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The Sound Of Silence

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It’s strange, Alice thinks, how silence can sound so different with each person.

With Jean, silence is companionable, a sort of sisterhood that Alice isn’t used to but appreciates. The soon-to-be Mrs. Blake is efficient and kind, and the silence around her hums in a pleasant way.

With Lucien, silence is cheerful. It feels safe, just like he does; unusual for a man. Alice has never had a brother, but she thinks that it must be something like spending a quiet hour with Lucien in his parlor while Jean fixes tea.

But with Matthew...oh, silence is everything at once.

I.

She goes to him at night in the silent hospital room, returning when she knows he won’t have any other visitors. The staff doesn’t try to enforce the usual rules; after all, she’s a doctor.

Alice can’t say what brought her back, following his curt dismissal of her earlier concern. A strange curiosity, perhaps. She hadn’t given him much thought before as a coworker--he’s a good Superintendent, seems like a decent man. It’s not as though they chat much.

But lying pale and sweaty in that bed, pain etched into his features, Matthew has got her attention now. She wants to know more. She sees something in him she recognizes.

It didn’t hurt, when he brushed off her sympathy. She understood it.

And it’s very rare, for her to feel she understands someone else. Especially someone she barely knows.

So Alice sits in the antiseptic quiet of his room, watching him sleep, waiting until the next rounds begin. Trying to puzzle him out.

She slips away before the nurse’s bustling disturbs him.

Her scent lingers after her, and infiltrates his dreams.

II.

Their first real conversation occurs in the Blake home, after Alice joins the three of them for dinner.

The tableside discussion was lively, as it always was when Lucien baited Matthew and teased Jean, and the food delicious. Though Alice is relieved that Jean talked her out of learning to cook, there is still a part of her that envies her skills. Alice may know how to wield a scalpel, but to run a household as Jean Beazley does is a formidable talent.

Charlie is out, making them a foursome for after-dinner drinks. When Lucien and Jean retire--separately, but at the same time--Matthew offers to pour her another sherry.

She doesn’t want to go home. Her silent apartment isn’t nearly as warm--as happy--as she feels sitting on the couch with Matthew lightly interrogating her as a form of small talk.

Alice doubts he knows he’s doing it. Sometimes she conducts entire autopsies in her sleep; you can’t always leave the job behind.

Besides, she rather enjoys it, oddly. She’s not used to being the center of attention, but with Matthew it’s not so bad. He seems as curious about her as she is about him.

It’s nice that he’s interested. It’s nice to be found interesting.

“I’d love whiskey,” she tells him, instead of taking more sherry. He blinks, but recovers quickly and with a nod pours two fingers for her next to his own.

The quiet that settles between them is warmer after he hands her the drink, their fingertips brushing for a moment that is inconsequential and momentous at the same time.

A smile lights up Matthew's eyes as he sips.

When he offers to walk her home, Alice declines.

When he asks her out to dinner, she accepts.

III.

The summer air is thick and heavy as he walks her home after their fourth date. Alice is starting to wonder if he’s ever going to kiss her. If he even wants to.

Why would he keep asking her out if he weren’t interested? Could he just be that desperate for friendly company?

What if she’s completely misunderstood his attention?

As Matthew limps silently beside her, she is torn between frustration and a deep, gnawing need.

Maybe it makes no sense, but she is ridiculously attracted to this man. The way his sullen expression verges on a pout when he’s especially upset; his insistence on pulling out her chair and holding open doors, no matter how often she argues that it isn’t necessary; those bright, fierce eyes she could fall into and that strong, solid jaw she itches to run her fingers down.

She doesn’t want their time together to end. It wouldn’t be the first time she was rejected for being pushy...challenging...too much. All of it is male code for ‘not deferential enough,’ Alice knows--but that’s little comfort when she’s alone.

They reach her porch, where the light has gone out again. She keeps forgetting to see to that. Alice leads the way up the steps, waiting as Matthew follows more carefully. She decides not to risk it. Not now, not yet.

She can live with the frustration. She doesn’t want to live without nights like this, where even a slight possibility that he might reach for her hand makes her heart race in delicious anticipation.

