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

Chapter Two

My knowledge of animal husbandry and farming is about the same as Thomas's, so please make allowances for errors and mark it down to poetic license.
The mulled cider had become a tradition. Everyone would sit at the fire, Ronnie and Danny on the floor in front on a blanket, and talk. Sometimes it would be about the days a Downton, which both boys never seemed to tire of hearing about, but more often it would be about what had happened in the past year. It would last into the night until everyone was yawning, struggling to keep their eyes open.

Tonight it was mainly about plans for the farm now that Lord Grantham had sold it to them. They had a mortgage, but it was now theirs, although a couple of the pigs still belonged to the Crawleys. They were even going to put in bids on two neighbouring ones, both currently vacant, both considerably bigger than their own.

The one furthest away was just a tenancy, but the land was good for crops that could be used as feed and would help to reduce their costs by at least a quarter. The other, which they could see from the end of their lane and was within walking distance, was a purchase of the land and buildings. It would be for more pigs, but this time everything would be theirs.

It would mean a lot of extra work but they had determined that the farms would more than pay for themselves once they got them up and running. Although Andy was sure he still wanted them, he now realised that it would be too much to handle without Danny.

And his absence made this first Christmas Eve without him different, at times a bit subdued. While his parents were happy that he already seemed to be doing so well in New Zealand, it didn't stop them from missing him.

"He wrote that he might come home next year for a visit," Daisy said as she stared into the fire, "but it's so far and so expensive."

Ronnie leant his head back against his mother's knees.

"If he says he'll come, he'll come."

She reached forward to ruffle his hair. "My little optimist."

"Not so little any more, Mum." He yawned and stretched. "It's early, but I'm going to go up. Christmas tomorrow, but the animals don't know that do they." Standing, he leant down and kissed the top of Daisy's head before turning to Thomas. "I'll put your bags in my room."

They watched him as he climbed the stairs.

"He's going to be all right, isn't he Andy?" Daisy asked anxiously.

"Of course. What's that saying? 'This too shall pass.'"

"Doesn't stop me from worrying though." Suddenly she remembered that Thomas was there. "I'm sorry, Thomas, it's Christmas and I'm nattering on."

Thomas reached over and put his hand on hers.

"It's fine and you know I wouldn't want to be anywhere else." He caught Andy's eye. "But I am a little tired too. I think I'll go up and unpack then go to bed, if you don't mind."

"Off you go then. I'd offer you hot cocoa, but I'm sure the cider will keep you warm."

The farmhouse was old, the stairs and the floors creaked, so being quiet was almost impossible. He had just started to unpack when he heard the soft knock.

"Come in, Ronnie."

"Is this a good time," he asked as he pulled up the chair from his desk.

"As good as any," Thomas answered as he hung his shirts in the wardrobe. "Why did you give me your room, by the way? I could have used Danny's."

"Can't break with tradition, Uncle Thomas. Besides, my bed's fairly new and more comfortable than that old thing of Danny's. I don't mind at all."

Thomas folded his pants and socks into the drawer that Ronnie always emptied for him and sat down on the bed.

"You got off easy. I thought Daisy might be tempted to hit you with that spoon."

"But you took the blame."

"You don't really think she bought that, do you?"

"Well Ö no, I guess not." He paused and look down at his hands. "You spoke to Da, then. What about?"

"Nothing in particular. We just cleared up some things."

"He knows, doesn't he." Ronnie's voice was shaking. "You told him."

"I did nothing of the sort. But yes, he suspects. He asked me to talk to you, so what do you think?"

"I can't do this, Uncle Thomas. I can't face them if they know."

"Don't you bloody start crying, you hear. You already messed up one good handkerchief on me."

Ronnie sniffed back his tears as he laughed softly.

"We can talk more tomorrow if you want, Ronnie, but a few things for now. How do you know that you don't, as you say, like girls?"

"There was a boy at school and a year or so after; he'd ride his bike out here or I'd go see him when I could, but he moved away. Then really nothing until last Spring. We hired Sean to help out for a couple of months to get us over the hump after Danny left. I didn't plan it, but somehow I knew almost the minute I saw him. It couldn't last no matter how much we wanted it to, but we were happy while it did and it just felt right. And that's why I didn't care what Amelia did. I stopped fooling myself that she or any other woman would make me happy."

"I see." So not just some vague feeling then. "Do you want to stay here? Do you want to be a farmer like Andy or do you want something else?"

"Of course I'm going to stay here. They need me."

"I didn't ask if they needed you. I asked if it's what you want."

"Yes, it is. But Ö"


"What I don't want is to end up some lonely old man, with nothing but his animals. Sitting in the front of the fire each evening, thinking about what might have been. Talking to himself because there's no one else." He sighed. "And yet I can't see myself married. I couldn't do that to anyone."

He tilted his chair back.

"Pretty damn hopeless, isnít it. What chance do I have stuck out here. Having Sean for those few weeks was a fluke. I would have been better off if it had never happened. It makes it worse when I see him in Ripon when I go to the market. We never do anything but talk of course. I won't stay away from him because I don't want to, but we can't be together."

"So he's still here?" Thomas asked.

"He worked part time for a couple of farmers after he left us. And now that winter's here it's afternoons at that pub in Ripon, The Stag. Don't know why he hasn't moved on like he said he would."

I'm pretty sure I do. "Don't lose hope. Believe it or not things sometimes have a way of working out."

"Not for me, Uncle Thomas," Ronnie replied dejectedly as he stood. "Not for me."

"Nonsense. Just trust your old Uncle Thomas. You'll see."

He turned to the one bag that still lay open on the bed, pulling out a neatly wrapped present tied with red and green ribbons.

"Here. I brought you two gifts this year so you can have one a little early. Happy Christmas.

"It's that book, isn't it. The one from my list."

"Just might be."

"Thank you. And Happy Christmas."

Thomas sat for a moment after Ronnie left, then unpacked the rest of the gifts and got ready for bed.