Fandom: Downton Abbey
Summary: As the time approaches for Sybil's child to be born, Mary is forced to confront changes within herself. Sisterly bonding and excessive amounts of fluff. Inspired by spoilery 3x04 pics.
It seemed as if Mary had spent the entire week in Sybil's bedroom. She brought her magazines, ordered snacks and meals and then finished them off if her sister grew tired of them. Sybil was restless, understandably so, Mary thought; it was called a confinement for a reason after all.
"When it happens to me," she said once, moving the tea tray from the bed back to the table where Anna could pick it up later, "I shan't let Dr. Clarkson make me stay in bed. There's really no reason why you can't have a gentle walk."
Her sister rolled her eyes at her back. "When you're this size you'd be glad not to get up."
"That wasn't what you were saying half an hour ago," Mary observed, sitting back on the bed and laying her hand on the cover, palm up.
Sybil clasped it. "I do appreciate you and Matthew living here. I never see Edith now that she's married and I would get so bored without you."
"I'm sure she'll come when you need her."
She smiled sweetly back at her. "I know she will."
"You aren't nervous, are you?" asked Mary the following day from where she stood at the window.
"No more than anyone is, I suppose. Women have been giving birth since the beginning of time anyway – it's a completely natural process. It's rather marvellous really, when you think about it."
Mary was twitching back the curtains and peering out, distracted. Eventually she replied, "Oh! Yes, of course it is." She turned back and looked over at the bed. Propped up on her pillows, Sybil was positively glowing, a shining endorsement for imminent motherhood. Overwhelmed by a wave of strong, almost disbelieving emotion, she crossed the room to her.
"Not long now, darling." Her smile was a bit tremulous. "And then I shall be an aunt!"
Sybil's hand rubbed her belly through the eiderdown. "Yes. I just..." She smiled consciously. "I just want to meet him or her now. To be able to look at my child. I want – yes, you can finish the grapes if you like, Mary!"
She looked down startled at the bunch of grapes she had taken without thinking about it from the now empty bowl on the bedside table. "I didn't..." She stood up quickly again, smoothing out her skirt for imaginary creases.
Sybil shrugged. "Isobel only sends more up because she thinks I'm eating an entire bunch a day and someone has to eat them; it might as well be you."
"They're your grapes. An entire bunch a day? Oh dear..." finished Mary faintly.
"Why don't you go for a walk?" suggested Sybil. "You keep looking out of the window as if you wish you were outside. Edith's coming round this afternoon and I can read Vogue until she gets here."
"Would you mind terribly? I do feel rather cooped up in here."
"Not at all. I can indulge myself in all the clothes I can wear once I'm slim again."
Mary laughed distractedly. "You're a darling."
She kissed her cheek and quickly left the room. Sybil watched her go, a frown on her face, before picking up the magazine and opening it at random. She sighed. "Not that I can afford any of it anyway."
"You mustn't take this the wrong way – and I'm sure I'm probably imagining it..." said Matthew breathlessly that night in his curious, slightly apologetic, lawyer's tone at a moment when Mary was not very interested in any kind of deep and meaningful discussion especially of something she could take the wrong way. Their disagreements about his inheritance were still so recent.
"Go with your instincts then, darling; you probably are," she murmured, entwining her fingers in his hair to keep his head in its current position.
"Mmm..." For a few moments he was suitably distracted.
"No!" He was not to be put off. "I'm not imagining it."
Mary rolled her eyes up to the ceiling. "What is it?"
His voice was somewhat muffled as he replied, "I'm not complaining so don't think I am but, well, the thing is, my darling, I'm sure your breasts are larger than they were. Ridiculous, I know."
She suspected he was blushing even without being able to see his cheeks. She forced herself not to stiffen. She had noticed the same thing several days previously when dressing.
"It's quite normal, you know," she reassured him. "At different times..." She raised his chin with a finger and smiled lazily down at him. "There's still so much you don't know about me!"
His eyes glinted at her in the dark as he shifted against her. "How fortunate then that the education is so enjoyable."
Then they were both distracted for long enough for Matthew to forget what they had been talking about. Mary did not forget.
