This story was written back in September and was intended to be a one-shot. However, the amount of support it received was overwhelming (plus a Highclere Award-thank you so much!). I have had more requests than I can count to continue this saga, and I finally sat down and added a chapter. I do hope you enjoy it. It was lovely to revisit this AU set in WWII.

Many thanks of course to Cls2011 and miscreant rose for the read-throughs and encouragement. You gals know how much I love you! :) And many thanks to all of you who have embraced this version of Mary and Matthew, the soldier and the singer. I hope this was worth the wait and would LOVE to hear your thoughts on this continuation.

Own nothing. Love it all.


"Are you going out again, Matthew?"

He turned to face her, his hand already clasped firmly around the doorknob.

"Yes, mother. Don't wait up. I'll let myself in as usual."

He turned the handle, anxious to get back to her, to this woman with a voice of velvet and rich, satin eyes.

"You have been keeping rather odd hours recently."

The observation hit home, making his spine straighten as much as it was able.

"Seeing as I basically went nowhere for months, I suppose my comings and goings would seem rather unusual these days."

He prayed this line of conversation was over.

Isobel Crawley traversed a path in his direction, daring him to make another move until she had been granted her say. He should have known better that to expect a reprieve.

"You're looking rather dashing," she observed, brushing off the front of his uniform. "You smell very nice, as well."

"Well, there's no need to simply lie about and let myself rot, now is there?" he questioned, knowing instinctively where this conversation was leading. "Cane or not, I am not an invalid."

"No," she agreed with a smile, her eyes taking in too much. "You are by no means an invalid, and I am delighted to see you up and about again, living your life."

A life he had all but given up on until a certain brunette had crooned her way into it.

"Well, then," he put in with a sigh. "I'm glad we agree. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be off. There's a singer I'm keen to hear tonight at the club."

He was eager to do more than simply listen to her, and his body responded too quickly as his mind replayed the feel of soft curves pressed in close, the taste of smoky kisses that blatantly reminded him he was a man. God—if he didn't get out of here within seconds, he would give himself away completely.

"Good night, mother."

He was halted by a hand on his shoulder.

"Who is she, Matthew?"

Damn. The question prickled hairs along his neck, burning a path to his ears as he steadied himself.

"The singer, you mean?" he returned, attempting to sound unaffected and failing miserably. "Mary Rose. She has a lovely alto voice, but I'm certain you don't know her."

"I'm quite certain I don't," Isobel stated. "But I have a feeling you do. And fairly well, it would appear."

He swallowed around the pastiness in his throat.

"What makes you think such a thing?"

A small laugh made his good knee tense automatically.

"Hmm, where shall I begin?" she mused. "Red lipstick on your collar, the smell of perfume on your jacket, the fact that you walk in every night humming a different tune."

His nose felt unnaturally hot.

"Shall I go on?"

"No," he voiced quietly, unable to meet her gaze. "That is quite unnecessary."

Her touch on his shoulder forced his eye, the smile beaming back at him unexpected.

"I'm glad for you, Matthew. Really. You deserve some happiness after…"

She bit off the sentence, swallowing down an ending too distasteful to forgive.

"After Lavinia walked out on me," he finished for her, the sting of her actions having lessened over the past several weeks.

"I'm sorry," Isobel stated, shaking her head. "There's no need to bring her into this. She deserves no special mention, as far as I'm concerned. What a coward she proved herself to be."

"I would call her more of a realist," he defended, still unable to see Lavinia in the stark black and white hues his mother so clearly visualized. "Besides, I'm relieved that she had the courage to be honest about her misgivings rather than to placate me out of some misguided sense of pity. I couldn't bear that in a marriage."

"No," she returned with intensity. "Nor should you have to."

"I wish Lavinia well, truly I do," he insisted, secretly hoping he would never lay eyes on his former fiancée again.

"Then you're a better person than I," Isobel began, shaking her head, ridding herself of thoughts of a woman she would rather forget. "So this Mary—I take it she doesn't mind your leg."

Whispers in the dark brushed against caresses in the closet, competing for dominance in a memory overloaded with the essence of her. Red lips heating his neck and claiming his chin, his hands stroking her arms, her spine, the sides of her breasts, mouths meeting in a need forged from maimed lives balanced on the ledge of uncertainty.

