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the island of conclusions

Respite (Downton Abbey/Regeneration crossover)

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Respite (Downton Abbey/Regeneration crossover)

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Downton Thomas
Believe it or not, I have a bunch of fluffy, even romantic, fic for various fandoms in my head. But apparently before I could get to that I had to write a little hate sex. And work out some of my feelings about the fastidiousness with which Downton Abbey has been treating WWI and 1917 in general.

Title: Respite
Rating: NC-17
Fandoms: Downton Abbey, Regeneration Trilogy
Pairing: Thomas Barrow/Billy Prior
Spoilers: for Downton Abbey S2, set before Regeneration, but with canonical characterization.
Warnings: painplay (RACK)
Word Count: ~2.8K
Disclaimer: This is a work of transformative fiction. These characters are not mine and no profit is being made from this work.

a/n: for taurenova's request at the Fall Fandom Free-For-All. I think it might be a little bleaker than what you had in mind, bb--and I apologize in advance.

Summary: Thomas Barrow saw Billy Prior twice. Once in a casualty clearing station in France. Once on an English train heading north.

Thomas first saw the man in a casualty clearing station.

They had spent all morning bringing men in off the line, wrestling their mangled bodies into beds in the over-crowded tent. Not that the bodies in the beds were in any better shape, groaning, coughing, thrashing restlessly, each preoccupied with its own distress. Except for one: a thin, fair-haired man, sitting up in bed, tracking the incoming wounded with sharp eyes. Nothing special about the face, only its keen alertness was surprising. That and the fact that there wasn’t a mark on him.

One of those, Thomas thought, the loonies, the ones who crack. He made sure to pause at the end of the man’s bed as he left the ward, to read the card tied to it with the insolent slowness that was one of the few perks of being a stretcher bearer. He could feel the man’s gaze on his neck, so cold it almost burned, but he didn’t let it stop him from taking his time. Second Lieutenant W. Prior, the card read, Shell Shock.

He turned the card over with exaggerated contempt. Nice work if you can get it, he thought. A one-way ticket home.

Their work done, the stretcher bearers shuffled into the canteen for a fag and a cup of tea before heading out again. Thomas was surprised to find Prior just ahead of him in line.

“Shouldn’t you be in bed, sir?” he asked, tapping him on the shoulder and drawing the last word, because now that he saw him standing up, there was something about Lt. Prior that belied the officer’s stripe on the shoulder of his tunic, though Thomas couldn’t have said exactly what it was. Perhaps just the slightness of his physique, the lack of the plush layers of flesh you saw on the true members of the officer class, the muscle even weeks in the trenches couldn’t take off them. Prior was skinny. Thomas thought you could count his ribs through his tunic if you tried. But it was more than that. There was an aggression in his stance that Thomas decided was probably a kind of defensiveness, a determination to get them before they get you. He knew that stance.

Prior shrugged off his question, but Thomas persisted. “What’s the matter, sir, cat got your tongue?”

Prior narrowed his eyes, a flash of real malice in them, and dug a hand into his pocket. He produced a card with block letters scrawled across it: I CAN’T SPEAK.

Thomas dropped his eyes. So that was it. Well of course they’d have to send him home. Couldn’t very well command men if you couldn’t shout orders, could you? Poor bugger. Prior looked like he missed his voice—as if he’d like nothing better than the ability to give Thomas a tongue-lashing right now. Thomas could tell he’d make a good job of it, too, given half a chance. There was intelligence in those pale eyes, as well as anger.

He wondered what had happened to reduce a man like that to silence. But of course there was no saying. He’d taken men off the line struck deaf, dumb and blind for no reason at all, men who’d twisted themselves into pretzels and couldn’t untwist, the strong as well as the weak, the tested as well as the untried. There was no saying why it happened to some and not to others, not by any rulebook Thomas knew.

The cups and trays on the tea table rattled. They were close enough to the line here to feel the vibrations of the shells. Thomas gritted his teeth against a surge of pure terror. Inhuman, that’s what this place was, he thought, inhuman.

By the time he looked up again, Prior had gotten his tea and disappeared into the crowded room.


He saw Prior for the second time on a train heading north.

It wasn’t a troop train, though it might as well have been--not a civilian in sight. Scared off, Thomas supposed. A hospital car was attached to one end, for men too ill to sit up, but everyone else was packed into seven crowded cars: the ones looking forward to a few days of leave spent fucking and drinking; the ones on permanent home service, bum legs or empty sleeves held out like badges (Thomas among them, though he tended to keep his gloved hand hidden in his great coat); and the ones on another kind of leave altogether, twitching, stammering, practically scuttling under their seats every time the train hit a rough piece of track. Though, to tell the truth, they all ducked when that happened, almost to a man.

