Actions

Work Header

The Letter

Work Text:

Jimmy sat at his desk, staring at the blank page before him, trying to form the words. How are you? How is everyone? Any new upstairs gossip? The usual questions you ask just to fill silence. It wasn’t like Thomas and Jimmy to trade such inanities, but when he had ventured for the last three, four letters to ask the more burning questions, they had received no reply. Jimmy thought perhaps a different approach might yield results. Thomas wasn’t answering when Jimmy asked him why he hadn’t responded. Thomas wasn’t answering when Jimmy asked if he was doing alright. Jimmy thought over the past several letters he’d sent, wincing at the memory of his increasing desperation.

It was true Jimmy wasn’t adept at writing letters, in fact before leaving Downton he’d never even attempted to keep in touch with anyone, at least not for long. But Thomas was different. Thomas had always been different. Over the past years their correspondence had been far from frequent, but the longest gap between them until recently was maybe six months. Thomas had kept him apprised, (admittedly, in vague terms) of his life; Jimmy had done the same. Jimmy never felt like they weren’t friends anymore. Their correspondence was regular, it was a heartbeat. But it had stopped.

It had been over a year since Thomas’ last letter. The last thing Jimmy heard was Mr Branson had returned from America and showed up at the Carsons’ wedding. Jimmy could practically recite the letter, he had read it so many times, but he opened up the drawer he kept the letters from Thomas in, and took the latest one out. He stared at his name written by Thomas’ hand. His handwriting was neat and sharp- appropriate. Jimmy’s own handwriting was quite different: messy, asymmetrical, looping.

Jimmy unfolded the letter, carefully. He’d folded and refolded it so many times, and sometimes he was worried the seams would tear. He imagined he could smell some remnant of Thomas’ scent, but he knew it was his imagination- all the letter smelled of now was dust and old paper. He reread it, smiling at the barest hint of indignation perceptible when Thomas wrote of Mr Branson’s return during the reception. Thomas had never liked him, even before Lady Sybil’s death, and much less afterwards. But Thomas did mention he was happy little Sybbie was back with her family, her cousins, her aunts. He wrote of how her dark hair reminded him of her mother’s. Jimmy knew Thomas was fond of her, and little George and Marigold as well. He felt affection swell as he imagined Thomas suppressing a smile while relating the events in the letter. There were so many layers to his words, his moods, and Jimmy could see between what a stranger might consider impersonal words to the emotions he knew Thomas felt while writing them, thinking them.

For probably the thousandth time, Jimmy sighed over the letter. The frustration mounted again, tinged with fear. Why hadn’t Thomas written? Wasn’t that something Jimmy had laid claim to- not keeping up with letters? It was usually Jimmy who kept Thomas waiting for a response, not the other way around. Had Thomas finally tired of him? Or had something happened to him?

No, that couldn’t be it. Jimmy still kept in touch with Daisy- well, it might be more accurate to say she kept in touch with him, and just barely. Over the past two and a half years they had exchanged maybe three letters, the last ones even longer ago than Thomas’. But Daisy would have written to Jimmy, surely, if something had happened to Thomas? An event that large certainly would have stirred someone to tell Jimmy?

And on another level, a notion that seemed silly to Jimmy discounted that possibility. Somehow, Jimmy felt that if something had happened, if Thomas had been hurt or ill, and he had died… (he winced just thinking the word; viscerally, painfully winced and recoiled as if he’d been slapped; he couldn’t bear to even consider it) somehow, Jimmy would just know. The connection he had to Thomas, the one he couldn’t explain, it would have gone silent.

The truth was, these letters from Thomas were always something Jimmy looked forward to. He kept them all, and he reread them often. It was through the letters Jimmy had even realized how much Thomas had meant to him. How much more Thomas meant to him than Jimmy ever let himself think about. And Jimmy had kept replying, religiously, sometimes every day- but he never sent the replies. He didn’t dare.

It was nonsense, a stupid habit Jimmy couldn’t give up, but for a long time Thomas had been his best friend- his only friend, really. He missed him, really missed him; missed talking with him, laughing, relating memories and trading barbs. And when Jimmy had left Downton, he couldn’t bear for that connection to tear. So he had started writing the letters, the letters full of things Jimmy wished he could say, things too personal to put in a letter. Most of the time they didn’t even make sense, only rambling sentences.

Jimmy sighed again and returned to the paper in front of him. He uncapped his pen, brushed away the crumpled up failed attempts, and starting writing those useless questions that asked nothing. There was nothing threatening or desperate or- anything at all, really, in the letter. Jimmy stared at the few lines he had written, wondering what else to put that he hadn’t said already in the letters Thomas had ignored.

I miss you

Jimmy frowned. He couldn’t put that. He amended it.

I miss you all.

That made Jimmy frown even more. It felt like a lie. It wasn’t, not really; Jimmy did miss the others sometimes. But it felt untrue, it felt unnecessary. It was Thomas he missed the most. He crossed it out and wrote the first sentence again.

I miss you

He found himself adding the words he wished he could say to his face.

I love you

And then he couldn’t stop. The pen moved furiously across the paper, putting those thoughts down in ink that swirled behind his eyes while he tried to sleep, while he tried to play his music, while he tried to work, while he read and reread Thomas’ letters-

It was over the entire front page and down half the back before Jimmy could stop. He threw the pen down, breathing hard. He pressed his hands into his eyes, watched the stars erupt behind them.

After two beats, three, he gathered himself. He did what he always did when this happened. He folded the letter up, put it in an unsealed envelope, and went put it in the drawer below the one that held Thomas’. But when he pulled it open, he was greeted with the sight of a drawer far overstuffed with letters. All the letters full of all the things Jimmy wanted to say but couldn’t. He kept telling himself he’d throw them away, make room, maybe start a second drawer or get a box. But he hadn’t.

He kept the enveloped letter on the top of his desk. He’d figure it out the next day. Maybe he’d finally get that box.

He felt exhausted, as he always did after one of these outbursts. Writing to Thomas but not sending the letters, it was a habit that he sometimes felt kept him sane. Jimmy was charismatic, and he never lacked for admirers, but he didn’t have someone he could talk to, someone who would really listen. Not since Thomas.

Jimmy opened the top drawer again, and pulled out a random letter. It happened to be the one where Thomas mentioned he was ill, along with several complaints about Baxter that nevertheless conveyed somehow that Thomas’ feelings about the woman had changed. It had gladdened Jimmy, to think Thomas had begun a friendship, unlikely though it seemed. He didn’t know how he could tell from the words on the paper that, on their own, didn’t seem to suggest a friendship forming, but he could. He could always read between the lines and see what Thomas was trying to say- or not to say. Jimmy remembered being worried about Thomas’ illness, whatever it was, but when Jimmy had asked in his reply for more details, Thomas had instead never mentioned being ill ever again.

