Thomas Barrow, Andy Parker, Downton Abbey
Title: Happy Christmas
Warning: Season 5 spoilers

Thomas sat in the rocking chair with a cup of tea and looked around the room. It was Christmas Day so the servants had a bit of time to themselves after their dinner; he was surprised that it was actually more than in previous years for some reason. He had to admit that Mrs. Patmore had prepared a meal that rivalled upstairs; there was so much food he knew there would be leftovers for a few days. Mr. Carson seemed to have mellowed because he brought out some of Lord Grantham's better wine – with the Earl's permission Thomas assumed – and the staff, including the hall boys and maids, made short work of a few bottles. In the aftermath, everyone was relaxed.

He could see Baxter and Molesley sitting in the far corner lost in conversation. Phyllis and Thomas had reached a truce after the incident earlier in the year and had even become closer. That also meant that Thomas and Molesley were drawn together on more than one occasion. He still wasn't sure how he felt about that.

Anna and Bates were sitting not far from them. Thomas had to admit that he was relieved when Anna was released from prison. He still couldn't stand Bates, but that wasn't important. Mrs. Patmore and Daisy were at the opposite end of the hall discussing something that had made Mrs. Patmore laugh more than once. I wonder what that's all about. Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes were sitting side by side only speaking every now and then. They look happy. I suppose they'll be gone soon. Off to that property they bought together. He would miss Mrs. Hughes, but Carson was another matter.

The hall boys and maids had broken into little groups. He could hear the boys teasing the girls and making them laugh. A few had begun to sing a Christmas carol. He saw Mr. Carson start to rise to put a stop to it until Mrs. Hughes touched his arm and said something that appeared to Thomas to be 'Don't you dare'. Andy was sitting with the ones who had started to sing and Thomas was sure he was the one who instigated it. He saw Thomas watching them and he smiled and nodded.

He was glad that Mr. Carson had decided to hire Andy. The few days he had spent with the family in London may have been a bit rocky thanks to Miss Denker, but Carson had overlooked it for some reason. Thomas and Andy got along very well – not like Jimmy and him by any means - but Andy was eager to learn and had required little supervision. In a way he reminded Thomas of William; maybe it was just because he was young. At least I'm not treating him the way I treated William.

Thomas smiled and turned to look at the fire. Talk about mellowing. It saddened Thomas when he realised that they all seemed to have someone and here he sat alone. On the other hand it wasn't unexpected. He may have mellowed, but people have long memories. At the same time he knew it wasn't just that. There were couples and potential couples everywhere; many of those who hadn't already paired up were playing the game and looking to the future. He couldn't play that game or even consider that he might have a future with someone. In the last year he had come to accept once again who he was and that he would never change – didn't want to change - but he wasn't content, just resigned, resigned to being alone.

He was startled by the scrape of a chair being pulled up beside him.

"Mr. Barrow, can I ask you a personal question?" Andy said as he sat down.

Thomas looked at him warily. "I suppose, as long as you don't make a habit of it."

Andy hesitated, unsure how to take that, before Thomas smiled at him. "Go ahead, I won't bite."

"You don't like Christmas, do you?"

That wasn't one of the questions Thomas had been expecting.

"Why would you say that?"

"Well, you're sitting here all by yourself while everyone else is having a good time."

"Look around, Andy. What do you see?"

"Uh …"

"Every one of the senior staff is sitting with someone. I can't just jump into whatever conversation they're having. And I can't spend time with the hall boys and maids. First, it's not done, even at Christmas, and secondly imagine how they would feel. We have nothing in common, other than working here."

Andy frowned, "That's a bit harsh."

"Life is harsh," Thomas answered, the bitterness evident in his voice.

"Oh, I know that," Andy replied. "I know that very well. But you didn't answer my question really. I didn't ask why you weren't joining in."

"Well, you're a bit pushy tonight. Try to remember who I am," Thomas warned.

Andy blushed. "I'm sorry. Maybe it's the wine. "I'll go back to the others if you want."

"No, it's fine. You can stay." Thomas paused. "Please stay."

Andy nodded. "I'd like to."

"So, do I like Christmas?" Thomas tried to weigh his words. "I used to. Now, I'm not sure. When I was a boy, Christmas was all about promise; something to look forward to eagerly. Even when I was older, even recently, sometimes it was special. And there were times when I was able to relive the happiness I had as a child." Thomas shrugged. "But that's changed. Do I like Christmas? I think it's more that I don't care one way or the other."

They were both quiet for a moment. Thomas because he was afraid he had said too much and Andy because he had an answer he hadn't really anticipated.

"So you're saying that your life has no promise, you have nothing to look forward to?" Andy asked.

"Well, no. I …" Thomas stopped. Is that what I mean? Ever since Jimmy left I've been so damn empty. "Maybe it is. I've never put it that way before." Thomas stood up. "I'm going outside for a cigarette."

