Male/Male
Thomas Barrow, Andy Parker, Downton Abbey
Title: Epiphany
Length: 3 chapters
Warning: Season 5 spoilers

Not all surprises come wrapped as gifts.

Chapter One

In the few weeks leading up to Christmas Thomas had been too busy most of the time to brood. Without another footman he was expected to fill in more than usual and for some reason, Carson had become more demanding. He even found himself cleaning silverware because it was too much for Molesley to do by himself. A year ago he would have objected because doing something like that was below his status as under butler, but things, or rather he, had changed. Am I getting soft? Or maybe I just don't care anymore.

As he sat in his room at night two days before Christmas, he knew it was neither. He realised that after his brush with the foolishness of "Choose your own path" he was more settled. Clarkson had said to accept the burden that chance had given him. It was true that he had looked at it as a burden, as something weighing him down and keeping him from happiness, otherwise he wouldn't have tried to change.

Clarkson's words hadn't been kind, but they rang with truth. The fact that he liked other men was his reality. In Clarkson's eyes, and likely everyone else's, it was a harsh reality. But if this was how he was going to live he refused to believe that what he had was false hope. Hope had kept him going when there was little else. When his father threw him out. When Phillip rejected him. When Edward died. And when Jimmy

He toed off his shoes and pushed them under the bed. Just because things haven't worked out the way I want doesn't mean they never will. Admittedly his chances of finding anyone weren't great, but, to his surprise, he had met one of the village men a few months ago and they had begun a relationship. Is that what it is? A stolen night every week or so.

It was hardly what he wanted in the long run but it gave him the intimacy he craved. The sex was good, more than good, but it was afterwards that mattered more. As they sat on the bed smoking in the darkness, Aaron would kiss his cheek then take his hand, intertwining their fingers. Each time they parted, Thomas felt a pang of loss. His regret was that the hour or so they shared would likely be all they would ever have. The idea of two men living together in Downton was unheard of. Perhaps in a big city it might be different, but he had cast his lot with the Abbey and that's where he was going to stay.

He sighed as he leant back in the chair, resting his head and closing his eyes. Why am I trying to fool myself? Aaron isn't Jimmy. He smiled at the thought. Jimmy had never given him any encouragement, had not written once since he left; he didn't even know where he was. And yet he couldn't forget him. He knew that it was Jimmy more than anything that really blocked his way to happiness; or at least made him not really want anyone else. To be honest, he and Aaron would have been all right together - more than all right - and he knew that he would keep seeing him. He was settling for what they had because it was better than nothing and, despite everything, he continued to hope there might be something else, something better. Both he and Aaron realised that they faced an uncertain future but they would take what they had for now.

Thomas stood and got ready for bed. Tomorrow would be busy in the morning, but after that he would have some free time. As he reached over and turned off the light, he wondered if Aaron might be able to take a break, even if for just a drink.

------

The servants sat around the table waiting for Carson so they could have breakfast. It was noisier than usual, thanks mainly to the hall boys and maids who were chattering on about Christmas. Thomas wondered what there was to be excited about. It was really just another day with a few treats to make it seem special.

"Thomas are you well?" Phyllis Baxter, who was sitting beside him, asked as she leant closer. "You look tired."

"That's because I am," Thomas snapped. He immediately regretted being so short, after all, Phyllis had been the one who had helped him without hesitation despite the way he had treated her.

"I'm sorry." He nodded toward Molesley who was sitting across from them with his eyes closed. "You could say the same about Mr. Molesley. It's the two of us sharing the work of three. And we're short two hall boys as well. Upstairs don't seem to give a damn, but you would think Mr. Carson would."

"Do you believe he'll " Phyllis began only to be interrupted by the appearance of the man in question.

Carson waved everyone into their places as he took his seat at the head of the table.

"We seem to be running a little late today with breakfast, so shall we get on with it." As the food was being placed on the table he continued. "I have two announcements. First, His Lordship has confirmed, as we expected, that most of the family will not be here for dinner tonight. And secondly, we will be adding a footman today. As a matter of fact I expected him on the morning train in time for breakfast but he has yet to appear."

He looked at Thomas.

"I'm sure you will remember Andrew from London, Mr. Barrow."

"I do, Mr. Carson. So he's to be the one then?"

"Yes. It was something I took my time to consider, but I am sure I have made the correct decision." Before he could continue he was stopped by an uncertain voice.

