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What One Friendship Can Do

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How did Thomas get here?

Asking Daisy to the fair had been impulsive at best and a nasty prank at worst. Some bait to throw anyone off the scent of his sexuality. Plus the added bonus of humiliating William. The second footman had been pinning for Daisy for ages, but she clearly wasn’t interested. Thomas should know. At this point, he was the king of uninterested where Downton was concerned. Now William had stormed off back to the house and Gwen had gone off to check on the others at the fair. He had accounted for all of this when he’d asked. What he hadn’t accounted for was being alone with Daisy for a whole night. Her looking at him all doe-eyed and him not having a thing to say to her. As far as he could tell within the time she’d worked there, they had nothing in common. That never deterred him from making connections, but blushing maids weren’t his area, and neither were respectable connections.

“He’ll be alright once he cools off,” Thomas waved dismissively. Daisy was looking at the path to the house with concern, biting her lip and tapping her feet against the stone and grass beneath them. “William had no right trying to ask you, anyway.”

“Why not?” Daisy asked, blinking up at him.

“You haven’t exactly been subtle about not liking him, have you?” he asked with a smirk. 

Her head hung, an uncomfortable redness coming to her face. “I didn't mean to be mean,” she muttered.

“It’s not mean to know what you want and what you don’t,” he assured her. An affirmation he had to say to himself on more than one occasion. Especially since most of his actions had an undertone of meanest, whether he wanted them to be or not. It was simply the skin he wore. Daisy needed the words by the look of her guilt-ridden face. All chewed bottom lip and eyes about to water, all for an absent feeling she had no control over. Thomas knew that guilt well when he was younger. Girls from the village or maids that he tried to like back, but the feelings never came. Seeing his young self’s reaction on Daisy’s own made his chest ache in an odd way he hadn’t expected.

She shook her head, looking around the fair haphazardly. Adjusting her hat even though Thomas hadn’t noticed it shifting from when she’d put it on at the house.

“Do ya really think Mrs. Hughes will marry that bloke?” she asked as they walked through the tents. The sun had gone down hours ago, but people were still bustling and watching the acts. Fairy lights ran across the tent roofs and above the wall ways, basting the multitude of activities in an orange buzzing glow. From jugglers to men spitting fire, the fair had stopped at nothing to have entertainment on every wet patch of dirt for everyone. Including their housekeeper walking arm-in-arm with a mystery man.

“Maybe,” Thomas hummed, “it’s hard to say with people like her. I can’t imagine anyone successfully taking her away from her work.”

“I hope he doesn’t take her away if they get married.”

“She’ll have to leave if they do, staying in the village or not.”

He let out a slow huff. An uncomfortable gnawing at his brain with the thought of how different Downtown would be without its Lady Captain. The house would either be complete chaos from having one of their cornerstones gone, or it would turn into a boot camp from Carson getting his way in everything and no one to bring him down from his high set of horses.

“That’s the way of things.”

Daisy scowled, her grip tightening on his arm as they walked. Thomas turned to her as she let out the tiniest “that’s not fair.”

“Domestic service’s not built to be fair.” Thomas met her eyes, icy and stoic meeting gleaming brown, a new fury he’d never seen in her. Her body posture was the same slight worn-out slouch from carrying so much all day, but her face was serious. She turned quickly, glaring ahead like the ground in front of them was the root of all evil in the world.

“You ever fancy a job like Mrs. Hughes’ or a head cook like Mrs. Patmore?”

“I never really thought about it,” she hummed, “can’t do much thinking with all me duties. I barely have time to eat.”

Thomas couldn’t blame her there. She was an underservant, the lowest of the lows for the house. She had to serve them their food before even thinking about making her own, not to mention getting all the fires started and essentially acting as downstairs’ alarm clock. She got her fair share of dirty looks for that duty. Her voice being the one to take one out of the bliss of sleep did not help make friends.

“Well, you should when you get the chance,” he nodded, tapping a hand to the one curled around his arm. Thomas had made sure they looked as much like a couple as possible when leaving Downton, and she hadn’t let go of his escorting arm since. “I’m going as far and as long as I can, and I don’t care what or who I have to go through to get it.”

“Wow,” she breathed, looking back up at him with a gleam in her eyes and reverence Thomas didn’t think was healthy. “You’re so sure of everything, Thomas. I wish I could be like that.” 

“The only way you get there is doing it yourself. It won’t be done for you.”

“Did you practice knowing everything about everyone too?” She grinned as if Thomas had just unlocked the secrets to the universe. She was far too easily pleased for her own good, but right now Thomas was just enjoying this charade going well. “Like knowing Mrs. Hughes only has a sister so that guy must be a beau?”

“That one is just me working here for so long. You pick things up about your bosses.”

“You started as a footman young?”

“Junior footman, but yes,” he nodded, chest puffing out with a smile "got to skip the unpleasantness of being a Downton hall boy when I applied. Advantages of a pretty face I suppose.”

“Yes, it is,” Daisy sighed dreamily before clearing her throat “so一so how come you started service? Weren’t ya in school?”

“Were you? ” he raised an eyebrow. People starting service young never amounted to a pleasant story. As he recalled Daisy started as a child, although he never looked at her more than twice. He was a proper footman by then and had his eyes set higher, not lower, up the servant social chain. She was still at the bottom, but she was an established part of the house. Not at least looking when you saw each other every day would be odd, even for him.

“Nah, I was pulled out of school soon as I could. Workhouse trained me until I ended up comin’ here.” She stared off in the distance, eyes going farther and farther from the present. With the horror stories he heard about English workhouses, he didn’t blame her.

“Daisy?” he prompted, nudging her lightly.

“Sorry,” she sighed with a shake of her head. She smiled up at him, pained but at least her mind was back at the fair. “Wanna play some games? Or try some food?”

“I can win you something,” he bragged, directing her to one of the nearby tents.

 

===

 

They sat away from the crowd. Daisy choosing a high stone wall away from it all, legs swinging and tapping against each other’s boots lazily. She was attacking her ice cream cone with her mouth rather than licking it. Daisy seemed happy, all smiles as she ate and clutched her new set of various chalkware animals. Thomas had perused most of the games before bothering to pay good money to play any of them. Most were obvious money grabs for the county fund instead of something someone could win, but some were doable. The little figurines sat carefully in her arms, not being set down for a second like the other items they acquired sitting at their feet. Even if it would ease her ice cream eating she couldn’t stop staring or occasionally patting them on the head. Thomas lapped at his own cone with a surprising smile on his face. He couldn’t help it.

The whole night was supposed to be a necessary evil, nothing more than a night out to ruin a few plans and cover his ass. But despite the intentions and the rocky start, Thomas found himself enjoying it all. Talking with Daisy was easy, almost childlike. No going around someone’s phrasing to get to their meaning, no underhandedness, just simple communication. Daisy seemed enamored with life itself. Light in a way he never was and she couldn’t help but bring the people around her up too, even only for a few moments. Before tonight he expected talking to Daisy would be like pulling teeth. Him explaining every little concept or working impossibly hard to get to the point. While it was true Daisy didn’t know as much of the world as him, she wasn’t stupid. She caught on if he was direct, and her caring took her the rest of the way. He’d laughed more that night than he could recall, and the night wasn’t even done. Now he was sitting next to her with dessert not wanting it to end at all.

