Actions

Work Header

London Calling

Chapter Text

Ann Walker could make out two distinct women’s voices around her as she lay with her eyes closed on the hard pavement. They weren’t exactly yelling at each other, but there was an edge of frustration to their words. She didn’t think she knew the voices, why would she? She’d only been in London a few weeks, and apart from a few of her cousin Catherine’s friends, she hadn’t really met anyone. No, there was no reason to know the voices surrounding her, only one of them kept saying her name repeatedly and the other sounded so familiar. 

Trying to place that voice was the least of her problems though. First of all she needed to figure out why she was laying on the floor, and if she could actually get up. She opened her eyes slowly and blinked a few times trying to bring everything into focus. She could make out what looked like the beams of a bridge. That’s right. She had been on Tower Bridge looking out over the River Thames and then she thinks she was hit by something, or someone. 

She could hear the sounds of traffic passing on her left. She must still be on the bridge. Horizontal, but definitely on the bridge. She surmised the bodiless voices were behind her since she still couldn’t see them. It was still just a lot of words she couldn’t fully understand with the occasional ‘Ann’ thrown in. She wished they’d wait till she was vertical before they started yelling at her.

She wasn’t numb, she could definitely feel the soreness in her backside, which she presumed she must have landed on before taking her current position. She was infinitely grateful that she had decided to wear her cropped jeans and a light t-shirt rather than a dress despite the warm summer weather. Much more suited to lying on the ground. She felt winded, like the air had been knocked out of her but she didn’t feel any pain in her head so she didn’t think she’d hit it, for which she was grateful. She could worry about whatever germs London streets were riddled with later. She wriggled her fingers and toes. Yes, all still present and moving. Again another good sign. 

The voices were still arguing over her but they hadn’t noticed she’d opened her eyes so she decided now was as good a time as any to try and get up. She took a deep breath and slowly tried to lift herself up on her elbows. Immediately she regretted that decision as the blood rushed from her head making her feel light-headed. She felt herself slumping to the ground when a strong pair of hands swooped up to cradle her head and lay it back down in what must be their lap.

“Best not try that for a bit, hmm.” It was the kinder voice, the vaguely familiar one. Ann liked this person better, probably because they hadn’t been shouting her name at her. She still didn’t know why that was. Ann opened her eyes again to look at who the voice belonged to but could only see the underside of her saviour’s jaw. Even in her muddled state she could see how strong it was. It matched the firm hands that were holding her head ever so gently, as though she might break.  

When she spoke to the other woman there was still a hint of frustration, “We need to make sure she’s alright. I can’t just leave her here like this.” Ann felt a soft hand stroke her forehead, instantly making her feel better. 

The moment was stolen away by the other woman’s much harsher tone, she started yelling at her again, “Anne! We can’t be seen here.” There was a strong emphasis on the “we” that even Ann in her slightly dizzy state recognised. She didn’t know who any of these women were let alone why she shouldn’t be seen with them. 

“Then you should leave Mariana!” Was the curt reply from the woman whose lap her head lay in. “Heaven forbid you ever be seen with me.” Ann sensed more hurt in that sentence than the woman had probably wanted to convey. She wished she could see her face but all she could see apart from that exquisite jawline was the woman’s neck framed by shoulder length chestnut hair, and the top of what she was sure to be a perfectly tailored black button up beneath a black blazer. Dashing but impractical for the warm sunshine beating down on them. 

“Freddy don’t be like that.” The shouty woman’s tone had softened too. But who was Freddy? Ann thought to herself maybe she had actually hit her head, or perhaps it was the incredibly hypnotic touches of the fingertips on her scalp and the scent of sandalwood and was that lime that she could smell? Take away the lying down on a pavement part, Ann thought she could happily spend an afternoon like this. 

“Look Mary,” the voice from above her said calmly. “You should leave. You’re right. You shouldn’t be seen here, with me. It could be explained easily enough, or it doesn’t have to be explained at all. I need to make sure this girl is okay.” By now Ann could sense that a few more people had gathered around her. The woman holding her paused before continuing in a quieter voice, “Charles shouldn’t see you here. I’ll call you later.”

Ann tilted her head slightly following the gaze of the woman above her and caught a glimpse of the other woman nodding before quickly retreating. Ann felt the gentle hands stop moving and the heavy sigh escape from the woman above her before a new voice broke the silence, 

“Do you need us to call an ambulance? She alright?” A new male voice. Definitely from London, East London if Ann was right. She could easily be wrong, they all sounded the same down here. The questions brought them both back to the present as she felt the hands move to her shoulders. “No, we’re fine thank you. She’ll be able to get up in a moment.”

“You sure? She don’t look right to me love.”

Ann saw the woman’s shoulders tense as she let out another sigh, the frustration from earlier back, “Yes, I am quite sure.” Her replies were short and sharp. “She’s just had a rather nasty knock. She hasn’t hit her head. She’ll be fine.” Confirmed then. She hadn’t hit her head.

“Are you the one that hit her? Is that your motor?” Ann hadn’t thought of that. Is that what had happened? Is that why there was so much concern in her voice and why the other woman couldn’t be seen there. Maybe her saviour was the one responsible for all of this. 

“I did not knock her down!” Ann was silently grateful. “Not that I see why it’s any of your concern, but I was in my car, my driver was taking me back to my office.” She gestured towards the other side of the bridge. Before anyone could ask anymore questions she continued explaining what had happened, “Some damn reckless fool of a cyclist cut across the front of my car and plowed into her.” Still in her lap, Ann wanted to giggle at the animated way in which she talked with her hands, waving them through the air with increased fervour as her frustration grew. “Where’s he gone anyway? Of course he hasn’t stuck around to see the carnage he’s left in his wake! Idiot.”

It was all starting to come back to her now. She had been on the bridge, overlooking the river. She’d heard a car screech to a halt behind her. She’d turned and that’s when the cyclist had crashed into her and knocked her to the ground. She still wasn’t sure how long she had been on the ground but it can’t have been too long or surely a larger crowd would have gathered. 

“You a doctor then?” the person in the crowd asked. Ann thought now that would’ve been a stroke of luck, being laid out on the floor in the lap of a doctor. That sort of good fortune was never characteristic of her life however. Trust Ann Walker, on her first solo adventure into the city, to get knocked over by a cyclist in the middle of Tourist Central. She could hear her tribe of relatives now once they’d found out about it. 

“No, I’m not a doctor.” That sounded more like her life. “But I have done extensive study on human anatomy in Paris. I know what I’m talking about.” There was something in the authority with which she spoke that played at the back of Ann’s mind. Ann was certain she knew that voice. 

“Look, why don’t you just make some space? Give her some air and then I can get her back up.” Ann heard the other person quietly groaning at being dismissed and she fought the urge to laugh again. Ann could feel the small crowd move back as the head above her nodded in approval. And then it happened.

The hands were back gently cupping the sides of her face. The woman tilted her head down slowly and as her brown eyes met Ann’s pale blue ones she smiled at her with the biggest, warmest smile and said softly, “Now darling, before we try to get you up again, why don’t we start with your name? Can you tell me that?” 

In that moment, looking up into those eyes, at that smile. It all started to make sense. Ann knew exactly why that voice had sounded so familiar. Why she’d heard her name called. Why she felt so at ease in this stranger’s lap. She knew exactly who her saviour was. A small smile pulled at her lips as she quietly replied, “Anne.”

Chapter Text

To say that Anne Lister’s day had taken an unexpected turn would be an understatement. A gross one. Anne had whisked (literally) the young woman who had been knocked down by a reckless cyclist on the bridge to City Hall. She had carried her bridal style into the first office she had found. She hadn’t intended to carry her but she seemed so fragile and she didn’t want to risk her fainting.

Anne also had to admit that her heart swelled in her chest as the woman’s arms had instinctively wrapped around her neck. From the moment she had looked up at her, the bluest eyes, those little freckles on her nose on her almost angelic face framed by her soft golden locks, she had felt an incredible need to protect her.

After placing Ann gently in one of the chairs she had stayed sitting quietly whilst Anne slowly and methodically tried to ascertain if she needed to take her to the emergency room. When she had looked up at her to ask if she could remove her shoes all she got was a nod in return. Anne had decided that it must be the shock and as she continued her examination, she couldn’t stop herself thinking how incredibly different her day was from its intended path.

She and Mariana had been on their way to City Hall after leaving Anne’s flat after a rather tempestuous night together. Mariana had used her key to get in. She had apparently been out buying up half of Knightsbridge and drinking what was likely more than half of the gin at the bar in Harrod’s. Anne cursed herself for not changing the locks.

She had distanced herself from her sometimes lover, using the demands of the final pre-election period as an excuse not to see her. They were one month into the new administration and she had managed to find an excuse every time Mariana called or happened to be passing by her office. This was why Mariana had shown up, she always did when she could feel Anne slipping away from her.

Anne had also used the last few months to think about what it was she actually wanted. She could not be more successful professionally. Samuel Washington’s election as the first non-London born Mayor was a monumental achievement and she had been rewarded with a role as one of his special advisors. He had wanted her to take a Deputy Mayor role, and whilst Anne had no doubt with a little guidance he was going to make a great Mayor, she did not welcome the public scrutiny. She was far too protective of her privacy, and of those whose company she kept, for that.

Her family life too was on a remarkable upward beat. Her aunt’s health was improving, her father was settling nicely into his role as the cantankerous elder statesman, and even her younger sister, Marian, had been less aggravating. She would never admit it, but she had come to enjoy her sister’s more frequent visits down to London. All of this certainly made it easier to steal a few days back in Halifax when her schedule permitted. She loved London, it had become a part of her, but Shibden was still home.

What Anne wanted she had come to realise, what she needed, was someone to spend her evening hour with. Someone that would be there for her to support her when everything else was becoming too much. To applaud loudly at her successes, to comfort her through her losses. Someone who was proud to stand by her side. Someone who was hers and whom she belonged to in equal measure. All of the things that Mariana was supposed to be, had been a long time ago, had promised to be again...when Charles died.

That had always been a morbid prospect but what had started as a throwaway joke from Mariana seemed to determine the course of Anne’s life. It had not seemed an unlikely outcome when the idea was first thrown about. He was not in the best of health and hardly seemed capable of taking the steps to rectify that. He had suffered a heart attack a few years ago, but rather than signalling a decline as they had all suspected, it actually pushed him to become more healthy.

Still, even with his improving health, Anne never thought that she would have to wait too long for Mariana to finally leave him. Only, hadn’t she been there a few months ago toasting them on yet another anniversary? Their divorce becoming more likely to be a maybe, sometime, never event.

If Anne was honest she had actually grown if not quite fond of Charles, at least respectful of all he’d achieved in his professional life. Yes, it had broken her when he and Mariana had gotten married, but he was not to blame. At the time Anne was just starting up her business, she wasn’t able to give Mariana the life she wanted. It had been her failing alone that had led to Mariana leaving her for Charles and the security and lifestyle he could offer her.

When Mariana had publicly dismissed their relationship as an idyllic folly of youth Anne had begrudgingly accepted it because she knew it’s what Mariana needed to say to move on. None of that was Charles’ fault. Nor was it his fault when Mariana showed up at Shibden a few months into their marriage begging Anne for forgiveness and promising that she would leave him as soon as she could. No, that was Anne’s fault for believing what she wanted to hear, the way she always had. This was the pattern of their relationship.

When they won the Mayoral election last month, and Sam had suggested Charles for a Deputy Mayor role, she could find no reason - apart from Mariana, why he shouldn’t be part of his cabinet. With Lawton Enterprises always being a major donor and supporter in all of Sam’s endeavours, it was an obvious choice. This was also another reason for Anne to finally end things with Mariana. They had played too long at this game.

Years ago Anne would have welcomed the thrill of secret rendezvous and stolen kisses. The hiding in plain sight. It used to excite her; now it made her tired. It was more than time. With Charles’ prominent role, and new power, Anne knew there was no way Mariana would leave him. The scandal would hurt all of them too much, and appearance was everything in their business. Appearance was everything to Mariana, as always.

So there they had been, in Anne’s car. Anne on her way to a meeting with Eliza Priestley, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, and Mariana to meet her husband. They should have taken separate cars but Mariana’s driver was impossibly late and it would have been difficult for her to explain why she had needed him to collect her from West London and not the Westminster flat they kept for when one of them had to stay overnight in London.

The night had not gone well. Anne had been resolute, they were over. Mariana was just as sure that this was another momentary blip. All through the night she had continued to remind Anne how she had tried and failed to leave her before. She listed all of the failed relationships she’d tried to have with other women, not their names because she could never remember them but Anne did not need her to because she did. All the women that Mariana had told her she had been too much for when she eventually came back to her.

They had gone from screaming to trying to calmly reason with each other as the night stretched into early morning. Neither backing down till eventually an alcohol fuelled slumber took Mariana and exhaustion took Anne.

As much as Anne hadn’t wanted to, Mariana had continued when they woke up and all through the morning. Anne had shut down and decided that it was best to just let her prattle and change the locks on her door.

She had been texting her assistant Eugenie about the locks when the cyclist cut in front of them. Thomas had slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting him but that had sent the cyclist careening into the young woman standing on the bridge. The young woman with the bluest eyes that had looked up at Anne with such awe, it was positively intoxicating.

Anne suddenly remembered where she was and registered that her hands had been apparently massaging this woman’s feet for at least five minutes. She stopped suddenly and looked up expecting to be met by a horrified pair of eyes at her inappropriate behaviour. Instead all she saw was kindness.

“Are you alright?” The softly spoken question filled with gentle concern caught her unaware.

“Hmm.” Anne replied, turning her gaze back down to the floor as she took the woman’s feet from off her lap. “Are you alright? For a moment there you looked - ” Anne looked up at her, her head cocked slightly to the side. Ann found it almost impossible to finish her sentence but somehow found the words to ask the question again, “Are you alright?”

A small smile graced Anne’s lips as she glanced down and took Ann’s hands in hers. She paused and gently squeezed them before looking up at her, “I’m always alright.” Ann wanted to say she didn’t believe her, but then Anne was smiling at her again and she couldn’t do anything but gaze back at her.

Ann knew that she should say something or at least take her hand back. There was so much to say, only if she said what she needed to she was afraid Anne would take her hands away. Her head started to spin in the knowledge that Anne Lister was knelt at her feet, holding her hands. Anne Lister whom she had been neighbours with all of her childhood before Anne had left to go to uni. Anne Lister whom she had chased down the Lightcliffe Road and asked to tea over a decade ago. Anne Lister whom she had the biggest crush on since she was fourteen years old. Anne Lister who not even an hour ago had swept her up and carried her to safety. Anne Lister who -

“It was Ann, wasn’t it?” The question momentarily startled her. “I didn’t really hear you over all of the traffic and then I rushed you in here, and well…” Anne looked at her expectantly.

Ann sank a little deflated in her chair. Anne Lister who apparently had no idea who she was.

When she didn’t get an immediate reply Anne asked again, “You did say your name was Ann?”

Ann nodded wordlessly. All of the things she wanted to say were lost because Anne Lister didn’t remember her at all.

"Well that should be easy enough to remember, it's one of my favourite names. My favourite aunt is an Anne and I’m - "

"Anne Lister!” came the shriek from the hallway.

Anne raised her eyebrows at the sound, “Apparently in trouble.” Both women turned to face the door as a woman much smaller than her voice would have you believe came bursting through the door waving her mobile phone in the air.

Ann heard Anne quietly groan before whispering, "Here we go. This won't take a moment." She gave her a cheeky wink followed by a small smile that Ann couldn’t help return before getting up to face the woman. “Eliza, and what is it I can help you with today?”

“Don’t you Eliza me!”

Looking up at the two women who were now almost toe to toe you’d imagine them of equal height but Anne had at least a foot on this woman, and even though she was shorter Ann could tell that she was fierce. If she had been standing opposite anyone other than Anne Lister she was sure her opponent would be cowering in fear. Instead Anne appeared relaxed as she waited for the tirade, as she had done countless times before.

“Why am I seeing tweets all over the internet about you knocking some woman down on Tower Bridge?” Eliza sent a cursory look Ann’s way and she felt herself shrinking in her seat. Anne saw her flinch and stepped into Eliza’s eyeline deflecting her gaze back onto her.

“What are you talking about Eliza? What tweets?”

“Here! Look for yourself!” Eliza shoved her phone into Anne’s hand and she began to casually scroll through the timeline. “I’m sure the Mayor’s Chief of Staff has better things to do than - “

“Oh I have plenty to do Anne, but when one of the tweets has a picture of someone looking a lot like Mariana Lawton, wife of our Deputy Mayor, standing next to you I find it best to deal with it.”

If this was meant to shock Anne into giving something away Ann did not see it. Her expression remained exactly the same as she continued to scroll through. “I’m sure you must have just been seeing things.” She casually handed her back her phone. “This young lady,” she looked over at Ann, “Was knocked over by one of those cyclists you keep trying to convince the Mayor to give more road space to. Of course I had to get out to check she was okay. We’re lucky she wasn’t seriously hurt. That’s what you should be worried about Eliza. Not whatever you think you saw.”

Eliza’s eyes narrowed as she looked up at Anne and then back down to Ann who wasn’t sure if speaking up to verify the story would help. The description of events she’d heard was largely true, although she was sure that whoever this Mariana Lawton was, had been the shouty woman on the bridge. Whatever reason Anne had to hide that fact must be a good one.

“You make sure she’s alright.” Eliza glanced over at Ann, not unkindly and gave her a small nod, “Get Thomas to take her to the hospital, since you insist on having your own driver he can be useful for once. I’ll see you in my office. We still have a meeting.” Anne nodded as Eliza left them alone again.

When the door closed Anne turned her attention back to Ann raising her eyebrows like a naughty school kid who’d just been told off but didn’t care at all. She closed the distance between them and said cheerfully, “Now, as I was saying. Yours is not a name I’ll easily forget.” She held out her hand, as Ann took it she noted how impossibly soft they were. She couldn’t help run her thumb along the back of her hand as she smiled brightly back at her, “I’m also Anne. Anne Lister.”

Chapter Text

Thomas had waited outside the hospital whilst Ann had gone in to check she didn’t have any serious injuries. She was relieved when they confirmed all she had was a few bumps and bruises and probably a bit of shock, although Ann was sure that was as much to do with bumping into Anne Lister as the accident.

They’d only been able to spend a few moments talking before Thomas had arrived to take her to the hospital. Well, talking was a bit generous, Ann felt that she had spent most of it rambling whenever she’d been asked a question. Even after all this time, Anne’s presence still had the effect of turning her into an incoherent mess. She had apologised for not going with her but she’d had to stay at City Hall for her appointment with Eliza Priestley.

Ann had spent most of her time in the hospital trying to figure out how she would speak to Anne again, cursing herself for not thinking to give her phone number. But then why would she? It would have been odd for her to say, ‘Here have my number in case you ever wondered how the person your driver didn’t knock over is doing because you’re not impossibly busy running London.’ No, Ann would have to find another way to contact Anne again. One that didn’t involve collisions and hospital visits.

Maybe Sam would be the answer, get Anne’s boss in on her plan. Of course then she’d have to let him know that she was living in London too. She’d kept a low profile since moving but it seemed rather than making things easier it was making things more complicated.

She was thinking about how she could show back up in Anne’s life as she exited the hospital. She was surprised when she heard Thomas calling out to her. She hadn’t expected him to wait but as Ann approached the rather large black Mercedes estate car she secretly hoped that Anne was waiting inside. Maybe she wouldn’t have to figure out how to see Anne again.

Ann realised she must have looked a little disappointed when Thomas opened the door and she saw that it was empty because he quickly said, “Miss Lister insisted I wait for you, got you home safe.” Ann nodded as she got in, no Anne but at least there was that.

She sat quietly in the back of the plush leather seats as they drove through the city. The car felt brand new, or was at least very well taken care of. Anne Lister was certainly driven around in some style. It was early evening by now but it was still quite light out. Ann loved this time of year, long warm summer nights. They reminded her of home, of Lightcliffe, and of summers spent looking out over the Shibden Valley onto the Hall and hoping to catch a glimpse of her incredibly handsome neighbour, Anne Lister.

She was caught up in her childhood memories that she hadn’t even registered Thomas’ question and only realised there must have been one when he turned to face her when they’d stopped at a traffic signal.

“I’m sorry, what was that?”

Thomas smiled before turning back to start driving, he glanced back at her in the rearview mirror, “Did the doctors say everything was alright ma’am?” Ann nodded and then realised he probably hadn’t been able to see her answer, “Yes, thank you. They said everything was fine,” She heard a rustle of papers coming from the front seat.

“Did they do an x-ray?”

“Yes, no broken bones.” She thought she saw Thomas scribbling something down as he tried to drive. She began to worry that maybe today’s earlier accident was as much to do with the cyclist as Thomas not paying attention to the road. She tugged on her seatbelt and made sure it was secure. There was more rustling of papers from the front, “Did they do a...ugh. What’s that s’posed to say?” She could hear him muttering under his breath. “You’d think she was a flipping doctor with her writing.”

“Is everything alright?” Ann asked, concern evident in her voice.

Thomas looked at her in the rearview mirror, “Oh sorry, yes ma’am. It’s just…” More rustling of papers from the front. Ann sat up to try and see what it was he was doing. He swerved quickly, sending her back into her seat when he saw a parking space ahead and took the opportunity to pull in. He turned the engine off and then turned in his seat to face her properly.

He looked a little sheepish when he saw her slumped in the back, “Sorry ma’am.” She smiled politely and sat more upright as he held up the piece of paper up to his face and again tried to decipher the writing. After a few groans, Ann was still unsure what the problem was and asked sympathetically, “Do you need help with something?” Thomas looked up at her, confusion all over his face.

He stared down at the paper and back at Ann who was looking back at him kindly. He took a deep breath before holding up the paper to her, “Maybe you’ll have more luck. Can you read what that says?” He pointed to the paper that had a number of questions listed on it written in almost indecipherable writing. Ann’s eyes bulged at the sight. No wonder he’d had so much trouble. She took it from him and turned it around a few times as she tried to read what was written. “What is this Thomas?”

He hesitated, not sure if he was supposed to tell her what it was. He hadn’t been told not to and he needed help so decided it was alright to do so. “It’s Miss Lister ma’am. She gave me this list and said I was to ask you those questions to check them doctors had looked after you properly.” He took on Anne’s firm authoritative tone, “I want a full report when you’re back.”

“Oh.” Ann couldn’t help but smile as she looked over the sheet of paper again. From what she could decipher, Anne had written a dozen or so bullet points about the tests she expected Ann to have had. X-ray, CT scan, MRI, blood tests. Some other medical words Ann wasn't sure she’d understand the meaning of even if she could read them. As Ann read on she felt a growing warmth in her cheeks. Anne Lister may not have remembered who she was, but this showed that she cared.

Ann read to the end of the list. It took her a moment to read what was written but when she saw the words in the last bullet point it was impossible not to see them. Ann sank back into the backseat, unable to suppress the huge smile across her face as she held the paper to her chest. Seeing Anne Lister again might not be so hard.

---

Anne had commandeered a desk in City Hall after her meeting with Eliza had finished. She was loath to do so because of the open plan layout which meant that there were very few offices with actual walls, and most of those were taken. She’d tried to go back to the office she’d used when she brought Ann in but its owner had returned with reinforcements and they were not willing to be evicted again.

Normally she would have gone straight back to her own office in Victoria following her meeting but as she’d given Thomas strict instructions to wait for Ann and report back she was without her driver. Sam had popped his head round the corner when he heard that his elusive Senior Advisor was deigning City Hall with her presence and joked that she could take the Tube like the rest of them, like a proper Londoner. She scoffed at the idea.

She didn’t have anything against the Tube, in fact now that Sam was Mayor she supposed she should be using it more like the rest of the Mayoral team. She reasoned though that since Thomas was on her payroll, and not City Hall’s, and she usually used any travelling time to try and tame her never empty inbox and make important calls her car was merely an extension of her office. Besides, she’d traded her previous car for a hybrid. That was concession enough.

Truth was, even if she had been in her office she probably wouldn’t have gotten much work done. Between her night with Mariana, this morning’s events with Ann, and her meeting with Eliza, she was exhausted. How was it only Tuesday? At least she hadn’t bumped into Mariana again. That was the main reason she’d wanted an office with walls - so she could lock the door from any unwanted conversations.

Thankfully Charles had either kept her occupied or bored her just enough that she’d made a quick escape and hadn’t thought that Anne might still be in the building. Her assistant had already couriered over the newly cut keys to her flat so she knew that she would not have any unexpected guests again that night.

Anne was pleased to realise however that her biggest distraction was Ann. After Eliza had stormed back to her office she had continued her not quite forensic examination of her to make sure that she wasn’t hurt. She was almost certain that she was fine but she wanted to remain in her company. It was strange, they’d hardly said anything at all to each other yet Anne hadn’t wanted their time to end. Despite their chaotic meeting, Anne had felt an inexplicable calm in her presence.

Every time she had tried to respond to an email or make a call she found herself thinking of Ann. They had started to talk casually about why Ann had been on the bridge. Anne had learnt that Ann had just moved to London and had been staying with a cousin and she was trying to get more familiar with the city. She had sat and watched Ann talk, unable not to smile as her shyness turned into rambling before she caught herself in a running sentence. She would glance down at her hands when she felt that she had said too much until Anne would encourage her to keep talking.

Anne had caught the hint of a Yorkshire accent and was about to ask her where she was from when Thomas showed up to interrupt them. No doubt on Eliza’s orders to take her to the hospital and to let Anne know she was ready for their meeting. It was when Ann asked to use the bathroom before they left that Anne had been able to scribble a few points that she wanted to ensure the doctors covered and had instructed Thomas to make sure she was safe at home before he left her.

Ann had looked disappointed that Anne wasn’t able to go with them but she understood that she was very busy. Anne had wanted to say that she wasn’t too busy and that Eliza could wait, only having had one run in with her already that day she did not want to test the limits of even her charm.

She had taken her hand in hers again, so soft and delicate. They had stood looking at each other, Anne thoroughly entranced, Ann again not making any attempt to take her hand back. It was only when Thomas had coughed rather loudly that Anne had let her hand go and reluctantly said goodbye.

It was that very same cough that roused Anne from her memories of earlier that day. She looked up to see Thomas stood waiting for her. She looked around and found that the office had apparently emptied itself and it was almost dark outside. She shook her head and smiled. She really had lost a day thinking about Ann.

She walked briskly to the car, Thomas struggling to keep up with her pace. She asked without turning to face him, “Did you make sure Ann got home safely?”

“Yes ma’am,” he called out to her in reply. Thomas asked himself why she had to always walk like they were having a race.

“You didn’t just leave her, you waited till she got into her cousin’s house.”

“Yes ma’am,” he yelled loudly as she’d widened the gap between them.

She stopped abruptly turning to face him, “Yes you did leave her or yes you waited?”

Thomas managed to catch up, almost out of breath, “Yes I waited ma’am. Like you said.” Anne nodded before turning again and heading off with equal vigour.

She reached the car before him as usual and was looking impatient as Thomas reached her only half a minute later. “Did you ask her the questions?” Thomas was still catching his breath so he simply nodded. Of course Anne wanted the full report on what the doctors had said but more than anything she wanted to know if he'd managed to get to the final point on her list. She looked at Thomas expectantly but still nothing until finally she asked, “Did you get her phone number?”

Thomas nodded enthusiastically as he took the scrap of paper from his pocket and handed it to Anne. His beaming smile quickly faltered as she held it up in the air, “Where’s the rest of the list?”

“Oh well, Miss Walker - “

“Who?” Anne barked back.

“Miss Walker...Ann, ma’am. That’s her name - Ann Walker.”

How had Anne not asked her name? Had this woman really unhinged her that she hadn’t even covered the basic decorum when meeting someone new? She already knew the answer - yes. She smiled as she said her name in her head. She thought that it sounded vaguely familiar, but she’d met so many people during the campaign that no one’s name sounded unique anymore.

“I - I didn’t have any paper…”

“She has the list?” Anne asked incredulously. Thomas’ silence was enough of an answer. “And what’s wrong with your phone? Why couldn’t you have put her details in that?”

Anne began to question whether she had made a mistake making him her principal driver and letting Marian take John Booth back up to Halifax with her. Thomas was usually capable, most of the time. She had conceded that John knew Shibden better than anyone, except herself, and he could help Marian run the estate when she would inevitably become busier in London. Still, it was moments like this that she missed having someone who was more than just competent.

“She did ma’am,” Thomas finally managed to get out.

“What?” Anne tried to keep her tone even but he was getting more tiresome. She could feel her brow furrowing.

“She gave me her number to put in my phone.” Thomas was holding up his phone for her to see Ann’s phone number saved in his contacts. “But then she wanted to write it down too, in case my phone deleted it somehow. She’s the one that...that wrote her name and number on the paper. I thought she’d give it back to me but she ripped the end off and put it in her bag.”

“Really?”

“Seemed she wanted to keep it ma’am.”

Anne paused for a moment. “Hmm,” was the only reply she gave to Thomas before she finally got into the back of the car. She pulled the car door shut before he had a chance to close it for her. One day he thought to himself he’d get there first.

As Thomas got into the front of the car and started to pull away, Anne pondered in the back what it all meant. Ann had seen the list of questions she had scribbled down, almost all medical except the final point - ‘Phone number!’ Underlined three times no less. It certainly would have conveyed an eagerness on Anne’s part, one that she would prefer she was not aware of. But rather than think Anne was being too enthusiastic Ann had given Thomas her number. In fact, rather than risk it being deleted she had also written it down.

Anne looked at the piece of paper in her hand, the phone number clearly written - Ann Walker, 07185 755 542 x. Well, well, well Miss Walker, Anne thought to herself. It looks like I’m not the only one who wanted to continue our conversation.

Chapter Text

Ann knew that Catherine would want to fuss over her as soon as she got back to her flat. She was staying with her until she became more familiar with the city and found a place of her own. She had texted her from the hospital explaining what had happened. She knew she’d be worried when she realised she’d been out alone all day. Finding out about the accident would do nothing to allay her cousin’s concerns about Ann being in London.

It wasn’t that she didn’t think Ann wouldn’t be able to cope with being in London, it had been Catherine that had insisted in her moving down there to begin with. Ann knew that Catherine would be worried that an incident like this would see Ann packing up and moving back up to Halifax to be smothered by their overbearing family. Ordinarily she probably would have been right, only it wasn’t just any accident.

Ann had left out the part about being rescued by Anne Lister, as she had decided to frame it in her mind. She was saving that to tell Catherine in person because she needed someone to talk her down from the cloud she had been walking on from not only seeing Anne, but knowing that she had instructed Thomas to get her phone number. In big letters. Underlined three times. Catherine would absolutely not be that person, but at least she’d be just as excited as Ann was.

Before her key had even turned the lock all the way Catherine had pulled the front door open and flung her arms around Ann and squeezed her tightly, “Oh my god woman don’t ever do that to me again!”

“Good thing I hadn’t broken any bones Cath, otherwise they might need resetting.”

“Shit! Sorry!” Catherine immediately released the vice grip she had on her and pulled her into the living room and plonked her on the large sofa. She hovered over her, “Do you need anything? Pillows? Bandages? Cuppa tea?”

“No, I just need you to sit down.” Ann was smiling broadly as she patted the seat next to her. Catherine’s eyes narrowed as she looked down at her cousin. This was not the face of someone who had been a near death traffic accident. She slowly lowered herself onto the sofa, eyeing Ann up suspiciously.

---

Anne had gotten home a little after 8pm. She’d half expected to find a petulant Mariana sitting outside her door because her key no longer worked. To her relief there was no one waiting for her. She opened the door to her flat and was greeted by darkness. The only light coming from the lamps that lined the embankment outside several floors below. She was alone. As always.

She put the TV on for some background noise, some show about garden makeovers was on. She thought about the changes she still wanted to make at Shibden, maybe she could get up there this summer and put some plans in motion so that the flowers would have time to bed in and she could enjoy them in the spring. She hadn’t been back since she stole a weekend away for her birthday in April and she missed it.

She wandered into the kitchen considering whether she should just order something in rather than try to cook, but that would be at least thirty minutes and she had hardly eaten at all and was famished. Everything in her cupboards seemed to require too much work and she really didn’t want to heat up a can of soup. She opened her fridge and smiled when she saw a casserole dish of Cordingley’s homemade Shepherd’s Pie with a post-it note attached, ‘Make sure you eat.’

As she took it out and turned the oven on to warm it up she was incredibly grateful that Cordingley had stayed on after the election and Marian hadn’t whisked her back up to Halifax. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to keep her in London much past the summer, she was Yorkshire through and through, but for now she greatly appreciated someone to keep her home tidy and her kitchen well-used.

Anne had settled on her large sofa in her pyjamas with her dinner, the same gardening programme still on the TV. She absent mindedly scrolled through her messages as she balanced the plate on her lap and ate. She’d have to get out of this habit when she was back home, Marian always hated her being on her phone at the table but what she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her.

The thought had only just entered her mind when Marian’s picture flashed up on the screen startling her so much that she almost dropped her phone. As soon as she picked up the call Marian was screaming at her, “Anne are you okay?” She was glad she hadn’t managed to get the phone up to her ear yet. Perhaps speaker phone was best. She put it on speaker and set the phone down on the table.

“Yes Marian, why wouldn’t I be okay?” Anne asked calmly as she continued to eat. Her sister really needed to stop going from nought to a hundred on the panic scale.

“I got a news alert that you’d been in an accident!”

“What? Why are you getting news alerts about me?” Anne put her fork down and picked up her phone.

Marian huffed, “Because Anne, despite being my sister, Google is a lot quicker in telling me about your life than you are!”

“Well obviously I’m fine.”

“Not obviously! You could be sat there with your leg in a cast for all I know.” Anne rolled her eyes, her sister never lost her flair for the dramatic. “Did you actually read whatever article it was that told you I’d been in an accident?” Anne waited for her answer. When she didn’t receive one she knew that Marian might be starting to calm down.

“I hadn’t, no...not yet.” There was a pause. “So you’re alright?”

Anne sighed and smiled to herself as she enjoyed another mouthful of food, “Yes Marian, I’m always alright.”

“Well what happened then?” Marian had gone from concerned to irritated. Anne almost preferred this, it was much more easier to handle.

“If you must know, there was an accident. On the bridge. By City Hall.” Anne took another mouthful, wondering how much to tell her sister. Not that there was much to tell but she didn’t really have anyone else to talk to so she thought she’d chance it. “I actually helped the young woman who was involved.” Anne said proudly.

“And the rest I'm sure.” Marian hadn’t meant to say that loud enough for Anne to hear but she had. Anne began to regret her decision.

Marian was suddenly glad that she was 169 miles away safe in Shibden and couldn’t feel the daggers she was sure her sister’s gaze was sending her way. She thought she’d better placate her since she was supposed to be going down to visit her and that was largely why she’d called.

“I’m sure she was very grateful that you were there to help her.” Still silence. Anne sat back on the sofa, phone still held up to her ear. She wasn’t actually annoyed with Marian but she knew she’d be squirming at her silence. “Come on Anne, don’t be like this. You know I didn’t mean anything by it. It's just young women falling at your feet...” Marian could feel herself digging the hole deeper.

It was almost too much fun but Anne wanted to finish her dinner before it got cold and stringing along Marian like this could last days. “Anne.” She was almost whining now.

“Really Marian, I don’t know why you have such a low opinion of me.” Anne finally answered, her tone even. She had intended it as a joke but she had not expected Marian to laugh quite as hard as she did. This time she held her phone away from her ear to protect them from the raucous laughter on the other end. When she didn’t think it would end Anne simply said, “Goodnight Marian,” and hung up the phone. Sometimes her sister could be impossible.

Anne was glad that she was going to be spending a few days down there though. Marian always made the flat feel less empty, mostly because she somehow managed to spread the contents of even a small holdall all over the place. It was nice too to have company, to have someone to tell about her day.

If she hadn’t been such a pest she would have told Marian about Ann. She wasn’t quite sure what there was to tell just yet, but she had the distinct feeling that there was something. She’d spent the car journey home trying to decide what to say to Ann.

Thanks to Thomas, Ann knew that she was eager to talk to her or why else would she want her number. She supposed Ann might just think she was concerned, afterall it wouldn’t do for someone who worked for the Mayor not to care about someone who’d been in an accident right by City Hall.

All she had managed to decide was that she would text her rather than call. Let Ann respond to her on her own terms in case she was busy or had gone straight to bed. Uncharacteristically she had been unable to form the right series of words. She wanted to see her again, but how would suggesting that look? They were still relative strangers.

Damn it Marian, Anne cursed under her breath. She could have at least run a few ideas past her for what she should text Ann if she hadn’t been such an ass. Just then her phone buzzed, she looked at it. A message from Marian, ‘Can I still stay at your place this week?

Impossible.

---

“How could you not tell her who you are?” Catherine swatted Ann over the head with the nearest pillow.

“Cath! Accident victim here!” That earned Ann another hit over the head and drew a big laugh from Catherine. They were still sat on the sofa after Ann had told Catherine everything that had happened, including the list with Anne’s instruction to Thomas.

Ann held her hands up in surrender and Catherine relented as she stared at her from across the sofa, “Only you Ann Walker can get into an accident and end up in the arms of the love of your life. And then not tell her!”

“I’m hardly going to come out with that am I Cath?”

“Yeah but you could have said something instead of acting like you didn’t know her!” Catherine scrunched up her face, “Actually Ann. Why didn’t you tell her you knew her?”

“There just wasn’t the right time.”

“Oh you mean between lying in her lap and then being in her arms?”

“Exactly!” Ann wanted to laugh at the situation she was in but instead she grimaced and smacked her palms to her forehead and said into her hands, “What have I done Cath? Why couldn’t I just say, ‘It’s me, Ann Walker - I lived next to you practically my entire life!’ And then just deal with it when she obviously didn’t remember me.” She shook her head as Catherine scooted up to her and began to rub her back. Ann looked up at her, her teeth pulling on the bottom lip of a very definite pout.

“Hey, none of that!” Catherine continued to try to soothe her.

“It’s such a mess. What if I see her again? Do I just keep pretending that I don’t know her? That I haven’t had this massive crush on her since I was a teenager -”

“Before.” Catherine said matter-of-factly. Ann looked up to glare at her but when Catherine just shrugged her shoulders at the obvious truth Ann burst into laughter once more. She threw herself back into the sofa and stared at the ceiling. “I’m gonna look like a complete mentalist when I see her again. If she even wants to see me again!”

“Of course she wants to see you again! She made her manservant get your number!”

“Which she hasn’t used yet! What if she was just being nice? Or what if she realises what an absolute mess I must be and decided not to bother?” Ann didn’t actually need any answers to these questions. She had a perfect knack of finding a problem to every solution and Catherine knew it so she didn’t waste her breath.

Ann looked over at Catherine, her head flopping to the side. “Even if she does call me Cath, and by some miracle she wants to see me again. I’ll have to tell her eventually right? That I know her. And then I’ll have lost her.” Catherine broke a little at Ann’s words.

They’d grown up together with the figure of Anne Lister always taking prime place in Ann’s heart. She was actually a big part of why Catherine had wanted her to move down to London. She would never be able to orchestrate their meeting with Ann up in Halifax. Now it seemed she didn’t even have to because Ann had managed to do that all by herself. This next part though would definitely need some careful planning.

Catherine wrapped her arm around Ann’s shoulder and held her close. “Look. You were in shock. Mostly from having Anne Lister’s hands all over you.” There was a large groan from Ann. “Or the accident...whatever.” Catherine continued. “So you were in a daze...you weren’t in your right mind otherwise of course you would’ve said something.” Another groan. “And you know, it’s been ten years since you’ve seen her properly right? Not since -” She could feel Ann nodding against her chest. They both remembered exactly when they would have seen each other last.

Before they started to dwell on that moment Catherine added, “Who’s to say that you remember her? I mean Lightcliffe is what? 10,000 acres. It’s not like you were popping over to borrow milk.” Ann sat up. She heard something in Catherine’s tone that she’d heard before, she’d come up with a plan. Eyebrows raised, Ann looked questioningly at her. “Hear me out!” She had seen Catherine wild eyed and animated before.

“I mean she’s just Anne Lister. She left Halifax years ago.” Ann silently hoped this wasn’t going where she thought it was going. “There’s no reason why you should know her.” Ann was about to start her protest but was stopped by Catherine’s hand covering her mouth. “I know. You’ve been in love with her forever but she doesn’t know that. And if she finds out who you are -”

IF?” Ann grabbed the pillow and was burying her face in it at the ludicrousy of Catherine’s plan.

“Alright, when she finds out who you are. Because she’ll have to if you’re going to marry her.”

“Catherine!” Ann yelled into the pillow.

“When she finds out you can just be all…” Ann looked up as Catherine tried to look as innocent as possible as she exaggeratedly continued in mock surprise, “Oh you’re that Anne Lister?” That earnt her a large whack in the face from Ann’s pillow. This was her cousin’s big plan. Hopeless. It was hopeless.

Just as Catherine was about to launch into another idea Ann’s phone buzzed on the table. She picked it up and started to read the message. “And anyway Ann -” Catherine was silenced by Ann’s palm being abruptly held up in her face. She would have been outraged if Ann hadn’t immediately then started waving the phone in front of her.

She grabbed the phone out of Ann’s hand, “Oh shit Ann!” They both started screaming and bouncing up and down in joy like adolescent school girls. The message on her phone, ‘Ann, I’m glad that no serious harm was caused. I still feel terrible about the accident. Please let me take you to lunch - Anne Lister.’

Ann looked helplessly at Catherine. She was in so much trouble.

Chapter Text

Ann had three outfits laid out on her bed. This was an improvement on the seven she had an hour ago, which again was an improvement on the twelve she had started out with. The initial cull had been due to the weather forecast. It was expected to be a beautiful summer day, sunny but not too hot. 

The second cull had been Catherine’s. She’d taken away any trousers because she’d been telling Ann all spring she needed to take advantage of the sun when it showed up. She’d also removed any skirt-top combos because she knew how much Ann fussed at anything with a waistline when she was nervous, which she would most certainly be. The final cut had been anything longer than knee length, there was a time to be demure and her first date with Anne Lister - even if Ann wasn’t admitting that it was, wasn’t the time. 

What was left was three dresses that sat just above the knee, a white halterneck dress that really she would be too scared to spill anything on, a pale pink dress that she was now thinking was a bit too dressy for a casual lunch, and a final light blue skater dress that had always been one of her favourites. She picked up the blue dress and hung it on the wardrobe door. Perfect. 

---

They had decided on Thursday for lunch. It was the only time Anne had available in her busy schedule, and really she didn’t even have time for this but she didn’t think she could leave it any longer before she saw Ann again. With Marian arriving that evening she knew she would have no free time until the following week. She had been thoroughly enraptured by Ann and she needed to break this spell she appeared to be under so she could stop being so thoroughly distracted. 

Ann had agreed to meet at her office in St James’ Park at 12pm, that would give them enough time to have lunch and perhaps go for a walk around the park before Anne’s 2pm meeting. She had gotten Eugenie to make reservations at the nearby Caxton Grill, their food was always superb and suitably impressive without being too formal. 

Anne had found herself staring at the clothes hanging in her wardrobe for longer than usual that morning. There was not much to choose amongst the myriad of black suits and dress shirts but she had chosen a black blazer with satin lapels to wear with a black collarless dress shirt. It was supposed to be warm that day and whilst she expected she would not wear the blazer for long she wanted to make an effort. 

She opened her sock drawer halfway, an array of black socks all neatly lined up. She supposed when Cordingley left she would have to hire someone else to do the housekeeping, another thing she would have to remember to ask Eugenie about. She reached for the nearest pair but then found herself stopping. She pulled the drawer all the way out and surveyed the row of coloured socks tucked along the back. 

They were mostly ones that Marian had gotten her for Christmas that she kept for her. For some unknown reason she always seemed to need to borrow socks when she visited. She pulled out a pair of maroon socks and turned them over in her hand as she considered them. They would only be visible above her black brogues when she sat down if anyone cared to notice. It had been a while since she’d added any colour to her wardrobe, but today felt like a splash of colour was called for.

---

Ann had carefully studied Anne’s directions. Truthfully she’d read the half-dozen or so messages she and Anne had exchanged since Tuesday so many times she could recite them. Take the stairs on the right as you exit the train. Take a left after the ticket barriers. Cross over the zebra crossing and walk to the red post box. When you get there take a right and her office was the building on the corner. She loved that Anne had sent such detailed instructions instead of trusting Google to take her to where she needed to be. She realised she was still very new to London but an address would have sufficed. 

She had arrived there at exactly 11.55am. Not too early to appear over eager but there in good time that Anne wouldn’t have to wait. As Ann looked up at the impressive four storey building with its decorative columns bracketing the front door she steadied her breath. She smoothed out her dress and adjusted the small maroon bag Catherine had lent her before going up the small set of steps. 

Between them they had decided that if Anne asked her directly about her life then she wouldn’t lie, it would only make Ann even more flustered if she had to remember things that weren’t true. However, if Anne didn’t ask anything about her family or Halifax then Ann wasn’t going to volunteer the information. Ann wanted to get to know Anne on her own terms, not as the girl who lived next door that she’d obviously forgotten about. 

They’d only spoken briefly and all Ann was really going on was a list with a request for her phone number underlined. No. As she stood on the doorstep she told herself that she had to stop this defeatist talk. Yes it was just a request for a phone number, but it was underlined three times. Plenty of people asked for someone’s number and never used it, Anne had. She took a deep breath and lifted the large brass door knocker. 

After a few moments, when it appeared no one had heard her, she gently pushed on the door and was relieved when it opened. She really didn’t want to have to message Anne and tell her she’d failed at getting into her office. There was a large grand staircase leading up on her left and a couple of doors to her right. She was glad to hear a familiar voice coming from the back so made her way in that direction. 

The door was slightly ajar so she knocked gently on it, “Come in.” Anne’s tone was so unmistakably commanding. She pushed the door gently, her mouth falling open slightly at the impressive sight of Anne Lister dressed all in black, sitting behind a large dark mahogany desk in the centre of her office. When their eyes finally met, Ann saw that Anne was greeting her with that signature megawatt smile and she could have sworn her heart literally skipped. Anne stood to greet her, “Miss Walker, it’s so good to see you again.” How on earth was she going to get through their lunch?

As Ann descended the steps from her office Anne couldn’t help but take in the entirety of her outfit. The simple low strappy sandals - pretty but practical, the small handbag - enough to carry the necessities, and the pale blue dress that fit her perfectly on this summer’s day. All complementing her beautiful face with a hint of makeup, framed by her soft blonde curls. Anne knew then that she was going to be much too warm in her blazer, regardless of the weather. 

Ann turned to face her, “It’s beautiful.” Anne found herself nodding even though she had no idea what Ann was referring to. Ann pointed to the building behind Anne. She quickly turned around looking back at her office, “Ahh yes, it is quite splendid. Georgian.”

“How did you find it?”

“I didn’t. The building actually belongs to the family of a friend of mine, the Norcliffes. Tib’s family have owned it for generations. When it became listed, there wasn’t much they could do with it so they turned it into office space.” Anne took a few steps to the edge of the pavement and pointed to the top floor, “There’s an apartment up there that Tib sometimes stays in.” 

Anne beckoned Ann to come and stand next to her. She pointed up to the street sign nailed high on the brickwork, Ann hadn’t noticed it before. “Queen Anne’s Court.” Anne shook her head. “Tib thought it would be hilarious for me to have offices at this address. The location is second to none, I could hardly refuse.” Ann smiled to herself, that was why Anne probably didn’t want to just send her the address. However much bluster people claimed Anne Lister had there was a quiet humility she tried not to show. 

Anne led them around the corner back towards the direction Ann had come from, “I asked Eugenie to make us reservations at a restaurant just across the road here. They have an excellent lunch menu. Mediterranean food. It’s superb. Their chef is one of the finest in London.” Anne was excited to impress Ann, but she caught the faintest of sad smiles as her lunch companion tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. Anne paused and Ann stopped with her, “Is something wrong? Do you not like Mediterranean food?” 

Ann looked back at Anne shyly, a kind smile on her face. Her reply was almost too quiet for Anne to hear, “I was looking at places to eat, in the area.” Anne nodded. “You said you didn’t have a lot of time so I thought maybe we could just grab something quickly.” Anne dropped her head disappointed thinking she had only accepted her lunch date in politeness and wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. How could she have misread it? She chastised herself quietly. Obviously someone like Ann had more interesting ways to spend her day than waste it on a relative stranger.  

“Ahh of course, you’ve probably got other things to do on such a lovely day - “ Anne had started walking hurriedly causing Ann to almost run to catch up with her. Anne stopped at the top of the street to check for traffic before crossing and Ann managed to place a hand on her arm stilling her. Anne looked down at it and then back up at Ann, trying to mask her dismay. Those pale blue eyes, damn it. She had to quickly look away.

Ann was taken aback by the dejection that she had seen flash in Anne’s eyes. She had seemed so animated when talking about her office and their lunch just now. Perhaps she’d made a terrible mistake by researching places to eat, she’d only wanted to show Anne that she wasn’t completely helpless. Now she’d ruined everything. She should have just stayed quiet and let Anne take her to the restaurant she’d planned. It was too late now. She had to find a way to salvage this.

“Anne.” Her voice was quiet and pleading. She gently squeezed her arm and Anne turned to face her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…I...” Ann cursed her inability to form sentences around her. Anne could see her struggling and placed a hand gently on top of the one that rested on her arm and tried to smile. 

Ann let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding. “I was worried you’d be rushing. I didn’t want to take up your time. You’ve already been so kind to me.” She bowed her head slightly before continuing, “I found a falafel stand in the market just down the road. The food looks really delicious. I thought maybe we could get a couple of wraps and then go for a walk in the park. If you have time.” Her voice had trailed off and gotten quieter as she finished her sentence. 

Anne sighed. Was she doomed to constantly misread her? She used to be so good at knowing exactly what a person wanted. Yet here she was, almost having stormed off from someone who wasn’t trying to get away from her, but was instead worried about taking up too much of her time. She took her hand off of Ann’s and gently placed two fingers under Ann’s chin tilting her head up. “That sounds wonderful Ann. Of course I have time for you. I’ll just message Eugenie and tell her to cancel the reservation, or to use it herself.” Ann’s face lit up with a smile as Anne’s heart swelled. 

---

As they made their way to the park, Anne insisting on carrying their lunch, Ann wondered how she could possibly not be sweltering in her all black attire. She felt positively flush as they walked with the sun shining on them, but that could entirely be because of whose presence she was in. 

Since their minor understanding over where to have lunch the conversation had flowed much better between the two of them. They had even managed to navigate the potential awkwardness of Anne trying to buy them lunch but not having any cash when the falafel stand didn’t accept card payments. Ann had happily paid and added that Anne could just by lunch the next time. Anne’s smile made her hope there would be a next time.

Anne pointed towards a spot in the grass, away from the main path, not too crowded and not in direct sunlight. There was a short metal fence they would have to step over that she did with ease, offering a hand to Ann once she was over. She gratefully took it, she certainly didn’t want to end up on the floor again in Anne’s presence, although that seemed to have worked out in her favour last time.

Ann sat down on the grass and crossed her legs, looking up at Anne. She looked magnificent. Her tall lean silhouette smiling back at her. She handed her the bag of food and then in one quick movement she whisked her blazer off and sat down across from Ann who was taking their wraps out of the bag. 

“Oh,” Anne said as she looked across from her. 

Ann turned in concern, “What’s wrong?” 

Anne took her blazer and nonchalantly draped it over Ann’s lap before a small grin came across her face, “Your dress is just a little short for public decency.” Ann felt the blush rise to her cheeks immediately. Anne took one of the wraps from her hands and gave her a wink that simultaneously made her feel even warmer and eased her embarrassment. 

Ann carefully started to unwrap her food, making sure not to spill anything on Anne’s carefully placed blazer. Sitting opposite her, Anne wasn’t half as careful. She had rolled up her shirt sleeves and was biting into her wrap with gusto. After one bite she exclaimed, “This is delicious.” Ann smiled between mouthfuls. “How did you find it?”

“Instagram.” Anne raised her eyebrow at her. Of course she knew what Instagram was but she’d never heard of it being used to find food. Ann took her phone from out of her bag, “Come, look.” The sun was shining on the screen so she couldn’t see it clearly so Anne crawled over to sit next to Ann. Their knees were touching as they sat side by side. Ann felt her pulse quicken.

Anne noticed a change in Ann’s breathing, “Is everything okay?” She asked casually, hoping their close proximity was the reason for the quiet yet unmistakable gasp she’d heard.

Ann shook her head quickly, “You...uh...you….” Say something. Say anything. Ann quickly glanced down and then shot her head back up with a smile, “Your socks!” 

Anne laughed, “Yes, I have socks on.”

“They match my bag.” Anne looked down at her socks peeking out from below her trousers and then at Ann’s bag. She laughed again and nodded, “Yes they do. We are well matched.” As she looked at her she couldn’t stop herself thinking that this girl was absolutely precious.

Ann knew that she had to divert her gaze from Anne otherwise she’d quickly dissolve into a pool of goo formerly known as Ann Walker. She quickly opened up the Instagram app on her phone, “Anyway, Instagram!” Anne’s attention was brought back to the phone being held in front of her. With one hand Ann quickly typed in ‘#StJamesPark’ into the search field. “You just put in a hashtag followed by the place you’re going to or thing you want to see.”

“And that finds you food?”

Ann smiled at Anne’s limited understanding of social media and apparent genuine interest. No one ever listened to her when she talked about this stuff, or anything really. “Not quite. It takes you to photos that people have taken and tagged. Sometimes it will be things to see but a lot of people will take pictures of their food and tag the place where they got it.”

“Really? But why?” Anne had a working knowledge of Twitter, but an understanding of Instagram had so far eluded her. She did not even want to contemplate what a Snapchat, or even worse, a Tik Tok was.

“Lots of reasons. Sometimes it’s just a nice memory to have, some people are real foodies and love to talk about food, a lot of people get free stuff from tagging places.”

“Hmm.” Anne was sceptical. “And you’re on Instagram because you like to take photos of food?”

Ann laughed, grateful that she wasn’t mid-chew. “No. But I don’t object to it, I’ve found plenty of delicious things through it.” She held up the falafel wrap in her hand that they were both enjoying. Ann thought for a moment about what information was on her account and whether it would lead to questions she wasn’t quite ready to answer. When she’d decided there was nothing that could be an issue she pressed a few more buttons on her phone before showing it to Anne, “This is my profile.”

“At Ann Walker Art.” Anne read. She at least knew how to read someone’s handle properly so she didn’t sound like a complete luddite. Ann nodded and scrolled down to show her photos of various things she’d posted. Anne noticed that a lot of the more recent photos were of buildings.

“You like architecture?”

There was a half-nod, “Some. I don’t really know much about it but some of the buildings I’ve seen are beautiful. I’m not used to seeing such tall modern buildings, mixed in with ones that are hundreds of years old.”  

She kept on scrolling till she got to a few of her drawings. Anne put her hand on hers to stop her from moving down the page so quickly. “These are yours?” Ann nodded. Anne was silently studying the drawings. She looked across at Ann and said sincerely, “These are very good.” Ann smiled shyly. “Really Ann, you’re very good.” She simply shrugged her shoulders and put her phone away.

---

They hadn’t managed to take a walk around the park as intended, they hadn’t moved from each other’s side, content to just talk and people watch. It was only when they noticed the park getting quieter that they realised the designated lunch period must be over. Anne had looked at her watch, it was just after 1.30pm when they reluctantly started to walk back.

“Next time you’ll have to let me introduce you to the pelicans,” Anne said as she helped Ann back over the fence, her blazer draped across her arm.

“Pelicans?” Ann laughed. 

“Yes. Three of them. The male, Gargi, he’s from Southend apparently so almost a local. Then the two females, Tiffany and Isla. They’re Czech, from Prague.” Ann giggled again, partly from Anne’s story but also because she was beaming at her as she spoke. 

“They’re quite famous.”

“Famous pelicans?” Surely she had to be making this up.

“I’m surprised they didn’t come up on your hashtag search thing.” Ann realised she didn’t care whether Anne was telling the truth, as long as she was smiling at her like that she’d believe anything she said. “Next time search St James Park Pelicans, I warn you though, you may be a bit alarmed.”

“Well, I’m definitely going to have to look them up now.”

They passed Anne’s office but when she continued walking Ann said nothing, wanting to prolong their time together as much as she could. They came to a stop outside the Tube Station and stood silently, neither of them quite knowing how to end their afternoon, neither of them wanting to. As much as they had spoken they hadn’t made any plans to see each other again. 

Ann kept glancing down at the floor as she shuffled her feet trying to find something to say. Anne too appeared to be struggling. She was looking around, searching for a reason, any reason. She looked up at the building and saw a sculpture, an idea forming in her mind. She finally said, “Perhaps I could take you on a tour of 55.” 

Ann looked up, eyebrows raised. Anne pointed to the building above the station. “55 Broadway. You said you were interested in architecture. It was London’s first skyscraper. There’s quite a story to it.” She tilted her head hoping for a yes. Ann was biting the bottom of her lip, silently counting to ten in her mind so she didn’t answer too quickly as the smile that Anne was sure would be her undoing spread across her face. “I’d like that.”

Beaming back, Anne simply replied, “Excellent.” 

---

The rest of Anne’s day was a bit of a blur. She had walked Ann into the station, the ticket barriers preventing her from going any further. She said that she would call her to arrange a time for them to meet. In her mind she’d already begun to clear her schedule but she wanted to make sure there was nothing that would interrupt their day. 

When she got home to her flat that evening she’d almost forgotten that Marian had arrived until she almost tripped over the bag that she’d left in the hallway. “Marian!” Anne yelled unimpressed from the hallway. She saw her sister’s head pop out from the kitchen looking blankly at her. She pointed at the bag at her feet and Marian stroppily walked down the hallway. She picked it up and then gave Anne a quick kiss on the cheek, “Good to see you too.”

“Hmm, yes well.” Anne replied, giving her a quick hug in return. 

She quickly turned and headed down the hall into the guest room followed by Anne. “You’ve got no food in your fridge.”

“Glad to see you’ve made yourself at home.”

Marian threw her bag onto the floor in the room before going to find her sister. Anne was in her room on her phone, Marian quirked her eyebrow. She wasn’t sure if she was more surprised by the maroon socks or the uncharacteristically large smile she was wearing. When she realised she was being watched Anne turned to face her sister, “Is there something I can do for you Marian?”

Crossing her arms she replied, “Yes actually. Dinner. What would you like?” 

“Just order something. I’m not much in the mood for going out tonight.” 

She held her hand out, Anne looked at her blankly. “Your phone. All your details are saved on it, it’ll be easier than trying to order on my phone.”

Anne huffed as she walked over and handed her phone reluctantly to her, “Don’t close anything.”

“I know how to use a phone Anne.” 

Marian walked out of her room and went back into the kitchen. She leaned against the counter and opened up the internet browser on Anne’s phone. She thought she really must get Anne to download some apps on her phone. Actually, it would probably just be easier to ask Eugenie to do it. She made a mental note to suggest it when she saw her. 

She was about to open a new tab when she noticed the Instagram profile already open. Ann Walker Art. It couldn’t be. She quickly started to scroll through the profile, A few well-taken shots of London landmarks, lots of buildings, other beautiful shots of various landscapes that offered no clue of where they were taken. As she dove deeper into the posts she finally found what she had been looking for when she came across the posts of the artwork the photos had appeared to have inspired. 

A curious smile came across her face that Anne noticed as she walked into the kitchen, “And what about our dinner order has you looking like that?” 

Marian looked up at her sister puzzled, “Why is Ann Walker’s Instagram profile open on your phone?”

Chapter Text

A curious smile came across her face that Anne noticed as she walked into the kitchen, “And what about our dinner order has you looking like that?” 

Marian looked up at her sister puzzled, “Why is Ann Walker’s Instagram profile open on your phone?”

Anne looked at her quizzically, “What do you mean?”

Marian waved Anne’s phone in the air, “Ann Walker’s profile. It’s on your phone.”

“Yes, yes I know that.” Marian noted the irritation in her voice, but it was nothing new. “Why do you know who Ann Walker is?”

“Why wouldn’t I know who she is?” she replied, equally annoyed. Marian couldn’t understand why her sister felt the constant need to wind her up. Of course she knew who Ann Walker was. Why would she have her Instagram profile on her phone if she didn't know who she was?

Anne took a deep breath. Her sister appeared insistent on being obtuse, it reminded her of why she used to stay away from Halifax longer than she should. She tried to make her voice more even, “Marian.”

You know who Ann Walker is.” Marain answered curtly. Anne continued to look at her blankly. Could it be? No, it couldn’t possibly. Marian couldn’t believe that her sister, Mistress of Shibden Hall didn’t know who Ann Walker was. 

“Marian.” The calmness in her tone was completely gone. 

“Ann Walker.” There was still no hint of recognition in Anne’s expression. Marian rolled her eyes in exasperation, “Of the Lightcliffe Walkers.” She raised her hands hoping for a signal that Anne knew what she was talking about. Nothing. “Lightcliffe, that rather grand estate that abuts onto your land.”

Anne could hear the words Marian was saying but they made no sense, “That’s not…” Slowly she turned Marian’s words over again and again in her head. How on earth did she come up with this nonsense? “Ann isn’t one of those Walkers.”

Marian looked to the ceiling for a strength she did not have. “Ann IS those Walkers. She and her sister Elizabeth own Lightcliffe. After their brother John died - ”

“Yes, yes. I know all that.” Anne started to pace up and down her kitchen as Marian watched her try to make sense of it all. She was muttering incoherently when she turned on her heel sharply causing Marian to back herself further into the counter. Anne fixed her most inquisitorial glare on her sister, “How do you know she’s that Ann Walker? You’ve never even met my Ann.”

The “my” was not lost on Marian, "Who is your Ann, if not this Ann?" Marian was usually able to follow her sister's train of thought, despite it moving as fast as she did but she was becoming hopelessly lost.

"Ann." Anne stated. This was not helping. Marian shook her head at her. Both of them thinking the other impossible. "Ann Walker is the girl from the bridge. The one I rescued from that reckless idiot cyclist."

Marian rolled her eyes. Of course Anne was now the hero in this story. After her momentary annoyance her mouth slowly started to open as she begun to understand who this Ann Walker was. "Now. How do you know my Ann is this Ann?" Again with the "my." Marian was definitely taking note of that. "Marian. How?" Anne said bluntly. 

She reached behind her for Anne’s phone and held it between them, and with a quick smile simply said, “Instagram.”

Anne huffed. It was the second time today that app was supposed to hold the world’s secrets in it. Anne moved to stand next to Marian waiting for an explanation, “Go on then.” 

This was Marian’s big Sherlock Holmes reveal moment, or in her case more of a Columbo, “One last thing…” moment. Then she thought why did she have to be a male detective? Maybe she was a Jessica Fletcher, or British - Jane Tennyson, ooh could she be glamorous enough to be a Rachel Bailey? Anne could see the wheels turning in her sister’s head but she still didn’t have any answers, “Marian!”

Anne’s booming voice interrupted Marian’s dazzling detective career and she turned her attention back to her current case. She held out Anne’s phone, in a similar way Ann had done earlier that day. She quickly scrolled through the gallery on Ann’s account until she came to the posts of her drawings. She moved slowly through these as Anne continued to look over her shoulder, still not understanding what she was supposed to be looking at.

There were several drawings of landscapes, all very beautiful. Marian stopped scrolling and clicked on one image and held it up for Anne, “Recognise anything?” Anne took her phone from her sister and held it in both hands as stared at the image more closely. It was a watercolour of some fields, in the distance there was a building, “How do I make it bigger?” 

“Just pinch it open.” Anne looked back at her confused. How was she supposed to know what that meant? Marian rolled her eyes again, Anne was such a boomer sometimes. She tapped on the image with two fingers and then spread them out. Anne quickly shooed her away before repeating the action herself. There was no mistaking what the building in the drawing.

“There’s only one place you’d have that view, and it’s from private property. Private Walker property.” 

Anne paused, she concentrated again on the painting on her phone before she turned to her sister in disbelief, “It’s Shibden.”

---

Ann knew that Anne had meetings all afternoon and then her sister would be staying with her, but she had held out hope that there would be a text from Anne that evening. 

