A/N Two updates within 24 hours! But this is the last chapter :(. Don't be sad. It is T rated. Enjoy reading. And thank you for your beta-ing kouw! love you!

Changes - Chapter 09


"I don't understand milady, why are we here? Has something happened? Are you alright?" The situation demands too much of him. She has rung and he is here now, waiting for her orders, an explanation, anything. But she only smiles, not even surprised to see Elsie at his side.

"Nothing is wrong Carson. On the contrary. I wanted to thank you in person." She closes the open door behind them, startles him by doing so. It is his job to take care of this but he is still speechless, confused. "For everything you have done."

He can feel how Elsie puts her hand on the small of his back, pushes him forward, encourages him to speak.

"To be honest, I haven't done anything but I am happy you are feeling better." What else should he say? Of course he has cared for this woman, every day of her life, from her birth to the birth of her own son. Has seen her through difficult times during her teenage years, even more complicated times when Mr Crawley appeared for the first time. He knows the ups and downs of Lady Mary's life better than everyone else in this house. But that is his duty as an employee of the Earl of Grantham.

"Oh Carson, you've done so much! Mrs Hughes, please tell him, I'm sure you know what I mean."

He looks at her, studies her face, sees that she too is unsure what to say. Hesitantly she opens her mouth, closes it again, shrugs her shoulders before she tries her best to end the awkward silence.

"You know milady, he has only done what he thought was best for you, and the house of course. I think he admires you and your strength a lot."

The smile on Lady Mary's face widens, so Elsie continues and he holds his breath. "Mr Carson, you have been at this young Lady's side all her life long. And you have never doubted a single one of her decisions." He stares at her now, cannot believe what he hears. Elsie Hughes does not criticise the relationship he has with the eldest daughter of the house anymore?

"You love me like a daughter Carson, and Mrs Hughes is right, you were and are always on my side. No one else has done that for me." She takes a step towards him, touches his shoulder and then places a kiss on his cheek. "Don't get jealous Mrs Hughes."

This almost throws him off balance and it must have shown on his face, because Elsie is at his side within seconds, grabs his arm to steady him, worry written all over her face. "Everything alright Mr Carson?"

He is unsure in which direction he should look. At Lady Mary or at the woman by his side. "Thank you milady. That means a lot to me." Someone that sounds like him manages to say. "You are not angry?"

Elsie lets go of his arm but stays close. He can feel how her hip brushes his side, her hand is close to his but not touching it. Maybe there is no use in still pretending to be only butler and housekeeper, but since they have come into this room, so many things have happened all at once that he is afraid to let down his guard completely.

"Why should I be angry? Because you have at last found the courage to court Mrs Hughes?" The baby on her arm begins to stir and she places a soft kiss on his forehead, whispers soothing words only a mother understands. "When I found out about it, this gave me hope. So much hope, that no matter where one lives and what one does, there will always be love. I will find someone, not right away, maybe not in the next few years. But I won't stay alone. In fact, I am not alone right now."

He feels how Elsie's hand encloses his own, that she has come closer, is now fully touching his side. Gone is the fear of exposing their secret too early in front of the wrong people. In this room they all know about it now, can be open about their feelings and do not have to hide behind the facades they've created over the years to protect their souls from getting hurt. "I give you my blessings. And don't worry about Papa, or Granny!"

Charles has problems keeping his emotions under control. There is so much he wants to say, so many words in his mind he needs to speak out loud. The situation is too overwhelming. At his side is the woman he loves, in front of him stands the daughter he never had but always wanted to have. Both are the most important people in his life and Elsie as well as Lady Mary have won his heart since the day he first saw them.

"Do you want to hold him?" Lady Mary asks and before he knows it, little George is in his arms, snuggles into his chest with a content sigh, not afraid of the strange tall man. Charles gently strokes his little head, lets the boy hold on to his finger. "He already knows that you will protect him", his mother says and he knows that she is right.

ooo

They are standing at the entrance to the women's corridor. It is dark and quiet. Occasionally the house creaks and moans, all the wood and stone, hundreds of years old comes alive at night sometimes. Behind one of the doors, Mrs Patmore snores. The other servants are silent. He is still holding her hand tightly in his own, does not want to let her go and Elsie is reluctant to send him to his room across the corridor through the door that separates them at night. She wants him to stay here with her, needs his company tonight after all the unexpected revelations of the last hour. Yet it would break the last rule; remove the last of the scattered stones that are still part of the wall between them: that last protective barrier separates them because it is built of moralities. They are not married, cannot share a bed, should not even be in a bedroom alone with the other. But does all of this still matter?

