BOOK ONE: THOUGHTS
Jimmy dreamed of a pair of white-gloved hands; they moved like wings over a table covered in black velvet. Was it velvet? There seemed to be shapes swirling within it- when Jimmy peered closer he could see little scenes: the masts of storm-tossed ships, here and gone, black waters churning in blue vases, silhouetted figures that bowed away in a swirl of darkness.
The hands held up a card- Jimmy saw the back of it, which was printed with a word that shivered and moved as if the letters themselves would crawl away. Jimmy blinked, and the word flickered into view: Strongheart. Then it flickered away again, and a voice came buzzing down from up above him.
"What?!" Jimmy asked, shouting up at the huge, indecipherable voice. He tried to look upwards, but he could not turn his face away from the cards. The voice came again, and this time Jimmy heard a word it the roar of it, a ghost of a word:
"Uhm, what? I don't know what you mean-" Jimmy asked, trying fruitlessly to reason with the thing behind and above the hands.
"The card," The voice said, and the hands drew lines into the darkness before his eyes. "Guess."
"Um, the card, right," Jimmy said, "It's ah, it's ah- the four of hearts!"
The hands turned the card around, fingers moving fluidly, to reveal the ace of diamonds, which Jimmy registered before it disappeared with a flourish. Another card appeared, and Jimmy saw that it was emblazoned with a picture of a dog, and again, the word- "Strongheart"- whatever that meant.
"Try," The voice said, and Jimmy stared at the back of the card, willing himself to have a flash of divine inspiration. "Ah..." He tried to look through the card, attempting to see beyond the particles, out to the other side- "it's the- it's the- don't tell me, I have it- wait- it's-"
"The nine of spades!" Jimmy yelled, exultantly, shooting straight out of bed. In his still-asleep triumphance he made to climb to his feet while on the cot, but this action only served to knock both himself and Thomas half to the floor. The alarm had not gone off yet, but Thomas's eyes slitted open. "What's th'matter, Jimmy?" Thomas mumbled, and then, before Jimmy could reply, Thomas closed his eyes completely again, bringing his index finger to his lips. "Shhh."
Jimmy was tremendously excited, and he opened his mouth to tell Thomas why, but found that the reason was lost to him. "I... I don't know," he whispered, pressing a hand to his own temple. "Stupid. I had such an interesting dream, and then, I-" Jimmy sighed, shaking his head. "It's lost. Damn."
"No, don't do that..." Thomas muttered, and Jimmy lay down atop him, running own hand through Thomas's hair. "Don't do what?" Jimmy said into Thomas's ear, smiling privately at the way Thomas, eyes shut, screwed up his face at the intrusion upon his sleep.
"Don't have interesting dreams," Thomas said, and wrapped his arms around Jimmy. "Don't want no more of that..."
"Sure we do," Jimmy said, just to watch Thomas frown. "No," Thomas whispered. Jimmy warred with himself- wanting to tease Thomas a bit, wanting to eke out a few precious moments more of sleep- and sleep won, and he dreamed of nothing, for a while.
But then the alarm was going off, and Jimmy dressed carefully in his own clothes. More than half a year and nobody has caught us out, Jimmy thought, with smug satisfaction, as he tied his necktie in Thomas's mirror. Thomas was getting dressed- well, he was sitting on the bed with a cigarette, staring blankly at the room, actually- but he was about to get dressed.
Jimmy met his eyes in the mirror, and Thomas gave him a baleful look. "You should dress in your own room," Thomas grumbled.
"What for? I can slip out and downstairs easier this way, and if, say, Carson catches me, I can just tell him I stopped in to ask you something."
Thomas only rolled his eyes in response. If the ensuing months had made Jimmy braver, then Thomas had only gotten more paranoid, as if to counterbalance him.
"And you shouldn't leave your nightclothes in here, for God's sake," Thomas groused, for the thousandth time. Jimmy, satisfied that his reflection was all right, turned around, raising his hands nonchalantly. "Not this again. I've been doing it for months. And it's more... ah, much more efficient this way."
"I feel like I'm waiting for the axe to fall," Thomas said, rising groggily to his feet.
"You're lovely in the mornings," Jimmy said, laughing, and kissed Thomas on the corner of his mouth. Thomas looked at him sourly, exhaling a cloud of smoke away from Jimmy's face with expert skill. "Leave," He said, pointing from Jimmy to the door, but he tilted his face towards Jimmy's anyway, for another kiss.
Jimmy slipped downstairs and was having breakfast with everybody by the time that Thomas showed up. Thomas had a slight tendency towards lateness- Carson gave him a sharp word about it, now and again, but mostly he ignored it: Thomas did an excellent job, and had taken over lot of Carson's workload, too. Thomas was good, Jimmy thought, at insinuating himself into someplace or something and then becoming indispensable, the only man for the job. Certainly he did that to me, just snuck right into my head without my noticing, Jimmy thought, and turned when Thomas sat next to him, to favor him with perhaps too sweet of a smile. Thomas returned his smile with a carefully neutral expression.
"Good morning, Mr. Barrow," Jimmy said, half-raising his coffee.
"Good morning, James," Thomas said.
"We have an extremely busy day ahead of us, Thomas," Mr. Carson said. "I have the final guest list for the party. We're going to have to make sure at least ten rooms are ready- actually, now that I think on it, a dozen- best to leave a few extra open..."
Thomas was nodding, and Jimmy, his mind drifting, remembered vaguely his dream- something about a pair of hands, a secret trick- he concentrated on the sliver of recollection, frowning, and rose when Carson rose, pulling his deck of cards out of his pocket.
"Here, I have a game," Jimmy said, and everyone glanced at him as they sat. Jimmy shuffled his cards neatly, and tapped down his deck, before pulling a card from the bottom and holding it facing himself, so that only the back was visible to his co-workers.
"Well?" Alfred said, looking between Jimmy and his word-cross impatiently.
"I hold in my hand a card," Jimmy said, showing it around without revealing the queen of spades, who looked back at him sternly, "and I'm going to give you all a guess as to what it is. But-" he said, over Alfred, who had started to speak- "don't just guess. I want you to- kind of try to see it in your mind, like envision it with your- um, third eye, or whatever the mystics call it-"
He held the card up, first to Anna, who made a show of looking at it, then laughed. "I give in. Is it the two of diamonds?"
"Sorry Anna," Jimmy said, turning the card to Bates, who raised his gaze from the paper long enough to say: "The six of hearts."
"Nah," Jimmy said, and turned to Alfred. "Mmm," Alfred said, staring at the card with great intensity. "The...uh... three? Of...spades?"
"Very disappointing," Jimmy said, shaking his head at Alfred with a mock frown. He held the card out towards O'Brien, who looked at, only for an instant, and then away. "The queen of diamonds," She said, and again Jimmy shook his head. "Close, but no cigar, Miss O'Brien," Jimmy replied, and nudged Thomas with his elbow. Thomas was deeply engrossed in the guest list.
"Care for a guess, Mr. Barrow?" Jimmy asked, but Thomas barely looked at him. "Three of spades," he answered Jimmy, absently.
"Alfred already said that," Jimmy chided, shaking his head at the table. "You're all very poor at this. Let's do another."
He did eleven more cards, with poor results- only O'Brien got any at all right, and even then, only two of them. "You're a statistical anomaly, Miss O'Brien," Jimmy said. "And the rest of you are woefully out of touch with the, ah, realms of the divine."
"Should we be attempting to contact the realms of the divine? It seems a rather poor idea, to me," Mrs. Hughes said, from the door.
"It's just a bit of fun," Jimmy said, smiling- "Nothing's going to happen-"
For a moment, everyone at the table looked around uncomfortably at one another- except for Thomas, still with his nose in the guest roster- but nothing did happen, and then the bells started to ring. Everybody rose in a clatter of chairs, off to do their jobs.
"I can't believe we're getting to dress in costume for the party," Alfred said to Jimmy, between dinner and the serving of the after-dinner drinks. "I know," Jimmy said, "it should be interesting. What'll you go as?"
"The girls have helped me to make my costume," Alfred answered, looking pleased. "I'm going to be a buccaneer. I even found a hat for it."
Jimmy pictured Alfred as a giant pirate, serving drinks with an eyepatch and sword, and laughed aloud. "Wonderful, very nice," He said, to make up for laughing.
"And you? What'll you do?"
"Haven't decided yet," Jimmy said. "Better soon, then," Alfred said, lifting a tray over his head with grace he would never have possessed a year before. "Only two days left."
"I'll go into Ripon and buy a mask or something. On my half day. Tomorrow." Jimmy answered, pausing to fix his hair in the reflection of a platter. Alfred snorted at him. "Will you and Mr. Barrow be wearing matching costumes, then?"
He didn't say it malevolently as he might once have done. Jimmy noticed. Things, as they say, were different now. "That's a fine idea," Jimmy replied, easily. "Maybe we'll be a pair of gallant sailors to combat your loathsome buccaneer."
"And Mr. Carson as a sea monster!" Alfred exclaimed, his shoulders shaking with mirth.
"If he agrees," Jimmy said, "it could really be an impressive ensemble."
They served alcohol under the observation of Thomas. Carson was downstairs, busying himself with party planning or something, Jimmy wasn't sure what. Perhaps sewing his sea monster costume, he thought, smothering a grin.
"Well, if he gives me jewelry, I'll have to tell him I can't accept it, regardless of how nice it is," Lady Mary was saying, to Lady Rose, who looked at her as though she were speaking in a foreign tongue. "It would be inappropriate to accept. Especially as I am in mourning."
"Poor Sir Clements," Lady Rose said, sighing. "He's so good-looking. And so terribly enamored of you."
"He's frankly a bore," Lady Mary said, scarcely altering her tone. "I've already told him that I'm not going to ever-" On this she lowered her voice, and they exchanged confidences that Jimmy thought were probably dull. He tried to catch Thomas's eye, and found Thomas already looking at him- a common enough occurrence, but one that never failed to please Jimmy.
"Well, if you must know, I'm going as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth," The Dowager Countess was saying across the room. Thomas, very deliberately, raised one eyebrow at Jimmy. Jimmy had to look away to keep from making faces back at him.
"Ah," Lord Grantham said, humor evident in his tones. "The Virgin Queen."
"Robert, please don't descend into vulgarianism," the Dowager replied, but Lady Grantham had stifled a laugh.
"Well, I think it's all quite exciting, really," Lord Grantham said, sounding pleased- with the party or himself, Jimmy couldn't be sure. Sometimes it seemed as if Lord Grantham had changed most of all- like some secret sadness he had always carried had been lifted, the curtain thrown back, revealing an optimist where none had been before.
Oh, wait, I forgot O'Brien, Jimmy thought, sneaking another glance at Thomas, who stared back at him blankly, as though nothing had happened. O'Brien's definitely most changed. She's almost tolerable now.
"Well, I've been to a costumed ball or two in London," Mr. Gregson was saying. "But a real Hallowe'en party is just so interesting. Especially after all of the stories Edith regaled me with about your own, shall we say, supernatural experiences-"
Blah, blah, blah, Jimmy thought, still staring at Thomas. Drink your drinks and go to bed so I can have my evening.
Across the room, Thomas stifled a laugh with a tiny cough, almost as if he had heard what Jimmy was thinking. Jimmy grinned at him, just for a second, and took the trays around once more.
"We should try that again," Jimmy whispered, into Thomas's ear. They were sitting together on the piano bench in the servants hall, Thomas making a muddled attempt at picking out Ode to Joy on the keys. Everyone else had gone to bed.
"Try what again?" Thomas asked, his brow furrowing in concentration as he guided his hands over the piano. His injured hand, for some reason, had an easier time playing than his good hand did. Jimmy laid his hand over Thomas's fingers, guiding them from key to key. "It's: 'E E F G G F E D'-" Jimmy said, humming the notes. "Not F E G."
Thomas nodded, and moved his hands over the keys again, roughly carving out the melody. "Very good," Jimmy said, nodding approvingly.
"Try what again?" Thomas asked, turning to him, and Jimmy leaned forward to whisper in his ear. "That thing we tried last week," Jimmy murmured, and Thomas looked up at him, his expression indicating alarm.
"Oh, come on!" Jimmy said, hitting his shoulder. "It wasn't that terrible, was it? After all, you managed to-"
"Mmm. Maybe in a few days," Thomas said, shiftily, and Jimmy laughed helplessly. "I've never met a person who could be such a gratification and yet such a detriment to my self-esteem."
"It wasn't, ah, bad," Thomas said, adjusting his tie. "You could just use a little more... finesse."
"Well. We must push forward, Mr. Barrow," Jimmy said, solemnly, and Thomas laughed, surprised. Jimmy leaned up against Thomas, and said into his ear: "Let's go to bed." He breathed in the smell of Thomas's hair for an instant, and then sat back, contentedly. Thomas was already getting to his feet- he held out his gloved hand, and Jimmy took it, swinging upright neatly. "After you," he said to Thomas, with the courtliest gesture he could muster, and Thomas led them to his room. Jimmy pinched his behind on the way up the stairs. "Excuse me, Mr. Barrow, but you're in my way," He said almost under his breath, and Thomas stepped aside with a smirk, letting Jimmy walk into his room.
Our room, Jimmy thought- on the vanity his metronome ticked away, the perfect rhythm for sleeping to. It was the only part of Jimmy's none-too-subtle changeover to Thomas's room that Thomas had not complained about. Jimmy thought Thomas was probably quite touched by it- he believed, after learning Thomas a bit better, that Thomas had the secret heart of a criminal- but even under that, the secret heart of a sentimentalist. And he was poor at keeping secrets from Jimmy.
Jimmy undressed, hanging his clothes next to Thomas's, which earned him a disapproving look- but not very convincingly disapproving, Jimmy thought. Thomas, sans shirt, was lighting a cigarette. He fixed Jimmy with a look. "The D'Abernons are coming for the party."
"I heard," Jimmy answered, stripping completely naked- Thomas's eyes widened obviously- and wrapping himself in Thomas's dressing gown, which wasn't in keeping with the rest of his spotless clothes- it was a faded black and patched in a few places. "I suppose Awful Alfred the lavender valet-" here Jimmy broke off to chuckle at his own cleverness- "-hasn't found a new situation."
"And," Thomas said, with a pained look on his face, "The Duke is coming."
"The Duke?" Jimmy asked, uncomprehendingly. "What Du-" he broke off, as a flush rose on Thomas's cheeks. "Not the Duke your lover!" Jimmy hissed. Thomas nodded, embarrassedly. "I hope it's all, ah, water under the bridge," Thomas said. "At least I won't have to valet for him."
"You hope?" Jimmy asked, incredulously. "I thought that bugger threw you over and burnt your letters, and probably broke you heart, too-"
"Well. I don't know that he broke my heart," Thomas said, tilting his face to the side. With his free hand he pushed his hair back from his brow. "I acted rather- ah- ungenerously towards him, as well, you know. You don't need to get so angry."
"If I see him I'll hit his bloody face," Jimmy said, feeling a flash of fury. Thomas blinked, looking taken aback by his vehemence. "That would be a mistake," Thomas said, raising an eyebrow imperiously. "Footmen should avoid fisticuffs with dukes whenever possible."
Thomas's mock-haughty expression broke apart the rage that had bloomed inside Jimmy at the mention of the horrid Duke. He took a deep breath through his nose, and Thomas waggled a finger at him in admonishment. "Temper, temper," He said, smiling his half smile, until Jimmy was compelled to take the cigarette from his fingers and throw it away.
"Lay down," Jimmy said. He pressed Thomas back onto the little bed, and kissed him along the line of his throat. The lay wrapped together for long minutes. At some point the dressing gown Jimmy was wearing fell open, and he moved against Thomas, whose inhalations turned to shallow moans, each one speaking of his desire. Jimmy felt Thomas's love for him in the trembling of the other man's limbs, in his hands against Jimmy's hands as they touched one another, always warring for space and territory. The best kind of war, Jimmy thought, his head hazy with desire, a war of love that never ends.
Thomas, deep in dreams, found himself in a low ceilinged room filled with murals. In the murals, ballet dancers moved through the air, executing neat pirouettes in their painted world as if they were moving through water.
"Where am I?" Thomas asked, and then he saw a magician in the far corner of the room, standing on an empty stage. A piano without a bench sat behind him, and the magician leaned against it, resplendent in his silk-lined cape. His head, covered by a top hat, was bowed towards his own hands, which turned something over and over, in ceaseless motions. Thomas felt that perhaps he was in the presence of a great illusionist, and approached the stage carefully. "Excuse me," he said, when the man did not look up at his approach- "Sir?"
Then the conjurer looked up- and it wasn't Harry Houdini, after all, but Jimmy, smiling at him from underneath the shadow of his showy hat. "Thomas," he said, holding up his hands- Thomas saw that he held a deck of cards. "You must be of strong heart and let me practice." Jimmy held his gaze, his hands ceaselessly shuffling the cards. "It isn't as easy for me to learn as it is for you. I don't have the gift. Like you and the piano. But if I try-"
"Practice what?" Thomas asked, but the shadow over Jimmy's face grew, covering him in an ominous darkness. "Thomas-" Jimmy said- his cape blowing back as if he stood in a gale, his top hat flying away, revealing his golden head- "Thomas!"
Thomas, fear making him quicker than he could have imagined being, ran towards Jimmy, his arms outstretched, but Jimmy had vanished, and he was left clutching empty air. Suddenly Thomas was outside, alone, against a seedy backdrop of buildings. His feet pounded against wet cobblestones, and he ran frantically through the dark, calling out- "Jimmy! Jimmy, where are you?!"
The road wrapped around a turn, and he sprinted through it- there was a figure laying on the ground up ahead- but the dream stretched out beyond where Thomas's stride could reach, and he fell back from the huddled shape, until it had receded into the far distance. "No!" Thomas moaned, not knowing if he had ever felt such fear before, not even in the trenches. "No, no- let me- please-"
The image of the cobbled street tore apart, as if it were made of gossamer, and Thomas was alone, floating in a dark, vast space, pinpointed by endless dots of light. A voice came down around him, blanketing him in words he could not understand, until he could only press his palms against his ears to block out the tremendous sound-
Thomas started awake, almost sitting up completely. He looked for Jimmy, feeling the frantic pounding of his pulse in his throat, but Jimmy was right there, dressed in his work attire and sitting in the wooden chair, playing with his deck of cards.
When Thomas met his eyes Jimmy's hands stilled on the cards, and he looked back at Thomas with an uncharacteristic expression. Worry, Thomas thought, and felt around for his matches. "What time is it?"
"Half five, and we need to talk about something," Jimmy said, without preamble. Thomas felt a dark touch of fear. He had tried many times to envision Jimmy leaving him- that was, so he'd be more prepared for it in the eventuality that it occurred- but each time, Thomas always found he could not imagine what would happen afterwards, after Jimmy had left him. A long dark walk, Thomas thought, and then you grow old and die. But at least for a bit of time, I have had something wonderful. Something nothing else could touch.
"Yes, what is it?" Thomas said, grasping his matches. He kept his voice even by an act of will.
"I've been having strange dreams again," Jimmy said, instead of telling Thomas that they were through. Thomas felt a rush of relief so overwhelming that he did not respond to Jimmy's statement, until Jimmy leaned forward and prodded his arm. "I said, I've been having strange dreams again."
"Dreams of Lieutenant Courtenay?" Thomas asked, finding his voice.
