A/N All those lovely reviews were really overwhelming! 3 thank you so much!
The promised (very short) epilogue.
She needed all the comfort he was able to give or otherwise she would collapse under the burden that had been put upon her shoulders. He waited patiently for her to recover from the endearments they had just shared for the first time after so many years. Her head still rested on his chest where he held her close, caressed her back, trying to calm he down, to ease away the worry and the overwhelming emotions she must had had after that kiss. There are no words he could possible utter right now, just gestures.
"Are you feeling better?" he quietly asked because he needed to know. He could not endure to see her break down a second time. She had always been so strong and whenever something was bothering her she usually controlled her feelings so perfectly that he often wondered how she coped with them at all. There had always been times when he had wanted to hold her like he did now, touch her, kiss her. Since her first day at Downton he had been enchanted by this woman but never found the courage to tell her so. He had always been afraid of the consequences. Leaving Downton had never been an option but suppressing his feelings for her had also caused him too many sleepless nights. Deep inside him he had always known that she would return his love one day, that there would be a moment where he would have the chance to show her how he felt.
"Much better, thank you," she murmured, her lips touching the fabric of his shirt while she spoke.
"Good", was the only thing he could say, his voice so deep and quiet that he was not sure if she had heard him. He tried to loosen the embrace a bit to have a look at her again, but she only pressed herself closer to his chest. "You did not mind?" he whispered because he had to know, to make sure that what had just happened was not just a reaction caused by her current vulnerability.
The sound she made next surprised him, nearly caused him to back off immediately. She laughed, quietly and subdued. "Not at all, not at all." She repeated before she tilted her head to catch his gaze. "I needed that. So many times." Her voice now only a whisper, her eyes red from the tears she had shed but her lips curved into the most beautiful smile he had ever seen. "It saved me. You took a burden off my heart. I will be forever thankful for that."
His thumb caressed her cheekbone briefly before he planted another kiss on her lips. "Take a few days off tomorrow and go to see your sister. Will you do that?" She nodded in reply. "And when you return we will talk about us, about what has happened, about everything." He took a deep breath. "Because right now you should go and rest."
She took the little ivory elephant in her hands and closely looked at it, remembered the day when her father had given it to her. You are strong Elsie, just like this animal. No harm will ever come to you and one day you'll find someone just as strong as you.
That someone had been in her life for almost twenty years now but only since today was he really part of her life. Elsie Hughes had finally made Downton her home.
A/N and that's it. My version of Elsie's first months at Downton Abbey.