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Under One Small Star

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O’Brien was smoking in the yard in the usual spot when Thomas joined her. The surly lady’s maid had been his stout friend since he came to Downton as a boy. She was the only one who wrote to him during the war, supplying him with gossip as a distraction from his life at the Front.

“What’s this I hear about your fancy man in the drawing room?” She drew on her cigarette and flicked off the ash.

Thomas took out his Woodbines and reached for his lighter. He still had the same one that brought his deliverance from the hell in France. He wondered when he had stopped thinking of Alistair in connection with the thing.

“I don’t know,” grumbled Thomas, “What did you hear?”

O’Brien smirked. “Her ladyship told me about your touching reunion with the visiting gentleman.”

Her mocking tone got on Thomas’ nerves, yet he waited for her to continue.

“Who’s he? You haven’t told me about this one, have you?”

Thomas lit his cigarette and took a long drag. As the nicotine made its way into his body, he felt himself relax. “I thought he was dead, there was no point.”

O’Brien finished her cigarette, crushing the butt under her boot.

Thomas kept thinking over Alistair’s offer. If someone made the offer ten years ago he would have jumped at the chance without hesitation. He hated it at Downton, true, but with the job situation as it was in England, he would be in a pretty bad position if Alistair’s proclaimed affection waned; since he doubted they would want him back at Downton anytime soon. If it wasn’t for the Flu epidemic he would have been out on his ear after his failure with the black market. It wasn’t like he doubted Alistair’s words, he had seemed genuine enough, but it was most likely just the elation of their reunion speaking. If they lived together and Alistair realized that Thomas wasn’t all that his imagination made him out to be during their time apart, he could kick Thomas out of his cosy London flat without a penny.

His cigarette joined O’Brien’s on the ground. He lit up a second one.

“He wants me to go with him when he leaves,” Thomas said after a while.

“Does he want to hire you as his valet or what?” inquired O’Brien. She, too, had lit up again.

Thomas shook his head.

“He wants to live with me as his lover. Share his fortune, even.” It was so tempting. He would just need to make sure Alistair continued to like him long enough. If Thomas was clever about it he could squirrel away a bit of Alistair’s money for a rainy day and not have to worry about his future ever again.

“How adorable,” scoffed O’Brien.

“He is that,” Thomas couldn’t help saying. His lips quirked upwards.

“Will you do it?” she said, releasing a bout of smoke.

“I think I will. An offer like that certainly won’t come my way again.”

Thomas flicked the cigarette away. It was time to serve dinner.

—————————

Dinner was a tense affair, Alistair thought. They were joined by Matthew Crawley and the Dowager Countess, as well as a certain Sir Carlisle, a very unpleasant fellow who, as Alistair found out, was Lady Mary’s fiancé. He felt a bit like an animal in the zoo on display for these unfamiliar people to gawk at.

He enjoyed watching Thomas in his livery again, though being served by him was awkward and must have been very uncomfortable for Thomas. Alistair was struck by the difference between Thomas’ professionally blank face and the way he was when they were alone together. He didn’t think he would be able to school his expression like that.

Lady Edith offered to show him around the village and the surrounding areas the next day and he accepted. The conversation then shifted as the Dowager had apparently known certain members of the genuinely aristocratic part of his family and questioned him about his relation to them. Alistair tried his best to stay engaged in the conversation, but his mind was occupied.

After dinner Lord Grantham asked him about his war service while offering him port and cigars. Alistair hated cigars, the smell was repugnant to him. He took out his cigarettes instead. Later he and Matthew Crawley struck up a conversation about their shared change of circumstances: suddenly being taken from their middle class lives to join the upper classes at the dinner table.

When they joined the ladies for drinks, Alistair spoke with Lady Grantham, who told him of Thomas’ role at Downton when it was temporarily converted to a convalescent home. Alistair perked up. It seemed that the countess had a good opinion of Thomas; praising the way he ran the place. Alistair imagined being sent to Downton to convalesce instead of staying in the sanatorium adjoining the hospital in Netley. It would have saved him a lot of grief.