"No," he admitted, staring down at his shoes. "She doesn't mind at all."

And he for one could not figure out why.

"Then I'd like to meet her sometime," Isobel stated with a nod. "If things continue to progress between the two of you."

"I'd like that, too," he confessed, praying her divorce would move with the rapidity she deserved. Every day that she had to remain attached to that monster of a husband was one day too long.

"Well, then," his mother added. "Have a lovely evening, my dear. I'll probably be asleep when you wonder back home."

He placed a kiss on her cheek, staring into eyes that had loved him through everything.

"Good night, mother," he returned, giving her a wink. He then stepped out into the streets of London with as much of a spring in his step as an artificial leg could muster.


She wasn't there.

The set was due to start in five minutes, the band had taken the stage, but Mary—the voice that drew in the audience night after night—had not arrived. How many times had she told him that she liked to arrive early, to have time to collect her thoughts and review any new numbers to ensure a smooth performance? Something was wrong—terribly wrong.

God—where was she?

It was then he noticed the saxophone player attempting to make eye contact, pointing to her microphone and shrugging in a wordless question. He looked as clueless as Matthew felt, their shared expressions of concern thickening his larynx as his insides hollowed out. The band didn't know where she was, either.

This could not be a good thing.

He pushed himself to a standing position, scanning the crowd, scoping each corner, looking in anticipation towards the stage door. Nothing. Mary was missing on the very night she had instructed him to listen for a song she was certain he would love, one she had chosen with him in mind.

A chill gripped his intestines as his heart thudded in his ears. He had to find her. Something was most decidedly wrong.

He moved with a speed that surprised even him, pushing past those entering the club, maneuvering by cigarette girls selling their wares. Then he was back on the pavement, hobbling towards his car, wishing he could drive with the polish he possessed before his injury.

Traffic was slow-moving, and he cursed repeatedly, slamming hands against the wheel in a frustration overtaking every nerve. Mary—he had to get to Mary. He jerked the vehicle sharply, rounding a corner in what he hoped would be a short cut. One never knew in London these days. Debris and rubble shut down normally operable routes with regularity, causing many a driver to lose considerable time rather than gaining it. He honked his horn without reason, passing a driver when he really shouldn't have, barely aware of anything besides the pulsing need to find her.

She had to be alright. It would damage him beyond repair if she wasn't.

He was nearly to her town house. Thank God. Thank God. He parked haphazardly, very nearly forgetting his keys in the ignition as he swung his frame out of the driver's seat and onto the pavement. Steps would not be an obstacle, he would force himself to hop if he must, and he persisted until he reached her door, his knock heavy, his heartbeat askew.

"Mary," he rasped, his voice scraping this throat. "Mary, are you there?"

He pressed his ear to the door, listening for something, for anything to let him know that she was inside.

Silence.

"Mary, it's me. For God's sake, if you're in there, please let me in. I'm worried sick over you."

He knew he was begging, but he didn't care. He would grovel to ensure that she was alright.

Wait—were those steps he heard just beyond the door frame? He held his breath in anticipation, standing in silence until the knob began to turn.

Her profile met him through a crack, her face cast in shadow, her breathing unsteady.

"I'm alright, Matthew. It's very sweet of you to check on me, but you needn't worry."

The shakiness in her tone did nothing to reassure him.

"Then let me in, Mary," he insisted, tempted to nudge the door but leery of unnerving her. "Please. I'd like to see you."

"I'm not feeling well," she asserted, continuing to hold him at bay. "And the place is a bloody mess."

"I don't care about any of that," he insisted, daring a touch to her hand, feeling more panicked by the second. "I care about you. Please, Mary."

The sound of a repressed sniffle wafted through the opening, and he saw her hand shake as the one eye he could see looked away from him. She stepped back with a sigh, tugging the door askew behind her, granting him entrance into a room bathed in darkness.

He stepped over an umbrella, noting a faint smell of whiskey that lingered, an aftermath of something he subconsciously knew to be unspeakable. His eyes adjusted as he took in an overturned table, a broken vase on the floor, her purse open and flung aside, its contents scattered across the room. Skin prickled as the hair on his arms stood on end.

