Pairing: Thomas Barrow/Edward Courtenay
Word Count: 748
Summary: You're lucky I trust you. Thomas takes Lieutenant Courtenay on an outing.
Author's Note: Written for the Downton Abbey Comment Ficathon. (Everyone come hang out, it is tons of fun!) I wrote this as a sort of what-might-have-been AU, but considering how wonkily this show handles the passage of time, I guess it could fit somewhere into canon!
"I can arrange it," the Lady Sybil promises, and to her credit, she does. The three of them nearly make their escape one sunny morning, before the wrath of Clarkson catches them up at the last moment.
"You go," Sybil whispers; her fingers curl kindly around Lt. Courtenay's shoulder, and then she leaves him with Thomas.
"And then there were two," Thomas says, securing Courtenay's elbow with his good hand. The man's made fast progress already walking with the aid of the stick, and Thomas wonders whether perhaps he'll take Thomas stepping in now as an insult, an accusation of weakness. If the Lieutenant feels any of that, he doesn't show it. He leans back into Thomas's grip with a kind of thoughtless, unremarkable faith.
"Where are we going?" he asks, again. He doesn't seem in any rush; with his eyes closed, he looks like anybody would, enjoying the sun. Like he'll open his eyes at any moment and drink the green morning in.
"Ah ah," Thomas says. "That's a secret."
"You're lucky I trust you," Lt. Courtenay says, opening his eyes; in spite of everything, Thomas finds it easy to forget that he can't see him.
Drake and his wife are civil enough, if not exactly warm at first. They were expecting the Earl of Grantham's daughter to impress with their compassion; a footman-turned-medic and a blind man don't merit the same courtesies. But Courtenay is (it turns out) a personable man when he's in a good humor, and he knows what he's talking about. In no time, he and Drake are chatting easily about plows or harvests or God knows what; farming has always struck Thomas as something to avoid at all costs, not aspire to. He doesn't pay much attention to the words exchanged, but he is aware of Courtenay's voice, a smooth constant thing. It gets lighter and more animated. It's something to be proud of, Thomas thinks; pulling this man out of hell, bit by bit.
Mrs. Drake offers to serve them lunch inside, but Courtenay opts to stay out in the fresh air. They wait on the meal in the barn, sitting on the dirt floor. Everything smells of hay. The only sounds belong to animals, and seem steady and natural as the ground under them. Nothing sharp or sudden or too-loud. Everything quiet and still. Empty space and so much light. It's like the whole world's stopped around them, or maybe let them go.
"What does the dog look like?" Courtenay asks when she rushes up to them, tail thumping merrily, seeking out Courtenay's hands for a scratch behind the ears.
"Black and white. Long hair. Collie or something, I think."
"Border collie," Courtenay supplies.
"Sounds right," Thomas agrees. The dog deflects to him momentarily, licks his glove in a nondiscriminatory fashion, then goes back to Courtenay, who makes for a more enthusiastic admirer.
"You're a beauty," Courtenay murmurs, her ears in his hands. "You're a right beauty, aren't you."
Thomas looks at the hands buried in black fur; whole, strong, unblemished hands. The hands of an Oxford boy, waiting to be broken in.
"Perhaps I ought to hate you for bringing me here," Courtenay says - conversationally, more than anything. "For reminding me what would've come to me easily once."
And in spite of everything, there's that panicked jolt in his chest. Just for a second. "Do you?"
"Good." Thomas reaches over to the dog's head with his one good hand. His finger meets Courtenay's. Courtenay doesn't seem to mind. "The things that come easy, they're never worth much."
"How did you get to be wise? You're not a hundred years old, are you, and just happen to sound young?"
Thomas chuckles. "Sometimes I feel it."
"Don't we all."
Their still hands annoy the dog; she shakes the both of them off -- dismissed for bad behavior -- and runs out of the barn. And then there were two.
"We've still got years and years to go," Thomas says. Courtenay rests his hand on the ground in the space between them. "We're the ones who got out. The world's ours to make of it what we will."
"I love how you speak like that. As if the world owes you. I wish I could be so sure."
"Stick with me," Thomas suggests. He bridges the small distance, bumps his shoulder against Courtenay's. "I'll teach you."
"I'll hold you to that," Courtenay says -- and ah, there's a smile.