No matter, he thought as he took the glass from the tray Thomas offered him. They were reunited and that was all that mattered. He smiled at Thomas and thanked him.

***

Alistair was settling down in his room for the evening when he heard a short knock. He got up and met Thomas halfway to the door. He was nervous, but hopeful.

Thomas wrapped his arms around Alistair’s middle, drawing him close and sealing their lips together. Alistair put his hands around Thomas’ neck and closed his eyes, melting into the kiss.

“I’ll come with you.” Thomas said when they separated.

Alistair smiled and drew him into a tight embrace. He was elated. Thomas loved him. Thomas was coming with him to London. They would have a future together.

“I’m glad,” Alistair said with a bright smile and kissed Thomas on the cheek. It was an understatement, but he couldn’t put his true feelings to words.

“I’m going to give notice and I don’t think anyone will insist on me working out the two weeks. They’ll be happy to be rid of me,” Thomas said in a neutral voice. Alistair noticed his eyebrows scrunched just a bit, though.

“I was surprised they took you on again after the war, with what you told me about your circumstances before you joined.” Alistair knew about the stealing and the trouble with the lame valet Thomas had so disliked. “Though Lady Grantham seems to like you,” he said. She had seemed genuine enough.

“I made a bad move by the end of the war that landed me in a tight spot, and I didn’t have anywhere else to go; so I went out of my way to be extremely helpful while half the house was down with the Flu. They couldn’t really kick me out after all that.”

“Ah, clever,” said Alistair with a grin.

Thomas smiled at him and leaned in for another kiss. Alistair opened up for him without prompting. He loved the taste of him; the feel of their lips sliding against each other and tongues twining in a delicious dance; it made Alistair giddy with want.

Thomas pulled away after a long while, his hands gently caressing Alistair’s back, still keeping him close.

“When do you need to get back?” Alistair asked. He was loath to part with Thomas now, but once the weekend was over, they would have all the time in the world together.

“I have about twenty minutes,” said Thomas, and proceeded to walk Alistair backwards to the bed.

Alistair went willingly. Even with his limited experience he knew of several pleasurable things that could be done within that time frame.

____________________


Thomas was woken up by a hall boy’s knock at the usual hour. It took him several seconds to realize that the events of yesterday had really happened. His life was about to change in a drastic fashion. Gone would be the bowing and scraping; he would never have to wear a livery ever again. And he would finally experience what it meant to live a life of leisure. His doubts from yesterday were gone. Alistair seemed completely enamoured with him and eager to please him. As unusual as that was for him he could quickly get used to it. Fortune had finally settled her gaze on Thomas. About time, really, he thought.

Before breakfast, Thomas knocked on Mr. Carson’s door.

“Enter.”

Thomas stepped in and closed the door behind himself.

“Well?” Mr. Carson asked, looking up from his papers through his thick brows.

Thomas took a deep breath.
“I would like to hand in my notice,” he said.

“Were you offered another position?” Mr. Carson asked. Thomas thought he would sound more pleased than he did.

“I have an arrangement in London. If it would be possible I would like to leave tomorrow morning. You can take the two weeks out of my pay,” Thomas thought that should do it. But as an afterthought he added, “I won’t be needing a reference.”

“Is your arrangement with Lord Rainsby?”

Thomas gave him a tight-lipped smile.

“I don’t see how that is any of your business, Mr. Carson.”

“Very well. I will inform his Lordship.” The butler frowned and went back to his papers.

Afterwards, Thomas sought out O’Brien to tell her about his decision. It seemed decent that as his only friend she would know sooner than Mr. Carson’s announced it to the rest of the servants.

“Watch out for yourself and don’t do anything stupid. I won’t be there to get you of trouble if you do,” O’Brien almost sounded fond of Thomas.

Thomas smirked.

