Thomas Barrow, AU, Fluff
Title: Wickhampton Road

See end notes
When Thomas first looked at the flat it didn't impress him - despite its good size it was a bit grubby and tired-looking - but it was definitely the right price. The fact that the furniture was relatively new, that it even had a small stove tucked in beside a fairly new sink, and that the bed was in excellent shape all improved his opinion. When he saw he wouldn't have to share a bathroom he decided the grubbiness was just surface dirt that the tenant before him - and likely a few tenants before that - had ignored. Well, fuck that. I'm not going to ignore it. Downton had been no palace, at least for the servants, but it had been clean and that was something Thomas wanted now too.

On the day he moved in the taxi deposited him, his suitcases, and a large, somewhat unwieldy box on the pavement in front of the door shortly before ten in the morning.

"I wonder if you would wait until I take the cases up," Thomas asked before he paid the driver, "and then give me a hand with the box. Just one flight of stairs. Well, two if you count these four here." He nodded toward the steps leading to the entrance.

He smiled his most appealing smile - at least he thought it was - and extravagantly flashed three one pound notes. By the look on the driver's face Thomas figured for three pounds he would likely give him a blow job. It was all he could do to stop from laughing as the two of them juggled the box up the stairs because the man was good-looking and the thought of the unlikely prospect of a blow job on his first day in London tickled him.

They set the box down just inside the door and after giving the driver the fare and the three pounds Thomas closed the door behind him. He looked around. It still needs a good clean. Oh well, no time like the present. I can unpack the dishes and things later. Thomas hadn't depended on trying to find the essentials quickly in London so he had bought what he could in Downton and Thirsk, packing them carefully into the box that now sat in the middle of the flat. He had already searched out the neighbourhood after he had taken it and knew where he could get what he needed to clean the place.

As he walked to the local shop he mulled over the last few months. New Job. Never thought it would finally happen, even though it's not what I expected and it wasn't my choice. His prospects hadn't been all that good. An under butler looking for a position when so few were hiring servants let alone of his status. He had become discouraged when he quickly realised that there wasn't anything and started making plans to try to find something else, something not in service. But that too worried him. It had been over twenty-five years since he had done anything else and that had been just an apprentice for his father. Although I was damn good. Father even said I was a natural for the job before … Well, before it all went pear-shaped. He was starting to lose hope entirely when the letter arrived.

- - - - -

"A letter Mr. Barrow." Carson called as he passed his office on the way out for a cigarette. "It came in the second post."

Thomas took it, glancing at the familiar handwriting.

"Thank you Mr. Carson."

He settled against the wall after lighting his cigarette and tore open the envelope. His sister didn't write very often, usually just a note at Christmas or when there was some major family event - his mother's death, his father's, her marriage, the birth of his nephews - and a few times a year otherwise. When he left he knew their father made sure that no one got in touch. Both she and his mother managed to fool him a few times, but after their mother died Cassandra's letters became less frequent. Then when she married, her own life took most of her time as Thomas expected. Despite all that that he knew that Cassandra still worried about him and still loved him no matter what. One thing he truly regretted was that that he had never seen his nephews, both now almost nineteen. That was as much his fault as anyone's.

My Dearest Thomas,

I trust this finds you in good health as am I and everyone here. Simon is doing well at Cambridge. Stephen on the other hand, well Stephen is Stephen. So much like you it can be frightening at times. Put on this earth to try his mother's patience. He does worry me.

But none of that is the reason for my letter. I understand you are soon to be without a position.

Reggie has a possibility we would like you to consider. I had him ask around his many contacts in the business. Henry Lamont, who is both clockmaker and watchmaker in London with an excellent shop and clientele and whom Reggie has known a long time, is currently looking for an assistant whom he is willing to train further both in the business and in the trade. The man is getting on in years and this could be a wonderful opportunity for the right person. You can appreciate that you are considerably older than what he would expect and your limited experience is not ideal, but I think that he would overlook that if Reggie were to put in a good word. He has asked Mr. Lamont to postpone any interviews for two weeks. The fact that he has agreed should tell you how much he values Reggie's opinion.

I do believe you should give this serious thought, but no matter what you must decide shortly.

The letter went on with information about the position, Mr. Lamont, and some more about the family.

Thomas smiled. He only knew what Casandra had told him about either of the twins, but the little he did know had made Stephen his favourite. Always go for the black sheep. That's me every time.

And the letter itself was vintage Cassandra. No beating around the bush; no long preamble when she could cut to the chase. Wait, how did she know? Ah, Baxter of course.

But Reginald Bailey? It still rankled that Reggie had essentially taken Thomas's place. That he had married his sister wasn't really a problem. Reggie was a decent chap at heart, but that he had also ended up with his father's business was another thing. None of that was Reggie's fault of course and to give him his due, Reggie had prospered. Nothing that Thomas could have done would have reconciled him with his father or changed his path. If he did this, accepted his help which he had never expected and wasn't sure he wanted, he would be in Reggie's debt. Still he knew that it was Cassandra who was behind all of it; Reggie was simply her instrument.

Over the next few days he thought about the proposal; frankly he lost sleep as he thought about little else. As he considered what the alternatives were, he began to realise that he likely didn't have any. In a little over six weeks he would have to leave Downton and so far he had nowhere to go, no money other than his own savings, no position and no prospects of one. All of it worried him, but on top of that he wasn't sure if he was suitable for the job after being so long in service, that he might fail miserably and end up completely destitute after all.

