The servants hall was rather cold, as it would be on a winter night. But the warmth coming from the fireplace, the dim, yellow lights and the lingering smells from Mrs Patmore’s dinner made a successful attempt at making it feel cosy enough. Alfred sat opposite Jimmy on the table, with his back to the kitchen, playing cards and scarcely talking, making occasional sounds of complaint as Jimmy kept beating him each round. A few seats next to Alfred sat Mrs Baxter, mending some apron in the sewing machine, the only noise apart from the wood cracking in the fireplace and Alfred’s half-hearted protests. Mrs Hughes was also on the table, working on schedules and other things to do with the maids’ chores, while Carson locked himself in his studio, probably doing some late night check up over things that had already been checked.
It wasn’t that late, really, but everyone else was already in their rooms, Anna and Bates had left for their cottage over half an hour ago, and it had been such a long day filled with unexpected guests and one particularly clumsy maid falling down a flight of stairs. She had failed at twisting her ankle but did not fail at shattering every ceramic teacup on the tray she was carrying, unfortunately for Mrs Hughes. They did manage to keep it a secret from Carson, since everyone agreed that was not a day fitted for heart attacks. Sans heart attacks, the day had still felt quite stressful, involving more barking than usual from Mr Barrow, and even some shouting on Mrs Hughes’ part, which was enough to set everyone on edge. So after a few rounds to shake off the stress of the day, Jimmy carelessly tossed his cards on the table and stood from his chair.
‘‘Right, I’ll be turning in now, I’m knackered.’’ He said, muffling a yawn.
‘‘Yeah, I’m off as well.’’ Alfred agreed, collecting the discarded deck of cards.
‘‘Good night, boys.’’ Said Mrs Baxter.
‘‘Yes, go get some rest, it’s well deserved.’’ Mrs Hughes offered with a kind smile and tired eyes.
The footmen said their goodbyes and went up to the attic. Well, Alfred did, Jimmy wasn’t so lucky. Mr Carson chose that moment to emerge from his studio, and saw the boys as they passed.
‘‘Oh, are you going to sleep already?’’ Mr Carson said, sounding a little surprised.
‘‘Yes, Mr Carson, we were hoping to catch an early night.’’ Alfred explained with his foot already on the stairs, Jimmy not far behind.
‘‘Oh, in that case I’ll say goodnight. Although, James, I was hoping to catch a word with you.’’
The sheer terror of getting sacked without a reference was the only thing keeping Jimmy from rolling his eyes and moaning in response. Instead, he plastered on a tight lipped smile and said:
‘‘Of course, Mr Carson.’’
‘‘Right, I’m heading up then, goodnight.’’ Alfred said and ran upstairs, two steps at a time, as though lingering too long might drive Carson to make him stay as well. That was quite possibly the first time Jimmy envied him. He was expecting the butler to lead him into the studio for a last minute scolding over bad polished silver or a loose thread on his livery that would probably go unnoticed to the untrained eye, but was tremendously degrading for Downton standards. Instead, they both remained in the hallway and Carson looked rather apologetic when he spoke.
‘‘James, I was just wondering if you were planning to visit the barber shop any time soon, as I’ve noticed your hair is getting quite long.’’
Jimmy was simultaneously relieved it wasn’t anything terrible, but equally bothered that this was the conversation keeping him from sleep.
‘‘I was, Mr Carson. It’s just that my wages went on to a new suit this month, and I can’t really afford a visit for the next two weeks, when my pay is due.’’ He actively chose not to mention several pints of beer on his day off that contributed to his current impoverished state.
‘‘Ah, in that case I suggest you ask Mr Barrow for help. He knows how to cut hair and has done it before in other occasions. I know it’s not ideal, given past experiences,’’ that part sounded more like a growl “but I can’t very well let you upstairs with hair so... long and disheveled, I’m sorry to say.’’
In all honesty, Jimmy didn’t mind going to Mr Barrow at all, having been friends with him for over a year, and quite close at that. He was a little surprised to learn he knew how to cut hair, but he shouldn’t be, really. He was the type to have many hidden talents.
‘‘Very well, Mr Carson, I shall ask him tonight, if I see him.’’
Carson probably hadn’t meant for him to get it done right this minute, but it was very likely Thomas was in fact still awake, and Jimmy had planned to visit him on his way to bed anyway. It was a bit of a routine they had, to wind down and gossip about whatever went down that day, they both looked forward for that time together. Carson raised his eyebrows and his expression resembled satisfaction.
‘‘Good, thank you very much, James.’’
‘‘Good night, Mr Carson.’’ Jimmy said, and turned to leave, not staying long enough to hear the butler’s response.
In the servant’s corridor, Thomas’ door (Mr Barrow, actually, but they had been on a first name basis for a while now) was closed, but warm light was seeping through the space between the door and the ground. Alfred’s door was also closed but the room seemed dark, and Jimmy could hear faint snoring. The previous envy he felt dissipated as quickly as it came. Jimmy knocked lightly on Thomas’ door, and waited. He heard shuffling and soft footsteps and then the door cracked, showing Thomas in his pyjamas and thick socks, with a bothered expression that quickly shifted into pleased surprise when he recognised Jimmy. They were very familiar with each other now, but he could never seem to hold down a shy smile when they met. Jimmy felt flattered every time, but he never allowed himself to think beyond that. Well, only sometimes.
‘‘Good evening, Jimmy.’’ He said softly. He seemed relaxed, but not too tired. Good.
‘‘Can I come in? I have something to ask you.’’ Jimmy said, smiling almost teasingly. There was no way Thomas could guess what was about to happen, and the idea of having him cut his own hair was rather amusing to Jimmy.
‘‘Of course, yeah, come on in.’’
Thomas always started off very polite in these late night encounters, not quite meeting his eyes, like he was treading lightly on a carefully built friendship. But more often than not, before Jimmy left of his own bedroom, conversation would turn into harmless banter and they’d end up in fits of giggles over the silliest jokes or comments they would make about members of the family or the staff. They were both a little mean spirited in that way, but they each had their reasons.
Once Jimmy was in the room, Thomas settled back in his bed, where he seemed to have been reading before being interrupted, and Jimmy dragged the only chair in the room next to the cot, where he usually sat. The room was warmer than the corridor and it smelled like Thomas. Which is just tobacco and aftershave with a hint of cologne, but still. It was equal parts pleasant and intimidating.
‘‘So, Mr Carson seems to think I’m in need of a trim.’’ Jimmy started, running a hand through his hair as if to show what he was talking about, while Thomas listened expectantly. ‘‘And I said that I agreed, only I didn’t have enough money to go this month, you see? And he didn’t seem too surprised, which is quite offensive, actually.’’ He frowned, faking indignation, but quickly recovered to continue. ‘‘So you’ll never guess what he proposed.’’
He looked directly at Thomas now, a smile tugging at his lips and his arms resting on his thighs, palms clasped together, as he leaned forward. It took Thomas a second, eyeing Jimmy carefully and considering whatever he might be suggesting, before his eyes widen in realisation, only to close them again and throw his head back, groaning in protest.
