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Gwen's departure to become a secretary had left a void at the house. Though it hadn't come as a shock that she was leaving, the staff at Downton still felt the loss rather painfully. They knew that she would make a fine secretary, just as she had a maid, but her absence was not one that they were going to get over quickly. Of course, the ladies of the house missed her somewhat too; her contented nature was always a pleasure to have around. It was Sybil, however, who longed to see Gwen the most out of everyone.

Sybil had wondered for a while as to what the true natures of her feelings for the housemaid were. She wondered if it were just a longing for friendship that she felt — or could there have been something more to it? No, she thought, there couldn't have. Though with Gwen no longer at the house, Sybil found herself growing impertinent. She silenced her mother if there was ever a mention of her acquiring a husband in future, turned her nose up at any conversation with her sisters about marriage, and begrudgingly attended arranged dinner parties with potential suitors.

All of this they brushed off as Sybil advocating for women's rights, but Sybil knew that there was something more to it than just wanting equality. She couldn't even stand to be chauffeured by Branson anymore, especially after his incredibly unpleasant confession that he loved her. She thought she ought to have been flattered, at least that's what she said to him in reply, but the truth of the matter was that she wasn't, only rather uncomfortable.

The lack of letters from Gwen had left Sybil feeling despondent. She had made her promise to write as often as she could possibly manage, and yet she had received nothing for weeks. Sybil sighed, pressed her cheek into the palm of her hand and gazed thoughtfully out of her window.

Perhaps she was overreacting and Gwen was simply too busy to write. Even so, Sybil's heart sank at the thought of being forgotten by her so soon. Of course, she could be the one to initiate, maybe Gwen too was waiting for Sybil to write to her. Sybil tapped her fingers on her desk absentmindedly, her vision unfocused and staring out upon the grounds as she pondered.

The tranquility of silence only lasted a moment longer before it was broken abruptly by a knock at her bedroom door.

"Yes," she called, turning around to welcome the visitor.

"Lady Sybil," said Mr Carson as he opened the door a crack to poke his head in, "Do pardon me if I am disturbing your ladyship."

"Oh, not at all, Mr Carson! Please, do come in. What was it you needed?" she said, beckoning him in.

"I have a letter for you, from Gwen."

At that, Sybil shot up from her spot on the chair immediately and crossed the floor to where Carson was standing by the door. He was visibly shocked at the eagerness Sybil displayed, though he pretended to pay no notice.

"Here you are, milady," he said, passing her over the envelope. Tentatively, she took the letter from him and allowed herself to break into a smile.

"Thank you, Carson," she said, with a hint of excitement Mr Carson noticed, before he left the room with a simple: "You're welcome, milady."

As soon as the butler had left her bedroom, Sybil sat down on the edge of her bed and ripped open the envelope fervently, pulling out a neatly folded piece of paper. To her surprise, when she opened it up, she saw that Gwen hadn't written to her using her typewriter, but had rather taken the effort to write her words out by hand in shaky cursive.

Sybil's hands trembled and her pulse quickened, a sort of fluttery feeling filling her stomach. Ignoring these sensations, she pursed her lips and began to read the letter —

Dear Lady Sybil,

I write to you from my new position as a secretary. I'm so very sorry for the tardiness of this letter, I had promised that I would write sooner, but it has been hectic here what with the war and such. I hope it not discourteous to say how much I have missed your ladyship's company. It often feels quite lonely here, even though I do have a few coworkers, it just is not the same. What is it like at Downton now? Do catch me up on all that I have missed, including any gossip you have managed to come across. I have not written to anyone else at the house yet, so you are the first. More importantly though, how are you, Lady Sybil? Have these past weeks treated your ladyship well? Do come and pay me a visit soon, you are welcome any time.

Yours,
Gwen Dawson.

Sybil couldn't believe what she had just read. Gwen missed her, and seemingly longed to see Sybil just as much as she longed for Gwen. Well of course, she thought, Gwen and I were friends. But what pleased Sybil the most was that Gwen had not written to anyone else before her, not even Anna. Feeling a bubble of excitement build up within her, Sybil folded the letter again and placed it back tidily in the envelope, before rising from her bed and ringing for Anna.