Slowly she turns, faces him, looks into his eyes, tries to find an answer in them, some guidance, a sign that at least for tonight he does not care about propriety. He looks straight ahead, into the darkness, gaze fixed at some distant point. Elsie whispers his name, is desperately waiting for an answer. Her other hand moves up to touch his chest, feels his heart beating underneath his shirt. She rests her ear against it too, listens to the soothing sound, mutters his name a second time.

"We cannot stay here all night." His words startle her, interrupt the constant beat of his heart. "Would you…?" She raises her head, focuses on his lips, wants them to finish the sentence. "…allow me to accompany you to your room?"

Instead of answering his question, Elsie begins to move, feels how he follows close behind, his hand in hers. Slowly, silently, as if they are trespassing through a part of the house they have no right to be in. Her room is closest to the dividing door and unlike the others, locked during the day. She fumbles with the keys at her hip, has problems finding the right one in the darkness, is nervous and also a bit giddy, like a young housemaid who hides a secret admirer. When his large hand reaches out to cover hers, take the key ring from her, Elsie holds her breath.

"Which one is it?"

"The small one with the round head." She can see it in the dimly lit corridor now but is too anxious to handle the small object. Charles opens the door quickly and they step inside, lock the door behind them.

Elsie turns in his arms, nestles against him as close as she can. She feels his hands move upwards from the small of her back to her shoulder blades, drawing her into a tight embrace. Being held like this calms her nerves, removes the last doubts she has about what they are going to do tonight. She listens to his heartbeat again, strong and steady, a tiny bit faster than earlier.

"Are you sure about this?" he asks, breaking the silence, and his breath tickles her ear.

"Yes." She raises her head, stands on tiptoe to be a bit taller. "Yes." Punctuates her answer with a brief kiss and her fingers start to unbutton his collar, remove the tie, free a bit of skin from the constraint of their uniforms. He helps her with the buttons of his shirt and waistcoat, removes his clothes quickly until he stands before her in only his trousers. For a moment, she just looks at him, takes in every tiny detail, the hair on his chest, the little scar above his navel, wonders what has happened. Her fingertips touch it tentatively, then her hand fully touches his skin, marvels at how smooth and warm it is. Charles does not move, just stands there while she explores. Her dreams have not prepared her for this moment, what she sees and feels overwhelms her.

"May I?" His voice vibrates in his chest underneath her hand and Elsie looks up into a smiling face. She nods, wants him to remove her dress now, although her knees are shaking a bit and her heart beats so fast, she is afraid it will stop any moment.

Undressing her is more difficult. So many small buttons and hooks hold her dress together, a shift is worn over her corset and underneath it. The concentration she sees on his face is adorable and makes her laugh.

"It was easier for you, love." He lets go of the lacing of her corset behind her back, cups her face with his hands and kisses her laughing lips. "I wonder how you manage to dress yourself in the mornings at all." How good does it feel to not take this moment so seriously, she thinks. We are both inexperienced and out of practice, a bit nervous. She takes his hands away from her face, brings them to the front where she usually opens and closes this garment.

"Like this." Together they open the hooks, one by one, expose her breasts and chest, still covered by a knee length shift but at least freed from the uncomfortable corset. It is his time to look at her and Elsie closes her eyes, lets him touch her sides, hips, place a kiss on her collarbone. At last one hand comes to rest next to her left breast, the one that has given her so much trouble, the one that bears a scar she never wants to look at. His thumb brushes over the nipple, still covered by the fabric of her shift but it is sensitive enough to react immediately. Elsie bits her lip in an attempt to suppress a moan but is unsuccessful. He touches her again, takes the breast into his hand now.

"Stop, please." She whispers breathless. Her knees are too weak to keep her on her feet, the bed is close, only a few steps away. "Need to sit down." She clarifies when she sees the confused look on his face.

"I didn't want to scare you." He leads her over to the bed, helps her to take a seat, puts an arm around her shoulders and draws her close. "Forgive me?"

"You didn't scare me." Elsie rests her head in the crook of his neck, her cheek touching a naked shoulder. "It was just so … ", Finding the right words is difficult, if there even is a word for how she feels. "… overwhelming. No one has touched me like that before."

"Then I feel honoured to be the first."

ooo

That night they see each other naked for the first time, bodies are explored with kisses, touches. Hands and mouths are everywhere; do not care about propriety, their social status, the next morning, what others may think of them should they find out. She is the most beautiful being in his eyes. He is the most perfect man she has ever seen. Their tongues whisper endearing words into ears, kiss a mouth, a breast, the inside of a thigh. Fingers feel soft skin that has never been touched by another person. He lies next to her in the small bed. Her naked legs are entangled with his, arms have found a way around waists and although they are both aware of the others arousal, they take things slow, can hold back somehow. It is more important that they are together and no longer afraid of their own emotions. The walls no longer exist.


The ... End