Thomas Barrow, Jimmy Kent, Downton Abbey
Title: The Edges of Life
Length: 5 chapters
Thomas was always on the outside looking in. As a servant that wasn't unexpected. Standing behind a dining room table listening to conversations about people he didn't know or care about. Waiting in a room beside the decanter as he witnessed the little dramas that started and usually ended somewhere else. Speaking when spoken to. None of that required his involvement, just his presence. Downstairs among his own kind - Really? - things were not much different except there it was more his own choice. Aside from Sarah O'Brien, he didn't much care for any of them, except as recipients of his rancour. Thinking about it, he never much cared for O'Brien either. She had just helped him take care of people who got in his way until she turned the tables on him.
When it came to his own life, such as it was, he could count on one hand, four fingers actually, those who had meant anything, who had opened the door a small crack. Arthur Spencer, now long dead, The Duke of Crowborough for a few mad weeks. Edward Courtenay who left him before they had a chance. And....
Jimmy Kent. Thomas looked up from his newspaper. He sat up straighter with a quiet groan, still sore from the beating if he moved the wrong way.
"Could I have a word?"
"Can we use Mr. Carson's office?"
Thomas frowned. What was so important that it couldn't be said here. The hall was empty since everyone else had gone to bed.
He led the way, flipping on the light as he entered the room. As he turned, Jimmy was on him, crushing their lips together, pawing at his waistcoat buttons then ripping it and the shirt underneath apart. Thomas grunted as Jimmy's lips released his. He cried out as he bit his chest, raking his teeth down to his belly. His hands pulled his trousers from his hips so hard that he sent the buttons that held his suspenders flying. The suspenders themselves snapped over his head. Jimmy's mouth sucked him in ....
Thomas bolted upright in bed. Jesus Christ!
He grabbed his side as a stab of pain jolted him fully awake. Fuck!
He took a cigarette from his nightstand and gingerly climbed out of bed. The window was slightly ajar, but he opened it wide, inhaling the fragrance of the roses that clambered the wall on either side. He eased himself into the chair and lit up, exhaling a shaky cloud of smoke. He took a few more drags as he stared into the darkness.
Maybe having Jimmy as a friend wasn't such a good idea after all. That's stupid. Friend or not I would have these dreams. Still, having him sitting there the other day, just reading the newspaper, seemed more than he could have hoped for less than a week ago. So what if he had dreams. He could live with those no matter how impossible they were. Those were his own. No one could peek and pry or steal them back. Surely everyone dreamed about something that they couldn't have. He got up and stubbed out the cigarette on the stone window sill, then flicked it into the yard. Tomorrow would be his first day back; easy duties, no heavy lifting. Still he needed to be rested if he wasn't to fade away later in the day. He got back into bed, settling down with a sigh. He wasn't looking forward to the morning.
When Thomas walked into the servants' hall for breakfast, all conversation stopped. Most hadn't seen him since the day of the beating. Only Jimmy and, surprisingly, Alfred had visited. The women, of course, weren't allowed in the men's section of the servant's quarters. He had tried to make himself as presentable as possible, but it was hard to shave around the scabs and there was no way to hide his black eyes which now had developed a purplish-yellow tinge. He sat down opposite Jimmy, hoping everybody would just go back to talking. He breathed a sigh of relief as he heard Anna mention something about the weather which seemed to trigger everyone else. When Mr. Carson entered they jumped to their feet, except Thomas who rose unsteadily.
"Mr. Barrow, I know this is supposed to be your first day, but are you sure should you be here?"
Carson is asking after my health? Are there two moons?
"Yes, Mr. Carson. I think I'll be fine. Can't lie in bed forever."
Breakfast went as usual, except he could see the occasional concerned glance from others at the table. I must look like shit if even Mosley notices.
After breakfast, Carson motioned Jimmy and Alfred into the hallway.
"I am not sure about Mr. Barrow. I will trust the two of you to keep an eye on him when you can."
"Yes, Mr Carson."
Try as they could, neither of them saw Thomas very much. At lunch, Jimmy noticed he looked drawn and pale, but at least he ate some of his meal. He determined to stay close just in case. Shortly after three, he found Thomas leaning against one of the second floor banisters.
"What's wrong, Mr. Barrow?"
"I moved some furniture for one the maids."
"That's not your job, it's mine or Alfred's She should have got one of us."
"I told her that I could manage."
"Well, that wasn't very bright of you."