Jimmy shook his head emphatically No. "Nah, it's not him- I don't think-" Jimmy sighed, squeezing his cards together and putting them in their little box. "But- now, Thomas, don't be annoying about this- but it feels different than regular dreams. Like before. Portentous, or something."
If by 'annoying', Jimmy meant 'not having wild flights of fancy about ghosts', then yes, Thomas was going to be quite annoying. He raised an eyebrow at Jimmy, giving him his best look of finely-wrought skepticism. "You think your dreams are predicting the future?" Thomas asked, dryly, and Jimmy flushed with irritation.
"I don't know!" Jimmy said, shaking Thomas a little with the force of his grip. "No," Jimmy said, shaking his head. "It's like- they're very... significant."
"What happens in these dreams?" Thomas asked, lighting his cigarette. Jimmy held his hand out, and Thomas passed it off to him, lighting himself another.
"I've got to stop this," Jimmy said, waving the cigarette in the air, as if to underline his words with smoke. "It's a nasty habit."
Thomas rolled his eyes. "The dream."
"What? Oh, oh, yes," Jimmy said, leaning forward. He still rarely smoked his cigarettes, and this one was no exception. It burned away in Jimmy's hand as he spoke, emphatically but quietly. "There's a card player, and he keeps- or she keeps- showing me the backs of cards, and a huge voice comes down from up above, and tells me to guess. So I stare at the cards, over and over, until I can almost split them apart, or, like, get through them- to see what they are. On the other side, I mean. But the voice..." Jimmy trailed off and shrugged, but his eyes were bright and insistent. "It means something, I know it does," Jimmy said, and tucked his deck of cards into his livery.
"Perhaps you should become a magician," Thomas said, remembering some pieces of his own dream.
Jimmy scowled at him. "Fine, don't listen to me, even though I'm always right, and you're always wrong." He said it so earnestly that Thomas smiled, and pulled Jimmy against him for a brief embrace. "Well, you just think on it, then," He said to Jimmy, as soothingly as he could, "and I'm sure you'll come up with something."
Jimmy made a face that told of his displeasure at being placated, but he let Thomas hold him, anyways. For a minute they pressed their foreheads together, breathing in unison.
"London this weekend," Thomas said, after a moment had passed. It had been a triumph of several months planning to achieve a forty-eight hour stretch when neither of them had to work. It had also meant Thomas had his hand in the scheduling now, which was a tedious business, though it did ensure that he and Jimmy, for some reason, always ended up with the same half-day.
"Mmm. I'm excited," Jimmy said, his head still bowed against Thomas's. "We should go to all the most disreputable places. And the big movie theatres."
"We need to think of our stories," Thomas said. "I think I have it settled. "You'll go into London on a bit of a personal holiday, and I'll go on to Chelmsford- that's why we're taking the same train- because I have a pass to play cricket at the Essex CCC."
It was a good story, Thomas thought, and it explained why they'd ride in and out together- in case anybody asked, not that anybody had, except O'Brien. And Thomas had not needed to give her the official version of events. But Jimmy was shaking his head. "We don't need to do that," Jimmy said, staunchly. "We'll tell them the truth. We're having a holiday together. Everybody makes jokes 'cause we're friends, right? Well, let them joke- it seems less suspicious if we tell them all the suspicious stuff."
That logic seemed intrinsically flawed. Thomas leaned away from Jimmy, to better look at him. "You think we're less obvious if we act obvious?" Thomas asked. Jimmy smiled. "Right," he said, clapping his hand onto Thomas's upper arm. "Now you get it!" But then Jimmy's expression darkened, and he touched his fingertips to Thomas's hair, gently. "What were you so worried about, when you woke up?" Jimmy asked, and Thomas waved his question away. "I don't know, the party," Thomas said, looking away. "It's the first one in so long."
"He's lying," Jimmy said. "I hate it when he looks worried like that. I'd do anything to make it stop."
Thomas turned to Jimmy, confused. "What?" he asked, but Jimmy exhaled his final (and only) drag from the spent cigarette, and looked at Thomas with a bemused expression. "I didn't say anything. You are distracted."
"But I thought-" Thomas rubbed his eyes with one hand, grimaced at his palm, and looked around for his glove. "You're right," he said. "I am distracted."
"You are Carson. Try not to care too much. It's only a job." Jimmy pointed at him sternly, and then smiled, and went to finish getting ready, before Thomas noticed the time and made him leave.
At the end of their half-day duties, they met outside the house and went into the village together, to catch the bus into Ripon. Jimmy bounced his feet on the bus, jostling his leg against Thomas's, and looked at him with palpable excitement.
"I can't wait for the party, even if we have work during it like the poor slaves we are," Jimmy said. "I wish the haunts would come back."
He said it longingly, and Thomas stared at him. "You're insane," Thomas replied, and Jimmy laughed, pushing himself more firmly up against Thomas's side. "I wonder what I should buy for a costume," Jimmy said. "Something cheap. But superb."
"Are you really so competitive, that you want to have the nicest costume?" Thomas asked.
"Mmmm-hmm. Well," Jimmy allowed, "I know I can't waste a fortune on one like the family and all their hoity-toity friends. But I want the best costume of all, downstairs."
"Ah," Thomas said. Jimmy pushed their legs together, again. "What do you think I should go as?"
"An angel," Thomas said, to make Jimmy laugh.
"I think you should go as Julius Caesar, and I can be Brutus," Jimmy said, with a wicked grin. "Et tu, Thomas?"
"That's way off. I already have my costume. A black sheet and a rusty old scythe from the barn. I'll get a skull mask or something today and be set."
"Death has come, sir, and he would like to serve you champagne." Jimmy said, in a low tone. "Well," he went on, secretively pinching Thomas's leg, "I guess I'm on my own, then."
"Poor thing, having to be costumed all by yourself," Thomas said, and Jimmy pinched him again.
In the city Thomas found a papier-mâché mask with a skeleton's face painted on it. The lines were a little wobbly, but he didn't give a hang about costumes, and so mostly wandered around, while Jimmy prowled the aisles of shops, looking for something that had to be, as he said, both "cheap" and "superb".
"Oh, to hell with it, I'll just go as a bloody footman," Jimmy said, after an hour of fruitless searching. "Oh, wait-" and he was off again, combing through the second-hand bins.
Eventually Jimmy found an ancient red dressing gown with a gaudy silk finish to it and patched elbows, and paired it with red pyjamas. He bought a flimsy mask like Thomas's, but his was painted brilliant red and bore the leering half-face of the Devil, replete with papier-mâché horns.
" 'Mephisto in slippers' ," Jimmy said, glumly. "It's not everything I imagined it would be."
"Carson is going to have a fit about your wearing pyjamas to serve," Thomas said, amused.
"I'll tell him I'm dressed as someone who doesn't care about their job," Jimmy said, and Thomas smiled at him. I love you, he thought. It gets worse every day.
The went to dinner at a restaurant in the Old Deanery. Jimmy, still tightly wound with excitement- maybe because of his portentous dreams- consumed several stiff cocktails that the waiter called 'Sidecars'- and got progressively more inebriated. Thomas watched, helpless to stop him, and too amused to really want to.
"The thing... I really- the thing I really like, is..." Jimmy was talking, a mite fuzzily, but Thomas found Jimmy's consistent capacity for holding his liquor remarkable- and a little alarming, too. If he had consumed as much alcohol as Jimmy had, Thomas knew he would be slumbering soundly on the restaurant floor. Can you be an alcoholic if you don't drink every day, but you get drunk every time you drink? Thomas wondered.
Jimmy had his hand on Thomas's knee under the tablecloth. He pinned Thomas with his stare. "My favorite part is all of it," Jimmy said, confidentially, and Thomas kept his gaze flat, so as not to give away his amusement and encourage such a line of conversation. "Let's talk about that later," Thomas said, taking a sip of his wine.
Jimmy snorted. "Yes," he agreed. "In bed." This last set him off on a laughing jag. Jimmy laughed helplessly into his hands for several minutes, his distraction allowing Thomas to pay the bill without the typical argument.
On the bus, Jimmy dozed off against Thomas, breathing gently into his shoulder, and Thomas did not move him, but instead looked out the window at the dark countryside. "I love you," Jimmy said, and Thomas turned to him, only to find Jimmy still asleep.
Guests had already begun arriving for the party. The dozen rooms were needed, and two more, and Thomas, on his return, was caught by Carson and asked to be a sport and pitch in. "I'm going to my room," Jimmy said, "to sleep it off. Come and get me later-" He whispered, in an aside to Thomas, who nodded, and then went to work.
The Duke of Crowborough had arrived, and so had Sir Clements Jenison-Pike, Mr. Emory Robison, and Lord Lloyd something- the last three were all attempting to win Lady Mary's affections, but Thomas doubted they would even win a polite word. Lady Rose had some of her modern (and loud) girlfriends there, and, a hallway over, Lord D'Abernon was tucked in a resplendent set of rooms adjacent to his wife. It seemed to be upsetting Carson, this level of commingling between the classes, but Lord Grantham did not object. He objects to very little, these days, Thomas thought. Lord Grantham's complicity in the destruction of social stratas forced Carson into a disapproving silence that made him much more tolerable to be around.
Thomas had not yet encountered the Duke, and for that he was glad. It had been ten years, and he thought that there should be no great animosity between them anymore, no matter how irate Jimmy got. It wasn't that. It was- it was because Thomas didn't want to look into the eyes of someone who had known him a decade ago and see what he would see. I'm as different, now, Thomas thought, as I could possibly be.
He had heard the Duke's mother was dead several years, and felt a tiny bit badly for him, in a removed sort of way. Thomas remembered the Duke being rather close to his mother, or hating her, or something- something of some kind of significance.
The house seemed full of noise tonight- Thomas could hear it everywhere- the whispers and laughter of Lady Rose's set, someone humming, guests chatting over an impromptu game of cards, music playing, Lord Grantham telling a droll story in the billiards room, the Dowager talking politely or wittily, behind her hand-
Thomas blinked. For a moment he had felt as though he could hear everything- all the sounds in the house, all at once, blending into a roar. But then it was gone, and he heard only faint music from another room, and smelled a hint of one of the Ambassador's cigars.
"Ah, Thomas," Carson said, descending like a hawk upon a too-slow moving mouse, "I was wondering if you could have a last look at the hall before you retire for the evening. I myself must console Mrs. Patmore. Some aspects of the order that came in were not to her liking."
"Yes, Mr. Carson," Thomas obliged. In the hall he moved some tables and directed some others to be adjusted, and carried off chairs to place tastefully in other areas of the house, as inconspicuously (and noiselessly) as he could.
"Let's stop for the evening. We've done all we can do, and everyone's going to bed," Thomas said, finally, watching with pleasure as his voice issued commands obeyed immediately. Ah, he thought, moving up in the world. Well, a little.
And then came the oddest rushing in Thomas's ears, and an accompanying realization- or sensation- Thomas felt- or- no, somehow he knew- that Jimmy had woken from his drunken slumber. Thomas heard a whisper in his ear, the faintest possible variation of Jimmy's voice- "...I must tell Thomas- oh, wait, I'm not in our room..."
Thomas blinked, pausing at the top of the stairs. "Mr. Barrow?" Alfred asked him, uncertainly. "D'ya feel alright?"
"Yes, I'm fine," Thomas said- the feeling vanished, as quickly as it had come over him.
Downstairs the staff had gathered in the servant's hall to carve jack-o'-lanterns for the party. "I can't believe Mr. Carson isn't making you all do this in the barn," Thomas said, upon entering.
"It was Mrs. Hughes's idea," Anna said, smiling at Thomas. Bates had his sleeves rolled up and his arms covered in pumpkin innards- Thomas hoped that he had already attended to Lord Grantham tonight- and scarcely looked up, so intent was he on his carving. "No!" Anna said, tapping a spot on the pumpkin. "Cut here, not there!"
"My mistake," Bates said, smiling at her.
The room was a tremendous mess, and had a convivial atmosphere. It was crowded with the other guests' servants. Fred- the D'Abernon's valet, whom Thomas hadn't seen in several months- smiled when he came into the room, and turned his pumpkin around in lieu of a handshake. "Looks good, doesn't it?" Fred asked, with a cheeky smile. His jack-o'-lantern sported a fanged mouth and a rather uneven set of eyes.
"Nice to see you, Fred," Thomas said, shaking his head, "but I'm afraid that's a bit rough."
He sat next to O'Brien, who watched the proceedings with a dour expression.
"What's eating you?" he asked, offering her a match for her cigarette. O'Brien looked over at him. "All this," She said, indicating the room with a flick of her cigarette. "It seems like tempting fate, doesn't it?"
Thomas considered this.
"And it calls up unpleasant memories," O'Brien added, in an undertone. "For me, anyways," She added, looking up at him- a hint of a smile on her lips- and then away, to stare at the jack-o'-lanterns with a fixed expression.
"Not so unpleasant for me, considering," Thomas replied. Fred was lighting a candle. "And now, a blessing," he said, in a spooky voice, making the maids giggle.
"Jack o' the lantern! Joan the wad,
Who tickled the maid and made her mad,
Light me home, the weather's bad!"
Fred recited, as if it were an incantation, and placed the candle inside the pumpkin. The face flickered mysteriously, adding dignity to the poor carving job.
Thomas sat back, contented for a moment- but then, in his ears the strange rushing noise came again, and he blinked, sitting up straighter in his chair. O'Brien was saying something to Thomas, but he couldn't hear her. Thomas staggered to his feet, largely unnoticed by the room. In his ear- no, in his mind- he could hear someone speaking, as if through layers and layers of glass-
"...What are you doing here?" It was one half of a conversation, but Thomas was too far away to hear the other speaker's reply. He made his way around Fred, and around the table, deaf to the noises around him. Everyone was moving their lips, the scene lively and animated- and mute- and Thomas watched Anna tip her head back, laughing silently. My god, what is happening to me? Thomas thought, and somehow managed to get through the doorway, his mind blank except for a vast wall of panic, and the voice.
"I don't understand. What's your name?" It sounded like an old gramophone playing in another room, it sounded unreal- Thomas staggered up the stairs, catching himself on the wall. And then he had perhaps the single strangest feeling of his life- the voice in his head overlapped with the voice in the real world- the speaker's voice, Jimmy's voice, coming from the men's hall. The Jimmy who was speaking in Thomas's mind- the sound of him- meshed perfectly with Jimmy-in-reality, and for a moment Thomas had the terrifying feeling of being in an echo chamber, or a hall of mirrors-
and then the strange affliction stopped, suddenly, and Thomas took a gasping breath, unaware that he had forgotten to breathe for several seconds. He tried to still his trembling- and listened to the conversation in the hall- the real hall, not his head-
"I can't believe you'd have the bloody gall to come here, you bloody bastard!" Jimmy was half-yelling. Jimmy sounded very drunk still- and very angry.
Oh, no, Thomas thought, and sprinted up the stairs, skidding to a halt as Jimmy, his back to Thomas, followed through on a punch, and a man fell to the floor.
It was like walking onto a stage in the middle of a play. Jimmy stood over the man, his hands curled into fists, his back moving up and down with his breath, and the man shielded his face. The noise had been loud, but nobody came up from downstairs- the frivolity of the party had covered for this, at least. "What's going on?" Thomas asked, and the man looked up over his arm. Thomas felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. It was, of course, the Duke. Oh, hell, Jimmy, Thomas thought, and Jimmy, not acknowledging Thomas's presence, raised his fist again.
"No!" Thomas yelled, and got between them. Jimmy's fist smashed into the side of Thomas' lip, and then Jimmy stumbled back, looking at his hand. "Oh, shite," He said, drunkenly, his lips going white, as he looked at Thomas's face. "Thomas," Jimmy said, "I didn't mean to! I was tryin' to hit the Duke!"
"Jimmy, go away," Thomas snapped, and knelt down, to look for the first time in ten years into the face of the Duke of Crowborough. He looked older.
"Oh, Thomas," The Duke said, looking up at him. "That- that man attacked me-"
The Duke was drunk, too, Thomas realized. And his left eye was swelling shut. He'll be fired, Thomas thought. Behind him, Jimmy began to speak, and Thomas spoke to him without turning around. "Jimmy. Go. Away."
"I wanted a word with you- and he just-"
"Yes, yes, I know," Thomas said, calmly. "It was a misunderstanding. A terrible misunderstanding, but now he's going to go away, and I'll help you back to your room." Thomas helped lift the Duke, who rose unsteadily to his feet, weaving.
Thomas did not look back to see if Jimmy had listened to him. He wound through the house with the Duke leaning on him, praying to a God he did not believe in that they would not encounter anyone else.
"It's been a long time," The Duke said, faintly.
"That it has," Thomas agreed. He felt acutely uncomfortable in addition to his anxiety.
"I'm sorry for what a dreadful way I had about me- how dreadfully I treated you back then," the Duke mumbled. He sounded as if he had been crying.
"I- ah, I wasn't so kind myself," Thomas said, finding his room for him, and opening the door. The Duke walked in, his shoulders slumped. Thomas closed the door behind them, and watched with trepidation as the other man sat down unceremoniously on his bed, which was five times the size of Thomas's and ten times as comfortable. There was a silence, and then the Duke looked up at Thomas. "I'm destitute now, you know," The Duke said, suddenly, and put his face in his hands, mumbling something. Thomas took a wary step closer to him, noticing the careworn lines on his face- the recession of his hair- the marks of an unhappy decade. "What?" he asked, as politely as he could.
"I said you probably have more money than I do, now, Thomas. It's funny," The Duke added, making a grim croaking sound that was probably meant to be a laugh. "I suppose it's what I deserve."
Thomas felt the ungenerous inclination to agree- but he had to see if he could manage to save Jimmy's job. Perhaps the Duke would forget, if he had taken enough to drink. "I don't think-"
"I live in a big empty house that's nobody can afford to buy," The Duke said, talking over him. "I've had to sell of most of the furniture, for God's sake."
"That's very rough," Thomas said, taking a few careful steps forward to lay a hand on the Duke's shoulder- hopefully not in a way that could be misinterpreted. "I am sorry for you."
But still, just desserts, Thomas thought. The Duke glanced up at him, with a sad look about him that Thomas vaguely remembered. "Who was he, the man who hit me?" The Duke asked, absently.
"A footman," Thomas answered, after a second's hesitation. "I'm going to ask you not to have anything done about him. It was a mistake."
"He didn't mistake me for anyone. He knew me. It was my name that made him hit me," The Duke replied. He reached out to place his other hand atop Thomas's, and Thomas moved his fingers away.
"He's my- ah-" Thomas paused, looking away. "Please don't say anything." Thomas gave up pretense, looking into the Duke's face imploringly. "He didn't understand. Don't have him fired. I- I love him, you see."
"Oh. Ah," The Duke said, laughing his unhappy laugh. "It all begins to make sense."
"Will you please not say anything?" Thomas asked, not even bothering to keep the urgency out of his voice. "Please. If you feel badly about anything you ever did-"
"Good old Thomas, still willing to resort to blackmail," The Duke said, looking at him, and Thomas remembered something else from the past- the Duke's innate ability to be infuriatingly condescending. Even while weepy and drunk, apparently. Chalk it up to the good old aristocracy, Thomas thought, trying to keep his expression pleasant and earnest.
"No, I won't say anything," the Duke was going on, with a resigned air. "I can take my licks. I've certainly had to."
