Male/Male
Thomas Barrow, Jimmy Kent, Downton Abbey
Title: Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve finds Jimmy facing an uncertain future
Warning: Canonical character death

Jimmy sat in the servants' hall staring into the distance at nothing. It was almost one in the morning and he knew he should be in bed, but he felt too weary to attempt to climb the stairs. Of course that wasn't the only reason, perhaps it wasn't a reason at all. He knew what awaited him in his room - absolutely nothing, except Dickens's Christmas ghosts. And he didn't need ghosts to remind him of his past, present or future. He knew full well what they were.

"James, why are you up so late?" Mrs. Hughes asked from the doorway. Her voice was concerned and her face, when Jimmy looked at her, mirrored it.

"I'm going up soon, Mrs. Hughes."

"We all miss him, you know," she said as she sat down opposite him.

Jimmy smirked and looked away. "I doubt it."

"Thomas never made himself easy to like," she sighed. "At least not until the last few years. Sadly people tend to remember the bad about someone."

Jimmy looked back. 'The good that men do is oft interred with their bones ...' Thomas had quoted that a few weeks ago. Not that Thomas did anything particularly good. Except for me.

"I know, but he changed, didn't he?" Jimmy asked, almost seeking reassurance that someone else truly recognised it.

"Yes, of course." She hesitated. "I think it was you made that happen."

Jimmy bit his upper lip, willing himself not to break down in front of her.

"He told me what you did for him after I almost got him fired that time. You were the first one who really cared, the only one who didn't turn away."

She smiled as if remembering that night.

"Yes, well, life can be hard if there's no one who will listen. That's all I did. I couldn't solve the problem though. It took you to do that in the end."

They sat in silence for a moment before Mrs. Hughes spoke again.

"Now, we both need to get some sleep." She stood and walked to the door. "Christmas tomorrow, or rather today, and while we do get a bit of a break we'll still be busy."

Jimmy got up to follow her. As they parted at the servants' stairs she put a hand on his arm.

"When we lose someone, all we have left are memories, James. Thomas is no longer here to treasure, but the memories are."

Gently squeezing his arm, she released him. "Good night."

"Good night, Mrs. Hughes." He watched as she climbed the stairs, then slumped against the wall. She knows. She bloody knows. At first the thought panicked him as his mind raced through all that could now go wrong, but he soon realised that nothing would. This isn't something new. She's known for a while and we were safe. As he straightened and started up to his room, a sense of relief washed over him. Someone else knows. He knew he could never talk about the two of them or what it felt like to lose him, but the simple idea that Mrs. Hughes might just understand was strangely comforting. It felt like he no longer had to bear his grief alone.

Once in his room, he quickly stripped out of his livery, pulling on his pyjamas before sitting on the bed. Looking around he smiled to himself. This had been Thomas's room and as Mrs. Hughes had said it was filled with memories to treasure.

---

When he had found Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes together a week or so after Thomas's death , it had taken all his nerve to ask for the room. He never thought he would see Carson at a loss for words, but that's what happened. He had just stared at him, started to speak, then thought better of it for a moment.

"I don't see why you should have it," Carson retorted when he found his voice.

"Will you at least consider it, Mr. Carson? I mean you aren't going to hire another under-butler and the room will sit empty. And I am first footman." Jimmy felt like he was somehow betraying Thomas by asking, but it was important that he have his room.

"James has a point, Mr. Carson," Mrs. Hughes added. "We won't need the room and it is a bit larger, perhaps more reflective of James's status." She knew how important appearances were to Mr. Carson."

Carson frowned at her, but not unhappily.

"Fine, I'll think about it."

"That's all I ask, Mr. Carson," Jimmy answered quickly.

---

Getting up from the bed he walked to the armchair, picking up an envelope from his nightstand on the way. He realised after tonight's conversation that he likely had Mrs. Hughes to thank for the room. Settling into the chair, he stared at the envelope in front of him, just as he had every night for the last four weeks. I bet you thought I wouldn’t be able to wait. That I would have opened it long ago. But I made a promise and I’d never break a promise to you. He set it down on the arm and got up to dig out the bottle of whiskey from his bottom dresser drawer. Instinctively, he pulled out two glasses before realising it. He smiled slightly as he returned one and made his way back to the chair where he poured himself a generous drink.

After taking a sip he set it down and picked up the envelope. This time his hands were shaking a little. He knew that this was what he had been trying to avoid above all else. He thought that by opening the envelope and reading Thomas's letter he would have to face his death all over again. Worse yet, that it would be the last thing they would share. The last month of his illness rushed back to haunt him. The Granthams had insisted he stay as long as possible. A kindness, Jimmy thought, but also a constant reminder. He watched him fade away all over again and he relived the hurt that he wasn't able to see him every day of the week he was in the hospital. And the thought of his dying alone. He cried silently as the tears rolled down his cheeks.

---

The day Thomas was to leave Downton for the last time he handed Jimmy the letter.

"For Christmas Eve and not before, you hear," Thomas whispered hoarsely.

"We'll read it together."

Thomas's hand found his, then rose unsteadily to stroke his hair.

"We both know that's not going to happen."

"Don't you leave me." Jimmy buried his face in Thomas's chest. "I don't want to be alone again."

Thomas's hand moved down to the nape of his neck, rubbing gently, hoping to comfort him, but not finding the words.

"I know, love, I know."

---

Jimmy wiped at his eyes and face with his fingers, pushing away the tears. He turned the envelope, easing open the flap and pulling out the letter. Taking a deep breath he unfolded it.
Jimmy my love

Christmas Eve again. You know why I chose tonight of course; the anniversary of our first night together. I couldn't bear the thought of you sitting alone - as I know you will - without something from me for the last time, even if it's just words on paper.

I'm so tired, Jimmy, I just want it to be over. There's nothing I wouldn't give to stay just for you, but I know you'll forgive that I can't.

Do you remember the day you said you could never give me what I want? Well, you never did, You gave me far more than I ever could have imagined. You made me happier than I deserved to be. The few years that we had made up for a lifetime of despair.

There are a lot of things that I should regret, but in fact there is only one that matters - that we will not grow old together.

You must not live your life in regret though, thinking only of what we might have had. You have to live your life for both of us. Use the money I have left you to find your true place in the world, to find joy, to find love. I know that you will never forget me, but I must not be where you end.

Promise me you will do all of that. And promise me you will read this letter every Christmas Eve and remember what I wish for you. When you have everything that you deserve, as you will, then put it away because there will be no need to look at it again.

Love
Thomas
Jimmy held the letter for a moment, then carefully folded it back into the envelope. He lifted his glass in a toast. I promise and I never break a promise to you.

~~End~~