It had been a long time coming, and that was all he knew.
It had begun with his father, with the constant berating and judgement that left him hollow and afraid to ask for help. It had grown over the years as his father morphed into the figure of Carson, Bates, Lord Grantham, and any older male that tried to tell him they knew better. It had transformed into botched attempts at poor relationships, men that were no good for him and men that did not know him. Men that wanted one thing and one thing only, men that left before the sun rose and found Thomas alone in an empty bed. Men that schemed against unsuspecting ladies of the gentry and preyed on their foolish notions of novel like romance. Men that burned love letters in fireplaces. Men that were too lost and weak to get off their knees (despite how Thomas loved them so). Men that wanted to scale the ladder without getting their knees dirty. Men that flirted because it suited them, and fled because it suited them more. It had finally emerged on the other side of several unsuccessful love affairs as a desperate desire to change. A determination to become a different man. That too, like everything else in his life, had failed.
“Fashion as good a life as you’re able.” Dr. Clarkson had advised.
So he’d tried again.
In a way it had been a breath of fresh air to find a confidant in Baxter. Unlike O’Brien, she did not hide her feelings in the prayer that those around her would assume she had none. In youth Baxter had been loving and considerate. As an adult, she was still the same. Thomas didn’t understand how it was possible after she’d been denied in love and jailed for her dreams of a better life… but still, Baxter persisted. In a way it pissed him off even more. How dare she be so god-damn-goody-gumdrops when he was slowly rotting away and dying. If he was the cavity, falling in on himself, she was the sugar bringing him down. Andy had only been worse… a true and honest attempt at goodness and sincerity that ended up tainted by everyone in the house. Thomas felt the eyes of the staff on him where ever he went, even when he was alone in his room. Their words chased him like jackals after game:
He deigned none of them worthy of a reply, but they still bounced around in his skull like dice in a cup. Rattle rattle roll.
In the end, it had been a long time coming, and had bloomed from the fact that nothing else could bloom in his garden. In barren soil, only sorrow had grown to fruit. He would eat it or starve. He would gorge himself on the pain to keep from feeling nothing at all. He would do what the others could not, because he was stronger than them. Stronger than anything they could throw at him. In the end, they could not destroy him because he would destroy him. And that was the way it ought to be.
He’d thought about how he would do it, and had found the answer as easy as the decision to go through with the act in the first place. There was no where to feasibly hang a noose from, and he didn’t even know how to make a noose in the first place. He didn’t have a gun, and Lord Grantham’s guns were locked away under the groundskeeper’s watchful eye. The drugs and acids (such as lye) were likewise locked up by Mrs. Hughes. He highly doubted there was enough in the depleted cabinet to do the job properly. If there was one thing he did not want to do it was botch this final act. Thomas Barrow had failed at everything in his life… but he would not fail at his suicide. He would not.
His thoughts had then turned to Edward. Sweet, beautiful, wonderful Edward with whom he would have happily spent his life as a caring valet and an even more caring lover. Edward’s misery had swallowed him whole, despite how Thomas had desperately tried to pull him up and save him. In the end the drag of death had been stronger than Thomas’ love, and he’d had to concede heartbroken defeat when Lady Sybil had found Edward dead in his bed.
And suddenly, the poetry had written itself.
Death had taken Edward from him. Had skull fucked the only good thing in Thomas’ life till all that was left was a pool of blood; so be it, death was a bitter mistress. Thomas had loved other men since Edward. He’d fawned over Jimmy like a schoolboy moping in the grass… but Jimmy was not like Edward. Edward had been a gentleman, honest and virtuous. Had they ever become lovers, Thomas was certain that Edward would have loved him tenderly. Would have treated him far better than Jimmy ever could. Thomas did not begrudge Jimmy for feigning to love him. One could not hold that as a crime against the other. He could, however, acknowledge that between the two Edward had been the one to initiate contact and warmth… Jimmy had always taken. Thomas found himself wanting to be Edward’s lover even in death. Wanting to devote himself to Edward, as Anna had devoted herself to Bates or Lady Mary to Matthew Crawley. He wanted to be consumed by something other than the enormous pain that bogged him down into a numb void. He wanted to be brought back to life even as he took his life. Wanted to feel his heart pound in his chest like he was a schoolboy in love again… like Edward was still touching his knee and whispering sweet anecdotes into his ear.
