thomas had liked his job as a medic when it was at the hospital— he wasn’t on the front, and he was still helping. in some way, he was helping. and anything was better than back there. the whispers about matthew crawley and william and how valiant they had been didn’t go over thomas’ head. valiant , he always dismissed. no, thomas thought. william was dead, and fritz was still strong as ever.
if anything, downton’s new usage as a convalescent home made his job more enjoyable. he could still help the men he was in charge of, but now he was allowed to boss around mr carson. and that was enough for him.
being promoted to lance sergeant was a plus, too. call it ironic given why he was doing this at all, but thomas felt content with what he was doing. good about it, even.
thomas was settling a new patient in. he hadn’t a problem with the man— of course he didn’t, the poor sod had gotten both his legs blasted off knee-down— but it was something clarkson mentioned that’d sent thomas into one of his moods today.
“corporal malcolm hempstead, he’ll be in the armada room.” a nurse had whispered to him as an orderly wheeled the man into the abbey. “major clarkson said he’s been rather depressed as of late, and that hopefully you and lady edith can do something about it. i think that means it’s not looking lovely.” her eyes widened a bit before she hurried after the rest of the patients.
thomas wanted to scoff. since when did dr clarkson give a rat’s arse about whether a patient was depressed or otherwise? maybe if he’d shown the same compassion the first time it’d happened, maybe then-
thomas took a deep breath. he’d resolved not to think anymore about edward courtenay.
he kept failing.
sybil had cried too, after it’d happened. she’d put her arms around thomas and cried with him. thomas should’ve been humiliated, crying in front of lady sybil crawley, but he just couldn’t bring himself to care all too much. sybil called him sergeant barrow, thomas called her nurse crawley. neither of them were particular advocates for the current— ghastly— state of social class and that was why they worked so well.
thomas, after settling the new patient in— well, he just handed him over to lady edith and hurried off— was worn out and in an unpleasant mood. o’brien slinked past him in the hallway with one of her condescending little smirks. they’d fallen apart a bit since he’d left, and thomas decided that he wished it was socially acceptable to hit a woman sometimes.
he was careful during those meetings with his lordship, of course, on the patients and how they were doing and their potential discharge times. it was rather mortifying for clarkson to come in and assess his performance, despite thomas’ confidence that he was doing well. apparently lord grantham had needed some hefty convincing to turn downton into a convalescent home, according to sybil, because he’d been convinced his true calling in war was to go to the front.
thomas had only laughed. that place was hell. anybody who said they wanted to go there, he’d told her— rather rashly, in retrospect— was either an idiot or a liar.
his mild boredom at his lordship’s seemingly endless droning soon morphed into mortification when sybil stormed into the room he sat in, looking very determined- as she usually did, but this time more determined than usual.
“sergeant barrow.” her voice trembled slightly enunciating his name. not out of nervousness or tears, but out of an odd conviction that thomas didn’t feel wonderfully about.
“has something happened, nurse crawley?” he asked in reply, casting her a look meant to convey a calm down . her ladyship looked concerned. at least sybil had waited until the meeting was over. but that made it yet more odd, if it were serious she would’ve gone in and told dr clarkson about it, not thomas.
“not with any of the patients.” she exclaimed quickly, in noticing that dr clarkson had started to get to his feet. “i apologise for barging in, everyone. i just wanted to discuss something. quickly.”
thomas got up, straightening out his uniform and clearing his throat. “of course.” he still sounded confused, and he gave the senior crawleys a nod before slowly approaching the door. he decided to interpret the pained expression on sybil’s face as apologetic.
“make sure to check on corporal hempstead when you’re free, the nurses tell me his phantom pain hasn’t been good today.” dr clarkson exclaimed, looking rather put off. his expression was mirrored, to a greater degree, on his lordship’s face. thomas couldn’t help the flush that began to stain his cheekbones.
clearly, sybil couldn’t wait for thomas to provide his assent, and she gave him a look of pure panic as she grabbed his wrist and practically dragged him from the room. so much for not concerning anybody. he could practically hear the steam coming out of his lordship’s ears. it was undeniably improper, and normally he wouldn’t give a damn but in the position he was in now... he did.
“we need to talk.”
thomas grumbled a, “i’ve not got a good feeling about this” before ceasing his protest and allowing sybil to tug him down the servant’s staircase, through the servant’s hall and outside. he hadn’t had time to properly assess the people in the hall they passed through, but if o’brien was among them he knew he’d be facing an interrogation soon enough.
sybil, thankfully, had learned thomas’ ways in the time she’d known him, and dragged him out to the back of the house where he usually escaped for a smoke. he took one out now, not bothering to offer her one and placing his own between his lips.
