Thomas Barrow, Jimmy Kent, Downton Abbey
Title: Blue Moon
Mr. Carson nodded to Thomas indicating that he wasn't required for the rest of the dinner. About bloody time. There's no need for all of us. Jimmy and Alfred can take care of them. They're on the pudding. Do you want me to help spoon feed it to them? Although he had suffered few lingering effects from the beating, sometimes, even six months later, his ribs still hurt and standing like a ramrod made it worse. Tonight was one of those times. He hurried down the stairs and out into the courtyard so he could finally have the cigarette he had been longing for since the fish course. He leaned back against the wall and tilted his head up, watching the smoke drift and fade against the stars. It was a nice warm evening, clear sky and the moon was inching over the top of the west tower.
Blue moon. He heard Lady Edith mention that at dinner. It had something to do with smoke from fires or dust from a volcano eruption that somehow changed the colour of the moon. Well, not the moon itself, just the colour we see. He hadn't paid attention to what was supposed to be causing it this time. She said that there had been one last night and one was expected tonight. It was something that you might see once in your life or maybe never. He squinted at the edge of the moon. Doesn't look any different to me.
Thomas jumped, dropping the cigarette from his lips.
"Jesus, Jimmy, give a man a warning!" He stepped on the cigarette to put it out. "I almost crapped my drawers."
"Sorry." Jimmy was trying to sound serious, but Thomas heard the laughter in his voice. "I just wondered if you wanted some company."
"Of course." Thomas pointed to the bench at one side of the courtyard that was in semi-darkness. "Let's sit down though. I think our feet could do with the rest."
They settled side by side, leaning back against the wall. Thomas pulled out another cigarette.
"No. You know I don't smoke." Jimmy hesitated, deciding what to say. "Are you sure you should? That cough is hanging on. I thought Carson was going to explode when you coughed in the Dowager's ear as she walked into the dining room."
Thomas had already lit up and the vision of Carson's face made him snort ... and cough.
"I almost lost it when she put up her fan as if trying to ward off evil spirits."
Jimmy dissolved into laughter, absentmindedly putting his hand on Thomas's knee. Thomas looked down in surprise.
"You didn't see her face. Alfred and I were treated to that. It was as if she was thinking Why is Barrow spitting on me? Has the revolution begun?"
Once again Thomas choked on the smoke. Jimmy took his hand off his knee and patted him on the back.
"That sounds like another clean shirt will do you. Really, you should think of stopping. Or at least cutting back."
"I started when I was thirteen. Been at it twenty years. Don't think I could."
He stubbed out the cigarette on the bench.
"You're thirty-three then?"
"What? You little ..."
"Take it easy, Mr. Barrow. It's a joke."
"I wish you would call me Thomas. I told you that as long as we weren't working I wanted you to."
"And as long as Carson doesn't hear me."
Thomas realised that Jimmy's hand was still resting on his back, gently stroking between his shoulder blades. He never does that. He never touches me. First my knee, now this.
As if suddenly realising what he was doing, Jimmy snatched his hand away, leaving Thomas with the ghost of his touch. From the corner of his eye, he saw Jimmy fold his hands in front of him, nervously interlacing his fingers. He frowned and licked his lips as if trying to pull together his thoughts before speaking.
"Mr. Barr... uh, Thomas, do you mind that? Does it bother you?"
"Uh ..." Jimmy pursed his lips. "That I ... uh, touched you like that. It's just that I sort of thought that ... uh, since we're friends maybe it would be alright. Maybe you wouldn't ..."
"Try to grab you and kiss you." The words were out before he realised it. Right, Barrow, make matters worse as only you know how. He was surprised when Jimmy laughed.
"Yes. After all, it wouldn't be the first time."
"I'm sorry. You know I am. I never would have if O'Brien hadn't fucked around with me." I wish I had another chance to do it right. Wouldn't matter though. It would end up the same way - me looking like a lovelorn, broken-hearted fool.
"You really don't understand my sense of humour yet, do you? I'm not afraid of that. I know you wouldn't do it without asking. What I was trying to say was that maybe you wouldn't feel hurt that I had never done it before."
"Oh. No, I like that you feel you can." Wait. Not without asking? What?
Jimmy smiled at him, once again putting his hand on his back, but moving it higher to the nape of his neck, gently massaging it. A slight shiver ran down Thomas's spine as he felt the hair on the back of his neck prickle. It's been so long.
"You know, I won't mind if you want to do the same. You've treated me like some fragile piece of china. Afraid if you touch me, breathe on me, that I'll shatter into fragments."
"I was just afraid ..."
"I know. And part of that's my fault. We've never talked about that night or the year afterward. What I put you through. It's probably why I've been afraid to touch you as well. No matter how innocent, I guess I thought it would tear open old wounds."
"But you don't think that now?"
"No. The last six months haven't been wasted. Despite what other people say about how mean and callous you are, I know you. You said it yourself a long time ago. We're a pair. We let people see what we want them to see, but underneath we can be quaking with fear. You let them think you don't give a shit about anyone or anything - although I still haven't figured out why exactly - when what you really want is a bit of happiness. Something you think you'll never get because... well, because of the way you are. And I act like a patronizing, conceited asshole, because otherwise I would have to admit ..."
Jimmy stopped. Too much. Too soon.
"Jimmy contra mundi, right?"
"You see. You know me, too."
Thomas cautiously dropped his hand onto Jimmy's knee, giving it a gentle squeeze, fearing that was going too far no matter what Jimmy had said. Jimmy looked down, but simply nodded as his massage of Thomas's neck became more of a caress. When he spoke, his voice was almost a whisper.
"Shocking, isn't it. The world didn't end."
They sat for a moment, Thomas's hand moving in time with Jimmy's.
"Jimmy, you out there? Mr. Carson's looking for you."
Alfred's sudden appearance at the door startled them both.
"I'm coming." Jimmy stood up, but before he went he bent down close to Thomas's ear. "Can I come to your room tonight? Before we go to bed."
My room? He's never asked to do that. Always where we can be seen.
"If you like."
Jimmy's fingers grazed the side of his cheek.
"I think I would."
"Jimmy. Get a move on."
"Christ, Alfred, I told you I'm coming."
Thomas watched as Jimmy pulled on his gloves and hurried across the yard. When he once again leaned back against the wall he saw that the full moon had risen, sitting like a ball balanced on top of the west tower.
Huh. Lady Edith was right. It does look blue.