Actions

Work Header

Been Waiting Two Years Long (Dub a Dub a Dum Dum)

Work Text:

“I don’t see why it matters,” Daisy said, as she filled Jimmy’s cup with coffee. However, she wasn’t replying to Jimmy, but to Mrs Patmore, who was hovering by her shoulder.

“You don’t see why it matters?” Mrs Patmore repeated in disbelief.

“That’s what I’ve said, isn’t it?” Daisy wouldn’t meet her eyes. She slid the cup across the counter to Jimmy, and he held out a handful of change to Mrs Patmore, who ignored it.

“But you’ve always stayed with Mr Mason for Christmas,” Mrs Patmore said, sounding bewildered.

“Not always,” Daisy objected. “Only the last couple of years.”

“All right then – you’ve stayed with Mr Mason since you’ve known him. Though I must say, I don’t quite get the distinction, but if we’re splitting hairs…”

Jimmy jingled the coins in his palm, but neither party acknowledged him.

“So what…just because I’ve done it a few times, that means I’ve got to stay with him every Christmas from now on – till the end of time?”

There was a moment’s pause, as if Mrs Patmore hadn’t quite considered this – but she wasn’t without an answer for long. “Well, unless he ties you up and tries to feed you to the pigs for an annual tradition, I don’t see why you should sound quite so dire about it. I thought you liked staying with him.”

“I do!” Daisy said. “You know I do.”

“Then what’s different about this Christmas?”

“I’ve told you, it’s got nothing to do with Christmas,” Daisy said – and because the argument seemed to have settled in for the tyre-spinning duration, Jimmy cleared his throat very loudly. Both Mrs Patmore and Daisy looked toward him with identical expressions of surprise. “Coffee?” he reminded them.

Daisy finally took his money. As she handed back his change, she said, “What d’you think, Jimmy? D’you think you should have to do something you really don’t want to do – just because it’s Christmas?”

“Of course not,” he said promptly.

“Oh, well, there’s a surprise,” Mrs Patmore said. “Given that you’re such an obliging soul year round.”

“It’s just a day,” Jimmy said, ignoring the sarcasm. “Like any other day.”

“See – Jimmy agrees with me,” Daisy said.

“And that’s put the arrow right through my argument, hasn’t it?” Mrs Patmore said. “I mean – if Jimmy agrees with you. However will I stand against such a master of debate?”

Jimmy narrowed his eyes, and allowed, “I’m not saying it’s not nice to have a holiday…but people think if you just chuck enough tinsel at something, that makes it special. Well, some of us have enough sense to see through that.”

The Christmas before he’d moved – when he’d still been living in London, he hadn’t even had a tree. Although before heading back to Surrey, Kevin, his flatmate, had assembled a small pyramid of beer cans and placed a small green air-freshener at the top, which Jimmy supposed might count. He hadn’t disassembled it until after the day after Boxing Day, anyway…and by then it was several six packs taller.

Regardless, it had just been him, then – the way it had been every year, for…well, for long enough that it counted as tradition. It turned out that stripped of the gaudy wrapping, all Christmas really consisted of was indigestion (easily avoided, since there wasn’t really much point in cooking an enormous turkey for one) and piss-poor television scheduling (Jimmy could attest that Only Fools and Horses became marginally funnier after copious amounts of alcohol had been consumed).

But so far, despite a marked lack of so-called holiday essentials, Jimmy hadn’t particularly felt any urge to top himself, which he felt equalled a decisive victory for the ‘just another day’ argument.

He hadn't had a Christmas tree the year before, either.

“I wonder if Mr Mason shares this enlightened view,” Mrs Patmore mused pointedly.

Daisy devoted herself to laying out cream buns on a silver tray. Mrs Patmore scrutinised her carefully. “If it really doesn’t matter, then I can’t see why you won’t go and spend a bit of time with him. It’s surely not too much to ask, to give an old man a little bit of comfort.”

“But that’s just it – he’s not going to be comforted, is he? Not this time.”

“What are you talking about, Daisy? You know how much you mean to him.”

“Well, that was before, wasn’t it?” Daisy dropped the tongs and faced her. “And I’m not going to lie to him – not anymore.”

“Lie to him – about what?”

“Alfred, of course!”

“And why would you need to lie about Alfred, for heaven’s sake?”

“Why wouldn’t she?” Jimmy muttered. Certainly, if he had the misfortune of being in a relationship with Alfred Nugent, he’d be lying his head off.

Mrs Patmore cast an irritated glance at him before addressing Daisy again. “You mean – you’ve not told him yet? Whyever not?”

She put a hand on Daisy’s shoulder. “You can’t think he’ll be upset. He’ll just be glad that you’re happy – the way he always is. Doesn’t he always take a box of your jams to sell at the farmer’s market?”

“Yeah, but being glad I’m selling jam with Alfred’s a bit different from feeling glad that I’m happy with someone who’s not William!”

“Oh…Daisy…” Mrs Patmore shook her head.

Jimmy leaned against the counter and took a sip of rapidly cooling coffee. “Who’s William?” he asked idly, before another thought struck him, “Hang on a minute – who’s Mr Mason?”

Daisy looked at him. “He’s my father in law,” she said. Her fingers curled indecisively on the countertop. “And William…he was my husband.” Then she whirled off into the kitchen.