One thing that gave him confidence was that he still liked working with clocks and watches, tinkering with their works, fixing them when they went wrong. And he had kept his hand in, looking after Downton's myriad clock types from grandfather to mantle to wall and more, both antique and more modern. He was proud of the fact that they had never had to bring in someone from the outside.

Tucked away in one of his drawers were a dozen pocket watches that he had bought cheap because they were broken. All but one of them now ran like new and he knew would get that last one repaired too. He held onto all them - other than the one he gave Jimmy - when he knew he could sell them for a tidy profit. That wasn't why he bought them and it wasn't why he repaired them; he did it because it gave him satisfaction, because when he felt particularly down, he could open that drawer and know that this was something that he had done when others thought they were fit for nothing but the garbage.

Finally after a week he wrote Cassandra and agreed, hoping that Reggie was able to organise everything. Reggie was as good as his word, arranging an early morning interview within a few days. The whole thing was nerve-wracking because so much depended on it and because Thomas hadn't interviewed for anything in so long he couldn't tell how he was doing. As it turned out he needn't have worried. Reggie had paved the way much better than he expected and, despite some minor misgivings on Mr. Lamont's part, he had the position at the end of it.

When he mentioned as they talked afterwards that he now had to find a flat, Mr. Lamont gave him the address of his sister-in-law, a widow who had two flats in her house in Wickhampton Road, one of which had just come empty. He telephoned her while Thomas waited to let her know he would be there within the hour. Thomas left the interview feeling better than he had in months, if not since Jimmy had gone. He had a job with a promising future and with any luck a place to live less than a half hour from the shop.

- - - - -

Thomas spent the rest of his first day in the flat, except for a break for lunch at the local, sweeping and mopping floors, moving furniture, washing walls and woodwork, cleaning windows, even polishing the small oak table that stood to one side near the kitchen area, then putting away the contents of his box. At the end of it his back ached, his knees were sore, and his hands were chapped, but when he sat down at the table and looked around he knew it was all worth it. He was sure the place hadn't been this clean since the day it was new. It needed a bit of paint and, when he looked at the windows, some new curtains but that would come. He would talk to Mrs. Lamont to see if he could charm her into curtains in a few weeks.

He glanced at the clock in its place of prominence on the mantle. Almost six. I need to get a bath and then something to eat. He yawned and stretched. Then an early night. He didn't have to start work for a few more days, but he planned on dropping into the shop tomorrow anyway.

While the water ran, he stripped out of his clothes and folded them into the bottom of the wardrobe. I need to find a laundry. He sighed as he settled into the water, stretching out with his head lying back on the rim, letting the heat ease his aches and tiredness. As he soaped himself he could hear the upstairs tenant moving around; whoever it was they weren't very noisy which he was grateful for. Not very noisy that was until they began to play a piano. A piano. There's a fucking piano up there? How the hell did they get a piano up those stairs?

As he rinsed himself off he realised that the music was actually nice; not necessarily soothing, but enjoyable. Towelling down, he began to sing quietly to himself, "Heart of my heart, meant friends were dearer then".

He kept humming along as he headed to the wardrobe from the bathroom to get dressed. "Too bad we had to part." By the time he pulled on his shoes the music had changed to something a bit more up-tempo. Thomas knew the song but couldn't remember the name "Somebody" something. After he locked the door behind him and started down the stairs he paused then grinned. "Nobody's Sweetheart." Yeah, that's it. He was still humming that one as walked down the steps to the street. Jesus. If anyone at Downton were to hear me now. He laughed and a woman passing by gave him an odd look.

After his dinner of fish and chips Thomas stopped at the pub again. He stayed longer than he intended; he also drank more than he intended, but it was after all a celebration of sorts. And since it wasn't busy he got to know the landlord which was always a good thing.

"New job, new flat, new life," he mumbled to himself as he made his way home. He wasn't drunk just … just relaxed. Shoulda got that driver's name and address. Hmmm. Maybe I am drunk after all. He chuckled as he opened the door into the house and climbed unsteadily up the stairs.

The piano was still playing, but the music continued to be laced with melancholy. He started to sing under his breath as he reached to unlock his door. "No one here can love and understand me". He pulled his hand back and turned. Damn it! I need happy music. I demand happy music. Taking the stairs to the next floor he thumped on the flat door.

"Play something cheery why don't you?"

The piano went silent and Thomas could hear someone approaching the door. What the hell am I doing? A great way to meet your neighbour.

As the door cracked open be began apologising. "Look, I'm sorry. That was unc…" He stopped dead when he came face to face with Jimmy Kent.

~~~ End ~~~

This fits as the first part of the "Bexhill" or "The Life to Come" series although, since I've done it all ass backwards, it's written last.

"The Life to Come" is blatantly lifted from E. M. Forster's short story of the same name. Written in 1922, it was published posthumously as part of a collection in 1972. Many of the stories had homosexual themes.

The first two lyrics are from "(The Gang that Sang) Heart of My Heart" written in 1926.
"Nobody's Sweetheart" was written in 1924.
The last lyric is from "Bye, Bye, Blackbird" which was published in 1926.

Wickhampton Road is fictitious, although there is a Wickhampton in Norfolk.

And isn't serendipity grand? A job because of his sister, a flat because of his job, and Jimmy at the end of the rainbow because of all that :)