After the upstairs breakfast was finished Thomas saw Alistair leave with Lady Edith for their round of sightseeing. Alistair smiled at him when he walked past. It pleased Thomas more than such a simple thing should. He had enough to occupy him until he was to serve luncheon, from which both Lady Edith and Alistair were absent.

It was later during the downstairs meal that Mr. Carson announced Thomas would be leaving Downton the next morning. Everyone looked at Thomas, undoubtedly to gauge his reaction and see if he was leaving against his will or not. His smug expression was answer enough.

It was Anna who asked him first, “Where will you be going, Thomas?”

“London,” Thomas said in reply.

“What will you do in London?” Daisy followed up.

“I’m not going to be in service any longer, that’s for sure.”

After that, Mr. Carson didn’t allow any further discussion on the topic.

The rest of the day went by quickly. It seemed that Mr. Carson wanted to use Thomas as much as possible before he left. Thomas polished more silver during the afternoon than he knew they had at Downton. It was a task he did not really have to think about too much, and so he let his mind wander, imagining how his life at Alistair’s side would be like. The rich people Thomas knew idled their time away with social calls and talking behind one another’s’ backs, but from what Thomas knew of Alistair, the latter might be on, but definitely not the former. Thomas would like to visit some of the famous sights and they could go to the theatre or the cinema, go out for meals to fancy restaurants and play sports. And some days, they could just stay in bed touching each other in pleasurable exploration. Though that train of thought was best not pursued in the servants’ hall.

Alistair and Lady Edith returned an hour or so before dinner. Thomas had a moment to spare and went up to meet Alistair in his bedroom.

Alistair welcomed Thomas with a kiss. His cheeks were flushed from the wind, his hair slightly messy. Thomas enjoyed how Alistair fitted into his arms; he was a few inches shorter and his head rested right in the crook of Thomas’s neck when they embraced.

“Mmm, you’re so warm,” mumbled Alistair into the collar of Thomas’ shirt. “I can barely feel my hands,” he said, accompanied by a shiver.

“You shouldn’t have been traipsing around the countryside all day in the cold,” answered Thomas, but tightened his embrace to warm Alistair as much as possible. “You should take a hot bath, or your teeth will chatter all the way through dinner.”

“Mmm, or you could warm me up in a more exciting way,” said Alistair, his eyes twinkling with mischief.

“I could do that, but we’ll have to be quick about it. The dressing gong will go off soon.”

They had to hurry to get dressed afterwards, but Thomas had nothing to worry from Mr. Carson anymore and, feeling sated from his tryst with Alistair, he didn’t let the butler’s waspish comments bother him.

Alistair managed to get himself in order in time and looked rather lovely in his white tie. He seemed more at ease now than Thomas had seen him previously when interacting with the Crawley family. He recounted what he and Lady Edith had done and seen during the day and praised her knowledge of history and the land itself. Lady Edith preened under his praise.

When the conversation moved on to Mary’s wedding plans Thomas blocked the inane chatter out of his mind.

Afterwards, when he was back in the small room in the attic that he had called home for the greater part of the past ten years, he didn’t feel too nostalgic. This place was never supposed to be a home, not really. He had tried to make the room more cosy with a few personal touches, but the sparse furnishings and the terrible iron frame bed would always show it for what it was; a servant’s room. Sleeping in the trenches was only slightly more uncomfortable than sleeping in that bed. He yearned for it while he was in France though, no reason to deny that.

Thinking back on his time in France, the whole thing always seemed so surreal. So removed from the world he was in now, so removed from anything else he ever knew, really. The cruelty of the place, the mud, the horror, the ever-present stench of death and human waste. The deafening noise of artillery day after day with shells exploding over your head while you just had your flimsy tin helmet to protect you from the shrapnel. Who in their right mind would send thousands after thousands of young men to run through a field full of barbed wire towards machine gun fire just with their rifles and bayonets? The same stuffy old generals who forbade the unofficial truces that allowed the stretcher bearers to pick up the wounded after a fight without having to worry about being shot. After that, men like Thomas had to go after those felled by the machine guns with no protection at all, under fire themselves.