My heart weeps, Thomas thought, but he nodded, his mouth turning up into the semblance of a smile. "Thank you, your Grace," Thomas said, and laid his hand against the Duke's hand, for a fraction of a second. "I appreciate it more than I can possibly say."
"You're really in love with him?" The Duke asked, looking him over with maudlin curiosity. "You look all grown up, Thomas. How strange. I must look older, too. Funny. We see ourselves every day, and... but I digress. Are you- really- in love?"
"Yes, your Grace, very much so," Thomas said, hardly caring for his dignity.
"It's odd," The Duke said, "I can't picture you being in love."
"Well, I'm sure I act much the same as usual," Thomas said, eager to escape. He hoped Jimmy wasn't doing anything else that was horrendously stupid.
"You want to go and I won't keep you," The Duke said, laying down against his pillows. "I'm exhausted. Sleep well, Thomas."
"And you," Thomas answered, backing out. At the door his curiosity got the better of him, and he asked: "Your Grace?"
The Duke turned his head, and Thomas went on. "If you've really lost all of your money- why didn't you just marry an heiress, like you planned to?"
"You know," The Duke said, leaning up a little. "It's funny. I planned on it, but... I couldn't ever bring myself to do it."
Thomas nodded, his hand on the door.
"It seemed too cruel, somehow," The Duke went on. "For everyone involved."
Then he lay back down, turning away from Thomas, and Thomas took that as his cue to leave.
Jimmy was waiting in Thomas's bed when Thomas got back. Thomas gave him a cold look- and then was silent for long minutes, at the sounds of a crowd of men coming upstairs and closing a crowd of doors. "You really can't stay in here tonight," Thomas whispered. "There are a hundred people here."
"Your lip's bleeding," Jimmy whispered back. His face was drawn. "I didn't mean to hit you. I don't know why I hit him."
"Did spirits make you?" Thomas asked, sarcastically. But he felt a whisper of concern- portentous dreams, Jimmy had said- and the strange rushing Thomas had heard in his own ears, blotting out all sound-
"No," Jimmy shook his head, and reached one hand up, beckoning to Thomas. "It was my own stupidity." Thomas approached him, and sat down, and Jimmy pressed his fingertips to the sore spot on Thomas's lip. "I'm terribly sorry," Jimmy said, solemnly, and leaned in, to kiss Thomas very gently on the mouth.
Thomas kissed him back, for a moment, and then pulled his head away. "I think I've saved your job. But really, you are such an idiot sometimes. Try not to get stinking drunk, won't you?"
Jimmy blinked, and then nodded. Thomas could see he was still inebriated. "I'm sorry. I'm just so happy to be with you, it's so fun..."
"That's hardly an excuse, is it?" Thomas asked, trying to look extremely displeased. "You go out hitting people because you're so happy?"
"Mmm, yes. No. I just got... a little- uhm, protective," Jimmy said, leaning back on the pillows.
"You can't sleep here," Thomas said, warningly, but Jimmy was already falling asleep.
"You're lucky that I care for you more than my job," Thomas said, and leaned down to kiss him. It hurt, but it felt good, too.
There, in the place where Jimmy had before been a reluctant dreamer, he had become a studious pupil. The cards turned over, and Jimmy guessed them- some right, most wrong, again and again, until his head flickered with spades and diamonds.
The voice- that frightful Metatron- came pouring down around Jimmy, and in the voice, the words:
"I have been!" Jimmy cried out, his voice lost in the limitless black-velvet void. "I am!"
The voice became a thousand voices, dragging together into a babbling roar:
"-practice you must guess the oh Jimmy if you don't practice you must you mustmustmustguess-"
Jimmy forced his hands to his ears to block out the noise, shouting back into the starry darkness- "I'm trying! Oh, God help me, I'm trying-"
The void disappeared, and Jimmy saw a grey room with a white bed, and Thomas's hair peeking out from the coverlet. He raised a hand, to- something -what?- and his hand was a card, the back turned to him, with a curious drawing and the word- Strongheart- inscribed upon it in a vivid blue-
-And then the room turned into a long hall-and the hall became a casino-and the casino became some sterile blank space, and Jimmy could not hold still, he was spinning away from the universe like a top-
"Wait!" He shouted, trying not to fall- "Wait!" and the picture revolving around him dissolved into a picture of himself, sitting alone in the servants hall. Jimmy watched himself flip a card over, and set it down, only to stare at the back of another one.
"You must practice, my love," said Thomas's voice, right in his ear, but when Jimmy turned to find him Thomas was gone, and Jimmy was alone in the city, with torrents of rain flooding towards him through imaginary cobblestone streets, and Jimmy ran from it, to find a deck of cards-
Jimmy woke up, and climbed over Thomas's sleeping form, carefully- and then ran down the hall to the washroom, barely making it in time. He was sick several times, and crouched with his head in his hands for a moment, shaking and tasting bile. Finally he got up and washed himself with trembling hands.
Jimmy wanted to go back to bed and lie against Thomas until the sun had risen- but his head throbbed, making sleep an impossible dream- and speaking of dreams, Jimmy thought, there was something he was supposed to do-
It's very important, Jimmy thought, opening the door to his own room, to practice.
As he sat on his bed he had a sudden memory- a weak chinned man with a sad (but loathsome, for some reason) look about him speaking to Jimmy imperiously in the men's hall. "I've only come up here on personal business, and it's no concern of yours-" The man said, in his memories, tilting his chin at an angle that was so haughty precisely because it was unaffected.
"Oh," Jimmy said, horrified by his remembering. It had been the bloody Duke, and he'd hit him- Jimmy recalled a bright flash of blood, somewhere on Thomas's face- and Thomas's pale, livid expression. Oh, damn, I didn't mean to! Jimmy thought, taking out his deck of cards.
Jimmy's head was pounding in time to the beating of his own heart, and he was almost painfully worried about just how angry Thomas was with him- but still, something in his memory clutched at his sleeve and tugged at his ear- practice, practice, practice. So Jimmy pulled up his wooden chair and sat in it, laying his cards facedown on his bed, not really sure why he felt so compelled- it was only a game, after all.
Jimmy stared at the back of a card, willing himself to see through it, or feel out what it was through the point where his fingers touched the front, or to at least get some kind of inclination in his head, anything. But nothing happened. The card remained a card, and Jimmy remained hungover, staring blearily at his hand until it blurred.
"The jack of hearts," Jimmy said, and flipped the card over, but it was the four of clubs. He picked another, forcing himself to look at it again, while the room wobbled around him the way it did on days when he had gotten especially drunk the night before.
Jimmy stared at the card, willing it to submit to him, and drew a long breath. "The SEVEN of DIAMONDS," he said, decisively, and flipped the card over. It was the jack of hearts.
Jimmy blinked, and then picked up the next card, turning it over in his hands immediately, to see if it was the seven of diamonds. It was not. Jimmy picked up another card, and tried to imagine what it was.
He did not know how long he spent at the cards, but the room had grown lighter when he heard a knock, and looked up. "What?" Jimmy asked, and Thomas opened the door a crack.
"Come in," Jimmy said, gesturing to him, but Thomas remained in the doorway. Thomas had never again set foot in Jimmy's room, though Jimmy had invited him to on numerous occasions. He seemed to have a bit of a complex about it.
Jimmy looked Thomas over- Thomas stood stiffly in the doorway, his head slightly bowed, already perfectly dressed.
"I wasn't so angry that you needed to leave," Thomas said, in a low voice, not looking up at Jimmy.
Jimmy stared at him- seeing neatly, for a moment, though one of Thomas's many artful facades. He always makes such a fuss, Jimmy thought, but he couldn't bear it if I-
"That's right, I couldn't bear it," Thomas said, a trifle sharply, as though Jimmy had said something rude.
"I didn't say that," Jimmy replied, and Thomas gave him a wary look. As if he half-expected me to reply that I hadn't spoken, Jimmy thought.
"I didn't say you had," Thomas answered, smartly, and gave Jimmy the most neutral expression in his repertoire.
"Then what are you talking about?" Jimmy asked, watching Thomas grasp for an answer.
"Oh, just come in," Jimmy said, and walked over to Thomas, clutching him by his jacket and tugging him into the room. Thomas resisted him for a second, and then- with a wary glance up and down the hall- allowed himself to be led in.
Jimmy closed his door. Thomas was blinking and looking around as though he had just landed in some foreign port. Jimmy came up close to him and grabbed his chin, examining Thomas's mouth.
"Not a very bad split," Jimmy managed, after a moment, though he felt acutely that his throat was closing with guilt. To the left of the cut on Thomas's lip was a perfect white line, barely noticable- a year-old reminder of the fight he'd fought for Jimmy. Now you'll have two scars because of me, Jimmy thought, shutting his eyes for a second.
"How much of last night do you remember?' Thomas asked, looking down at him. Thomas seemed uneasy in his room. Jimmy wondered if Thomas was really still so affected by the disastrous encounter that had transpired there. It had been a long while ago, by Jimmy's reckoning- a century before, an eon before. Of course he's affected, Jimmy thought, his heart twisting, for a moment, in his chest- and he leaned up, a little, to place his hands against the back of Thomas's neck. Jimmy forced Thomas to look him in the eyes, a game that was a little bit like trying to catch a fly between two fingers. Thomas was forever flicking his eyes here and away, to the other side of the room-
"I remember dinner," Jimmy said, looking at him gravely. Thomas stared back as if he were quite arrested by Jimmy's gaze. "And I remember punching you in the face," Jimmy added, unhappily, "and now I've pretty much worked out that I also punched the Duke in the face."
"That's right, " Thomas said. He looked as if he were enjoying Jimmy's chagrin.
"Am I getting fired today?" Jimmy asked, as it occurred to him.
"No," Thomas said, "I've saved your hide." Jimmy saw amusement in his eyes, behind the mask of disapproval.
"You didn't have to do anything too terrible, I hope?" Jimmy asked, tipping Thomas a lascivious wink.
"You could at least act as though you were concerned," Thomas said. "I might've made awful sacrifices for you."
"No, it's too late," Jimmy said, laughing. "I can't be jealous over the Duke, not now that I've seen him. He's wretched looking."
Thomas was trying to keep a straight face. "He weren't always so bad," he told Jimmy, solemnly, but for some reason he said it in his working-class voice- regular voice- and that made Jimmy go into quiet hysterics.
Jimmy bent over laughing, and Thomas turned in an anxious circle next to the bed, looking at Jimmy's modest (and now mostly unoccupied) bedroom.
"It really bothers you to be in here?" Jimmy asked, after he had composed himself. Thomas paused, looking at him and then away, back and away, and finally said: "Yes." Jimmy took a step towards Thomas, and Thomas cleared his throat. "You should really dust in here more often," He said to Jimmy, fixing his own cuffs. "It looks disused."
"It is disused," Jimmy said, and slipped his arms around Thomas. "I'm very sorry."
"You should drink less," Thomas said, seriously, and Jimmy nodded. "I won't drink a drop at the party, you'll see," Jimmy promised, rashly, and kissed Thomas, as gently as he possibly could, on his split lip. "I am so very sorry," Jimmy murmured, and kissed Thomas again, more deliberately, running his tongue down and across the cut.
Thomas took a breath through his nose, his arms coming up, and he kissed Jimmy back, mindless of his wound- and Jimmy threaded his hands through Thomas's already-coiffed hair, drawing a murmur of protest. "Mm, yes," Jimmy said, and ran his hands down the back of Thomas's neck, along the lines of his shoulders, and under his arms, to come to rest, gently pressing against Thomas's abdomen. "What time is it?" Jimmy asked, forgetting his headache for a moment, but Thomas shook his head slowly no. "Time we should be getting to work," Thomas said- though his breath was a little quick, Jimmy noticed.
Jimmy nodded, but his hands skirted downwards, to caress the front of Thomas's trousers, and Thomas grabbed his wrists. "Later," Thomas said through his teeth, and Jimmy patted him smugly before removing his offending hands from the vicinity. "Later," Jimmy said, and waggled his eyebrows. "I hope I don't encounter the Duke."
"I hope so as well," Thomas said, and there was love in his face, and desire, and maybe still some vaguely righteous anger, and that faraway look he got when he was thinking about all the work he had to do- but there was something else, too. Jimmy squinted his eyes at Thomas.
You're hiding something from me, he thought, his glance moving over Thomas, as Thomas turned to the door. I can tell.
"Did you say something?" Thomas asked, suspiciously, like a man who was catching on to a trick.
"Yes," Jimmy lied, and Thomas responded immediately, turning back to him. "I'm not hiding anything, Jimmy. It's like you said- I've been distracted."
"I didn't say anything," Jimmy answered, and Thomas eyed him questioningly. "What?"
"I said I didn't say anything," Jimmy answered. "I thought that, but I didn't say it."
"But-" Thomas said, faintly, his voice bewildered, though the bewilderment did not translate to his face. "But you said that you-"
"I said I said something, but I didn't," Jimmy replied, taking a step towards Thomas. He felt strangely excited. "Thomas," Jimmy said, as solemnly as he could, catching the other man by the shoulders- "you heard what I thought." When Thomas stared at him blankly, Jimmy shook him lightly. "Thomas. You heard my thoughts. Do you know what this means? It's amazing!"
"No, I didn't hear what you thought," Thomas said, his words all running together. He turned quickly back to the door. "That's ridiculous," Thomas muttered, over his shoulder, and fumbled uncharacteristically with the bolt.
"You can't run from it," Jimmy said, feeling a wild sort of thrill take root in his chest. "Something's happening to us. Things are happening again."
"No, they're not," Thomas said, like a man who was trying to convince only himself. "Nothing strange is going to happen. Not ever again. Everything is normal." With that, Thomas opened the door, almost stumbling, and then, straight-backed, he walked quickly away.
"We'll talk about it tonight!" Jimmy yelled after him, triumphantly- hurting his own head with the volume of his voice- and then he exited as well, nearly running into Awful Alfred, who looked at him with a detestable wide-eyed expression of amusement. "Why, James!" Alfred said, and grasped his hand, shaking it. Jimmy glared at him in return. "I didn't know you were here," Jimmy lied, not caring how unpleasant he sounded.
"Isn't it so interesting, all of us being back here, together, for All Hallow's Eve?" Awful Alfred asked, walking with Jimmy down the stairs. Go away, Jimmy thought to him, but it did not appear that Awful Alfred was in danger of developing any kind of telepathy. "I don't know about you, but I hope something happens," the valet went on, cracking his knuckles in the air above his own head in a manner that annoyed Jimmy completely.
"By the way," Awful Alfred asked in an undertone, "I hope you don't mind my saying, but I hope things have, shall we say, worked out favorably between yourself and the wonderful Mr. Barrow?"
Jimmy took a deep breath, remembering his almost daily avowal that he would at least make an attempt to straighten up and fly right, and resisted the urge to be extremely rude. "I don't know what you're talking about," Jimmy, evenly. "Excuse me, please."
"I'm sorry?" the valet asked, his amusement turning to concern, but Jimmy, his head aching with each step, walked abruptly away from him, into the servants hall.
"What time can we put our costumes on, Mr. Carson?" Regular Alfred was asking, as Jimmy slid into the hall. He sought out Thomas with his eyes and gave him a sweet look. Thomas looked back at him, and then away, with a secret smile pulling up his mouth.
"Not until directly before the party," Carson said, soundly supremely annoyed. "I hope that your costumes do not provide such distraction as to be detrimental to your ability to do your jobs."
"It's just a bit of fun, Mr. Carson," Thomas said, easily, and got little more than a brief (albeit glowering) look in reply. Jimmy tried to picture Thomas as he had been once- as a footman, or perhaps lower ranking still- and found that he could not.
"And we get to dance as well, don't we?" Regular Alfred, apparently unaware that he was skating on thin ice, asked.
"Yes," Mr. Carson said, "After the clock chimes midnight the servants will have a dance." His tone suggested that they speak no more of it.
"I hope they've all the fun games planned," Awful Alfred said. He had come in, shot an apologetic look at Jimmy, who pretended not to notice him- and was now occupying Jimmy's piano bench.
The hall was crowded with strangers, the servants of other houses, and a fat lady's maid had taken Jimmy's usual seat. Jimmy took the seat as near to Thomas as he could get, and heard Thomas say to O'Brien: "And what are your plans for the party?"
"To stay in my room," O'Brien answered.
"What's happened to your face, Thomas?" Carson asked.
"What?" Thomas asked, the image of confusion. The his hand flew up to his lip. "Oh, yes," Thomas said, shaking his head, as though he'd only just remembered it. "It was stupid, really. I was shaving, and I put the razor between my teeth for a moment-"
"Say no more," Carson said, waving a hand at him. Everyone around made expressions and noises of disgust.
Can you hear what I'm thinking right now? Jimmy thought, as hard as he could, in Thomas's direction. But Thomas did not so much as glance at him.
"Alright, everybody," Carson said, rising to his feet, "let's get to work!"
Jimmy's day was madness. The musicians arrived, the caterers arrived, the extra help arrived, the guests trickled in, far too early- some of them needing a room to change into their costumes in- the crepe streamers went up, elaborate garlands were hung, and, finally, the jack-o'-lanterns were brought out and lit. Candles, thousands of them, covered every extra surface with their particular ambiance. Then the guest started arriving in earnest, and Jimmy took his turn sneaking away to change into his 'Boudoir Mephisto' ensemble. He examined himself ruefully in the mirror. Ridiculous. But there was nothing to be done for it, and so he went upstairs, his slippered feet silent on the floor.
The party was enormous. People had arrived by train- Lady Rose's fashionable young London friends, mostly- it amused Jimmy to think of them riding next to regular folk in their elaborate costumes- and people streamed in constantly, in car after car. Thomas was somewhere, doing something, Jimmy didn't know what. He and Alfred ran back and forth, opening doors and adjusting the catered tables to Carson's specifications- until, finally, the bulk of the party had arrived, and Jimmy had only make occasional passes with the drinks, supplemented as the party was with waiters. He found time to drift through the crowd with his tray, listening to snatches of conversation.
"Sybil is our missing season," Lady Mary was telling her aunt. She was dressed in a white robe, with a crown of holly at her brow. It was the first time since Mr. Crawley's death that Jimmy had ever seen her out of her mourning clothes. Lady Mary had, however, the particular faculty of changing her white robe into something as solemn as black lace, she sipped her drink with an almost religious austerity. "Edith is Autumn- and Rose, is Spring, appropriately, but we saved Summer for Sybil. It was her favorite."
"How touching," Lady Rosamund said, although Jimmy couldn't tell if she meant it or not- her face seemed not to ever change expression.
"Yes, I know," Lady Mary said. "Very disappointing. I had wanted to go as a spider woman, but they trampled all over my idea with their sentimentality."
Lady Edith was with her married lover- he was also a buccaneer, and a rather more expensively dressed one than Alfred- and each of them took a glass from Jimmy's tray. Jimmy had pushed his mask up- the eyeholes were in the wrong spots for seeing out of- and, across the room, he saw Carson standing with a black-robed Death, who clutched a- yes- rusty scythe in one gloved hand. If you can hear me, I freely admit that your costume is better than mine, Jimmy thought, in Death's direction, but he had no way of knowing if he was actually accomplishing anything.
Jimmy tuned on a dime to avoid the Duke, who he could see sitting down at a long table in the corner. The Duke had on no costume at all- though he was sporting a remarkable black eye. Jimmy wondered how Thomas had ever gotten the man to spare his job, much less lie about his injuries. Maybe he's telling people he's dressed as a man who's been in a fight, Jimmy thought, refraining admirably from happiness at the idea.
