A/N: I'm not on tumblr (I'm wishy-washy that way), but I got a very kind message from The Yankee Countess asking me to participate in the Secret Santa exchange. With such great S/T writers out there, it sounded like a fun idea. This one's for Repmet (more blind!Tom, please!), who continues to beat the Sybil/Tom drum. :)

Repmet's request was an AU from 3x04 where the Bransons remain in Ireland and shortly after the birth of their first child, the Crawleys come to visit and Tom goes missing. For this one, I tweaked the timeframe to incorporate the baby's christening. It has a different universe from my other story: here, the Bransons are still in Ireland and I've also left Tom's family down in Bray. Repmet's other request was for some bromance, which I worked in, but not nearly as much as I would have liked. So, as a surprise, I'll be posting a very bromantic and comical chapter of Home during the holiday hangover.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour
And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
And under the arches of the bridge, and scream
In the elms above the flooded stream;
Imagining in excited reverie
That the future years had come,
Dancing to a frenzied drum,
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.
~ W.B. Yeats, "A Prayer for My Daughter"

Dublin, Early September, 1920

When their daughter was born that July, some seven weeks before, Sybil had insisted Tom write the announcement to her family. Like her grandmother the Dowager Countess, Sybil understood that a judicious letter might benefit the ever delicate Branson-Crawley negotiations. After all, she contended, family is simply politics at its most basic level. Tom had grumbled through several drafts until finally balancing both his joy and pride in a brief statement. Sybil never asked what he wrote, but she didn't miss the twinkle in his eye when he sealed the envelope either.

Dear Lord Grantham,

It will please you to hear that you are now grandfather to a gorgeous little girl. Both your daughter and mine are in excellent health and I am grateful to Lady Grantham for her help in settling us in. The baby is the image of her mother in spirit as well as beauty. Because of that, and over the objections of my wife, she will be named Sybil. We hope you will spare the time to come to Dublin for your first grandchild's christening, and we shall send the details later.

With fondest regards,
Tom, Sybil, and Sybbie

So the Crawleys traversed the Irish Sea that September with a small contingent: Lord and Lady Grantham, and Mary and Matthew. The Dowager Countess sent her best wishes, but regretfully declined extended travel, and Cousin Isobel insisted she'd rather not intrude. Sybil was less concerned with those absent, though, than those present, specifically her father. Whether her mother had described the Bransons' modest home or circumstances to the earl, Sybil didn't know, but she suspected a lecture might have been wielded before their first evening's dinner at the Shelbourne Hotel. Lord Grantham seemed oddly indifferent to controversy this evening, deflecting any serious conversation with remarks about the about the weather and the marvelous condition of the roads.

Sybil laughed when Matthew inquired with Tom about his most recent article, only to have her father pipe in a rumor of a new toaster in Mrs. Patmore's kitchen. The earl's repertoire of the mundane was rather limited, so she doubted the détente would survive the meal. "So," Sybil hedged, turning to her sister. "How's Edith? I received a postcard after they arrived in New York, but nothing since."

"She and Anthony sent a telegram last week," Mary replied. "They were in Chicago and on their way to St. Louis...by motor."

"How did they arrange that?"

Matthew chuckled into his glass. "The poor man's so besotted he bought her a car...just for this trip."

"Poor man, indeed," Mary sniped. "A waste in my opinion, but it's his money."

"Honestly, I don't understand what one does motoring about the country," Lord Grantham muttered.

Spearing his fish, Matthew said, "Anthony's enthusiasm for agriculture can't be satisfied whizzing by on a train, Robert. They're simply taking in the fields at eye level." He glanced to his mother-in-law. "What is it the Americans call it? Amber waves of grain?"

Cora smiled. "I imagine they're having a splendid time."

"I'm just glad they're finally married," Sybil declared, lobbing her father a reproving glance. "...given that it almost didn't happen."

"A little compassion wouldn't be amiss, my dear," Lord Grantham said. "These last fifteen months have been rather a whirlwind...all three daughters married, and now a grandchild. Age has crept up on me like a thief in the night."

Sybil offered a contrite smile. "I'm sorry, Papa."

"Have you and Tom been able to scuttle beyond Dublin?" Mary asked her sister.

"We've taken the train down to Bray to visit Tom's mother, but not since earlier this year. There came a point during my pregnancy that I didn't even want to leave the flat. I felt like a whale waddling about."

"You were beautiful, love," Tom told her, squeezing her hand beneath the table. "And after watching you those last few months, I'm more convinced than ever that mankind wasted countless opportunities by considering women the weaker sex. Certainly none of the men at this table could have managed as you did."

