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the island of conclusions

Bandaging (Downton Abbey fic)

the island of conclusions

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Bandaging (Downton Abbey fic)

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So, I was having a weirdly hard time trying to figure out what to write for the "medical kink" square on my [community profile] kink_bingo card. And then Downton Abbey went and dumped a scenario in my lap. Spoilers for 2x02!

Title: Bandaging
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Thomas Barrow/Edward Courtenay
Spoilers: Missing scene for 2x02.
Warnings: a little bit of medical ickiness.
Word count: ~1.8K
Disclaimer: not mine, no profit

a/n: for the “medical kink” square on my kink_bingo card.

Summary: Bandages are just like any other linen. The human form is just another parcel to be wrapped. The only art is in making things tidy and secure.

Sometimes it seemed to Thomas as if he’d spent his whole life folding and unfolding things.

Pressing linens and laying out clothes; buttoning buttons and unbuttoning them. Carrying valises and steamer trunks and stacks of freshly ironed shirts. Packing and unpacking; stowing away and smoothing out.

He’d thought life as a medical orderly would be different. But it wasn’t. The things he carried from the battlefields seemed more like bundles of poorly folded laundry than wounded men. Bandages were no different than any other kind of linen, for all they were soaked in blood. A uniform with a dead body inside it was simply heavier than a uniform on its own.

Or perhaps it was just that thinking about things this way helped tamp down the rage that always threatened to boil up inside him. At Downton, he’d been constantly on guard, ready to injure others before they injured him, determined to retaliate against each slight or oversight before it even happened. He’d thought the larger world would be an escape from that. But the war was just Downton writ large. The Haves surviving on privilege and bullying; the Have-Nots expected to go like sheep to the slaughter.

Could anyone blame him for getting out of that?

Back at the Downton Cottage Hospital, he tried to treat the wounded officers as the expensive bundles of clothes they were: smooth, tuck, fold, arrange to hide the mend.

For the most part, he succeeded.

“You don’t have to do this, Thomas,” Courtenay said. Lieutenant Courtenay. Edward. Even in his own mind, Thomas wasn’t sure what to call him.

“It’s no trouble, sir,” Thomas told him. He settled himself on the edge of the bed, found the end of the bandages around Courtenay’s eyes and began to unwind them. The linen was warm in his hands, slightly damp. “Give the sisters a bit of a break.”

It seemed a better thing to say than the shape of your mouth is a burr under my skin; the hollow of your throat, your wrists crossed on the blanket, they trouble my sleep.

And in truth, the nurse had seemed pleased enough when he’d offered to take on the task—not “Nurse Crawley,” she held onto her chores like they were bits of the true cross—one of the older gals. Not her first war, that one, and she knew the value of delegating a task or two.

Besides, Thomas would never admit it, but it gave him a queer kind of thrill to see the pieces of Courtney’s face emerge one by one as the bandages came off: the skin of his wide brow, pale and thin as a girl’s; the elegant arc of his cheekbones; the proud sweep of his nose. It was like unwrapping the Christmas silver at Downton, except that instead of a lifeless treasure, a fragile, breathing beauty came to light.

He went slow, coiling the crumpled linen into a neat ball as he unwound it, though it was destined only for the boiling vats of the laundry room.

When he got down to the heart of the matter, the dressings over Courtenay’s ruined eyes, he found that the cloth had stuck a bit to the flesh. He tugged at it gently.

Courtenay pulled his full lower lip between his teeth, bit down. A shiver went through Thomas at the sight, and he had to stop his hands for a moment, lest he pull too hard.

“There now, sir,” he said. “It’ll be done in a moment.”

Courtenay nodded. A flush sprung up at the base of his throat, as if he were embarrassed to be caught succumbing to the pain. Or as if he knew how Thomas was looking at him.

Thomas ran a finger around his own collar, which suddenly felt too tight. He cleared his throat. “Not so bad today,” he said, pleased to hear his voice stay level.

There wasn’t much they could do for gas burns, except keep them clean and try to stave off infection. In Courtenay’s case, though, that seemed to be working. The blisters along his cheek were drying up, were becoming a mere spider web of scars, and he’d escaped much involvement in his lungs.

His eyes—and Thomas tried very hard not to think of what those eyes must once have been—were still red and enflamed, oozing some kind of discharge at the corners. Thomas winced a bit in sympathy, glad Courtenay couldn’t see his face.

“Let’s get you cleaned up, then, shall we?” he said.

He dipped a cloth in the basin he had brought and began to lave away the day’s residue of sweat and grime. Courtenay made a sound between a sigh and a hiss as the water hit his skin.

“Not too cold, is it, sir?”

Courtenay shook his head, arranged his face into a stoic mask.

Thomas twisted another cloth into a point and began trying to dislodge the crust of pus or snot or tears that clung to Courtenay’s lids and lashes. It was delicate, painstaking work, and couldn’t have been comfortable. Thomas had to lean in so close he could feel the ragged stutter of Courtenay’s breath against his own cheek. At one point a bony hand gripped his knee tightly for an instant, and then withdrew.

