Thomas Barrow, Andy Parker, Daisy Mason/Parker, Original Characters, Downton Abbey AU
Title: Christmas at Yew Tree Farm
Length: 5 Chapters

Chapter One

This starts in 1954, a month on from The Lonely Sea; there are references to that story, but it's not necessary to read it first. It then moves back to Christmas 1953.

A bit of fluff, a bit of angst and Christmas. What more could you ask for?
As always the short letter from Daisy reminding him that he was expected for Christmas arrived in mid-November. He laughed to himself as he read it because he realised that Daisy was telling him as much as asking him.

Dear Thomas,

We're expecting you on the 5 o'clock on the 24th as usual. Ronnie will pick you up at the station then take you for a drink at the pub. Just one, mind you, dinner is at 6. You two aren't going to let my Christmas Eve meal sit and get cold like you did last year. We're all looking forward to seeing you.

Love Daisy

Even before he had started going to the farm for Christmas he knew the Parker boys well; they always seemed to be in and out of Downton's kitchen, cajoling Mrs. Patmore or anyone who would listen out of treats any chance they could get. And they found willing allies in George and his brother Henry Jr. As butler he could have put a stop to it, but he honestly didn't mind; they brightened the dreary old place.

Ronnie, now in his mid-twenties, was the eldest boy who helped Andy run the farm. He was the only one still at home after his younger brother had emigrated to New Zealand the previous year.

It had always been Ronnie who moved out of his room when Thomas came to visit, forcing him to share with his brother. It was also Ronnie who good-naturedly, but out of earshot of his mother, never let Thomas forget that fact; thus the trip to the pub each Christmas in the last few years where he insisted that Thomas buy for "all the inconvenience you cause me."

That too was something that Thomas could have easily put a stop to, but he looked forward to it as part of his Christmas at Yew Tree Farm. Until he had reconnected with George and met Allan a month ago, Christmas was the one time that Thomas chose to become less reclusive. When he thought back to last year it was something that he had at first almost regretted.
Christmas Eve 1953
Thomas glanced around the noisy pub as he waited. Nothing much really changed from year to year so he didn't know what he expected he would find.

"So Uncle Thomas," Ronnie asked as Thomas set the pint down in front of him, "what did you get me this year?"

Thomas wasn't sure when he had become "Uncle Thomas" rather than "Mr. Barrow."

"What are you, a little boy? You'll wait until tomorrow morning like everyone else."

"Well, it's from my list I sent."

Thomas regarded him closely as he took a long drink of his beer. He seems odd tonight. He's really flushed, I wonder if he's ill.

"And what makes you think that I didn't just toss that in the trash."

"Because," Ronnie laughed as he lifted his glass, spilling some onto the table, "you get me something off my list each year. It saves you trying to puzzle out what to buy." He wiped the foam from his lips with the back of his hand. "I'm just being considerate."

Thomas had to admit that was true. Ronnie's list, which Thomas had come to depend on, always included things for his parents and his brother too, so he definitely wasn't being selfish.

"Fine, fine. Of course it's off your list. Happy now?"

Ronnie drained his glass and tilted it toward Thomas,

"I will be when you get us another. Please."

"Good thing you added that 'please'," Thomas chided as he got up and headed for the bar. He had only half-finished his own beer, but would buy another as well.

As he waited for the landlord he looked back at Ronnie. There were times he felt a little sorry for him. Even though he was bright and the eldest, it was his brother who had gone on to school in York after Downton, then it was his brother who suddenly decided to go to New Zealand, leaving Ronnie to help with the farm as he was always expected to. He doubted that Ronnie resented any of that; he was definitely Daisy's and Andy's child. Still it didn't mean Thomas couldn't resent it for him. In a way Ronnie was trapped just as he had been and although it didn't seem to make a difference, Thomas was sure that he knew it.

"Here you go." Thomas passed him the glass as he sat down, then raised his own in a toast, "to another Christmas at Yew Tree."

Ronnie nodded and drank half his glass.

"Easy, now. Is there a rush?"

Ronnie looked at the clock over Thomas's shoulder.

"Another half hour," he shrugged.

Thomas sensed that Ronnie's mood had begun to shift, to become nervously serious, and he couldn't figure out why.

"Well then let's just enjoy this, shall we." Thomas decided to try a new subject. "So how's that girl of yours. Amelia?"

"She's marrying someone next March."

Right, there goes my foot right into my mouth.

"Sorry. I didn't know."

"Not your fault, is it." Ronnie drank the rest of his glass and leant forward, staring into the bottom of it. "Sometimes these things don't work out. Besides she wasn't for me anyway. Putting on airs all the time. Marrying a banker from York or somewhere."

He looked up, forcing a smile

"Let's have another pint."

"I'm fine with this one."

