Well, uh, here's another story. I have to warn you, it isn't my usual light, fluffy fare. I don't actually really know where this one came from... I'm going to blame it on the fact that I was listening to The Hunger Games soundtrack.
And, as always, I own nothing.
She knows from the moment she wakes up that it won't be a good day. There's just a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach that says so. But still she gets up and gets dressed.
For the first time, the heavy gloom that had settled over the house seems to have broken. Mary smiles sadly, knowing her work is coming to an end.
"Mary Poppins!" Susan calls. "Look at what Mr. O'Mara brought for me!"
"My," Mary exclaims, trying to sound appropriately enthusiastic. "What a pretty doll. You have exquisite tastes, Mr. O'Mara."
"Well, I'll be honest," he blushes. "I had Mrs. Jenner's help on it."
Mary is glad to see Molly Jenner blush at the sound of her name. When Mary had arrived, the small family had been devastated by the loss of Mr. Jenner to the war. Now that the appropriate time for grieving has passed, Mary is glad to see that there's still hope for there to be a man around the house.
"Mr. O'Mara and I were thinking of taking Susan out today," Mrs. Jenner explains. "Take the day off, Mary Poppins, you've earned it."
Mary smiles and nods, knowing that it won't be a day off. Instead, she'll spend the day packing and will be gone by nightfall. "Thank you, ma'am."
The soon-to-be family gathers their coats and leave. Mary goes upstairs and packs her things. She smiles sadly at the tiny room and nods. Then she wraps her scarf around her neck, gathers her umbrella from its stand and closes the front door behind her with a quiet click.
"Going somewhere, Mary Poppins?"
The voice from behind her is carefully congenial. She sighs and turns around; she had hoped to avoid this confrontation. "Hello, Bert. Rather fine day, isn't it?"
"It ain't bad," he agrees. Then he becomes less confident. "You given any more thought to my question?"
She bites her lip. The question he's referring to wasn't so much a question as a proposal and she owes him a response. "I… I can't," she says sadly.
His response is drowned out. Suddenly the air is filled with the shrill, offensive noise of the air raid sirens. She bites her lip. Though she's long since gotten used to the sound, it signals that another piece of her precious London is about to be destroyed and she will never be used to that.
"I have to go," she exclaims and tries to leave. He nimbly blocks her way. "Bert, get to shelter this instant!" she orders.
"Not until you tell me why you won't marry me!" he insists.
"I can't have this argument right now," Mary snaps. "I won't."
Bert grabs at her arm. "Mary, don't leave like this," he begs.
"That's not your decision to make," she points out coldly. "It is mine and mine alone."
"Mary, just… stay," he pleads quietly. "Stay 'ere."
She shakes her head and swallows, knowing her next words are sure to hurt him. "And what on earth would I possibly have to stay for?"
He winces, but pushes on. "Stay for me. Stay with me."
She refuses to cry. "I can't do that, Bert. You know I can't. Don't ask me to do the impossible."
"It isn't impossible an' you know it, Mary Poppins," he sulks.
Her jaw clenches. "To deny others my help would be selfish," she explains, feeling her own anger rising to match his. "I won't do it."
He suddenly looks very tired. "I don't know 'ow much longer I can do this, Mary," he admits. "I don't know 'ow much longer my 'eart can take loving you when you keep leaving."
"It isn't my choice!" she nearly yells over the din of the sirens. "The wind has changed!"
"It is an' you know it!" he retorts. "You're makin' a choice t' leave. That's you, Mary. Don't pretend that th' wind makes you leave because we both know for a fact th' wind changes when you want it to."
She glares at him and picks up her carpetbag. "I'm leaving," she announces. "And you need to get to shelter," she directs.
"Mary, if you walk away right now, if you leave, I can't promise I'll be 'ere when you get back. I can't do it anymore."
She feels a cold, hard shell enclose her heart. "So be it," she retorts frostily. "I don't take well to threats, Herbert Alfred. You, of all people, should know that."
He just stares her down grimly, so she turns around and stalks away, the sirens drowning out anything he might call out to her.
She has gotten a fair distance away from him when she's suddenly surrounded by the deafening sound of an explosion. The concussion knocks her forward onto the ground and she throws out her hands to catch herself.