Sybil exchanged smirks with her sister.

Lord Grantham's eyes lifted heavenward. "You could have come and stayed at Downton for your confinement and..." Been properly looked after was on the tip of his tongue, but instead finished "had the staff assist you until the baby was born."

"Confinement?" Sybil's eyes twinkled over her glass. "Honestly, Papa, you make it sound like a prison sentence."

"Isn't it?" Mary quipped.

"I'll pretend I didn't hear that," Matthew muttered.

Cora couldn't help but smile. "Well, as a mother I can assure you it's all worth it. I hope you remember that, Mary, as you two think about your own family."

Before her sister could retort, Sybil cut in. "They'll have to do more than think about it."

Lord Grantham coughed up his wine, waving off a waiter who darted toward the table. When he'd caught his breath, Robert narrowed his gaze. "Honestly, Sybil, I didn't realize you'd cast aside all propriety."

Mary was still snickering into her napkin when a group of determined-looking men gathered at a corner table in the room. One seemed to lead the conversation. Barrel-chested and with deeply set eyes, his rounded face was framed with mussed brown hair. Their discussions were barely above a rumbling murmur, but he punctuated certain points with a fist.

Tom followed her line of sight to the corner and turned back to the table, quietly offering, "That's Michael Collins. He's the new Minister of Finance."

Robert's eyes flitted to the group and back to Tom, who continued with his meal unperturbed.

Mary scanned their surroundings, suddenly noticing the dining room's other clientele: no families – all men. "Before the war, we stayed here quite often. The Shelbourne's certainly changed."

"It changed the day the British mounted artillery upstairs and fired onto St. Stephen's Green," Tom said, then noticed his mother-in-law's horrified expression. "The Easter Rising began that day. And there's none here who will forget it. The hotel caters mostly to politicians and diplomats now and it's popular among the republicans as well." Despite that, Tom had still only seen it from the outside, with its ill-boding statues of old world princesses and their shackled slaves. He'd always considered it an appropriate metaphor for his country.

"Now's not the time to discuss politics," Robert interjected with a tight smile.

"You've a right to know you arrived in the middle of a war."

Mary's head snapped to Sybil. "I'll not ask you if you've been careful, darling."

"I've only been Mrs. Branson here. I've not done anything to solicit attention beyond that."

With a relieved sigh, she changed the subject. "Your last letter mentioned you and Tom were still undecided on Sybbie's middle name. Any news on that front?"

"I'm afraid not," she chuckled. "We've narrowed it down to a few options, but we can't come to an agreement on any of them."

"With the ceremony two days away, you should finalize the negotiations." Mary leaned conspiratorially towards her sister. "If you have a particular favorite, clue me in and I'll be happy to drop a subtle suggestion to my brother-in-law."

"Do you need any help with the ceremony?" Cora asked. "We'd planned to visit with some friends tomorrow before the christening on Sunday, but I'm happy to cancel."

"No, everything is arranged," Sybil replied. "It will be at St. Francis Xavier's, on Gardiner Street."

Robert cleared his throat. "She's to be christened Catholic then," he said, his tone weighted with resignation.

"Of course." Sybil's face pinched. "Why wouldn't she be?"

"Because there hasn't been a Catholic Crawley since the Reformation."

"But she's not a Crawley, she's a Branson!"

The earl's jowls reddened with an impending outburst. "My daughter is Irish," Tom declared. "And she'll be raised Catholic, like her father."

Scowling, Robert muttered into his glass. "I don't understand how you could have agreed to this."

But Sybil didn't waver under his glare. "I don't care what church my children are brought up in as long as they learn there is a power greater than themselves and that they should serve others. When they're old enough, they can remain with the church or seek out their own manner of worship, as I have. I'm surprised at you, Papa. I never thought you would be this prejudice."

"That's unfair. I understand you have made certain choices for your life, but I cannot in good conscience stand aside while you give up your whole world while he gives up nothing!"

"Nothing? Do you know how many times my husband been ostracized by his own countrymen when they discover his father-in-law is an English peer? It certainly hasn't endeared him to his family either."

Tom scooted his chair back on the rug. "I should go."

Lord Grantham gave a defeated sigh under his wife's narrowed eyes. "I'm simply concerned about my daughter," he relented. "There's no need to go off in a huff."

"I have a daughter, too, you know. Or perhaps you'd rather forget that?"

The earl's face puckered. "Don't be ridiculous."

"Tom, please," Cora said.

