A/N: I'm not really sure what to say about this fic, other than that I'm seemingly incapable at the moment of not writing M-rated fics! *sigh*

In short, this is a bit of self-indulgence, inspired by GORGEOUS promo s2 photos of Matthew in the trenches. He looks GOOD muddy. I decided Mary somehow needed to encounter muddy!Matthew. I blame Silvestria for spawning this.. :)

It is the thinnest premise imaginable, but I hope that you will just let that slide and enjoy this fic for the wish-fulfillment that it is! Originally posted for the LiveJournal community mmmonday_madness!

It's totally AU, other than Matthew being a soldier. Erm.. yeah! I do hope you enjoy! :)


Filth

It was ludicrous. Utterly ludicrous. What on earth was she doing here? Mary wondered for the umpteenth time as the sputtering car she was in jolted painfully over another crater in the road.

"Apologies, Madame!" The greasy looking driver called back to her.

"Oh, it's quite alright, I'm getting used to it by now…" She sighed resignedly, before the whole car leapt and shuddered again. It had been like this all day; well, for the last four hours since they'd left the still-intact suburbs of Cherbourg for the desolate countryside of northern France.

Sybil. Stupid, foolish Sybil. Of course she had to get a V.A.D. posting here. She could not be content with England, or even one of the pleasanter areas of conflict like Malta – no, it had to be France. Near Verdunn, actually, down the eastern side of the country. Thankfully (she supposed) it was too far for a single day's journey, and they were due to stop in another half an hour for a good night's rest before carrying on the next day. If she had to stay in this rotten car any longer she thought she might be sick.

Idly, she tapped her fingers in her lap and peered out of the window. It was deeply unpleasant. There was a chill in the air, but it wasn't so cold after the winter that the ground was frozen; instead, spring rain seemed to have churned the ground and landscape to a sodden mess. It was hard to believe anyone at all could survive here. Her heart had leapt into her mouth several times already that day, as the ground had shook from far distant shells, a faint, dull thud in the distance. It seemed incessant.

Then, another sound – even fainter, stranger – pricked her ears.

"What on earth is that sound?" She tapped the driver's shoulder. It sounded like… singing. A little way in the distance.

"Pardon? Oh, that –" He listened carefully for a moment. "Sounds British. They sing as they march. They're probably on their way to Tergnier, as we are, on their break days from the front line."

"Oh!"

As they drove on, the sound grew louder – it was definitely raucous, enthusiastic singing – the straggling unit came into sight. Mary had gotten fairly used to the sight of soldiers already, that day; but these, it was clear, must have come straight from the battlefield. Mary had heard tales of life in the trenches, but to see these men as the car approached to overtake… They were filthy. Caked in mud from head to foot, must have been marching for goodness knows how long, and yet they were singing.

She thought of Matthew. Oh, she often thought of Matthew, but having arrived here today and seen some of the things he must have seen – soldiers, like him – filled her heart with a fresh worry for him. She hadn't seen him for nearly two years, now, none of them had. She felt a stab of guilt… had always been quietly convinced that it was her fault he had gone. And now, must he be living like this? Here?

As the car approached and overtook them, Mary watched with a strange fascination, though she tried not to stare. A number of soldiers paused their singing to shout at the car, ask mockingly for a lift, and Mary laughed as the driver gestured rudely at them with a grin. It was clearly a strange ritual that happened often. Then, she noticed how their exaggerated frowns slackened when they saw her in the back, and she blushed, looking demurely forwards.

They passed them in moments, and continued on to Tergnier. It was a small town – barely even that – and as they entered it, it was immediately apparent that the war had not passed this place by. Buildings lay ruined and trees burnt, and Mary paled as she looked out with wide eyes.

"Not to worry, Madame," Louis said over his shoulder. "The fighting moved on from here weeks ago, we will be quite safe."

"If you're sure!" Mary murmured to herself. She had only known this strange, dirty looking gentleman since this morning, but she supposed she must trust him. Her parents had paid a lot of money to ensure she would be looked after as she sought Sybil (though really, Mary wondered that this was the best they could do…).

Soon, they pulled up at a small inn. Louis (he wasn't so bad, Mary considered on reflection) escorted her out of the car and showed her to the desk, where she duly checked into her room for the night before going back downstairs for some very welcome dinner.

Feeling hot and dusty from the travelling, Mary took a seat by the open window, near the door. It was a large window that displayed the street, and as she watched people going to and fro, she marvelled that there was much life here at all. People managed, obviously. They made do. She felt an admiration for them.

