Last chapter, which I think might surprise people but I've resolved what I left open in Still Waters and while there may in the future be more from this universe for the moment it's stopping here. Otherwise it could just go on forever.
I'll be back with something new soon though.
Charles finished his work swiftly that night, did not once stop to stare at the wall for a second, did not allow his mind to wander, knowing that Elsie was waiting for him. He locked up the house, grateful that the staff retired to their beds slightly earlier on the cold winter nights. Finally his tasks were completed and he made his way quickly up the multiple flights of stairs to the attic, his stomach in his throat as he pondered what welcome he'd receive. After all things between them were not as they'd once been.
The door let out a small creak as he pushed it open and slipped inside the dim room, trying to keep his footsteps light as he rounded the corner. Elsie was already there, her robe wrapped around her and an extra throw draped over her knees, she smiled up at him and patted at a space on the blanket next to her. "I wondered how long you'd be," she admitted.
"I finished as quickly as I could, I did not want to leave you waiting up here."
She gave a soft shrug. "I've not been waiting long, I had to wait until Rose fell asleep after all."
"And she wake up at all?" he enquired worriedly as he sat down, unsure of just how close he should sit next to her.
"No, Rose sleeps like the dead so we don't have to worry about that." Her hand rested over his. "You look tense," she told him. "Almost as though you think I'm going to march you to the guillotine...which I'm not," she added after a moment.
"No, of course not," he replied stiltedly. All the excitement he'd felt about their meeting tonight had drained from him, leaving him feeling unconfident and unsure. They'd agreed to talk and yet he could not seem to find the words to say. Her head tilted as she watched him, her hand resting over his.
"We did say we needed to talk," Elsie reminded him softly, seeing that he seemed to have been struck dumb.
"Yes." Charles cleared his throat, lifting his eyes so that they met hers. "We did."
When he didn't expand on that point, Elsie sighed and told him, "I'm not sure if we're going to work." Her eyes pulled away from his as she continued, "Not now, it's too complicated."
Her hand was still resting on his but he felt almost numb to her touch, she was going to slip away from him, if he didn't say something, convince her otherwise. Still though his tongue remained glued to the roof of his mouth and he simply watched the way she delivered her blows calmly and concisely.
"It will be easier this time though," Elsie continued, trying to make herself believe the words as she said them. "We can clear the air tonight and then...carry on."
"No," he finally got out, turning his hand so that he could clasp her hand in his grasp, he shook his head and repeated firmly, "No. I realised when you were unwell that I do not want us to spend any more time apart than we have to. We can make adjustments, make it work."
Elsie shook her head. "It's not like before, you're the Butler now, if we were caught-"
"We wouldn't be," he interrupted her. "We could leave service."
"And do what? I have little in the way of savings."
"I have some, perhaps not enough to start a shop but perhaps we could speak to his Lordship, he does own most of the village after all."
"That might have been realistic thought when you were valet but he will not be impressed when you announce you want to marry a lowly housemaid. The scandal will be immense, you must know that, we would have to leave Downton and we simply do not have the means to start from scratch somewhere else. I mean what kind of reference would we be given if we left together?" Elsie told him, fretting slightly now.
"We...we would find a way," Charles tried to reassure her, but his words were less sure now. He had left service once before and he could remember worrying how he would find the money for his rent every month, he did not want to subject Elsie to that, did not want to be the type of man who was unable to support his own wife, but neither could he just let her slip away from him.
"Could we?" Elsie met his gaze for a moment, she had lived through being a farmer's daughter, when your livelihood depended on the unpredictable nature of the land. She didn't want to return to that life, here she...they had certainty, out there they had nothing.
"It might be difficult for a while," he admitted. "But we would never regret it, I'm sure of that."
"Are you? You've worked so hard and done so well to get where you are and you are so close to the family that...well I'm worried that you would grow to resent me."
"I could never resent you," Charles tried to assure her, he cupped her chin, brushing his thumb across her cheekbone.
"Really? When we have to live in a cramped room and work all hours to bring home a pittance you won't look at me and wonder what possessed you to walk away from position, from a life of comfort.?" He hesitated with his reply and she concluded sadly, "Exactly."
She made to pull away and he stopped her, tugging gently at her hands. "I do not wish this to end, I am not good with words but what I feel for you...I cannot just let it go, not again."
"There is nothing to end, not this time," she whispered.
"Perhaps it's not quite what it was, but it's certainly not nothing."
Her eyes scanned his face, his earnest expression, the feel of his hands gripping hers. "No," her voice sounded hoarse to her own ears. "No it's not. You mean the world to me, Charles."
"Then we should not just let it slip away from us."
"I just don't think we should throw away everything we've worked for, not if we're not certain we would be able to survive."
"Then what do you suggest?"
"That we stay where we are. Be honest with yourself Charles, if I had not been unwell you would not have suggested this."
He bristled slightly at her words. "I suggested that we talk before you took ill," he pointed out.
"You did," Elsie acknowledged, "But would you have suggested such a drastic move?"
Charles clamped his lips tightly together, no he told himself, he would not have made such a bold proposal so quickly if the fear of having almost lost her were not driving him. "That does not make my words any less sincere," he finally replied.