"What happened here?"

Her head dropped to her chin at his question, her back all he could see.

"Mary?"

"I'm alright, Matthew," she returned, the flatness of her tone as disturbing as the state of the room.

"I don't believe you," he insisted, taking two steps in her direction. "Please turn around."

An unnatural silence descended, the ticking of the clock thundering in his ears. Then a movement, a stirring, and she turned to face him with a deliberation that was painful to watch. God—he saw it all—a cheek bruised, her lower lip cut and swollen, ivory hands shaking uncontrollably. Icy heat welled in his stomach as his mouth twitched, the urge to vomit vying with one to cry out.

"God, Mary."

He was by her side in an instant, softly touching her shoulder, beckoning her eyes, controlling a fury he would have to deal with later.

"What did he do to you?"

A haunted vacancy met his gaze head on, and he took her hands in his own, shaking with a rage far greater than he had ever experienced in battle.

"He's never left a mark before. Not where anyone could see, I mean."

Her tone was frighteningly detached.

"I'll kill him."

Her eyes widened in an instant as her grip tightened around his, her fingers far too cold for his liking.

"No," she insisted, shaking her head. "You can't."

"I bloody well can," he asserted, his breathing almost painful. "He deserves it after—"

"He knows about us, Matthew," she interrupted, her eyes pleading with him. "I don't know how he found out, but he did. That's why he came here. If you go after him, he'll…"

She swallowed with effort as her face dropped to her feet.

"I can't let him hurt you, too."

"It's not your job to protect me, Mary," he clarified, growing more enraged with every breath. "And I'm more than capable of taking care of myself. I am a soldier, you know."

"Yes, I know."

The words spilled from her in a rush, her hands tentatively reaching out to touch his chest.

"But I could never forgive myself if he hurt you," she continued. "Not because of me. I'm not worth it."

"Yes, you are," he affirmed, stroking her hair with a gentleness that almost broke her. "You're worth everything."

Strong arms wrapped around her, his cane all but forgotten as it clattered to the floor. He felt her quiver, then shake, and he steadied his footing, binding her to him as a tear slid into her hair.

"Mary," he whispered, terrified to ask what he needed to know. "Did he, I mean, were you forced…"

"No," she breathed into his chest. "Nothing like that."

"Thank God," he muttered, feeling a ball of tension between his ribs deflate. What had happened to her was bad enough in its own right. If Carlisle had—

No. That line of thought would send him over a ledge from which there was no return.

"Let's pack up your things," he stated, concentrating on her, drawing her gaze. "You can stay with me for a while."

"What? But your mother…"

"Will understand perfectly," he broke in, smiling with a reassurance he did not feel. "And she's a nurse, you know. She can tend to your injuries while I contact the authorities."

"You mustn't call them," she argued. "It will only make things worse."

"They must be notified, Mary," he threw back. "He cannot get away with this."

She sighed as the fight left her body.

"Just not tonight," Mary requested, licking wounded lips. "I need…I need to get away, to forget. Please, Matthew. Promise me."

Her veneer now lay shattered, giving him a glimpse of raw agony laced with terror unmasked before his eyes. The impact nearly knocked him over.

"Alright," he agreed softly, setting aside his need for justice. "We'll do whatever you need for you to feel safe tonight."

She rested her head on his shoulder, exhaling into his neck as he cupped her head with his palm.

"Thank you."

Her words were more felt than heard, nuzzling into hardened places rendered to mere putty by her touch.

"Don't mention it," he returned, forcing back tears of anger and outrage to soothe exposed wounds. "Now let's see to your bags and get out of here."


She said next to nothing the entire journey, staring vacantly out of the window, wiping her cheeks when she thought he wasn't looking. He caught himself wishing her husband would step in front of his car, relishing the thought of seeing his face contorted in shock, craving the sound of his body bouncing off the vehicle onto the street. Of course, that would deprive him of the satisfaction of strangling the bastard personally.

He had never hated anyone with such passion.

"We're nearly there," he assured her, receiving a muted nod as a response. Her silence was killing him. No—this entire situation was killing him. Why in God's name had she ever married such a monster? And what on earth could he do to help her get away from him for good?

They finally arrived, the shutting down of the ignition unleashing a silence that took over.