It was as she was sipping her coffee (strong and black, just what she needed) that she heard the singing again. She smiled, and craned her head towards the window, as the sound was coming from down the road.

They came round the corner, marching quickly now, with the impetus of having nearly reached their destination. There was an officer at the front – her eyes lingered on him a moment – he was tall, and reminded her a little of Matthew, in the way he walked, but he was leaner, thinner. Clearly an officer, he was leading a chorus of "Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag…" with enormous gusto, rallying the men behind him to raise their voices and swing their arms as they marched down the road towards her. She could hear his voice over the others (perhaps only because he was at the front), just, and it was rich, strong, but slightly off-key. Really quite endearing. He grinned as he sang, closing his eyes, tilting his head back and belting the melody out, almost glowing with the exhilaration of being somewhere they clearly thought of as safe. It made Mary's heart sing; a little prick of joy amongst all this devastation.

The officer turned to gesture at someone behind him, and when he turned back, a flash of piercing blue made Mary's breath catch.

It couldn't be.

She peered closer, arching her head to look properly through the window. She couldn't have mistaken him, surely? She began to tremble all over. They were marching nearer the inn, about to go past, and she was trying so hard to see… and then his head turned and he saw her.

The officer's eyes widened – blue, so blue amidst the dirt on his face, and Mary knew it in an instant – he stopped dead, his voice fading from his lips. His sudden halt caused the man behind him to walk straight into the back of him.

"Oi, Crawley, watch your bloody step!"

It was.

Mary sprung to her feet, but he was marching again, face forwards and singing even louder, though this time with an expression of fierce concentration over the irrepressible joy she had seen earlier.

Unable to stop shaking, Mary slowly sank back into her seat.

It took the rest of her cup of coffee, and another, and another after that before she could rally herself to any sort of sense.

Matthew. He was here. What on earth was he doing here! No, that was not the odd thing of course, what on earth was she doing here, but for him to be here… He was a soldier. The man she had just seen, that Matthew, so very, very different from the Matthew she remembered, but his eyes… His body may have changed and his face been obscured by filth, but the drowning blue of his eyes were unmistakable. She felt suddenly terrified.

Without really knowing what she was doing, or considering the sense of it – she waved off Louis' concerns distractedly – she found herself following the churned path trodden by their boots down the road. Past the blown out church, around a stable, and there was a burnt tree just ahead and… he was walking past it, striding towards her. He looked up, stopped.

Mary took another step towards him; her move spurred him and he closed the distance until he stood only a foot away from her, eyeing her up with a cold gaze, as if assessing her presence. Mary's lips parted in silent distress as she looked at him; covered in mud from head to toe, boots sodden, helmet dinted and dried blood on his collar. Was this how he lived?

"I thought I was dreaming," she eventually said, her voice small and sounding lost.

"So did I."

Mary's lips parted and closed, and she moistened them. Her throat was dry, she couldn't process this. She started a little when he reached out and grasped her hand, the cold, firm press of his fingers against hers thrusting her back into reality.

"What on God's earth are you doing here, Mary?" He sounded almost accusatory. She couldn't know that it was because the thought of her here, here in this torn and shattered environment, was wrong… It was his place, not hers. She was too perfect for it. Still… Still, too perfect. His heart ached. It had to be wrong.

She shrugged slightly.

"I'm not sure I could tell you! I've been sent to retrieve Sybil. She has to come home, and – we didn't know that our messages were getting through – it's been nearly a month. So it seemed to fall to me!" Now that she thought about it, it seemed ridiculous.

"Sybil?"

"Yes. She's nursing, near Verdunn."

"Ah." His countenance darkened for a moment, and Mary wondered what he knew of it. Afraid of the silence, she continued.

"I'm staying here tonight before carrying on there tomorrow." She wasn't sure why she felt the need to justify this to him. She still felt as though she were in a dream, though; she couldn't possibly be standing in a field in France talking to Matthew, Matthew who she hadn't seen since he'd deserted them all for this cause over two years ago. His lip quirked, suddenly.

"And where is your chaperone?"

Mary's brows rose incredulously. Was he being… forward? Or was he watching out for her? She couldn't read him at all, could barely see him apart from his blue, blue eyes through the dirt… She laughed.

"Louis! He is at the inn. Goodness knows why Papa hired him."

"And you can trust him?"

"I… imagine so; I fear I have little choice!" Her eyes sparkled. What on earth was she doing? "Why, Matthew, would you protect me?"