For a minute, she sits completely stunned. Then she feels something wet working its way down her forehead. Slowly, she reaches up to above her right eyebrow. Her fingers come away bloody. She stares at her own blood in amazement before her mind fills with only one thought—Bert.
She picks herself up quickly, wincing at the cuts all over her body, and turns back towards the direction she came from. Several nearby houses are leveled. Her mind becomes one razor sharp mass of sheer panic and she runs back to where she left him, scrambling over rubble as she yells his name.
She feels sick to her stomach when she finds him. He'd been far nearer to the explosion than she. His face is bloodied, dirty, and sheet white. "Bert," she whispers.
"Mary," he coughs, trying to sit up and nearly passing out from pain. That's when she notices the large gash in his torso from shrapnel. Instantly she's down on her knees at his side, searching for any other serious injuries and trying to staunch the blood flowing from his wound.
"Don't," she warns him. "Don't sit up."
"Mary," he says again, reaching up to tuck her hair behind her ear. "Y' came back."
She chokes back a sob. "Of course I did. Now don't you dare die on me, Herbert Alfred," she warns him. "Don't you dare."
He gives weak little grin and takes a shaky breath. "Well, I've always listened t' you before…"
Her traitorous mouth lets out a small whimper. "Oh, Bert, this is all my fault."
He shakes his head. "Don't… don't say that, Mary. You… you're not th' one dropping bombs…"
She lets out a cross between a sob and a laugh. "I may as well be!" She can see him fading. "Bert," she says urgently. "Bert, I need you to stay awake. Help is on the way, but you must stay awake."
"Mary," he says weakly. "I… I love you. Don't forget that."
"I know," she nods, tears washing away the grit on her face. "I know. Please stay awake. Please."
He's getting paler and colder by the second. She sobs harder. "Bert, please. Stay awake. Stay with me. I'll stay. I'll stay with you forever. Just stay with me. Promise me you'll stay. Don't leave me. Don't leave me alone."
It's a tremendous effort, but he reaches up to touch her cheek. "Y' look be-a-utiful," he says faintly. "Like th' day I met you."
She shakes her head. "No, you don't get to do this. You don't get to say your goodbyes," she insists.
"Jus'… jus' promise me y' won't stay sad for too long, Mary."
It's a miracle she can even get words out at all, she's crying so hard. "Bert, I… Bert, don't…" Finally she just leans forward and presses her lips softly to his. "I love you," she whispers. "I love you so much."
He swallows and nods with a faint trace of a smile on his face. "That's what I like t' 'ear."
"You'll hear it more," she promises, "if you only stay with me. Please, Bert. Please."
That's the last bit she gets out before dissolving into unintelligible sobs.
There's a gentle knock on the door. "Mary, my dear," Uncle Albert says gently, pushing the door open. "I've brought some tea. Would you like some?"
She doesn't even look away from the wall, just shakes her head.
"Perhaps you should lie down, my dear. Have you slept at all?"
Uncle Albert walks over and tugs her out of her chair and deposits her on the bed. "You just lie down and rest, Mary Poppins. Everything will seem brighter with some sleep."
She doesn't respond but she lies down just to appease him. He looks satisfied and leaves the room.
She's exhausted. She hasn't slept in days. Every time she closes her eyes, she's screaming his name and her hands are covered in his blood. She can't go back there.
She can hear people whispering worriedly outside the room, no doubt trying to figure out how to bring her back to her normal self.
That self is gone. Dead and buried with all the victims of that bombing.
She must fall asleep at some point because she's groggy when she hears Uncle Albert come in and announce, "Alright, up and at 'em, my dear!"
She blinks in confusion.
"Come along, Mary Poppins, we have places to be!"
She frowns. "Where do we have to be?" she asks, her voice creaking because it hasn't been used in so long.
"You'll see," Uncle Albert says. "For now, just get dressed."
There's a dreadful sort of heavy anticipation knotted up in Mary's stomach as she hesitates in the doorway. She draws in a deep, shaky breath and pushes it open. Immediately, tears form behind her eyes.
There is one bed in the small room. Bert lies in it, hooked up to several machines.