‘‘You must be joking. Please, be joking.’’ Jimmy just looked at him, smugly. ‘‘I will seriously lend you the money, it’s not a problem. They’ll do a much better job, I promise.’’ His face was something between pleading and determined.
‘‘Oh, come on! It will be so fun, he said you’re quite good, and I do trust you.’’ Jimmy insisted, poking Thomas in the arm and flashing an encouraging smile. ‘‘Plus you know I won’t take your money.’’ He added with a scoff.
Thomas remained silent for a little while, on the edge of giving in. They were both past the point of pretending nothing rare was between them. There was an attempt, at first, but too many awkward silences were taking place, and Jimmy hated how Thomas always hesitated to touch him even the slightest bit. They found a way to move on from that, without ever actually discussing it, and now no one flinched away when passing a cigarette, or when brushing past each other in the hallways, and there were even occasional jokes. Jimmy knew it was hard for the other man to be so close to him in the complete opposite way that he wanted. But he also saw how much they enjoyed each other’s company and Thomas seemed so glad to be his friend, so he liked to tease him, just to see how flustered he got. It was never ill intentioned, though, and Thomas knew that. So he let himself enjoy this.
‘‘Very well,’’ he said after a moment. “but when your vain little arse starts moaning about what I did to your precious golden locks, just remember you asked for this.’’ He warned, looking pointedly at Jimmy with an accusing finger. Jimmy just smiled triumphantly and let out a victorious ‘yes’ under his breath. Then they sat looking at each other expectantly.
‘‘Oh, you mean tonight?’’ Thomas asked, confused.
‘‘Well, yes of course.’’ Jimmy answered as though he was talking to a six year-old. Then asked ‘‘What will you need to work?’’
‘‘Well, I was wondering if this day could get any longer.’’ Thomas complained while getting up from the bed. ‘‘I’ll go fetch the scissors, you should change out of those clothes and bring a towel.’’
Jimmy did as told and came back to the room to find Thomas laying down some news papers on the floor, under the chair where Jimmy was just sitting.
‘‘Right, I’ll need to wet your hair first.’’ Thomas explained and left the room to go to the bathroom, motioning for Jimmy to follow him.
In the bathroom, Jimmy leaned over the sink and got his hair as wet as he could without completely breaking his neck, which proved rather hard. With his hair soaked and an approval from Thomas, they arranged the towel on this head to avoid it dripping and went back to the room, where they could talk and be more comfortable while Thomas worked.
Silently, Jimmy sat down when Thomas motioned for him to do so, he placed the towel over his shoulders and waited. It was nearing eleven o’clock, and after the day they had, he should have been tired, instead he felt suddenly restless. They started casual conversation like they would usually do, while Thomas started on his hair, talking about the events of the day, chuckling at the clumsy maid, giving unwanted opinions about conversations the family had at luncheon, and making fun of Mr Molesley at every given chance.
‘‘I heard Ivy calling Alfred ‘babe’ today.’’ Jimmy mentioned casually, after a lull in conversation.
‘‘Jealous, much?’’ Thomas teased while trying to even out the hair on the sides of his head.
‘‘Not really, you know I don’t actually fancy her, I just flirt for entertainment.’’ Jimmy stated.
‘‘No, I know, it’s quite obvious, don’t worry.’’ Thomas said, in a tone that proved that Jimmy had clarified that at least four times in the past month. ‘‘So what’s the problem?’’ He moved to work on the hair in the back.
‘‘There is no problem. It’s just odd ‘cause I only ever hear Mrs Patmore using pet names in here, and even then it’s only with Daisy and Ivy.’’
‘‘Well, maybe she got used to it. And anyway, I don’t know about you but there ain’t anyone ‘ere I’d be using terms of endearment on.’’
‘‘Whatever do you mean? Mr Carson is such a pumpkin.’’ Jimmy was chuckling by the end of the sentence and Thomas burst into laughter.
‘‘Actually imagine addressing Carson as pumpkin.’’ Thomas added in between chuckles, which sent them laughing again. Their need for sleep made it funnier than it was.
Jimmy managed to stop cackling just to say ‘‘The shoes are all polished, pumpkin.’’ and lost it. They were both flushed, their stomachs aching from laughter, and Thomas had to put down the scissors just to collect himself. After a while, Thomas back at work, Jimmy explained.
‘‘No, it just reminded me that me mum used a lot of those back at home. Always ‘love’ this, ‘babe’ that, she hardly ever called me Jimmy.’’
‘‘That’s really sweet.’’ Thomas commented quietly.
‘‘Yeah, I do miss it.’’ Jimmy admitted.
‘‘Should I start calling you ‘babe’, then?’’ Thomas joked, now trimming his fringe. With his breath on Jimmy’s face and his hands softly brushing his hair, the teasing tone got a bit lost.
Jimmy ignored the flush that had crept up his face and said “I don’t know if it’s the ever threatening glare or the self righteous stance but I just can’t picture you saying such things.’’
‘‘No, I do, you’re just never ‘round to hear them. I mostly save them for Master George and Miss Sybbie.’’ Thomas explained fondly. ‘‘But yeah, not as often here at Downton as I used to back home.’’
It always fascinated Jimmy the relationship Thomas had with children. It was so contrasting to his personality elsewhere, but it worked as a good reminder that there was so much more to him than meets the eye. A lesson Jimmy learned the hard way.
‘‘Well, I just don’t see why Alfred gets to be called ‘babe’.’’ Jimmy mumbled.
‘‘Because he’s nice to people.’’
‘‘I’m nice to you.’’ Jimmy argued. Thomas hands froze where they were combing his hair.
‘‘My god, you are asking me to call you babe.’’ He said stepping back and looking at him with wide eyes.
‘‘No, that’s not what I’m saying!’’ Jimmy rolled his eyes. ‘‘Only, I think we could all get used to pet names, y’know, in general.’’ He explained himself, weakly.
‘‘What are you on about? The only people you can address like that are Daisy and Ivy, the hall boys and the maids, which I would advise against, and Alfred. Are you gonna call Alfred ‘love’? Should I carry the sauces, love?, Oh let’s play some cards, love . Hm?’’ Thomas said, mockingly and looking very amused.
At this point Jimmy was flushed red, furiously shaking his head no. Where was he even going with this?
‘‘Good God, no! I only ever meant it’s a nice habit an’ it’d be nice if we did it more. We spend every day with each other, you’d think these things would be normal, I dunno.’’ He was speaking fast, trying to make sense of what he was saying although he wasn’t very sure himself.
‘‘Well I’m inclined to agree with you, but if Mr Carson ever caught me calling you, I dunno, darling, I’d be facing the streets with no reference in the best case, or jail time at worst.’’ His tone was light, but the underlying truth wasn’t lost. He took Jimmy’s chin with his left hand, tilting it to the side so he could get a better angle.
‘‘I mean I’m not asking you to shout it from the rooftops. I’d still call you Mr Barrow in front of everyone else.’’ Jimmy offered.