Sybil's waters broke two days later before dinner. Edith immediately declared that she was staying the night and Sir Anthony himself drove back home to fetch her nightclothes so that the servants might be spared for more important things. Dr. Clarkson and the midwife were immediately sent for and everyone felt very thankful that Isobel was already there for dinner.
"You should see Dr. Clarkson when he has a moment," suggested Sybil when she was once again more comfortable and the three sisters were alone.
Mary had been fiddling with her chain of beads but then her fingers stilled.
"Why should Mary see Dr. Clarkson?" asked Edith, glancing between them.
"For her headache."
"How did you know I had a headache?" She had had one on and off for several days now but had not mentioned it to anyone.
"You looked as if you had one," replied Sybil wisely.
"How perceptive of you, darling, but I am sure Dr. Clarkson would rather be looking after you. I am never ill."
"Which is why I think you should talk to him. I'm going to be lying here for a long time before anything exciting happens."
"Quite." Mary's eyes slid briefly to Edith at her side and then back. "And you remember that you're the one at a disadvantage at the moment. Don't think you can make me do anything I don't want to."
"It's just a suggestion," she replied mildly.
Mary and Edith were sent away with promises that they would be woken if they were needed. Mary crawled into bed alone after a productive twenty minutes closeted with Dr. Clarkson. Matthew was still downstairs keeping Tom and her father company, though she suspected her brother-in-law would not be kept away from his wife no matter how much the midwife might disapprove. Mary was glad of the solitude. She lay on her back, listening to her own breathing as she played with the end of her plait and let her mind drift.
She went back into the past to when she was a very little girl and Sybil herself was born – she did not remember Edith's birth. But she remembered clearly the day that there was a new baby in the nursery, crying all the time and distracting Nurse's attention from her and Edith. She had run down to the servants' hall and sat on the carpet in Carson's pantry playing with her toy horses and giggling at his bushy eyebrows. He had always had time for her even when the rest of the house had been all over the new baby. She smiled to herself as the memory of her intense feelings of rivalry returned to her.
Then she went into the future. Sybil's baby would be brought up in a very different world. Half in Ireland, half at Downton; there would be difficulties, she imagined. But any child of her sister's would have a home here as long as she lived here – and playmates too. Mary had very little experience with actual children in her life but in theory a gaggle of little Bransons and Crawleys running around the old cedar tree outside was not altogether unpleasant to consider. In theory... There was nothing theoretical about Sybil's baby though, coming into the world at this very moment just down the corridor, or about what Dr. Clarkson had confirmed for her only a few hours previously. It was all far too soon really, terrifyingly soon... And yet, as she snuggled deeper into her blankets, her hands came to rest lightly on her stomach and, after a moment of surprise at herself and wonderment at why this had happened so naturally, she left them there.
Matthew crept in and smiled to see her still awake.
"I was dismissed," he explained, sitting down on the edge of their bed and unknotting his tie. "Apparently I have been neglecting you tonight."
"So you have!" replied Mary, her eyes trailing fondly over his back. "How is Tom coping?"
"Tom? Oh, he's been upstairs all evening. I've been with your father."
She smiled to herself. "I knew it."
He got into bed and took her in his arms. She tucked her head under his chin and entwined her fingers with his on his chest.
"Do you think you can sleep?" she murmured a few minutes later, listening to the comforting sound of his heartbeat steadying.
"I doubt it."
"Good. I know I can't."
He kissed the top of her head and continued to hold her in silence, both lost in their thoughts. Sleep claimed them eventually all the same.
Mary was awakened by Anna shaking her shoulder and was instantly alert. The bedroom was cold and filled with the heavy grey light of pre-dawn. She turned on the light, causing Matthew to shield his eyes and mumble incoherently into her hair. She ignored him, clasping Anna's hand instead.
"Is everything all right?"
Her maid smiled down at her and Mary felt relief course through her. "Everything's gone to plan, my lady, and Lady Sybil is perfectly well."
Anna's smile blossomed into a grin. "And you have a little nephew. Congratulations, my lady. If I might say so, he's lovely!"
"Oh! Can I- can we?"
"You can come and see him now. Excuse me, I should wake Lady Edith."
Mary was out of bed and throwing on a wrap even before Anna had left the room. Matthew was still half asleep. He stretched out his hand to her and she took it, beaming down at him.