“Oh, thank you very much – that’s started the morning off on the right foot,” Mrs Patmore managed to throw in his direction, before bustling after Daisy – though Jimmy hadn’t didn’t remember ever asking for a Shakespearean tragedy to go with his morning coffee.

*****

It turned out that Thomas did have a Christmas tree. It was a small, artificial thing with bendy, pipe-cleaner branches – and it managed to look strangely defiant in the corner of Thomas’ sitting room, Jimmy thought, despite the way it only came up to chest height.

Of course, that made it easier to fold up and pack away – and that thought just made him feel an odd, fierce mix of emotions, uppermost of which was apprehension-laced anticipation, along with a kind of understanding that was a million miles from pity...and closer to pride than anything else.

The tree was easy to decorate too – it had taken all of ten minutes to throw up the few baubles in the accompanying cardboard box. There was a sanctimonious looking angel in a puffy white robe, and while they talked about William Mason, Thomas placed it atop the tree’s pipe-cleaner pinnacle, turning it around so that its poorly painted, pious expression faced into the cream walls.

“ – yeah, but what was he like?” Jimmy pressed.

Thomas dropped a blue and silver bauble onto a spindly branch. “It’s probably bad form to insult those who’ve given up their lives for Queen and country.”

“But somehow you’ll manage it,” Jimmy said dryly.

“Well, he wasn’t much of a tour guide,” Thomas allowed.

“So Daisy didn’t love him for his encyclopaedic knowledge about Downton, then?”

“No,” Thomas said. He looked at Jimmy, an odd sort of smile on his face, and twirled another blue and silver bauble absently in his hands. “Poor sod.”

*****

There wasn’t much time though, to invest in anyone’s personal calamities, as Downton geared up for the Christmas wind-down. Though, given the frequency with which Jimmy interrupted Daisy in the middle of saying things like, “I don’t want to talk about it” – and “Leave it alone, why can’t you?” and the way she hurried away from Mrs Patmore as soon as anyone entered the café, he supposed her situation had not been satisfactorily resolved.

But mostly, there was the bustle of trying to get the Candlelit Christmas Evening sorted (it had lost its charm for Jimmy upon the realisation that staying late at Downton would be required), and after that, the School Choir Carol Service – which had developed from the relatively simple singing of seasonally appropriate songs in the entrance hall, approved of by Mr Carson, to a rather more showily festive spectacle, incorporating a visit from Santa Claus for the younger children.

To make sure all the Christmas festivities came off, there really wasn’t much time to think about Christmas itself, though Ivy, in between waxing rhapsodic about family Christmases, did ask, “So, what’ve you and Mr Barrow got planned then?”

Jimmy shrugged. “Nothing, really. I mean, we’ll enjoy it, but – it’s just time off with a different name, isn’t it?” His stomach gave a funny, eager jerk as he thought about the tiny Christmas tree, lit up in the low light of the sitting room.

“Of course,” Alfred said, rolling his eyes. He, like Ivy, was headed home for the holidays. “Because there’s nothing special about Christmas.”

“He’s right though, isn’t he?” Daisy said, resolutely wiping down the already-clean table behind them. “It’s just another day, when all’s said and done.”

Alfred looked at her, mouth in a thin, unhappy line. “I wish you’d change your mind, and come home with me for the holidays.”

Daisy straightened. Though she sounded a bit breathless, she immediately said, “Don’t be daft. What would your mum think, me showing up for Christmas, after we’ve only been going out a few weeks?”

“Maybe we’ve not been together that long…but she might as well start getting used to you – after all, you’re not going anywhere, not if I can help it.”

Though Daisy seemed swept off her feet by this prosaic declaration of affection, she shook her head. “I wouldn’t feel right about it.”

“I can’t think why,” Mrs Patmore said, as she passed, the tray from a recently cleared table in her hands. “I mean – if it’s ‘just another day.’ How did Mr Mason take it, when you told him?”

“Fine, if you must know,” Daisy said “Because it is just another day.” She bent over the table again, to scrub at a non-existent stain.

*****

The first sign that things might not be proceeding according to plan was the vaguely familiar looking young girl in a school uniform, who waved her free hand at Jimmy and said, “Hullo!” Her other hand was being grasped by a child that was no longer velvet-clad, but still resolutely miniature in stature.

“Cheer up!” the familiar looking girl said, looking Jimmy up and down. Helen, he thought. Or Ellen, maybe. “It might never happen.”

Jimmy watched with distaste as the most minor member of Helen or Ellen’s family (he hoped) looked around with an expression of placid interest before trying to wipe its nose on Helen or Ellen’s skirt.

Jimmy gestured her in the direction of the rest of the school choir, who were already getting into position, but Helen or Ellen ignored him. “How is everything for you these days?” she asked, with an interest that seemed both maternal and prurient, cocking her head to one side. “Did you ever get yourself sorted out?”

“I didn’t realise I needed to be sorted out,” Jimmy replied, witheringly. He gestured once more toward the choir.

“That’s all right. Most people don’t,” Helen or Ellen said with a kindly wisdom that set his teeth on edge. “How’s the new girlfriend doing? Is she still on the scene, or is there a new new girlfriend by now?”