"Don't worry." Tom gave her a smile. "He's not driving me away. If I'm to have to have a day or so off I need to go over an article with my editor." Sybil stood and leaned in to accept a kiss. Across the table, Lord Grantham coughed noisily. "Stay as long as you'd like, love. But make sure the hotel takes you home." When she started to protest, he kissed her cheek, whispering for their ears alone. "Not after dark with the baby, remember?" He pulled back, smiled and kissed her again.


Sybil remained with her family through dinner and lingered on for a late tea with her mother and sister so they could fawn over the baby. She half expected Tom to greet her at the door when the hotel's chauffeur pulled to a stop on Fontenoy Street, but the front windows of their small flat were dark. He works too hard, she thought, and then briefly wondered if his absence was spurred by the arrival of her family. No, we're past that nonsense. The driver, an older chap named Molony, had dithered all the way from the Shelbourne. He took breath long enough to brighten the Bransons' door with the headlights and assist her inside with boxes of baby paraphernalia sent by her family in Yorkshire. Honestly, we've no room for all this, she mused, as the driver chugged away.

She and Tom had found a place in Inns Quay, just off Mountjoy Street near the city basin. The one story flat was actually half of a little cottage divided in two, its purposeful rooms stacked from front to back: parlor, dining room, and kitchen. Their bedroom was squirreled away at the top of a narrow stair, efficiently carved from the attic space, with one dormered window facing the street. The entire flat could quite easily have fitted in Downton's saloon, but she and Tom loved it here. Their house-front stood indistinguishable to the others stretching down the crowded street, full of working Dubliners like themselves: teachers and clerks, tram operators and bakers. Their neighbor, a seamstress named Mrs. O'Keeffe, told her that a writer named James Joyce had once lived at Number 44.

Sybil dropped her shoes by the front door and latched it behind her. The baby began to stir, rooting her head against her mother's chest. Sybil held Sybbie up for a kiss and smiled. "You're worse than your father at times." Leaving a lamp on by the window for Tom, she padded upstairs, her feet dragging along the wooden floors as exhaustion set in. She climbed into bed, unbuttoned her gown, laying on her side for the feed. Sybbie suckled noisily, her eyes alert for her Mama.

Sybil hadn't intended on falling asleep, but she startled awake sometime later, bathed in lamplight. Beside her, the baby drowsed next to her breast, still uncovered from the feed. An unfamiliar cold crept up behind her and she rolled into the empty space, peering at the clock through fogged vision. Two o'clock. She bolted upright, shushing Sybbie as she tucked her between two pillows. Scurrying downstairs, she saw the lamp by the window remained lit, the door latched, and the coatrack empty. Her husband had never failed to send notice if he'd been held up by work; panic set in during a cursory search of the back rooms. "Tom?" She called into the darkened silence toward the rear of the house, hoping for, but not expecting an answer.


With the trams not operating until six, Sybil had awakened Mr. Raferty around the corner and begged for a ride. If not for the baby, she'd have searched into the night herself, but there was no avoiding telling her family of her husband's disappearance. Though her father had forbidden her to tempt fate by leaving sanctuary at the hotel, Sybil convinced Matthew to help retrace re-trace Tom's night. Borrowing a motor from the hotel, they navigated Dublin's busy streets, stopping briefly in a pub Tom was known to favor, and then by the news office which they found in disarray. Loiterers peered in through the broken windows, a few snapping off comments about the fecking tans as they pointed to the upturned printing press. Sybil's shoes crunched over the shattered glass near Tom's desk. His copy of Mills' England and Ireland –she'd given it to him for his birthday - lay in an open drawer. Their wedding picture peeked out between two of the pages.

Matthew came up behind her. "Don't worry. This doesn't mean anything," he whispered.

"It means everything," she replied, leading them back toward the door.

A search of his editor's flat proved even less promising. Seamus' place was in equal disarray and so they returned to the hotel, dispirited and drained. Lord Grantham had spent the majority of his morning on the telephone, exhausting his contacts in London for any information regarding his son-in-law's disappearance. Yes, he's Irish, he would sigh. A republican journalist, does that help? and No, I haven't a clue what he might have done was his repeated response.

"Darling, do try to get some rest," the earl told his daughter when she and Matthew arrived.

"Could you rest if it was Mama?"

Mary joined them, offering a thin smile. "Sybbie has been charming her grandmother and Anna all day," she said. "She's still not chinked O'Brien's armor, though."

"That's right," Sybil heard her father say behind them. His tone had perked up. "He's a journalist. No, I don't know what paper..."

"The Republican Observer," Sybil hastened to add.