"I'm not." Ronnie stood up. "It's Christmas, Uncle Thomas, and I want to be happy." His foot snagged the leg of the chair as he moved away and he stumbled, catching himself just in time on the edge of a nearby table.

He can't be that drunk. He's only had two. Unless …

Thomas watched as Ronnie unsteadily made his way back to the table, concentrating on the glass so as not to spill it.

"What's wrong, Ronnie. How much did you drink before you picked me up?" Thomas demanded.

"Just a bit." He patted the breast pocket of his jacket.

Thomas stared at him. Whisky and beer? This isn't good.

"Is it this girl, is that it?" How the hell did I become father confessor again? "Don’t you think there'll be others? You'll find someone else. Just because she was foolish enough to pass you over …"

"You never married, did you? Did they all pass you over?"

"This isn't about me." What the hell are we talking about?

"No, it's not. It's about me and I don't give a fuck what Amelia does. Don't think I ever did. 'More fish in the sea?' All that's bullshit," he snorted. "Besides, I'm just like you," he added as he reached for his glass, "girls really aren't for me."

He moved so fast that he caught Ronnie off guard. His hand seized his wrist and clamped down with surprising strength, causing him to wince and grunt in pain.

"That’s enough." He squeezed harder. "Understand? You have said enough, Ronnie, and you've had more than enough to drink. Now get up, we're going."

"I don't …"

"Shut up. I know why you said it. You need someone else to know; it's soul-crushing, smothering, to keep it all inside."

Thomas kept his voice down but it was still menacing.

"But so help me God if you don't keep quiet and come with me I'll take you home right now and then we can discuss this in front of your parents. Do you want that?"

"Is there something wrong?" the landlord asked as he started to come out from behind the bar.

"No, it's fine," Thomas answered. "We're leaving. He's just feeling a bit under the weather."

"Then just get him out of here before he does something I'll make him regret."

Despite Ronnie being much younger and obviously stronger Thomas was able to bundle him out of the pub and over to a bench across the road. They got there just in time for Ronnie to kneel on it and throw up on the grass behind. When he finished retching Thomas handed him his handkerchief.

"Here's what we're going to do." Thomas pushed Ronnie's hand away as he tried to give him back the handkerchief. "We're going to get some coffee at the café and then we'll wait until I'm sure you aren't going to embarrass yourself too much at home."

"But dinner. Mum will be ready to hang me."

"So she should. You're just lucky I don't help her tie the knot."

"I'm sorry."

"A little late for that, Ronnie."

"I've ruined it, haven't I? You won't come for Christmas next year." He stopped and turned to Thomas, grabbing his arm in a panic. "You'll stay this year, though. Mum and Da will never forgive me if you leave."

"Why would you think that? I'm staying. And I'll come next year if I'm asked. I know you were scared and had too much to drink, but you and I need to have a talk about what you said. It was dangerous for both of us in public like that."

Ronnie just nodded.

"Now let's get that coffee and get our stories straight for Daisy. Lord help us if we don't."

As they made their way to the café Thomas realised he would have to talk to Andy as well because he was the only way that Ronnie could have known about him. He would do his best, but he was almost sure he couldn't keep him out of it; Andy was no fool. This could be a bloody disaster.

Maybe it was the realisation of what he had done, but Ronnie seemed to sober up quickly, so a little over half an hour later they climbed into the truck. Thomas took the driver's seat even though Ronnie insisted he would be fine. When they finally pulled up to the farm they were almost an hour late.

"Are you ready?" Thomas asked as they got to the door.

Ronnie just shook his head unhappily.

"And where have you two been?" Daisy demanded, shaking a spoon at them. "I've kept it warm as best I can, but it's pretty well ruined."

"I'm sure it will be great as usual," Thomas murmured as he bent down to kiss her cheek. "My fault. I was regaling Ronnie with tales of excitement from Tanton and we lost track of time."

Daisy eyed them both suspiciously; it was obvious Thomas was lying, and badly too. She knew it was about Ronnie. There was something wrong with him, there had been for almost a year, even before the break up with Amelia, but neither she nor Andy could get him to talk. He had always been mood at times, but this was different. She hated it when either of her boys were sad, but this time she hadn't been able to fix it; Ronnie wouldn't tell her anything so she could fix it. Before she could say anything Andy came through the door.

"Well, look who finally showed up," Andy smiled broadly as he shook Thomas's hand. He looked over Thomas's shoulder to Ronnie who had moved to a far corner of the room.

"And you, young man …" He looked down when Thomas touched his forearm. "Uh … we'll talk later. Now go get washed up before your mother decides to stuff something in addition to that goose," he laughed as he winked at Daisy.

After Ronnie had all but fled the room, Thomas turned to Andy as Daisy began setting the food on the table.

"You and I need to have a quiet word after dinner."