Thomas made the decision swiftly, and took savage strange pleasure in it. They’d never been united in life, but they would be united in death. Thomas would take his life in the same way Edward had taken his… and at last Thomas would find peace.
It was a Tuesday. July 11th, 1925. The sun dawned on a clear sky, bizarrely cloudless. Thomas took it as an omen of good faith, as if the universe were finally giving him the sunshine that he longed for because he was going to take his life. As Thomas shaved that morning, he cleaned his razor with care, stropping it for good measure, and stowed it in his pocket like a child might sneak a piece of candy. Carson served the upstairs breakfast… Lord Hexam was still dining with them though Henry Talbot had fled. Thomas noted these things in passing clarity. This would be his final breakfast, and so he took no pleasure in sipping a small cup of tea. Then Lord Hexam was gone, just like Henry Talbot; Thomas merely noted that there would be no guests for him to attend to (besides Lady Rosamund). All the better reason. The universe was lining up the coincidences and demanding he take notice. Next thing Thomas knew, Lady Mary and Branson had both left the house. More coincidences, more helpful hints. Finally the top of the tower came when Baxter decided to walk with Moseley to the schoolhouse for moral support. This, above everything, was clear indication that it was time. Baxter was the one who knew him best, who might be able to sense Thomas’ final act was afoot. With her out of the house, Thomas could be assured of a quiet sendoff with no one to interrupt him.
He watched Moseley from across the servant’s table with dull contentment. As servants walked around him, Thomas wondered at each of their faces and shared histories. He would soon be a ghost in a long line of ghosts. Another faceless name that faded out of their stories as time trod on. Moseley seemed quite nervous, gray faced, and kept looking bitterly down at his times table as if it had somehow cemented his awful situation. Clearly the new teaching position was not going well.
“Typical.” Thomas heard him mumble to himself, “Always my luck.”
He looked up and caught Thomas’ eye, bristling at once and instead looking away.
It did not bother Thomas anymore. Who liked to look at a corpse?
“I hope you make more of your life than I ever made of mine.” Thomas replied. Moseley blanched, looking back at him agape. Thomas looked down at his teacup and found it empty.
It was time. Rattle rattle roll.
He rose up from the table, biding silent adieu to the servant’s hall that had so plagued his existence for the past fifteen years. He observed the piano where Jimmy had once jaunted out tunes for Ivy. He noted the mantel, atop which an ashtray full of cigarette butts was perched. They would be tossed out by a maid at some point, another memento of his existence swept aside. That was as it should be.
Upstairs he went, passing by Mrs. Hughes at the base. She did not even spare him a second glance. Once again, that was as it should be.
He ascended the steps to the very top floor, and found his room slightly cluttered. It took only a second to put it to rights… making sure his clothes were neatly folded and his personal affects stowed with care. They’d probably be offered to the homeless, or the other servants. As soon as he was done he took one last look at his bedroom and wondered at the crisp corners of his made-up cot. The way his red wool curtains were drawn despite it being the middle of the day. He felt a strange detachment to the scene, like he were a ghost and already dead.
He exited his room, but suddenly found himself besieged by Andy who was entering his own room and looked rumpled. He’d split a stain on his livery, something black and seeping like ink.
“Spilt ink on my jacket. I’ll have to change.” Andy said to no one in particular. Thomas blinked at the stain, his valet experience kicking in like clockwork.
Funny he should think of clocks now.
“Put it to soak in salted water and scrub it with lye.” Thomas replied. His voice was hoarse. Andy paused, his hand on the doorknob as he noted Thomas’ pallid appearance.