Jimmy stared at her. “I’m doing fine,” he said, deliberately ignoring her question, and enunciating every word. He finally forced Helen or Ellen to advance toward the choir by dint of moving in that direction himself.

“Well, if you weren’t,” she said, tugging the most minute member of her family along with her. “Just...if you were still having trouble sorting it all out, we’d be glad to help. Holly’s only a Rainbow, so she won’t be much use” –

Over the sound of the tiny, longhaired creature’s voluble objection at this assessment of its skills, Helen or Ellen continued, without so much as a blink (while below her, it continued to cling to her hand while slapping her knees),“– but I’m a proper Guide and I wouldn’t mind mucking in, even though I should be working on Healthy Lifestyles right now.” She sighed, and confided. “It’s a bit boring, really.”

“Well, I’m sorry to be a disappointment to you,” Jimmy said through gritted teeth, false smile stretching across his face. “But I’m still fine.”

“All right,” Helen or Ellen said, though her shoulders slumped. “Well – just keep it in mind, if this girlfriend doesn’t work out.”

“You’ll be the first person I call, when there’s a disaster,” Jimmy told her, with a patent insincerity that Helen or Ellen didn’t seem to pick up on, given how she brightened at the news.

It was at this point that disaster tapped him on the shoulder. Well, disaster was perhaps overstating the case a bit – it would perhaps be more accurate to say that minor adversity tapped him on the shoulder.

“Jimmy – hello,” Minor Adversity said, warmly.

Jimmy stared. “Gay Emmett? What are you doing here?”

The warmth of Gay Emmett’s smile wavered slightly. “Just Emmett is…still fine.”

“What are you doing here?” Jimmy asked again, returning to the, in his opinion, more pressing point.

“He’s helping out with our choir,” Helen or Ellen offered. Jimmy suddenly noticed that Gay Emmett had a guitar slung over his shoulder.

“You look…well,” Gay Emmett said, with a rueful sort of fondness that Jimmy didn’t feel half an unwitting blind date and an uneaten salad quite merited. He gave a stiff nod in response.

“So…you two know each other, then?” Helen or Ellen asked, glancing between the two of them with interest. The most minor member of her family continued to ignore them, in favour of waving its painted fingernails in front of its face.

“Not really,” Jimmy said, as Gay Emmett said, “You could say that.” He was still using that sepia-tinged tone that Jimmy thought was a bit much.

“Oh,” Helen said. Her eyebrows rose. And then, thoughtfully, speculatively, “I suppose I wouldn’t mind doing a bit extra on Celebrating Diversity…”

Jimmy took a deep, calming breath – and marched away.

Ivy was unsympathetic. “I don’t see what the problem is,” she said, as she poured out horrifically sweet orange squash into plastic cups, to celebrate the end of the singing. “He’s good with children – and he wants to contribute to the community.” Though she said it quite matter of factly, Jimmy imagined an unspoken rebuke running underneath the words.

“Does he have to contribute to it here, though?” Jimmy asked. He risked a glance behind him, where Gay Emmett was bending over, and pointing something out to the apparently enraptured most miniature member of Helen or Ellen’s family – which laughed its annoying high-pitched laugh and threw its arms around Gay Emmett’s knee. Helen or Ellen caught his eye and smiled encouragingly, pointing at Gay Emmett and then giving Jimmy the thumbs up. He scowled and quickly turned his back again.

“Everyone has exes they run into. You just have to live with it,” Ivy said.

“I don’t have to live with it, because he’s not my ex-anything,” Jimmy reminded her.

Ivy rolled her eyes and handed Jimmy a tray of violently orange sugared water. “If you say so. Now go, give these out before Santa Claus arrives.”

Two glasses of squash and a marked increase of noise later, it became apparent that Santa Claus was not coming. Thomas paced by the door and placed several irate calls – all of which went straight to Santa’s voicemail, as behind him, the clamour reached a deafening pitch. The set of his shoulders suggested the near desperate desire for a cigarette. Mrs Patmore stopped for a moment to survey the unrest and observe, “Reminds me of the time you convinced me to change suppliers. And – just like then – I’m running out of provisions…just a friendly warning. I don’t know how long we can keep them at bay without buns.”

“We could always just tell them to go home – couldn’t we?” Jimmy said, as Thomas began to tap at his mobile again. He grimaced. Though discontent reigned throughout most of the entrance hall, Gay Emmett had begun a sing-song and was surrounded by a small oasis of rapt faces.

“Can’t,” Thomas snapped. “It’s already been advertised” – his voice changed as Santa’s voicemail picked up, “Now listen here” –

Another fruitless and threatening message later, and Mr Bates limped over. “Forgive me for saying,” he said pleasantly, “But the natives are getting restless.”

Thomas glared at him. “You don’t say. Thank you for enlightening me – I hadn’t noticed.”

“Can I take it that there has been some unanticipated setback – and that Santa will not be making his scheduled appearance?” Mr Bates asked.

“It certainly looks that way, doesn’t it?” Thomas said, through gritted teeth. “Come to gloat, have you?”

“On the contrary” – Mr Bates actually smiled, a small, self-deprecating smile, “–this would appear to be a situation where it might be better to set aside our differences. For the sake of the children…and Downton.”

