Date: 18th December 2006

Pairing: Robert Parks/Mary Maceachran

Disclaimer: Everything belonged to USA Films; I'm just playing with 'em a little.

Prompt: Mary and Robert, post-war. The setting is Paris, the fluff is to a minimum and there is black market coffee. Lots of it.

Notes: Couldn't follow everything in the prompt, but I hope my meagre efforts were acceptable.

*****

1.

The first time Robert had come across the young servant girl was in the library of his father's country estate. It was supposed to be a weekend for shooting and hunting, and apparently his father had decided to hunt for more than birds. Again.

Disgusted by the whole sordid mess, Robert was completely ready to quit the room when he realised that the girl was in fact struggling. For a short moment he was, surprisingly, shocked and appalled. Womaniser that the man was, Sir William McCordle had never been known for forcing himself on anyone.

His eyes scanned the room quickly and found their target on the nearly empty bottle of whiskey. Damn. Nothing else to do now except the inevitable. Robert strode forward and beckoned at the girl, who, more agile than she looked, slipped under his father's arm and ran to the spot right behind Robert.

His father turned sharply around, looking completely ready to strike Robert. "What do you think you're doing?" he asked, his tone ominously calm.

"Stop scaring the poor thing, Father," he answered with a cheer that he didn't feel. "Surely you haven't resort to piteous country girls like that yet? I'm sure Elsie must be rather lonely at the moment."

His father stared at him wordlessly and imperiously for so long that a reluctant apology had begun to form in his mind, but finally the man's face split into a grin. "Robert, my boy, why couldn't you just tell your old man that you've set your eye on the girl yourself?" he exclaimed, clapping Robert on the shoulder, and strode out of the room.

Robert let go of a breath that he didn't know he was holding and turned toward the girl. She wasn't bad-looking, but nothing spectacular. Trust his father to be so undiscriminating. "What's your name?" he asked.

The girl blinked several times and slowly, oh-so-slowly, raised her head. "Mary," she mumbled with a heavy Scottish baroque.

As their eyes met, Robert was somewhat surprised by how bright and intelligent her eyes were, but even more surprised by the fear they still held. He blinked a little, then it finally occurred to him that she had actually taken his father's words at face value.

Robert snorted. "You may go, Mary. Take care not to attract my father's attentions again, hm?"

The girl nodded and scampered away. Robert shook his head and strolled back to the drawing room.

*****

2.

The second time that Robert had seen the young lady was in the Stockbridges' house in town. Lady Stockbridge was holding one of her soirees and of course the Countess of Trentham would bring her adopted daughter along.

The young lady had had her coming out party a few months ago, Robert heard, but there weren't any serious suitors yet. With little inheritance, next to no beauty to speak of, and only an impoverished countess for connections, Miss Trentham's prospects looked rather limited.

But none of that was of any concern to Robert anyway. It was none of his business that the re-assuring smile she had given the new and stumbling housemaid was the kindest expression he had seen in far too long. It was definitely none of his business that her eyes were bright and cheerful, that her mouth was quick to smile, or that her figure was slender and rather shapely, no matter how uncontrollably she had made his heart thump. And it was most certainly none of his business that no matter how kindly she had smiled at the servants, her sweetest smiles were reserved for Mr. Blond alone.

He shook his head and laughed silently at himself, moping about like a boy of fifteen instead of a man of thirty. He had gone back into his room to read, but obviously that wasn't working. Stretching out the various kinks of his body, Robert walked briskly out of his room again as the noise in the ballroom was slowly dying down.

As he passed by the staircase, however, he saw a quick movement in his peripheral vision and turned his head. On the landing, just behind one of the conveniently-placed ficus stood Miss Trentham and Mr. Blond, who were talking quietly and intimately to each other. Luckily they hadn't noticed him yet, and Robert had a mind not to be noticed. He continued to Lord Stockbridge's room and began tidying things up for his employer's return.

When his master arrived at the room with Lady Stockbridge in tow, they were talking happily of the upcoming marriage between Miss Trentham and Mr. Blond. Listening quietly, Robert went about his business and didn't even notice that he had clenched his fists until his palms had begun to bleed.

Wincing, he quickly gathered up the rest of Lord Stockbridge's things and half-stumbled out of the room.

*****

3.

The third time that Robert had seen her was in London.