‘‘I honestly don’t know if you are being serious or not.’’ Thomas said, still working his way on Jimmy’s hair, being particularly careful round his ears. Jimmy didn’t know either, so he didn’t answer.
‘‘Now that you mention it,’’ Thomas added, then. ‘‘I almost had a slip of the tongue ‘bout a year ago. Nearly called you ‘love’ when you were being difficult and I was trying not to bark at you. Don’t know how I stopped myself, but it’s a good thing I did cause it would’ve sent you running for the hills.’’
Jimmy hated when they talked about the days before Thomas and him became friends. He was most ashamed of how he’d behaved and it made his blood boil to think about the pain he had caused him, no matter how justified he thought it at the time. On the scarce occasions where those moments came up, he’d try his best to let him know how far they’ve come.
‘‘Well, I wouldn’t object to it now.’’
A few minutes passed, mostly in silence, until Thomas announced he was done and let Jimmy check himself on the mirror, while he cleaned up most of the mess on the floor. Jimmy looked at it from all angles and concluded he liked it, saying as much. But, to his own surprise, he was mostly sad he didn’t have careful hands running through his hair anymore.
The next day they didn’t see much of each other until it was nearing noon, except for breakfast but there wasn’t much time for conversation then. Carson acknowledged Jimmy’s haircut and breakfast upstairs went smoothly, but Thomas had under-butler matters to attend to, so their paths didn’t cross for a few hours. Jimmy was polishing silver when Thomas showed up.
‘‘Good morning, Jimmy’’ he said with a smile, leaning on the door frame.
‘‘Is it still? Feels like it should be night time already.’’ Jimmy moaned.
‘‘Oh come on now, I know you’ve been here less than ten minutes.’’
‘‘Yes, but I didn’t sleep a wink last night.’’
‘‘Really? It was quite late when you left.’’
‘‘I know, but I was feeling so restless. Don’t know why, just couldn’t sleep.’’
‘‘Well, that’s quite the load you’ve got to work on there. Will you be alright?’’ He said, motioning to the silver on the table.
‘‘Yeah, don’t have much choice. Will you keep me company?’’ He wasn’t pouting.
‘‘Very well, I can spare some time.’’ Thomas answered, straightening up. ‘‘But I have to run this by Mr Carson first.’’ He added, waving a sheet of paper in his hand, which probably had to do with wine stock or pantry items, Jimmy wouldn’t know.
He nodded and with that, Thomas left only to come back a few minutes later. This time he walked in and stood next to Jimmy.
‘‘Fetch me that cloth, please?’’
‘‘Are you really going to help me with this? Isn’t it so below you?’’ Jimmy said, passing him the cloth.
‘‘It is below me, but I’ll help you anyway because I’m nothing if not a charitable soul.’’ He said while picking up a candle holder.
They talked a little, while they polished, about future plans for a day off, some books Thomas had been reading, and some others Jimmy wanted to read. Thomas offered to lend Jimmy the ones he already had in his possession.
‘‘There’s this film I saw on a poster in Ripon I’d like to see. Eugene Aram.’’ Jimmy said.
‘‘Oh, yeah, I think I saw that.’’ Thomas muttered.
‘‘You think you saw it?’’ Jimmy looked at him with a frown.
‘‘As in, the poster. I think I saw the poster, not the film.’’ Thomas explained, waving his hands for emphasis. ‘‘I’m not daft.’’
‘‘Well, that’s up for debate.’’ Jimmy mocked, avoiding a smack in the head. ‘‘Anyway, I’d like to see it but I don’t get a day off until Friday, do you think they’ll still show it by then?’’
‘‘Well, it’s Saturday now, so I dunno, but I have a day off on Wednesday. We can trade if you’d like.’’
‘‘I’m not trading with you, you are coming with me!’’ Jimmy was looking at Thomas like he just missed the entire point of the conversation.
‘‘My God, you are daft.’’ He said on a dramatic sigh, rolling his eyes. Thomas chose not to point out the fact that Jimmy never specified such a thing, because Jimmy was like that sometimes. But he did smack him in the head. Then he caught a glimpse of the item Jimmy was polishing.
‘‘Jimmy, for God’s sake, what is this? You are leaving fingerprints all over this! How many vases have you done like this? You are not even wearing gloves!’’ Thomas’ voice was an octave higher in disbelief.
‘‘What are you talking about? It’s perfectly fine!’’ Jimmy argued.
‘‘No. It’s not.’’ Thomas said dryly and lifted the vase to a point where the light exposed several fingerprints all over it. ‘‘You’ve got to be more careful, Jimmy. You just wasted like 20 minutes of work.’’ He said more softly. ‘‘Put those on, love, please.’’ He pointed to the gloves discarded by Jimmy’s side.
Jimmy died and came back to life all in the same second. His hands shook a little when he picked up the gloves and put them on, although he couldn’t think of a good reason why. Surely Thomas had been mocking him, but he couldn’t bring himself to look him in the face and check. He reprimanded himself for bringing up that conversation the night before, because clearly it never occurred to him of the consequences it would have. It shouldn’t be a big deal, everyone calls everyone love, it holds no meaning other than politeness and Thomas had used it for softening the scold, like he told Jimmy he’d wanted to do before. It wasn’t a big deal at all. He just wasn’t used to hearing it from Thomas and definitely did not expect him to take him up on his offer quite so literally. It hadn’t even been an offer, actually, just voicing some thoughts. So Jimmy was fine, he just had to remind himself to breath for the next few minutes and he could keep his heart beating. He pointedly did not mention any of this to Thomas and just said,
‘‘I’m sorry, I’ll be more careful.’’ He was proud of how steady his voice sounded.
‘‘Don’t apologise to me, it’s you who’s gonna have to start over.’’ But, really, they went over the badly polished silver together, and if Jimmy was good at saying thank you, he would’ve said so.
After a while Thomas had to leave and Jimmy was left to his own devices until it was time for lunch.
The next time it happened was on Monday, on a cigarette break out back, before supper. Thomas was the first to leave and Jimmy followed as soon as he could. The air was cold and biting but the smoking helped a little. Still, they stood close.
‘‘I heard you saved Lady Edith from colosal humiliation just then.’’ Jimmy said as form of greeting, taking the cigarette Thomas gave him when he finished lighting his own.
‘‘The velocity with which information travels in this house never ceases to amaze me.’’ Thomas said, and took a drag, squinting his eyes and hollowing his cheeks. ‘‘It wasn’t even a big deal.’’ He added, exhaling smoke.
Jimmy handed back the lighter he borrowed. ‘‘Modesty doesn’t suit you. She almost declared herself to a married man.’’
‘‘She didn’t know he was married, and she wasn’t about to declare herself. It would’ve passed as an unfortunate misunderstanding, nothing more. And I weren’t being modest.’’
‘‘Thomas, you read the situation exactly for what it was and you handled it amazingly. It’s the smartest thing I’ve ever seen and I didn’t even see it.’’ He insisted, exaggerating only a little.
Thomas watched Jimmy, waving his hands while he spoke, and remained quiet but his cheeks had taken up a red tint. He was hoping Jimmy wouldn’t notice.