“Of course,” Thomas said, with heavy sarcasm. “Wouldn’t want to carry a grudge when there are children present, after all.”

“I take it that means you don’t want my help?” Mr Bates asked, with maddening mildness.

Thomas looked away, jaw working, but said nothing.

“Good,” Mr Bates said. “Now – where do we stand on this situation? Is it possible to find presents at this short notice?”

“We don’t need to,” Jimmy said. “The sack’s upstairs, along with the Santa costume.”

Mr Bates smiled. “So, really, it’s only a matter of stalling until we find someone to fill the suit?”

“Oh yes, that’s all,” Thomas said, gesturing to the barely constrained pandemonium that had spread throughout a good three quarters of the Great Hall. “Any suggestions?”

“I might,” Mr Bates said (and he had the audacity to twinkle), “have an idea or two.”

After that, Thomas went outside for a badly needed cigarette. “Call me if Bates gets them all holding hands and singing Kum-Ba-Yah,” he said, and then, a moment later, “Actually – don’t.”

“Don’t worry – he’d have to wrestle the guitar away from Gay Emmett for that,” Jimmy said sourly. Thomas frowned in confusion, but shook his head and followed the siren call of nicotine outside.

And indeed, hand-holding and campfire songs were not on the menu. Instead, Mr Bates and Mrs Hughes cornered Mr Carson for what looked like an intense conversation, while Anna sped away from the Hall on an errand unknown.

A few minutes later, and with many baleful glances behind him, Mr Carson made his way through the restless throng of carollers and to the front of the hall. He cleared his throat, and raised his hand for silence.

“Ah,” he said, as a sea of young, expectant faces turned toward him. He cleared his throat again. “As you have no doubt noticed, Santa Claus appears to be running rather behind schedule tonight. However, I am assured,” his eyes sought and found Mr Bates’, at the back of the hall, “that he will be making his appearance shortly,” a cheer arose, and he raised his hand for silence again, “But, until such time as he arrives, we feel some – entertainment – may be in order.”

Jimmy stared at Mr Carson, wondering what sort of ‘entertainment’ might be expected from someone who said the word as if it were in danger of soiling his lips. He gave a quick look around the room, and in fairness, from the looks on their faces, the children seemed fascinated by the same thought.

“Now, we merely have to wait until my assistant – ah, there she is” – Mrs Hughes appeared at Mr Carson’s elbow, several oranges in her hands, “Ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, may I present to you my assistant” –

Mr Carson hesitated, but Mrs Hughes chimed in, quite calmly, with, “The lovely Elsie Hughes.”

“The lovely Elsie Hughes,” Mr Carson repeated. “She will first pass me three oranges” – Mrs Hughes did just that, “and I will endeavour to…”

Mr Carson began to juggle. “Ah – yes…that’s it…”

Jimmy blinked.

“Now – you must all remain very quiet,” Mr Carson told the assembled children, “Because I shouldn’t like” – one orange went a little wide and there was an audible gasp as the entire enterprise looked as if it might end in juice, though Mr Carson managed to keep it under control “ – to make a mess in his Lordship’s home.”

“Why? Would he be angry?” Helen or Ellen (who was now sitting cross-legged at the front) called out.

“SSSHHH!” the most minor member of her family said, turning and sternly pressing its finger to her lips.

Apart from this interjection, Mr Carson didn’t need to call for silence again. Oddly, the sight of an older man attempting to juggle several oranges seemed to inspire the same held-breath wonder in everyone. Jimmy supposed Mr Carson radiated…Carsonness…like a dignified, rarified atmosphere – and the children must have subconsciously picked up on the strangeness of the scene before them.

In the hushed, reverent quiet, Thomas reappeared at Jimmy’s shoulder. He watched the proceedings with a nonplussed air. “Now that,” he said into Jimmy’s ear, “is what I call a Christmas miracle.” He gazed at Carson again. “Or a sign of the end times, maybe.”

Along the back of the Hall, behind the carollers’ backs, Anna gripped the wrist of a terrified looking, balding man, and tugged him stealthily toward the staircase.

“Who’s he?” Jimmy asked.

Thomas stared. “She hasn’t.” He set off across the hall without answering Jimmy’s question, and by the time he caught up, Thomas and Mr Bates were deep in heated discussion.

“ – but beggars can’t be choosers,” Mr Bates said.

“Yes – but Molesley?” Thomas replied, in a furious whisper.

Mr Bates shrugged. “I understand he has some dramatic training.”

“Yes,” Thomas agreed. “Every couple of years he rejoins the local drama society, and then falls off the stage on opening night.”

“He gets stage fright?” Jimmy asked.

Thomas threw a glance in his direction. “If ‘stage fright’ is a brand of whisky. He’s the closest thing there is to a professional failure round these parts.”

“If you have a better idea, I’d be glad to hear it,” Mr Bates said. Thomas glared. “Well then,” Mr Bates said serenely, “I suppose you’d better hope he pulls this off – for your own sake.”

At the front of the entrance hall, the juggling had finally come to an end, and Mrs Hughes gamely suggested, “Perhaps the boys and girls might like to see a song and dance?”