“can i have one?” sybil asked, holding out a hand. her lips were pressed together. she looked as if she were mentally preparing for what she was about to say. thomas raised an eyebrow, but he wouldn’t question it, pulling his box of cigs back out and handing her one. he’d get a laugh when she coughed up a lung.
“go on, then.” she held the cigarette out. thomas lit his own before lighting hers. he held his between his teeth as he watched her take the first drag, unable to keep the snide smile from creeping onto his face as sybil’s expression morphed into that of disgust and she removed the cigarette from her mouth, coughing softly. at least it wasn’t as bad as thomas’ first time smoking. she stared down at the thing before deciding not to put it out immediately and just holding it in her fingers. he leaned back against the wall and let out a sigh.
“what was that all about?” he asked after a long pause, slowly exhaling a cloud of smoke. sybil remained quiet, wringing her hands. thomas straightened up, furrowing his eyebrows. he liked to think he wasn’t the soppy sort, (though that was an obvious lie), but if he had to get her to tell him what was going on he would. he did have work to get to, after all.
“nurse crawley, do spit it out.” thomas had noticed, from experience, that sybil didn’t like being spoken to like a child. she much preferred a rough talking-to than to be babied, though nobody was really a fan of either. “we’ve both got work to get to sooner or later. unless you’re here to tell me you’re a german spy, there’s not much a chance of there being a problem with whatever you’ve got to say. just talk.”
sybil raised her head slightly, inhaling sharply. “i suppose you’re right. though your mind may easily be changed when i continue.” she had to pause for a moment to collect herself. thomas raised an eyebrow expectantly.
“do you remember gwen dawson?” she asked.
“the maid with the red hair? the one who wanted to be a secretary? sure i do.” thomas gave her a confused look. “what does she have to do with…”
“oh, shut up , thomas, i’m trying to explain. so i was helping her find the job, see. i’m not sure if she told you lot, but… i did. and we had to spend a bit of time together.” sybil’s eyes were now rather shiny. she pressed her lips together, averting her gaze from his. thomas was yet more concerned now, just a little bit affronted that she’d told him to shut up . he didn’t say anything, though.
“so we… had to put an application together, and stuff. and after the last interview she did, she was really confident she’d get it, and so was i.” she couldn’t hide the tear that slipped down her cheek. her voice was shaking rather violently. “and i just- she was so pretty , see, and i couldn’t help it. i kissed her, thomas.” she exclaimed helplessly.
thomas’ jaw had dropped. he hadn’t thought much could shock him after the front, but this did. he didn’t understand it. sybil- she couldn’t be like him . she was too- he didn’t know. she wasn’t like thomas at all.
“-she kissed me back. and it was so lovely, and we didn’t do anything because mary nearly walked in and we decided we couldn’t risk it. and then she was gone. and i don’t- i didn’t-“ she sniffled. thomas placed a hesitant hand on her arm, which she received as an invitation to throw her arms around his neck and hug him tightly. he didn’t complain, simply hugging her back even when her tears stained his uniform.
“and then- y’know nurse jenkins? alice? the blonde, she’s- rather lovely. well. i thought- i thought she was the same, y’know, and i tried to talk to her last friday-” thomas grimaced. he knew what was likely coming, having most certainly experienced it himself. with kemal pamuk, for one. that’d ended a right mess. “it- she didn’t- she said she wouldn’t tell, but she called me disgusting , thomas. which i’m not.”
“nurse crawley, i-”
“ sybil , please.” she all but sobbed.
“alright then, sybil. i’m dreadfully sorry about what happened with nurse jenkins, you know i am. it’s awful what she said, you know you’re not disgusting in the slightest.” he replied quickly, as sympathetic as he could muster. thomas was mostly in shock, but he did know what she felt. it was the fact that she knew how he felt that was so jarring.
“but what- what are you trying to tell me? you know i’m not judging you, i’d be a hypocrite to judge you for that sort of thing.” thomas was fairly sure that she knew about his proclivities, most of the family seemed to- how , he didn’t know- but he was sure it was nicer hearing it come out of his mouth.
sybil shook her head, resting her cheek against his shoulder. “i had to ask you something. and i’d not been before, but i’m rather terrified to.” she exclaimed. thomas glanced around to make sure nobody was watching them.
“well then, why don’t we… we can talk about it later, if you like. i’ll meet you in a hallway tonight, say i was just checking on everyone.” he said quietly.
