A Matter of Duty Chapter 1: The Proposition

A/N: Hello! This is my first Downton Abbey story as I just began watching the show this year. I was so saddened by Sybil's death and I have always loved her and Tom together so I decided to write this story. The Sybil and Branson storylines for season 2 episodes 7-8 and the Christmas special never occurred for the purposes of this story, but the storylines that don't concern them have. Let me know what you think!

"What? Have you all gone insane?" Sybil Crawley, usually composed and ladylike, hollered at her family.

Robert had just informed his youngest - and, although he wouldn't admit it, his favorite - daughter that she was going to marry Larry Grey, the son of a wealthy baron. He had just broken the news to his entire family that due to his dubious pre-war investments in a Canadian railroad company, they were in danger of going bankrupt. Cora's fortune, the crutch that the family had leaned on in order to support the estate, was almost completely decimated. That would mean the Crawleys would have to leave Downton Abbey - they would have to give up their home, their work, and their entire luxurious lifestyle.

And Robert was not about to let that happen. He had given too much of himself to Downton — he could not bear to fail. He was the one who had stupidly gotten them into this situation, so he would be the one to solve it. The only viable solution that Robert and a devastated Cora had brainstormed was that one of their three daughters would be the one to selflessly be the savior of the estate through her marriage to a wealthy gentleman. And so they settled on the beautiful and vivacious Sybil.

To Robert the plan was perfection.

But to Sybil it was far from that.

"I refuse to marry a man I completely and utterly loathe!" she cried, and flung herself at her mother. "Mama, please say that you didn't agree to this!"

"Sybil, do try to calm yourself," Cora drawled, calmly patting her youngest daughter's hand. "Your father and I have reasons for this, I promise you."

"So you did know!" Sybil exclaimed. She felt betrayed by her own family, the people who were supposed to always stick up for her. How could they subject her to this? If only they knew that she did not in fact have feelings for Larry — instead she was in love with a man that she could never hope to be with.

She was in love with Tom Branson. The bold Irish chauffeur, a man her father employed. And her best friend in the world, a man who understood her better than anyone — even her older sister Mary.

Being with Tom was a naïve teenager's fantasy, something she would achieve only if her life was a romance. In all likelihood, she expected to be married off to one wealthy noble or another.

But Sybil hadn't expected to be forced to marry the prick Larry Grey. He had always been so cocky and prejudiced and had an obsession with her that bordered on unhealthy. And he didn't even know the true version of her, the rebellious suffragette that Tom knew and loved.

It was so unfair that she would have to sacrifice her own happiness for the good of the Crawley name. Sybil voiced this thought. "Why couldn't Edith or Mary do this?"

"Darling, don't be ridiculous," Mary scoffed. "I'm engaged to Matthew — I could not exactly wed another man." "Besides, although Matthew is the heir to Downton, he is still a middle-class solicitor. He does not have any substantial amount of money that could save Downton," Robert put in.

"That's all fair, but what about Edith?" Sybil questioned. She hated to admit it, but she was starting to see the rationality in her parent's decision.

"Edith simply has no prospects," Mary stated bluntly. Edith immediately reddened and Cora sighed. But she knew in her heart that Edith was virtually a frumpy old maid and was used to Mary's cutting barbs about it.

"Besides, I have Sir Antony Strallan," Edith interjected. "Ha, that old codger?" Mary smirked, raising her perfect dark eyebrows. "You'll be lucky if he doesn't drop dead before he proposes to you!" Edith glared at her older sister again.

"And Larry has often confided his desire to marry you to your father", Cora added. Sybil sat up straight, shocked and disgusted by this news. "And you never told me this?" "I assumed that he had told you and that you rejected him, so I didn't push the matter," Robert defended his decision. "But now that we are desperate…"

Sybil sighed. "I suppose I see your line of reasoning, Papa, but that doesn't mean I am going to do as you say. Marrying for money rather than love does not align with my principles."

"Marrying for love only happens in salacious romance plays written by Shakespeare," Violet commented wryly. "And then the two lovers die by committing suicide."

Robert looked outraged as he stood up and clenched his glass of Scotch tightly. "I remind you, daughter, that I married your mother for her money to save the estate. Duty will always come before personal matters of the heart. It is just our way of life — Granny married your grandfather at a point when he was a stranger to her. We sacrificed marriage for love so that you and your sisters could have the life that you do." "And we couldn't be happier," Cora said, looking lovingly up at her husband.

Maybe that was true, but Sybil's parents and her grandmother were all good people. They were nothing like Larry was. Sybil shuddered at the thought of marrying him and felt a sudden feeling of dread creep into her stomach.

If she was Mrs. Larry Grey, she would never be free to be the woman that she was.

And then there was Tom. She knew that he loved her (as he had boldly told her many times) but she had never confessed that she loved him. She had been too scared to tell him, afraid to act on her feelings In case it led to trouble or scandal for her. But now it was too late — he would never know and the chances of her being with him were even slimmer than they had been a few days ago.

But at the same time, she felt compelled to do her part to save the home and the family that she loved.

"What do you think?," Robert asked, fully expecting his daughter to profusely refuse his proposition.

"I think I'm going to go for a walk," Sybil replied crisply and turned to leave.

She had a certain Irish chauffeur that she wanted to talk to.

A/N: Next chapter: Sybil speaks with Tom. I hope you enjoyed this story, as it is my first Downton Abbey fic.