Approximately three weeks after she and Sybil become lovers, Gwen places the order for a typewriting machine. She might only be nineteen years old, but that's old enough to know that a housemaid and a young woman on the verge of her first Season will not survive long if the housemaid stays a housemaid and the lady a lady.
So the first day Gwen has off following the night of Sybil's headache, Gwen walks into Grantham and posts the order direct from the post office, where it won't excite speculation from the other members of the houshold staff. The machine costs nearly all of the money she has been carefully saving since she began working at Downton six years before. It is a frightening step, and her hand shakes slightly as she seals the envelope and affixes the stamp.
Frightening, yet necessary.
She hasn't told Sybil, yet, about her ambition to leave service. Their relationship is still too new, in some respects, for a confidence of this magnitude. There are days when Gwen is barely able to admit to herself that she dares imagine a different kind of life.
But imagine it she has, and now that things have altered so irrevocably between her and Sybil, this goal has become more urgent.
She doesn't think that Sybil has thought about this, about their future, yet. Under Gwen's eternally-attentive gaze, the youngest Crawley daughter seems dazed and preoccupied, and Gwen can't help but notice the way Sybil's body inclines toward her own whenever Gwen steps into the room. It amuses Gwen to make a game of this, testing her range of motive influence.
Thus far, tests have shown that Sybil becomes aware the moment Gwen enters her range of vision, hearing or any enclosed space such as the drawing room, parlor, or library, without regard for how many people are in the room.
But then, this (Gwen has slowly realized; surprised, in the end, how long it took her to fully understand) has been how Sybil has responded to her almost since first meeting.
What is new is the way in which, if Gwen comes anywhere within approximately ten feet of the younger girl, Sybil's body turns toward her, like a morning glory opening toward the rising sun. At times, it is all but imperceptible -- only a person looking for signs would see how her torso twists, her neck becomes slightly stiff from the effort not turning away from her dinner companion. At other times -- particularly when they are alone -- the movement is undisguised. Sybil: crossing her bedroom floor in a dozen steps to wrap her whole body around Gwen, pressing a thigh between her legs and bending her head to plant a trail or eager kisses from the top of her collar to the base of her ear, until Gwen can't suppress a groan of pleasure as she melts into Sybil's arms.
No, Gwen thinks, it is up to her to plan for their future, since Sybil is clearly existing in the eternal present. A present in which the only thought is when the two of them may next have a handful of minutes alone.
The last of these stolen moments of privacy had been three days previous, when Gwen had been assigned to help Sybil bathe and dress in preparation for a dinner party.
It was the first time such duties fell to her since, well, their first time. Not that she hadn't assisted Mary, Edith, and Sybil with their toilet dozens – if not hundreds – of times over the years. Yet always before, the boundaries of social expectation (not to mention Sybil's obvious unawareness of the nature of her interest in Gwen) had kept a certain sense of propriety in place. Gwen had learned – it had been a trial by fire – to take all of her intemperate thoughts and close them away deep inside herself, only to be unlocked in the privacy of the room she shared with Anna. Preferably in the coal-black hours when, sensibly speaking, she should have been long asleep.
This way, she had been able to help Sybil bathe, dress, brush her hair, consider her manifold beauties with professional pride -- without growing uncomfortably warm or bothered beneath her skirts.
Now, however, the boundaries had become more ... flexible. And Gwen knew, from the moment she walked into the boudoir and saw Sybil wrapped in one of her mother's Chinese silk dressing gowns, that this particular afternoon would be quite unlike any other afternoon she had heretofore experienced during her years of service at Downton Abbey.
Sybil was standing at the window, looking out into the afternoon sunshine. She appeared to ignore Gwen when Gwen came through the door, towels in her arms.
This was only a fiction, of course. A concious attempt to keep up appearances as they always did in public (although they were alone, the door was not yet safely locked and servants could walk by at any moment). But Gwen could tell that Sybil was choosing not to turn around. That Sybil knew that Gwen knew that she was purposefully remaining with her back to the door, when every fiber in her being wanted instead to turn around and remove the distance between them.
