April 1922

She had filled her thoughts with the roar of the ocean at the time. She remembered visiting the seaside with her employers, and being amazed at the power of the water, rushing to meet the shore and breaking on the rocks that were in its way. It was a force to be reckoned with. A mighty, deadly thing of the earth, warning the people that it couldn't be restrained. The sands on the beach had once tried to restrain the sea, and had been pounded and weathered through the years until they were miniscule and offered no resistance to anything, really.

After, her mind oddly detached, she'd thought of her husband. And how sad it was that she'd been spoiled for him. She was forming a plan, even then—even while he was still there, adjusting himself and listening at the door for anyone to catch him in his despicableness (but of course there wasn't, they were all upstairs, enjoying the concert)—to not tell anyone. She wouldn't ruin him. (Her husband. She didn't care a whit about the foul creature who'd departed silently, probably going back up to the singing upstairs, to pretend like he'd been there all along, further cementing his façade as a gentleman.) Her husband would kill him. And then they'd send him to the noose. Or just to prison, to rot the rest of his days.

She wouldn't do that to him. Even if it meant inadvertently protecting the slime of a man who'd attacked her.

She had to think of her plan in stages. Because as soon as her mind reattached, she was slammed again with the horror of what he'd made her do—it was better to think of the waves. Imagine the roar of the seaside.

It wouldn't do to keep her current blacks on; he'd torn the sleeve when he'd dragged her out of the kitchen, and that would raise questions. So she needed to borrow someone else's. She could change into something else of her own…but her house was a twenty minute walk away. The party would be done with, by then, and she would be missed. She had jobs to do. She was meant to turn down the bed for Lady Mary, and tell Thomas about the clock in the entryway that didn't finish chiming the hour.

Even now, she could hear stirs from upstairs, which meant the concert was over, at least, and people were milling around again, probably waiting for their men to fetch their cars.

She would be fine here for the foreseeable future. No one desperately needed the boot room. There wasn't a desire right now to go riding, or to apply emergency polish to someone's shoes. The family upstairs wouldn't be retiring until the guests had gone. At least until the Dowager Countess had gone. She found herself shrinking all the same, making herself look as small as she could, crouching behind a table, watching the door.

The housekeeper would be in, soon. It was her job, tonight, to close and lock the door to the boot room. She had all the keys, whereas the butler was still needed upstairs, directing servants and not stemming the flow of exiting guests.

Stages. Waves. Watch the door for the housekeeper. Change into new blacks. Then what? Someone would have to take care of her Lady's Maid duties. It wouldn't do for anyone upstairs to see her, now. And she would have to make excuses to her husband. She allowed her mind to focus. She came back from the roar of the ocean, the calls of the gulls. Gently. Not all roaring at once. This was just one thing. She needed to assess her state.

Sore. Head pounding. She'd been sick, anyway. Easy to explain away. She had a goose-egg on the back of her head, though. She dared a peek at her foggy reflection against the glass in the corner – it had been put there, facing the doorway, awaiting a new home in the stable, but had never made it there. Her hair. She had no comb. Her hand went to it anyway, smoothing it robotically. Gently.

He'd pulled it. Pulled it out of its neat bun because she hadn't come willingly with him, so he'd dragged her in.

Back to the ocean. She'd focused too closely on the hitches of her breathing. The cut on her lip from when he'd hit her. It wouldn't do to keep her focus there. One thing at a time.

She needed a story. Not just a change of clothes. Her husband would guess. Correctly. He would know. Unless she fooled him.

She had to fool him because she wouldn't see him hanged for murder. She'd almost had to do that once already.

Steps. Downstairs. She took up her post, crouching behind the table, watching the door. If it wasn't the housekeeper, what would she say? She hoped it wouldn't be one of the new maids. She didn't know them well. They might talk.

Excited chatter. Oh, wasn't the concert lovely? Oh, hadn't the dresses been to die for? Hadn't the Dowager Countess looked divine?

Her heart had seemed to leap to her throat. The world was growing louder than the seagulls, and she desperately, desperately needed the seagulls.

The door handle wiggled. Turned. The door opened. And stayed open. Someone was taking their dear, sweet time.