She sat on the sofa trying not to check her phone again when she heard Catherine’s key in the door. It was followed by lots of shuffling in the hall before she came running through the door and launched herself on the sofa, “Tell me everything!”

Ann couldn’t help but giggle at her excitement, “We’re gonna need tea.”

“Sod the tea, we’re gonna need gin!” Catherine exclaimed.

Thirty minutes and a couple gin and tonics later - Ann still nursing her first one, and Catherine on her second, Ann had relayed every moment of her lunch date with Anne to her cousin. She sighed dreamily as Catherine shook her head and finished the last of her drink, “Anne Bloody Lister. I always knew it.” 

“And what exactly is it you always knew?” After such a lovely day Ann was willing to indulge her, as she happily poured herself another drink from the large jug on the coffee table. She went to refill Ann’s glass but she shook her head and waited for her answer.

“That you’d end up together,” Catherine said casually. 

“Is that so?” 

“Oh yeah totally,” came the very serious answer. “Also note how you did not correct me when I said that you two were together.” 

Ann simply shrugged her shoulders, without realising she was biting her bottom lip as she smiled. Catherine shot up almost spilling her drink, “Oh my god Ann Walker! Did something happen that you didn’t tell me about?” 

“What? No!” Ann realised she may have let the dream of being in Anne’s presence allow her feelings to run away with her. 

“Nuh-uh, I have seen that look before. Something happened!” 

“Nothing happened Catherine!” Ann protested. Nothing except for the afternoon completely solidifying her belief that every moment she had spent longing for Anne Lister was completely worth it. Every fantasy she’d ever allowed herself to have about what it would be like to spend an afternoon in her presence was nothing compared to the reality of it. She had had that moment. And as soon as Anne messaged her to let her know she was free, she would have another. And hopefully another and another and another.

Catherine held her drink over Ann’s head, “Spill. Or I will!” She said with a challenging glint in her eye. Ann quickly refocused as she held her hands up in surrender, “I swear Cath, nothing happened.” Catherine didn’t believe her, Ann was too happy for nothing to have happened. 

“What do you swear on?” 

“I’m your best friend! Is my word not good enough?” Ann answered pleadingly. She had no doubt that Catherine would tip her drink all over her, and then pick up the jug and do the same with that for good measure.

“Stop stalling Walker.” Oh this was serious Ann thought, Catherine only ever called her by her surname when she wasn’t kidding around. She wouldn’t have minded if there was something to tell, but she’d already told her everything, but couldn’t explain the ridiculous grin she had on her face that nothing seemed to be able to shift.

The glass above her head wavered and she shrank into the seat, “I swear Cath! I’m just happy!” She felt a drop on her head, “I swear on…” She scrambled to try to think of something sacred that she could swear on. Got it. Staring Catherine straight in the eye, “I swear on Applejack.”

“Fuck.” Catherine said defeatedly as she lowered her drink, “Okay I believe you. Nothing happened.” They both knew that before Anne Lister burst into young Ann Walker’s life her world revolved around horses, and that had all began with the Applejack My Little Pony that Catherine had gotten her for her 10th birthday. Ann smiled in relief as she sat back against the sofa, that would stop the inquisition, for a little while at least. 

---

The mostly empty takeaway containers lay on the coffee table in front of them. Anne was slumped on the sofa as Marian sat on the floor looking for any leftover dumplings that she hadn’t managed to already snag. Anne hadn’t had much of an appetite so she knew she had eaten more than her share but there was no use letting food go to waste. 

Not that she’d ever tell her older sister, but Marian enjoyed these visits when they could relax in each other’s company and not have to worry about their father or aunt. She felt that they’d never been able to do that when they were younger. For a start, Anne never liked her much as a child, and there was always some other drama going on. 

They both made an effort to get on better now, especially these last few months when Marian had noticed her sister getting increasingly lonelier. No, she would never tell her, but she worried about her. She’d not seen her sister as animated as she had earlier today, right before she found out Ann Walker was the girl who’d been involved in the accident. What a turn of events. 

“Ann Walker can’t be my Ann Walker.” Marian noted another "my." She shook her head as she continued looking as she said over her shoulder, “I know Anne. Only, it is.” This was not the first time she’d said this that night. 

“How did I not know it was her?” Anne was thinking out loud, the way she often did. She had not expected an answer, but of course Marian was there so there was always an answer. Marian sat back against the sofa, having found a container with a couple of chicken dumplings at the bottom of it, “Well, sister dear. You’re always usually distracted when you’re in the same room as her.” She stuffed a dumpling in her mouth. “The last time I saw her must have been at the Rawson’s Christmas party.”

“The Rawsons?”

“Yes Anne.” Marian couldn’t help adding a cheeky, “Keep up.” The scowl she received from Anne was completely worth it. “You didn’t go to the last one remember? You were too busy with that woman.” Marian rolled her eyes as she thought of all the times Anne had missed family functions because of some emergency with Mariana. “I remember talking to Ann Walker at the party. She actually said she was thinking about going to live in London for a while with her cousin.”

Anne sat up at the mention of Ann’s roommate, “Catherine?”

“Yes, Catherine Rawson.”

“Catherine’s a Rawson?”

“Yes Anne. Honestly, it’s like you were in the accident.” 

“Marian.” She realised that may have been a step too far but it wasn’t often that Anne wasn’t all knowing. 

“Don’t worry, she’s not one of Christopher’s.” Anne huffed at the mention of one of her least favourite people in Halifax. “Anyway, Ann said she was coming down here. I remember telling her you were probably going to be running the whole city if she did. She seemed pleased.” Marian, amused at her sister’s still confused state couldn’t help adding. “Can’t think why.”

That earned a glare. Marian thought it best to quit whilst she was still a little bit ahead.

---

Catherine handed her the plates as she started to run the tap to wash the dishes. Ann actually liked doing them, she hadn’t been able to do them at Crow Nest. Well, not not been able, not allowed would be more accurate. Her family had very firm ideas about what she should and shouldn’t do. Anything that might give her ideas about independence and being able to do things for herself was a definite no. Only they would think of washing dishes as an act of defiance. 

As she began to scrub the plates she was silently grateful to be there in Catherine’s kitchen as she rambled on. “So on your next date I think you should wear the lilac dress.” 

“What? That was one of the first outfits you vetoed.”

“Yes, but that was for a picnic in the park. Next time you should let her take you to a fancy restaurant -”

“She tried to take me to a fancy restaurant,” Ann laughed.

“Oh. Yeah. You’re right.” She had stopped at four G and Ts but Catherine was still a little tipsy. Ann sighed, whatever would come out of her mouth tonight was unlikely to be of any help. “But still!” Catherine launched, “Next time, let her.” She grinned triumphantly.

“We’re going to do a tour of the building near her office.”

Catherine scrunched up her face, “Well that sounds like a complete bore.”

“Cath!” She shrugged her shoulders as Ann shook her head and went back to the dishes, “I think it’ll be really interesting.”

“Well you would. Anne Lister reading the ingredients off a Kit-Kat would be interesting to you. Ann wanted to roll her eyes, but she probably wasn’t wrong. She would happily lose days listening to Anne’s soothing lilt. “Only if I got to eat the Kit-Kat after,” Ann replied cheekily.

Catherine wriggled her eyebrows suggestively. Ann gasped in mock outrage and splashed her with some water. Again Ann found herself incredibly thankful that this was now her life. Lunch dates with Anne Lister and silly evenings with her best friend. Convincing her to move down to London had been one of Catherine’s better ideas. For the first time Ann felt like there were real possibilities. 

“Can’t believe she still doesn’t know who you are.” Ann sighed, way to go bringing her back thundering down to earth. She placed the last plate on the drying rack. “It just didn’t come up,” Ann tried to say casually. She washed her hands and then reached for the tea towel to dry them. “If it had -” She couldn’t finish that sentence. 

She hung her head and Catherine put her hand gently on her shoulder, “It’s alright Ann. I get it. It’s Anne Bloody Lister. I’m surprised you could talk at all!” Catherine said, trying to lighten the mood. Ann gave a little nod. “Has she texted you yet to let you know when she’s taking you on this thrilling office tour?” 

Ann reached into her pocket, silently sending a prayer up to the heavens that Anne had messaged her. She turned her phone over and unlocked the screen. Catherine saw the immediate disappointment in her face. No new messages.

---

How had Marian been able to make such a mess of her flat in less than five hours? Anne huffed as she went around her living room turning off the lights, her whirlwind of a houseguest already fast asleep. She bent down to pick up the pair of socks that had been discarded by the sofa and found the remote control hiding underneath it. Three more sleeps and then her flat would be hers again. She could cope with Marian for that long.

Anne put the remote back in its proper place on the coffee table and saw her phone lying there. She had allowed Marian to distract her with some cooking show so that she wouldn’t tempt herself into texting Ann. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to speak to her, more than anything she did, but she couldn’t understand why Ann hadn’t told her who she was. If she didn’t know that then how could she know what to say to her?

She groaned as she sank into the sofa, her phone laying by her side. She tapped her fingers nervously next to it. She tried to process what she knew for sure. Ann Walker was her neighbour. They had met before. She tried to entertain the idea that Ann had not recognised her following the accident. That might have been true to begin with but there was no way she did not know who she was when they met for lunch, especially if she was living with a Rawson. No. Ann had decided not to tell Anne that she knew who she was.

Shaking her head she told herself to stick to the facts. Ann grew up in Halifax. Ann lives with a Rawson. That could mean that she had been told any number of stories about Anne over the years, none of them particularly flattering. Not just Catherine’s uncle Christopher badmouthing her professionally but she had been less than discreet when she was younger with the women whose company she kept. 

She no doubt knew about her history with Tib, Eliza, Sibella, Mariana. Countless others. There was not a person in all of Yorkshire who had not heard at least one rumour about her. Is that why she hadn’t told her she knew her? She did not want to become just another conquest in Anne’s sordid past. Anne didn't even know for certain that Ann was interested in anything more than friendship. Hmm. The wheels continued to turn inside her brain. If she was worried about her past, then why wouldn’t she just use that as a reason not to see her? There must be more. 

Anne tried to think again on what she knew for sure. Ann knew who she was. She had chosen not to tell her. Reason to be determined. They had both enjoyed their lunch together. They had not wanted it to be over. They wanted to see each other again. It had been too long since she had laughed the way she had today. She wanted to lose hours in the depths of those blue eyes. Every time Ann had bit her bottom lip when she concentrated or tried to find the words she wanted to say, Anne had wanted to know how it felt to press her lips against hers. Of all of these things she was certain. 

Her head fell back against the sofa. She needed to talk to Ann, but how? Knowing that there was so much she didn’t know. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, she was exhausted. Whatever rejuvenation she had felt from being in Ann’s presence felt lost to her now. 

Her phone buzzed by her side. It was almost midnight but she was used to receiving messages at all hours. She unlocked her phone and held the screen up to her face. She needed to start wearing her glasses more often. She saw Ann’s name and paused. If she opened it she would know that she had seen it, and then she would have to reply. She could open it and just say that she intended to reply in the morning. Why had it gotten all so complicated? 

She opened the message. There was a link to a news article, ‘Everything You Need To Know About the St James’s Park Pelicans.’ She did not need to click on it to know what Ann had read. She saw the three dots appear as Ann typed a message. Anne felt herself holding her breath as the message popped up on her screen, ‘Anne. They ate a pigeon!’  

As much as she tried she could not stop the smile spreading across her face as she pictured Ann’s horror. She shook her head quickly and lightly laughed as she stared at her phone. She could not shake her smile. The heaviness lifting from her heart. Another three dots. ‘A pigeon Anne!’ Lord. What was she going to do with this girl? Grinning wildly she quickly typed a reply before getting up and heading towards her bedroom.

---

Ann knew it was late and she was probably too busy with her sister but she had started to worry when she had not heard from Anne all evening. She had searched for a reason to message her. Perhaps she could tell her again how much she had enjoyed their day, that she couldn’t wait until they saw each other again, that she was excited about going to tour the office. Ugh. That sounded as dull as Catherine had said it did. But then she had remembered the pelicans. Perfect.

She sat up in her bed, covers pulled up around her, waiting for Anne’s reply. She could see that her messages had been received and read. She’d sent two messages. That was allowed right? Then you waited for a reply. Those were the rules. She stared at her phone nervously when there wasn’t an immediate reply, her brow beginning to furl. Then the three dots. Yes! 

Ann’s teeth began to trouble her bottom lip. She thought to herself she would make the worst poker player, it was such an obvious tell. And then there it was, Anne’s reply, ‘Well Miss Walker, at least it wasn’t a squirrel!’

Ann’s laughter burst out of her chest before she was able to clap her hand over her mouth so as not to wake Catherine. She saw the three dots appear again. Her heart swelling in her chest, she sunk into her covers not caring how late it was.

Chapter Text

“Come on lads, put your backs into it!” Marian hollered from the river bank as a long rowing boat started to pass them. Anne rolled her eyes for about the hundredth time since Marian’s visit had started as she checked the messages on her phone. Thankfully they were down to the last few hours. Anne had suggested they go for a walk along the river and a nice bit of Sunday brunch before Thomas drove her to the train station. It was a bright summer morning and she felt the need to get some fresh air in her lungs.

She’d already been for her morning run along the path they were now walking along but Anne loved being by the river, it’s why she chose to live in West London over anywhere else. It always had a way of calming her, of allowing her to sort through the things on her mind, the same way climbing Halifax’s many hills and valleys did. One foot in front of the other. She’d often start by her home in Putney and looked up to see Hampton Court. 

“How ‘bout you show us how it’s done love?” shouted the cox from the back of the boat. Anne sighed, yes the river was peaceful, except of course when oarsmen were yelling at her sister. 

Marian felt elated at the brief exchange she’d just had, feeling London held much more potential for possible relationships than Halifax did. She looked on longingly as the boat faded away, “I should really come down here for the next boat race,” she said with a long wistful sigh. Anne simply hummed a half interested answer. She turned to see Anne fiddling with her phone again. “The boat race. When is it?” she asked, trying to get her attention.

Anne turned to her, annoyed at being interrupted, “What are you going on about now Marian?” She gestured in the distance at the boat and the oarsmen she’d been so taken with, but it was now just a distant dot.

“The boat race. You know, Oxford and Cambridge rowing down the river right past your window. Lots of people along the river cheering.” Marian looked for a hint of recognition but she had none of Anne’s attention, “You might have noticed it if you ever got off your phone.”

Anne huffed loudly as she made a show of putting her phone into her back pocket. “There. Are you happy now Marian?” 

She shook her head at her, “You know I could just text Ann and ask her why she didn’t tell you who she was if that’s still your problem?” Anne just blustered, not wanting to admit that she was still bothered by Ann’s secrecy, although that’s all that had been on her mind the entire time. Marian stared back at her waiting for an answer. Anne refused to have this conversation again, instead asking, “What did you want for brunch?”

Marian just rolled her eyes as her sister strode on without her.

---

Ann was sitting at the kitchen table, well sitting was a loose description. She was very low down in a chair at the kitchen table, arms bent lying flat atop it, her hands on top of each other as she rested her chin on top of them, staring at her phone. Willing it to ring. “You know it doesn’t work just by staring at it.” Ann looked up, Catherine had wandered in to make herself another cup of tea and was pointing at her phone. “You can text too. Start a conversation? If you wanted to, that is.” Ann scrunched her face and stuck her tongue out in response to Catherine’s smart ass comment. 

She knew that Catherine was right of course. She’d spent all weekend staring at her phone hoping for a message from Anne. They had sent a few more texts late on Thursday night, Anne telling her that she would have Eugenie check her schedule in the morning to see when she was available next week. After a final goodnight though she hadn’t heard anything. 

When she woke in the morning and there was no ‘Good morning’ she felt a little disheartened but maybe Anne just wasn’t one of those people. She had waited patiently throughout the day for a text about Anne’s availability, but when it got to 6pm and there had been no message she had started to worry. She’d even gotten Catherine to message her to make sure her phone was working properly. All Catherine had been able to offer as a possible answer was, “She’s busy running London, or something!” She supposed she was right. Anne was very busy. 

On Saturday when there was still no message she decided that it must be because her sister was there. Lord, what if Marian had told Anne who she was? A sinking feeling had started growing inside of her and she spent most of Saturday trying not to let herself spiral over what that could mean. By the evening she had mostly dismissed the idea. There was no reason that Anne would have spoken to her sister about her, they’d only had one lunch. 

Ann knew from previous conversations with Marian that Anne often kept the details of her private life from her. Only, part of her wished that she did speak to Marian about her, perhaps not the details but that she’d met someone. Someone that she thought was clever and interesting and that she wanted to see again.  

By Sunday she was almost climbing the walls waiting for a message. She had her phone on the loudest setting, causing her and Catherine to jump every time it went off. They were both fraught with nerves because of it and it had started to wear on them both. She felt a bit guilty about sticking her tongue out at Catherine earlier. She’d been very good about staying positive in the face of Ann’s moping about all weekend. She’d been very good for the last 15 or so years of Ann’s ridiculously huge crush on Anne actually. 

Ann pushed herself up from the table and went to root inside the kitchen cupboards. She found a packet of Chocolate Digestives squirreled away in the back, must have been when one of them was trying to hide them so they wouldn’t be tempted. The perfect peace offering. 

She sauntered into the living room. Catherine was sitting on the sofa, her nose firmly buried in one of her gossip magazines. Either she was properly engrossed in some Made in Chelsea drama or she was ignoring her. Ann yelled, “Think fast!” and lobbed the packet of biscuits at Catherine. She didn’t think fast enough as it turned out and the packet landed square on the top of her head with a loud thump. Ann ran over to her immediately apologising profusely and also trying not to laugh. 

Catherine had a face like thunder as Ann plonked herself on the sofa next to her, with a pout to match. Ann smiled at her meekly. That didn’t work. She slowly lifted the packet of biscuits that had lay on the sofa and wiggled them in front of Catherine’s face. This at least got Catherine to stop reading and look at her. Progress. Ann put on a pout to match hers. “I know I’ve been hopeless Cath. I’m sorry.” Catherine rolled her eyes but snatched the biscuits from her hands. That meant she’d forgiven her.

She started to open the packet as Ann moved to sit by her side, looping their arms together as she rested her head on her shoulder. Catherine took out a biscuit and started to munch on it, “Have you come up with a plan then?” Ann took the packet from her and huffed. She really hadn’t. 

It had only been a couple of days, days that Anne had a perfectly good reason for not contacting her. That was still only part of the problem though, she was sure Anne would text her. The bigger issue was still how she was going to tell Anne who she was without looking like she had deliberately tried to deceive her. Which is exactly what she had done.

In between mouthfuls Catherine managed to get out, “You know what you need?” Ann looked up at her. “Someone who’s as good with words as Anne is.” Ann nodded. She was actually right about this one. She needed someone who would be able to make a mess of the thoughts in her head and put them into actual sentences.

“Time to call in the big guns.” Ann reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone, bringing up her contact list. She scrolled through, stopping at Sam Washington’s number.

===

With her flat now somewhat tidier now that her whirlwind of a sister had gone, Anne no longer had anything to distract her from the situation with Ann. That’s how she was trying to think of it. Like everything else in her life that she had to tackle. A situation that needed a solution. Only, she didn’t have one. 

It was almost evening and she had convinced herself multiple times since Marian had left that she would just let whatever it was that had started between them dissipate before it became something. There was a reason Ann wanted to pretend she was someone else, to hide who she was. Anne had already spent too long pretending. Is that not why she had ended things with Mariana? Because she was tired of living a half-life full of secrets. How long would it be before whatever she could have with Ann became just that? No. Best to stop it before it could become something. 

As she moved through her flat putting everything back in order though she was reminded of how quiet everything was. The only noise coming from the music playing in the background. Leftover Italian food in the fridge from the restaurant Marian had over ordered at last night to be heated up for dinner. 

She sat at her kitchen counter sighing heavily. She rubbed her temple and pulled up Ann’s instagram profile on her phone. She had posted a few pictures from their lunch at the park. No food photos but one of an over friendly squirrel and a couple of the flower beds. 

She closed her eyes and she could feel the warmth of the sun on them as they sat on the grass, knees touching. The little freckles on her cheeks that she’d said she could never hide in the summer, before Anne had told her how beautiful they were. The way the tip of her tongue peaked out between her teeth when she laughed sometimes. That laugh that Anne found herself wanting to be responsible for. 

Anne knew that she would have to see her again. 

===

Ann waited patiently inside Sam’s office. His assistant had said that his last meeting had over run but that he shouldn’t be too long. She stood by the window looking out over the river, being Mayor certainly did have its perks. There was a great view of the City, she could see the Walkie Talkie, Cheesegrater, Gherkin, and lots of other tall buildings she was sure Londoners had suitably wonderful names for. There was the Tower of London, she still hadn’t been inside it. Then of course, Tower Bridge. How could she forget the bridge?

Just then she heard the door open and spun around to see Sam standing halfway inside his office door speaking to his assistant, “Yes, MQTs at 2.30. I know. I won’t be late.” Closing the door he turned to face her. He looked at her for a moment. It must have been less than a year since he saw her last but she looked different, changed. Maybe it was the London backdrop but this young lady stood in his office, felt a world away from the girl he used to know. He smiled broadly as he noticed her starting to bite her bottom lip nervously, some things hadn’t changed, “Who gave you permission to grow up Ann Walker?” 

Her face lit up with a smile as she giggled lightly before stepping towards him. She gave him a quick peck on each cheek and stepped back. He had a frown on his face when she looked at him, “What’s wrong?” Her mind quickly jumping to the worst case scenario the way it always did.

“I don’t know how long you’ve been in London for Ann, but if you keep hugging like that they won’t let you back into Yorkshire.” She smiled and shook her head before wrapping her arms around his broad shoulders and giving him a proper bear hug. “Now that’s better.” He gestured for her to take a seat in one of the plush chairs in the corner while he took the seat opposite her. 

Ann had been deliberately vague when she had spoken to him on the phone. He hadn’t been surprised she’d called, only that it had taken her that long to tell him that she was living in London finally. He understood that it had taken her some time to settle in and that she was still learning her way around. She sat with her hands folded in her lap, taking a moment before she looked up at him, unsure where to start.

He met her with kind eyes, “Are you going to tell me what you and my Senior Advisor have been up to?” 

Ann’s mouth fell open, “How, how did you know?” her voice so quiet it was almost a whisper.

“I’m the Mayor of London Annie, what kind of Mayor would I be if I didn’t find out everything about the person one of my senior staff knocked down right outside my office?”

“She didn’t knock me down!” Ann protested.

“Aye, and that’s the only reason she didn’t lose her job over it.” Sam replied firmly. She’d almost forgotten this side of him, the commanding tone that made people pay attention.

“Better be careful Mr Mayor of London, your Yorkshire’s showing.” He let out a quiet laugh. She always knew exactly what to say to calm an impending storm. It was part of her magic. He sat back in the chair and listened to what she needed to say.

To his credit, Sam was an excellent listener. He always had been, that’s why she had so often gone to him for advice when she was younger, even when John was alive. Her brother’s first instinct was always to ask who it was he had to beat up. Sam always wanted to know the reason why. 

He listened intently to her tell him about the day on the bridge. He hardly raised an eyebrow as she described how Anne had whisked her into this building. He laughed when she told him the story about the pigeon eating pelicans in the park and their lunch. She was clearly still very taken with Anne. Through everything she said, there was only one real question on his mind, “Why didn’t you just tell her who you were Ann?” 

Ann groaned and sank into her chair. She tilted her head up and yelled at the ceiling, “Because I’m an idiot! And I never fail to just make a mess of things.” She clapped both hands to her forehead and stretched her legs out like a starfish. Sam laughed heartily. “Sam that’s not helping,” she whined. 

“Listen Ann.” Her arms flopped down and hung over the sides of the chair and she turned her head sharply to face him. He suppressed another laugh. He hadn’t seen her throw a strop like this since she was a teenager. “She’s not like all the stories you’ve heard.” Ann raised her eyebrows. Sam paused, that wasn’t quite true. “Alright, some of the stories are true.” That was better. “Look, I know that you grew up swooning over this larger than life idea of Anne in your head.” He saw her starting to protest again, “We all knew Ann, you weren’t very good at hiding it.”

She buried her face in her hands again, “Just kill me now!”

Suddenly she sat up and turned to him, “Fuck Sam! Do you think Anne knows?” She can’t believe she hadn’t thought of that before. What if Anne had talked to Marian about her and Marian had put the pieces together, and then Anne realised that she was the town idiot that had a schoolgirl crush on her all these years? She looked utterly panicked. Sam sat up and tried to reassure her, “I don’t think so Annie. When I said we, I mean me and John. None of the other family knew. I doubt anyone else in Halifax knew.” 

Ann sank back in her chair, relieved. “Elizabeth too actually,” Sam added quietly.

“What?” She’d shot up again.

“Annie, she’s your big sister. She knows everything.” Ann sighed. That was true. 

Sam tried again, “Why didn’t you tell her Ann? I know she didn’t recognise you straight away, but you could have said something.” 

Ann turned to face the window, looking at the city, all the promise it held for everyone. The people who lived there and for everyone who came to make their lives there. It was so much bigger than anything she’d known, so much more impressive, and overwhelming at the same time. It reminded her of someone. 

Without turning back to face him she started speaking softly, “I just wanted her to see me Sam. Not little Ann Walker that lived next door, whom she didn’t even remember. Not the invalid that the tribe thinks of me as. Not the heiress orphan.” She turned back to face him,  her eyes incredibly sad, “I wanted her to see me.”

---

Anne hadn’t needed to come to this session of Mayor’s Questions, she’d already looked over the ones that were to be asked and knew that Sam would be able to handle them perfectly fine. She hadn’t been able to get any work done that day however, a certain flaxen haired neighbour as always at the forefront of her thoughts. She had decided she may as well show her face at City Hall again. 

She had taken one of the seats away from the main horseshoe table configuration in the main auditorium. Since her role was advisory she did not feel the need to sit with the rest of the Mayoral team. She felt that she could advise him better if she was able to absorb everything that was said, see people’s reactions to answers, and then have time to react once they debriefed. 

Sam and his team had taken their seats around the table waiting for the questions to start. He seemed slightly surprised to see her but she thought nothing of it, she hadn’t told him she would be there so of course her presence was unexpected. Anne took out her phone to make sure it had been silenced and that there weren’t any urgent messages waiting for her. There was nothing that couldn’t wait, and nothing from Ann either. She put her phone away and settled into her seat. 

She surveyed the room. Apart from the Mayoral team there were the usual Assembly Members, a few new faces eager to prove to those who elected them that they’d made the right choice. A couple of familiar ones too who wanted to ensure the Mayor knew that they had no trouble holding him to account for every decision he made. There were some members of the Press, eager to see how the election promises would be met. The usual audience for these things.

As the proceedings got under way Anne let her eyes wander up into the rows of the public gallery. She hated the goldfish bowl nature of the auditorium, especially because City Hall did actually feel like one with its huge expanses of glass and its spherical shape. However, she appreciated that people actually cared enough to come and watch these meetings. They could often be tiresome or repetitive, but there was always usually an audience.

She scanned the floors of onlookers, watching the people watchers. Then there it was. Those unmistakable soft golden locks framing the gentlest of features. In another pale blue dress, different to the one she’d worn at lunch. Ann. She immediately sat up, wanting to call out to her but finding even if propriety hadn’t stopped her she did not know what to say. She hesitated for a moment before reaching for her phone. She quickly typed a message and then looked up waiting to see if Ann would see her message.

Ann felt her phone buzz inside of her bag. She was sure she had turned off all notifications, she couldn’t think of anything more mortifying than having Sam look up at her if her phone had gone off. She carefully pulled it out and had to scramble not to drop it when she saw who the message was from. Anne.

‘Meet me outside the gallery door on your floor after the meeting.’

Her head shot up. How did Anne know where she was? She’d left Sam right before he went into the auditorium, and he’d sat at the table straight away. There was no way he had the time to tell Anne she was there. 

She was trying to think of how to reply when she saw the three dots appear. She was still typing. 

‘I do love that colour on you.’

Anne could see her, but where was she? She spun her head quickly left and right scanning the rest of the public galleries. She wasn’t there. She looked down at the auditorium floor around the entire table. She wasn’t there either. Then she saw her, sat behind Sam. Dressed completely in a devastatingly handsome black suit, of course, leaning slightly forward, looking up straight at her. Their eyes met, Ann took a deep breath, and there was Anne’s smile. 

---

Ann waited nervously outside the gallery door. The meeting had gone on for almost two hours. Sam had asked her if she wanted to watch, see what went into governing London. It was another thing to tick off her London List, even though Sam had warned her it might go on for a while. That hadn’t been a problem when she didn’t have anything else to do, but now she had Anne wanting to talk to her. 

She paced back and forth trying not to look at anyone because she knew if she saw Anne she might bolt straight for the nearest exit. She tried to replay Sam’s words in her mind. His calm reassurances that Anne Lister wasn’t as scary as everyone had made her out to be. This did little to calm her nerves. 

As soon as she stepped out of the elevator Anne saw her wearing a hole into the floor. Anne had wanted Sam to change the carpets in this building anyway, maybe this would give him a reason to. She steadied her breath before slowly starting to make her way towards her. She couldn’t believe how slow she was walking, a mixture of trepidation and excitement at seeing Ann again now that she knew who she was. 

She was about to call out to her when she felt a firm hand on her arm holding her back, “Anne, can I speak to you a minute?” She spun around. It was Sam. She looked back over her shoulder at Ann who was standing still looking at the both of them. 

“I just have to -”

“Now. Anne.” She noticed a firmness in his tone that had not been directed towards her before. She nodded quickly and then followed him into the office he had stepped into, unsure what Sam wanted to speak to her about. She motioned to Ann to take one of the seats along the wall closest to the office. Ann nodded and moved to take a seat.

Before she had even closed the door fully she heard him say, “You’ve been seeing Ann Walker.” She turned around, wanting to be surprised at what he’d just said but of course Sam knew Ann Walker. Everyone apparently knew Ann Walker. She could feel herself wanting to start one of the many rants she’d had at Marian but stopped when she saw how upright he stood. Arms folded across his chest.

She was taken aback by his stance, he was always usually so relaxed. In that moment Anne once again cursed the layout of this building with its open plan and offices with floor to ceiling windows instead of walls. There was no privacy at all. She knew Ann, and anyone else who chose to walk past, could see everything that was happening, even if they could not hear it.

He gave her a hard glare. She opened her mouth to speak, unsure of how to respond. It had been a statement, not a question. “We’ve had lunch together.” That was a truthful answer. How much more they were or could be still hadn’t been determined. He raised an eyebrow at her knowing there was more. “We’ve texted a few times.”

Sam nodded. “But you want -” 

“We’ve only had lunch.” Anne quickly interjected before he had a chance to finish his sentence. This was not the conversation she wanted to be having with her boss. Sam could sense how uncomfortable Anne was, it was not making this any easier on him. He liked Anne, he valued her as a colleague and had tremendous respect for her. Still, he had grown up in Halifax too and had seen first hand her effect on women. 

He glanced out into the hallway and saw Ann quietly waiting on one of the benches. Feet just about touching the ground. She looked nervous. Just at that moment he caught Ann’s eye and she smiled at him. There she was, that sweet angelic face who always ran out to greet them when her brother came home from uni.

Anne started to shuffle her feet nervously. Thankfully Sam had turned away and stopped giving her the Headmaster glare. She quickly glanced to where his attention was turned and saw Ann waiting outside. Her soft smile immediately pulled at her, she needed to talk to her. 

“Samuel -”

“You look after her.” He interrupted. Calmly but firmly.

“Of course I-“ 

“I mean it, Anne.” He turned back to her. Shoulders softer now than when they had started talking. “The Walker family is very important to me. Her brother John.” He paused, waiting for her to acknowledge she understood. Anne realised, of course this was where this was coming from. Sam had been good friends with Ann’s brother, so he had probably grown up with Ann too. Anne nodded, she understood completely. 

“If John hadn’t - well, you know the family history as well as anyone.” He looked away for a moment and then fixed his gaze firmly on her again, “I owe a lot to you, Anne. I do. But if John was still here then he’d have been stood right there by your side.” 

He took a deep breath, this was the awkward part. “Now I’ve heard the stories.” She opened her mouth to speak but he held up his hand to stop her. “I’m not saying I believe them. What you do is your own business. And I’m not telling you that you’ve got to put a ring on Ann’s finger before anything happens between you. Though I’m sure John would want me to.”

“We’re not -” 

A knowing look from Sam was all it took to stop her this time. They could go on like this, but she could see what he was trying to do. “Ann feels things deeper than most people do. She always has.” He considered his words carefully, “Her name comes with a lot of expectations. People hear Walker, and they assume things, especially where we’re from. People don’t give her a chance, and that’s their mistake.”

Anne nodded again before simply replying, “I understand.” She did. She hadn’t thought that Ann might be worried about what people thought of her. Anne chastised herself, as usual she had been the centre of the world. Worrying that Ann was keeping her at a distance because she didn’t want Anne’s mess of a life ruining hers, when actually she had probably been equally worried about what Anne might think of her if she knew who she was. 

She’d heard stories about Ann’s life too, the tragic deaths of almost all of her family, the mental illness that unkind people whispered about whenever she was mentioned. Anne knew all too well how the rumours spread.

She appreciated what Sam was doing, how he felt the need to step in and say something, even before there was anything to be said about. He obviously felt protective towards Ann, and knowing how kind and sweet she was, she was glad he had.

“Just don’t hurt her.” He folded his arms across his chest again and puffed it out slightly. “Or I’ll have to get all big brother-y on you.” Anne wanted to laugh but kept a straight face. “And I’m also the Mayor, you did that. So you’ll only have yourself to blame.”

She could feel a little smile twitch at the corner of her mouth, but she replied in all seriousness, “I won’t.” 

Sam nodded. He believed her. Both of them sighed, relieved that was over and hoping they would never have to do that again. “Good. Now don’t keep her waiting.” He smiled at her for the first time since they had entered the office and Anne felt herself smiling back. 

However old fashioned it may have seemed, she was touched that Sam had made this gesture. Once having someone big-brother her the way Sam had just done might have dissuaded her from pursuing anything, this had done the opposite. It showed her how important Ann was to people, and that made her want to be a part of her life even more. This person that radiated goodness by simply being. 

Ann had been watching the entire conversation, as Anne turned to leave Sam gave her a wink and she realised he’d done his big brother bit, just like he and John used to whenever they heard someone was interested. She was so glad that he was back in her life.  

---

They had walked across the bridge, mostly in silence. A comfortable one. Every now and again one of them stealing a glance at the other and then smiling shyly when the other caught them. As they moved through the crowd of tourists it almost felt like a dance, moving forward together, momentarily stood next to each other, only to have to part when someone oblivious to where they stood would not move. This is part of why Anne hated being anywhere near City Hall in the summer.

On the north side of the bridge Anne tried to get closer to Ann again so that they could go down the staircase that led them safely to the other side of the street. She was about to take the few steps towards her when a swarm of teenage school children came flooding up the stairs. Anne reached out and managed to pull Ann out of the way before they were separated by a sea of bodies. 

Ann inched closer to Anne as the mob of children continued to stream up the stairs surrounding them. Anne huffed. Instructions were being yelled at Italian to the group wearing the purple bandanas somewhere on their person. Clashing with the French instructions being barked to the group with red backpacks. She thought she could make out some Russian from another group that appeared to have no way of discerning them from anyone else. 

As they jostled their way up the stairs Anne became increasingly frustrated, the only thing stopping her from erupting was Ann pressed tightly up against her body as she tried to protect her from the hoard. Ann had made herself as small as she could, the crowd overwhelming her. Her only comfort was Anne’s strong frame surrounding her. She breathed deeply, focussing on the mix of citrus and sandalwood she remembered from their meeting on this very bridge. 

Anne could sense that Ann was becoming increasingly anxious. Would these children never disperse? Ann felt her heart pounding in her chest, a combination of the crash of noise and also being closer to Anne than she had ever been. Anne scanned the area around them, glad that none of these children were more than shoulder height. There was only one way to escape. She tilted her head so that her mouth was directly next to Ann’s ear, “Trust me.” She felt Ann nod against her shoulder. 

All of a sudden Ann felt herself swept up into Anne’s strong arms. Automatically her arms wrapped around Anne’s neck as though they should always be there. Anne was smiling down at her as she shimmied her way through the crowd that had finally started to part. Ann buried her head in Anne’s shoulder. This was fast becoming her favourite place in the world. 

Ann thought that Anne would put her down once they had cleared the crowd but then she felt Anne’s pace picking up. She lifted her head and saw that Anne was darting across the road and quickly buried her head back in her shoulder as the busy traffic wooshed past. Anne, this bridge, and traffic. It had worked out last time but Ann really didn’t want to keep testing their luck. 

Finally they made it across the road and Anne gently placed her down on the grass. Anne beamed back at her, satisfied that she had rescued Ann from the horde of children and carried her safely through the traffic. For her part, Ann stood staring up at her as though she had done exactly just that. Her rescuer. 

“We seem to be making a habit of this.” Ann nodded shyly. They stood there silently. Heartbeats passed. Anne felt her heart pounding furiously in her chest. She looked ethereal in that dress. Ann felt butterflies swirling inside of her. She looked devastatingly handsome in that suit. Anne couldn’t stop staring as Ann bit her bottom lip. She ran her fingers through her hair, and when she looked up the deepest blue eyes were staring back at her full of hope, waiting for her to speak. 

Anne tilted her head slightly to the side, taking her in. She was so beautiful. She took a deep breath and extended her hand and said with the most welcoming smile, “Anne Lister, of Shibden Hall. I work for the Mayor.”

Ann looked down at the outstretched hand and then up at Anne. When she didn’t take her hand straight away she could see Anne’s bravado slip. She was trying to hide her nerves behind those dark brown eyes that Ann felt she could spend an eternity searching. She took the outstretched hand and smiled back, “Ann Walker, of Lightcliffe. I believe we’re neighbours.”

Chapter Text

The familiar chords rang out loudly before the lyrics started, ‘London calling to the faraway towns. Now war is declared and battle come down .’ Ann smiled as she recognised the song. Of course The Clash was Anne’s ringtone. Anne reached into her pocket to pull out her phone before it carried on any further. She quickly glanced at who was calling, “I’m sorry. I have to take this.” 

“It’s fine, I’ll just pop into the shop. I won’t be long,” Ann said with a smile and left her. Anne couldn’t stop staring after her, it was only when she heard her name yelled at from the phone in her hand that she looked away. 

She brought the phone to her ear, “Yes Tib, what is it I can do for you?” 

“About bloody time Lister.” Anne rolled her eyes, she should just let Eugenie answer all her calls. She had called her assistant to tell her that she wouldn’t be coming back to the office today, choosing instead to spend the rest of the day with Ann, although she hadn’t mentioned that part. She would have felt a little guilty if she’d been completely uncontactable, especially because she knew Tib wouldn’t stop until she talked to her. 

“Where are you anyway? You’re not in your office.” Tib never did bother with chit-chat, that was a large part of why Anne liked her, she was refreshingly concise, and in a world of politicians talking to Tib was often a much needed relief. “I’m in Notting Hill.”

“What are you doing in Notting Hill?”

“Well, right this moment I’m standing outside an off licence talking to you.” She loved answering Tib’s questions this way. Always giving her nothing but the facts and letting her mind run away with a million different ideas as to why. “What woman has gotten Anne Lister to leave her office before 6pm?” Sometimes her oldest friend was remarkably perceptive. “Don’t tell me you’re still at Mariana’s beck and call.” Other times she was not.

Anne sighed, that was a conversation she wasn’t going to start right now, “What is it you wanted Tib?” 

“Ha!” Came the triumphant voice on the other side of the phone, “I knew it. One day you’ll listen to me and give her up.”

“I’m not with-” Anne paused and looked around to see if Ann was nearby. She was at the back of the shop talking to a sales assistant. Still she lowered her voice when she spoke, “I’m not with Mariana. I haven’t been for some time.” 

“We’ve heard that before.”

“Tib.” Anne’s voice warned that this topic had reached its natural limit.

“Fine. Whatever you’re doing, make sure your diary is clear on Thursday.” This was another thing Tib was inclined to do, just presume that Anne could drop whatever it was she was doing when she showed up. Admittedly, whatever she had planned always usually ended up being a lot more fun than Anne’s plans. 

“I work for the Mayor now Tib, I can’t just be expected-”

“Oh calm down Anne, Sam will approve of this. Now - ” Anne could hear Tib shuffling papers on the other end of the line. “Tell Thomas to make sure the car’s nice and clean, you’ll need to make a good impression.”

Anne scoffed, “Yes I’ll tell him when I see him.”

“What do you mean when you see him? Where is he?” There was a loud gasp on the phone, “Anne Lister did you take the Tube to Notting Hill?” It was almost an accusation.

“I did no such thing! He dropped us off.” The roaring laugh made Anne realise she’d risen to another of Tib’s jibes. She was always goading Anne. Just when she could hear Tib about to start up again she saw Ann finishing at the till, “Tib, I’ve got to go. Message me with the details for Thursday.” With that she promptly ended the call just in time to offer a smile to Ann as she stepped out of the store.

Anne immediately reached for the tote bag Ann was holding, but before she could take it Ann had moved it to her shoulder, “I can manage.” Anne took a step closer to her, Ann’s heart sped up instantaneously. Damn it, she was sure everyone on the street could hear it pounding against the walls of her chest. Anne licked her lips as she looked down at Ann’s. She could feel her throat getting dry as she wondered how soft they must feel. “I know you can.” 

She held Ann’s gaze as her left hand came up and gently lifted the straps of the bag from her shoulder, pulling them down slowly. Her touch was so light that Ann hadn’t even noticed. Anne could feel her breath on hers, and thought again for a moment about the feel of Ann’s lips before she stepped back, the bag now in her hands. Anne lifted the bag to her shoulder, “But you shouldn’t have to.”

Ann was thoroughly transfixed. She had spent a lifetime dreaming what it would be like to have Anne Lister that close to her, but it had not prepared her for the reality. How was she ever going to cope now that she was more than just an imagined tomorrow? 

“Ann?” 

“Huh?” Ann’s own voice shook her from her reverie. Oh lord, how long had she just been staring? Anne tried not to let the smile play too long on her lips for fear of making her feel too self-conscious. She tilted her head to the side, flashing her smile she held out her hand, “Shall we?” 

Ann’s mouth dropped open. The butterflies once again taking flight in her stomach. Death by Anne Lister’s beguiling smile. In that moment she decided that was definitely how she was going to go. She bit her bottom lip as she looked at Anne’s outstretched hand. Did she really mean for her to take it?

She must have heard her thoughts because somehow Anne managed to turn the magnitude of her smile down a fraction from brilliant to only beaming, for which Ann was grateful. She looked up at Anne, hand still outstretched waiting for her. She smiled bashfully before placing her hand gently in hers. She felt Anne’s strong fingers intertwine with hers as they started to walk in the direction of her flat. 

===

The market on Portobello Road was quite busy for a weekday, but Catherine had told her that it would probably be that way for the rest of the summer now. Everyone loved being outside, and the long summer evenings, numerous food stalls, and boutique stores gave them more than enough reason. 

Anne held Ann’s hand firmly as they walked side by side, letting Ann lead the way. She hadn’t stopped smiling since she had taken her hand. Really she hadn’t stopped smiling since she swept her up in her arms on the bridge. Ann seemed happy to be guiding her through the various stalls, pointing out ones she liked. No longer stumbling on her words. 

There were some candles that she loved the scent of. Another stall that sold used books that she tried not to visit too often because Catherine said she was turning their flat into a library. As they passed the food stalls Ann got more animated, often stopping to get Anne to smell the food that was on offer. 

There was an Ethiopian stall that had a special flatbread that she wanted to try. Then a Nigerian stall that sold jollof rice that she probably ate at least every other week. Her favourite was a Greek stall towards the end of the market that sold the best souvlaki she’d eaten. 

The stall owner, an older Greek gentleman called Andreas, knew Ann by name and tried to give them some samples but Ann insisted that they’d have no room for dinner if they did. As they walked away she confided to her that she’d never had souvlaki before she’d moved to London but she couldn’t imagine it being any more delicious than the ones Andreas made. Anne felt her heart swell at the shared secret and the way Ann held onto her hand, never once letting go.

They walked past a large stone building with a domed roof, the blue neon ‘Electric’ sticking out of the building. Anne paused and looked up, pulling Ann back to where she stood. Ann looked up at the sign, “Did you want to go to the cinema?” 

“Have you ever been?” Anne asked.

Ann scrunched up her nose, what kind of country bumpkin did Anne think she was? “To the cinema? We do have them in Halifax, Anne.”

Anne laughed, “Have you ever been to this one?” She asked, giving a nod to the entrance. 

“Oh!” Ann smiled, “No, isn’t it just a cinema?”

Anne gave her hand a little tug as she walked to the ticket booth. There was a poster listing the films currently showing as well as photos of the interior of the cinema. Ann’s eyes opened wide when she saw the photos. Inside wasn’t any ordinary cinema, it was a large single screen cinema with plush reclining armchairs and sofas instead of the regular cinema seats. The screen was hidden behind a heavy red velvet curtain just like in a theatre.

“It’s a Grade 2 listed building, they’ve been showing films here since 1910 - one way or another.” Ann stood closer to the photos looking at the intricate details carved in the walls, not at all surprised that Anne knew when this building had been built. “It’s gorgeous.”

Anne turned to look at Ann, and without missing a beat she replied, “Absolutely beautiful.” 

Ann could feel the blush rising in her cheeks, she’d started to bite her bottom lip again. She really needed to get control of that. She couldn’t look at Anne, not now. She’d combust on the spot. She turned to her left and smiled to herself as she started to pull Anne along. Though she couldn’t see her face, she could feel her smiling back behind her. Smile turned all the way back up to utterly bewitching.

===

“Catherine. Rawson. You know my grandmother, and you hate my Uncle Christopher, which I sort of agree with you on.” Anne looked at Catherine in confusion as she held her hand out for her to shake. 

As they were in Catherine’s home, and since it had been offered, it would have been impolite to leave their host just stood there so she took her hand and gently shook it. “Yes, Catherine. We had dinner last summer, when your grandmother was here visiting.” Anne hadn’t thought much of Catherine then and this certainly wasn’t making her any more endearing. Of course she knew who she was. 

“Oh I remember. I just wasn’t sure you’d remember me, since -” She nodded in Ann’s direction. She was standing by the front door they’d just walked through, frozen. Anne looked over to her, this was awkward, “Ahh.” She wanted so much to make a good impression on her roommate. Now she found herself scrambling to try and explain herself.

“It wasn’t that I didn’t remember Ann, Catherine.” This should be good Catherine thought, it wasn’t often that Anne Lister was caught on the back foot. “It’s just, out of context.” Catherine folded her arms across her chest, eyebrows raised. “It’s hard to place someone.” The hard stare hadn’t softened. “Especially given the number of people I’ve met during the election.”

Anne looked down at the ground searching for an answer she knew wasn’t there. She hadn’t recognised Ann, there was no denying it. What could she say to appease her? Catherine shot Ann a quick wink when Anne wasn’t looking. When Anne turned back to face her, her face was as severe as ever. She definitely had the air of her grandmother about her. Anne threw up her hands in defeat, there was nothing to be said. Maybe she should have brought dessert.

She heard a noise from behind her and turned to Ann who was trying her best, and failing, not to snicker. Anne quickly turned back to Catherine who was wearing a very smug grin. Anne rolled her eyes, she supposed she deserved this. “Lighten up Lister, we don’t bite.” She looked over Anne’s shoulder at Ann, “Unless you’re into that Annie.” 

Ann’s mouth dropped open as she let out a gasp as Anne’s head spun back to look at her again. She tried to form words but she was too shocked to even voice her complete and utter embarrassment. Why had she ever thought letting Catherine anywhere near Anne was a good idea? She pleaded for the ground to open up and swallow her whole, better yet, take Catherine! 

Anne could see how the colour had rushed to her cheeks, the poor girl was turning the loveliest shade of red. She licked her lips quickly and gave her a quick wink, “Not on the first date at least Miss Walker.” Catherine let out a bawdy laugh, she was going to have the most fun watching these two. 

===

Anne admired the flat as they all sat at the kitchen table enjoying the wine Ann had bought earlier. It was an old Victorian terrace conversion so they benefited from high ceilings in what would otherwise be a rather small space for two people. They had the top two floors of the four storey building, the downstairs flat taking the ground floor and the basement. The kitchen and living room on one floor and their two bedrooms and bathroom on the top floor. 

She could see Catherine’s touches all over the apartment, lots of plants hanging from a mishmash of holders, a mix of family antiques, and more bohemian accents. Lots of bold colours on the walls. She noticed a particularly flamboyant persian rug in the middle of the living room that she was sure her grandmother would strongly object to. There wasn’t much of Ann in the space, but then she hadn’t been living there for long and this was merely a rest stop before she moved into her own place. 

She was just starting to wonder what a home decorated by Ann would look like when she heard a question directed at her, “Where is it you live again Anne?” Catherine was asking as Ann stood to clear their plates away. Anne got up to help but was stopped by the gentlest of hands being placed on her shoulder. She looked up and Ann gave her a small smile, “You’re our guest.” She sat back down immediately. Catherine noticed how easily Ann appeared to command the great Anne Lister. 

Looking back at Catherine she answered, “Putney. Just in one of the buildings by the bridge.” 

“Oh yes, near the house in Richmond,” Catherine replied casually. 

“That’s right.” Anne took a sip of her wine. She remembered the “house” in Richmond, she would’ve called it a mansion with its sprawling gardens and half a dozen bedrooms. Being in London she’d forgotten how much wealth the Rawsons had, but that was nothing compared to the Walker fortune. Yet here Ann was staying in what she was sure was probably the smaller of the bedrooms in Catherine’s flat. 

She could see that Catherine was good company, but she’d lived for so long at Crow Nest she must miss the space and the freedom. She’d ask her about that if she ever got the chance. As much as she had enjoyed the company, after she’d gotten over the joke Catherine had made at her expense, she had hoped that she and Ann could spend more time together. Alone. 

Ann was diligently stacking the dishes in the sink, her back to them. Anne had noticed over dinner that Ann had let Catherine lead the conversation, often only joining in when a question was directed at her. Gone was the confident bright person who’d talked to all those traders as she guided her through the market. She was no less lovely as she sat and listened to them talk, but she could see there was so much behind her calm demeanour that she wanted to know about. 

As Anne watched her she wondered if that was why she hadn’t remembered her. All those years of going over to the Rawson’s, when Ann must have been there, had she always withdrawn into herself, becoming this quiet wallflower that Anne had been foolish enough to overlook? 

Catherine was still talking when Anne rose from the table, almost startling Ann when she went to stand impossibly close to her. Ann looked up, “I can’t let you do all the work after you cooked us that lovely dinner.” 

“Oh she loves being the domestic goddess!” Anne turned to see Catherine topping up her wine glass once more. “She would happily cook you dinner every night I’m sure, if you asked her,” she added cheekily. Ann stared straight into the sink, if she could concentrate on the dishes then maybe she wouldn’t feel so warm. But then Anne was standing right next to her, she could feel her sleeve brushing her arm. She was burning up.

She tilted her head slightly and saw she was smiling at her. Lord, why did she always have to be smiling at her? She silently thanked the heavens that she was already leaning against the sink for support. “How about you wash and I dry?” All Ann could do was nod in answer as she tried to steady her breathing as Anne rolled up her black shirt sleeves revealing her strong toned arms. She hoped this sink was sturdy.

===

Catherine was asleep on the sofa in front of the telly as Ann walked Anne to the downstairs door. She’d retreated into the living room whilst they had finished washing the dishes together. Ann managing not to break a single one despite Anne’s close proximity. 

They had spent the rest of the evening alone in the kitchen talking, Anne finally being able to coax back the Ann that she had lunch with and the one that held her hand as they walked. Mostly they had started to talk about Anne’s work, Ann was curious to know what Sam was like as a boss now that he was the all powerful Mayor. Both of them had to laugh at the thought of Sam Washington as anything more than a big teddy bear. 

Anne didn’t want to monopolise the conversation with talk about her work though and carefully steered the conversation to topics Ann would be interested in. She told her a bit more about the cinema that they had seen earlier, how it was attacked during the war because people thought the owner was signalling zeppelins from the roof. Ann seemed fascinated by all of the little facts that Anne knew about the area, about everything. 

She was an eager listener, often raising an eyebrow when one of the many facts that Anne shared seemed a little too far fetched, like the market being named after the mushrooms. After a quick search Ann discovered it was named after a Panamanian town called Puerto Bello that was captured during some war between the English and the Spanish. Anne acquiesced that perhaps she didn’t know everything, but telling your story with conviction was the key. Ann knew that she would believe almost anything Anne told her. 

This was how they had lost the last couple of hours and how Anne was now standing in her open doorway, almost midnight, not wanting to go home but knowing she must. Ann leaned against the open door, she was sure that eventually she would be able to look at her without needing support. Maybe. 

Despite being several inches taller than her, Anne was somehow looking up into her eyes waiting for her to speak. She desperately wanted to tell her to stay, but stay and do what exactly? The most they’d done was hold hands. Still, she didn’t want her to leave. They stood looking at each other, neither of them speaking. All she had to do was lean the slightest bit forward and then she’d be able to press her lips to Ann’s. 

She quickly glanced around to see if there was anyone watching, although she didn’t suppose there would be that late. She didn’t want Ann to have to deal with any prying neighbours. There was no one peering through net curtains, but she had noticed Thomas in her car pulling up. She hung her head and took a step back, cursing his timing. Ann wondered why she had pulled away, when she saw Thomas getting out of the car she knew. She gave him a quick wave.

“I guess this is goodnight.”

“Mmm,” Anne replied ruefully. She reached out and took Ann’s hand, holding it between her own. 

Ann was sure she’d be able to feel her pulse quicken, “Will I see you again?” 

“Yes,” came the immediate answer. They both smiled at Anne’s eagerness. “I have to clear my schedule for Thursday, it’s going to make this week busier.” Anne’s brow furrowed when she saw the disappointment in Ann’s face, “But soon, I promise.”

She was doing that thing again, bending down slightly so she could look up into Ann’s eyes. It was an entirely new sensation for Ann, she was always the one trying to look at other people, trying to figure out what it was they were feeling. No one had ever cared to try and understand what it was she felt, and there was Anne looking at her as though she was the only one that mattered. She knew that if she tried to speak Anne would be frightened by the emotion she would be unable to hide, so she simply lifted her head, nodded, and smiled.

Anne straightened, squeezing the hand still held between her own. “I must be going. It’s a school night.” That elicited a small laugh from Ann. Anne made sure to memorise the sound. She would replay it in her mind until she could see her again. 

Slowly she began to back away, only letting go of her hand when she absolutely had to. She looked at her, this beautiful woman in whose company she had spent the loveliest of evenings. Her smile that felt like pure light, that had only faltered when she wasn’t able to tell her when she could see her again. 

When she got to the car she turned to see whether or not she was still standing there. She was. She contemplated for a moment bounding back up the steps to her, kissing her soundly on those delicate lips, but she stopped herself, thinking it would be too much. She had always been too much. No, let this night be enough. With a final smile, she got into the back of the car, allowing Thomas to close the door for her, this once. 

Ann watched as Anne’s car drove away. When it was no longer in sight she closed the front door behind her and headed back up the stairs to her flat. Catherine was still asleep on the sofa, the light from the telly illuminating the room. 

She saw their empty wine glasses on the table where they had left them. She picked them up and put them in the sink, pausing for a moment to remember how perfect their evening had been. How she had managed to make Anne laugh, not just a polite laugh reserved for strangers, but one that rose from the pit of her belly and erupted. And the way Anne looked at her when she spoke, she’d tried not to notice it but she looked at her like she was hearing all those words for the first time. 

She heard her phone buzzing on the counter, she realised she hadn’t looked at it all night. Who was messaging her so late? The largest smile lit up her face when she picked up her phone, it wasn’t a message. She accepted the call immediately, “I was just thinking about you.”

Chapter Text

The car was moving slowly through the traffic whilst Anne busied herself on her phone checking through her emails. She could see Tib sat up on the other side of the back seat, impatiently trying to see up ahead as though that would make them move any faster. She was tapping her hand against the back of Thomas’ headrest, Anne was sure that it was annoying him as much as it was her. 

Anne let out a long sigh, “I told you there was no point taking the car through Wimbledon, not whilst the tournament’s on.” 

Tib turned sharply towards her friend, “And what were we supposed to do, take the Tube?” Anne rolled her eyes and went back to her messages. Tib looked her up and down, she was dressed in one of her signature black suits, complete with a cuffed dress shirt, even though it was another uncharacteristically sunny summer’s day. The only hint of colour were the small pink embellishments she saw embroidered on her black socks that poked out from beneath her trousers. It certainly wasn’t a flash of colour, but it was still the most colour she had seen her wearing in years. She added dryly, “You could have at least dressed for the occasion.”

Anne tutted and put her phone down, arching her brow as she glanced across at Tib who was dressed head to toe in a perfectly tailored white linen suit, light blue dress shirt underneath. She still cut a very dashing figure, as much as she had done when they were at uni together, “And what exactly did you come dressed as?” 

She waved her hand with a flourish along the length of her outfit, “Can’t you tell?” Anne looked at her blankly as Tib glanced nonchalantly back at her, “You wouldn’t be allowed on court that’s for sure.”

“Tib.” Her voice firm. “We’re not.” Tib chuckled and winked before turning her attention back to Thomas, willing him to somehow part the traffic. Anne sank into the backseat and picked up her phone wishing there was a message from Ann.

===

They made their way through the row of seats, thankfully only a few people were already seated so they didn’t have to climb over too many laps. Or more correctly, Catherine didn’t have to fall on too many laps. Ann was glad they’d had lunch before they had started on the champagne. She’d allowed herself one drink, knowing that anything more whilst sitting under direct sunlight would be asking for trouble. She was happy to enjoy the light buzz.

As she took her seat Ann still couldn’t believe that she’d been lucky enough to get Centre Court tickets. She’d been entering the Wimbledon ticket lottery for years but hadn’t had any success, only to have won them this year when she was actually living in London. Not only that but it was the second Thursday so she’d be able to see both ladies semi-final matches. 

Some of her fondest memories had been watching the Championships on the television with her mum when she was younger. For those two weeks, even her brother John couldn’t persuade her to go outside when the tournament was on. She would sit on the floor in front of the television in the living room at Crow Nest, at her mother’s feet, happily eating piles of strawberries covered in lashings of cream. Now she was actually here. 

They were seated on the lower tier about a dozen rows from the middle of the court, they would have a perfect view of all the tennis action. Catherine had happily settled herself into her seat, champagne flute in hand. Ann knew that she was only half interested in tennis, she had only managed to get her there with a promise of a men’s doubles match - four men for the price of two in Catherine’s words. 

Of course she had thought about asking Anne if she’d wanted to go with her, but she knew that she already had plans with her friend, Tib. That was a curious name but apparently it was a nickname from uni that had stuck. She also didn’t want to make demands of her time when they were still getting to know each other properly. 

She had spent the week haphazardly texting Anne. Thankfully they had already reached the point where she felt comfortable sending a random text instead of waiting for something to respond to. She quickly realised this was best, with Anne’s schedule she would have found herself waiting hours for a message that she could respond to otherwise. 

Apart from knowing how full her diary was, Ann was also worried that Anne might think all of this was a bit silly. Anne would want to know how many Grand Slam titles each player had won, how they’d played throughout the season, whether today’s temperatures favoured their style of play. All things that Ann had no interest in. Loving the strict all white dress code and that every winner became a lifelong member of the All England Lawn & Tennis Club would just be trivial details that only people who weren’t serious bothered with. 

As much as Ann would have loved to have Anne there with her, she was perfectly happy to be having this moment regardless. As the seats started to fill, Ann surveyed the court around her. Rows upon rows of green seats. Union Jack flags draped across shoulders waiting to be waived. It was as magnificent as she had always dreamed. 

She reached into her bag and pulled out her wide brimmed hat to shield her from the sun. She was looking for her sunscreen when she felt Catherine tapping her on her shoulder, “One sec, I need to put my sunscreen on or I’m going to look like a lobster by the end of the day.” The tapping became more insistent and Ann sat up with a huff, “Cath! I’m gonna burn!” Catherine was waving her hand wildly towards one end of the court. 

Ann turned her head sharply to where she was pointing, her jaw dropped immediately. There was no mistaking it, standing in the middle of the Royal Box above the court dressed completely in black, looking effortlessly handsome, was Anne.

===

She couldn’t believe Tib had made her clear her entire day just so they could watch some tennis. Admittedly she usually enjoyed watching the sport but there were other things she could have done with her time, namely spread her appointments through the week so that she had more time for Ann. Instead the best she’d been able to do is answer Ann’s messages sometimes hours after she sent them. That didn’t seem to dissuade her from sending them though and she was always glad to see a message had come through once she got out of whatever meeting she was in.

Anne stood in the middle of the Royal Box as Tib made the rounds saying hello to all the people she knew. She recognised a few of them, some minor celebrities and one or two royals far enough down the line of succession that no one was making much of a fuss. She was grateful that there was no one there she needed to pretend to be interested in. This was Tib in her natural habitat, the centre of everyone’s attention. Anne was happy to let her charm her way around the crowd. 

There wasn’t a single cloud so that at least meant play wouldn’t be interrupted by the rain. She felt her phone buzzing and reached into her pocket for it, smiling immediately when she saw the drawing of Shibden that Marian had found on Ann’s instagram profile on her screen. She was about to accept the call when a too familiar voice interrupted her, “And who is it that has you smiling like that?” Anne’s eyes shot up to see Mariana standing in front of her smiling contritely. 

Anne felt her shoulders stiffen as she tersely greeted her, “Mary.” Mariana noticed the tension in Anne’s jaw as she went to politely kiss her on each cheek, “It’s good to see you Freddy.” She felt herself shudder at the use of her pet name. Mariana drew back at the noticeable coolness. 

“Lister, good to see you!” Anne felt the mask come across her face as she saw Charles step towards them.

“Charles, likewise.” She smiled politely and shook his hand.

“Looks like we’ll be sitting behind you.” He shuffled past Mariana and took his seat, the two of them still stood silently opposite each other. “Come on Mariana, take your seat.” She looked down at her husband, a tight smile forming on her lips as she sat down. Anne looked at the two of them together, Mariana looking up at her willing her to stop acting so strangely and just sit down. Charles completely oblivious to what was happening around him. She would not be a part of this charade again. 

Without even an attempted apology she started towards the entrance but was stopped when Tib came to stand directly in her way. “And where are you off to in such a hurry? Meeting someone in the Club Room?” she asked with a cheeky grin. In response Anne turned her head to where Mariana and Charles were sitting. Tib looked over her shoulder, “Shit.” Anne shook her head and stepped to the side to move past her but was stopped by the firm grip on her arm, “Don’t let her win, Anne.” 

Tib waited for her to decide whether it would be best to just leave. She could easily make up some excuse for her absence, she had done it often enough when Anne and Mariana had snuck off somewhere. Anne’s phone started to buzz in her hand. She looked at her screen, it was Ann again. She took a step away from Tib but hadn’t moved any closer to the exit.

“Ann, hi.” She sounded wearier than she wanted to, “No everything’s fine,” she lied. 

From their seats, Ann had seen Anne about to answer her call but was interrupted by someone she’d spoken to briefly before it looked like she was about to leave. She was then stopped by someone dressed all in white, they made quite the stark pair. Ann tried to call her again and thankfully this time she answered. She felt a tension in Anne’s voice when she answered. 

Catherine nudged her from her seat. They had practiced what it was she would say when she answered. She couldn’t deny that she felt a bit emboldened from the glass of champagne she’d had so she tried to dismiss the obvious edge in Anne’s voice as she remembered her line, “Didn’t anyone tell you there’s a dress code?” 

It took Anne a moment to register what Ann had just said to her. She walked down towards the front of the box, she glanced around the stadium to where all the cameras were lined up, “Are you watching the television?” The match hadn’t started yet but the BBC often showed the court as the commentators were interviewed. It wouldn’t be impossible for Ann to have been watching the coverage and spotted her. 