Gwen set the towels efficiently on the chair by the steaming bath. Then she turned back to the door, shut it with an audible click and pocketed the key.
She stood, for a moment, fingering the key, considering the form at the window. Sybil's hair had been loosed from its plait and hung in waving cascades of inky blackness against the bright turquoise and scarlet and gold of her mother's robe, with its exotic fishes swimming across pools of verdant green and blue.
"We are alone, milady." She said, finally.
"Please, Gwen, it's Sybil." She knew this, of course. But kept saying "milady" for the pleasure of hearing Sybil contradict her.
Sybil seemed disinclined to move from the window, though her muscles were visibly straining to attention beneath the robe, so Gwen chose to take matters into her own hands. She reached up and unpinned her cap, though she left her hair secured to her head in hopes that they wouldn't have to explain how it had gotten damp in the process of a pre-dinner bath. She untied her apron and then quickly unfastened the buttons on her long black gown. She laid her garments aside, one by one, safely away from the water, until she could unlace her boots, peel off her stockings, and all that remained were her chemise and linen drawers.
These she left on, given her previous experience with what Lady Sybil did when confronted with the obstacle of clothing.
Barefoot, she padded across the floodboards and came up behind Sybil, whose hands were resting on the windowsill, her eyes on the gardens several stories below.
Leaving just enough space between them that her breasts beneath her camisole brushed the silk falling from Sybil's shoulders, Gwen reached around and slid her hands up to cup Sybil's own breasts in her hands.
The silk was cool to the touch, warming instantly beneath Gwen's palms.
Sybil shuddered a full-body shudder. She leaned back into Gwen's chest, laying her head back against Gwen's collarbone and turning her face away, an invitation for Gwen to kiss the soft, sensitive skin below her ear.
Gwen dipped her head and traced her tongue lightly along the exposed flesh.
Sybil moaned, a sound that rose from her diaphragm into her throat, as if she'd been holding tension within her all day that only Gwen's mouth could release.
Gwen nipped at her ear in warning, “Shush! There will be others in the hall.”
Sybil huffed in silent laughter, half appreciation for the feel of Gwen's mouth, half pent-up frustration. “Why must we always think of others?” She, impatiently, in Gwen's arms and lifted herself onto the generous stone sill of the half-open window. Gwen hisses – both delighted and alarmed – lunging across her lover's shoulder to yank the curtain across the glass. “Because!” – Sybil opens her thighs and wraps her naked legs around Gwen's hips – “Sybil! You know wh--” the word ended in a stifled moan as Sybil leaned in to humm a trail kisses along the exposed jut of Gwen's collarbone. “Someone could see you!” She finished weakly, leaning in to the press of lips.
It had been three (long) weeks since the first time she'd felt Sybil's mouth on her skin and still every touch felt like a surprise. She had waiting so long for this, all the while assuming it would never come. Now it had, she found it difficult to hold on – in the space between these stolen moments – to the corporeal reality of Sybil: the wet warmth of her mouth, the dry heat of her skin, the way the silk of her inner thighs gave way to – dear merciful God! – to the rough curls below her navel, currently pressing with exquisite firmness to Gwen's belly through the thin cotton of her chemise. She felt the prickle of the wiry hairs as they made their way through the loose weave of the fabic.
With part of her awareness still on the proximity of other people moving about the house, Gwen sighs into the curve of Sybil, whose hands are busily worming their way beneath the thin cloth of Gwen's undergarments and – oh! – finding Gwen's nipples to tease and tug and press beneath her palms.
It has (only) been three weeks since the first time and already Sybil has developed a startlingly comprehensive repertoire of touch with which to communicate to Gwen her desire, impatience, hunger, daring, generousity, fear, love. The intensity of thumb and forefinger bruising sensitive flesh. The lift of her hips. The touch of a tongue, cataloging those unexpected stretches of skin where every caress reaches straight to the place between Gwen's legs and tugs with the sharp agony of longing.