The boys and girls seemed enthused, though, from the expression on Mr Carson’s face, he was not. However, before Mr Carson had the opportunity to further barter his dignity for the honour of Downton (this was something Jimmy would later blame on the errant Molesley), Anna began to descend the stairs, a wild-eyed, white-bearded figure at her side. A cheer went up, and the red-suited person stumbled, only to be righted by Anna, who paused and called out, “Well – I’m sure we’re all very glad to see Santa Claus at last” –

Another cheer, and tumultous applause. Santa Claus grasped Anna’s arm tightly with his free hand, but she continued to smile. “Unfortunately, the reason he’s so late is that he had a bit of an accident. His reindeer almost collided with an aeroplane on the way here…and so Santa is still a little bit shaken. I’m sure we shall all be very kind and gentle with him until he’s recovered.”

Anna guided him carefully down the remaining stairs, and Mrs Hughes procured a chair for him. Stiffly, he deposited his sack, and sat, and a stream of the younger children began to line up.

Though Thomas watched the affair with narrowed eyes, it went rather better than he had obviously been expecting. With Anna beside him to prompt him to ask the children for names, and to engage them in conversation, Molesley appeared to have encompassed his professional scope to include failing at failure. The only real hiccup came when Helen or Ellen deposited the most minor member of her family onto Molesley’s lap, only for it to furiously demand immediate removal. It also insisted on receiving its present directly from Mr Carson – which, despite a half-hearted grumble about the young generation and their air of entitlement – he seemed rather pleased about.

The last thing he said to Thomas was, “In the spirit of the season, and against all the evidence, I hope this has served as a lesson in proper planning and the need to cover every eventuality.” His ponderous delivery was only mildly diluted by the small creature in his arms peering with determined fascination into his ear.

*****

At home, Jimmy pushed the coffee table out of the way and pulled Thomas down onto the sitting room floor (the Christmas tree looked bigger like that, especially with the main lights turned off) and they took it in turns to complain about the preceding hours.

“At least it worked out in the end, though,” Jimmy said. He stared up at the fairy lights, flashing softly on the tiny Christmas tree, reflecting off the shiny curved surfaces of the cheap blue baubles Thomas had bought. It looked almost unreal to him, like an image from a Christmas card or an ad off the telly – but there was the solid warmth of Thomas’ body against his left side to remind him that the whole thing was real.

“Yes – for which I’m indebted to the modern version of Tiny Tim,” Thomas pointed out. He sat up and leaned over Jimmy, to reach his glass of wine on the coffee table.

“Yeah – but Mr Bates did it for the children,” Jimmy said. “So maybe it doesn’t count.”

Thomas took a mouthful of wine and appeared to consider this.

“At least you didn’t have Gay Emmett mooning over you,” Jimmy said, darkly. When Thomas replaced his glass on the coffee table and laid down again, Jimmy turned toward him and said, “We never even went out.”

“I thought he made you a salad,” Thomas objected.

“Under false pretences,” Jimmy said. “I didn’t know it had strings attached. I didn’t even eat the bloody thing.” He frowned, and gestured between them. “I thought the point of getting this right the first time was that it made everything simple. I don’t see why I should have to deal with running into ex-boyfriends if I’ve never even had an ex-boyfriend.”

“Suppose it all depends on your definition,” Thomas said thoughtfully. “You didn’t accidentally sleep with Gay Emmett, did you?”

Jimmy made a face. “Shut up.”

“Maybe he’d had a bad day, and you did it to take his mind off things. Because you’re selfless, that way.”

“Shut up,” Jimmy dug his elbow into Thomas’ side.

“Because even if you didn’t do it in a bed, for some blokes, that still counts” – Thomas continued, and Jimmy finally rolled over on top of him.

Shut up,” he said breathlessly, one last time, and kissed Thomas quiet in the glow of the Christmas lights.

*****

With the Candlelit Christmas Evening, and the Christmas Carol Service out of the way, the final ordeal before Downton closed up shop for the holidays, was the annual visit of the Crawley family, to dispense largesse and remind people of their continued existence. Well, Mr Carson hadn’t quite explained it like that, but Jimmy was paraphrasing. Like the carrot following the stick, this would be proceeded by the staff night out.

And so, everyone drifted slightly awkwardly around the drawing room, picking at the buffet that Daisy and Mrs Patmore had laid out, while the Crawleys circulated and made gracious small talk.

Lady Mary Crawley had brought her baby with her – a solid looking thing with dark hair and a piercing scream. Carson appeared delighted with it – and so too did Mr Bates and Anna, who bounced it in her arms and fussed over it, while around her, Mr Bates, Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley exchanged pleasantries.

Waiting to be called forward to receive his present from Lady Grantham Jimmy stood a safe distance away, though he was close enough to hear Lady Mary say, “He does present the perfect excuse to come late and leave early. I must say, I’m finally starting to see the point of him.”

Matthew Crawley told her, “Don’t be facetious, it doesn’t suit you,” and instead of detaching her jaw to swallow him whole, she merely fixed him with an eloquent side eye and murmured, “That’s not what I’ve been told.” Jimmy supposed it must be love.

Mr Bates didn’t say anything – he was too busy watching Anna, standing off slightly to the side, still holding the baby and chattering to it. He had a soppy sort of smile stuck to his face.