‘‘Why are you blushing?’’
‘‘What? What is it?’’ He insisted.
Thomas was just about to blame it on the cold, but then,
‘‘Oh my god! You don’t know how to take a compliment!” Jimmy said, giddy with realisation.
‘‘Piss off, it’s not like that.’’ He wouldn’t look at him now.
‘‘You really don’t, you hate that I just said you are smart!’’ Jimmy didn’t know how in all the time they’d been friends, he was just realising this now. Surely he complimented Thomas often. In his head he did, at least.
‘‘I don’t hate it, I’m just not used to it. Stop pestering me.’’ Thomas protested. ‘‘It’s usually judging glares and nasty remarks coming my way, anyway. Not many compliments.’’ He said with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes.
There was a pause after than, and Jimmy said ‘‘Yeah, I know what that’s like.’’
Thomas just turned to look at him dumbfoundedly and saw Jimmy smiling, stifling a laugh.
‘‘Fuck off.’’ Thomas said, laughing.‘‘You can’t go half an hour without someone complimenting you.’’
‘‘That’s not all true.’’
‘‘Or looking at you with hungry eyes.’’ Pot, meet kettle.
‘‘Fine. But it ain’t so amazing either. I’d rather have people admiring my wit than calling me pretty.’’ He finished with a frown.
‘‘Wit won’t take you as far as golden hair and a dashing smile.’’ Thomas stated, motioning to Jimmy with the hand holding his cigarette.
‘‘I dunno, your hair is jet black and you are under-butler. I’m just first footman.’’
‘‘You are also some years younger.’’ Thomas pointed.
‘‘Yeah, but you are still handsome.’’
‘‘Now you’re are just trying to make me blush again.’’ He pointed at him.
Jimmy laughed at getting caught. They smoked some more until they had to get back to work.
‘‘Go on, love, let’s go inside.’’ Thomas' voice was casual while he turned to go back into the house.
Jimmy involuntarily stood still processing what just happened, again. If this was going to be a reoccurring thing he would need to come up with a better response than just freezing in place. And he was the one to ask for it in the first place, sort of. When Thomas noticed him staring, he straightened and said,
‘‘What… Oh. Was I pushing it?’’ He smiled sheepishly as he caught up, scrunching up his nose. Jimmy’s heart skipped a beat.
‘‘No,’’ he finally said, on a chuckle ‘‘it just sounds strange coming from you. I don’t mind it, though. Might get used to it.’’ He offered a smile as he passed him to go inside.
Jimmy was getting a tray ready to go up when Thomas found him. The kitchen was uncharacteristically empty at that moment, except for them.
‘‘Oh, Jimmy, I was hoping to catch you. I have to tell you something.’’
‘‘That you are madly in love with me and want to have my babies?’’ Jimmy teased, his eyes on the tray where he was arranging the spoons.
It wasn’t the first time he joked so bluntly with Thomas, but each time he readied himself for a jab in the stomach that, thankfully, never came. Thomas mouth hung open as he looked around to make sure no one heard and his cheeks matched Mrs Patmore's pink salmon mousse that was waiting to be carried upstairs.
‘‘Must you be like that?’’ He asked indignantly when he found the words. There was a glint of laughter in his tone, though. He cleared his throat. ‘‘No, I just came to say I managed to switch your day off with Alfred’s, like you asked. So we can go to Ripon tomorrow, to see that film.’’ He was looking pleased. ‘‘If you’d still like.’’ He added, to be safe.
‘‘Yes! Thank you, Thomas.’’ Jimmy beamed.
‘‘That’s alright. Now c’mon, hurry up, Mr Carson will be waiting.’’ Thomas said, trying to sound stern and hold back a smile.
The walk to town was pleasant. Jimmy was wearing his new suit under his heavy coat and maybe a touch of cologne. He thought it made sense to dress up, since it was the evening and it’d probably be night time by the time they left the picture house, but he felt like he overdid it a little now. Thomas looked as formal as ever, but it suited him. They walked close, making conversation and attempting to fight the cold.
When they arrived at the theatre, Jimmy purchased the tickets while Thomas bought a bag of popcorn, which Jimmy insisted on, as he liked the snacks just as much as the film itself. The under-butler protested a little but would end up eating half the bag himself. They found their seats and talked idly before the film started. When it did, they both sat back and limited their conversations to a few comments back and forth to make the other laugh. Somewhen, on the second third of the movie, Thomas spotted Jimmy fidgeting in his seat out of the corner of his eye.
‘‘Everything alright, Jimmy?’’ He asked quietly.
‘‘Um, I think I dropped my wallet?’’ He whispered back while turning his coat and searching his pockets.
‘‘Oh, should I ask them to turn the lights on for a bit so we can search?’’ Thomas suggested, putting the popcorn bag down and starting to look around.
‘‘No, gorgeous, why would you that? It must have fallen here somewhere, I’ll find it.’’ Jimmy said offhandedly, bending over to look under his seat.
Thomas stopped and sat upright, turning to Jimmy. “What did you say?’’ Both asking for genuine clarification and challenging him to repeat it.
Jimmy also sat back and looked at him unimpressed, the light of the screen casting dancing shadows on his face. ‘‘I said: No, you mardy bum, I don’t need you to stop the entire picture just so that I can look for my wallet. Just help me check if it fell between the seats.’’
Someone shushed them from behind and that was that. They continued to search until Thomas made Jimmy look in his coat again and they found it in the inner pocket the he had forgotten to check. They watched the rest of the film in silence but if anyone had asked Thomas what happened in the last third, he wouldn’t have been able to say.
Later that night, alone in his room, Jimmy nearly wept from embarrassment thinking back on his words. It was something his mother used to call his father all the time. He didn’t hear it much outside of his house, and he certainly never used it himself, but in his mind it existed as the most natural way to address a loved one. A close friend, that is. It was nothing but a lapse in judgement, his familiarity with Thomas messing with his head and the fact that Thomas himself had taken some liberties with addressing him like that first. Also being away from the house, just in his company and in a mostly dark room evidently helped. After a few hours of pacing around, he figured there wasn’t much else to ponder, since it had no major consequence and he couldn’t take it back anyway, so he tried to fall asleep. And he managed to do so feeling only a little tense.
Jimmy was a little fidgety on Friday because of a dream he had. The dream involved Thomas, and it wasn’t anything disturbing, mostly harmless, involving part of the Downton staff, Jimmy’s own family and a few scenes from the movie on Wednesday. But it reminded him of a story a soldier told him once, on the trenches, on a particularly calm day. He had told him that one night he had a very vivid dream about a girl he knew in his hometown. It was somewhat romantic and fairly sexual, as he very graphically described. But it struck him completely and when he woke up he felt overtaken by love. He had actually fallen in love with her just because of some dream. As he was explaining it, Jimmy found it quite hard to believe, but he had listened carefully anyway.
This latest dream did not have that effect on Jimmy, but it did get him thinking, because in the end the soldier had married this girl, and since he died in the war, Jimmy never forgot about his story. He wondered, ever since, what he would do if such thing were to happen to him. Waking up one day, head over heels for someone due to subconscious feelings that ambushed him in his sleep.