Once they were all at the table and the food was being passed around Thomas realised that in spite of his fears there had been no real confrontation with Daisy and he had managed to derail whatever Andy was going to say. Always be thankful for small mercies. Both of them knew that there was something wrong though so his job was still to tackle what Andy had said about him and to keep Ronnie out of it - if he could.

Daisy sighed as she sat back and looked at the empty plates and dirty serving dishes. Despite her misgivings the meal hadn't been ruined; admittedly it hadn't been her best but the evidence sitting in front of her told her it had been a success.

"All right you three, clear out while I get these taken care of."

"I'll dry, Mum," Ronnie jumped up and began to gather the bowls.

"Scraps for the pigs, remember," Andy reminded them as he and Thomas stood.

"Like we would ever forget, dear," Daisy laughed as she picked up the plates and cutlery.

"And speaking of pigs, I'm going to show Thomas that new sow."

"I'm sure he can hardly wait," Ronnie mumbled as he gently nudged his mother with his elbow, making her laugh again.

"Oh, and the cow. Don't forget the cow, Andy," Daisy giggled as she headed for the sink, arms loaded. "What's a trip to Yew Tree Farm without a tour of the livestock?"

Andy looked over his shoulder at them both as he went out the door. Things were approaching normal again. When Daisy was put out, when Ronnie was upset, he struggled with what to do, with how to get them past it. He eventually had learned that all it took was patience and time, but it was the waiting that hurt him. And with Ronnie all he seemed to be doing recently was wait, hoping it wasn't disaster he was waiting for.

"Better put on those boots, Thomas." Andy indicated a pair sitting at the door. "Can't have you mucking through the yard in your shoes."

"I never could have been a farmer," Thomas said as he trudged after Andy.

"Surprise, surprise," Andy chuckled as he stopped at the first pen. "And you're not the least bit interested in pigs or cows unless they're headed for your stomach, so let's have that talk instead."

Thomas leant over the fence beside him. No beating around the bush I guess.

"All right then. What have you told Ronnie about me?"

"I don't understand."

"Fine. About my amorous preferences. How's that?" It came out a lot harsher than Thomas intended. So much for being careful.

Thomas could swear he saw Andy blush.

"I … we never told him anything. We wouldn't. Why? What has he said? Is that's what's wrong tonight? What did you say to him?"

"Don't panic, Andy. It's just that according to him I'm not interested in women."

"He said that? But neither of us ever told him."

"He still knows though. You and Daisy have talked about it obviously, so he probably overheard somehow."

Andy was quiet for a minute.

"And he said this to you tonight? Why would he even … Wait, are you telling me that …"

Thomas sighed. So much for keeping Ronnie out of it. It was an attempt that had been doomed from the start. He couldn't bring up the subject and not expect Andy to begin to connect the dots, so he scrambled to stop him.

"No I am not. He essentially accused me of not understanding about Amelia because of what I am. I don't think he meant it cruelly, but you and Daisy need to know that he knows. And, please, both of you need to be more careful."

Thomas couldn't be sure whether or not Andy believed him, but he hoped that by shifting the blame back to them he had succeeded.

Andy looked at him closely, trying to use the moonlight to see his face. He had always been so good at hiding things behind those impassive eyes when he wanted that Andy had difficulty gauging what was true and what wasn't. But tonight those eyes failed him. And if what Andy was thinking was right then he and Daisy were wading into uncharted seas with Ronnie. It was something neither of them were prepared to handle.

He knew how people reacted, he had seen it with Thomas and at first he had reacted the same way. But Thomas, despite that, had never been anything but kind to him, even when he hadn’t been kind in return. Daisy had less pleasant experiences with him, but as Thomas changed she too grew to understand and accept him.

Andy realised long ago that she wasn't nearly as naďve as others thought, as innocent as others tried to keep her. She knew just as well as he did about Thomas. It may have shocked her at one time, but it didn't seem to matter now. Otherwise she wouldn't have kept insisting that he join them for Christmas.

He knew what the church said, what other people said, but Ronnie was their son and he didn't care. If he were like Thomas it couldn't help but influence how they saw him and it would take time to come to terms with it, but he knew that neither of them would love him any less.

He was still Ronnie, their eldest, the boy who always made them laugh, the one Andy depended on and now that Danny was in New Zealand, the only boy Daisy could dote on. He would never let anything happen to him. But they would need help to keep him safe, help to try to make sure he was happy once again.

Andy tugged at Thomas's sleeve.

"It's chilly. Time to go back inside and get some mulled cider to warm us up."

Andy held open the door, but stopped Thomas before he could go in.

"I want you to talk to Ronnie."

He knew that Thomas wouldn't need him to say anything else.
I know calling your father "Da" is more of an Irish thing, but who's to say Andy's parents aren't Irish and he's just keeping up the tradition with his boys.