"Mary... did I hear...?"
"We have a nephew, darling."
He smiled slowly at her as he realised it and pulled her in to kiss him before she escaped. Edith was hovering in the corridor and Mary took her hand automatically. There was a nervous anticipation about her that Mary felt sure was reflected in her own behaviour. For once they were united.
"It's funny to think of Sybil being a mother," said Edith. "She was always the baby to us."
Mary gave her a pointed look to express the obvious changes that had taken place since then when the sound of a baby's cry, unheard at Downton for so many years, pierced through them both and they both stopped where they were. Mary's heart leapt and Edith let out a gasp. Then, tightly holding hands as if they were little girls again, they ran to Sybil's bedroom.
They were met at the door by their mother. Her hair had come loose and her face was tear streaked but ecstatically happy.
"Oh my brave girls, my beautiful brave girls." She embraced them.
"Have you been asleep at all tonight, Mama?" asked Mary, pushing past her, the strength of her voice concealing the fluttering nerves she felt.
Sybil was propped up in bed, pale and dishevelled with her husband stretched out next to her. Mary could not even be irritated by his flagrant breach of etiquette because she met her sister's eyes as she rocked the baby and tried to hush him.
"Meet your aunts Mary and Edith, darling!" cried Sybil breathlessly and a little desperately. Mary and Edith hovered anxiously by the bedside, not quite sure what to do but unable to help smiling.
When he had finished crying long enough to be shown off, they were able to peek at his perfect little face, perfect little eyes, perfect little hands, and perfect little feet, before the midwife shooed them out again along with the countess.
"I suppose he's not going anywhere," she said, looking rather lost before hugging her elder daughters once more. "We should go to bed and leave them in peace."
Matthew met his nephew later that day in a much less surreal context. Everyone was fully dressed and large amounts of coffee had been consumed by the sleep-deprived Crawley family at breakfast. Mary had had a hot bath and felt more relaxed than she had done all week, even making the effort to go downstairs to join the rest of the family. The baby was born, Sybil was safe, the sun was shining after a night of rain – and she was pregnant. She had been scared, worried, even angry at the possibility but now as she sat at breakfast opposite her very dear husband and knew that this morning there was a new life in the world that the previous day had not existed, it did not seem so bad after all.
"What do you keep smiling about, Mary?" asked Edith suspiciously but her sister only smiled more.
"Don't I have reason to?"
"We have all reason to smile, thank God," interjected her father.
Matthew flung down his napkin, frowning. "Do you know, I think I am the only person in the room who has not met the new arrival. Come on, Mary, you can introduce me."
She rolled her eyes at him but followed him from the room, saying as they went, "You could have met him earlier if you had bothered to get up!"
The baby was quiet and Sybil was sufficiently rational as to allow Aunt Mary to gently take him in her own arms and walk across the room holding him.
He was so small. Mary stared down in wonder. A new Crawley. Would her baby be this impossibly small – this small and perfect – when the time came? There was a lump in throat.
"Sybil, he's-" She frowned. Matthew was breathing down her neck in a particularly irritating way, as he peered in open-mouthed awe over her shoulder. She turned her head quickly and her expression melted into frustrated affection. "You're not even looking at him!"
"I'm looking at you, my darling. I can't help it," he murmured in reply, staring at her as she held the baby with such adoration it was almost indecent.
She could not even muster an eye roll. Pressing her lips together to hold back the wave of utter love and joy that washed over her, she simply looked back down at the sleeping child she was holding and shifted the weight – barely anything.
"Did you speak to Dr. Clarkson last night, darling?" asked Sybil casually.
Mary's breath caught as she looked up quickly, taken by surprise. Her sister's head was tilted to one side, her expression curious but sympathetic. Mary gave her the tiniest nod and an even tinier smile and was rewarded with a secretive grin.
Matthew touched her elbow. "Why were you talking to Dr. Clarkson last night? You didn't mention it."
Now she wished she had told him the previous night when they had been lying together, only it had not seemed right to break that perfect silence and peace. She glanced back down at the baby, swallowing, and touched her finger to his soft cheek.
Then she told her husband her secret.