A GOOD MAN
The two men were lurking in an empty servants' hallway. Jimmy had paused and Thomas could do nothing but stop along with his friend.
"Were you planning on sleeping upright, Jimmy?" Thomas snickered in his usual manner. But an equally snarky reply was nowhere in sight. Instead, he got something much more serious.
"It's my last night here. Carson's already told me."
A great stone had just plummeted to the bottom of Thomas's stomach. Jimmy was leaving?
"So you were caught after all? I'm sorry to have broken my word and not warned you first ..."
"No, I heard, you rescued Lady Edith. You did well."
"Mr Barrow, if there's one thing I'm glad for tonight it is that it was not you who caught me in such a compromising position."
"And why would that be?" Thomas's jaw locked into a familiar and cold tightness.
"You know why."
The very words that would haunt him for the rest of his life. He hated those words. It was that very thing that always ruined every chance he had at happiness. He couldn't even be gallant without it ruining the moment apparently!
"If I've made you uncomfortable, forgive me. I--"
"Not what I meant. Pretend I never said nothing."
Jimmy however, wasn't so sure about retracting the statement, because as soon as he'd pushed past Thomas, he stopped again.
Thomas could read it on his face that there was something more and he waited for it. He knew how to coax information out of people with just a look. And just as he'd hoped, Jimmy had not finished the topic. The younger man bit his lip in hesitation, did a once-over the empty hallway and stepped into the bathroom for more privacy, ushering Thomas to follow.
With a raised eyebrow and pursed mouth, Thomas followed, against his better judgment -- because that lock that Jimmy secured on the door was only asking for trouble. But nevertheless, he waited for Jimmy to lift his eyes from the floorboards and speak again.
"Since this is my last night here, I suppose there's no harm in telling you." Jimmy looked up shyly. "I feel like I've taken advantage of your kindness."
"Why would you say that exactly?"
"Because you've helped me, when…" Had he not trailed off, both were sure the sentence would have ended with some reference to an unrequited love.
Patience, Thomas, he reminded himself. Always, patience.
Jimmy, though taking his time, was having trouble speaking in full sentences. "And into the arms of a harlot." He shook his head.
Always, hold your tongue, Barrow.
"And I couldn't stop thinking about you," said Jimmy. He looked up then, at Thomas, who still wore that clamped jaw that screamed restraint. The elder was looking somewhere around Jimmy's shoulder, as he always did -- something Jimmy had noticed. Thomas, the epitome of a faithful friend since that night, could barely look him in the eye. So Jimmy took a leap of faith, and said, "Instead, I mean."
Forget the stone -- the bottom had just given out on poor Thomas's stomach and he had never had such trouble keeping a straight face. He took a step back, and said nothing, still looking anywhere but directly at his friend.
Thomas blinked nervously, and took another step back as Jimmy's words bumped around in his head and made everything hurt. "You…" The sentence didn't finish.
"I've said I can't give you what you want, but maybe you can give me one thing," said Jimmy.
"You, you'd like something?"
"If you're still -- interested -- in me."
Jimmy could tell the man before him was nearly shaking in fear. Never had he seen such a thing! Was this what it meant to live the way Thomas did? He could feel the poison seeping into him as well. He was about to step over that line into that world. Just for a visit.
And still Thomas only stared at Jimmy's hastily donned livery. No doubt he disapproved that half the buttons were still undone, but that was never why Thomas chose not to meet his friend's eye.
Here goes nothing. "I couldn't help thinking that I was betraying your good nature. But more than that. As soon as I'd gone to bed with her, I couldn't help thinking that if I'd not jumped up and made a scene that night…" Another awkwardly long pause.
"Something could have happened and maybe it wouldn't have been horrible." With that, Jimmy took a step closer to the under-butler, whose face was still smudged with soot and whose hair had fallen out of place in a handsome fashion. "Don't detest me for asking a favor like this, but I was hoping for a kiss. I couldn't exactly ask anyone else, could I?"
That hurt. People never knew how to soften the blow. Wouldn't have been horrible? Couldn't exactly ask anyone else?
He supposed Jimmy didn't mean harm by it. They all spoke like that. But still, the humiliation was burning red on Thomas's face. It may have even been better if Jimmy hadn't wanted anything -- if he hadn't spoken up at all. Le sigh. He'd fallen for a brute.
"Thomas?" Jimmy prodded when he still received no response.