Ann tried to stifle her laugh as she watched Anne turning side to side trying to figure out how she could see her, “Not quite. You do look very dashing in that suit though.” Anne laughed, as she searched the rows of seats. When she finally turned in their direction Catherine shot up from her seat and started waving her arms around like a madwoman. When that didn’t catch her eye she started to whoop loudly, and that’s when Ann saw it. That smile directed right at her. Even as far away as the Royal Box was from where they stood, it was unmistakable. 

===

Anne turned quickly and bolted up the stairs nearly knocking Tib over as she made her way to the exit. “Anne!” She turned sharply and looked down at her, her smile beaming with an excitement her friend had not seen in years, before she disappeared. Tib stood there confused, a moment ago she was sure Anne was ready to leave.

Tib had moved down to their seats, she kept glancing back to see if Anne would return or if she’d just get a text explaining her sudden departure. She soon got her answer when she saw Anne springing down the steps followed by two younger ladies. Tib stood up and straightened her suit as she fixed her most agreeable smile as they approached. 

Anne introduced the brunette first, “Catherine Rawson, this is my good friend Isabella Norcliffe.” 

Tib offered Catherine her hand, smiling brightly at the attractive woman, “Tib, please. And I’m not her good friend, I’m her best friend. Get it right Lister.” She smacked Anne playfully across her stomach causing Catherine to giggle. 

“And this,” Tib looked up and saw Anne offer her hand to the beautiful young woman almost swamped by her wide brimmed straw hat standing behind Catherine, “Is Ann Walker.” She noticed the lilt in Anne’s voice as she said her name, as though the words she spoke were sacred. This was definitely the source of Anne’s earlier elation. Tib extended her hand, “My pleasure.”

Ann was struck by how much Tib reminded her of Anne, at least in appearance. They were of a similar height, both dressed impeccably, but where Anne’s hair was dark and sleek just sitting above her shoulders, Tib’s long dark locks were neatly tidied away in an impressive pompadour. Her face too was different, equally striking but softer. 

She could tell immediately that Tib would be able to charm her way out of most situations. She had already escorted Catherine into the row that she had been sitting in and handed her a glass of champagne from one of the passing waiters, insisting that they both join them. It would have been impolite to refuse such a generous offer.

Ann couldn’t believe that not only would she be watching her first WImbledon match from the Royal Box but that Anne would be by her side. She was absolutely giddy at the idea, her exhilaration wasn’t missed by Anne. She was equally thrilled that her day would now be spent in her company. If she had known Ann was such a tennis fan she would have arranged tickets for them herself, she knew how difficult it could be for general members of the public to get them because Marian had been harping on about it every time she didn’t get to go.   

She motioned for Ann to take the seat next to Catherine, Tib being sat on the other side of her. Anne was about to sit when she heard someone clearing her throat from behind them, “I’m afraid you can’t wear that hat here my dear.” Ann recognised the voice veiled in feigned sincerity immediately as the shouty woman who had been on the bridge the day of the accident. She froze in her seat. 

Ann turned to face her, the artificial smile greeting her making her shrink into her seat. She felt like a small child being reprimanded trying to find any excuse. “It’s, it’s just…” She struggled to find her words, “The sun on my skin. I burn-”

“Yes, I’m sure you must do with such a fair complexion.” A pretence of kindness behind her false smile.

Ann could feel her throat closing. She would not allow herself to get upset in front of this woman, in front of Anne, over such a stupid thing as a hat. She started wringing her hands, looking down at her lap, anything not to look at her, or to see the disappointment she knew Anne must be feeling. 

How could she be so stupid? Of course she knew there were no hats allowed in the Royal Box. Even Meghan hadn’t worn her hat and she was an actual Royal! Who did she think she was wearing a hat? She cursed the fact that her skin was so fair that even just an hour in direct sun would cause her to burn. She was weak, and now this frailty had betrayed her, in front of Anne.

“There are rules. Hats simply aren’t allowed.” She turned to Charles hoping for some support, but he was busy talking to someone else entirely. “Someone really should’ve told you before allowing you in.” 

“Mariana. Enough.” Anne’s stern voice interrupted her and she was finally silenced. 

Catherine had been chatting with Tib, enjoying another glass of champagne but they had both stopped when they heard Anne speak. She saw how pale Ann’s face had become. She put an arm around her and looked up at Anne who was staring hard at the woman sitting in the row behind them. She whipped her head round immediately scowling at the person who seemed to be ruining her best friend’s day. 

Mariana sat back in her seat and shrugged her shoulders, turning away from Anne’s harsh glare, “They’re not my rules Freddy.” Charles turned back sensing the hostility around him but was unsure what was going on. 

Catherine stood up wanting to throw her champagne all over the woman but she knew how mortified Ann would be if she caused a scene. “Come on Ann, we’re going.” She didn’t move. “Ann, let’s go. Our seats were much better anyway.” She heard Mariana scoff, she turned to give her a cutting stare. If she wasn’t careful she was going to get more than a glass of champagne thrown at her. Mariana gave a short sharp smile. 

“I’ll go.” Ann’s voice was so quiet she almost didn’t hear her.

“What Annie?” Catherine replied kindly.

Ann looked at her, she could see that she was trying to be unnecessarily brave, “I’ll go. You stay here. You’re...you’re having fun.” She smiled weakly back at her. Ann wanted to disappear into nothing and having Catherine there trying to console her would just make everything a hundred times worse. Maybe she could go watch the tennis from Henman Hill, she couldn't bear thinking they were watching her sit alone from the Royal Box. How much more pathetic could she be? 

Catherine couldn’t deny that she was certainly enjoying the on-tap champagne and canapes with Tib but she wasn’t about to leave Ann. She was about to protest when she heard Anne’s booming voice, “Excellent idea.” 

Everyone’s head turned immediately to look at Anne. Catherine couldn’t believe that she was actually going to let Ann go because of this hateful witch who sat looking unbelievably smug. Anne bent down and picked up Ann’s bag and put it on her shoulder. Ann, still sitting in her seat, tilted her head upwards slowly. If this was going to be the end of the dream she had been living she would not rush to meet it. When her eyes finally met Anne’s, she saw the same kindness she had seen that first day on the bridge when Anne had cradled her head in her lap. Anne held her hand out in front of her and smiled warmly, “We’ll both go.”

Anne looked at Catherine, “You should stay here with Tib. Keep her company, I’m sure the both of you can test just how generous the Club Room can be.” She turned her attention back to Ann who still hadn’t taken her hand, “I’d much rather spend the afternoon with just us.” Anne bit the bottom of her lip, this habit of Ann’s was catching. “I’m sure there’s many things you could teach me about the game.” She waited, hopefully, for Ann to take her hand, “Please.” 

Finally Ann felt herself breathe again. Her heart thumped in her chest at the somersaults it was doing, but she didn’t care who heard it now. In fact, she hoped it was deafening the people around her. She smiled back up at her and took her hand. After she’d stood up she turned to Catherine who gave her a quick hug. Anne gave them both a quick nod, and holding Ann’s hand firmly in hers they ascended the stairs together. 

“I guess that’s Anne’s latest special friend,” Charles stated once they were out of earshot. Mariana tutted loudly as Catherine smirked in triumph, “Yes, it is.” She turned and sat back down in her seat, clinking glasses with Tib.

===

Anne had managed to take a couple of punnets of strawberries from the Club Room before they made their way down to their original seats nearer to the court. She had taken off her blazer and rolled her sleeves up before sitting down. Ann had tried to tell herself it was just the overhead sun that was making her feel impossibly warm as she saw the muscles in Anne’s forearms flex with every movement. 

The players made their way onto the court and there was a loud cheer from the spectators around them. Anne smiled happily as she looked around at the excited crowd around her, “This is much better than sitting up there in that stuffy box,” she beamed as she directed her gaze to Ann. She reached up with her right arm and let it sit on the back of Ann’s chair, her hand just grazing her shoulder, “Much better.” Ann knew it was going to be almost impossible to pay any sort of attention to the tennis.

Ann realised if she kept her eyes forward, focused on the bounce of the ball and not the maddening circles Anne’s hand seemed to tracing on her shoulder, she could just about follow what was happening on the court. There were momentary reprieves when there was a particularly long rally and Anne had brought her hands together to applaud loudly. These were always short lived because they would always be followed by Anne reaching over to pluck a strawberry from the packet sat on Ann’s lap. She tuned into the roar of the crowd rather than the delicious sounds of Anne sitting next to her savouring the strawberry. 

She had gone from cursing her large hat to silently thanking it for shielding her because otherwise Anne would surely see how flushed she became every time she shifted causing their legs to touch. The seats certainly weren’t the most comfortable she’d sat in but she realised Anne was a very high-spirited sports watcher. She was sure if it was any other setting Anne would have been up on her feet several times during the match to challenge the umpire’s call. Instead Anne would groan along with the rest of the crowd and throw her hands in the air in protest. 

Despite how things had started Anne found that she was enjoying herself. She  had no allegiance to any of the players but there was a loud group of Australians sat a few rows behind them so rather than fight the crowd she decided to cheer along with them whenever the Australian player scored a point. 

She noticed that Ann was very focussed on the match, her gaze never leaving the court. She was the perfect spectator, applauding when a point was well won. Never disagreeing with the call of the line judges even when the ball was clearly in. As the players took their seats for the break Anne sat forward so that they were facing each other, this hat of hers blocking the view she had most wanted.

Ann laughed when Anne’s smiling face peered round the side of her hat. She sat back allowing Anne to see her fully, “There you are.” Anne took another strawberry from her lap. Oh lord, she was going to make her watch her eat it. She brought her mouth around the fruit and in one deft movement took it completely from its stem. It was impossible not to stare as her lips grew moist with the juice of the fruit as she slowly chewed. “These are delicious.” 

A sound escaped Ann’s lips, what it was supposed to be she did not know. It wasn’t a word, more a quiet plea for this moment to never end. “Are you enjoying the match?” Goodness. Anne was talking to her about something. Ann shook her head. Focus. Tennis. Wimbledon. Not strawberries. Not Anne’s mouth. “Yes,” Ann managed. That was a start at least.

Perhaps the sun was too much Anne thought, she could certainly feel it beaming down. This was one of the occasions when her monochromatic attire wasn’t best suited. That could explain why she had been so quiet. Normally she was able to get Ann to open more, especially when it was just the two of them. Maybe she should offer to get them some ice-cream, cool themselves down a bit. Or perhaps Ann was still upset from her altercation with Mariana. Anne hadn’t even considered how poorly she would behave when she saw Ann, her only thought being that she wanted her there with her. Anne sat back, her smile faltering. 

“I’m sorry.” They both blurted out simultaneously before letting out a little laugh. Anne waited, letting Ann speak first. 

Ann willed herself not to disappear into her own head. She needed to be present. “I didn’t mean to be so…” What had she been? She had barely spoken to Anne, even between the games. Anne had chosen to go with her, and she must be sweltering under this sun. She couldn’t tell her that she hadn’t dared look at her for fear of combusting. Anne was still patiently waiting for her to finish her sentence. She felt her teeth starting to trouble her bottom lip. No. Stop. Suddenly it came to her. She looked up with a half-smile and a half-truth, “Distracted.” 

Anne tilted her head and marvelled at the woman in front of her who was apologising for not paying her enough attention. Is that how she looked, like some child desperate for attention? The circles she had absent mindedly been tracing along Ann’s arm, they must have been so infuriating as she tried to concentrate on the match. She knew how excited Ann had been to be here, she’d told her as much. This was yet another thing that Mariana had constantly chastised her for and she was making those same mistakes again. She hung her head, ashamedly saying, “I should ask Catherine to come back.”

“What? No!” Ann surprised the both of them at how loudly she had just spoken. Anne was a little startled, this was the most animated she had ever seen her. Ann looked longingly at Anne, she was right next to her but she could feel her heart tightening at the thought that she might be gone soon. She placed her hand on top of the one in Anne’s lap, “I want you to stay. Please.”

She was too kind. Anne looked down at her hand being held by Ann’s, the fingers of her other hand tapping on the back of her chair. “I don’t want to ruin-”

“You’re not ruining anything.” Ann interrupted.

“I’m too-”

“You’re not too anything.” She squeezed her hand gently until Anne looked up at her, “Stay.” Anne nodded. How could she possibly say no? Pure joy spread across both their faces.

“Time ladies please.” The umpire’s call reminded them of where they were. They both turned towards the court and saw the players preparing to start the final set. Anne removed her arm from the back of Ann’s chair, she was going to allow her to watch the rest of the match in peace. Ann felt the absence immediately. She glanced to her left and saw Anne’s hands politely sat in her lap. Ann reached over and took Anne’s right hand in hers and pulled it into her own lap, without turning her head she simply stated, “Just in case you got any ideas about leaving.” She felt Anne laugh behind her as they settled into their seats.

===

Anne hesitantly made her way back up to the Royal Box, “Ann we don’t have to-”

“I want to, Anne.” 

After the women’s semi-final matches had concluded Ann had suggested they go back up to the Royal Box. The sun wasn’t so high in the sky anymore so there was less risk to Ann’s delicate skin, even without her hat, but it was still over 27 degrees and the court seats offered no shade. She had noticed Anne wiping her brow more than once. Not for the first time that day, Ann took her hand and started to pull her along. Anne couldn’t believe that she was letting little Ann Walker drag her along through Centre Court. 

Before they got to the staircase that led down to their previous seats Anne held back a moment. Ann turned to face her, “Come on, let’s see what sort of state Catherine and Tib are in.” 

Anne rolled her eyes, that was definitely a worry. It had probably not been one of her greatest ideas to put the two of them together, but she was more worried about who else might be down there. She felt the frown lines form across her forehead, “They’re not the only ones who might still be down there.” Ann understood.

She stepped closer to Anne, swinging their hands between them, “It’ll be okay Anne, I know what to expect this time.”

“Do you? She can be-”

“A bitter shrew.” Her response was almost automatic. Anne tried to suppress her laughter, she certainly hadn’t expected that. Ann just smiled at her innocently with a raised eyebrow, almost challenging her to tell her she was wrong. Anne just shook her head and let Ann lead her down the stairs.

“Annes!” Catherine exclaimed as she shot up from her seat as she saw them, champagne in hand. Ann felt Anne’s grip tighten. She knew from experience Catherine was at least one bottle of champagne in judging from that greeting. “Yes, Annes!” And there was Tib, right beside her, bottle in hand. Thankfully this was just Tib, she’d need at least another bottle before she even started to slur her words. “Annes!” came a third booming voice as Sam stood up from his seat to greet them. Anne muttered under her breath just loud enough for Ann to hear, “Lord there are three of them now.” 

Ann laughed as she went to give him a big hug, remembering how he had reprimanded her last time. He was dressed smartly in a navy suit and tie, “Looking very dapper Mr Mayor.”

Sam pretended to fix his hair before adjusting his tie, “Can’t give these Southerners reason to overthrow the Mayor.” He shot a glance at Anne and saw their hands interlocked between them and smiled knowingly, “Anne, good to see you.”

“Samuel,” Anne nodded in reply.

He stepped out from the row and motioned for them to join him. This had been the row Mariana and Charles had been sitting in, hopefully this meant they had left. Anne took the seat furthest in, with Ann sitting between herself and Sam. As soon as they sat down Ann immediately took Anne’s hand back in hers, something that wasn’t lost on Sam or the other two who were still stood watching them grinning gleefully at the couple. 

“You can sit down now, the show’s behind you,” Anne swirled her finger in the air hoping they’d get the hint.

“Actually, we were wondering,” Catherine started. Ann giggled as she felt Anne shuffle next to her, “If you were going to Pride this weekend.” 

“Ahh.” Anne sat more upright in her seat. She hadn’t been to a Pride parade for some years.

“Tib wants us to go Annie, dance on her company’s float with her!” The enthusiasm in Catherine’s eyes concerned Ann more than excited her. Flashbacks of numerous college parades in increasingly awful costumes for the various sports teams and societies Catherine had convinced her to join flooded her mind. “You can come too Anne!” Her eyes lit up with mischief. This was definitely too much.

“Surely you’re too old for Pride parades Freddy?” Catherine and Tib saw Anne’s jaw set, Ann felt the change too caused by Mariana and Charles’ return. She stood at the end of their row, a sickeningly sweet smile on her face, “Looks like we’ve lost our seats.” 

“Yes. That’s my fault.” Sam answered. He looked up at the two of them, “You wouldn’t mind taking the seats next to Tib and Catherine?” Smiling broadly he added, “It will give me a chance to catch up with Miss Walker and her girlfriend.” 

“Of course Sam,” Charles replied as he took the seat next to Catherine.

Mariana hadn’t moved, “Thank you Mariana,” came Sam’s clipped tone. She turned to him with a half-smile as she tried to hide her contempt before taking her seat.

Sam cleared his throat, “Also, Anne.” He turned to face her, “You will be going to Pride this year. That’s a Mayoral order.” Catherine and Tib both turned with huge grins on their faces as Anne huffed. “Sorry Catherine, but she’ll be on the Mayoral float. Ann too of course.” 

Ann nodded her agreement excitedly and leant over to give him a quick kiss on his cheek. He pretended to be shocked, “Ann, I’m the Mayor. You can’t just go around kissing me.” She swatted him on his shoulder. She sat back pulling Anne’s arm around her shoulder, holding it there as she leaned back into her. 

Anne revelled in the feeling of Ann in her arms and drew her closer. If this was the reward for allowing herself to be strong armed into standing on a Pride float then she would accept it. She would even wave a rainbow flag if she had to. She leaned slightly forward and breathed deeply, inhaling the light citrus scent of Ann’s perfume. 

“Ahem.” She glanced up and saw Sam staring back at her. She froze, not daring to breathe. He quirked his brow and she immediately straightened. “Eyes forward Lister.” A sly smile forming as he winked at Ann. Anne felt her squeeze her hand as she settled deeper into her embrace. Anne breathed again, her whole body relaxing as the crowd applauded the players coming onto the court. 

Chapter Text

“You can’t wear that.” Anne stopped suddenly as she came out of her bedroom. Tib stood in the middle of the hallway of her flat blocking her way. She looked down at her outfit. Starting from the bottom she did a mental itinerary of what she was wearing. Rainbow socks. Fine. Black jeans. They were a little tight but the most she’d be doing is standing on a float and hopefully spending some time with Ann afterwards. Also fine. Black round neck t-shirt. She was going to wear one of her more casual dress shirts, still black of course, but she remembered how warm it had been at the tennis. Plus, she knew no matter how careful she was she knew at some point someone would end up spilling a drink or something on her. It was Pride, it was bound to happen. So the t-shirt was also fine. 

She looked back up at Tib who was of course dressed in a pair of tight fitting white trousers and a garish sparkly rainbow waistcoat. Anne presumed there was nothing else on underneath it. She didn’t even know where to begin with this one. “What do you mean I can’t wear this?” she asked. 

“You’re going to Pride,” Tib replied bluntly.

“Yes.” Anne really couldn’t see what the problem was. Given the alternative, Tib had brought a matching waistcoat for her to wear, she knew what her choice was.

“So you can’t wear that,” Marian piped up as she rounded the corner. Thankfully she wasn’t dressed in one of Tib’s sparkly waistcoats, but had opted for a fitted white t-shirt with a large rainbow heart on the front emblazoned with the word ‘Ally’ across it. “What will people say?”

It wasn’t even 10am and Anne was already exhausted. This was another reason she preferred to just bypass the annual festivities. No one would be judging what you wore if you didn’t go. Anne started to tap her foot in annoyance as the standoff with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum continued, “There’s nothing wrong-”

“You’re dressed like you’re going to visit the Addams Family.”

“Hardly. I’m wearing colour.” She pointed to the socks on her feet.

Marian looked down, “Socks don’t count.”

“They-”

“No.” They said in unison. This wasn’t fair. She was outnumbered in her own home. She hadn’t even invited Marian to stay. She had just shown up on her doorstep yesterday morning complaining that she’d missed all the fun of Wimbledon and wasn’t about to miss Pride. Anne wouldn’t have minded but Tib was also staying with her, so her normally large flat was feeling very full. Especially right now.

Anne folded her arms across her chest and turned her head away from the both of them, “You’ve never felt the need to comment on what I wear before.” 

“Oh we have,” Marian retorted.

“We’ve just never done it to your face,” Tib added. They both laughed before giving each other a high-five. If they weren’t careful Anne would throw both of them out and then where would they stay?

“I’m comfortable in black,” Anne said quietly. She had been wearing black for so long it felt almost like her own armour against the world, against people’s opinions. Her own statement made boldly and clearly, she would dress how she chose. She would not be judged for her appearance or for anything else.

Tib didn’t seem to care about Anne’s comfort though. “Have you been to Pride?” Anne stood silent. Of course she had been to Pride. Tib knew this, it was usually her dragging Anne along and through it. “I guarantee a lot of people aren’t comfortable in those outfits, but they wear them because it’s a celebration !” Ugh. Anne rolled her eyes. How was Tib using logic against her? She had a point. 

“You’re the bloody Mayor of London Anne, you can’t wear black.” Tib quipped.

“I am not the Mayor. And I can.” Anne paused. Did she even own anything that wasn’t black anymore?

“You’re as good as!” Marian was yelling now as she threw her hands up in the air. “I mean you all seemed pretty cosy in the Royal Box the other day.” Anne huffed in exasperation. This again.

“How many times have I told you Marian? You need to bring that grievance to Tib’s door, not mine.”

“Fine. I will!” Marian turned sharply, hands on hips facing Tib.

“Look Marian, if I’d known you were such a tennis fan I would’ve invited you along. Who was I to know the Listers were such big fans of balls flying through the air?” 

“Tib,” Anne said warningly.

Not taking the hint, Tib shrugged her shoulders and added, “I didn’t even know Anne was a fan of balls and she’s the one I’ve-”

“Tib!” Both Lister sisters roared before she had a chance to finish her sentence. Tib took that as her cue to leave and disappeared into the living room. Anne brushed past her sister as she went into the kitchen. Marian was left standing in the hallway not knowing which of them to follow. Unfortunately, Anne realised she had lost as she heard Marian follow her in, “I can’t believe you had Royal Box and court side seats.”

“Again Marian, not my fault.” She turned to face her, “You need to raise that with Ann.”

Marian sank into one of the seats as she started to pout, “I will! Where is she anyway?”

===

“You can’t wear that!” Ann’s jaw dropped as Catherine walked past her open bedroom door wearing nothing but a sparkly waistcoat and the smallest excuse for a skirt Ann had seen since they were at uni. Catherine stopped and looked down at her outfit and then back up at Ann. “It’s what Tib’s wearing. Anne too maybe.” She added mischievously.

“There is no way Anne Lister is wearing that outfit. I doubt even Tib is wearing that outfit.”

Catherine danced into her bedroom and flopped flat onto her bed. Ann watched her pretend she was a starfish on her bed before she finally sat up, leaning on her elbows, “You’re right.” Ann nodded. “They’re probably not even bothering with the skirt!” Catherine added as she rolled about laughing on her bed as Ann looked at herself in the mirror.

As usual she’d agonised over what she should wear. She hadn’t had a lot of time to find something suitable to buy and nothing in her wardrobe really screamed Pride. Everything in Catherine’s wardrobe just screamed. She considered something rainbow striped, not Catherine’s outfit, but something colourful. 

She knew that Anne would be wearing black, or at least presumed she would be. She definitely couldn't wear black. Besides, Ann didn't want to match her, but she did want to compliment her. She could have asked her what she was wearing but who does that? It's not like she was her girlfriend, all they'd done was hold hands a few times. 

Sam had referred to Anne as her girlfriend, but Ann thought that was mostly to wipe the smirk off that vile woman's face more than anything. No, she didn't think she had a right to claim Anne as her girlfriend yet, but the way Anne had held her tight against her during the last match, she felt she had every reason to hope.

===

They had agreed to meet Ann and Catherine by the BBC building on Regent Street. Sam was giving an interview there on BBC Radio before the start of the parade so it made sense. Anne was pacing as Tib and Marian leaned against a wall waiting. They weren’t even late. It was 11.30am and the parade wasn’t due to start till 12pm. Anne had made them get there for 11am. She marched up and down as she checked her watch every couple of laps. 

“Your sister’s going to wear a hole in the floor.” They swung their heads back and forth like a metronome keeping pace with Anne. 

“It’s concrete.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“They’re here!” Anne stopped pacing as she spotted them trying to make their way through the crowd that had started to gather. Tib and Marian both turned to see Catherine pushing her way through, closely followed by Ann. 

Anne stopped and took a deep breath when she saw Ann step out from behind Catherine. She looked beautiful. She was wearing a thigh length white cotton off the shoulder dress that hung freely on her slight frame. A wide pale rainbow stripe running around the bottom. She had worn her hair down, it was being held back by the large pair of sunglasses that sat on top of her head. A straw trilby hat with a rainbow band in her hand. She smiled bashfully from the intensity of Anne’s gaze. 

“Alright lovebirds, we can’t stand here all day watching you two make heart eyes at each other!” Tib slapped Anne on her back causing her to stumble forward towards them. Ann put up her hand instinctively, stopping Anne immediately as it rested against her chest. For a moment all she could feel was the steady beat beneath her hand.

Anne was breathtaking. She wore her hair tied back in a low ponytail. It may have just been the light but Ann thought the incredibly well fitting jeans that Anne wore weren’t the stark shade of black that she usually saw her in. Had she seen a flash of colour on her black t-shirt too? Her focus was on her hand, as she lifted it from Anne’s chest and she saw just above the small breast pocket the words ‘Choose Love’ in rainbow print, just above Anne’s heart. She patted it once before looking up at Anne, “Hi.” 

“Miss Walker,” Anne replied, her smile filling her entire face.

“I’m going to be sick,” Marian whispered to Catherine as they both sniggered conspiratorily.

Anne immediately took Ann’s hand in hers and turned towards the others, “Right. Have you decided which float you’re going on?” Marian motioned to their hands firmly grasped together, “Well if I’ve got to watch the Annes show all day I actually might be sick, so I’m going with Tib.”

“Excellent!” Anne exclaimed. That earnt her an eye roll from her sister as Marian stepped towards Ann and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and a little squeeze. She would have hugged her properly but Anne wasn’t going to relinquish her hand for anyone.

“Miss Walker,” she greeted her with a raised eyebrow.

Ann giggled as she smiled back, “Miss Marian.” As she moved towards Tib, Marian thought she’d have to try and steal a moment with Ann, away from her sister. She always knew that Ann showed an interest in Anne but she had thought she was just being polite. Really, who would be interested in Anne? She was so loud and brash, completely the opposite of Ann. Of course Anne hadn’t given her any details about what was happening between them and she wasn’t sure if she trusted any of what Tib had told her. 

Ann was nothing like the women Marian had seen with Anne over the years, especially Mariana. However, from what little she did believe from Tib, it sounded like Ann had managed to wrestle Anne from that harpie, which was a more than welcome development. She just hoped that Anne didn’t mess this relationship up the way she had the others.

“Catherine?” Anne asked, turning to her. She pointed to her outfit. Ann had at least managed to convince her to wear a skater skirt that wasn’t quite so short as the last one but the waistcoat remained. Anne nodded, “Right, Tib it is.” Catherine smiled back and gave Ann a quick kiss on her cheek as she went over to where Tib and Marian were. 

“Perfect. We just need to wait for the Mayor.”

At that moment Anne felt a baseball call being pulled over her head, she turned quickly to see Sam. “You need more colour in your outfit.” She pulled the cap off her head and saw a rainbow roundel on the front, she shook her head, at least the rest of the cap was black. She sighed as she pulled it back on top of her head. Ann was smiling up at her admiringly, “Suits you.” In that moment that hat became Anne’s favourite. 

===

To her surprise, Anne had actually enjoyed the parade. It absolutely had a large part to do with the fact that Ann stayed right by her side for its entirety. They had managed to get on the top deck of the open-top Routemaster bus Sam had managed to get for the Mayoral float. Perks of the job since he was the Chair of the Board. 

They hadn’t managed to quite get to the front of the bus but close enough that Ann was able to get a view of the parade as it stretched out before her. Sam was holding up a banner at the front, leading the parade alongside a few others. Then came the huge rainbow flag with around 30 people holding it along the sides. Next were the police and various branches of  the military. Both of them commented on how smart they looked in their dress uniforms marching along to the loud sounds of dance music coming from the neighbouring floats. Ann felt herself get a little flush when she pictured Anne all dressed up in military uniform. 

There were various political organisations and charities also represented, as well as smaller local groups and businesses - including the float Tib, Marian, and Catherine were on. From the top of their bus Ann could see them not too far behind. They were behind a float for one of the many nightclubs, Ann even thought she saw Boy George dancing away at the back waving to the others as they danced along.

Anne tried her best not to stare too much, but she was thoroughly captivated by the exquisite vision next to her. They had both been talked into getting a rainbow painted onto their cheek, well Ann had gladly accepted the offer and had cajoled Anne into getting one too. So there they were, on top of a bus rolling through the Pride Parade, rainbows on their cheeks, rainbow banded hats, rainbow attire, blowing their whistles attached to rainbow lanyards, waving to the crowd that were dancing and cheering along the street as they passed. 

===

After the parade Tib had convinced them to go into Soho even though Anne knew that it would be heaving with people. Ann held on tightly to Anne’s arms as the five of them weaved their way through the backstreets. As expected there were people everywhere spilling out from every restaurant, pub, cafe, and shop enjoying the sunshine and the celebratory atmosphere. 

Ann had never seen London like this. All the jubilation and colour. Everyone wanted to take pictures with the half-clad members of the Vauxhall Swimmer’s Club, or the drag queens wearing impossibly high heels and lavish costumes. “You should take your picture with them,” Ann pointed to a group of men dressed head to toe in leather with long handlebar moustaches. Anne just laughed. “It’d be good for your Instagram profile.”

“I don’t have an Instagram profile.”

“I know. That’s why we should start one.” Ann pulled her towards the group of men and asked them if it was okay to take a photo with them.

“Of course darling!" One of the more burly looking men replied. Anne bristled, she wasn’t thrilled with the idea. The sun had been beating down all day and she remembered the men from the parade so she knew they must be sweating profusely under all that leather. 

She stood ramrod straight like she was having her school class photo taken as the group posed around her. “For fuck’s sake Lister!” Tib yelled as they looked on. “You lot go show her how it’s done,” she added as she shoved Catherine and Marian towards her. She took Ann’s phone from her hand, “Go on, you too.” 

Catherine and Marian had draped themselves across two of the men whilst Anne still stood decidedly awkward in the middle. She wasn’t quite sure where she would put her hands and wasn’t taking direction very well. Ann immediately went to her side and stood next to her. Anne looked at her pleadingly, how could Anne Lister be so adorable? She smiled as she reached up and draped her arms around her neck. Anne instinctively put her arm around her waist. “Well, that’s something at least!” Tib groaned.

“Take the picture Tib,” Anne glared.

Tib bent her knees slightly doing her best impression of a photographer with Ann’s phone in her hand, “Alright you lot, say ‘Dildos!’” There was a loud cheer as Anne’s jaw dropped at the sound of Ann Walker yelling ‘Dildos!’ at the top of her lungs in the middle of Soho.

Anne had never liked having her photo taken, but as she scrolled through the ones on Ann’s phone she had to admit that Tib had managed to take some good shots. After the initial shock Anne had relaxed enough that she didn’t look so rigid in them. After a few photos with Catherine and Marian, Tib had insisted that she and Ann take some photos together. 

As they were posing more and more people walking past chose to join in and soon they had at least 30 photos with random strangers all fabulously dressed or just joyful. Of course the best ones were when Ann was by her side. She looked visibly more relaxed when she was there tucked into her side. 

They walked along Old Compton Street where most of the people who’d been at the parade seemed to have gathered. The crowd was getting harder to move through and their group formed a much tighter circle as they tried to get past all the hundreds of revellers. Anne had initially been leading Ann through the crowd but could feel her lagging behind. Instead she decided to stand behind her and wrapped her arms protectively around her as she guided her. This way at least she could always keep her in her sights and if there was a particularly boisterous group she would position their bodies so that she was always between them and Ann. 

The cocoon that Anne created for her felt impenetrable. She was incredibly grateful for her own personal force field against the masses of people. Ann knew that they were all good natured but the mixture of sun, alcohol, and celebration made a few of them a bit more rowdy than she was comfortable with. 

Up ahead Anne spotted a group of five or six teenagers running in and out between people squirting each other with water in some sort of game. They bobbed and weaved as they tried to catch each other, often turning around people who were standing talking or who were trying to get past themselves. As they neared the group one of them spun Marian around nearly bringing her to the ground. Anne felt the water before she saw it and she quickly leaned over to cover Ann taking the brunt of the soaking as the kids whirled around them. In a flash they were gone and Anne was soaked through.

After the initial laughter they stood in the middle of the street as Anne surveyed the damage. Her t-shirt was pretty soaked through, but with the sun as it was she knew she would dry out soon. She was grateful it was water and nothing else. Ordinarily she would’ve been much more annoyed but as Ann looked at her with those deep blue eyes full of concern she didn’t want to do anything to ruin the day they had been having. She let out a loud sigh as she smiled, “Pride?” That made them all laugh again.

Tib clapped her hands together, “Right! Where to next gang?” They all surveyed their surroundings, everywhere was still pretty busy. “We could go down to Soho Square? I know a couple of people who’ve set up some pop-up bars round there” Tib offered.

Catherine started to jump up and down, “Ooh sounds fun!” 

Anne looked at Ann, she looked a little hesitant. She had been enjoying herself and even though the incident with the water was harmless Ann had started to feel a little claustrophobic. She wasn’t excited at having to move through another large swathe of people. Anne noticed her apprehension and looked at Tib, “I think I’m going to take a rain check Tib.”

“A rain check means you’ll have to go somewhere with me at a later date,” Tib replied quickly.

“Ahh, well I’ll take whatever it is that means I’m not going.” Tib looked disappointed but when Anne nodded discreetly towards Ann, she understood. 

“Oh well Lister, I knew you were getting too old for this game anyway!” she said jovially. Anne ignored her comment.

Ann didn’t want the day to end, but now Anne was saying that she wasn’t going to go with them. The thought of having to spend the rest of the day with Catherine, and she was sure Tib, would mean she would probably have to fend for herself. She felt her stomach start to tighten, her shoulders drawing inwards. Then she felt someone take her hand. She looked up, of course, it was Anne. “I’m actually really hungry. How about we go get some food?” Immediately Ann felt her world brighten as she nodded in agreement.

Anne turned to Marian who was standing aimlessly nearby, “Are you coming with us?” 

Marian looked pensive, “Spend the rest of Pride with this pair of reprobates or watch you two pretending not to fawn over each other?” Ann sniggered quietly, as Anne frowned at her sister. “I’ll take my chances with them thanks.”

She shook her head, always impossible. “Call Thomas when you want to go home.”

“Anne I’m in the middle of the West End! I’ll just catch a bus.”

Anne tilted her head back, wanting to laugh. “You’ll do no such thing! You wouldn’t even know what bus to take.”

“14 bus goes straight from Shaftesbury Avenue to your side of Putney Bridge.” Marian stated confidently.

“How do you-”

“Or I can walk down to Green Park and get the 22.” She was starting to feel a little smug now, Anne had obviously underestimated how well she knew her city.

“Marian.” Tib knew that tone, if Marian wasn’t careful she wasn’t going to have somewhere to sleep tonight.

“Hyde Park and get the 74.”

Anne’s jaw clenched, “I get the point Marian.”

“I’m a grown woman Anne. I know how to get home.” Anne huffed. She was just trying to look after her. London wasn’t Halifax. Marian sensed her sister’s growing frustration, she did appreciate it, even if it was fun getting under her skin sometimes. She finally relented, “But yes, I have Thomas’ number in my phone and I will call him if I can’t.” 

Anne nodded, she appeared slightly less anxious about leaving her baby sister with Tib and Catherine, whom she was sure could get themselves into a world of trouble between now and closing time. 

Marian leaned in and gave her a quick hug, “Go have fun with your girlfriend.” As she drew back Anne was giving her a death stare. She smiled contritely, “Don’t do anything Tib would do.” 

Tib opened her mouth, about to object, but she just shrugged her shoulders. Marian was probably right. Catherine gave Ann a quick hug and whispered something in her ear which made Ann giggle. Anne looked at them curiously as Ann started to pull her away from them.

The three of them stood side by side as they watched the Annes walking away, their hands swinging between them.

“What did you say to Ann?” Tib asked.

“I told her to text me if she needed me not to come home tonight.”

Marian gasped as Catherine turned to them waggling her eyebrows. Tib laughed, turning she put her arms around the both of them, “Come on ladies. Let me show you how Pride in London is done!”

Chapter Text

Could this truly be her life? Holding Anne Lister’s hand, on their way to get food after they’d just spent the afternoon dancing on a float through London Pride? Surely someone was going to burst into her room and wake her up from this wonderful dream. Only it all felt so incredibly real. The warmth of the sun still beaming down on them, Anne’s fingers intertwined with hers, and the feeling in her chest that her heart was so incredibly full. 

She felt a small tug, but it wasn’t someone rousing her from her sleep. It was Anne pulling her hand gently, unbelievably handsome underneath that black baseball cap, her soaked black t-shirt clinging in all the right places to her muscular torso. Lord, she could make out the outline of her perfectly toned abs. She was starting to feel very warm, and that wasn’t even the worst of it. When Anne turned to her she was struck down by that ludicrously sexy smile. When people talked about their perfect day, this must be what they meant.

Anne looked left and right making sure it was safe for them to cross. It was a nightmare trying to drive through the West End at the best of times with tourists, and locals trying to avoid them, suddenly stepping into the road. She didn’t know how the bus and taxi drivers did it. How much worse on days like Pride when you throw sun and alcohol into the mix? She was making a mental note to talk to Sam about pedestrianising the streets around there on the day of the parade, and then she caught a glimpse of the sweetest smile. 

How could Ann Walker look at her like that? Like she was everything in this world, when Anne herself was certain that anything recently good in her life was because of her. She had tried countless times to explain to herself how in the space of less than two weeks she had become so thoroughly enraptured but it was no use. She simply was.

They had known of each other for years, but that felt like a different lifetime. When Ann was just her neighbour, Anne felt like she herself had been something else. Not this person unwilling to let go of the gentlest of hands. There was no denying it, this girl completely unhinged her. What perplexed her most though was that she was letting her. Without even having to knock, Anne knew that Ann had walked in and taken claim to the centre of her life. Rather than feel trapped by it, she felt free. 

“No, no!” came the firm voice. Anne hadn’t even registered the words being said to her. They’d crossed over to Chinatown and were trying to find somewhere to eat. It was decidedly less crowded there, like Pride wasn’t even happening just across the road. They’d wandered over to one of the many Chinese restaurants that lined Gerard Street that hadn’t looked too full. She was still too busy gazing at Ann to realise the hostess at the door was telling her they couldn’t come in. 

She peered over the lady’s shoulder, the restaurant had quite a few empty tables. Then she realised from the way the lady was looking at her that they weren’t being refused because they were too busy. Scruffy black cap covering a messy ponytail, water soaked t-shirt, her jeans weren’t much better. She must look a state. They weren't the problem, she was. She set her shoulders before nodding apologetically. She turned and began walking away, practically dragging Ann along behind her.

Anne kept her head down, walking briskly from the restaurant. “Anne!” She didn’t even hear Ann’s pleas to stop as she scrambled to keep up. It was only when she pulled her hand from hers that she stopped and turned. Ann gawped at her waiting for an explanation, “What happened?” Anne inhaled sharply, furious at herself for appearing so dishevelled. She turned her eyes up towards the clouds, how could she let this happen again? 

There was a light tug on her hand. She knew it was Ann but she couldn’t look at her. Not yet. She bit down on her bottom lip to stop it from trembling. All the words she’d buried were thrown back at her, telling her that she had been reckless, questioning what she was thinking, how could she possibly think she was good enough? Everyone must be looking at her wondering how Ann could even bear to be seen with her. She shut her eyes tightly trying to silence them.

Ann didn’t understand what had happened. She wished she’d been paying attention to what the lady at the restaurant had said but of course she hadn’t noticed, too lost in her own dreams that she hadn’t noticed what had upset Anne. She felt helpless as she watched Anne trying to battle the million scenarios seemingly playing behind her eyelids as she kept them firmly shut beneath her furrowed brow.

She felt Anne’s grip tighten. Intuitively Ann’s other hand rose up to Anne’s face, she paused momentarily before lightly tracing her fingertips across Anne’s cheek. Her eyes remained closed but they were no longer squeezed tight. She continued for a while, gently brushing her fingers along the length of her jaw before she opened up her hand and delicately cupped her face. Anne loosened her hold on Ann’s hand but still held on as she slowly lent into Ann’s welcoming hand.

Anne gradually opened her eyes, Ann had soothed her enough that she would not cause a scene. She wondered when she became so easy to read that the women in her life knew how to do this. Calm her before she caused even more embarrassment so they could deliver the final blow. She had been here before, she was ready to see how disappointed Ann was in her. When she looked at her though all she saw was tenderness in those incandescent blue eyes. 

“I’m sorry.” She hung her head. The kindness was almost worse than the expected anger. “I’ve embarrassed you.”

“What? No. Why do you think-” Ann placed both of her hands gently on the side of Anne’s face. “Anne,” her voice was quiet, just for the two of them to hear. “I don’t know why you would ever think I was embarrassed to be with you.” The word caught in her throat, she couldn’t understand where those thoughts had come from but she needed to make it clear that those thoughts weren’t hers. “I’ve never felt...I suppose, prouder-” 

Ann was starting to grow frustrated as she struggled to articulate what she wanted to say. “Today was-” Anne obviously needed comforting and all she had were half sentences. She started to trouble her bottom lip as she looked on worriedly. She felt Anne’s head tilt up slightly. She fell into those dark eyes, their sadness palpable. Ann’s hands dropped from her face as she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Anne’s neck pulling her into a tight embrace. 

Without having to think about it Anne’s arms closed around Ann’s small waist and held her close as she rested her head on her shoulder. Ann’s hand cupped the back of her head, gently rubbing the back of her scalp.  

The slow circular movements seemed to work and Ann felt her start to relax. She waited till her breaths evened out before she gradually stepped back, leaving her arms draped around Anne’s neck. Anne’s face softened as she gazed up at her adoringly. “Did you still want to get something to eat?” Ann cautiously asked.

Anne glanced down at her outfit and then back to Ann, “I’m a bit of a mess.” 

Ann didn’t even have to look before answering, “You look perfect.”

Anne sighed hesitantly, “I’m not sure everyone thinks that way.” Finally Ann thought, that’s what must have happened. The lady at the restaurant must have refused to let them in and Anne was ashamed of how she looked. 

She couldn’t believe that Anne would let someone’s opinion of her affect her so much. She wanted to march back to the restaurant to tell the woman exactly what she thought of her but Anne had chosen not to make a scene so neither would she. “Does anyone else matter?” Ann asked teasingly.

Anne shook her head, an amused smile forming on her lips, “No. They do not.” She glanced around them at the other restaurants and then over her shoulder. “There is one place…” She reached into her back pocket and pulled out her wallet, checking that she had cash inside. “Do you know what you want to order?” 

Ann tilted her head curiously, “Um yeah, I usually just get crispy noodles.” Anne smiled widely and took her hand from around her neck as she started to pull her towards the other end of Chinatown, “I know the perfect place!” 

===

They stood outside a large four storey building with an ornate carved entryway. It looked like most of the other restaurants, perhaps one lower on the price scale. In red letters across the windows “Wong Kei Restaurant.” Ann noticed the brown plaque next to the door, ‘Sarah Bernhardt laid the foundation stone of this building 1904.’ Ann was vaguely familiar with the name, she thought she was an actress or something in the arts. That must be why Anne had chosen this place, she knew so much about everything, she was sure there was a story behind it. 

Anne grasped the door handle and was about to open it when she turned sharply, causing Ann to almost bump into her. “The staff here…” Anne looked for the right words, “They can be a bit.” Ann leaned forward waiting for the rest of the sentence. “Blunt.” Anne’s eyes were shining brightly again, full of hope, but laced with a worry that she would disappoint her. 

She couldn’t believe how considerate Anne was being. She wanted to lean in and kiss her, just a quick peck on the cheek to let her know everything was fine. What would Anne think of that though? Just kissing her like that. Would it be too presumptuous? Would that be their first kiss? In the doorway of a Chinese restaurant? Ann had thought too long about it and could see Anne waiting, so instead of kissing her she simply nodded. Anne smiled and pulled the door open for her.

As soon as they stepped in Ann could hear the clinking of plates and orders being shouted across the dining room. Servers were rushing past them and they were barely in the door. Ann leaned close into Anne as she caught the attention of whom Ann presumed was the host but really he could have been anyone. They were all dressed in the same white short sleeved button-up shirt, black bowtie, and black trousers. He took a look at the two of them, Ann tensed, she was worried that they’d be turned away again. The man looked around and then just shouted to them, “Upstairs! Upstairs!” 

Anne took her hand and pulled them through the dining room to a staircase towards the back of the restaurant. They ran up the stairs at a pace. When they got to the first floor another man stood in the doorway and looked at the two of them and repeated the earlier instruction, “Upstairs!” Ann giggled as they ran up another flight of stairs. She was a little out of breath by the time they got to the next landing but tried to hide it when Anne turned to check she was okay. 

They looked hopefully at the third man, once again dressed as the other two. He looked at the two of them, holding hands, one breathless, the other smiling but in a soaked t-shirt. Anne quickly pulled off her baseball cap and flashed her best smile at him and Ann tried to do the same. He arched his eyebrow and stepped to the side and with a smile and tilt of his head motioned for them to go inside. 

Ann looked around the room. There were several tables with what looked like large spinning wheels in the centre of them. A few tables were full with people eating away. Anne walked towards the window where another man was waving them over. He pointed at a large table by the window, it was much too large for just the two of them but when Anne pulled out a chair for her to take she realised it must be for them. 

Ann admired the view over Chinatown and out towards Covent Garden. Anne had started to pull out her own chair when the same man who’d shown them to their table came over, “You know what you want?” He said hurriedly but not impolitely. Ann turned, she hadn’t even noticed the menu in front of her let alone had a chance to look at it. 

Before she even picked it up Anne answered, “Crispy noodles with-” She looked down at her and thought for a moment, “Mixed seafood?” Ann nodded, how did she know? Turning back to the server Anne stated, “Crispy noodles, mixed seafood. And crispy pork and barbecue pork with rice.” The man scribbled it down on his notepad.

“Drink?” Ann wasn’t sure if it was a question or a command.

“Tsingtao.” Anne responded equally as quickly. She looked back at Ann who had no idea what she’d just said but nodded again. “Two. And Chinese tea. Please.” The man scribbled down their drinks order and left without looking at either of them. Finally Anne sat down and smiled happily at her as Ann just looked at her a little shocked by the exchange that just happened. Noting her surprise Anne laughed as she took the menus and moved them to the side, “They do things very quickly here.”

Anne leaned back in her seat, her arm coming up to rest on the back of Ann’s chair full of her usual confidence and swagger. “I saw the plaque downstairs.”

“Hmm?” Anne started running her finger along her bottom lip. Ann couldn’t help but stare, “What plaque?”

Ann refocused and looked up at her, “Sarah Berhardt. It said she laid the foundation stone for this building.”

“Ahh yes.” Anne smiled, “Very observant. This was a theatrical costume shop back in the 1900s I believe.”

“Is that why you like this place?” Ann took another look around the dining room. It could certainly do with redecorating, and guessing from how busy and large the restaurant seemed she thought they must be doing well. She turned her attention back to Anne, “The history?”

Just then their server appeared and placed two bottles of beer in front of them, along with two small cups, and a pot of tea. He left again just as quickly. “Not quite,” Anne answered as she put one of the beers in front of Ann and started to pour each of them a cup of tea. Ann noticed the small chip in one of the tea cups. Anne saw the slight raised eyebrow, it certainly wasn’t where she usually took people, especially if she was trying to impress them. 

She was about to speak when two strangers came to sit at their table, instructed to sit there by one of the servers zooming around. Ann was a little taken aback but Anne just nodded to them. Ann looked puzzled, Anne lent in and whispered, “Communal dining. It means they can accommodate large parties and smaller ones without having to change the whole dining room.” Ann nodded, it did make sense, even if she wasn’t sure she could ever get used to sitting at a table with someone she’d not even said hello to. 

Suddenly both of their meals were placed in front of them. Ann looked up surprised, trying to see where their server had appeared from but he had vanished. Anne laughed, “Fast service.” The chopsticks were on the other side of the table, Ann was about to ask their company if they could pass them over, that would be a good way to introduce themselves. Before she could speak Anne was spinning the large circular wheel in the middle of the table. After a few turns the chopsticks were in front of them. Anne took a pair out and handed them to Ann before getting a set for herself. All Ann could do was lightly shrug her shoulders and marvel at the joy of being in Anne’s company and this novel dining experience.

They both looked down at their food, it looked wonderful and smelled divine. Anne waited for her to take a bite of her food. As Ann took her first taste she had to stop herself speaking with her mouth full. It was delicious, so full of flavour. Once she had finished chewing and was sure that she wouldn’t spit anything out she spoke, “This food is amazing!” Anne nodded happily, she had chosen well, “Excellent food. Minimal fuss! That’s why I like this place.” She indicated for Ann to keep eating before she started on her own food. 

===

Ann would have happily sat inside the restaurant giving themselves time to digest, but their plates were taken away soon after they finished. As Anne reached into her back pocket for her wallet she realised this wasn’t the type of place that encouraged people to linger. She opened her bag, intending to get her wallet out, “My turn Miss Walker, you bought lunch last time.” Anne stood up and placed a few notes on the table that Ann was sure couldn’t be enough. Again Anne found herself amused at the look of confusion, when Ann looked up at her she smiled roguishly with a quick eyebrow wiggle, “Cheap date.”

Once again Anne held the door open for Ann as they exited, thanking the staff as they left. It was early evening but the sun hadn’t even thought about setting. There were still a lot of people around, but it was remarkable how few of them looked like they were there for Pride. Ann marvelled at the dichotomy. How London carried on like it was a normal Saturday when just a few streets away people were celebrating proudly the freedom to love whomever they wanted. It made her smile to think that sort of expression was so common here that no one even acted like it was out of the ordinary.

She could see Anne shuffling in the corner of her eye as she put her cap back on. She knew Sam had given it to her as a joke but she really did look very handsome in it. Ann wasn’t ready for their date, cheap or not, to be quite finished so Anne stood there apparently without an agenda she suggested cheerfully, “Bubble tea?” 

Anne’s eyes appeared to brighten at the idea of their time together not quite being over, but then her nose scrunched up as she asked with a bewildered look upon her face, “What’s a bubble tea?” Ann simply giggled and took her hand.

===

Anne quite enjoyed this strange purple drink Ann had ordered her. She was lost as soon as they had stepped into the small shop almost setup like a coffee shop but with items like tapioca pearls, popping tapioca pearls of various flavours, lychee jelly on offer. She only knew what they were because each container was labelled. She had looked up at the menu and saw over two dozen varieties. Milk tea. Black tea. Fruit tea. Hot. Cold. Iced. Blended. Somehow Ann had navigated the menu with ease. When she had asked her how she even knew about this place her answer, simply, “Instagram.” Of course Anne thought. 

They had started to walk away from all the noise and crowds and had found themselves in Hyde Park. They were enjoying the warmth of the afternoon as it turned into evening, taking the time to stroll slowly along the Serpentine as they talked. A few rollerbladers zoomed past them, but really it didn’t matter because they were so enraptured with each other that no one else existed for them.

Ann linked their arms as Anne explained to her how the park had been used by Henry VIII as a hunting ground before another king had changed it into a park for the public. Anne had told her which king it was but she hadn’t remembered, focussing more on the excitement in her voice as she told her stories rather than what was being said. The Serpentine Lake was man made, another royal - a queen this time Ann thought, had wanted to have a natural looking pool of water in the park. It apparently started a trend.

She laughed as Anne recalled one of her first winters in London when she had to walk through the park because transport was at a standstill due to the snow and she had actually seen people swimming in the lake. Ann couldn’t fathom it, both everything halting for less than two feet of snow and how anyone could even consider going into an icy lake. She knew they were from Yorkshire but even up there, with cold bred into their bones, they’d never do anything as ludicrous. 

Anne loved having Ann so close, she held onto her arm tightly, choosing to wait whilst people walked around them rather than separate. She had even directed them around a small child rather than part from her for the three seconds they would have been separated. She knew she was speaking far too much but Ann appeared to be an eager listener, taking in everything she said and responding with genuine interest as she told her stories. 

At first Anne had wanted to impress her but the more she spoke it felt like Ann wanted to hear what she had to say so that she could share in Anne’s experience of London, see it the way she did. Ann laughed when she would tell her about silly things like the statue of a jelly baby family that used to be at the Marble Arch end of the park, right next to the giant horse’s head. She seemed impressed when Anne told her it was the first place in Britain to have street lighting because William III wanted to have one of his most used routes through the park lit. Ann wanted to understand her, and how she fit into London, in a way no one else had tried to. 

They meandered through the park, following no direct route. It didn’t surprise Anne that by the time they got to the other side of the park the sun had already set. As they exited onto the main road Anne noticed Ann start to shiver. It had started to get noticeably chilly but with Ann wrapped so tightly to her she hardly felt it. 

Ann tried her best to pretend she wasn’t cold but she had felt the goosebumps along her arm, smiling to herself as she thought you’d never guess she was from Halifax with such a low tolerance for the cold. They were only about thirty minutes from their flat but Anne was concerned she would catch a cold. Ordinarily she would have offered her her own jacket, but she had come out without one as she hadn’t expected they’d be out this late.

As they continued to walk Anne scanned for a clothing store that might still be open but they were mostly going through a residential area filled with supermarkets and souvenir stores. Then she had an idea. She spotted a shop up ahead and craned her neck to see if it was still open. Ann looked up at her curiously, she enjoyed Anne’s eccentricities, it was a side she thought not many people got to see of the prim and proper Anne Lister.

“Perfect!” Anne had stopped in front of a brightly-lit souvenir store. 

“Did you want to buy a souvenir?” Ann asked puzzled.

Anne winked at her, “Something like that,” and led them into the store. She went to the back wall where an array of jumpers and hoodies hung. Anne stood staring at them, Ann still by her side. “Pick one.”

Ann turned her head slowly. Anne was looking straight ahead, completely focused on the jumpers. “Anne.” She couldn’t be serious. “I don’t need a jumper.”

“You’re cold. I felt your goosebumps.”

“I’m not that cold,” Ann protested, a small pout forming. She could certainly walk the rest of the way home without having to buy a jumper with ‘I love London’ written across it.

“So you’ll be fine walking without clinging to my arm then?” Anne asked nonchalantly. Ann saw a flicker of a smile playing at the corner of her mouth. Oh, if Anne was going to play this game then she could play back.

“Fine.” She let go of Anne’s arm and stepped closer to the jumpers, surveying each one. 

“Two for thirty quid love,” came a voice from the front of the store. Ann turned and smiled at the shopkeeper. She started to inspect one with a large Union Jack flag across the front. “Too subtle?” she asked Anne who simply shrugged her shoulders in response. She moved to another that was a mock policeman’s uniform and looked back at Anne. Another shrug of the shoulders and raised eyebrows.

Anne stifled her laugh as Ann proceeded to look at the most garish jumpers on offer. Really she’d settle for her picking a nice simple one with a small logo, as long as it kept her warm. It amused her to see Ann inspecting the loudest jumpers on offer. Ann tried to stop the mischievous grin forming as Anne stood waiting for her to make her choice. She suddenly got excited by one she saw that she held up to Anne, “Yes?”

“Absolutely not.” It wasn’t particularly bold but it was a faux-University of Oxford jumper. Anne knew they were only playing but she wasn’t about to walk around with someone in a jumper for a school they didn’t go to, especially an Oxford one. She was too busy shaking her head to see the one that Ann had grabbed from the rack, “Got it!” She was already almost to the front of the store when Anne had caught up with her.

Ann placed the black jumper on the counter, when she moved her hand Anne saw what it said across the front, ‘Mayor of London.’ She let out a loud boisterous laugh, “Samuel is going to love that!” 

She turned to her and smiled innocently, “Oh this one isn’t mine.” She placed a sky blue zip-up hoodie that Anne hadn’t even seen her holding on top of the other jumper. It had a discreet London eye motif next to the word ‘London’ embroidered on the breast, “This one’s mine.” Anne was momentarily confused but the playful grin Ann couldn’t suppress as she paid for the jumpers told her exactly who the other one was for. 

“Need a bag?” the shopkeeper asked. Ann shook her head.

“No thank you, we’re wearing these now.” She looked over at Anne, “Apparently it’s chilly out.” Ann took the jumper and handed it to Anne as she slipped the hoodie on over her dress.

“You can’t be serious Ann?”

Ann raised her eyebrows challengingly as she crossed her arms against her chest, “You’ll be fine without me clinging to your arm then?”

Anne laughed as she slipped the jumper on over her head. She pulled it down, trying to make it look smart. She turned and posed for Ann, “How do I look?” Ann quickly took out her phone and snapped a quick photo. Anne’s jaw dropped in mock outrage, “Blackmail material for your boss.” Ann answered sweetly as she turned and stepped out of the store. Anne could only follow.

===

She would never admit it but Anne was glad of the jumper. She could’ve done without the branding, with the roundel on her cap, she looked like a walking advert for London. It had kept her warm though, her t-shirt hadn’t dried as thoroughly as she'd hoped and the wind was starting to make her shiver. Now the only thing that was making her quiver was the woman who was huddled tightly into her side.

As they turned onto Ann’s road they both started to slow down, each step taking a fraction longer than the last till they eventually got to Ann’s door. Ann took out her keys and unlocked the front door and pushed it open. She stood in the doorway and turned to face Anne who was waiting on the step below her, “Was it worth missing the tennis?” Anne asked hopefully.

Ann nodded as she held her hand out to her. Anne stepped closer as she took it, their fingers dancing together. Anne watched as Ann slowly licked her bottom lip before gently pulling it between her teeth. Anne’s other hand automatically came up to cup Ann’s cheek as she closed the distance between them. Each breath slower, taking in the moment as she was pulled into Ann’s gaze. Falling deeper into those crystal blue eyes. 

Ann felt her mouth become impossibly dry as Anne held her face gently. Her heartbeat quickened as she drew impossibly closer but each moment felt infinitely longer. The warmth of her dark eyes laced with a longing that she could feel enclosing them both. She tilted her head a fraction as Anne leaned in towards her. She could feel the warmth of Anne’s breath on hers as she closed her eyes.

‘LONDON CALLING TO THE FARAWAY TOWNS.’

Anne’s ringtone blared as she scrunched her eyes shut and hung her head, their foreheads touching. She clenched her jaw at the most unwelcome intrusion. If they waited a moment, perhaps it would stop.

‘NOW WAR IS DECLARED AND BATTLE COMES DOWN.’

They both opened their eyes slowly as Anne pulled away from Ann’s cheek and stepped back. They both look utterly disappointed as Anne’s shoulders dropped. “It’s late. It could be Marian…” Ann nodded understandingly. “I have to.” Ann tried to smile as she wrapped her arms around her. 

‘LONDON CALLING TO THE UNDERWORLD.’

Anne pulled her phone out of her pocket. Tib had better be passed out or on her way to the emergency room for Marian to be calling her. Without checking to see who was calling Anne turned away from Ann and answered the call, not wanting her to witness her tearing shreds into her beloved sister. 

“This better be damn good or I’m about to become an only child.” Anne said through a clenched jaw, the muscles in her neck tightening.

“Freddy.” It wasn’t Marain. She bolted upright. Every fibre of her being tensing at the name. She was about to hang up the phone when she heard the voice break on the other end of the line, “Please.” It was so small, she barely heard it. “Please talk to me. I need your help.” 

Anne dropped the phone to her side as she drew her head back silently pleading to the heavens, asking them why this had to happen now. Not today. Not after such a perfect day.

“Anne?” Her head turned slightly at the soft voice behind her. Anne knew what she had to do. She brought her phone back slowly to her ear and said, “I’ll be home in thirty minutes.” She lowered the phone and ended the call.

Chapter Text

Anne had managed to get a taxi from the main road. She hadn’t trusted that she would be able to leave if she waited for a car at Ann’s. Mariana had sounded distraught on the phone. This wasn’t the first time she’d heard her sound like that of course, but she knew from experience Mariana very seldom asked for help, so when she did she meant it. 

As she exited the taxi and walked towards her building she was surprised to see her car parked out front. Thomas always took it home on the weekends because she was never sure where she might need him. As she got closer she saw him get out of the driver’s side and walk around to the back passenger’s door. 

He bowed his head slightly in greeting as she stepped closer to him, “Thomas. It’s late, what are you doing here?”

He tilted his head towards the car, “Mrs Lawton-”

“Mrs Lawton is in the car?” Anne asked sharply. She looked behind him but of course with the tinted windows and it being night time it was impossible to see inside. Thomas nodded meekly. Anne sighed angrily, this wouldn’t do. 

Anne reached for the door handle and then straightened to address Thomas. She lowered her voice, “Thomas, the next time Mrs Lawton calls you to collect her, remind her that you are under my employment. Not hers.” She paused before continuing in a more kinder tone, “I appreciate you driving her here, but she should never have asked that of you.” He smiled back at her, “Good, now get home. I won’t be needing you for the rest of the weekend so enjoy your day off.” 

“Ma’am,” he replied and doffed an imaginary cap. He moved back round to the driver’s side as Anne stepped back as she opened the passenger side door. Mariana looked up from the back seat, surprised at her appearance, “What exactly have you come dressed as?” Grimacing slightly, Anne stood patiently as she stepped out of the car. 

Mariana gave her a cursory glance up and down, “My bag’s in the back.” Anne shook her head, a snarl forming, Mariana ignored it and started walking towards the entrance. Anne reached into the back and pulled out a large holdall, Mariana was never one to travel light, but she wondered how long she expected to be away from home.

They rode the elevator in silence. Anne could feel her disapproving gaze on her. When the doors opened on Anne’s floor Mariana stepped out first, her key already in her hand. She went to the door and tried to open it but the lock would not turn. Anne came up behind her and put her key into the lock and pushed the door open. Mariana tutted and stepped in, turning the hallway lights on as she entered.

“You’ll have to get someone to check that lock if my key won’t work.”

“I changed the locks,” Anne replied casually as she dropped her bag with a thud. 

Mariana turned sharply, “Why would you do that?”

“You don’t live here Mariana. You never have.” Anne stepped past her and into the living room. 

She flicked on a few of the lamps, dimly lighting the room before she sank heavily into one of the armchairs. Mariana waltzed in, sitting in the chair opposite her. Anne tapped her hand impatiently on the arm of the chair.

“What happened?” Anne enquired, wanting to know why she was here.

“Do we have to talk about it?” Mariana clipped.

Anne tried not to roll her eyes, she wasn’t going to have her night ruined only to be met by a wall of silence, “Yes Mariana, we do.” She leaned back in her chair and brought one leg up so that her foot rested across her thigh. 

Mariana tutted as she saw how she was sat, she never approved of her sitting this way even though she’d told her she always found it comfortable. “What are you wearing anyway? That can’t be part of the approved line.” 

“No. I got it from- Why does it even matter?”

“You look like an idiot tourist,” pursing her lips in disdain. “Don’t tell me you’ve been going around London dressed like that?”

Anne felt her skin starting to crawl, in times past she would have ripped the baseball cap from her head and pulled the jumper off. Anything to stop the judgemental glances that were being fired her way. She had almost let those feelings of inadequacy ruin her day with Ann, she would not let them surface again. 

She brought her hand up to her cap. She saw a hint of a smile on Mariana’s lips when she thought that she was going to remove it, but instead she just adjusted it so it sat more squarely, she puffed out her chest slightly and straightened her jumper. “And what if I have?” Anne answered coolly.

Anne saw the defiance set into her eyes. This is normally where they would end up making the walls rattle with their angry jibes slung at each other or because she’d have her pressed up against one. They had been fire and fury from the start, constantly pushing each other until they came back full circle. 

She could see the wheels turning as Mariana tried to determine just how far she could push her today. They hadn’t really spoken since that night before the accident, when Mariana had refused to accept that they were over. Anne knew why she had attacked Ann the way she had at Wimbledon, classic Mariana. No one else was allowed to play with her toys, even if she didn’t want them anymore. That’s all she had been to her for so long. Something convenient that she could pick up whenever she wanted. An idle distraction to entertain herself with.