There was nowhere to sit, and Thomas finally grabbed the rim of a luggage rack with his good hand, resigned to standing all the way to Ripon. He was tired from the journey, and the people around him seemed a blur of wet wool and tobacco and the miserable hint of hospital soap, of beery voices and shrill laughs. Gradually, though, he became aware of one pair of eyes that didn’t leave him, set into a pale hard face, seated a few rows ahead. Prior. The name came to him effortlessly, though why that face should have stuck in his mind out of the endless stream of wounded he didn’t know.

They were separated by too many swaying, chattering bodies to greet each other—if, indeed, Prior could speak these days—but it was clear to Thomas that Prior remembered him too. Thomas watched a succession of expressions play across his face: recognition; then a flash of something hotter, almost hunger; then that instantly hidden under a cool assessment. Prior was trying to figure out which category of homebound soldier Thomas belonged to.

Indulging a queer impulse towards brinkmanship, Thomas withdrew his injured hand from the pocket of his greatcoat and splayed it against his chest. Prior’s mouth opened for a moment, then closed. A visible shudder of hatred ran through him, and he dropped his eyes. Satisfied with his own bravado, Thomas smiled: he was going home, what did it matter what some two-bit officer thought of his methods of getting there?

A short time later, the train ground to a halt in a nameless station—no amenities, but a chance for everyone to stretch their legs and grab a smoke in open air.

Aside from an advertisement for the local ale, the station was almost bare, no distinguishing marks of Englishness at all. The countryside around it was sere and deserted under a low gray sky. They could have been anywhere. Thomas fought down the hallucinatory sense that they had never left France.

Around him, men milled aimlessly, some weaving, singing, arms around each others’ shoulders, already drunk, others pulling themselves along as best they could with canes and crutches. Faint wisps of smoke curled from every mouth. Worse than France, Thomas thought. It could be purgatory. Flocks of lost souls right out of a Sunday sermon.

Christ, Barrow, they’ll be putting you in the mental hospital next, he told himself. Grinding his cigarette savagely under his heel, he set off towards the end of the platform. Once there he hopped off and followed the brick line of the station building until the hum of masculine voices faded. He leaned against the wall and lit another cigarette, the cold, damp air of the day pleasant on his face.

Barely two drags in, though, steps sounded on the gravel behind him. Bloody hell. But it wasn’t the conductor rounding up strays. It was Prior.

Looking at the set of his shoulders, Thomas couldn’t decide if he’d wandered over by chance, or come on purpose to give Thomas the beating of his life. He had no doubt Prior could do it. Thomas had two or three inches on him and a good two stone, but that wouldn’t matter. Prior knew his way around a fight, every line of his body shouted that. Would fight to win, too—no Marquis of Queensbury rules for him. Thomas could almost feel Prior’s fists thudding into his jaw, his ribs, his kidneys. A shiver of need started just under his sternum and traveled straight to his groin. He readied himself for the blows.

They didn’t come. Instead Prior gestured at him mildly and mimed bumming a cigarette.

“Voice still bunged up?” Thomas asked.

Prior shrugged, as if now he’d decided there was nothing that needed talking about anyway.

Thomas smiled, and dug the packet out of his pocket. He tapped one out and gave it to Prior. Taking a calculated risk, he didn’t follow with the matches. Instead, he lit one himself, cupping a hand around it, close to his chest. He was right. With an altogether different sort of assessment in his eyes, Prior put the cigarette between his lips, leaned in low enough that Thomas could see the slight curl of his hair, and sucked the flame into the tobacco. The tiny flare as it caught threw his cheekbones into relief, the fan of his sandy eyelashes. Thomas’s pulse beat hard in his throat.

Then Prior pulled back coughing as the tobacco hit his lungs. Weak chest, too, Thomas thought, listening to the slight wheeze as Prior got his breath back. His Majesty’s finest. Good God.

But even that didn’t cut the electricity of the moment. Prior took a second drag, this one going down just fine, rocked back on his heels, hips canting out, and gave Thomas a look with too much challenge in it to be entirely decent.

Thomas returned it, tilting his head a little to expose his throat. Like a goddamn dog, he thought, signaling submission.

But it did the trick.

Prior dropped the cigarette, and without any more preamble than that, spun Thomas around, swept his coat aside and spreadeagled him against the brick, a knee between his legs and an elbow between his shoulder blades to pin him. It might almost have been the attack Thomas had half-hoped for, except that Prior’s free hand was burrowing under his tunic, fingers busy on the buttons of his trousers. A ragged breath to register the rush of blood to his cock, and Thomas batted the hand away, worked the openings himself.