Fidgeting with the envelope in her hands, Sybil anxiously awaited the arrival of her maidservant, Anna. She never usually takes this long, she thought impatiently. Though within the next minute, Anna had arrived and gave a knock at the door.

"Your ladyship called," she said upon entrance.

"Oh yes, Anna! I have received a letter from Gwen —"

"Gwen! She’s written?" Anna joined in excitedly before rectifying her mistake, "Sorry, so she's written, milady?"

"Yes! And she wants me to go and visit her at her new place," Sybil added eagerly, awaiting the approval from Anna.

"Oh, well that’s just wonderful, milady!"

"Isn’t it just! You will make up a bag for me to take, won’t you Anna? I intend to leave as soon as possible, really. The work at the hospital has become a bit overbearing, and it would do me well to take a couple of days’ leave. Father won’t mind, he and mama are always blethering on about how I need to take some time off to rest. You can come too!" Sybil’s sentences flowed so quickly that Anna was having trouble keeping up.

"Is Gwen expecting you, milady?"

"Well, she said that I was welcome to visit any time I pleased! I’m sure she wouldn't mind if we were to pay her a surprise visit," Sybil’s smile faded as she saw a look of uncertainty spread over Anna’s face. "Do say I can go, Anna."


"If your ladyship doesn’t mind my saying, I think it would be best if we were to invite Gwen here instead. That way we don’t just show up out of the blue," she suggested. "Here, why don’t I fetch you some writing materials from the library and you can send a letter back to Gwen?"

Anna was there one second and then gone the next. Sybil supposed it would be kind to invite Gwen back to Downton, even if it meant having to share Gwen’s attention with the rest of the people at the house, she knew it would be the right thing to do. After all, now that Gwen was no longer a maid, Sybil could address her more as a friend than her servant. They would be able to go on walks and into town together with no interference. Thoughts of the endless possibilities filled Sybil’s mind as she flopped backwards onto her bed, awaiting Anna's return with the writing materials.

The following week went by so painfully slowly. Sybil had been making a mess of all of her nurse’s duties because her mind was, needless to say, elsewhere. She had been reprimanded multiple times by Mrs Crawley for tripping up, and the berating did not end there, for her grandmother was starting to become suspicious of Sybil not having a beau. Though Sybil adamantly refused that there was anyone she was remotely interested in, her grandmother said: "I know love when I see it, I haven't grown so old that I don't recognise when a girl has feelings anymore."

And so, it was a relief when finally Sybil could take the day off to prepare for Gwen's arrival the next morning. Excitedly, she helped the maids ready one of the spare rooms, insisting that it be as close to her chambers as possible, in case she needed anything of course. Gwen was to have the finest treatment, by Sybil's own orders, and was even to join her family for dinner in the evening. She was no longer a lady's maid, and Sybil was determined to make sure of it. After all, Gwen had managed to leave service and pursue her ambitions of becoming a secretary, she deserved to be rewarded.

And it was with Sybil's help that she got the job. In a way, she felt guilty, for she sometimes wished that she hadn't helped Gwen find a job away from Downton. She missed her terribly, and the house just wasn't the same for want of her. Sybil knew, however, that she was being selfish for thinking such things, and that she should just be happy for what Gwen had achieved. Yet somehow, she couldn't quite bring herself to be.

Later, that evening, Sybil paced backwards and forwards in the boudoir nervously, running over the plans for tomorrow once, twice, and then three times over.

"Whatever is the matter, Sybil dear?" Mary asked as she came through.

"Oh, pardon? No, no, it's nothing," Sybil assured her. "Only stressing about tomorrow, is all."

"Come now, you needn't stress! We're only having a few guests over tomorrow, they're friends of Matthew's anyway. Why, have you got your eye on someone —

"What? Oh, no. I wasn't stressing about that nonsense."

"Nonsense is what you may think it to be, dear, but evenings like this are of great importance. Who knows, you may even meet a suitor," explained Mary, somewhat abrasively.

