A/N : I managed to cut my thumb while cooking on Wednesday, and had to get it stitched up… Yowza! I've got a new admiration for Niles' ability to cook while being distracted by every teensy weensy thing happening at the Mansion. Anyway, I had wanted to write this chapter on Wednesday, but I could not focus.

Here it is, fresh from my notebook :)

Chapter 1: A busy hive

"There is nothing I hate more in this job than this huzzing1 and buzzing of busy bees at such an ungodly hour" thought Niles Brightmore, while he was combing the brilliantine in his dark blond hair. Not that the job itself came without its rewards, of course.

Being valet to one of England's most prominent theatre producers had to have its advantages. He lived in a big house. He had a steady income. He had food on the table, clean clothes, and a warm bed. He could follow Lord Maxwell on his journeys to London, even out of the Season, which enabled him to visit his parents and have some free time in the capital. He had access to a large library, with books stimulating enough for his brain – his job might have been rewarding, but intellectually stimulating?

Being finished with his hair, shook himself out of his reverie. His work was not going to do itself and, on days like these, Mr Carter and the boys would need all the help that they could get.

The staff had all been busy for the las few days. Lady Sara – Lord Maxwell's wife – had organised a large party in honour of the first birthday of their youngest daughter, Lady Grace. Of course, the entire extended Sheffield family was invited, as well as their friends. Quite a lot of people to accommodate. And although they would all bring their own maid or gentleman in waiting, all the staff at Sheffield Manor had double the work for the day. Scullery maid to cook, hall boy to butler, maid to housekeeper.

Niles, as it were, had always loved a bit of action in the house so it was not that he disliked it, he reflected as he made his way to Lord Sheffield's dressing room, but the whole affair was rather tiring for everyone. Thank God, it was late summer! At least, the weather was nice enough that most of the guests could be expected to find their own amusement outside! If Lady Grace had been born in December… He shuddered at the thought.

When he had finished lighting his master's fire, polishing his boots, and reorganised his dressing rooms, he morosely walked down the servant's stairs to go get his breakfast. Lord Maxwell had taken his bath yesterday. At least that saved him the trouble. Unless he took one of his Godforsaken morning walks, and had both to change and get a bath before he met the first guests to arrive. He checked his watch, given to him by Max- Lord Maxwell when he had made him his valet. He could still recall Mr Carter, the butler, whose eyebrows had shot up at one of Lord Sheffield's less than enthusiastic comments. Apparently, he had expected Niles to follow in his father's footsteps and become a butler, like his father, Mr Brightmore Senior, who managed the London house…

Hen reflective and morose mood followed him well into his breakfast, where even Mrs Jones's cooking could not break. The two heads of staff were seated at their customary places: on each end of the table. They never spoke at mealtime, but they never stopped communicating with their eyes. And yet, they were not even aware of the depth of their connection. It made Niles envious. Not the unrequited/unaware part, of course, but the connection part. There was no one here that he could really connect to. All he had were the flirty smiles of the more "outgoing" maids, and the girlish giggles of shy, blushing scullery maids who thought his blue eyes were "two lakes you could drown yourself into" or "as clear as a summer sky". He had read better trite in his mother's mawkish French romans de gare!

The atmosphere today, was bubbly, and he could not care less. All he saw was the added workload. It was strange for him who had always been happy to meet new people. Maybe he needed a rest.

When his bell rang, Niles was almost relieved to leave the table. His breakfast had left his stomach feeling like lead; he had prayed for a quick getaway.

"Goodmorning, M'lord, M'lady." He said as he entered their bedroom.

"Ah, hello, Niles"

"Goodmorning, Mr Brightmore" said Lady Sara, who could never bring herself to call him by his first name.

"And how are you on this fine morning, my dear fellow? Are the preparations for our little affaire running smoothly?"

Little affaire?! The nerve of that man! There might be only close friends and the family, but the guests were piling high!

"Very well, M'lord, very well" he replied with all the affability he could muster "Mr Carter and Mrs Logan do have things well in hand"

"You see, darling, everything will be perfect! Didn't I tell you not to worry?"

"One cannot help but worry, dear" replied Lady Sara "even with such captains as Mr Carter and Mrs Logan at the helm."

"You worry too much, darling" the Lord replied, chuckling.

"I just want everything to be perfect for our Gracie, that's all" she said sheepish. "By the way, with all our guests arriving around noon, you'll need your strength. You should get dressed and take your breakfast, darling"

"Speaking of which, will we finally be seeing that friend of yours from the States?"

"Yes, dear, Ceec has finally managed to get away from New York" she answered amused.

"Well, it's about damn time! For someone who claims to be such a good friend of yours in her letters, she has not been overly present in our lives. In fact, she has not been present at all. Not even for our wedding!"

"I told you already, Max, her grandmother Egeria Lennox had passed just before. Her place was with her family. She did send us that lovely wedding present, did she not? And she is very busy with her work. You should know, the two of you work in the same business!"

So the elusive Miss Babcock was coming this time. Niles tucked this piece of information for later use as he followed Lord Maxwell, who was muttering under his breath about the impropriety of well-bred women working in the theatre, in his dressing room.

"I laid out the blue one for you today, M'lord"

"Oh, well,…"

"Would you have preferred another one, M'lord?"

"Well, I had thought about taking a walk this breakfast, before the guests arrive. I thought my green tweed would be better."

So the bath and the change of clothes! My my… such a busy bee he would be today!

"Oh, but why change, M'lord? You could just as easily take your walk in the blue one, and…"

"You just do not wish to draw my bath or help me change later, do you, old chap? You forget, I know all your tricks!" Replied the lord with a chuckle.

"As you wish, M'lord, although I must warn you that the green one makes you look, well, rather tubby…"

Maxwell only shook his head, smiling, and Niles almost rolled his eyes. He hoped that they would soon be finished. There was much to do still before the guests arrive. And he would be expected to wait at table.

1 I know that word does not exist :)