But he survived. Unlike millions of others, he made it out of that hell and he knew the world thought he ought to be ashamed by how he got out, but he wasn’t. He’d always had a strong sense of self-preservation.

Having only a few things to pack, he was done fairly quickly. It was almost sad how little he actually owned, but then, with access to two hundred thousand pounds he would be able to get whatever his heart might desire very soon. Funny how fortunes can turn.

__________________


Alistair woke that morning full of optimism and good cheer. His stay at Downton was coming to an end and after breakfast he and Thomas would get on a train to London. He had hoped to find a photograph of Thomas upon arriving a few days before, and instead found Thomas in person, alive and well. He wouldn’t let anything or anyone part them again.

He dressed in a grey tweed suit and styled his hair as he always did nowadays, leaving the waves to fall over his mangled ear and scarred face. Before putting his suit on he had applied the salve he was given the last time his physician saw him. Spreading the creamy substance over the mottled flesh every morning, he wished he could make it disappear.

Thomas had kept his promise not to try and take Alistair’s shirt off during their lovemaking. Alistair could barely stand seeing himself bare and he didn’t want Thomas to have to see it and pretend that he did not find him repulsive. While he was in the hospital he was told repeatedly that he was lucky not to have lost his arm. He was told he was lucky about a lot of things. Being reunited with Thomas, he actually believed that now.

He went down for breakfast.

He had two slices of crisp toast with jam and a cup of earl grey while conversing with Lord Grantham and his daughters. Lady Grantham was used to having a tray in her room in the mornings as he was told the previous day. Alistair tried to be engaging and pleasant though he couldn’t wait to leave. He was grateful to these people, since their invitation allowed him to find Thomas again, but he had little in common with them besides.

After breakfast, Lord Grantham took him aside and looking very serious said, “It’s come to my attention, Rainsby, that you intend to take Thomas with you.”

Alistair nodded, “I do, yes.” He wasn’t surprised the man put Thomas’ sudden resignation together with Alistair’s appearance. After witnessing their reunion only a blind man wouldn’t.

“You seem like a nice fellow and I wouldn’t want your kindness to be taken advantage of. And Thomas is exactly the sort of person who would do that,” Lord Grantham said, looking rather uncomfortable, “I thought it prudent to tell you.”

Alistair gaped at him. The nerve of the man! “Thomas is my friend and he has my trust,” said Alistair tightly, “I believe I know why you think of him the way you do, but it bears no weight on my decision. So thank you for your worry, but I’ll be alright.”

Alistair gave him a quick smile that was as far from genuine as could be and turned to leave.

Walking out of the breakfast room Alistair felt himself craving a cigarette. He still had not shaken off the habit after the war. He picked it up pretty quickly after his arrival in France. It gave him an illusion of being warm, it occupied his hands and calmed his nerves.

He used to get cigarettes in the post from home along with his favourite Rowntree’s chocolate, as well as warm socks his mother knitted for him.

His father wanted him to join up right when the war was declared, saying he would have done so himself had his age permitted him to do his patriotic duty. Yet he did not insist and Alistair remained at university to complete his studies until early in 1916 when he was conscripted. His family background and education sent him straight into officer training. Those four and a half months at Sandhurst weren’t so bad, it was a bit like school, after all. His first posting was the Somme and he was given his temporary commission with the rank of second lieutenant. Plunging into that hell was an absolute nightmare. Nothing he learned during his training could have prepared him for being on a real battlefield. He tried his best to do his duties, however unimportant most of them seemed amidst the horror and chaos of the war. He checked that the men of his platoon had their rifles in working order, that they had their feet warm and socks mended, and that they were all well fed. That much he could do. Inspiring his men to climb out of their trench and attack was a different matter.

Thomas was the one man in front of whom he did not have to pretend to be brave and ready to risk his life for King and Country.

