This is my response to the latest chelsie-anon prompt on tumblr :)
I remember you
Chelsie-anon prompt on tumblr
His eyes sought the comfort of her face as the last verse of the poem rumbled from his chest. Even as she dabbed at teary eyes, he thought her the most beautiful creature. He knew she cried over young William on this day of remembrance and he would have liked nothing more than to gather her in his arms to comfort her. The sun dappled through the trees, setting off red and silver sparks in the hair peeking from under her hat. A tilt of her head brought his gaze to rest on hers.
To his surprise a small, weary smile now tugged at the corners of her mouth. She nodded almost imperceptibly, acknowledging that she probably knew why he was observing her so intensely. She knew the grief they shared, knew that he felt the same albeit it did not show on his face in the form of tears. For a moment they simply looked at the other, lost in their own memories, remembering the young man and his eagerness to better himself, his wonderful way of playing the piano, of being able to cheer others up although he often felt homesick and alone.
Then his Lordship addressed the gathered crowd of villagers, soldiers, his family and servants. Charles did only listen half-heartedly to the speech, while his thoughts still lingered with the woman in front of him amidst the crowd, sitting behind Mr Branson and young Miss Sybbie. Her expression had not changed; fresh tears were glistening in the setting sun. Perhaps it had been wrong to offer to read the poem at this ceremony. He should have been in the audience, standing behind her, a steadying hand on her shoulder – one that she had offered him a year ago at the beach.
He sighed and closed his eyes for a second to let his mind travel back to that very day. A moment of peacefulness and happiness. If he could only retrieve these feelings now and share them with her. When he opened his eyes again, their eye contact was gone, she had turned her head, looked at her lap. Lord Grantham had come to the end of his speech:
"Now at last I have something very important to say and show to our dear Mrs Patmore."
All heads turned and people curiously stared at the cook. Charles on the other hand searched for her face in the crowd, that now slowly began to disperse. She had wrapped one arm protectively around Mrs Patmore's shoulder, offering her strength and support, much as he would have gladly given to her earlier and especially now.
The two women walked past him, followed by Lord Grantham, towards the already unveiled war memorial. An additional plaque had been mounted near the wall of the churchyard, bearing the name of a nephew lost so tragically at the front all those years ago – Archie Philpotts, 19 years young, deserter, shot for cowardice, in a war that saw many brave men crack underneath the cruelty and horrors of modern warfare. In his eyes, Archie had been a brave man because he had realized that all his fighting had been for naught. Once she noticed the inscription, Mrs Patmore burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably, her body shaking so violently that she was almost on her knees and Mrs Hughes no longer capable of supporting her friend. Charles was at their side in a few quick strides, embracing the cook, holding her upright, offering a shoulder to cry on.
Around them, the crowd paid little attention. Most of the villagers were lost in their own thoughts, remembering those they had lost. Charles was thankful for that.
How long they stood there he did not know and it did not matter. After a while Mrs Patmore stopped crying and Charles carefully let go of her, made sure she was able to stand on her own two feet again. "We will never forget him and his bravery," he said softly.
"Thank you Mr Carson." A thankful smile crossed the cook's face.
Lord Grantham appeared behind them, taking Mrs Patmore's hand. "We will always remember him and the others we have lost. No matter how we lost them, they've given their lives for king and country."
Charles stepped aside. "I hope he can see this now from wherever he is," he added.
Mrs Patmore's smile widened and although her face was red and tear-stained, Charles knew that the current sadness would soon be overcome and replaced by a feeling of pride. People would remember her Archie as a brave soldier not as a coward. But the cook was not the only one looking at him now. Mrs Hughes had stayed in the background, observing the scene once Charles had taken over. And for the third time today their eyes met in a silent understanding. She whispered a thank you before Lord Grantham led Mrs Patmore away to sit down on one of the church pews still standing on the town square, left behind from the ceremony.
Aside from a few passers-by on their way back to their homes, they were finally alone now, standing only a few steps apart from each other. He was still lost in her eyes, wished he could take away the sadness that still prevailed in them but he could not embrace her here, or take her hand. People might interpret everything he wanted to do in this very moment in a wrong way. Then, without warning, she closed the distance between them, and placed her hand on his chest, atop of his heart, something Charles would have considered to be a very risqué move. His instincts told him to take a step backwards and break the contact. But somehow he was unable to react.
"Thank you for being there." Her hand moved downwards in search of his, took it and held it fast.
His voice sounded small when he answered. "I would have been earlier, I'm sorry I couldn't."
It brought a sincere smile to her face. "But you were. In here." Her left hand pointed at his heart while the other grasped his hand even firmer as if she was trying to steady herself.
Charles was unsure what to reply. He could only smile back at her and enjoy the feel of her gloved hand in his own.
"Mrs Patmore is in good hands now. Would you mind walking back to Downton with me?" she suggested after a moment of silence.
"Of course Mrs Hughes, it would be a pleasure.
Throughout their walk back he never let go of her hand. It felt like the most natural thing to do. And although he was much taller than the housekeeper, Charles had no problem adjusting to her much slower pace. It was different from their walks to church service on Sunday or when they patrolled the corridors at the Abbey together. Someone was always watching them during these activities. Today the road was empty aside from a few horse drawn carriages on their way into the village. But no one took notice of the couple.
From time to time their sides touched. Whenever that happened, she turned her head, and looked up at him, an amused smile on her face, and although he knew he should not allow it, Charles felt carefree and relaxed. All of this felt like the right thing to do, like a start of something new, a change he would never counteract.
This is the first thing I've written in months. As you might have noticed, there hasn't been any updates to "What remains of the Past" for a long time. I will finish that fic one day - promised - but for now, I stay away from writing because it takes too much of my time. Thanks for reading and reviewing 3