This little story ignores at least one reality - Downton continues into the future unaffected by a changing world, servants abound and the Granthams continue to reign - and perhaps it introduces what some might consider a new implausibility. But then, we wouldn’t have the magic of Christmas without ignored reality and a dash of the implausible.

Male/Male
Thomas Barrow, Jimmy Kent, Downton Abbey, AU
Title: Christmas Dreams
What brings Jimmy back to Downton just after Christmas?


Yesterday is but today's memory, and tomorrow is today's dream. Khalil Gibran

Thomas stood at one of the outside doors in the library smoking. He knew it was something that just wasn't done by a servant, but he really didn't care. It was almost two in the morning so no one was around to see him. Besides, since he was the butler, none of the staff would ever think of saying anything and he was sure none of the family would be up at that hour.

He didn't sleep well. Although that was nothing new. After the war it had been the nightmares; after the mess with Jimmy, just another type of nightmare. Even when they became friends it didn't help. He worried that he would overstep the boundaries of their friendship, mainly because he wasn't sure exactly what they were. More than once he he could have sworn that he hadn't been wrong about Jimmy. Maybe it was the way he looked at him or the way he touched him or the way he pulled his chair close when they were in the pub, so close that their legs rubbed against each other most of the night. Then he would suddenly became standoffish, barely acknowledging his existence until he just as suddenly came around. So he worried and when he worried, he couldn't sleep. Now it was because he still missed Jimmy so much that too often it was like a pain that shook him awake and refused to let him get back to sleep.

He gazed out the glass-paned door into the winter darkness, catching a glimpse of the drifted snow in the shadowy moonlight. Stubbing out his cigarette in the ashtray he carried, he turned and leant against the jamb. Christmas. But it's really just another day. The rest of the staff will be looking forward to it, to the gifts they'll exchange, to the presents from the Granthams. Those damn maids and hall boys will be acting like children. He smiled. I suppose that's to be expected because they aren't much more than children.

He walked over to one of the chairs and sat down, leaning back to stare at the ceiling. It seemed to get harder every year. He was the only one left of the staff to remember the early days. He knew that most of them had been born after the Titanic sank. There was no one to relive the memories with. Shaking his head, he sat up. Never thought I would be yearning for Carson or Hughes or Patmore. Maybe Daisy. He sighed. And Jimmy of course. Then again, I never thought I would still be here and all of them gone.

Jimmy still wrote, but not as often as he used to, They even met in London occasionally, but the last had been almost three years ago. Each time they made plans they fell through because of something Jimmy had to do, so they just stopped making plans. For a while Jimmy had talked about going on holiday together - 'Just a cottage somewhere so we can really catch up'. The possibility took away some of the darkness that had engulfed his life when he wasn't working, but it wasn't long before he realised it would never happen. Despite all of that, they never forgot Christmas. Thomas had almost reached the point where he wished they could.

And then there was yesterday.

---

His gift from Jimmy arrived in the morning post, but he didn't get a chance to open it until later on, just before the upstairs Christmas Eve dinner. As he pulled away the brown paper to reveal the colourful wrapping underneath, he was pretty sure he knew what it was. Bless him, he doesn't have much of an imagination. As usual it was accompanied by a letter. The present wasn't to be touched until Christmas, but the letter was fair game. He was about to open it when his phone rang.

"Downton Abbey."

"Thomas! Good, I got you before dinner."

It took him a few seconds to recognise the voice.

"Jimmy? What on earth ...?"

"Did you get my gift?"

"Of course, you always seem to time it right on. And mine?"

"Yes. It arrived yesterday."

They both went silent.

"So, why the call?" Thomas asked. " I mean, it's great to hear from you, but is something wrong?"

He could hear the nervousness in Jimmy's voice.

"No, no. Everything's fine. But I'm coming to Downton the day after Boxing Day."

"Why?"

"To see you of course." He paused and when he continued his tone was more hesitant. "That is if you want to see me." Another pause. "I really need to talk to you in person. It's not something for the telephone or a letter."

Thomas must have been quiet too long.

"Thomas, are you still there?"

"Yes, of course. It's just a surprise that's all. It will be great to see you again."

"Good." Jimmy sounded relieved. "I've already rung the Grantham Arms and booked a room for the night. I'll be on the eleven o'clock. Will you meet me at the station or later? Damn! I never thought that you might not be able to get away."

