Note: This is my first attempt at a Remains of the Day fanfic. As of yet, I am not entirely sure where it is leading, but it won't strictly follow canon. I decided to write it as if Miss Kenton were explaining the relationship to someone else, maybe in a letter or in conversation. Please let me know what you think.
It was a shock, I can tell you, the first time I realised I was attracted to him. If I'm honest, I was quite appalled initially. It seemed a very cruel joke indeed, that without volition I should be physically drawn to someone so….rigid. Someone who was so aloof and indifferent to my presence. What made me think I was attracted to him then, you ask? It's what I asked myself, many times. I should start at the beginning perhaps.
Mr Stevens and I had clashed from the beginning, well, no, clash isn't the right word. But from my very first day at Darlington Hall Mr Stevens had voiced concern as to my suitability due to what he referred to as my 'youth and inexperience'. Naturally, this irked me no end, which was perhaps his intention in part at least. Looking back I think there were occasions when Mr Stevens used this concern as an excuse to start a row, or at the very least rile me a little. I do believe he got a perverse pleasure sometimes from watching me lose my temper. I didn't always think so but Mr Stevens did, in his own way, have quite a dry sense of humour on those few occasions when he allowed it to emerge. I know life in service is not something you are familiar with so you may find this rather bizarre but, this friction with Mr Stevens was often the only break from what was often very monotonous work. Life in service follows a strict timetable, particularly at Darlington Hall as Mr Stevens is a very strict time keeper. Everything follows a schedule and everyone is always so very busy. There is little time for forming friendships or conversations regarding anything other than work. And although I like to think that I enjoyed a certain camaraderie with the other servants, being the housekeeper and thus of higher rank meant that there was a distance between the others and I. I'm not suggesting this distance wasn't necessary, I was after all in a position of some authority and thus being too familiar with those working under me could have made my job more difficult…goodness, I sound like him! Anyway, all I wanted to explain was that my interactions with Mr Stevens, fractious or otherwise, were at least never dull. Even on those occasions in my pantry at the end of the day when we sat with a cup of cocoa and he droned on about the silverware or some dusty alcove in a room no one ever used, even then, I didn't find it dull. Because, right until the very end, there was always a possibility that something would change and that possibility left my hearting beating faster whenever his gaze lingered longer than was necessary or when he'd get that look on his face as if he had something more he wanted to say before he bid me goodnight. That possibility, that hope, made some of those interactions some of the most thrilling of my life.
So, perhaps, out of this it is not surprising that I would find myself drawn more and more to Mr Stevens, if for no other reason than to have some kind of company. Being in service is to live a life of loneliness. You are either in charge of someone or they are in charge of you, either way your position dictates how you should behave towards each other. Mr Stevens liked to enforce this at every opportunity. Whereas as I found it isolating, I do believe he took comfort in it.
During my first year at Darlington Hall my main focus was to give Mr Stevens no reason or opportunity to find fault with me or my work. I had always taken pride in my work but I became almost obsessive. And as the year wore on Mr Stevens indeed found less and less occasions to call into question anything that I did. During my second year I became bolder, owing I suppose to feeling more secure in my position in the house. Mr Stevens didn't second guess me as often and when he did I had the confidence to stand my ground more. Not to say that there weren't occasions when Mr Steven's suggestions weren't correct or useful, and when they were I accepted them. Despite my pride and perhaps being a little cocky, I was never one to cut off my nose to spite my face. The same could not always be said for dear Mr Stevens however!
It was near the end of my second year that things began to change. Or I began to change, I know not which. His Lordship was busier than ever entertaining guests at the house and it seemed to be one big event after another. Mr Stevens seemed to revel in all of the activity. Whatever took place amongst His Lordship and his guests I cannot comment on, but for the staff it was indeed a glorious time. The intensity of these events filled the house, whether the staff were aware of the issues being discussed or not we could all recognise that Darlington Hall was apart of something significant. I'm proud to say we all pulled together and worked as a true team to the best of our abilities. Mr Stevens of course more than anyone put his heart and soul into ensuring these events ran smoothly, but I think I can honestly say that we all felt a sense of achievement when things went well. It was around that time that Mr Stevens Sr passed away. He had been a jovial man, and I have no doubt that when he had been in his prime that he was quite an exceptional butler. Having lost my family at a young age, the feeling of being alone in the world was one I was familiar with and I felt sorry for Mr Stevens now that he too appeared to be without any other living relative. Though I am sure he felt a tremendous sense of grief, Mr Stevens never once faltered in his professional capacity. I was surprised at the strong urge I had to reach out and put an arm around him. I can only imagine what his reaction would have been had I done so!
It was following his father's death that I began to pay more attention to Mr Stevens, began to try and figure him out I suppose. Like I said, Mr Stevens had not faltered or dropped his professional façade once when his father died and on a few occasions I had overheard members of the staff commenting on how strange his behaviour had been on the night his father died. Parlour maids tend to be young girls and young girls tend to be chatty and imaginative, so the reasons for Mr Stevens' behaviour that they came up with were sublimely ridiculous. Being sure that he must be grieving for his father I began to watch for any signs of it. I have to admit that I saw none. At least, none that I could say for certain indicated grief. Though one morning whilst walking past the drawing room which led to the garden I saw Mr Stevens standing by the window staring at the spot outside where his father had fallen some months previously. He stood there a long time.