Please. She responds to this touch, setting her teeth to Sybil's shoulder and pressing – sharp enough to elicit a response (Sybil's fingernails digging into her breasts) yet not hard or long enough to leave marks that won't fade in the (rapidly cooling) bath behind them.
“Please Gwen,” Sybil's eyes in the afternoon light are dilated, her pulse in the hollow of her throat rapid, breath shallow. She pulls back, searching Gwen's face: three (short) weeks of this and they are still uncertain at times, hesitant to demand or assume.
Yes. Gwen meets her eyes and runs a palm in one firm stroke from the base of Sybil's throat to the heat of her groin, twisting her wrist so that as the tips of her fingers skate through inky curls to the slick, heavy folds beneath. Sybil is already so open and wet that Gwen hooks three fingers around the unyielding arc of Sybil's pubic bone and is inside her in three knuckles deep before she's brought up short by the base of her thumb.
Sybil, it would seem, has been anticipating this afternoon as much as Gwen has.
Gwen has to close her eyes at this, and lean her forehead into the hollow of Sybil's shoulder where she breathes (in and out, in and out) several times. Sybil leans into the point of joining, her arms draped loosely around Gwen's shoulders, head bent forward so that her hair falls in curtains around them both.
The water, Gwen thinks, must be growing cold.
They will regret this in five minutes, ten, fifteen at the most, when Sybil will be forced to bathe in tepid water and wash all signs of their togetherness from the crevices of her body.
Except, Gwen thinks with a secret smile, the caresses she leaves inside, where no one can see and the sponge won't wash the scent away. Except, Gwen thinks – flexing her fingers once, twice, three times – as Sybil rides her hand, seemingly in a trance, for the fluids that will continue to secrete through Sybil's skin and leak down between her thighs, dampening her curls and reminding her throughout the evening. Every time she catches a glimpse of Gwen on the edges of the dinner party she will feel the twist of muscle just – there – and remember, and anticipate.
Sybil moans softly into Gwen's hair – they're going to have to re-arrange that, as well, and Gwen is conscious of a trickle of moisture working its way down the inside of her left leg. She can feel Sybil's hips opening, thighs spreading, slips her fourth finger inside and twists her wrist to press upward with her joints of her fingers. Sybil gasps, then drags herself forward and down onto Gwen's hand, fingers scrabbling, scraping against Gwen's spine, panting:
“Want – want – need to turn – around,” she's pushing blindly at Gwen, shifting restlessly.
“Hold on love, hold on, just--” Gwen clamps her free hand on the sill to steady the pair of them, then: “There, love, just--” Sybil blinks down at Gwen for a moment, then braces her left foot against Gwen's thigh and somehow manages to throw her right leg over Gwen's arm and roll herself over – Gwen folds her thumb in against her palm and takes the opportunity to push a little deeper – so that she is resting on her belly against the sill. Then her bare feet are on the cool stone of the floor and she's thrusting back against Gwen's hand and it all goes rather quickly after that: Sybil making effortful, aching noises into the discarded folds of her mother's dressing gown (Gwen fervently hopes they have left no difficult-to-explain stains behind), twisting and pressing with an authoritative urgency as Gwen holds firm against the back of Sybil's knees and arse, leaning forward over the curve of Sybil's spine so that she is able to reach Sybil's breasts with her free hand, kneading the flesh and twisting the nipples in a mirror of Sybil's earlier motions.
The insides of her own thighs are slick now; there is no hope for her knickers, which will be damp for the rest of the afternoon, even subsequent to their mopping up: Sybil will not be the only one whose insides twist from across the room.
And then in a moment it is all over. Sybil let's out a small gasp of almost-surprise, arches backward off the windowsill into Gwen's arms – every muscle in her body suddenly rippling with tension – and reaches down to grasp Gwen's wrist, just where the heel of her hand is crushed against Sybil's pelvic floor muscles, and hold Gwen still while Sybil's entire body spasms against her.