“I don’t know much about ya,” she stated, licking the last of the crumbs from her lips. “I never realized how little until I thought about it.”

“Not much to say,” he muttered, suddenly captivated with the remaining half of his cone. This wasn’t a safe topic for such a fun night. “Why don’t you like William?”

She gave a sad shrug. “Don’t know, just don’t. I know everyone wants me to—”

“Not everyone,” he reminded her swiftly, making her fluster before continuing.

“I know people want me to, but it’s just not there. I like him fine as a friend, and I care about him a lot, but I don’t want him kissing me or anything.”

“No blame there,” he smirked, chuckling.

“Don’t be like that, I’m sure he’s right kissable to some other girl. Just not to me,” she sighed, looking beyond the fairgrounds to the trees around the estate. “Why don’t you like him?”

Thomas’s heart pounded in his chest like a drum set onto an explosive. Did Daisy know? She’d been acting like she fancied him, but did one of the older staff crack and tell her? Surely she wouldn’t have come out with him if they did?

“W...What?”

”You don't enjoy being around him at all.” Thomas breathed for the first time in a minute, and Daisy hadn’t changed her smile at all.

He signed, leaning back and looking at the stars trying to put his gripes with William in the best light he could. It was a thousand little things and nothing at all. He couldn’t pinpoint when his annoyances with the other boy started. Just that it was there and building up every day. “All I know is if I have to hear him go on and on about missing home and how much he’s looking forward to seeing his dear old dad next visit, I’m gonna throw him out a window,” Thomas said through gritted teeth, “not a high one mind you, but enough to get me a few weeks silence.”

“It can be hard, hearing what other people got,” Daisy nodded with a light touch to his arm “reminding you don’t, when you could’ve.”

“Everyone’s golden boy.”

“I understand, but I’m sure talking to him would be better than putting him down. It won’t make anything better,” Daisy sighed.

“You won’t say anything about him being sweet on you when he doesn’t stand a chance. Take your own advice, why don’t you?”

She sucked in a breath, humming through a wince. She started picking at the collar of her dress, flipping the frilly piece of cotton. Brutal truths weren’t always fashionable for conversations, but he’d always preferred them to be known than sit in the room and go stale.

“Maybe I just wanted to wait if the feelings came, but I don’t think they will,” she swallowed, feet tapping against the wall as she thought. “It’s happened before, back with a boy down the road my Da’ tried to pair me up with. He was nice enough, but the feelings never came.”

Thomas couldn’t help but turn towards her, eyebrows raised and mouth opened in slight shock. “I’m surprised, I didn’t even know you had parents. You never talk about it at all.”

“You’re one to talk, you never talk about hardly anything unless it’s something nasty,” she shot back with a bump to his shoulder with hers, “let alone your family.”

“There's a reason for that,” he hissed, biting back his sharpness along with his tongue.

Daisy didn’t seem perturbed. She turned towards him, completely facing each other on the stone. “Go on,” she coaxed, waiting expectedly like a child waiting for a bedtime story.

“No,” he snapped, softening when she flinched away. “It’s not a pleasant reason.”

“Mine’s not either,” she hummed. “I always thought unpleasant things were better left unsaid, but they eat away at ya, don’t they?”

“I suppose,” Thomas nodded. “I—”

His mouth was open, but he didn’t know what was supposed to come out. She didn’t know what she was asking him to do, spilling out his story. It was no easy task thinking back on it let alone talking about it. Seemingly against his will, the want to do so was growing in his chest anyway.

“I’m not an orphan, I’ll say that.”

“Me either, though sometimes I wish I was. I’d be easier than fourteen other siblings.”

“Fourteen?!” he squawked out, a smirk growing on his lip mixed with the flabbergasted smile. “Do your folks not have any other hobbies?”

“No, not really, and we’re down to ten now,” she sighed “and they don’t like each other much other than that. Weren’t home, say for nights. I took care of everyone most times. But I got to earning age, so off to the workhouse I went. Not a lot to say.”

“Christ,” he breathed. It wasn’t a lot of words, but there was lots of information to glean from so little. First, Daisy had fully understood his hobbies innuendo, which did not fit the naive little angle everyone made Daisy out to be. Even more telling she had skipped over the joke. Not bothering freeing in embarrassment or fluttering about like the other maids did. She had simply understood and moved right past the joke to the heart of his words. Second, it explained how Daisy worked. Spending all day doing her seemingly impossible list of tasks and still learning Mrs. Patmore’s recipes like there was a whip behind her. There was a fire in her soul, and he shuddered to think if it was all the siblings or the workhouse that sparked it. He’d heard only horror stories coming from those buildings, along with the wales and screams. He didn’t want to ask if Daisy had been one of them.

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” she muttered. “But I don’t mind you knowing. I feel like you know how to keep things close.”

Every breath escaped from his lungs. If only Daisy knew.

“There’s not much to my family,” he started. He chewed his lip, trying to compress his whole life down to a few sentences. What to keep vague and what to exclude entirely. “It was just me and Mama for the most part, until the Clockmaker.”

“Clockmaker?”

“Married my mama when I was around ten.”

“Did he love ya?”

Thomas felt a weight go down his throat chasing the ice cream down with it. What a question to ask. It should have been a simple one, but it seemed the simpler something should be for Thomas the more annoyingly complex it became.

“He’s necessary, and he takes care of Mama. The sister he came with wasn’t half bad. Didn’t like me much, but the feeling was mutual. They were having a baby and needed extra funds, and I wanted to leave,” he hummed, flicking the crumbs and stickiness from his hands “two birds one stone.”

“Do you miss ‘em?” she asked carefully, looking down at her messy hands and rubbing at the crumbs.

“I can deal with viewing their happiness from a distance. She deserves it after everything.”

“Ya didn’t answer me question,” she said cutting right through his diversions

He swallowed, looking at her again. 

Daisy looked up at him, all smiles and eyes soft, shimmering in the fair’s many lights giving her whole essence a warm glow. She looked as if she could see into his brain. Like she could view his entire life and was simply waiting for him to let the story come out his way.

“Sometimes, but it’s more my younger self I miss. When happiness was simpler.”

Daisy slouched, folding in on her prizes and tapping her boots to the wall until the words came. Brushing every crumb off her plain linen dress off before looking at him at all. “I don’t think I was happy until I came here, really. It sounds crazy with how me job is the worst one, but at least people are nice if I do it right.”

“And you’re nice back, that seems to help,” he grinned “so I’m told, anyway.”

“You could be nice if you wanted to. You are right now,” she said with a poke to his shoulder.

She made it seem so easy. He envied being able to see the best in people enough to be anything but selectively pleasant. Half the time he was trying to be mean, and half the time his words were too dark or sarcastic for a decent person to take as anything but cruel. The closest person who took the time to understand the difference was Sarah O’Brien, and even then she preferred her specialty of intentionally cruel.