She smiled at him softly. "No, perhaps not but we are not foolish teenagers, we should know better than to run away in the middle of the night."
"I never said anything about the middle of the night," he rebuked, teasing her lightly. He tugged her slightly closer to him. "But since you are so against the idea what do you suggest we do?"
"We wait, there is no harm in picking up our courtship from where we last left it. In time if we wish it we might have saved enough to leave service together, without a cloud of disgrace and poverty hanging over us."
"I'm not sure if I'll be able to ensure your virtue for that length of time," he admitted candidly.
Elsie smiled, her fingers toying with the top button of his waistcoat as she replied coyly, "We do not have to wait."
He took in a deep shuddering breath in an attempt to steel himself. "You know that I do not wish to ruin you."
"You would not be ruining me," she replied as her fingers deftly undid the rest of his buttons, pushing the waistcoat off his broad shoulders.
"We have made no promises to one another," he pointed out, his fingers twitching against her hips as he fought not to let his hands drift to the bottom of her nightgown, to drag it up her ankles and calves, bare her to his view.
"I do not need to stand in a church or wear a ring to know that you will always stand by me." She reached down and took his hand in hers once again. "Charles, I know the future I talk of is not certain, I do not know where we shall be in ten years but I know that baring some catastrophe I shall be by your side. Whether that be here, in a shop we run together or living in disgrace together. Although," she admitted, "I would prefer it not to be the latter."
"As would I," he told her with a chuckle. "Elsie, I promise you that I will not make the same mistake as before, you need only name a day and I would happily make an honest woman of you."
Her smile brightened her eyes, her pale cheeks flushing with pleasure at his words. She knew that he found it difficult to voice his feelings but the fact that he'd overcome that this once to tell her what he felt made her realise that he would bend over backwards to see to her comfort. "Then there shall be no more concerns about my virtue then?"
"I believe I shall always be concerned about your virtue," he confided, his fingers dragging her nightgown up to her thighs, unsure exactly when she lost her robe but acutely aware that it was gone now.
"Well it is yours to be concerned with," she teased as she stripped him of his shirt and vest, kissing his neck softly, sucking gently at his pulse point.
He gave a groan as his fingertips grazed the soft, welcoming skin of her thighs. "I do not want to push you into anything if you are not fully recovered," he forced out as he made himself stop pulling the gown off her completely.
"I am perfectly well, Charles, I won't break." She laid back, reaching out for him.
He could do nothing else but give in to her, she was too much of a temptation, her dark hair strewn over her shoulders, her night gown rucked up to mid-thigh. Covering her with his body he stroked his fingers across her face once more before lowering his mouth to hers. For months he had dreamt of kissing her, of tasting her once again. It was as though they'd never been apart and yet it was as exciting as the very first time. His lips brushed against hers, the contact slight and fleeting at first and it was Elsie who deepened the kiss, her hands pulling him closer as the passion between them grew fiercer.
She wrapped her legs around his waist, her skirt bunching up around the top of her thighs. His lips were warm and firm and she could taste the lingering remains of the wine. Breaking the kiss she murmured against his mouth, "Have you been raiding the wine cellar, Mr Carson?"
"I may have had a sip for dutch courage," he admitted to her, his fingers trailing down her neck and along her collarbone, feeling her press upwards into his touch.
"Just so you could face me? I'm not sure if I should be flattered or insulted," she teased.
"Most definitely flattered," Charles assured her as he felt her nimble fingers dispense with his belt, pushing his trousers and undershorts down until he was able to kick them from around his ankles.
He could no longer stand it, and he pulled her plain, chaste gown from her, his hands ghosting over the curves of her hips, sweeping round to her stomach and moving upwards, cupping her breasts, kissing the soft, full flesh before pulling the nipple into his mouth, teasing her with his tongue as his fingers mimicked the movements on its twin. Elsie's fingers curled into his hair as she let out a soft moan of approval.
His thumb circled the thin skin of her hipbone as he switched sides, savouring the taste of her skin, feeling her start to grow warmer under his touch. He lifted his head, looking at the flush that had spread across her chest.
Elsie coaxed him up to her again, kissing him deeply as she told him, "I have missed you, Charles. I have missed this." She smoothed her hands over his strong, broad shoulders as she added, "Do not stop tonight, please do not stop."
He could deny her nothing, but he did not want her to regret anything that might happen and so he asked her quietly, "Are you sure?"
"I have never been more certain of anything. We've made our promises after all."
He smiled down at her. "We have, but I we will not rush this. I want to be sure of your enjoyment."
She arched her eyebrow. "So long as you realise that we do not have all night."
Charles chuckled as he lifted off her slightly, his hands cupping her ankle, pressing a kiss to it as he replied, "I did hope to have you begging for me not to stop, regardless of what time it is."
She squirmed at his words and as his lips trailed up from her calf to her inner thigh. Her breath caught as his tongue flickered against her now hypersensitive skin and the thought of him moving that tiny bit higher, of the pleasure she knew it would bring her, but instead he switched legs, starting the process again.