During meal times was when I had my best opportunity to observe him, though I had to be sure not to be too obvious about it. On such occasions when the staff were all gathered together he very much played the patriarch, and I must say, did so with great aplomb and not a little pomposity sometimes! Unlike his father who had often regaled us with tales from his experiences over the years, Mr Stevens did not hold court over the dinner table. He allowed more often than not one of the personable footmen or the new under butler to regal us all whilst he would pass comment now and again and either approve of the line of conversation or disapprove in which case he would cut it short. The younger staff in particular would look to him for a sign of approval before and after speaking. I suppose many of them were not long away from home, and still searched for paternal approval and guidance. I wondered briefly what kind of father Mr Stevens would make and found myself blushing unexpectedly despite it being a harmless enough thought. Mr Stevens, somehow sensing my sudden discomfiture, looked at me curiously. I smiled and trained my eyes firmly on my plate until I was sure he had looked away.
One day before yet another of His Lordship's conferences one of the house maids came and reported to me that the curtain in one of the guest rooms looked as though it were ripped at the very top. These curtains had just the day before been hung, having been taken down for cleaning the week before. Indeed the entire room had recently been redecorated and was due to hold one of the conferences most important dignitaries. I made my way to the room and saw that, there seemed to be a long thread hanging from the top of the curtain. I was relieved it was not the gaping rip that I had imagined from the housemaids description but it was still a nuisance. I sent for Charlie, one of the footmen and asked him to bring a small step ladder. He returned promptly with one just as another footman arrived and said that Mr Stevens wished them both to immediately see to the early arrival of a guest. Charlie glanced at me and then at the step ladder.
"It's alright, you go on." I told him.
"Thank you Miss Kenton." He nodded and left.
I brought the ladder to the window and climbed to the top step to get a close look at the curtain. There did not appear to be any real damage and so I simply broke the loose thread and straightened the curtain. At that moment Mr Stevens came barrelling into the room in that quiet energetic way of his and exclaimed loudly; "Miss Kenton what on earth are you doing?" I explained and he looked at me reprovingly. "Miss Kenton honestly, come down from there. It's hardly appropriate for you to be up a ladder like that." I rolled my eyes at him and obviously annoyed him in doing so for he became much more stern. "I am serious Miss Kenton."
"I have no doubt that you are Mr Stevens." I replied, holding back the urge to laugh, and out of sheer boldness not moving.
"We've just had this floor polished." He said. "You don't want to risk scratching it with that." He nodded to the step ladder. I felt like saying 'don't I?' but felt it would be too forward. I sighed and began to step down. Then, as if God himself thought it the perfect opportunity to offer Mr Stevens the chance to say 'I told you so' - the step ladder slipped on the newly polished floor and sent me flailing towards the ground. Before I could reach it however Mr Stevens was suddenly before me, arms not quite outstretched but almost. The force with which I crashed into him brought us both to the floor with a heavy thud.
Winded and a little startled it took me a moment to realise the situation which I was in. I raised myself slightly by pressing down on Mr Stevens chest slightly where my hands lay. I stared down at his face, unable to speak. He seemed just as incongruous as I. His breathing was heavy I noted, not surprisingly!
"Oh Mr Stevens I'm so sorry. Are you alright?" I stammered.
"Fine." He answered stiffly.
"Are you hurt?" I asked, afraid that his tightly pursed lips meant he was in pain.
"Miss Kenton would you mind…?" he said, he held his breath suddenly I noticed and then realised he was indicating for me to get up.
"Oh, of course, I'm so sorry." I fumbled and struggled to my feet. I offered him my hand in assistance but he ignored it.
He flapped at and straightened his clothes after standing, though not before throwing a look towards the doorway to make sure no one had witnessed the incident.
"Are you hurt?" I asked again, genuinely concerned.
"No." he replied curtly. Immediately he picked up the stepladder and began to check the floor for scratches.
"I am perfectly fine, thank you for asking." I heard myself snapping and immediately gasped at my boldness.
Mr Steven's turned and eyed me with surprise for a moment. Then he cocked his head and said, "I have no doubt that you are Miss Kenton."
Before I had opportunity to utter another word he stalked out of the room.
Now whether it was this brief physical contact which gave rise to it I do not know. But late that night as I lay in bed recounting the day's events in my mind, I also relived that incident. More specifically, I relived the moment of and the sensation of lying atop Mr Stevens. Not in any lewd kind of way, I assure you, merely….well, with curiosity. Anyway, finding myself in such a situation, in such close proximity to Mr Stevens, I was surprised to discover was not entirely abhorrent to me. Indeed, as it turned out, as far as my subconscious at least was concerned, physical contact with Mr Stevens was something to be explored. That night I had the first in a series of very embarrassing dreams. Even now, I blush at the mere thought of them.
From then on the seed was planted and as seeds are wont to do, it grew. For the most part I successfully ignored these thoughts. For a long time I denied any attraction to Mr Stevens. I told myself it was simply loneliness. It wasn't until Mr Benn came to be at Darlington Hall with his employer that I finally acknowledged anything. Mr Benn and I had known each other at Stanton Lacey, and if I'm honest, I knew that he had always had something of a crush on me. I had never encouraged this of course, though I did find it flattering. Who wouldn't? We did not have much opportunity to catch up whilst he was at Darlington but I saw the way in which he looked at me, and just as I had years before, I felt flattered. But, I was also surprised to feel a certain disappointment. Because it wasn't Mr Benn's admiring glances that I wanted. One evening whilst Mr Benn smiled appreciatively and tried to catch my eye, my eyes sought Mr Stevens. Sought an appreciative look in Mr Stevens' gaze and were saddened not to find it.
That night I cried. At the time I was not entirely sure why. Did I cry because I was horrified by the idea of an attraction to Mr Stevens? Did I cry because the attraction appeared to be one-sided? Probably both. It was some months before I began to suspect the attraction was not at all one-sided.