And today, his wondering turned a little dark, nagging him every time he had a moment to think. Because he found it funny to imagine waking up in love with Ivy, or even Daisy, who he thought carried on a better conversation. But he never dared have these thoughts about Thomas. Not since he realised his feelings toward the man were a bit more complex than he’d liked. He didn’t care for Thomas in the way Thomas cared for him, this much he knew. But in warming to his friendship, he was surprised at how easy it had been to rid himself of prejudice and allow their relationship to grow so naturally. And so, inevitably, he wondered if it’d be that easy to let go of some parts of himself he also thought imposible to bend. Because at the minute, Thomas was the only person in his life who he was excited to be around, almost everything Jimmy looked for in a friend, or anyone for that matter. He hadn’t allowed himself to see that at first, but it was true. Jimmy could be the best version of himself around Thomas, and he learned so much from him. Plus he smelled so nice. He only fed this thoughts a handful of times, most often he couldn’t cope with his brain roaming around so freely.
So after his little overthinking session, Jimmy spent all week trying and failing to keep his eyes off of Thomas, praying those dreams never came. Thomas, of course, noticed. Whether he was staring too much or never meeting his eyes, Jimmy wasn’t sure, but he noticed nonetheless.
‘‘You’ve been awfully introverted this past few days.’’ He said lightly, cigarette dangling from his lips, a cloud of smoke framing him as he played his hand. They were in his room, sitting opposite sides of the small table next to the fireplace.
‘‘Have I? Hm, didn’t notice.’’ Jimmy lied, and put down a card of his own.
‘‘Anything on your mind?’’ He asked conversationally, setting down a card and taking a drag of his cigarette, rearranging himself on his armchair at the same time. Jimmy made an effort to keep his eyes on his cards, but still followed every move.
‘‘Just remembering a story I ‘eard once, ‘bout this man who dreamed of a girl and when he woke up, he fell in love with her.’’ Jimmy kept his face down while he spoke but looked up with his eyes and a smiled, mockingly.
‘‘That happened to me once.’’ Jimmy’s smile left his face as he stared at him in surprise and waited for him to continue. ‘‘Only the complete opposite. I was friends with this boy once, must’ve been like thirteen or summat, we weren’t too close, but I’d go ‘round to his house for tea every now and then. One night I dreamt he spread nasty rumours about me and I stopped being his friend ever since.’’ He finished, taking a last drag of his cigarette and stubbing it out on the ashtray near the cards.
‘‘You do enjoy losing friends, huh?’’ Jimmy teased, processing the story.
‘‘I do, don’t I?’’ Thomas was laughing and Jimmy joined him, shaking his head.
It was about a month after the movie date when Thomas made the move that, unbeknownst to him, provoked the downfall of Jimmy Kent. It wasn’t radical, and it was perfectly justified and no one, not even himself, noticed. Except for Jimmy.
The kitchen was crowded, people flowing in and out, Mrs Patmore rushing about with Daisy and Ivy on tow, getting everything ready to go up as Alfred picked up a tray to take up and Jimmy finished arranging his own. Thomas walked in and in an attempt to get to the other side of the kitchen, with barely any space to walk, he brushed past Jimmy’s back, putting his hands on his waist while he did. It was quick, not at all inappropriate and not at all A Big Deal. But Jimmy experienced a whole eye opening realisation and all of a sudden understood why all the girls back at home were so nervous to talk to him and giggled when he walked by, because for the rest of the day, every time he saw Thomas, he had to stop himself from doing the same. His eyes remained unfocused during all of service and his mind was clouded, his skin tingling where he could still feel the under-butler’s hands.
He was mostly thinking about how lately, all those nightly visits to Thomas’ room had felt much more intense, charged with something. Maybe it had to do with the fact that they both took the whole nickname thing to heart, and it was getting a bit out of hand, though only in private, but it wasn’t just that. Where before, Jimmy would be excited to see him, now he was ecstatic, longing for it all day. He used to think Thomas was funny, but now every joke he made was nothing short of hilarious. And he always respected Thomas, even when things were the worst between them, but today he realised he admired him, every thought to leave his head was the smartest, every expression on his face, the most handsome in Jimmy’s eyes. Not unlike an obsession.
So Jimmy walked around with these thoughts for some time, all the while still meeting Thomas every night and being as subtle as he could about it. He knew who he was, he knew what and who he liked but the lines of how he felt about Thomas became a little blurred. Because, on top of everything, his brain had taken up a new hobby and he suddenly became very prone to daydreaming. Little scenarios, some more detailed than others, but all involving many terms of endearment, holding Thomas’ hand and kissing him in the cheek. And maybe more of those hair cutting sessions. Jimmy had never asked the soldier for the technicalities of his dream. If it happened over night or during a quick nap in the evening. But it was occurring to Jimmy that maybe what was happening to him was no different. And all it took for him to notice was a pair of hands on his waist.
On the first night of spring the staff were all gathered in the servant’s hall, having dinner. Jimmy sat in his usual place, next to Mrs Baxter, who was the only one between him and Thomas. Jimmy resented her a bit for that. And he kept pulling his chair closer to the table, leaning over his plate and finding excuses to look to his left, where he could see the under-butler. At one point he asked him to pass the bread, which made no sense, really, because Mr Molesley had a better angle and Thomas would have to reach through glasses and bottles. Mr Bates made point to tell him so, as if Jimmy needed more reason to dislike him.
Jimmy could tell he was being careless, and a borderline creep, but he couldn’t keep his eyes off of him. That is, he could, but he didn’t want to. He shouldn’t have been surprised when Thomas said,
‘‘Is there something on my face, Jimmy?’’ Without directly looking at him, munching on his food.
And how rude of him to say that so loudly, because now Jimmy had to fight his blush and explain himself to at least the five people around them who heard. It was a good thing they’d been friends for a while, and Jimmy had learned a thing or two from Thomas’ quick wit.
‘‘Yeah, actually, Mr Barrow. I think there’s a booger hanging from yer nose.’’ Jimmy said, with a pinched expression, not loudly but definitely not whispering.
Mrs Baxter giggled quietly, Anna hid a smile and kept eating, but Mr Bates didn’t hold back on his chuckle. Alfred knew best and didn’t even flinch, but Jimmy saw him close his eyes to control his expression. Thomas was just glaring at him and for a second Jimmy was genuinely sorry to embarrass him so, but he knew the alternative would’ve been worse. Oh I’m sorry Mr Barrow, only your face looks very pretty in this light and you eyes are exceptionally captivating this evening.
He still wanted to punch Bates for laughing at him. Thomas kept subtly checking his nose on the back of a spoon throughout dinner, occasionally shooting daggers at Jimmy, who even then wouldn’t look away.
Despite that, he went to his room later on, for their nightly rendezvous.
‘‘Oh, hello, Jimmy, come to apologize?’’ He was still in uniform, but the jacket had been discarded and his posture was relaxed.
