Male/Male
Thomas Barrow, Andy Parker, AU
Title: Friendship


As Thomas walked toward the servants' hall he could hear the anger in Andy's voice.

"You shouldn't talk about Mr. Barrow like that."

"Why not? It's the truth and I'm just warning you."

Thomas recognised one of the hallboys, the one he had the run in with last week after finding him sleeping during the day. He stopped to listen just outside the door.

"And how would you know? What did he do to you?"

"Nothing, but …"

"Ha!" Andy interrupted. "So you don't know. You've been listening to gossip and you're stupid enough to believe it."

"I am not stupid! I tell you he's a poufter and if you don't stop hanging around him like a puppy dog everyone will think you are to."

"Well, I'm not."

"Doesn't matter. It's what people will think."

"I … Oh, just get out of here. And keep your mouth shut from now on."

Thomas backed away and hurried quietly into the boot room before the hallboy could see him. He sagged against the closed door.

'Everyone will think you are too.' Jesus! It's Jimmy all over again. Jimmy had eventually told him what O'Brien had said and how she had manipulated him. Like the expert she was, she had found a weakness, a fear, and had gone in for the kill. It's so bloody unfair. I've never tried anything with Andy. I would never try anything with anyone, not again, not without knowing for sure. He still really had no one at Downton – he wasn't sure if he should count Baxter or not. The problem was that, except for Jimmy who he had resorted to asking, he seemed to have forgotten how to make friends; he had spent so long pushing people away unless he needed to use them, climbing over them on his way to what he hoped would be safety.

Then Andy came along. At first he felt sorry for him, caught in Denker's web, too kind - or too soft - to say no. Thomas wanted to protect him. He wasn't sure, but maybe it was the one change that "Choose your own path" had brought about. He had begun to see others not as just a means to an end. Of course, that still didn't mean he was ready to let people treat him disrespectfully; if that happened the old Thomas was still there. Just fucking ask that pompous ass Lord Sinderby.

Andy had taken to him. At first he thought it was just gratitude for giving him the money for his debt and then refusing to let him repay it after he started at Downton, but after they had a good talk at Christmas he realised that wasn't it. And he definitely liked Andy. He knew it was partially because he reminded him of his younger brother Daniel; "Danny boy" their mum used to call him. Unlike Thomas, Daniel got along with their father; something that Thomas could have resented but didn't. He was everything that Thomas wasn't, but for some reason Daniel idolised him. The way Andy looked at him sometimes was almost like seeing Daniel again. Wishful thinking I suppose. Daniel's long-dead, buried beside mum.

But now the fledgling friendship with Andy had been dashed. There's no way he'll want to continue as friends now. And even so, I couldn't let people think that Andy is like me. I know what that means, how much they can hurt you. Why let it happen to someone who's completely innocent? He hated the fact that in order to protect Andy he might have to push him away, but he would do it no matter how alone it left him again. Carson's voice from the hall made him straighten, pulling at his waistcoat to smooth it.

"Have you seen Mr. Barrow, Andrew?"

"No, Mr. Carson."

"Well, where has he got to? Never mind, you'll do. Just go up to the library and wait for me. I have to see Mrs. Hughes for a minute."

"Yes, Mr. Carson."

Thomas waited until he heard their steps fade before opening the door and slipping into the hallway. He quickly climbed the stairs to the first floor, formulating an excuse to give Carson when he ran into him again. As he walked along the gallery he felt some of the old sadness and loneliness creep back.

He did his best to avoid Andy for the rest of the day. When he had to speak to him, he kept his tone terse and said only what was needed, not leaving any room for conversation. At meals he didn't acknowledge him, deciding instead to talk to Baxter and even Molseley. It will be easier this way. No use forcing him to be the one to end it. On more than one occasion he saw the questioning look that Andy gave him, but chose to ignore it.

Thomas was having his last cigarette of the night in the kitchen yard, watching the smoke curl into the starless sky, when Andy finally cornered him.

"Mr. Barrow, can I have a word?"

"Not now Andy." Thomas dropped the butt, grinding it out with his heel, and tried to leave, but Andy blocked his way. "What do you think you're doing? Move!"

"No." Andy stood his ground and when Thomas tried to go around him he stepped in front of him again. "Not until you tell me what's wrong."

Thomas stepped back and was about to push him out of the way when he realised that would be a mistake. Right, just put your hands on him. Nothing could be misinterpreted there.

"Fine. What do you want?" Thomas's sounded brusquer than he intended. It's not his bloody fault.

"What have I done?" Andy's voice cracked a little and he looked at his feet for a moment before going on. "I can't fix it if you won't tell me what I've done."

Thomas sighed as he leant back against the yard wall.