Before meeting Thomas he never knew it was possible to feel so much. He knew he was attracted to men since he was fairly young and he fumbled with a few at university, but love? Love waited for him in the muddy trenches of northern France.

It was after nightfall and the sky earlier was overcast with clouds. Now it flashed with bursts of light from the illumination rounds fired from howitzers and field guns together with the high explosive shells being hurled in their direction. Alistair stumbled through the trench while one shell after another exploded overhead. As the shells fell down to the ground, huge geysers of mud flew into the air. The ground shook and the noise rattled down to Alistair’s bones. Trying to reach Captain Hanley’s position would be impossible now. He knew there was a dugout just a short way away. If he could get to it he would have cover.

Another explosion sent him to his knees, several of the sandbags from the edge of the trench above him tumbled down, one falling onto Alistair’s legs. It was heavy, but he managed to shrug it off and crawl forwards. He felt his way along the wall of the trench when suddenly there was nothing for him to grasp. He looked up and in the quick flash that passed overhead he saw he had reached his destination. It was a dugout with one person already in it.

He made his way inside it just in time as a shell exploded directly above. Alistair panicked, and plastered himself to the wall of the dugout, his hand grasping the other fellow’s hand on instinct. In the darkness he could not see the soldier’s face, but the man held his hand firmly in his. How silly that such a simple thing made him suddenly feel safer, like things might actually turn out alright in the end.

They stayed like that for at least two hours, pressed against one another and holding each other’s hand. They did not speak since they would have to shout to hear anything over the deafening sound of the German artillery.

Then suddenly there was silence.

Not long after the barrage stopped his batman found him.

“There you are, sir, I was so worried!” the young man shouted.

The soldier let go of his hand.

Alistair got to his feet. He wanted to thank the man in the dugout for the comfort his company gave him during that terrible onslaught but his words failed him. As he turned to follow his batman he caught a glimpse of the red cross on man’s sleeve and his corporal’s stripes.

Later, Alistair found out who his mysterious soldier was and searched him out. The only corporal in the RAMC in their sector was one Thomas Barrow.

He fell in love with him so quickly and so completely that not even the long time apart could diminish the strength of his feelings.

He smoked two cigarettes in his room before he was ready to say his goodbyes to the Crawley family. Lady Edith invited him back, hinting strongly at keeping in touch. He thanked everyone for their hospitality and made a vague promise to Lady Edith.

His luggage was loaded onto the car that would take him to the train station.

The family and several of the staff came to stand in front of the house to wave him off. Alistair thought he recognized several of the servants from Thomas’ description. Alistair was sure they were there just out of curiosity to see who’s the person taking Thomas away for a better life.

“Thomas,” he beckoned and Thomas made his way towards him and the waiting car. Thomas had but one case with his belongings with him. They were added onto the car and the driver held the door open for them.

Soon they were on the road to the village leaving Downton Abbey behind them.
________________

Thomas had never ridden in first class before and it was damn nice. Plush dark blue velvet upholstery covered the seats on each side of the compartment and the walls and both doors were done in leather of the same dark hue. The wooden panelling was of high quality and polished to a shine. A nice soft carpet finished the luxurious and yet cosy look. This was much better than the bare wooden seats on which he had travelled before.

Thomas sat opposite Alistair, who looked positively radiant this morning. Alistair had a charmingly sweet smile that Thomas found contagious, and he utilized it to its full potential right at this moment. His face was inclined in his usual fashion, so that his hair hid the scarring on his face. In the soft morning sun that flitted through the carriage window his fair hair shone beautifully. Thomas couldn’t wait to get his hands on him again.

The train left Downton station in a cloud of steam and chugged on, away from the countryside Thomas knew so well. It would take about an hour to reach York where they had to change trains and they would arrive in London in mid-afternoon.

The ride to York was quite uneventful, Thomas read the morning paper he had purchased at the station and Alistair seemed content with watching him. Thomas occasionally read out a headline or even a paragraph or two when it piqued Alistair’s interest.