In the worn silk pocket of his secondhand dressing gown, Jimmy could feel his deck of cards. They were tangible, in a way- they weighed upon his mind- reminding him: practice, practice, practice.
"Practice," Jimmy said, and stopped to serve a young couple dressed as Eve and the Serpent. The costumes were all various degrees of conservative and risque. The Dowager, in a magnificent gown, was an admirable Queen Elizabeth. Near the orchestra Lord and Lady Grantham danced, dressed as Napoleon and Josephine, with their heads close together. For some reason, the tableau made Jimmy think suddenly of Thomas. We can never dance together like that, Jimmy thought, annoyed. How stupid.
In the dining room, the tables had been pushed back, and people were playing games. Jimmy wound through there in his endless cycle- the main hall, the sitting room, the dining room, the billiards room, and then back to the caterers for more liquor.
Jimmy walked through the main hall again, passing close by Thomas, and thinking:
"!Hey Thomas! !Can you hear me now?!"
Jimmy thought he saw the Grim Reaper incline his head, but then, Thomas always looked at him, so it didn't prove anything.
In the dining room, the younger people were playing a game, all standing stock still on the large carpet. One girl- dressed as a princess or something, but wearing a conspicuous witches cap and a blindfold, was turned away from the room. Jimmy walked along the outskirts of the room, so as to not disrupt the fun. Next to him, a man dressed as Robin Hood let out a loud meow, and Jimmy almost laughed out loud. The girl stopped, and whirled around, making her way through her friends blindly.
The blindfolded girl was moving carefully towards them, and Jimmy held still, transfixed, as she bumped into him, and tapped him on the arm. "If you are the cat that sang the song," the princess said, in a lilting voice, "jump on my broom and we'll travel along."
"Unfortunately you've got the wrong man," Jimmy said, gravely, and the girl pushed up her blindfold, blinking at him. "Oh," She said, seeing his livery, "I'm sorry." Then she took a glass from his tray and wandered back across the room.
"Claudia!" One of her friends said, in an amused tone. "You've got to keep guessing!"
People were laughing. Jimmy moved through the smoky billiards room, where the conversation was rowdier and his tray was emptied more quickly. He caught sight of Awful Alfred, nodding his head at something Lord D'Abernon was instructing him about. The Ambassador wore a pith helmet and looked ready to go on safari. Awful Alfred was dressed as an Ottoman Emperor or some stupid thing. Atop the valet's dark head perched a fez with a gold tassle. Jimmy restrained himself from knocking it off as he passed by.
In the hall Sir Clements, the youngest and handsomest of Mary's suitors- dressed none-too-subtly as a knight valiant- was dancing with Lady Rose. Jimmy wondered if he'd had given up- Lady Mary had not been particularly encouraging of him, or the others that trailed after her.
Lady Mary herself was apparently trapped in a conversation with Lord Lloyd- something, Jimmy couldn't remember what. "No," She said, to Lord Lloyd's whispered question. "No. Not yet. Not for a while yet, I think." That sounds like bad news, Lloyd, Jimmy thought, and passed them by.
Carson was gone, ostensibly to prowl in other rooms, and Death waved his fingers at Jimmy, gesturing for him to come over. Jimmy obeyed him, gratefully. "Good evening to you, Mr. Barrow," he said, coming to stand next to Thomas, and Thomas lifted up his mask. "Good evening, James," Thomas said, his facing straight ahead.
"Great party, isn't it?" Jimmy asked, as a pair of skeletons danced past them in a dreamy waltz, paying no mind to what the little orchestra was actually playing.
"Mmm,"" Thomas said, noncomittally, resting his scythe for an instant against Jimmy so that he could pull his cloak away from his face. His hair was in disarray, but Jimmy elected not to tell him.
Thomas looked back at him, his eyes narrowing, and then reached up one hand to carefully smooth down his own hair.
"You can hear me," Jimmy said, grinning. "You can, I know it, so don't lie."
"No, I can't, and you're mad for thinking it," Thomas said, coolly. Jimmy's eyes strayed to the clock, keeping perfect time courtesy of himself, and saw that it was five minutes to midnight.
"You know," Jimmy said, indicating the room around them with a nod, "when I look at all this... I can only think of how things should be for us." Thomas gave him a deathly stare, but no-one could hear them and he knew it. Jimmy lowered his voice even further, and let his shoulder bump absently against Thomas's. "We should have a life. There are places where we can. I know you want it, too... to be together all the time..." Jimmy went on, thinking each phrase in his head clearly as he spoke it aloud. Perhaps that way he could hammer the point home doubly.
Beside him, Thomas closed his eyes for an instant, showing the smallest crack in his wall of composure. "Jimmy," he said, in a whisper, "don't-"
"Don't what?" Jimmy asked, smiling at the color that had risen to Thomas's cheeks. "What're you on about, hm?"
"Just..." Thomas trailed off, turning his head slightly, for a brief look at Jimmy.
The waiters were moving through the crowds in one last grand sweep, making sure everyone, even the servants, had a glass of cider or champagne. Thomas took one, but Jimmy declined, with a long suffering sigh. "None for me, thanks," Jimmy said, and Thomas snorted at him.
"Poor dear," Thomas said, taking a long drink of his champagne. Lord Grantham was calling for everyone to gather round, and suddenly Thomas and Jimmy were in the middle of a crush of guests who had flooded in from other rooms.
"-And thank all of you for coming here to celebrate with us," Lord Grantham was saying. "And a very Happy Hallowe'en!"
"Happy Hallowe'en!" Called out the partygoers, and Jimmy called it out, too, though he noticed Thomas did not. The clock began to strike twelve, and around them rose up a great cheer. People whooped and threw their masks. The lights were dimmed, leaving the room awash in candlelight and jack-o'-lantern faces, and the band stuck up a merry tune.
Thomas was helping himself to a second glass of champagne. "Care for a dance?" The fat lady's maid was asking Jimmy, and Jimmy laughed and spun away with her, always looking over her shoulder for Thomas.
After the lady's maid- a very pleasant Miss Antrim- was whirled away by Molesley, Jimmy danced with two of Lady Rose's friends, one after the other. Neither of them seemed to have any compunctions about flirting with a footman.
"My mother was in service," A drunken girl sporting a halo- Miss Anna Terry, or Tara Ferry, or something- was whispering into Jimmy's ear. Across the room Thomas was dancing with Mrs. Hughes, who looked most excellent in a peaked witch hat.
"That's nice," Jimmy said, and bowed to her neatly as the song ended, escaping before he could be asked to dance again.
He made it across the room as Thomas was draining his third glass of champagne. Jimmy had rarely seen Thomas drunk, but he was approaching it now. Thomas smiled at Jimmy, his face flushed, and Jimmy leaned in, to speak in his ear: "Come with me," Jimmy said, and Thomas nodded, smiling, and followed him without protest through the room, past the revelers and the ribbons of crepe paper that dragged through the air. Seeing the streamers buffeted up my the movements of the dancers gave Jimmy an involuntarily shiver of déjà vu.
"Come along, then," Jimmy said, ducking down a hallway. The noise of the revelers diminished to a dull roar, and Thomas, walking carefully after Jimmy, paused, a vaguely apprehensive look on his face. "Wait-" He said, looking into Jimmy's eyes, "Where are we going?"
"Into the closet," Jimmy said, and Thomas's eyes widened. "No, Jimmy-" he said, a little more loudly than he probably intended to. "That's a bad idea-"
"Shh. It's romantic," Jimmy said, and opened the door to the china closet- not the locked, important one, but the one for not-as-pretty dishes, ducking inside. "Remember when we came in here before? It was a long while ago..."
Thomas's face was extremely emotive when he had been drinking. Jimmy watched his expression change from one of disapproval- as he ducked into the little room to join Jimmy-to one of almost rapturous happiness. A rare smile- not the tight little secret-smiles that Thomas normally gave, but a real grin, replete with teeth- spread across his face. His eyes had a dreamy, faraway look. "O'course I remember," Thomas said, laying a hand against Jimmy's dressing gown. He had forgotten to close the door. Jimmy leaned out, past him, and carefully pulled it shut, cutting off the already-faint sounds of music and laughter coming from the main hall.
"This is where we kissed," Thomas said, simply, as though it had been the most memorable moment of his entire life. The sentiment made Jimmy's chest ache. "And-" Thomas went on, dropping his mask lacksidasically to the ground, "you- y'made me tell you I loved you."
"Mmm. We've kissed in a bunch of places, though," Jimmy said, pushing his hands up underneath Thomas's makeshift cloak to to touch his lower back. Thomas closed his eyes at the feeling, seemingly unable to keep his appreciativeness off of his face. "Ah," Thomas said. "That was... the happiest I- no," Thomas broke off, shaking his head. "That's when I started to be happy," Thomas explained carefully, holding up his fingers as though he were making an important point in a lecture hall- "And, see, I've been happier each day, ever since." At this Thomas stopped, and looked into Jimmy's face, his eyes wide and earnest and totally without artifice. The intensity of it- the way Thomas felt, and the way Jimmy could see it, so clearly, when Thomas's couldn't keep his guard up- made Jimmy press his mouth to Thomas's, roughly. Thomas's arms came up, and he kissed Jimmy back with equal intensity.
Can you hear me now? Because I want you, I want you- Jimmy thought, and Thomas made a little noise against Jimmy's lips. Jimmy bit Thomas on his bottom lip, and then felt the cut and stopped, guiltily. "I didn't mean to do that," Jimmy said, pulling back, and Thomas looked at him, confused. "Your lip," Jimmy elaborated.
"It's fine," Thomas said, pressing forward for another kiss, for once not waiting to take his cues on touching from Jimmy. His hands ran under Jimmy's dressing gown, tugging his shirt free of his trousers. "It hurt worst last week. I like this costume. I want to touch you-"
Jimmy laughed at Thomas's confused jumble of speech, and then took a long breath, feeling his heartbeat kick up when Thomas ran his hands over the bare skin of Jimmy's waist. "Wait," Jimmy said, drawing an unsteady breath- "what hurt worse last week?"
"When you tried to sodomize me," Thomas whispered, and Jimmy was startled into laughter.
"It's okay, don't feel bad," Thomas said, reaching his hands out from under Jimmy's shirt, and holding Jimmy's face between the palms of his hands. Thomas's expression showed only the greatest concern, a drunkenly exaggerated concern, and his voice was sweet. "We'll do it again. And again, and again, and it will be perfect, like everything is. Perfect." He kissed Jimmy's face, once, and then again, very gently, and Jimmy looked at him in wonder. "You should be drunk all the time," Jimmy said, and Thomas raised an imperious eyebrow at him. "I'm not drunk," Thomas returned. "I'm just enjoying myself. You shouldn't talk, anyhow-"
He didn't get to finish his thought, though, because Jimmy pressed their mouths together, feeling lightheaded with sensation. Thomas was touching his chest, fingers skating up along skin, saying "I want to...uh..." He looked at Jimmy with hazy eyes. "This door doesn't lock."
"I want to try something I haven't done," Jimmy said, deciding he meant it even as the words were coming out of his mouth, and he thought Guess what is it, Thomas.
Thomas ran his hands through his own hair. "I don't know. I can't guess. Um. Subtlety?"
Jimmy looked up at him. He felt frankly amazed, and amazement mingled with desire, making his head turn in slow somersaults. "You really can hear my thoughts, don't you? Tell me the truth."
"No," Thomas said, to one or both statements. His features appeared and disappeared in the gloom, and Jimmy pushed the cloak off of his shoulders, and began to unbutton his jacket. Thomas stood still, his eyes tightly shut, taking long, uneven breaths. Jimmy could see, now that his eyes had adjusted somewhat, the telltale signs of Thomas's desire- that band of color that burned across the center of his face, in a pretty line, giving everything away. Thomas reached out to undress Jimmy, but Jimmy pushed his hands away, and began to work on the buttons of Thomas's dress shirt. He's so soused, I can't believe he's going along with this- Jimmy thought, and Thomas replied to the words that Jimmy had not spoken, "I'm not drunk, I said-" through lips pressed tight with arousal.
Finally Jimmy had all of his clothing unbuttoned, and Thomas stood before him, swaying slightly on his feet, his jacket still on his shoulders, with his chest exposed. Jimmy put the palms of his hands flat against Thomas's skin, and then trailed his hands down, his fingers raising gooseflesh on Thomas's torso in their wake. Does that feel good? Jimmy thought, aiming his thoughts at Thomas, if such a thing were possible. Do you like this?
"Yes, yes, very nice, yes, I do-" Thomas said, and Jimmy took a deep breath. Looking into Thomas face, Jimmy very slowly lowered himself down onto his knees, to address perhaps his last reservation about being with a man.
Jimmy had never done this. It wasn't that he hadn't thought about it, he reasoned, as he unbuckled Thomas's belt. He'd thought about it a lot- obsessed about it, even, turning the act over and over in his mind, trying to figure out why it bothered him, or why it thrilled him. Especially after Thomas had first done it to him- in what Jimmy had imagined was a rather expert fashion. Jimmy had dreams, wild confused dreams that made him wake in Thomas's arms with his pulse racing and a throbbing erection- but he had always been trepidatious about it. It seemed so- so terribly specific, somehow, like the last taboo, when Jimmy had conquered his fear of everything else. So sissy. So nancy. So bloody lavender.
Thomas was grabbing Jimmy's wrists with a concerned look. "You don't need to do that, I know it bothers you-" Thomas said, trying to lift Jimmy back onto his feet, but Jimmy pulled his hands away, and pushed Thomas's trousers down. Thomas was already hard. Jimmy could see the press of his erection against the last layer of his underclothes. I don't feel that way- or at least not as badly as I want you, Jimmy thought. He pulled the fabric down, so that Thomas was undressed, from his throat to his knees. Let me. I've thought about this for months. I always think about things before I do them.
"Liar," Thomas said, and Jimmy's heart skipped a beat. You're amazing, Thomas, he thought. You're magical, you know.
"I-" Thomas broke off abruptly as Jimmy wrapped a hand around the base of his erection. "Oh, Jimmy," he said, quietly, and Jimmy flexed and unflexed his grip, taking his eyes off of Thomas's face, and leaning forward. Here we go, Jimmy thought, and pressed his lips experimentally against the head of Thomas's penis. Thomas made a strangled sound, and Jimmy leaned forward minutely, and pressed his tongue flat against the same spot he had kissed. Hmm, Jimmy thought, no real mental articulation behind it, and traced his tongue against Thomas again, in a more elaborate trail. Thomas moaned above him. I hope nobody walks through the hall and hears that, Jimmy mused, silently- and looked up, in time to see Thomas press his left hand over his own face, covering his mouth. Thomas was slightly bent over, and Jimmy could feel that the muscles of Thomas's legs were shaking. Jimmy kept one hand on Thomas's erection, and gripped Thomas's thigh with his free hand- to steady himself or the other man, Jimmy wasn't sure.
"Augh," Thomas said, the sound muffled by his hands, as Jimmy moved his tongue again. Not so bad, Jimmy thought. The anxiety that he had felt was dissolving, replaced by a deep-seated lust that began low in his stomach and worked its way steadily upwards, making his face feel hot.
"Oh, Jimmy," Thomas said- his voice was muffled by his glove, but Jimmy could understand him- "Oh, Jimmy, ah, yes- that feels- so-ah-" One of Thomas's hands came down, to tangle in Jimmy's hair. If you thrust, I swear I'll bite down, Jimmy thought. No, I'm only joking. I would never-
Above him, Thomas let out a hoarse laugh. You hear me? Jimmy asked, in his mind, twisting his hand in counterpoint to the motions of his mouth. You taste good, Jimmy thought, and sucked, lightly, on the tip of Thomas's penis. Thomas made a moaning sound, his hand against his face. Jimmy could feel Thomas fighting to keep his hips still, and the feeling- of power, maybe, or arousal- coursed through Jimmy's body, and his mind, and through the secret pockets of emotion in his chest, making him double his efforts.
"-yes," Thomas rasped out- "oh, yes- yes, I loveyou so, yes, oh, God- that's-please-"
I love you, too, Jimmy said internally- smugly- and brought his hand down from Thomas's thigh, gripping Thomas's erection with his right hand, sucking on it gently with his mouth, and with his left hand drawing a line with his fingers up and down the underside of the shaft. I am amazing at this, Jimmy thought, headily, and Thomas let out a choking laugh that sounded like a sob. Tell me you can hear me, he commanded, silently- and Thomas, his hips bucking involuntarily foward, said, in a garbled voice- "-yes- I can hear you I feel so close to you I can hear you oh Jimmy I need you-"
Jimmy pushed Thomas's hips back, holding him in place with his left hand, and Thomas gasped, and lost himself completely, rocking back and forth, his speech uneven beyond all comprehension-
What? Jimmy thought, not taking his mouth away, and Thomas grabbed Jimmy's hair painfully and forced his head back. Jimmy sat up, confused, and Thomas sank down to his knees, meeting Jimmy on the floor. Thomas did not seem to be able to open his eyes all the way- they appeared heavy-lidded, and his lips were swollen. Jimmy watched Thomas's erection, still slick, move up and down with the rapid breaths he took. I made his body look that way. Jimmy felt intensely possessive of the man before him. I made him that aroused. Thomas was so hard it looked painful. "What?" Jimmy asked him, when Thomas did not answer to his unspoken query.
"I'm going to- I can't-" Thomas said, and he seemed almost to not know where he was, so that when Jimmy reached out, Thomas leaned away for a second, his face twisted with effort. "Wait-" he said, pushing his hand against Jimmy. "It's so much-"
"It's fine, it's good, come here," Jimmy said, echoing a soothing refrain that he had learned from Thomas- and Thomas leaned against him, burying his face in Jimmy's shoulder, his body shaking. "Here," Jimmy said, and wrapped his hands around Thomas's hardon, feeling his own pulse spike as Thomas moaned against his neck, jerking his body forward into Jimmy's hands. "Yes," Jimmy said, thickly. Thomas gripped onto his arms, his fingers digging into Jimmy's shoulders painfully, and moved against him. "-yes," Thomas said, lifting his head up. "-yes, oh-"
Jimmy kissed Thomas's mouth, wanting to fill him, wanting to be one with him- wanting him- and Thomas, his face contorted, said- "i'm going to-"
"Yes, please," Jimmy said, and pressed his teeth into Thomas's split lip. Thomas moaned as Jimmy bit down, and then, shuddering, Thomas hissed: "-ah, please, I can't-" and came.
"Yes," Jimmy muttered, and kissed Thomas again. It was too much, as Thomas had said.
"Ah," Thomas said, quietly. "Ah, god, Jimmy." His hips rocked against Jimmy's hands for a moment longer, before he slumped back, sitting on the ground.
Jimmy took out if his pocket the red handkerchief that he had been wearing to spruce up his dressing gown. Carefully he wiped his hands off. Thomas was sitting with his head in his hands and his knees against his chest, taking deep breaths. Gradually he seemed to come back to awareness- he looked up at Jimmy, and Jimmy raised an eyebrow at him. How'd I do?
"I won't answer that, not unless you say it aloud," Thomas said, but his voice was shaking and his eyes were bright.
"How'd I do?" Jimmy asked, putting his hands atop Thomas's knees, and Thomas gave him a tender sort of look. "That," Thomas said, his voice still slurry from alcohol, "was the best thing that's ever happened to me. In my whole life, maybe."
