Jimmy was as careless with his own health as he was with the other aspects of his personal life. He’d frequently go out without a heavy enough coat or the right sort of shoes. It was as if he didn’t care that he might get ill, or else he thought himself young and healthy enough to not be effected by such things
It drove Thomas to distraction.
He’d lost count of the number of times Jimmy had stumbled in late, half-drunk and sopping wet, or so cold he could barely talk without his teeth chattering together.
Once Thomas had dared to mention it, only to receive a mouthful of abuse from the footman.
It hurt Thomas to care so much about someone who clearly didn’t care about him. Should be used to it by now, he thought, lighting another cigarette.
It was Jimmy’s half day and he’d headed down to the village as soon as he was released, clearly on a mission to get blotto, with neither coat nor umbrella to protect him from the downpour that had started ten minutes after he left. Thomas had offered to wait up for the footman’s ignominious return, more to save Jimmy from another dressing down than out of any consideration for Mr Carson’s desire to get to bed.
It was already a quarter-past midnight and the servant’s hall was empty save for Thomas and his thoughts. He’d already read the newspaper twice, drank four cups of tea (which he knew he’d regret when he had to get up several times in the night to relieve himself) and smoked almost a whole pack of cigarettes.
He was simultaneously bored and anxious all at once.
The back door creaked open and in waltzed Jimmy - well, less waltzed, more wobbled.
“Thomas,” he said, somehow managing to slur that one word until it was almost unrecognisable.
“You’re late,” Thomas replied, “and tight.”
“Nothadmuchreally,” Jimmy said, the words running together. He inserted himself into the space between Thomas’s chair and the table, where there wasn’t really enough room for him, and leaned forwards. “Shhhhh, I’m drunk,” he said in a stage whisper.
His breath smelled like something the maids might use to clean a particularly stubborn stain out of a carpet.
“Hmm,” Thomas put out his cigarette and folded away the paper - Jimmy’s suit was sodden and he was dripping all over the table, the floor, and Thomas’s knees. “I think you need a glass of water, a slice of bread and your bed.”
“You don’t know what I need,” Jimmy said, and hiccoughed.
Thomas sighed. “Well I’ll fetch them anyway and you can decide whether or not to listen to me.” He stood up, trying not to come into contact with Jimmy’s soaking clothes, but Jimmy stepped into his space and trapped him against the chair.
“No, don’t go I wasn’t tryin’ to upset you,” Jimmy said. He was visibly shivering from cold but hadn’t seemed to notice.
“You should get out of those wet clothes,” Thomas said and extricated himself from the footman’s grasp. He went to the kitchen and fetched the water and bread - when he returned to the servant’s hall he thought Jimmy had gone up, only to find him sitting in front of the dying fire, completely naked, his wet clothes strewn about the floor.
“Bloody hell Jimmy,” Thomas averted his eyes, “I didn’t mean here.”
“I was wet,” Jimmy said, “an’ cold.” As if that explained everything.
Thomas closed his eyes and sighed. It was going to be a long night. Part of him wanted to just leave Jimmy on the servant’s hall floor, to be found by whichever kitchen or scullery maid got up first in the morning. But he knew he could never do that to Jimmy, no matter how difficult the footman was being.
“Come ‘ere will you?” Jimmy patted the floor beside him.
Thomas crouched down and handed Jimmy the water and bread, which he accepted readily despite his previous protestations. Thomas took off his tails and draped them over Jimmy’s tanned shoulders.
“You’re going to get sick,” Thomas warned.
“Nah,” Jimmy grinned stupidly - he was still bloody handsome, even when absolutely plastered. “You always look after me, dontcha?”
“S’cause you love me,” Jimmy smiled.
“Don’t know why,” Thomas smirked. Thank goodness the footman wouldn’t remember any of this by the morning.
“Love you an’ all y’know,” Jimmy reached out and took Thomas’s half-gloved hand.
“Now I know you’re tight.”
“A little,” he nodded sagely, “but still love you, even when I’m sober. Even when I’m a bastard to you.”