“I could,” he gave a simple nod before jumping off the wall. Dress shoes squishing against the still wet grass, “but I think that’s enough deep talk for one night. We should find the others before they head back without us. Don’t want Carson knowing we’ve been unchaperoned this whole time.”

She hummed in agreement “I don’t feel like giving the chance for Mrs. Patmore to kill me either.”

“Don’t tell her then,” he laughed, feeling a warmth in his chest when Daisy snorted out her own laugh with him. He picked up his small bag of spoils from the booths and offered his arm again, her free arm looping around. Prizes and the small bundle of flowers she won him tucked under the other.

“Shouldn’t you be holding the flowers?”

“Keep them,” he waved off, “you’re the one named after a flower after all.” Plus he didn’t think he could get away with waltzing into the men’s quarters with a bunch of flowers. No matter how sweet the gesture was.

“But you won me all this, come on, take one. I can’t keep it all.” She held out her animals, insisting until he gave in. He carefully wiggled the black colored bird figurine from her stash, smiling down at it before placing it in his jacket pocket.

“You like birds then?” She smiled up at him, shifting her toy horde to account for the new gap.

“Just crows.”

“Aren’t they a bit scary, being an omen of death and all that?”

“Not to me,” Thomas said, chuckling with fondness as his memory grew nearer. “They are, but they’re other things too. They...well, maybe I’ll tell you later. It’s a long story.”

“I’d like to hear it sometime.”

Gwen squealed with Daisy when she saw their many fair earnings. Arriving just in time to walk back to the house and live to tomorrow. They even got a good look at Mrs. Hughes’ new boy toy.

 

===

 

Laughter echoed through Downton’s drab corridors. Thomas always thought downstairs was the strangest parts of the grand house. It had the same ghost-filled feeling upstairs had. The knowledge that people just like them had been walking through the same halls and doing the same tasks over the centuries of Crawleys just like the ones sleeping above them. At the same time, it was the most active part of the house, laughing and marching through from sunrise to well past sunset. It made every interaction seemingly bounce off the stone. Whispers from the past answering them back with a shiver up a spine or strange tingling on a hand.

Tonight the ghosts were silent. All Thomas could feel was Daisy’s crow against his hip and the lingering taste of ice cream on his lips. He signed happily as he said his goodnights to Mrs. Hughes. He rested against the wall outside the servant’s hall as O'Brien came to greet him with Daisy at his side. Still with that doe-eyed look and his flowers tickling at her chin. O’Brien was looking at the two with a glare, jutting her chin up at him with a tigress-worthy once over.

“I was right when I said she was looking sparkly-eyed.” He said, glancing at Mrs. Hughes descending up the stairs to bed. She had hidden it well, but her whole face was bright and she couldn’t stop grinning.

“I beg your pardon, Thomas,” Mr. Carson scolded. Daisy almost jumped out of her skin with the butler’s sudden appearance. Thomas shouldn’t be surprised at this point. Carson had a habit of lurking around until the worst moment for him to interrupt. He was quiet for such a large figure. He gave them all a grunt and scrunch of his brow before sinking back into his office. 

Thomas had to rein himself in to keep from rolling his eyes. Carson would miss her more than anyone in the house if she left, but her having the potential to do so wasn’t Thomas’s fault. Everyone always had the potential to leave whether one liked it or not.

“He can disapprove all he likes, Mrs. Hudges has got a fancy man.”

Daisy let out a snort of laughter, her second of the night and it warmed Thomas’s heart just the same. His humor was rarely received well, let alone reciprocated. “Him? A fancy man?”

O’Brien gave an inquisitive lift of her brow. Thomas had to agree. The man didn’t look like anything special, let alone fancy. He had meant that he was a man that Mrs. Hughes fancied, but Daisy had been more literal with wording more than most people. It was ridiculous-sounding either way.

“Don’t be so nasty Daisy,” Bates piped up as he walked out of the hall. The distinctive sound of his cane giving him away before he could pull a Carson on the group. “It doesn’t suit you.”

Bates glared, stomping out all the joy from the room and Daisy’s face. A wave of protectiveness came rushing through his system. Thomas didn’t know where it came from or why, let alone what to do with it. It had been a long time since someone protected him. With little idea of how to do it right, he might make a mess, but with the emotional high the outing gave him he couldn’t bring himself to care. Just for one night Daisy was under his wing, and the talons weren’t far behind.

“Like you would know what suits her or not,” he spat back.

Daisy’s head shot up, looking at him in awe. Smile spreading and joy flooding back like he’d chased a dam from a river. Thomas was busy asking Mrs. O’Brien if she wanted a promotion; he only half noticed Daisy’s chest puffed out and determination filled her features.

“Don’t be giving me orders Mr. Bates,” she stated, voice timid but gaining confidence with every word, “not on my night off.”

Mrs. O’Brien’s mouth fell open. The hall was dead silent, staring at the timid girl who yesterday couldn’t say more than “yes Mrs. Patmore” and “no Mr. Carson.” Thomas was all but silently cackling. She squeezed his arm and gave her own chuckle, giving Bates a pointed look back. He found himself proud of her. It was crazy to think one night of story sharing could make him so invested in Daisy standing up for herself, or even one night with him could give her such a boost. Time with him usually did the opposite.

Bates looked ready to murder him, but he couldn’t do much about it in the middle of the bustling corridor. They watched him grovel to himself as he ascended up the stairs. Everyone hung about until he was done to go up themselves. No one wanted to be the first to follow up that act.

Something in Thomas’s gut was telling him this wouldn’t be the end of that conversation.

 

===

 

He hated when his gut was right.

Not ten minutes passed before he found himself pinned against the wall, Bates’ fists bunched in his shirt and voice shaking in anger. In hindsight talking to Bates wasn’t his wisest move. He’d gotten cocky, telling the man William had no chance with Daisy.

“Good god man, stop making such a fuss,” he had said, rolling his eyes as he fixed his sleeves. Bates was outside William’s door, probably having consulted the sulking lad. Somewhere in Thomas’s mind, he pitied William, but it was hard to do with how oblivious he’d been of Daisy’s disinterest. That along with him storming off earlier like a child denied sweets made Thomas almost proud he saved Daisy’s night. “She doesn’t even like him.”

And now he was slammed against a wall, and not in a fun way. Thomas not being the least bit shocked. The man was about as predictable as the sun. He stood against the corridor with the wood edging digging into his back and Bate’s breath being mildly unpleasant but otherwise unbothered. If only he had his knife to spare him from whatever self-righteous blubber that was going to come out of Bate’s mouth.

“Now, you listen, you filthy little rat. If you don't lay off, I will punch your shining teeth through the back of your skull.”

Thomas smirked slightly. He knew an empty threat when he heard one. He had the right tone for a mediocre military man-type, but his eyes gave him away. It wasn’t burning with the hate the actions required. Not like the ones he’d seen vowing to destroy someone, consumed with vengeance.