"How many times am I going to have to explain to you and everyone else that I am not interested in finding a suitor! I'm much too young anyway," she bemoaned.

"All right, I shall back off. But what is it you're so worked up about then?"

"Well you see, Gwen is coming by tomorrow and she's staying for a couple of nights, I just want everything to be in ship shape for her," said Sybil.

"Gwen? Who's that?" asked Mary, incredulous.

"Gwen Dawson," Sybil clarified, but the look of loss on Mary's face conveyed the message that she did not know of whom she was speaking. "Gwen Dawson, our former maid, with Anna."

"Oh! That secretary one!" Mary exclaimed in recognition. "But why on earth would you be stressing over someone as inconsequential as her?"

"She is not inconsequential, she is my friend. I know you don't have many of those so I don't expect you to understand," she huffed and crossed her arms indignantly.

"You have quite the tongue on you, Sybil. You should be getting to sleep, you have bigger fish to fry tomorrow evening."

And with that, her eldest sister made for her bedroom, leaving Sybil alone in the boudoir once more. I do not have my eye on anyone, Sybil scoffed to herself, though even as she thought it, she didn't quite believe it.

Sybil rose the next morning having forgotten her conversation with Mary the night before completely. She had only one thing on her mind; Gwen. Anna hadn't even come to wake Sybil yet and she was already up and dressing herself when the maid walked in.

"Oh, beg your pardon, milady, you're up early," she said, holding back her astonishment.

"I am, aren't I? I guess I just couldn't wait for the day to get going! Early bird catches the worm and all that," said Sybil, putting on her earrings carefully. "How do I look?"

"Wonderful, milady," Anna replied warily, not knowing quite what to make of Sybil's less than usual behaviour.

"Do you know when Gwen should be here?"

"I should think at around noon," she replied, glancing over at the clock on her right. "You have a couple of hours to go yet, milady. Why don't I make you a cup of tea?"

"Yes that would be lovely," Sybil smiled. "Oh, but before you go, Anna, can I ask you something?"

"Of course, milady."

"Do you think... oh don't worry, it was silly," she brushed off what she was about to say with a flick of her wrist.

"No, you can tell me, milady," Anna said, taking a step further in.

"Well, I was wondering, what you thought of Gwen," she replied, adding, "I mean what do you think Gwen thought of me? Did she... say anything to you about me when she was here? About any of us?"

"She was very fond of you all, especially you, milady."

"She was?"

"Of course she was, you helped her realise her dream of becoming a secretary. I don't actually think she ever stopped talking about you," Anna chuckled.

"That's very sweet, thank you Anna," Sybil said before Anna bowed her head and left the room.

Sybil was beaming. She didn't think she'd been so happy since... well, since she last saw Gwen. Time could not go any slower, she thought to herself.

When the doorbell did eventually ring, at nine minutes past noon, Sybil noted, she bounded down the stairs to the main hall, only to find that everyone had already gathered around the door to welcome Gwen inside.

"Let her in!" Mr Carson bellowed, carrying Gwen's small suitcase of luggage inside. "I hadn't realised the hall had become such a place of congregation. Back to your duties!"

"Out with you all," chimed in Mrs Hughes, "I'll not be having this house turn into a shambles for one guest."

With the crowd gone Sybil could now see Gwen. And oh how fine did she look, she thought. Her hair was neatly pinned back under a hat, and she was wearing the most beautiful dress. Once Mr Carson had taken Gwen's belongings, she turned and saw Sybil before her.

"Lady Sybil," she breathed.

Chapter Text

 

Sybil had barely got a moment to herself with Gwen after her arrival. They had hugged each other tightly at the front door, and exchanged a few breathless words before Mr Carson ushered Gwen up to her room.

"I'll see you at dinner, milady," Gwen said.

"Oh Gwen, you must call me Sybil now. I won't have it any other way."

"I'll see you at dinner, Sybil," Gwen tried out the name tentatively, as if not sure it were entirely okay to be calling her former employer by her first name. Sybil caught on, and gave her an encouraging smile.

