I have been negligent in my own writing for the past few weeks because I've been enjoying the explosion of Chelsie fics lately. I have been reading and enjoying all of them although I admit to being spotty in my reviews. The idea for this fic has been germinating for a little while, and I finally got up the courage to write it down. I hope you enjoy it as well. For this timeline, I use the 'official' one in which Elsie comes to Downton in 1902 (10 years before series 1 begins) initially as head housemaid.

Disclaimer: I do not own these guys and earn nothing from them but the enjoyment of writing. I would love to adopt them if for no other reason than to put them to better use than their current owners.

Downton Abbey 1907

Elsie Hughes was annoyed. Deep down she knew that she didn't have a right to be so upset, but that had never stopped her before. It wasn't that Mr. Carson shouldn't direct the male staff as he wished, but for something this big, he would usually at least inform her a few days ahead of time if not actually ask for and consider her opinion. The part that bothered her the most was that this seemed to be a somewhat regular occurrence, even if it wasn't actually scheduled. As far as she was concerned, if he would only give her enough notice, she could have given the maids the evening off as well. After all, it wasn't as if the family was here. They could have all gone to Ripon for a well deserved bit of rest. As it was, it made it look as though the men were being favored over the women, and that made her look like a tyrant. She didn't mind being seen as the stern one, but it irked her for the men to be given a favor when the women were not.

They had finished their dinner sans nearly all the male members of the staff, excepting Mr. Carson and a few of the younger hall boys. He was even now ensuring that the upstairs was secure for the evening. Since the family was away for the rest of the week at a house party, there was not even a need to have someone stationed at the front door to await their return. She expected him to come back to her parlor for their typical evening ritual. There would be no left over wine to share, but certainly they would have at least a cup of tea together. For the three years that she had been housekeeper, he had made a habit initially of coming to her parlor or she to his pantry every night. Quickly, the ritual had extended so that if they had any free time in the evenings, such as when the family was away, he would come to her parlor, usually reading while she knit or mended. She had a difficult time settling down just to read, instead she usually kept her hands and her mind occupied in some task or other. Often enough, he would set his book aside, and they would quietly discuss the day, issues they were having with the staff, or other things that had nothing to do with their work. She looked forward to these times far too much for her peace of mind. They made her feel human and very useful. He was quite possibly the only person she felt that she could relax completely around, and she knew that he was more himself in these moments than at any other time. That was why being upset with him on this night of all nights bothered her even more. She had looked forward to this week that the family would be away almost eagerly so that they could have these evenings together. Why tonight of all nights must she be so annoyed?

Her thoughts were interrupted by the soft opening of the door. Mr. Carson backed into the room carrying a tray with tea things along with a small plate of biscuits. She smiled at the biscuits which she was sure that he'd intended primarily for himself. He'd been rather comically disappointed when their dinner pudding had consisted of just raspberries and cream. Her small smile was not lost on him, "I hope you don't mind that I took the liberty of securing provisions for us, Mrs. Hughes. I felt that I at least would need a bit of tea and some more sustenance for the evening."

"I certainly don't mind Mr. Carson," she answered as she cleared an area on her side table for him to place the tray, "however, I hope you don't expect too many of those biscuits. I'm still rather hungry myself."

Annoyed as she was, she still had to bite her lip to not laugh outright at the look of disappointment that flashed across his face and at his blustering, "Well, now, I…, not that you're quite welcome to as many as you'd like, but I was rather hoping for a few of these myself."

"Mr. Carson, forgive me for teasing you about your sweet tooth," she smiled, "I was quite satisfied with our dinner. I don't think that I'll eat more than one of those biscuits."

"Now, Mrs. Hughes," he said, "I don't have a sweet tooth. I just happen to be rather fond of biscuits."

"And chocolate," she said with raised eyebrows.

"And chocolate," he conceded with a small inclination of his head.

"And cake," her eyes crinkled with a smile.