“Ah, Jimmy,” Thomas shook his head, “don’t.”
“No, no,” Jimmy clumsily put down his empty glass and it rolled away under the table. “It’s why I’m a bastard to you. I’m such a - a mess. A bloody state I am. A bloody disgusting hypocrite is what.”
Thomas stayed silent. It felt indecent to be privy to these thoughts - these things Jimmy would never say if he hadn’t decided to drink a whole brewery. Things he probably didn’t even mean.
“I don’t mean to hurt you,” Jimmy said, melancholy taking over. “S’all I ever seem to do though. And I don’t want to hurt you. Cuz I love you.”
Thomas didn’t know what to say.
“Thomas I’m - I’m,” and then Jimmy vomited all over the floor.
After giving Jimmy another glass of water and a slice of bread, and after cleaning up his sick with sand from the fire bucket, and after mopping up the puddle of water he’d left by the table and collecting up his clothes (although he couldn’t find one of Jimmy’s socks anywhere), he managed to wrangle the still-naked footman upstairs.
“Shhhh,” Jimmy said, far too loudly, “don’t wake up Carson!”
“Shut up will you,” Thomas hissed, pushing Jimmy into his room. “Go to bed.”
“Help me,” Jimmy said, sticking out his bottom lip. “Please Thomas.”
Naked. Apart from Thomas’s tails which were still draped over his shoulders.
As if Thomas could refuse.
“Fine,” he whispered, closing Jimmy’s door behind him, “but you owe me one for this.”
“I’ll give you however many you like,” Jimmy smirked.
Thomas ignored him and found his pyjamas screwed up on the floor next to his bed. He helped Jimmy into the shirt, quickly buttoning him up with the skilled hands of an ex-valet. Jimmy started unbuttoning them again from the opposite end, but he was so drunk he only managed to get two undone before he gave up and started pulling Thomas’s white tie off instead.
“Bloody stop that will you,” Thomas said. Even his patience, which was very lenient in regards to Jimmy, was wearing thin.
“Noooo, only seems fair if I’m naked,” Jimmy grinned, “you should be too.”
“You’re not naked, you have a pyjama shirt on.”
Jimmy looked down; “Oh yeah. But no bottoms!” And he started giggling. “You should take your trousers off then.” And he darted for Thomas’s button and fly with a speed the under-butler hadn’t thought him capable of when sober, never mind in his current state.
“Jimmy,” Thomas warned, trying to pull his hands away, “don’t.”
Jimmy let his hands run over Thomas hips and around to his lower back, his face now only inches from the under-butler’s.
“You’re so bleedin’ handsome y’know,” Jimmy said, staring at Thomas’s mouth, “I can’t stop thinkin’ about your lips. And what it’d be like to kiss ‘em.”
Thomas stilled. Jimmy was drunk, yes, but there was a certain earnestness in his voice that gave Thomas pause.
“I could just kiss you now,” Jimmy continued, his hands wandering dangerously low down what couldn’t really be classed as Thomas’s back any more, “if you’d let me.”
And Thomas noticed, heaven help him, that Jimmy was getting hard.
“No Jimmy,” Thomas stepped back, “you’re drunk. I’d never take advantage of you.” He put Jimmy’s pyjamas bottoms on his bed, turned around, and in surely one of the greatest acts of self-control of all time, he walked away.
The next morning came all too quickly and Thomas was absolutely exhausted before he’d even started the day. When he sat down to breakfast Jimmy’s chair was tellingly empty - he’d be surprised if the footman made it down at all and he’d already racked up several excuses he could use to explain his absence.
He was shocked when Jimmy stumbled in a few minutes later and sat down next to him. He looked, well, terrible, but at least he was dressed and half-presentable.
“Your collar isn’t done up,” Thomas said, pouring Jimmy a strong cup of coffee.
“That’s the bloody least of me worries,” Jimmy replied, bleary-eyed.
“Do you,” Thomas paused and passed Jimmy some toast, “remember much?”