"You shall! Oh Carson, would you be so kind as to lend Gwen one of my evening gowns for tonight? We ought to be a similar size," Sybil said.

"Oh no, I couldn't do that milady —"

"Sybil. And yes of course you can, you're here as my guest and I just know you'll look marvellous!" she insisted.

Gwen flushed slightly and begrudgingly accepted Sybil's offer. There was no negotiating with the lady as soon as her mind was made up. Her thoughts cast in stone and completely resolute, there was no changing her mind.

With a final glance behind her, Gwen left to go and ready for dinner. Their encounter had left them both feeling slightly intoxicated, though neither knew the other felt the same. Sybil watched as Gwen left and allowed herself to smile.

Mr Carson cleared his throat and said, "Milady."

"Oh right, yes, I ought to get ready too, Carson," she realised, suddenly coming out of her reverie. 

"That may be a good idea, milady."

 

Sybil fussed endlessly over stray hairs and her makeup in her dressing mirror. She wanted to make an effort, not for the men waiting downstairs, but for her former maid, Gwen. It had been almost a month since they had last seen each other and thought it was not much time in the great scheme of things, Sybil felt as if it had been an eternity. She was going to make the most of every moment.

By the time the hour for dinner rolled around, Sybil had tried on three different gowns and deemed them all unsuitable. Her maid had made a slightly suggestive comment as to why Sybil was making such an effort, which caused Sybil only to smile. 

Glancing in the mirror once more, Sybil tucked a hair behind her ear and sighed gently before getting up to meet her family in the landing area. There would be many guests to greet that evening.

"Good evening Sybil, dear," Robert said, "Lovely of you to finally join us."

"What have you been doing this whole time?" Mary scolded under her breath once Sybil had come to stand beside her. Sybil looked up at her as if to say it was nothing to do with her.

"The guests have arrived, shall I bring them in, your lordship?" asked Mr Carson.

"I think you ought to."

"Papa, where is Gwen?" Sybil asked, receiving an annoyed sound from her sister beside her.

"Gwen? Oh yes that's right she's staying with us. I hadn't realised she was to have dinner with us too," he replied. "Carson, you had better send for Gwen too."

"Of course, your lordship."

 

The dinner had been going rather smoothly, Sybil noted. There was mainly talk of the war and of the men who lost their lives, but nothing too controversial arose. She was in the middle of talking to a man whose name had escaped her; in all truth, she wasn't paying the slightest bit of attention to him.

Gwen looked wonderful. Sybil recognised the dress she was wearing as one of her favourites. It does suit her well, she thought, smiling slightly.

"So what are your views on the matter?" said the man she was supposed to be engaging with.

"Hm? Sorry, I must have lost my train of thought. I've been working a lot lately at the hospital, so my mind is wandering," she offered a light chuckle in an effort to be polite.

"Is it not improper for a lady to be working?"

"No, no it's not. I'd rather be out there doing something than being kept up in here doing nothing all day long," Sybil explained. "At least with my work at the hospital, I have a purpose."

Her attempt to explain was quickly ignored and the man continued to ramble on about whatever he had been talking about previously. He droned on and Sybil felt herself drifting once more, though she made no attempt to stop it. 

After what had seemed like hours of listening to this man, Sybil looked up from her plate to where Gwen was sitting across the table and, to her delight, she had caught Gwen's eye.

Sybil gave her a wry smile and shook her head, pointing subtly to the man by her side. He wouldn't notice, he was too absorbed by what he was saying to pay any attention to Sybil. Gwen let out a soft chuckle and mouthed something — had she mouthed "he looks boring"? Sybil didn't know exactly but she smiled, a faint blush rising to her cheeks.

The buzz of alcohol had filled Sybil right to her fingertips, she felt happy and light and couldn't help but exchange glances with Gwen now and then, even when she knew she ought not to.

She'd receive a scolding from Mary for not making more of an effort, but she couldn't find the will to care, for her mind was filled with thoughts of Gwen and her stomach with wine.