“Is this supposed to frighten me, Mr. Bates? Because if it is, it isn’t working.” He gave a flash of a smile “I’m sorry but it’s just not working.”

Bates gave him one last push against the wall. Thomas methodically straightened his clothes and sauntered off like he had all the time in the world to go to bed, Bates’s glare prickling at the back of Thomas’s head.

He let out a deep sigh as he shut his door. The late night catching up with him now that the adrenaline had left. He couldn’t stay in the safety of his room for long. Exhausted as he was with his pillow screaming at him, the night couldn’t be over. He hadn’t done the washing up before they left. Jacket, vest, and hat tossed in his wardrobe before he had gone to the bathroom, his whole reason for being in the corridor in the first place. The crow was carefully placed on his bedside table next to his alarm clock, almost looking at him as he moved around the small room. The tick tick of the tiny second hand filling the space.

His nerves were frayed from the altercation. That was the only explanation for the sudden wave of panic tightening around his chest. He refused to be scared of the likes of John Bates. But he had no doubt if he pushed too hard the man would try something. He didn’t fancy his teeth being shoved anywhere they weren’t supposed to. Even if he had the small victory of Bates calling them perfect.

He took out the small key from his off-white dresser, stuffed underneath his socks along with bundles of letters and other keepsakes. He pulled his suitcase from the matching wardrobe, that whitish tint of green-blue that was the staple for every wall, dresser, table, and duvet of Downton’s servant’s quarters and he’d rapidly grown sick of. The case was beaten up leather, sturdy in ways only twice-used things could be. He had another case for when the family went to London or other travels that matched the other servant cases, this was his personal one. It had traveled great distances but only a few times had he ever had clothing in them. The top of the case held secrets more than anything, the inside unlocking with a rusted click as the facade shed. Inside lay an array of items, including a well-used set of lock picks, a booklet of pictures of his younger self and his mother, his old papers from when they immigrated to England, and his trusty knife. 

It had been a long time since he’d gotten into a physical fight. With him so out of practice he might not be able to slip out of grips and dodge punches half as well as his child self. But he could never forget how to use this. The blade came with a sharpening stone and a holster he could strap to his forearm, letting it drop from the inside of his sleeve to his hand in one quick, familiar motion. The switchblade itself had two silver crows intertwined on the handle, the blade well kept and quickly drawn with a spin. He placed the holster on, the weight soothing his nerves better than any childhood stuffed animal. He'd have to hide the outline if he ever went out of uniform, but his livery jacket should cover it just fine. He’d hid his tattoo this long, he could hide the blade that had come with. He tested it once letting the blade handle drop into his palm. Running a finger along the crow’s head at each end of the handle.

Smooth. Cool. Sharp. Comforting.

 It felt like greeting an old friend.

However hard, he pulled himself downstairs. The washing up was a privilege and he couldn’t risk Carson giving the task to William because he’d left the family’s dinner to grow crusty on the china. He was the first footman, soon to be something more if he could help it, and he wasn’t losing what he had.

He followed the light of the kitchen. The gas lights flickering naturally instead of that unnatural buzzing of the electric bulbs upstairs. The rest of the floor was dark and letting dust finally settle on its surfaces say for what he touched. The tiny bag of food he bought at the fair in his hands. He could use it as a reward if he really needed his hands to move. Peppers were hard to come by in this in-the-middle-of-nowhere country village, so he tended to go wild when he found them. It would be something to keep his heavy eyes open and aware enough to not chip anything. That didn’t stop the sink full of dinner dishes from mocking him as he walked in. The sound of pans shifting turned his attention across the room. Like both their sinks, this room wasn’t empty.

Daisy was bent over her sink, the one reserved for the servant’s dishes. Thomas made his way over to the porcelain sink, the one only he and Carson were allowed to touch. He shuffled his feet, not knowing what to do. He knew she had this task as well, but they’ve never done it at the same time like this before. He always did it after the servant’s dinner or another reasonable time for a human to still be up.

“You forget too?”

She let out a squeak, almost dropping the soapy teacup. “Oh, hello,” she greeted with a growing grin and a glow to her cheeks. “No, this time is normal for me.”

“Do you ever sleep?” Thomas quipped, looking at the clock above the kitchen door. It’s steady tick-tick-ticking the only noise on the whole floor. Everyone else had either gone upstairs to bed or in their offices. Every creak of wood, flickering hum of light, and the pitter-patter of the barn cat catching Thomas’s ears.

“I had fun tonight,” Daisy hummed scrubbing methodically at a food-coated pan. “Most fun I had in...me whole life, actually.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed it.” Thomas gave her side-eye and tried to ignore how pitiful the later statement was “I had a lot of fun too, far more than expected. I don’t get pleasant surprises often.”

He shuffled his feet, the quiet getting more obvious by the tick. Washing the dishes didn’t help fill the silence either, just made the clanking of the glasses echo more.

“Listen, Daisy I—” he started, staring into the sink as it filled. “I shared a lot more than I usually do about my family, about me. You think you’d keep what I said to yourself? For me?”

While it was true he wasn’t ashamed of his childhood, other people might have different feelings on what was none of their business. He had grown used to that particular glare or look of pity people had given his mother and him when he was a child. Sadly now he was out of practice and didn’t want to pick up the habit again. Thomas shuddered at what Bates could do with his blended family situation. There was no doubt in his mind that if Carson looked at his family with more than a glance he’d be out of the house like a stray dog.

“Of course, I wouldn’t spread that around. I hope the same from you too.”

“Scouts honor,” he smirked, holding up the three fingers.

“You were a scout?” Daisy bounced on her heels, grin wide.

“Oh, no,” Thomas shook his head, trying to recover the joy quickly “I didn’t know what else to vow with.”

Daisy gave a small chuckle before wiping her hands dry, crossing over to his sink, and holding her pinky out. Thomas snorted but did the same, linking them. He hadn’t made a pinky promise before, the children he grew up with preferring more serious vows and threats to sound like the grownups. Not sure how long it took he started swinging their joined hands back and forth. Daisy broke out in a giggle doing the same. Thomas couldn’t help the child-like laugh that bubbled up. It filled every crevice and crack of the floor, even the ghosts laughing back with them. Thomas felt a warmth knowing Daisy hadn’t let out that noise in Downton yet, and if memory severed correctly, neither had he.

Daisy’s stomach growled. She stiffened at the sound as if her being hungry might earn her the rod. Thomas just snorted, the sound calming her right down.

“Someone’s aching for more than ice cream,” he quipped. Arching his brow at her when she ducked her head. The fair didn’t cut close to her dinner, so was walking around for a few hours making her this hungry?

“I was too nervous to eat much,” she muttered, a heat pooling on her face and her eyes meeting nothing but her boots.

Thomas looked at nothing but his shuffling feet. Of course she was nervous about the fair, she thought it was a date. She thought there could ever be a romance between them. He should be proud. This was part of the charade and it meant his plan had worked. But the plan was for the others to think he and William were fighting over Daisy, not Daisy herself. Now he had someone’s hopes and dreams staring him in the face, and it made him want to rip out his too twisted gut. Possibly those damn dow eyes too.