Anne started to simmer with the bitterness that filled her whenever she thought of how Mariana had treated her. The hollow promises that she would leave Charles, the times she would say she felt suffocated because Anne wanted to spend time with her, the near constant comparison with all of their friends. How Anne could simultaneously never be enough and too much. It was a necessary tactic she had taught herself in situations like this to remind her why she left. It was always too easy to remember how proud she felt that Mariana had wanted to be with her, how it felt when her body moved against hers, how much she had loved her. 

“Freddy. You know I say these things for your own good.” Ahh, this was her tactic tonight. “You’re in the spotlight now, whether you want to be or not. People take notice.” Marian raked her eyes once more over her outfit, “I wouldn’t want you to embarrass yourself. Or the people you’re with.”

There she was. Anne knew her true feelings would surface eventually. “And who exactly would I be embarrassing?” she asked, bating her further. 

“You know whom.” Anne remained impassive. “Your funny little friend. Miss Walker.”

Anne bristled. Mariana saw that she had hit a nerve. “She seems a delicate thing. I’m not sure she would cope, if that sort of attention were put upon her.” 

“I dare say she’d cope a lot better than you did,” Anne challenged. She felt that people often underestimated Ann, she had herself, but she had surprised her at every turn with her strength and kindness. 

It took a moment for Mariana to realise what it was she was referring to. It had been almost a year ago now, last summer, when she was in Cheshire. She knew that Anne was in Halifax visiting her family but she had gone up last minute as her sister had just announced her engagement. Her family had arranged for them to go hiking along Blackstone Edge, and she told Anne that she would meet her afterwards once she had spent sufficient time with them. 

It had been a month since they had last been able to see each other. They had both been busy in London with Sam’s campaign. Mariana had delighted in showing up to various functions in dresses that hung to perfectly to her every curve. Anne on her part had somehow managed to remain devastatingly handsome no matter which version of her signature black suit she wore. They tried unsuccessfully several times to steal themselves away, even if it was just for a moment, but it had been impossible.

By this time they were both equally desperate for each other. So much so that Anne had decided to make the short drive to Ripponden and then hike the rest of the way to Blackstone Edge to surprise her. It was an easy enough hike, even though it had been some time since she’d been rambling through Yorkshire’s valleys. Only she hadn’t planned for the sudden downpour halfway through, or for the rather slippery slope that had caused her to lose her footing and tumble rather unceremoniously down a muddy hill.

She had been driven purely by adrenalin and the knowledge that she would finally get to spend some time with Mariana, without having to steal a few moments when Eliza Priestley’s beady eyes weren’t on them. Thanks to an app of some sort that Marian had installed on her phone Anne had managed to pinpoint their exact location without having to ask Mariana where she was. The surprise would be perfect. Or so she had hoped.

When she burst into the pub and saw Mariana with her family, the look of abject horror on her face when she saw Anne grinning like a fool, covered in mud was enough to erase any joy she had felt at the prospect of seeing her. She had tried to shrink away but Mariana’s family had already seen Anne and had insisted she join them. 

They had been good natured about her appearance, understanding how quickly the weather turned. Mariana however had chosen to make several jokes at her expense about how she didn’t understand how they had ever remained friends for so long when she was so careless. She would never find anyone to settle down with if she insisted on barging into establishments covered in mud, not having the good sense just to go home. She only hoped that no one in London would hear of it or what would people think? 

Something in Anne had broken that day as she tried to smile through the taunts flung at her. Everything said with a smile and a jovial laugh, yet Anne felt the barbs deep within her. The cackling laughter as Mariana pointed out her every flaw reverberating through her entire body. 

It was a memory Anne tried to bury deep within her. There were plenty more she could call upon to remind her why she had chosen to end things with Mariana for good. The pain of that one often still felt too raw. Only it had been forced to the front of her mind, pulled there by the disdain Mariana wore upon her face even now. Except today there was another memory that accompanied it, the one of Ann. 

Ann, telling her that she looked perfect, dressing her in this ridiculous jumper and refusing to walk without their arms intertwined together through one of London’s most fashionable neighbourhoods. The half-completed sentence where she struggled to tell her that she couldn’t have been prouder to have been there with her. Half-complete because she so desperately wanted to say the right thing to make her feel better. 

Anne pulled the cap from her head and slowly ran her hands through her hair. She didn’t need to put on this show. She heard an exasperated sigh from across the room, “Finally. That hat was absurd Freddy.”

She leant forward, tiredness creeping into her voice but laden with the courage Ann had given her. “I’d just like to know at what point I became an embarrassment to you? That you couldn’t even bear to be seen with me.” Mariana sat back in her chair, refusing to respond. Anne bowed her head, pausing to decide if she really wanted to ask this next question, but life had been breathed into the moment she thought of it. “When was it you stopped loving me Mary?”

Anne tilted her head up to look at her, she didn’t care how vulnerable she may have looked, the question had been asked. Mariana was staring back at her in disbelief, stunned into silence by the apparent audacity of her question. Her jaw set, as she curled her upper lip in her unrepentant response, “Perhaps round about the same time you started running around with all those other women.” 

Why did Anne think she would be met with anything but anger? She bit her lip, not wanting to retaliate. She knew that she would never receive an answer. Not one that didn’t paint Mariana as anything but the victim.

“How many were there Freddy?” She paused, pretending to rack her brain for the list of women Anne had been with over the years. “Let’s see,” she tapped her finger against her lip as though deep in thought. “Sibella of course, you traipsed all around Scotland for that one.  Maria, I’m sure there were several parts of Paris the two of you defiled together.” Mariana’s glare bore into her, searching for that weak spot. 

“Then there was Vere, you had to behave yourself with her, wouldn’t want her family to get upset and take away that wonderful inheritance and title of hers. And of course Tib,” Anne’s head lifted slightly at the mention of her name. A tight smile started to form on Mariana’s lips, “Poor Tib. Always picking back up with her when everyone else had enough of you.” Anne gripped the arm of the chair tightly, Mariana’s self-satisfied grin spreading across her face, 

“And now, Miss Walker and her 10,000 acres?”

“Her name is Ann,” the tight-lipped response the only one she could form right now and still remain civil.

“You act the martyr Anne but I was the one who had to stand there and watch you parade your women in front of me. See them clinging onto your arm as you dazzled your way through a crowd.” 

“You were married to Charles!” Anne bellowed.

“You were supposed to wait!” she hurled back. 

“For what?” It was almost a roar as the outrage coursed through Anne’s body.

“For me!” 

They both sank back into their seats, shocked at Mariana’s admission. She had laid claim to Anne, expecting her to live some kind of half-life as she waited for her.

“You were supposed to love me enough to wait.” Mariana said quietly.

They remained silent, the air filling with the words they’d spoken. 

===

Ann washed the last remnants of the rainbow from her face. She’d forgotten it was there until she’d looked in the mirror when she had gone to get ready for bed. A happy reminder of the day that she had. She sighed happily as she reached for the phone on her nightstand to make sure that it was plugged in for the night.

It was almost 1am but she still felt a gentle buzz from the day’s events. She could have easily stayed up for at least another hour, but with no one to keep her company it seemed a bit silly. She picked up Catherine’s skirt  from the top of her bed, she’d left it there when she had finally managed to persuade her to wear one that was slightly less indecent. 

As she took it into her room she wondered whether she would stumble home in a few hours or if she’d just decide to stay out all night the way they used to at uni. It had been a decade since they’d graduated but sometimes it felt like Catherine had never stopped partying. Elizabeth had told them both that it would change as soon as they hit 30 but so far there was no slowing her down. 

She was glad that Catherine had suggested they go to Pride, although without the added incentive of spending the whole day with Anne, she wasn’t sure she would have been so eager. It had almost been the perfect day, except of course that moment when Anne was worried about how she looked. She still didn’t quite understand what had happened, but she was glad that they were able to get over it and enjoy their meal. Then of course, there was the end of the night.

Ann went around the flat making sure everything was locked up and all the lights turned off before heading back to her bedroom. From across the room she saw her phone light up with a message and she immediately pounced on her bed to scramble across to get to it. She groaned when she saw it was just Catherine, ‘Still out with the gays (get it!). Tib’s sorted some place for us to say so you won’t be disturbed! 😉😉 nudge-nudge ’. 

She lay back on her bed, phone beside her. She loved that Catherine was having a good time but she couldn’t stop from being disappointed that the message hadn’t been from Anne. Just then she saw her phone light up again and she brought it to her face instantly. She sighed heavily, another message from Catherine, ‘Make sure you wipe down all the surfaces you two shag on before I get home! Enjoy! 😉’ She burst into hysterical laughter. She was the absolute worst.

As she got under the covers Ann couldn’t help wishing that she had to wake up frantically the next morning to make sure all the surfaces were clean because Anne hadn’t been able to keep her hands off her. If only she sighed. The flat was actually spotless now thanks to her frantic cleaning. That’s how she had spent the rest of the night trying not to spiral as her thoughts came up with increasingly more ridiculous reasons for Anne’s sudden departure. She should have just asked her but Anne hadn’t offered the information and she didn’t want to pry. No, Anne must have had a good reason to have left and she had managed to convince herself that was enough.

She pulled one of the pillows close into her body and held it tightly, thinking she could be holding Anne like this right now instead. She understood that they were taking their time, and she adored every moment they spent getting to know each other, only they had come so close on the doorstep. She could almost feel the weight of Anne’s lips on hers. And then that stupid ringtone! 

Ann buried her head into the pillow willing herself not to think of the featherlight touches that Anne had placed on her cheek as she drew nearer. She closed her eyes and tried to think of earlier in the day, when they had been strolling through the park, enjoying the warmth of the setting sun. Anne’s fingers entwined with hers, how good it felt to be connected to her by her long dexterous fingers. Those hands that she was often mesmerised by as she moved them animatedly through the air as she spoke. Her mind started to wander as she thought of all marvellous things those hands could do. It was no use, she wasn’t going to get any sleep at this rate.

She turned over and reached for her phone. A quick text to make sure she was alright, to let her know that she was thinking about her. By the pounding in her chest and the warmth she felt at her core she was definitely thinking about her. Anne didn’t need to know the details though. She quickly fired off a text and put her phone back on the bedside table face down so it wouldn’t disturb her. There. Done. She turned onto her back and willed for sleep to come.

===

Tib stumbled clumsily into the flat above Anne’s office. She had the bright idea of staying there since they were only a short taxi ride away and they hadn’t heard from either of the Annes. The last thing any of them wanted to do was to walk in on them wherever they had ended up. Marian and Catherine followed noisily after her.

“Shhh!” Tib nearly yelled.

Marian silently mouthed an apology as she stealthily tiptoed in. Tib flicked on a lamp as Marian stood upright, “Wait. Who are we being quiet for? There’s no one else in the building.” Tib shrugged her shoulders and burst out laughing as she fell backwards onto the sofa, Catherine joining her a moment later.

She stood surveying the flat. It was small but a decent size for somewhere to stay occasionally. It had a moderately sized living room with a kitchenette, a hallway leading off where Marian presumed the bathroom and bedroom were located. The furniture was modern and minimal, the majority of the room taken up by the large sofa Catherine and Tib were sprawled across. 

She wasn’t surprised that neither of them were standing, they had drunk far more than she had and she was feeling more than a little light-headed. Marian was glad she had gone with them though, she hadn’t had that much fun in ages, certainly not in Halifax. Besides, she had witnessed the way the Annes had been staring at each other all day, the incessant hand holding, she had no desire to be their third wheel.

“Bedroom’s through there,” Tib mumbled and pointed down the hallway. “Bathroom too. Spare clothes in the cupboard.” 

“Perfect,” Marian said to herself as she marched down the doorway.

Tib tried to sit up, half-managing to rest against the back of the sofa, her long legs spread out in front of her. Catherine had crawled to the other side of the sofa, face down, the bottom half of her body half on the sofa, half dangling over the side. Tib nudged her leg with her foot, that at least got her to heave the rest of her body up. 

She pulled herself along the sofa, looking back to see Tib on the other end. She flopped over so she was facing the right way again. That really was a big mistake trying to match her drink-for-drink. She should have been more sensible, like Marian. Catherine thought how much of an unexpected surprise Marian had been.

Ann had always said how nice she was but Catherine had never really given her much of a chance back home, she imagined it must be hard to live in a shadow as big as the one Anne cast. After tonight’s shenanigans that saw them both dancing rather precariously on top of some wheelie bins she would definitely be calling her up to go out for drinks next time she was home.

Catherine looked around her, not quite sure where she was, she’d definitely not been here before. There was a vague recollection that this place had something to do with Tib. She saw some framed pictures on the sideboard behind the sofa. She leaned forward, peering at one of a picture of two people that looked vaguely like Anne and Tib. A much younger version of them, but definitely them. She picked up the frame and held it up to her face, squinting to bring it into focus. 

She nudged Tib with her foot. No response. She nudged her a little harder. There was an incoherent groan, at least she was conscious. “Is this you and Lister?” Tib flopped her head to the side and opened one eye. Catherine was holding the picture frame up, “Yes that’s us. Back in our uni heyday.”

Catherine scrutinised the photo more carefully. Tib looked exactly like she did today, impeccably dressed in a sharp dark grey suit. Fewer wrinkles around the eyes perhaps, and there was an obvious lightness to her. Next to her, Anne looked striking. And oh my goodness, she wasn’t wearing black! Sure it was still a suit, but it was red! Catherine couldn’t remember ever seeing her in anything but her signature black.

“Before she dressed like she was going to a funeral.” Catherine lowered the photo, Tib was smiling lazily at her, both eyes opened now. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen her in colour.”

“No, I don’t suppose you would have.”

Catherine glanced back down at the photo still in her hands. They were both smiling so broadly, but it was more than that. That’s when she noticed Tib’s arm wrapped around Anne’s waist, holding her close. Her mouth dropped open as her head shot up, “Were you and Anne?”

Tib let out a little laugh. The ball had finally dropped. “For a time. Yes.” 

She couldn’t believe it. It was obvious that they had known each other for years, the way they joked back and forth, there was an intimacy that only came with time. She hadn’t thought that they had actually been in a relationship though. “What happened?” The question tumbled out of her mouth before she realised. She hadn’t meant to be so intrusive and wished even more she hadn’t asked it when she saw Tib shifting uncomfortably to sit upright. 

She took a breath and answered ruefully, “Mariana.”

“That witch from the tennis?” Another slip of the tongue. Catherine really needed to watch how much she drank. It at least earned another laugh.

“One and the same.” Catherine scrunched her nose. “It gets worse.”

Catherine gasped, “How?”

“Say hello to the idiot that introduced them!” Tib had tried to make it sound lighthearted but there was a hurt underscoring her words.

Catherine’s eyes were like saucers at Tib’s confession. The couple in the photo looked so happy together, and she had witnessed the chemistry between them, how could Anne ever have given that up?

“I lost Anne the moment she saw her.” Tib turned to face her, her arm stretched across the back of the sofa, “No one stood a chance.” 

“I can’t believe she chose her over you.”

Tib reached out, taking the photo from Catherine. She looked down at it, remembering a different lifetime. “Believe it. She chose her over everyone.”

“Oh.” Catherine’s reaction caused Tib to look up sharply as she remembered who she was talking to. 

“You shouldn’t worry. She seems different with Ann.” Catherine didn’t look convinced. Tib continued to look at the photo as she placed it carefully back onto the sideboard, “I’ve not seen her this happy since.” There was a telling pause as she turned back to Catherine, “Well, since the start of them. Maybe not even then.”

Catherine started to nod slowly. Tib tried to flash her most winning smile, “Lister won’t fuck this up.”

===

Mariana slowly rose from her seat, “I need a drink.” She silently tilted her head, which Anne responded to with a nod. She made her way to the drinks cabinet in the corner of the room.

Anne thought perhaps they should stop, how much more could they demand of each other tonight? They had been tearing pieces of flesh from each other since Blackstone Edge, before then. Was there anything left of them? 

Mariana finished pouring them their drinks and cautiously walked over to where Anne sat. She slowly dropped to her knees in front of her, gently placing her hands on her lap. “Freddy,” she pleaded. 

“You didn’t come here to fight Mary. What is it you want from me?” Anne asked with a weary kindness. 

“Can’t you see Freddy?” she reached up and held her hands in her own.

Anne leaned in, looking closely at how their hands molded together, it had been so long since she held them like this. She bit the inside of her cheek, trying to not let the hurt overwhelm the moment. She needed to finish this. “Would you leave him Mary? If I said let’s go, move away with me today.” 

Mariana looked up at her, Anne steeled herself for the response. Mariana bowed her head and placed a single kiss to their hands as she looked back at Anne, “I can’t.” 

Anne pulled her hands back into her lap.

“The Mayor.”

“This has nothing to do with Samuel,” Anne countered.

She sat back on her legs, “There’d be a scandal.”

“Yes, probably.” Anne shook her head, “But then there’d be us.” 

Mariana turned her head away. Anne had the answer she knew was always coming, the one that she had avoided. It really didn’t matter what their situation was, she would never choose her.

Anne pushed herself up from her chair, she was thoroughly drained. “I’ll put your bag in my room. You can stay in there tonight.” Mariana looked up at her. “Alone.” She nodded, it was more than she deserved.

As Anne stepped past her she spoke quietly, “I am, sorry.” 

Without turning to face her Anne paused in the doorway, “For what exactly?”

“For this. For all of it.” She heard her stand, “If it makes you feel any better, I’m miserable.”

Anne shook her head and turned to face her, “Do you really think that would make me feel better?”

Mariana looked meek as she stood, her hands grasped together in front of her, “No, I know. I wasn’t lying when I said I needed you tonight.” Anne opened her mouth to speak but Mariana held up a hand, “Not like that. I just wanted someone who I know I could talk to and be true to.” She walked over to where Anne stood and placed her hand gently on her arm, “I hope we still have that.” 

Anne looked down at her hand, she wanted to place her hand atop hers and tell her of course, they would always have that. She hated that this is what they had become. That she worried any moment of kindness would create a weakness readily exploited. When had her heart turned so cold? Could it possibly be any different with Ann? What if she was too broken? 

“Freddy?” Anne tried to ignore the concern hinted at in the question. 

She straightened and pulled her arm away, “I’ll get your bag. You know where everything is.” 

===

If I forgot to tell you, I had a really great time today. I hope everything’s okay. I wish I’d kissed you goodnight. This will have to do. X ’ Anne had read the message from Ann half a dozen times before she no longer had to read it to remember what it said. She placed the phone on her chest as she lay under the covers staring up at the ceiling, exhausted but unable to sleep.

The same question running through her mind, how had the perfect day turned into this? She shouldn’t have answered her phone. It was that simple. She was a breath away from finally knowing what it was to feel the press of her lips against Ann’s. To feel those lithe arms wrap themselves around her neck as she carried her up the stairs. Tumbling through her flat, searching for her room. The way Anne had felt she wasn’t actually sure they would have made it to her room. It wouldn’t have mattered, just to feel the exquisite push of Ann’s body against hers. She could feel her body craving it even now. Her damn phone.

She had wanted answers for so long, but why did they have to come on this night? Wasn’t she allowed one moment that wasn’t tainted by her past mistakes? She supposed that’s what Mariana was supposed to be now, a mistake. One she had spent almost half her life repeatedly making. What did that say of her? 

Anne knew the fighting was over, there was nothing left of each other to take. This uneasy truce between them after everything laid bare. It was an unknown that she would have to navigate, but not tonight. 

The tapping of her finger on the back of her phone kept time with the beat she felt in her chest. At least that still worked. Her mind turned again to Ann. She should have kissed her goodnight. She should have stayed. 

She turned onto her side, the phone falling from her chest. Ann’s message still on the screen. All the words she had written, suddenly she had none. She typed her response and put the phone on the table beside the bed, staring out at the night sky. No hope of sleep.

===

On the other side of the river, as Ann snored quietly in her sleep, she didn’t hear her phone chime as the message came through from Anne. A simple, ‘X ’.

Chapter Text

“Arghhhhh!” Marian’s piercing scream woke Anne abruptly from her sleep. She had finally managed to fall asleep around 4am just as it started to get light. She was not used to seeing that side of the morning, but there had been a lot on her mind. None of it made any clearer by the shrill noise coming from her sister.

“What the fuck’s going on?” Tib yelled as she came crashing into the room. 

Anne groaned into the pillow, “I was trying to sleep.”

“What are you doing in my room?”

She flopped over, “Your room?” she asked incredulously. “You’ll find all of the rooms in my flat are in fact mine Marian.” 

Her sister huffed as she crossed her arms, “You know what I mean.”

“Well it was better that you find me in your room than anyone else.” Anne shuffled out from under the covers, there was no way she was going to get anymore sleep now.

“And who else would be in my room?” Marian asked as she swept past her. “Is Ann? Did you two have a fight?” Marian gasped, “What did you do Anne?”

“Don’t tell me you fucked this up already Lister?” Tib joined Marian, standing side by side, arms folded across her chest as they stared her down.

Anne scowled at the two of them and made a mental note to never let the two of them stay with her at the same time again, not that she had invited them this time. “I didn’t do anything.” She started to pout, why did everyone always assume that she’d done something wrong? It could have just as easily have been Ann that did something wrong if she were there. Well, probably not. But still, it was unfair. 

“Where did you two sleep anyway?” Anne asked, realising they were still in the same clothes they wore to Pride. They looked far too fresh faced to have been out all night. She actually hadn’t intended on them getting home before she had woken up. In fact she’d hoped that they might have been too hungover and showed up some time after lunch.

“We slept at the Court,” Tib answered.

“The office? My office?”

“My building,” Tib happily reminded her. Anne couldn’t remember why she didn’t just move and stop having her be able to lord that fact over her. She would have to look into it again.

“The three of you stayed there?”

“Yes,” Marian chimed.

“In the same room?” Anne wasn’t sure she wanted answers to these questions. 

“In the same bed.” There was more than a hint of mischievous lascivity in Tib’s tone. 

“Tib,” she really didn’t want to know the answer to this. Marian giggled at the game Tib was playing with Anne, knowing full well she’d slept alone in the more than spacious bed. She really did know how to push all of her buttons. 

“Don’t Tib me. You know better than anyone that bed fits three perfectly well.” Tib winked knowingly at Anne who refused to look her in the eye. 

Marian’s glee turned to feigned horror at the exchange between them, “Oh no...you didn’t. In the bed I slept in last night?” She turned away from them, “I’m going to be sick.”

“Don’t be ridiculous Marian!” Her sister was such a child sometimes.

She pretended to heave, “I think I just threw up a little in my mouth.”

Anne suddenly realised that Tib had said the three of them had stayed at the office flat, “So Catherine stayed with you too? That means Ann was all alone last night.”

Tib shook her head at the disapproving tone, “She was supposed to be with you!”

Marian turned to them slowly, “Wait.” They both turned to her. “If you stayed in here. And Ann was home alone. Who’s in your room?” 

Anne’s mouth dropped open, “Ahh. Well.” 

It was too late. Marian bolted out of the room and down the hallway to Anne’s room. Anne quickly turned to follow her but felt Tib’s shoulder come crashing into her side as she tackled her onto the unmade bed. She was too winded to stop her from running after Marian.

“For the love of God no!”

That’ll be Marian, Anne thought as she groaned, clutching her side where Tib had slammed into her. She was remarkably spry considering their age.

“Arghhh!” 

That’ll be Mariana’s high-pitched scream. That had been the second woman screaming the walls down this morning, and not in a good way. Anne hoped that she had at least worn something to bed.

“For fuck’s sake Lister!” 

And there’s Tib. Anne lay staring at the ceiling wishing the bed would just swallow her whole.

===

The alluring smell of bacon wafted through the air and roused Ann from a fitful sleep. For a moment in her dream-state she imagined Anne had gotten out of bed early to surprise her with breakfast. Only Anne hadn’t spent the night. As reality tried to fight back she thought maybe she’d come over early and was creating a mountain of sausages in her kitchen as she spoke. Then she thought how would she have gotten in? As she hesitantly started to wake Ann realised that Catherine must be home, or a hungry burglar. Whoever they were, she hoped they’d made enough for two.

She pushed the covers off and sat up, stretching her arms high above her head as she let out a lion-sized yawn. She blinked the sleep from her eyes as she glanced at her phone on the bedside table. Suddenly she remembered that she had messaged Anne last night and hurriedly picked up the phone to check if she’d replied. 

When she opened up her messenger app she felt a little crestfallen. Anne had replied with a solitary ‘X ’. What did that mean? Was it an acknowledgement that she’d received the message but didn’t want to reply with anything else? She sometimes took a while to reply but it was always more than one character. Was it a kiss returned? If so was it just a cursory kiss sent without any thought behind it?

There was a quick knocking on the door before she heard Catherine call out, “If you’re not decent it’s too late!” before she pushed the door open. She stood in the doorway, one hand covering her eyes, “Is it safe?” She slowly opened up her fingers, followed by one eye. She saw Ann sat on the bed, her nose all scrunched up staring at her phone, “Oh, well this isn’t what I expected at all.” 

Catherine bent down and lifted the covers to look under the bed. Then she moved quickly to the wardrobe and made a show of searching it before turning back to Ann, “Alright Walker, where have you hidden her?” She let out a loud gasp as she clutched her hands to her chest, “Oh my god! You had your wicked way with her and then sent her home!” Catherine had a teasing grin on her face as she smiled triumphantly, “Way to show her who’s boss Annie!” 

There was a small smile on her lips. That was slightly better than before but Catherine was a bit perturbed that she’d wasted a bunch of quality jokes and that was all she’d gotten in return. She belly flopped onto the end of the bed, bringing her arms up underneath her so she could rest her chin on her hands, “Okay, I’m ready. Tell me everything. Every scandalous detail. I’m already horizontal so it won’t matter if I faint.”

It felt like their uni days all over again when Catherine would stumble in after a night out full of stories and Ann would listen ardently and try not to laugh or look too disapproving. Catherine quite enjoyed the sudden role reversal, although as she waited for Ann to start it didn’t feel like those nights at all. She looked on concerned as Ann started to twist the covers in her hand as she looked around nervously.

Catherine sat up and moved towards her, “Ann, what happened?” She placed her hands on top of hers to stop her pulling at the sheets. She tilted her head so that Ann couldn’t avoid her. She could see the dull blue hues hidden behind the pool of tears that were starting to form, “That’s not the face of someone who’s been shagged six ways to Sunday by the person she’s had a crush on since forever.” 

Ann fought to stop her feelings from overwhelming her. She bowed her head and said almost inaudibly into her lap, “She didn’t stay.” Catherine inched her head a little closer to try and hear her. Ann took a breath, she could do this. She just needed to explain what had happened to Catherine and then she’d be able to talk her out of the well of inadequacy that was threatening to pull her down. “She left.” 

“She left?” Catherine repeated. Ann nodded. “Did it...did it go…” She hesitated as she tried to find a suitable word that wouldn’t upset her any further, “Badly?” 

Ann shrugged her shoulders, “She got a phone call and she had to go.”

“She got a call and she left?” Ann nodded again, this wasn’t going to be very helpful if all Catherine was going to do was repeat everything she said. “Well, who was it?” 

“I didn’t ask.” Catherine sat back and stared pointedly at her. “I didn’t want to pry,” Ann quietly protested. “It sounded like it was important.”

“You’re important!” Ann winced a little at Catherine’s assertion even though she knew she was right. Catherine shook her head admonishingly, “Sorry Annie, I didn’t mean to yell.” Ann lent back against the headboard wondering if she should ask her opinion on the text. Her lips were pursed together, deep in thought, “She didn’t give any clue who it was?” Ann shook her head. Catherine wrinkled her nose, “I hope it wasn’t that bitch ex of hers.”

Ann instantly sat up at the mention of an ex, “Who?”

Catherine’s mouth dropped open slightly. She probably shouldn’t have dropped this topic into the conversation so haphazardly. Ann was looking at her expectantly, it was too late to back out now, “How much do you know about Anne’s exes?” 

“We haven’t had the ex conversation yet,” Ann replied. “We haven’t even had the “Are we girlfriends?” conversation yet,” she added, a hint of defeat in her voice.

Catherine lowered her eyebrows into a quizzical frown, “Well I think if you’ve shagged her then that conversation is a bit of a formality.” 

“We didn’t,” came the quiet response. 

Catherine groaned, “Alright, fine. Make love. Or whatever it is you kids want to call it.”

“No I meant we didn’t-” her voice tremulous as she made her confession, “We didn’t have...sex.”

She blinked rapidly as she looked at her, “Wait? What?” Ann felt herself shrinking into the covers. She unintentionally started to pull them up slowly as Catherine stared agog, “You did have Anne Lister in here right?” She pulled the covers down as she saw Ann trying to inch them up further, “I saw the two of you, you were all over each other.”

“Were we?” Ann was doubtful that they had been, if they had then surely Anne wouldn’t have left her on her doorstep the way she had.

“Well, as much as you’re ever all over someone.” Ann had been in relationships before, but Catherine knew that she was never overly affectionate in public. She had been surprised at the way Ann had been with Anne, you could hardly see daylight between the two of them most of the time. Hand-holding might seem like playground romance to most but she knew that it was a deep sign of affection for Ann. 

However, this was Anne Lister she was with. Catherine knew all the stories, mostly from her grandmother, who took endless enjoyment from scandalising anyone with whatever the current gossip was about Halifax’s residents. “So you didn’t...you know?” Ann looked at her quizzically. 

Catherine dropped her shoulders and sighed, she had been trying to save her best friend’s delicate sensibilities but if she was going to be this way she had no choice. She held her hands up and made her middle and index fingers into two ‘v’s and brought the two of them together suggestively.

Ann’s eyes widened when she realised what she was doing, “Catherine!” She was absolutely mortified. She wrenched the covers over her head and buried herself deep within them. 

Try as she might, Catherine relished in horrifying her best friend. She was definitely of her grandmother’s bloodline, “I’ll take that as a no then.” 

A muffled voice spoke out from under the bedding, “I didn’t even get her in here.”

“Alright. Stop. We need to start this conversation again. Budge over.” Ann scooted into the middle of the bed as Catherine got under the covers with her. “Alright you, from the beginning.”

===

There was an uncomfortable silence as they sat at the kitchen table, Anne flanked by Marian and Tib on either side of her. Mariana still hadn’t surfaced from Anne’s room. They had never looked more disappointed. Marian must have taken lessons from their aunt. 

“We didn’t do anything.” Anne offered quietly, not wanting Mariana to know they were talking about her.

“You let her stay!” Marian bellowed. Wonderful Anne thought, there went any pretence.

“She had nowhere else to go.” 

Tib jeered, “Mariana fucking Lawton is hardly destitute!” 

Anne reached for her coffee, she wished she’d made it stronger if this was what she would have to deal with.

“No Tib, she’s not. But she needed my help.” Tib scoffed as she took a long drink. Anne was still surprised that the two of them had made it back so early. She wasn’t sure what her plan had been, but it certainly hadn’t been for them to charge into her room and find Mariana asleep in her bed, even if she was alone.

Anne hated feeling so uncomfortable in her own home. She picked up her toast and reached for the Marmite, she saw Marian rolling her eyes. Her sister never did have any taste. She glanced over at Tib, “How are you not clinging to some sink somewhere anyway?”

“You can’t be hungover if you never stop drinking,” Tib raised her glass, Anne guessed that the orange juice she thought she’d been drinking was probably laced with vodka. 

It was then that Mariana made an appearance. The air became charged as soon as she stepped into the kitchen, a tight smile across her lips. Anne was grateful she had chosen to get dressed and wasn’t just clad in a robe or her night things. She offered a quiet, “Good morning” greeting before taking the seat opposite Anne and pouring herself a cup of tea. 

“What time is your train, Marian?” Anne knew the answer but she was desperate to end the icey silence. 

“I changed it to tomorrow. I didn’t want to get back late.” Taking a sip from her tea she added coolly, “Had I known it would be so crowded here I wouldn’t have bothered.” She saw Anne’s jaw strain as she chewed her toast. “Besides, John’s busy today. I wouldn’t want to have to ask one of the lads to pick me up from the station.”

Anne was relieved at the change of topic. Surely they could sit over breakfast talking about Shibden without coming to blows, “Ahh yes, he mentioned in his last email that he wanted to do some work around the grounds. Excellent.”

“Are you still planning to come up for the Bank Holiday?” At this point Marian could care less what her sister’s plans were but she was willing to keep up the act if it meant she wouldn’t have to talk to the dreadful woman at the other end of the table.

“Yes,” Anne answered between mouthfuls. “I should still be able to. The GLA usually goes into recess. Not as long as the MPs, but I’ll get some time off.” 

“Aunt will be glad to see you.” Anne smiled at the mention of her beloved aunt. It had been too long since she had seen her. “You should bring Ann with you. She was thrilled when I mentioned that the two of you were spending time together.” 

“Always had impeccable taste, your aunt.” Tib cheerily added, knowing that the elder Listers had never been fans of Mariana, a fact that she was all too aware of.

Anne carefully considered the idea. They were still in the very early stages of whatever this was and a trip home to meet the family would be a statement she was not sure either of them were willing to make. They still had time to consider their options. Anne let a small smile form on her lips as she thought of introducing Ann to her aunt. Maybe not as her girlfriend, dependent on what Ann was comfortable with, but certainly as someone who was important to her.

“I’ll be in York at the end of the summer.” Anne looked up as Mariana spoke, “It’s Eliza’s wedding,” she added even though Tib nor Marian even glanced in her direction. “It’ll be quite the event of the summer.” Anne smiled, glad that she was at least making an effort to join in the polite breakfast conversation, perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad after all. 

Tib smirked at her haughtiness, she really couldn’t help from drawing the conversation back to her. This was perfect. She took a sip of her drink before turning to Anne, “Which one’s Eliza agan?” Anne stopped chewing her food. Tib smiled mischievously, “The one you f-”

“Tib.” Anne cautioned.

“No that was Nantz.” Anne turned sharply to face Marian who looked on smugly as she ate her toast. They were in this together, “She’s the sister Anne slept with.”

“Marian.” She felt her throat tighten. Mariana was too rehearsed to show how uncomfortable this conversation was making her. 

“Right. Another Anne.” 

“Tib.” She couldn’t believe that she was being attacked by her sister and best friend at her own table. She would disown the both of them.

“Whilst she was on honeymoon.” 

“Marian!” Anne’s jaw dropped. How did she even know all of this? She had never spoken of it to her.

“Your sister was very busy that week as I recall Marian.” 

“Tib.” Anne turned to her hoping her steely gaze would stop her from going any further. A scornful smile played on Tib’s lips as she turned to Mariana for the first time, “Louisa too right? That’s the other sister.” The licentiously laced words falling easily from Tib’s lips as she slowly traced her tongue along them. “Must run in the family.”

“Enough!” Anne slammed her hand on the table causing Mariana to jump, the other two acting as though they were just discussing the weather. She sent a warning glance at her sister, she would not tolerate this.

Marian smiled politely, “Something that we’ve said that wasn’t true?”

She tried to keep her tone calm and even, “I understand how the both of you feel, but Mariana is my guest.”

“You are the company you keep, Anne.” Tib said bluntly. The use of her own name grated against Anne as she glared across at her. 

They looked at her defiantly, “I will not have someone disrespected in my own home.”

Tib launched herself up from her seat, driving it back against the wall. “Ha! That’s rich.” Anne immediately regretted her choice of words. Tib towered over her, fighting the urge to release the vitriol that had been building in her gut. Anne tilted her head up slowly, their eyes locked in combat. Tib inhaled deeply through her clenched jaw before turning her head to glare at Mariana who had shrunk back into her seat. Straightening she looked back down at Anne, her eyes narrowing as she snarled, “Next time you talk to me about disrespect, you remember whose home you were in when the two of you got together.”

“Tib,” Anne balked. She softened her shoulders, her hand reaching up to offer an apology but it was shot down by the hard set of Tib’s jaw. The anger of betrayal painfully evident in every movement as she left them in silence.

Anne hung her head ashamedly. She had not intended things to go like this. She had been so caught up in her history with Mariana that she had ignored Tib’s. 

She looked up at the sound of Marian rising from the table. She was still obviously unhappy about the situation but she tried to look kindly upon her sister, “I’ll go.” Anne simply nodded. Marian tilted her head towards the other end of the table, “Fix this Anne.” Another small nod. Marian lightly squeezed her shoulder as she went to find Tib.

===

Tib had thrown all of her things into a bag and left without even looking in Anne’s direction again. Marian had tried to get her to stay but with far too much liquid courage coursing through her veins she knew she’d never be able to persuade her. Tib and Anne both knew that the other had stepped too far, that was the best and worst part about knowing each other for over half their lives - they knew where all the scars were. 

Anne placed Mariana’s bag in the back of the waiting car and then stepped to the side. She rested her hand on top of the open car door. A perfect reversal of the previous night. As Mariana stepped into the car she turned to look at her almost adoringly. Anne bowed her head, she couldn’t muster a smile. 

“Freddy,” Anne looked up expectantly, her eyebrows arched. Mariana tilted her head sympathetically, “Oh Freddy.” 

“You should go, Mary.”

Mariana placed her hand on top of Anne’s, her brow furrowed with concern, “Not while you’re like this.” 

“I’ll be alright.” She rocked back and forth on her heels doing her best to convince the both of them. “I’m always alright.” She managed a slight smirk.

Mariana gave her a playful nudge as she leaned in and kissed her gently on her cheek, “I’ll be at The Dorchester, if you need me.” 

“You’re not going home?”

She drew back, “No. I think everyone in this marriage can do with a little break.” Anne bit her lip as Mariana got into the car. She turned and looked up at the flat wistfully, Mariana followed her gaze, “They’ll forgive you.” 

“Hmm,” she replied distractedly. 

“Marian, she’s your sister. And Tib,” there was a knowing pause shared between them, “Well, we’ve done worse.” Anne gave a self-deprecating chuckle, they certainly had. 

She felt a light pull on her hand and she turned her attention back to Mariana. “And she’s who you want, Miss Walker?” Anne’s lips tightened, a glare threatening. “Fine. It’s going to get confusing,” she tutted. “Ann. She’s who you want.” The smile that tugged on Anne’s lips was answer enough. 

She cast her gaze down, that was the first time she had seen a smile since she had shown up last night. Anne crouched down, Mariana sat up blinking back her tears, choking them back she offered a strained smile, “I’ll be fine.”

Anne dropped to one knee, leaning her elbow against her thigh, “Somewhere there’s a version of us that gets to wake up next to each other. Every day.” She felt Mariana’s hand come up to rest against her neck, gently rubbing. She held it there a moment, but then slowly pulled it away. She looked at her directly, “But not this version of us. Not anymore.”

Mariana turned away, she couldn’t look at her anymore knowing that she no longer held the place in Anne’s heart. Anne tried to speak but she waved her away and leaned forward to pull the door close. 

As her car pulled away she dabbed the traitorous tears that threatened to escape. She took out her phone and composed herself as it rang. “I need you to find out all you can about someone for me,” her voice ice cold. “Ann Walker. Halifax. I want everything.”

==

Catherine looked on worriedly as Ann sat quietly on the sofa staring out of the window. She had been quite most of the morning following their conversation. She hadn’t been able to tell her much. Despite the obvious hurt that Tib still felt, she had not said more than acknowledging that Anne had been in a continued relationship with Mariana for almost two decades. Regardless of her husband, and whomever Anne was in a relationship with. That last part is what seemed to have bothered Ann the most.

She had known from the way Mariana had treated her at Wimbledon that there was a history she had not been told. Ann also recalled their first meeting on the bridge when the shouty woman, who she finally learnt was Mariana, had said that she couldn’t be seen with Anne. It had all started to make sense. 

Ann had spent the morning methodically analysing every moment she had spent with Anne. Questioning every phone call and message she had received, had they been from her? Was she just passing time with Ann whilst she waited for a stolen moment with the woman she actually wanted to be with. 

Anne had been so attentive to everything she needed. She had listened keenly when she spoke, always searching for her hand whenever they were together. There was an undeniable pull between the two of them. Ann tried to remind herself of how Anne had looked at her, how it felt to be held in her arms, how close they had almost come to that first kiss. Every part of her body had felt electrified under her touch. But this was Anne Lister. Isn’t that what she did to women? Isn’t that what all the idle gossips had been saying for years?

Her stomach churned as she thought of last night. She felt so foolish now as she remembered how they had spent their day - eating Chinese food and getting bubble tea. Anne probably wanted to go somewhere with real napkins, not drink some strange purple drink from a jumbo sized plastic straw. Then making her wear that silly jumper. Anne was always impeccably dressed, what had she been thinking? No wonder she hadn’t wanted to stay with her. She must have been counting down until she knew Mariana was free and she could finally leave.

Catherine came to sit next to her, concern knitted across her brow. The metallic taste filled Ann’s mouth as she bit her lip trying to stem the tears that had already started. Catherine wrapped her arms tight around her and held her close as she sobbed into her shoulder, “It’ll be okay Annie.” She gently rubbed her back as she tried to calm her, “You just need to talk to her.”

Ann knew that Catherine was right. She could only know the truth from Anne.

===

Marian sat on the floor in front of the coffee table picking the olives off the top of her pizza as she flicked through the channels searching for something to watch. Neither of them had wanted to cook so Anne hadn’t objected when she suggested they got a takeaway. 

After Mariana had left, Anne had spent most of the rest of the day sulking in her office. Marian had popped her head in a few times to check she was okay but was mostly met with her signature, “I’m always alright” when she was anything but. She had been scribbling in her journal though so that was at least something. 

She always seemed to be more reasonable after she’d unloaded her thoughts onto paper. Anne never spoke of her journals to Marian but she’d heard her tell her aunt once that it was therapeutic. She could place her burdens on the page and be done with them. Get them out of her head and if need be revisit them when things were clearer. 

Some time after 7pm Anne emerged from her study, showered and dressed in her classic black, but at least they were lounge pants and a t-shirt. Marian was thankful that this meant she was settled in for the evening and she could stop worrying that she would go to try and find Tib, or worse, go to Mariana. She didn’t care where the latter was and Tib had fortunately messaged her to let her know she had gone back to the flat above Anne’s office. 

Anne clapped her hands together as she sat on the sofa and opened up the pizza box. Despite her behaviour earlier she found herself once again grateful for Marian’s presence. She had even made sure to order her the right pizza without having to ask and had laid out a knife and fork for her. Marian curled her lip and stared up at the ceiling as Anne started to cut into her pizza. 

As she started to eat she noticed that Marian had only eaten two slices and was picking her way through a third. Very un-Marian like. “Did you want a slice?” Marian turned her head slowly, her right eyebrow arched as high as it could possibly go. She couldn’t remember the last time she had offered her food from her plate. She was usually having to steal a bite when she wasn’t looking. Anne pointed with her cutlery to her pizza, waiting for an answer. Marian peered over and surveyed Ann’s pizza before taking a slice. 

“Have you spoken to Ann today?”

“No Marian,” she tried to hide the weariness in her voice. Admittedly she’d been distracted for most of the day. She had thought that Ann would have messaged her even if she wasn’t able to reply straight away the way she usually did. She tried to not let it worry her, Tib and Mariana, were already taking up whatever energy she had left.

She pulled her phone out and went to her messages, “Normally she sends me these silly little pictures.”

Marian looked over at her phone, "Those are called memes, Anne."

"What's a meme?" 

Marian stared wide eyed at her sister and silently prayed for the strength to stay one more night under her roof. Anne wrinkled her nose. She couldn’t keep up with all of these things. She ate another mouthful of food, judging from the look on Marian’s face she was not in the mood to explain. 

“Anyway, she hasn’t today.”

“You do realise that you can also send her a message, right?” Anne slowly chewed her food as she glared back at her. Marian gave a quick shrug of her shoulders, “You should message her. It would make you feel better.”

She would not admit that Marian was right, especially in her own home, but there was a truth to what she had said. The only time she had felt happy that day was when she had thought of Ann. 

Anne hadn’t noticed that Marian had turned and was sitting like a patient schoolchild waiting for permission to speak. She put down her knife and fork and sat back waiting for whatever important speech she was about to receive. 

Marian shifted uncomfortably as she cleared her throat. “I’ve never pretended to understand what it is you and Mariana had, but I know that she was important to you. But she never deserved you. Maybe at the beginning, yes. But she picked you up when it was convenient. She never let you get on with your life.” Marian placed her hand on Anne’s knee, “I’m worried, and Tib is too when she stops being mad at you, that you’re letting her do that again.”

Anne swallowed the lump that was stuck in her throat as she quickly kissed the top of Marian’s head. She mumbled into it, “Thank you Marian. I won’t, I promise.” She sat back, head held high. Marian turned back towards the television and decided to try her luck, taking another slice of Anne’s pizza. She didn’t meet any resistance.

===

Marian had insisted on helping change the sheets in Anne’s room. She believed that nothing had happened but didn’t think a little cleanse would harm anyone. Anne was just glad she stopped short of calling in a priest to exorcise the room. At least she didn’t have any sage or she was sure Marian would have been burning that all through the flat. 

As she changed into her pyjamas she looked over at her phone, Ann still hadn’t replied to her earlier message. She flicked her wrist to check the time, 10.16pm. It was late. She’d also only managed 7,852 steps. That wouldn’t do. She sat on the edge of her bed, nervously tapping her foot as she tried to decide what to do. The fingers on her left hand danced across the phone screen. She could at least check to see if she’d read it.

Quickly tapping into her messenger app she opened up her conversation with Ann. Hmm. The message had been read over an hour ago. The only reason she’d ever left a message unanswered for that long was because she was asleep. Even then, there had been one or two occasions when Anne had woken to a creatively spelled message she was sure had been sent when Ann was mostly asleep. 

Anne reasoned that she must be busy, maybe she and Catherine had gone out. She had taken to telling Anne all of her plans, but it certainly wasn’t something she expected of her. Perhaps she was having one of those social media cleanse things, she wasn’t quite sure how that worked but she often heard Eugenie talking having to go on one. Did that include not responding to messages too? She crinkled her nose, that didn’t sound very convenient, especially for people trying to contact you. 

She shook the thoughts from her head. Whatever the reason she was sure she’d reply when she could. There was no need to pester the girl, it had only been a couple of hours. She had often made that mistake in the past. Mariana often refused to reply to her at all if she sent more than two messages without giving her a chance to respond. 

Suddenly she froze, had she made that same mistake with Ann? She quickly scrolled through the messages again. She sighed gratefully. There were walls of text from Ann, but her messages were sufficiently spaced out to give her time to respond. It was only when she felt the relief as she exhaled that she reprimanded herself for comparing Ann with Mariana. They were completely different. She would not be messing this relationship up for a start. 

She threw her phone down onto the bed behind her and reached for the charging cord.

“Hello,” came the disembodied voice. 

Anne quickly swung her head side to side. There was no one there. She was sure she’d turned the television off in the living room. She had long believed that Shibden held the ghosts of at least a few Listers, but she was quite certain that her newly built riverside flat in Putney, did not. Hesitantly she responded, “Hello?”

“Anne.” The voice replied tersely.

She looked over her shoulder and realised how foolish she had been when she saw the photo of Ann on her phone screen. Of course. “Ann!” She answered the phone cheerily, “I’m such an idiot.” The corner of her eyes wrinkled, “I must’ve accidentally called you when I put my phone down.” She paused giving her time to laugh, only she didn’t. “Ann?”

“It’s late.”

“I didn’t realise-. No. Of course.” Anne began to rub the back of her neck. “I’m sorry,” the lightness and joy completely gone from her voice now. She started to bite her bottom lip as she waited for Ann to say something. “You didn’t respond to my message,” she said tentatively.

“So you thought you’d call me?” Ann’s clipped tone caught Anne off guard.

“No. I told you. It was an accident.” She couldn’t understand why Ann was being so brusque with her. “What’s wrong?”

“Were you with Mariana last night?” 

That explained it. Ann was more perceptive than anyone believed she would be. She had obviously figured out what the emergency situation was. It wouldn’t have been too difficult once Catherine had gotten home and she could cross Marian and Tib off the list of possible reasons. 

“Ahh.” She searched for more, Ann was understandably upset, but how could she stop this before it spiralled?

“Were you?” The authority of the question demanded a response.

“What do you mean, with ?” She tried to summon the years of experience she had gained in answering questions she did not want to answer.

There was a deep audible breath, “Did you leave me to go to her?” 

There was no escaping that was there? It was a very clear, simple question, with an extremely complicated answer. 

“Yes. But-” She shut her eyes tight and braced herself for the barrage of angry words at whatever reason she could grasp at. There was nothing. Anne swiftly took the phone from her ear. Ann had ended the call. Her shoulders immediately sank. 

“Bugger.”

Chapter Text

With the ripple of the weekend’s events still being felt Anne had decided to work from her home office for the next few days. “Yes that’s right Eugenie, reschedule anything that I’ve got for today.” Anne tapped the keys on her laptop impatiently as she looked at her online calendar. “I won’t be available. Perhaps tomorrow if it’s an emergency.” 

There was nothing that required her urgent attention. She trusted that Eugenie would be able to handle anything that came up. Right now her priority was Ann.

“Tib? No, that’s fine.” Anne leant back in her seat, rubbing her bottom lip, “Eugenie, the next time Miss Norcliffe is out, I want you to remove all the alcohol from the flat.” Anne listened to the protests on the other side of the phone, “If she has an issue tell her she can call me. Good. That’s all.” Anne hung up the phone. 

She was glad that Tib was still in the flat, at least then she could keep some sort of an eye on her. She wouldn’t be thrilled that the alcohol had been removed but she thought it was best given how much damage she had inflicted to her liver that weekend. Also, if there was any hope of them reconciling she needed to be dealing with a sober Tib that she could reason with. 

Anne was well versed in resolving conflicts with Tib, she knew they both just needed time. They had never been able to stay angry at each other for very long, even if sometimes they deserved it. Ann on the other hand, she wasn’t sure how she would start to make amends. 

Honestly, she’d never really had to with other women before. The only person she had ever really cared enough to set things right with was Mariana, perhaps Vere. Then it was more a case of pleading for forgiveness or waiting for Mariana to get bored with Charles again and then she would find her way back into her bed. That wouldn’t work for this situation. 

“I told you to just go over there.” Anne glanced up as Marian placed a cup of tea on her desk. She flopped down on the sofa opposite her with her own cup, “You need to talk.”

“She won’t answer my calls.”

“Which is why I told you to go over there last night. Use some of that famous Lister charm or whatever it is.” Sometimes Marian wondered whether Anne was actually this great seductress she’d heard tell of. Sure her sister had always seemed to have the women enthralled wherever she went but it seemed that whenever she had to deal with anyone she actually cared about she often saw her floundering. 

“I can’t just show up on her doorstep Marian.”

“Why not? It’s what you used to do.” She had a point. Anne had never been unwilling to make a grand gesture, especially during the early stages of a potential romance. “I’ve lost count at the number of times you’d drop whatever it was you were doing to go to that Lawton woman.”

Anne retorted, “Yes, and look how well that turned out.”

“Only Ann isn’t Mariana, is she?” Anne was starting to resent how much sense Marian was starting to make. She could take the sage advice from her aunt or Tib, even her father at a push, but not Marian. “Call Ann. She cares about you. From what Catherine said, she has for a long time.” 

“Really?” she perked up at this news.

“Yes really.” She had been hesitant to share this bit of information but seeing Anne so beaten down and deflated was almost worse than experiencing her usual bluster. 

“Did you spend the whole night talking about us?”

“What else would we talk about?” She saw the hint of a smirk on Anne’s lips, a little more and she was sure her swagger would be back. “No, you egomaniac. We didn’t spend the entire time talking about you.” Marian took another sip of tea to stop her from sniggering. She was willing to massage her ego a bit but it was difficult to not take the shots that were offered to her so readily. 

She took a moment to revel in Anne’s growing pout before adding kindly, “You deserve someone who’s able to love you.” 

A crease formed on Anne’s brow as she absorbed those words, the obvious doubt creeping across her mind. “What if I’m too much?” Anne confided her deepest insecurity to her. 

“Who told you that?” It was an unnecessary question because Marian knew exactly who had spent the last two decades telling Anne that. She would never be able to understand the kindness she was still willing to show her after everything she had put her through. She was glad Tib wasn’t here otherwise it would probably result in more shouting and several pieces of broken glassware. 

She watched her closely, her aunt was much better at giving these sort of pep talks. “Did you ever think that maybe you weren’t too much, that perhaps she just wasn’t enough?”

Anne tilted her head back, not wanting Marian to see her amusement at just how astute she could be. “When did you get so insightful?

Marian beamed brightly knowing how much her answer would annoy her. “Instagram,” she declared proudly.

Anne groaned. That infernal app. She cast a glare at her, “What time’s your train?”

She sipped her tea and smiled sweetly back at her, “You’ve got me for a few more hours yet sister dear.”

“Wonderful.” 

===

It was impossible to mistake the figure flawlessly dressed head to toe in black that was leaning against their front door as they approached. Catherine seethed as they got closer, she hadn’t even noticed them. Her nose was buried in her phone, Catherine wondered if she was too busy texting the witch again. 

“What the fuck are you doing here Lister?”

Anne’s head shot up as she heard her name. Catherine stood glaring at her from the bottom of the steps, her fists clenched tightly by her side. She had gone there from the station after dropping Marian off. She wasn't sure if Ann would be willing to see her, or if she was even home, but she might be more prepared to talk if Anne was actually there. She had been waiting for over an hour and had decided to check her messages when Catherine had arrived. 

For a moment she hoped that Ann was standing next to her but as she registered the other woman she was immediately disappointed. Anne pushed herself off from the door and straightened as Catherine marched up the stairs, barging past her to unlock the front door. “I need to talk to her, is she home?” 

“No. She’s not. No thanks to you.” Catherine struggled with the door as the key refused to turn. Anne reached out, Catherine flinching at her touch.

“Let me help. Please.” Catherine took a step back as Anne unlocked the door and held it open. Grabbing her key back from her, Catherine vaulted up the stairs leaving Anne and her companion stood in the doorway. Anne turned to face the other woman who offered her hand in greeting, “I’m Delia.” 

Anne took the other woman’s hand and shook it gently, “Rawson.” Of course, she thought she noticed a resemblance, if her memory served her this was Catherine’s younger sister. That would make her another of Ann’s cousins. She looked very similar to her sister, a little taller perhaps, and her lips, fuller. She also didn’t look like she wanted to drag Anne along the streets of Kensington from the back of a carriage. Anne smiled politely, “Anne Lister.”

Delia dragged her eyes up and down, taking Anne in. Her perfectly polished black boots, slim figure hugging black jeans, and a black long sleeved button-up. Not a single crease. She arched her eyebrow with a lascivious grin, “Oh I know who you are.” She turned and started up the stairs, when Anne didn’t follow she paused and looked down at her, “You’re not going to win her back from down there.” 

After a moment’s hesitation she slowly ascended the stairs behind Delia. She could hear Catherine crashing about inside the flat. This perhaps might not have been the best idea. Delia sauntered in and dropped casually on the sofa, Anne following cautiously behind her. She indicated for her to have a seat but just as she was about to, Catherine came careening in, stopping suddenly when she saw her standing awkwardly in the middle of her living room.

“I told you she’s not here. Are you in the habit of just waltzing into people’s flats?”

“I invited her in.” Delia chimed from her seat. Catherine glared at her younger sister. Anne recognised that look from several of her own sibling altercations with Marian over the years. She planned to make her exit as soon as possible.

“I just need to know where she is. She’s not answering any of my calls.”

“Can you blame her?” Anne shuffled her feet. She really couldn’t blame her if she chose to never speak to her again. “You saw how that harpy treated her at the tennis!”

“Mariana.”

“What?” Catherine couldn’t believe that Anne was actually correcting her, she was lucky they weren’t in the kitchen or somewhere else with things she could throw at her. 

Anne bit the bottom of her lip realising she shouldn’t have said anything, “Her name’s Mariana Lawton.”

“I don’t give a toss what her name is. She could be Mariana Faithfull for all I care!”

“Marianne.” Catherine and Anne both turned to Delia who was sitting smugly on the couch watching the two of them. She looked on appreciatively as Anne squared up against her sister. 

Catherine scrunched up her face, what was Delia even doing there, “What?”

“It’s Marianne Faithfull.” She rose from the sofa and gestured towards Anne as she wandered into the kitchen, “And as if Anne Lister would be screwing Marianne Faithfull. She’s like a hundred.” Anne stood silently, she was grateful for the deflection but it only seemed to be making Catherine angrier. 

Delia strolled back in with a glass of water in her hand, “Not you Anne of course.” She could certainly see the appeal, “You still look...very good.” She took a sip of water and then slowly ran her tongue along her bottom lip before pulling it suggestively between her teeth. If Anne wasn’t mistaken, she rarely was in these situations, she was flirting with her. 

“Delia what the fuck are you doing?” Catherine screamed.

“What?” she asked innocently, “If Ann doesn’t want her?”

Catherine’s jaw dropped, “You know how Ann feels!” Delia shrugged her shoulders as she flopped back onto the sofa as her sister towered above her.

“Well she’s had forever, isn’t it someone else’s turn?”

“If you’re not careful you’re going to be wearing that drink real soon.” 

Anne hovered behind her, not wanting to step into the firing line, but she recalled Marian had something similar last night. Had Ann really had a crush on her since she was a teenager? “Is that true?”

Catherine spun round to face her. Anne immediately regretted speaking and backed away slowly.

“That she’s loved you forever?”

“Delia!” She wasn’t sure quite how Catherine had the restraint not to launch at her sister after that one. She huffed as she turned away from her sister’s fury. Anne wondered how epic the battles must have been when they were growing up if this was the two of them acting maturely. Marian had at least stopped being a brat most of the time, Delia obviously had a few more years to go. 

She wasn’t sure that Catherine had calmed down sufficiently but she was worried if she left it any longer she would actually have to physically part the two of them before they killed each other. “I need to talk to her Catherine. Please. Is she even still in London? Did she go back to Halifax?”

Catherine steadied herself as she turned slowly to face Anne, “Why? So I can let you hurt her all over again?”

She hung her head ashamedly. She’d never wanted to hurt Ann, ever. She tilted her head to face Catherine, “Would it have been better if I’d lied to her?”

“It would’ve been better if you hadn’t left her on the fucking doorstep.” Catherine shot back. 

There was her answer. Catherine was never going to help her, in her mind she’d betrayed her best friend. Accepting her fate Anne turned to leave, “You know Ann would want you to help her.” She stopped at Delia’s words. She saw Catherine's nostrils flare once again. “You know she would,” she continued defiantly. 

Anne stood frozen, did she dare hope? Catherine slowly considered Delia’s words. She vehemently hated that she was right. Anne saw her face soften, a small smile forming on her mouth that she immediately straightened when Catherine glared at her. “I’ll tell her you came by.” Anne sighed contentedly, that was a start. 

“But there’s no point hanging around here because she’s gone away for a few days.” She opened her mouth to speak but Catherine’s cut her off with a single look, “I won’t tell you where she is.” Her shoulders dropped back down, it felt like she was taking one step forward and two steps back. Catherine must have taken pity on her as the harshness in her tone eased, “She hasn’t gone back to Halifax. She doesn’t have any intention to.”

She felt herself lighten. That was a big relief, she had worried all this time that she had driven her back up to her family home. It would not be impossible for her to go up to find her, which she would have if necessary, but being in London made things more straightforward. 

Anne stepped towards Catherine, wrapping her up in a tight hug. She didn’t normally hug people, and it felt slightly awkward to do so now, but she felt such intense gratitude. She was beaming as she pulled back, hopeful that she could find Ann and sort things out properly with her. 

Catherine offered her a tight-lipped smile back as she started to make her way towards the door. Anne turned and smiled at her once more, nodding politely to Delia who waved to her from the sofa. As she started to head down the stairs she heard Catherine call after her, “Anne.” She stopped and turned to look back up the stairs, “You need to be careful with her.” She nodded. “Because if you hurt her, they’ll never find your body.” The sweet smile that spread across her face made Anne believe that she was absolutely serious.

===

Anne tried to decide what to do next as she sat in the back of her car as Thomas drove her back home. She had largely given up on the idea of getting any meaningful work done today. Marian and Catherine had both given her a lot to think about. She hadn’t known how deep Ann’s feelings for her had gone, but if Catherine was right - and she had no reason to believe she wasn’t, then Ann had spent most of her life imagining what a life with her would be like.

This knowledge didn’t make her anymore apprehensive than she already was from her own perceived shortcomings. She had accepted that by choosing to go to Mariana she had made a mistake, one that she would not repeat. Knowing the depth of Ann’s feelings though weighed heavily upon her. This was more than just her own heartbreak that she was risking. 

From the moment she had first swept Ann into her arms, without knowing her name or what she would come to mean to her in such a short space of time, she had felt an overwhelming need to protect her. She looked out as they passed street after street. Ann could be walking along a few metres away and she would never know. She wondered if this need to protect Ann meant she would protect her even from herself. 

She sat quietly contemplating all that had been said when her phone beeped as a message came through. It was Tib. She had asked to meet her at the Four Feathers, around the corner from Anne’s office. Anne was grateful for the distraction, as well as hoping it meant that her friend had forgiven her. 

When she stepped out of her car she’d hoped that she would at least be in a jovial drunken stupor rather than a belligerent one. The pub was as quiet as she would expect it to be for a Monday afternoon. She liked the Feathers more than any of the other bars in the area. It had been popular with the police officers from New Scotland Yard, just a few doors down, before they demolished it to make way for another hotel. A lot of the longer serving officers still chose to drink there and it meant there was unlikely to ever be any trouble and few tourists in there.

As she walked in she could hear Tib towards the back of the pub laughing with the bartender as she got another drink. When she saw Anne she nodded towards a table in the corner that she had already claimed. Her blazer was draped across the back of one of the chairs which meant she had been there a while. No empty glasses on the table, but Tib was always very conscientious about returning glasses to the bar, unless there was a server whose attention she wanted. The large, middle-aged gentleman behind the bar, though he had a kind face, definitely wasn’t her usual type.

She tried to read her mood as she watched Tib walk back to the table, drinks in hand. She had been jocular at the bar but her current expression was inscrutable. Tib placed her usual neat whiskey in front of Anne and took the seat opposite. She raised her eyebrows as she took a long swig from her bottle. Anne tilted her head, something wasn’t right. Tib was very much a pints or champagne drinker during the day. 

Recognising the puzzled look on her face, Tib slowly turned the bottle so that the label was facing her. She craned her neck slightly to make sure she read it correctly, she was drinking non-alcoholic cider. “Apparently someone thinks I shouldn’t be drinking,” placing the bottle on the bottle she glanced pointedly at Anne. “Even had all the alcohol in my flat removed. Imagine that.”

Anne leant back in her chair as she ran her finger along the bottom of her lip, “Someone must care.” 

“Ha!” Tib exclaimed, “Only not when it’s me giving the advice.”

“Tib-” 

“No. Wait.” She pointed a finger at Anne, “You will listen to me damn it. I stayed sober specifically so you would listen.” Anne held her hands up in surrender as she continued authoritatively. “I’m your best friend.” Here we go, Anne thought, this is how Tib’s speeches usually started when she was about to impart her wisdom. “When I tell you that witch has no business being in your life-” She paused for a minute and leaned in, “She is gone right?” Anne nodded. “Right. Good. Where was I?”

“Witch,” Anne offered helpfully.

“Yes. She shouldn’t be in your life. You letting her in all the time. Rushing to her side when she says she needs help. It needs to stop.” Tib took another long draw of her drink, “This is the important bit. So listen Lister.” She looked up, Anne had a slight crease in her brow as she awaited the dressing down she deserved. 

“I’ve watched you both for twenty years. I know you, both of you. How she does just enough to keep you. It’s like she has these spies so she knows when you’re at your happiest so she can perfectly time her reappearance. Every time you say it’s different, you know what you’re doing. But it never is, and you never do. Not with her.” 

Tib waited a moment for her words to settle. Nothing she was saying was new, but it didn’t make it any easier to hear. “I watched how the two of you would sneak off, it didn’t matter who you’d shown up with. Didn’t even matter when she got married, even though I hoped that would make you see some damn sense. It would always come back to the two of you. She’d manage to convince you that there was some great plan for you, that apparently involved her doing whatever she wanted and you being miserable.” 