Behind him, he heard the rustle of wool as Prior did the same, and then, with wave of sensation out of all proportion to the act, he felt Prior’s hand sliding over his bare arse, reaching around to give his hardening prick a tug, and then between his legs to cup his balls. Thomas bit his lip.

Yet against all expectations Prior proved scrupulous in his attentions. The hand withdrew--Thomas heard the muted pop of Prior sliding it in and out of his mouth--and then returned, pushing into his arsehole, opening him up with careful expertise.

No. No. That wasn’t what Thomas wanted at all. Not here where anyone could see them. Not with the train about to leave any minute. Not ever, if he were honest. He wriggled away from the fingers, and pitched his voice to taunt. “Is that all you’ve got, sir. What’s the matter? Your prick as dried up as your voice? The Boche get that too?”

There was a kind of snarl, like a dog trying to resist a poisoned bone, and then Prior gave in. He dragged Thomas’s hips back and down to compensate for the height difference and thrust into him so roughly Thomas almost went face-first into the brick wall. That’s more like it, Thomas thought, bracing himself and pushing back onto the hard length of Prior’s cock—that’s good.

Because Prior might have been brutal, but he wasn’t sloppy. He tilted Thomas’s hips with bruising fingers until he got the angle he wanted, the angle that let him slam in balls deep, to hit the spot that drew a moan through Thomas’s clenched teeth. They were flush together now, so close Thomas imagined he could feel the thump of Prior’s heart through the layers of clothing.

Prior quickened the rhythm, letting go of Thomas with one hand to steady himself on the wall, his fingers closing over Thomas’s gloved hand. It might almost have been by chance, though Thomas suspected Prior did very little by chance. And then, sure enough, Prior ground their joined hands into the brick in rhythm with his thrusts. Thomas grunted as dull pain snaked from his palm to his wrist to his elbow, and was barely surprised at all by the way the noise made Prior groan into his neck at, made his cock throb heavily inside Thomas.

You bastard, he thought; I should have known. He grunted again, with more design, turning it almost into a grown, and was rewarded with Prior’s muffled sob, the violent jerking of his hips. Between the pain, the aching sweetness of being filled, and the success of his stratagem, Thomas was stiff as a broom pole himself. He longed to reach down and touch, but he didn’t dare shift position.

And soon enough, Prior came, biting into Thomas’s shoulder stop his cries. With surprising courtesy, he reached around to bring Thomas off too—not that it took much, a few strips and he was done for.

They sagged against the station wall after, both gasping a bit, preoccupied with the business of tucking themselves away and buttoning up.

After a moment, though, Prior said “Got another?”

Thomas whipped his head around in surprise. Prior’s voice was ordinary, for all he’d never heard it before, albeit a bit husky with disuse.

“A fag, I mean—I don’t think we’ve got time for another round of that.” Prior managed to wiggle his eyebrows suggestively and smile self-deprecatingly at the same time.

“It speaks,” Thomas said.

He’d been right, Thomas thought, as he fished in the pocket of his great coat for the cigarettes. Prior was only what they called a “temporary gentleman”: the officer stripes gave him a status he’d never have come by otherwise. Under the surface gentility of his voice Thomas could hear flat, northern vowels. Manchester, he thought, or one of the less salubrious suburbs.

Prior shrugged. “Comes and goes.”

“And always a bit better after you’ve cleaned the pipes?”

Prior snorted. “Oo-ar.” He let his accent thicken. “Best way to loosen the blockages, that.”

They giggled like a pair of schoolboys, the fug of hostility between them dissolving. And indeed it was like one of those moments on the schoolyard: you could be thumping someone’s head against the pavement for all you were worth one minute, and then sitting companionably with him the next, cheerfully comparing injuries.

Thomas put two cigarettes in his mouth, lit them both, and passed one to Prior. They lounged against the wall, sated.

“How’d you lose it in the first place?” Thomas asked, emboldened by their fragile camaraderie.

“Left it behind in a railway carriage—had it nicked off me by some whore. How the fuck should I know? Don’t remember a bloody thing.”

Prior’s voice sounded oddly flat, almost as if he were talking about someone else. Thomas stole another look at him. He was even thinner than he’d been in the CCS, the fine bones of his face sharp as a cat’s. In the gray light of the afternoon the skin around his eyes looked bruised, as if he hadn’t slept for weeks. He was beautiful.

Thomas abandoned that line of questions. “Where’re you going now?” he asked instead.

Prior shrugged, took another drag of his cigarette. “Some loony bin in Scotland. I wish to fuck it was further south. It’ll be cold as a brass tit up there.” He pulled his great coat closer around him. “You?”