“Well,” he cleared his throat. It was clear, dry even, but too tight to continue standing here like this. “How about you wash and I fix us something? You cook for everyone all the time. Let me do it just this once?”

“Alright,” she said looking out the door “as long as Mrs. Patmore or Mrs. Hudges doesn’t see.”

“They don’t have eyes everywhere,” he assured her. The early paranoia was all too familiar. Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hudges had this air about them like if they didn’t know every secret of the house they soon would. It took Mrs. O’Brien and a year at the house to convince him his secrets would stay in his chest without the other staff members ripping it out. “Keep it to yourself and you’re fine.”

After putting the family’s dishes back in the glass cupboards Thomas went into overdrive trying to think of what to do. He started with basic pieces of bread and cheeses from the larder, but it didn’t seem good enough for Daisy’s one meal she didn’t have to touch. He dodged and weaved through Patmore’s prep work around the kitchen looking for ideas, including the laid-out breakfast trays and big pots of water with ginger and yeasty bread floating around for her ginger beer recipe. 

He bit his lip, playing with his shirt cuffs trying to spark memories of recipes. He remembered quite a few cold-served meals from his childhood he could make, but could and able weren’t always the same thing. Sort of like all his plans, though this one seemed to be doing better than most.

In the end, he decided to do his default meal. It would involve a frying pan he’d have to clean up, but it was better than disappointment. It was already late enough in the night to call it morning. Might as well have something to stay up for if they were going to do it at all.

They talked and joked as he cooked, swatting her hand away each time she tried to do anything near his dish. Soon the smell of frying oil rose through the downstairs floor. He let the patties fry, wiping off flour and cleaning bowls as they turned golden.

“How much flour did you use?” Thomas turned from the sink to see her hunched over a scrap piece of paper, scribbling with a half-dry pen and her tongue stuck out in concentration.

“What are you up to?”

“Writing it down,” she hummed.

“Without knowing if you like them yet?”

“With it smelling like that?” she giggled taking in a big whiff of the room. “Don’t be daft, of course I’ll like them.”

“Not really sure, you just sort of add it until it looks right.” Thomas grimaced. Even someone who had never stepped in a kitchen could hear how unhelpful he was being. Daisy blinked at him, writing a sentence or two down before looking at him again even more confused.

“What are these called again?” Daisy called after she cleared her throat. 

“They’re called blini.”

“Funny name,” she said, scrunching her nose in that confused but happy way. “That from England?”

“No, it’s Russian,” 

He looked down at the frying dough mounds. They were supposed to be more like disks, but he’d added too much of one of the liquid ingredients and they were sort of slowly melting into blobs. They’d taste good, but they wouldn’t look as pretty as he remembered. No matter how ugly, it was what he chose to avoid this conversation with.

“Are you from Russia?” she asked, hands along with everything else bouncing excitedly. “I’ve never met someone not from England before!”

That was not what Thomas had been expecting. He was used to people scowling and not letting people play with him. Not even mentioning what happened to his mother he didn’t see as a child. The Clockmaker and his mother tried to hide it best they could, but there was only so much of the world someone could shove out the door before it crept through a window. Needless to say, there hadn’t been much motivation to prolong school. And here Daisy was happy about it. Wonders never ceased with this night.

“I was born in St. Petersburg,” Thomas confirmed, putting a finger to his mouth so she’d stop making so much noise. They should have been in bed hours ago and he didn't need the reminder from anyone but his own brain. Especially Mrs. Hudges. “Don’t tell the others, they wouldn’t be kind I’m sure.”

“How do you know-”

“I just know Daisy, trust me on this. I learned this lesson far too often. You’re the first person to ever be excited about it, I can say that.”

“I’m sorry,” Daisy said, putting a comforting hand on his arm. Thomas recoiled, pretending to poke at the blini.

“You didn’t do anything.”

“Not me, everyone else. It’s not right they should be nasty about you being interesting.”

“That’s not how I would put it, but it’s nice to hear.”

There was a shift in Daisy’s face. She bit her lip, looking at him like she could see every inch of his uncomfortable posture. This wasn’t territory he was prepared for. It felt like pulling baby teeth and having to describe said tooth to someone when his gums still ached.

She looked over her messy scrawl of a recipe. “I wish Mrs. Patmore would let me do more,” Daisy sighed “she only lets me do suet pastry and the prep work.”

“Pastry already? That’s good,” Thomas nods, grateful for the distraction. He didn’t mind Daisy talking about herself instead of him. “Usually only does that with the one year girls. You’re moving up faster. She must like ya.”

Daisy’s chest puffs up, practically preening with the compliment. It was obvious she hadn’t received much praise in her life. That could be useful for him, but dangerous for her. It was looking at a glass bowl next to a can of polish next to a hammer.

“She yells at you a lot because she cares. Trust me, she doesn’t bother with someone she thinks isn’t going to last.”

“Still feels awful,” she hummed, getting a nod back. “I think they’re about to burn.”

He looked down, whispering out a swear as he noticed the edges of his cohesive blob getting dark brown. He scrambled for the cloth, holding the hot pan and spinning around as he looked for something to put the now overdone meal on. Daisy calmly shuffled to the cupboard, taking a plate and holding it out.

“They look good,” she smiled nervously up at him “teach me how to eat them?”

Food he could share, food was safe. Nobody ever looked down at his family for sharing something to fill the stomach rather than the brain. 

 

===

 

“Okay, okay,” he smirked, instructing her on how to eat his disaster creations. He placed the pancake-like patty in his hand and spooned his toppings on, rushing before it could fall apart on him “first the sour cream on top, and then the pepper.”

He held out the bag, Daisy oh and aweing at all the little red vegetables. They had been for special occasions and pickled was often the closest he could get. Now staring at it raw was odd, like he was seeing one for the first time right alongside Daisy.

“I’ve never had one before, and I never thought to put sour cream on this many things.”

“It seemed we couldn’t have a food without smothering it in the stuff,” Thomas joked.

He wanted to wince at how easy it had slipped out, horrified really. He had never said anything about him being originally from Russian to anyone in the house. He made it a policy to not talk about his childhood at Downton, but somehow Daisy and he had spent a night doing seemingly nothing but. Now his secrets just seemed to flow out to her with no thought at all. The sentence sobered him up, back straightening and smile gone. He refused to look at anywhere but the fried cheese. Anything but Daisy and those kind eyes. This wasn’t going to go anywhere but trouble, and he could only afford the trouble he caused others, not the other way around.

He gave her a smirk. His voice like silk. Maybe it would just be funny. It would stop her from asking any more questions at least. “Why don’t you try a pepper on its own? I’m sure you could handle it.”

He held out the bag, Daisy rocking up on her tip-toes to peer inside, holding it carefully in her palms before popping the whole thing in her mouth all at once.