“Are you alright, Mr. Barrow?” Andy asked, “You look like you could do with a lie down.”
“I’m going in for a bath.” Thomas replied. Andy nodded, content.
“Wish I had the time to take one, everything I touch seems to get stained with this blasted ink. Excuse me.” Andy said, and without another word he exited into his room, flashing Thomas one last boyish smile and closing the door with a curt snap.
Thomas blinked, and turned the corner in the hall.
Only to run straight into Anna and Baxter.
He paused, taken slightly aback as Anna stared at him bemusedly and Baxter closed the door to the women’s side. She was dressed in coat and hat, clearly on her way to walk Moseley to the schoolhouse. God only knows what Anna was doing upstairs. Was this the universe’ way of telling him to say goodbye?
“Are you alright, Mr. Barrow?” Anna asked as Baxter fiddled with the lock.
“… Of course.” Thomas replied. “Why wouldn’t I be.”
His lips felt numb as he spoke.
Baxter looked up from the door and lock with a weary smile, that same enchanted view she always took with him as if he was her son and not her co-worker. Her sugary sweetness made the cavity in his chest ache, and he watched her as Anna walked past.
He rounded the corner again for the bathroom, and as he reached the final door to his demise he opened it without pause or regret.
He closed the door behind him with Baxter still in the hall, and pressed his back to the door as he heard her walk past. His eyes were closed, unseeing of the bathroom he knew to be before him. He would not open them, he decided, until the last footstep had faded away. Until all was quiet and well. The universe had set the scene, it was time to play his part.
Rattle rattle roll.
Thomas opened his eyes and observed the bathroom before him. The red checked tile of the walls, the fine waxed wood of the floor. The tiny lone mirror on the wall and, above all, the gaunt ceramic tub in the center.
As deep and cold as the grave he was about to fill.
Thomas walked to the mirror and sink, unsure of why. Perhaps he wanted to see his face one last time, observe what the others had observed to make them so question his appearance and state of mind. But the face he found reflected in the looking glass was much the same as ever, and he dismissed both Anna and Andy’s questionings as mere conveniences of the universe. A sort of private ‘are you still going to do this’ check.
Yes. He was still going to do this.
Thomas reached into his pocket and found the razor waiting there. It was a patient, quiet thing… much like a well behaved child that sat still at the dinner table and listened to their elders. He withdrew it from his pocket and set it on the counter, feigning to so much as look at it while he disrobed from his livery.
Off went his tails, and waistcoat, both of which he hung up on the clothes horse. He slipped his suspenders from his shoulders, feeling them bang about his knees as he unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it free of his trousers. Suddenly clad in only his undershirt, Thomas realized that when found he would be found naked… and that somehow did not set right with him. He decided he would keep on the rest of his clothes, though still his shoes would have to come off. Part of him was rather delighting in being found clothed in the bath, a sort of final flick of the bird to Carson who so detested anything out of the ordinary.
“We know what you have to do.” Carson had leered at him over the table.
“How is your job search going, Mr. Barrow?” He’d demanded.
Thomas felt a rush of relief when he considered that he would no longer have to worry about a job or money. It was like an anvil had been lifted from his chest.
Shoes untied and slipped free, Thomas unclipped his sock garters and set the entire lot underneath the clothes horse with utmost care. For some reason he found that even in death he would not want to appear sloppy. As clean shaven as his face would be, so too would his livery be seen in proper order. After a life in servitude he knew no other way. And that was as it should be.
Thomas walked over to the tub and perched himself upon the edge, setting the stopper and turing the faucet to content himself with listening to the hiss and bubble as the basin slowly filled itself with hot water. Thomas had always liked scalding hot bathes, the kind that burned the skin and set a steam to the air. He was the same with his tea, inwardly delighting in how his tongue had stung when he’d taken that first hasty gulp. Odd he should think of such a thing now, when he would never drink tea again. He noted the tea he’d drunk that morning had been lukewarm at best… a final pleasure denied. A final prod by the universe.