"I'm butler, remember. I'll be at the station."

"Of course you will. I'll ring off now. Happy Christmas."

"Happy Christmas Jimmy."

---

Thomas stood and went to the door again, pressing his palms against the glass. So now instead of lying awake because I still miss him, I can't sleep because I'm going to see him. He leant his forehead against the cold pane. God I'm a sorry bastard. He pushed himself away from the door. Maybe some hot milk. That's what his mother used to say. It never seemed to work, but it didn't do any harm either.

He made his way down the stairs to the kitchen, thankful that the stove was electric and not the old wood-fired one. A noise from the servants' hall made him change direction, walking forward cautiously. As he neared the door he could make out a figure, silhouetted by a single lamp, sitting at the table. It's that new hall boy Andy. What's he doing up at this time? He leant his head into the room.

"Andrew?"

"Jesus! Mr. Barrow!" The boy jumped, sending the glass of milk he was holding all over the table in front of him. "Fuck!"

It took all Thomas's control not to burst out laughing. "And Happy Christmas to you too, Andr ... Andy."

"I'm sorry. Don't tell anyone, please. I ..." He stopped when he realised the person he most definitely didn't want to know about this was standing in front of him, unsuccessfully trying to hold back a smile.

"Fine. I won't say a word. Just go get a cloth to clean this up."

"Yes, si ... Mr. Barrow." As he ran past, he caught a glimpse of himself. First job, a little shy, feeling lost and forgotten, away from home on Christmas. Guess things don't change much. When he came back, Thomas could see that he was struggling with tears.

"Am I that much of an ogre, Andy?"

The boy looked up from the table. "No. It's just that .." He lost his battle and started to sob.

Thomas reached over, trying to take the cloth that he clutched tightly in his fists. "Here, I'll do that. Sit down for a minute."

Andy refused to let go. "No. It's not your job."

"It can be mine if I want. Now sit."

Andy slumped into the chair and watched as Thomas mopped at the spreading liquid.

"There that's good enough for now."

"But it will be all sticky if you don't wipe it down with water," Andy protested.

"Are you trying to tell me how to do something young man?"

"N ... no."

"Good. Too bad I'm so clumsy, but I'll get someone to clean up the mess I made in the morning."

"The mess you made? But ..."

"Yes. Now let's both get some milk and see what we can sneak from the Christmas baking."

"Really?" Andy asked as he followed him into the kitchen

"Well, as long as you promise not to tell." Thomas pulled the milk from the refrigerator and two glasses from the shelf. "Think you can manage this without spilling while I check the pantry?"

"Maybe," Andy blushed as he laughed.

"We've got mince tarts, shortbread, sugar cookies, fruit cake, chocolate truffles, I think, and something else," Thomas announced from the pantry. "What would you like?"

"Um ..."

"Never mind, we'll try one of each. Except for this stuff I've never seen before."

This time Thomas followed Andy, carrying two plates and taking his normal place at the head of the table while nodding at Andy to sit beside him. He handed over one of the plates.

"You haven't had any of Bolton's Christmas treats, have you?" Andy shook his head. "Maybe not quite as good as her predecessor Mrs. Patmore, but I'm sure you won't mind."

Andy took a bite of the shortbread, then almost swallowed the remainder whole. Thomas smiled at him again as he remembered what it felt like to be hungry all the time at his age. He took a drink of milk - damn, I was supposed to heat that - and tried the sugar cookie. A sideways glance told him Andy hadn't taken his eyes off him. He picked up a truffle and rolled it between his thumb and fingers as he looked at him.

"You've been here three months, right?"

"Yes."

"Where are you from again?"

"A village just south of York."

"That's not that far away. Have you been home at all?" Thomas regretted the words as soon as he said them when he saw Andy's face lose its smile.

"No."

"That's too bad." He watched Andy toy with the fruitcake. "Do you believe in Father Christmas?"

"No, of course not."

"That's right, I suppose you're too old for that nonsense." He took a bite of the truffle. "I do."

"What?" Andy sprayed bits of fruitcake into the air. "Sorry. I mean, pardon?"