Changing trains was a lot easier for a first class passenger than for a footman in charge of luggage for the whole Crawley family going down for the London season. He happily did without Carson shouting orders at him amidst the natural chaos of the station.

They had a delicious lunch on the London train and when they returned to their carriage Alistair closed the latch on the door and drew the curtain to the corridor closed. He sat down next to Thomas, resting his head on his shoulder. Thomas put his arm around Alistair’s rather bony shoulder and made himself comfortable for the journey ahead.

Thomas had almost nodded off when Alistair said, “I can’t wait to be home. I hope you’ll like the flat. I didn’t have much time to decorate yet, but we can do that together.”

Thomas hummed in reply. It would be nice to choose some of the furnishings himself, he thought. He had a pretty good taste after all and now he would actually have the means to afford the things he liked. He couldn’t wait to get some new suits made too. He was sure Alistair wouldn’t begrudge him a visit to the tailor’s; or several.

“Oh God!” Alistair exclaimed suddenly, jolting Thomas as he lifted his head.

“What is it?”

Thomas turned his head to look at him with a raised eyebrow.

“I−I hope you’ll excuse the terrible mess I left there before the weekend. I completely forgot about that,” Alistair said, looking quite flustered.

“Is it that bad?”

“Yes?”

Thomas laughed.

“You don’t even have a maid come in every now and then?” he said, curious. If he became rich he would like to enjoy all the perks that went along with it. And Alistair was from a well-positioned family even before they came into the title, he remembered Alistair said they had a cook and a housemaid at his family’s house before the war. He found it strange that Alistair would deny himself the comfort now.

“No. I just have someone do my laundry. Otherwise I maintained the flat on my own.“ Alistair said and then added, “When I could be bothered.”

“Can’t wait to see it now,” Thomas grinned. Alistair swatted at his knee.

Thomas leaned forwards, held Alistair’s chin between his fingers and drew him to a kiss. Alistair touched his hand to Thomas’ chest, the other one went to rest on his knee, squeezing slightly.

The kiss went on for a long time. Alistair sighed into it, his hand sliding down Thomas’s thigh dangerously close to his crotch. Oh God. Thomas couldn’t contain the moan that Alistair elicited as he finally reached Thomas’ cock and pressed down with his palm.

Alistair unfastened his trousers and pulled down his underwear. In one fluid motion he had extricated himself from Thomas’ arms and slid down to the carpeted floor, positioning himself between Thomas’ legs. Was he seriously going to− oh he was. Thomas watched in awe as Alistair licked a wet stripe up his cock, tonging his slit before going down again. Thomas put his gloved hand into Alistair’s soft hair just as Alistair took his cock into his mouth fully.

Most men Thomas had been with weren’t too keen on the act, though Thomas heard it was very popular in America. A sailor he met in London before the war had told him that...and showed him what he had learnt on the other side of the Atlantic.

The wet heat of Alistair’s mouth felt so good. What he lacked in technique he more than made up for in enthusiasm.

“Easy,” said Thomas when he felt Alistair gag slightly as he tried to take more of him into his mouth. Alistair looked up at him through his pale eyelashes before he renewed his efforts and swallowed his cock down as much as he was able. He wrapped his fingers about it where he couldn’t reach, moving them in unison with his mouth.

Is this what his life is going to be like from now on? Getting his cock sucked in a first class carriage was not something he ever though he would experience. He was not complaining in the least, though. One should always be open to new experiences.

The pleasure built up and before he knew it he was coming down Alistair’s throat. He tried to control himself, but several moans escaped him as he climaxed. When he caught his breath he saw Alistair wipe his mouth on the back of his hand.

Alistair helped tuck him back into his trousers and sat back next to him. Thomas lifted his arm so Alistair could get back underneath. Alistair cuddled up to him, wrapping both arms around his waist and sighing contently.

The orgasm made Thomas sleepy, and since they wouldn’t get to London for another two hours, there was time for a bit of a nap.

And when they arrived to their flat, he wouldn’t let Alistair out of bed till morning.