A/N Soooo... like all of us Carson/Hughes shippers I also had a go at the beach scene. Have a one-shot. (you can keep the typos :D)
The sea air was fresh, a pleasant contrast to the stifling London heat of the last two weeks. She inhaled it, filled her lungs, and then slowly exhaled, repeating this process several times while standing at the water's edge, the tiny waves lapping at her bare feet. What a perfect day, what a treat this was for all of them. Getting out of the busy city, to the sea side, enjoying first a train ride filled with excitement and happy chatter, and then a day at the beach with ice creams, games and walks along the shoreline. It had been a good idea to pin that postcard on his noticeboard two days ago, as a small hint. She knew he would get there in the end. Sometimes all Charles Carson needed was a small, invisible push in the right direction. She smiled at the thought of it before letting the memory slip away and concentrating on the here and now again.
The water was refreshing, cooling her ankles, swollen from running up and down the myriad stairways at Grantham House, and being on her feet all night for the last two days. In the distance a few brave men and women had decided to go swimming. Their cheerful laughter carried all the way across the open sea to where she was standing, watching them with a smile on her face to match their good mood. She took a few more steps in the wet sand and would have gone further had a familiar voice behind her not stopped her progress.
"Be careful!" She turned around, not leaving her position. Charles Carson still wore his shoes, meticulously polished in the morning polished until they shone now covered in sand. "Don't lose your footing."
"I won't, Mr Carson." From behind a larger wave hit her calves and she stumbled forward a bit, laughing at the effect and gathering her skirt so that it didn't get wet.
"I told you it was dangerous!"
"Nonsense!" Carefully she made her way through the surf towards him. "It's really refreshing. Why don't you take off your shoes and socks and join me?"
"I couldn't possible do that." He stared at her naked feet, and probably also her bare legs, usually covered by thick black stockings.
"And why not Mr Carson?" She dropped the seam of her skirt, drawing his attention back to her face. "We are here to enjoy ourselves, aren't we?"
"Of course we are." But the expression on his face spoke a different language. He was uncomfortable with the whole situation. Being outdoors on a day off, no work they had to think about, nothing to organise, no dinners to plan was unfamiliar for her too. "But isn't this a bit improper, shouldn't we set an example to the younger staff?"
She laughed at this, loud and heartily and the soft breeze carried her laughter across the beach for everyone to hear. "Oh Mr Carson, we are setting a better example if we enjoy ourselves too instead of watching over all of them. So come on, join me."
He still wasn't entirely convinced; she could see it in his face. But he bent down to untie the laces, then removed his shoes and socks. He arranged them neatly before rolling up the legs of his trousers and taking a few tentative steps towards her. Elsie was already standing in the shallow water, the waves lapping around her feet so that they slowly sunk into the wet sand. She looked over her shoulder at him, how he held his breath as soon as his feet touched the cold seawater. A truly adorable sight and she could not help it and called out to him.
"Come on! I dare ye!"
He stood rooted on the spot. "But if I get my trousers wet?" He was like a small boy, afraid of ruining his best dress on a day outdoors.
"If you'll get them wet, we'll dry them!" She rolled her eyes but kept her tone light. Elsie wanted him to join her, had hoped he would enjoy the day at the seaside, let go of the constant need to keep up appearances and doing things properly.
"Suppose I fall over?" He could not possible mean this seriously. It was only a bit of water, nothing to be afraid of. So she tried to convince him further that there was nothing he had to be ashamed or afraid of.
"Suppose a bomb goes off, suppose we're hit by falling star." She smiled at him and he managed to walk a few steps towards her however he didn't come close enough. "You can hold my hand. Then we both go in together."
It was a very bold suggestion but at this point she did not care about propriety anymore. They had worked together for so many years, knew each other well. And it was 1923. No one would accuse them of doing something improper when she simply helped him wade into the ocean by holding his hand. Besides, there was no need to admit to him that she had always wanted to feel his touch. Since the day she had heard him sing in that beautiful baritone voice of his she knew that he was more than a friend to her.
"I think I will hold your hand." His answer was a surprise. Of course, she had offered her help but accepting something so intimate was unusual for him. He took a few more steps, looking on the ground to make sure he did not trip over a stone or tread into a shell. While she "It will make me feel a bit steadier."
Her smile widened. He didn't even hesitate to accept her offer. "You can always hold my hand if you need to feel steady." Elsie risked it, flirted with him. Who knew if she would ever have the chance to do so again? By now he stood directly next to her, looking down into her smiling face.
"I don't know how but you managed to make that sound a little risqué."
Of course she had made it sound like this. The important thing was that he had noticed it, acknowledged it. A slight blush crept to her cheeks and she looked down at her feet, tried to conceal it. Then gathered up her skirt a bit more before she offered him her free hand. "And if I did…?" There was new courage in her voice.
He immediately took hold of it, grasped it firmly. His hand was warm and strong and so huge her fingers could not completely reach around it. He was staring at her face now, waiting for her to continue with her sentence.