"Maybe not Father Christmas himself, but the fact that Christmas dreams can come true, which is almost the same thing." He plopped the rest of the truffle into his mouth and eyed the shortbread.

"Let me guess your Christmas dream," he said without looking up. "You want to be home, sitting at the table with your parents, stuffing yourself."

"My mum."

Thomas cocked his head to one side as he looked at him.

"My mum." He sniffed and rubbed at his eyes. "There's only my mum and my younger brother and sister. My father died in the war."

"Ah, I see." Thomas picked up the shortbread and held it up to the light, as if he were discerning some meaning from it. "Did you know that shortbread is Father Christmas's favourite? They say if you leave him a piece, he'll make happen what you want most."

"You're making that up, Mr. Barrow."

Thomas laughed. "Yes, but it's still a good story all the same." He set the shortbread down and reached over to tousle Andy's unruly mop of black hair. "On the other hand, people like butlers can actually do it. There's only one train tomorrow to York and you'll be on it. You can come back on the one that arrives here at eleven the day after Boxing Day."

"I can't."

"Oh yes you can. Does your mother have a telephone?"

"No, but our neighbours do."

"Good. You come see me first thing tomorrow and you can call to ask them to let her know. I'll have the money for the ticket as well." He saw that Andy was about to object. "Since when did you expect to pay for your own gift from Father Christmas?"

"But what will people say if I'm not here? Who will do my work?"

"I think you can leave the answers to all of that to me." Thomas reached his plate over and slid what was left onto Andy's. "Here, take this and your milk and go to bed."

Andy stood, but didn't leave.

"Why are you doing this?"

"Because, Andy my boy, everyone should get their Christmas dream even if it's just once." And even if I never have. "Now go."

Thomas's smile broadened as he watched him leave. When did I become such a softy? The old Thomas would have just ignored him - or made it worse. I blame Jimmy. He wouldn't let me get away with any of the shit I used to try because he eventually came to see right through me. He became my nagging conscience. Not that he's perfect by any means. Just his shortcomings are different. We complimented each other. 'Funny, we're quite a pair.' You may not be here Jimmy, but that doesn't mean you're gone. He yawned as he stood up. Despite his misgivings about finally seeing Jimmy again, he realised it was what he needed more than anything else. Maybe it's a Christmas dream finally coming true for me.

---

The train from London was right on time Thomas reached up to check that this tie was straight when it came to a halt. As the doors of the carriages opened, he felt his stomach knot in anticipation. Just as he caught sight of Jimmy and was within a few yards, he was startled by the sound of his name from someone between them.

"Mr. Barrow!"

He had forgotten about Andy who stood there with a broad smile.

"You didn't have to be here."

Oh crap! He saw Jimmy stop a few paces away, set down his bag and wait with an amused look for his answer. Save me, you bastard.

"Actually I'm here meeting a friend." He nodded in Jimmy's direction.

"Oh."

"But I do want to hear how your Christmas was. I thought maybe later back at Downton? Jesus, how did I get myself into this? "You had a good time?"

Andy brightened. "Yes, thank you again for giving me the time off." He held up a basket. "And my mum sent some banketstaaf for me to share with you so we can have some of that too."

"Pardon?"

"It's Dutch. We always have it at Christmas."

"You're Dutch?" was all he could think to say. Over Andy's shoulder he could see Jimmy starting to chuckle.

"My mum is."

"Ah. Well, you should get back to Downton."

Andy nodded. "My mum says I'm lucky to work for someone as nice as you." Behind him, Jimmy folded his arms across his chest and just shook his head.

"You'll have to pass on my thanks, but I really have to go now."

"Right. I'll see you later then."

After Andy left, Thomas stood glaring at Jimmy.

"Don't you dare!"

"Ah, but Thomas. Where have you been hiding all this fatherly concern for your staff. It's .. it's endearing. Mr. Carson would be so proud."

"Shut up."

Jimmy stepped forward and grabbed him in a hug. "You know I don't mean it."

"Stop that, Jimmy," Thomas bristled as he tried to break free. "There are people around."

"So, we're just two men who haven't seen each other in years. Big deal." Nevertheless, he let him go and picked up his bag.

"So, who's your friend?" he asked as they exited the platform.

"A new hall boy and he's not a friend."

"He thinks he is."