Thomas glanced at the tub and found it only halfway full. It would have to do, he’d run out of patience and time. Turning off the faucet, Thomas spent an entire minute simply looking down at the tub and running his fingers through the water. It stung in a pleasant manner. Thomas noted he was still wearing his leather glove.
There would be no need for that anymore.
Unbuttoning it, Thomas pulled the glove free to observe his naked wounded hand. To marvel at the scar on his palm that so stiffened his pinky and ring finger during the winter months. Hot water often helped him to clench them better. This final bath would be the best remedy of all.
Thomas set his glove inside the pocket of his livery, and finally plucked up the razor from the sink counter.
It felt oddly cold in his hand.
As he stepped into the tub, Thomas sank down into the water and likened it to pulling blankets over his chest in bed. So warm, so content was he that he momentarily put his death on pause simply to enjoy this one last pleasure in life. This lovely, lovely bath.
He rested his head against the back of the tub and sighed, letting his eyes close as he rolled his head to the side. It was a distraction from the end, nothing more. Soon, his veins would be empty. Weightless. Lifted. He imagined he would be pulled from this tub by Edward. Taken to some different place where he could at long last lay his head down and rest. No more regret, no more loneliness, and above all no more doubt. No more wondering what on earth was wrong with him, no more contemplating why he’d been born to such a breed. No more enemies to hound his shadow. No more lies. No more needing to make up for a lacking, to pretend and hide the cracks. Let all the cracks show, he decided. Let them find a shattered china doll in this tub. So smashed that no one would be able to decipher him from a stranger.
Maybe then, duped into thinking him unknown, they would show him mercy.
He opened his eyes and drew both his wrists out of the water.
He took the blade into his wounded hand first, knowing that it would be the most difficult to wield. He pressed the blade deep into his flesh, steel biting at nerves, and pulled.
Even then, he was not content. He struck the blade like he often would have a match: once, twice, three times.
If he’d been a normal mind, he might have found it in him to cry from the pain.
The next wrist was somehow worse, the throbbing pain from his original cut stinging and burning beneath the hot water as he forced his cut tendons to function one last time. He cut with the same precision: once, twice, three times.
And then, quiet.
Rattle rattle roll.
Thomas felt the razor slip from his fingers even as they began to numb.
He closed his eyes again.
He wondered what would come next, briefly. Perhaps a white light, or a feeling of elation? A great understanding? A conversation with god?
No. He thought, even as his mind began to wander, No, let me converse with Edward instead.
That was his final wish. He felt certainly the universe would hear it.
A heartbeat passed, and then another. Thick, drumming, stiffening. Folding in on itself. The gentle slosh of hot water about his collarbone and nape. He felt his wrists begin to throb. Then, oddly, his wrists stopped throbbing and instead he merely felt heavy. Tired. Sleepy.
Oh thank god, he dwelled. It’s over at last.
It was difficult to comprehend what happened next.
One minute he was in the daylight, his eyes closed to try and find some semblance of peace in that steaming hot tub. The next minute he was not. In all things, he was not.
He was not at peace.
The room was black, utterly black and devoid. The null had consumed him, and just like that Thomas knew he was dead. Why then was a terrible horrible fear griping his chest? Why was anxiety squeezing his heart when instead he ought to be feeling contentment and calm? He suddenly found the water about him to be freezing cold and he thrashed in it as he blinked his eyes against the blackness.
He opened his mouth to scream, but no sound came out.
And then, hands. Hands on his face, stroking the clammy skin of his high cheekbones.
“…My darling…” A voice whispered in the dark.
In the void, Thomas reached out, blind as he fumbled for whoever it was that held him. The voice was so familiar to him- an Oxford accent. It repeated those two words over and over again as Thomas struggled in the dark: My darling, my darling, my darling.