"Shall we?"

His voice cracked, and he cleared his throat, drawing her eyes for the first time since they had set foot in his car.

"Are you sure about this, Matthew?"

The tremor in her voice nearly undid him.

"Absolutely," he attested, turning to face her directly. "And I don't want you to worry about a thing, Mary. Is that understood?"

"Aye, aye, sergeant major," she returned with a first attempt at a smile, her expression wincing at the discomfort in her lip.

"Then let's get you inside and settled," he instructed. "I'll see to your bags."

"Let me help," she insisted softly, catching him off guard. "There's no need for you to make two trips."

Damn that bloody cane.

"I don't mind," he stated. "Really."

Her eyes softened as she reached out to touch his cheek.

"I know," she breathed. "But I do."

He couldn't deny her even this.

They made their way up the steps, pausing before the door as he fiddled for the right key.

"Matthew?"

His mother's voice cut through the door, making him flush unexpectedly as Mary shot him a look.

"Yes. It's me, mother."

The sound of chains being loosened and locks being turned met their ears, and the door opened a bit too quickly.

"What are you doing—"

The question faded on her tongue, her mouth hanging agape.

"Mother, this is Mary," he began, attempting to ease the awkwardness of a situation that couldn't help but be uncomfortable. "Mary—my mother, Isobel Crawley."

Beads of sweat trickled down his neck.

"It's very nice to meet you," Mary stated, ducking her head instinctively from eyes that took in everything.

"Likewise," Isobel returned, stepping back to allow them a passage. "Please, won't you come in?"

His mother's stare singed his spine as he walked past.

"I take it the show got cancelled this evening," Isobel attempted, following the other woman's movements as the atmosphere thickened.

"Yes," Matthew answered, turning to face his mother as Mary stared at the wall. "Yes it did."

A car horn from outside made him jump. God, he had to get a grip on his nerves.

"Can I offer you anything to drink, Ms…"

"Mary. Just call me Mary."

Her voice sounded muffled, her shoulders tense as she braved mortification and faced Isobel directly. A soft intake of breath rattled his insides as he watched his mother's spine straighten in a flash. Any lingering evidence of shock vanished as the older woman. cleared her throat and smiled deliberately.

"Mary, then," she nodded. "And please call me Isobel."

Eyes locked across the room, details given without a word being spoken. Matthew watched them anxiously, afraid to move lest he break some unknown spell, amazed at how neither woman flinched or blinked.

"I think I'd like a brandy," Isobel stated pertly. "Shall I pour some for the two of you, as well?"

The urge to hug his mother was nearly overpowering.

"That would be lovely, mother. Thank you."

Mary exhaled audibly when Isobel left the room, nearly slumping into him as all the starch drained from her limbs.

"Come," he instructed, taking her arm. "You should sit down."

She had no argument, allowing him to lead her to comfortable sofa into which her muscles melted on contact.

"Your mother is remarkable," she noted, haltingly touching the bruise just below her eye.

"Let me get you a cool cloth, or something," he insisted, wishing he had thought to do so when they first arrived. "That might take off the sting."

"The brandy will do that nicely," she returned, laying a hand on his upper thigh. "Just sit with me. Please."

He had never seen her look so vulnerable.

"I'll stay until you ask me to move," he asserted, feeling dreadful as she smiled and then flinched. "God, your lip. I'm so sorry."

"Don't be," she declared. "It's not your doing."

His hands fisted automatically, the urge to hit something pooling in his gut.

"I know," he agreed. "But I shall attempt to be as droll as possible so you will have no reason to smile."

"You always make me smile, Matthew."

His heart cinched and swelled simultaneously.

His mother's steps halted at Mary's overheard declaration, pausing just before she moved in carrying a tray. They drank in silence, the need for conversation hovering just beyond a perimeter none of them wished to cross.

"Mary will be staying with us tonight," Matthew finally voiced, watching the older woman nervously over the rim of his glass. Pupils dilated, lips pressed together, and she set her glass down on the table.

"Of course she will," Isobel returned matter-of-factly. "I'll see to it that her room is made ready."

"You really don't have to—"

"Nonsense, my dear. I shall hear no argument."

He looked from his mother to Mary, watching the agony of dependence work its way across her brow.