Jimmy laughed. "I can't have been as good as your other five lovers, all of whom probably had practice."
Thomas closed his eyes for a minute, and smoothed back his dark hair with one trembling hand. "Everything is the best with you, Jimmy," he said, in perfect seriousness.
I hope I was much better than the Duke, Jimmy thought, pleased, and Thomas nodded in agreement to his thought. "Everything is better with you- ah, because I love you," Thomas elaborated (he wouldn't have elaborated so if he were sober), and then his eyes widened, and he crawled towards Jimmy with a startled look. "I'm sorry," Thomas said, "I forgot-" and he cupped one hand against Jimmy's trousers, pressing down on his erection. Jimmy took a breath, fighting off the overwhelming voice in his head that said please, more- and pushed Thomas's hand away. "I think we've been away a while," Jimmy managed, "so we should go- ah- back, but you owe me one for later and no mistake." If I can survive until then, he added to himself, and Thomas snickered. Thomas seemed almost recovered- still flushed, and still a bit shaky, but that could be from the drink. Jimmy stood up first, wincing at his state of arousal, and offered his hand to Thomas, who took it and rose to his feet unsteadily.
Jimmy watched, not helping, as Thomas buttoned up his shirt. Thomas kept missing the buttons, and then dragging his fingers along his chest and the edge of his shirt, to find them again. Jimmy felt his jaw clench involuntarily at the sight. Thomas disappearing back into clothes, for some reason, was nearly as erotic as Thomas stripping out of clothes.
"Thank you," Thomas said, smiling at him, and Jimmy, though his thoughts were distracted by lust, remembered a very important point he had been trying to make. "You can hear me," Jimmy accused, as his hands strayed over to Thomas, unbidden. He gripped Thomas around the waist as Thomas looked over his shoulder, probably searching for a response that did not include admitting to his new telepathic abilities.
"You can, confess," Jimmy said, and Thomas did not exactly admit it- but he did incline his head towards Jimmy with a searching look. After a pause, Thomas asked him- "Can you hear what I'm thinking?"
Jimmy shook his head no. "Believe me, I've been trying," Jimmy said, his answer drawing a laugh from Thomas. "But nothing. Not a whisper. I thought maybe it was the spirits coming back or something, but I don't know why it's only you-"
Thomas was shaking his head, indicating his unwillingness to discuss the matter any further. "The party," Thomas said, suddenly remembering his responsibilities, and ducking away. "Fine, if you refuse to discuss it," Jimmy said rolling his eyes. "Let's go back before I have a change of heart and let you ravage me." Jimmy sighed, as Thomas refastened his cloak. "It's very hard to be the responsible one."
Thomas wasn't so intoxicated as to let that pass. "Yes, it is," he said, pointedly, and they both gave each other a last once over with their eyes and hands, before exiting the closet.
You've left me in a state, Jimmy thought, as they walked back into the hall. It was half-past midnight, but the party was still roaring away, now with the added influx of the servants.
The band- (at this time of the evening, the musicians had certainly devolved from an orchestra into a band)- was playing a upbeat tune, and dancers spun in merry circles or quiet couples, all of the classes commingling. By the piano a woman laughed hysterically, while a young man repeatedly told her to be quiet, laughing himself. Thomas had fallen behind Jimmy, so that they would not be seen entering quite together.
Pagliacci passed by on Jimmy's right with the Queen of Hearts, and then two girls in white flowing garments waved to Jimmy, and he blinked at them for a moment, his mind still elsewhere, before realizing that the spectres were Ivy and Daisy.
"We got to come up for the party!" Daisy said, excitedly, and Ivy gave Jimmy her nicest smile. "You both look wonderful!" Jimmy said, feeling magnanimous. "You have the best costumes of anyone here!"
"Oh, go on," Ivy said, laughing, but Daisy nodded. "I think so, too," She told Jimmy, looking around. "I can't believe nobody else thought to go as ghosts!"
"What?!" Jimmy asked, over the din of the music.
"I said I can't believe that nobody dressed as spirits!" Daisy yelled.
"Oh," Jimmy said, nodding. "Right. I agree."
"And what are you?" Ivy asked.
"A happy man, Ivy," Jimmy said. "Who wants a dance?"
Over Daisy's shoulder, Jimmy watched Thomas skirt along the chairs that lined the edges of the hall, looking for his scythe. It was really very funny, especially as Jimmy remembered he had left it resting up against a wall somewhere in the hallway that housed the wonderful china closet.
He and Ivy danced next, swaying next to other people who had pushed up close to the band, and Claudia- who had tugged his sleeve in the dining room- twirled past him with Lord Lloyd-something. To his left, Alfred, his pirate hat making him inhumanly tall, bent in half to dance with Miss Antrim.
Anna and Bates sat together, their feet touching, wearing identical bandit masks but otherwise dressed regularly, and Jimmy's eyes moved over them. At the far wall, Jimmy could see Awful Alfred taking to the Duke. Of course they would find each other, Jimmy thought, and stifled a laugh. "What?" Ivy asked, and Jimmy tore his eyes away from the pair. "I just can't believe that Mr. Branson came as a chauffeur, is all," He said, and Ivy giggled.
The dance ended, and Jimmy passed Ivy off to a gratified-looking Alfred- and made his way across the room, to where Thomas was.
"Hello, stranger," Jimmy said, and Thomas glanced over at him, and then straightened up. "Have you seen my scythe?" Thomas asked. It's in the hall, Jimmy thought, looking at Thomas as neutrally as he could manage.
"Hmm?" Thomas asked. "I didn't make that out."
!THE HALL! Jimmy imagined himself shouting, and Thomas bobbed his head back a little, blinking. "No need to yell," Thomas said, rubbing at his temples.
"Thomas, this is-" Jimmy paused, restraining himself from grabbing the other man. "This is really something," Jimmy said, weakly. Being so close to Thomas made his body ache. I want to go upstairs, he thought, picturing Thomas's bed. Their bed.
"We have to do a little work before that can happen," Thomas said, lightly, but the look he gave Jimmy felt heavy indeed. Jimmy pointed, quickly, so that only Thomas could see, towards Awful Alfred and the Duke, still locked in a conversation that neither seemed eager to end.
"Did you see that?" Jimmy asked. "How you people manage to find one another I will never know."
Thomas snorted at Jimmy. "Right. Anyway, they didn't," Thomas added, smirking, "I did that."
"What?" Jimmy asked. "How?"
Thomas lifted another glass of champagne from a waiter, with the dexterity of a pickpocket. "You're quite graceful sometimes, y'know," Jimmy said, affectionately.
"Save it for later, James," Thomas said, tipping his glass back.
"Is this how you're dealing with your telepathy?" Jimmy asked. "By getting good and tight and pretending it's not happening?"
"I told Fred that the Duke was in need of a valet," Thomas said, answering his earlier question. "I don't know why it did it. It's a lie, anyhow. I doubt the Duke can afford a valet."
"He's lost his dukely fortune?" Jimmy asked, trying not to feel overly pleased.
"Every cent, just about," Thomas said, nodding.
"And Fred is looking for work?" Jimmy asked.
"He hates Germany," Thomas replied. "But that's not exactly why he went to speak with the Duke."
"Ah," Jimmy said, uneasily. The ways of people like... that still made in uncomfortable sometimes, though he (mostly) tried to recognize the hypocrisy of his bias. Remember, Thomas is like that, Jimmy reminded himself, firmly. And so it can't really be too bad.
"And yourself," Thomas said, lowly.
"Well, I know that," Jimmy said. "It's just old prejudices- sometimes they're hard to, um, uproot or something." Especially if you're trying to uproot them for people you hate.
Beside him came Thomas's soft laugh.
The band began playing I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise, and Jimmy's foot tapped to the music. I wish we could dance together, he thought, and Thomas nodded- in agreement or comprehension, Jimmy thought, but he couldn't tell which.
"I like this song," Jimmy said, and sang along: "It's madness, to be always sitting around in sadness- when you could be learning the steps of gladness-"
He stopped singing, because the look that Thomas gave him made him forget the words.
The guests finally began to leave or go to bed, and Jimmy stopped being a guest and became a servant once more, helping people to their coats and the door. When he got downstairs, he found the party continuing still- the remnants of the champagne had been brought to the servants hall, and music and laughter floated out, a replica in miniature of what had gone on upstairs.
Someone had brought party favors down, too, and people pulled last year's Christmas crackers, laughing, and brushed streamers off of the table. Thomas was already seated, smoking. I'll bet you were dying for a cigarette, especially after what we did, Jimmy thought, and Thomas glanced up at him quickly, meeting his eyes.
O'Brien was not sitting with Thomas- nor had she been in evidence at any time during the evening. Jimmy imagined her secreted away in her room, probably terrified, seeing spirits in every corner. Awful Alfred the seat-stealer wasn't present, and so Jimmy was able to take his rightful place at the piano bench.
"Have a cracker, Jimmy!" Regular Alfred said, and tossed him one, across the room. Jimmy caught it neatly, and leaned towards the table, tapping Thomas on the back.
"Care for a pull, Mr. Barrow?" Jimmy asked, as Thomas turned around- and Thomas gave him a flat look, before grasping one end.
"Hah!" Jimmy said, as the cracker exploded with a pop, and tore his eyes away from Thomas, to make sure he got the paper hat and the note first. He put the hat on, tipping Thomas a jaunty wink, and then unfolded his fortune. It read:
You must remember to practice.
Jimmy stared at the paper, feeling his skin prickle, and then looked up. Thomas had caught some of his concern- from looking at him or listening to his thoughts, Jimmy wasn't sure- and leaned forward, holding out his hand. Jimmy handed him the slip of paper silently, and Thomas turned it over, reading it aloud. "Can a match box?" Thomas said, looking up at Jimmy questioningly. "No, but a tin can." He handed the paper back to Jimmy, who took it, and read the text:
Can a match box? No, but a tin can!
"It's just a joke," Thomas said.
"But I-" Jimmy stopped, and folded the paper up, putting it into his pocket. "Nevermind," Jimmy said, after a beat, and turned away from Thomas, to play the piano.
It took forever for everyone to go to sleep. Jimmy played piano and waited, for a long time. He kept his back away from the room, pleased to have an excuse not to interact with anyone.
"In a way, I feel let down," Ivy said. "Even though it was scary, when the spirits came before. They moved everything around in our room, remember?"
"Yeah, but just on your side," Daisy answered. "Then later my pictures kept floating off of their hooks, but yours were all normal."
"I wanted to see 'em again, too," Alfred was saying. Jimmy switched into Chopin- Thomas's favorite- hoping it would lull everybody a bit and make them all go off to bed.
"Now, let's not make rash wishes," Mrs. Hughes was saying. Behind her, Mrs. Patmore was laughing at something someone else had said. Sir Clement's valet, August, was flirting shamelessly with one of the maids- Jimmy could hear them murmuring to his left.
Let's go upstairs. Sod waiting. They're all drunk and they're taking forever, Jimmy thought, wondering if Thomas could hear him. I mean it, Thomas. Go on, make your excuses and I'll wait a respectable amount of time to join you.
Thomas did not budge from the chair where he sat, not partaking in the festivities, reading the paper. He did cough once, lightly. Jimmy took that to mean 'not a chance'.
Please, Jimmy tried, his fingers flying over the keys, turning the Chopin into I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise.
We could build our own 'Stairway to Paradise', Jimmy thought, almost laughing aloud at how ludicrous he was being. If you just go up to our damned room, that is.
Thomas still did not move, though he did cough again, politely.
"And I'm just three neighborhoods over from you- imagine, we could have run into each other at any point in our childhoods! How strange that we never-" That was August, the valet. He was quite eloquent. The maid seemed to be completely under his spell- she scarcely even drew breath, but to listen to him.
Please, Thomas, I'm still in quite a state, you know, Jimmy tried, thinking that a play for sympathy might have a better chance of success than trying to strong-arm Thomas into giving him his way- and, miracle of miracles, Thomas was rising in his chair, putting out his cigarette- Thomas was making his excuses to everybody, and Jimmy played a little bit of the 'Ode to Joy' melody, just to underline how pleased he was.
Jimmy played three more songs, forcing himself to do it right and not rush through them- and then got up, slipping out of the hall. The gaiety went on behind him, and he made his way up the stairs to the door of Thomas's room.
Jimmy paused, bolting the door behind himself with the ease that came from eight months' practice. Thomas was not smoking, and he was not in his pyjamas. Rather, he sat upright on the cot, the coverlet pulled up to his waist. The flush of alcohol had faded from his cheeks, but his eyes were dark, and he was shirtless, treating Jimmy to the sight of his bare chest.
"I could feel you," Thomas said, as if he begruded each word that moved past his lips. "I could feel what you felt. I can feel how- how, ah, you want me."
"You can?" Jimmy asked. Thomas was studying him as though he had never truly seen him before, and all of a sudden Jimmy felt as if he were stripped bare. "Can you hear everything I think?"
Thomas shook his head. "No. Not-" he broke off, still looking at Jimmy fixedly.
"Not yet, that's what you were going to say," Jimmy said, taking a step closer to the bed.
Thomas ignored this last, pinning Jimmy with his eyes. "Come here," Thomas said, and made a pulling motion with his hands. Jimmy pulled off his ratty robe, tossing his mask onto the desk beside Thomas's. "Come here," Thomas said, again, his voice low and insistent.
Jimmy pulled back the covelet- Thomas looked up at him, unmoving- and he discovered that Thomas was totally unclothed, and quite aroused. Jimmy swallowed, feeling, even after these many months, some kind of self-consciousness. It was rare for Thomas to be so forward, and it left Jimmy feeling bashful, like some ridiculous schoolgirl. Thomas stared up at him, his gaze unchanging, and Jimmy shivered at the expression on his face. "Take your clothes off," Thomas said.
"Let me get into the bed first, it's cold in here," Jimmy said, and climbed almost on top of Thomas, brushing up against Thomas's erection. Thomas pulled the coverlet over them, and then pressed his hands to Jimmy's face, kissing him deeply, until Jimmy had to lean away to get some air.
"Ah, uhm, okay, wait," Jimmy said, his heart beating wildly in his chest. Jimmy could not tell if he felt more parts nervous or excited, and he didn't care. If telepathy was going to make Thomas act like this, then by God, Jimmy loved telepathy.
Thomas was roughly divesting him of his red pyjama shirt, and Jimmy moved his shoulders to allow him to complete the task, and then he rolled to the side to kick off his pants, and threw them across the room. Thomas sat up again, his back pressed against the headboard. "Come here," he said, and pulled Jimmy back against him, so that Jimmy sat upright as well, with his back against Thomas's chest.
Jimmy's heart was pounding harder than he would have thought possible without injury, and Thomas kissed the side of his neck, running his hands- with the fascinatingly different sensations they brought- one rough, one smooth- down Jimmy's abdomen. Jimmy took a deep breath. In this position it was easy to remember that Thomas had him trumped in height and size and weight, that Thomas was stronger, that Thomas might even win in a fight, that Thomas probably always felt like this about Jimmy, wanted him like this, and was fighting to keep control of himself, to hold back. Jimmy remembered when he had not hidden it so well, before they were ever lovers.
"I'm sorry," Thomas said, pulling his mouth away, to speak in Jimmy's ear. He did not sound sorry. His voice was low with lust. "I'm sorry that I still make you nervous. I would never hurt you, Jimmy."
"Don't be sorry," Jimmy said, turning his neck so that he could look, for an instant, at Thomas. "If you can feel that then you can feel how much I want it. I want you to be as you really are. I like you best that way, even if I get a bit..." Jimmy paused, searching for another way to put it, and then thought of something quite clever. "It's the ideas of things that bother me, not the actualities." Jimmy congratulated himself on his own eloquence, and rested his back against Thomas again, relaxing a little. It does feel nice, to be held like this by you, Jimmy thought, and Thomas kissed the top of his head.
"Alright?" Thomas asked, and Jimmy nodded. "Alright." Thomas's hands started moving over his body again, and Jimmy drew a shuddering breath.
"Hmm." Thomas said, touching the muscles of Jimmy's chest. His fingers moved lower, dragging along Jimmy's body, and he felt sparks flare up inside him- all of the desire that he had been forced to quell so that they could get on with the stupid party.
"Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party," Jimmy said, laughing a bit at himself for how fraught he was. Thomas pressed his lips to Jimmy's ear, and reached his hands down, touching Jimmy's thighs. Jimmy leaned in, a little, feeling the press of Thomas's erection against his back. "That feels good," Jimmy said, pressing against him a bit more firmly, until he got Thomas to make a soft sound- barely a sound at all, so quickly did he cut it off.
Touch me, please. I don't want to have to say it out loud. Jimmy didn't know if Thomas could always get the exact phrases he thought, or only vague ideas, but Thomas reached his hand down further, caressing Jimmy's thighs, and Jimmy tried to make himself stay still. The sensation was almost overwhelming, and Jimmy wondered if that was because he didn't have the distraction of touching Thomas, of losing himself in Thomas's pleasure. We lose ourselves in each other, but right now I can't and it makes me afraid, Jimmy thought.
"Everyone's afraid to be vulnerable," Thomas said, kissing Jimmy's ear in between whispers. "Makes sense, too. Trusting somebody usually comes back to haunt you."
Jimmy felt bad for Thomas, that that was what he had gotten out of life, so far- and yet he could also see the truth it in, how Thomas was partially right. "We trust each other, though," Jimmy said. "I trust you." Look at all the things I trust you with.
Jimmy could feel Thomas's heart beating behind him- so comforting even as it scared him- so universal- the compass by which Jimmy lived his life. The rhythm of music. From the vanity his metronome ticked in the same ceaseless beat.
"Thank you," Thomas said. His voice was hitching. You feel what I feel? Jimmy asked, in his mind. You feel what I feel-
"Yes," Thomas said, quietly, and wrapped both his hands around Jimmy's erection. "Ah!" Jimmy hissed, snapped out of his thoughts, as Thomas touched him. Jimmy felt the roughness of Thomas's left palm and the softness of his right, both against the skin of his penis, and his hips moved against Thomas's hands, trying to gain purchase or manufacture even more friction.
"Ahh- ah, shite," Jimmy said, fighting to keep self control. It was extremely difficult. All he could see were Thomas's arms, very pale against his own skin- and Thomas's hands, moving up and down around him. Jimmy closed his eyes to shut out the sight. The blackness behind his eyelids swam with sparks, and his body throbbed with each beat of his heart- Thomas's heart- he couldn't tell which, it didn't matter-
"Don't-" Thomas was speaking again, and Jimmy tried to listen to him, but the sensation was too intense-
"Don't fight it, let go, oh, God, that's right that's-"
That feels so good so good oh Thomas yes please do it yes I-
"Yes please do it yes I-"Thomas said, whispering into Jimmy's ear an echo of Jimmy's own thoughts. With his hands Thomas increased the pace he had set, making Jimmy arch forward, moaning. Don't do that shite so embarrassing he can see you and you can't see him- Jimmy thought, but still his hips bucked upwards into Thomas's touch.
"It's not embarrassing," Thomas muttered, his voice pouring over Jimmy like it was molten, making him burn and ache. "It's beautiful," Thomas said.
