Chapter 4

"The future you have, tomorrow, won't be the same future you had, yesterday."
― Chuck Palahniuk, Rant

She feels as though she has lost control of her most basic functions. Her mind is telling her to stop but she can't. Her mouth moves on its own accord and words that she had only ever considered in passing spill out. She knows she is in the process of mucking everything up. She is handing him a silver platter full of what he fears most – change.

Now she's done it. What on earth was she thinking?

She is really surprised that he didn't choke on his tea. His eyebrow, however, shot so far up his hairline that she could barely see it anymore. "Retire with you?"

"Not with me. Heavens, how inappropriate would that be!" she backpedals. "I meant, 'would you ever consider retiring... also?'" She adds the last bit in the clarify, and grimaces. Perhaps her loss of grammatical ability made things more confusing.

Carson's eyebrow lowers slightly. "Well Mrs Hughes, I have been considering it," he announces.

She is understandably shocked. "What?"

"You do know that I had never considered it before our conversation the other night. I like the way things are and I saw no reason for anything to change." He sounds like he has rehearsed it over and over again to perfection.

"What's changed?" she asks, perplexed.

"Many things," he says vaguely. "You know I've been here for many years, Mrs Hughes."

As much as he fights change, he does acknowledge its existence. He doesn't fight it in fear of it. He fights it because of his love of tradition. He likes the order and routine. He likes knowing what is to come, what to expect. It is comfortable. There are some hiccups here and there, but overall, his routine is always the same.

"And have you reached a conclusion?" Mrs Hughes asks carefully, shock clearly marring her words.

He grunts, mulling over his words carefully. The scattered thoughts of the future and the possibility of Mrs Hughes leaving has been weighing on his mind. There is so much that he has to say and he does not know how to say it or where to start.

"A lot of who I am is intrinsically tied to my position," he starts slowly. He has been Carson the Butler for so long. Even prior to that, he had been one half of the Cheerful Charlies. His entire life has been based upon his profession.

It's left unspoken. Who would he be without it?

"I don't think you're giving yourself enough credit," Mrs Hughes frowns. "Your every action is not governed by your position."

"Most of my actions are. " he points out. "I am nobody's father nor am I a husband. All of my household duties, the way I conduct myself in public... everything is based on the fact that I am Downton's Butler."

"You're being too hard on yourself," Mrs Hughes says. Mrs Hughes can not believe what she is hearing."If you strip all the formalities away, you are still Charles Carson."

He is glad that she believes that because he worries that it's not true.

"I've been thinking a lot about it, you know," he admits.

She gives him a look. "All you've done lately is think."

"Maybe so," he says sheepishly and Mrs Hughes rolls her eyes. "I've realized that I can live without some of the constants that I hold dear. There are others that I would rather maintain."

Mrs Hughes sighs. "Are you really that set in your ways?"

"You shouldn't be so surprised," he teases her. "I am a creature of habit."

She is disappointed with herself for underestimating his love of routine. "What bit of your daily routine is so dear to you then?" She has to know what it is that will keep him at Downton until the end of his days. What could be so important to him that he would stay? Her curiosity begs to be satiated.

"My evenings with you," he finally states.

Mrs Hughes blinks, thinking that she must has misheard him. "Excuse me?"

"Please don't make me repeat it. I've talked enough about my feelings today." He says the word feelings like it is taboo. As if it is something that was supposed to be locked away forever, never to be discussed.

"I am sorry Mr Carson. You took me by surprise," she looks at him questioningly. He shifts uncomfortably in his chair. "It goes without saying, but I value your company as well," she admits to ease him of his discomfort. "But what does that mean about your future?"

Carson purses his lips. "I suppose it means that I want to have you in it."

"Oh Mr Carson, you'll always have me around." she reaches over the table. A long time ago she had told him that he could always hold her hand if he needed to and he clearly needs it now. When he doesn't immediately move, she shoots him a pointed look. "Go on. Take it. I'm not going to eat you," she laughs and he warily takes it into his own.

There are no big declarations of love tonight. No definite plans made. The future, as Carson well knows, is always changing. Bridges are built on the path of life, and other bridges burn. Tonight, a bridge is built. And Carson knows that Mrs Hughes will cross it with him to the other side.

A/N:Thank you for reading! And thank you to all those who have reviewed, favourited, followed, etc... You guys rock!