She was suddenly very aware again of his fingers grasping her hand. She shivered, her brazen smile faltering at the seriousness in his expression.

"With my life."

His gaze burnt into her, pierced her, searched her. Everything else seemed to fade away. It felt terrifying, wonderful, but… Mary steeled herself, drawing herself up a little taller. He spoke of protecting her, with that warm, deep, wonderful voice, but…

"You've never visited. Never come back once. It's been nearly two years, Matthew."

A dark frown flashed over his face, and he seemed to consider his answer carefully.

"No. I wasn't… sure I'd be welcomed. By everyone." By you. How could he possibly tell her that the prospect of her indifference would have been too much to bear?

The sheer force of his words caused Mary almost to sway, saved only by the tight grip of his hand on hers. She understood him perfectly. She squeezed his fingers lightly. If she had been blessed with this one chance to right things, then by God she was going to take it.

"You would have been by me, Matthew." She lowered her head a little, looking intently at him. She saw his small intake of breath, the flicker of his brows as he questioned her sentiment and struggled to grasp it.

Mary gulped. It was too much, she wasn't ready for this, she couldn't be here and he couldn't be here but they were and her hand was in his… Panicking, she tried to shift attention from whatever hung in the past between them. She flustered into an overly bright smile.

"Or perhaps you were trying to hide your talent for song! Really, Matthew, I had no idea!"

He smiled wryly, aware of her evasion. He wondered whether it was foolish to take the fact he made her flustered as a sign of encouragement.

"Not a very great talent, I think you could tell." He shrugged slightly. "It helps."

Mary nodded, as though she understood, when of course she could not.

"I wonder that you find any reason to sing, amidst all this."

Matthew smiled, a glint in the deep blue of his eyes. "We survived another day. What more reason do we need?"

The simplicity of it awed Mary. She lowered her head, almost ashamed to have been concerned over her uncomfortable car journey and what her room was like, when Matthew, her dear Matthew was so glad only to be alive.

As if he sensed it, Matthew put a finger to her chin and tipped her face gently up towards him. Mary gazed deeply at him, blinking back long-withheld tears. She sighed and smiled; a trembling, hesitant smile. It didn't matter that his precious face was filthy and muddied. He had never looked more handsome to her.

She kissed him. For a moment they were paralysed, suspended in a speck of beautiful time, and then his arms were around her and his lips were coaxing hers apart, firm but so wonderfully soft, somehow, and she gave herself up to him entirely. Two years of longing and dreams and barely entertained hope burst out in their embrace as they clung to each other. Mary whimpered softly as Matthew pressed against her, unrelenting, until her back thudded against the black charcoal of the tree and he moaned into her mouth. Her skin was smooth, and clean, and so preciously soft, and all the love he had forced down and ignored and refused suddenly burst back to the surface as he kissed her, again and again.

Mary's arms hung around his neck, as she arched her back against him. She inhaled deeply, through the stench of mud she could still sense him… She reached up and pulled his helmet off, causing their lips to part for a moment then clash back together in a storm of lips and tongues, and her hands twisted into his hair. It felt grimy, thick with weeks of dirt but it didn't matter, she wanted to draw him closer and hold him to her… His hands were on her waist, clutching at her, and…

"You're… not wearing a corset," he gasped against her lips. She drew her head back, and shook it slightly, too dazed to think properly. She didn't want to think. He kissed her again, she squirmed against him with pleasured sighs, and when his searching hands shifted from her waist to her breast it didn't seem at all strange, or wrong… Mary moaned into his mouth, heat building within her as she surrendered to him… It couldn't be wrong, not here, not now. She was here, and he was alive, and nothing could be more right.

Without warning, he drew back, gasping for air.

"Mary… I…"

"No, Matthew –" He couldn't stop, he couldn't, she'd never needed anything more than she needed him now.

"Mary!" He held her arms firmly, and shook his head. "I'm filthy."

"I don't care," she exclaimed, trying to reach him again, but,

"I care." He licked his lips and looked seriously at her. "Mary, I care." Shaking his head, he smiled ruefully. "And believe me, you would care. I haven't had a decent wash in weeks and slept in a ditch last night." He kissed her cheek softly, sensing her relax in his arms. "Please… I care – for you."

"Oh." She bit her lip and hugged him, not caring for the mud that was smearing her blouse from his jacket. He cared too much to have her like this, filthy, in a sodden field in France. She wondered if it were possible to love him more.