“no, i can’t. i have to tell you.” she said firmly, stepping back and straightening her posture resolutely. “i’ll tell you now, and then we can talk tonight. how about that?” she asked, not waiting for an answer. she seemed to have gathered a burst of confidence, because what she said next would’ve brought thomas to the ground had he not already been leaning against the wall.
“i think we should get married.” sybil declared. “the war is going to end sooner rather than later, we all know that. it can’t go on much longer. and with it, mama and papa will demand that i get married sooner rather than later, to some stuffy nobleman who’ll keep me in a cage for the rest of my life.” she was speaking very quickly. “and- and you’re not working at downton anymore, are you? and papa won’t have any qualms against your character, not after you managed the house.” sybil’s voice cracked, and she placed a hand on her throat.
“we’re the same sort, thomas, we can carry on living as best friends who don’t have to worry as much about getting caught. we’re good friends, we get along, i know this can work. we can have our own relationships, everything, and i won’t have to deal with society and the season . we can- i don’t know what i’ll do, probably continue as an actual nurse, but maybe you can go to medical school, or something. work with clocks, you’re good at that. we’ll be happy as can be.” she looked rather desperate.
thomas didn’t know what to say, floundering confusedly for a solid few moments before regaining the ability to form coherent thoughts. “you want- me , thomas barrow, the nasty little footman who cheated his way out of fighting for king and country, to marry you. sybil, i couldn’t possibly do that, not to you or your family. just think of the scandal.”
“oh, to hell with the scandal, thomas. don’t you see? i want out of this life, i’m well over twenty-one and i don’t give a damn what my family thinks. i don’t need their permission. and i know you’d love the look on carson’s face when the news broke.” sybil gazed up at him for another moment before stepping back. thomas must’ve looked a right fool. “also, you’re no nasty little footman anymore. nor did you cheat your way out of the war. look at you, you’re helping people. a sergeant is perfectly respectable.”
“i’m a sergeant now, nurse crawley, but i won’t be after the war. i won’t be anything. i’d be lucky if i was given a reference from my job here after this.” thomas replied desperately. “you don’t want a husband who’s unemployed, sybil, that would be ridiculous and incredibly below you.”
“it won’t be below me at all, thomas, we’ll get you a steady job before we marry. don’t worry about that now, we’ll figure it all out easy enough.” sybil implored him. thomas shook his head.
“look, i’m just not sure, is all. i’m not sure you’ve thought about this.”
“i’ve thought about it a great deal, thomas, and i know i’ll be back to being a lady after this war but i’d much rather be lady sybil barrow than lady sybil anything else. i’d rather be married to someone i can love as a friend than someone whom i can’t love at all.”
“there are an abundance of men in the british aristocracy that are my sort.” he was given a rather painful reminder of philip villiers, duke of crowborough. thomas shook the memory from his head. “i just don’t see why you have to sacrifice your livelihood and your relationship with your family for me.”
“because you’re my friend, thomas, and i want to. and it’d be fun, living together, admit it. you can bring home your boyfriends and i’ll bring home my girlfriends and we won’t have to hide .”
thomas was baffled. he had no idea how to reply to any of this.
“well. i’ve said what i needed to say. the both of us really must get on.” she cleared her throat, glancing down at her cigarette and deciding against taking another drag. she tossed it to the ground and put it out with the heel of her shoe. thomas stared at her.
“nurse crawley, i’m still-”
“we have to get to work , sergeant.”
thomas could not think straight for the rest of the day. o’brien, as expected, asked him about what was going on, to which he replied that it was no business of hers. she gave him a withering look that left a bad feeling in his stomach.
“thomas, i had a question about the-” it was anna. her and sybil were close, weren’t they? did she know? likely not, but the look on her face still put him on edge.
“sergeant barrow to you .”
“yes, yes, sergeant barrow.” anna laughed. thomas bristled. “i saw you out smoking with lady sybil earlier. and i’ve no problem with the habit when you do it, all i’m saying is that his lordship would throw a fit if he saw her doing that.”
thomas was losing his patience. “anna, i’m sure nurse crawley is capable of making those decisions for herself, given that she is a grown adult.” he replied stiffly. anna narrowed her eyes at him. he could tell she wanted to ask what they’d spoken about, because she’d likely heard everything from o’brien.
“well, alright then. i was just bringing these up to the great hall. wanted to double-check whether i needed to.” she held up the stack of bedsheets she referred to, neatly pressed and washed. thomas nodded. anna didn’t usually annoy him when she wasn’t with bates, but today she seemed to be doing just that.
