Male/Male
Thomas Barrow, George Crawley, Original Characters, Downton Abbey
Title: The Lonely Sea
Length: 4 Chapters

Chapter Three

Thomas made the rounds of the chemist, where he picked up his medication and some toiletries, and then the bookstore. He spent his time browsing through the titles, considering a few including Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring which had recently come out, but he had read The Hobbit and decided it wasn't to his taste. He settled instead on Fleming's Live and Let Die and Lucky Jim by a new author, Kingsley Amis. He was sure the Fleming wouldn't disappoint since he had enjoyed Casino Royale and took a chance on the Amis as "something different" according to the shop owner.

He checked his watch as he left the bookstore and found he had only half an hour before he was to see George Crawley; he had spent more time in there than he realised. It would take him ten minutes to get to the hotel where they had arranged to meet so he decided to make his way there. He could find a comfortable chair in the lobby to wait.

The hotel was small but fairly impressive, far better than he had thought he would find among the sea of guesthouses and run-of-the-mill hotels when he first moved to Tardon. Built in the 1890's, it had been modernised just after the war in 1948. According to Mrs. Purdy, who knew several of the staff, it was "luxurious."

If the lobby and dining room, which were all he had ever seen, were any indication then her assessment likely wasn't wrong. But more importantly for today, they served an afternoon tea – a delicious one at that – early enough for his meeting with George. Given how much he had eaten at lunch he wasn't sure he would be able to do it justice, but he never turned down a cup of tea and besides, neither food nor drink were the important thing.

As he sat waiting he considered what has happened earlier with Allan. What had started out as a typical day had become more interesting than he had expected, even before seeing George. He had enjoyed Allan's company, but he had already come to the realisation that it wasn't the company, but rather the person. And he now suspected that Allan wasn't really interested in him as a just friend; that those looks across the dinner table meant something other than curiosity.

It had been a long time and he had got it wrong more than once, but he believed that this time he was on the right track. Otherwise he still felt that Allan's attempt at friendship really made little sense. Now it was a matter of finding out whether or not he was right without putting himself at too much risk. He had just come up with an idea when he saw George walk through the entrance.

As he strode toward him, Thomas was struck as always by his resemblance to his father. He even seemed to share some of his disposition, although when he was angry Thomas could hear echoes of his mother - and her stubbornness. Other than that though, he was definitely his own person; something his mother was often not too pleased with.

As Thomas got to his feet he saw that George was followed closely by a tall, dark-haired man, about the same age. He didn't mention there would be anyone else when he called.

"Thomas!" George's voice almost boomed in the empty lobby as he grabbed his hand. "It's been too long, far too long."

"M'Lord." Thomas by habit returned to his servant ways. Never "George" in public.

"Thomas, you're no longer my butler. You don't hear me calling you "Barrow", do you. I've told you that if you can't call me George, then no one should be allowed to."

"George, then."

"That's better. Been waiting a while?"

"Not really."

"Good. You used to have to stand around waiting all the time. Wouldn't want that to happen now." He noticed Thomas's quick look over his shoulder at the man who stood a few paces behind him.

"Sorry, I should introduce you. Dave, this is Thomas Barrow. Thomas, Dave Evans."

"Mr. Barrow. Very nice to meet you at last. Would you believe me when I say that I've heard a lot about you." Thomas noticed that his accent was Welsh.

"Mr. Evans." Thomas, a bit taken aback, still smiled as he shook his hand. So I finally get to put a face to the name. "I'm fortunate then that George only knows the good things."

"Yes," George laughed. "Whereas you, Thomas, know all my secrets."

Thomas merely nodded. Truer words were never spoken.

"Shall we have tea, then?" George asked.

As they walked toward the dining room, Thomas wondered why George hadn't mentioned that he was coming. Once they were seated, he started to dig, feigning ignorance.

"So, Mr. Evans, have you known George long?"

"Please call me Dave. Actually we met during the war; we were in the same squadron. So that's over ten years now. We lost contact after it ended though, but we bumped into each other a little over a year ago in London. We've had a good time since then, haven't we George?"

George smiled as he looked up from his menu.

"Definitely. We holidayed in France in July and he convinced me to go skiing in Switzerland last winter. Most terrifying week of my life. Although to be honest I had been working much too hard and Dave was a breath of fresh air. Just what I needed."

"Ah, I see. Well, I'm glad you two found each other again."

And Thomas did see. That George real interests lay with men had been his closely held secret for several years. There had been women, even a fiancée, but they never lasted. The first Thomas knew about a man was when George sought him out one night in his pantry just as the war was ending. It was a few days after his grandfather had died and he was home on leave.

---

"Are you busy?"

Thomas looked up from his ledger and set his glasses to one side as he stood. These late night visits were few, but not unusual; most of the time it was just to talk, but sometimes it was more than that. George got along well with his step-father, but he often turned to Thomas for advice, particularly when it was something he didn't feel comfortable discussing with the family.

"How can I help you, M'Lord?'

"Please sit." George pulled up a chair opposite him. His forehead wrinkled as he struggled with deciding what to say. "May I tell you something?"

"Of course."

"It's personal, very personal?"

"If you're comfortable sharing it then you can be assured it goes no further."

"I'll start by saying that I know, have known for a while really, a few things about you that you don't think I do."

Thomas sat back in his chair.

"Should I be concerned?"

"No, of course not. It's all water under the bridge, but it means I can talk to you about something that I can't with anyone else."

"I'll do whatever I can to help, if that's what you want."