“I don’t want to hurt you, sir.”

“You’re not. You’re a neater hand at this than most of the nurses, to tell the truth.” Courtenay said, voice determinedly cheerful. “I’m just sorry anybody has to deal with this wretched mess.”

“Don’t say that, sir. It’s nothing to what I saw in France. And besides—“


And besides, Thomas wanted to say, you’re still beautiful. You’ve got a face that could stop a person dead in their tracks. Everybody’s got their scars these days, so if you think yours make any difference, you’re a bloody fool.

But he couldn’t say that.

“And besides, you’re getting better every day.”

Courtenay snorted. “Now I know you’re lying.”

Thomas bathed his face again and patted it dry. A stray drop of something—water, or a tear—evaded his cloth, and without thinking he reached out his left hand to brush it away.

Courtenay furrowed his brow at the touch. “Thomas,” he said, “Are you wearing gloves?”

“Only on the one hand, sir. Because of the injury. People don’t like to see it.”

Courtenay blanched, and Thomas could have sawn his own tongue out. Of all the stupid things to say.

Courtney recovered first. “I didn’t know you’d been injured,” he said.

“’Course I was, sir. Why else would I be here and not at the front?”

“Yes, of course, silly me.”

They fell silent again. Thomas busied himself readying the fresh dressings.

“Thomas—“ Courtenay sounded tentative, awkward. “Would you--. I mean, could you take off your glove? I’d like to--. That is, I can’t see, and I’d like to—“ he trailed off.

It was garbled, but Thomas thought he knew what he meant. What’s more, he found he didn’t mind. The crowded ward buzzed and clattered around them, and he wondered briefly if the nurses would think such a thing improper. Not that he cared—let them think what they liked.

He undid the buttons on the black leather glove, slipped it off, and laid his left hand on Courtney’s right.

Courtenay kept his head down, but his face took on an intent seriousness as he began to explore Thomas’s hand with his fingers. For the first time, Thomas could picture the Oxford student he had once been.

Thomas forced himself to relax. It was strange to be handled in this way by a gentleman. No urgency, no rough, shamefaced desire, just curiosity, concern.

They were strong fingers—bred to hold a hunting rifle, the reins of a spirited horse, a salmon rod—but soft still, uncallused, for all Courtenay’s time in France. Thomas tried hard for a moment to hate them—to hate them for not bearing the scars of wayward kitchen knives and darning needles, the marks of long-ago spatters of hot grease, the swollen knuckles left over from boyhood fights. But he couldn’t. Even if he hadn’t wanted Courtenay so desperately, he didn’t think he could hate anyone who touched him with such tenderness.

He steeled himself as Courtenay traced over the healed bullet hole. Everyone knew what such wounds meant, and it had taken all of Thomas’s wits to invent a story for the Review Board. He waited now for the inevitable condemnation.

It didn’t come. Instead, Courtenay bent his head so closely over Thomas’s hand that for a wild minute Thomas thought he meant to continue his investigation with his mouth. But all he did was cradle the hand between his palms, and whisper, almost too low to be heard,

“So we are the same, then, we two.”

Thomas’s heart crashed against his ribs. His pulse hammered so hard he was sure Courtenay would be able to feel it leaping under the skin of his palm.

“The same, sir?” please he thought, please let me make you happy.

“Ruined, Thomas. Out of the fight for good.”

He felt just a little of it, then—the hate, the old fury. It gave him the strength to pull his hand away.

“You’re tired, sir.” Thomas schooled his voice to rectitude, subservience. He drew the black glove over his fingers, buttoned it. “I’ve kept you sitting up too long.”

And he did seem weary, or at least he sat passively while Thomas placed fresh dressings over his eyes. Thomas bound the dressings with fresh white strips of linen, passing them around Courtney’s head, careful to leave his ears free. Courtenay’s wide, intelligent forehead disappeared again, the bird’s wing curve of his cheekbones, the tangle of his lashes.

Bandages are just like any linen, Thomas told himself. The human form is just another parcel to be wrapped. The only art is in making things tidy and secure.

It didn’t work. Courtenay leaned into Thomas’s hands as he worked—too exhausted to support his own head, perhaps, or simply reluctant to let the encounter end. In either case, the brush of Courtney’s jaw against his wrists, the tickle of his wiry hair, dissolved Thomas’s anger like the sun on a stubborn fog. This is a living being, he thought—a soul, he would have said, if he’d been a praying man. A man my heart and body yearn towards.

As he tied off the end of the bandages, he couldn’t resist laying a hand on the top of Courtenay’s head, just for a moment, just long enough to feel the rise and fall of his breath.

“That’ll do you, sir,” he said, and began to collect his things.

“Thank you, Thomas.”

