The Letter
Rated: K+
Pairings: Carson/Hughes
Disclaimer: It could not be less mine. Julian Fellowes wrote Downton Abbey, which is produced by Carnival Films for ITV Network.
Spoilers: None, since it´s set in the first season.
Summary: The letter had never been meant to be send. In a fit of loneliness she had written down her feelings for him, merely as a way of dealing with the whirlwind of thoughts and emotions that his absence seemed to evoke in her. He was never going to read the words. But now the letter was gone…
Genre: Fluff and romance. Basically, this is just a McFluffy.

Author´s note:
My response to the February letter challenge issued on lovebelowstairs. It´s very fluffy to the point of it being a little OC perhaps. But I hope you´ll enjoy it nevertheless.

The current dishevelled state of her parlour was most unusual for the housekeeper of Downton, but as she rummaged frantically through the drawers of her desk and cabinet, Elsie Hughes felt she couldn´t be much bothered about this particularly breech of propriety when so much more was at stake. For the eight time she checked every single object on the surface of her desk, before giving a growl of frustration and unceremoniously gathering everything up in her arms and dumping it on the sofa. Then she pulled every drawer from her desk, stacking in carelessly on the floor. The skeleton of her desk stared emptily back at her and with a almighty tug she managed to pull the still heavy oak wood frame a few inches from the wall. Holding her breath in anticipation, she lifted an oil lamp and anxiously peered behind the desk, hoping to find the object she had been so feverishly looking for there.

Her shoulders slumped when her hopes were dashed and no such object had slipped into the tiny space between her desk and the wall. Realizing then that this could only mean that the object she was looking for was either among the pile on the sofa or had found its way into one of the drawers, she proceeded to pick up each and every item from the couch and placing it neatly back on top of her desk, now pushed against the wall again. Twenty minutes later the sofa was empty and her desk organized again, but there was still no trace of the missing item. One by one she turned the drawers over on the sofa and shifted through them, making sure she checked and double-checked everything before putting it back.

At long last there was nothing else for her to do than to admit defeat. And she did so with a deep sigh, bordering on a sob, as she sagged down on the once again empty sofa, ready to weep in panic and frustration. Pearls of sweat – now turning cold with fright – bathed on her forehead and strands of unruly, curly hair had come loose from her neat bun and wired madly around her head. Once again she scanned the surface of the floor, almost willing the cream coloured envelope to appear. It couldn´t have gone – it was simply impossible. It hadn´t acquired little legs by itself and she was absolutely certain she had placed in on her desk the night before.

Running her hands over her face she once against cursed herself for given in to this ridiculous, sentimental impulse the night before. If only she had kept her common sense, if only she hadn´t act like a love-struck, silly schoolgirl, if only she had burned the blasted letter before having the sheer stupidity of losing it…

Of course, late last night she hadn´t felt quite so foolish and stupid. It had been very much of a relief to confide the feelings and thoughts she had kept hidden for so long to a piece of paper. Reassuring herself that he would never read the words she was penning down, that in fact no-one but herself would ever read them, had removed the last barrier of restraint and she had poured out all said feelings and thoughts with a measure of enthusiasm that even surprised herself.

In retrospect this rash action was mostly spurred on by the plain and simple fact that she missed him like mad. April wasn´t even gone yet, but it felt like he had been gone for months already. He had left with the family for the London Season in the second week of March and he wouldn´t be back until the 12th of June. He was of course Charles Carson, Downton´s butler, her best friend and closest colleague.

She found that she missed him more than during the previous years. Of course she always missed him. Where once she had enjoyed the spring season as a time where new life began, she had now began to dread it as the time of year when everything remotely interesting removed itself from her life. While most people congratulated her on the months of peace and leisure she had with the family away, she felt herself getting more nervous and restless with each passing week. The grand rooms felt empty without the family present and downstairs the servant rooms felt abandoned without him there.

The long evenings in her parlour were dull and tedious without him there to listen to her ramble about incompetent housemaids of sharing the latest bit of news. He would never admit that they were gossiping – neither would she for that matter-, but they both maintained that they liked to be well-informed and so they took great pains to ensure the other was as informed as possible.

It wasn´t until he was gone that she realized how much she enjoyed listening to his low, rumbling voice and how much his short, but dry comments brightened her day. It wasn´t until he was gone that she realized how much he actually meant to her. During the day she missed him as her colleague and friend and late in the evening, when she finally stopped being Downton´s strict and proper housekeeper for a few minutes and just became Elsie Hughes, she missed the man he was. The man that could make her heart skip a beat if he looked her in the eye and smiled that little smile of his. The man who could set her skin on fire and rush the blood to her cheeks whenever he accidentally brushed her in the corridor, or when his leg bumped hers underneath the table.