‘‘I’ve got nothing to apologize for, you were the one to… expose me like that.’’ Jimmy protested while brushing past Thomas to walk into the room, his shoulder touching the other man’s chest in the process.
‘‘Expose you how? It was an innocent enough question.’’ He retorted, his tone demanding explanation.
‘‘It weren’t that bad, you just take yourself too seriously.’’ Jimmy answered weakly, completely avoiding his question
‘‘You’re being weird.’’
‘‘Am not. D’ya have something to drink tonight, while we play?’’ He said as he walked to the chair and sat down.
‘‘Alright, have it your way. I think I have some wine left, will that do?’’ He went to his dresser to pull out a half empty bottle of red.
‘‘Sure.’’ Jimmy said, shuffling the deck of cards. Thomas walked to his seat with the bottle and a set of two small crystal glasses, one of his few possessions. He poured some wine into both glasses and handed one to Jimmy and kept the one for himself, as Jimmy dealt their hands.
‘‘Cheers, love.’’ Jimmy said and took a sip of wine, missing the tremble in Thomas hand while he drank from his own glass. They played a few rounds in silence, sharing a cigarette and slowly downing the wine. Jimmy was hoping the drink would help him relax, and drift his mind away from Thomas for a while. But Jimmy vs. The World very quickly turned to The World vs. Jimmy when Thomas rolled up his sleeves and undid two buttons in his shirt, trying to get comfortable. From then on, all rational thought escaped Jimmy’s mind, in a mist of images of Thomas’ throat as he drank wine, his hands as he lit a cigarette, his fingers as he laid down cards, his eyes as he studied Jimmy.
‘‘Did you finished the book I lent you last week?’’ Thomas asked, his voice rough from the smoke and from being silent so long.
‘‘I did, yeah. I’ll return it tomorrow.’’
‘‘Did you enjoy it?’’
‘‘It was a nice read, but a bit too romantic for my taste. Love stories bore me a little. Though I suppose you loved that.’’ Jimmy teased with a smile.
‘‘I do enjoy a good literary piece about matters of the heart, yes.” Thomas said with a shy smile.
‘‘What are you like? I’m never ready to hear you say things like that. You’re so soft, aren’t ya?” Jimmy was shaking his head, eyes on his cards, but smiling fondly.
‘‘I am not.’’ He scoffed. “I only think it’s nice to belong to someone. And I suppose, in a way, books and pictures are the closest I'll ever get to the real thing.’’ His voice was so soft it was a wonder it managed to break Jimmy all the same.
For lack of something better to say, Jimmy settled for “Well, I personally don’t see what all the fuss is about. Love makes you vulnerable and powerless and stupid. It’s a concept fabricated to make the idea of arranged marriages less unappealing.” He poured the last of the wine on both their glasses.
‘‘Who hurt you?’’ Thomas asked, looking at Jimmy in disbelief. Jimmy just chuckled into his glass.
There was a knock on the door. They both looked at each other and, eventually, Jimmy stood to open it.
‘‘Oh, hello, Jimmy.’’ Alfred mumbled, trying to hide his surprise. Not at Jimmy being there, but at the fact that he was the one opening the door.
‘‘Can we help you, Alfred?’’ Thomas asked from where he was sitting, his hands still holding the cards and his third cigarette of the night.
‘‘I’m sorry to trouble you, Mr Barrow, but I think I’m coming down with something and my head’s killing me. I’ve tried to catch an early night but, um…. Well, I was only wondering if you’d mind keeping your voices down. A little.’’
Jimmy turned to look at Thomas as if to say ‘can you believe the nerve of this halfwit?’ and Thomas returned it if only for a second, before looking back to Alfred.
‘‘Of course, Alfred. We’re sorry to trouble you. I hope you can get some rest.’’ He offered a brief but sincere smile.
‘‘Thank you, Mr Barrow, I appreciate it. Jimmy.’’ He nodded at him and went back to his room.
A new question presented itself to Jimmy, as he felt the hours go by, which he was quite shocked to learn he already knew the answer to. That night, in Thomas’ room, he saw his friend so relaxed, his hair breaking free of the pomade and his shirt hanging loose, and Jimmy knew if he ever had such dreams about Thomas, the kind the soldier talked about, he would wake up ready to succumb. He would be privately terrified, but in the end, he’d be glad he could finally give Thomas what he wanted, what the deserved. And he wouldn’t be afraid of the law, or the church, or the judgement, both from other people and himself, because Thomas lived outside of their rules and that was good enough reason for Jimmy.
Jimmy didn’t dream of Thomas again, much to his relief. He spent the nights dreamlessly and at peace with his mind. The same couldn’t be said for the daytime, sadly. The daydreaming issue continued and Jimmy’s brain was getting rather creative. He forgot, sometimes, that it was not his reality, and his interactions with Thomas seemed lacking, by comparison. They started the same, with fond looks, more terms of endearment, good conversation. But where his dreams would go on to kissing, cuddling and more than he was comfortable admitting, real life would stop at a gentle touch or a shared cigarette. This revelations he arrived to over a couple of weeks, but the realisation that he was in love with Thomas came to him in a single night, and it didn't require an actual dream. Needless to say it was a sleepless night. He had those, sometimes, when he dreamed about the war or too much was on his mind. So he sat there, in the dark, overthinking everything and questioning all that he knew. And yes, he concluded, he was in love with Thomas. It had to be, he didn’t know love but he did know the things he felt for Thomas he felt for no one else. It wasn’t a general thing, it didn’t mean he could feel this way about any man. It just meant that he finally understood why Thomas stayed with him after all, why he forgave the unforgivable, and why he’d so obviously do it all again in a heartbeat. Jimmy felt so ready to do the same, to have something with Thomas that was just their own, much stronger than a friendship. He did wonder how he would feel in the daylight, because everyone knew admitting such things to oneself was easier protected by darkness and in the solitude of his room. But on the morrow he’d have to face Thomas and for the first time be certain of the nature of his feelings about him.
And when morning rolled around, Jimmy laughed at himself for ever thinking that realising he was in love with Thomas would be as easy as succumbing to it. It was the most daunting thing he’d ever have to endure. The actuality of it was cold and harsh, not nearly as romantic as the conceptual thought. Because what were his real options? What did it mean to give into it? Accepting it within himself but never telling Thomas? Telling him but never be together because the implications were too dangerous? Telling him, be together but never safe? Even after loosing precious sleep over it, he hadn’t even finished processing the fact that he was in love with a man, which was no small matter, let alone deciding what his best options were. He couldn’t tell up from down but all he could think about was he should ask Thomas. Thomas would know, he was smart and he knew Jimmy, he’d know what was best. For that, of course, he’d have to tell him all, first. This is what was going on in his head while he drank his tea and talked absentmindedly with Alfred.
The interactions he had with Thomas throughout the day were, objectively, the same as always. But in his mind, he was seeing everything in such a different light. He was sitting next to the man he loved, he was smoking with the man he loved, the man he loved called him ‘babe’ once or twice a day, when no one was around.