Robert's relay of the information was followed by a dour hum. "So, with whom should I speak?" His brows twisted around in thought and he finished the call with a sharp nod. "Right, thank you."

"Do they know where he is?" When her father refused a response, she pressed on, "Papa, where is he?"

He sighed, taking her arms. "Mountjoy Prison."

Sybil's breath hitched. He'd been less than a mile from their flat. "We can be there in half an hour..."

Matthew stayed her shoulder. "Wait here with the baby."

"Sybil," Robert said, patting her hand. "I don't even know if we can get him out. At least we know where he is, and I'll appeal the situation with the Chief Secretary..."

"No, Papa, I'm going whether they let me see him or not." Pinning her hat back in place, she snatched up her bag. "I need to be near my husband."


She and Matthew had been relegated to a musty corner of a semi-enclosed anteroom. Sybil didn't know the time, only that they departed the hotel at tea-time and now daylight waned into dusk through a lone window on the far wall. Her father relayed nothing beyond the prison and an appeal with the Chief Secretary, but she'd heard stories of Mountjoy and the capture of members of the IRA. Tom wasn't in the organization – I'm a lover not a fighter, he'd once joked – but his articles had begun detailing the recent escalation of events: the reprisals of violence and murder, particularly that against the innocent. Tom's predilection for honesty, though, generated ire from both sides. He wanted freedom for his homeland, but not by sacrificing the soul of its people.

Beside her, Matthew turned his fedora absently, brushed off the brim and gave her a tight smile. "It may be a while," he said. "If the Chief Secretary won't receive him, he'll try to arrange a meeting with the Lord Lieutenant."

"It's rather ironic," she sighed. "I've been trying to hide my family's background since Tom and I arrived in Dublin. But, if being the Earl of Grantham's daughter helps bring my husband home, I'll shout it from the rooftops." Sybil watched a few Tans harry back and forth, dropping paperwork with a duty officer. A typewriter clacked noisily behind him, the metallic monotony broken by a telephone ring, and the drums of murmuring voices.

"We'll wait here as long as it takes," her brother-in-law said.

"You told them we were appealing with Sir Hamar Greenwood. I don't understand why they won't at least let me see my husband. What have they to hide?" Each syllable came a little louder. The duty officer glowered behind his counter.

Matthew tapped a foot, his eyes following the soldiers as they bustled in and out. "The government has bumbled the entire situation here," he muttered, and then quickly added, "Don't tell you're your father I said that, though. Most of the soldiers here returned from the war in Europe only to find no work at home. Hundreds of thousands fight for King and Country and return to a government incapable of finding them employment." He cast a contrite smile. "I'm not defending what they've done, but they are men with families. And I imagine they're scared to death to be here."

Sybil glanced up at the duty officer again, but this time took note of his stubbed left arm. Holding down a piece of paper with the stub, he scratched out something with his right hand. She caught the officer's eyes when he glanced up, and nodded with an unapologetic smile. He offered one in return, his prominent ears and pinked cheeks framing a cherubic face. Suddenly, she gasped and stood to approach the counter.

The officer's smile faded. "I'm afraid there's been no further news, Mrs. Branson," he said, pointing with his stubbed arm toward her chair. "Might as well make yourself comf..."

"Captain Smiley?"

His brows shot up. "Yes, that's right," he stammered, trying to remember if he'd introduced himself.

"We've met before," she said, disbelieving. "During the war. You were one of my patients at the Downton convalescent home." She removed her hat, tucking loose strands of hair behind her ears.

"Nurse Crawley," he declared with a laugh.

"That was before I married, of course. But, yes." Sybil motioned to his hand. "And I'm glad to see your handicap hasn't kept you from work."

"Well, I learned to write again...I can even type, but I'm a bit slow. Wouldn't be much good in a fight, but I suppose I don't need two hands to file papers." His shoulders hitched in a shy shrug. "Don't know if I could have believed in myself if it hadn't been for you or the other nurses."

Reaching in her bag, she pulled out a small photograph and placed it on the counter. "That's my husband and daughter. It was taken just a few weeks ago."

"I have a daughter myself," he smiled. "She's in Lincoln, with her mother."


He began shaking his head. "I can't..."

"Please, I must tell him we're alright. I know he must be worried."

By then, Matthew had idled up behind her. "You can stand with us if you wish...I'm an attorney and a former officer. I understand how these things go."

"Alright," he relented quietly, plucking on his cap. "Follow me."


When he heard the key clang in the lock, Tom scrambled up on trembling legs, squinting as bright light poured into the murky cell. He felt the pair of soft arms clutching him before his eyes could adjust. Quiet sobs of relief muffled into his skin; Sybil's tears fell warm against his neck.