God, he missed him.

The ache returned, the frustration, the worry. It had been too long. Jimmy had ignored these feelings when Thomas was within arm’s reach, and he had tried to ignore them afterwards. He had tried to ignore how getting a letter from Thomas made him light up, how reading them and discerning the veiled meanings behind the events he related somehow managed to make his affection for him swell even higher. Why was he still keeping silent? Why was he denying himself the abject joy it would bring him to tell the man he loved that he loved him? Of course there was a chance Thomas’ feelings had changed, maybe that was why he had stopped writing, but that’s a risk Jimmy would have to take. Hadn’t Thomas taken that risk once, for Jimmy, and it had ended in disaster for him? But he remembered, Jimmy remembered asking if Thomas had regretted it.

And Thomas had paused. His cigarette halfway to his mouth- Jimmy remembered watching Thomas smoke, the small poetic movements that Jimmy had tried and failed not to notice. Thomas had shaken his head, almost imperceptibly. And then a soft, “No, Jimmy.”

Jimmy had felt his brows rise in surprise, and Thomas had quickly quantified. “Of course, I regret that it caused you… distress, and that it wasn’t wanted, and I know it was… inappropriate. I only meant…” Thomas had trailed off. His cigarette was burning by itself for a few moments, and Thomas had taken a small inhale while he thought. And then he exhaled, the smoke swirling around them in the courtyard. Jimmy had watched every movement, trying to hide how attentively he had done so.

 “It was a mistake,” Thomas finally said. “But I can’t regret it. It got us here.” Thomas lifted his hands, gestured vaguely between himself and Jimmy. “We’re here, aren’t we? We’re… we’re alright? We’re friends?” Thomas had asked. Jimmy noticed the hope in his tone.

“Of course,” Jimmy had answered, immediately. Thomas’ lips quirked upward in the smallest possible hint of a smile.

“I don’t regret it either,” Jimmy heard himself say, and then kicked himself for saying it when he’d only meant to think it, but he’d been looking at Thomas’ lips and-

Jimmy had shook his head, hating the panic that rose in him, the fear, that damnable fear that he could never shake, the fear that he was-

But before Jimmy could add an “I mean-” or a “You know-”, Thomas had nodded.

“I know what you meant, don’t worry,” he had said, the smile widening, laughter in his tone.

The memory of that smile still echoed in Jimmy’s head, even now, even though a summer night in a London flat was as far away from a wintery Yorkshire morning in Downton’s courtyard as you could get.

And with that voice, that laughter-tinged voice, still shadowed in the recesses of his memory, Jimmy again tried to write a letter. A real letter; one he would send. But this one was different than the rest. Jimmy was going to arrange a meeting. It was far past time this madness had ended. Yes, their lives were messy and maybe they didn’t have the best timing, but memories of Thomas’ laughter and dreams of embraces that hadn’t happened and rereading and reading and rereading words on paper weren’t enough anymore. They weren’t enough for Jimmy, and if his feelings hadn’t faded, they couldn’t be enough for Thomas either. Thomas, who felt things so sharply and so deeply and tried to hide so hard that he did so.

Jimmy didn’t want them to hide anymore, and if Thomas wasn’t going to answer him, he was going to go to him. And with that thought, he brought his pen to the paper yet again, and wrote.

The end result was too full of niceties for Jimmy’s liking, but it got the job done.

Dear Thomas,

Hope you’re well. It’s been a while since I’ve heard from you, thought I would check in. Have you received my other letters? It’s alright if not.

I’ve decided to come up and visit you lot in a few days. Been too long since I’ve seen you all, and I know my presence will annoy Carson, which I hope you’ll appreciate.

To be honest, the real reason for my visit is that I need to speak with you. There’s something I need to tell you, face to face. I should have done it long ago. Don’t worry- it’s nothing bad. I hope.

I’ll see you soon.

Your friend,

Jimmy

His hands were shaking as he stuffed the envelope, as he sealed it. His heart was hammering. He’d written this letter so many times, (albeit usually much longer and more detailed, and sometimes full of things that made Jimmy blush when he read it over) but this one he was actually sending. But as he went to address it, a knock on his door startled him.

Jimmy didn’t recognize the person at the door- he was young, he looked nervous, and he was wearing a footman’s uniform. “Yeah?”

“Are you James Kent?” the boy asked.

“Yes,” he answered. Jimmy noticed a note in the boy’s hand- he recognized the crest: the Thorpe family, also known by their title ‘Winthrop’. It was one of Jimmy’s odd jobs; he worked as an extra footman when the family had a large gathering in town and needed an extra body.

The boy handed over the note. Jimmy perused it; it said as much as Jimmy had guessed. “Mr Locke, the butler?”the boy was saying. Jimmy looked up from the note, and nodded. “For the Thorpe family? Says you work as a footman?” The boy spoke only in questions, and from his shaking hands Jimmy again noticed the boy was nervous. He couldn’t have been older than fifteen, and clearly very new on the job.

“For big parties sometimes?” he continued. Jimmy found his neck getting tired from nodding.

“Yes,” Jimmy repeated. He glanced at the note again. “Wait- tonight?”

The boy nodded, and winced as Jimmy cursed.

 Jimmy looked at the clock above his desk. They had barely an hour before dinner service was to start. He cursed again in frustration. “Why are you giving me such short notice?!” Jimmy said angrily, retreating a few steps into his flat. He grabbed his jacket, and hurriedly put on his shoes, as the boy stammered an excuse about not being able to find the address right away.

Jimmy slammed his door shut behind him, and locked it. He fell into step beside the youth, sighing. He was barely out of childhood, shaky as a newborn deer. Jimmy didn’t fancy having to work beside him all night, likely doing twice as much work as usual.

“What’s your name?” Jimmy asked suddenly, more angrily than he had meant to.

The boy swallowed. “George? George Risley?”

 “Are you new to being a footman, George?”

 “Is it that obvious?” he whispered. They were on the street now.

“A bit,” Jimmy answered, looking both ways before darting across the street, George hurrying to keep up. “Listen, you never call the aristocrats by their name, at least not outside the house, and certainly not to strangers. Use their title. Lord and Lady Winthrop. Not ‘the Thorpe family’. Got it?”

George nodded again, out of breath as they half-sprinted through the busy nightlife.

They arrived at the Thorpe London house, and went through the servant entrance.

“Livery is-” George began, pointing.

“I know where it is,” Jimmy cut him off. The boy dropped his arm, and, pouting slightly, turned to go.

“George?” Jimmy heard himself saying, a swell of pity enveloping him. The boy turned back around. “Relax.”

George half-smiled, Jimmy thought he saw his shoulders un-tense a bit, and then he was gone.