By the time he reached the top of her thighs again she was desperate, she felt his breath against her and moaned. Firm hands shifted her legs, pushing them apart as he settled between them, and then his mouth was on her and she cried out as he expertly toyed with her, his tongue hot and insistent against her. Her body writhed on the throw, a thin sheen of sweat now covering her body as one hand tangled into the material next to her, the other pressed against his head encouraging him.
His hands slid up her stomach and he covered her breasts with them, continuing to tease them as his mouth continued to move against her.
Elsie felt her muscles start to twitch and her breath caught and she became acutely aware that she did want to beg him not to stop. Then his tongue hit her from a slightly different angle and she was gasping, as the pleasure starting to build to a fever pitch, her neck arching, fingers gripping the sheets beneath her until her knuckles were turning white. She was too hot, her skin burning, her stomach tightening. She inhaled sharply, the sound a tortured moan of pleasure as she felt her muscles begin to tighten, she was almost over the edge when he stopped. "No," she moaned unthinkingly. "Charles, please."
He laughed against the flesh of her thigh, kissing there instead. "Not yet," he told her deeply. He moved up her body, kissing his way up, as his fingers continued to circle against the top of her thighs. He kissed her nipples once more, nipped at her neck before pulling her bottom lip into his mouth.
He kissed her deeply as his fingers slid against her wetness, pushing one and then two fingers into her, pressing upwards, rubbing against her, scissoring them slightly in an effort to make the next part easier on her. His thumb nudging against that sensitive numb, teasing around it, pressing against it and then edging away, forever keeping her close to the edge.
Elsie's fingers pressed into his back as she moaned into his mouth, she could not take much more. She could barely breath for desperation, he had to end this, much more and she would go mad, every time she was about to experience that last rush of pleasure he would stop, wait a few moments and then start again. She pressed her mouth to his ear. "Please Charles, I cannot-" He crooked his fingers again and she could not hold back moan. Her hips moved with his hand and as she felt herself come close once again she reached down, wrapping her fingers around his wrist, hoping that she could stop him from pulling away. Her grip tightened as she hurtled towards the edge once more, her back arching upwards and yet still he stopped, his hand easily pulling free of her grasp. "No!" She protested, wrapping her arms and legs around him, pressing her breasts into his chest, moaning as he slid against her, the blunt head of him pressing against her. Fevered for him and almost dizzy with want she arched her hips upwards. "Please," she urged him again.
He couldn't take anymore, he throbbed and ached from listening to her breathy cries and pleas, from the way she writhed under him. He couldn't wait, his fingers speared into her hair, his mouth on hers as he pressed forward, fully sheathed in her, smothering his groan in her hair.
She winced as her muscles stretched in a way entirely unfamiliar to her. It was uncomfortable more than painful, but she was unsure as to why everyone made such a fuss about this. Charles lifted his head, asking "Do you want me to stop?"
"No," she told him, managing a slightly unsteady smile. "It's fine."
His mouth quirked at that as he murmured, "Just fine, well we'll have to do something about that."
She was so warm and tight around him it had taken all his self control to stay still, to give her time to adjust. He rocked his hips experimentally, not wanting to hurt her and heard her gasp against his ear. "Better?"
"Yes," she admitted, her hips moving with him. He stretched her, and when he moved it had rubbed against her in a way that was unlike anything else she'd ever felt. He moved again, his strokes longer and deeper this time and she wrapped her legs tighter around his waist as she fought to move her hips in rhythm with his.
She felt his muscles slide underneath his skin as they rocked together. His fingers slid between them, rubbing against her as his thrusts became shorter and more hurried until he was pounding into her, his breathing harsh. Her head rolled to one side as her stomach tightened, and she clung to him, the pleasure, deeper, more intense than it had been before.
Her muscles fluttered around him and he gritted his teeth as he fought to keep his control just a little longer. Finally her body clenched around him, spasming and pulling at his flesh as she cried out against his shoulder, her movements frantic. As she sagged back onto the throw, he pulled himself free, spilling himself outside of her, his head buried in her hair as he let out a low groan of pleasure.
Elsie wound herself around him, letting him draw the throw over them, her fingers tracing patterns over the strong wall of his chest. His eyes met hers and he asked her hoarsely, "Did you mean what you said? About us."
She smiled as she assured him, "Charles, no matter where we end up I'll be by your side."
He held her close, kissing her forehead. "Good," he murmured. "Good."
She did stay by his side and he by hers. They never did leave service, he enjoyed his work and she felt safer for the security they had. Occasionally she would mourn what they'd never had but then she'd tell herself it obviously wasn't meant to be. And of course they had had there ups and downs, their heartaches and difficulties but they had never let it break them.
In the end it might not have been a romance that would write novels, they were both too level headed for that. The world was a cruel, harsh place and they would have been fools to spurn good careers to live in poverty for the sake of a wedding ring, although she knew that even years later Charles was plagued by the idea that should the truth ever come out she would be spurned. She was not as worried, they could simply retire now, marry and live out their days in peace together.
Until they day they left Downton hand in hand though, she was content with her lot in life. She loved and was loved in return and as she met Charles' small smile at breakfast as he passed her her morning cup of tea she knew she would not change any of her life.