"They kept threatening to go to the flat...thank God you're alright," he breathed, falling into her kiss. "Sybbie?"

"She's fine, darling. She's with Mama and Mary." Sybil turned his cheek toward the filtered light. Once she noticed the first welt, others were hard to miss. Flecks of red peppered his shirt collar; a cut on his lip bulged with a crimson scab; his brow bore signs of a yellowing bruise.

Before she could speak around her fury, Matthew cut in. "What happened?"

"The light was on at Seamus' place, but he didn't come to the door." Tom laughed around a cough, sending a spiral of pain through his limbs. "Should've bloody known better, but I went in anyway. The Tans had already taken him, but they were still there going through his papers."

"What would they have been looking for?"

Tom's eyes flickered over the uniform standing guard and shrugged. "His contacts most likely, but he was never fool enough to write those things down or tell anyone who wasn't working on his copies. And he usually wrote them all himself."

"I expect you told them that," Sybil said.

"Would you expect them to listen?" He gestured to his face. "This was me convincing them."

Matthew turned the Irishman's chin aside. "By the looks of things, you didn't do a very good job." Tom laughed, doubling over as a sharp throb burned through his ribs. As he relaxed back against the wall, Matthew asked, "I presume they brought you here for a little more conversation, then?"

Tom closed his eyes. Ah, Branson is it? The brown-coated sergeant had circled the chair in which Tom sat, hands clutched pompously behind his back as he tsk-tsk-tsked. Well, nothing like bagging two fish with one net. The previous night's images blurred as Sybil brushed his face. "I don't know, maybe..."

From somewhere down the stone-lined hall, they heard a guard's clipped voice. "But, I've received no orders confirming this, sir!"

"You have it there in writing, Major," came the low retort, and then Lord Grantham's voice boomed nearer. "If you wish to interrupt the General's evening, please telephone his secretary immediately. But I assure you he's probably heard enough of the man's name this evening as it is. Use your own judgment..." Robert's shoes thudded to a halt at the cell door, his attention flicking between Sybil and Matthew before landing awkwardly on Tom.

Lord Grantham's deliberate steps echoed into the cramped space. His cheeks twisted with a momentary flicker of relief until he saw his daughter, stoic by her husband's side here in this dank little cell. Glancing back at his son-in-law, he flushed with thinly veiled shame. But Tom refused to shrink under the indignity and pushed away from the wall, upright on his own two feet until a burst of pain in his knee nearly threw him down. Sybil and Matthew each caught an arm.

"Sybil, does he need medical attention?" Lord Grantham asked.

"I'd rather take him home if I could, Papa, and examine him there."

Tom gasped as she and Matthew balanced him between them. "What did you tell them?"

"This isn't the place," Robert muttered, glancing around. "Let's get you back."


Tom sat silent on the short ride back to the flat, his hand squeezing Sybil's as the motor rattled over potholes and bumps. Undeterred by her father's sanctimonious cough, she leaned over to kiss her husband, whispering, "I asked the duty officer to call the hotel. Mama and Mary will bring Sybbie home later." That made him smile and thoughts of their daughter salved his wounds as the car made its last lurches down Mountjoy Street.

A rainstorm unleashed when they turned onto Fontenoy Street, but Tom shrugged off any further assistance. So, by the time he hobbled through the door, he was drenched through. Bringing up the rear, Robert doffed his hat, his eyes taking in the confines of his youngest daughter's home for the first time. He followed into the small parlor, where they'd deposited the Irishman onto a dull-colored sofa.

Only then did Tom cry out, a native curse on his lips escaping before he could help it. Sybil pushed his jacket from his shoulders and unbuttoned his waistcoat. "Can't this wait, Nurse Branson?"

But Sybil's eyes remained on task, her hands trembling as the day's terror finally ebbed away through her training. Tom forced a smile, deciding it best not to tease. "Lay down, darling," she whispered, lifting his feet to the arm of the sofa. Another jolt of pain ripped through his side. He groaned, biting his swollen lip, which came with its own brand of torture. His eyes stinging, he fought off the urge to scream. Lifting his shirt tail, Sybil gasped at the purple bruises across his ribs and waist. She palmed his face, scratched and mottled with dried blood. No, she thought as her throat burned, not now. "Matthew," she choked out, "there's aspirin in the cupboard by the stove, along with some liniment oil. Also, bring some soap and water."