Jimmy turned towards the hallway, intending to get himself a uniform from the cupboard they were kept in. As he passed the kitchen, he heard a few gasps and giggles as a couple kitchen girls recognized him.

“I was hoping they’d ask him to help tonight!” Jimmy heard one of them whisper. He shook his head, a rueful smile across his features, and went on with his business.

---

It was past midnight when Jimmy returned to his apartment. It had been an enormous party, and even though besides himself Mr Locke had enlisted two other extra footmen, Jimmy found himself run ragged. He put his keys in his door, crossed the floor, and dropped them onto his desk. He’d meant to strip down and go straight to sleep- he had a shift the next morning at a café to play piano for the breakfast crowd- but he saw the letter to Thomas on his desk, still unaddressed. In the surprise and hurry of Mr Locke needing him so soon, he had completely forgotten about it.

His hand hovered over it, the fear billowing up in his stomach again. The fear of being known, the fear of what would happen if Jimmy stopped running from the truth. Even though Jimmy knew he had stopped running the second he’d written that first unsent letter, however many years ago. And of course, there were those encounters with men behind closed doors, more often than not in a state of inebriation, letting the jazz music work its way into his bloodstream as he’d explored the shadows of his desires not in thought but in flesh. Jimmy shook his head to clear away those memories. He wasn’t proud of them, even though he told himself he shouldn’t be ashamed. He hadn’t done anything wrong, no matter what the world told him. It was funny- when he told himself these things, these assurances that he wasn’t broken or wrong, the voice in his head sounded like Thomas.

He picked up his pen and addressed the letter. He filled in the return address, and stamped it. He noticed he had left it unsealed by accident, and quickly remedied that. He left his flat, went down the hall to the postbox. His movements were steady, sure, purposeful. He opened the metal door, stared into the opening. What if it’s a mistake? That small fearful voice flared to life again, but Jimmy shook his head. It might be a mistake. But I won’t regret it. He sent the letter down into the box.

He walked back to his unit, confident that he had set it in motion, the thing he felt his life had been hurtling towards since that brief moment he had felt Thomas’ lips on his. As he lay down to sleep, a realization jolted him awake, only for a second before he drifted off again: he was not afraid.

---

Jimmy got home from his café job a little after two in the afternoon. He entered his flat and immediately collapsed on his bed. He felt content to just lie there for a moment and rest, allowing different reactions Thomas might have when he read his letter. It was mysterious, wasn’t it? To tell Thomas he had something to tell him and he’d be there soon. He hoped Thomas wanted to see him; he was still anxious and confused when he thought about how long it had been since he’d heard from him. What if Thomas didn’t care about Jimmy anymore? What if he’d been pestering him with these letters over the past year? Maybe Thomas was aggravated Jimmy hadn’t gotten the hint and left him alone?

He shook his head. There was no way for Jimmy to know. But it would be only a little while before he saw him again, he was sure of it, and he would get the answers he needed then.

Jimmy got up, resting his weight on his elbows as he watched the sunlight filter dimly into the room. After a minute, he got to his feet and shuffled over to his desk. He felt restless, and he almost felt like he wanted to write Thomas again, write him one of those letters he never sent. His eyes flickered over the one he wrote just yesterday, and he picked it back up to read it over.

He went to take it out of the envelope and paused when he noticed it was sealed. How strange- he never sealed these unsent letters to Thomas. He shook his head as he ripped it open, unfolded it, and looked it over.

Dear Thomas,

Hope you’re well. It’s been a while since I’ve heard from you, thought I would check in. Have you received my other letters? It’s alright if not.

I’ve decided to…

Jimmy felt the easy, restful expression on his face snap into one of confusion for a split second, and then awful realization.

He had sent the wrong letter.

“FUCK!” Jimmy heard himself shout. It was far too late to catch the post now, it came in the morning. He felt the letter, the cordial, purposeful one, flutter to the desktop as he paced away, frantic. What had he put in that other letter?

-I miss you. I love you. I miss you-

Nonsense. Rambling nonsense. No answers, nothing concrete, just the urgent scribbling of his overtired mind. Didn’t Thomas deserve better than that? Now instead of seeing Jimmy’s eyes, perhaps feeling Jimmy’s hands, as Jimmy tried to confess- tried to explain- Thomas would have this scrap of paper, full of cross-outs and desperate half-formed thoughts. Jimmy cursed again, loudly. His downstairs neighbor banged on their ceiling, the sound thumping up from beneath Jimmy’s feet, but he ignored it.

How could he have made such a mistake? Jimmy groaned and closed his eyes as he remembered- the night before, coming home after a long night of service at the Winthrop house. He’d noticed the letter he gone to put in the postbox had been unsealed, but he thought he had just forgotten to do so. He’d been interrupted by the young footman, George, and hadn’t been able to address or stamp it- it made sense he’d forgotten to seal it as well. But no, it had been the wrong one.

Jimmy dithered for maybe three seconds, and then he decided. There was no other option. He went to the closet and grabbed his overnight bag from the top shelf. He shoved some clothes and necessities into it. He went to his desk and grabbed his keys, and on a whim he grabbed the letter as well, the one he should have sent.

He couldn’t wait the week or so he had intended. He had to get there before the letter did, or at least very soon after it. Thomas didn’t deserve to be told this way, by a mistake, with no form and no thought and no answers. He deserved care, and purpose, and Jimmy was going to give it to him.

---

When the train pulled into Ripon, it was dark. Jimmy had just missed the afternoon train, and he’d had to wait several hours for the evening one. It had given him time to go to his assorted jobs over the city and tell them he had to leave London on urgent business. He’d had the same inane conversation half a dozen times over- Yes, it’s important- No, I don’t know when I’ll be back- Yes, I’ll tell you when I return-

Jimmy wouldn’t have even bothered if he hadn’t had all those hours to fill up before the train came, and he needed something to do while he waited.

He checked his watch- it was too late to go to the house now. Jimmy stopped in the street, frustrated, and cursed under his breath. Thomas was there, he was right there, a not even thirty minute walk away- but he couldn’t.

He didn’t want to cause a scene, and arriving just as the house would be settling down for sleep would prompt too many questions. He’d be there in the morning before the morning post, and explain. What he was going to say, exactly, Jimmy didn’t know. He thought he’d have more time before this visit, and the letter would pave the way so Thomas would be expecting him. He hadn’t had the time to really think it over and have his words ready, not yet.

But part of Jimmy knew, or felt, that when he saw Thomas, the words would come. The circumstances had moved up the timetable of this encounter, but Jimmy knew it was going to happen sooner or later, and if this was how it was going to pan out, so be it.

Jimmy closed his eyes. He inhaled, deeply, and exhaled. He would see Thomas in less than twelve hours. It would be okay.