Anne shifted in her chair, uncomfortable with the scrutiny of Tib’s gaze, however well-intentioned her words were. “I saw how it wore you down, every time you’d be so happy she came back. But then she’d be gone again.” Tib paused just long enough for Anne to turn back to face her. “You deserve someone that stays. I’ve told you that so many times, maybe now your stubborn head will listen to me. Because you’ve got someone that will stay. Someone that makes you happy.” 

There was a creak as Tib sat back heavily in her chair. She picked up her drink and shook her head, she wished she had a real drink. 

“I can get you a real one,” Anne offered.

Tib shook her head, “No. This is better. I should ease off for a bit. Stop indulging things that aren’t good for me.” The corners of Anne’s mouth curled up into a smile as Tib sighed heavily realising she could’ve just said that and she probably would’ve got the same message. She was glad she had said what she said, as brilliant as Anne was, there had always been a blindspot where Mariana was concerned.

Anne stood, taking her drink with her towards the bar, “Where are you going?”

She stopped next to Tib’s chair, “Stopping myself from indulging things that aren’t good for me.” She placed her hand on her shoulder and squeezed tightly, “We’ll do this together.” Tib brought her hand, tapping the one on her shoulder. They said a silent thank you for each other’s continued presence in their lives, “I’ll get you another cider.”

===

As Tib prattled on about something Anne considered everything that had happened that day. She’d finished it with Mariana. For good this time. Of that she was certain. She was determined to try for a friendship with her, refusing to believe that after all this time they couldn’t at least have that. Both Marian and Tib knew that about her, and they weren’t wrong. 

What was less clear was what would happen with Ann. She wanted to see if she could make something of what she knew she felt for her, and what apparently Ann had felt for her for some time. But was it too late? She didn’t even know where she was let alone if she wanted to see her again. 

She would have to find her, she was Anne Lister, she had resources available to her that meant she could find anyone. Of course Ann had her own resources that meant she could be anywhere in the world by now, but she didn’t let those thoughts linger. She would find her and talk to her. She could fix this, as Marian had instructed her to do before she left. If she could just find her.

It was at this moment when her resolve was strong that she finally heard Tib calling her name.

“Lister have you even been listening to me?” 

Anne looked up. Her blank expression answering Tib’s question for her. Tib shook her head and took another sip of her drink. “What I was saying, if you’d care to listen to your oldest friend who has so kindly decided to help you sort through your problems-”

“So kindly,” Anne chimed.

Tib ignored her comment. “You stuck Mariana on a pedestal when really she wasn’t that great.” Anne nodded again. She’d heard this from Tib several times. “I mean, yeah, she was gorgeous. Obviously. Always was a tiny bit jealous that you managed to get in there first. Then I got to know her.” Her eyes widened in gratitude that she had managed to not make that mistake. 

“Tib.” 

“Right. Sorry. What I’m saying Lister, is that even when the two of you were great, she had her flaws.”

Anne sighed as she took her drink. She truly valued her friend’s attempts at offering advice, and that she hadn’t given up on her after all this time. “Have you ever met anyone who’s perfect Tib?” she asked, genuinely curious, but also wanting for just a moment to take the attention off her.

“Well no, I’m not naive enough to believe perfection exists in one person. But I’ve had moments of perfection.” Anne nodded knowingly. Tib had started now, this was her reprieve. 

“Now, Sarah. If you could take her intellect. Add Jessica’s smile. But add Lucy’s walk, and then Veronica’s sense of humour.”

“Which one was Veronica?” she had honestly lost track. Anne’s journal allowed her to keep track of all of her own exploits, but there was not enough paper in the world to chronicle Tib’s as well.

“The Italian. That one summer I spent in Tuscany. I even brought her home to meet the family.”

“Ahh yes, I remember. Shame that one didn’t work out.”

“Yes, if she hadn’t been trying to steal every penny I had she’d have been a lovely girl.”

“Hmm, if only.” They shared a colourful history, but Anne was grateful that at least she had not had to deal with any fortune hunters. 

“Anyway, a terrific sense of humour. So that from her. Then...Diana’s ability to listen without judgement. Oh! Jane’s fajitas.”

“Fajitas?” Anne laughed.

Tib arched her eyebrow and tilted her drink towards Anne, “You know those were the best fajitas you’ve ever tasted.”

Anne conceded with a simple nod. They were very good. Mostly she was amused that fajitas had made the list of Tib’s traits in a perfect woman.

“Jane’s fajitas, actually with a dash of Veronica’s impulsiveness too. Kate’s ability to always find the good in someone.”

“I liked Kate.”

“I did too. More’s the pity. She was far too good for me.” Tib paused for a moment. “Anyway, wrap all of those up into one woman and she may not be perfect, but she would be close.”

Anne agreed, “It does sound pretty close.”

Tib could see that wistful look creeping back into her friend’s eyes so she slapped her thigh, “So what about you? If you could take a part, or even a couple of parts, from all those women that fell for the old Lister charm. What would she be like? I’ll even let you have a couple of Mariana traits in there. Two!” She was feeling generous today.

Anne paused as she thought about her answer. Tib knocked her drink against hers to remind her she was still waiting, “I’m sure there’d be a bit of Miss Walker too.” Yes, this is why Anne loved Tib. She knew her almost as well as she knew herself. 

She took a long sip of her drink before looking up at Tib with a wry smile and answered, “If you could just take her.”

Tib sat on the edge of her seat waiting for the rest, “And?”

“That’s it. If you could just take Ann Walker.” Anne sat back in her chair and shrugged her shoulders in acceptance that she had found her perfect woman and hoped in her stupidity she had not lost her. 

Tib offered her a silent toast. This was the worst she’d ever seen Anne. “Oh my dear friend, you are going to have your heart broken in ways even poets couldn’t imagine.”

Anne drained the last of her drink and set her glass down. She scratched the back of her head, “It’s only been a few weeks.”

Tib guffawed, “That’s a few weeks longer than it normally takes. This might be one of your longest relationships.” Anne sat patiently as she watched her doubled-over from her own joke, she had definitely forgiven her. After a few moments more she wiped her eyes signalling she was done, “How are you going to find her? You’ve tried Catherine?”

“Yes, all she’d confirm is that she hasn’t gone back up to Halifax.”

“And you believe her?”

She was confident that Catherine had been truthful when she’d told her she thought she was good for Ann. It warmed her to think that she had her best friend’s approval, despite how tumultuous their relationship had been so far. “Yes, I think Catherine actually likes me. Likes us, together. Also, I got John to go round to Crow Nest. She’s not there.”

“That sounds more like you. Where else would she go? Her sister’s?”

“Elizabeth? In Scotland, I don’t think so.” 

“If you’re trying to stay clear of exes best steer clear of there.” Tib glanced up with a cheeky grin on her face as Anne scowled at her, “It’s all true. Can’t change the past.” She was right of course, although sometimes Anne wished she could forget some of it. They both sat and tried to think of where else she could have gone, “Who else does she know?”

Anne’s eyes widened as the answer came to her, “Tib, you genius!” She exclaimed as she rushed up, planting a firm kiss on the top of her head before rushing out the door.

===

Anne walked up the driveway of the large unassuming house in the quiet Clapham street. The security car had already waved her through so she didn’t worry about being stopped as she bounded up the front steps. She stood in front of the closed door, exhaling sharply as she shook her shoulders out and tilted her neck from side to side a few times. 

Taking one more deep breath into her lungs she pressed the doorbell once. She tried to stop her foot tapping as she waited on the doorstep. She heard movement behind the door, and she leaned slightly forward to make out the voices as she thought she heard someone say that they’d go. Then Sam’s unmistakable voice, “Thanks Annie.” She was there. Anne wanted to jump in elation. 

As the door started to open it felt like a valve had been turned inside her chest up to a hundred as her heart began to beat furiously. She grasped her hands behind her back, worried that she was going to push the door as she waited impatiently. Why did it feel like the door was on the slowest hinge possible? She could feel the nervous energy reverberating up her entire body as she tried to get a glimpse of the person she knew was standing behind the door. Then suddenly, there she was. 

Ann stood, mouth slightly agape, on the other side of the door. Anne’s eyes lit up when she saw her, her shoulders automatically lifting. It had been less than 48 hours but the way her heart pulled at her, willing her to reach out and hold her, it felt like she hadn’t seen her in months. Unwittingly she stumbled forward, almost falling into her if Ann hadn’t taken a step back. 

Anne beamed as she moved closer to Ann, but as she retreated further into the hallway the corners of her mouth started to droop. She felt herself deflate as Ann’s eyebrows drew closer turning the softness of her face into a scowl. Anne tilted her head up, her brow knitted with concern, “Am I in trouble?”

She could see Ann thinking the question over as she wrapped her arms tightly around her, slowly pursing her lips together, “What do you think?”

“No?” the question betraying the fact that she knew she was. 

“Take another guess.”

“Yes.” They both turned in the direction of the thunderous monosyllabic answer. Sam stood in the doorway, arms crossed against his chest. 

Anne looked between him and Ann. She wasn’t sure she’d ever been in this much trouble before.

Chapter Text

When Sam got home from City Hall, Ann was sitting at the kitchen table helping his youngest daughter, Eliza, with her homework whilst his wife made a start on dinner. It would have been a welcome sight, only Ann had shown up on his doorstep early this morning, bag in hand and puffy red eyes to match. He had three other daughters, including two teenagers, whom he had consoled through several heartbreaks, so he knew what the signs were. 

He had let her collapse into his warm welcoming hug before setting her up in the spare room in the loft before he’d had to go into work. He decided to talk to her when he got home, rather than try to get any information out of her straight away. He was fairly certain the problem’s name was Anne Lister. Thankfully his schedule was full otherwise he would have been more than tempted to march down to Anne’s office and ask what part of “Don’t hurt her” she’d had trouble understanding. 

As he made his way round the kitchen to greet his wife he noticed that Ann looked a lot better than she had. No tell-tale puffiness around her eyes and the dark circles had faded a little so he hoped that meant she had been able to get some sleep. He gave his wife a quick kiss before washing his hands in the sink next to her, “Need any help?” 

Hannah shook her head and giggled, “All taken care of love.” Sam was slowly getting better at helping in the kitchen but his skill set was still mostly limited to chunky chopping or peeling. He glanced over his shoulder, Eliza seemed to be keeping Ann very occupied with what looked like dinosaurs. Dropping his voice to a whisper he leaned closer to her, “How’s she been?” 

She noted the concern in his voice, “She’s fine love. When I got home she was in the garden reading. Looks like the fresh air did her good.” They both turned when they heard Ann and Eliza laughing loudly. “Eliza will keep her mind off whatever it is that’s troubling her. She hasn’t left her alone since she got home.” She placed her hand reassuringly on his arm, “She’ll be alright. You always tell me how strong she is. Listen to yourself.”

“Aye. She’s just-”

“Ann. I know love.” She lent over and gave him another quick kiss before turning her attention back to the pot she was stirring on the stove. Sam tried to get a look at what it was she was making but she turned to block his view, “Can’t even know what’s cooking in my own home,” he tutted. Eliza perked up to see what all the fuss was about, “You’d never think I was Mayor of London!” he bellowed jokingly as he threw his hands up in the air.

“Too right dad, you’re one of the people now!” Eliza roared from the table.

“Am I not representing the people in my job then?”

Ann sat enjoying the exchange between father and daughter. Eliza sat up straight, folding her arms across her chest, head turned up deep in thought following the question he’d just posed. She had always loved visiting with Sam and his house full of wonderful women, as he called it. With Susana and Charlotte being teenagers now, it was only usually Eliza who got dragged around for the obligatory family visits when they were up in Yorkshire. She and Ann had become firm friends over many shared stolen biscuits whilst the grown-ups droned on about politics and the state of the economy. 

Eliza was the perfect blend of Hannah and Sam, athletic and kind like her mother, and thoughtful and affable like her father. Still only eight but she could command all the attention in any room. She scratched her chin as she continued to ponder her answer, “I’ve got it!” She exclaimed.

“Alright, what’s your answer then?”

“You represent what the people need,” she paused thoughtfully as she chose her next words. “It’s like when I’m hungry and I want a biscuit,” she snuck a cheeky wink at Ann. “I know it’s what I want and it’ll make me happy, but you always tell me to have an apple.” She scrunched up her nose at the thought of it, “Because you know it’s better for me.” Sam nodded as he considered her answer. “So that’s what you do. You listen to what the people want, and then you have to decide what’s good for them. What they really need.” Satisfied with her response she turned to Sam and nodded her head to show she’d finished.

Sam puffed out his chest as he looked on proudly, “Ladies, I give you the future Mayor of London.” 

“Ha! I’m voting Eliza for future Prime Minister.” Ann held her hand up and Eliza gave her a high-five smiling triumphantly. 

She really was a marvel, Sam thought he would have to start bringing her into the office more, start her training early. “And who taught you how to think of politics that way?”

“Miss Lister,” Eliza answered plainly.

“Anne?” The name spilled unexpectedly from Ann’s lips.

“That’s right,” she turned to her smiling as she went back to her homework. “I liked her because she had the same name as you so I thought she must be alright. Do you know her?”

Sam looked on curiously, a few worry lines had started to form on Ann’s furrowed brow but no storming off in tears, which was generally a good sign he’d learnt. “I do,” Ann started tentatively. “She’s...a friend of mine. Sort of.”

Eliza turned to her, eyebrows raised inquisitively, “Sort of? You don’t know if she’s your friend?”

“We haven’t decided yet.”

She noticed Ann biting the bottom of her lip, she always seemed to do that when she asked her a difficult question, but she couldn’t understand what the problem was. She liked Ann. And Anne. She placed her hand firmly on Ann’s shoulder before deciding, “You should be friends!”

Ann couldn’t help but giggle at her certainty, “And why’s that then?”

Eliza shrugged her shoulders, “She’s brilliant.” There was no one in the room who would deny that. “Like you, but a different kind of brilliant.” Ann bowed her head slightly, always embarrassed at receiving compliments, even from a young child. “It’s true.” Eliza insisted, “You’re just  more quiet about it.” Ann reached up and surprised her with a quick hug. “Miss Lister doesn’t like to hug either.”

As she drew back she laughed at the repulsed look on Eliza’s face, “Tried it once. She wasn’t impressed.” 

“Alright you,” Sam started to gather up the papers strewn across the kitchen table. “Take your homework through to the living room. We’ve got to set the table.” She collected the rest of her books and pens and carried them out of the kitchen as Sam took the newly empty seat next to Ann. 

She tapped her fingers on the table, waiting for the conversation she knew was coming. She glanced around the kitchen, trying to find something else to talk about. She saw Hannah closing the oven door and was about to ask her something about dinner, “That’ll be ready in about 40 minutes.” She smiled at the two of them as she started towards the door, “I’ll leave you two to it.” Ann sank back in her chair. There went her exit strategy.

Sam wanted to give Ann a chance to tell him what had happened rather than prying the information out of her. He always found that worked best, only he knew that Ann had spent almost a lifetime hiding her feelings from everyone. Sometimes he thought’s why they felt so big when she finally did let them out. “Big fan of Miss Lister, is our Eliza.” Ann slowly nodded. “I’d hate to have to tell her she shouldn’t be.” 

Her eyes darted up at his words, “I don’t want that Sam.” He tilted his head slightly, waiting for her to give him a reason why. Ann clasped her hands together and unwittingly started rubbing her thumb along the back of one. “Anne’s a good person,” she said quietly into her lap.

“She is. So why did you show up on my doorstep looking like you’ve been up all night crying?” She slowly lifted her head and was met by Sam’s kind reassuring gaze. He hated how helpless and defeated she looked, the light missing from her deep blue eyes when he had seen them so bright the last time he’d seen her with Anne. He cursed under his breath that he was going to rip her a new one the next time he saw her. 

She started to shrink in her seat. He needed to find a way to get that brightness back, maybe then she’d tell him what was wrong. He suddenly had an idea. He started to dramatically roll up his sleeves, when they reached his elbows he pushed them up even further. Ann stared at him, confusion knitted across her brow, “Sam, what are you doing?” 

“If Lister made you do something you didn’t want to do.”

“What? Sam. No.” He started to open and close his fists like he was preparing for a fight.

“There’s only one thing for it.”

“Oh my god Sam! No!” He noticed the flush rise to her cheeks, it had been a while since he’d seen her face colour so fast. He and her brother John used to be unmerciless in trying to embarrass her and make her laugh when she was younger in order to get her out of her deeper moods. 

He turned to her stretching his arms out in front of her, “If she’s tried it on with you-”

“Sam!” Ann groaned. It’s like she was 16 again and he and John needed to go remind the local boys just who her big brother was. “We haven’t even kissed!” 

He was momentarily shocked but keeping up the charade he quickly covered his ears and shut his eyes firmly, “La-la-la-la. I don’t want to hear any details Annie!” He peaked an eye open and when she opened her mouth to talk again he squeezed his eyes shut even more firmly and shouted even louder, “La-la-la-la-la!”

Finally when he heard her bright laughter filling the room he stopped pretending he couldn’t hear her and uncovered his ears. He opened his eyes and gave her a quick wink as his hearty laugh joined hers. She had missed laughing like this with him. Normally it had been John pretending he was about to go beat up whichever kid had upset his little sister, with Sam acting as his voice of reason.

She had shut herself away after her brother’s death. Not wanting to see anyone, including Sam, another painful reminder of what they had all lost. As she wiped the tears of laughter from her eyes she was so incredibly grateful that she could still rely on him to always make her laugh. 

Ann felt so much better now that she had released all the emotions that had been building up. She had spent so much time alone in Halifax that she had forgotten how much laughter had helped her, instead choosing to just let her emotions consume her until they passed. It was another reason why she had wanted to move down there to be with Catherine, that and of course, the possibility of Anne. With that thought she was back to where she had been most of the day, wondering what to do about Anne.

Sam was still chuckling away to himself, sleeves rolled up ridiculously high. Ann thought to herself how he was still just a big kid. Mayor of London or not. After a moment, when he saw that she was still smiling he leaned back in his chair, mission accomplished. Hopefully now she’d be more able to talk. 

Ann started to drum her fingers on the table again but laid one hand over the other quickly to silence the nervous habit, “What do you know about Anne and Mariana Lawton?” The question tumbled rapidly from her mouth. 

Ahh, of course this was the reason. He sat up straight, his shoulders slightly heavier than they had been a moment ago. “I know what we all know Annie, we’ve heard the stories. You only need to be within earshot of Catherine’s grandmother whenever Anne’s around to hear them.” She felt her throat tighten, understanding completely what Sam was referring to.

Anyone who grew up in Halifax had heard the whispers surrounding Anne’s personal life. Ann had largely ignored them, not allowing her opinion to be swayed in any way by idle gossip from the same small-minded people that would whisper about her. However, she could not avoid the recurring stories of her continued infidelity with a married woman. 

No matter whom Anne happened to be with, her family hoping that she had finally found the one to settle down with, it would only be a few months before the rumour mills started again with the familiar tale. Then she would come home for a week or so recovering from the following heartache, once she was back for a whole month, before she would be gone again. It was a pattern that Ann had watched play out from afar. Now she had a name and face for the woman who had continued to break Anne’s heart.

“Mariana, isn’t-” She looked back up at Sam as he tried to speak as tactfully as the truth would allow him to. “I mean in business, she’s everything you’d want. Ruthless. Charming. She goes after what she wants, and she’ll make damn sure she gets it. You hope that when she does she’s on your side.” He lay his hands flat on the table, pausing before he continued. “I don’t know how Charles does it. He’s not been a total saint, but he’s changed these last few years. Really tried to make an effort. He’s a good man. Better than she deserves.” 

Ann understood what it meant for Sam to be saying these words. He had always tried to see the best in people, she knew that’s why he went into public service. “Anne’s better than she deserves too.” He leaned closer to her, “She’s a good person. She may be a piss-poor girlfriend, but she’s a good person.” He gently poked her side with his elbow which made her snicker.  

Turning serious for a moment he titled his head to look at her and make sure he had her attention, “Are you sure she’s worth all this Annie? I know you’ve had feelings for her forever.” Ann opened her mouth to speak but promptly closed it when he lifted his hand, “Let me finish. This is the second time you’ve shown up at my door in as many weeks. Both times because of her. Maybe there’s a reason the world’s been keeping you apart.”

Despite his words she felt the corners of her mouth turn up in a smile, “Only it hasn’t, has it Sam? It hasn’t kept us apart.” He wrinkled his nose in confusion, looking like Eliza had earlier. “When mum and dad died, she came home even though she hadn’t been back for years. I saw her on the Lightcliffe Road, and...we talked.” She smiled fondly at the memory. “Then when John died, she was back for the anniversary of her Sam. She came to the funeral even though she didn’t really know him.” He nodded contemplatively. 

“Every time I’ve needed her, without either of us knowing I did, she was there.” She rested her head on his broad shoulder, “Then two weeks ago, when that cyclist knocked me down. Who was there?” 

She heard him snigger, “If you show up on my doorstep again there’ll be hell to pay.” He turned and kissed her lightly on the top of her head.

“Thank you Sam.”

===

Anne paced back a forth along the kitchen as she heard Ann and Sam’s muffled voices in the hallway outside. From the way he had looked at her in the doorway she was amazed she had gotten this far into his home. Ann had asked her to wait in the kitchen whilst she spoke to him. 

She looked around as she wore the tile out beneath her, no knives or other sharp objects within reach. Good. There were a couple of saucepans still on the stove, but they looked large enough that Ann would need two hands to lift those so she should be quick enough to duck out of the way. Excellent. She turned looking around for any other possible weapons that might be deployed against her when the door swung open. 

She spun where she stood, a large smile affixed to her face, only no one was there. Her smile dropped and then she heard, “Good evening Miss Lister.” Anne looked down and saw Eliza stood in front of her, hand outstretched in formal greeting. “Ahh,” she realised who had come into the kitchen now. 

Eliza waited patiently with her greeting to be returned. Anne had a fondness for her, the young child had attached herself to her during the campaign. At first she had found it mildly irritating, but she proved herself to be very helpful. Anne had designated her as Chief Phone Charger, making sure that her phone never dropped below 20%. She also made an excellent cup of tea. An unexpected bonus was that whenever Eliza was with her Mariana appeared to avoid her, never wanting to have anything to do with children. 

It was a mutually beneficial relationship she thought. Eliza didn’t get stuck inside some office whilst Sam gave interviews, and she seemed to have a genuine interest in the whole campaign process. Anne was certain that Eliza was destined for some sort of political office, unless of course she decided to indulge in her other great love - biscuits. She could always be relied on to know where all of the good biscuits were no matter what studio or venue they were visiting. It truly was a marvellous talent. 

Anne took her outstretched hand. She smiled as Eliza grasped hers firmly, she’d taught her the value of a good handshake and she was glad she had not forgotten the lesson. “Eliza, it’s good to see you,” she said with a polite nod. Just then the door swung open again, they both turned to see Ann walk through the door. She stopped suddenly, not wanting to interrupt the current interaction. 

Anne let go of Eliza’s hand, standing nervously as she waited for Ann to speak. Eliza turned her head, looking back and forth between them as they stood silently staring at each other. When neither of them spoke she huffed loudly as she marched over to one of the cupboards, “Have you eaten Miss Lister?” 

She turned to where the question had come from, blinking she found Eliza staring at her from across the counter “Um, no.”

“Right then. Ann, can you help me make a plate up? I can’t reach the stove.” Eliza’s directness appeared to free her from the spot she had been glued to. Shaking herself out of the daze she moved to the other side of the kitchen, taking the plate from Eliza and filling it with some of the leftovers on the stove.

“You can take any seat Miss Lister, we’ve all finished.” 

Following orders Anne removed her jacket and placed it on the back of one of the dining table chairs. Ann stole a quick glance, her pulse quickening at the sight of her muscular forearms on display under her rolled up sleeves. They flexed as she pulled a seat out from under the table. 

She pretended to nonchalantly scratch the back of her head as she turned towards the stove. There was a slight agitation to her movement as she went between the stove and the fridge, but Anne felt that she had been that way the night they had dinner at her flat too. She had a nervous energy then, wanting to make sure everything looked and tasted good. Anne hoped that was the reason, and not that she was trying to find a way to tell her she never wanted to see her again. As she tried to discern her mood she became distracted by how unfalteringly beautiful she looked.

Anne immediately felt inadequate in comparison. She quickly ran her hands through her hair, hoping that would make her appear less dishevelled than she felt. She thought perhaps she could quickly steal away to the bathroom to tidy herself but as she went to move Ann brought the plate of food round, followed by Eliza who neatly placed a napkin and cutlery in front of her. 

There was another moment of awkward silence as Ann stood over Anne, not sure what to do and Anne uncertain if she should start eating with an audience. Eliza groaned, grown-ups were ridiculous, and she thought these two were better than most. She pulled out the chair opposite Anne and gestured for Ann to take a seat. 

Eliza shoved her seat forcefully under the table forcing Ann’s hands on to the table to steady herself. Anne automatically reaching out to help. They both froze at the touch, their eyes slowly meeting. Ann felt her throat go dry, Anne didn’t want to move for fear that she’d take her hand away.

“Right!” Eliza exclaimed, clapping her hands together, “I’ll leave you to it then.”  

As she left them alone Ann slowly withdrew her hands into her lap. Anne pulled her hand back and picked up the fork. She slowly started to move the food around on her plate. “It’s Chicken Cacciatore,” she raised her head, trying to smile. “Hannah made it, it’s very good.” She speared a piece of chicken with her fork and slowly started to chew as Ann watched on. The obvious tension between them made the food unpalatable, no matter how delicious she knew it to be. 

After a few forced mouthfuls she pushed the plate away from her and set the fork down. “You can’t be done.” She sank a little at Ann’s clipped words, feeling like a school child being scolded for not eating all of her dinner. “Have you eaten anything today?” Anne looked down at the plate again, she really hadn’t touched it. “Your stomach’s louder than a 747. I can hear it from here.” She wanted to laugh, only there was no mirth in the words. She felt her stomach starting to twist. She didn’t dare look up. Coming here had been a terrible mistake. 

Ann looked across the table, Anne’s head hung down, shoulders slumped, playing with her food. She hadn’t intended her words to sound as harsh as they had. She felt better after her talk with Sam but she still felt hurt. There were still so many things she hadn’t decided yet and then there she was on the doorstep looking preposterously handsome as always. She had to find a way to work some colour into Anne’s wardrobe because the striking figure she cut when she was dressed completely in black would be her undoing. 

Sam had offered to talk to her, but she knew there was no point in delaying the conversation. She had run away but she would not hide. Ann knew from experience that the more time she put between herself and a problem the easier it was for her to just let the matter pass. Either she would stop caring or they would just carry on as though she no longer mattered. She didn’t want either of those things to happen, not with Anne. She had wanted more time, but as she looked on at her, she knew that she had to make a decision. 

Ann reached across the table, placing her hand gently on top of Anne’s hand that held the fork that was toying with the food. The movement stopped as her head slowly lifted, Ann felt a pain in her chest as she met Anne’s moist eyes filled with dejection. She bit her bottom lip to stop her own tears from forming. She raised her hand slowly and brushed away a loose strand of hair from Anne’s face that really hadn’t been troubling her at all, but she wasn’t sure what words to say. Her eyes seemed to brighten at this gesture, “Please try and eat something.” 

There was another attempt at a smile but she saw her pull her shoulders back and sit up straight. Picking the fork up again, she let out a heavy breath as she picked up another mouthful, trying to eat with gusto. “Did you eat anything today?” This time her question came out much kinder.

“I had some crisps with Tib earlier.” Ann nodded.

“Anything else?” 

Anne thought for a moment, she hadn’t actually had much to eat all day. A mixture of learned habits and anxiety keeping her appetite away. “Biscuits!” She announced, immediately feeling a little silly when she saw Ann’s raised eyebrows. “I...I had biscuits...this morning. With my tea.” She added quietly. The small giggle that escaped from Ann helped her to feel a little more at ease. She took another mouthful of food, it really did taste as good as it looked, “I don’t really eat lunch.”

“You have when you’re with me.”  

“Well, yes.” She picked up the napkin and wiped her mouth, “Because you're good for me.” She pushed her plate to the side, bringing both her hands up on the table. She had hoped Ann would mirror the gesture so that she could have something to hold onto as she said this next part. Ann’s hands had retreated back to her lap and remained there. 

She wished she’d rehearsed what she was going to say. Normally she would have, but in her rush to see Ann she had just been consumed by the idea of being in the same space as her that all other thoughts seemed unnecessary. She took a calming breath before locking her eyes with Ann’s, hoping that she would find the right words. “I was wrong to leave you the other night.” 

There was no movement from the other side, Ann’s facial expression remaining calm. Her lips turned down as she did that thing where she chewed her bottom lip. Anne tried not to get distracted at the sight, “Mariana and I,” she paused for a reaction, there was a quick sideways glance and the hint of a sneer but no more. “It’s complicated-” She looked down for a moment trying to finish her sentence.

“Is it though?” Her head shot back up at Ann’s question.

“Yes. Well.” Anne tried to moisten her lips. Her throat felt incredibly dry, she wished Eliza had offered her a drink before she’d left.

Ann folded her arms across her chest, “Have you cheated on people with Mariana?"

She started to rub the back of her neck. These impossible questions were how their last conversation had started and it had not ended well for them. From the way Ann sat defensively across from her, she worried that this would not go any better. Her only hope lay in her being able to stop Ann from running away if she didn’t like any of her answers. “Yes.”

“Even though she was married?” Anne tilted her head, trying not to seem evasive but the line of questions were making her increasingly uncomfortable as she shifted in her seat.

“Yes.”

“All of them?” The question felt like a body blow.

She took a moment to recover, “Most. Not all.”

“You cheated on Tib, with her?” Ann was not pulling her punches.

“We were mostly over.” Ann pursed her lips, Anne knew she didn’t believe her. “But we weren’t completely over.” She seemed more satisfied with that answer, not happy, but satisfied, “I’m not proud of it.”

“Well I’m glad you clarified that.” Anne wasn’t sure how much more of this she could take. It felt like the last few days had been a constant regurgitation of all her past mistakes, presented to her on a plate by those she had hurt the most. Mariana. Tib. Now Ann. The ghosts of past, present, and future, only it wasn’t even near Christmas. 

“Are you done?” Anne didn’t understand the question. She looked over at her plate of food, it was mostly finished although she supposed she probably could clear the plate. 

“I’m not sure, I think so,” she answered hesitantly. She glanced again at her food and then back at Ann. 

“No, Anne.” She unfolded her arms, shaking her head. Sometimes she wondered how someone so brilliant could get it so wrong. “Are you done with her?” She leaned forward, taking both of Anne’s hands firmly in hers as she looked intently into her eyes, “No more running to her when she calls. No sneaking around. No more waiting for her to decide you’re important to her again.” She squeezed her hands tightly, steadying her breath. “Are you truly done?” 

Anne felt the warmth and softness of Ann’s hands in hers. Every part of her had missed her touch. As she looked into those deep blue eyes, so full of hope and fear, brimming with kindness, she saw a world of possibility. Someone who could shatter her heart into dust particles. But also someone who would never think she was too much. Someone who might be able to love her. That was the question that was really being asked of her. Was she willing to risk it all for her? No going back. There was only one possible answer.

“Yes.” She felt the smile spread across her entire being.

“Well then it isn’t complicated at all then.” The joy passed through her into Ann as her face lit up.

=== 

Sam kept his gaze firmly on the TV but watched out of the corner of his eye from one of the sofas on the other side of the room as they quietly snuck into the living room. His arm draped across the back as Hannah lay against him reading. Eliza was on the floor finishing off some homework, Ann thought Charlotte and Susana must already be up in their rooms doing whatever teenagers did these days. 

They seemed happy as they sat down on the sofa together. He hadn’t heard any shouting coming from the kitchen, or the sound of broken plates, so he presumed that their conversation had gone well. Very well judging from the ridiculously happy grins they both had across their face and the dopey looks they were giving each other. It was like he’d adopted another pair of teenagers. They looked completely besotted.

They all sat quietly for a few moments watching the nature programme he’d been half paying attention to. He saw Anne reach over and take Ann’s hand in her lap, gently rubbing the back of her hand with her thumb the way he had noticed Ann doing in the kitchen earlier when she had tried to calm herself. Ahh, that’s where she picked that up from. Anne shifted on the sofa to rest her arm along the back as Ann moved to lean in against her. “Daylight rule!” he shouted from across the room.

Immediately Ann sat up, “You can’t be serious Sam!” Anne soon followed, straightening up, not sure what was happening. 

Sam turned his head and shrugged, “You should know this rule better than anyone. This was a Walker Rule.” He gestured towards the two of them still sitting closely together, “Daylight at all times.” 

She couldn't believe he had introduced this archaic rule her family had instilled in his own home. She had grown up watching her brother and sister protest as their father insisted that there always be a sliver of daylight between them and the person they were dating, she had never had to deal with it herself because she'd never brought anyone to meet them. She definitely would have brought Anne home though. Now a grown woman she understood the frustration of having, 'Daylight!' barked at you when you weren't expecting it.

“There's no daylight between you.” Eliza keenly observed as she looked at her mum and dad. Ann silently thanked Eliza for being on their side. 

He looked down at her, “We’re married.” He answered matter-of-factly. “You two. Daylight. House rules.”

Eliza turned to look at them. Not wanting to defy Sam’s rules in front of his own child, despite how ridiculous they were, Ann reluctantly moved away so that there was a clear space between the two of them. She scowled across at Sam who smiled cheerfully back at them and went back to his programme. 

Anne immediately felt her absence. This wouldn’t do. Ann was sending daggers across the room at Sam as he pretended not to notice. “I guess that’s it then.” Ann turned her head, a look of worry across her face as she thought Anne was leaving. Anne gave her a quick wink before continuing dramatically, “We’ll have to marry. If you’ll have me that is.” 

Ann brought her hand to her cheek and furrowed her brow deep in thought, “What do you think Eliza?” Anne looked at the child sat at her feet who was staring at her the same way Ann was, sizing her up, she wasn’t sure what for. “Will you wear black to the wedding?”

“I'm not sure, I've not thought about it.”

Eliza stroked her chin, and turned to Ann, “So you two are friends now?”

Ann smiled, “Yes, we’re friends.” 

Eliza turned back to her homework as she shrugged her shoulders, “I suppose so. You can always get a divorce.” Both of them laughed at her honest conclusion.

“So that's a yes?” 

Ann took Anne’s hands in hers, “Yes. If it means we can sit together.” She moved back towards Anne and leaned in against her as she took her arm and brought it back around her shoulder where it belonged. She turned to Sam and stuck her tongue out at him like a petulant child, ‘“Ha!”

Sam shook his head as Hannah lightly laughed, he hated being bested in his own home. “You're not married yet. Daylight.”

===

Anne held on tightly to her hand as they walked to the door. Ann pulled it open slowly, instantly shivering as she felt the cool air hit her. Instinctively Anne brought her hands up and started to run them up and down her arms to make her warm. Ann giggled at her vigour causing her to pause, realising there was a better way to stop her from feeling the cold.

She pulled her jacket open and tried to wrap it around Ann, pulling her close to her as they embraced, their faces just a few inches apart. Anne smirked as she noted where they were, “Us and doorsteps.” 

Ann raised her eyebrows a slight scowl on her face, “Don’t answer your phone.” Anne scoffed. 

“Well, apparently I’m an engaged woman now, so I have to do what my fiancee says.” There was a playful gleam in Anne’s eyes.

“Hmm, well it’s not official till there’s a ring. Also, you didn’t get down on one knee.”

“So many rules Miss Walker.”

“Someone has to keep you in line.” Anne beamed back at her, knowing she would happily do anything she asked of her.

She held Ann’s warm body tight against hers as her hands moved down to her waist, her hands resting on the small of her back. She inhaled deeply, her lungs filling with the smell of her sweet citrus shampoo and light floral perfume. How had she stepped away from this? She vowed in that moment to never make that mistake again.

“Daylight!” roared out from within the house. 

“Sam!” Ann cried, burying her face in Anne’s shoulder in complete embarrassment. They heard him laughing as he descended the stairs calling out, “Goodnight Annes,” before he completely disappeared. 

Ann rested her head against her chest. She felt Ann bring her hands up between them, pausing for a moment when she reached her heart. The beat was strong and steady, just like Anne. She pushed herself slightly away so that she could look up at her face. She bit her bottom lip as she tried to understand how she was standing here in Anne Lister’s arms. She had spent a lifetime waiting to be held like this, for it to feel as right as this moment did. 

She tilted her chin up as she leaned forward, slowly pressing her lips to Anne’s. The touch was light and gentle, all at once feeling like they were delicately brushing against each other whilst simultaneously filling with every memory she had of this imagined moment. Anne moved her mouth slowly against hers allowing herself to be consumed by the warmth of Ann’s touch as it filtered from her lips to every part of her.

As their lips separated, Ann kept her eyes closed as she savoured the feeling of Anne’s lips against hers. When she opened them Anne was gazing adoringly back at her, the purest of smiles on her soft lips, “I’ve been wanting to do that since you opened this door.”

“It feels like I’ve been wanting to do that my whole life.” 

Anne laughed lightly pulling her in tighter, “Okay, you win.” Ann lay her head back against her chest as they gently swayed against each other. 

Too soon she felt Anne starting to pull back, “I should go darling.” Ann started to pout, Anne knew she was going to be helpless against this line of attack soon. “You could stay.” 

“We may have overcome the Daylight Rules on the sofa, but I’m not sure it would work for much else.” 

Ann nodded reluctantly, she knew Anne was right. Also, she wasn’t sure whether or not she could actually process the idea of Anne staying the night. It had been a whirlwind 24hours, preceded by two weeks she had never dreamt would be her life. And now, here she was, in Anne’s arms. It was perhaps more than her heart, and her brain, could deal with in one night. 

She unwillingly unwrapped herself from Anne’s arms and took a step back into the warmth of the house. Anne reached up and took her hand in hers, “I’ll call you in the morning.” She leaned up and kissed her again, more briefly but just as tenderly. Ann felt the same lips pressed to the back of her hand before she slowly let them go as Anne made her way down the steps.

She leaned against the doorframe as she watched Anne walk backwards away from her, that irrepressible smile never leaving her. She took one last long look at her before disappearing around the corner. Ann waited for a moment, but when she heard a car door close in the distance she knew that she was gone. She closed the door and locked it behind her. 

Staring into the empty house she leant back against the door. She could still taste Anne on her lips, feel her arms around her. How was she ever going to get any sleep?

Chapter Text

Anne wasn’t quite sure how she had allowed herself to be talked into helping supervise Eliza’s school trip to the Natural History Museum. Actually, she had a strong feeling that she had been ganged up on. Eliza had first brought up the subject when she had been round at the Washington’s for dinner. Ann had decided to stay there for the rest of the week since she enjoyed being surrounded by the large family and wanted to give Catherine some of her own space back. That of course meant Anne had also been there. 

After dinner they had all been sitting in the living room. Sam and Hannah on one sofa, Ann and Anne on the floor as they helped Eliza finish her homework. She hadn’t actually asked for help, but when Anne saw that she was doing a project on dinosaurs there was no stopping her. 

She had launched into a complete lesson on Mary Anning and her importance to palaeontology and the history of science, despite her contribution not being recognised until much later. She explained how the museum not only had on display Anning’s ichthyosaur, but also her plesiosaur and pterosaur. Much to Anne’s chagrin, Eliza only seemed to be interested when Anne brought up her work on coprolites, or as she explained to all the other adults present - fossilised poo. 

Since she appeared to be such an expert, Sam suggested it would be a good idea for Anne to accompany Eliza’s class to the museum. She could act as a representative of the Mayor’s Office. He argued that it wouldn’t hurt to demonstrate they were actively interested in education. She was almost certain it would hurt, but he seemed to ignore that.

When she suggested he had any number of staff at his disposal to represent him - including an actual Deputy Mayor for Education and Childcare, they delivered the killer blow. Ann was going on the trip, and surely she couldn’t pass up getting to spend the afternoon with her favourite person in one of her favourite buildings. Ann sat smiling on the other side of Eliza helping her with the spelling of some of the more trickier dinosaurs. She didn’t even have to say a word, there was no refusing her.

So that was exactly how she found herself in the middle of the week with a gaggle of children who were apparently all her responsibility. Thankfully Eliza had been assigned to her group of a half-dozen children and she was more than capable of keeping her contemporaries in line. She was extremely proud that she was already good friends with both Miss Walker and Miss Lister and didn’t hesitate to let anyone know about it. 

Anne had made it unscathed through the dinosaur galleries, only having to explain to one little girl that the animatronic T-Rex wasn’t real and wouldn’t eat her as one child had unhelpfully suggested. Every time they turned a corner she would do a head-count to make sure she hadn’t misplaced one as they all seemed to want to disperse to different exhibits. There were always six, whether all six were hers was another matter, as long as she returned six then she would consider the excursion a success. 

Ann appeared to be having a far easier time. Dressed in a pale pink short chiffon dress, her golden tresses tucked neatly behind her ears, adoring children surrounding her, she was the living embodiment of Miss Honey. As she moved effortlessly through the gallery Anne knew that she had more than a crush on her. Her half-dozen charges seemed to be equally enthralled. They all walked together holding hands like a daisy chain. Wherever Ann went they would all hover around her and listen attentively to anything she said, even if she just appeared to be reading from the information board. As Anne observed them she felt a slight pang of jealousy and understanding. 

The feelings were entirely mutual. Ann was glad the children had decided to clamp themselves onto her hand otherwise she was sure she would have lost one due to being distracted by the dashingly handsome dark haired chaperone leading Eliza’s group. Anne knew so much about dinosaurs that she had spent the night swotting up and had wanted to impress her by having the children ooh and ahh at all the cool facts that she could impart. Instead all she’d managed was to regurgitate the information already provided. Every time she tried to summon her new knowledge she’d catch Anne corralling her group in her commanding tone and she would be completely flustered.

Anne’s hot teacher made her look more like a rockstar. She wore a jet black ruched sleeve blazer, loose black v-neck, and impossibly tight cigarette trousers. If Ann considered herself the bookish librarian, Anne was the substitute teacher there to cause complete havoc and change everyone’s lives after one week. Entry into the gallery had been staggered to ensure there weren’t too many children in there at once, but either Anne’s group had taken longer or she had sped up because they were now moving through the space simultaneously. Ann was grateful the museum was well air-conditioned because she was in a constant flush. 

They had been instructed to assemble underneath the blue whale skeleton at 12pm so that they could have their lunch in the picnic area in the basement set aside for school trips. Ann guided her group to an empty table and waited for them to all have their lunches out before taking a seat. Anne stood awkwardly next to her group who had taken up the neighbouring table and were now eating following Eliza’s orders. 

There was a sharp tug on her hand, she looked down to see Eliza, sandwich in hand staring up at her, “Did you not bring your lunch Miss Lister?” Anne surveyed the room, it seemed that all the other adults had brought their own food and were eating alongside the children. Perhaps she should have read those emails from the school more carefully. “Hmm, no I didn’t.” Anne rocked back and forth on her heels, she was starting to feel like the child who had joined the class mid-way through the year and everyone had already made friends. 

She looked back down at Eliza who looked like a grazing sheep as she chewed her food. “Not to worry, I shall pop upstairs to the canteen. I’m sure I’ll be able to find something.” Just then she felt a soft hand slip into hers, when she turned to her side Ann was standing next to her. She raised her tote bag in front of them, “Care to share my lunch Miss Lister?” Anne nodded as she grinned back at her. If there had been a proper chair she would have pulled it out for her, as it was she cleared a space on the table next to Eliza for them to sit. Anne squeezing herself between Ann and the small child she’d consoled earlier. 

Ann reached into her bag and pulled out a couple of napkins and laid one out in front of Anne, and another for her. She took a meticulously wrapped sandwich and placed one half on Anne’s napkin and took the other for herself. Next she pulled out a packet of crisps, carefully dividing the contents between the two of them. Anne thought she was done but Ann crinkled her nose as she dug deeper into the bag, finally fishing out a small bundle wrapped in tissue. She opened it up and revealed two Jammie Dodgers. She quirked her eyebrows, placing one on Anne’s napkin saying excitedly, “Dessert!” 

Anne looked over at Ann in wonder, “Aren’t you going to be hungry if I eat half of your lunch?” 

She gave a quick shrug of her shoulders, “As long as I have a cottage, half shall be for you.” Anne’s heart stopped as the sincerity of those words passed through her. The silence worried Ann, had she said too much? She smiled shyly, “I read that once in a book. One of my relatives, at least I think she was, it was generations ago. She inscribed it in a book she gave to a dear friend of hers.” Anne reached out and gave a gentle squeeze of her hand in gratitude.

Ann turned her attention back to the children, not knowing the power of what she had just said. In that moment Anne wanted nothing more than to take her in her arms and dissolve into a kiss that would hold them forever. She felt herself inching closer towards her when she was halted by Eliza reaching over to plant a carton of juice between the two of them.

She immediately broke away before Ann even noticed how close she’d been to a very public display of affection. “There you go Miss Lister, in case you get thirsty.” 

Anne cleared her throat, “Thank you Eliza.” As she turned back to her lunch she noticed that an apple had joined the food that Ann had already shared with her. She looked to her side to the girl she had helped earlier who was gleefully eating her lunch next to her. Perhaps this hadn’t been such a terrible idea after all.

===

As the children were led into a lecture room Ann noticed Anne talking to their teacher at the front. She glanced up to her and gave her a quick wink before continuing their conversation. Ann felt her cheeks redden. One day she thought she’d be able to look at her without her temperature automatically rising a few degrees, even though she secretly wished that never happened. 

Ann made sure all of Anne’s kids were seated alongside her own. She kept a seat next to her empty for her striking companion. For the afternoon they were going to be shown a film about some of the work the museum was currently doing around the world with newly uncovered fossil sites. She hoped that the darkened room would allow them to at least hold hands. It had been maddening to sit so close together on the cramped table at lunch, with Anne’s leg constantly brushing up against her. She wasn’t even sure if Anne had been aware of what she was doing. 

During lunch Anne had conceived a way of having some quality time with Ann. Between the homework and the house rules the Washingtons had made it nearly impossible for them to be alone. Even last night after dinner they’d barely managed a goodnight kiss before Eliza was reminding her about what time she had to be at the museum. As if she had ever been late in her life. With the children occupied by the film for at least an hour she could steal Ann away and take her on a personal tour of the museum. There were plenty of quiet corners they could exploit. 

Anne approached the row where Ann was seated, she was practically bouncing. Ann went to move up when she didn’t take the empty seat but Anne took her hand and pulled her up to her feet, “We’re not staying.”

“Where are you going?” Anne turned and saw the entire row of children staring back up at her, Eliza eagerly awaiting her answer.

“None of your business,” she quickly replied at the seemingly impertinent question. Ann placed her hand on her arm giving it a gentle squeeze. Anne glanced down at her and she gave a little shake of her head. She was a grown-up, she didn’t have to explain herself to a child surely. The expression on Ann’s face told her otherwise. Anne huffed as she turned back to address the children, “I am taking Miss Walker on a tour of the Mary Anning rooms.”

“The poo lady!” Eliza excitedly exclaimed.

Ann giggled as Anne inhaled deeply, speaking through clenched teeth she answered, “Yes Eliza. The lady that studied fossilised poo. What else did she do?”

Sinking into her seat at the reminder of the evening they’d spent being lectured on the contribution to science Mary Anning had made Eliza sighed heavily as she recited verbatim, “Changed the course of science forever.” 

“Excellent.” Anne was glad she had remembered. “Anyway, watch the film. We’ll be back later.”

Anne turned to leave when there was another question, “Don’t you want to watch the film?”

“I’ve seen it already,” she answered immediately.

“When?” Normally she encouraged Eliza’s inquisitiveness but it was starting to try her patience.

“The last time I was here.” She saw Eliza’s mouth open, no doubt to ask another unnecessary question. “How else do you think we know it’s suitable for you?” Her mouth closed again as she considered the question. There was a small nod, it seemed she had accepted her explanation, Before she could think of another question Anne quickly guided Ann towards the exit. 

===

As soon as the door was shut behind them Anne grabbed Ann’s hand as she walked briskly down the hallway towards the elevators. “Where are we going?” Ann was almost jogging in order to keep up with the fast pace she set.

“There’s something I want you to see,” she replied, coming to a halt in front of the elevators. She tapped the button several times, swinging their hands between them. She quickly glanced around, they were going to the top floor. If the elevator was empty she could perhaps steal a kiss. When the doors opened there was no one inside, Anne quietly thanked whatever elevator gods were on her side today.  

They stepped into the elevator, Anne immediately pulling Ann close to her by her waist. They jerked slightly as it moved up, drawing her even closer. Ann’s breathing quickened as she felt her intent gaze. She’d never seen Anne’s eyes this dark. She tilted her chin up as the corners of Anne’s mouth curled up as she moved closer. She could feel her warm breath brush her lips when there was a sudden loud ‘DING’ as the elevator door opened. 

Anne immediately let go of her waist, darting away from her. The movement had been so rapid Ann was certain it was not the first time she had been interrupted that way. An elderly lady slowly made her way into the elevator, smiling at the both of them as she pushed the button. Ann held her lips tight together as she tried not to laugh as Anne stood looking like the model of decorum across from her. 

Unfortunately there was no time to continue what they had wanted to start once they were alone again. When they got to their floor Anne offered her hand as they both exited. As they turned the corner into another corridor they stopped, Anne moved in front of her, a mischievous glint in her eye, “Do you trust me?” Ann hesitated a moment before nodding slowly, “Close your eyes.” She paused for a moment, Anne took both her hands in hers and held them tightly, “I won’t let anyone hurt you.” She shut her eyes.

She felt Anne guide her through the corridor into the wider gallery. There were a few voices but it was much quieter up here. They came to a stop and she felt Anne turn her shoulders so that she was facing towards what she thought was the northern end of the museum. “Open your eyes.”

Ann’s mouth fell open as she slowly opened them and looked out at the museum below her. They were at the top of a set of stairs at the highest point in the museum. The intricately decorated columns rose up towards the exquisitely painted roof just a few meters above them. The stairs leading down to another balcony overlooking the large skeleton that they had stood under earlier. It was breathtaking. 

Anne quietly watched her as she took in every movement of Ann’s face as she slowly turned her head trying to take in all of the detail. The way her breath would hitch slightly when she spotted a carving of a mischievous monkey hiding behind a column, how her eyes narrowed slightly as she tried to focus on the complex carvings contained in so many of the tiles, the tiny smile that played at the corner of her mouth at the myriad of colours that blended effortlessly together. “It’s so beautiful.” Without taking her eyes off her Anne agreed.

There was that familiar blush as Anne guided her down the steps to the first balcony. From there Ann noticed the cross section of the giant sequoia that they had stopped in front of.  She could see all of the great central hall from the tip of the blue whale skull all the way to the Charles Darwin statue on the north staircase. Ann was still trying to take all of it in.

“Hope.” 

She turned to Anne, “Sorry?”

She gestured towards the large skeleton below them, “Her name is Hope.” Ann slowly peered down, she’d never had a problem with height but the mixture of excitement and Anne’s proximity had made her feel light headed. “She was beached in a harbour in Ireland in 1891. Her skeleton was sold to the museum.” She didn’t dare lean any further forward but she allowed herself to stand on her tiptoes slightly to see the people moving on the floor below them. 

She felt Anne come around behind her placing her arms on either side. There was a light kiss to her shoulder as she felt the tip of her nose brush against her neck followed by her lips as they traced a path upwards. Ann leaned back into her, exposing more of her neck to the soft kisses she was placing there. She felt a gentle bite on her ear before she heard Anne whisper, “It was built as a cathedral to science.” She tried to concentrate on her words but was finding it increasingly difficult. 

“Waterhouse used a mixture of Gothic and Romanesque architecture.” Ann hummed as Anne wrapped her left arm around her waist, pulling her towards her. With her right hand she pointed at the columns on either side of them, “There are 78 monkeys on the columns.” She felt Anne smile against her neck as she placed another kiss along her pulse point, “I’ve only ever been able to count 62.” Ann put her hands on the stone bannister in front of her to steady herself.

Her throat felt dry as Anne directed her gaze towards the ceiling, “There are 162 ceiling panels. They’re hand-painted. Real gold leaf.” Her eyelids fell at the low dulcet tones. She couldn’t believe Anne was still trying to talk to her about the architecture, “Plants from all over the world that would have been important to the Empire.” Her lips were now gently sucking as she arched her neck further, “Cotton. Figs. Olives.” 

Ann’s breathing grew increasingly laboured as she felt Anne’s hips pressing into her from behind. “No one would have known what they were back then.” How on earth was she still talking? Anne, her only anchor point, pressed against her body, wrapped around her waist, and those excruciating slow lips driving her mad with every touch. 

Suddenly it felt like all of the air had been sucked out of the cavernous space as she no longer felt Anne around her. The sound of strange voices coming into focus as she blinked her eyes open. In her periphery she noticed a small group of people coming up the stairs and then she felt Anne’s arm brush hers. Turning to her right, there she stood looking impossibly wide eyed and alert. As the group neared Anne pointed once again at the roof, “As I was saying Miss Walker, the ceiling tiles are a tribute to the diversity of life on Earth.”

Ann was gobsmacked. Had she imagined it all? “You might have also noticed that the east wing is decorated with extinct species, and the west with living ones.” She pointed over her shoulder and gestured towards where she wanted Ann to look as the group passed them. She was completely perplexed but she turned her head to look where she was pointing. That was when she felt Anne press once more into her side as she brushed her hair away from her ear and quietly whispered, “We need to do this somewhere with fewer interruptions.” The smile spread across Ann’s face. She hadn’t imagined it.

She turned to face Anne, wrapping her arms around her neck. Her tongue poking out slightly from between her lips as she smiled mischievously, “What did you have in mind Miss Lister?”

Chapter Text

Anne wasn’t sure she had ever wanted school to end as much as she did right now. She strode up and down the length of the playground’s back wall waiting for the final bell to ring. Even when she was on the verge of being expelled from the school in Ripon she had never wanted it to be over this much. She shoved her hands into her pockets as she paced back and forth, turning her head after every lap to take a glance into the classroom to see if they were finished.

Despite her best efforts, Ann had resisted her attempts to convince her to disappear behind one of the large display cabinets, the darkened stairwell, or even behind the large stuffed animals in the gift shop. She had managed to steal a few chaste kisses before they headed back down to the basement in the belief that they would just have to escort the children back onto the school bus and that would be their duties done. Anne had been mistaken. This was an all-day commitment, at least for Ann. She really should have read those emails.

Ann had suggested she could meet her after school if she needed to go back to the office, but Anne had very little interest in getting any work done. Besides, if Sam had made her go on this trip under the pretence that she was representing the Mayor then technically she was working. Instead she agreed to wait for her at the school, there would only be a half-hour or so before hometime by the time they got back. Then they could get Thomas to drive Eliza home before she and Ann left to continue what they had started. Simple. Only this felt like the most agonisingly long thirty minutes of Anne’s life. 

When the bell finally rang the relief on Anne’s face was almost matched by the children running out of the various classrooms. Anne spun around as children of various heights and sizes whizzed past her. She had trouble keeping track of her six, she wasn’t sure how teachers didn’t lose any when there were this many of them. “Miss Lister! Miss Lister!” She turned to where the sound of her name being yelled was coming from and saw Eliza running wildly towards her, followed by her favourite teaching assistant. 

Anne couldn’t help but stare in awe. Children rushed past her, remembering to stop and wave goodbye to her before darting off again. Parents looking on curiously, turning to ask their children who she was. It didn’t matter who it was, everyone - including Anne, was captivated by her. Who wouldn’t be? She was effortlessly beautiful, and she was walking up to her with that unfaltering smile. 

Eliza had all but crashed into her, coming to a grounding halt a few inches from Anne. It had of course been a complete fluke that she had managed to stop in time but she smiled victoriously regardless. Anne peered down at her from her lofty height advantage, she was semi-impressed and gave her a quick nod, that was recognition enough for Eliza. She felt a quick kiss on her cheek that she wasn’t fast enough to follow up on before Ann was taking her hand as she led her towards the car.

Of course Thomas hadn’t gotten out of the car in time, but Anne was more than happy to carry out this small act of chivalry. As Ann was about to step into the car she had a quick thought, “Wait!” Ann stopped suddenly, one foot already in the car. They all looked at Anne, waiting for an explanation for the interruption. “Eliza should go in first.” 

“Aren’t I sitting in the middle?” she asked, slightly confused. “I’m the smallest.” It had been drilled into her from an early age that the smallest person, typically her, always had to sit in the middle. She had accepted her lot in life and knew that she was destined never to have a window seat until one or both of her elder siblings decided to drive their own car. 

“Yes you are, but,,,” Anne tapped her fingers on the top of the car door searching for a reason. 

“You want to sit next to Ann?” Now that school was over she could go back to first names, well at least for one of them. Anne’s mouth fell open, when she heard it said out loud - from a child at that, it sounded a bit silly. Maybe Ann would think it was juvenile, no one wanted the middle seat. She was about to tell them to just forget it when Ann spoke up, “I’d like to sit next to Anne.” Anne’s head lifted, returning Ann’s winsome smile. “If that’s alright, Eliza?” 

Anne thought this is why everyone warmed to her. No matter who it was, small child or grown adult, Ann spoke to them kindly, as though what they had to say mattered. She didn’t just assume things about what they wanted. She asked. She wondered how much of that was because in her own life she hadn’t been given those choices. They hadn’t spoken about it yet, but Anne knew that she had been quite young when her parents had passed, and then her brother. With her sister already married and living in Scotland she had mostly been left in the charge of her older relatives, and that can’t have been easy. It made her admire her more.

“Alright then!” Eliza said as she threw her school bag into the back seat. This time it was Anne’s turn to steal a quick kiss as Ann watched Eliza clamber past her. Maybe she had pre-empted it, or perhaps she was just faster, but Ann turned her head sharply to capture Anne’s lips before she had a chance to pull away. She tilted her head slightly, deepening the kiss between them. When Anne felt the tip of Ann’s tongue gently exploring her lips it took every bit of restraint she had to push herself away. 

Ann immediately felt the loss, tumbling slightly forward as she opened her eyes, searching for the lips she’d just had pressed to hers in the most delicious of kisses. Anne stood trying to catch her breath, “We should be going.” Ann looked a little disappointed as she turned to get into the car, she felt Anne’s arm wrap around her waist as she leaned in and whispered into her ear, “We can’t let Miss Walker scandalise the entire school.” She giggled lightly and got into the car. 

Her dress had ridden up slightly, exposing her thigh as she got into the car. She pulled it down but not before Anne offered up a silent thank you to the heavens, good lord she thought to herself. As she felt her pulse quicken she thought this may not have been the best idea. She got in, pulling the door shut behind her. She leaned over to make sure Eliza was alright. She was happily sitting on the other side of the car staring out of the window, seatbelt on. Anne leant back into her seat and Ann immediately lifted her arm and draped it around her as she leaned into her side. Anne smiled as she placed a gentle kiss on the top of her golden hair, this had in fact been a wonderful idea.

===

She had hoped that having the window seat would keep her occupied but Eliza had spent most of the car ride home telling them exactly what they missed by not watching the film, despite Anne insisting that she had already seen it. Eliza reasoned that she can’t have since they showed an excavation that they had only just started earlier that year. Anne, in Eliza’s words, had been too busy winning her dad the election to have seen it. She could hardly object to that assessment of things. Nor could she find much reason to argue against the small circles Ann had been drawing up and down the inside of her thigh. 

Ann hummed as she continued her ministrations, enjoying Anne’s attempts to mask the sharp intake of breath whenever her hand wandered a little higher than intended. It was all she could do to distract herself from the feel of Anne’s nimble fingers as they gently ghosted her clavicle. They were both revelling in the teasing touches, silently challenging the other to withdraw first. 

As Eliza launched into another detailed presentation about what she had learned today Anne finally registered that the car journey had already taken twice as long as it should have. She flicked her wrist, it was 4.08pm, they should have been home by 3.40pm at the latest and they were only just getting into Clapham. She inadvertently dislodged Ann when she craned her neck to see if there was anything obvious causing the delay. 

“What is it?” she asked, still trailing her hand up and down Anne’s thigh. 

“We’re running a bit late. There seems to be a bit of traffic.” She sat back down, Ann resuming her favoured position against her. Anne looked at her two companions, “I should call Hannah, in case she starts to get worried.” She felt Ann nod against her chest. As she reached into her pocket for her phone she suddenly paused, “Um, Ann?” She tilted her head back so that she was looking at her upside-down, Anne couldn’t help but giggle. “Is it alright if I use my phone?”

Ann sat up and turned to face her, “Of course you can.” She looked at her puzzled, “How else were you going to call Hannah?” She shrugged her shoulders sheepishly. Ann chuckled, before leaning in to give her a kiss. She didn’t let it linger but she wanted to show Anne she was thankful for her thoughtfulness. She understood that Anne needed to be available because of her work and she had noticed the effort she had made regarding her phone. Whenever they were together her phone was kept out of sight, she’d only caught her sneaking a look once or twice and that was always when she had stepped out of the room.

She pulled out her phone, her brow immediately furrowing when she saw she had a number of missed calls. She put her phone up to her ear to listen to her voicemail, “Eliza’s been trying to call me.”

“No I haven’t!” Eliza protested.

“Not you Eliza,” Anne groaned. “Other Eliza.” 

“Oh. Her.” Ann snickered at her scrunched up nose. She’d only met Eliza Priestley once, the day of the accident, but neither of the people on either side of her seemed to be big fans. She began to worry when Anne started to rub her temples as the messages went on. Her eyebrows were drawn tight together by the time she finished. Ann wanted to ask her what had happened but Anne was already making a phone call.

“Eliza. Yes. Just now.” She was looking out of the window, trying to see if the traffic had cleared when her hand unwittingly reached out for Ann’s, fumbling around until she had a hold of it. Ann ran her thumb soothingly over the back of it as her phone call continued. “No. Yes. I understand. Of course.” Anne turned back to look at Ann, offering her a strained smile. “Right. Now?” Her nostrils flared as she shook her head, “I did have.” Ann noticed the sadness that had crept into her voice, “No. It’s fine,” she mumbled. Everyone in the car knew that whatever it was Eliza had just said was in no way fine. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.” 

She ended the call, Ann and Eliza who were both sitting waiting in anticipation. Her shoulders drooped as she turned to them, she brought Ann’s hand up to her mouth as she softly kissed the back of it, “I have to go.”

===

Ann sat on the living room floor as she absentmindedly helped Eliza sort out the pieces from the wooden Triceratops construction kit that Anne had bought her from the museum gift shop. She had managed to talk her out of buying the £200 dinosaur chess set, since Eliza didn’t know how to play and Anne probably didn’t have the temperament to teach her. That had been a lot easier than pulling away from Anne when she had wanted to continue what they had started on the stairs behind the large stuffed dinosaurs. 

She felt her cheeks starting to burn at the memory of how insistent Anne’s mouth had been as she pressed her against the, thankfully sturdy, display. The way her hand had tangled in her hair as she commandingly held her close as their kiss deepened. The other hand firmly wrapped around her waist, simultaneously pulling her close and keeping her upright when the heady mix of Anne’s touch and unyielding press of her body threatened to shut all her senses down.

Anne had only relented when an unmistakable moan had escaped Ann’s lips, pausing to relish the effect she was having on her and also ensure that no one had discovered them. She couldn’t help that self-assured smirk when she had seen how breathless she had made her. There was no doubting how alive every part of her felt in her arms. When Anne had leaned in to kiss her again she had somehow managed to gently press her hand against Anne’s chest, halting the next onslaught. 

She could still remember how Anne’s hand felt as it slowly moved down to her neck. Shaking her head Ann reached for her glass and hurriedly took a long drink of water. Eliza shot her a curious look from across the table before going back to her dinosaur. Ann thought it was safer if she did the same rather than returning to her memories of the day and started to sort through the pieces again. 

Eliza had asked her to help her complete the dinosaur before Anne got home. She had wanted to impress her, a feeling Ann was no stranger to, so she had agreed to help. As they worked their way through the instructions, Ann thought about how peculiar it was for her to hear the word ‘home’ and Anne together. She was sure that Eliza had thought nothing of it, but it had stirred Ann’s thoughts. How much London was starting to feel like home.