Robert paced by the window and glanced down at a table featuring a cadre of simple brass frames: one of he and Cora, and another of Mary, Edith and Sybil, taken at a garden party before the war. The one in front though struck him most: Tom and Sybil, apparently captured on their wedding day. Her beauty burst forth, of course, and she seemed so content by her husband's side. He turned back to the young couple, his question finally breaking the silence. "I don't suppose you have anything to drink?"

Tom's laugh rattled in his chest; he pulled out a handkerchief and coughed up a bit of pink spittle. "Is your son-in-law Irish?" He pointed to a boxed table, with a set of doors beneath.

The earl disappeared into the kitchen for a trio of glasses and offered Tom a generous ration before pouring his own. "You were damned lucky, you know." The third he handed to Matthew, who had eased onto the small coffee table next to Sybil. "Lucky, and blessed by the grace of God."

"Papa, please not now," his daughter implored, washing a cut above her husband's brow.

Matthew handed her a fresh cloth and washed the other in a small basin. "I take it you had more success with Sir John French than with the Chief Secretary?"

The earl's eyes gave a subtle roll. "Viscount French is just as arrogant now as he was when I served under him in South Africa." Unbuttoning his jacket, he collapsed into a vacant chair. "He's been stripped of most of his power here, no thanks to his own ineptitude, but he still retains marginal influence over Hamar Greenwood and convinced him to release you." Lord Grantham wielded a piece of paper from his pocket, waving it in Tom's direction. "It seems one of your articles was reprinted in a Boston newspaper," he said, before reading aloud.

Sir Hamar Greenwood protested recently that the threat published in his Weekly Summary issued to the members of the R.I.C. in Ireland - that two or three Sinn Feiners would be killed for every policeman shot - was 'only a quotation' from a document issued by a mythical organization known as the 'Anti-Sinn Fein Society.' Yet, to the average Irishman, this 'explanation' will hardly make it less evident that this threat republished in an organ issued to members of the English Occupation in Ireland is an obvious incentive to murder. Sir Hamar Greenwood apparently still thinks it is good for the R.I.C. to have pernicious incitements to more murder brought before them in an official circular. That is not far from admitting murder as an instrument of Government. Perhaps someone will now ask the Chief Secretary if he can throw any light on the membership and organization of this mythical 'Anti-Sinn Fein Society.'

International attention should also be pointed to another outrage. On Wednesday of last week, the R.I.C. murdered a trio of Irish lads in Killarney, the youngest no more than twelve, whose mother had been assaulted by a policeman in the vilest way not three days before. The Chief Secretary's reply: 'This is just one of the marvelous coincidences that happen in Ireland.'

When Sir Hamar Greenwood first took office as Chief Secretary of Ireland, he must have been sufficiently cautioned that to tell the truth was the most dangerous thing that a sponsor of England's Irish policy could do. How can any government expect to convince the world of its legitimacy when it bestows upon the Irish people a Canadian windbag who proffers deceit with such practiced ease?

When Lord Grantham finished reading, he tossed the paper onto a nearby table, and sipped his whisky. "Do you deny writing this?"

"Not a bit."

"Well, to secure your release, I assured the Chief Secretary there would be no more of it."

The heat burned upward from Tom's collar. "You had no right to promise them that!"

Robert's own skin reddened. "It was the best I could do under the circumstances! If you've no wish to abide by it, then be prepared to go back to prison and rot there if they don't decide to hang you first."

"Papa, Greenwood has been misleading the world as well as his own government about what the Black and Tans have done!"

"Be that as it may, Sybil, but that won't prevent the authorities from clapping your husband in irons if he gets under their skin again. And, as Tom articulated yesterday, Ireland is in the middle of a war, and recent passage of the Restoration of Order Act allows the government to declare and prosecute under martial law. Don't think for a moment they wouldn't jump at the opportunity to silence him once and for all."

"So I'm forbidden now from writing the truth," Tom snapped.

"No," Robert corrected slowly, "But I would advise you to cease these personal attacks on Sir Hamar Greenwood. And for good measure, you should do the same with other representatives of His Majesty's government, including Sir John French. As you know, politicians can be incredibly thin-skinned."

Tom's body surrendered back into the cushions, his eyes finding those of his wife. Sybil dabbed at the scrapes and cuts on his face, stinging now like a swarm of bees. Forcing a smile, she dropped a kiss to his nose before releasing the buttons on his shirt.

"Sybil, let Matthew and I help him upstairs for that..."

"Honestly, Papa, it's a shirt," she grunted, tugging on her husband's arm. "I'm a nurse, a wife, and a mother. It takes rather a lot to shock me these days."