---

He walked into the Grantham Arms, and was greeted by a tall, round sort of man with a mean looking face. He looked suspiciously at Jimmy, and asked several probing questions, but eventually he admitted him and gave him a room key. Jimmy was too tired to care much about the man’s rudeness; he simply wanted to go to sleep. And when he collapsed on top of the soft blankets, he fell asleep almost immediately, lulled to sleep with dreams of half-shadowed embraces, sharp cheekbones, a pouting smirk…

When Jimmy awoke he was starving. He was sure when he arrived at Downton, they would offer him breakfast, but he realized he hadn’t eaten in over a day. When he’d gotten up the previous morning he’d had no time to eat before his café shift, and after it- well…

He decided to just get some coffee and toast in the inn restaurant before leaving. It was still very early, the sun hadn’t even risen yet.

When he got to the bar room, he was surprised to see it wasn’t empty. There were two men at one of the tables, and they were talking lowly amongst themselves. He could tell from their clothes they worked at the village hospital; they must have just gotten off their shift. An unpleasant, guffawing sort of laugh would reach Jimmy from time to time.

Jimmy ordered his small breakfast from the rude man at the counter who had checked him in last night. He had no desire to speak with him, or anyone, so instead of sitting at the bar, Jimmy chose a table.

As he waited for his food, he couldn’t help but overhear the other two visitors’ conversation.

“Been about a year, yeah.”

“The date was on the papers?”

“Well, yeah, they’re reports ain’t they?”

“And the doctor didn’t see you shuffling ‘round his papers about the folks at the house?”

“No, dolt, you think I’m soft in the head? And it wasn’t the big house folks proper, I told you, it was the servant. No use to us.”

Jimmy’s blood went cold.

“And what was it?”

“A suicide. Cut his wrists.”

There was that ugly guffaw again. For some reason Jimmy stopped breathing.

“Can’t blame him. If I was that sort…”

The other man snorted. Jimmy felt his fingernails digging into his palm so hard he was sure there would be blood.

“Too bad he didn’t manage to- hey, what you on about?” Jimmy realized he was on his feet, he was standing over the other men’s table, one fist in the air, the other wrapped in the man’s collar.

“I don’t want no trouble in my bar!” He heard the inn worker yell. Jimmy let out a loud breath, almost a sob; he felt his lips tremble as the sound erupted. The tears in his eyes made his vision blur. If he wasn’t so terrified, he may have carried on and attacked the man. But he ran. He released the man- shoved him away, more like- and ran.

“Oi! Your food!” He heard from behind him. “You’ll still have to pay for it!” He ignored him.

 The man’s words echoed in Jimmy’s mind, confirming all his worst fears. The reason Thomas hadn’t replied to his letters was because he was…

He couldn’t even think it.

He shoved a woman and a man walking out of his way as he ran, ignoring their indignant shouts. He could feel the tears cold on his cheeks, even as he willed it to not be true, for them to be talking about someone else, anyone else. He knew it was wrong to wish it, but he hoped it was someone else…

He didn’t have any confirmation the men in the inn had been talking about Thomas, but something told him they were. It was that something he couldn’t explain, that connection. Although, he was wrong about that, wasn’t he? If he’d truly had some tether to Thomas, wouldn’t he have felt if Thomas was no longer alive?

“NO!” Jimmy was saying to himself, “No…”

The word was barely audible over his labored breathing, even to himself.

He didn’t stop running until he reached the stone walkway to the Abbey, even as his lungs were screaming and there was a dagger in his side. He allowed himself to walk only because the sun was rising now, and he didn’t want the grounds workers to see some crazed man running towards the house and have him ejected. But he walked as fast as he could. The words from the inn were still echoing, clanging, in his mind. “Cut his wrists… that sort…” and that harsh, ugly laugh.

Thirteen months. Thirteen months of silence from Thomas, and Jimmy had never considered this could be the reason? Why in God’s name had Jimmy waited so long? How could he be so, pathetically, late?

Jimmy saw the courtyard, the servant’s entrance. He let out another loud, sobbing exhale as he again ran. At the door, he paused a second to gather his breath, to wipe his cheeks on his sleeve. And opened the door with a steadiness he didn’t know how he summoned.

Everything seemed the same as he remembered. The sounds from the kitchen, Mrs Patmore’s yelling, the scrape of wooden chair legs across the floor in the servants’ hall, the metallic clangs of silverware being laid out, the soft chatter.

Jimmy walked, and hoped, and prayed to see Thomas as he looked into the hall.

Most of the servants weren’t down yet, the servants’ breakfast wasn’t ready. Jimmy was much earlier than he’d planned to be, but of course his plan had been shot to hell when he’d heard those awful men in the inn. Several seats were empty at the dining table, including Carson’s. But there, in Thomas’ seat, was a stranger. He was young, and tall, with black curly hair and brown eyes and a sweet smile.

The sight of him almost made Jimmy’s knees go out.

Because the only reason there would be a new footman in Thomas’ seat would be if he wasn’t there anymore. Someone had replaced him.

Jimmy closed his eyes as he felt the world go grey. He felt a tear trickle down his cheek.

A second later, he felt a hand on his shoulder and he almost shouted. He turned- it was Anna.

“Jimmy?” Anna asked, a wide smile appearing on her kind face. “What are you doing here? I didn’t know you were coming for a visit!”

Anna seemed genuinely pleased to see him, but after a second her smile fell as she saw Jimmy’s expression- a mask of despair. Jimmy willed more tears not to fall as he tried to cobble together an answer. “I came to see… I came to…” He couldn’t.

“Are you alright?” Concern was etched in every line of her face.

But then Jimmy heard it- a laugh. His laugh. Jimmy’s head snapped so fast in the direction it had come from he was surprised there wasn’t an audible crack. It had come from Mr Carson’s office.

It felt like Jimmy was moving in slow motion as he walked towards it, on some level feeling guilty for ignoring Anna so utterly, but on another he knew he was in the pull of something greater than him.

Before he could reach the office, two figures left it. A woman Jimmy recognized- Baxter.

And him. Thomas.

He was smiling; something Baxter had said had made him laugh. Jimmy could have kissed her. He’d been thrown into such a pit of black fear that Thomas was dead by his own hand, and instead here he was alive, laughing. Relief slammed into Jimmy’s body as hard as a train. He was barely aware of the strangled noise that left him before he’d thrown himself down the hall, and pulled Thomas into an embrace so tight he didn’t know if he could ever let him go. Thomas had let out a gasp a second before Jimmy had reached him.

He froze for a millisecond, shocked, before returning the gesture slightly, one arm going around Jimmy’s back, his hand pressing between Jimmy’s shoulder blades.