"Hmmm- ah, god," Jimmy said, and bit down on the knuckles of his hand, in case anybody was passing through the hallway. He rubbed against Thomas, forward and back, from Thomas's palms to Thomas's erection. "Ah- Thomas- ah- I- I'm going to-" Jimmy tried to make himself comprehensible, but Thomas only pulled him back more tightly, and Jimmy was trapped- he couldn't get away, the sensation was everywhere-
"Please," Thomas said, at the exact second that Jimmy thought Please, desperately, and he knew he couldn't last any longer, and Thomas was touching him and it was too much-
"Oh, oh, oh please Godyes-" Jimmy said, and came. Consciousness blurred out for a second, what shreds of rational thought he'd had left were lost, and he was adrift in sensation, bliss, relief.
Thomas was touching his hair. Jimmy laid back against him, perfectly happy, and safe, and warm, and loved, and all of that silly sentimental stuff- and then he remembered- or felt- the state that Thomas was in.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Jimmy said, slowly. "Poor you." Thomas didn't answer him, just lay with his arms around Jimmy, taking hitching breaths, and Jimmy slowly moved against him, so that Thomas moaned.
Jimmy, who had totally sunk down against the other man, turned around, so that they were face to face, and stroked his hands down Thomas's hardon.
Thomas looked at him, his eyes dark and his mouth tight. He opened his lips, as if to speak, but then Jimmy squeezed his erection and Thomas only made a choked sound, closing his eyes, his forehead creased, as if in concentration.
"Yes," Jimmy said, feeling much more in control of the world now that they were face to face.
"Ah- yes, yes-" Thomas gasped, and then he came- right away- and Jimmy looked into his eyes, at his blown-out pupils, and kissed him on his lips, not taking his hand away until the last aftershocks had trembled through Thomas's body. You can feel what I feel, Jimmy thought, amazed. We feel it together.
They lay for a while without moving, and eventually Jimmy rolled over, into the most comfortable position they could manage. "I would give empires for a real bed," Jimmy said, woefully. He was pleased to find that his voice had returned to normal. Jimmy could pretend with ease that he hadn't been so undone as he had, a few minutes before. If he could actually get anything past Telepathic Thomas, that was.
"Empires for a real bed, and entire worlds for the freedom to sleep next to you in it. Without any questions asked," Jimmy elaborated, when Thomas didn't reply.
"...Well," Thomas said sleepily, "I suppose if you wanted to commit to posing as a woman for the rest of your natural life-"
Jimmy elbowed him in the ribs, and Thomas chuckled, before reaching over Jimmy for a cigarette. "Mmm, give me one," Jimmy said, and Thomas obliged.
"We can do that thing you want this weekend," Thomas said, suddenly. "I owe you one for that."
"Owe me for what?" Jimmy asked.
"That," Thomas said. Thomas's smile was a bit askew- probably hung wrongly on his face by all the champagne he had imbibed. "That. Just now. That."
"Oh, that," Jimmy said, feeling embarrassed. Could we just forget about that?
"That was nothing. No thanks required," Jimmy said quickly, wondering if he could cover up his thoughts with his words.
"Oh. So you don't want to give it another go, sodomizing me?" Thomas asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Well," Jimmy allowed, laughing at Thomas's forwardness- he loved Drunk Thomas- "I didn't say that." Jimmy paused, frowning, and then pointed his cigarette accusatorily at Thomas. Ashes fell off of it onto the cot, and Thomas made a noise of irritation, and began to sweep the coverlet with his hand. Jimmy ignored that, still fixing his gaze to the other man. "You know," Jimmy said, waiting until Thomas looked back at him, "I need you to tell me something. Am I better for that- for doing that with- than the Duke?" I'd better be, Jimmy added, internally.
"Y'know..." Jimmy said, waving his hands around. Being inside of, He added, mentally. The phrase- even when he had only thought it- gave Jimmy a little shiver because of the images it called up. Oh, Thomas-
"Hmph," Thomas snorted, his lips turning up into a teasing smile. "I don't know. I never did that to the Duke."
"What?" Jimmy asked, confused. "You said you were lovers-"
"That we were. But-" Thomas flicked his cigarette up over Jimmy, into the ashtray."But I never did that to him. Wasn't his cup of tea, as you'd say."
"But you-" Jimmy broke off. "Oh," Jimmy said, after a second, feeling idiotic. "You mean...he- did that to you?"
Thomas nodded, leaning back against the pillows.
"Oh," Jimmy said, sarcastically. "Well. I guess there's no point asking you if I'm better at doing that than him, since I'd bet all I have that you at least let the Duke do it to you more than once."
Jimmy felt woefully inadequate. It must have showed, on his face or in his thoughts- because Thomas stopped smirking, and touched his shoulder. "This weekend," Thomas said, and kissed Jimmy's cheek. "Don't be sore."
"An apt choice of words," Jimmy sniped. "You know, if you'd corrected me instead of just laying back and thinking of England, maybe it wouldn't have been so sore."
Thomas smirked again, but he laid his head close to Jimmy's, and pressed their mouths together. "Mm," Jimmy said, and ruffled Thomas's hair. "Don't change the subject. If you had corrected me-"
"I didn't want to correct you when you were having such a good time," Thomas said, wickedly, and Jimmy punched him, and then leaned back, hiding his face in mock shame.
He peered out from between his hands to find that Thomas had started to drift off.
"I'm done in," Thomas murmured, when Jimmy looked at him. "Come here," Thomas said, opening his arms. "I'm already here," Jimmy said, "nowhere else to go on this bloody tiny bed-" but he moved closer to Thomas anyways.
"Happy Hallowe'en," Jimmy said, against Thomas's chest, and Thomas made a derisive sound. "No spirits, though," Jimmy added. "Too bad."
"Right, sure..." Thomas whispered, and Jimmy heard his breathing even out. Jimmy sat up, looking at Thomas's drawn face. When he moved away, Thomas frowned, slightly, and Jimmy touched his forehead until Thomas wore a placid look once more. "It was great, though," Jimmy whispered, pushing a lock of hair out of Thomas's eyes.
Jimmy wanted to lay back down and sleep- but he remembered the commandment handed to him, down out of his dreams- and the slip of paper from the party favour- and instead he forced himself out of the bed, and dressed in his ridiculous crimson pyajmas. He pulled the slip of paper out of his dressing gown, and, unfolding it, read it again- but it still said Can a match box? No, but a tin can! -and Jimmy put it away in the desk. "Practice, practice, practice," Jimmy muttered, and took out his deck of cards.
Thomas dreamed of a ballroom, far grander than most he had ever seen, with arched and vaulted ceilings that dropped lower, lower, lower- until he was all alone, in a low room, with solemn dancers spinning around him. From the stage, Jimmy announced- "I will now saw the vicar in half! And if he's very polite, I'll put him back together again afterwards!"
The dancers all stopped moving, and laughed at the same time, breaking into a round of applause. Something about it made Thomas afraid, and he pushed through the crowd, towards the stage.
"And for my next trick," Jimmy said, all of a sudden leaning close towards him, his eyes turned up- he hadn't been on stage after all, but on the dance floor, with Thomas- "for my next trick I will win all of this money," Jimmy said, raising his hands- Thomas saw that he wore a pair of spotless white gloves, even more pristine than their uniforms, more pristine than seemed possible. Jimmy's hands glowed brilliantly, and his eyes glowed, and he spun Thomas around.
"See?" Jimmy asked, in his ear, and Thomas did see. The crowd was gone, and they stood in a vault. Gold coins shone back at them, and treasures, and all the riches Thomas could ever have imagined- there were pirate's chests that looked like something out of a picture book, overflowing with doubloons, and crowns, and rings, and gems. Jewels and stacks of bills towered over the pair of them, and Jimmy walked towards it- towards the magnificent vision- with his arms outstretched.
"We can have the life we want," Jimmy said, and turned back to Thomas, his grin triumphant. But then his expression changed, his face seeming to cave in on itself- and Jimmy staggered forward, clutching at Thomas, who caught him, and sunk with him, to the floor. Jimmy was dead weight, and Thomas knelt over him- and gasped in horror. Blood was seeping through Jimmy''s white shirtfront. "Aaaahh-" Jimmy hissed, and clutched at his side, his face grey.
"I have to dress the wound," Thomas said, fighting back panic with the tools of his training, and Jimmy clutched at him- but then Thomas stood alone, on a dark cobblestone street, with rain pouring down on him-
"Jimmy! Jimmy!" Thomas shouted- no, he wasn't shouting, he was screaming, in real terror, and he took off running, his steps echoing against the buildings- "Jimmy!" Thomas screamed, again, tasting blood in the back of his throat- was it blood in his throat or Jimmy's? He couldn't tell-
The street stretched out, forever on, and then he felt a pair of lips against his cheek- a whisper in his ear-
"You must be of strong heart-"
But when Thomas turned around, to catch Jimmy, to dress his wounds, he found that Jimmy had already vanished-
Thomas forgot the finer points of his nightmare upon waking, and roused with three things: a headache, a desire for a cigarette, and the profoundly strange feeling of not being alone in his own mind. Then he realized, with a start, that Jimmy was not in bed. Back to his own room, Thomas thought, unhappily, for the second night in a row- but no, it wasn't true- Jimmy was sleeping in the chair. His arms were on the desk- he had fallen forward onto it in sleep, cradling his head in his hands. Underneath Jimmy cards littered the table and the floor.
Thomas stood up, checking the time and pulling on his pyjamas- and then he went over to Jimmy, touching him gently on the arm. "Mmmmph," Jimmy said, and sat up blearily.
"Good morning," Thomas said, in an undertone.
"Good morning. Ach, my neck," Jimmy said. A card, caught in the cloth of his dressing gown, fell to the ground, and Jimmy blinked at Thomas. "I fell asleep practicing," Jimmy said. Look at his face. He thinks I've gone mad, and yet he's the one hearing voices, Jimmy thought. It was as if he'd spoken it aloud- even clearer than it had been the previous night, when they had been together-
Thomas remembered the night before at the same time as Jimmy- he felt Jimmy's remembering. Jimmy's thoughts were a swirl, but Thomas felt ripples of desire and secret dark pockets of shame brush against his own mind. God, Thomas, if you can hear me, just don't bring up last night, Jimmy thought. I'm embarrassed.
The entire thing took perhaps three seconds, and then Jimmy, shaking his head determinedly, began to gather his cards up. "I'm getting better," Jimmy said, and collected the rest of his cards, looking into Thomas's eyes with his challenging stare. Thomas had always thought that look meant 'Go ahead, I dare you-' and, as it turned out- now that Thomas was apparently clairvoyant- it did mean that.
Go on, just watch this. Thomas heard Jimmy's voice- or thoughts- again. He was going to start having to read Jimmy's lips all of the time to see if what he heard was actually being said. The idea of that- of not being able to differentiate between reality and his own- truths, or madness, or whatever it was- made Thomas feel as though he were tumbling over a precipice, struggling desperately to find a handhold.
"Here, shuffle those really well," Jimmy said, and Thomas did as he was told, although even disregarding his injured hand he had less talent for cards than Jimmy did.
"Yes, that's good," Jimmy said, after a few moments. "Watch this," Jimmy commanded. "Hold up a card- don't show me what it is."
Thomas stared at Jimmy- but Jimmy only glared at up him, until Thomas relented, and picked a card off of the bottom of the deck, and held it in the air.
It was the eight of spades- and Thomas looked at it, while Jimmy looked at the back of the card like he was trying to read the world's smallest encyclopedia.
"It's... the..." Jimmy paused, rubbing his eyes, and stared again. "It's the four of clubs!"
Thomas shook his head, flipping the card around.
"Damn!" Jimmy said, but he didn't look at all disheartened.
"Why, exactly, are we doing this?" Thomas asked, and Jimmy waved him. off. "Another," Jimmy said, "do another." Thomas, rolling his eyes, picked another card from the bottom of the deck.
"It's the-" Jimmy broke off, squinting. Thomas registered the face of the card- it was the two of hearts- and then Jimmy cried out, triumphantly, "The two of hearts!"
"Shh," Thomas said- but he did not keep Jimmy in suspense, instead flipping the card around so that Jimmy could see that he had been right. Jimmy pumped his fist in the air, and let out a muted whoop. "That's right!" Jimmy said, rising to his feet. "I'm getting them right about half of the time now," He added, coming over to Thomas. "I can see behind them-"
One correct guess was not enough to convince Thomas, but before he could reply, they heard footsteps in the hall, and he grimaced at Jimmy. They both ran around on tiptoe, as quietly as possible, getting dressed.
At breakfast everyone was crowded together, but the lovely feeling of camaraderie that all the others had seemed possessed of the night before did not translate well to the morning. Hangovers were obvious in abundance, and Thomas could not help but remember the day after the haunting- or whatever it had been- had first made itself known at Downton. Jimmy hadn't been able to get a seat next to Thomas, and Thomas had felt his annoyance at the fact. Thomas had felt Jimmy's annoyance. Jimmy's annoyance, not his own. Thomas tried not to be too distressed about it, but he failed- what ever was going on, it was beyond his powers of comprehension. It had been different with the spirits- that had been happening to everyone- but this was his cross to bear, and his alone.
Thomas sat and read a book, trying to keep himself occupied and away from thoughts that did not belong to him. Sounds seemed unbearably loud- from his hangover or from whatever strange madness had descended on him, Thomas did not know. I might really be cracking up, Thomas mused, and kept himself from shuddering. Through everything, Thomas had always had himself- safe, within the citadel of his own mind, he could look out, or down- with apt perspective, even on his own foolishness...
But now his mind seemed to be broken- some intrinsic cog had either stopped working or sprung, suddenly, into life- and even if it was only Jimmy's thoughts he could hear, even if they were not imaginary, as Jimmy had insisted they were not- still Thomas did not want them. Take it away, please, I don't want it- Thomas pleaded silently, not knowing exactly whom he was pleading with.
Jimmy was staring at his cards. He had scarcely eaten, which was not his usual, and he pushed his plate away from himself to make room for his strange guessing game. Thomas forced himself to contemplate his book, trying to block out the ceaseless refrain of Jimmy's mind.
The eight of hearts, Jimmy's voice whispered, inside his head. It wasn't even as jarring as it had been a day and a half before- no scratched recording or gramaphone-behind-glass effect- just a soft, almost mechanical quality- as if Jimmy's inner voice could hit more notes, simultaneously, than his actual voice would have ever been capable of. It's as if I'm getting used to it, Thomas thought, feeling a chill start at the base of his neck. He turned his attention the book he held open, trying to remember what he had read last.
' "I intend taking you both back to Helium," I said. "No harm will come to you. You will find the red men of Helium a kindly and magnanimous race, but if they listen to me there will be no more voluntary pilgrimages down the river Iss, and the impossible belief that they have cherished for ages will be shattered into a thousand pieces." '
Jimmy's intense, concentrated thoughts broke into Thomas's reading: The deuce- um, of- oh, I can only see the letters, not the symbols-
Thomas told himself to ignore it, and read on.
' "Are you of Helium?" he asked. "I am a Prince of the House of Tardos Mors, Jeddak of Helium," I replied, "but I am not of Barsoom. I am of another world." Xodar looked at me intently for a few moments-'
-the deuce of diamonds! Yes! That's right! Oh, I have to show Thomas, he doesn't believe me yet-
No, Thomas told himself. Don't be distracted by him. Just read the bloody book. He had forgotten his spot on the page, and now traced down through the text with his index finger.
'-Xodar looked at me intently for a few moments. "I can well believe that you are not of Barsoom," he said at length. "None of this world could have bested eight of the First Born single-handed. But how is it that you wear the golden hair and the jewelled circlet of a Holy Thern?" '
"James, this book you loaned me is unbearable," Thomas said, looking up from the page. Jimmy glanced up from his cards, and their eyes met, and Thomas got that same thrill he always got, the one that never went away. He wondered at himself, that Jimmy should have him so utterly in his thrall, even now, when Thomas had so much to be worried about-
"What?" Jimmy asked. "Oh. But those are good, Mr. Barrow, and I thought you liked fantasy books. You're the one who gave me the fantasy story about the man who turned into a giant cockroach!"
"That wasn't a fantasy book, that was a meditation on the human condition," Thomas retorted.
"With all respect, Mr. Barrow, I read that story after Jimmy," Alfred said, through a mouthful of toast, "an' it was definitely about a bloke who got changed into a giant bug. That's fantasy."
Jimmy nodded with emphatic agreement. Thomas rolled his eyes, shutting the book. In his head Jimmy said Can you hear me? I love you. I'm thinking it right now, and all these miserable idiots can't hear me! Telepathy could be very liberating, you know. 'Meditation on the human condition', my arse... you awful snob...The thoughts were all tinged with affection, and they made Thomas feel strangely warmed inside, although the words themselves were Jimmy's normal style of sarcasm.
Thomas's eyes wandered down the table. O'Brien- drawn, but apparently unscathed- sat at the far end, with Fred to her left. Thomas narrowed his eyes. Fred's clothing was impeccable- but one of his dark curls had sprung loose from his pomaded hair, giving him a slightly unkempt look, and he had a faraway expression. Also, he wasn't talking, which Thomas thought unusual, given what little he knew of Fred's disposition.
"So what are you going to do with your weekend off?" Anna asked Thomas. She sat to his right, and Thomas could feel her presence, there by his side. This was normal, of course, but today it disconcerted him- suppose he was soon able to hear every thing that everybody thought? How would he keep from going mad?
O'Brien shot Thomas a look at Anna's question, but Thomas only raised an eyebrow at her, as if to say, I've got it covered- and replied smoothly.
"I'm going to Chelmsford, myself," he answered, "Saturday is my birthday, and I have a day pass to play cricket at the Essex CCC." There. The lie came out perfectly, exactly as he had imagined, and his tone was casual, but with a touch of excitement at the prospect of playing cricket at an upscale club.
Across the table Jimmy's eyes widened, and Thomas heard what Jimmy didn't say: Your birthday? Is that true, or just part of the grand cover-up?
"Oh, I never knew when your birthday was," Anna said- she smiled at Thomas, and Thomas suspected that she knew he was lying. It didn't matter, though- Anna was trustworthy, and everyone else had bought his story.
Thomas suddenly had a bad feeling- Jimmy's mood had changed, and Thomas felt Jimmy gathering himself, to do something- probably something disagreeable-
"I'll have to get you a present," Anna said to Thomas, smiling, and then Jimmy, almost cutting her off, blurted-"But I thought we agreed that we'd stay in London and see the sights together, Mr. Barrow, so that you wouldn't have to be alone for your birthday."
Anna looked quite startled- perhaps not so much at what Jimmy had said, but at the fact that he had said it- but she quickly composed herself. O'Brien glanced over at Thomas, giving him an expression that he was too much at a loss to return.
"Ah..." Thomas said, helplessly, and then covered for himself. "Well, James, I'm still not certain- after all, it is a very exclusive club-"
"But you said you would-"Jimmy said, meeting his eyes. A dangerous challenge gleamed in Jimmy's gaze. No, no, Thomas thought, don't throw down the gauntlet right now, for God's sake-
To Thomas's left, Carson cleared his throat, and Thomas's insides twisted in horror. Please, Jimmy, he thought, please shut up-
Fred seemed to have come round after a cup of coffee, and he interjected, saving Thomas from the hole Jimmy seemed intent on digging for them. "If you do go together, you should take an evening at the clubs and visit Madame Nicodème. She works all autumn and winter at one called The Fig Leaf, reading people's fortunes."
