Thomas Barrow, Jimmy Kent, Downton Abbey
Title: The First Christmas
Length: 6 chapters
Warning: Season 5 spoilers
It's almost Christmas and there are surprises in store, but will one of them be a lump of coal?
Jimmy shivered as he pulled the blanket tighter around his shoulders. The room was cold, but he couldn't spend any money on the meter – not if he wanted to eat tomorrow. He shifted so he could sit crossed-legged on the bed, keeping his feet from the even colder draft that seeped in under the hallway door. He was miserable, tired, and lonely; much like he had been since he left Downton. Work had been scarce. He managed to pick up a few temporary footman positions; even sank low enough to be a hall boy for a few days, but he hadn't found anything permanent. In the run up to Christmas things had brightened; people wanted to put on a good show for their friends so they added staff for a night or so, but that ran dry a couple of days ago.
What he earned had stretched to pay for his room and board, but just barely. Now he could only afford the room so he had to find his own food. His landlady was at least kind enough to let him stay on that condition. Well, dear, I can't throw you out this close to Christmas. It just wouldn't seem right. He noticed though that her "charity" didn't extend to offering him the occasional meal. Although he wasn't sure he ever expected it would.
He reached over to his bedside table and picked up Thomas's letter. He had already read it several times, but that didn't matter. Thomas seemed to ramble on about nothing – the Abbey, the family, what the other servants were up to, with occasional bits of news about himself – but Jimmy didn't care. His words didn't matter; they were his link to Thomas. He supposed it should make him even sadder, but it didn't.
Except for the fact that he really missed Thomas in ways he never expected, in ways that he was still struggling to understand, although he suspected it was something he had refused to accept for a long time. He realised he had never truly been happy before he met Thomas and he wasn't happy now that he had lost him. Oh, I'll be dandy. No, he wasn't dandy and he felt he never would be again as long as this ache burned in him. The touches and caresses he had found so distressing were now what he wanted and sadly, what he would likely never have.
He never put any of this into his letters to Thomas, he couldn't have him just read it. So his words became almost empty of meaning, but he never stopped writing. When it came to how he was doing, he always put on a brave face, talking about where he was working and the people he met, but carefully avoiding how desperate he had become – or so he hoped. He was sure that he could trust Thomas, but he didn't feel he wanted to burden him. Despite that, he was equally as sure that because Thomas knew him so well he would have his suspicions.
He shivered again. It was the day before Christmas and it certainly was much different from the last one. Thomas had given him a gold watch chain that Christmas Eve; something he hadn't really expected.
"I don't know what to say."
"Thank you and Happy Christmas will be fine," Thomas laughed as Jimmy looked up from the box. "Now you won't be in danger of losing that watch. I don't know how many times I've found it on the floor."
"But I mean I don't have anything as nice for you." Jimmy reached out a carefully wrapped package. "It's just a book of poetry."
Thomas eased off the wrapping. "Keats?" He started leafing through it.
"I know you read the collection from His Lordship's library," Jimmy shrugged, "but I thought you would like one of your own."
When Thomas looked up his eyes shone in the firelight. "It's perfect. I couldn't have asked for more."
Jimmy shifted back in the bed so he could lean against the wall, forgetting at first how cold it was. Most definitely not like last year. He had pawned his watch in September, but he refused to even consider that with the chain. He was sure Thomas would understand if he did – if he ever found out, that is – but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Although he wasn't sure how long he would manage to hold off. It seemed to him that once that happened he would be admitting defeat and he wasn't ready for that – not yet.
He began to cough. Jesus! I can't get sick. I have to get out and find some kind of work after Boxing Day. Suddenly the tiredness and the frustration overcame him and he lay down on the bed, curling into a tight ball in the vain hope of staying warm. Before he fell asleep his mind drifted back once again to Downton, trying to imagine what it would be like this Christmas Eve.