Thomas Barrow, Jimmy Kent, AU
Title: The Lift


Prompt: Imagine your OTP taking the same elevator every day because they come home from work at the same time. They are too shy to talk to each other, but then one day the elevator suddenly gets stuck and Person A has a panic attack, so Person B has to calm them down. It’s the first time they talk to each other, even though they both admit that they always wanted to get to know each other.
I hate lifts, I hate lifts, I hate lifts. Jimmy silently chanted his mantra as he waited for the sound of the descending elevator. If he could he would walk up to his apartment, but it was on the twenty-fifth floor and there was no way he was going to try that. Besides he would miss out seeing the guy from the twenty-eighth floor.

Jimmy’s waiter job was crappy. "L'Auberge Downton." The quality of the food made up for its unfortunate name, or at least it had until Beryl Patmore moved on to another restaurant. The replacement chef wasn't up to the task, something that Jimmy suspected had to do with the owner Robert Crawley's attempt at false economy. The customers noticed, as did the food critics, and the decline had set in. With it came the loss of tips. Jimmy depended on those to pay for his tiny, crappy apartment, particularly since Ivy had moved out a few months ago after she caught him in bed with Jason.

Of course, being a waiter was only short term while he went after his real passion in theatre. However it had been weeks since he had an audition and even longer since he actually had a part. And that had been in some forgettable play by some equally forgettable writer that opened and closed within two weeks.

Now that he thought about it, a lot of his life was crappy, but there was always - or almost always - that ride up for four minutes each night. He had no idea why a complete stranger made him feel good, but on the days that “tall, dark & handsome” wasn’t waiting with him for the doors to open, he felt cheated. He wondered if they would ever go beyond the curt nods they exchanged.

---------

Thomas was in such a rush as he stepped off the bus that he didn't see the deep puddle, but he soon felt it as the water splashed up and down into his shoe. Oh for fuck's sake. Today hadn't been the best. First, he was late getting to work because his bus had to detour around an accident. Old Carson hadn't been happy – although he wasn't sure if he ever was happy. Then at lunch, Daisy kept bugging him about going on a date with her friend Alfie. Who calls himself Alfie? What's it all about ... When he turned her down she huffed something about he deserved to be alone if he wouldn't let his friends help. In the afternoon he had somehow managed to miss a major error in an actor's contract and was only saved when Carson caught it at the last moment. I'll never live that down.

He sighed as he hurried down the street, one foot squishing in has shoe as he went. Days like this he really missed Edward and his welcoming smile, while at the same time he cursed him for the void he left in his life. A void that he couldn't fill because he couldn't move on, no matter how much he said he wanted to. Two years and the pain and the resentment still haunted him, keeping him locked away within himself. I couldn't make him love me enough to want to live. Just another of my failures. He had long ago given up blaming Edward so it had to be someone's fault.

When he was within a block of his apartment his mood lifted a little. I wonder if the cherub will be there tonight. He laughed to himself at the nickname. He was hardly a cherub, but he was young, blond and, as far as Thomas was concerned, angelic-looking. So "the cherub" had stuck from the first moment he saw him. Unlocking the main door and pushing it open into the lobby he saw he wasn't going to be disappointed. Well, something's going right today after all. One day, Thomas figured, they might talk.

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At the sound of the lobby door, Jimmy cast a sideways glance, catching sight of a familiar figure. He managed to contain his grin as the lift doors opened and he stepped inside; holding down the "open door" button, he waited. When Thomas entered the lift, he released the button and reached up to push the one for his floor. Thomas did so at the same time and their hands brushed.

"Sorry," Thomas mumbled as he pulled his hand back. "Twenty-eight, please."

Jimmy pushed his own floor then twenty-eight. Good Lord, he spoke! Manchester? What should I say?

"Nice day." Right. Great first impression. It's been raining all day. He'll think you're an idiot. "I .. uh ..." The lights flickered then went out as the lift gave a sudden lurch and stopped. "What the hell?" The emergency light came on and Jimmy pushed his floor again.

"I don't think that will work," Thomas observed. "Give it a few seconds to see if it starts up again, but if not, we might be stuck."

"No, no, no," Jimmy blurted out. "We can't be."

Thomas turned to look at him. This isn't good. He had seen men panic during his time in the army and he recognised the early signs.

"I'm sure it's only for a minute. Happened to me last week and I was underway again in no time."