Exclamations of surprise from Anna and Baxter floated into Jimmy’s ears, muted, as if they were from behind a pane of glass. Jimmy ignored them. He managed to pull himself back; he moved his arms so his hands were gripping Thomas’ shoulders, and stared greedily at him. The smile from a second earlier was barely there; it was now coated with shock and recognition. Thomas shook his head minutely, his brow knit with confusion. He said Jimmy’s name.

Jimmy nodded.

The noise from the hall suddenly seemed to swell in volume as the silence Jimmy had moved through somehow faded.

“You’re alright,” Jimmy heard himself gasp. Thomas was so close to him, one of his hands on Jimmy’s elbow. Jimmy was still holding Thomas’ shoulders.

“I’m alright,” Thomas said, nodding, the look of confusion still on his face. But behind it, and behind the surprise, Jimmy could see his appearance had brought forth happiness. And pain.

“I thought- I heard-” Jimmy stuttered. I thought you were dead. I heard you were dead. Jimmy couldn’t say it. Something in Thomas’ eyes flickered. He opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Anna cleared her throat behind them. It was closer than Jimmy thought it would be; she must have walked down the hall to them. Thomas looked behind Jimmy at Anna, and to Baxter. He almost looked surprised to see them there, as if he’d forgotten there was anyone in the hall besides Jimmy.

But a moment later, Thomas withdrew from Jimmy’s grip. Jimmy tried not to cling to him, but he turned with him as they faced the two women.

“Mrs Bates, Ms Baxter, of course you remember Mr Kent.” Thomas’ tone was poised, glossed with propriety worthy of Mr Carson.

They murmured assent, asked how-are-you’s and the like. There was still that shock behind the manners, though, and Jimmy knew he was meant to give an answer.

Jimmy met Baxter’s eyes. The look she was giving him was surprised apprehension, and she kept flitting her gaze to Thomas. He looked at Anna, whose face held an expression of extreme confusion and worry. They wanted an explanation.

“Yes, I. I’m sorry, I, uh,” Jimmy managed, sniffing. He realized his cheeks were wet again. He cursed inwardly and hurriedly wiped his face. Jimmy shrugged, letting his short non-statement stand. He didn’t know what to say.

“It’s alright,” he heard Thomas say to him, quietly. And then, more loudly, “Ms Baxter, would you be so kind as to get the post this morning? I think I’ll be missing breakfast.” Jimmy almost closed his eyes, allowing Thomas’ voice wash over him, even though it wasn’t saying anything particularly earth shattering. Those moments, those terrible moments when Jimmy thought he’d never hear it again…

“Of course, Mr Barrow,” Baxter replied after a surprised beat. She looked at Jimmy again, but turned and made her way to the dining hall.

Only Anna remained. She stepped closer, and asked Jimmy if he was sure he was alright. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” she said.

Jimmy let out a shaky laugh. “Yes, I’m fine.” He looked at Thomas- healthy, handsome, breathing Thomas. “I’m perfect.”

---

Thomas led him back into Mr Carson’s office. Jimmy wondered why they were in it. Where was Carson?

“Why are we in Carson’s office? Will he mind?” Jimmy asked.

Thomas didn’t answer right away. He stood beside the desk, and lifted his chin slightly, before saying, “This isn’t Mr Carson’s office anymore, Jimmy. It’s my office.”

Jimmy let out a laugh that was more surprise than mirth. “You’re- you’re Butler now?”

“Yes.” Thomas’ eyes were on Jimmy’s face, searching, burning. Jimmy felt too hot and too cold at the same time. There was so much charged emotion in the room, and they weren’t discussing it. Jimmy could still feel the dried tears on his cheeks, could still feel Thomas’ shoulder under his chin when he’d embraced him, could smell that familiar scent of cologne and smoke, could still hear Thomas’ low voice telling him it was alright- and yet they were only speaking of matters like-

“Where’s Mr Carson?” Jimmy swallowed. “Is he-?”

“No. He’s- he has an illness.” Thomas finally dropped his gaze. “He calls it the palsy. He was no longer able to fulfill his duties, and I was offered the position at New Year’s when I came to visit.”

“Visit?” Jimmy said, and Thomas’ eyes snapped to him again. “From where? You left Downton?”

Thomas sighed. “A lot has happened, Jimmy.”

Jimmy’s eyes were burning- he realized he hadn’t blinked. On some level he recognized an absurd fear that if he closed his eyes even for a second, when he opened them Thomas would be gone.

After a moment, Thomas reached over his desk and grasped a pack of cigarettes. Jimmy stepped forward, closing the small distance between them. He didn’t say anything, he wanted to see if Thomas would remember their routine. Jimmy had always been begging cigarettes off Thomas. It was something Thomas had chided him for more than once, but he had always relented one with a smirk and a light.

Thomas hesitated for a beat, but handed a cigarette to Jimmy without a word. Jimmy smiled and heard an exhale leave him, heavy with relief; relief that Thomas hadn’t forgotten one of their little rituals. Thomas brought his cigarette to his mouth, lit it, and passed the lighter to Jimmy. Jimmy traced his movements with fascination. He took the proffered lighter, exhilaration coursing through him when their fingers touched for the smallest possible moment.

He met Thomas’ eyes, and saw Thomas had already been staring at him. This was usually the moment one of them would turn away, or speak, anything to break the moment. But they didn’t.

Jimmy didn’t move. He let himself exist in the moment, breathe in it, not hurry it away or pretend it wasn’t happening. Seeing Thomas here, alive, when Jimmy had thought, however briefly, that he’d never do so again, had banished forever any apprehension of finally admitting his feelings to Thomas. The idea he had let years go by without doing so seemed the most obscenely ridiculous concept imaginable. He levied his gaze with Thomas’, and tried to channel all his emotions into that gaze.

Thomas’ eyes were flitting back and forth between Jimmy’s, and Jimmy knew he was registering the intensity there. Jimmy saw confusion once again well on Thomas’ face. He wanted so badly to touch him, to place a hand to his cheek, and he decided he was going to do it. After years of dreams he was going to actually do it-

But just as Jimmy moved his hand from its place at his side only a few millimeters, Thomas moved away. He turned, so his back was to Jimmy. He was silent, and he just stood there, smoking. Jimmy got the impression he was collecting himself.

When he spoke, his tone was laced with pain, as though his jaw was clenched.

“Why are you here?” he asked.

Jimmy scoffed. He inhaled on his own cigarette, and replied as he exhaled the smoke. “Do you want me to leave?” he said, knowing it would make Thomas angry that he hadn’t directly answered.

Thomas sighed again, and turned back to face him. “Answer me. Why are you here? Now? In this room?” His face was hard, his back ramrod straight and tense.

He’s afraid. He’s afraid he seeing things where they aren’t there. I’m confusing him. Fuck, will I ever stop hurting him?