The past week had felt more like a month, but she realised that they had spent most of it together. Apart from that horrible mess over Mariana - which Anne had apologised for profusely over and over again, it had been wonderful. She remembered again how different her life had been only a month ago, still new to London with only Catherine to keep her company. Admittedly the Washingtons were more like family, but they were her friends too, and of course there was Anne. 

She wasn’t even sure that Anne would be coming back to the house. She had jumped out of the car near the train station, since there was little point in all of them sitting in traffic if she was headed in the other direction. She said she wasn’t sure how long she would be, but when Sam had messaged Hannah to let her know he wouldn’t be home in time for dinner, they knew it would be another couple of hours. A corresponding message from Anne relaying the same message came through on her phone shortly after. 

Ann had responded straight away, even though she knew that they were incredibly busy and she probably wouldn’t have a chance to read it. She wanted her to know that it made her feel important that she had chosen to message her separately even though she knew Hannah would have told her of Sam’s message.

They still had to talk about what they were to each other, if in fact they were going to put a label on it, Ann wasn’t sure Anne did that sort of thing. Eliza had called them ‘friends’, which they were, but obviously more than that. She at least hoped Anne didn’t go about kissing her friends the way she did her. As she started to assemble the puzzle in front of her, she started to wonder what would have happened if Anne hadn’t been called away. 

They had been knowingly teasing each other all through the car journey home. True, there wasn’t much they could do while she was staying at Sam’s, or at Catherine’s - at least not without having to face an interrogation the next day. Anne had her own flat though, and now that Tib and Marian had left again she was all alone in it. Had she been meaning to take her there once they had brought Eliza home? As that possibility sank in Ann started to feel her stomach start to turn with a mixture of butterflies and anxiety.

She had told the truth when she’d said that it felt like she had waited a lifetime to kiss Anne Lister. Only that was the problem, she had built up the idea of her in her mind to be this unattainable figure that she would forever measure all of her relationships against and always find herself wanting. Even now that she was in some sort of a relationship she was still very much wanting, but now the want was more palpable because it could actually be satisfied. The thought excited and terrified her.  

Compared to Anne she was relatively inexperienced. The stories that she’d heard about her did not just focus on how many relationships she had been in. Some of the more lewd stories had gone into explicit detail about why she had always been so popular. Ann had always refused to give much credence to idle gossip, but she no longer had to. She had kissed Anne Lister, she knew the way her body had reacted just by being near her. 

Ann got up suddenly heading for the kitchen. She went over to the sink and poured herself some water as she felt herself growing increasingly flustered. Her mouth was impossibly dry no matter how much she drank. She filled the glass once more and turned to lean against the sink, holding the surface against her forehead as she tried to cool herself down as the thought of what spending the night with Anne Lister actually meant.

===

Anne flopped onto the sofa next to Sam, both exhausted from the four hour long meeting they had just finished. They knew there was more to discuss but they had decided to end the session when there were more accusations than constructive talks occurring. He turned and laughed wearily as she moved her head from side to side trying to get the crick out of her neck, “More of the same tomorrow.” 

“Surely not?” she asked disbelievingly.

Sam patted her shoulder as he forced himself upright, “Welcome to public service Lister.” 

There had been an accident on Hammersmith Bridge, a pedestrian had almost been struck when a piece of one of the balustrades had fallen. The Borough had closed the bridge as a precaution which had forced thousands of cars to divert to other river crossings, bringing West London almost to a halt. 

Ordinarily this would have been something Hinscliffe, his Deputy Mayor for Transport, should have handled, but he was in Ireland trying to broker a deal for the half-completed cross country high speed rail network that his administration had inherited. So Sam had taken it upon himself to try and mediate discussions between the Borough, Transport for London, the local councillors, and the various emergency services. Roping in Anne since she at least lived locally, and was also the most capable person he knew.

They all seemed to know who was to blame but offered few solutions. Sam had at least managed to get them to agree that the bridge was in need of urgent repairs and should remain closed for the foreseeable future until a proper structural assessment could be made. How they would fix it and, more importantly, who would pay for it, would be tomorrow’s battle. 

It was almost 10pm when they finally left the council office buildings. Anne was glad when she saw Thomas waiting for her outside. She had told him to try and get to them but with the bridge closure she wasn’t sure how bad the traffic still was. As they neared her car Sam turned to her, “Are you coming back to the house?”

She laughed half-heartedly, “Is that your way of asking for a lift home even though you don’t approve of this extravagance?”

He wiggled his head side to side, refusing to give her answer, just like a true politician. “Don’t you want to see your girlfriend?” She quickly glanced away. If he didn’t know better he could have sworn that he had made Anne Lister blush. 

Now it was her turn to evade giving an answer. Of course she wanted to see Ann, she had hoped to spend her whole evening with her. Much more than just an evening. Just the two of them. However, she knew how late it was and that Ann would probably be asleep. She was also all too aware that she was staying in the home of her boss, who happened to be the Mayor. Anne had taken many liberties in the past, that had never been one of them. 

Sensing her hesitation Sam reached for the car door and pulled it open, “Come on Lister. You can drop me home and then at least pop it to kiss her goodnight.” 

She raised her eyebrows, “What happened to the Daylight Rule?” 

“Oh, that rule still very much applies. I’ll be timing you.” As Anne stepped into the car she observed his sly smile. She was grateful that he was so forgiving. She knew that she had made a mess of things with Mariana - when he had expressly told her not to hurt Ann, and still here he was welcoming her into his home. She was glad of his friendship, for hers and Ann’s sake. 

===

There was no answer when Anne knocked gently on the door to the loft so she was sure that Ann was asleep. She paused a moment wondering if she should go in before slowly pushing the door open a fraction. She stifled her laugh at the sound she heard as she quietly tiptoed into the room. She was certain that someone else must be in the room with her but as she drew closer to Ann’s sleeping form she was definitely alone, and she was most certainly snoring.

Anne bit her lip to stop herself from coming completely undone at the juxtaposition of this angelic face, framed by her long golden hair, lit only by moonlight from the skylights above, and the snuffling snorts emanating from her. She had never known such perfection.

She gingerly sat on the edge of the bed so that she wouldn’t wake her. Tentatively she reached out her hand and lightly traced a wisp of hair that fell across her brow. She leaned forward and placed the most delicate of kisses on her forehead, pressing her lips there for a slow heartbeat. 

As she pulled back Ann started to stir. She hovered, frozen above her. She thought she heard her mumble her name, but dared not move in case she hadn’t. “Anne.” This time it was more clear. Slowly her eyes opened a tiny fraction as the corners of her mouth formed a sleepy smile. Anne caressed her face. She licked her lips a few times, trying to wake up a little, “I knew it was you.” 

“It’s late, I just wanted to say goodnight.” 

Ann moved to peel the covers off but Anne was sitting on them. She shifted slightly as Ann pulled them back, “Stay,” came the drowsy plea. Anne’s heart lurched in her chest. She wanted so much to crawl under the covers and lay with her, even if all they did was sleep. She sighed heavily, “I can’t.” Thankfully Ann was only half-awake otherwise her pout would have destroyed any resolve she had left. 

She placed another kiss to her forehead, as Ann clutched her hand to her chest. She was making this impossible. She drew a trail of kisses down her cheek before she reached her lips. Anne knew it was dangerous but as she felt Ann’s warm lips against her she sank deeper into their kiss. Anne struggled not to lower herself fully on Ann as the light pressure of their tongues brushed against each other. It was delicate and hungry all at once. A tiny groan slipped from Ann’s throat tugging Anne back into the moment. 

She pushed herself up from the bed, she had expected Ann to protest but she lay dreamily touching her lips with the tips of her fingers. Maybe she would think it was a dream. “Stay,” this time the plea sounded sleepier. Anne knew that she would be asleep again soon. She dared not risk another kiss so when she heard the quiet sniffles start again she carefully stood and started to make her way out of the bedroom. 

When she got to the door she took one last look at Ann’s sleeping form. She couldn’t wait to be able to come home to Ann and curl up beside her and try to fall asleep to the sound of her gentle snores. “Goodnight darling,” she whispered before closing the door.

Chapter Text

When Anne had agreed to be part of Sam’s team she had thought her role would be purely advisory. She was happy to offer him opinions on possible policy changes and what his overall Mayoral strategy would be. She had not imagined that she would be shoulder to shoulder with him in a council office late into the night refereeing a shouting match for the second day in a row. 

As expected, the day had been spent with them trying to mediate between the warring factions. Anne had been in many tough negotiations, but between the obstinate council leaders and childlike bickering over who was to blame over the state of the bridge she had been thoroughly exhausted by it all. They had finally drawn a line under discussions once they agreed to which engineering firm would carry out the assessment and that the cost of the initial report would be split between them. It was a small victory but a hard fought one. 

As they sank wearily into the back of Anne’s car, she was astonished at how rejuvenated Sam looked. She knew the day had tried him just as much as it had her, but somehow he was still smiling through it all. He actually relished this sort of thing. She let out a quiet chortle that got his attention.

“What?” He asked as he turned to face her.

“You,” she gave him a brief look up and down as she shook her head. “You love this.” He tilted his head and looked at her questioningly. She sat up slightly and angled herself towards him, “All this arguing-”

“Constructive discussion.” 

“Bickering.” 

“Negotiating.” She laughed again. He was the consummate politician, even in this space when he was allowed to say what it was he actually thought. 

“I do love it,” he offered with a wry smile. “Not the arguing. But the reason behind the arguing.”

“Constructive discussion,” she replied cheekily. 

He nodded concedingly. “You know that behind all the discussions, what you’re trying to do, what you’re hoping everyone is trying to do, is make things better.”

Sam was a good man. He reminded her of her Sam, perhaps that’s why, despite her reservations, she had agreed to run his campaign when he asked her. She wanted to be a part of something greater than she had been. There was a hopefulness in what he wanted for the city and the people who called it home. After years of hearing hollow pledges and working with people who were only interested in increasing their profits, his optimism was enticing. 

She had seen first hand how he inspired the people around him and made them believe that they could do all the impossible things that he said they could. She realised she had been missing that sort of positivity in her life. Thinking about all the changes she had made in the  last few months, there was no denying that she was certainly benefitting from it. 

“Are you coming in to say goodnight again?” His question brought a teasing smile to her lips as she remembered the previous night’s goodnight kiss. 

“It may be best that I don’t.” Sam looked at her inquisitively. She shrank a little in embarrassment, if her relationship with Ann was going to progress she had to get over the idea that she was essentially dating her boss’ little sister. It was still an unfamiliar dynamic and one she was not entirely comfortable with. “There are rules in your home, ones I respect and wouldn’t want to break.”

His eyes brightened as he let out a raucous laugh, “I’m just asking if you want to say goodnight Anne. I wasn’t asking if we needed to make room for you at the breakfast table.” His laughter eased her discomfort a little but he could see she was still apprehensive. “Not that there’s anything wrong with you…” He struggled to find the words that would make this the least awkward for the both of them. “Having breakfast at our place.” He sighed with relief, that would do. “It’s just with Eliza-”

“She would have questions.”

“Aye.” His eyes widened as the possible questions his youngest child might have ran through his mind. “And that’s not to say she shouldn’t have questions.”

“No, she’s very inquisitive.” In that respect Eliza reminded her of herself when she was younger.

“Which is good.”

“Which is excellent.” She had often wished that her own young inquiring mind had been as encouraged by her parents, although she now appreciated how difficult that may have been. 

“Just, I don’t think Annie would appreciate the Spanish Inquisition.”

“Right.” On that they both agreed.

“I wasn’t thrilled when she showed up on my doorstep.” Anne braced herself, she had hoped the time for this conversation had passed. She was grateful that they had nearly reached his house and hopefully the reprimanding would not last too long. “But you make her happy Anne. These last few days, she’s like how I remember her when she was younger.” He paused thoughtfully, a slight frown forming on his brow, “Before she started feeling guilty for being happy.”

In that moment Anne wished that she had paid more attention to Ann when she was younger. Before and after she had experienced the loss she had. Marian had reminded her of all the times she would have seen Ann, there was a vague recollection of going to tea once with her sister and mother before she passed. Mostly though she was someone in her periphery that she had trouble placing. How much time had she wasted by ignoring what had been right in front of her? Even if it were not a romantic relationship, she would have no doubt been better for having someone as good and kind as Ann in her life.

“You’re good for her.” It felt good to hear those words. Though she hadn’t quite accepted that was true yet she appreciated him saying it. “You’re good for each other.” 

She bowed her head, “Thank you Samuel, it means a lot that you think that.” 

“But,” she turned slowly to face him. “If you hurt her, they won’t find your body.” Her mouth fell open slightly. This was the second time that week the same threat had been made. She had no intention of her family ever having to find out if the threats were true.

===

Ann stretched her arms up above her head and let out a long yawn. Having the memory of the night before she wanted to stay awake in case Anne came to say goodnight again. She couldn’t remember hearing Sam come home so she knew she’d fallen into a deep sleep. Ann was certain that she wouldn’t have slept through another goodnight kiss. 

She reached for her phone expecting there would be a message from Anne but there wasn’t any. She felt her bottom lip form a pout before she could stop it. They must have had a very long day if Anne hadn’t messaged her. As she got up and made her way to the bathroom she decided that rather than let it bother her she would message her when she went down for breakfast. She liked the idea of Anne being the first and last person she spoke to each day. 

She tried to rub the sleep out of her eyes, as she reached for her toothbrush she noticed a folded up note with a familiar scrawl on the shelf. She blinked her eyes rapidly to try and focus as she unfolded the note, she was already bouncing with excitement. The nearly indecipherable handwriting was unmistakably Anne’s.

Darling,

I want to write that I didn’t come up to because I didn’t want to wake you, I didn’t. But the truth is, I don’t think I could pull myself away from you again if I were to kiss you goodnight. I want your smile on my lips, always. 

ALx

Ann leaned against the sink as she felt herself swoon. She clutched the note tightly to her chest as the warmth from Anne’s words filled her. This was much better than a text.

===

Sam noticed Ann was practically floating as she came into the kitchen dressed in a bright red summer dress. Whatever Anne had written in that note he’d left in her bathroom must have been something. She’d insisted that it was nothing inappropriate, just in case one of his girls might sneak a peak before Ann had seen it. She greeted Sam and Eliza cheerily, they seemed to be the last of the Washingtons to finish up breakfast.

She hummed as she waited for the kettle to boil, pulling her phone out from her pocket. She had been thinking about what she could text Anne in response to her note and had finally decided on a set of words. She smiled to herself as she typed the message.

“I take it that’s Catherine you’re messaging that’s got you looking like that,” he said playfully.

Her head shot up, “Sorry?” She was completely lost in her thoughts of Anne to have heard what he’d said. 

“Catherine.”

“Did she call?” Sam and Eliza turned to each other shaking their heads. Ann clearly had no idea what he was talking about.

Sam pushed himself up from the table, carrying their bowls over to the sink. “It’s been a long time since you’ve been this Listered, Annie.” Her jaw fell open at hearing the old phrase. 

“What’s Listered mean?” Eliza didn’t miss a beat. Ann gave him a sharp swat on his arm as he sniggered at her question. “Is it to do with Miss Lister?” Ann folded her arms across her chest and raised her eyebrows at him. She couldn’t wait to see him get out of this one.

“Sort of,” he tried not to laugh again as she fixed her steely glare on him. “It’s what used to happen to Ann a lot when she was younger.” Her eyes grew wide, she couldn’t believe he was actually going to tell her the true meaning. “Especially when Miss Lister was around.” He raised his arms up as a barrage of blows started thundering down. 

“Oh like at the museum.” Ann suddenly stopped the onslaught as they both turned to Eliza. 

“What?” Ann’s question was only a whisper as she tried to think what she could have possibly witnessed between them. 

“When you were sitting next to Miss Lister at lunch and we had to keep saying everything twice.” She could see Sam out of the corner of her eye biting his lip as he tried to stifle his laughter. She quickly sent another slap to his arm. “Or like the other day when we were making the Triceratops and you got really thirsty.” Eliza looked at the two of them, her brow creased in deep thought, “Is that Listered?” 

Sam leaned against the counter smiling smugly, now it was his turn to watch as she struggled for an answer. Ann blusterred as she tried to find an answer, she couldn’t believe Eliza had noticed those things. She fiddled with the hem of her shirt as she looked around the room as if the answer would appear to her. Sam took pity on her and turned to his youngest, “I think it’s time you got your bag ready.”

“But I still don’t know what Listered means,” she whined.

“I’ll tell you on the way to school. Go on, get your bag.” Eliza huffed as she got up from the table. Sam pushed himself from the counter and started to move past her, staying well out of arm’s reach. “You know she’s an observant one.” 

She narrowed her eyes as he stepped carefully past her, “I’m going back to Catherine’s tonight!”

He let out another laugh as he exited the kitchen, “Whatever you say Annie.”

===

Anne immediately felt the weight of her day shift as she saw the message from Ann come through. It wasn’t even 9am yet but she had been in the office for two hours having video meetings with people in Hong Kong. If she had known that so much time would be taken up by local council matters she probably would have had to cancel the museum excursion. 

Part of her was thankful that she hadn’t known because she wouldn’t have given up the memory of driving Ann wild under the gilded ceiling. However, it meant that she would hardly have time to breathe for most of the day. Even now, the thought of it was distracting her from the email she was trying to write. 

She had been keeping half an eye on her phone though, waiting for Ann to wake up and read her note. As soon as she saw her name appear she picked her phone up immediately and opened her messages.

I want you in a thousand ways.

She almost dropped her phone as a vision of Ann laying beneath her saying those words flooded her mind. The slight tug of her lips between her teeth, her flaxen hair spread out on the pillow, the deep blue of her eyes now dark with want, her shallow breaths as her chest rose and fell with each breath. Anne shifted uncomfortably in her chair as she pulled the collar of her black dress shirt and tried to think of anything else. This was going to be a very long day indeed.

Anne placed her phone screen down on the desk next to her as she refocused on the report she was reading in preparation for her next meeting. She’d managed to re-read the same paragraph three times before the urge to pick up her phone grew too strong. 

She knew that Ann would be waiting for a response. If she took the time now she would be preempting the inevitable break she would have to take to explain to Ann how busy she had been. So better to spend a minute replying than five minutes explaining. This was the logic she had convinced herself of.

As if by divine provenance, her phone started to ring as she went to pick it up. She knew immediately that it had to be Ann, she was obviously as impatient to talk to her as she had been. Without needing to look at the screen, she accepted the call with a bright smile across her face, “Good morning darling.”

“Good morning to you too sweetheart,” came the chipper reply.

Anne let out a loud groan as she said through gritted teeth, “Tib.” She pulled the phone away whilst she let her friend’s laughter ring out. When she was certain she was finished she brought the phone back to her ear. “Don’t worry Lister, I won’t tell Ann about us.”

“Very funny,” she started to drum her fingers on her desk. “I’ve got a lot to get through today Tib, so unless there was something you actually wanted.”

“Calm down honeybunch. I did have something I needed to ask you.” There was a pause on the other end of the line. Anne let out an audible sigh, this phone call was eating into the time she had allotted to reply to Ann and any subsequent follow-up. “I have a meeting next week with some suppliers, in Brussels.” Anne noted that her voice seemed a little more timid than usual. “A beer supplier.” Ahh, she understood the trepidation.

Tib’s family were involved in several beverage companies, primarily tea, but there was an alcohol arm to the business. One that had served them both very well during their university days, perhaps a little too well. Anne had been on several of these supplier meetings with Tib, mostly because they involved a few days at the expense of the supplier with free-flowing alcohol. If she was serious about staying sober again then this meeting would be a difficult one. 

“What do you need from me Tib?” She asked kindly.

There was a small break in her friend’s voice, “Come with me?” Of course Anne would, there was no question that she would be there for her. “I’m sure it will be fine. I just-”

“Need someone to keep you straight?”

“I wouldn’t go that far Lister!” Anne let out a short chuckle. If she was making jokes that was a good sign. “But yes, that sort of thing.” There was still a hint of nervousness to her request, “It’ll only be for a couple days, two nights at the most. You won’t be away from your darling for too long.”

Anne began to rub her temple, “I could say no.”

“You could. But you won’t.” She could almost hear Tib smiling gleefully on the other end of the phone, “You love me too much.”

“Hmm, something like that.”

Before she had time to change her mind she could hear Tib typing away on the other end. “I’m going to email Eugenie now, I know you never make any of your own arrangements.” Anne just shook her head, she was amazed their friendship had lasted this long. 

“Fine, just make sure you do.”

“I will!” Anne was about to end the call when she heard Tib still speaking, “Lister?”

“Yes, Tib,” she answered wearily.

“Thank you.” 

Whatever force had kept Tib in her life, after all they had done to each other, there was still so much more they had done for each other. Anne knew how hard it was for her to ask for help but was grateful that she had the strength to do so, “I’ll see you next week Tib.” She lowered the phone once more and ended the call just as she heard Tib shouting out, “Send my love to Ann!”

Now that she had been thoroughly distracted from her work she thought she may as well respond to Ann’s message. She quickly thought of something to say and typed the message into her phone. Hitting send she waited for a moment to ensure it had been sent. She opened the top drawer of her desk and put her phone in and locked it.

“Eugenie!” She yelled for her assistant in the office next to hers, forgetting that she had a perfectly good intercom system that she could use. Her assistant walked in with an unimpressed scowl on her face.

“Oui Madame?”

Anne held the key up between her fingers, “You are not to give me this key until 6pm. No matter how much I tell you to give it back to me.” She narrowed her eyes, “Do you understand?”

Eugenie walked over to her and took the key from her hand, “Oui Madame.” She turned and walked out of her office. Whatever her assistant lacked in conversational skills she was ruthlessly efficient. She would not be seeing her phone again till 6pm.

===

Ann was enjoying a quiet London afternoon in a coffee shop overlooking Clapham Common before she headed back to Catherine’s. She almost felt like she was in an airport lounge, her probably too large wheelie sat upright next to her. In her defence, she hadn’t known how long she would be staying at Sam’s, and with British weather being the way it is she had to prepare for every possibility. She even had a brand new paperback on the table in front of her, and all the possibilities of what the day might bring. 

She had made herself comfortable in a quiet corner, hoping to distract herself with some reading. She had gotten Anne’s text so she knew that she was busy, that didn’t stop her checking her phone again just in case she might have managed to steal a minute. She opened her message app. Still only the same messages from earlier:

Why Miss Walker, what ever could you mean? We’ll have to discuss this in more depth later darling. I’ve got a nightmare day ahead. I am locking my phone away because you’re a terrible distraction. Now stop being so troublesome. 

The ‘darling’ was a relatively new addition to their relationship, she noticed Anne had started to use it more. She supposed it made sense otherwise it would just feel like she was saying her own name all the time. She had never been someone’s darling before, she hadn’t really been anyone’s anything. There had been a few ‘babe’s and ‘baby’s thrown about during uni, but Catherine would also call her that so it never really felt special. No, being someone’s darling - Anne Lister’s darling, that felt like the most special thing in the world. She would have to come up with something similar for Anne. 

There were so many choices, she wanted a term that fit. As she took a sip of her coffee she rolled a few ideas around her head. Anne didn’t feel like a sweetheart, absolutely not a sugar, maybe a honey? Perhaps she should stay away from anything too saccharine. Muffin? She didn’t think Anne would like being called a food item, even if she did want to...she took a big gulp of coffee, suppressing the rest of that sentence before she lost her train of thought completely. 

She was so absorbed in the possibilities that she almost missed the incoming call from Catherine. She fumbled slightly before answering the call. “You’re alive!” came the excited voice on the other end.

Never let it be said that her cousin was one for understatement, “Yes Cath, I am.” Ann thought for a moment, it had actually been a few days since she had spoken to her. She had of course told her about Anne finding her at Sam’s, Catherine had sworn she hadn’t given away her hideout, and she believed her. Then there had been the kiss, even without the phone Ann would have been able to hear her screaming all the way across the river.

“Just wanted to check you’ll be back for Carnival. Delia needs to give our names to the building security.”

Ann had actually forgotten that it was the Notting Hill Carnival this weekend. Delia was flat-sitting for a friend nearby and had invited them around. She was a little nervous at first because of the big crowds she had heard about but Catherine had said they’d just be watching it from the balcony so if it got too much for her she could always go back inside. She’d often seen the floats on TV and loved how vibrant and colourful it all looked so she agreed to go. She had a quick thought, “Can you add Anne’s name?”

She heard Catherine playfully grumble, “Oh my god you’re THAT couple now!” Ann couldn’t stop the corners of her mouth curling up into an enormous smile at the thought of her and Anne as a couple. She beamed as she imagined introducing people to Anne not only as someone in her life, but as her girlfriend. This was everything she wanted.

“I suppose I won’t see you until tomorrow then?” 

“Huh?” Ann had only caught the end of her question.

“Tomorrow. I’ll see you tomorrow, if you’re still going to be at Sam’s tonight?” Ann glanced down at her suitcase, she had intended to go home but an idea had suddenly formed. Could she? If Sam thought she was going back to Catherine’s, and she thought she was still at Sam’s, then that meant she could stay at Anne’s without a cross-examination. If Anne wanted her to stay of course, from the memory of their kiss goodnight, she would.

“Ann?” Catherine shook her head when she was met with silence. She was almost getting used to how absent she was now that she and Anne were together. She had fully expected it since the day she had told her about the incident on the bridge. Anne Lister sweeping her up in her arms, even if nothing happened afterwards Ann would live on the memory of that day alone. She didn’t begrudge her a moment of it, perhaps that mess with Mariana, but she was overjoyed at how happy Ann was, however distracted. “Ann?” She tried again.

“Sorry. Yes. Yes.” Ann stammered. “Tomorrow. I’ll see you tomorrow.” When she no longer heard Catherine on the other end she pulled the phone down to her lap. She sank back into her chair, her mouth agape, slightly alarmed at the plan she appeared to be putting into place. A small impish grin started to form on her lips as the realisation set in. She was going to spend the night at Anne’s.

===

Anne rubbed the back of her neck as the elevator made its way up to her flat. Every part of her was spent. When she last looked at her watch it was almost 10pm. She had been working non-stop for almost 15 hours. She had planned to get away earlier but she hadn’t counted on the Americans wanting to have meetings on a Friday afternoon. Surely there was some sort of universal understanding that meetings should never be scheduled on a Friday, certainly not after lunch. They appeared to have lost that memo.

She wanted nothing more than to sink into her bed and not wake up until some time near lunch tomorrow. She knew that would never happen. No matter how tired she was her body had somehow trained itself to never sleep past 6am. Most of the time even that was considered a lie in. She supposed it was a good thing her body didn’t require much sleep. However, on nights like tonight, she felt like she needed every minute it would give her.  

She would make herself a quick dinner, at this point she would settle for some toast. Then she would call Ann, or maybe text, that way she wouldn’t have to try and not sound so sleepy. Then it was bed. She’d be fast asleep before midnight. Perhaps she would forego her morning run tomorrow. No. Whenever she did that she always felt restless for the remainder of the day. 

As she turned the corner to her flat she noticed someone sat on the floor against her front door. Her eyes were too tired to focus, at least that’s what she told herself. She was still stubbornly fighting the idea that she might need glasses. For a moment her heart froze when she thought Mariana had shown up again. As she neared her door she felt her heart swell, she’d recognise those golden locks anywhere. There was also no mistaking that cute little nose, all scrunched up because of whatever it was she was reading. 

She made her approach as quiet as possible, she seemed so engrossed in her book. She was almost towering over her and she still hadn’t even noticed. Anne gently tapped her foot against Ann’s suitcase, and her head immediately shot up. She beamed down at her, “Are you planning on moving in?”

Ann immediately jumped up and wrapped her arms around her neck, giving her a quick kiss, “Surprise!” Anne felt impossibly light as she hung around her shoulders. How could anyone have such an effect on her? Being near her revitalised her in a way nothing else ever had. She pulled the keys from her pocket and unlocked her door and tumbled into her flat as Ann clung onto her.

She placed her gently on her feet before reaching back into the hallway for her luggage. She turned as she closed the door behind and was met immediately by a rush of limbs and lips as Ann pushed her up against the door, her warm mouth meeting hers in a searing kiss. Anne was glad it was a sturdy door because the force of her kisses had her pinned tight against it. Anne brought her hands up and threaded her fingers through her hair in an attempt to regain some control. She managed to slow the kiss as she felt it deepen, slipping her tongue into Ann’s mouth as they brushed against each other. It was only when a small moan escaped Ann’s lips that they finally allowed each other to take a breath.

There was a gentle thud as Anne’s head hit the back of the door as she took in Ann’s red swollen lips glistening in the dim light of the hallway. She smiled mischievously at her as she ran her tongue against her bottom lip. Anne’s hands drifted down to her waist as she pulled her hips tight against her, “If I’d had known, I would have come home sooner.” 

Ann placed her hands on her shoulders, running her fingers along the cool fabric. “I messaged you.”

Anne’s forehead creased as she tried to recall her messages. True to her instructions, Eugenie had refused several times to give her the key to her desk, even when she threatened to fire her. She simply retorted that she would never get the key back then. The first thing she had done when she was allowed access to her phone was check to see if she had a message from Ann. There had been a few, Tib, Marian, then she remembered, “I’ll be waiting.” Ann nodded as she heard her own message relayed to her. 

She hadn’t realised that she meant she would be waiting at her home. It was an unexpected surprise. She started to speak but instead a huge yawn took hold, the more she tried to fight it the more animated it became. She sniffed and shook her head to wake herself up. Apologising immediately, “I’m so sorry. I don’t know where that came from.”

A look of concern furrowed Ann’s brow, “Have you been working all night?” Anne shrugged her shoulders sheepishly, “Anne!”

“It’s been a busy few weeks, things got pushed until I couldn’t push them anymore.” 

Ann’s shoulders dropped as she realised what had changed in Anne’s life recently. It was her. She’d said it in her text, she was a terrible distraction. Now Anne’s work had suffered and she’d driven herself to the point of exhaustion trying to catch up. 

Anne noticed the change immediately and placed her hand gently under her chin and brought her eyes up to meet hers. “This isn’t your fault.” She could see her eyes starting to glisten, “It happens. Sometimes I get busy. Things come up. Bridges fall apart.” She cupped the back of her head and brought it forward so that she could place a gentle kiss on her forehead before wrapping her arms tightly around her. Ann relaxed against her as she breathed in the comforting scent of sandalwood and citrus that she remembered from their first meeting. “This was a wonderful surprise,” Anne said, trying to reassure her.

“Really?” came the muffled question.

“Yes darling. The best.” Anne felt Ann smile against her chest as she continued to hold her close. She felt Ann’s arms wrap around her waist as they swayed slowly against the door for a few moments. 

Anne could feel her back starting to stiffen, “Darling, I think I need to sit down.” Ann gave her another tight squeeze before unwrapping herself. She took Anne’s hand, intending to lead her into the living room, only she remembered that she’d never actually been in Anne’s flat before. She’d gotten the address from Marian earlier in the day, not expecting Anne to be so late home. The darkened hallway gave her few clues.

As she turned left and right not knowing which way to go Anne realised what the problem was. She flicked a switch behind her brightening the entryway. “Let me give you the grand tour.” She took her around the flat, showing her where the kitchen was and the living room across from it. She couldn’t see much as Anne flicked the lights on and off so quickly as they passed from each room. 

They went further down the hallway where it opened up into a larger space, moving from left to right. “That’s my home office, guest room, or as Marian likes to think of it, her room.” Ann snickered. “Then there’s the guest bathroom.” She turned to the final door, “And, my room.” They looked at each other briefly, each with the shyest of smiles. Ann started to bite her bottom lip again as her eyebrows raised suggestively. Anne hesitated a moment before her stomach let out a loud rumble. 

She grasped it tightly trying to silence it as she looked up horrified at Ann who was trying not to laugh, “Have you eaten?”

Still gripping her stomach just in case it roared again Anne half-nodded, “I grabbed something quickly at lunch time.” Ann rolled her eyes as she led her back down the hallway. She leaned into the living room and felt along the wall for a light switch. When she found it she noticed the walls lined with books, she didn’t expect anything less from Anne’s home. The floor to ceiling windows on the far wall looked out over the river, she was sure the view would be breathtaking in the morning. “Go sit down, I’ll fix you something.”

“You don’t have to-” Another groan lurched from Anne’s stomach. They both looked at each other knowingly, perhaps she had better listen to Ann. 

She noticed how clean the kitchen was, she wasn’t sure whether that was because Anne never used it or she was fastidiously tidy. She opened the fridge thinking she could at least make her a sandwich. There was a small glass container containing some pasta with a post-it note stuck to the top, ‘Two minutes in the microwave. I’ve cleaned both bathrooms and changed the sheets. I’ll pick up the dry cleaning on Monday.’ That explained it, Anne had a housekeeper. 

Ann hummed as she emptied the heated contents out onto a plate, it smelled divine. She had a late lunch and then had munched on a few snacks she kept in her bag as she waited for Anne. She wasn’t overly hungry but she wouldn’t say no if Anne offered her some of her dinner. 

“Dinner is served!” she announced as she made her way into the living room. She felt her heart melt as she saw Anne, head tilted all the way back, mouth wide open, fast asleep on the sofa. She hadn’t even taken off her shoes. She placed the food down on the coffee table and gently shook her shoulder. There was a loud snuffle as Anne sank deeper into the sofa. 

Ann took a seat next to her, resting her head against the sofa. She had stolen a few glances at Anne, but she’d never had the chance to really look at her, at least not without the fear of getting caught. She admired the long line of her profile. Her jaw gave her face a strength often belied by the kindness in her eyes. She followed her features down, her nose that she knew she was sometimes conscious of, suited her perfectly. Her gaze trailed down to her mouth, those lips that pressed against hers so hungrily, that also spoke so eloquently. She allowed herself a moment to appreciate just how incredibly handsome she was. 

She shifted slightly so that she could rest her head on Anne’s shoulder, her eyes falling on the plate of food in front of them. She tilted her head up, Anne was fast asleep. Well, Ann thought it would be a shame for it to go to waste as she picked up the plate and took a bite. She was right, it was delicious. 

===

Anne blinked her eyes as she tried to wake herself up. She wondered why she was sitting up. As the room came into focus she realised she was in the living room. There was a little snort from below her and she let out a quiet sigh as she saw the perfect blonde angel curled up on the sofa next to her. She remembered now that Ann had surprised her and she must have fallen asleep. 

She noticed that she had changed out of her dress into a sleeping shirt, as she curled into a tighter ball Anne realised how cold she must be. She’d pulled one of the back cushions down in an attempt to cover herself. Anne ran her hands through her hair, trying to rouse herself enough to at least get into bed. She looked back down at the ethereal being sleeping soundly next to her. She began to lightly stroke her hair and Ann let out a little whimper. 

She carefully rose from her seat trying not to move the sofa too much. Luckily Ann didn’t stir. She quickly padded down the hallway, she noticed she was barefoot, Ann must have removed her shoes. She paused in front of her bedroom, would it be too presumptuous of her to think that Ann wanted to share her bed? They had shared a pretty passionate kiss earlier but waking up next to someone when you had fallen asleep on the sofa would probably be alarming. She decided she would give Ann her bed, it had the better sheets.

She quickly changed into her pyjamas and brushed her teeth, not wanting to make any noise once she’d brought Ann in there. Ann was still nestled on the sofa. She bent down quietly and slowly slid her arms underneath her. She checked that she was still asleep, so far so good. As she steadily rose Ann’s arms intuitively wrapped themselves around her neck. Even in her sleep she seemed to cling to Anne. She silently laughed to herself as she carried her to her room, this was starting to become a habit.

Anne tenderly lay her down in the bed and slowly pulled away as Ann’s arms stretched up around her neck. She carefully took hold of her wrist and brought one hand down. As she reached for the other she heard a whisper, “Stay.” A sleepy smile greeted her. Ann began to stroke the back of her neck, twirling her fingers in the hair there. Anne gazed down at her, this perfect being, half-asleep in her bed. “Stay.” How could she ever say no to her?

She lay down next to her, Ann immediately curled into her side and wrapped one arm around her waist. Anne pulled the covers up over them, one arm on the small of Ann’s back as she held her tight. She lay there thinking how impossibly happy she felt in that moment before she succumbed to sleep.

Chapter Text

At first Ann thought it was a dream she didn’t want to wake up from. The warm press of a lithe body against hers, every inch perfectly molded to fit her. An arm draped across her side, her fingers gently stroked the forearm as it pulled her in tight, feeling the rippling muscles that foretold the strength they possessed. The deep measured breaths taking in the intoxicating scent they found buried deep in her hair. Then the firm lips marking a torturous slow trail along the curve of her neck. It felt so real.

She leant back providing more access as the kisses turned into more. “You’re mine.” Even half asleep she recognised Anne’s commanding tone, thick with sleep and want. This was happening. Every fantasy she had ever had couldn’t compare to what she was feeling as the warmth spread across her body.

She tried to quiet her mind, to relax into the moment as she felt the tip of Anne’s tongue trace along her pulse point before she felt those same warm lips starting to gently suck along the path that was laid before them. She wanted to turn around, to capture those lips with hers, to deepen their kiss as their tongues fought each other for dominance. It was too much. The heady mixture of every kiss and touch clouding her already asleep addled brain.

Anne’s hand wandered down to the hem of her shirt, teasingly exploring the fabric. Ann knew that if she moved any further south she would be able to feel the heat emanating from her centre. She was so impossibly wet she didn’t dare move. Her hips involuntarily veered forward as she felt a cool rush of air as the hand snaked its way up and under the light cotton material.

Her breath became shallower as she felt pressure on her soft stomach, capturing her even more tightly. She could feel Anne’s firm breasts and the hard ridges of the toned stomach pressed up against her back. She silently prayed for the dexterous fingers drawing agonisingly slow circles to move higher, to capture her breasts under those powerful hands.

A breathy moan left her lips as she felt the unhurried movement of Anne’s hips starting to grind against her. Every inch of her was on fire. The skilled fingers moving ever higher, the unrelenting mouth on her neck, the insistent hips moving faster now with more purpose begging her to yield. She wanted to, she wanted it so much, to surrender to Anne. To give every part of her, to allow herself to be taken.

Suddenly her eyes shot open at the piercing noise that broke through the silence of the room. She buried her face in the pillow and groaned with unbridled frustration as she felt Anne flop onto her back. Ann stayed on her side as she tried to catch her breath. She knew that sound and she swore if she ever got hold of Anne’s phone she would throw it in the river.

Anne was still groggy with sleep as she reached out blindly for her phone. She’d been having a delicious dream involving her and Ann that she hadn’t wanted to end. Suddenly remembering she was not alone she turned sharply to her left. Ann was lying there with her back to her. She seemed to be breathing peacefully so she must still be asleep. There was another loud line from The Clash as she scrambled again for her phone to try and silence it before she woke her.

She rubbed her eyes as she tried to focus. It was Eugenie, why on earth was she calling so early on a Saturday? “Eugenie, what is it? No, I was asleep.” She tried to talk quietly but a mixture of annoyance and fatigue gave an edge to her voice. Ann didn’t understand, what did she mean she was asleep? She’d been touching her only a moment ago. “Broken into? Where? How?” She was almost yelling now until she saw Ann still lying next to her again. She was thankful she appeared to be a heavy sleeper. No wonder she snored.

Ann stayed absolutely still as she pieced together the conversation from the one side she could hear. “No. Of course.” She was speaking much more quietly now. “Yes. Yes I’ll be there as soon as I can.” She heard Anne put the phone back on the bedside table and she swiftly closed her eyes again.

She felt Anne get back into bed behind her, maybe she meant to continue what she had started. Ann could feel her pulse quickening again as Anne’s arm wrapped itself against her waist. She placed a soft kiss on her shoulder as she whispered, “Ann? Darling, are you awake?”

There was the slow realisation that Anne had thought she was asleep the entire time. Had Anne been asleep? Had she been telling Eugenie the truth? Anne had been dreaming about touching...who? Was it her, or someone else? Ann felt herself contracting, she wanted to curl up into a ball and hide under the covers. Imagine if she’d turned to kiss her and Anne had suddenly woken up and hadn’t been dreaming of her at all. “Darling?” There was a kiss to her cheek this time.

She slowly opened her eyes and turned onto her back, feigning sleep as she smiled up at her. Anne felt her heart lurch. The soft features and the vibrant blue of her eyes weakened her. She smiled back, she couldn’t believe what she was about to say, “I have to go.” The corners of Ann’s mouth immediately turned down. “There’s been a break in at the office. They called Eugenie. She’s there now but she said it’s a mess.” Anne’s head hung heavily, “I have to see what damage they’ve done.”

Ann reached up, her hand cupping Anne’s face. She leaned into it, relishing the warmth of her hand and wishing she could stay underneath those covers and continue what she had started in her dream. Ann had felt so real against her. The memory of her delicate skin still lingered on her fingertips. She kissed her soft palm before straightening. Ann took the subtle hint and started to sit up, “I should go.”

“No, I-” Anne’s brow pulled together. She wanted to ask her to stay, to wait for her, there in her bed. She looked so beautiful, hair still slightly awry. Her doubts betrayed her, Ann wouldn’t want to waste a lovely summer’s day waiting for her to come home. She forced a tight smile, “I don’t want you to rush. Take your time.” Ann sank back into the bed, of course Anne thought, she was still tired, they were both woken so abruptly. “I’ll tell Thomas you’ll call him when you’re ready.” Ann had already turned away from her but she saw her give a small nod as she stood.

Ann pulled the covers tightly to her as she heard the water running in the bathroom. She was trying to fight the incredible sadness threatening to overwhelm her. How had it all gone wrong in the last ten minutes? She’d woken up in Anne’s arms! She had lost count of how many times she had dreamed of that.

She huffed as she threw the now too warm covers off. Her bottom lip jutted out as she sat up in the bed. She knew she was acting like a petulant child but that’s how she felt. Her perfect day had been snatched away, and worse, Anne was being snatched away too by her stupid office that some stupid person had stupidly broken into. Now she didn’t get to spend this stupidly sunny day without her. The sorrow that had loomed now replaced by a fervent fury.

She could hear the sound of Anne’s electric toothbrush. She threw her legs over the side of the bed, she was going to go and talk to her, demand that she stay. Eugenie was more than capable of taking care of the office. She’d said several times how astute she was. She marched over to the bathroom and pulled the door open with such force that it took her slightly by surprise, as did the sight of Anne.

She hadn’t actually noticed what she had been wearing when they were in bed, she had been concentrating on other things. Of course it was the usual black, but now as she saw her she was much more appreciative of the tight black t-shirt paired with the loose pajama pants. How did she always make handsome look so effortless?

Anne was frozen where she stood bent over the sink, mid-brush with toothpaste all around her mouth. When she turned to look at who was trying to pull the door of its hinges she was met by the sight of a very pouty, very adorable, Ann Walker. She rinsed and put her toothbrush down, turning to face her. The expression on her face had turned from one of anger to possible surprise, she wasn’t quite sure. She didn’t have a chance to decipher it before she almost fell back with the force of Ann’s tight embrace.

“I don’t want you to go,” she heard the small voice say into her chest. She let out a pronounced sigh.

“Darling I don’t want to go either.” Ann looked up at her, eyes pleading. “But I have to.” The pout threatened Ann’s bottom lip again so Anne quickly captured it in a kiss that was instantly deepened by Ann. She felt Ann pushing herself closer to her but she pulled her head back, breaking their connection. Ann huffed in frustration, she knew that Anne needed to go. She was trying to fight the part of her that understood why she had to go, if only so she could stay in her arms for a little longer.

Anne bit her bottom lip, toying with the idea she’d had earlier as she gently started to sway with Ann in her arms, “You could stay.” Ann’s mouth fell open at her suggestion. She wanted to scream yes, absolutely yes, she’d stay forever. Her hesitation started to worry Anne, “No. No it’s a silly idea. I don’t know how long I’ll be. I might be there all day.” Ann felt her throat tighten, how did she not have words? “But maybe…” She looked up at her hopefully, “I can see you tomorrow?”

In the absence of her voice Ann found herself nodding frantically. Anne’s eyes brightened at the sight. Finally Ann announced, “Delia’s!” Anne tilted her head, a little puzzled that this was the word that she’d spoken. Ann stopped shaking her head so fervently and took a few slow breaths. “I mean, Delia’s having a party tomorrow. For the Carnival. I put your name down.” She worried what Anne might think of the next part she was about to say, “As my plus one-”

She needn’t have been concerned, Anne beamed at her once more as she placed a quick kiss on the tip of her nose, “Perfect.”

===

When she got to her office Eugenie was talking to the police officers who had come to take details of the break in while a forensic technician looked for any evidence. She was horrified at what she saw. There were pieces of broken glass all over the floor and spray paint across almost all of the walls.

Ironically, despite the damage, the police thought that the people who broke in were just opportunists hoping to find some high value goods rather than it being a targeted burglary. When they hadn’t been able to get into the inner offices they decided to do as much damage as possible. She missed the days when Scotland Yard was just around the corner, this never would have happened with England’s finest on her doorstep.

They had ripped apart the furniture in the waiting room and slashed the large painting that hung above the mantle. Anne was glad that it was only a reproduction. The insurance would cover any damage but some things were irreplaceable. In addition to the smashed glass and graffiti they’d burnt a hole in one of the rugs in the hallway, whether on purpose or through pure idiocy they weren’t quite sure. Thankfully that had appeared to have set the smoke alarm off, which must have spooked them.

She was busy making a mental list of what she had to do that she didn’t notice the police officers leave. First, strong words with their alarm company. They would need new rugs, paint for the walls, new glass for the smashed panels, new furniture for the waiting room. In fairness it had needed updating anyway. A new painting, perhaps she could ask Ann to recommend an artist, or even ask her to paint something herself. That was an idea she needed to revisit.

Eugenie came to stand next to her as she surveyed the damage. She explained to her that she had already arranged for someone to come and make emergency repairs to the door and window. They would be able to at least make the building secure and then they could arrange a more permanent repair during the week.

Anne had been right to tell Ann not to wait for her, they would be here tidying for most of the day. As Eugenie went into the small kitchen at the back Anne also remembered that she had better let Tib know about the break in, it was her building after all. She could do that later once they had managed to tidy up a bit. Eugenie came back into the hallway, a broom in each hand. How did she even know where to find these things? She held out one for Anne to take, a simple tilt of her head towards the waiting room, “Where do you want to start?”

Yes, Anne thought, her assistant wasn’t one for idle chat but she found herself grateful for her ruthless efficiency.

===

Ann rose early the next morning with a bright smile on her face as she felt the sun peaking through the clouds. She had spoken to Anne briefly last night when she had finally gotten home. She didn’t tell her that she’d had a minor panic attack when she realised that the burglary could have happened when Anne had been in the office alone. It had taken her at least an hour to pick herself up off the floor of Anne’s bedroom, with her phone call coming just in time. She had done her best to mask the incident.

The burglars seemed to have done more cosmetic damage than anything else, with most of next week being spent with various trades people making repairs. She did mention that she would like her help to choose some new art for the office. The thought excited her immediately and helped distract her from the residual panic she felt about the breakdown. It also meant that Anne valued her opinion, and she would have a permanent reminder of Ann in a place that was important to her.

She sauntered into the living room to find Catherine already in the kitchen coming up with some concoction that involved eggs. She went over and rested her chin on her shoulder as she inspected the contents more closely, “Can I help you with something Ann?” she giggled as she stirred the eggs around.

“Perhaps,” she answered inquiringly, “Is that going to be edible?”

Catherine flicked her spatula and almost got her square on the nose but she was far too fast for her today. Ann giggled as she skipped over to the kettle to make herself a cup of tea. Her cheery demeanour did not go unnoticed, “Sleeping in your own bed agrees with you. Did Sam make you sleep on the floor?” All she got in response was a humming sound as she finished making her tea.

Ann took a seat at the table as Catherine dished up a plate of her nondescript egg experiment and placed it in front of her before taking the seat opposite with her own plate. Ann picked up her fork and moved the food around a little on the plate. Deciding that it probably wouldn’t kill her she took a bite, slowly chewing before giving the chef a big thumbs up. Catherine eyed her suspiciously, “Something’s up with you.”

“Why does anything have to be up with me?” she asked between mouthfuls.

“You’re a little too happy, even for Ann Walker.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ann scoffed, mildly outraged.

She gave a slight shrug of her shoulders as she started to eat, “Just that you can be a little insufferable when you’re happy.” Ann’s jaw dropped, now she was fully outraged. “Not that I don’t love you being happy, but now that you and Anne are-” she stopped herself remembering their last conversation on this subject hadn’t gone so well. She looked over at Ann to make sure she hadn’t over-stepped, but rather than looking fretful or upset she had a slight smirk as she continued to eat her breakfast.

Catherine tossed her fork down on her plate and threw her hands up in the air, “Holy shit Ann! You’re shagging Anne bloody Lister!”

Ann nearly choked on her food as she tried to assure her that she wasn’t, “We’re not!” Catherine’s eyes narrowed as she looked at her doubtfully. “We’re not,” she tried to assert. Ann noticed her sink a little deflated that they hadn’t slept together yet, she loved that she was so supportive of their relationship, despite some original reticence.

“But-” she drew out the word in order to make sure she had her attention. Catherine’s head perked up, her interest piqued again. “Since she’s coming to the party tonight, could you maybe...help me...change my sheets?” Ann looked at her shyly, biting her bottom lip as her shoulders curled in slightly.

A huge grin spread across Catherine’s face as she realised the possible implication of what Ann’s request could mean, “Yes. Absolutely, yes!”

===

Catherine and Ann had decided to go to the party early to help Delia with the preparations, or more precisely to make sure there was more than just alcohol available. Ann had texted Anne the address as she’d wanted to do some more work in the office first. She wasn’t sure what more she thought she could do but she still felt guilty that Anne had worked so late the other night so didn’t want to say anything.

She had been uncertain about what to wear. She had a few things suitable for a Halifax summer fete, which Catherine assured her this was not. Ann noted that Catherine’s outfit was only slightly less revealing than the one she’d worn to Pride, very slightly more. She was wearing a very short yellow floral playsuit. She looked like she belonged on a tropical beach somewhere.

Her advice to Ann had been to wear something bright, it was Carnival after all. She had already vetoed any short or trouser combinations, slyly giving “quick access” as the only reason. Ann had rolled her eyes but she admitted to herself that she had a point. She’d finally settled on a short backless green boho dress. It was a little revealing but she borrowed a shawl from Catherine that would cover her up if she felt too self-conscious or if it got too cold.

As they both walked into the flat, it seemed they weren’t as early as they’d thought. The party appeared to already be in full swing. The balcony doors that overlooked Kensal Road were wide open and the music from the nearby soundstage was blasting so loudly they could see the picture frames rattling on the walls. The air was thick with the heat of the afternoon sun and the smells of all the delicious food being cooked on the grills outside.

There were already almost a dozen people in the cramped flat. A couple were hanging out on the balcony dancing to the booming reggae tracks helping to create the carnival atmosphere, others sprawled on the sofas, more still coming in and out of the flat like it was a Tube station.

They heard a loud scream followed by Delia shouting, “Halifax ladies in the house!” as she danced over to them, colourful cocktail in hand. There was a loud cheer from the other guests as she captured them in a tight hug. When she finally released them Ann tried to smile politely, Catherine didn’t feel the need to offer such artifice. She looked her sister up and down, pursing her lips. Ann thought the Rawson side of the family certainly weren’t shy. Delia was dressed in the shortest pair of shorts she had ever seen, accompanied only by a string bikini top.

Noticing her sister’s disapproving look, Delia took another swig of her drink and smiled sweetly at her, “Save the judgement Cath, I’m having much too much fun to care!”

Catherine screwed her face into a grimace, “You know you always end up a mess on gin,” she said with the confidence of someone who must have had to deal with a drunken Delia too many times.

“That’s why I’m on the rum, sister dear!” Ann couldn’t help giving a little laugh as Delia started to dance backwards, almost to the beat, waving her drink in the air as she went, “It’s Carnival afterall!” Catherine groaned as Ann threw a supportive arm across her shoulders, she’d missed watching these two spar. “Come on Cath, let’s go put this food down.”

===

By the time Anne had gotten to Kensington it was a lot later than she had intended. She had made sure she’d left the office in good time, only she’d forgotten that they closed the station closest to the Carnival and had the others on limited access to prevent overcrowding. That meant that she’d spent longer than necessary trying to get to different stations before ultimately giving up and doubling back on herself to just walk the rest of the way. She could at least take the most direct route this way, if it hadn’t been for the swathes of people who all seemed to want to go in the opposite direction.

This was why she’d always refused Marian’s numerous requests to take her to Carnival, and also why she much preferred travelling in her own car. As she walked through Portobello Market fond memories of her walk with Ann filled her just as the wonderful aromas from the food stalls did. She doubted that there would be much food at the party, so hadn’t seen the harm in stopping for a bit to grab something quick to eat.

Catherine had given up counting the number of times Ann had checked her phone. She had seemed to enjoy herself earlier on in the day. She had been out on the balcony when the dancers in their beautiful elaborate costumes had gone past accompanied by the steel band players. Now that the parade had ended and people were just hanging out enjoying the summer sunshine and music she had withdrawn into herself a little. She’d retreated into the living room and taken up residence on one of the sofas.

She hadn’t seemed to find it easy to talk to any of Delia’s friends, if that’s what they even were. It was an eclectic gathering of people that her sister only seemed to know in passing. She was certainly glad that it wasn’t her flat that Delia was looking after. The sun was just starting to think about setting, but she could tell that Ann was counting the minutes till she could make an excuse and go home.

“Here you go Annie,” she put the drink in her hand. Ann looked at the colourful drink suspiciously as Catherine sat on the sofa next to her.

“What is it?”

“Just a little concoction I made up.” Ann inspected it more closely, her eyebrows raising after she took a sniff. Catherine raised her glass but she was still hesitant, “The eggs didn’t kill you, did they?” She did have a point, the breakfast had tasted really good. It was a shame Catherine only remembered half of what she put in them. She decided to risk it and clinked her glass against Catherine’s before taking a swig.

Anne had gotten past the rather burly security guards that were standing at the end of the street and was looking for the right house. The crowds had thankfully thinned out here, with most people congregating around the various sound stages now. She started to walk in the direction her phone had told her to go when she looked up and saw Delia Rawson, half dressed - if that, dancing on the balcony of one of the houses up ahead.

There was a steady stream of people coming in and out of the flat that she was heading up to. The front door was opened but she gave a light knock anyway before entering. She caught a glimpse of herself in the hallway mirror. She ran her hands through her hair a few times. She hoped she looked presentable still, she hadn’t been sure what type of party this was so had opted for a simple pair of black jeans, black vest, and a faded black button-up on top. It was as casual as she dared go to a party where she didn’t know who the other guests were.

As she entered the living room she realised she needn’t have worried about what she was wearing, if anything she was considerably overdressed. She looked around the darkened living room. There was a small group on the balcony dancing to the music she had heard blasting from the loud speakers on her walk there. A few people were talking on the sofa, though she didn’t know how any of them could hear what the other was saying.

She searched for a familiar face amongst the other people standing around, half-dancing, half-talking, half-drinking, but Ann was nowhere to be found. “Miss Lister!” she turned and saw Delia climbing over someone to get to her. She looked a little unsteady on her feet but was making her way past them. She tumbled into her arms, thankfully Anne had braced herself for impact and managed to keep both of them upright.

She lifted her back onto her feet, Delia’s arms resting on Anne’s shoulders to keep herself steady. “You’re late,” she slurred. Anne tried not to balk at the strong whiff of alcohol, rum if she’d guessed correctly, “I think you’ll find I’m never late.”

She put her finger on her lips to quieten her, “You should have been here hours ago. Ann’s been pining away for you.” Delia’s eyes raked their way down as she took Anne in, she could see the appeal. She could tell how strong she was from the way she had caught her a moment ago, and there was a daring behind those dark eyes. If Ann wasn’t family, she would be very tempted to turn this into something else.

“Delia!” They both turned sharply, Catherine glaring back at them. Anne tilted her head, was that Ann she was propping up? Was she drunk? She started to walk towards them but felt Delia start to fall and quickly retreated to catch her once again. “Anne!” she turned around again. Ann had lifted her head and had spotted and was half-leant against the wall with her arms outstretched. She took a step forward and almost tripped over her feet. Catherine had managed to rescue her before she hit the floor.

Anne looked between them, both holding up their drunken charges. “Is she drunk?”

“What?” Catherine craned her neck to hear her over the music that seemed to be getting louder and louder.

“Is Ann drunk?” she yelled a little louder.

“Yes! I went to go find that one,” she motioned towards the collapsed form in Anne’s arms. “Then this one,” she hoisted Ann a little higher so they were both more upright, “Decided it would be a good idea to finish the whole jug!”

Anne recoiled in surprise, “What was in it?”

“Alcohol! What do you think?” Catherine returned. Sometimes she wondered if she was the only sensible person in her life. What a ridiculous question! Of course Ann had been drinking, how else did she think she’d gotten in this state? She gave another grunt as she tried to lift her into a standing position.

“Should we swap?” Catherine wrinkled her nose at the suggestion. She didn’t really want to have to deal with her sister, but she supposed it made more sense for her to take care of her and Anne to take care of Ann. She tried to maneuver Ann closer to them, whilst Anne did the same with Delia. She seemed to be struggling, but she knew she could be dead weight when she got into that state.

Anne huffed, they were finally within touching distance. “Swap on three?” Catherine gave a firm nod and prepared to catch her sister, “One.” She hoisted Ann up. “Two.” She angled her body towards Delia. “Three.” She let go of Ann and grabbed Delia by the waist as she saw Anne dash forward. She turned quickly to check the Annes hadn’t ended up in a heap on the floor. She gave a loud groan at the sight of Ann scooped up in Anne’s arms. Ann looking up dreamily at her hero as Anne gazed lovingly back at her. They were utterly ridiculous.

===

Anne had been tempted to toss Ann over her shoulder and carry her caveman style back to her flat, but Catherine said that probably wasn’t a good idea unless she wanted the contents of her stomach all over her. Instead they were walking very slowly, in a not at all straight line. Despite her drunken state, it wouldn’t take too long. Anne actually enjoyed walking with her in the warmth of a summer evening. Her arm draped around her shoulder as she was tucked tightly into her side, grasping her waist to keep herself upright.

She had finished a large jug of whatever Catherine had created. She hadn’t realised how much alcohol was in it, her mixologist roommate had said it was full of sugar so that must have masked the alcohol. Catherine warned that Ann wasn’t usually a messy drunk, more a sleepy one, but it had been a while since she’d seen her drink this much. Still to be safe, she told her there was a bucket under the kitchen sink.

They had managed to stumble up the stairs without causing too much of a racket. The din of the Carnival sound stages could still be heard but nowhere near as loud as they had been. She wondered how anyone got any sleep during Carnival weekend. Ann had attached herself like a limpet to her side and was making it much more difficult to move. As she struggled to reach for the lamp she almost toppled over. For someone so small, Ann had a surprising amount of strength.

“Ann?” She tried to get her to look up at her, “Darling, I need you to look at me.” There was a small groan but no actual words. It was no good. She had reached the obstinate sleepy phase of her drunken stupor. There was nothing else for it. Anne snaked her arms down her side, prizing the pincer like grip apart. Before Ann had a chance to object she had already scooped her up in her arms. As always, Ann’s arms automatically locked around her neck. “Much better.” Anne gleamed as Ann nuzzled against her chest. Truly, if she asked to travel everywhere like this Anne thought she would find it difficult to say no to her. She loved having her this close to her, where she could feel every breath. She turned towards the hallway and carried Ann upstairs.

She guessed correctly that the door with the small framed sketch of a horse was Ann’s room. Normally she wouldn’t have gone into her room without an invitation but she was in no state to be able to offer her one. She gently nudged the door open with her foot. The room was lit dimly by the waning light. She carried her over and tenderly placed her down in the middle of the bed. She moved down her body and carefully removed her shoes. There was a quiet huff but little other movement.

As expected the room was on the small side, still large enough for a good-sized bed, wardrobe, there was a small vanity by the window on the far side of the room with drawing supplies on it. The bedside table on the other side of the bed had a small pile of books on it, along with a small plant. There were some photos and another sketch of a horse hung on the wall opposite. As Anne took in the room with its pale peach walls she felt that this was more Ann than any other part of the flat. Simple and beautiful. She was brought back by a small whimper from the tipsy sleeper.

Anne brought the bucket up from upstairs along with a bottle of water and paper towels, she didn’t want to be caught unawares. She quietly took her shoes off and sat down on the bed, resting her back against the headboard. Ann turned onto her side, throwing one arm around her legs. Anne tried to stay as still as possible. She wanted to melt when Ann’s face scrunched up as she wriggled around trying to get comfortable.

Ann’s arm was suddenly reaching up, Anne tried to evade the reckless hand flying through the air. Finally she heard her whine, “Anne!” Apparently she wasn’t asleep as she thought she had been. “Get down here.” Ann was pulling at her shirt. She moved down so that she was next to her. She turned her head, Ann had one eye open and was staring intently at her.

“What?” she’d done as she asked.

Ann’s eyebrows were drawn tightly together, “You’re wearing outdoor clothes in my bed.” She wanted to laugh at this impossible woman whose bottom lip was jutting out in a serious pout, but she was simply too adorable. “Darling, you’re the one that told me to lie down.”

Ann huffed as she turned onto her other side mumbling, “Take them off.” Anne’s eyes widened, “You can borrow a shirt.” She lay frozen for a moment before Ann turned her head, “Hurry up.” Ann may not be a messy drunk, but she was certainly a bossy one.

As ordered, Anne got up out of the bed and went over to the wardrobe. It was filled with Ann’s dresses. She did a quick search of the shelves but there were no shirts that she could see that would possibly fit her or be suitable for sleeping in. She heard another whine come from behind her, “Anne!” She quickly glanced over her shoulder, Ann was still curled up on her side. She would have to sleep in her boxers and vest. That was practically sleepwear anyway.

She toed off her socks and shucked her jeans. She had started to unbutton her shirt when she heard movement behind her. She quickly turned and saw Ann by the vanity, eyes still closed, taking off her dress. She spun back around, half embarrassed that she’d seen her in a state of undress when she probably hadn’t intended her to. "Help," came the muffled plea. Anne turned, she had managed to trap herself in her dress, limbs sticking out at odd angles. She stifled her laugh as she rushed to her aid. She undid the zipper and helped untangle her limbs from the mess she'd gotten herself into.

When she was free Anne turned away so that she could undress in relative privacy. There was another rustle of movement followed by silence. Anne slowly turned her head, she saw her dress draped over the back of the chair. Ann was back in bed, under the covers with her sleep shirt on. 

Anne slowly pulled back the covers and got into bed behind Ann. This was the second time they’d shared a bed together. It was a novel experience for her, actually sleeping next to someone. Most of her relationships started in a flurry of breathless encounters, ending when they had taken what they wanted from her. Even with Mariana, there was no certainty that she would spend the night. As those memories threatened to fill her mind, Ann’s arm stretched out behind her, urging Anne closer, wanting to feel her close.

She brought their bodies together, wrapping her arm around her. Ann placed her hand on top of hers, gently stroking it as she drifted further asleep. Anne was happy to be next to her, listening to her quiet breaths. When she heard her gentle snores starting she placed a single kiss on her shoulder, “Goodnight my darling.” There was another quiet groan, Anne smiled, she was going to have a horrible hangover in the morning.

Chapter Text

Whoever decided that it was acceptable to build an airport runway outside her window needed to be eviscerated. Preferably whilst being dragged over molten hot coals. Throw in the hundred-piece brass band that was also currently marching through her brain, and Ann thought that maybe, just maybe, the cacophony of sounds she was experiencing might stop. Why was everything so loud? And what on earth was that rustling sound? It was like a giant was trouncing through an actual mountain of crisp autumn leaves. She brought her hands up to her ears to try and muffle the sound as she curled into a tight ball. 

Anne saw the movement out of the corner of her eye as she shook the pages of her newspaper out. The little blonde bundle shrinking into a more compact sphere. It was the first sign of life she’d seen all morning. She flicked her wrist, 8.56am. This was the latest she’d spent in bed in years. She supposed she should try to see if Ann needed anything, although she hadn’t dared try to move her after her first attempt. 