Jimmy looked at the bread with disgust. “Some...I remember throwing up. And you had to sort it out. Shite, I’m sorry.”
“No matter,” Thomas said. “What are mates for?”
Carson entered and everyone rose - Jimmy wobbled and Thomas discreetly held him up by the elbow until they were permitted to sit again. The butler started droning on about the day’s tasks and the dinner that evening until he stopped suddenly, his eyebrows drawn into a confused frown.
“I am curious,” he boomed, “as to why there is a gentleman’s sock hanging from the ceiling light?”
Every pair of eyes at the table turned up to stare at the rogue sock. Jimmy’s eyes went wide with sudden awareness and he gave Thomas a look that said oh bollocks.
“Ah,” said Thomas, as casually as he could muster whilst lying about a godforsaken sock, “yes, that’s mine.” And he stood on the table to retrieve the offending article.
Silence except for a snigger from one of the hallboys.
“Mr Barrow,” Carson said, his face red, “would you care to explain what your sock was doing there?”
“I, ah,” Thomas cast around for an excuse.
“It was a game wasn’t it Mr Barrow?” Anna provided, a shrewd smile on her lips. She glanced at Jimmy’s pale face and nodded. “Between you and James yesterday.”
“Yes,” Thomas said, “a game.” And he made a mental note to buy Anna a thank you card or perhaps a small gift later.
“What sort of game?” Alfred asked, free of malice but obviously put out about not being involved in the game.
“You have to hide the other person’s socks,” Jimmy said, finally snapping out of his stupor, “and they have to find them. So I win Mr Barrow, as you didn’t find that one - Mr Carson did.”
“Well,” Carson said, not looking at all convinced, “I would prefer it if you kept your undergarments out of the servant’s hall from now on.”
Thomas’s mind unhelpfully provided him with an image of Jimmy naked by the fire, his unmentionables spread around the servant’s hall like the world’s most tasteless Christmas decorations, and he struggled to suppress a snigger.
Carson started eating his breakfast - apparently he’d forgotten he was mid-drone before being distracted by the sock scandal.
“That was close,” Jimmy said. He had the decency to at least look a little embarrassed. Suddenly his face dropped; “Oh shite,” he whispered. Clearly he’d just remembered something more of the previous night.
Then the bell board erupted into noise and everyone disappeared to see to their duties. Thomas and Jimmy didn’t cross paths until lunchtime; when Thomas stepped outside to have a smoke he found Jimmy waiting in their usual spot.
“I think we need to talk Thomas,” he said.
“About?” Thomas lit a cigarette and tried for nonchalance.
“Last night - I may have said some things that I - I shouldn’t have said.”
“Are you going to tell me you were drunk and you didn’t mean them?”
Silence for a beat then; “No. I was drunk and I shouldn’t have said them - not like that at any rate. But I did mean them.”
Thomas blinked, not used to such candour from the footman when he was sober.
“I,” Jimmy looked away, “this is difficult for me.”
“It’s not easy for me,” Thomas said.
“I get drunk so much, and act so - so recklessly because,” he sighed, “I’m an awful person Thomas and I feel so, so bloody guilty about everything.”
“Because it turns out I’m just like you,” Jimmy pushed away from the wall and turned to face Thomas. “I nearly got you sacked - put in prison even - that’s how I treated the man I love. I treated you so badly.”
Thomas’s mouth dropped open and his cigarette fell into the dirt. “You...you love me?”
Jimmy nodded. “I know I said it last night when I were drunk. But I’m not drunk now.” He took a Thomas’s hand and looked at him with wide, hopeful eyes. “I’ve fallen in love with you Thomas, and I can’t fall out of it. Trust me, I’ve tried.”
Thomas huffed out a laugh. “And people say romance is dead.”
“I don’t want to fall out of it,” Jimmy added, “and I’m hopin’ - I s’pose I’m askin’ - do you still...?”
Thomas nodded and Jimmy gave a heady laugh.
“Thank God,” he said. “I don’t deserve you though.”
“Then it’s a good job we don’t always get what we deserve, isn’t it?” Thomas replied.