Jimmy wanted to just say it: ‘I love you’. But this wasn’t how it was supposed to be. How could he drop such a bombshell on Thomas at this moment, this moment when there was so much else they needed to discuss? It wasn’t the right time for Jimmy to spout off about his longings and his realizations and his love- was it? He needed to make sure Thomas was alright first, he needed an explanation about what Thomas had done. It was time Jimmy had put Thomas first, finally.

So he decided to go with the easiest answer first- and yet, the hardest. “I’m here, now, in this room, because I was in the village and I heard some- some fucking idiot- say-” Jimmy closed his eyes, felt his jaw clench. It hurt to even think about. He scratched his forehead with his thumb, with the hand that was holding the cigarette. “-say that a servant at Downton had cut his wrists.”

He opened his eyes, and looked at Thomas. Jimmy searched his eyes, wanting to see anything, any kind of emotion, but Thomas was unreadable; as smooth and cold as stone. He only took another pull on his cigarette.

“Is it true?” Jimmy said. Thomas said and did nothing.

“Goddamnit, Thomas, I thought you were dead. Is it true?” Jimmy’s voice had risen to a shout.

Thomas cursed. He looked down, and ground his cigarette out on the ashtray on his desk, even though it wasn’t even halfway smoked. He walked swiftly past Jimmy to the door, and ducked his head out of it. Jimmy let out an exasperated sigh at Thomas still not answering.

Thomas closed the door, and kept his hand on the knob for a beat before turning back and meeting Jimmy’s eyes again.

Jimmy flicked his cigarette into the ashtray, and left it there burning. He strode across the room as well, and grabbed one of Thomas’ arms, pulling the sleeve up. Thomas wrenched his arm away, and smacked a hand into Jimmy’s chest, forcing him to stumble back. But not before Jimmy had seen it. A thin white puckered line of tissue across his wrist. The sight of it felt like a sucker punch.

Thomas was breathing hard, and Jimmy was as well.

“Why?” Jimmy whispered, that place behind his eyes tightening. Thomas was looking past Jimmy’s shoulder, his chest falling and rising rapidly. Still no answer.

Jimmy did it, he put his hand on Thomas’ cheek, forced him to look at him. And he did, startled at the contact. He stumbled back half a pace, his back pressed against the door.

“Thomas, why? Why didn’t you tell me?” Jimmy demanded.

“It’s not something you put in a letter, is it,” he replied, quietly. Jimmy exhaled, for some reason relieved that Thomas had finally spoken. But then Thomas placed his hand over Jimmy’s on his face, and slowly pried it off.

“Why are you here, Jimmy,” he said again, his voice low. He sounded exhausted.

“I’ve just told you-”

“But why were you in the village. Why now, after all this time?”

Because I love you. The words were on Jimmy’s tongue, had been since the second he’d seen him laughing in the hallway. But now there was this thing, this thing Thomas had done, heavy in the air between them. Jimmy looked away. He didn’t want to lie, but he didn’t know if he should tell the truth yet.  

Thomas looked down again, a breath leaving him- Jimmy could feel it on his face. Jimmy licked his lips, and after a beat-

“I wrote you, and you never answered. And I needed- I need you.”

Thomas’ eyes snapped to Jimmy yet again; they were shining with moisture. Jimmy smiled weakly, apologetic, another small exhale leaving him.

“Why didn’t you answer?” Jimmy asked.

“Because-” Thomas started, but his voice broke halfway through the word. He swallowed, and then tried again.

“Because I couldn’t talk about it. Least of all to you. I tried-” His voice broke again. Jimmy felt his brow furrow in concern and worry and love, and he pulled his hand out of Thomas’ between their chests. He placed it on his face again, and Thomas closed his eyes, for a beat, at the touch.

“I sat there and I tried to write. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t bear to tell you. And I couldn’t bear to not tell you, to write you about other things and just never mention it- it felt like lying. And it was too big a lie to tell, I couldn’t do that to you. So I just never said anything. And then it had been too long, it had been months and months and I felt like there was this chasm between us that I didn’t know how to close anymore-”

Jimmy kissed him. He hadn’t meant to, he’d meant to wait until the right time, but maybe there wasn’t a right time, or maybe the right time was whenever it happened to happen. It was instinct. Thomas was there in front of him, in pain, and Jimmy had kissed him.

Thomas gasped against his mouth, frozen, but then he was kissing him back. Jimmy felt tears on his cheeks but he didn’t know if they were his or Thomas’, or both. Jimmy’s hand was still pressed against Thomas’ face, and he moved it to his neck. He knew his grip was too hard, too tight, but he couldn’t let go. Their mouths moved, and they broke apart, and fell back together, again, and again. Thomas’ hand had been trapped between them, but he moved it to Jimmy’s neck, mirroring Jimmy’s hand on his. They were both grasping at each other, trying to pull the other closer. They were pressed together with no space between them, but it still wasn’t close enough.

There was a knock.

“Mr Barrow?” It was Baxter.

They broke apart, foreheads still touching, breathing hard. Jimmy groaned. Thomas sighed, his breath shaky and ragged. Jimmy moved back a few paces, giving him room, even as every nerve screamed for more contact, not less. Jimmy raised a hand to his mouth, his thumb pressing against his bottom lip, trying to imprint the memory of Thomas against him.

Thomas closed his eyes, squeezing them tight. When he opened them his face was smooth again. His lips were a bit swollen, but otherwise there was nothing out of place. He was stone. His expression was just that smirk that Jimmy knew so well, tinged with unbothered smugness.

Thomas turned and opened the door the entire way. Ms Baxter’s eyebrows were raised in curiosity, and she looked between him and Jimmy.

Jimmy was certain Baxter would be able to tell what was happening between them with only a glance at him. He’d never been as good as Thomas when it came to appearing polished. He was an adequate liar, and of course for years he’d hidden his burgeoning feelings, but only from himself. He hadn’t needed to hide them from other persons, because there was no reason anyone besides himself would be even slightly aware.

 “… The post,” was all Baxter said, offering Thomas a small stack of letters.

“Thank you, Ms Baxter,” he replied, his voice as smooth and fluid as cold water as he took them from her.

There was an awkward beat as she continued to look nervously between them.

“Is there something else?” he asked. It was a marvel to Jimmy, how he could appear so clipped and unconcerned, while Jimmy’s heart was racing so fast he felt lightheaded and he was sure he couldn’t speak without his voice shaking.

“No… only…” Baxter’s mouth slightly opened and closed with nothing coming out, but then she leant close to Thomas and whispered, “Are you alright?”

Jimmy heard Thomas exhale through his nostrils. “Yes.”

Baxter nodded, and with a last look at Jimmy, she left. Jimmy let out a breath. Thomas closed the door again, and faced him.

