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

Not all surprises come wrapped as gifts.

Chapter Two

The air was crisp rather than cold and the sun glittered off the snow that spread across the lawns, but the drive was clear making walking easy.

"Is there much to do in the village?" Andy asked. "I mean on my half day."

"There's a small tea room," Thomas answered through a puff of smoke, "but I'm guessing you mean a pub." He saw Andy nod. "The Grantham Arms is the only place for a drink. If we have time we'll drop in and have a look around. Aaron, the landlord, is a friend and it's always handy to have a friend like that." He almost choked on the double meaning of his words. At the same time he realised that any hope of seeing Aaron alone had essentially disappeared. "If you want anything else, you'll have to go to Ripon on the bus."

It didn't take long to show Andy around the village. They had time to visit the bookstore where Thomas had ordered a book for Phyllis for Christmas. It had been years since he had given a gift, other than to Jimmy, and despite the fact that he doubted he would be getting one from anyone, he wanted Phyllis to know that he hadn't forgotten about her kindness.

After that, they stopped into the chemist where he picked up some shaving supplies. Andy sniffed a bottle of cologne and held it up for Thomas to see.

"What do you think of this, Mr. Barrow?

"It's nice, Andy. I've used it myself."

Thomas knew it was expensive and wondered as Andy paid if he could afford it.

Then they went on to the post office for the parcel.

"I was just sorting the mail, Mr. Barrow and there's what looks like card for you. Would you like it or should we just deliver it after Christmas with the rest of the post?" the postmistress asked. "Shame if it's meant to get to you for Christmas."

"I'll take it, thank you" Thomas answered. He looked at the envelope, but recognised neither the return address nor the writing. He shrugged and handed Andy the parcel, tucking the card into his pocket.

"All right, Andy, a quick visit to see the pub and then back to Downton," Thomas announced once they were in the street again. The pub wasn't busy, with only a few people scattered around. Aaron looked up from behind the bar and smiled when he saw Thomas.

"I wasn't sure if I would see you before Christmas, Thomas. Do you have time for a drink?"

"No, sorry, we have to get back, but I wanted to show Andy the place. Andy, this is Aaron Shaw. He took over the Arms a few months ago." Andy reached out this hand. "Aaron, Andy Parker, the new footman at Downton."

"Pleased to meet you," they both said in unison then laughed.

"Well, if you can't stay now, how about tonight. Can you get away for a Christmas drink?" Aaron asked.

"Perhaps. The family is off visiting and apparently only Mr. Branson will be at home for dinner, but I thought you would be too busy here."

"Doesn't mean you can't join me. Besides the barmaid is on tonight too."

"So you'll be doing nothing then," Thomas joked.

"Oh, very funny. Why don't you come by and we'll see."

"I'll try to convince Mr. Carson to set me free early or even for a few hours, but now we've got to go."

"Good-bye, Mr. Shaw," Andy said before they turned to leave.

"Good Lord, Andy, you better call me Aaron because Mr. Shaw is my father."

"He's nice," Andy remarked as they began their walk to Downton.

"He is." Very nice.

When they got back Thomas realised they had spent too much time in the village and the family were about ready to have afternoon drinks before getting ready to leave for dinner. He rushed Andy up to the attics so they both could get changed; they made it to the library just in time. Carson gave them a stern look, but Thomas knew they were safe since so one was waiting.

Thomas looked around when everyone had arrived. There were five of the family and four servants. A bit much isn't it? All he and Carson did was to stand and watch while Andy and Molesley did all the work; not that there was much of that. We'll make up for this next week though when half the county will be here.

When they had finished, Thomas tracked Carson down to Mrs. Hughes office where they two were talking. The door was open so he knocked on the jamb and entered when Mrs. Hughes motioned him in.

"Mr. Cason, I was wondering if perhaps I could have an hour or so off to go to the village after Mr. Branson has had his dinner. I'll be back in plenty of time for the family's return."

"As a matter of fact, Mr. Branson has decided to go after all so there will be no dinner, but I do not see why you would expect time off after this afternoon."

"I was on Downton business, not my own, Mr. Carson. I was in fact working."

"Now, Mr. Carson, what harm will it do?" Elsie Hughes interrupted. "It is Christmas after all. As a matter of fact why not give Mr. Molesley and Andrew some time as well. Mr. Bates and Miss Baxter have already been told that they won't be needed until later and can do as they wish."