"Thank you, Isobel," the younger woman offered, taking another drink. "You don't know how much this means to me."

Their eyes locked yet again.

"I think I do."

He could find nothing to say.

"Now if you'll excuse me, I'll draw you a bath," his mother continued without a hitch. "I have a hunch that a long soak and Epsom salts might feel like heaven about now."

Mary nodded in silence, closing her eyes. How he wanted to take her hand and flee somewhere her husband couldn't find her, to a place untouched by war's ugly hand. Did such a place even exist anymore? He feared the earth would be forever scarred by the beasts threatening to devour it, whatever the outcome, whomever the victors.

The evening wore on, and he stared out the window, fighting back the urge to call the police as Mary soaked in the tub. She had made him promise to do nothing tonight, but the thought of her husband going unpunished ate at him like a rabid parasite. Carlisle had to pay for his crime. It was only right.

But Mary had begged him, had trusted him to honor her entreaty. And there was nothing in this world he would do to betray that trust. Nothing.

Damn.

She emerged much later, robed, clean, and clearly exhausted. They said goodnight in whispers, fingers tangling together in lieu of a kiss. His mother led her to a neglected guest room just across the hall from where he slept, so achingly close yet worlds away.

It didn't really matter. He wouldn't sleep tonight anyway. Of that, he was certain.

Restless limbs stirred, tossing under blankets, his gaze drawn towards a moon miraculously unhampered by sirens. How thankful he was that they didn't have to run for shelter when she was in such a state.

He prayed she was getting the rest she needed.

Lids became heavy, and images blurred together, her purse, her face, the storage closet at the club, swirling in a cacophony until he was back in France, the smell of carnage much too close. Leaden feet were running towards something hazy, hearing a voice he couldn't identify, looking for a woman just out of reach. Then blackness overtook him.

He sat straight up, gasping for air, trying to focus on something that didn't fit.

"Mary?"

She stared guiltily at him from the foot of his bed, twisting the tie of her robe into a frazzled knot.

"I couldn't sleep."

It was then he noticed she was shaking, and his heart nearly burst from the weight of it. He flung aside warm blankets, inviting her where he knew she shouldn't be, not caring a whit about what his mother would say in the morning. She slid in without reservation, moving in close, pressing her face into his chest, grabbing on to him with everything she had.

"Just hold me," she whispered, making him shutter in places he had forgotten existed.

"Try and stop me," he breathed, feeling her tighten around him as he sheltered her body with his own. He felt the rise and fall of her chest, the warmth of spent air on his shoulder, the chill of long fingers on his back. The thrum of her heartbeat pulsed into his veins, and he knew at that moment he loved her, body and soul, blood and bone.

Quiet tears seeped through his pajamas, and he cradled her head, kissing her temple, stroking her arm.

"It's alright now," he assured her, wishing with every atom he could whisk away her pain. "We'll get through this, you know."

Deep eyes stared back at him, crystalline from the shades of night drifting in through the curtains.

"I wish I'd met you years ago," she voiced, losing her fingers in his hair. "How different my life might be now."

"It's a lovely thought, isn't it," he agreed, envisioning a life with her, children with her, being welcomed home from the war with acceptance rather than rejection. "But we've found each other now. That's something."

"Yes," she murmured, her voice nearly drugged. "It is. I just hope it's not too late."

His heart stilled momentarily as he tilted her chin in his direction.

"Don't even say such a thing," he instructed softly. "We're here together. Now. That's all that matters."

Cold feet burrowed into his calf, making him wince anew at the gaping loss of the other.

"I told you I don't care about that," she assured him, daring a caress down his upper leg, stopping just before it ended prematurely.

"I know," he whispered, swallowing back shame that still stalked him. "But I do."

Her forehead stroked his chin, hands fisting his pajamas with the fervor of a prayer.

"Don't. You're so much more than that."

She snuggled in closer, burrowing into his skin, holding him with a ferocity he felt everywhere.

"You make me feel safe," she confided into his shoulder, rocking him to the core of who he was.

"And you make me feel alive," he confessed as she sighed into him, limbs melting into each other until both of them finally slept.


I hope you enjoyed it. Have a most lovely week, everyone, and thanks for reading. :)