"And cake," he agreed with the slightest of smiles playing on his lips.

"And apple tart," she finished with a brisk nod.

"And apple tart," he conceded again, but this time with a small laugh, "You win, Mrs. Hughes, I do have an abominable sweet tooth. You could have complete control over me for the very small price of a pastry. Please don't give me away."

If only that were true, she thought with an inward sigh. Out loud she merely said, "I assure you that your secret is quite safe with me."

He nodded his thanks and then turned to pour out the tea while she made her way to her settee to calm her suddenly quickened pulse.

He brought her her tea and a small plate containing two biscuits with a flourish and small bow. She took it from him gratefully and tasted the tea only to see that he had it just right as always. She had to give it to him, years of making and serving tea had made him an expert. He could make her tea to her liking even better than she could herself. It had exactly the right amount of sweetness and milk and no more. He was quite a handy man to have around for that reason if no other.

Once he'd settled himself in the armchair with his own tea and his plate of four biscuits she noticed with an inward smile, she took a deep breath and looked at him squarely trying to decide how to begin.

Glancing over at her grimly, he put his cup on his saucer and placed both on the side table. "Mrs. Hughes, I have gotten the distinct impression that you have wished to speak with me all day and not necessarily pleasantly. Please, say whatever you wish so that we can enjoy the rest of the evening. I'd never have thought you afraid to say anything to me."

"I most certainly am not afraid to say anything to you, Mr. Carson," she said briskly, "It's just that in this particular circumstance, I do not really have the right…"

"That's certainly not stopped your tongue before," he cut her off with a short laugh.

Her eyes flashed dangerously, and she threw caution to the wind. "Very well, Mr. Carson," she clipped out tightly, "I am upset that you chose to allow the men of the household the night off for a trip to Ripon without informing me. I would have gladly allowed the maids off as well if I'd only had advance notice."

He blew a harsh breath out of his nose, "That would never have done, Mrs. Hughes. The maids could certainly have not gone on this trip with the boys."

"I don't see why not," she said voice rising with her anger, "the women work just as hard, if not harder," she fixed him with a glare, "than the men. They deserve a bit of fun as well."

He looked at her in astonishment for a moment before rising to stand in front of the fire, "Not this type of fun."

"I'm afraid I don't see your meaning," she said, "Mr. Carson, surely you can see that allowing the men a night away and not the women makes me look like a tyrant and you like jolly Saint Nick."

He turned back toward her for a moment so that she could see the roll of his eyes and scoffed, "I am not jolly Saint Nick. I am simply able to recognize the need for the men to get away from Downton from time to time."

"You say that they need to be away from time to time. Do not the women need to be away from time to time as well?" She watched him curiously as she thought she saw a blush start across his cheeks, surely not, he must just be standing too close to the fire.

"I-, I'm not sure that the women need to be away in quite this manner, Mrs. Hughes," he answered hesitantly.

So that was a blush on his cheeks. What on earth could have him so flustered by this conversation? She was even more curious now. "In what manner is that, Mr. Carson?"

He turned from her again, then back to look at her, then straightened his waistcoat, then tugged at his collar, then turned back to the fire, "There are times when men need-, that is, I notice that tensions seem to be rising, and I realize that, well, a trip to Ripon is in order. The men need to have a form of release, and…."

Surely he couldn't mean what she thought he meant. It was too… And he planned this for them! "Mr. Carson…" she began but he cut her off sharply.

"Mrs. Hughes, I really don't wish to discuss this further, but surely you can understand that it would be better for the men to go to Ripon than have issues here or even in Downton village."

She was, unusually for her, at a loss for words for several moments. He eventually relaxed and sat back down, picking up his tea and biscuits.

Finally, she turned to him with the question that was uppermost in her mind, "One thing I truly don't understand, Mr. Carson, is why you don't go to Ripon with them? Do you not have needs as well?"

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