Thomas Barrow, Jimmy Kent, Downton Abbey
Title: The Edges of Life
Length: 5 chapters
Thomas got better over the next several days. He kept away from anything strenuous and his strength started to return, but he still went up to his room early. Each night Jimmy would come by with tea and usually something from Mrs. Patmore. He was sure he had managed to sweet talk her into making things just for them. They gradually began to learn more about each other. Thomas knew that there was still some wariness on Jimmy's part which was understandable.
Jimmy sat playing with the crumbs on his plate. Thomas had come to know that when he was nervous he did little things like that.
"A penny for your thoughts."
Jimmy looked up and smiled.
"Oh, they're not worth that much."
"Why not let me be the judge of that?"
He noticed Jimmy squirm in his chair as if he were battling with himself about what to say next.
"Can I ask you something."
"Sure. As long as it's not for the last biscuit."
He grabbed it from the plate and stuffed it whole into his mouth.
"Ok, I don't think I would want to rescue it from there anyway."
He blushed, realising how Thomas might take that.
Thomas coughed, sending bits of biscuit spraying into the air. He took a quick sip of tea.
"Yes, perhaps that's not a good idea."
He could see Jimmy chewing at the side of his lip.
"But since we're on the subject ...."
Thomas tensed and tried to push himself through the back of the chair. What? Wait. How did this happen?
"I was wondering ...." Christ, Kent, out with it before you piss yourself.
"I was wondering about that night when you ...."
Thomas cut him off.
"When I barged into your room and kissed you."
Jimmy blushed even deeper.
Thomas thought for a moment. He wasn't sure why this had taken him by surprise. It was the one thing they had danced around for over a year. Jimmy had never given him a chance to try to apologise, even if he had remembered how to. His disdain and disparaging remarks made it obvious that he was beneath contempt. Until the beating, he never let him within ten feet unless his work required it. Then he escaped as soon as possible with his face looking, at least to Thomas, like he had eaten a lemon. Maybe tonight he would let him try to explain. He got up to light another cigarette and pulled a bottle of scotch from his bottom drawer. I'm going to need this. He emptied the dregs of his tea back into the pot and poured himself a half cup of liquor.
Jimmy shook his head. Thomas drank most of the cup. Trust my boyo, you probably will.
"So, what do you want to know about that night?"
"Was it something I did that made you think ...."
"That you were foul."
"No. That I was like you."
That wasn't quite the question Thomas had been expecting, but it was a start. Jimmy reached his cup forward.
"I've changed my mind."
"Thought you might."
"It wasn't you and, believe it or not, it wasn't all me. O'Brien had me believing you felt for me the same was as I did for you. That there was – could be - something between us. You didn't seem to mind when I touched you; you didn't pull away or ask me to stop. So I just assumed ...."
He drained his cup and poured another.
"I just assumed you were interested. I didn't ask because it's not something you do when you're like me. You go by instinct I guess. And above all else hope. Hope can make you do stupid things though." Like trying to kiss someone without asking.
Jimmy started to laugh.
"Shut up, Jimmy. It's not funny. This is my life we're talking about."
"No. No. It's not that."
He reached out and grabbed his hand before realising it. Thomas pulled away.
"Don't do that."
He drank most of his cup and shook it at Thomas for a refill before continuing.
"I was laughing because O'Brien caught me in her web too. She told me that if I wanted to get on here I had to keep on your good side no matter what. I was supposed to ignore the things you were doing and not mention it to anyone because you could ruin my chances."
"But you tried to get me fired without a reference."
"She said if I didn't do something like that people would think I was ...."
"Why that conniving old bitch. Damn, she's good."
"Well, you have to admit she had us both twisted around her little finger. She knows how to spot a weakness and use it to eventually go in for the kill."
"I'm not weak!"
"No, but you're ambitious. She saw that and knew exactly how to use it."
Thomas sighed and looked down at his cup. Maybe it was the scotch, maybe it was the still-unresolved tension between them, but something had made Thomas's tongue much looser than it should have been.
"Me? I told you it's all about hope. She knows me, knows too much really. I desperately want a bit of happiness. I thought you were my chance of being able to find love again rather than drifting around the edges of life."
Jimmy nodded. It was a pretty good description of his own existence. Except for the love part. He finished his scotch and reached out for a refill; he didn't think that he could talk about that now so he quickly switched the topic.
"It wasn't all bad. You got to be under-butler, I'm first footman and I hear O'Brien is soon off looking for other prey."
"And I got the shit kicked out of me."
"I didn't say there weren't any drawbacks. But I got to kiss you." Where did that come from?
Thomas wasn't exactly sure what he had heard.
"I had to kiss you."
"Yes, well you're the first to complain. Then again, it was against your will. You really have to believe me when I tell you how sorry I am for that. If I could take it back I would."
Jimmy knocked back the rest of his scotch.
"So, it's nothing I did?"
"Didn't we go over this already? Jimmy, your virtue is safe from me, if that's what's worrying you." At least while I'm awake.
Jimmy held out his cup again. Thomas remembered what he had been like when he got drunk at the fair.
"I don't think you should have any more. You're going to be sorry tomorrow."
"Don't tell me what to do, Thomas."
Thomas's pained look made Jimmy regret it immediately.
"It's just that everyone tells me what to do, how to act, what to feel."
Thomas's look turned to one of puzzlement.
"You're in service. What do you expect? But no one can tell you what to feel."
"They tell you, don't they? You shouldn't feel about men the way you do."
"Why don't you listen? Why don't you just stop?"
"Are you really that naïve? Do you think it's that simple?"
Things were a bit hazy for Jimmy, but not hazy enough that he didn't know what he was doing. He wanted to understand and sometimes the only way to do that was to be blunt.
"Yeah. Just stop putting your cock where it doesn't belong."
If he hadn't been drinking he probably wouldn't have misjudged the situation so badly.
Thomas tried to remember that he was drunk, but that was uncalled for. He drew back and slapped him hard across the face, almost knocking him off the chair, sending the empty cup he was holding to the rug. Jimmy just looked at him, eyes blinking in shock.
Thomas's voice was quiet and seething with menace.
"Don't you ever talk to me like that. You know nothing. Do you think it's just about sex? Well it's not. Maybe that's all you would want. If so I pity the girl."
"But I ...."
Thomas stood up, towering over him, fists clenched. He still didn't raise his voice.
When he didn't move, he grabbed him roughly by the arm and pushed him toward the door.
He opened the door and shoved him. So much like another night except Jimmy was the one in the hallway feeling abandoned.
Thomas sat down on his bed and buried his face in his hands for a moment before running them through his hair and getting up. He recovered the unbroken cup and placed it neatly on the tray with everything else. So much for that friendship.