He was never good at keeping big revelations to himself, when he had someone to talk to about them. He liked to voice his thoughts, give them a sense of materiality and revealing himself to someone else. He was one of his own favourite topics of conversation, for better or worse. And for a while now, Thomas had been the one to turn to. So the need to talk to him was only growing stronger. But he had a love-hate relationship with words in that sense, because, although only in a small handful of times, sometimes words failed him. They felt too big and not big enough to convey his feelings, to make the other person hear what was going through his mind. And at night, when he dragged himself to Thomas’ room, all the adrenaline of the monumental epiphany he had, dissipated together with his courage and the speech he so carefully rehearsed.
When he reached his door, he let himself in without knocking and was greeted with the sight of Thomas tidying up his dresser, putting away clean clothes but not yet having changed into his pyjamas. He straightened hastily when he heard the door open.
‘‘Heavens, Jimmy, you scared me.’’ When Jimmy didn’t respond and simply looked around, gaze unfocused, he went on. “Is everything alright?’’ He inquired with a frown.
‘‘Yes.’’ He assured, unconvinced, eyes still roaming the room. “No, I think we need to talk.’’ Jimmy’s thought process since he came in the room was that there was no thought process. He was acting purely on instinct, figuring the sooner he said what he came to say, the sooner he could deal with the consequences, but there was no point on keeping it to himself anymore.
Thomas sensed the following conversation could end in him a sobbing mess on the floor, or very well with his ass on the streets, no job, no future and no will to live. It could also be that Jimmy lost another book he borrowed from him, but when it came to Thomas, specially Thomas and Jimmy, things were never that small. So he readied himself in silence while Jimmy started to speak, his expression unreadable.
‘‘Thomas I’ve been meaning to say… That is, I wanted to ask you…’’ Jimmy began, but discarded the rest because the words weren’t right and he didn’t dare finishing them. He was still standing near the closed door, and Thomas next to the dresser, none of them had dared to move.
‘‘Yes, Jimmy.’’ Thomas patiently encouraged.
‘‘I think I-“ He tried again, but decided against it, thinking the words would come easier if he took himself out of the question, for now. He cleared his throat. “How do you…’’ They didn’t.
‘‘How do I…’’ Thomas tried his best not to lose his patience, an effort that went unnoticed by Jimmy.
‘‘How can you be sure, when you are attracted to a man?’’ He regretted his question as soon as he spoke. The words sounded silly out in the air, free from the safety of his brain. He hadn’t meant attracted, he meant in love. He hadn’t meant any man, but your best friend. And he didn’t care about being sure, his doubts were more regarding what in the hell do you do.
Thomas took a while to answer. Mainly because he could think, off the top of his head, of at least fifteen follow up questions. Why is he asking me this? Did I do something to upset him? Have I not been careful enough? Is this even about me? Is it about him? That last one sent a dangerous thrill running through his body. But then he figured asking that would only scare him off and he’d rather follow the natural course of the conversation Jimmy was trying to lead. Because he was respectfully curious about it.
‘‘It… becomes hard to be away from them, Jimmy, and they are constantly on your mind, everything they do catches your attention.’’ He explained, eyeing him carefully, studying his reactions to make sure his words didn’t upset him. He also made a point of using neutral pronouns.
A silence stretched over the room.
He wouldn’t have been more careful about his next move if he were in the woodlands, alone, surrounded by hyenas. ‘‘Jimmy, are you attracted to someone?’’
Jimmy, who was still looking down, looked up at him and went back to staring at the floor with intent. ‘‘Yes.’’ He confessed, with a single nod.
Thomas’ next move wasn’t as careful. ‘‘Okay... Is it me?’’ It wasn’t vanity or egocentrism that lead him to ask that question. It was that for the last few weeks he’d seen Jimmy doing everything Thomas himself had to stop himself from doing when they were together. The looks, the touches, the way he spoke and the things he said. He’d seen it all before. And of course, this current conversation.
‘‘God, no. No, I wouldn’t… no.’’ Jimmy was cringing theatrically, shaking his head and looking at and away from Thomas, hands in fists hanging limply at his sides.
‘‘Alright.’’ Thomas knew that was a likely answer. He was disappointed, but not hurt.
‘‘Yes.’’ The correction came while Thomas was processing his last answer, quiet, but clear as day.
Thomas breathed in hard, the sound breaking the silence so abruptly, and the strength of it making him choke on his own saliva.
After waiting for this day for over a year and a half, Thomas was surprised by the overwhelming sense of paranoia that overtook him. Because it couldn’t be. It was too much, too good, completely unprecedented. Completely unreal. Jimmy was mocking him, cruelly and shamelessly. Thomas had obviously done something to offend him and this was payback. He was mislead many times, but not this once. He’d learnt his lesson, he knew where his hope, his faith that better things awaited him, had lead him before. When he spoke, he couldn’t stop his voice from shaking with feeling. And it must’ve shown on his face too, because he saw Jimmy mirror his expressions in silence as he went through every emotion on the book.
‘‘Jimmy why would you tell me this? You know I don't mind the teasing, I can have a laugh at meself but this is too-’’ He was already on the brink of tears, a huge knot in his throat.
‘‘I’m not making this up.’’ Jimmy looked lost.
‘‘I know you are, please stop. You honestly believed I’d fall for that? That you are attracted to me?’’
‘‘Yes, Thomas. I am.’’ His jaw was so tense it was straining. ‘‘And I don’t know what to do.’’
‘‘Jimmy, stop teasing, right now. You’ve gone too far, I’m not-’’
‘‘Thomas, I’m not teasing, how can you think that?!’’ He couldn’t find the courage to walk towards Thomas to hug him or punch him or both. He started sobbing, instead. ‘‘This is a real thing that- that I’m feeling, I’m asking you to help me understand. I’ve never meant something this much but I don’t know what to do with it, please. I-I-I don’t want to...to hurt you, I just-’’
‘‘Alright, alright, Jimmy. It’s alright.’’ He was the one to close the space between them, stretching his arms and firmly grabbing Jimmy by the shoulders, steading him, grounding him. His palms burned Jimmy’s skin through the fabric of his uniform. ‘‘Okay. I believe you. I just… I’m going to need you to be more clear with me. I need to know what you mean to make sense of this, you understand that, yes?’’ He was saying all the right things, giving him the comfort he needed, giving him a safe space, casting his own emotions aside. But all Jimmy could think about was how sweet his voice sounded. They were both fighting back tears now.
‘‘I am. Serious. I’m serious, really, Thomas. I am.’’ Jimmy kept repeating while Thomas sat him on the bed, then placing himself next to him. Close enough for their sides to brush, but far enough to put some space between them, if need be.
‘‘How can you be? And what specifically are you even referring to?’’ Thomas forced himself to calm down and be as clinical about this as possible. He couldn’t afford to guide this conversation with his feelings, he needed to keep his emotions in check, let his mind take over. Because otherwise he’d be asking things like Can I kiss you and How long have you known you loved me and didn’t tell me, how much time did we waste. That could come later, though, maybe. First, he needed to know Jimmy wasn’t gonna regret this very interaction in the near future. Because Jimmy did love him, that much was clear to him now, once the paranoia dissipated at Jimmy’s desperate words. But that brought no guarantees, and in no way did it mean that Jimmy would allow this feelings to escalate, to let them bloom. So Thomas really needed to know where he stood, guard himself for a potential heartbreak that grew more dangerous by the minute. He really wished Jimmy had come to say he lost the book.