When finally the evening came to a close, she bade the guests goodbye before stealing away to go and find Gwen in her room. They hadn't properly spoken since her arrival and with the confidence the alcohol brought while it coursed through her veins, she made her way upstairs.

Without thinking even to knock before entering, Sybil stumbled somewhat clumsily in Gwen's room, only to find her half naked and getting changed.

"Oh! I'm so sorry Gwen!" she exclaimed, covering her eyes quickly, feeling the heat rise to her cheeks. It was only the alcohol, surely.

"It's all right, milady — I mean Sybil," Gwen replied and grabbed the nearest thing to cover herself with, feeling embarrassment bubble within her.

"May I look now? Are you decent?"

"Yes," breathless was Gwen's reply but if Sybil noticed, she made no sign to express that she had.

Tentatively, Sybil lowered her hand from her eyes.

"I really am sorry, we hadn't got the chance to catch up at dinner and I felt it important to come and see you. I shouldn't have, I must admit I am a bit tipsy on wine right now. I'll leave you be."

"No!" Gwen almost exclaimed, "No, I'm glad ye came to see me."

"You're sure?"

"Absolutely. It is so wonderful to see you again, though it does feel queer calling you Sybil rather than 'milady'."

"Well, I insist. If we're to be friends now you should call me by my name," Sybil said. "Tell me about what it's like."

"What what's like?"

"Your job of course! Tell me everything. What's it like to be fulfilling your dreams in a world which only tries to push women down?"

"Oh it's just wonderful, I'm treated so respectably by all my colleagues, and even though it's a lot of work I do love it."

"I am glad! I felt selfish for missing you when you left, but I see now that it was worth it for you," Sybil said, placing a hand on Gwen's half exposed arm.

"I wanted to thank you, mi—"

"Sybil. And you needn't thank me, I enjoyed helping you out! It meant I got to see you more."

"Well, I want to thank you Sybil. No one else has ever shown so much kindness towards me, and without you I would have never got the job," Gwen said, conscious of the feeling of Sybil's hand pressed against her arm.

"Tell me more about your new life," Sybil said excitedly.

"What would you like to know?"

"You've not... met anyone, have you?" she asked, somewhat hopeful that she hadn't.

"No, no I haven't. I can't say there's anyone I'm really interested in at the office," she replied. Their eyes met for a few moments and Sybil felt her pulse in her throat.

It's the alcohol, Sybil

"Have you? Met anyone?"

The alcohol

"No," Sybil said, mouth dry.

The rest of the night, they spent giggling and talking sweet nonsense on Gwen's bed. Sybil had got Anna to sneak her up a bottle of brandy so that she and Gwen could share some as they spoke. She wondered if she would remember any of it in the morning – she hoped that she would.

"You had better get to sleep, Sybil."

"I do love it when you call me that, Gwen," Sybil giggled lightly and hiccoughed. "Oh, I do beg your pardon!"

"You'll have an awful headache in the morning. How 'bout I fetch you a glass of water?"

"No, don't leave, I think I may be sick."

"Let's get you to the bathroom."

Bent over the toilet bowl with Gwen holding back her hair, Sybil emptied the contents of her stomach until she felt slightly less nauseated. Gwen soothed her and wiped the corners of her mouth with a damp cloth.

"How are you feeling now?"

"Positively dreadful. Might I sleep with you tonight?"

Gwen paused a second too long and Sybil pulled away, feeling mortified.

"I shouldn't have asked, it's not your job to take care of me. I'll call for my maid and she can —"

"No, you can stay. Please stay," Gwen said. "I was only thinking of how to get you some bed clothes for the night without disrupting anyone."

"Oh."

"Tell you what, you borrow a set of mine and then get some sleep," she suggested, rummaging through her luggage to pull out a light night gown. Gwen was feeling quite drunk too, though she didn't know how much of it was the alcohol and how much of it was due to being around Sybil. 

Once dressed, they both climbed into bed and Gwen switched off the lights.

"Gwen?" Sybil whispered through the darkness.

"Yes?"

"Thank you."