"That sounds most unsavory," Carson said, but a swell of interest rose around the table at the mention of the medium's name. The Madame had left unannounced, her departure coinciding with the end of the- the hauntings, or whatever they had been. Everyone had whispered that she and her odd valet were a pair of spirits themselves, lending them a sort of dignity. However, the idea had broken apart a few days later, when Madame Nicodème had sent Lord Grantham her (supposedly rather large) bill, leading Carson to go so far as calling her a charlatan- though he'd only said it to Thomas and Mrs. Hughes, and then only behind closed doors.
"Oh, the medium?" Alfred asked, interestedly. "I wish she would've come to the party."
"As do I," Anna said, and Thomas shot her a grateful look for having helped to divert the subject away from himself. "It would be exciting to fly again," Anna went on.
"I feel like we really more floated," Fred said, his expression crackling with interest. Thomas's heart was still beating hard, from the fright Jimmy had given him. Across the table Jimmy looked sour at Fred having snatched the conversation away from him, but Thomas could not get specific thoughts.
"But it wasn't the medium who made us float, was it?" Alfred asked.
"You're right, Alfred," Bates said, from Anna's other side.
"Yes, I suppose it was Lady Sybil who did it," Anna said.
"I would like to change the subject," Carson said, trampling all over the subject of ghosts.
"Now, really, Mr. Carson," Mrs. Hughes said, "we can't very well pretend as if it hadn't happened, can we?"
Jimmy was laughing internally, Thomas could feel it. Carson gathered himself up in his chair, his expression affronted, and responded with stiff dignity: "Just because things are true, Mrs. Hughes, does not mean that they bear discussion at the breakfast table."
The day wore on, filled with extra work that had been created by the party. Thomas's head pounded, and through all his pain still he could feel the edges of Jimmy's thoughts and moods. It was easier, Thomas found, if Jimmy were farther away. The proximity of their physical bodies seemed to have some part in Thomas's frightening new talent. When Jimmy had gone outside to load up the valises of some lingering overnight guests, his... the signal of his thoughts- had faded from Thomas's head almost completely.
Fred caught him outside, smoking with O'Brien. "Oh, Mr. Barrow, I wanted to thank you for-" Fred exclaimed, rounding the corner. "Oh," the valet said, catching sight of Thomas's companion. "Hello, Miss O'Brien."
"Good afternoon," O'Brien said, nodding. Fred looked at her, appraisingly, and then back at Thomas. "May I speak, ah, freely in front of Miss O'Brien?" Fred asked, directing the statement at both of them.
"Certainly," Thomas said, and O'Brien nodded.
"Oh, good, I figured," Fred said, smiling. "Can I have a fag?"
Thomas and O'Brien both reached for their cigarettes, but O'Brien was quicker. Thomas smirked- O'Brien doing the good Samaritan bit never failed to amuse him. Fred lit his cigarette and exhaled with a sigh. "Thank you kindly. Anyways," Fred said, his dark eyes slitting shut, as if in delirious happiness- "I just had to thank you, Thomas- I mean Mr. Barrow- for telling me to talk to your wonderful friend."
"Former friend," Thomas corrected. O'Brien's face lit up with interest. "Who's this then?" She asked Thomas, but he could see that she already had the answer.
"The Duke of Crowborough," Fred said, grinning, and sweeping his cigarette through the air in a dramatic gesture. "We stayed up all night- talking, of course," Fred added, with a laugh.
"I'm- ah, glad that you found his company to be to your liking," Thomas said, uncomfortably. Fred was speaking a bit frankly, even compared to the way Thomas and O'Brien talked between themselves when they were alone. But Fred did not seem to know or care, and he chatted on.
"You know what I said to him?" Fred asked, and Thomas and O'Brien shook their heads.
"Well," Fred said, smugly, "I went right up to him, and I said: 'I heard you're looking for a man to take your clothes off.' "
O'Brien raised her eyebrows and slid Thomas a sideways look.
"-And he just said, all sadly: 'I don't think I can afford to pay a valet, actually.' And then I said" 'Well, I didn't mean for a fee!' " here Fred broke off, laughing at his own wit.
"So it's love then, yes?" O'Brien asked, her eyebrows still residing somewhere north of her hairline.
"I- actually," Fred said, dreamily, "I think maybe. He's the opposite of my last love in every way. Linus was a saint, and the Duke... well, he's really a bit of a prat, isn't he? And so bossy- but there's something about him- anyhow, I've made some plans-" Fred shook his head. "Sorry. And here's me, rambling on."
"What kind of plans?" O'Brien asked. Thomas wished she wouldn't- he wasn't sure he wanted to know.
"To be honest, I bloody hate Germany," Fred replied. It seemed a bit of a non-sequitur, but then he elaborated. "I'll feel bad, leaving the D'Abernons on such short notice- they only go back in two weeks- and my Lady is just going to be devastated, we're so close- though I doubt my Lord will even notice that I've switched with someone new-"
"What exactly is it that you're planning on doing?" Thomas asked, interrupting the ceaseless flow of words.
"Oh. Why, running away with the Duke, of course," Fred said, as though he had long since explained it. "I think I'll take him back to my parents. I imagine it's depressing to live alone in a castle with no furniture. And the shock of my family might do him a little good-"
"Have you discussed any of this with the Duke?" O'Brien asked, at the same moment that Thomas asked, "With your parents?"
"Oh, sure," Fred said, waving a hand at Thomas. "My parents let Linus and I live with them. Same room and everything. I thought I told you my parents were a bit bizarre."
"Well, yes, but-" Thomas said, and Fred interrupted him. "I think they'd let me shack up with the bloody Pope if only it meant I'd leave service and move back home. And to answer your question," Fred added, indicating O'Brien- "no, I haven't told my Duke a word about it. But he'll do anything I say. He's mad about me. One can always tell." Fred flicked his cigarette away, and nodded to them both. "Well, I have to be getting back to work." With a jaunty wave Fred left them, disappearing around the corner from whence he'd come.
Thomas and O'Brien smoked for a moment longer in silence, and then O'Brien said, "Difficult to get a word in with that one, isn't it?"
Thomas stood in at dinner, as the D'Abernons and some other assorted guests were staying on until friday. The Duke was at dinner, too, his black eye shining from his face ostentatiously, but no one brought it up. Thomas wondered idly what lie the Duke had made up to keep interest for his injury at bay- the Duke was an excellent liar, perhaps one of the best Thomas had ever met. He was quite certain that the man would have been utterly convincing.
"Please tell us, Ambassador, about how things are faring in Germany," The Duke said, perhaps not knowing what a trap he was laying for himself. Across the table, Lady Mary visibly rolled her eyes. "Well," Lord D'Abernon said, leaning forward- "I think the SPD is making a mistake with-"
Jimmy was serving the Duke, now, and Thomas held his breath- but the Duke only took his food, ignoring Jimmy as one was supposed to. That's right, you don't see me, though I trounced you thoroughly. Even the furniture that beats you up is still just furniture, Jimmy thought, as he moved on to serve Branson.
Thomas could hear the strange tones of Jimmy thoughts, meandering around him in the air of the dining room. God, look at that... really got in a good one- didn't I, Thomas... I hope he doesn't say anything, the smug prig- oh I wonder if- no- Hey! Are you still mad at me for this morning, Thomas? You know I only did it because I- oh, that reminds me...I have to practice, later... with my cards...
At the other end of the room Lady D'Abernon was clutching her hands in a gesture of dismay. "And the worst bit about it is, we've no one to replace him! I don't even know what Edgar will do without him-"
"I'm very sorry to hear it," Lady Grantham said. "I'll ask around and see if anybody knows of a valet in need of a position."
Thomas glanced over to see if the Duke had reacted to the news of Fred's quitting, but the Duke appeared to be fully engaged with the long-winded political lectures that Lord D'Abernon made his special province. "How intriguing," The Duke said.
Thomas had heard long ago, from gossip, that Lord Grantham disliked the Duke- he had pulled back, suddenly, on his apparent intentions to ask for Lady Mary's hand, after she had lost her fortune to Mr. Crawley. However Lord Grantham, operating from somewhere inside his newly found state of perpetual bliss, was letting the Duke stay at his house and eat at his table, with nary a look askance.
Thomas, Jimmy thought, and Thomas looked over to him, in time to see Jimmy hide a smile. Caught you looking.
Thomas did not roll his eyes, but only just.
Dinner and afterwards seemed interminable, although Thomas was glad to see that the Duke did not come through. Probably off with Fred, Thomas thought. Or, more like, probably off confronting Fred about his sudden departure from the service industry. Thomas tried to imagine the Duke's reaction to Fred's bold plan for them to go live among the circus people, and found that he could not imagine it, and that he did not particularly care if things worked out alright between them- although he had felt rather more magnanimous when he'd been inebriated.
Sounds seemed very loud to Thomas again, and by the time he was finally free to go downstairs, the clink of glasses and the idle chatter of conversation felt almost unbearable, like ceaseless rain drumming against his skull.
But, for some reason- though it disconcerted him still- there was something comforting about the press of Jimmy's mind against his own. Not that Thomas would have admitted it- not in a thousand years. But there was something- about the way Jimmy kept internal time with whatever music was being played, whether he was playing it or not, that was pleasant- and even his odd card game was somehow not so awful, after all. Thomas liked the sound of Jimmy guessing, it was like some half-forgotten noise in the background of a childhood memory. Hearing his inner monolgues gives me that same feeling as I used to have listening to stories in my father's workshop- Thomas thought, and then wanted to vomit for having thought something so saccharine.
It was true, though. Thomas would never say it, but he found that he could not deny it to himself.
Still the sounds wore on Thomas. He felt stupidly tired and yet over-aware, and he found himself unable to reconcile his current set of experiences with the scope of his beliefs. How can this be? Thomas asked himself, over and over again. Am I imagining it all? Questions buffeted his mind, a wearier refrain than Jimmy's idle musings.
"I'm going up," Thomas said, to the room at large, and Jimmy thought I'll be up there in a minute. Well- perhaps a bit longer than a minute, wouldn't want to upset you by being obvious-
Jimmy had certainly done enough of that today. Thankfully no one had said another word about London.
Upstairs the intensity of the noises abated somewhat, and Thomas got into bed, resting his weary head against the pillow, and drifting, until he heard Jimmy come in. "You've got to see how well I'm doing now," Jimmy whispered, and then came closer. "Are you sleeping?"
Thomas heard Jimmy carelessly undressing, and afterwards Jimmy came to lay beside him on the cot. "You're not still mad at me, are you?" Jimmy asked. "I just think it's a better idea to be as honest as we can while still getting away with it. If we-"
"I'm not so eager to be fired," Thomas said, tiredly. "But if that's what you're going to do, I'll likely follow you, wherever you may go."
"That's not what I'm trying to do," Jimmy said, and his internal voice added But it was gallant of him to say. "I'm just," Jimmy went on, stroking his fingers through Thomas's hair- "trying to find a happy medium."
Thomas looked over at him. "You're bloody bad at it."
"Maybe," Jimmy allowed, amusement coloring his emotions- "but at least I'm trying. I'm trying to-"
"Straighten up and fly right, I know," Thomas said, trying to sound exasperated but mostly sounding sleepy. "You have a funny way of going about it."
"Well, I'm doing something right," Jimmy asserted. His fingers skated over Thomas's collarbone, and he rested his head right up against Thomas's, on the pillow. "This thing I can do with the cards is positively otherworldly. I believe that some sort of beings beyond our comprehension have taken an interest in us-"
"You believe that, d'ya?" Thomas asked, smirking, and Jimmy nodded, bumping their skulls together gently. "Utterly," Jimmy answered. "And why not? Lieutenant Courtenay did. Take an interest, I mean."
"Prove it," Thomas said, smiling, and Jimmy kissed his mouth for a long moment. "Mmm," he said, when he leaned back from Thomas. "That proves it. Are you falling asleep?"
"Yes," Thomas said. For the first time all day his head did not ache, and he closed his eyes.
I love you, he heard Jimmy say- no, think- I love you. You're special, Thomas. My life has never been so-
"Goodnight," Jimmy said, in the middle of his own thoughts, and they both slipped into dreams.
Jimmy dreamed of the dark room. Here the magician- or perhaps it really was just a pair of disembodied hands, but Jimmy doubted it- flipped the cards, over and over, and Jimmy answered for each of them. "The nine of spades. The Queen of Hearts. The three of diamonds, the five of diamonds, the-"
On it went, and with each card that flipped over- all bearing the word Strongheart- Jimmy felt more and more confident. Things stirred above him in the vaulted velvet darkness, and he looked up, bracing himself for the crashing of the Voice, the Voice that drowned out all sound and all thought-
But then he was only in a blank white room, though for a second he had seen a flash of darkness and the cold stones of an alleyway-
"Now, listen to me, love-" that was Thomas, and he was crying, Jimmy could hear it in his voice- but he couldn't find Thomas, not anywhere, not in the thick fog that filled the room.
"Please listen. You have to listen."
"Listen to what? Thomas!" Jimmy called out, and he stumbled through the fog, and then it parted, and he stumbled into a doorway- and through it. He was in a house of glass, with glass walls and enormous windows set seamlessly into the walls. "Thomas!" Jimmy called, and then, when Jimmy least expected it, the terrible Voice made itself known at last-
"LISTEN," It said, with a roar of noise, and Jimmy clutched his ears and ducked down, as the glass walls broke apart under the strain of the Voice. Crystalline shards rained down through the air, piercing furniture, shattering into infinite pieces upon the polished floor, knocking vases down, and pelting Jimmy, though somehow he remained unhurt. The scene was apocalyptic, and Jimmy could barely find the courage to raise his head- but finally he did, holding his hands up to keep the glass out of his eyes- and screamed into the sound "Listen to what? Listen to WHAT?"
The sound seemed to disappear back in on itself in a wave, and the force of the sudden absence of the Voice knocked Jimmy to his feet. He was lying on a tiled ballroom floor, eye-level with the shined shoes of many dancing couples. And there was Thomas, holding out his hand to help Jimmy up. Thomas pulled Jimmy to his feet, and then arranged their arms, stepping them into a dance. "You have to listen to me," Thomas said, into his ear.
"I do listen to you," Jimmy said, looking around them, at the low-vaulted ceilings. In the corner opposite the stage, a red tent blew in a breeze that came from nowhere.
"Not like that," Thomas said. "You have to listen between the words. Like how you've learned to see behind the cards."
"Between the words?" Jimmy asked, confusedly.
"Yes," Thomas said, with a smile like a crescent moon. "Yes. And when you can listen, then you will be able to understand things as they really are."
"I will?" Jimmy asked. he did not know what Thomas meant, or why the idea should fill him with excitement.
"You will," Thomas promised, "if you listen." Thomas pressed a kiss against Jimmy's lips, and Jimmy was struck with terrible love for him, and he held Thomas close for a beat, before they joined the crowd, dancing to the ticking of a metronome that went on and on and on-
Jimmy's eyes opened to the clang of the alarm clock, and he dragged himself up to turn it off.
Beside him, Thomas woke up with a sharp inhalation of breath- his eyes flew wide open, and he looked up at Jimmy.
"Are you alright?" Thomas asked him. His hands came up and traced over Jimmy's abdomen as if he were checking him for marks.
"Fine," Jimmy said, looking at Thomas questioningly. "What's the matter?"
Thomas, apparently satisfied that Jimmy was indeed alive, sat back. "I was having nightmares," Thomas said, rubbing his temples. Jimmy thought he looked a bit ill. Are you feeling poorly? Jimmy asked, silently, and Thomas shook his head. "I'm fine," He said- but Jimmy saw that Thomas sat up unsteadily, and when he lit a cigarette, his hands trembled. Jimmy felt a fissure of worry break through his fascination with Thomas's newfound abilities. Suppose it just got worse? Or- no, not worse exactly, but- but stronger? Could he become so sensitive to thoughts that he wouldn't be able to function in everyday life? Was that even possible?
"It is getting worse," Thomas said, his tone hollow, and reached for a cigarette. "But not so bad I can't work," Thomas added, as an afterthought.
Jimmy looked at Thomas's face- the dark rings that had sprung up under his eyes- the curves of his cheekbones cutting across his face, to come to rest at the corners of his downturned mouth- and he saw weariness, and the tension of a spring about to snap- in every aspect of the other man's features.
"Look here," Jimmy said, and put his arms around Thomas. Thomas, after the briefest pause (there was almost always a brief pause, unless Thomas was drinking) leaned into Jimmy's embrace. Thomas went one step further, surprising Jimmy, and rested his head against Jimmy's collarbone- and Jimmy, touching him, found that Thomas's shoulders were trembling. He shook like a man with a fever. Jimmy felt prickles of alarm dance through his head, but he tried not to articulate any thoughts about it, either internally of externally. It's just fine, everything is fine, it all worked out with the spirits, didn't it? Jimmy thought, and at the same time he said, as nicely as he could, "Everything is all right. I'm learning this for a reason, you know. I just don't have the gift, I think- it takes more work for me."
"What are you talking about, " Thomas muttered, but it was not really a question, and Jimmy didn't bother to answer him. "This is happening for a reason," Jimmy said, confidently, and he meant it, too. Thomas would certainly feel how much he meant it. "Haven't you learned that- when it comes to you and I- everything in the world- it all happens for a reason?"
"Whatever happened to Jimmy contra mundi?" Thomas asked, taking a spectacularly large drag off of his cigarette. He seemed much more composed now. Jimmy assessed Thomas with his eyes, and then kissed him on the cheek.
"It's Jimmy and Thomas contra mundum, now," Jimmmy returned. "And yet somehow I've lost that feeling I always had- that the world was against us."
Thomas looked at him as if he'd gone insane. "But the other day you said that you wished the world would accept people of our sort-"
"Of your sort," Jimmy corrected, feeling rather superior. "And I only feel as though society or whatever is at fault, not the world. I don't think the universe cares if we bugger each other all night and day. In fact I think it wants us to."
"You think the universe wants us to bugger each other," Thomas repeated, flatly. To Jimmy he looked as though he did not even have the energy to be mocking. Thomas pressed his free hand once more to his temple.
"If you feel unwell, you should take today off," Jimmy said.
"Right before my two-day weekend," Thomas said. "Carson will be overjoyed."
"Carson's not the one with telepathy, so I don't give a hang how he feels about it," Jimmy said.
"I do, a bit," Thomas said, and Jimmy shook his head disapprovingly, and got up to dress.
Jimmy watched Thomas for signs of frayed or fraying nerves at breakfast. He tried not to send his thoughts out to Thomas overly much, in case Thomas found the game wearying, but Thomas looked up at him frequently, as if acknowledging even the things Jimmy hadn't meant for him to hear- or- or comprehend, or however these mystical sort of powers worked, Jimmy didn't know.
The trick with his cards- well, not a trick, more like a practised ability- was becoming easier and easier- he could do it with almost flawless accuracy now, although it was still a bit slow- perhaps five seconds. Too slow for gambling, Jimmy thought, idly.
Jimmy could almost remember the contents of his dreams- he remembered something, anyways. Something about listening... listening to the words... listening to what?
Hmm, Jimmy thought, drinking his coffee and staring at his cards until the phrase came back to him. You have to listen between the words.
But what did it mean? Jimmy was not sure, although Thomas gave him a sharp look as he thought it.
The thing was, Jimmy decided later, as he and Alfred grabbed a few minutes respite in the kitchen- the thing was, he worried about Thomas far too much. Jimmy was used to worrying about himself and himself only- but for more than half a year, it had been- well, he would just say that Thomas had been in the running for whom Jimmy spent most time thinking about.