Now that's just fucking wonderful. I'll have to deal with this without hurting his feelings. Maybe Carson had it right after all. Run a tight ship and let someone else be the mother hen. Yet, secretly he was a little pleased that Andy had seen a side of him that few others had. Not the end of the world. It still feels odd though, having to recover from doing something good.

"You're a real chatterbox, Thomas. At this rate maybe I could have just written and waited for your letter."

"Can I remind you that this was your choice." Thomas paused, knowing how that came across. "Sorry. So what's the news that's so important you want to tell me in person." Although he hadn't meant it, his tone still sounded accusatory. It felt as if Jimmy's sudden interest in sharing his news had nothing to do with their friendship and all to do with Jimmy's need for reassurance and praise - something he had experienced more than once. Fortunately, Jimmy didn't pick up on it - or he chose to ignore it.

"Come with me while I unpack and I'll tell you."

They talked about nothing in particular as they made their way to the pub and up the stairs to Jimmy's room. Thomas lit a cigarette and sat on the window sill as Jimmy sorted out the few things he brought with him onto the bed.

"So? The news?"

Jimmy turned and sat on the bed.

"Two pieces actually. Both good."

Thomas noted that his voice wavered, as if he weren't entirely certain.

"First, I'm moving to York. My company's expanding north and I'll be manager for the region. Which means we'll finally be able to see each other again. I mean more often. York's much closer, right? A quick train ride."

Thomas took a drag on his cigarette before answering.

"So you won't be as busy."

"Well, no. I'll be just as busy, maybe busier."

"And this is an improvement over London because ...?"

"Damn it, Thomas. Think. You couldn't come to London for a few hours then back to Downton in time for dinner. And I certainly couldn't come here." He stood up and walked to the dresser where he stuffed his underwear into one of the drawers. "Besides, it wasn't just my fault we drifted apart."

Thomas didn't agree with that, but he had to admit that the idea of having Jimmy closer went a long way to making him happier than he had been in ages.

"All right. Point taken. Maybe we'll even get away on one of those holidays. And the other news?"

Jimmy turned and leant against the dresser.

"I met someone."

Thomas's hand with the cigarette froze midair as he tried to absorb the words.

"I see. So, are congratulations in order then?"

Jimmy looked at the ceiling as if expecting some type of inspiration from above.

"Yes and no."

"What the hell does that mean, Jimmy? It's taken you long enough to find someone and you're still on the fence? I don't understand, either she's the one for you or she's not."

"He's not."

The ashtray Thomas was holding slipped from his grasp, crashing to the floor. Suddenly nothing about the conversation made sense. Thomas's mind reeled, trying to put the last sentence into context, any context.

"He? What do you mean 'he'?"

"It's a long story."

"And we," Thomas pointed between the two of them, "we're not? What are we then, a little side note?" As he jumped from the sill, fists clenched, Jimmy tried to back up but had nowhere to go. Thomas stood in front of him, chest almost pushing into hm. "Jesus Christ, Jimmy, we're fucking War and Peace."

Suddenly he stepped back and just stared.

"Do you remember saying 'I can never give you what you want'? Because I do. It's as if its cut into my heart. Now years later when I thought it had healed you show up spouting this bullshit, just ripping the scabs away. Why? Because you met some nancy boy in London who stroked your ego - and probably a lot more."

"I wasn't ready then."

"More bullshit Some people are slow, but that would make you downright glacial." Thomas wanted to storm out, but his legs finally gave way and he staggered back, sinking onto the bed.

"Jesus, Thomas, not everyone knows what they like from the beginning. Not everyone moves so fast it leaves the other person out of breath and utterly confused, unable to even consider the possibility that ..."

He stopped when he saw Thomas's face, knowing he was reliving the night of the kiss.

"Do you want to hear about why it's no?"

Thomas waved his hand at him vaguely before bowing his head and pressing his fingers against his forehead. "Why not? It can't be any more ridiculous than this."

"His name's Carl. He's handsome - film-star good looks - sophisticated, knows exactly what to say and when to say it. He makes me laugh, knows when I've tied myself into knots and what to do about it. He bloody made me feel special; special beyond anything I ever expected."

Thomas looked up. "I'm interested in the 'no', not in the reasons I should try to go find him in London for myself."

Jimmy laughed despite the tension. "Yes, he's ideal, isn't he."