They melt to the floor after, in a puddle of cooling sweat and loose limbs. Gwen's legs are shaking from the strain of holding them both upright and through the demanding haze of still-un-dissipated tension in her limbs she worries they've made too much noise, or that the robe has been stained, that the cool water won't remove the scent of sex from either of them, and that somehow, inevitably, everyone will know.
And this will be the end.
Because some part of her still finds it impossible to believe that this could ever end well, for either of them.
It's just that, after so many years of wanting she has decided – against all attempts at stern self-admonishment – that it is better to have this, now, even if it ends badly, then never to have known: the texture of Sybil's mouth, the sound Sybil makes when she finally reaches that moment of ecstasy, the taste of her nipples as she grows heavy with arousal.
They had really better get on with the bath, she thinks hazily: Sybil has a social engagement to attend, and now they have two people to make presentable instead of just one.
It is at this point that Sybil rolls over, still panting slightly, up onto a forearm, and lazily hooks Gwen's right leg, pulling her open and sliding a palm across Gwen's belly and into the copper curls glistening with moisture. Her fingers slip down between full lips and she lets out a sigh that is at once a startled moan and a satisfied humm of pleasure.
Gwen thinks momentarily about protesting: They are already late, every moment longer is another moment during which they risk discovery, it is too soon, it is too late, she cannot – and then, seemingly of their own volition her hips rise into the touch and she is arching up off the floor, hands scrabbling for something to hold onto.
“Here, here, I've got you,” Sybil is murmuring warm, almost drunken post-coital syllables in her ear. “Here, yes, there we are. Yes. Please come for me.”
She had thought the pressure building in her body while she rocked against Sybil had dissipated in the afterglow of Sybil's crisis, but instead she discovered it had only withdrawn like the ebb of a tide in order to return with even more force as Sybil pushed her with fingers dancing against the painful tenderness below and languid, wicked words tickling her ear above: “Yes. I want you like this, under my hands. You can never get away. I will hold you here forever, sliding my hands in and out and in and out and up and down and up and down ...”
The world finally falls away – the passageway outside, the bath, the discarded clothing, the distant sounds of preparation, the honk of a car horn in the drive – and Gwen's consciousness telescopes inward until all that comprises her world is the press of Sybil's knee unyielding against her thigh, the yearning fullness in her breasts, damp of the stone seeping through her undergarments, the pull of her drawers against her hips as Sybil's wrist moves against the drawstrings, and the inexorable press of Sybil's fingers as she circles relentlessly the painfully hungry emptiness at the core of Gwen's senses.
“I will hold you here, forever, because you are mine.” And Sybil is sliding home, fingers inside, thumb down against the pounding pulsepoint, and Gwen feels her consciousness disintegrating, her ears ringing, her shoulderblades and heels suddenly slammed painfully into the floor as she jerks up with a gasp and rolls against Sybil who is there to catch and hold her close: “Shush, shush, shush – I'm here – it's all right – I'm here.”
The water is cool, but the soap does its work and allows them to clean the scent of intimacy from their skin.
The robe only has one place in which Sybil's saliva has discolored the silk, a stain easily explained away as water from the bath – Lady Crawley is irritable about it, and reprimands Sybil for borrowing her things without asking, but does not question Sybil's penitent explanation.
The bite mark on Sybil's shoulder does, in fact, bruise, but in such a way as can be explained away by a breezy mention of a clumsy slip against the side of the tub.
Both Gwen and Sybil spend the duration of the evening's entertainments thinking almost exlusively about the dampness of their respective undergarments and the pebbling hardness of their nipples as they consider the source of the moisture.
And at some point she looks across the dining room from her assigned place by the sideboard, she catches Sybil looking back: eyes dark with lust and love and skin flushed with what others likely imagine is the sauvignon blanc but Gwen knows is something else entirely.
And she realizes that it is time to let go of the fear that this will end, and start to engineer some hope that it never will.