She crosses to the bed and sits in a conveniently placed chair. Gingerly, she takes his hand in hers, wishing fervently that he'd squeeze back or open his eyes. Anything to let her know he is still there. But he just lies there, still as ever.
After a minute or two, she clears her throat. "Bert, I… you have to wake up," she begs. "You simply must. I… I don't know how to be without you and I don't think if I can figure it out."
She waits breathlessly to see if he'll stir, but he doesn't.
"Please," she whispers, bringing his hand to her lips. "Come back."
He had to have surgery to repair the damage caused by the explosion. It went off without a hitch, but a serious head wound has left him in a coma. No amount of her magic can fix it, though if it could, she gladly would use it, no matter the consequences. But this is a fight he has to win for himself. She's never felt so entirely helpless in her entire life.
He doesn't wake up.
At some point, she must fall asleep again, resting her head on the bed next to his hand, because when she wakes up, it's getting dark. Visiting hours are long since over but apparently no one had the heart to separate the two of them. Her hand is asleep from holding his while she slept. As she shakes it out, she blinks groggily. Even sleeping in a terribly uncomfortable position, not even lying down all the way, but sleeping next to him, that was the best sleep she's gotten since the explosion.
"Evening, Mrs. Alfred," a nurse says cheerfully as she enters the room. "He's looking well, don't you think?"
Mary ignores the Mrs. Alfred comment—after all, it's a natural assumption to make given how late she's at the hospital and that she was just sleeping by his bed. She smiles carefully and studies Bert with a critical eye. "He does," she agrees.
The nurse smiles as she bustles around the room. "Don't give up hope, Mrs. Alfred. He doesn't have a fever and his stitches are healing nicely. We've had people recover from far worse. When he wakes up," she says, placing special emphasis on the when, "he'll be just fine."
Mary smiles again, but she knows it looks forced. The nurse returns the smile, pats Bert's hand, and leaves.
She settles into the seat. Her lips curve upwards into a faint smile when she sees that someone, probably Uncle Albert, had brought her carpetbag and set it by her chair. She leans down and pulls out knitting needles and yarn. Now seems as good a time as any to start work on a scarf she had promised Bert months ago.
Her mind drifts with the mundane task. How different her life was when she made a promise to make him a scarf.
Her umbrella deposits her gently on the roof. She lands carefully on the ball of her right foot, careful to set her shoe down where her sensible heel won't get caught.
His grin lights up his whole face. "Well, if it isn't Mary Poppins!" he exclaims in that irresistible Cockney accent of his.
She smiles. "Hello, Bert." While her reply might be less obviously enthusiastic, her excitement is conveyed in the brightness of her smile and the breathlessness of her response. "It is good to see you again."
"'s been a long time," he comments carefully. They only became involved the last time she had visited London—she had finally given in to what she had known for years and allowed him to love her in the way he had always wanted to, allowed herself to lose sight of perfection for a bit and love him right back just as fervently. And then, as suddenly as it happened, she had panicked, the winds had shifted, and she was gone. Until now. Somewhere along the line, she realized that whatever fear she might have about letting him in, whatever she was afraid of, it wasn't worth a life without him.
"It has," she agrees. Her keen eyes survey the scene, noting the snow that's been falling steadily for an hour now and his lack of warm clothing. "Herbert Alfred, where on earth is your scarf?" she demands to know.
"Don't 'ave one," he shrugs.
Her eyes widen in surprise. "You don't have a scarf?"
"'s not that cold," he says. "An' I don't exactly, uh, 'ave the money for one."
Mary sets down her umbrella and bag, reaches up, and unwinds her own scarf. She approaches him slowly, looping the long fabric around his neck. She pats his chest when she finds that her work is satisfactory. "There, that's better."
"Mary, no, I-" he tries to protest.
"Keep it for now. I'll knit you a proper one when I get a moment," she promises.
"You don't 'ave t' do that," he declines.
"Yes, I do," she replies, reaching up and caressing his cheek with the back of her fingers. "Isn't that what people do when they're in love?"
He beams. "So you love me?" he teases.
It's the simplest question she's ever been asked and it has the simplest answer. "Yes."
Before he can respond, she grabs her scarf and pulls him to her, much preferring this method of communication.