The earl grumbled into his glass. "It may surprise you to hear, Tom, that I'm not entirely opposed to Irish autonomy, but this bloody back and forth solves nothing."

"Well, years of waiting on the bleedin' government to do anything got us nowhere either." Tom certainly didn't support the violence, but he'd be damned if he'd have an English aristocrat preach to him about Irish politics. He uttered a relieved groan when Sybil finally pulled him out of the shirt. Whispering an apology, she offered him the whisky again. He groaned as it burned down his throat. "You said you went by the office?" Sybil's head twitched in a subtle nod. "And?"

"Seamus will find another place, Tom."

"If he's released."

"He did it before..."

"...and he's been running it at a loss since then. With a black mark on my name, I doubt he'd take the risk on me, even if he could start it up again." Wincing, he lifted his arms. "Besides, I'll not do any typing for a while..."

Until then she hadn't noticed his battered wrist and hands. He bit a curse she pressed his right palm. "Oh Tom... what did they do to you?"

"Somebody accidentally stepped on my hands. Clumsy bastard managed to do it twice. Jesus..." He nearly levitated from the sofa when she tried straightening his fingers.

"Darling, we need to get this set..."


"We shouldn't wait..."

"Tomorrow morning, then."

"I think we could all use some rest tomorrow," Lord Grantham said. "I'll send a message to the church and..."

"No," Tom protested. "I won't let them take this away from me, too." The corners of his eyes crinkled with a smile. "Though I'm not sure if I need to be in the photograph in such a state."

"You'll be in it or we'll have none at all," Sybil whispered against his mouth. "And one day when Sybbie asks why her father looks like a prize fighter, we'll tell her how you helped write a small part of Irish history so that she could live in a better world."


Tom had not yet examined his battle scars in a mirror, but gauging by Cora and Mary's expressions when they arrived with the baby, he must've been quite a sight. Matthew helped him navigate the narrow stair to the bedroom, but Tom shrugged off further assistance. His pride had taken enough of a beating as it was. So, when Sybil came up later – doors secured and lights out – she found him sitting on the bed struggling into a nightshirt.

"Darling, let me."

The last thing he wanted was to become another burden, but after fussing with one arm of his shirt for several minutes, he resigned to her help. It took a moment to discover which way he could twist without excruciating pain, but they finally got him dressed for bed. She bent down and brushed back his hair to kiss his brow. Her eyes watering, she turned away, and shook with a little sob.


With a groan he pushed up from the bed, pulling her back into his arms. She surrendered to her tears then, turning to muffle her cries into his shirt. He pressed soft kisses across her face, whispering a litany of apologies. "You've nothing to be sorry for," she insisted. "You wrote the truth and I'm proud of you for doing that."

"And where has it gotten us?" His good hand – the one only slightly bruised - drifted up and hooked a lock of hair around her ear. "I was so worried about you."

She breathed out a sarcastic laugh. "I wasn't the one in prison."

"No, but they kept threatening to come here for you, saying the government wouldn't mind making an example of another Countess Markievicz." His voice trembled. "I could never forgive myself if anything happened to you or Sybbie."


"Things are only going to get worse."

Though she'd never tell her family, they'd had this conversation before. "You know I won't leave you. We knew the situation here when we made our decision to come. Nothing has changed."

"Everything has changed."

"All of your talk, about how excited you were to finally witness an Irish Free State and how ours would be the first generation to raise their children under a new banner. This is your country, Tom, and mine now as well."

"But it's not just us anymore, love," he whispered. "Do you think I could live in a place that took either of you away from me?"

"I'm not leaving you."

His pride reared its ugly head. "We don't have any money and now that I'm without a job..."

"You've received tremendous praise for your writing, Tom. Someone will pick you up, even if it's just one story at a time..."

"I can't earn famine wages." He remembered the previous winter, how they huddled beneath layers of blankets, keeping the cold at bay. Sometimes they found other ways, falling asleep warmed by the flush of sex, their hands linked over her enlarging middle. Their baby was safe then, nourished and warm. Now he worried what the future would bring.

"What you write is important to me, whether you get paid for it or not."

"Well, it's important to me," he said. A defeated sob escaped as he presented his hands. "Besides, I can't even write now."

"I'll be your hands until yours are well again. And, by then, I'll be back to work."

He smiled when she wiped away his tears. "You don't know how to type."

"Are you saying I can't learn?" They fell into one another's arms, simply grateful for the day's end. "Besides, we still have my dowry," she suggested as he rocked her, "And what better way to spend it than by typing up a bit of treason..." Laughing, he dropped a kiss on her head and gave her a playful squeeze. Sybil winced. "Oh, golly."