Matthew doesn’t reach for her hand. He says goodnight in a tone so brusque that she could almost believe he hated the entire evening, and turns away from her to head back down the stairs.

Alice is fumbling for her keys in the dark when she hears the thud of his footsteps retracing his path back to her. They mirror the drumbeat of her pulse as he approaches.

Matthew stops a few inches behind her, the moonlight glowing against his skin. She is about to ask what exactly he’s doing, before he leans in and without a word, he just...takes.

He takes her by surprise, his mouth hot and softer than it looks, his tongue gliding between her parted lips. He takes her breath away, a hand roaming up the nape of her neck, changing the angle of their kiss until he swallows her moan.

He takes all her doubts and her fears and dissolves them, speaking with his fingers and his smile and his deep blue eyes. Alice sighs into his mouth before they break apart, both breathing hard.

Matthew leans his forehead against hers. “Can I see you tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow’s Wednesday,” she reminds him. “You’ll see me at the morgue.”

He steals another kiss, this one quick and possessive and followed by his grin flashing in the shadows. “After that.”

“All right.”

He brushes her cheek with his hand before walking away. His posture is totally different now, his tone cheerful, and as he’s never been the moody type, she can’t leave it be. Her curiosity is too fierce where he’s concerned.

She doesn’t just want to understand Matthew Lawson now--she needs to. He’s become a mystery that she must solve, as essential as the murders he brings her. Maybe even more so.

“Matthew?”

“Yes?” He stops at the edge of her stairs, turns slowly to face her again.

“You seemed so...almost angry, before. Why?”

Lawson is taken aback. “I wasn’t angry.”

“What, then?”

“Well.” He shrugs, reluctant to explain, but Alice is focused on him in that unblinking, intense way of hers; he can’t avoid it. “I was trying to take it slow, you know? Be careful with you. Lucien said--”

Matthew shakes his head. “Doesn’t matter. You deserved better than me shoving myself at you. So I held off, I tried not to push. But...” He smiles a little. “You were driving me crazy.”

Though that hadn’t been her intention, Alice can’t say the idea is an unpleasant one.

“Was I?”

“Yes.” He watches her cross the porch, moonlight falling over her as she reaches him.

“How?”

The most delightful thing about her, Matthew thinks, is that she sincerely wants to know. There isn’t even a hint of deliberate seduction in the question, or in the way she laces her fingers through his.

Everything about Alice is genuine--and beautiful.

He lifts their joined hands and kisses her knuckles. “Well, for starters, there’s the way you smell.”

She sniffs skeptically. “I smell like chemicals. It’s hard to wash away, no matter how I try.”

Matthew shifts closer, pressing his nose against the curve of her neck and inhaling, making her laugh. “Under that. Maybe you have to be looking for it, but you smell like wild roses...and sin.”

Alice leans against him, laughing even harder. “Now you’re just making that up.”

“Am not. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to be so close to you, and not touch you?” Her smile fades as Matthew frames her face with his hands. “To not taste you, when I’ve wondered for ages how you would taste?”

She smiles. “And how do I taste? Like daisies and impulsiveness?”

Chuckling, Matthew presses a kiss to the tip of her nose, astonishing her. “No...like cinnamon, and honey.”

Alice hums low in her throat. “Interesting.”

“And that.” He runs a hand through his hair, watching her intently. “The humming.”

“What about it?”

“Sexy.”

“You’re crazy.”

Matthew nods. “About you, absolutely.”

If he had started quoting poetry, he couldn’t have surprised her more. Is this the stoic, serious man who intimidates criminals and puts himself in harm’s way without faltering?

“Matthew Lawson, you’re a romantic.

The kiss he pulls her into is warm and deep and lingering.

“Don’t tell.”

IV.

Matthew lashes out at Dr. Wallace like Alice has wanted to since his first day in the morgue, never looking her way long enough to catch the shock she isn’t able to cover. The stunned silence that follows the snap of his control rings in her ears.

Of course Matthew loathes him, they all loathe him. He’s slow and incompetent and unpleasant and not Lucien; the latter being a sin he couldn’t live down even if the rest weren’t true.