“You think we’ll ever have a kiss where we’re not interrupted?” Jimmy said, and regretted it immediately. It had been meant to be a joke, something silly to lighten the mood, but it only recalled that painful night where Thomas had dared to kiss him, and Alfred had interrupted. That was an awful night, and the nights that followed as well. Why did Jimmy bring it up?

Thomas’ head quirked to the side. “What?”

Jimmy shook his head in a gesture that said ‘Never mind’.

“Will she…” Jimmy started, motioning to the door, referring to Baxter.

Thomas’ head was still to the side; he was frozen, for a beat, in confusion. But then he shook his head as if to clear something away.

“No, she… she’s a friend. She knows about me. She would never,” Thomas answered. His tone was so sure, and Jimmy believed him. He felt something in his chest swell to think Thomas had someone like Baxter here, at the house, who knew his secrets, and supported him.

Thomas walked past Jimmy again, to the desk, and put the letters on it without looking at them.

“Look, Jimmy…” Thomas began. Jimmy’s mind raced with possible endings of his sentence. Was he about to tell Jimmy to leave? That he’d been caught up in the moment, but he just didn’t feel that way about Jimmy anymore? That he’d-

“I can… believe… that you care about me, Jimmy,” Thomas was saying. He was looking right at Jimmy as he spoke.

“I do,” Jimmy said, but Thomas shook his head, sharply, once. The meaning was clear: Let me finish.

“It took me a long time to believe that. But I do now. You were- you are, even though I stopped writing- probably the best friend I ever had. And I know hearing about my- accident, it must’ve worried you. And I’m sorry I didn’t tell you and that I stopped writing.” Jimmy was confused. Where was he going?

“But you don’t have to… you didn’t have to…” Thomas seemed embarrassed all of a sudden. He gestured vaguely to the door, where they’d stood embracing not two minutes before. “It’s not… necessary for you to…”

Jimmy almost laughed.

Thomas saw the laugh on Jimmy’s face. “I’m serious, Jimmy,” he said, slightly annoyed.

Jimmy shook his head, and brought his gaze to Thomas’ again. “I know. It’s just… you’ve got it all wrong. And I don’t blame you, I haven’t been forthcoming myself. It’s just… you think I only did that out of pity?”

Thomas sighed, and shrugged. “Why else would you have?”

“Can you think of no other reason?” Jimmy retorted, eyebrows raised, looking straight into Thomas’ eyes.

Thomas somehow became even more still. He looked away from Jimmy, his hands going to the letters on his desk. He started sorting through them, his motions jerky. Jimmy could tell he was thinking, trying to think of a reply to Jimmy’s question. But then he paused, his hand hovering over the last letter in the pile.

Jimmy’s.

He picked it up, his eyes flickering to Jimmy, a question in them.

Jimmy was still smiling at Thomas’ imagined explanation for why Jimmy had kissed him. Well. It didn’t matter now. The letter was in Thomas’ hand. He’d find out soon enough that Jimmy was genuine.

“What is this?” Thomas asked. He flipped it over, and started to open it.

“Wait. Please,” Jimmy said, walking forward, and placing a hand over Thomas’ to stop his actions.

Thomas looked at him, dropping the letter to the desk. Jimmy let out an exhale.

“The thing is… I write you,” Jimmy started. He shook his head; this was going to be a clumsy, inelegant explanation, wasn’t it?

Thomas laughed. “I know.”

“No, you don’t. I mean, I write you all the time. Sometimes daily. But I don’t send the letters.”

Thomas’ brow furrowed; he didn’t understand. “Then why write them?”

“Because… because I have to. Because I have to let the words out. The words I want to tell you, the dreams I have… The letters- they’re full of all the things I wished I could tell you but didn’t know how to.”

“Like… what?” Thomas asked, nonplussed.

Jimmy was suddenly breathless. This was the moment.

“Like I love you.”

 The words were out now, and that was it. Years of dreaming of this moment and here it was. And it was like the writing: now that the words had started he couldn’t stop them.

“I love you, and I’ve been in love with you probably since I saw you take that first punch for me. And I didn’t know, and I was scared, and I just ignored it because it was enough to be friends, it was enough to have you close and be in your life. And then I had to leave, and it was gone, it was- you were gone, Thomas. And I realized what a fool I’d been because I’d had you by my side and never told you, never kissed you how I wanted, never had you, when I could have. And how stupid to think that it was enough when it wasn’t nearly, and never would be. Because I need you, I need you how you need me and I’m sorry it took me so fucking long to finally own up to it.”

Thomas was completely still. As Jimmy spoke, his eyes widened, but otherwise he didn’t move. The look on his face was abject shock.

After a moment, he recovered. He shook his head again, the same gesture from before, as if clearing a fog away. “If this is because of what… because of my accident-“

Jimmy laughed again. He stepped closer, and wrapped his hand around the back of Thomas’ neck, and pulled him into him again, reaching up to close the difference between their heights. Jimmy opened his mouth and shuddered with pleasure when he felt Thomas do the same. But then Jimmy pulled away, and smiled in satisfaction when he felt Thomas lean into him, trying to prolong the kiss as long as possible.

“It’s. Not. Because. Of the accident.”

A beat. And then Thomas nodded, dazed, his gaze going between Jimmy’s eyes and his lips.

“Read the letter if you don’t believe me. I wrote it and sent it, by mistake, two days ago. Before I ever heard about the- you know.” Jimmy still found it difficult to even say the words.

Thomas nodded again, still silent. He closed his eyes.

“That’s why I’m here. You asked why I’m here and I said it was because of what I heard in the village, and that’s true in a way, but the bigger truth is that I felt you deserved to hear that I loved you from me, in person, not from some mistakenly sent scribbled letter.”

Jimmy reached into his pocket and pulled out the real letter, the one he’d meant to send, the boring one that only proposed a meeting and asked if he was well. “This was the one you were supposed to get.”

Thomas took it, and read it quickly. “So… you were coming anyway. To tell me.”

Jimmy nodded.

“Yes. That other letter,” Jimmy waved a hand towards the one still on the desk. “I didn’t mean to send it, but all it did was make my visit sooner than I planned. I was sitting in my flat, rereading the letters you’ve sent me over the past two years, and I just- I missed you. I couldn’t wait anymore for you to write me back; I didn’t know when you were going to or if you were going to. And yes, what I heard in the village sped it up even more, but I decided two days ago that if you weren’t going to write to me I was going to come see you, and tell you what I should have told you years ago.” Jimmy looked down, shuffled his feet a bit, before continuing. This next part was something he’d barely given thought to because it scared him so much.

“I was afraid that… your feelings had changed. That you didn’t want me anymore, you didn’t want to write anymore. That you’d forgotten me, or gotten tired of me, and that’s why you hadn’t written.”

“Jimmy,” Thomas said, an outburst of disbelief.