"Really, Mrs. Hughes! Mr. Molesley perhaps, but Andrew has just arrived, why on earth "

"Because as I said, it is Christmas and a little kindness is never amiss, is it?"

"Very well, but I am not sure if I like how things like this seem to happen."

"Oh, Mr. Carson," Elsie laughed, "I doubt if you ever will. There you go Thomas, let Mr. Molesley and Andrew know as well." She winked at him. "Just say it's a Christmas gift from Mr. Carson."

"Must you," Mr. Carson sighed. "Just be sure you are back in time, Thomas."

"Of course, Mr. Carson."

Thomas chuckled as he headed toward the servants' hall. The old bugger is never a match for her. Once there hall he told both men.

"That's nice," Joseph Molesley nodded as he smiled. "I think Miss Baxter and I will enjoy some time together once she's finished with Her Ladyship."

"I wonder, Mr. Barrow, if I might come with you," Andy asked tentatively. "I assume you're going to the village."

This wasn't at all what Thomas had planned, but he had no good reason to say no, particularly in front Molesley and the others. I seem to have acquired a follower of sorts. He looked at Andy who was waiting expectantly for an answer. Or a puppy.

"Of course, Andy. We'll change and go right after the family leaves."

Andy broke into a broad smile. "Thank you, Mr. Barrow."

Definitely a puppy.

It was almost seven when Thomas and Andy made it to their rooms. Thomas changed and as he put on his coat he realised that the envelope was still in the pocket. He pulled it out and set it on his dresser. Damn! I don't want to take time to read it now.

Andy was waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs. Phyllis passed them as they walked down the hallway.

"Have a nice time."

"We will," Andy answered before Thomas could get a word out. "Sorry Mr. Barrow," he said after he closed the door behind them and they began to make their way down the drive. "I should have let you speak."

"It's fine, Andy. We're not working so there's no need to be so rigid. Just don't forget when we are working."

"I won't." He was quiet for a moment before continuing. "I didn't fancy staying in tonight. I mean I really don't know anyone yet other than you and Mr. Molesley and he was going to be busy. I suppose there were the hall boys or the maids, but I'd rather be with you right now."

He paused again as he turned up his collar, then stuck his hands into his coat pockets.

"Can I tell you something?"

"Of course."

"I've always managed to get to see my Dad around Christmas. I mean I've never worked anywhere but London so getting home wasn't much of a problem. Sometimes I even made it on Christmas Day for a few hours."

"What about your mum."

"She left us when I was four. I scarcely remember her, except I have an old photo. My Nan and Dad raised my younger brother and me."

"So did you see them before you left?"

"No. Nan died a couple of years ago and Dad this summer."

"I'm sorry." So that's where abandoned came from.

Andy laughed nervously. "I'm not even sure why I'm doing this. I've never told anyone else about my Mum. Maybe because of what you did for me in London I thought Anyway, that's enough. We're out to have a good time, right?"

"Definitely." So not a puppy after all. It would seem 'Uncle Thomas' wasn't far off the mark. Thomas looked up at the stars and smiled. I guess I can live with that.

When they arrived the pub was busier than earlier in the day. Aaron spotted them as they entered and waved in their direction.

"Take that table in the corner Andy while I get us a couple of pints."

"I'll buy the next ones then, Mr. Barrow."

"Damn right you will."

When Thomas got to the bar, Aaron had two glasses already waiting.

"You brought Andy I see."

"It's a bit of a long story."

"I really don't mind, Thomas, except I hoped we would get a few minutes alone."

"I thought so too," Thomas answered as he leant in close to reach for the glasses, "but I can't just up and walk away from him."

"Of course not." Aaron looked around. The barmaid was busy at the far end talking to a couple of the customers. He cautiously slid his hand to Thomas's where it rested on the bar top and quickly ran his fingers along the back of it, letting them linger briefly. "If not tonight, then another. I'm not going anywhere."

Thomas nodded. He's bloody great, so why couldn't I just be happy with him? As he turned he realised that Andy had been watching them. There was nothing to see so I suppose there's no need to worry.

He set the glasses down on the table and took his seat as Andy lifted his in a toast.

"Cheers, Mr. Barrow."

"Cheers, Andy."