Longer than that, if you're honest, Jimmy thought, and looked around guiltily, but Thomas was away upstairs and hopefully couldn't hear him.
Oh, but I can't help that I love him, Jimmy went on, internally. God knows I would have stopped at the beginning it if I could've. Because I was so afraid. But now, now I can't imagine anything else-
"It seems a shame to throw all the jack-o'-lanterns away, though," Alfred was telling Ivy. "Maybe Mr. Carson will let us keep some in the servant's hall until they're done in."
"Mrs. Hughes may strong-arm him into it, at that," Jimmy added, but his mind was elsewhere. He was beginning to have an idea- a loosely formed idea, now- vague at best- but something- something- you could win a lot of money that way- looking behind the cards- listening between the words-
-a person is a card with more sides, Jimmy thought, and shook his head. Where had that come from?
"I said, we should go back," Alfred was telling him, and Jimmy nodded, as though he'd heard the first time.
Jimmy ran into Awful Alfred in the men's hall. He'd had nothing to do for a few moments, and he needed to pack for London, but most everything he needed was in Thomas's room, and so he hesitated in the hallway, waiting for the valet to pass.
"Oh, hello," Awful Alfred said, and Jimmy nodded without replying.
"I suppose you heard the Duke is leaving today?" Awful Alfred wore a mischievous expression that Jimmy itched to knock off of his face.
"Uh- no," Jimmy said, hoping he would not have to take out the Duke's luggage. "Why?"
"I just thought you'd be glad to see him go," Awful Alfred answered, his eyes twinkling. "You're very sensitive about Mr. Barrow, aren't you?"
"Please stop talking to me about Mr. Barrow," Jimmy spat out, his hands balling into fists- he unclenched one first with an effort and jerked open the door, stepping in, and shutting it in the face of the detestable valet. It was only after he had closed the door that Jimmy realized he had just stormed into Thomas's room, and he felt a wave of embarrassment- could he really be any more obvious? Well- he couldn't be on Awful Alfred's level of obviousness, surely, but-
Oh, I don't care, Jimmy told himself. If everyone knew at least I wouldn't have to sneak around. Thomas still doesn't see how things can be- but he will- that's why this is happening to us- there are still some things we need to work out-
On the bed was Thomas's suitcase, open and haf-packed, and Jimmy went over to it. There were impeccably folded shirts, and Jimmy found he could not resist the urge to rifle a bit. Under the shirts he found two books- Chrome Yellow, and The King in Yellow.
Interesting color scheme with the literature, Jimmy thought, amused. But I hope he doesn't think he'll have time to read while we're on holiday. Idly he opened one of the books- the one about the king- and read a few lines:
' Camilla: You, sir, should unmask.
Cassilda: Indeed it's time. We have all laid aside disguise but you.
Stranger: I wear no mask.
Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask! '
Jimmy closed the book, dropping it back into the suitcase. And he says the books I give him are bad, Jimmy thought, moving aside more clothing. He found his metronome safely wrapped in a black cloth, and he took it out of the luggage entirely, putting it back on the vanity. That's thoughtful of him, but I'll need it for sleeping, tonight.
Jimmy pulled away the last layer of pyjamas and found, underneath everything, a wrinkled black necktie. Not mine? Jimmy wondered, taking it out- it was different from no other necktie, really- but it layed all alone, in the bottom of Thomas's suitcase. Jimmy wondered if there was some significance in it. Thomas was very precise- fastidious, really. Things that Thomas did were done on purpose. And Jimmy had never seen his necktie again, after the séance- he had thought, knowing Thomas, that he'd squirreled it away somewhere-
The bedroom door opened, and Jimmy jumped, remembering that he had not bolted it- but it was only Thomas, who stepped in and slid the bolt, giving Jimmy a knowing look.
"I could hear you snooping all the way from the servant's hall," Thomas said, walking over to sit heavily on the desk chair. Jimmy gave him a once-over, trying to see Thomas in an unbiased light. He looked awful- tired, ragged.
"Thanks very much," Thomas mumbled, collecting his ashtray. "I also heard you had a bit of an altercation with Fred."
"You heard that, or he told you?" Jimmy asked, annoyed.
"He told me," Thomas replied, and lit a cigarette.
"Does he talk to you every hour?" Jimmy asked. "I walked away from him. I was very restrained."
"You know the Duke's agreed to run away with him," Thomas said. His lips curled up slightly into a half-sneer. Jimmy had seen that contemptuous look surface more than once- though Thomas had never directed such an expression at Jimmy himself.
And then Jimmy heard a sound- such a strange sound that for a moment he flinched back, expecting to hear the terrible, deafening tones of the Voice that had lately occupied his dreams-
But the sound was not the roar of the Voice- rather, it was a man speaking in another room- it was a piano played far away, making itself known even through many layers of glass-
-it was Thomas-
Funny, how I begged the Duke for the same privilege and he betrayed me, but he loves Fred after one night-
Something wrong about me, something very wrong, I've always known
Oh Jimmy oh Jimmy I wish you could love me as I love you-
Jimmy stumbled back, raising his hands to his ears- although he had not heard the sound in his ears at all, really- but he did not know any other way of processing the sense. Thomas was on his feet, clutching Jimmy's arms. Thomas's lips moved, shaping the words: "What's wrong?", but Jimmy could not hear his voice.
"Augh!" Jimmy cried out, gasping for air- and then the weird feeling flickered out, and he bent over, panting. "Augh," he said again, weakly.
"What happened?" Thomas asked, his eyes searching Jimmy's face. He's reading my thoughts, Jimmy thought, feeling the wild beating of his own heart, and leaned back. "I just heard you, Thomas," He said, after a few long beats. "I heard you! I heard you in my mind! "
"In your mind," Thomas repeated, and Jimmy snatched his cigarette out of his hand, dragging deeply upon it. "It's gone now," Jimmy said, trying to communicate the depth of what he had felt and finding his words inadequate- he could only hope his thoughts were making up for it, so that Thomas could have some idea-
"In my mind, yes- I felt it, oh god- I felt-" Jimmy shoved his free hand through his hair and turned in a circle. "I felt how you felt. Oh, god, is it really like that? It's so strong-"
Thomas nodded, his brows knit together in concern. "What did you feel?" He asked Jimmy.
"I felt that you don't feel good enough- and you- you liar, you're still sore at the Duke over what he did to you- but I could tell you don't love him anymore, so I'm not too mad- and you- you love me so much, it's as if your heart would break-"
Jimmy forced himself to stop, trying to gain back some semblance of composure. Thomas looked awash in chagrin at his words, and Jimmy put his hand to the other man's chest, resting his fingers over Thomas's heart.
"And there's nothing wrong with you," Jimmy said, solemnly. In his throat his pulse ticked away as though he had been sprinting. "If nobody loved you before- except the Lieutenant, I mean- then it was only because they were bad people and too dull to see- to see things as they really are."
Thomas's lips were parted in an expression of surprise, and Jimmy touched his lips. "I do love you as you love me, stupid," Jimmy said, and cracked a smile.
"Ah," Thomas said, carefully. "Well. Thank you, Jimmy."
Jimmy's smile became a grin. "I like the telepathy, Mr. Barrow. I like it very much."
"Yes, I gathered that," Thomas said, reaching his hands out to Jimmy as if to make sure he was still in working order. Jimmy caught one of his hands and kissed it, and then put his arms about Thomas, wishing for the thousandth time that he was taller and broader than Thomas, so that he could hold him properly.
"This is a fantastic world we live in," Jimmy said, remembering the dizzying feeling of being inside Thomas's head. It was such a place- sad and dark and lovely all at the same moment, all of the parts commingling with one another, each bit inseperable.
"Not that I mean we're living in a fantasy world," Jimmy corrected, softly. "Just that the world is a most wonderful fantasy and you and I are the protagonists."
Thomas laughed, softly. "Maybe you're living in a fantasy world," He answered, and Jimmy laughed in return, dropping his arms, and went to gather up all of the things he'd need to travel with.
Jimmy was stopped by Carson on his way through downstairs. "The Duke of Crowborough is departing, and I need you and Alfred to see to his things," Carson told him, and Jimmy nodded acquiescently, but he thought: Oh, hell. Of course.
Jimmy and Alfred went to the Duke's room- one of the grandest ones, on the east side. The luggage was packed- Jimmy could not suppress a feeling of happiness at the idea of the Duke packing his own luggage, sans valet- and waiting neatly by the door. In the room Jimmy could hear the low murmur of voices, and he hurried Alfred along, racing him a bit down the stairs, so that they would not linger outside long enough to hear anything they shouldn't.
Thomas leaned up against the door as Jimmy exited the building, bringing things to the car. You couldn't tell that Thomas was leaning, but he was. Jimmy knew that Thomas had a particular way of resting against his hands, as he clasped them behind his back, that made his posture perfectly rigid.
!Hey, you, I've been inside your brain! Jimmy thought, but Thomas blinked and Jimmy lowered his- uh- inner voice. I've been inside your body and your brain, Jimmy thought, more softly, as he deposited suitcases into the boot of the Duke's very-expensive looking car. And so you've been inside me, too, in every way, Jimmy thought, carefully not looking at Thomas as he walked back past him, into the house. That makes us quite committed to one another. More than most people. By the way I hate having to do anything for the Duke, you know-
Alfred pushed past him in a way that they would have been throughly chastised for, had Carson seen it, and they raced up the stairs, Jimmy no match for Alfred's long legs, and not really trying either. Let him be the one caught behaving in an unseemly fashion, Jimmy thought. Alfred selected a trunk that looked too heavy for one man and took off, leaving Jimmy alone, for a moment, at the Duke's door.
Sounds seemed to be very loud to Jimmy. Through the door he heard the Duke- speaking in a hushed whisper. How can I hear him whispering? Jimmy wondered, by he loitered anyways, listening.
"I don't know- even a week and a half seems a long time-"
"You're a liar and a flatterer-" that was Awful Alfred, Jimmy recognized his mincing tones- "-and I know perfectly well that you're alright on your own. But you will miss me." There was some syrupy Awful Aflred laughter- bedroom laughter- following this declaration.
"You know, I really will..." The Duke said, after a pause. "I wonder how you managed that."
More bedroom laughter, and Jimmy rolled his eyes and grabbed a valise, making away with it. Yes, we're all very happy for you and we don't care, Jimmy thought. It was a rough attempt at being charitable, but he was trying, at least, to straighten up and fly right. And to practice. And to listen. And to be of strong heart. And to do his job. It was a lot to put on the plate of one man.
Jimmy did not see Thomas again until dinner. It was the final night that the D'Abernons would be staying- and their departure would mark the last of the Hallowe'en guests leaving. The house would go back to order and he and Thomas would slip quietly away for their romantic weekend.
"Yes. And I'll stay with Edith, or Rosamund," Lady Mary was telling the Dowager, whose eyes widened quite noticeably, but who, for the sake of the guests, remained silent. Jimmy waited for Lord Grantham to forbid his eldest daughter from taking her infant son and staying with her sister and her sister's married lover- but he did no such thing, instead speaking softly to Lady Grantham. Lord Grantham always sat beside his wife at meals, now- which was considered contrary to the ideas of polite seating at Downton, where all cliques were broken up during dinner.
"I think we should have a photograph taken, of all of us by those flowering trees," Lady D'Abernon was telling Mr. Branson. "Before we leave tomorrow."
"They're all bare, now," Mr. Branson said, looking a bit disturbed at the fact that he had to speak with Lady D'Abernon at all.
"Oh, but the fallen leaves make the most beautiful red carpet on the ground," Lady Rose put in. "I wish I could have seen them burn!"
"It was marvelous," Lady Mary agreed, and Jimmy saw heads nod in agreement all around the table. Even Lord D'Abernon nodded, though Jimmy thought he was only-half listening.
You see? Jimmy thought, looking over at Thomas. Everyone loved the spirits except for you and Mr. Carson. Do you know what that makes you?
Jimmy stopped his mental dialogue, looking at Thomas. Thomas's skin seemed as though it would be clammy to the touch- he looked as ill as he had when he'd woken up that morning.
"I do wish that Madame Nicodème could have made it to the party, though," Lady Grantham was saying.
Lady D'Abernathy nodded. "Well, she works at some nightclub in the winter and just won't be pried away from London-"
Jimmy noted the odd parallel conversations that so often took place among upstairs and downstairs folk, but he also noted that Thomas had brought his hands to his face. Carson was giving him a deathly stare. It was so odd to see Thomas breaking one of the cardinal rules of serving that Jimmy's heart skipped one frightened beat.
Thomas, disregarding the compulsory obligation to keep one's hands still, clutched at his brow for a moment, his posture slumping forward- as yet he remained unnoticed by everyone at the table- and then he seemed to recover, dropping his hands and straightening up.
Are you alright? Jimmy thought, and Thomas looked over at him- but Jimmy could see that Thomas's eyes were not focused- and suddenly Jimmy felt an odd buzzing in his head, and he had time to think: -oh shite not now-
Then several things happened at once: the entire dinner party broke into laughter at an anecdote that the Dowager Countess had related- Jimmy fumbled, dropping a tray of meringue biscuits on the floor as the strange sound of words-behind-glass pounded through his skull- and Thomas, on the far end up the room, collapsed, falling back against the sideboard and then sliding down to the ground, taking half the trays with him.
"Mr. Barrow!" Jimmy said, and ran around the table. In his head he could hear Thomas's voice, for an instant-
-don't feel well it's too much all together-
Did I fall? well, get up-
Don't make a spectacle of yourself, please-
-and then the feeling disappeared as it had before, and Jimmy knelt down next to Thomas, Alfred joining him on the other side.
"Thomas!" Carson was saying sharply, but Thomas was awake and his eyes were open. Lord Grantham had gotten up, and came to stand behind Jimmy. "What's the matter, Barrow? Are you ill?"
"I'm all right," Thomas said, weakly, and held his hands out. Alfred and Jimmy pulled him to his feet. " I apologize for-"
"Nonsense," Lady Grantham was saying. "Robert, you should telephone Doctor Clarkson."
"I will, immediately," Lord Grantham said. Jimmy and Alfred supported Thomas, walking him out of the dining hall.
"Take him to his rooms," Carson was saying, as if that were not what they were obviously going to do. The three of them made it downstairs, with Thomas walking half under his own power and half with their help. Alfred was shooting worried, significant looks at Jimmy from above Thomas's head, but Jimmy ignored him. "What's going on?" Mrs. Hughes asked, approaching them.
"It's Mr. Barrow," Alfred said. "He had some sort of spell."
"Don't let go of my arm," Thomas said, to Jimmy, in an undertone, and Jimmy clutched onto him more firmly. The three of them made it up to Thomas's room, Jimmy opening the door- and he blanched for an instant, seeing both his and Thomas's suitcases, conspicuously next to each other on bed. However Alfred appeared to notice nothing.
"Just- I'm fine," Thomas said, sitting in the chair. Jimmy kept his hand on Thomas's arm, even after he had sat down, until Thomas looked at him and shook his head minutely.
Jimmy wanted to stay, but Carson was calling him. Somehow Jimmy did not get caught out for having dropped dessert- probably because Thomas's fall had created a spectacular mess.
"What did the Doctor say?" Jimmy asked Carson, at the first available opportunity. "Exhaustion," Carson answered, heavily. "Mr. Barrow had been working himself too hard. This holiday could not come at a better time."
"If he's even still up for traveling," Mrs. Hughes added, with a worried frown.
Jimmy was certain that Thomas would've had to be dead in order to be kept from going to London, but he nodded. He stayed up alone, in the servant's hall, until everyone was asleep, practicing his cards until he could figure them rightly about nine times out of ten, in two seconds each. That should be good enough, Jimmy thought, nodding. That's good enough, for...
For what he wasn't sure. Something. When Carson was finally gone and the hall was empty, Jimmy crept into Thomas's room.
Thomas was sleeping, but he woke when Jimmy sat down beside him. "How bad is it?" Jimmy asked, without preamble, and Thomas came around, looking up at him. "Ah," Thomas said, stretching slightly. "Not so bad." With his right hand Thomas removed the glove from his left- he had fallen asleep with it on.
"But you- you lost consciousness, or something," Jimmy said. "Was it from the telepathy?" Jimmy was trying very hard not to think too loudly, but it was a difficult thing to regulate.
"It was just all too much," Thomas said, vaguely. "Don't worry, Jimmy," he added, answering Jimmy's unspoken fears. "I'm not dying. And we're still going to London."
"Alright," Jimmy said, nodding.
"It was better when you were touching me," Thomas said, after a pause. "It was easier. I could think about you... instead of listening to everything else."
The implications of that were such as Jimmy could not fully process, and so he just smiled his nicest smile, and rubbed Thomas's chest in a gesture meant to soothe one or both of them. "Then I'll have to stay no further away than arm's length for the entire weekend," Jimmy returned, and Thomas's lips turned up into a smile. The split on his lip, in addition to his pallor, made Thomas look acutely similar to the way he'd looked after he'd gotten beaten up for Jimmy. Though it had been a year or more ago, it still gave Jimmy a cold feeling, and he pressed his palms to Thomas's heart. "Everything will be fine," Jimmy said, and, at the same moment- or half a beat after- Thomas said: "Don't worry, Jimmy everything will be alright-"
They looked at one another, and Jimmy laughed, shortly, and layed his head on Thomas's chest.
"What'd Doctor Clarkson say to you? I assume you didn't tell him you can read minds now," Jimmy said, and ran his fingers down Thomas's arms, entwining together the fingers on both of their hands.
"I hate Doctor Clarkson," Thomas said, shutting his eyes.
"I thought you worked for him for a while," Jimmy said, and situated himself so that his head was on the pillow.
"Mm," Thomas said, noncomittally. He kept his right hand entwined with Jimmy's left, as if it were a tether that held him to the world of real things. "Sleep now," Jimmy said, as gently as he could, and watched Thomas close his eyes once more.
Suppose having all of the people in London inside of his head drives him mad? Jimmy mused, with a shiver. He could barely stand to be in the dining room with everyone, and if it gets worse- if it gets worse-
In his sleep, Thomas shifted, and Jimmy kept hold of his hand, studying the movement of Thomas's eyes behind his closed lids.
For the first time since all of it had happened, Jimmy felt his underlying convictions waver. He had thought that all of it- the voices, the cards, the dreams- was some divine and beautiful mystery to be cherished. It might be frightening, as the ghosts were, but in the end, it would all have a purpose. There had to be a point to it.
I hope so, anyways, Jimmy thought. It has to be alright. Nothing is going to happen.
Thomas's hand clasped around his like a vow, or an arcane symbol, and Jimmy felt Thomas's pulse in his fingertips. I won't let anything happen to you, Jimmy thought, and he added aloud "Not ever," speaking his conviction to the darkened walls.
After a bit Jimmy got his cards off of the desk chair, and held them up with his free hand, one at a time, while he lay in bed. The eight of clubs. The queen of clubs. The deuce of diamonds.
It did not even matter, anymore, that it was too dark in the room, that Jimmy could not possibly have seen what symbols and numbers the cards really bore. It was not, Jimmy realized, about the cards at all. He knew he was right, deep in his bones he knew, and it strange and starry new parts of his intellect, parts he had never used before.
Jimmy became an architect of dreams- and there, in the dark, with his cards, and his metronome, and Thomas- he lay back, his hand against the hand of the man he loved, and began to form a plan.