Andy looked confused. "It's snowing. Can't you smoke here?"

"Yes, but I don't want to," Thomas replied brusquely.

He made his way down the hall and opened the yard door to peer outside. The snow had stopped and a light breeze was stirring it in gentle circles in the yard. Good I won't need a coat. He pulled his jacket as tight as possible and crossed to the sheltered side of one of the sheds out of sight of the doorway where he leant against it as he lit his cigarette. That was unexpected. Happy Christmas, Thomas, you loser. He exhaled a cloud of smoke into the starlit air.

Last Christmas with Jimmy had been one of the best. They had become good friends – not what Thomas had originally hoped for but he was content with it. He hadn’t sat alone in the servants' hall while everyone else enjoyed themselves. Jimmy and he had talked into the night, long after everyone else had gone to bed. Then three months later Jimmy was gone and any happiness seemed to go with him. He had one of his worst years, excluding the war, but he came out near the end of it battered but not beaten. Sadly though he was no closer to finding happiness again.

He stuck his cigarette into his mouth so he could rub his hands together to ease some of the chill. Andy was right. This isn't a good idea. Yet he refused to consider going in until he was finished; he needed a break from the cloying sight of the couples. He took another drag as he heard the yard door open. Oh for Pete's sake. Just five more minutes.

"Mr. Barrow," Andy called, "where are you?"

Maybe I just won't answer.

"Mr. Barrow?"

"Over here, around the corner Andy," Thomas answered. So much for that idea.

Andy stood facing him, shuffling his feet in the snow.

"I've upset you, haven't I? I should have kept my bloody mouth shut."

"Nonsense. I said you could ask a personal question. I just didn't think it was going to lead where it did."

"Still, I haven't made your Christmas any better." Andy paused, then turned to lean against the shed beside Thomas. "Can I tell you something?"

"If you want to."

"This is the best Christmas I've had in a long time."

Thomas turned his head toward Andy. 'In a long time?' You're only twenty. "Really?"

"Yes. The last place I worked was miserable. We got nothing from the people upstairs, no gift, not even a half day. They wouldn't allow us to have a tree, although theirs was massive. It wasn't just Christmas, but it seemed worse then. The butler was all right; he did what he could most of the time, but that didn't amount to much. I was there seven years; I just couldn't seem to get away."

He sighed and wrapped his arms around himself.

"Before that I was at home with my family. Well, just my mum and two younger brothers. My father died in the war in 1915." Andy went silent for a few seconds. "Things weren't easy. My mum took in laundry; that kept a roof over our heads, and little else, until she got sick." He turned to face Thomas, leaning his shoulder against the shed, stuffing his hands under his livery coat. "The 'flu. You know what that was like. She died Christmas Eve 1918."

Andy reached into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief which he wiped at his nose. "My aunt took Ben and David, my brothers, but she felt I was old enough to go to work and basically left me on my own."

He managed a smile.

"So you see what I mean about this being a good Christmas. I've only been here a short time, but the people are … well, the people – and I mean everyone – have made me feel good, made me feel welcome."

Thomas laughed. "Even me? Can't say anyone has said that about me in a long time."

"Particularly you. Remember London, 'Uncle Thomas'? I know I'll never forget it." Andy's smile returned, but this time it wasn't sad. "And that's not all. You take the time to explain things that I would never know from being just a hall boy. I don't know if you realise that or not."

Andy reached into his inside pocket and pulled out a small parcel which he handed to Thomas

"And that's why this is for you. Well, it's not the only reason."

Thomas took it and turned it over and over in his hands.

"It's not much," Andy continued, "but I couldn't let Christmas go by without you getting a gift."

Thomas felt his throat tighten. The only gift he had received in the last three years had been from Jimmy; before that Sarah O'Brien had sometimes given him one. While the other servants exchanged something small each year or received gifts from family, he had always been on the outside, pretending that it didn't matter.

"You …" Thomas coughed to bring back his voice. "You didn't need to do this."

"I know." Andy shrugged. "But Christmas isn't about having to do something, it's about wanting to. And to be honest, this is the first year that I've wanted to since my mum died. There hasn't been anyone I cared about."

Thomas looked down at the slim package as he played with the edges of the wrapping paper.

"Thank you," was all he could manage.

Andy stamped his feet.

"Come on inside before we freeze off parts we want to keep."

Thomas looked up and laughed.

"Andy!"

"Well, it's true isn't it?"

"All right. Just go ahead, I'll be there in a minute."

"I'll see if there's any of that mulled wine on the go, shall I?" Andy called back over his shoulder. "And I heard someone mention some type of game. Charades?"

"I'll stick to the wine I think."

"We'll see," Andy answered as he pulled open the door. "Happy Christmas, Mr. Barrow."

"Happy Christmas, Andy."

Thomas slipped the gift into his pocket, then wiped at his eyes before he started to follow him. Happy Christmas indeed.

~~~ End ~~~