Without warning, Courtenay took his gloved hand. Then, so briefly Thomas was never sure afterward that he hadn’t imagined it, he pressed the scarred knuckles to his lips.

the end

  • Ah! What a sweet, sad story. I loved your Thomas perspective, and the parallels between serving in a household and being a medic.

    The tension in this story was palpable. I could almost feel Thomas holding his breath in places. Nicely done!
    • Thank you for the lovely feedback--I'm glad you enjoyed it! It was interesting trying to get inside Thomas's head--but I was glad the episode gave us a little chink in his wall of spite, even if it was sad--

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      (I love your icon--I need an icon of Edward's beautiful face!)
  • Oh wow, gorgeous.
    • aw, thanks--glad you enjoyed it--I was actually thinking thinking of you when I wrote this and our conversation last week about WWI medical kink. I am now re-reading (well actually listening to) Regeneration, since I'm on a tear :)

      thanks for teading!
  • mmmh, lovely, and great idea for you kink bingo!
    • aw, glad you enjoyed! I never really thought I'd write Downton!fic (unless it was about clothes), but then this was staring me in the face (as it were ;))

      thanks for reading!
  • Ha! I was wondering if this episode would spawn some slash. *g*

    I really liked this. You've captured not just Thomas's voice but also his state of mind. His feelings about Courtney, in terms of both his attraction to Courtney and the lasting effects of the war on both of them, are like a wound that he knows he shouldn't touch but he just can't help himself. Courtney's response at the end is such a very bittersweet might-have-been. Great little story.
    • IKR? It was such a glorious little snippet of a relationship, fandom just had to pounce on it. I wish they'd let it play out a little longer--both for the depth it gave Thomas, and for that actor's beautiful face--and not just be a plot point about how Downton has to let itself be turned into a convalescent home, but there you are.

      I'm glad you liked the fic--especially that you thought it captured Thomas's conflicted state of mind--the circumstances that might make him actually reach out to somebody (past the massive wall of his spite).

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
  • Aw, this is lovely. I love the sensual details.
    • Thank you--I'm so glad you enjoyed it and that the details worked for you!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
  • Beautiful - very real and poignant. The tending and bandaging really are quite sensual.
  • That is just so very lovely and touching, and very, very sensual! Heh, who would have thought that dressing and bandaging someone's wound could be sexy, eh? And you somehow made Thomas's meaness on the show understandable, and now I really do wish that we're going to have some canon Thomas/Courtenay!
    • Thank you for the lovely feedback! It was strange trying to get into Thomas's head--he's usually such a nasty character, but I was very glad this episode gave us a way in. I so with they'd let this plot line (and Lang's) pay out a little longer...

      Anyway, thanks for reading--I'm glad you enjoyed it!
  • This is lovely - I like the way Thomas is balanced between his longing for touch/affection and his longing for hate/distance. It's got a great sensuality to it, as well.
    • I'm glad you enjoyed it! I'm particularly glad the tension in Thomas came through--I was happy that episode let you see him making a connection with someone, and not just being the arch-villain at all times. I with they'd let Courtenay stick around longer.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • I adored this fic, it was beautiful. You are a fine writer.

    “So we are the same, then, we two.”

    Thomas’s heart crashed against his ribs. His pulse hammered so hard he was sure Courtenay would be able to feel it leaping under the skin of his palm.

    “The same, sir?” please he thought, please let me make you happy.

    This is my favourite part I think, it conveys so well that underneath all his big words and actions he really wants acceptance for who he is, or at least to not always be secretive about it. I felt that the relationship between these two had a lot potential, be it in a romantic or in a friendly way, and I was really disappointed when I saw they didn't go that direction. I feel it is a missed chance to develop Thomas' character, because for the first time did he open up emotionally (the scenes were of a very different character than the scene with the Duke in season one).

    This episode just ripped my heart apart but this has made me feel a little better, thank you :)
    • Thank you so much--I'm really glad you enjoyed it!

      I think you're right about Thomas--he's so prickly and aggressive and manipulative it's hard to imagine what he wants for himself except power--but that one storyline opened him up a little, and I also wish they'd let it play out, instead just ending it abruptly and sending Thomas back to his usual nefarious ways. Or, I wish they'd just do something with Thomas's sexuality.

      That episode ripped my heart out too--not just because of the sexual connection b/w them, but because of the way it dealt with the costs of the war. I'm glad the fic helped a little--thanks for reading!
  • oh this is so lovely. so much rich detail and thomas's pov feels just perfect.
    • Thanks so much--I'm glad you enjoyed it! I'm glad the POV worked--Thomas is such a fascinating character!

      thanks for reading and commenting!
  • So I was just browsing Kink Bingo and came across this, and oh, I really loved it. This was exactly what I wanted after seeing that episode, it's perfect and sad and sweet. It's a lovely look at Thomas, how he is so angry and bitter but he wants so much. Wonderful fic and such a great use of the kink.
    • Thank you so much--I'm glad you enjoyed it! I was very glad the episode let us into another side of Thomas, even if it was over too soon. Tickled you found it by way of kink_bingo too.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
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