There were two things she knew for definite about a sleeping Ann Walker. Firstly, she snored. Secondly, if you didn’t have her wrapped up in a close embrace she flailed about like a dying fish every time she turned in her sleep. Anne had learnt this after she had mistakenly rolled Ann onto her back as she checked her messages and was met by a wayward limb knocking the phone to the floor and nearly taking Anne’s eye out just for good measure. Even in her sleep Ann seemed determined to limit her phone time. There was also a third thing. No matter how thunderous the snores, or how wild the hair, or how deadly the movements, in sleep - she was still undeniably the most beautiful sight she’d ever seen.

As she closed her newspaper there was a loud groan, followed by another when she dropped it onto the covers. “Must you be so loud?” Ann screeched from beside her. Anne pulled back a little, she wasn’t sure she’d ever heard Ann ever raise her voice before. She’d had a lot of women screaming at her before, she smirked momentarily when she thought she’d also had them screaming for her and because of her. She quickly brought her focus back to Ann, this was none of those things. She appeared to be in genuine discomfort and had a particular sensitivity to any noise. 

Anne rose gingerly from the bed, careful to make as little sound as possible. The room was carpeted so there was at least that small mercy. She padded out of the bedroom and into the adjacent bathroom. She was sure there must be some painkillers in here. She cautiously opened the bathroom cabinet, she didn’t want to risk its contents cascading out into the sink making more noise. 

She looked along the shelves, there were a few medicine bottles inside, the usual cough syrup. There were also a few pill bottles that upon closer inspection she noted were prescribed to Ann and instructed her to take as necessary with food. Anne thought back to their many conversations, she’d never brought up any chronic conditions but she supposed it wasn’t something you typically broadcast. 

She finally found a packet of painkillers and was about to turn to leave when she thought she should check the ingredients against the prescribed bottles she found just in case they shouldn’t be taken together. After a thorough scan they did not list any reasons why they couldn't be combined she took two out of the packet and headed back to the bedroom. 

Ann had buried herself under the covers, she was probably trying to get away from the morning sun streaming through. Anne always slept with the curtains open, she was adept at knowing what time it was just by the position of the sun. It was one of the main reasons she had chosen her flat with its floor to ceilings windows providing her magnificent views eastwards and westwards along the river. If Ann was sensitive to sound she was probably also sensitive to light. She drew the curtains slowly, again to limit any noise she might make.

She walked round to her side of the bed and noticed that Ann had taken the pillows she’d used and was hugging them tightly to her. She bent down and put her face as near to the faceless bundle as possible. “Darling?” she said in an almost whisper. There was no movement, “I need your help.” There was a muted groan that Anne took as a sign that she was at least listening. “I need to get you better, but to do that I need you to take these pills.” There was a hushed whimper as the covers were tentatively drawn back a little. 

Anne smiled when she finally got to see her precious face. Her eyes were still firmly shut and the corners of her mouth turned down. She looked so pained, Anne wanted to reach out and take her in her arms but she knew any sudden movements would not be welcome. She took the two pills and placed them in front of Ann. She reached behind her and got the bottle of water she’d brought up the night before. “Come on darling, please.” 

She waited patiently as one eye opened, and then the other. A hand snaked up from under the covers and reached for the pills. Anne opened the bottle of water and held it out for her. Ann took the pills and then craned her neck up enough for Anne to carefully help her drink. She was glad when she saw that she’d drunk quite a bit of water, it would help with the hangover. Licking her lips, Ann sank back into the covers, closing her eyes but looking a little better. She clutched Anne’s pillow to her again. 

This was a start, but Anne knew she also needed to get some food into her. “I’m going to go and make you some breakfast. You need something in your tummy.”

Ann’s eyes slowly opened, they were glistening, “Don’t leave me,” she pleaded weakly. Anne immediately dropped to her knees, taking Ann’s hands in hers. She held them close to her and gave them a tender kiss, “Darling, I’ll be back soon. I’m just going downstairs.” 

Her brow was still knit with worry. “I’ll make you French Toast, how does that sound?” There was a hint of a sparkle in Ann’s eyes now. “I was taught by a lovely elderly French lady when I lived in Paris.” She had actually been taught by a former lover, but Ann did not need those details. Slowly Ann gave a small nod. Anne kissed her hands once more before rising, “How many pieces would you like? One or two?” Ann held up one finger, then after a moment’s thought, she changed her mind and raised two. Anne lent down and placed a soft kiss on her forehead, she waited until Ann closed her eyes again before making her way downstairs.

===

“She went back to sleep, hopefully she’ll feel better when she wakes up.” Anne was balancing the phone between her ear and her shoulder as she finished cooking. She’d found half a brioche loaf that was perfect for this recipe. “How’s your patient?” 

Catherine glanced over at the immovable object that was her sister, still comatose on the sofa, “She’ll live,” she answered coolly. She had zero sympathy for her sister’s self-inflicted condition, she was only happy that she’d passed out in the living room because it meant she at least got the bed. Not that it had made much different with the party outside continuing well after midnight.

She had waited until it was later in the morning to call. She was worried about Ann and had thought regardless of what happened last night that was enough to give them a lie in. She’d never intended her to get so drunk and she felt a little guilty when she learned she’d fallen asleep not long after they’d got home. 

It was obvious that Ann was desperate for Anne, and she was a little surprised that all Anne had done was put her to bed. Normally she would think that was at Ann’s insistence, but it appeared Anne was quite the gentlewoman. Her grandmother would never believe it. Not that she had any intention of telling her anything, she had no wish for Ann, or Anne, to be the subject of more idle gossip. 

She had worried that Ann would not like living in London, even though they both knew that anything was better than their claustrophobic tribe of relatives. When Anne came into her life Catherine knew that a whole new life would open up for her, not just because she’d been in love with her forever but because Anne was so worldly. She was well travelled, she knew such interesting people, and when her grandmother spoke of her there was a sense of vivaciousness to her life. She hoped that some of that would rub off on Ann, and it had.

Of course Ann was still shy, that was her nature, but she never would have normally gone to that party last night. Neither would she have had the confidence to take a group of children on a museum excursion, although from what Ann had told her the dinosaurs were not the highlight of that trip. She’d been surprised at how well she had handled all of the business with Mariana too, yes she’d run away, but she ran to someone who could help her rather than someone who could hide her. In the few short weeks they’d been together, Anne had changed her for the better. 

“Icing sugar. Catherine?” The sound of Anne’s voice broke through her thoughts.

“Sorry?” Catherine blinked quickly, she’d missed her question entirely. 

“Do you have icing sugar? For the French Toast.” She’d been taking her through the recipe and thought that the silence meant she had a captive audience, but when there was no answer to her question she wondered if she’d fallen asleep. Unfortunately it would not have been the first time she had been explaining something and the other person became completely lost. 

“Yes, it should be in the cupboard above the toaster. There’s a shaker thing.”

She could hear Anne moving about the kitchen, “Perfect!” She could feel her joy as she’d obviously found what she needed. She looked again at her sister’s still sleeping form, she would maybe begrudgingly make her a cup of tea when she woke up if she asked her nicely. She certainly wouldn’t have gone to the lengths Anne was. It was obviously a different sort of relationship, but she knew that she cared deeply for her. “Anne?”

“Yes Catherine.”

“If you look in the next cupboard along, right at the back.” There was more shuffling, “There’s a packet of Jammie Dodgers. Ann hid them from herself.” She could hear Anne laughing lightly. “She’d always devour a packet after a hangover. It’ll fix her right up.” 

“Excellent! Thank you Catherine.”

Catherine smiled to herself, “No, thank you Anne. Tell Annie I’ll be home later this afternoon.”

“I will.” As she hung up the phone Anne thought there was something more to the thanks she’d just received. She quickly dismissed it as she looked approvingly at the tray of food she’d prepared for their breakfast. French Toast lightly dusted with the icing sugar, a bowl of strawberries and grapes in case she wanted some fruit, syrup, juice, another bottle of water, and now a packet of Jammie Dodgers. 

===

Anne drew the curtains open on one side to let some light in, leaving the top half of the bed still in shadow. She sat down carefully, her sleeping angel still snoring softly. She would have gladly spent the rest of the day watching her sleep but she knew she’d feel groggy when she finally woke if she let her sleep any longer. She started to gently stroke her forehead, “Darling it’s time to wake up.” There was a quiet murmur before a small sleepy smile started to spread across her face. She slowly opened her eyes, blinking to bring her into focus.

“How are you feeling?” 

“Better,” she replied, she still seemed a little sluggish. “Everything’s quieter, but my head still hurts.” She sat up a little, rolling her shoulders to see how they felt. She rotated her neck and pushed her shoulder blades together. Her back was a bit tight, Anne noticed the small grimace even though she said nothing. “I’m good, I think.”  

When she finally turned to face her she was met by Anne’s handsome face smiling kindly at her. She knew in that moment she wanted to wake up every day to that smile. She loved the little wrinkles she had at the corner of her eyes. She loved more that she was responsible for them. She was also grateful that she was lying down because Anne in a vest was a magnificent sight. She absolutely wanted to wake up every day like this.

The pace of her breaths quickened as she took in the sharp collar bones that led to her athletic toned biceps. She took a shallow gulp. “Are you sure you’re alright?”Anne’s question was laced with concern. She placed her palm against her forehead, “You’re starting to feel a little warm.” 

“Oh...yes, I’m fine. I should probably go to the bathroom.” She started to sit up, her mouth dropping open at just how low the top of Anne’s vest was. Anne followed her gaze down and realised immediately why she had suddenly grown so warm. She tried to hide the smirk that was teasing her lips.

Ann got up hurriedly and almost fell back as the blood rushed to her head. Anne reached up to catch her and Ann used her shoulder to steady herself. She wasn’t sure if that had been caused by her lying down, her hangover, or the sight of Anne. Most likely all three. She tried not to look at her as she regained her balance otherwise she would end up back in bed. She felt Anne’s strong shoulders beneath her grip, and she wasn’t sure that would have been a bad thing.

After a few moments she smiled quickly to Anne to assure her she was okay, she hesitantly let her go. Just as she was rounding the bed Anne called out, “Can I borrow a t-shirt?” Ann stopped in her tracks. She had that ridiculously disarming smile again, how did she do that? 

Ann chuckled, pretending that she hadn’t just been caught ogling her chest, “Of course you can.”

She quickly faced her cupboard before Anne could see the blush rising to her cheeks. “I tried to find one last night but all I could see were dresses.” Ann rifled through her cupboard, she knew exactly the t-shirt she would give to her and where it was but needed to bring her temperature down at least a few degrees. She wished her heart and head weren’t holding an internal competition to find out which could thump the loudest. After probably too long she turned back around, black t-shirt in hand, “Here you go.” 

Anne erased the smirk from her face as she casually stood and stalked towards her. Ann clutched the shirt to her chest, good lord she hadn’t realised she was only wearing boxers too. This was the most of Anne she’d ever seen. Anne licked her bottom lip as she continued towards her, secretly enjoying how obviously flustered she was making her.

She reached out to take the shirt, she could see Ann literally swooning in front of her. There was a playful glint in her eye. Ann knew there was no possible way she could hide her thoughts, there must be steam shooting out of her ears considering how hot she felt. She needed to get out of there otherwise the mixture of excitement and anxiety would give her cause to use the bucket she saw by the side of the bed. She thrust the shirt into Anne’s waiting hands and exited as fast as her head and legs would allow her.

Anne laughed quietly to herself. She knew that she shouldn’t toy with her since she was still clearly feeling fragile but she couldn’t deny how she enjoyed making her blush. It was only fair, she had lost count of how many times she felt unhinged by the sight of her. She pulled her vest up over her head and started to roll the t-shirt down when she heard a surprised gasp from behind her. She stopped mid-movement and turned her head. Ann was standing in the doorway head tilted upwards, trying to find something interesting on the ceiling. 

Ann needed a skip full of ice to fall from the sky to try and cool her down after what she’d seen. If the sharp clavicle and toned biceps hadn’t been enough, the strong thighs definitely were, the clearly defined muscular back that she’d just seen was pure overkill. Anne raised an eyebrow, waiting for her to say something. “I didn’t mean to...I..uh...I…” she couldn’t pretend to remember why she had come back so soon, so instead she accepted defeat and exited again leaving Anne to finish dressing.

===

They sat in a comfortable silence on the bed as they tucked into their breakfast. Anne had decided to hide the Jammie Dodgers under the bed, best to try and get Ann to eat some proper food first. Judging from how wide her eyes had gotten when she’d seen the tray of food she knew it wouldn’t be a problem. A mischievous grin played on Anne’s lips whilst Ann avoided making eye contact as she did her best not to shrivel up from embarrassment. 

“I’m sorry there aren’t any flowers,” Ann looked up, thankful that she was ignoring what had happened. “I tried to make it look as,” Anne paused whilst she tried to find the word, Marian had told her about it, “Instagramable!” That was it. Ann almost choked on the morsel of food she was chewing. Anne was completely adorable, though she’d hate that word if she used it to describe her. It didn’t matter, Ann knew she was.

“I wanted to, but I didn’t want to risk you waking up and my not being here.” Ann’s heart swelled. No one had ever cared about her like this before, to make her breakfast, to try and make it look pretty, and then to worry about leaving her. 

“You should stop doing that.” 

“Doing what?” Anne speared a grape with her fork like the great hunter that she was. 

“Apologising for what’s not there, when I should be saying thank you for what is.”  

Anne waved her fork around nonchalantly, “Ahh. Yes, well.” Despite her bluster, there was sometimes a reticence for Anne to accept compliments, especially when they were about her thoughtfulness. Ann knew that people sometimes mistook her confidence for vanity, but she had seen a part to her that was deeply self-conscious. She was touched that it was a side that Anne had let her see. Ann reached over and gave her hand a quick squeeze, “Thank you.” Anne gave her a quick nod in reply. 

Seeing a faint hint of colour starting to form on her cheeks Ann couldn’t help but adding, “My clothes look better on you,” with an appreciative smile. She could feel herself getting full, but she knew she should try and eat some more to make herself feel better. There was still a dull ache in the back of her head. She could feel Anne watching her as she slowed down, she knew she’d start to worry. “Is there still a lot to do at the office?” She knew it was a feeble attempt to distract her but as much as she wanted to, she simply didn’t have the strength to climb into her lap.

“A fair bit. We’ve done what we can, but we need to wait for the painters to come in and the new furniture.” Ann was grateful the distraction had worked.

“Will you be working from home?” 

Anne put her fork down and moved her plate to the side, “Actually, that’s something I wanted to talk to you about.” Ann slowed her chewing, that sounded very ominous. Anne rubbed her palms against her thighs, that didn’t have the effect it usually did on Ann. Her nervous energy started to worry her. “I have to go away.” 

“Oh?” Ann tried to disguise her dismay.

“Tib has to go on a business trip, and she needs me to go with her.” Anne looked at her, trying to gauge how she felt, “It’s only for a few days.” Ann looked down at her food, she started to move pieces of fruit around, “I’ll be back before you know it.” Anne reached out and took her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. Ann looked up, the sincerity of the smile she wore destroyed by the tears Anne could see threatening to spill over. She cupped her face, her thumb gently caressing her cheek, “You won’t even miss me.” They both knew that wasn’t true. 

Anne took both her hands, this was actually the part she was more worried about. She took a deep breath before starting, “There was something else I wanted to talk to you about.” Ann’s eyes darted up, she wasn’t sure how much more of this she could take. “I was going to go up to Shibden for a few days afterwards. Maybe a week.”

“A week?” Ann couldn’t stop herself. Having Anne gone for a few days would be hard enough, but for a week on top of that, it already felt like forever and it hadn’t even begun. She tried to snatch her hands away but Anne kept a firm hold of them. Ann felt her jaw tighten, if she could leave her so easily then maybe she didn’t mean as much to her as she hoped. Anne tilted her head, trying to read how Ann felt but she refused to look at her. 

“I was wondering if you might come with me?” She held her breath, waiting for an answer. She knew that it was a lot to ask of someone, they’d only been seeing each other for a few weeks, and her family weren’t always easy to get along with. She had only ever introduced Mariana to them and that had been after some months. Tib had really introduced herself when they came to visit her at uni. 

She also worried about asking her to go back to Halifax when she knew her family had not been supportive of her or her move. They would of course be fine if she didn’t want to go, Anne didn’t want to disappoint her aunt, but she also didn’t want to be a week without Ann. The seconds seemed to tick by agonisingly slowly, until suddenly she felt Ann’s arms wrap tightly around her neck. Time sped up again as she heard her yelling, “Yes! Absolutely I’ll go!” Anne pulled back and Ann was smiling broadly, any hint of sadness or hesitation gone from her face. Anne finally let out the breath she’d been holding.

===

Anne sat with her back against the headboard, Ann sat between her legs, leaning against her. They had spent most of the rest of the morning in bed quietly enjoying being together. Ann slipping in and out of sleep as she held her. At one point she suggested they move down to the living room so Anne would at least have the television to entertain her whilst she slept, but Anne wanted to stay there. She liked her room. It felt like their own little bubble. Anne couldn’t remember the last time she’d spent so much time not doing anything, and she had no desire to move. She stroked her hand up and down Ann’s arm, a contented moan slipping from her lips. 

“Don’t start anything you can’t finish,” Ann said sleepily enjoying the goosebumps her touch was causing. She could feel Anne’s chest rise as she smiled behind her followed by the press of her lips to the side of her face. “What makes you think I can’t finish this?” Her voice low and laden with mischief. 

“Oh I’m sure you can, I just don’t know if I can.” Anne had finally relented and given her the Jammie Dodgers, they had brightened her mood but whatever Catherine had concocted last night had taken its toll. It didn’t matter, she squeezed Ann a little more tightly, she was more than happy for them to continue like this. 

“I should message my aunt, let her know we’ll both be coming up.” There was a quiet nod of agreement as she reached over for her phone. “Don't knock my phone out of my hands again.”

“When did I-” Ann knew that there had now been several occasions when she wanted to take Anne’s phone and throw it off Tower Bridge but she hadn’t actually done it. Not yet at least. 

“This morning. I was checking my messages-”

“You were on your phone in bed?” Uh-oh. The slight inflection in Ann’s question was not a fortuitous sign. They hadn’t set any specific boundaries regarding phones in bed, but Anne guessed it would be a no. “You were asleep.” There was a quiet hum of disapproval. She knew this would be a conversation Ann would not forget to have. “Anyway. You move. A lot. Knocked my phone right out of my hand.”

“You move in your sleep too,” Ann threw back.

“I do not!” she protested. She always woke up exactly where she fell asleep, the other side of her bed completely undisturbed. Any report to the contrary was patently untrue.

“You do,” she replied again matter-of-factly. “The other night you were dreaming.”

“What night?” Anne was determined to get to the bottom of these false accusations. She thought back to Friday night, that was the only other time they’d shared a bed. She knew she had been exhausted and fallen asleep on the sofa, but she had made it to her bed. In fact she’d made sure they both made it there. Her brow furrowed as she tried to remember if she’d had any dreams that night. 

She had trained herself to be quite a lucid dreamer, always keen to jot down anything particularly interesting in her journal the next day. “The only dream I remember was- I dreamt of you.” She suddenly stopped herself as she remembered exactly what dream she’d had. It was too late now to retract it.

Ann felt her freeze behind her. She was glad because if she craned her neck even slightly she’d see her turning crimson with the unintentional admission that Anne had been thinking about her that morning. She tried to mask her merriment, “Oh. Well. You were moving. A lot.”

“Yes.” Ann bit her lip, stifling the laugh at Anne’s monosyllabic response. “I don't know what you're talking about,” she huffed. Her mind raced as she tried to piece together exactly what parts she remembered were part of the dream and which might have actually happened. “I never move in my sleep,” she asserted, only slightly less emphatically than before. Ann gave a quiet giggle, Anne gently pressed her lips to her cheek, as she pulled her arms around her tighter, “Whatever you say dearest.” 

Chapter Text

Flashbacks of their university mis-adventures filled Anne’s mind as she tried to ignore the loud snores from her travel companion draped across the two chairs opposite her. They had spent many a night on various coaches back to Edinburgh from neighbouring and further flung university towns during their undergrad years. Tib insisting it all added to the experience and was a perfect way to save some money and catch up on sleep. For someone who came from money, Tib was remarkably frugal. Anne had been grateful for that, especially in-between student loan cheques. 

Tib had booked them seats on the first Eurostar of the day, even though she knew she’d probably struggle to make it to the station on time. Anne had been surprised to see her waiting at the St Pancras terminal, until she learned that she hadn’t slept. She had somehow managed to retain the ability to be as refreshed from one hour’s sleep as she would be from eight. This all meant that Anne was subjected to the jarring chorus emanating from Tib’s wide open mouth as she caught up on her sleep. She shook her head as she tried to read the newspaper, she was surrounded by snoring blondes.

She looked into the aisle as she heard the train attendant come through the carriage, the breakfast service was at least one perk of being on the early train. “Pass the peas.” She quickly turned at Tib’s mumbled nonsense. She chuckled lightly, the sleep talking must be fun for the ladies she kept company with.

Anne folded her paper up and smiled as a tray of food was placed in front of her and another in front of Tib, “Would madame like tea or coffee?”

“Tea. Please,” she answered politely.

They both raised their eyebrows as they looked over at Tib who had at least closed her mouth. The attendant looked back at Anne as he inclined his head towards Tib, “And…madame?” 

“Coffee. Black,” came the groggy growl from Tib. Anne tilted her head to look past the attendant with pursed lips. Her eyes were still shut but she was clearly awake enough to make demands. 

Anne unfolded her napkin and lay it across her lap as Tib stretched her arms up and yawned giving Anne a clear view of her tonsils. She gave Anne a sleepy smile. “There don’t seem to be any peas to pass,” she said playfully. 

Tib scrunched up her face, “Why would there be peas?”

“I don’t know, you’re the one who asked me to pass them to you.” Tib shrugged her shoulders as she picked up a croissant. She chewed slowly, pondering what it was she’d meant, then suddenly, “Ha!” Anne looked up. “I remember now. I was dreaming I was having dinner with the Queen.” 

“And there were peas?”

“Yes!” Tib laughed at the memory. “I hope she doesn’t mind that I didn’t say please. I’ll have to come up with more interesting dreams if I’m going to narrate them.”

“Hmm,” Anne took a sip of her tea as she thought back to the dream she’d had the other morning. She still wasn’t convinced that she did move in her sleep. No one she’d ever slept with before had ever mentioned it, although most of those hadn’t stayed until morning. Her eyes widened at the possibility that she had moved the way she had in her dream. Good lord she was surprised she hadn’t scandalised Ann. 

“I suppose you spend most of your time dreaming about Miss Walker.” The mention of her name brought Anne back to the present, “Though you probably don’t need to dream these days.” Tib wiggled her eyebrows as she ripped a piece of the croissant hungrily. 

Anne rolled her eyes, she was absolutely incorrigible. As Tib grinned at her mischievously she had a thought. “Tib-” She couldn’t believe she was going to discuss this with her. “When we were…” She shifted uncomfortably in her seat, “Did we...I-” Tib waited in anticipation. “When we were sleeping...Did I ever…” She took a deep breath steadying herself to say the words.

“Hump my leg?”

“What?” Anne’s voice raised an octave. She was shocked and appalled at Tib’s words, moreso the potential truth behind them. 

Tib smirked back, “Well that’s what you were going to ask, isn’t it?” Anne knew that if she was going to have this conversation this was her chance. There was no one else she could ask, except perhaps Mariana and that would be even worse. Tib would give her an honest answer, once the incessant teasing had stopped.

Anne lowered her voice so they wouldn’t shock the entire carriage, “It seems the other morning with Ann I-”

“Got a little amorous in your sleep.” How was she doing this?

“Yes. Wait. She told you?” Anne paused, no, Ann couldn’t have. She wouldn’t. Could she? She knew that she and Marian had been texting since her last visit, she wasn’t thrilled at first but she was pleased they seemed to be getting along so well. It would certainly make the trip up to Halifax easier. Ann wouldn’t have told Marian would she? She didn’t put it past Marian to text everyone in her phonebook about it.

“No. I used to share a bed with you Lister. On occasion.”

“Oh.” Anne felt her throat go dry. She took another gulp of tea as the realisation of what must have transpired that morning started to make her feel warm. “So I-”

“You do.” Tib was trying not to enjoy the moment too much. It wasn’t often that she saw Anne wanting for words. “Quite a few times if my memory serves me. And I’ve definitely kept those memories.”

“You’ve never said anything.” 

“I thought you knew. You seemed pretty aware when it was happening.” A lascivious grin spread across Tib’s face as she recalled some of the finer details.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

"I wasn’t going to complain. We were in bed together for a reason.” Anne’s face fell. How many times had she been over amorous in bed? Is that why they never stayed? Tib saw her face darken, “It was easy enough to get you to stop. You’re quite agreeable in your sleep.” That made her feel a little better. “But trust me, no one would want you to stop.”

“Oh.” Anne sat back in her chair, a small smile playing at the corners of her mouth.

“Yes. Oh.” Tib allowed her words to sink in as she continued with her breakfast. Judging from the dopey grin on Anne’s face she was going to have a lot of fun at her expense over the next few days.

===

Catherine was sitting on the floor at the foot of Ann’s bed because the entire content of her wardrobe covered every available space. Her head swung from side to side as Ann paced back and forth taking things in and out of the open suitcase on the floor. She’d been like this for most of the morning, despite Catherine helpfully reminding her that they were going to Halifax...not, well, anywhere else. 

“What do you think of this?” Ann was holding up a short yellow halter-neck dress.

“I love it. I loved it when I told you to buy it. But where do you plan on wearing it?” 

Ann huffed and sank to the floor in a heap, her back leaning against her wardrobe. Catherine crawled over on her hands and knees and came to sit next to her. She playfully nudged her with her elbow but that just caused her to groan more loudly. She looked over at the open suitcase, so far she had some socks and a book. I’m not sure who she thought she was fooling thinking she’d actually get any reading done on this trip but she could talk her out of that later.

“Do you know what you’ll be doing up there?” 

“Meeting her family I guess,” Ann sighed defeatedly. 

“Well that will take all of five minutes.” She ignored the sideways glare that Ann shot her. “What would you wear at home?” 

“I don’t know. Depends. Leggings I guess. Or if the tribe were visiting I’d put on a dress.” Ann had never really given much thought to what she was wearing when she’d lived at Crow Nest. There was no one there she cared to impress and her family would always find some fault. When she’d moved to London one of the first things she’d asked Catherine for was to go on a shopping trip so that she could update her wardrobe and fill it with clothes she actually liked. She loved her clothes now but nothing felt appropriate. “I want to make a good impression Cath. This is Anne’s family.”

“It’s Marian, and their aunt, who you’ve met loads of times. And their dad right?”  

“But I wasn’t her girlfriend then,” Ann whined. 

“No you were just the massively wealthy neighbour.” 

Ann leaned back in exasperation, accidentally knocking her head against the wardrobe door. She reached back and started to rub the back of her head as her pout started to form.

“Why don’t you bring what you would bring if you were going to stay at my grandmother’s? If you can impress Granny Rawson then you can impress a Lister.”

Ann flopped dramatically into Catherine’s lap, staring up at her pathetically. 

"Why don’t you ask Anne what you should bring?” Catherine was running out of helpful ideas, or even unhelpful ones.

“Because she’ll think I’m a child!” She threw her hands up in the air.

Catherine dodged the flailing arms effectively, “Well what’s she bringing?”

“I don’t know.” She thought for a moment, “Black obviously. Whatever it is she’ll be ridiculously good-looking and I’ll look like-” An scrunched her eyes shut in frustration, “I just want to fit in.”

“Annie, if you haven’t noticed, your girlfriend doesn’t exactly fit in.” That seemed to work, it at least got Ann to open her eyes again. “When did we ever go anywhere that everyone’s head didn’t turn as soon as Anne Lister walked into the room?” Ann thought for a moment, she had a point. Catherine smiled down at her, “And I know you probably hadn’t noticed because you were too busy ogling Anne, but quite a few heads turn when you walk in too.” 

Ann rolled her eyes dismissively. “It’s true Ann! I’m almost sad that I’m not there for your grand coming out. The ladies of Halifax are going to have a fit!” They both started to giggle at the thought of all of the old biddies gasping in horror at the sight of them doing something scandalous like holding hands. “And the way the two of you look at each other it’s verging on obscene.” She smacked Catherine’s arm playfully. 

She wished she was going up there with her, but she hadn’t felt right inviting her up when Anne had organised this trip for her to meet her family. She hadn’t told any of the tribe that she’d be home, and Anne had given her family strict instructions not to tell anyone either. Hopefully they could just spend the week holed up in Shibden, getting to know her family better without any London interruptions. 

“Now,” she tilted her head back to look up at Catherine, “What are your sleepwear options? Not that I expect you to be getting much sleep.” 

Ann blushed, she hoped Catherine was right. She had been giving this topic considerable thought too. She started to chew on her bottom lip, “I think we need to go shopping.” 

A broad grin spread across Catherine’s face as she threw her hands up in the air, “Yes!”

===

Tib looked on curiously as Anne used her spoon to carefully nudge the scoop of ice-cream that sat on top of her waffle until it was more centrally placed. She took the biscoff cookie from the side of her coffee cup and broke the corner off and carefully sprinkled the crumbs on top of the ice-cream. She sat back, her brow furrowed in concentration as she surveyed the creation, rotating it left and then right just a fraction. 

When she seemed to be happy she took out her phone and took a picture. A scowl formed on her face as she looked at the result. Tib put her fork down and folded her arms across her chest as she marvelled at the strange sight. Anne put her phone down and arranged the cup of coffee to the side, making sure the handle was at a slight angle to the plate. Finally she picked up her phone again and started to take more pictures from various angles. 

After a dozen or so shots she eventually put her phone down, as she picked up her spoon she noticed Tib staring at her, mouth agape, “What the fuck was that Lister?”

Anne looked at her blankly, “What?” 

Tib exaggeratedly parodied her movements. Spinning her plate through a complete 360 degree turn before miming the action of taking pictures like she was a high fashion photographer. She looked pointedly at Anne, “That.” 

Anne looked down at her food, “It’s for Ann,” she said quietly.

“What was that?” Tib angled her ear towards her even though she’d heard the answer quite clearly.

Anne narrowed her eyes and looked squarely at Tib, answering more confidently, “It’s for Ann.” 

Tib grinned widely, “That’s what I thought you said.” They both turned back to their food before the silence was broken by Tib’s forced cough. Anne distinctly heard the word, “Whipped” spoken followed by an equally realistic cough. 

“She likes photos of food,” Anne tried to explain casually. Tib smiled sweetly as she took another mouthful. “It gives her inspiration to cook.” There was a conciliatory nod, “And eat. She needs to eat more.” Followed by another indulgent nod. “I promised her I’d take photos.” Her voice shrank as she heard herself say the words, “It would make her feel like she was here with me.”

Tib leant forward, grinning like the Cheshire Cat, “W-H-I-P-P-E-D.” 

“Shutup Tib,” she replied with a glare, which Tib responded to with a quick wink. Despite her exasperation at the endless teasing she’d been subjected to all day she found herself smiling wryly back at her.

“You don’t need to explain yourself to me Lister. Whatever keeps you in her good books before your weekend away.” A knowing grin teased Tib’s lips, “I know how you get in Shibden.”

Anne nearly choked on the mouthful on a piece of waffle, “I beg your pardon.”  

She turned to her trying to decide if she really was as unaware as she seemed to be. Anne seemed to have no idea what she was talking about. “You get very-” Tib looked her up and down a little too appreciatively for Anne’s comfort.

“Tib,” she cautioned.

“There she is.” Tib licked her lips suggestively. Anne raised an eyebrow, as she glowered across at her waiting for an explanation. “When you’re home, you get very Mistress of Shibden.” She took in a sharp breath, “Emphasis on the mistress part.” 

Anne balked at Tib’s suggestive tone. There had only been a handful of women that she had brought back to Shibden, most of them when she was younger and trying to create a good impression. She didn’t think she had been any more domineering with any of them than she would normally. Of course she had brought Tib there, admittedly they were wild so she had probably needed some high-handed instruction. She still wasn’t sure her father had forgiven them for raiding his liquor cabinet and drinking some of his finest whiskey. She had replaced it several times over by now but Listers knew how to hold a grudge. 

Then there was Mariana, she’d stayed with her at Shibden more than anyone. For most of their relationship Anne had thought they might eventually settle there, if she could ever get her to give up London. It was Mary who had started her thinking about possible renovations when she remarked how shabby Shibden was looking compared to the other grand ancestral homes she’d visited. The memory of that appraisal still caused her upper lip to curl into a snarl. 

“Oh yeah, I remember that look.” Tib’s lewdness once again caught her attention. “I'll tell Marian to get her earplugs ready,” she added playfully.

“It's not like that.” 

“You were always very good at staying quiet. Despite my many attempts.” Anne wished for the ability to silence her best friend. “Although Ann does look like she'd be one to-”

“Tib!” 

She knew she had gone too far and held her hands up in surrender. She had been winding her up all day, and she was surprised she’d gotten this far with only a few warning glances being sent her way. She was enjoying spending this time with Anne, it had been a long while since either of them had been at the start of something that wasn’t going to be another regret once the dust settled.

“It’s not like that anyway,” Anne muttered, half under her breath. 

“I’m sure the two of you are very..discreet.” Tib had meant the comment to be offhand but she noticed Anne shifting uncomfortably in her seat, averting your gaze. “What do you mean it’s not like that? What isn’t?” 

Anne tilted her head from side to side, “We haven’t-” She looked up at Tib willing her to read her mind. She looked back at her inquisitively, trying to gleam what she meant. “We haven’t-” Anne was trying to use her hands to explain. “We haven’t-” 

“Fuck!” Tib exclaimed.

“Lower your voice.” Anne pleaded. “But yes, exactly.” 

Tib leaned in closer to her, almost whispering, “What do you mean you two haven’t?” 

All Anne could do was raise her palms up and shrug her shoulders, “There was the business with Mariana. Then she was staying at Samuel’s. Then I was tired. Then she was drunk.”

“Wait. That’s about four excuses too many. I did come on this trip with Anne Lister?” Tib rubbed the back of her neck as she tried to comprehend what had just been shared with her. There were plenty of stories about Anne’s romantic entanglements, and for good reason. It was good practice to keep an eye on any lady you entered a room with if Anne was there. 

“Bad timing.” 

Tib let out a big sigh before turning sharply to her, “Hang on. So you could be back in London right now, with your girlfriend, and you’re here with me? Keeping me sober?” Anne slowly nodded. “Well never let it be said you’re a bad friend Lister.” Tib raised her glass and clinked it against an imaginary glass. “That is the only reason right?”

Anne narrowed her eyes, “Of course. What else would it be?”

“I don’t know.” Tib raised her eyebrows, “Maybe this one means a bit more to you.” They exchanged a knowing glance as Anne sank back into her chair with a thoughtful, “Hmm.”

Tib smiled cheekily, “Or you’re just old and past it.”

Not for the first time that day Anne wondered why she had agreed to this trip.

==

Anne had called her to say goodnight, the only problem was that being an hour ahead meant that Ann was not remotely tired when she’d called. She could hear the weariness in her voice so didn’t want to ask her to stay up another hour on the off chance that she might be ready to sleep. Instead, she’d said goodnight to Anne and sat up reading, or at least she made an attempt to read. It was almost impossible to do anything with the sound of Anne’s low heavy voice still echoing in her mind and through the rest of her body.

They’d talked briefly about the trip to Shibden. She hadn’t worried her with her wardrobe woes. Those were mostly resolved now. Anne told her that she would be back from Brussels on Friday afternoon as she had a few meetings before they left. Thomas would be driving them up, then Anne planned to give him the rest of the time off so that he could see his family. From the sounds of it the trip was uncharacteristically long. It had been a while since her last visit and with the Mayor’s Office officially closed for the summer it was the perfect time. 

Ann wondered how long she’d be able to stay away from her work. She knew that she’d been fortunate to have so much time with her since they started seeing each other. The past week was testament to how busy she would normally be. It was obvious that the amount of time they’d spent together could not be sustained, especially if it meant that Anne was doing 15 hour days and coming home exhausted. As much as she didn’t want to share her, she knew they would have to find a balance. 

She felt a little guilty at wanting to monopolise all of her time, but she’d spent a lifetime dreaming of having her in her life. Anne never made her feel like she was inadequate or what she was saying or thinking was trivial. There was so much she could be doing and yet she chose to spend her time with her. That mix was intoxicating, she couldn’t be blamed for wanting it all the time. 

The past weekend had been almost perfect, she could have done without the hangover but being able to spend countless hours in Anne’s arms was heaven. She had been so caring and attentive. They’d spent hours holding each other and in the spaces where she had felt less fragile, Anne had been more than generous with her luxuriant kisses. 

She sank deeper into her covers as she thought back to the feel of Anne’s perfect mouth moving against hers whilst her strong arms enveloped her in her embrace exactly where she lay. She closed her eyes as she remembered the press of her chest and firm abs against her. She felt herself moving up and down against her mattress, picturing herself rubbing against Anne’s front in the same way. A quiet moan slipped from her slightly parted lips. 

Her left hand slowly made its way down her torso, grazing the side of her breast. The other hand played with the hem of her t-shirt the same way Anne had done so a few mornings ago. She gently squeezed her breast, massaging it through the thin fabric. Her already hard nipple pushing up into her palm. 

She moved her right hand under her shirt, her hand pressing firmly against her soft stomach as she imagined Anne placing a torturous trail of kisses along her neck as she arched back into the pillow. Her hips started to slowly rise from the bed of their own accord seeking out the touch she craved. She felt the ghost of Anne’s hot breath against her ear, her smooth voice whispering, “Lower.” 

Ann moved her hand down between her legs, she could feel how wet she was through the ruined fabric. Another wanton moan escaped at the first brush against her sensitive core. She slipped her hand into her underwear, the ample slickness coating the fingers she imagined were Anne’s. The room filled with her soft moans as she pictured her skilful fingers moving languidly along her core and up to her hard clit.

She rolled her hips up, trying to increase the pressure on her clit as she drew agonizingly slow rhythmic circles. She felt herself growing increasingly wetter. The sound of slick movements filling her ears. There was a short gasp as her hand moved down, her finger gliding easily inside her. Pushing deeper with each wanton groan as her orgasm threatened to erupt. 

Her other hand quickly moving down to form tight circles on her clit, the movements no longer gentle as she pushed against her own hands wanting them so much to be Anne’s. Her hips rose off the bed as her fingers worked quickly, strumming her aching clit. She closed her eyes tighter, her mouth hanging open, as her stomach muscles contracted. She was so close. The pressure perfect on her clit as she curled her finger inside of her. Just a little more and she would be lost completely, and then she heard it. The sound of Anne’s voice heavy with lust and want, “You’re mine.” 

She came hard, her body rising from her bed suspended for a moment before she fell back against the sheets. Her body gasped for air as her orgasm continued to move through her. Everything seemed brilliantly bright. She brought her left hand up to rest against her forehead as she tried to slow her breath, her heart thundering in her chest. Her breathy pants filling the room as she smiled dreamily. Euphoria taking over her entire body.

She lay still, unable to move. Her arms at her side. The delicious thoughts of Anne being the cause of her undoing flooding her mind. Their trip couldn’t come soon enough.

Chapter Text

Anne leaned against the back of her car scrolling through her phone messages. She knew that this would be the last chance she’d get for the next few hours since they were driving up to Halifax and Ann would demand her full attention. She was more than ready for that to be her reality.

They had tried to keep their texts to a minimum over the last couple of days as Ann didn’t want to distract her from work, especially if it meant they wouldn’t be disturbed whilst they were in Halifax. However, late last night as she was finishing packing for their trip a message came through from Ann that had thoroughly derailed her thoughts. ‘I came so hard the other night thinking of you inside me. I can’t wait till I no longer have to imagine it.’

That had warranted a very cold shower. Even then, only the prospect of having Ann writhing beneath her as she made her come again and again stopped her from satiating her own need. She had waited to be with her this long, she could wait another 24hrs. Anything but the reality of Ann’s breathy moans as the pleasure she’d caused coursed through her body would pale in comparison.

As much as she wanted her, at the back of her mind, Anne still had niggling worries about the fact that Ann had been waiting almost her whole life for this moment. She had no concerns about her own abilities in the bedroom, but the possible expectation that Ann’s mind had built up over the years weighed on her mind. Ann’s text helped to allay some of her concern, but it was a thought that had kept returning to her. If she’d been honest with Tib when she asked her, she might have admitted that may be part of the reason why they hadn’t slept together yet.

“Hello handsome.” She couldn’t help the smirk as she looked up to see Ann bouncing down the stairs towards her, taking her away from her thoughts. She flung her arms around her and immediately pressed her lips against hers, kissing her hungrily. Anne wrapped her arms around her waist, lifting her up slightly from the ground as their tongues moved against each other. She fit so perfectly into every part of her body, she truly was made for her.

They finally broke away, Anne depositing her back onto her feet, “Hello darling. Miss me?”

Ann smiled dreamily back up at her, “Not in the slightest dearest.”

Anne let out a laugh as she tilted her head and saw the large rolling luggage and holdall at the top of the stairs. She drew back a little to look at Ann, “Are you planning on moving into Shibden?” Ann glanced over her shoulder at her suitcase, she was glad Anne hadn’t seen her luggage before she and Catherine had repacked it. Twice. She’d managed to narrow it down considerably but she was now down to the bare minimum she was comfortable taking. She smiled sweetly back up at Anne, “Not today.”

The corners of Anne’s eyes started to crease with the thought that one day she could be moving there with her. Ann’s smile turned mischievous as she started to rub the back of Anne’s neck, “But maybe one day. I hear the Mistress of Shibden is quite striking.”

Anne pulled her in a little tighter as she narrowed her eyes, “Hmm, I’ll have to keep my eye on you Miss Walker.”

Ann licked her lips slowly, “I’d like that.”

===

The drive to Halifax would only ordinarily take four hours, however Anne had wanted to go through the Peak District. She wanted to experience as much of England’s rolling hills and country as possible whilst she was away from the capital. She had also promised her aunt that they would pick up a couple Bakewell Puddings from the town they were named after for dinner. It would add less than an hour’s drive time overall to their journey. It would also give them an afternoon alone before the rest of the week with her family, even though in her mind she had already allotted time in their schedule away from them.

They would leave London at 10am, hopefully beating the early weekend traffic. Then drive for three hours to Bakewell, where they would have lunch and enjoy a nice walk around the town. They would leave there by 3pm at the latest, then a short drive to Chatsworth House for a quick walk around the grounds. She and Ann had both been there before but the estate’s farm made excellent jams that they sold in the store. Then onto Halifax. They should be there no later than 6pm, in time to freshen up before dinner.

All it had taken to persuade Ann that it was a good idea were a few picturesque shots of Bakewell and the small bridge over the River Wye she’d found on Instagram as well as some well angled shots of various baked delights. Anne was quite proud at how well she was navigating social media these days, with a few pointers from her sister and Ann.

She had created her own account but hadn’t posted anything yet. She still couldn’t understand what the issue was with liking a post from a few years ago. Ann had tried to explain that was fine for her posts since they were dating, they’d both spent a good long while smiling at that fact. However, it would seem a bit strange to just a random person. There were more rules to this than she cared for but it made Ann happy to know that she was making the effort, and that was all that mattered.

They had agreed to sit on opposite sides of the car otherwise they might completely shock poor Thomas. Normally Anne didn’t care what it was Thomas saw or heard, he may not be the most capable member of her staff but he was at least discreet, and loyal. However, he appeared to have struck up a friendship with Ann and whilst Anne didn’t necessarily approve she wouldn’t do anything to embarrass her.

As Ann sat on her side gazing out the window Anne wished that they’d instilled a dress code before they’d made that decision. The words of her text message on repeat inside her brain. Perhaps she should have arrived there a couple of hours earlier and gone up to the flat before they set out. She had definitely considered it, only she knew that if they had started anything the chances of them actually leaving for Halifax that day - or for the rest of the weekend, would be exactly zero.

Anne tried not to stare. She was wearing another of those flimsy summer dresses that would only take a few swift movements before it fell to the floor. The vines that linked each of the small summer flowers that patterned the dress teased Anne. They wove a perfect trail up her thighs and around her torso. She pictured trailing her fingertips along them till her hand reached around her back pulling her in close to her. Anne gulped as she felt her throat become dry. A light cough helping her to regain her thoughts. Ann quickly glanced towards her with a smile before turning back to look out the window.

She thought that Ann was possibly the strongest person she knew to show the amount of restraint she was. What a delicious paradox she was, sending her filthy texts but sitting demurely across from her less than 12 hours later. Anne let out a sigh as she saw the rise and fall of Ann’s chest beneath her dress. She shook her head, trying to clear those thoughts. She faced forward and started reciting the Kings and Queens of England in her head, hoping to fill her brain with anything that would stop her from wanting to run her hand under the delicate material of Ann’s dress.

It was taking everything Ann had to not jump into Anne’s lap and beg her to take her right there. From the way she’d noticed Anne looking at her when she came down the stairs she didn’t think she would take much persuading. But no, Anne had this ludicrous idea for them to sit on opposite sides, for Thomas’ benefit of all reasons. She mostly understood it, he always seemed so flustered whenever they were together, but she largely thought that was because of Anne’s presence. She was so imperious sometimes. On the couple of occasions he’d driven her home he always seemed very amiable. He was easily distracted though, and given how they’d re-entered each other’s lives, perhaps it was best not to do anything to disturb him.

She had decided that her best hope of not ripping Anne’s clothes off in the back of the car was to keep her focus on outside. Eyes on the road, just like Thomas. If she didn’t look at her then she could try to forget how absurdly hot she looked. She thought her heart had actually stopped as she exited her building and saw her leant against the back of her car, on her phone of course. She was wearing a form-fitting black v-neck t-shirt paired with those ridiculous slightly faded black jeans that clung perfectly to her toned legs that she’d worn at Pride. It was however the black leather ankle boots she wore that had caused her heart to stop suddenly.

Ann silently hoped that perhaps a little colour would work its way into her wardrobe whilst they were away otherwise she would need plenty of cold showers if they were going to spend the entire week together. She heard a cough and slowly glanced to her left, she returned the polite smile Anne had met her with. How on earth did she look so calm when every part of Ann was telling her to just lean over and kiss her? As she turned her attention back to the road she decided to try and count the number of VW Beetles she saw in a futile attempt to keep her mind away from Anne.

===

Marian sat in front of her laptop as she waited for the others to join the video call. She was in Anne’s private study. If she had been home there’s no way she would risk getting caught in there, but with Anne having been gone for so long she’d taken up residence. It was probably the quietest room in the house and there seemed to be some sort of magical force field that stopped anyone from daring to enter. Probably residual energy from the usual occupier.

The main estate office downstairs benefitted from being close to the kitchen, but it also meant that no one had any qualms about dropping by for some idle chit-chat when they had nothing else to do. Ordinarily that was fine, but since Sam’s election Anne had been noticeably more hand’s off in the running of the estate. Marian was determined that standards would not slip under her watch.

Tib’s face suddenly appeared on her screen, “‘Ey up Marian!” She rolled her eyes at the thickness of her Yorkshire accent. She’d been doing this over all of their calls since she got back to Halifax, claiming she wasn’t sure Marian would understand her if she didn’t. “That eye roll must come with the office.”

Marian smiled back smuggly, “It does actually.”

She noted Tib must also be in her office, she was dressed in a grey business suit, white shirt, black tie. Marian wished her sister would take some fashion tips from her, she still managed to look very smart without looking like she was going from one funeral to another. Tib leaned back in her chair and swung her legs up, her shiny dark tan brogues landing on the desk, “Just don’t let her catch you with your feet up.”

As if she would ever be that foolish. She didn’t even dare bring anything more than a bottle of water in there in case it spilled. “No thank you, I value my life too much.”

Catherine’s face appeared in another window below her own and Tib’s, “Oi oi saveloy!” in her best East End London accent. Marian looked towards the heavens, when did people stop greeting each other with a simple hello? She caught the thought as soon as it came to her mind, her eyes darting around as though she’d seen a ghost. That’s exactly the sort of thing Anne would say. Maybe sitting in her office did come with unknown side effects.

“How is my favourite Rawson?” Tib winked cheekily at the camera.

“Just fine thank you Tib,” Catherine laughed. They had all gotten used to Tib’s incessant flirting, it seemed today her attentions were directed at Catherine. Marian was more than happy to let that continue, she had enough to do with the Annes’ impending visit.

Trying to bring their attention back to the call, Marian cleared her throat loudly, “If you two are done, we have much to discuss.”

“Oh I’m never done that quickly Marian,” she raised her eyebrows suggestively. She truly was incorrigible.

“Anyway,” she waited until they had both turned their attention back to her. “We need to check in on Operation Annes.”

“Is that what we’re calling it?” Catherine chimed in.

“What else are we calling it?” she queried.

Tib sat up straight in her chair again, “I don’t know, but if we’re trying to be covert here then using their names probably won’t help, You know how you Listers like to think you’re detectives.”

“Actually that’s just me. Anne likes to think she’s a doctor.”

“Oh I know, she makes an excellent doctor.” Marian didn’t even want to look at Tib’s face at that moment, she could hear the filthy thoughts clearly enough.

“Tib!” Marian exclaimed in horror.

“Excellent nurse too actually.” Tib smiled to herself as she reminisced.

“Tib!” This time it was Catherine who shrieked at the over share.

“Oh come on ladies, we were young and at uni.” Catherine and Marian both shook their heads at her disapprovingly. Tib threw her hands up, “Fine.” Marian was about to speak again when Tib added, “But I bet the Annes are enjoying that whole doctor nurse thing.”

Marian’s jaw dropped, “That’s my sister!”

“And my cousin!” Catherine gasped and stared at her in faux-horror.

Tib laughed raucously. Sometimes she couldn’t help herself. Marian wondered if all of this had been a good idea. The three of them had come up with the idea over breakfast in Tib’s flat, the morning after Pride. They weren’t going to force them together, they were certain they could at least do that themselves. They were just going to make sure that neither of them got in their own way, the way they both seemed to. None of them had expected it would be quite so difficult as it had been.

“Anyway!” Marian tried again to regain control of the conversation, “Operations Annes.”

“A-A?” Her head turned to the left at Tib’s suggestion.

“Because they’re a broken down car?” Then to the other side at Catherine’s response.

“Better than the American version.” Back to Tib.

“AA though?” Then Catherine.

Marian sighed as the two went back and forth, it was just like tennis only much less fun she thought.

“Double A?”

“Sounds like a bra size.” Trust Tib to think it sounded like that.

“Or a battery.”

“That’s it!” Tib exclaimed loudly like she’d just discovered penicillin.

“What’s it?” Marian was almost afraid to ask.

Tib dramatically drew her hands across the air like she was presenting a name atop a huge illuminated marquee, “Operation Duracell.” Marian and Catherine stared at her incredulously, “Come on. No one’s going to bat an eyelid if you say you’ve got to sort out some batteries. You ladies know all about needing batteries.”

“Tib.” Marian wondered how her sister put up with all the bawdiness.

“She does have a point?”

“Catherine!” Is this how Anne felt when she and Tib ganged up on her? No wonder she looked so exhausted every time. “I meant the name!” Catherine pleaded innocently.

“Okay fine. Operation Duracell Bunny or whatever.” Tib and Catherine both snickered at how frustrated Marian was getting with them. She rubbed her temple, trying to work the headache that was forming away before it took hold, “Now can we get onto what it is we’re actually doing.”

“Whatever you say, Chief.” Marian glanced up and caught Tib giving her a salute, “What’s the current situation Private Rawson?”

Catherine sat up at the mention of her name, “Oh that’s me!” She turned to the screen and placed her hands in front of her like she was a newscaster presenting the evening update. “They are on course to Bakewell, Anne’s made reservations for them at a small local restaurant. They’re going to buy a few things there and then some jam at Chatsworth House.” She broke character for a moment, “Tib if you want anything you’d better text Anne now.” Tib nodded, grabbing her phone to shoot off a quick message. Catherine resumed her professional demeanour, “They hope to be in Shibden by 6pm.”

“Perfect,” Marian smiled. That was more like it.

“One more thing,” Catherine added excitedly. “If your sister doesn’t kiss her soon Ann’s going to jump her. I don’t know if she’ll survive!” Her wicked smile was returned by Tib. It was alright for the both of them, they didn’t have to spend the next week under the same roof as the Duracell bunnies! Marian groaned at the thought when there was a loud crashing sound from down the hall.

The clamour caused all of them to look up as they heard John Booth yelling, “Oh ‘eck! I’m in for it now.”

Marian darted up immediately, looking quickly down at the other two, “I have to go. I’ll keep you updated!”

===

Ann closed her eyes and tilted her head up towards the sky, the sun felt so good on her skin. As soon as they had stepped out of the car the air had felt fresher. They had both taken a deep breath, filling their lungs as much as they could. She supposed she must have been getting used to how things were in London, including the city air. That thought made her smile, but she could appreciate why Anne had wanted to make as much of this journey as they could.

They had enjoyed a wonderful lunch in a traditional English pub that had been tucked away down a side street. Ann wondered how many other women Anne had taken there, but when she regaled her with a story involving her aunt and the local innkeeper that had taken a fancy to her she stopped worrying. The memories Anne had of this town were ones of her youth, when she had first started to travel and her aunt had been her companion. Ann loved the idea that she wanted to relive those moments with her.

After their lunch Anne said that they had enough time to take a walk along the river. They walked leisurely along the bank, Ann enjoying being able to hold her as they walked together closely, free from the self-imposed distance. It felt like it had been weeks since they’d spent any time together like this out in the open. Despite her plans to spend as much time indoors with Anne as possible, Ann hoped that they’d get a chance to explore Shibden together. She was sure her knowledge of it was possibly only second to that of the Listers, but she wanted to experience it all anew through Anne’s eyes.

Ann paused and turned to smile at Anne, she squinted a little to admire her in her completely impractical dashing black ensemble. Her head was held high as Ann brought her arms around her waist. There was a loud series of squawks that caused them both to turn their heads as a large gaggle of geese came charging towards them. Anne quickly pulled Ann closer into her and laughed as the birds rushed past them. She looked over shoulder and saw them heading towards a small child with a bag of breadcrumbs.

Ann had buried her head in Anne’s chest as the birds had descended on them. Trying to muffle the screams as the feathers brushed against her bare legs. Anne savoured the feel of Ann’s body pressed tightly against hers though she knew it would do nothing to make the rest of their journey any easier. There were less than two hours left. They could manage that. Possibly.

Once the noise had died down she felt Ann tilt her head up. The deepest blue eyes looked up at her with a hint of mischief as she toyed with her bottom lip. She closed her eyes and tilted her chin up, her lips impossibly close to Anne’s, she really had no other choice but to lean in and place her own lips against them. She smiled into the kiss as she heard a small moan escape Ann’s lips as she opened her mouth slightly, brushing her tongue against her bottom lip until she felt Ann’s tongue press against hers. She planned to spend hours doing just this.

She heard a small whimper as she pulled away. Ann nearly caused them to topple over as she leaned forward chasing the kiss. When she couldn’t be caught Ann opened her eyes and began to pout. “We have to go darling or else we’ll never get to Shibden before dinner.” Ann huffed as she rested her head on Anne’s shoulder. She knew she was right, if only they didn’t have to spend the rest of the journey sat so far apart.

“Dearest…” Anne pulled back a little and looked down the bridge of her nose at her, the inflection in Ann’s voice doing little to mask the presence of an ulterior motive. She draped her arms around the back of her neck as she stood on her toes placing little kisses along the shell of Anne’s outer ear. “If you let me sit next to you-” She stopped to make sure she had her attention. She ran the tip of her tongue along her ear, there was a quiet moan as she felt her pulling her in tighter. “I promise to tell you, in detail, exactly how you made me come so hard the other night.” Ann felt the groan emanating from Anne’s body.

She was suddenly jerked forward as Anne took a step back, her hands still firmly on her waist but keeping her at arm’s length. Ann was momentarily worried until she saw how dark with desire Anne’s eyes were. Her words had the exact effect she had wanted them to. She quirked an eyebrow and smiled challengingly, “Well?” She saw Anne consider it for a split second before she grasped her hand and started a furious pace back to the car.

Thomas didn’t even have a chance to get out of the car before Anne had forcefully pulled the back door open. She stood shuffling her feet as she indicated for Ann to get in. Ann happily hopped into the back, quickly followed by Anne. She had backed up onto the other side of the car, not wanting to presume that Anne had accepted her offer.

Anne positioned herself with her back against the door, one leg up almost entirely on the back seat as her legs were spread wide. Ann’s breath quickened. She decided that she would give her exactly ten seconds before she pounced on her. She got to two before Anne reached over, turning her so that her back was pressed against her front. She wrapped one arm around her waist as the other hand tucked the hair behind her ear.

She was aware of the car starting and moving off as she heard Anne lick her lips, quietly humming. Then she felt her lips gently moving up along her pulse point. Her breath hitched as Anne pulled her in tighter, she could feel her firm body pressing against her. She struggled to keep her eyes open as she felt the warm breath against her ear followed by the low tone simmering with want, “Now darling, you said something about details.”

Chapter Text

Anne beamed triumphantly as she stepped out of the car into the bright sunshine. She held her hand out patiently for Ann and had to stifle her laugh as she heard her sighing heavily. Anne glanced at her watch, it had taken them 12 minutes and 26 seconds to drive from Bakewell to Chatsworth House. She wasn’t sure how much Ann would have been able to endure had it taken the usual 15 minutes. She’d noticed that Thomas must have broken the speed limit several times to get them there in that time. She wasn’t sure whose benefit that was for, but she was certain Ann was thankful.

She felt Ann’s soft, slightly clammy, hand in hers as she helped her out of the car. Ann narrowed her eyes at the mischievous grin playing on her lips. Her cheeks were completely flushed and her breath still a little ragged. Anne thought that perhaps now she would think twice before challenging her in such a fashion. She couldn’t help think how utterly adorable she looked as she tried to fix her with a steely glare. She wanted to pick her up and carry her into the woods and thoroughly ravish her, but she was certain the Duke and Duchess of Derbyshire would have something to say about that.

Instead she leaned forward, closed her eyes, and pursed her lips, waiting for a kiss from Ann to show she had forgiven her for the torture she’d subjected her to in the back of the car. Really it was just a few languorous kisses along her neck. Her hand may have started to tease the hem of her dress. It really could have been a lot worse if Ann had been able to follow through and describe what she’d been doing the other night. Anne speculated that her slowly grinding hips might have been a distraction.

When there was no kiss forthcoming she squinted with one eye open. Ann had her arms folded across her chest, a hard edge to her raised eyebrow. There was a hint of toughness but even through one eye Anne could see she was trying to fight her pout. Anne opened both eyes as she straightened. She let out a big sigh before stretching her arms out wide. Ann immediately dropped her arms and wrapped them around her torso as she held her tight. She kissed the top of her head and was glad Tib wasn’t there to see it. She was completely whipped.

“Does this mean we’re going back to our previous seating arrangement?” Ann’s head shot up, nearly banging Anne’s chin. She looked totally horrified at the idea. Once again, Anne had to suppress her laugh as Ann looked pleadingly up at her. She thought best not to let her know just how weak she felt looking into those deep blue eyes. “Hmm,” she mused, “Perhaps we can sit together, just not as closely as we were.” Her eyes brightened instantly, she tilted her head up and they exchanged a brief kiss. “Let’s not start that again Miss Walker or we’ll never get home.”

They walked hand in hand up to the old stables, although it was perhaps the grandest stables either of them had ever seen. With its column lined archway, topped by the statue of two stags with real antlers it was very impressive. When they reached the top of the hill Anne turned and surveyed the estate as Ann took a moment to catch her breath. She had gotten quite good at keeping up with Anne, but London was very flat. She worried about how she’d do in Halifax and decided she’d have to keep a firm hold of her hand so she didn’t go off at breakneck speeds.

Anne stood admiring the view, it really was breathtaking. Chatsworth House was magnificent of course but also the sprawling manicured gardens. She knew that Shibden could never be this grand, but she hoped that with a little work and due care she could bring out its full potential. It was a shame they were staying away from Crow Nest, she would’ve liked to ask Ann about what she did with the grounds there. She supposed she could still ask.

She felt Ann’s hand slip back into hers, “It’s beautiful isn’t it?” Anne hummed in agreement as she continued to get lost in her thoughts. “Nothing compared to Shibden though.” From anyone else Anne would have doubted whether they believed that statement, but coming from Ann she knew that she wasn’t just saying it. She gave her hand a little squeeze and turned to kiss her cheek, “Thank you darling.” She turned so that they were facing the courtyard, “Let’s go buy Tib her jam.”

===

Ann rubbed her palms firmly against her dress as the streets going past started to become more familiar. She knew it was ridiculous to be nervous, she’d been to Shibden before and had met the elder Listers on several occasions. She and Marian had been friendly for a long time and had gotten closer in the past few weeks. She enjoyed having someone new to talk to, surprisingly they hardly ever talked about Anne. Then there was of course that, she wasn’t just going to Shibden. She was going as Anne’s girlfriend.

She was very aware that they would be sharing the same room, the same bed, for the next week. That alone was reason to be nervous and exhilarated all at the same time. Anne had been very patient, uncharacteristically so if you believed what all the gossips said. She wasn’t worried that she didn’t desire her - the car ride made it obvious that she did. They had both been cautious about taking things too far too fast. The past week had been agonising. However, the very real prospect that the wait could be over - in a matter of hours, was throwing all of her emotions in a million directions. Coupled with the anxiety that her family might spot them, her mind felt like it was on an unrelenting rollercoaster ride that she was doing her best to survive.

As the car pulled into the grounds of Shibden the knots in her stomach tightened further, why did she ever think this was a good idea? What if they had a fight or her family didn’t like her? Would she have to spend the rest of the week at Crow Nest and have to explain to her family why she was back and hadn’t told them? Even if everything went well, Anne had assured her that no one outside of her family knew they were visiting, but she knew how intrusive the Tribe could be. They’d find out somehow. More things to pile onto her over capacity funfair ride.

Anne was excitedly looking out of the window. She could feel the joy emanating from her as they continued down the long driveway. As soon as the Hall came into view Anne turned to her, her smile was absolutely brilliant. Despite her apprehension she had no choice but to return it. Anne pulled her hand from her lap and pressed her lips against her palm, her touch was always so calming. She reminded herself that this is what she’d dreamt of always doing, being at Shibden - with Anne. Whatever else the next week would bring, Anne was with her.

Marian was making last minute checks to Anne’s study, ensuring everything was exactly how her sister had left it. She would be in a foul mood soon enough, she didn’t want to give her any more reason to be angry. She heard a commotion downstairs and looked out the window to see Anne’s car pulling into the back courtyard. Her aunt was yelling from the bottom of the stairs, “They’re here!” She glanced up to the heavens and said a silent prayer that hopefully Ann’s presence would stem her sister’s temper.

Anne gazed longingly at Shibden as she waited for Thomas to take their bags out of the boot. Months away always felt like years, but even more so this time. So much had happened since she last stood there. She took in the beautiful timber frames, even the moss covered brick made her heart swell. She felt someone’s presence next to her. Ann stood wringing her hands as she shifted from side to side. She moved to give her a hug when she heard the back door opening, “Anne!”

She turned and saw her aunt rushing towards her. Anne crossed the short distance and the smaller older woman wrapped her arms tightly around her. Anne bent down and nuzzled into her shoulder, she was home again. Ann felt privileged to be able to see Anne this way. There were so many sides to her that she presented to the world, mostly full of confidence and bravado. But she was also a protector and carer, to her but also to Marian and Tib. There was the playfulness and silliness that they’d shared. Now as she watched her aunt fussing over how thin she looked she saw an unguarded innocence.

Aunt Anne brushed away a piece of microscopic dust from her shirt as Anne caught Ann staring at her. She felt herself blush at her aunt’s actions. Mariana always looked uneasy when she had witnessed the way her aunt always fretted over her. It didn’t fit with her image of the commanding businesswoman landowner that she wanted to be associated with. They had fought often about how she thought Anne allowed herself to be mollycoddled by her aunt. Ann appeared nervous, but she didn’t look uncomfortable with the scene in front of her.