“go on, then. and do let nurse jenkins know that she’ll have to take over for nurse bryant tomorrow.” thomas turned on his heel once anna gave her assent, and walked away. nurse bryant had gotten the letter that her husband had died in arras earlier that afternoon, so she was going home. it’d made his stomach turn, hearing the scream of horror that left her when she came to the door to open the letter.
nightfall couldn’t have come quicker. sybil and he had agreed on eleven o’clock, when night would allow them to sneak about and they’d still get some sleep.
“sybil.” thomas whispered, approaching her in the hallway they’d agreed upon.
“thomas!” neither of them had changed out of their uniforms, impropriety would be harder to properly prove that way. thomas didn’t want to be kicked out.
“let’s… c’mon. we can’t just talk here.” he hissed. she stepped closer to him, so they stood nearly shoulder to shoulder. she had that determined look in her eye again. thomas just looked scared.
“oh, lighten up. just come in here, nobody’s going to notice.” sybil smiled. thomas scoffed in response, glancing at the door she indicated.
“i’m not going into your bedroom . your father will have me court martialed.”
“we’ll be on opposite sides of the room, fully clothed. besides, if you haven’t noticed, everyone is asleep .” she sighed. “besides, the hospital’s taken over everywhere. and it’s not like we can have this kind of discussion in the servant’s hall.”
that was true. after a few moments of wrestling with the thought, thomas groaned and motioned for sybil to let him in. she grinned, throwing the door open- quietly- and making sure nobody saw before ushering thomas in, then closing the door behind herself. she leaned against the wood after that, locking the door hastily.
“there. now. have you thought about it at all?” she asked honestly. thomas was still rather shocked. of course he’d been in the room, but never at night, and never with the room’s occupant.
“well- yes. yes i have.” he said honestly, letting out a soft sigh.
“go on, then. i’m- i know you’re not sure, but just think of how much it’d help us.”
“honestly, sybil, if it were that simple, i’d have said yes already.” thomas exclaimed. because it was true. he- he’d always wanted to be married , to have a proper family. and he could love sybil. platonically, of course, they couldn’t love each other like a married couple should, but that didn’t matter. he also didn’t particularly like the idea of remaining a footman forever. sure, he was pretty damn good at his job, and perhaps the idea of butler someday was appealing to him. but he knew he’d not get it, not soon. and certainly not when carson was still alive and kicking.
“what makes it complicated? thomas, i know aunt rosamund would let me stay at her place before the wedding, and you- well, you’ll have a hotel for a bit. and we can find a flat- two bedrooms, hopefully. and it’ll be fine.” she sounded less and less sure as she went along. thomas gave her a pained look.
“this is what i mean. also- i know for a fact that you don’t want to cut your family off like that. his lordship will never have it, not to mention the fact that your name will be everywhere. lady sybil crawley, daughter to the earl of grantham, runs off with a footman?” he watched her reaction, which wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be. “look, sybil, i’m just saying that you need to think this over again.” he said quietly.
“i have, thomas. and i’ve had- enough pretending, and enough of being asked if i have a beau, and enough of this way of life. i know papa will come around to it eventually, i’ve had a whole lifetime of getting my way, i know how to do it.”
“you just need a plan.”
“yes!” she cried out, before slapping a hand over her mouth. thomas winced. “whoops.” she pursed her lips. “yes, we need a plan. and if we put our heads together, we’ll come up with one.” she said firmly.
“so… is this it?” thomas asked, uncertain.
“i suppose so.” she replied. thomas nodded.
there was a pause, before she couldn’t help it anymore, rushing over to where he stood and throwing her arms around him again.
“i’m engaged! how lovely.” she laughed. thomas was still a bit shocked, but he hugged her nonetheless.
“mrs sybil barrow. see? it does have a ring to it.”
“ lady sybil barrow. i’m sorry, but i’m not sure you’ll escape the title.” thomas said gently.
“shove off , thomas. are you happy?” she looked positively radiant when she smiled up at him. he couldn’t help but return the smile.
“i can’t help but be. though it is rather hilarious. thomas barrow, notorious homosexual, with a wife .” he exclaimed. sybil cackled.
“sybil crawley, soon to be barrow, not-so-notorious homosexual, with a husband. we’re rather a pair.” she took a step back when it became apparent he didn’t want to be hugged anymore. in the past months, thomas had become a bit more open with the affection, but he had his limits. and the nice thing was that sybil complied with them completely.
thomas just grinned for a few moments, teeth and all, before quickly neutralising his expression. there wasn’t much disguising his exhilaration, though. it hadn’t really set in yet, evident by the fact that he wasn’t in tears.
“we should plot out, well- the basics. tomorrow, of course.” he declared.
“right. i’ll see you in the morning, thomas.”