‘‘It’s all these things that have been happening to me and I can’t- I want to fight them, I do, but they won’t go away and I just- I’m terrified, but I can’t be away from you, Thomas.’’ Jimmy was crying now, with impotence, with fear and confusion, and embarrassment was at the top of the list as well.
Thomas’ eyes radiated sympathy. “And you want me to help you make them go away?’’
‘‘What? No. Do you… want me away from you?’’ In all this time Jimmy never thought to consider Thomas might no longer be on the same page.
‘‘Jimmy you must know that’s the last thing I want. But you don’t seem well, you never wanted this. You were repulsed by it, by me. You don’t want this, not really. And that’s fine, I told you I wasn’t asking for it, and I meant it. What’s brought this about? These feelings that you speak of. Because I was under the impression that our friendship was going well and I’m sorry if I got it wrong.’’
Jimmy guessed out of all the people in this house, he was the only one to have seen so many of Mr Barrows’ sides, when he made such a good job of seeming cold, distant, calculating and mischievous. But it still felt so odd to see him as the comforting party. For him to step so easily into the shoes of the understanding, reassuring friend, when Jimmy could hardly stand upright and the tears wouldn’t stop flowing.
‘‘Alright, Thomas. Just shut up, and listen.’’ Jimmy said, decisively, getting tired of being misunderstood and desperate to come clean. He twisted a little where they were sitting side by side, propping his right leg on the bed and facing Thomas with his whole front. ‘‘It’s like this. Remember the story about the soldier, with the dream and the girl?’’ At Thomas' nod, he went on. ‘‘Well, I’ve sort of been having them myself. About you.’’ He didn’t stop to let that sink in, just kept talking, hoping for as little a reaction as possible, and was thankful when he wasn’t interrupted. ‘‘Only it weren’t in the night, and it weren’t just the once. It’s all day, Thomas. I can’t stop picturing myself with you.’’ He did pause, then, to look at Thomas, forcing his eyes to insinuate all he couldn’t say. ‘‘And now, every time you touch me… and all these things we’ve been calling each other… it drives me mad.’’ He shook his head and a few hairs felt loose down his forehead.
‘‘I’ll stop, then. I’ll keep me hands to myself and I won’t ever call you anything other than Jimmy, or- or Mr Kent, even.’’ Thomas said, in a soothing and almost desperate tone.
Jimmy looked at him, terribly offended. ‘‘How is that the only thing you managed to pick up from what I’ve said? It’s the other way around, you fool. I want… those things. That I think of. With you.’’ His voice was all but a whisper now. ‘‘And I know it’s not what I told ya all that time ago. You’ve been good, Thomas, you have. I don’t know what’s changed. But it’s not what you think, I won’t feel different in the morning.’’
Thomas took so long to say anything, Jimmy was about to beg him for a response.
‘‘Oh.’’ He eventually said, eloquently so. His breath reached Jimmy’s skin. ‘‘It turns out me mother was right.’’ He added softly, but his eyes made him look like he was in a different dimension.
‘‘What’s that?’’ Jimmy asked.
‘‘There is a God.’’ He finished with a smile tugging at his lips. They both exhaled a laugh that seemed to brush away most of the tension in the room. It felt surreal that everyone outside of the door was completely oblivious to the groundbreaking revelations taking place inside. Jimmy was half expecting Thomas to make the next move, seeing as he had essentially just tore his heart open and it took quite a lot out of him to do so. But then he figured, with all the dignity he just lost, muttering words he never imagined saying and openly admitting to being everything he once swore to despise, he could do with a bit of regaining control. So, satisfied with that justification, he leaned forward and temptively brought his hand up to cup Thomas’ face. It was a clumsy motion, and he was trembling a little as he put his forehead against the other man’s.
‘‘I’m going to try something, now.’’ He whispered, charged with adrenaline. He was so nervous but he felt so warm.
‘‘Tsk, I don’t know if I’m sure about this.’’ Thomas whispered back, and Jimmy felt his soul leave his body before he realised he was being teased. He gasped in surprise but he couldn’t hide his amused grin.
‘‘Fuck you.’’ Was the last thing he said before he brought their lips together.
Jimmy’s heart was beating out of his chest, his eyes were closed but he saw stars. And he felt, then, he needn’t have been so scared, if this was the outcome. There were no warning signs, no flashing lights or loud sirens, he didn’t grow horns or felt the sudden need to implode. He almost forgot all good reason for putting it off for so long, wishing he had faced the truth much sooner. The light stubble beneath his fingertips was the only thing different from kissing girls (albeit not all girls) and he endured a mini seizure when he learnt Thomas tasted as nice as he smelt.
Thomas, on his part, was fully convinced he’d died and went to heaven. Then sense came back to him and he remembered there’d be no heaven for him, so he must be very much alive.
As they deepened the kiss and Thomas’ hands came up to roam through his hair, Jimmy promised himself he’d never visit a barber shop again.
For no particular reason, Thomas and Jimmy decided to stay in the servant’s hall after dinner. Jimmy played some piano and as everyone went up for the night, he went back to the table and indulged Thomas on a game of cards and a cigarette. Mrs Hughes was keeping Carson company in his study, Anna and Bates had long left for their cottage, so Mr Molesley and Mrs Baxter were the only ones out, aside form them. They were being sickly sweet and terribly annoying, so obviously fond of one another. Although Jimmy couldn’t judge much on that department anymore.
For everyone's surprise (well, no one knew, but had they known, they’d all be surprised) in the month and a half they’d been together, Thomas and Jimmy turned out to be the most affectionate couple. Perhaps not the most, but a lot more than they’d admit to. They just couldn’t seem to be able to shake off the thrill of finally finding each other. They very quickly became very domestic and, at least two times a week, they’d put their lives in danger with a slip of the tongue caught at the last second, or a reaching hand stopped mid air. Things like the nicknames they’d call the other or soft touches they shared had to wait for privacy. To make it more bearable, sometimes they’d say something in public, safe enough for everyone to hear, that only they knew the true meaning behind. Like the time over dinner Thomas asked Jimmy to pass the bread, and after he handed him a baguette, Thomas looked him dead in the eye and said: “I don’t think I can take this, it’s far too big.’’ which was a direct quote from something Jimmy had said, in a much different context, the night before. At dinner, Jimmy, embarrassed to death, had gasped, choked, coughed and blushed, much like he’d also done the night in question.
So while they played, the yellow light casting shadows on Thomas’ face, the fireplace burning up and the smoke of their cigarettes wrapping them both up, Jimmy made a mental list of all those things he wished he could do with Thomas in public and reminded himself to act on them in the safety of their room. He knew Thomas would be doing the same.