Of course he had not the slightest notion of the effect he was having on her. She had never let on that much, partly because she simply never had found a way to casually drop into the conversation that she was rather infatuated by him and partly because he had never given her the faintest indication that he was even remotely interested in her that way.

For some reason her withdrawal symptoms were even greater than usual this year. Other years she was somewhat alright until at least two months after he had gone, keeping herself busy with various tasks and projects. But this year she simply hadn´t gotten used to the fact that he wasn´t there in the first place. She had been missing him from the moment he had stepped in the car to be driven away to the station, had been counting the days until his return and now, almost two months later felt absolutely certain that she wouldn´t make it through another six weeks with him gone.

And so last night she had finally given into the temptation, had pulled a sheet of paper from her desk and had written down exactly how much she missed him, how much she longed for his return and just much in love with him she was. Because it was as plain and simple as that: she was in love with him. She cared more about him than probably any other person in the world, he was her best friend, she loved him a great deal, but aside from all that, she was also very much in love with him. As irrational, undignified and juvenile as it was.

Writing those sentiments down had given her a great experience of liberation and she found that once she had started, she could barely stop the words from flowing from her pen. Once she had found the words the first time, they kept coming as if her heart was quickly teaching her fingers a whole new way of expressing itself.
Of course, the letter was never meant to be read by him. She was never actually going to send it to him. It was more a letter addressed to herself than to him, just so that she had something tangible that showed her feelings.

In the morning she would devote an hour to writing him a prim and proper housekeeper letter, filled with details and updates about the going-ons of the house and the village. Friendly, but guarded, warm of tone, but very reticent. And he would write back to her. Surprisingly long letters, penned in his even, sturdy handwriting, telling her about the whereabouts of the family and London and filled with little anecdotes and observations.

It were his letters that became the highlight of her week and kept her moderately sane as the weeks stretched out.

The letter she had written him last night would never find its way to him. She planned on keeping it safely tucked away between the letters he´d send her from London. But being the thorough perfectionist that she was, she had for some unfathomable reason put the letter into one of the creamy envelopes she used as her personal stationary and had written the address of Grantham House carefully in the right corner below. Even though it was never to be send, even if this heart cleansing, deeply emotional letter had been nothing more than a midnight folly, a way of relieving some of the tension of her unrequited love.

But now it was gone.

When she had come into her parlour that morning after finishing her rounds, she had intended to pick it up from her desk and clear it away safely in one of the drawers of her cabinet where she kept all his other letters under lock. But one look at her desk had told her that the letter was no longer there. Frowning and fighting down the first twinge of panic she had set out for a search, trying to convince herself that the letter was probably just misplaced, or had slipped down in one of the drawers or behind her desk.

But it was almost noon now and the letter was still nowhere to be found, while her rising feeling of panic refused to be rationed away any longer. If this letter fell into the wrong hands the amount of drama that would ensue from it would be unbearable. She shuddered to think what would happen if O´Brien or Thomas would ever got their snarky hands on it.

Wiping a desperate tear from her eye, she got to her feet again and readied herself for another thorough search of her parlour when a short knock on her door was heard. Grudgingly she called for admittance and barely kept herself from sighing when the door opened and revealed Mr Moseley standing on the threshold. At the best of times young Mr Crawley´s valet got on her nerves easily and in situations like these she found she had even less patience for him.

Why Charles insisted that he came over regularly when he was in London to ´lend a helping hand´ she would never understand. But nevertheless he was here, eyeing her oddly with a uncertain smile on his face.

¨Are you quite alright, Mrs Hughes?¨ he inquired with a nervous laugh. ¨You look a bit out of sorts if you don´t mind me saying so.¨

¨I seemed to have misplaced a rather important letter,¨ she replied tersely, hoping he would scamper off soon. But then his next words caused her to freeze in horror.

¨Was that letter by any chance addressed to Mr Carson?¨

She nodded wordlessly, simply unable to produce any sound as a nauseating feeling of dread started to well up inside her when he replied quite cheerfully:

¨Don´t worry about it, I noticed it lying on your desk this morning and I have already took it to the post office for you. I was just in time for the early post train, so it´s probably on its way to London as we speak...¨

As always, I very much like to hear what you think!