Why couldn't that easy sort of love have been characteristic of their relationship? It had been at the beginning. But with the change of the season came a change in their relationship. She became restless, he became desperate to hold on to her. Suddenly, the stolen moments during outings or on her days off weren't enough for him. If she was honest, she'd admit that they weren't enough for her either, but she needed to keep him at arm's length if she was ever going to be able to do her job.
"You 'ave t' go again?" he asks, watching her gather up her things.
"Yes," she responds curtly.
"You can't put it off anymore?"
He knows that she's not a slave to the wind as so many assume. He knows that she says when she goes and could put off leaving if she wanted to. He saw her do it plenty of times over the course of the winter.
He nods and picks up her hat, running his finger along the brim. "An' what if I didn't want you t' go?"
She takes the hat from him. "Please, don't," she begs quietly as she fixes it to her head.
"Bert, I can't stay any longer. I'm sorry. I've already spent too much time away from work as it is." Her eyes beg him to understand, to not take this as a personal attack.
He hands the carpetbag to her and opens the door to the outside for her. She smiles gently and nods, walking past him, just barely brushing against him as she does so. "I'll be back soon," she promises, even though she knows it's a pie crust promise and she has no way of knowing she'll keep it. "I love you, Bert."
She unfurls the umbrella. Polly squawks to life, no doubt to yell at her about denying her feelings, but she wraps her fingers around the beak to make sure no sound comes out. Her feet are only about two feet off the ground when a hand wraps around hers and stops her from rising any farther.
"Bert!" she snaps. "What on earth-"
"Marry me!" he exclaims.
She freezes, still floating in the air. "What?"
"Marry me, Mary Poppins," he repeats.
"Bert, I…" she trails off. "I must be going."
"I can't have this conversation right now."
"If not now, Mary, when?"
She looks around wildly, her breathing erratic. It isn't fair of him to spring this on her like this! Especially not now. "I… I need to think about it, Bert," she says, begging for more time. "I'll… I'll let you know when I return. But I do love you."
She squeezes his hand, then wrenches out of his grasp and quickly rises out of his reach.
What if she had answered his question differently? Her life would be entirely different right now. They never would have been arguing, especially not outside, not with bombs falling. Bert would be fine. They'd probably be married by now. Maybe even… maybe even expecting a baby.
Her eyes well up with tears as she imagines a little boy with her eyes and his mischievous smile or a little girl with a bright blue bow in her dark hair. The way Bert would be constantly on the floor, rough-housing with them, while she would roll her eyes fondly and remind them all not to mess up their clothing.
She shakes off that daydream. She must be realistic about this entire ordeal. There is a very real chance that children may no longer be in her future. There is a very real chance that a wedding may no longer be in her future. There is a very real chance that Bert may no longer be in her future. She has to steel herself for that.
But then the most miraculous thing happens.
A twitch, a flutter of eyelashes, the contraction of muscles coming back to life.
"Bert?" she asks quietly, not daring to hope just quite yet.
His eyes open slowly.
"Bert!" she cries, throwing down her knitting needles. She runs to the door and calls down the hall for the doctor before returning to his side.
He frowns, looking understandably disoriented.
The doctor comes in and runs a barrage of tests to check everything that might have been endangered by his coma and injury. Mary is pleased to see that everything seems to be fine.
"Now, you might experience some memory lapses," the doctor explains. "Don't worry, that's to be expected. But it seems that you've been remarkably lucky, Mr. Alfred."
Mary has to scoff a little at that. Remarkably lucky? A remarkably lucky person wouldn't have been in a coma in the first place.
The doctor finishes up and walks out of the room, leaving Bert and Mary alone.
Mary finds her voice first. "Oh, Bert, I was so worried."
He stares at her for what seems like an eternity. She shifts uncomfortably. "I'm really sorry, miss," he eventually says, looking quite embarrassed. "But 'oo are you again? Y' look sort of familiar, but I can't place your face."
Mary's stomach drops and she studies his face, trying to see if he's playing some sort of sick joke. But there's no mirth in his eyes. "It's me, Bert. Mary Poppins."
She sees him mull over the name and her face, but nothing clicks. A sudden realization washes over her and almost makes her sick to her stomach.
Bert, her Bert, has absolutely no idea who she is.
There is more, I promise! I just haven't written it yet...
Please try not to hurt me!