George looked down at his tightly clenched hands and then back up.

"One of the things I know is that you enjoy the company of men."

Thomas sat silently for a few seconds.

"Indeed." Of course you do. Gossip's still gossip whether it's upstairs or down. "An interesting, if somewhat old-fashioned way of putting it, M'Lord." Thomas shrugged slightly. "I won't deny it, obviously." Although it's been a long time since I've enjoyed it.

Thomas could almost see the relief cross George's face as he relaxed, but he still didn't continue.

"If I may make a somewhat easy guess, M'Lord?"

George nodded.

"You've met someone, or rather you've met a man."

"Yes. He's in my squadron"

"Would this be the first one?"

"No, not really. Do you remember that assistant gardener Joshua from a few years ago?"

"Not well, I'm afraid. He was only here one summer, wasn't he? The one I caught you swimming with in the pond at night?" A gardener. Really? "But you were just a boy then."

"I was sixteen. Does that really matter?"

Thomas thought back to when he was that age.

"No, I suppose not. So clearly you're not here because you don't know what's happening to you."

"No."

"You want someone to share this with, to talk to for perhaps a bit of advice and understanding. Someone who won't bring the wrath of God and the church - or worse yet the police - down on you."

"Exactly. And I know you're that person. Even if you weren't, uh, weren't …"

"Of a certain temperament, shall we say?" Thomas asked.

"Ha!" George almost snorted. "That's a good one. But even if you weren't."

Given his own luck with men Thomas wondered if he was in fact the right person for this, but he had been chosen anyway.

"So, would you like to start?"

---

Thomas glanced across the table at George. That night he hadn't got to bed until late. much too late, but he hadn't regretted it. Nor any of the nights that followed until he retired. It also signalled a change in their relationship, one that was apparent only to themselves. It shifted to a much more personal one, at least in private; one that over time grew into an unexpected friendship. It was something that at first took getting used to on his part, but surprisingly George didn't seem to think it strange.

"Shall we order?" George asked when the waitress approached.

"I'll only have tea and a small cheese plate," Thomas replied. "I had a larger lunch than I had intended."

"Well, we haven't eaten since our breakfast at Downton," Dave said as he smiled at George, "so we'll probably embarrass you."

After the waitress had gone, Thomas turned to Dave.

"George took you to Downton. You hadn't been before?"

"No, he's kept promising me a tour of the place, but this has been the first chance. To say it's impressive would be an understatement. And I didn't realise there was so much land."

"It's nothing like it used to be though, the house I mean, is it Thomas?" George observed. "Like it was before I was born."

"Not really. Dinner for twenty or thirty people wasn't unusual, garden fetes, hunting parties. Christmas with that enormous tree in the main hallway - you'll remember that though, George. It's a bit hard to describe to someone who hasn't seen it. Of course it was also an officers recuperation hospital during the first war. Entirely different."

"You were in charge then, weren't you?" George asked.

"Not in charge. That was your grandmother, Lady Cora. I ran it though."

"You should write a book," Dave suggested.

"Perhaps." Oh, I don't think so.

"You'll have to excuse me," Dave said as he stood. "That drive from Downton was a long one."

"Back into the lobby to the left," Thomas nodded toward the door then turned to George as he walked away. "You like to surprise, don't you. Not a mention of him before tonight. Are you sure? After the way things ended the first time."

"To be honest, I was a bit concerned about what you might think. But what happened wasn't just his fault and we've both changed. When I first saw him again it was like the final piece of a puzzle fitting into place. And the last year has been the happiest that I can remember."

"And Lady Mary? She's still going to keep after you for an heir."

"I know," George sighed. "She'll just have to learn to accept the disappointment. I just can't live my life to please her. Would my being unhappy make her happy?"

Any further conversation was interrupted by the arrival of their meal, followed almost immediately by Dave's return. The three of them spent the rest of the time talking about topics ranging from London, to George's and Dave's work, to an upcoming trip they planned to Italy, to how Thomas was enjoying living in Tardon. When they finished, it was Dave who paid, not George.

"No, I insist. It's not much but George has treated me for the last two days and it's my turn to do something."

When they got to the lobby and looked out it was raining.

"I'll get the car," Dave volunteered as he pulled his jacket over his head. "Give me the keys, George. Only be a minute and we should give Mr. Barrow a ride."

"Of course we will," George called after him as he hurried out the door.

"Would you like to come to London for a few days next month?" George asked as they waited. "It would give me a chance to make up for not seeing you in such a long time and then springing all this on you today."

"You don't have to make up for anything, George, but I would enjoy the visit. My sister's coming for a few days starting the eighth, but otherwise any time."

"I'll book you a room at the hotel just down the road from us."

"Us? You mean you're living together."

"Yes. As far as most people are concerned we just share a house. It's the same place I bought after we sold Grantham House. Of course, you've never seen it have you. Late Victorian, but fully modern - it cost me enough to make sure it was. Come to think of it you can stay there too, never mind the hotel. There are three spare bedrooms."

"Is that appropriate? I mean my being there. What would Lady Mary think?"

"Lady Mary has no say in it. I'll make some plans for the three of us. How long since you were last in London?"

"When you sold Grantham House. 1947? I went to oversee the packing and removal."

"It's settled then. I'll let you know when."

"Are you sure you should be doing all this George. I'm just your former butler."

"Thomas," George laughed as he casually draped his arm across his shoulders, "to others you may have been the butler, but you know damn well you've always been more than that to me."