"Excuse me, Mr. Carson," Andy apologised from the doorway, 'but I thought I should let you know I was here. The train was delayed just outside of York for almost an hour or I would have arrived much sooner."

"Ah good, Andrew," Mr. Carson answered. "Better late than never of course." He spoke to the rest of the servants. "This is Andrew Parker, our new footman." Then he indicated an empty chair near the other end of the table. "Join us for breakfast and we shall deal with individual introductions and all else later."

"Thank you." Andy set his suitcase down to one side of the door and made his way to his seat. As soon as he sat down he spotted Thomas and nodded to him with a smile.

Thomas smiled back. I'm glad he's getting the chance he wanted. I'll have to keep him out of Miss Denker's clutches though. Then again, there's not much here that she could use to lead him astray again. He almost laughed when he realised he was acting like the protective uncle that he had joked about in London. Good God, is this what I've come to?

"He's a nice boy," Phyllis said quietly. "I think he'll do well." She paused. "With your help, of course" she added pointedly.

"He'll do just fine, Miss Baxter. No worries on that front."

After breakfast and with the necessary introductions out of the way, Carson directed both Andy and Thomas to join him in his office.

"Andrew, as you know Mr. Barrow is under butler. As such you will report to him rather than to me. Of course, if I ask you to do something you will do it. You've met Mr. Molesley our other footman. I would recommend you take your cue from him if you are in doubt of anything. However, for today and tomorrow Mr. Barrow will provide you with general information and instructions about Downton. Now, please wait in the hallway while I speak to Mr. Barrow privately for a moment."

"Thomas," Carson began after Andy had closed the door, "I want to be sure that we will not have any trouble." He continued in answer to Thomas's questioning look. "I mean, Andrew is young and I imagine not altogether unattractive to men like " His voice trailed off.

Thomas could feel his fists clench. Not this again! Does he fucking think I'd make the same mistake twice? He paused for a few seconds to calm himself before answering.

"Of course there will be nothing untoward, Mr. Carson. My dealings with Andy - and with any other member of the male staff - will always be nothing but professional."

"Very good then." Carson stood to indicate that they were done. "Your assurance is all I need."

Thomas was still fuming when he got into the hallway where he found Andy waiting patiently.

"Is everything all right, Mr. Barrow? You look a bit red in the face."

"Everything is fine, Andy. Shall we begin?"

"Of course, but can I say something first."

Thomas nodded.

"It's about London." He looked down at his feet for a second, then continued. "I hope you don't think I'm a fool for what happened. I really don't know what came over me."

"Miss Denker came over you, Andy. I think that's all we need to know. And of course that you stay away from her."

"There'll be no problem there, Mr. Barrow."

"Good. And I don't think you're a fool." Perhaps more nave and more anxious to please than I would have expected. Did you lead a sheltered life? It bloody seems like it. "Now, let's get on shall we."

The rest of the morning Andy followed Thomas around as he went over the layout of the house, some of the things that would be expected of him aside for serving at meals, and passing on information about the other servants.

"It's always good to be forewarned," Thomas said as they stood outside, sheltered from the wind, while he smoked. "Mrs. Patmore will make sure you know about it if you mess up the timing when it comes to the meals. And don't let her catch you sneaking something from the plates."

"So I should never take anything." Andy confirmed as if storing the information away.

"No, I said don't let her catch you," Thomas laughed. "Underneath the barking, she's all right though." He took another drag from his cigarette. "Mrs. Hughes is a mother hen, but she would never admit it. As long as you give her the respect she deserves you'll be fine."

He dropped his cigarette and ground it out with his heel.

"We'll talk about some of the others later, but it's time for the upstairs lunch. Let's go before Mr. Carson comes hunting for us. Afterwards I'll take you into the village and show you where the various shops are. We get a lot of things from Ripon as well, but that's for another day." Maybe I'll get a chance to see Aaron.

Lunch passed without incident. Thomas kept an eye on Andy, but he had no problems. At one point he seemed unsure about something, but he saw Molesley lean in to whisper something as he passed. Well, well, Mr. Molesley, you and I might just finally get along after all. In the servants' hall where they sat after their own lunch Thomas made sure that Andy knew he had done well.

"You're not going to need much help from me, Andy."

"Thank you Mr. Barrow, but don't abandon me yet."

An odd choice of words. "No fear of that." He stood and led the way to the stairs. "Let's get our coats and walk to the village. We'll check out the shops and there's a package at the post office too that apparently can't wait until after Christmas for delivery."