“Wait no—”

He could do nothing but watch. She chewed happily before the heat inched onto her face. His face puckered into a laugh as she let out a yelp of a whine. Letting out wheezes in time with her jumping, fanning her face desperately as she hopped in a circle. Thomas had to admire the fact she never spat any of it out. A blini handed to her to take the edge off. It failed to make her any less tomato red when she was done, gasping and slamming her hands on the counter in victory.

“There!” she panted, her tongue airing out like it would help. “I did it!”

“Yes you did,” he assured her, patting her hand with another chuckle.

“Can I have another?”

He had to stare in disbelief. She looked ready to combust and she wanted to repeat the process? “What?”

“It was good.”

“You look like you’re going to spout flames. I’m not giving you any more.”

“Can that happen?” she squeaked, hands flying to her mouth to check.

“No,” he shook his head, pinching the bridge of his nose “Daisy, you’re killing me.”

She blinked at him inquisitively, opening her mouth.

“No, not literally, eat your fried disaster.”

She picked one up and Thomas took the last two. It was a little too brown and soggy on the inside, but Daisy didn’t need to know what it was supposed to taste like.

“Another, it was painful but I’ll get used to it. I always do.”

Thomas wanted to unpack that statement, but she had already reached for the bag. He slipped it further and further, holding her back as she tried to sprint past him.

“No, no,” he laughed, her own giggling rising as she failed to bob and weave past him, ending up with his arms wrapped around her middle and pressed close as she reached. She grinned slyly. He couldn’t remember the last time he play fought with someone. “Enough, Daisy, one was enough, come on—”

She leaned into him. Felt her breath right up against his. His brain screamed move before he even registered this was an attempt at a kiss.

“No!”

He stumbled into the counter, almost losing his footing when his arm hit the corner of the kitchen island. Pain and numbness traveled up from his elbow. Daisy cowered back, lip trembling and eyes wide.

“I’m sorry—I knew this was too good to be true I shouldn’t have ever—”

“No, no, it’s nothing to do with you, Daisy I swear,” he sighed, rubbing at his arm. He had used her, that had been the point of the whole day, but now he had to explain himself. He’d rather be explaining himself in front of a judge than Daisy Robinson. At least then he wouldn’t be alone with his consequences. “I had a lovely time, and this whole thing was more enjoyable than you can know. But I’m just not—I can’t Daisy.” He sighed, watching her features go from destroyed to confused. “I made it seem like a date and I shouldn’t have.”

“No, no, I wanted it to seem like one. You never did anything but have fun with me all night as these nights should be.” Daisy sniffed with eyes growing wet. Thomas would have rather given her his knife and she stabbed him. “So if it wasn’t a date, why’d you ask so particularly?”

“I knew William was going to ask so I just—it came out,” Thomas winced. “I don’t know.”

The clock kept ticking. Daisy kept sniffing. It was time to cut his losses and go to bed.

“This always happens, the nice ones especially,” he sighed, backing towards the door trying not to look at her reddened face. “I wanted a friend but you want more and I can’t give you what you want. I’m sorry for it, truly.”

“Thomas I—” she reached out. He was just imagining the hope in her tone, surely.

“You don’t have to pretend, Daisy.”  He gave her one last sad smile before starting to walk out the archway “I’ll say goodnight, and I won’t bother you anymore.”

He made it all the way up the stairs and in his bed before crippling loneliness set in.

 

===

 

Eyes stayed glued to his cup the minute Daisy stepped into the servant’s hall. He didn’t want to see the result of his good work. Nearly everyone in the house disliked him, but somehow Daisy being one kiss attempt away to be his friend made it worse. It never would have worked long term. They were too different for it to ever end in anything but tears, but it would be a nice change of pace. William had come down from his room loathing him, a face almost cloning Bates’s. Thomas just barked orders and let the monotony of their mornings buffer whatever William was trying to get him to feel. If it was regret, it was never happening. Even with how disastrous the night and early morning with Daisy had ended, it still didn’t take the hours before away from him. It would ferment into his past joining the rest of his happiness. He avoided the kitchen, even ignoring hearing his name come up. Something about his teeth?

He risked a glance when she set breakfast. She didn’t look overly devastated, or even sad. If Thomas didn’t know any better she seemed neutral to almost happy. Her eyes weren’t meeting his, but they weren’t filled with heartbreak either. Daisy almost bounced from person to person pouring tea and plating dishes.

“Daisy!” Mrs. Patmore barked across the corridor “get them their toast, come on girl. You’ve lost your head this morning.”

“Yes, Mrs. Patmore,” she walked hastily to the kitchen, losing her bounce in exchange for speed, but her face was still bright as ever.

If this is what heartbreak looked like Thomas felt sorry for anyone who actually got her to frown.

William glanced from Thomas to Daisy. Face growing a smile as he watched them avoid each other awkwardly whenever she set something new down on the table. Thomas tried finishing his toast despite the gaze. His stomach was in too many knots for much food, but he forced it down. He wouldn’t let emotions earn him a growling stomach halfway through the family’s lunchin.

“Date didn’t go too well then?” William jived, making Bates smile in the middle of asking Anna how her cold was fairing.

Before Thomas could even open his mouth Daisy shook her head with a ghost of a smile. “No, it was lovely! I had so much fun! I got to try a pepper and almost exploded! It was great!”

William contorted into a scowl. There were a few snickers from the other underservants, making Daisy duck her head. Thomas didn’t hear it. He couldn’t believe he had heard Daisy right. Was she defending him after how he left it?

Carson looked up at both of them, looking like a threatened bird puffing out its feathers. “Date? What date?”

“Thomas and Daisy went out to the fair Mr. Carson,” William explained with a tone of a little kid tattling to a parent back home. Thomas usually saw those same kids getting beat up later in the day. He could use some of that slum karma right now. He wouldn’t mind seeing William’s country boy ass first in a fish barrel.

“It wasn’t a date.” Thomas gritted his teeth. “Don’t mind him, Mr. Carson, he’s exaggerating.”

“Then why一”

“He only asked to keep me from having to say no to you.” Everyone turned with various degrees of surprise to Daisy. Daisy stood in the doorway with a determined scowl on her face and arms crossed like she was scolding him. Thomas thought she resembled Mrs. Patmore when he stole biscuits. “You repeatedly asking me is rude William, and I don’t appreciate it.”

Mouths dropped and eyebrows tickled hairlines. The table was flabbergasted at Daisy speaking her mind. Timid, squeaky-voiced Daisy, was standing tall with chin raised high with a presence taller than the bounds of her body allowed. No one was more surprised than Thomas. He had thought last night's stand up to Bates was a one-off. Adrenaline-fueled confidence from the night of fun. It seemed the confidence boost was here to stay. She nodded at him before walking away with a humph, nose in the air, and shoes clicking against the stone. Patmore doing some quip about Daisy turning into one of those suffragette marchers.

Thomas could just stare at where she once stood, mouth slightly agape. He could see Bates looking ready to kill him in the corner of his eye, and William going through a mixture of sadness and anger. Anna seemed confused but pleased, and Gwen looked proud as a lion with her lip turned up in a hidden smirk.

