Note: This is the fourth of four S4E3 drabbles that re-imagine Tom’s fish out of water storyline in this Sybil lives universe. The first is here. The second is here. The third is here. A bonus drabble is coming tomorrow! The moment illustrated in the photo is bolded and highlighted below.
The following morning
Tom had already fallen asleep (or had been pretending to be asleep) when Sybil had gotten back to their room the night before, and he had somehow managed to leave before she had woken up the following morning.
As she got herself dressed, Sybil reflected on his behavior the last few days. His self-pitying attitude, if she was perfectly honest with herself, was starting to try her patience. She knew that his pride had taken a big hit when they had been forced to accept the Home secretary’s deal that he stay at Downton. The job of estate manager was a far cry from the humble dream he’d been living out in Dublin as a journalist in support of his own politics as well as his own country.
He’d accepted the job—they had accepted it—because it had felt like a peace offering from her family and a chance to get back on their feet. Sybil had been happy when her father and Matthew had offered it because it meant they could have a measure of independence and made them both feel a little bit less like they were living off of her parents money—even if they remained living at her parents’ house.
Staying at Downton Abbey was a mutual decision, given Sybil’s difficult delivery and her need for take it easy in the weeks that followed Sybbie’s birth. That they had remained living in the house for so long now, with the possibility of the agent’s house still open to them, was not something either of them had foreseen. But given the circumstances—the aftermath of Sybbie’s birth and Sybil’s need to convalesce for weeks after; then, having a helping hand with Sybbie when Dr. Clarkson offered her a position at the hospital again; then, George’s birth and Matthew’s death on the same day—it was no surprise. Still, more than two years had gone by since their return from Ireland. They agreed that they needed to leave at some point, but lately, as much as Sybil insisted that the time was right, Tom was the one who was reluctant.
Sybil believed that fact had something to do with his attitude this week, with the house run over with guests and resembling something like what it had been when he had been a servant there. The root cause of what was bothering him eluded her, and she was starting to find his caginess frustrating.
Today, the day of the long-awaited concert, Sybil planned to be home all day, and she had very much been looking forward to hearing the reknowned Nellie Melba sing. But she ended up spending most of the day looking for her husband. At breakfast, Robert reported that Tom had insisted on heading out to see some of the tenants and had said he’d likely be out all day. Indeed, he didn’t return until after tea time. Sybbie, having refused to nap that afternoon, chose that exact time to throw a tantrum that took all of Sybil’s patience to get under control. When Sybil was finally able to return to their room to change, he was already gone, and when she made it down to the drawing room, the party was already proceeding to dinner.
When the women left the dining room, Dame Nellie took her leave to prepare for the concert, which would start in half an hour. After sitting restlessly in the drawing room for several minutes, Sybil left to seek out Tom. She found him sulking on the bench by the landing. He didn’t look up when she walked up to him, so she just watched him for several minutes. When he finally raised his head and his eyes finally met hers, she saw that he was on the verge of tears.
Without a word, she held out her hand, and he took up.
"Come on," she said, tugging on his hand to get him to stand.
"Where are we going?"
She smiled softly. “You’ll see.”
Sybil led Tom through the front hall to the front door and outside. They walked, always hand in hand, around the house and it wasn’t until the garage was in sight that he realized that’s where she was taking him.
Sybil knocked on the door.
"Pratt’s probably inside having dinner," Tom said quietly.
"Good," she said, pulling him inside.
"What are we doing here, Sybil?"
Sybil walked over to the bench and sat down. “You seem unable to get out of your own head, and I think perhaps you’ve been in the house too long. I thought a return to old stomping grounds might be in order.”
Tom smiled sadly as he looked around. “I do miss this place.”
"What do you miss about it?" Sybil asked.
"I was in charge here. I knew what I was doing. It’s not just in contrast to now. Even back in Ireland, there were so many days at the newspaper office when I felt out of my depth. I always belonged here.”
"I’m sorry," Sybil said quietly looking at her hands.
Tom came over to her and sat down next to her. “Whatever for?”
"I told you not to take that job with Kieran in Liverpool. It was wrong of me to suggest such a job was a step back, especially if it would have made you happier than you are now."
Tom reached over and took Sybil’s hands into his. “My darling, I chose to stay here too, and it isn’t about not working on cars.”
"What is it, then? Tom, I’m so worried that you regret being here, that you regret … being, well, us.”
"Sybil, I could never regret anything about us. Please put that thought out of your mind. I just …”
"Don’t belong in that house?"
Tom shook his head sadly.
"I don’t either! What you’ve been feeling today and yesterday is precisely what I felt my entirely life. Honestly, Tom, why do you think I was always here, in this garage with you?"
Tom looked away, but she could see the smile forming on his face.
"Look," Sybil said. "I don’t know why you’ve been creating reasons for why we can’t leave, but staying at Downton is clearly affecting you. I won’t have us worry about whether we fit here, because the truth is I don’t want to. Why do you, all of a sudden?”
Tom let Sybils hand go and stood, agitated. “Isn’t it obvious?! I failed! I married you and tried to make a life for us in Ireland and less than a year later, here we were again. What will happen if we leave and I fail again? I’m scared that I’ve started us on this endless cycle of wanting more than we can have and never reaching it and being punished for wanting it by having to sit through a million endless bloody dinner parties!”
Sybil immediately went to him and grabbed him by the shoulders. “Tom, you didn’t fail! You were a wonderful writer. Your supposed friends threw you to the authorities because they thought you a traitor for loving me. We knew at the start it wouldn’t be easy, but we love each other as much as ever and we have a beautiful daughter—how can you think that any of that makes us failures?”
Tom sighed, tracing his fingers along her hairline. “Not us. Me.”
Sybil grabbed his hand and kissed it. “Rubbish and you know it.”
"Yes! You’re scared, and a small bit of fear is fine. It keeps you honest, but you can’t let get so big that it paralyzes you. I spent bloody years trapped inside that house for fear of what would happen when I finally told you I loved you as much as you loved me, but I’ve learned my lesson, and I won’t let the same thing happen to you.”
Tom let out a long sigh and leaned his forehead against hers. “But what if—”
"No. No what ifs. What happens to us is what happens to us. It’s just living life. Where we belong doesn’t matter—what matters is with whom we belong. You belong with me and Sybbie and as long as we’re all together we haven’t failed. I promise.”
Sybil pulled him the rest of the way into her arms and took a deep breath as she felt him head fall against her shoulder and heard him trying to hold back a quiet sob. They stood there, holding each other tightly for several minutes until all the tears were gone. When he lifted his head again, their lips met in a soft kiss, full of the hope that had felt too small for too many months.
Tom stepped away, still holding her hand, and moved as if to leave the garage, but Sybil’s feet stayed firmly planted. “Come now, or we’ll miss the concert,” he said.
"How much time do you suppose we have before Pratt comes back?" Sybil asked.
Tom smiled as she looked over to the Renault with a saucy smile and tilted her head. ”More than enough,” he said, pulling her into the car.
Read previous S4 Sybil lives drabbles: (E1) (E2-1) (E2-2) (E3-1) (E3-2) (E3-3)