Thankfully, it was then Jimmy’s turn to approach Lady Grantham, who smiled at him and said, “I do hope you enjoy this.” She leaned in close and said, conspiratorially, “I will admit, I had a little help from Carson – he tells me you have quite the passion for the subject.” She nodded at Lord Grantham, who handed over a heavy hardback book.

Great Britain’s Great Houses, Jimmy read.

“I hope you don’t have it already,” she said, watching him anxiously. “It’s only just been published, so I thought you probably wouldn’t have it in your collection yet…”

Jimmy managed a smile. “No,” he said, with perfect honesty. “I don’t have it.”

“Oh good,” she smiled, before turning her attention to the next person in line. Jimmy moved off and began looking for somewhere to discreetly drop his present.

*****

When the Crawleys departed, so too did any remaining decorum, and it was a louder and considerably more festive minded crowd that spilled in to The Dog and Duck later that evening. Christmas music blared inside the warm confines of the pub, and Mrs Patmore immediately headed for the bar, a tinsel boa draped around her neck, while Mr Carson cornered Thomas and began to expound upon something or other – so Jimmy slipped away and looked for Alfred, whose nosebleed inducing height was a considerable advantage when it came to getting drinks. As he pushed his way through the crowd, toward the red-headed giraffe that was Alfred, he knocked shoulders with a bloke carrying two glasses, causing a small rain of alcohol.

“Sorry,” Jimmy said absently, then did a double take as the bloke said, “It’s alright. Bit crowded in here, isn’t it?”

Gay Emmett?! What are you doing here?”

Gay Emmett gestured vaguely behind him. “Ivy invited me – nice of her, wasn’t it?” He looked at Jimmy with faint rebuke. “And it’s still just Emmett, by the way.”

Ivy appeared at Gay Emmett’s shoulder. “Oh – you two found each other then,” she said brightly, and took one of the glasses from Gay Emmett’s hand.

Jimmy pulled her a short distance away. “What’s he doing here? Why would you invite him?”

“Because I’m tired of being the fifth wheel,” Ivy said, sounding quite put out. “You and Mr Barrow, Alfred and Daisy…I’m sick of feeling like a spare part. At least Gay Emmett can sympathise – he knows how it feels to be unwanted.”

“I can still hear you,” Gay Emmett observed. “Just…in case you didn’t know.”

Ivy ignored this. “And he’s nice” –

“Thanks,” Gay Emmett said.

“ – and it’s no harm to keep in with him – you know…in case.” Ivy raised her eyebrows.

“In case of what?”

“Well, it’s early days with Mr Barrow, isn’t it?” Ivy pointed out.

Jimmy narrowed his eyes at her.

“I’m just saying,” she said. “Speaking as someone with personal experience, you’re not exactly brilliant at being in a relationship. Have you even bought Mr Barrow a Christmas present yet?”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Jimmy said sourly. “And, by the way – I have bought Thomas a present” – Ivy looked slightly chastened, but only slightly. Jimmy thought she might look slightly more impressed if she’d seen the amount of cross referencing of incredibly stupid sounding film titles he’d needed to do to make sure he only bought black and white films that Thomas didn’t already own. “And even if I hadn’t, I still wouldn’t need a back-up boyfriend for Christmas.”

Ivy rolled her eyes and made a dramatic gesture with her glass, resulting in a great slop of alcohol hitting the floor and her shoes. “Fine – see if I ever try to help you again!”

“Is that a promise?” he called after her as she made her way over to Alfred.

There was a slightly awkward silence, before Gay Emmett cleared his throat and offered, “Can I get you a drink? For old times’ sake?”

Jimmy stared at him for a long, incredulous moment before stalking off.

He paused by Mrs Hughes and Mrs Patmore, sitting at a little round table. Mrs Hughes was sipping a sherry, while Mrs Patmore was guarding an enormous half-empty glass of something vaguely green. Not her first, if the empty glass next to it was anything to go by.

“Merry Christmas James,” Mrs Hughes said, raising her own glass and Jimmy found a smile.

“Well, don’t just stand there like a spare strainer – sit,” Mrs Patmore told him, patting the seat of the chair next to her.

Jimmy did, and desultory small talk was had about the weather, “ – though I never think a green Christmas feels quite right,” Mrs Hughes said.

Jimmy vaguely, politely agreed – but he was thinking about the little tree pulsing light in the darkness of his and Thomas’ sitting room.

From there, Mrs Patmore shared her plans for the holidays – another family Christmas, “A proper one this year – even my nephew Archie’ll be there for Christmas Eve,” she announced, placing her glass on the table with a decisive little thud – like an exclamation mark.

“And how about yourself, James?” Mrs Hughes asked politely. “Have you and Thomas got anything special planned for the holidays?”

Before Jimmy could answer, Mrs Patmore snorted. “Oh, you’re asking the wrong person. Jimmy doesn’t believe in all that nonsense – very secular, he is.”

It was funny, Jimmy thought – but Thomas’ Christmas tree…his and Thomas’ Christmas tree…even though he knew it was small – it always seemed much bigger to him in his own mind.

“Oh,” Mrs Hughes said, as if she couldn’t quite think of anything to say.

Mrs Patmore, unfortunately, didn’t have the same problem. After draining her glass, she turned to Jimmy and said, confidentially, “How are things between yourself and Thomas? I’ve been meaning to ask.”