“Well that’s a tone I never expected from her,” Mrs. Hughes chortled into her tea.

“Anyone know who’s ghost possessed her?” Mrs. O’Brien snickered with a glance at him. She seemed almost disappointed with her brow crinkling in the middle and chin scrunching. He couldn’t think of a reason for it. Sure a quivering little girl was better exploitable than a head held high, but not every chess piece had to be a pawn.

“You did this,” William growled, “you told her to say that!”
“I didn’t tell her to say anything,” he said, straightening so he towered over the other footman with narrowed eyes.

All eyes were on him. It was once again him against them all, but now it was protective instead of self-preservation. The specific brand of anger burned differently in his chest, a fire not so big but hotter in its small compartment than any forest-fire-sized one he could get buring for himself. They wouldn’t believe him, they never did, but he knew he was right. Daisy had said her mind no prompt or script from him, and he wasn’t going to stop smiling about it. He did that. He gave her one fun night and some pep talks, and she took his advice and ran with it. Someone had listened to him and it had by some greater miracle turned out well. 

“She has a brain of her own, you know.”

 

======

 

It took several moments for Thomas to realize the tapping sound wasn’t the seconds on the clock or his own heartbeat, but his foot against the floor.

It had been a few days since the fair, and he finally convinced Carson to let him go into the village. He had a plan for Daisy, and he needed the gift to do it. It cost him a pretty penny, it was a specialty item after all, but other than the twenty percent he always set aside and cigarettes for the month already stashed in his case, he had the rest of his paycheck to burn for it.

He left his washing up until nightfall, giving them the kitchen and alone time again. He was at the doorway, watching her aggressively scrub all the cast irons. He had his gift and what to say, but his mouth wouldn’t open and his feet didn’t seem to want to work. He managed to clear his throat. She squeaked and turned towards him, head wiping around for the source of the sudden noise.

“You’ve got to stop doing that,” she breathed, untensing her body when she saw who was at the door. “I’ll have heart problems by thirty.”

“You’re a maid, you don’t have time for heart problems.”

Daisy snorted, shaking her head. She went back to scrubbing, eyebrows knit together, and attacking the dishes. She was uncharacteristically focused on her task instead of doing it with the back-breaking ease he was used to. Her work wasn’t graceful by any means but it was clear she knew what she was doing and she’d been doing it for a long time. She didn’t need to be paying attention to every back and forth motion, but she was tonight. Something was very wrong.

“You know I never said, but I was really proud of you for what you said to Bates, and that you said your mind to Wiliam.”

She paused, side-eyeing him before clearing her throat and turning back to her work. The scrapping of the food off her pan made both of them flinch when the iron wool scraped against the pan.

“And, I wanted to apologize, for leading you on, I一” he was on his way to saying he didn’t mean to, but that wasn’t true. If he wanted to draw out Daisy’s reasons for defending him to the breakfast table he needed to be honest, or at the very least be believable. “I should have made my intentions clear to you before the night started. It ruined the whole night, or I thought I did.”

“Oh, no, well I was upset right after,” Daisy explained, watching him as he walked closer to her sink. Hanging around the entryway wasn’t making him look less nervous. “But then I thought about what you said, about asking just because you knew William was going to. Then I realized it was quite sweet, you sparing me from embarrassment like that. I don’t know if I’d have the confidence to say no.”

He certainly didn’t think so when he’d asked. She would flutter around and say yes just to keep the peace. But that was an afterthought, a mere observation, and not at all a motivation. His head lowered. His skin was crawling and becoming increasingly itchy and hot. He told himself to push through it. Take the credit and this conversation would be over, they could move on to something dull to talk about. He could just say yes, take the credit of being her noble hero, and be done with it. But she was sitting there expecting the world of him and he couldn’t bring himself to give it to her, not like this. Something in his gut was twisting about dragging this fake romance out. Leading her on even though he couldn’t deliver, could never deliver for any girl. Giving Daisy even a shred of hope would do nothing but blow up in his face. If he didn’t tell her someone else would, and Thomas had a feeling it would end with his career crashing and burning rather than her feelings.

“I一” he swallowed “I guess I did do that, in some roundabout way, but that wasn’t my intention when I asked. I was doing William dirty, plain and simple. It was a cruel joke to play. I admit I didn’t think about it messing with your feelings a great deal.”

He was talking like he was in a novel. He did that when he was upstairs, but it coming out downstairs wasn’t earning him brownie points. Especially with Daisy who was the least read in the house, though not by a lack of effort. It gave him away as nervous, but to her it must have sounded like he was putting on a show.

She was facing him now, looping a rag between her fingers idly. “Aye, I did realize you were being mean to him, later that night I mean and I don’t care for that aspect. In fact, I’m rather disappointed, but I guess that’s asking too much of you for one night. But even if you didn’t intend to do what you did for me, you still did it. I can’t much ignore that either.”

Thomas sucked in a breath. He was usually so stuck on what he could gain from a situation. Why was he so surprised someone else was doing the same? It wasn’t with the same tone, and it felt silly with her trying to scold him. Was it because he viewed Daisy as so fundamentally different than he was? That had been proven wrong at the fair. They weren’t the same by any means, but they could relate to each other far more than anyone else in the house. They both had their darkened pasts, even if Daisy didn’t show hers quite so obviously as he did. Everyone knew he acted like a bastard, even if they would never get the confirmation he was one. She at least got the cover of being pleasant to keep people from looking too close. Thomas was looking. She was still pleasant, flowery up top, but her roots ran deceptively deep.

“You gave me that talking to about saying my mind, and I finally did it. I feel terrible about hurting William and I could have said it better without everyone gawking, but I needed to say it somehow. I’ll work on it, but it’s a start.”

“Ah, so you feel guilty. I was wondering what was the matter.”

Daisy jerked her head up, looking herself over and adjusting her posture.

“It’s not too obvious, don’t worry. You people don’t pick up anything I swear,” Thomas scoffed, rolling his eyes at nothing in particular.

Daisy slumped, hunching over her pan again and staring off in the distance. Her face contorted into the worst of scowls, the one people tried to hide so the pain stayed in the eyes.

“I do pick up on everybody’s meanings eventually,” she said bitterly. The tone caught Thomas off guard. Seeing Daisy, body harsh with weight, was foreign to his concept of the girl. She didn’t look like a girl at all. She reminded him of a widow in the middle of winter holding it together by teeth and fingers callused raw. “All the jabs and jokes that you all think goes over my head. They don’t. It takes me two hours instead of your two seconds, but I understand the meaning once I’ve had time to think on it. I’m slow, not stupid.”

“I didn’t think you were stupid,” Thomas breathed. “Well, I didn’t think anything about you much, but it still wasn’t that. I suspect you know more of the world than even the head maids do. They’re all country girls. They’re just as naive and sheltered as everyone tries to make you out to be.”

“I thought that was just an act they all put on for the ‘reputation of the house.’” Daisy sounded like she couldn’t believe her ears, even when she was imitating Mr. Carson in the process.