"Yes, I get it, he swept you off your feet," Thomas spat out, "and immediately woke the true you."

"Why would you think that life is ever that simple? You if anyone should know it's not." Jimmy crossed the room and sat beside Thomas, causing him to shift as far away as possible. "It took two years. Do you really think that it happened like Saul on the road to Damascus? And all that time, Carl was there while I stumbled through the maze, hitting dead end after dead end, finding monsters at every turn. I never seemed to stop running to him to cry on his shoulder. In the end, we didn't do anything other than kiss and to his credit he never once threw that in my face."

"And this was something you couldn't do with me? You couldn't confide in your best friend? Not even a word? Not even when you knew that I'm the same as Carl?"

"I wasn't ready for that either. I know it sounds mad, but it was easier with someone who I had no history with, whose years of frustrated expectations wouldn't push and pull at me. Do you really believe you're that person?"

Thomas ignored the question because he knew it answered itself. "I still don't understand the point of all this. Why bother telling me if nothing happened. If you had a crush on someone, so what?"

"I didn't think it was a crush. For a while, not very long mind you, I thought it might be like the way you felt about me."

"Don't you dare compare my feelings for you to this ... this charade."

"And you can't call it a charade just because it's something you can't understand. It was real to me. Every minute was real." Jimmy sighed. "Besides none of that is the point. Once again you haven't asked the question. You haven't asked why nothing happened."

"Should I care?"

"Because he wasn't you."

Thomas's frown deepened. "He wasn't me?"

"Once I could accept what this meant for me, I realised that if I were ever going to be happy it would be with you. Yes, Carl seemed amazing - was amazing - but for all of that he didn't love me." Jimmy's hand moved to grab hold of Thomas's. "But you, you love me. You have almost from the first day we met. I could never imagine us parting quietly, like Carl and I did. I can't see us parting at all. This is where my life has taken me and I want to go the rest of the way with someone who loves me."

Thomas shook his head and pulled his hand away.

"What about me, Jimmy? Yes, I love you. It's obvious I've never really been able to hide that. But do you love me?"

"You're the only person I can ever love. It's taken me all these years to get to the point that I can admit that to myself. I've wasted so much time that could have been ours, but there wasn't any other way for me. I'm not going to lie to you though - I don't think I deserve you, not yet. But if you'll give me a chance, let your love carry us both for a while, I know I will show you that I do."

"You think you love me even though I'm nothing like Carl?"

"Because you're nothing like Carl. Sometimes you wear your flaws like a badge of honour. You can be short-tempered, miserable, irritating and self-centred."

"I don't think I've ever heard the reasons for loving someone put so eloquently."

"But I saw you with that boy today. You'd think something small like that wouldn't mean anything, but for me that's the Thomas who makes up for all of it. The Thomas who you hid from everyone but me for so long because you thought it made you look weak and vulnerable. There was a time you would never have bothered with him, would never have cared if he were unhappy, but you gave up pretending that's who you are. When you did that you made it possible for someone, for me, to love you."

Jimmy could tell that Thomas still wasn't sure.

"Don't you see. The things most people would think might doom us don't matter. There's nothing I'm going to be horrified to discover about you because I already know all of it. None of it will drive me away. And nothing about me will change how you feel. We've already got past those barriers that couples stumble over or that seem so overwhelming that they just give up."

"It won't be easy, Jimmy. You in York, me in Downton. And we'll bloody fight. You can be sure of that"

"If I wanted easy, Thomas, I would have stayed in London. I would have made do with someone like Carl or more likely I would have ended up alone. Either way I would have been miserable in the end. I would have thrown away what's left of my life."

Suddenly Thomas's lips were on his, hesitant at first as if testing his words, but when he didn't shrink back, Thomas's arms wrapped around him, pulling him into a kiss that neither ever expected would happen. Even when Thomas broke away to press their foreheads together, fingers interlaced behind his neck, eyes locked onto his, Jimmy could still feel the longing and the years of unanswered passion.

"Is something wrong?" Jimmy asked shakily when Thomas didn't speak.

"No it's perfect. Everything's perfect. I was just thinking about Father Christmas." He smiled at Jimmy's puzzled expression. "Don't worry, there'll be all the time in the world for an explanation later."

~~ End ~~