Jimmy stared at her – as did Mrs Hughes, both taken aback by her nerve, but Mrs Patmore faced him, undaunted, clearly waiting for an answer. She raised her eyebrows.

“Fine,” he said finally, non-committally, resisting the urge to grit his teeth. “We’re doing…just fine, thank you.”

Mrs Patmore cast a lingering, dispassionate eye over Jimmy, then leaned toward Mrs Hughes. In a tone that was possibly intended to be a whisper, she said, “I’ll just bet they are.”

Mrs Hughes smothered a smile in her sherry glass. Jimmy got to his feet with dignity.

*****

He found Thomas lurking in a corner of the pub, leaning up against the wall, Carsonless.

“I see you escaped then,” Jimmy observed, coming to stand beside him with relief.

“As did you,” Thomas said. In blissful, non-smalltalk-filled silence they watched the goings on around them. Mr Carson chatted with Mr Bates and Anna, Mrs Patmore beat a determined path back to the bar, while Mrs Hughes nursed her sherry, and Alfred punctuated some story with a flourish that made Ivy laugh, while Gay Emmett…

…caught Jimmy’s eye and offered him a wistful smile.

Jimmy fought the urge to roll his eyes, and immediately looked away.

“Gay Emmett?” Thomas asked.

“No, the Ghost of Christmas Past,” Jimmy said acerbically. “Of course it’s bloody Gay Emmett.”

“Long as he’s not the Ghost of Christmas Present,” Thomas said mildly. He tilted his head to the side, “Or the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.”

“More like the Ghost of Things Permanently Yet to Come,” Jimmy muttered. Thomas snorted. The idea of the sitting room and the Christmas tree hit Jimmy with pulsating intensity, and he said, suddenly, “Let’s go home.”

Thomas looked at him, but shook his head.

Jimmy crossed his arms. “Why not?”

“We can’t leave until Bates goes. And Carson,” Thomas added, almost as an afterthought. “It’s a matter of pride.”

“Fine,” Jimmy said with bad grace, before pushing off the wall and toward the exit, in search of fresh, non Christmas-music tinged air. He pushed through the door, and took a deep, cold breath. He started at the sight of a familiar figure, sitting alone on the wooden bench outside the pub.

“Are you all right, Daisy?” he asked.

“Fine,” she said and sort of smiled at him. “I’m fine.”

He sat next to her. “Are you sure? You don’t look fine.”

“Well I am,” she said. She stared straight ahead, not making eye contact.

Usually, that would have been all right, but misery radiated from her like unhappy sunlight. It couldn’t be ignored. Jimmy studied her gingerly before trying, “Is it about your father in law?”

Daisy didn’t say anything.

“I can get Alfred, if you want to talk about it,” he offered. “Or Mrs Patmore.”

Daisy shook her head. “It’s not…” She trailed off into silence, before taking a deep breath. “I did love William, you know…just…not the way I should have. Not the way you’re supposed to love someone, if you’re marrying them.”

Now it was Jimmy’s turn to be silent – he sat there awkwardly, not knowing what to say. Not that it seemed to matter to Daisy, who kept talking, words just spilling out, almost as if she couldn’t stop herself. “Only – by then it was too late to do anything, and he was dying, and – I couldn’t say no after all that. After letting him think…” she stared down at her hands. “I felt so bad about it, especially afterwards, when William’s dad started coming to see me.”

“Did he know? That you didn’t…” Jimmy trailed off.

Daisy shook her head. “No. I tried to tell him, once, but…I couldn’t. He had this – picture in his head, of me and William, and how things should’ve been, and…I couldn’t bear to spoil it for him.”

“Well…that sounds all right to me,” Jimmy said. “No harm in letting him have a bit of comfort to cling to.”

“I suppose,” Daisy said. She didn’t seem particularly reassured. “But it were easier for me too – and he’s always been so nice. It’s like – William died, and he started looking after me, like he was my dad.”

“But isn’t that a good thing?” Jimmy asked, floundering in these unexpected emotional depths. “I mean – Mrs Patmore said you liked spending time with him, so” –

“Of course I like it. But that’s just the problem, isn’t it? It’s like…I’m being rewarded for lying. And – it were all right, when I only had him. It felt – fairer. But now, I’m with Alfred, and I’m so happy I could burst – and I don’t deserve to be!”

Daisy sniffed, and Jimmy laid an uncertain hand upon her shoulder for a moment. Daisy responded by throwing herself against him. Jimmy patted her awkwardly before attempting to detach himself with the words, “I’ll just go and get” –

The pub door swung open again, and Alfred appeared, accompanied by a brief snatch of Slade, like a heavenly chorus. Jimmy had never been so glad to see him in all his life. He gestured at the pile of unhappiness in his arms.

“Daisy?” Alfred said. Daisy pulled back from Jimmy and swiped at her face, affecting normality. “Alfred, I just” –

Alfred frowned at her. “I know you don’t want to hear it, but I think Mrs Patmore’s right. You need to have this out with your Mr Mason. It’s making you miserable.”

“Well, maybe I deserve to be miserable,” Daisy told him.