"Shut the door," she found herself saying. Quickly. Softly.

It was Mrs. Hughes. She looked at her. Saw her face. "My God…"

"Shut the door! Will you help me?" Quick. Soft. Pleading.

Appealing to the kind woman's nature. She was stern. But she was not heartless.

"Will you find me some clothes?" She tried next. Follow the plan. The housekeeper was come. She was seeing about new blacks. To fool them. To fool them all.

"Of course I will, but—"

She didn't need more than a yes. New blacks would come. In normal circumstances, she wouldn't be so rude. So curt and flippant as to interrupt Mrs. Hughes. Not allow her the luxury of finishing her sentences.

In normal circumstances, none of this would be necessary at all.

He'd come so quietly. And even when his presence had been known, she'd not thought to be wary.

She'd thought him a gentleman. And he was a monster.

"Will you see to Lady Mary? Say…um…Just say I've gone home with a headache."

If someone could cover upstairs, she was almost home free. New blacks. No responsibilities. She had only to fool them. She could do it. It couldn't be that hard.

He'd done it. If monsters could do it, then so could she.

It was too much, again. She thought of the sea. Pictured the waves. Tried to recreate the smell of the salty air—the way you could smell and taste it at the same time. It was the loveliest thing. Lovelier than springtime, or the war being done.

"I can manage Lady Mary but Anna, we must tell someone—"

No. "No, no, no!"

This wasn't in the plan at all. She had to fool them. She had to.

"—But you'll have to tell Mr. Bates—"

No. No. No. Not John. She couldn't tell him. She couldn't tell him. "Him least of all! He'd murder the man who's done it and then he'd be hanged."

"But surely—"

"He's a convicted felon! Do you think they'd spare him a second time?"

She was a kind woman. This wasn't something she had a knowledge of how to handle.

He was supposed to be a gentleman.

Her heart was thundering in her chest, and her head ached from her cold, and from when he'd pulled her hair.

No. No. She needn't think of that. Needn't give a monster her thoughts.

He'd held her down. Held her down because he knew she didn't want—

"No…Maybe the doctor's still here."

No. No. No doctors. This isn't a time for truth. This is a time for lies. She must fool them. She must. "Will you listen! I need your help or I wouldn't have told you. Nobody else must ever know. You promise me!"

She didn't like it. She clearly didn't like it.

But she did understand.

"Wait here. 'll fetch you some water and a comb. And see what I can find you in the way of a dress."

She shut the door behind her. Locked it. She was a good person. A kind person.

Anna wanted to sob.

Not yet. Crying will only make the headache worse. It's not the time for tears. This isn't done. This isn't done. Not until they're fooled, and she is home.

Home, sharing a bed with her husband—Oh, God. What if he knew? What if he wanted—surely not if she was feeling poorly.

It certainly didn't matter, before. He'd just forced her.

No. No. None of that. It was different. That wasn't John. That wasn't her husband.

He would never, never do something like this to her.

She did let out a few hysterical sobs, then. Crazy-sounding things, they were. No tears behind them. Just the sound. The breathing.

But then she stopped. Went back to the gulls.

She must fool them. To fool them, she couldn't think about it.

She shook something terrible, when she stood up, but when the door started to jiggle, again, she knew it was either Mrs. Hughes or Mr. Carson. And she hid her shaking hands behind her. This was not the time for fear.

It was the time for fooling.

And it was only Mrs. Hughes, again, and she had new blacks for her to wear. They were a little small—a little tight. But they'd do in a pinch, and were a sight lovelier than the ones she had on now.

By the time she'd changed, and found a place to stash the old dress (bin it, burn it, for all she cared, but she was never going to wear it again) it was easier. She winced only a little when she ran the comb through her hair. And when John came down, she quashed down the fear. She didn't need fear. Not with John. She loved him. And she'd soon convince him that all was well.

She had to.

-o-

Poor Anna!

This episode always tears my heart out. So I wrote about it.

It felt a little janky, to me; let me know if the flow is weird? It might just be because I don't often do this style, and I've never done a Downton Abbey story, before.