Queuing up at the conscription office, Robert looked around lazily and tried to assess his soon-to-be fellow soldiers. Would they be good soldiers or bad ones? Would they run on the battlefield or fight till their last breath? Did it matter? After all, they had called the Great War "the war to end all wars", and everyone knew what happened to that.

He glanced at the office next door, the one for the Auxiliary Territorial Service, and found himself looking at one Mary Maceachran. No! his heart cried, and he shuddered, feeling as if someone had poured a bucket of ice water on his head. His first thought was that he should run over, pull her out of the queue, and forbid her from ever doing something this dangerous. His second was acknowledging the futility of a gesture like that.

After all, he was no one to her. They had said no more than ten words to each other since that fateful day eight years ago, when Robert had stopped a despicably drunk Sir William McCordle from forcing himself on her. Any advances on Robert's part after that would have been inconsiderate and callous, and Robert simply hadn't the heart to pursue Mary any further or to kill the man like he had planned for so long.

He swallowed heavily and went back to waiting. The number of women in that queue was rather small, which was only to be expected, and soon Mary had finished registering. A soft, content smile on her face, she walked out of that office with her head held high, looked around for a short while, as if feeling his gaze, and began to march away.

Robert thought of calling her, but the thought of meaningless small talk with the woman he still loved was painful to him. And he was about to go away for war, for God's sake. It wasn't like he could give her anything, even if he could gather the courage to speak his heart. It wouldn't be fair to her or to himself.

He watched her slender form disappearing into the crowd.

*****

4.

The fourth time Robert had seen the young angel was in a field hospital somewhere in the middle of the Continent.

For weeks he and his section, bone-tired as they'd already become, had fought in a battle that seemed utterly pointless and with no end in sight. Just old enough for conscription at the very end of the Great War, he was the only man in his section who'd seen any action. Eventually they were ambushed, by a bomb that went off in close enough proximity to knock everyone out, and they were eventually sent to the back.

When he finally woke up, he didn't even know if he'd wanted to open his eyes. The smell of blood was so strong in the air that Robert was almost sure he was still somewhere on the battlefield. But no, the material he was lying on was soft and the smell of disinfectant finally penetrated his nostrils.

Hospital, he noted, and sighed in relief. Then he tensed up again and began wriggling his extremities. After he'd found everything he still had well and intact, he relaxed again and opened his eyes.

The first face he saw was his superior's, but the second one made his heart pound. "Mary?" he forced out, torn between desperate hope and disbelief. Mary was the only girl who'd ever looked at him and his hand normally, even after he'd taken off his gloves (he supposed he should be grateful for an employer who didn't mind a slightly maimed servant — provided he kept his gloves on at all times, of course).

"I'm sorry, but how do you know my nam—," she answered, then her eyes widened almost comically. "Oh, my Lord, Robert, is that you? Good God, it is you." Her mouth stretching immediately into a smile, Mary held his hand and pulled a stool under her. "Don't worry, I'm here."

"Mary," he repeated her name, not knowing what else to say. He squeezed her hand and, exhausted by the past month, dropped off into a deep and easy sleep, dreaming longingly of his mother's kind and loving smile on the day he left.

*****

5.

The fifth time Robert had seen the gir — nay, woman — was on the streets of Paris.

They had won the war just months ago and Robert had been wandering around Paris for all those months, soaking up the atmosphere and the language both -- learning more than he ever would at a university, Robert was sure.

He was sitting at one of the outdoor tables at a café, sipping coffee and once again puzzling over whether to go "home". (He had once asked the proprietor of the shop about the origins of the coffee beans, wanting to buy some himself, but the man had only raised and eyebrow. Robert had nodded and returned to his seat without delay. Just because he was foolish enough to ask such a question in the first place did not mean he was stupid enough to ask twice.) Someone in pumps was walking by, and the click-click-click of those heels were especially loud to his ears this early in the morning.

He glanced up and caught a familiar figure striding past, with heavy-looking bags in both her hands. At first he couldn't recall her name, a fact that pained him considerably, and by the time he had, she was already quite a bit away. He considered calling after her, but she looked rather busy, with her bags and her purposeful stride.

A pang of old heartaches and unrequited passions caught and squeezed his heart for a short moment, but he pushed them to the back of his mind finally. They had slept together once, yes, but her time as a nurse trainee during the war had given her much better prospects.

He raised his coffee cup after her, silently wishing her all the happiness and luck in the world.

~~ finis ~~