"We're getting on Mr Carson, you and I. We can afford to live a little." Because it was true. All their lives they had worked, been in service, abode by rules other had set for them. He was the closest friend she had, the man she would share the rest of her life with. And they both deserved to enjoy themselves every now and then. She shrugged her shoulders, offered him another sweet smile before she started to walk on, holding his hand tightly.
The waves were getting a bit larger, soaking the seam of her skirt. But it did not matter. He was following close behind and carefully watched were he was going. Soon he was dragging her behind, laughing like a young lad when a rather large wave hit his knees.
"You were right. It does not matter." He stopped walking and drew her a bit closer to his side. "Thank you for doing this for me."
She squeezed his hand gently. "You are welcome. I am glad you are enjoying this."
"I am, Mrs Hughes. More than I can say." He lifted their joined hands and a second later placed a kiss on the back of hers.
"Now that's what I call risqué." Her cheeks flushed again but this time she did not look away.
"It wasn't so bad, was it?" They were sitting next to each other on the warm sand on one of the large blankets she and Mrs Patmore had brought with them from Grantham house in the morning. The seams of his trousers were indeed wet now but the sun would dry them in time for their return journey.
"Not at all Mrs Hughes." He looked at her, giving her one of his rare smiles. "But what about your dress?"
Their little walk at the beach had soaked it up to her knees. In order to dry it, Elsie had stretched out her legs and was almost lying on the blanket, enjoying the warm sun warming her face. Her feet were still bare, covered in sand.
"It will dry but most definitely not before we have reached London."
"I am sorry."
"Whatever for Mr Carson?" She gently stroked his arm, marvelled at the fact that he did not back away from her. And also astounded how easy it was to simply touch him. "It will remind me of the fun we've had today."
"Still, I don't want you to catch a chill."
"That's unlikely. It's summer." She laughed out loud and after a few seconds of staring at her in disbelief at her ever so true observation, he joined her. Never before had she seen Charles Carson act so relaxed. Around her he usually opened up a little, told her things no one else was privy to. But here strangers surrounded them and the other servants were within sight.
"Of course it is." He leaned back on his elbows, watching the horizon and the few ships they could see in the distance. "You never notice it when in London for the season. Now that you know how busy we always are you certainly don't regret staying behind at Downton."
Oh but she did. Many times she had wondered what it would be like to join the London season, to see something different to her daily routine at Downton. "Oh, I often envied you. The house is awfully quiet and I have no one I can talk to in the evening. It gets a bit boring."
She chanced a quick glance at him but he was still observing the sailing boats.
"I never knew." He sounded pensive, as if he regretted something. Once more she reached out to touch him, rested her hand on his upper arm until he turned his head to look at her. "I always thought you were glad to have some time for yourself."
Gently, she shook her head. The words I missed you crossed her mind but she didn't say them out loud. They had already shared a lot today and some things should be left for a more private conversation over a glass of wine or sherry.
"Isn't it time to be on our way, Mr Carson?" Mrs Patmore obscured the sun that was warming their faces. "It is already past five."
Elsie had not seen her approaching and quickly withdrew her hand from Mr Carson's shoulder, then sat up straight, folding her hands in her lap. "We should be packing, you're right Mrs Patmore."
"I'll have James and Mr Barrow help me." Slowly he got up from the blanket, shook his trouser legs to free them from the sand, before he picked up his shoes and socks to put them back on.
"Alright, I'll go and have Daisy and Ivy collect the basket for the blankets." She turned and left them alone again.
"It has been a wonderful day." He had finished tying his shoes and the only thing missing, that would turn him into the stern and professional butler again, was his jacket. Ivy had collected their coats earlier and it was probably lying in one of the baskets they had brought with them. Soon this day would be only a memory and she wondered if he would remember what she had said to him earlier, what she had offered.
"I agree." She was not ready to leave yet but all beautiful days had to end at one point.
"Thank you for pinning that postcard on my wall." He offered her a hand to help her stand.
She stared at him, not believing at first what he had just said. He had known all along that it had been her who had suggested their trip to the seaside. And here she thought he was always oblivious to her little hints. "You knew." She struggled to her feet, the damp skirt clinging uncomfortably to her legs.
"Yes." His hand reached up to cup her cheek. "And I am grateful for it."
She held her breath. They had shared so much on this day. This last touch was more than she had hoped for. A smiling and happy Charles Carson, yes, a man who would finally leave his work behind for one day, she had expected that. But nothing had prepared her for the gentle, caring man she had caught a glimpse of today.
"You are welcome."
From afar Mrs Patmore observed the small exchange, smiling to herself.
"It's about time."
"What do you mean?" Daisy appeared next to her, holding a large wicker basket in her arms, collecting blankets and cushions.
"Oh nothing." She averted her gaze. "Let's finish packing or we'll not make it to the last train." Although she would not mind leaving butler and housekeeper behind. They deserved some time alone, unobserved.