“Nope,” he said with a pop of emphasis. “They all get families who run a farm or own a grocer and stay home all day learning embroidery or whatever country people do in between farm chores.”

Daisy paused, shuffling her rag around “I don’t know whether to be envious or horrified.”

“Horrified,” he smirked “no one should be walking around in broad daylight that stupid. They wouldn’t last a day in London outside Westminster.”

She chuckled, falling into a hardy laugh until her face grew grim. There were shadows all over the kitchen, but her face being covered with them was unsettling.

“I forget you don’t like me when you do that.”

“Do what?”

“Make me laugh,” she sighed, turning back to her sink, “in the strangest way possible.”

Thomas gave a wavering chuckle back. “I like you as much as you like William. I can’t control that no more than you can, can I?”

He hesitated. The desire to be known bubbling up his throat making him choke up. Daisy had been the first person to dare see the best of him even when glancing at his nastiness. That believed he was simply acting cruelly instead of being cruel. He didn’t want to lose that, have her think he was some horrible thing to avoid. Understand Carson’s sneers and Bate’s jives completely, and the possibility of her joining that group had his hands shaking. But then the possibility of having someone knowing his whole person, not just the barely digestible bits he sliced up for different people. Just once, he’d like to be seen whole.

Thomas swallowed down his bone dry throat. “I got something, to make up for the...not so fun ending of the night.” He brought the small brown bag from behind his back, holding it out to Daisy like it was bait, or maybe an offering. Daisy reached for the bag, squinting uncertain on what to make of it. Suddenly snatching it out of his hand and ripping it opened, gasping. Thomas couldn’t help but smile as she pulled out the giant pepper.

“It’s a cayenne pepper. Hottest I could find.” He smiled down at her as she bounced.

“I love it!” she squealed. She paused with a slight teasing expression, “but I thought you didn’t want me eating more peppers?”

“Well, appeasement isn’t about what I want, is it?”

“I thought you were apologizing?”

“Same difference,” he waved, smirking at Daisy's eye roll.

He leaned on the counter, playing with the sleeve cuffs of his livery shirt. He watched her race around the kitchen trying to find a jar to hide her new precious commodity in. They set in an easy rhythm of talking, their tasks of dishwashing becoming as natural as walking. The awkwardness of the last few days washing away as they set into the flow of each other. Thomas still had the invisible elephant in the room. It felt like a ghost hovering coldly on his shoulder with the girl next to him blissfully unaware of the chill creeping up his spine.

“Did Mrs. Patmore or anyone mention anything about me, for romance I mean?”

“Oh, yes, we discussed it one morning.” Thomas almost choked, covering it with a cough. “She said you weren’t a lady’s man, but I say that’s a good thing. I’m not experienced in romance and those boys don’t bring anything but trouble. I don’t know why she was being so odd about it.”

The words were right there in his throat. All he had to do was say it. Let his heart drop the weight from his chest. There were so many risks, too many for this to be logical. But the words went flying his chest up to his mouth anyway.

“She meant it literally.” He stilled, wanting to clap a hand over his mouth or possibly rip it off. He never thought of himself as impulsive before, but this took the cake.

Daisy blinked up at him, tilting her head. Thomas felt sweltering heat rise through his skin, making his livery increasingly uncomfortable even without the jacket and vest. She wasn’t getting it. He’d have to say the words for this to work. He leaned down, cupping her ear and whispering in such rapid succession he feared he’d have to do it again.

None of the words were particularly kind, but whoever was when naming people like him?

Thomas jumped back, the whole room feeling just as suffocating as a furnace. The clock ticked away at his sanity. The ghosts closing in and screaming at him to run. His fingers twitching for the cold metal of his crow blade. There was Daisy, the source of the heat and yet standing cool and unchanged as she worked through the revelation.

“Oh.”

Thomas’s turn to blink. “Oh? That’s it?”

“Well everything makes sense now,” she chewed her lip, humming in thought. She looked at him dead on, a softness returning to her features. “What am I supposed to say?”

His eyes grew misty. The chain breaking inside of him and the weight falling off his shoulders, deep into oblivion or wherever tension went to die.

“I—I kept thinking you were too good for me, and that was why,” she sniffed, looking up at him “do the others know?”

“The senior staff do, but only from me not hiding it well when I first got here. Teen me was about as subtle as thunder.” He laughed, drawing close. “Daisy, don’t for a second believe that. You’re much too good, especially for me. I used you, plain and simple. I regret leading you on, but you—” he swallowed. He needed to word this right. “You were safe, Daisy, and when Bates just hinted at the way I am in front of the whole table I panicked. I saw you as a quick fix for that. I used you, and for that I’m sorry. I had a fun time. I didn’t expect it, but I did. But just a fun time isn’t what you wanted.”

“I understand, Thomas,” Daisy nodded, face still blank in dumbfoundedness and gears turning in her head. Thomas could see it behind her darting eyes. “And I had a lovely time, too. It’s mean what Mr. Bates did, even if I was too stupid to notice. He’s been to prison, he knows how horrible it must be. And yet he did something that could lead you to be sentenced there if it all went bad. It’s not right.”

“You…” he blinked, not believing the words coming from her mouth. “You wouldn’t sentence me to prison?”

“No, it sounds awful. I wouldn’t want someone I knew going there. Not unless you’ve done something right horrible.”

Thomas let out a small laugh, escaping from his throat as his brain seemed to keep failing him. Whatever he was expecting to come from Daisy, it wasn’t this.  He crossed his arms and leaned on the counter, looking at the clock on the wall so he’d have something that wasn’t her face looking at him.

“So what would you sentence me with?”

“I don’t know, it’s not my place to say. Not in church much,” Daisy chewed her bottom lip “to be kinder maybe? It wouldn’t kill you, would it?”

Thomas dared to look at her. It took a few seconds of taking in her slight grin on top of her dopey face to realize she was attempting a joke. He let out another soft laugh.

“I’m not sure I know how to do that,” he confessed, his voice somber, “never trained for it.”

“Well, then,” she held out her hand flat and slapped her fist into her palm like a judge’s gavel. “I sentence you to be my friend. You must know how to have friends at least a little bit, yeah?”

Thomas found himself letting out another chuckle. Daisy must think he was going mad.  He couldn’t help it. The ridiculousness of this whole situation, Daisy’s innocent joy that he couldn’t believe still existed, her acceptance. The last one most of all. He told himself it was just her naivety and ditzy nature. That she didn’t understand fully what his secret meant. But something gnawing at the back of his mind, call it instincts if he must, thought that Daisy was just as desperate for connection as he was. The kind of dangerous desperation that turned to fog, making one sweep over so much and take in even less. He could humor it either way. An ally was an ally, and a sentence was a sentence.

“Alright, a deal is a deal, Daisy Robinson.”

“A sentence isn’t a deal,” she said, nose scrunching but still smiling in amusement.

He turned and smirked down at her, holding out his hand “isn’t it?”

Seriously, how did Thomas get here?