Alfred crouched down beside Jimmy, and grabbed her hand, holding it across Jimmy’s lap (trapping Jimmy in the most awkward way possible). “No, you don’t,” he said. “And if this Mr Mason thinks you do – well, then he’s not worth all your worry. Because good people, they only want good things for the people they love.”

Daisy stared at him with wet eyes, and shook her head. “I don’t deserve you, Alfred.”

“Yes, you do,” Alfred said stoutly – though honestly, Jimmy didn’t think that what Daisy had done was bad enough to merit a lifetime dose of Alfred as punishment. “I’ll go and see him with you, if you like.”

Daisy leaned forward, as did Alfred. Jimmy quickly leaned as far back on the bench as possible, tilting his head upward toward the streetlight, to avoid a close up of Alfred and Daisy’s mouths meeting. After a second, Daisy sniffed, and Jimmy risked a glance downwards, to find them thankfully separated. Daisy shook her head again – but this time she managed a wobbly smile as she let go of Alfred’s hand. “No,” she said. “I think I should talk to him myself.”

“Daisy?” this time the unfamiliar voice didn’t come from the pub doorway, but across the quiet street, and it startled all three of them. “Daisy – is that you?”

“Mr Mason?” As the man crossed the street, Daisy hurriedly got to her feet, exchanging a panicked glance with Alfred, who likewise stood.

The man was small and grey haired, with a neat, grey moustache – rather old-fashioned in a suit. He had a hat in his hands, and looked as if he had only just escaped from the set of a Werther’s Original ad.

“I thought it was you,” he said, smiling a kindly, pleased smile at Daisy.

“Mr Mason...what are you doing here?” she asked.

“I bumped into your Mrs Patmore yesterday at the farmer’s market – and she told me you were having your staff do tonight, and to be sure to pop in…that you wanted to see me. And I thought, since you won’t be coming round for Christmas, well, I’d best make the most of the time I do get with you.”

Daisy just stared at him, and the smile faltered on his face. “But – of course, you’ll be wanting to spend time with friends, and – I ought to have checked with you first, instead of just – showing up…” He turned the hat in his hands, and took a step back.

“No – wait,” Daisy said, moving forward. “I was just thinking about you, and I’m – really glad you’re here.”

She laid a hand on his arm, and Mr Mason put his hand over hers, and smiled. Daisy curled her fingers around his, so they were properly holding hands, and said, “Actually…there’s someone I’d like you to meet.” She reached out with her other arm and clasped Alfred’s hand, drawing him nearer. “This – is Alfred.”

“Glad to meet you, sir,” Alfred said, shaking Mr Mason’s hand.

Mr Mason moved back a little, to better take Alfred in, and said, “Likewise. I take it you’re the fella that’s been putting the smile on my Daisy’s face lately? I’m happy to finally be able to put a face to that smile.”

Daisy blinked at him in surprise. “You mean – you knew?”

He looked at Daisy, expression fond. “I hoped.”

She took a shaky breath, and flung herself forward into Mr Mason’s arms. When she drew back, she said, in a watery voice, “Why don’t we…sit down, and have a proper chat, all three of us?”

Mr Mason smiled at her. “I’d like that,” he said.

Jimmy vacated his seat, and made his way back into the pub. He pushed his way to the cramped toilets, where he splashed his face with water, and glanced into the mirror, steeling himself to return to the overheated, Do They Know it’s Christmas? infused atmosphere in the main bar.

Outside the toilet door, he bumped into Thomas. “There you are. Can we go yet?” he asked crossly.

“We just have to wait until Bates leaves,” Thomas said, gesturing to the round table where Bates sat cosily with Anna. He did not look in any particular hurry to leave. “It can’t be much longer – they never stay late at these things.”

Jimmy folded his arms across his chest. “Right,” he said. “We wait for bloody Bates.”

They both looked out across the floor of the pub, where Mrs Patmore had looped her tinsel boa around Mr Carson, attempting to pull him into a dance.

“Or,” Thomas said suddenly, “we could just go home.”

Jimmy turned to him and grinned.

*****

As they made their excuses, Mr Carson coughed out vaguely suspicious sounding seasonal wishes, while Mrs Hughes gave Thomas a kiss on the cheek. She clasped Jimmy's hand in hers, and said, “A very Merry Christmas to you both.”

Ivy threaded her arm supportively through Gay Emmett’s, though she smiled at Jimmy too - and Mrs Patmore whispered something behind her tinsel boa to Anna that made Anna press her lips together and stare fixedly down at the wooden table, fighting laughter.

And Mr Bates said, with a slight smile, “Ah – the siren call of domesticity…I suppose it catches us all out, in the end,” and he raised his glass to Thomas.

Oddly, instead of whipping out an appropriate retort, Thomas held Mr Bates’ eyes for a moment, before inclining his head in acknowledgment. Jimmy could almost have imagined he was pleased by Mr Bates’ little dig.

Outside The Dog and Duck, they said brief goodbyes to Alfred and Daisy, who were still sitting with Mr Mason at the little table, before turning for home.

They were quiet as they walked, breath rising warm in the air in front of them. Jimmy caught Thomas’ wrist in his hand, just for a moment, before letting go –

- and they kept moving forward, toward their house, and the little, lit up tree, and their very own, particular Christmas.