it!”
“I do,” he spoke slowly, thoughtfully. “I do, but if we only have one night a year -- “ He threaded his fingers with hers and suddenly rushed out of the nursery. There were times when he could not see her as they raced through the halls together, but her hand in his was a constant, steady presence, reminding him that she was there even if he could not see her.
He burst into their room, letting the door slam shut behind them, and raced to the window. Finally releasing her hands, he nearly tore the curtains off of the wall in his haste to open the window. “Careful,” she called to him in warning, “or you’ll wake the whole family!”
“Let them wake! I do not care about that! Not now!” He reached out, took her hands again in his, and drew her back to him in the silver light of the full moon. “All I care about is that you are here, we are together again, and you still love me! Still foolish, old me!”
“Oh, Tom, of course I love you! I’ll always love you, and I’ll always be here!” She kissed him, but this time when their lips touched, neither of them let up. They were both painfully aware that they only had a short time together during which he would be able to see and feel her. They were going to make every second of that time count! He took his time, kissing every inch of her, trying once more to memorize every detail of every fraction of her beauty to his mind, and making certain she could feel, in his every, single touch, how much he loved her and would always love only her.
Sybil did the same, praying that her touches would somehow last her beloved throughout the whole year to come or, at the very least, serve to remind him that she would always, always be there for him and their child. And she would be! Not even death could take her away, as she had already proved and would continue to do so every All Hallow’s night to come. She could send little messages to him, she thought, through their daughter throughout the year, if she was careful with her wording and with reminding Sybil to only tell her father the messages. She would make certain he felt her presence all year, and she would never, ever leave him. But for tonight, she succumbed to the passion between them, and her heart and soul, and the wind outside, sang with the love she had always and would always feel for this wonderful man alone.