"You haven't done anything. It's just …" He tilted his head back to stare at the hazy, lone star that had appeared. "You shouldn't be around me so much. It's not right. I'm your superior and it makes it looks like we're friends." He turned to look at Andy. "And we're not. We can't be. It's just not right."

"I don't understand. Why isn't it right? I heard you used to be friends with that Jimmy Kent. You used to go to the pub with him and everything. You were his superior too, but you were still friends." He shook his head sadly. "I don't understand," he repeated.

"It's just the way it has to be, Andy. Yes, Jimmy was my friend, but he was different." He had already made it plain to everyone he wasn't like me. He didn't have to worry or prove anything.

"Are you saying I'm not good enough?"

Thomas could hear the hurt.

"Yes, I suppose I am."

"Oh." Andy ran his hand through his hair. "I just thought that because you helped me out in London, then sort of looked out for me here … I just thought …"

"Well, you got the wrong end of the stick, didn't you." Thomas pushed past Andy and rushed to the door, not waiting for him to say anything else. By the time he got to the attics and his room, he felt like he was going to be sick. He had hurt many people in his life and, he had to admit, enjoyed doing it, but this time he had nothing to gain and no score to settle. It just felt wrong because he knew he had only something to lose.

He rummaged in the back of his wardrobe and pulled out a bottle of whiskey. Not bothering with a glass, he tilted the bottle into his mouth and look a long swig. Jesus, am I meant to have no friends? Is it always going to be like this? He took another drink and set the bottle on the bedside table as he sat down on the edge of the bed, burying his head in his hands. A quiet knock at the door made him look up.

"Mr. Barrow, can I come in?" Andy asked softly.

"No, Andy. Just go to bed."

His door swung open and Andy was standing in front of him before he had time to react.

"You're lying, Mr. Barrow. I know you think I'm wet behind the ears, but I'm not. And I don't believe any of what you said." He went back to the door and closed it then sat down in the armchair. "I'm not leaving until you tell me the truth."

"You shouldn't be here, Andy."

"So, what are you going to do? Throw me out? I won't go quietly."

Thomas stared at him. Oh great. That's all I need. Carson will have a conniption. He stood up and began taking off his livery.

"Well, I'm going to bed. You can sit and watch me undress if you like."

"Won't see anything I haven't seen before."

"What?" Thomas stopped halfway down the buttons of his shirt.

"I have five brothers, Mr. Barrow. We had one bedroom and three beds. If you think the idea of seeing you naked will shock me, then you're the one who's wet behind the ears."

Despite himself, Thomas laughed and sat back down on the bed. He reached for the whiskey and held it out to Andy.

"Drink?"

"Sure." Andy wiped the neck of the bottle with his hand and took a long swallow, then reached it back."

"My God, that's awful. Did you dredge it out of some ditch?"

"Only the best for Andy, is it? Sorry, next time I'll see what I can 'borrow' from his lordship."

"So, does that mean there'll be a next time?"

"No." Thomas shook his head and took another drink. "It's for your own good, Andy. Trust me."

"My own good? Why would you … He stopped as he suddenly connected the dots. "Damn! You heard what that jerk Herbert said today."

Thomas shrugged.

"And that caused all of this?" He paused. "Of course it did. So what he said is true. And you did this because you didn't want to see me get hurt. That's it, isn't it? Because if people associated me with you, then like Herbert said they would …"

"Yes," Thomas broke in. "Yes, it's happened before and I didn't want it happening again. You understand, right."

"I understand, but don't you think that I should be the one to decide that? I mean it would be me that people would talk about. Besides, why did you assume that what you are would bother me?"

"Well, because it always has. Are you saying it doesn't?"

"You see, I'm not as naοve as you think." Andy leant back in the chair and smiled. "I told you I had five brothers. Well, one of them is like you. No one in the family knows but me of course. He's a couple of years older than me, but the two of us were thick as thieves, always getting into all kinds of trouble. One Christmas when I was about sixteen we were both home for a visit and I found him in the coal shed, pants down around his ankles, with a neighbour boy. There was no mistaking what they were up to."

"And you didn't do anything about it? You didn't tell your parents?"

"Never even thought about it. I'm pretty sure I was only worried what someone else might do to him if they found out. I know it's supposed to be against God and all that, but he's my brother, my best friend. In my book that matters more than anything else."

"You're an odd one, Andy Parker. I never would have guessed."

"True, Mr. Barrow. Appearances can be deceiving as they say." He stood and reached out his hand. "So what do you say? Let's just pretend this never happened. And you let me worry about what people think about me. Besides, as the youngest of six boys I learned how to take care of myself. Herbert's lucky he still has his crooked teeth."

Thomas rose and took his hand. "So, we're to be friends then?"

"Most definitely, Mr. Barrow. If that's what you want. Most definitely."

~~~End~~~