Then Thomas narrowed his eyes and looked straight at him. Instead of backing down, Jimmy raised a hand to reach for him but was stopped -- Thomas had grabbed his wrist and held it tightly in mid-air.
"First, it is still Mr Barrow, whether you have been released from duty or otherwise."
Jimmy nearly whimpered. He'd seen others crumble under that glare, but it had never been directed at him before now.
"Secondly -- do you mean you'd like a kiss from me, or for the sake of curiosity?"
Thomas's grip had only tightened, and while it hurt, Jimmy had no intention to push him off this time. Even if Thomas ended up punching him this time. Did Thomas not like him anymore?
"I -- I mean, you, Mr Barrow. Forgive me for being forward, but you haven't been out of my head all night tonight. If there's any time to say such a thing, would be to someone like you."
"Someone like me?" That glare was turning Jimmy into a puddle.
"If you still have any feelings for me… as it's my last night… and if it wouldn't hurt too much."
"Y-you. I've never broken another man's heart and I feel I might be to ask such a thing. Even more, I mean."
Suddenly Thomas let go of Jimmy's wrist and touched his fingertips to the other man's face. Ever so tenderly. "You were worried about my heart, Jimmy?"
Jimmy gave the slightest of nods and placed his hand over Thomas's.
"My heart has been broken too many times to notice one more crack." With that, Thomas pulled Jimmy's head towards him and kissed him on the mouth.
It was very much the same as Jimmy had remembered. Still foreign and awkward, even though it was longer this time. But it was also Thomas, and there was a little part of him that had fallen in love with him. Just a little part. Just that curious little fire that had finally ignited when Thomas had personally delivered him to the door of another lover. He'd never known someone so selfless in love and selfish in all else, as Mr Barrow. Perhaps Jimmy had grown up and finally felt bad about going from tryst to tryst. But something, whatever it was, made him attracted to Thomas finally. Just enough to want a kiss such as this.
Too soon, Thomas had pulled away. Master of propriety, even now.
"Do you pity me?" he asked.
"I have, but that's not why I asked you for this."
"Something about you got stuck in my mind. I don't know anything else about it. Promise."
And while it wasn't any confession of true love, for Thomas wasn't naive enough to believe it could ever be, that was good enough for him. He pulled the younger man into another kiss, hungrier this time. It wouldn't hurt anyone but him. Like Jimmy had said, it was the last night after all. If his heart would be broken even more after this, no one would be the wiser. And beggars for opportunities such as these couldn't be choosers.
So he kissed Jimmy with passion, threading his fingers into the golden hair he had so long dreamed to touch. And lost himself in a mouth that was ever so welcome. And he soon found his lover reciprocating, for Jimmy had grabbed the collar of his shirt and was pulling him unbearably closer.
Thomas backed him into the edge of the sink and their bodies finally met. And when Jimmy gasped at being taken advantage of in such a way, Thomas found it a perfect time to invade his mouth with his tongue. And Jimmy moaned deliciously in return.
Jimmy wasn't new to kissing, or rubbing, but he'd never done it like this. Thomas was stronger than him, more willing, more dominating, more seducing, in every way, and in every way more alive than he'd ever felt another partner. And it frightened him -- even while it enticed him and made him moan in pleasure at having a warm body pressing into him, caressing him, and kissing the wits out of him -- it made him wonder if that's what it felt like to love someone. For it was painfully obvious that Thomas loved him. And he couldn't return those feelings. A random and curious whim of fancy was nothing to the way Thomas kissed. This wasn't fair.
So he put a hand between them finally, and Thomas stopped.
"Mr Barrow. I can't."
Thomas hid his face, but Jimmy knew there were tears in his eyes. "I know."
"Thank you for loving me. You're a good man," said Jimmy. Then he removed himself from his position beneath Thomas, and left the bathroom as swiftly as he could.
In the hallway, he ran a shaking hand through his hair and looked down both ends before scurrying to his room to pack.
Jimmy would leave Downton Abbey at sunrise, and he had no doubt Thomas would be the only one willing to help with his baggages. He needed to leave him be until then, let the poor man recover and compose himself before the final curtain. Because Jimmy knew now how love should feel, and that it mustn't be easy to say goodbye. He had felt the other side too vividly tonight.
Just a glimpse, and Jimmy knew that Mr Barrow was the strongest man he would ever meet. And he was no longer something foul, but someone to be admired.
Jimmy would go on with women, and flirtations as before, having fulfilled a small curiousness that night -- nothing but a blimp. But one day he would find a woman to love as much as Thomas Barrow loved him.