But having a problem with the man, even holding a grudge against him, doesn’t require standing up for Alice.

The last man to speak up for her was Lucien, and he did so on principle, as her friend. It was about her but also wasn’t--Lucien tries to protect everyone.

Matthew is nothing like Doctor Blake in that way; he has little patience for most people, and in all their months together Alice doesn’t think she’s ever heard him defend anyone other than his men. Even that was rare...he simply wasn’t the demonstrative type.

Or so she had thought. But when Wallace tried to pin his mistakes on her, she could see the muscles in Matthew’s jaw working, responsibility battling the desire to fight. For her.

Perhaps it’s odd, that they're dating and sleeping together yet Alice could still be surprised by the realization that Matthew respects not just her work but her, her skills and her perfectionism and the way she carries on even in the face of utter nonsense.

But it is surprising, and quite soothing; something she can hold on to in difficult moments, in the face of all the men who are more threatened, less self-possessed...simply less, than Matthew is.

“I love you,” she murmurs behind his ear after Wallace has vanished again to wherever he goes when he’s supposed to be doing real work. “I love you, I love you.”

“Because I told him off?” Matthew grins, kissing her lightly after a glance at the morgue door. “I love you, too. But I was just telling the truth.”

It’s so much more than that, to her, though Alice is not sure how to explain that to him.

For Matthew, it is that simple; simply the truth.

That’s what makes it amazing.

V.

A tense, slightly baffled silence falls between them when they discuss Lucien and Jean’s upcoming wedding and Alice confesses that she’s not that keen.

“Oh, I’m quite happy for the two of them, of course--you know I am. It’s just the wedding, itself. I don’t understand what all the fuss is about.”

“You don’t want to be married?” Matthew’s furrowed brow and strained tone baffle her. It’s not as though he ever married; she knows for a fact he’s never even been engaged. The same cannot be said for her, though she’s never told anyone in Ballarat about that regrettable affair.

“I didn’t say that.” Exasperated, she leaves the bed to pace his bedroom floor. Apparently, it’s to be an argument, then.

“You implied something like it,” he replies, tone too calm now. Almost chilly.

“I absolutely did not. Stop putting words in my mouth.” She sits in the chair across from his bed, staring at the floor. He stares at her, and the echoing quiet between them hurts.

It’s Alice who sighs, and shatters it with a whisper. “All I said was that I don’t understand.”

Clearing her throat, she joins him on the bed again, entwining her fingers with his. “And I didn’t mean marriage. I imagine marriage can be...nice. With the right person.”

“What I was talking about was the noise of it, the big party. Everyone’s eyes on you, so many people talking and eating and staring. I don’t know why anyone would want that.”

"Ah.” This shouldn’t be news to him. He knows her. He knows her so well, it aches in his bones sometimes.

And yet, he didn’t see this coming. She’s got a deep well of feeling beneath that cautious exterior, which made him believe she was the wedding type--Doctor Harvey is a secret romantic. He saw her bury her nose in the tulips he brought her for her birthday, when she thought he wasn’t looking.

What Matthew should probably take away from this is that there’s more for him to learn about Alice, after all.

But as she presses a kiss to his shoulder, their hands still linked, all he can think is: Right. Elopement it is, then.

VI.

And then there is the Blake wedding, when Alice changes her mind--and changes his, with a deceptively bland smile and a twinkle in her eye.

The frantic, heated quiet of the back alley, both of them desperate for air as they steal kisses. As Alice’s words ring in his head, as Matthew breathes the question against her lips, and her cheek, and her neck. It feels as though he’s waited a lifetime to ask.

“Marry me. Marry me, Alice. Be mine.”

For her, he has waited his whole life.

The bubbling, almost manic silence they share when they head back inside, hoping no one will remark on their absence. Matthew leans against the wall, watching the couples dance.

Alice makes sure the neckline of her blouse doesn’t shift, so no one will see the marks he left on her in the shadow of the building.

The contented stillness between them as they watch their friends begin the next chapter of their lives...while they prepare to plan theirs.

“Of course,” she had whispered against his lips, without hesitation. “Of course I will. I’m already yours.”

With Matthew, Alice thinks, she found her favorite silence of all.