A/N: First part of my chapter fic entry for the "pink lace challenge 2013"!
WARNING: Alternate Universe!

Balls, in Charles Carson's view, were boring. No matter how he looked at it. Dancing had never been his forte, not when he was a young man trying to find a suitable bride (and failed, obviously) and certainly not now. He could pull off a decent waltz and he had always tended to the ladies who were not dancing. Making sure they had drinks, settling little quarrels - always bubbling under the surface. Young ladies always tried to outdo the others. He understood why, he had been part of it, webs being woven of prospects and dowries, conversation wrapped around him like spun sugar, trying to make him feel important.

It never worked.

Balls did not show him to his best advantage. He has lead a solitary life because of it, being unable to find a young lady who would complement him, who he felt would share the burden that was the estate, his tenants, all those dependent on him.

He remembers a girl, when he was very young still. He doesn't remember her name, only her frock of cream and rose coloured brocade and her melodious voice. She had struck him as fiercely independent, witty, knowing her mind and not afraid to speak it.

Dreams he had had of her. Her dark hair, her bright eyes, the curve of her lip (and hip and waist and breast - he had seen it all, had visions of stockings, of elaborately embroidered underskirts). He had asked around for her, had pushed hosts to invite him in hopes she would be there, but he had had no luck.

Thirty years it had been, at least, more perhaps but he doesn't like to dwell, he knows he is getting on, knows that he has become set in his ways, that he likes to do things a certain way, that he is a traditionalist, conservative in his views, but when he thinks of those few hours spent with her, he is young, for just a moment.

Now he stands in the corner of a crowded room, his suit a bit tight, but his back straight, his glass in his hand as a weapon or perhaps a safety net of sorts, observing the swirling crowd as they dance.

He sips his wine. Speaks with some old friends, even manages to crack a smile when his host compares the young people to a flock of sheep when his eyes dart across the room to fall upon a figure.

A woman. No, a lady. Not dancing, dressed in cream and rose brocade and her hair is not as dark as hers, but she reminds him of her and he excuses himself. He carefully makes his way towards her. He blinks a few times, wrecks his brain and she seems so familiar.

She smiles when he reaches her.

"I wondered when you'd see me." She says, raising her half empty glass in a small toast.

He coughs. "You've been here long?" He asks.

"Here at the ball? Or in Yorkshire?" She teases and it warms him.

"Either. Or both." He encourages.

"We've been here a while, we are staying with Lady Shackleton."

"We?" He cannot hide the disappointment from his voice.

"Yes. My brother John and his wife, Anne. And myself of course. Lady Shackleton was kind enough to ask me to come. I must admit to being somewhat nervous. It's been a long while since I've been to a ball, or danced."

"No need to be nervous. You look very beautiful."

She blushes and thanks him.

"You've been away then?"

"To Scotland, yes. I cared for my mother and stayed to keep my father company. The estate is small. I'm more housekeeper than lady there." There is a hint of amusement in her voice and now he hears the melodic lilt, a trace of accent.

"Have you been well?" He manages to deflect a servant with a large tray, saving her gown from ruin. She tucks her hand in the crook of his arm and they take a slow stroll around the room.

"Well enough." She answers his earlier question, not getting into detail. "And yourself?"

"Can't complain. A bit lonely perhaps, my estate is mostly empty these days." He doesn't give her much either and somehow he feels she understands anyway.

"I've thought of you sometimes." She says.

"Have you?" He was never good at chatting, at empty conversation, but she makes it easy - then again this not empty nor idle.

"I didn't think you'd recognise me." Her words are little more than whispers.

"I'd have known you anywhere. You've not changed at all." He raises his hand to her cheek, touches the fair skin softly.

"Yes I have, but that's a lovely thing to say. I would have known you anywhere too." She admits and his heart pounds.

"I am much the same, except for the colour of my hair."

"Yes, you are. Your face, your proud stance. You are still a very handsome man, Lord Carson."

"You will always be very beautiful, Lady..." He doesn't know how to address her. Has she been married, is she widowed?

"Lady Elsie." She smiles brightly. "Nobody calls me that anymore, not since Mother died. It's nice to hear. You should just call me Elsie, because we are old friends."

Maybe the wine has dulled his good sense, but he accepts, tells her to call him 'Charles'. Since his dear departed father nobody has called him by his name with any affection.

His friends even call him 'Lord Carson' or his nickname since school - Downton. The name of his estate.

"Well Charles, I think we should find ourselves some refreshments and a place to sit."

When they leave the room, she waves at her brother and his wife. He looks rather pained, she elated.

"Is your brother alright?"

"Oh yes. He got shot in the knee once, it makes dancing rather painful, but Anne adores it and he adores her, so he endures it for as long as he can. "

notes: Yes, it's all rather contrived, but it's nothing more than a bit of fun.
John and Elsie as siblings - I can see it. Anne instead of Anna, for obvious reasons.
A distinct lack of upstairs characters for the moment, I don't know if they will make an appearance.
I am not even sure if I will continue this!
My (awesome) beta is on holiday until Sunday, so this has been poster warts and all - please don't hesitate to let me know if there are typos/glitches.