“Home service—village hospital in Yorkshire. The family I worked for before the war wangled me a post.”

Thomas kept his voice neutral. He still wasn’t sure if it was victory or defeat, to be going back to Downton.

But something about his words shut Prior down again. He might have been a different person altogether, the way the light suddenly snuffed out in his eyes. Frowning, he lifted Thomas’s gloved hand, held it palm up for a moment, fingers gently searching the leather for the scar. Finding it, he dug his thumb carefully, ruthlessly into the still-tender flesh, keeping Thomas’s hand in an iron grip as he tried to pull away. The dry-mouthed fear of raising his hand above the trench returned to Thomas with horrid clarity, the agony of the bullet’s rip through flesh.

“If you’d been in my command,” Prior said, his voice like a stream frozen over, “I’d have given you a real wound to take the Board along with this one. That is if I’d been able to stop myself from killing you first.”

He dropped the hand abruptly. Thomas swore, and cradled it throbbing against his chest. When he looked up, Prior was gone. When the train left the station, Prior had found a different seat.

the end

  • OH MAN, it's like these two were meant to be crossed-over. I love how Thomas here is his usual bastard self and somehow still a sympathetic character. And what he sees in Prior and the way Prior takes him--perfect.
    • lol, apparently the only Downton!fic I can write is Thomas's POV--not sure what that says about me (but I think it's because it's easier to write a character who has a little friction with his world).

      And I know, right? Once I saw that prompt at the Fandom Free-For-All it lodged in my brain til I had to re-read all the Pat Barker books! Glad you thought it worked--it's rare to be able to write fic about two canonically gay/bi characters!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting--this one was a little out there--
  • Wow. Awesome crossover choice and so in character for both.
    • Thank you! The idea came from the prompter at the fandom free-for-all, but once I saw it I couldn't get it out of my head! I'm glad it seemed in character! I think Prior is an absolutely fascinating character--it was scary to even attempt him, albeit from the outside.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
  • oh, *nice* one. Been a long time since I saw Regeneration, but loved the characterisation, and i love your thomas.
    • Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed the fic, and the Thomas voice--he's an interesting character to write, as unlikeable as he is!

      I've never seen the movie version of the books (and it looks like I'd have to buy a DVD if I want to see it now)--but I found them tremendously moving both when I first read them and on this recent re-read. Such a completely different perspective on the era than Downton Abbey--like looking through the other end of a telescope.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • I love this! Such an unexpected but completely brilliant collision of universes and characters. Now I want to re-read the Regeneration trilogy, of course.

    Have friended you, since we have Downton, The Eagle and Doctor Who in common. And I'm looking forward to catching up on your Eagle fics. :)
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it! The prompt for the pairing came from taurenova, but, yeah, once I saw it, I couldn't get the idea out of my head.

      And it spurred me to do a re-read of the Regeneration trilogy (a listen, actually--there're great audiobook versions of all three). And you know, it's even more compelling and devastating than I remember. Maybe just because I'm older, maybe because the world has seen so much more war since the early nineties. So yeah, definitely worth a re-read if you get a chance!

      Ah! Friending you back if we have all those things in common!
  • I loved the story, it was very good. So let me get this straight, is this Prior fellow an already existing fictional character or whatever?
    • I'm glad you enjoyed the fic--thanks for letting me know!

      Prior is one of the main characters in Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy--a trilogy of historical novels set during WWI. Prior is a fictional character, but many of the other characters in the novel are real people, like the poet Siegfried Sassoon and Dr. W.E. Rivers.

      I really recommend the novels, if you like the period and historical fiction--Prior is a far more interesting and complex character than I've been able to convey here.

      Thanks for reading!
  • This is fantastic!! I don't actually know Prior/Regeneration, but that didn't stop the fic working for me.

    I am pretty new to Downton fandom, but I've found myself really interested in reading/writing about Thomas's character. Plus, you know, I think Thomas needs all the love he can get, in whatever way he can get it!
    • Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed it! (and I heartily recommend the Pat Barker books if you're interested in that historical era).

      I'm fascinated by Thomas's character, too, and wish he would get some more action--of whatever kind!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
      • I think I will check out the Pat Barker books, I love strong historical fiction. Thanks very much for the tip!

        PS. Write more Thomas. ;)
  • This is brilliant

    Just wanted to say how well written this is, you have a real talent. They always say 'use all the senses in your writing' and you do. And its such a hot story, ouch! :)
    • Re: This is brilliant

      Aw, thank you so much! I do try to use all the senses, though some come more easily than others, so I'm glad that came through.

      Thanks for reading--I'm glad you enjoyed it!
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