Jimmy shrugged. It was the truth. “I don’t know if I could even blame you. You- how you felt about me, you had felt that for years, and you thought I didn’t feel it back. If you had decided that you’d had enough, it hurt too much anymore to waste your time on some prat, some selfish prat-”

Thomas shook his head. “Don’t say that, it’s not true.” Thomas licked his lips. “It could never be true, Jimmy.”

“What, me being a selfish prat?” Jimmy asked, laughing.

Thomas managed to smile. “Alright, yes, you can be a selfish prat. Like how I can be a smug prick.”

Jimmy laughed again. “A smug prick and a selfish prat, we’re quite a pair.”

Thomas made a noise, almost a laugh, but mostly some kind of quick, shocked breaths. “…A pair.” The look on his face broke Jimmy’s heart. He was so surprised, and happy, and surprised that he was so happy, that it was possible to be this happy.

Jimmy pointed to the letter on the desk, the one Baxter had just delivered. “Go on then. Read it.”

Thomas swallowed. He tore open the envelope, and took out the sheet of paper with shaky hands. Jimmy closed his eyes, remembering what he’d written.

Dear Thomas,

How are you? How is everyone? Any new upstairs gossip? I wish I had some gossip from London to share, but I don’t. I wonder why you haven’t responded? I know I’ve asked that before.

I miss you  all. I miss you. I love you. I miss you. Do you miss me, at all? I can’t go a single day, minute, breath without thinking of you. Everything reminds me of you- the sky this morning was almost the exact shade of grey as your eyes. I don’t know what to do if you don’t answer me. I’ve written you over the past year with my nonsense news of my nonsense life, desperate to hear from you, see your words, read your thoughts, but I’ve gotten nothing. I had the dream again, the one I told you about last week, we were together in my old bedroom at Downton, and Alfred hadn’t walked in and I hadn’t reacted like a prig, and we were together. We were together like we were meant to. Jesus, why did I never tell you? Why did I try so hard to hide? You never hid. You were never ashamed, you wouldn’t let yourself be ashamed. We could have been so happy if I had let us, instead of chasing women I didn’t care about, instead of trying to be the “right” sort of man instead of just who I am. Do you remember one of those first nights at Downton, at the piano? Your hand on my neck? I told that hag it made me uncomfortable, and it did but not for the reason I thought it did. I can still feel your hand on my neck sometimes. I can still feel you behind me, your breath on my ear when you showed me about the clocks. So many memories I can’t forget, so many missed opportunities. I’m so sorry Thomas. Somehow I’ll gather the courage to tell you, I have to. I love you. I love you. I love you.

Thomas had let out several shaky breaths, gasps, even a murmur of Jimmy’s name, while he read the letter. Jimmy could feel his cheeks flame, and he ducked his head, embarrassed that he was blushing. But he forced his head up again, wanting to see Thomas’ reaction.

Thomas slowly folded it, and then he looked down over at Jimmy. He saw the moisture gathering in Thomas’ eyes, and when he blinked a tear spilled down his cheek.

It was Thomas’ turn to approach him, and Jimmy felt himself stop breathing. He was looking up, somehow extra aware of the gap in their heights, and when Thomas’ lips captured his own, he melted.

This kiss wasn’t like the others, it was slow and soft. Jimmy brought a hand up to Thomas’ neck again, but it was a caress, not a grip. He didn’t mind the slow pace, he reveled in it. It felt like the world had been paused, and he and Thomas were just here, existing in their carved out slice of time. Jimmy sighed when Thomas’ lips left his and sighed when they met them again. Kissing him, it felt like breathing.

They finally broke apart in tandem when they heard the first bells start ringing in the dining hall. They both groaned, and then laughed.

“What did I say about interruptions?!” Jimmy said in mock outrage. He realized his cheeks ached from his grin. Thomas was smiling as well, a shaky sort of smile, still disbelieving. His right hand was on the left side of Jimmy’s face; his thumb was softly rubbing the flesh there.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” Thomas whispered, his voice low, as if Thomas was speaking more to himself than to Jimmy. Jimmy believed him. He could tell Thomas still didn’t know how to believe it was true, but there was so much proof, Jimmy had provided every answer. Anywhere Thomas looked for a gap in his story, in his explanation, it wouldn’t be found. There was none.

Jimmy nodded, his eyes on Thomas’ mouth. He looked up at him, startled to see the look on his face: so soft, stripped. The veneer was gone, even if just for a second. He took Thomas’ hand in his own, and then wrapped his hand around Thomas’ wrist for a moment. Thomas gasped when Jimmy brushed the thin line of raised flesh.

The feel of the scar under his fingers made Jimmy wince in pain. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t here for you. I got myself fired for no fucking reason and I wasn’t here when you needed me.”

Thomas didn’t say anything. Jimmy knew he couldn’t contradict him because he was right. But Thomas let out a breath. Pain had clouded over his eyes; his expression was a grimace. He shook his head, and said, “It was my own fault. I’d pushed and pushed and pushed everyone away and then fell apart when I realized I was alone and would always be alone.”

Jimmy put his hand over Thomas’ mouth. “Don’t say that. You didn’t push me away. I got myself thrown out.”

“But you were still gone.”

Jimmy inhaled sharply. He opened his mouth but nothing came out. He didn’t know what to say- Thomas was right.

“And… you weren’t,” Thomas added. Jimmy looked at him. “Your letters… I can’t begin to tell you how much they helped, how much I needed them. You said you didn’t expect you would write, and I told myself not to expect it either, but then you did. And whenever I wrote you, you always replied. Always.” Thomas closed his eyes. “The thread between us, however tenuous I believed it, however much I told myself you didn’t care for me truly, that thread remained. Even when I stopped replying, you kept writing. I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t keep receiving the letters. Maybe I was pushing you, testing you, seeing how long I could ignore you before you left as well. Maybe I don’t know how to just have something without seeing how far I can hurt it, because I always expect it’ll somehow end or be taken away anyway.” Thomas’ voice was so quiet. Jimmy could tell these were thoughts that had never been spoken aloud. It somehow felt even more intimate than the kisses they’d shared. Jimmy felt his chest fill with warmth and light, something expanding and spreading inside him.

Then Jimmy shook his head. He moved his hand so he was holding Thomas’, and gripped it tight. “You won’t get rid of me that easy. Ever.”

Thomas’ eyes opened; they were bright and glassy; his nostrils flared slightly in that motion that usually preceded a sob.

Another bell rang, the dim tink!-ing audible from the dining hall. Thomas sighed, snapping his vision to the office door.

“I have to go. Upstairs breakfast will be soon.”

Jimmy jolted as he remembered Thomas was Butler now. “You have to tell me everything I’ve missed.”

Thomas nodded, pressing his lips together. But then he smiled, a real smile, one that reached his eyes. His hand stroked Jimmy’s cheek again. “I will.”