Despite his obvious discomfort, Thomas laughed.
"I know that now. Where was that advice ten minutes ago."
Jimmy took him by the arm and led him to a nearby bench.
"I can't sit here. What if someone sees?"
"You bloody well can. Let me worry about that."
"Thanks. I'll only need a minute."
"I think you should tell Carson that you need to take the rest of the day."
"No. I have to show I can do the job."
Jimmy sounded doubtful.
"Fine. But do your own job, not mine. Promise me that."
They were silent for a few minutes - Thomas on the bench, eyes closed, back and head resting against the wall; Jimmy standing in front of him. Jimmy began to wonder if he was asleep. He reached over and touched his shoulder.
His eyes opened and Jimmy was glad to see they were bright and alert.
"Do you need to stay longer?"
"No. I'm fine now."
When he stood he seemed to manage without hesitation. He smiled at Jimmy.
"See, right as rain. We can both go back to work."
"Yes, Mr. Barrow." As he walked away, he looked back and saw that Thomas was indeed walking steadily in the other direction.
Once he was sure he was out of Jimmy's sight, he paused and leant against the wall, sweat beading his forehead. That took more effort than I expected. He was pretty sure that he hadn't done any damage, just irritated the existing injuries. But Jimmy was right, there was no use being a martyr. He would take it easy for the rest of the day. He pushed himself away from the wall. And maybe a bit longer.
Jimmy watched Thomas at dinner. He moved his food around on his plate, but just ate some of the potatoes. Uncharacteristically he ignored the pudding entirely. When dinner was over he saw Thomas speak a few words to Carson who merely nodded. Carson stopped Jimmy before he left the room.
"Mr. Barrow has retired for the night. I believe you and Alfred should be able to handle what is left of the evening."
"Yes, Mr. Carson."
There was only the family to look after and happily they seemed to need little of that. Around ten, Jimmy headed to the kitchen.
"Daisy, do you have any of Mrs. Patmore's scones on the go? And a couple of cups of tea?"
"Scones, yes." She disappeared and came back with a plate of scones and a small bowl of butter. "The tea, can you make it yourself? The kettle's still hot. I want to get to bed."
"All right, off with you. I can manage."
He hummed to himself as he prepared the tea and found a tray. He put the pot of tea and everything else on the tray and made his way up the stairs. When he arrived at Thomas's door he tapped quietly.
"Mr. Barrow, are you awake?"
There was no answer. He debated whether to knock again and chance waking him or just go to his own room.
"Yes, Jimmy, come in."
Thomas was sitting in his armchair wearing just his undershirt and trousers, cigarette as usual in his hand.
"You didn't eat much at dinner so I brought us some scones and tea. I know how much you like Mrs. Patmore's scones."
He set the tray down on the small table by the window and turned to look at Thomas. His hair was dishevelled and his eyes were red. He had obviously been crying. Odd, I never thought of Thomas crying.
"I can't lose this job, you know. I haven't got anything else. I haven't got anyone else."
Jimmy pulled up the other chair.
"Why would you think you're going to lose your job?"
"If I can't do it."
"Thomas, that's nonsense. You came back too soon that's all. It's only been a few days. You should have asked Dr. Clarkson to say you weren't ready. No one's going to fire you because you got beat up."
Jimmy got up and poured them both a cup of tea, buttered the scones liberally, and sorted them onto two plates. As he passed Thomas his cup he saw how badly his hands shook.
"Here, have this. My mum used to say that there wasn't much that a good cup of tea couldn't fix."
He handed Thomas his scones.
"And of course, Mrs. Patmore's scones."
Thomas hadn't realised how hungry he was until he took his first bite. Bless you, Mrs. Patmore. By the time he had polished off the third one and his second cup of tea he had to agree with Jimmy's mother. He leaned back and let out an unexpected burp.
"You've been switching between Thomas and Mr. Barrow a lot. We can't have that."
Jimmy looked chastened and a bit taken aback.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Barrow. I didn't mean to be disrespectful."
"That's not my point, you dolt. If we're to be friends, you can't call me Mr. Barrow all the time. It makes me uncomfortable somehow. Call me Thomas, but let's agree that you really can't do it when others are around. I wish it were different, but we both know it can't be."
"You're right. I'm just glad you think I deserve to."
Thomas tilted his head to one side, giving Jimmy a questioning look.
Jimmy was too busy with his own thoughts to notice. What did he mean by he didn't have anyone else?