Drawing back, she brought her hands to his face, fingers lightly stroking over the caked dirt on his cheeks and over his lips.

"You can wash in my room," she almost whispered. "There's a fire for water, and the landlady said I could use a tub if I wished."

Matthew nodded, slowly.

When they reached the inn, Mary soon retrieved the large tin tub, and set about acquiring a towel while Matthew set some water on the fire. Mary found a jug, a sponge and some soap, and returned to see Matthew setting his boots by the fire. His pistol, and the pouch that she later learnt was for his gas mask, lay on the sideboard. She shivered. He shrugged off his jacket; peeled, would be more the correct word, and certainly when it came to his shirt. Mary sat on the bed, behind him, averting her gaze as he undressed in silence. Only when she heard the gentle splash of him settling did she look up again.

His back was to her, facing the warmth of the fire. She watched in fascination as he rung out water over each bared shoulder, the steaming rivulets running down his back, carving channels through the grime. His body was lean, and strong; she could see his skin flex where muscles lay underneath. Heat fluttered in her belly as she looked at him. The war had done this to him. Changed him. But he was beautiful.

She rose, crossed the room, and crouched beside him. Matthew was only aware of it when her hand lay softly on his back.

"Let me," she whispered, taking the sponge from his hand.

He let her.

With tender care, she soaked the sponge and ran it over his shoulders and back, resting her free hand on his arm for support. Matthew bent his head, giving her easier access to his neck. Mary was sure she did not imagine the soft hum of contentment she heard from him. Lovingly, she bathed him, wiping away the dirt to reveal clean, glistening skin, flecked with scars and scratches, though they did not mar him a fraction. She leaned forwards and kissed his shoulder, flicking her tongue over the hot wetness of his skin as she squeezed more cleansing water over him.

Matthew's eyes drifted closed as he allowed her to minister to him. Gently, she shifted round towards him, and carefully wiped his face with a warm, damp cloth. She gasped as, alongside the mud, she cleaned dried, caked blood from his forehead, though he assured her it was most likely not even his. Gradually, his handsome face began to shine through.

Steam slowly rose from his skin and the tub as Mary shuffled behind him, lathering soap into her hands and then into his hair. She massaged it through, feeling the grime come away in her fingers as she ran her hands through the emerging softness of it. He leaned back against her, encouraging her with soft sighs. Picking up the jug fresh-filled with warm water, she poured it over his head, smiling as the cleansing water gushed over him in streams down his shoulders, chest, arms, back…

Matthew didn't know when he had last felt this clean. It was glorious, and his heart ached with affection. When Mary had finished, and sat back on her heels, he rose. He stepped out and stood before her, his body wet, naked and glistening in the firelight. He held out a dripping hand and pulled her to stand in front of him.

In wonder, Mary traced her hands over his hips and around his back, slipping over his wet skin. Gasping lightly, she pressed herself to him, not caring for how it dampened her blouse. She sought his lips, moaning softly as everything became heat and moisture and him… His hands clasped her face, her neck, his arms wrapped around her back, enveloping her and covering her with the clinging beads of moisture all over him. She loved it, she loved him; her body burnt with arousal and need for him.

Deftly, he removed her clothes, piece by piece, until they stood locked in a passionate, bare embrace, damp skin against damp skin, sweat and water mingling under their hands and where their bodies pressed together. And as he laid her tenderly on the rug by the fire and made love to her, reaching her deep within, she felt as though every stroke wiped away another cobweb from their tattered past.

Nothing mattered but them, and this moment, and the cleansing storm of their love. She purified him, righted him, with every leisurely thrust she drove out for a while the dark awareness of who he was here, and the things he had seen and done, replacing them with her beauty and life and warmth. Their gasps built to sighs, to moans, to soft cries in the darkness and firelight as their sweat and skin merged, with a building intensity that soared and then shattered in devastating waves of pleasure. They rocked together, drawing it out, crying out in soft moans as they thrust again, and once more, until they could summon no more energy and simply lay together trembling.

The cleanness would not last long. Another week, and he'd be back on the front line… Lying in filthy, sodden shell-holes, instead of here, on a soft rug by the fire, entwined in Mary's arms. He would be dirty again, defiled, wretched. Filthy. But for this beautiful night, snatched from the hands of chance… she loved him. And she had made him clean.

Fin


A/N: Thank you for reading! I'd love to know what you thought, it's always incredibly encouraging! :) And for my next fic, maybe I'll try keep something in the K-T section of the site... :S