He grasped at the hands on his cheeks, feeling the frigid water churn as he kicked and struggled. The hands were firm and strong, but so cold. So very very cold. Why was everything cold? Thomas shivered, petrified.
“Edward?” Thomas called out, finally finding his voice in the gloom.
The hands slipped, embracing him around the chest and helping him to sit up in the icy bath. Someone’s face was pressed against his own: curly haired, a scarred brow. Edward.
“Oh, Edward!” Thomas howled, his heart squeezing to finally burst in pain from a lifetime spent in absolute isolation. Edward nuzzled him, nose brushing across Thomas’ own as he kissed Thomas’ cheeks. The kiss of a corpse; the kiss of death.
Yes, kiss me, Thomas thought desperately. Kiss me and take me away from here. Kiss me and take me home.
“Edward help me!” He begged.
“I am.” Edward replied.
Through the blackness and gloom, through the sound of the tub’s churning icy depths and the pounding of his own heart, Thomas heard a wild far off pounding. It sounded like a bizarre tribal drum, as if someone was preparing for a sacrifice. Was it the drum of his own death march?
“Hello?!” He heard the familiar voice of Phyllis Baxter scream. She sounded twenty miles away. “Mr. Barrow are you in there?!” more pounding, “Will you open this door!!”
“Get back!” He heard Andy shout.
“What is that?!” Thomas demanded, frightened.
“Don’t be afraid.” Edward whispered in his ear. He was talking in a rush, as if pressed for time, “Everything’s going to be alright-“
“Edward what was that-?!” Thomas demanded, his question still unanswered.
Edward suddenly clasped Thomas’ face again, grip hard and commanding as a strange splashing sound filled the air.
“Thomas, I don’t have much time.” Edward began. “But-“
“What do you mean, you don’t have much time?!” Nothing was for certain in this void, “Am I- am I going to hell?!” It seemed plausible.
“No!” Edward’s voice was fierce and loving, “No, my darling. No.”
Thomas clung as tightly as he could to Edward, terrified that should he slip he would be lost to the frigid blackness forever. Edward was the only thing real in the world in that moment. The only thing he could rely upon for sanity and safety. His arms were as cold as the water in which Thomas sat, but he did not care. He would take comfort in this cold just as he had in the warmth of his final bath and grave. Anything over the void. Anything over isolation.
But god… he was freezing.
Rattle rattle roll.
“Edward, I’m so c-cold.” Thomas bit out, praying Edward would pull him from this frigid bath soon.
“Listen to me, and never forget what I’m about to say-“ Edward whispered in his ear. Once again he was talking fast.
But even as Edward began to speak, a strange sucking motion was taking Thomas by the naval, forcing him down and out of Edward’s icy grip so that he was almost submerged into the frigid water entirely.
“Edward-!” Thomas choked as water rushed into his mouth. He thrashed, gasping for air, for anything, but he was drowning and could not gain proper hold.
For a minute he knew nothing but hands. Hands that tried grabbed at his wrists where they throbbed and burned in an icy flame. Hands that pressed at his face and neck, as if trying to keep down a sweat. Hands that lifted him from underneath his armpits and by his feet. Hands everywhere.
This is death- Thomas thought in a terror as he was finally lifted from the bath in that blackness. Lifted not by Edward but by nameless demons that came to bore him away to hell. This is death.
But even as he was drug from his grave, like a necromancer to his dance, Thomas felt the last vestiges of his sanity slip and fade. He was washed into the gray, his sight wrapped over by a muslim cloth. Soon there was nothing, not even hands, save for a bone aching chill and a feeling of nudity. A feeling that everything had been stripped bare by the universe at long last to reveal the rotten skeleton underneath. Thomas’s eyes closed, blackness to blackness as he felt a soft surface underneath him.
Let me die. He prayed in that moment. He no longer wished for anything, even Edward- only for death. Anything but the void. Let me die.
Rattle rattle roll.