"It ... it happened last week?" Suddenly Jimmy was having trouble breathing. He dropped his backpack to the floor and and slid down the wall to join it.

Oh, shit. Smart move, Thomas. He sat down beside Jimmy. "It'll be all right, honest." Keep him distracted. "I'm Thomas by the way, what's your name?"

"Uh ... Jimmy."

"Pleased to meet you." Thomas held out his hand but when Jimmy didn't react, he reached over and took his hand, holding it rather than shaking it. "I should have introduced myself before, I guess. I mean we seem to see each other every day."

Jimmy looked down at their hands and then at Thomas. "Yeah. We .... His voice was shaky and his chest hurt with the effort to talk. "Yeah."

"Take some deep breaths if you can." Thomas felt Jimmy relax as he squeezed his hand. "You know, just yesterday I was going to say that we shouldn't keep meeting like this."

"Right," Jimmy snorted out. "Why didn't you?"

"I'm shy."

"Oh, I doubt that." Jimmy's breathing was returning to normal, but his grip on Thomas's hand had tightened. "Do you think it'll be much longer?"

Thomas shifted closer until their shoulders touched. "Don't you like my company?"

"It's not you, it's me." Jimmy laughed despite himself, then cautiously leant into Thomas, seeking the comfort he promised. "I feel like a bloody fool."

"Why? Because you don't like being stuck here with a stranger? I don't see much wrong with that."

At the word "stuck" Jimmy dug his nails into the back of Thomas's hand.

"We all have things that get us going. Mine's mice."

"Mice?" Although Jimmy really knew nothing about Thomas, he couldn't imagine him having a problem with mice.

"Yeah. Little buggers skitter all over the place. I'm never sure if they're heading out the door or up my pant leg." Thomas shivered slightly. "Why do you think I live on the twenty-eighth floor? Haven't seen one since Edward and I moved in here three years ago. Not like the last place we lived."

"So, Edward's your roommate? I don't remember ever seeing him with you."

"He was my ... Anyway, he's not here any longer. You live with that girl, right?"

"Ivy. I used to but we broke up. That can happen when you're fucking your girlfriend's brother apparently. "Just me on my own now. You didn't find someone to replace Edward then?"

"No." Thomas wasn't going to elaborate, but he sensed that the conversation was helping to take Jimmy's mind off their predicament. "You see, he was my lover."

"Oh." Interesting. "Moving on isn't always easy."

"It's not that simple. He died."

"Uh ..." Christ if I put my foot any deeper into my mouth it'll be coming out my arse. "Sorry. I seem to be rambling on without thinking. I'll shut up."

"No, it's all right. How were you to know."

In comforting Jimmy, Thomas realised that someone had needed him for the first time since Edward had died and so far he hadn't messed it up. He had become so used to depending on others for support, and at the same time resenting it, that he thought he had forgotten how to reach out to help. He had begun to think that he was at the point where he was better off not caring and he knew that's what lay behind his rejection of attempts to set him up with anyone. What was happening between him and Jimmy wasn't much but perhaps it was a step in the right direction. Maybe if he had someone outside of his circle of friends, someone that he hadn't burdened with his grief.

"Look, I wonder if ..." The lights flashed on and the lift shuddered as it started its rise.

"Thank God," Jimmy exclaimed as he got to his feet. "Think it was just a power outage?"

"Yeah, seems likely."

"What were you wondering?" Jimmy asked as the lift approached his floor.

Thomas retreated into what had become his safe reality, choosing to forget that he might have a chance to escape it. "Nothing important."

"Well, thanks, for everything. If I ever get stuck in a lift again, I want you there," he joked. The doors slid open. "I'll see you tomorrow, right?"

"Most likely." Thomas could feel his heart sink. What the hell did I expect if I can't bring myself to ask him? He cursed himself for letting what happened to Edward and the fear of being hurt again reduce him to this.

Jimmy stepped through the doors, but as they started to close he stuck his backpack between them and they reopened.

"Can I buy you a drink? Or do you have plans tonight?"

"No plans."

"I'll meet you in the lobby in half an hour."

Thomas smiled as the doors began to close again. "It's a date." Did I just say that? Fuck!

Jimmy laughed as he winked at him. "I should certainly hope so."

~~End~~
I didn't stick strictly to the prompt. I also made Thomas more reticent, more withdrawn, than I think he would be, but who knows what grief might do to him. Besides it's an AU so I can do what I want :)