Like many fanfic writers and BBC/PBS addicts, I was greatly impressed by the 2007 miniseries Cranford - and completely heartbroken at the turn the storyline took with Mr. Carter. This story is my response.

It began to take shape while I still knew relatively little about Elizabeth Gaskell and her works - via some online reading of her novels, plus viewing assorted BBC adaptations – and had only the most basic knowledge of life in the Victorian era.

I've had to do a fair amount of research as I've gone along, and from the start I was particularly interested in the psychological aspects of loss and grief. It goes without saying that "my" Miss Galindo and Mr. Carter have to work through quite a few layers of experience and emotion to get at their damaged hearts. We all know the source of tension between them, even if they haven't admitted it to themselves yet, and I wanted to give them room to grow and breathe and find each other. I also wanted them to have their own story, whatever the intentions of the screenwriter and the author, and in that regard "A Conspiracy of Concern" is not only firmly in AU territory but owes a great deal to The Best Years of Our Lives.

Of course this story wouldn't exist without good Mrs. Gaskell, but I'll say up front I drew much of my inspiration from Heidi Thomas's witty and poignant script for the 2007 series, and from the great performances of the actors, notably Emma Fielding (Miss Galindo), Philip Glenister (Mr. Carter), Jim Carter (Captain Brown), Francesca Annis (Lady Ludlow), Alex Etel (Harry Gregson), Lisa Dillon (Mary Smith), Joe McFadden (Dr. Jack Marshland), and of course the inimitable Imelda Staunton (Miss Pole).

I hope you enjoy it, and do let me know what you think.

Chapter 1: Audacity, Hope, and Prayers

When Dr. Harrison arrived back at his room that evening, exhaustion had overtaken him, though his brain was fairly reeling with images: Captain Brown and Mr. Carter in his surgery; Reverend Hutton, his face ashen; Sophy in the midst of her fever; the sheer fright in the eyes of the Hutton girls; Jack Marshland's tireless and stoic efforts in the sickroom.

And of all days, this was one he'd recall without regret, for this time all the medical innovations, all the determination, all the sheer audacity – and, for all he knew, some of Reverend Hutton's prayers – had brought merciful, even miraculous results.

Mr. Carter, his right leg badly damaged in the explosion at the railway site, had survived an amputation, fortunately less radical than what he might have suffered, and though he faced a long convalescence, he had survived, God bless him.

And Sophy, darling Sophy, would live too. Dr. Harrison's heart had been very full when he had finally left her, the fever at last broken, and patient and physicians exhausted and spent. No one had been able to speak, but all had exchanged glances of recognition – best of all his Sophy, pale, fragile, but returning stubbornly to life. She would live. She would live.

And with only that thought in his brain, he settled himself onto the bed and fell into a sleep from which he only awoke 14 hours later.

While Dr. Harrison was at last at rest, the same was not true of other denizens of Cranford that night. At Sophy Hutton's bedside her father kept vigil, and in another part of town Mary Smith and Laurentia Galindo did the same for Edward Carter, who was sleeping, though fitfully, after his ordeal.

Lady Ludlow and Miss Galindo had marveled at the resilience of Miss Smith, Dr. Harrison's unofficial surgical assistant and nurse, who had assisted during the amputation. The other two ladies had remained in an outer room during the operation, and if they had silently wept and prayed at the knowledge of what was taking place, they had been spared Miss Smith's experience.

Afterwards Lady Ludlow had quietly requested that Mr. Carter be taken to Hanbury for his convalescence. But Dr. Harrison had thought it best that he not be moved as yet, and so that night Mr. Carter slept at the surgery, watched over by Miss Smith and Miss Galindo, who took turns sitting awake beside the cot.

There was a peculiar intimacy in watching him while he slept, and Miss Galindo thought back to the events of the afternoon, and all that had come before them. She remembered their hours together in Lady Ludlow's estate office, working across from each other despite bitter exchanges – or, worse yet, strained silence – and how they had nevertheless both befriended Harry Gregson. She smiled wistfully. They had also befriended each other, despite all past misunderstandings and tensions. She thought again of the day Mr. Carter had turned up on her doorstep, flowers in hand, an unaccustomed shyness in his eyes.

And then this day had come, this terrible day, and Mr. Carter had been brought to Dr. Harrison for the operation that would either end or save his life.

Miss Galindo closed her eyes tightly. The memory of the afternoon was most painful. Mr. Carter, convinced of the worst, had demanded pen and ink and her assistance in drafting a will and testament right then and there. She had done it all, done everything he had requested, and when it came time for him to sign the document, she had taken his hand and guided it, gently stroking that hand, as he had looked up at her with an expression that made her avert her eyes, that left her fighting back tears.

And when they had brought her in to see him after the operation, with the smell of blood in the room and the horrific memory of his muffled screams, she had looked down at his sad, battered face, and attempted a smile. But the man on the cot looked back with an expression she had never seen before. Where was the Mr. Carter who had taught Harry Gregson to read, who had shown such devotion to Lady Ludlow, who had…

"Miss Galindo, I am afraid Mr. Carter is dead." Miss Galindo started from her sleep and looked around the room. Nothing had changed. No one had spoken. There was Mary, sitting in the chair beside Mr. Carter's cot, and there was Mr. Carter himself.

She must have dreamt it. Please, God, let it have been a dream.

She quietly got to her feet and tiptoed over to Mary, who wore an expression of calm exhaustion and determined optimism. And then Miss Galindo looked down at Mr. Carter, at his scarred, precious face, and gently placed a hand on his forehead - warm, not hot. And he was breathing regularly. Thank God.

Mary rose from her chair, a little stiffly, and offered it to Miss Galindo, who accepted wordlessly and settled in for her vigil.

It was strange sitting here at Edward Carter's side, watching him sleep, willing him to sleep, and yet wishing he would open those pale eyes, recognize her. A look from him might speak the words he could not bring past his lips, she thought, remembering how intently he had gazed upon her, even in his pain.

His pain. Dear God, bring him through this. Dear God, bring him back to me – bring him back to us. She laid her hand on his forehead and breathed her prayer a second time.

To be continued...