"What's the matter?"

"I haven't fed her all day..."

"She hasn't eaten?"

"No, I left instructions with Mama and Mary, but I feel like I'm about to explode." Tom couldn't help but smile as she lay down on their bed, hastening to open the front of her gown. "Oh, Sybbie darling, I don't care if you're hungry right now or not. Mama needs some relief." Fortunately, the little girl began suckling greedily: her Branson appetite, as Sybil liked to tease.

Tom snuggled in behind her and draped an arm over to brush a purple finger against the alabaster of his daughter's cheek.

"Papa's right about one thing," she said after a few minutes. "By the grace of God, we're together again."

He pressed a soft kiss into her neck. "Always," he whispered, and then gave a disbelieving laugh. "That's it!"


"Her middle name. Sybil Grace Branson."

She felt his smile against the back of her neck. "It's perfect," she said. "But must we still call her Sybbie?"

"Absolutely. Because when I look at her, I see her mother," he murmured into her skin. "You're my darlings, both of you."


Two days later, as his wife bade farewell to her family at the ferry dock, Tom stood aside with the newly christened Sybil Grace Branson snuggled into his arms. The late summer breeze had stalled and beads of sweat trickled down his back. Hearing Sybbie gurgle, he glanced down. Her hands bunched up against her eyes and he turned his back to the sun. The baby opened her eyes again and stared wide-eyed at her father, delighting him with a gummy grin.

Matthew ambled up beside them, sharing a laugh with his brother-in-law as the women continued their exhaustive goodbyes. He smiled, and spoke quietly. "She's a beautiful child."

"She's her mother's daughter. I've hardly got a look in, and I don't mind a bit."

Matthew brushed a palm over the baby's lace bonnet, an ember of jealousy creeping in as Sybbie blinked back, all blue eyes and rosebud mouth. "I don't know. I sense a streak of Irish stubbornness buried beneath all that innocence."

Tom bent down, never tiring of feeling his daughter's cheek beneath his lips. From the corner of his eye, he caught Matthew's wistful expression. On their most recent trip to Downton, for Edith's wedding, the future earl had admitted a budding fear that he and Mary might remain childless, wondering if lingering effects of his wartime paralysis might be at fault. "Your time will come, Matthew. When it's meant to happen, it will happen."

"You're right," he sighed, giving a nod. "And thank you, by the way, for asking me to be her godfather. It's quite an honor."

Tom gave a soft smile. "I know she would be well taken care of, God forbid if anything should happen to me."

"Just see that it doesn't," Matthew pressed. "War makes a habit of leaving fatherless children in its wake." He threw a glance over his shoulder to their father-in-law, who pulled out his pocket, frowned, and barked over the time to his wife and daughters. "Are you sure you'll be alright, because you only have to ask..."

"Thank you, but we'll be just fine," Tom whispered, rocking his daughter, whose eyes had begun to droop.

"Well, be that as it may..." He pulled a slip of paper from his pocket. "I took the liberty of telephoning an old classmate of mine from Oxford. His name's Michael Gregson and he owns a London paper. I told him I had a brother-in-law who worked as a journalist in Dublin and might be looking for other opportunities." He gave Tom a smile. "He's in need of a native correspondent here to cover the situation, but hadn't found anyone he felt comfortable with yet."

Tom glanced up.

"I hope I didn't overstep."

"No...thank you." Since Tom's hands were full with the baby, Matthew pushed the paper in his coat pocket.

"He's been known to publish a controversial article or two. So, your leanings may yet find a welcome ear. Just be careful how you stir the pot," he laughed, before heading towards the dock.

Sybil waved to her family as they ascended the gangplank and settled in next to her husband. Peeking in on their yawning daughter, she whispered, "I think it's time for a nap."

Tom pressed a kiss to her brow and pulled back with a wink. "Good, because you've got some typing to do, Mrs. Branson."

A/N2: The language for the majority of Tom's article was abstracted and paraphrased from "The Newsletter of the Friends of Irish Freedom," which was an American publication. I took a little historical license with it, as that particular article didn't appear until March 1921. The bit involving the incident down in Killarney, was my own creation, but Greenwood's quote was taken verbatim from a similar incident.

I know little to nothing about poetry, but in doing some general searching for historical context, I happened upon W.B. Yeats' "A Prayer for My Daughter." The poem was written sometime in early 1919 under the backdrop of the Irish War for Independence. In it he's both anxious and excited about the future of Ireland, and hopes that his daughter will survive the storm. After reading it, it very much reminded me of the Bransons.