They made eye contact and Anne shot her a quick wink as she held out her hand. Ann bowed her head slightly as she stepped forward taking it. Anne held onto both of their hands as she stood proudly between them. She leaned closer to Ann and whispered, “Is everything alright darling?” She gave a small nod in return, at which Anne raised a questioning eyebrow. “Really, I’m okay.”

Aunt Anne smiled as she pretended not to notice the brief exchange. She knew that they had been spending a lot of time together, Marian had never been able to keep a secret. However, none of them were sure how serious it was until Anne called to say she would be bringing someone home.

That word had stuck in her mind - “someone.” Not a “friend,” the way she had referred to so many other women in the past, including that wretched Lawton woman, whom Marian assured her she was finished with. The way her niece spoke of this someone she knew they were more, and seeing how she was with Ann now in these first few moments only confirmed that.

Anne gave Ann’s hand a gentle tug as she turned back towards her aunt. She brought her to stand to her side as she wrapped an arm around her. Her chest puffed out as she beamed, “Aunt, this is Ann Walker-”

She gave a quick slap to her hand, still in hers, “Of course I know this is Ann Walker!” she playfully chastised. “Her family have been our neighbours forever!” She tutted as she shook her head at her niece, “Honestly, what kind of fool wouldn’t even recognise their own neighbour?” Anne’s face fell at her aunt’s words, she glanced back at Ann who was biting the bottom of her lip so hard she worried she might break the skin. This was exactly the sort of awkwardness Anne didn’t want.

Suddenly her aunt started to double over as she burst into a fit of laughter. They both stood silently, perplexed at what was happening. Aunt Anne straightened and started to wipe away the tears from her eyes as Marian came into the courtyard. “Oh Aunt, you are terrible.”

“Leave me be Marian, let me have a little fun with the Annes,” she chortled. Anne’s mouth still hung open, “Oh Anne dear, close your mouth. We are not a codfish.” Ann tried not to snicker as she saw her firmly shut her mouth. “I don’t know how you couldn’t recognise this lovely young lady,” she continued as she smiled warmly at her.

“Ahh, well Aunt-” She had hoped she was done with having to explain this oversight.

Marian bypassed her aunt and sister and went straight to embrace Ann in a welcoming hug, “She’s been saving that joke up all week.”

“You told her?” she shot Marian an angry glare.

“Anne, leave your sister alone.” She gave her a light swat across her stomach as she shuffled closer towards Ann, “Now, let me give you a proper greeting.” She held her arms out wide, Ann melted into the warm hug that enveloped her. “Oh good, you’re a hugger!” She kept hold of her as she leaned back, giving her an approving once over. She peered over her shoulder to Anne, “That last one wasn’t,” she said through pursed lips. Anne groaned at the passing reference although she was glad that her aunt seemed happy to have Ann there. She hoped that would help calm some of the anxiety she knew she was feeling.

Aunt Anne interlocked her arm with Anne’s as she instructed her to walk her into the Hall. She spotted Ann and Marian whispering conspiratorially behind them for a few moments before Ann followed them in. Her aunt knew that she would want to go and explore as soon as possible to make sure everything was as she’d left it. She’d promised Marian that she would try to keep Anne downstairs for as long as possible. She guided her through the corridor and into the main living room where Anne’s father was quietly snoozing in one of the large armchairs.

As Ann walked in behind them she tilted her head upwards to take in the vaulted ceiling with the exposed timbers. She hadn’t been inside the Hall since she was a young girl, with her mother and sister, but it was exactly as she remembered it. The large fireplace dominating the room, the antique wood panelled walls, the ornate staircase leading up to the upper floors that she’d never seen, the portraits of generations of Listers surrounding them. She knew that Crow Nest was impressive in its grandeur, but she’d always considered Shibden and its history to be magnificent. Of course, that was always helped by the captivating Mistress of Shibden.

Anne deposited her aunt in the neighbouring armchair before leaning over to give her father a kiss on the forehead. He responded with a grunt as he shook himself awake. Anne looked over apologetically at Ann but she just giggled as she took a seat on the two seater sofa opposite them. Anne automatically sat on the arm of the sofa until she caught the disapproving arch of her aunt’s eyebrow. She sank down into the sofa next to Ann and immediately reached for her hand and held it in her lap, a movement that was not lost on any of the Listers present.

Ann loved seeing how deferential Anne was to her aunt. She knew from the way she had strode into the Hall that there was no mistaking who was the head of the household, even if she did live in London now. Her strong hand, however, was clearly guided by her aunt. As she looked at the tender face of the elder Anne Lister she hoped to be able to talk to her some more and find out more about her wonderful niece.

She turned her attention to Anne’s father. He looked so happy ensconced in what she was sure was the chair he could usually be found in. She always felt he had a strong face, it was where Anne got it from. He was grey and almost completely bald now but she knew that in his younger years he must have cut a striking figure.

Captain Lister squinted as he looked around the room, trying to bring into focus all of the faces surrounding him. Of course there was his sister, always by his side, but opposite them who was that? He rubbed his eyes to bring them into focus. Ahh, tall and lean and dressed all in black, “Hail to the Chief!” he said cheerily.

“Captain,” Anne doffed an imaginary hat at her father.

He turned his attention to the young lady sitting next to her. She seemed familiar, but not someone that he had seen with his daughter before. Very pretty young girl with kind eyes. He tried to find a place where he knew her from. “Father, this is-”

“Ann Walker.” Anne let out a large huff. Everyone truly did know who Ann Walker was except her. She turned to Ann in disbelief who bit her lip as she tried to not my smile too widely. “Yes, yes,” her father continued, “Lives next door.”

Anne sighed in exasperation, “It’s hardly next door father.” Ann gave her hand a small squeeze.

“It’s good to see you again Captain Lister, I hope the pain you were having in your knee when I last saw you is better.”

He grinned broadly back at her, “Yes thank you Miss Walker. Much better!” Anne sat back and watched as Ann chatted politely back and forth with her aunt and father. They were completely enthralled by her. She wasn’t sure when she’d last seen her father in such a jovial mood. Her aunt too seemed exceptionally high-spirited. She was always glad when Anne was home, but there was a bright gleam in her eyes as she talked to Ann. Any concern she had about how her family would react to Ann was completely dispelled.

Anne turned her head when she heard hushed voices in the hallway before the back door closed. Marian came in hesitantly from the hallway. She was wringing her hands and offered her only a tight-lipped smile. “Was that Thomas?” Marian nodded. “Did he bring the bags upstairs?” Another nod. Normally she quite liked it when her sister kept quiet, but her silence seemed suspicious. “What’s wrong Marian?” she asked brusquely.

“Nothing’s wrong,” the high pitch of her voice told Anne that something was very wrong. She saw her fire a sideways glance to her aunt. Anne caught the look of concern before she avoided making eye contact. “You can sort your bags out later Anne,” her aunt offered unsolicited. That meant that both of them were up to something. She moved to get up but Ann’s arm stiffened and prevented her from rising, “Where are you going?” As she tried to think of an answer there was the briefest of head flicks towards Marian. It was almost unmissable except to her eagle eyes. They were all in on it.

“I have to go to the bathroom darling,” she answered seamlessly. Ann’s eyes narrowed but it’s not like she could deny her that. “It was a long drive.” She still wasn’t letting her up. She would have to try something else. She ran her thumb against her bottom lip and slowly started to move it back and forth. Ann was transfixed, she heard her breath hitch slightly. She slowly leant forward so that her mouth was only milimetres from her ear, she pressed her lips lightly against the outer shell of her ear and dropped her voice to just above a whisper. “Darling, I’m incredibly wet after that ride. I need to go and...tidy up.”

She heard Ann gulp before a quiet, “Oh,” escaped her lips. Ann’s hand dropped to her own lap as Anne sat back. Her mouth hung open as Anne smiled rakishly at her.

“Ann dear, is everything okay?” Her head turned at the older woman’s question and Anne seized the opportunity to launch up from her seat. She bounded up the stairs before Marian had even realised she’d moved. Ann looked on as she rushed after her, cursing Anne’s long legs and athletic abilities, there was no way she’d catch her.

“Here we go,” Aunt Anne said worriedly. Ann turned quickly to face the elder Listers. Captain Lister grimaced, “Batten down the hatches.” She looked up as she heard Anne’s sure footsteps thundering across the boards, followed closely by Marian’s hurried clumsy ones, and then it came. The loudest roar Ann had ever heard reverberated around the Hall as Anne had obviously found what they’d been trying to hide, “Marian!”

The two Listers and the one Walker sank back into their seats, glad that they were downstairs. Aunt Anne looked across at Ann who smiled back meekly, “Time for a cup of tea I think my dear.”

===

Anne had sat across from her sister with a face like thunder all through dinner. They all tried their best to ignore it, making civil chit chat as they ate. Aunt Anne had enquired what their plans were for the week, when Anne hadn’t answered Ann had to confess that she wasn’t quite sure what they would be doing. If the weather was good she hoped to do some sketches. Anne had just wanted to spend some time relaxing at Shibden, and she wanted to be with Anne. That answer seemed more than sufficient for the family. Ann thought how different they were from her own relatives. They would have asked for a detailed itinerary, and when she didn’t have one they would have lectured her about how much time she was wasting.

“That sounds lovely dear,” Aunt Anne replied in response. Anne shifted, leaning her elbow on the table. All movement stopped as they hoped she’d finally join in the conversation. Her hand opened and closed like she was trying to take hold of a thought that eluded her. She turned to Ann, then her aunt and father, before finally settling back on Marian. They held their breath in anticipation when Anne opened her mouth, “But how exactly did John break down my door Marian?”

Marian let out a muted grumble, “I told you.” Anne threw her hands up in the air as her sister dropped her shoulders dramatically. “He was checking the windows in your room because we’d heard it banging the other night.”

“You know how thin the walls are Anne,” her aunt added.

“That’s why I have to sleep on the other side of the house,” Captain Lister explained to Ann, “My sister can’t take the snoring.” Ann chuckled. “Marian uses earplugs.”

“Yes, yes father.” Anne said dismissively as she waved her hand at him. He shook his head and went back to his dinner, “But what has that got to do with my door?”

“He was finishing up and he must have tripped or something on your rug-”

“Or over his own feet,” Aunt Anne muttered under her breath.

Marian scowled at the unhelpful comment. “You know he’s not exactly graceful.” That was her polite way of saying John was akin to a hippo on roller skates. “And he went crashing through the door. Knocked it right off its hinges.”

“And the repair-”

“Has been arranged,” Marian cut her off sharply. This was her third time of explaining this to her, it wasn’t going to change any of the facts. “As I told you before, sister. It’s going to take a few days because as you so often remind us, Shibden Hall is one of the oldest homes in Halifax.” Anne rolled her tongue along the inside of her cheek, she didn’t appreciate Marian’s haughty tone. The two elder Listers and Ann watched nervously as the two sisters squared up, both leaning further across the table at each other.

Anne opened her mouth to speak when Ann reached up and calmly placed her hand on her shoulder. Anne immediately paused and turned to her. Ann tilted her head slightly and spoke softly, “Dearest, I’m sure Marian’s done all she can. The door will be fixed in a few days. We’ll make do till then.” The other people around the table sat agog as Anne acquiesced and sat back in her chair with nothing more than a thoughtful, “Hmm.” She took Ann’s hand and placed a gentle kiss against the palm before Ann gently caressed her face.

They turned their attention back to the rest of the table who all sat in stunned silence.

===

They had spent the rest of the evening in the parlour talking whilst Anne sat on her phone searching for possible solutions to the missing door problem, all to no avail. Try as Anne might to fashion some kind of door covering it was impossible. She had tried several times to hang a heavy blanket, but without hammering some heavy duty nails into the ancient woodwork it was no use. She loved Shibden, but this was perhaps the first time she had cursed its ancient lineage. She had considered a screen of some sort, it would provide them with some privacy from anyone passing but that would do nothing to mask any noise. This was also Halifax, where would she find somewhere that sold a screen let alone at this time of night?

As Ann emerged from the bathroom she saw Anne across the landing, scratching her head as she stood in the doorway to her bedroom, the room that they would be sharing. Even dressed in a simple black t-shirt and sleeping shorts looking utterly perplexed she was breathtaking. Ann walked slowly towards her, the floorboards creaking with every step. It felt like the Hall had a voice and character of its own, and it was currently exhausting her very handsome girlfriend.

She placed a hand on Anne’s toned stomach as she leant against the door, finally admitting defeat for the night. “I’m sorry darling.” Ann tilted her head up and placed a gentle kiss against her lips, “Come to bed. We’ll figure it out in the morning.” Anne watched as she got in under the covers and sighed the heaviest of sighs. Ann Walker was in her bed, in the flimsiest excuse for a nightshirt she had ever seen. Her bedroom door that led right onto the main stairwell was open for all to see. This was not how she had envisioned the night ending.

Ann made herself as comfortable as she could in Anne’s large four poster bed. Of course she had this ridiculous bed to go alongside its absurd owner. As if Anne Lister wasn’t enticing enough on her own, this bed practically screamed for you to fall into it and beg to be devoured. She had intended for her first night at Shibden to be considerably more private than the one that was unfolding. If she had known that they’d be staying in a room with a wide open door next to the main hallway she would have packed at least one piece of sensible nightwear. Whilst her nightshirt wasn’t quite lingerie, Catherine had insisted that it screamed to be pulled off in one meaningful flourish. Why did she always listen to her cousin on these things?

She watched patiently as Anne surveyed the door once more. As she lay there she could hear the voices of Captain Lister and Marian carry across the corridor from the other side of the house as they said their goodnights. Even with their doors shut there was the possibility that any noise would still be heard. Ann let out her own long sigh, as much as they’d both been teasing each other throughout the day in anticipation of their night they would rather not scandalise Anne’s doting aunt trying to sleep in the adjacent room.

Anne made her way towards the bed and lifted the covers before getting in, she looked across at Ann who had turned onto her side. With only the bedside light and the darkness of the hallway, it almost felt like they were in their own little bubble. Anne turned and flicked the bedside lamp off, the room lit only by the moonlight. Ann looked ethereal.

Every part of Anne’s body ached to touch her. “I’m s-” before she could complete her apology Ann reached up and placed a single finger on her lips, “If you apologise one more time for something you have no control of, you’re sleeping downstairs.” Anne’s eyes widened at the possible solution to their problems. Ann saw the flicker of inspiration glowing in her eyes, “We are not sleeping in the living room.”

She stared at her furrowed brow and growing pout, “Why not?”

Ann placed her hand on Anne’s chest, “Because dearest, you’d want to do more than sleep.”

A suggestive grin started to form on Anne’s lips as she brought her arm up around Ann’s waist, pulling her towards her, “And what would be wrong with that?”

She playfully patted her chest, “Apart from your lovely, very audibly aware aunt’s bedroom, being directly above the living room, you also have a staff.” Anne shrugged her shoulders. She was impossible, “A staff that arrive very early in the morning and would most likely have the fright of their life to find Anne Lister wrapped up in the arms of her girlfriend asleep on the floor.”

Anne wrinkled her nose, “What makes you think I’d be wrapped up in your arms?”

Ann moved closer, pressing her body against Anne’s as she began to run her fingers through her chestnut hair. Anne closed her eyes as the gentle soothing touch started to relax her. She didn’t notice Ann’s arms coming around her neck as she leaned into her, her lips finding the crook of Ann’s neck, “Just like this dearest.”

Perhaps it was the intoxicating scent of Ann’s body lotion, or the feel of her warm body laid firmly against her own, but Anne couldn’t stop herself from placing kisses along Ann’s neck. She started to gently suck as Ann’s arms drew her closer, the softest of moans escaping her lips, “Quiet darling.” She felt her nod as she carefully moved her onto her back, not placing her full weight on her just yet. Ann kept repeating in her head that she needed to be quiet but the light touches of Anne’s tongue against her neck were utterly distracting.

Anne started to move her body against Ann’s, she wanted to feel every part of her. Without thinking Ann’s legs slipped apart enough that Anne was able to slot one leg perfectly between them. She continued to lavish careful attention to her neck as her thigh started to press against her. They were falling further into each other with every touch, another moan escaping Ann’s lips as Anne’s lips moved further down towards her clavicle.

“That’s okay Aunt I’ll just check all the windows downstairs are closed!” Anne halted her movements immediately at the sound of Marian’s voice. Ann lay frozen beneath her. “That noise you heard must be the wind getting through!” Though she’d addressed their aunt, it was clear that Marian’s words were intended for them. They heard her plod down the staircase.

Anne wearily pushed herself up, Ann could see her strong features clearly in the moonlight. She would never tire of looking at her handsome face. She reached up and placed her palm against her cheek. Anne turned and kissed it longingly before she rolled back onto her side of the bed. Ann’s arm naturally fell across her chest, Anne began to gently stroke it as she felt her settle into her side. Ann leaned up and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before snuggling back against her, she dared not do more. Anne turned her head and placed a kiss on the top of her head, “Goodnight darling.”

As she felt Ann drifting off to sleep the wheels inside her mind started to turn. She would find a solution for the door tomorrow, if it meant her chopping down a tree in Cunnery Wood and carving one herself.

Chapter Text

Ann hummed contentedly as she buried herself further into the crisp cotton sheets. She could feel the warmth of the low early morning sun on her back, maybe there was something to this sleeping without the curtains drawn. Maybe it was just being in Anne’s bed, in Shibden. Her bedding smelt like her, all citrus and sandalwood. She inhaled deeply, filling her lungs. She realised, if she could feel the sun on her back it meant that Anne wasn’t pressed up against her.

She looked over her shoulder, maybe she had rolled over in the night, but she was alone. She turned fully and felt the other side of the bed, it was warm from the sun but not from Anne. It was then that she heard the voices rising up the stairs. She turned towards the open doorway and chuckled lightly.

It was silly wasn’t it, that something like a door - or rather absence of one, had stopped them. Well, it was more that Marian had heard them which put a stop to them before they progressed much further. It was better that way she supposed, she couldn’t imagine having to face the entire family in the morning because she was certain they wouldn’t have been able to stay much quieter. She knew that Anne would come up with a solution, and soon.

At that moment Anne’s magnificent form filled the doorway. Ann felt breathless. She was dressed in the most absurdly alluring pair of black running shorts she had ever seen, paired with a black racer back running vest. Both garments clung perfectly to her glistening lithe body. Anne stood there smiling for a moment at the angel in her bed before closing the distance between them.

She sat on the edge of the bed. She looked down at a still sleepy Ann, framed perfectly by her golden curls. “You weren’t here when I woke up,” her voice still small with sleep. Anne hummed as she started to trace shapes across the sheets still covering her, “I went for my morning run. I had quite a bit of energy to burn off.” They both smiled knowingly at the reason for that.

As they continued to gaze at each other Ann’s hand reached out from under the covers. Her finger tips teasingly stroking up and down Anne’s muscular thigh. Anne felt herself tense at the touch as Ann smiled cheekily. She bent down and kissed her forehead gently, quickly sitting back up before Ann had a chance to capture her lips in more vigorous pursuits.

“I’m going to shower. I’ll be quick.” Ann raised her eyebrows suggestively, “The family are downstairs so you needn’t worry about being disturbed.” Ann’s smile widened, this was getting better. Anne grinned as she saw the wicked thoughts building behind Ann’s widening eyes, “They’re in the dining room, directly below us.” There was a pause before Ann realised what that meant, and then the pout Anne knew would form. She leant down and gave her another quick kiss before standing, “Come down for breakfast when you’re ready.”

Ann nodded as she watched Anne grab some clothes from her dresser on the opposite side of the room. When she was alone again she fell back into the sheets with a huff. Anne really needed to come up with a solution to this door problem.

===

She had just finished pouring herself a cup of tea when Anne swept into the dining room on her phone, pausing to lay a kiss on the top of her head before taking her seat next to her. Oblivious to everyone waiting she continued her conversation, "Yes, have it delivered to the Hall. Today." Ann held up the teapot and Anne nodded with a smile, ignoring the glare that Marian was shooting at her from across the table. “Marian, what’s the name of the person you called about the door?”

“I emailed you the invoices.” Her sister had been here less than 24 hours and she had already been bossing people about. It was a good thing John had Sundays off, perhaps by tomorrow she will have calmed down.

“Yes, yes, but I can’t check when I’m on the phone.”

Marian tutted loudly, she wasn’t even supposed to be on her phone at the dinner table. It was one of the few house rules she asked her to adhere to, “It’s the Wright Brothers, the ones who always do the repairs. As you know.”

Anne nodded her head dismissively and turned her attention back to the phone call, “Yes, the Wright Brothers. Give them a call. Tell them we want someone here tomorrow first thing, if not today. Otherwise we’ll go elsewhere.” She ignored the furious huff coming from Marian’s direction. “Yes, that’s right. Wonderful.”

She ended the call and noticed all of the eyes at the table were on her. “Eugenie,” was all she said, as if that would answer all their questions.

“I told you that they’re backed up until at least Thursday.”

“Yes I know.” Anne took a long calming breath, “And I told you that won’t do.” She saw that Ann had filled her teacup so she picked it up offering her a warm smile, “Thank you darling. The door will be fixed by Tuesday.”

Her eyes widened as she looked at the copious amounts of food laid out on the table before them. She didn’t often indulge in a large breakfast but she had worked up quite the appetite from her run and hoped that Ann would be willing to go out for a walk later that afternoon.

As Anne started to load her plate with pieces of toast, bacon, and sausages Ann sipped on her tea, willing her pulse to steady itself. She had not had the benefit of an early morning run to expel her energies and seeing Anne in her running shorts had done nothing to quell her desire. Having to sit quietly watching her take charge, her damp hair clinging to her neck, was torturous. Not to mention the loose black shirt she had chosen to wear had the top two buttons undone and the way it hung gave her a very good view of Anne’s smooth neck.

She heard herself gulp loudly at the thought of running her tongue along it. It was almost as though her salacious thoughts had been spoken out loud because Anne turned to her with a devilish glint in her eye. Both of their thoughts were apparently loud enough for the entire table to hear because there was a loud cough from across the table as Aunt Anne cleared her throat, bringing them both back.

“Were you planning on attending service today?” Anne paused thoughtfully at her aunt’s question. She had considered going, she seldom got the chance to go when she was in London and she missed hearing the sermons each week. Whenever she was home she would usually take her aunt to church, her father long having stopped attending and Marian never really starting. However, she wasn’t sure if Ann attended church regularly or would want to go with her.

“Yes, I would like to go,” Anne finally answered. She quickly turned to Ann, adding, “You don’t have to come along, I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.” She frowned, worrying that it would make her seem terribly old-fashioned. She didn’t know anyone who attended church regularly anymore, Mariana had certainly never wanted to go with her all the time they had been together.

“I’d love to come,” was Ann’s reply. Anne looked up at her, hopefully that she’d heard her right. “I usually attend the church at Lightcliffe but-” her voice trailed off.

“We’ll go down to the Minster.” Anne reached out for her hand and held it in hers, “The noon service is usually much quieter.”

Ann nodded, “That sounds perfect.”

“Wonderful!” Aunt Anne proclaimed, “None of Anne’s other friends were church goers.” She didn’t mean to keep comparing Ann to the women who had kept her niece’s company before but she was so vastly different from them all, in the best possible way.

Without thinking Anne replied, “Mariana always said she was more spiritual rather than religious.” She felt Ann’s hand flinch and she immediately regretted bringing up her name. Why did she still feel the need to constantly defend her? It was a habit honed over too many years that she was still trying to break. She looked at Ann apologetically. She could see her trying to offer a smile, but Anne knew that she had made a mistake.

“Well demons are spirits too, she should be more specific,” Marian quipped. At that there was a burst of laughter around the table, including Ann. Anne felt the tension in her shoulders relax as the noise filled the room. For the first time since they’d arrived, Anne found herself grateful for her sister’s presence.

===

Ann was glad she’d chosen to go with them to church. Admittedly she had been distracted for most of it, largely due to the unnecessarily tight trousers she hadn’t noticed Anne had dressed herself in. What she’d found more compelling was how composed Anne had been during the service. She was used to Anne filling a room with her presence, but as she sat between her and her aunt there was a quiet calm to her as she contemplated the words that were being spoken.

The act of worship had always been something she considered to be intensely private, even though it was usually conducted in public. The way Anne had held her hand in her lap through almost the entire service felt incredibly intimate. When she had lived at Crow Nest she would often attend a service in the middle of the week when there were fewer parishioners. That was mostly to avoid her family and the endless stream of people they seemed to think would suit her.

She never quite understood how they thought a church was a suitable place to fix her up on a date. They would always want to talk through the mass like they were on a speed date, never thinking for a moment how disrespectful it was or that she had actually gone to church for a reason. Anne had a clear reverence for the church, even though Ann had shared a giggle with Aunt Anne at the numerous questions she had for the vicar afterwards. He seemed to be very experienced with her line of questioning and had politely allowed her to ramble on until someone rescued him by letting him know he had to prepare for the next service.

Ann had wanted to spend more time observing the dynamic between the two Anne Listers, and had considered taking them for lunch whilst they were in town. However, she was aware that the longer they spent away from the Hall the more likely a member of the Tribe was to spot them. She’d had such a lovely day, she wouldn’t want an inevitable altercation to ruin it. She’d almost forgotten how lovely Halifax was on a summer’s day when she didn’t have to deal with a member of her family lecturing her for something she had or hadn’t done, what she was wearing, how she was spending her days, or any of the other myriad reasons they always seemed to find. She was sure she’d get more time with the other Annes during the rest of their stay.

Instead, she had agreed to go on a walk with Anne around the estate. It was probably best to get her away from the Hall for a bit, in case there was another squabble between Anne and Marian. Their relationship was very different to hers and Elizabeth’s. They seemed to be at constant odds with each other despite them separately admitting to her that they couldn’t do without the other. She’d been sworn never to divulge that information though. It would save so much unnecessary conflict and energy, but winding the other up seemed to be one of the few joys they shared.

===

Anne had gone into the Hall to change into a more suitable pair of trousers, even she had admitted that her current ones were a little more snug than was necessary. Ann had agreed to wait downstairs otherwise they would most definitely get distracted. Her short summer dress was a little impractical but Anne had commented on how the little daisies against the dark blue fabric complimented her eyes. She assured her that they wouldn’t be wandering too far, although she would bring down some more sensible shoes as if she insisted on wearing ballet flats Anne would end up having to carry her. A prospect neither of them seemed to mind too much.

As she watched Anne run in through the back door she took the opportunity to take a proper look at the Hall from the courtyard. Every brick added to its majesty. From the Gothic tower that housed Anne’s extensive library that she still hadn’t explored to the stained-glass leaded windows.

She turned and found herself facing the stable area. She wished that they could go to Crow Nest and see her horses, that was the one thing she truly missed about not being there. She received regular updates from James and she had no concern that the estate wouldn’t be taken care of in her absence. Being so close without at least visiting was harder than she expected. However, James had also told her that her Aunt had continued to show up unannounced in the vain hope that Ann would have snuck back home and not told anyone. She supposed that’s exactly what she had done. Perhaps nearer towards the end of the week they could risk a visit.

Ann made her way into the stables. Like the rest of the house, the stable and barn area was impressive. The vaulted ceiling reached up almost as high as the Hall. She knew that they didn’t keep horses anymore but the stable area was more than sufficient if they chose to again. She ran her hand along the timber frames, they were still very sturdy. Another testament to how well built and cared for the Hall had been over the centuries. She hadn’t missed the smell that greeted her, there were no horses but there were definitely some farm animals kept here. Guessing from the tiny pellets that littered the floor, her guess was goats. From the clucking sounds she heard in the distance, chickens too.

As she wandered further out another smaller barn came into view, tucked away from where anyone would have much reason to go. She looked back but there was still no sign of Anne so decided to continue exploring. This one was smaller but it felt almost like a museum. There was a large collection of machinery, she wasn’t sure if it was antique or just rusted from lack of use. She spied in the very back a large carriage that looked like it had been there for centuries. All four wheels were intact but she was sure it wasn’t suitable for use anymore, but it did look very handsome and must have been wonderful to travel in at one point.

She walked up to it to take a closer look, there was a coat of arms on the faded yellow door. She could make out the shape of a stag on the crest, she leaned forward to try and make out more of the detail. “It’s the Lister coat of arms.” Ann jumped back as Anne’s voice caught her by complete surprise. She clutched her heart as Anne put down the bag in her hand and moved towards her.

She stepped towards the carriage and gently ran her fingers along the crest, “Ermine, three mullets or on a fess sable, and a canton gules.” Ann looked at her puzzled, it was true that Anne was often wordy but she was usually able to understand what was said, but none of those words in that combination made any sense. Anne tilted her head and beckoned Ann to come stand by the carriage.

Anne took a step back allowing her to get closer to the crest, as she leant forward to take another look when she felt Anne move to stand behind her. Ann could feel the press of her hips against her as she placed a gentle kiss on the side of her face. Ann turned to catch the mischievous grin on Anne’s face as she focused on the coat of arms, “Eyes forward Miss Walker, I’m about to give you a Lister History lesson.” She was so smug, Ann turned back to the carriage.

Anne’s hand caressed her side as it came up to point at the crest, there was a noticeable shiver from Ann. She dipped her head so that her mouth was right next to Anne’s ear, “The ermine is the white part of the shield, it resembles the white winter fur with the black tips of a stoat.” Ann managed to hum in acknowledgement as she felt Anne’s hot breath on her neck. “Three mullets or, are the three gold stars across the black band - the fess sable.” Somehow Ann was still standing as Anne placed her lips firmly against her neck for a brief kiss. There was another more strained hum from Ann. “The canton gules is the red square in the top left, most branches of a family used it to distinguish their particular line.” She dipped her head lower gently sucking on the piece of exposed skin between her neck and shoulder, “Would you like to know about the wreath next?” she asked teasingly.

Ann spun round, crashing her mouth against Anne’s, kissing her fervently. They broke apart for a moment, Ann breathed heavily as Anne licked her lips hungrily, “I take that as a no, Miss Walker?” Ann’s hand grasped the front of her shirt in a tight fist as she pulled her closer, “Absolutely not.” Their kisses were greedy. It had been over twelve hours since she’d felt her lips on hers, and that was far too long. Ann opened her mouth slightly, granting Anne’s probing tongue entry as they deepened the kiss. Anne placed both hands on either side of her against the carriage as she pressed forward, pushing Ann back against the carriage.

The carriage shifted slightly followed by a loud creak that echoed through the cavernous barn. They froze where they stood, their eyes wide open, lips still firmly pressed together as they waited to see if the carriage would move further. After a moment Anne leaned back, pulling Ann back up slowly. They could feel their hearts thumping against each other, neither of them wanted to stop. Anne looked around the barn and listened for the sound of footsteps, it seemed no one had been within earshot of the creaking carriage. When she turned back to Ann her eyes were deep with lust. She didn’t want to lay her on the dirty stable floor, but she couldn’t see where else they could go. Then she had an idea.

She placed one arm around Ann and spun them so they swapped places. She carefully opened the carriage door, no further noise. She could hear Ann shuffling impatiently behind her as she pressed down on the floor of the carriage, it seemed sturdy enough. She ran her hand across the bottom, it was cleaner than she would have expected. She looked around the inside of the carriage, this just might do.

She turned around to face Ann, the absolute dichotomy of that angelic face masking the wanton desire she saw burning in those deep blue eyes would be her undoing. She placed her hands on her hips and in one swift movement lifted her up. Ann’s arms and legs came up instinctively to wrap around Anne’s strong torso as their lips met again in a searing kiss. She moved slowly, placing Ann on the floor of the open carriage doorway. Without breaking their kiss Anne leant forward, encouraging her to scoot back further. Anne pushed herself up, allowing her body weight to get Ann to lean back onto the floor till she was laying on top of her with just the bottom of their legs protruding from the carriage.

Anne pulled back for a moment. It was dark due to the aged stained windows, but Ann’s beautiful face was gently lit from the sunlight coming through the open door. The calmness she was trying to convey betrayed by the shallow breaths causing her chest to rise and fall rapidly. Anne’s eyes raked over her slowly followed by the slow trace of her hand up Ann’s slender thigh. She paused at the hem of her dress, turning to face Ann, eyes wild with desire. Their lips collided as Anne’s hand slipped beneath her dress and gripped the back of her thigh, bending Ann’s knee up as she tried to find some purchase.

Anne’s mouth moved lower, sucking her neck hungrily, spurred on by every moan escaping Ann’s lips. The fingers on Ann’s hand entwined with Anne’s chestnut hair as she held her tight against her. She wanted her mouth always. It didn’t matter where, as long as it was touching some part of her. She felt her hips starting to rise as Anne between her legs, as she squeezed her thigh commandingly.

Her eyes shot open as she felt Anne nipping at her neck as her mouth travelled upwards. The maddening touch of the tip of Anne’s tongue tracing her outer ear. Her thigh pressing up against her. The tight grip pinning her to the ground. The world was spinning around her. Her heart raced, pumping faster than it ever had. She tried to close her eyes but she couldn’t stop the dizziness as she felt herself spiralling further and further.

She felt herself cry out but it was like she had been silenced. She tried again. Still nothing. She closed her eyes, concentrating on her breathing and then finally she heard it, “Wait! Stop!” Anne immediately pulled back, her breath ragged.

“Sorry? What?” She managed between laboured breaths.

Ann lay beneath her, she placed one arm across her as though she was shielding herself. Anne tried to steady her breaths as she pulled her hand out from beneath her dress, leaning back so that she was no longer lying across her.

“Is something wrong?” Anne’s voice was full of concern. Ann shook her head, “Did I hurt you?” Ann shook her head again. Anne would need more than that but she could see how shaken she seemed. She slowly raised her hand and gently caressed the side of Ann’s face, smiling warmly back at her. She continued until Ann seemed to relax. “You can tell me darling, what happened?”

Ann looked down for a beat. When she tilted her head up she was biting the bottom of her lip, she felt so silly. “It’s just-” She searched Anne’s face, she didn’t want to upset her, or worse, make her mad. There was nothing but kindness and concern looking at her from those deep brown eyes. “We’re on the floor of a carriage,” she said meekly. “I just didn’t think-”

Anne cast her head down, of course. What had she been thinking? Of course Ann didn’t want to have sex in the back of an old barn on a shabby estate whose doors were falling off their hinges. She shut her eyes tight in frustration. She should have just come to Shibden alone and then taken her away for a weekend in York, taken them both to a fancy hotel where they could be wined and dined instead of dinners with her ludicrous family. She could feel her stomach turn itself inside out. She cursed herself for still never having learnt this lesson.

There was a warmth pressed against her cheek, she knew it was Ann. She allowed herself to lean into the touch before she slowly opened her eyes. Anne pressed a kiss to her palm, “I’m sorry Ann. You deserve more than-”

Ann sat up and pressed a firm kiss against Anne’s lips, only pulling back when she could feel Anne had stopped talking. “So that’s how to get you to stop talking?” she said teasingly.

There was a faint hint of a smile on Anne’s lips. “Anne,” she waited until she turned her head up to look at her. She wrapped her arms around her neck again, making sure she couldn’t move. “You are everything I’ve ever wanted.” Anne put her hands on her waist, pulling her in closer, she wanted to believe her. “I want this,” Ann rested her forehead against hers, “So much.” They both sighed into each other. “We have a bed. Which will be behind a door, soon. We can wait.”

Anne tilted her head back and kissed her forehead gently as she held her close. She knew she was right. She wanted Ann, but not in the back of some old barn. Well, at least not for their first time. She would have to file that thought away for another time. They were there for the whole week after all.

Ann inhaled deeply. Even sat on the floor of a dusty carriage, that space in the crook of Anne’s neck was her favourite place. She tilted her head and Anne felt her shake with laughter. Anne pulled back to see what it was that was making her laugh, Ann nodded to just below where their feet dangled out of the carriage. Looking up at them was the most confused looking baby goat Ann had ever seen. Anne groaned loudly, yelling into the carriage, “Ugh Marian! I said no goats!”

Chapter Text

Anne felt her phone buzz in her back pocket. She’d decided to leave it on silent this week otherwise it could very well end up at the bottom of the pond. Ann and Marian had headed into the parlour after breakfast to continue their conversation about those damn goats Marian had gotten without consulting her. She could still hear them laughing, as long as Ann was happy that’s what mattered. She fished her phone out of her pocket and quickly plugged in her headphones as she stepped out of the back door into the courtyard.

She put the headphones into her ears and answered the call. “Since when does the absence of a door stop Anne Lister?” Anne groaned, how did Tib always manage to find out about these things?

“Good morning to you too Isabella.” She knew how much hearing her use her first name irked Tib, but if this was how she was going to start their conversation then it was more than fair. She moved towards the stables, she’d learnt that any conversation with Tib was best had out of earshot of the staff or any members of her family who had unwittingly opened a window.

Tib bristled at the use of her name but didn’t let that deter her, “Back in the day Lister, the absence of walls was a prerequisite!”

“It was more than the door. How do you even know about-”

“Never mind that. What do you mean it’s not just the door? Did he break the bed too?” Anne huffed as she continued through the stables. “I mean I know John's clumsy but that would be impressive. Although not that the lack of a bed has ever stopped you either. Remember that-

“Did you actually call for a reason Tib?” She sat heavily on an old wooden bench along one of the back walls, placing her phone down next to her. This used to be one of her favourite spots on the estate.

“Yes Lister, I did.” Ann had called Catherine last night while Anne had been assembling a screen to give them a bit more privacy. Of course Catherine had demanded all the juicy details, which is when she found out there weren’t any to divulge. A little fumble in the back of the stables that even Tib had been grateful Ann had the good sense to stop. Anne must be getting pretty desperate if the floor of the old Lister carriage was the best she could muster. It sounded very much like her best friend was in need of a serious pep talk.

As Tib prattled on Anne’s mind started to wander along with her gaze. She’d learnt that the eggs they’d enjoyed for breakfast had come from their own hens that were kept in the chicken coup Marian had installed. It seemed sometimes Marian did have a good idea. She still didn’t understand why she thought they needed goats though.

The back stables, where they’d kept the horses, was largely neglected now. Much of the paintwork was weather worn and chipped. Too many broken roof tiles to count. There was little reason for anyone to come out here. They’d kept it all neat and tidy, the small barn she’d found Ann in yesterday serving as a store room of sorts. The area was obviously unloved now though.

When she was younger it had been a hive of activity. The stables had been filled with the most beautiful thoroughbreds. Sam loved them, this was really his part of the house. From dawn till dusk he would be here, so in turn - so was Anne. Physically they had always been so similar, both long and lean with dark hair and eyes. In temperament though they couldn’t be more different. He was the evenhand to her boisterous hot headedness.

When they weren’t out racing through Shibden on the horses she would be sat on the same bench she was sitting now, head buried in a book whilst he tended to the horses. He would happily spend hours clearing out the stables, brushing the horses down, fixing anything that needed mending. Whilst he worked she would yell out the interesting things she was learning about, and he would always act like it was the most amazing thing he had ever heard. That’s how she remembered her youth here, before he joined the army and she went off to university.

She blinked away the tears she hadn’t realised had formed as the heartache she felt brought her back to the present and Tib’s voice in her ear, “Lister! Lister, are you even listening to me?” Anne shook her head, trying to clear the fog her memories had created. She hadn’t heard anything Tib had said since she’d sat down.

“Sam met her.” Her voice was almost a whisper, she wasn’t really saying the words to Tib, rather speaking them out loud. The ghost of a memory playing on her mind as moments she had forgotten came back to her.

“What?” Tib had no idea what she was talking about. She’d been uncharacteristically quiet but she’d hoped that had meant she was actually listening to her advice.

“I’ve only just remembered it. He met her.”

“Who met who?” She started to worry about the distance in Anne’s voice. “Lister, are you alright?”

Anne took a sharp breath in as the memory solidified in her brain, replying automatically, “I’m always alright.”

Tib hummed warily on the other end of the phone, “You don’t sound alright. Who were you talking about just then?”

“Sam.” She had found her voice again, “He warned me about her.” It had been a long time since Anne had talked about her brother to anyone, including Tib. However, Tib knew that when she did it was important to listen. He was a part of her life that she had always kept private, his death had almost destroyed her and Tib had witnessed it all. “Warned you about who?”

“Ann. He warned me about Ann.” Tib was struck silent on the other end of the phone. “He said I'd break her heart. He asked me not to.” Anne leant back against the wall, sighing deeply. How had she forgotten this memory? She could remember it clearly now.

She had been in Switzerland, another escape following yet another argument with Mariana. They had reconciled again and she had cut her travels short to be with her, but had come home for a few days. She had gone to the stables to escape from Marian’s incessant questions about some boy in her class. Just because she was her big sister she didn’t understand how that automatically qualified her to be an expert on her love life, or why it meant she had to care.

She had found Sam removing the saddle from Hotspur, the beautiful bay colt that he had gifted her when she graduated. He seemed to have adopted him as his own since she was off travelling so often.

“I've just been talking to Ann Walker about you,” he said as she approached.

“Who?”

Sam laughed as they led the horse to his stable, “Our neighbour, Ann Walker. Honestly Anne if they're not some pretty girl you're chasing you really are oblivious.”

Anne couldn’t help smirking, he wasn’t wrong. “Well, is she a pretty girl?”

He shook his head as he bolted the door shut, “She's a beautiful girl.” Her eyebrows perked up at that news. She really was incorrigible. He turned and pointed to her warningly, “Too young for you mind.” The corners of her mouth turned down as she took a carrot out of her pocket and offered it to Hotspur. He chomped happily on it as she stroked his nose. “You’ll spoil him.”

She shrugged her shoulders, “He’s my horse. I’m allowed to.”

He loved having her back, even if she did cause a bit of a commotion with the rest of the family. If she could just learn to be more patient with Marian, she’d see she wasn’t so bad. At least these days she seemed to be getting along better with their father, and she was always Aunt Anne’s favourite so it made him happy to see them together.

“What were you saying about me anyway?” He looked at her blankly, “You and our neighbour, you said you were talking about me?”

“Ahh, not much. She was asking how you were.” She brushed the comment off, she couldn’t think why a neighbour she could hardly remember was asking about her. There was a vague memory that they’d had tea once after a rather breathless young girl had run after her on the Lightcliffe Road. Is that who Sam meant? “She seems to have quite the crush on you.” That got her attention. She turned to him as she leant back against the stable door, Hotspur’s muzzle resting on her shoulder. “Is that so?”

He looked at her pointedly, “Don't.”

“Don't what?” She feigned innocence but the rakish smile always betrayed her.

“You’ll break her heart,” he replied as he started to walk across the courtyard.

“Would I?” she yelled out to him.

“I love you, but we both know the answer to that.” He laughed as he heard her footsteps running to catch up. She never could let a slight against her character go, even if she knew he was mostly joking. She caught up to him, huffing slightly. He was the only one who might actually walk faster than she did. “Sam.”

He grinned widely as he smacked the back of his hand across her stomach as he continued walking, “Although, she could very well end up breaking yours.” She scoffed at the idea. Sam smiled knowingly, he’d been quite impressed by Ann. Perhaps in a few years when she was older and Anne was less reckless with young girl’s hearts he’d revisit the idea again. He turned as he continued to walk backwards, “Tell me again what’s so special about this Marie that has you on such a tight leash.”

Anne groaned as she upped her pace to keep up with him, “It’s Mariana, I’ve told you. And you’d know if you just met her.”

“I’ll meet her when she agrees to marry you, not before.” Anne paused as she narrowed her eyes and watched him walk away from her. He always got the last word.

As the rest of the memory played out in her mind Anne sank deeper into her seat on the old wooden bench. Sam never met Mariana. It would be years before she agreed to marry her, and then not long after that she’d actually marry Charles. Perhaps that’s why she had buried this memory so deep that she’d almost forgotten it.

“What happened after that?” Tib’s voice brought her back to the present.

She exhaled as she shook her arms out, trying to free her from the past. “I went off to see Mariana, and he was redeployed. And well.” They both knew how that part of Sam’s story ended.

Anne brought her arms up and rubbed her face with the palm of her hands. They were both silent for a moment as she tried to reconcile the reacquired memories with everything that had happened recently with Ann. Had they been set on this path decades ago without either of them knowing? She felt her heart seize at the weight that it might be true, but then the tightness was replaced. She rubbed her chest, it felt lighter. Her forehead creased in thought, until the corners of her mouth started to turn up at the idea that perhaps Ann Walker was always supposed to be part of her life.

“What if she's the one Tib?” The question hung heavily in the air. It was the one Anne had been asking herself since their first lunch in the park. That was nothing new, she always liked to theorise where a relationship could go, even if it was quickly proven wrong when they left as soon as they’d had as much of her as they wanted. Only, Ann had stayed. Through her own insecurities, Mariana, her ridiculous work schedule. Ann had met it all with patience and understanding, simultaneously taking every piece of Anne she could have but never telling her she wasn’t enough.

“One what?” Anne sighed heavily as she looked to the heavens. Sometimes she wondered why she didn’t just talk to herself. It felt like Tib chose when she’d be on the same page as her, other times she wasn’t sure she’d even picked up the book. She waited a beat and then, “Oh! That one!” She knew she’d catch up.

There were a few hums on the other end of the phone. She could picture her oldest friend as the thoughts churned around in that sometimes brilliant brain of hers. She thought she heard her start to speak a few times, but still nothing. After another long pause Tib cleared her throat before she asked tentatively, “Why is that a bad thing?” Now it was Anne’s turn to be silent.

“You've spent your whole life fucking about and what's it gotten you? An empty bed at the end of it. They took what they wanted and they left. Now you've got someone you haven't even shagged yet and she's stayed.” Anne laughed involuntarily. She always did have a way with words.

“I always thought it would be me and-”

“I know what you thought.” Tib felt she had to interrupt her before she regressed back into the destructive pattern of thought that mistakenly led her to believe that she was meant to be with Mariana. “I've spent the last 20 years wishing the next girl you had on your arm was the one. That she'd have something more than the last, something more than her, but they never did.” Anne hummed, yes she thought, she had a way with words. “Turns out the one who did was right next door.” But she never knew quite when to stop. She could almost hear her side splitting as she tried not to laugh.

“Tib.” That was her one warning.

“Yes yes, I know - 10,000 acres next door,” Tib knew she still had a little slack before she’d hang the phone up on her. She cheekily added, “But still next door.” There was an audible grumble and she knew she’d reached her limit. “What I'm saying is she was right there, but you didn't see it. But now you do, so stop standing in your own way.” As if she could read her thoughts she added, “She never loved you the way you deserved.” Anne smiled, that was a clever trick she could sometimes do. “Don't let whatever you thought your life would be stop you from living this one. From the outside looking in, it's better than anything you’ve ever had.”

===

They heard John Booth before they saw him, the loud thud followed by a groan reverberated around the Hall. Ann giggled as Marian rolled her eyes and hoped that Anne wasn’t within earshot otherwise she feared for his safety, “John could you come through here?”

As he entered the parlour, Ann could see exactly how he’d managed to take the door off his hinges. She’d forgotten how tall he was, he was easily several inches taller than Anne and probably twice as wide as she was. He smiled politely at both of them, “How do, Miss Marian.” He turned to Ann, “Miss Walker, good to see you again.” She smiled kindly back at him.

“Good to see you too John.” He glanced around cautiously, they both knew who he was looking for.

“It’s alright, we heard her pop out back earlier.” There was a big sigh of relief as his shoulders noticeably relaxed.

“She does know it was an accident?” he asked nervously.

“Yes John, I told her it wasn’t your fault.” John grimaced, “Okay maybe it was, but it could have happened to anyone.” That wasn’t necessarily true either, they all knew that if it was going to happen to anyone then John was the likely bet.

“I wouldn’t worry too much,” Ann said softly. Marian and John both turned their heads to face her. “We spoke last night about it. She’s not angry at you John.” There was a gasp from Marian, she’d seen first hand the effect Ann had on her sister but she refused to believe she’d changed that much. Ann smiled knowingly, “You’ll see.”

Marian raised her eyebrows, she was sure they would. Or at least, they’d certainly hear her sister yelling about it. She and John exchanged doubtful looks, “Perhaps you’d best find some jobs to do away from the Hall today.” She saw Ann shaking her head out of the corner of her eye, “Just in case.”

===

“Booth!” Anne spotted him walking around to the front of the house as she emerged from the stables. The large potted plant he was carrying was almost completely obstructing his view, no wonder he’d crashed through her door if that’s how he went about the estate. She crossed the yard quickly to where he stood.

He peaked shyly around the plant, “How do ma’am. Good to see you.”

She eyed the way he struggled with the plant, “You’d better put that down,”

He jerked it up into his arms, “I’m fine ma’am really.” She heard a quiet groan, he obviously wasn’t fine but no doubt he was using the plant to shield himself from the reprimand he was certain would follow. “I’m sure you are Booth. But I value my toes, as I’m sure do you. I’d rather them not be crushed if you stopped being fine.” She saw him nod as he reluctantly placed the plant between them, still acting as a buffer but she supposed it would do.

“Good. Now-”

“I’m sorry ma’am. I didn’t mean to uh...Your door. It was an accident. We were trying to get everything ready for you and Miss Walker see, and I must’ve tripped. I couldn’t catch myself. And well you know the doors ain’t the strongest anymore. Not that the Hall’s falling apart. Miss Marian’s been working hard to make sure it stays in tip top shape. Just like you told her to. And…” It seemed like he had finally run out of things to say. Anne looked at him questioningly. He shuffled nervously as he added in a voice not suited to a man of his size or stature, “I’m sorry ma’am.”

He braced himself for the tirade of words. Anne gave a quick firm nod before slapping the side of his arm, “Accidents happen Booth. Don’t worry yourself. It will all be fixed soon enough.” His head turned from side to side looking for the camera crew to spring out from behind a bush to tell him this was all a practical joke and he’d actually been fired. Anne looked at him curiously, what on earth was he doing spinning around like that? “Are you alright?”

John nodded his head vigorously, “Yes ma’am.” It seemed Miss Walker was right. She’d performed some sort of miracle on her.

“Perfect. I need you to help me move a few things in my room.” She saw the colour immediately drain from his face, “Don’t worry. I’ll be there the entire time. You won’t break anything.” He wished he had her certainty. “Where are you going with this?” He looked down as she motioned at the plant at his feet. “The shed ma’am.”

“What shed?” Anne looked at him curiously, “We don’t have a shed.”

===

Anne rounded the corner excitedly as she made her way back from Cunnery Wood to the Hall. She’d left John to get on with whatever chores he had left, knowing that he would only slow her down and she wanted to get back to Ann as soon as possible. She hadn’t realised that she’d been gone the entire morning. She was actually surprised that she didn’t have a dozen messages on her phone. That far into the wood though the reception wasn’t great, another reason she was sure Ann would love the surprise.

She ran up the front steps to the house, her boots were a little muddy but she shook most of it off before she entered. She popped her head around the corner into the living room but it was empty. As she made her way past the office she heard Marian bellow, “I hope you’re not traipsing mud through the Hall!” Anne stilled and took a deep breath, she would not allow being barked at ruin her mood.

She turned the corner to the office and saw Marian sat at the large oak desk. It dwarfed her, but that’s what people had said of her the first time she sat behind it. From what she had seen of the estate so far, Marian had done a good job. She considered telling her just that when she saw her gaze imperiously down at her boots. She folded her arms across her chest as Anne huffed and reached down to pull them off. She held them aloft for her to see, “Happy now?” Marian nodded smuggly. It wasn’t often she was victorious, Ann had definitely changed her sister, for the better.

Anne rapped her knuckles against the door, “Why is this open anyway?”

Marian groaned, she knew her victory would be short lived, “Because if I didn’t leave it open it would probably fall off its hinges too the way people come in and out of here like it was York Station.”

“Reminds me, one of the Wright Brothers will be here in an hour to measure up.” Marian tutted, she should have just called Eugenie, but why would a French assistant situated in London know anything about fixing antique doors in Halifax? At least if they were coming today it might further improve Anne’s mood. She made a mental note to make sure there were enough earplugs in the house for everyone.

“Where’s Ann? You didn’t just leave her did you?” Marian balked at the accusation.

“You’re the one who’s been gone all morning!”

“Well I thought you could be entertaining for at least half a day,” she tossed back, her boots flinging specks of mud around as she gesticulated with her hands. Marian felt her blood boil, sometimes she could be so needlessly infuriating. Anne held back a chuckle as she saw her getting increasingly flustered, she knew she shouldn’t rile her up like this but it was always so easy. “Lighten up Marian, it’s only a joke.” Marian didn’t look very forgiving so she knew she was a lost cause for now. Best to get out of her hair, “Have you seen Ann?”

“She had a phone call and went upstairs-” Anne had already turned and was bounding up the stairs before she was able to finish her sentence. Marian heard her heavy footsteps as she made her way along the stairway. It was a wonder the Hall wasn’t in a greater need of repair.

===

She pulled the screen to the side so that she could enter her room. It was a bit cumbersome but it worked as a temporary fix to give them a bit more privacy. She placed it back against the doorway and turned, expecting to see Ann sitting on the bed but she wasn’t there. She turned her head from side to side but she was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps Marian was mistaken, it wouldn’t be the first time. She was about to head back downstairs in search for her when she heard a quiet whimper coming from the other side of the bed.

She walked slowly to the other side of the room, peering around one of the bed posts. Her heart broke at the sight of Ann sat against the side of the bed, the tracks of her tears still clearly visible on her soft cheeks. Anne immediately sank to her knees beside her, “What happened?” Ann’s arms rose instinctively to wrap around her neck. Anne cradled her close as she rubbed her back trying to soothe her.

She looked around for any signs of what might have happened but all she saw was her phone on the floor next to her. “I tried to call you,” her muffled voice finally broke through.

“I’m sorry, I was in the woods. The reception’s terrible.” She pulled back a little so that she could see her face. Ann seemed to be a little calmer now. She placed a gentle kiss on her forehead, “What’s upset you?” Anne curled her lip, “Was it Marian?”

“No, she’s lovely.”

“I wouldn’t go that far darling.” Ann shot her a stern look. She thought that was at least a slight improvement on the tears. “Can you tell me what’s wrong?” Ann released her arms and turned to her phone. Anne sat down properly next to her as she scrolled through her messages before opening one and handing her phone to her. She focussed on the screen, squinting slightly. Why anyone would choose to have their font size this small she didn’t know.

Anne read the message, her head turning sharply towards Ann, her brow knit with worry, “The tribe knows we’re here.”

Chapter Text

Ann excused herself when she saw Elizabeth’s name pop up on her phone screen. She answered the phone as she started to run up the stairs, “Two secs Liz.” She entered Anne’s bedroom and smiled as she pulled the folding screen across the door. Anne had been so proud of it when she’d demonstrated how it would work. It had at least meant that they didn’t have to go across the hall to change in the bathroom, even if it didn’t quite give them the level of privacy they wanted.

She jumped onto the bed and propped herself up against the headboard. They usually texted regularly but it had been a while since they’d spoken properly. A mixture of the whirlwind her life had become since Anne had whisked her off her feet and Elizabeth’s non-stop circus as a mother of three young children. She made herself comfortable before raising the phone to her ear. “Hey Liz,” she said a little breathlessly.

“Where are you?” came the cheery voice.

Ann looked around at the room she was sharing with Anne. Her perfume and hairbrush on top of the dresser, Anne’s unfinished book on the nightstand on her side of the bed. She wondered how to answer the seemingly simple question. She had told her about the accident on the bridge and how Anne had come back into her life. She knew that they had been spending time together but she had been a little vague on the exact nature of their relationship.

“I’m home,” she finally answered. Technically it wasn’t a lie. She was in Anne’s home, and Halifax was her home.

“And how is Halifax?” A knowing lilt to her voice.

“H-how do you know I’m in Halifax?” Ann stuttered, her mouth falling open at being caught in a disguised truth.

“I’m your big sister Annie. I know everything.” If that was true, and right now she didn’t have any reason to doubt it, she wondered what else she knew. “And how’s Anne?”

“I’m fine.” As soon as the words escaped her lips she regretted them. She knew her sister hadn’t been referring to her in the third person. She shut her eyes tight bracing for the reaction.

“You know which Anne I mean,” Ann knew she was joking but the slight edge in her voice was deserved. “When exactly were you going to tell me you’d started dating Anne Lister?”

“Apparently I don’t have to,” she parried back.

Elizabeth was slightly surprised at the unusual boldness, apparently a lot more had changed than she thought, “No, you don’t.”

There was silence before she heard Ann sigh helplessly, that sounded more like her. She could almost see Ann wringing the bottom of her t-shirt, dress, or whatever loose material was within reach. She hadn’t called to interrogate her, but their Aunt Ann had been leaving cryptic messages asking about Ann and whether she’d heard from her. A quick call to Catherine had confirmed that she was fine but she knew there was something she was hiding.

She tried not to pry too much into Ann’s life, she already had to deal with their relatives always in her business that she tended to wait for information to be volunteered. She always knew that if there was anything important then she would tell her. She hadn’t told her about Anne though, and she was the very definition of important in Ann’s world. “It would’ve been nice if you had.”

Elizabeth’s tone had softened. “You’re busy with the kids and George,” Ann’s voice was small. Her problems always seemed so insignificant compared to everyone else’s, especially the ones she’d had with Anne. It was all teenage drama that she should have learnt now to deal with years ago - trying to figure out if your crush likes you, dealing with their ex-girlfriends, trying to find time to be alone. Sometimes it felt like she was living her adolescence all over again.

“I’m never too busy for you Annie. You know that.”

“I know.”

“So come on, kids are playing for at least an hour. Tell me about your girlfriend.” A huge grin spread across Ann’s face as she heard Elizabeth call her that. “Is she everything you dreamed?”

She let out a huge contented sigh, “She’s so much more.”

===

“No she’s upstairs.” Marian put her earbuds in so that no one else could hear the other side of her conversation with Tib and Catherine.

“What the hell was Lister thinking? That dusty old carriage, come on Marian,” Tib teased.

“She’s your best friend Tib, you tell her.” She couldn’t understand why that was being laid at her door, it wasn’t like she had any control of anything her sister did. She had thought the goats alone would have been enough to stop her from going into the stables.

“Don’t worry I did. Then she got a bit weird about Sam.”

“Sam?” That was exactly why Marian hadn’t wanted her to wander too far back there. Anne was much better now but it was too easy for the memories to be triggered. A bad outbreak of equine influenza in the local area had affected almost all of the horses a year or so after Sam’s death. The ones that survived were soon sold off. It was for the best since there was no one there to tend to them. Anne hadn’t even asked the next time she had visited, it was a part of the estate that held too many ghosts for her.

“She said he’d met Ann. Told her not to break her heart.”

Marian smiled at the thought of him telling her what to do, apart from Aunt Anne he was the only one ever allowed to, “Sounds like Sam.”

“Anyway, we need to get those two loverbirds together.”

“Oh god, please!” Catherine cried out. “If they don’t shag soon, Ann’s going to explode.” They all laughed, they couldn’t believe that they’d spent so many conversations on this topic. Though they supposed it was better than having to nurse one of them through a heartbreak. “Also, sorry Marian, when that happens I’d rather it happened up there than down here.”

“Someone’s coming to fix the door today. That should help.”

“They’re going to be louder than that,” Catherine quipped. Marian knew she was right though.

“What do you want me to do? Ship the old folks off to Scarborough for the day?”

“That’s actually not a bad idea.”

“Tib,” Marian said firmly.

“You know you’re starting to sound like her.”

“Shutup.”

Tib laughed, “There you go again.” There was a disapproving hum from Marian, she really was turning into her sister. “Leave that idea with me, I might be able to come up with something.” The cogs in Tib’s brain started to turn slowly before she clapped her hands loudly. “Right my fellow conspirators in Operation Annes Need a Shag.”

Catherine burst into a fit of laughter as Marian huffed, “That’s not what we’re calling it.”

“Alright, Operation Duracell.” Tib wanted to say that was another trait she was picking up from Anne but at least one of the people on this call wouldn’t appreciate it. “Any other orders of business? Are they going to this bloody wedding?”

Marian had been meaning to ask Anne about Eliza Belcombe’s wedding, but she was almost always with Ann and she didn’t want to bring it up around her. When she had caught her in a rare moment by herself she’d found her in such a good mood that she hadn’t been the one to ruin it. Her sister always shot the messenger.

“Anne didn’t mention it to Ann.” Catherine went through the mental itinerary in her head of all the outfits she had helped choose for their week away. “At least Ann didn’t pack for it. Unless she forgot to tell her?”

“My sister never forgets.”

“Maybe Miss Walker distracted her.”

She could almost hear Tib wiggling her eyebrows suggestively. “Maybe Anne finally is actually done with that woman,” she added hopefully.

“I’m putting my money on both.”

Marian heard the front door close, “Have to go, I can hear Anne depositing half the mud from Cunnery Wood in the Hall.” She heard the both of them laugh through their goodbyes as she ended the call.

===

Anne had tried to soothe Ann as best she could but she was still in a fretful state. She’d at least managed to coax her up off the floor. Now she was pacing along the foot of the bed. Anne glanced again at the text message still open on her phone next to her. It was a summons to dinner with the family at Stoney Royd that night. It had been under the guise of an invitation, but there was no mistaking that she was expected to be there, they both were.

Ann muttered to herself as she wore a hole in the floor. She tried to piece together how the day had turned. She had spent a lovely morning with Marian in the parlour. It was the first time they’d ever properly been able to talk alone together without being at some sort of social gathering. She realised that Marian had a wicked sense of humour, often aimed at her sister - the goats being a prime example. They actually belonged to John but she had moved them in just for the week that Anne was there just to make her think she’d turned the estate into an old farm as she’d feared.

Then Elizbeth had called and she was so eager to speak to her. After the initial unease when she knew she’d found out about her relationship with Anne, through some very clever guesswork and piecing together of clues, they’d settled into their usual sisterly banter. Ann had rushed through everything that had happened the last couple of weeks because she was afraid they’d be interrupted by one of the children. It had been a torrent of information to process but she’d said the important thing was that Ann sounded happier than she had ever known her to be. As long as Anne Lister was the reason for that happiness then she was glad that they had found each other again.

When the text came through moments after they’d said goodbye as one of the children had demanded their mother’s attention, she’d thought that maybe she had forgotten to mention something or it was Anne telling her where she’d disappeared off to. She hadn’t expected to see a message from her Aunt Ann informing her that the family were having dinner tonight and that she wouldn’t want to disappoint them by not attending, with Anne.

She kept asking herself how they’d found out they were there. Someone must have seen them she thought, but the only time they’d been off the estate was to go to church and she’d not recognised anyone there. Then she thought someone must have told them, but Anne had reassured her that only a handful of people knew and none of them would have said anything. Ann had snapped at her saying they’d obviously found out somehow from someone. That was when Anne had decided to let her run through her thought process.

Anne sat patiently on the bed as Ann continued back and forth, brow furrowed in concentration as she wrung her hands together. She was concerned at her agitated state and had considered going downstairs to get her a cup of tea but when she’d tried to make a move Ann had immediately pounced, asking her where she was going. She’d emphatically stated that she didn’t want anything so Anne had sat back down.

She tried to think why Ann was so distressed. Before going up to Halifax they had talked about whether she wanted to see her family and that had been a firm no. Anne largely understood that; her relationship with Christopher had always been tempestuous and she had been fodder for Nelly Rawson’s gossip circles for decades. Those altercations were nothing new to Anne though and she would easily suffer through a visit if that’s what Ann had wanted.

Ann noticed the concern in Anne’s deep brown eyes as she watched her. She struggled to form her thoughts into words and wished she was half as articulate as Anne. They hadn’t really spoken about her family in any great detail. She knew their history as well as anyone from Halifax did, better probably due to the proximity of their estates. Whenever the subject had come up Anne saw how uneasy she got and had told her all she needed to know was that she had chosen to move away from her family, and that was enough. Ann had been so very grateful that she hadn’t had to explain herself, but now she wished they’d taken the time to talk when they didn’t have a family dinner looming ahead of them.

For the first couple of weeks after she had moved down to London, Ann had received message after message from her family. Her aunt would tell her to stop being so silly and to just come home where they could keep an eye on her and that she was being a burden to Catherine. Then her cousins would chime in saying how frivolous she was being with her finances living in London when she had a perfectly good home there.

Catherine had suggested she block them but after one day they just resorted to messaging her asking why their messages didn’t appear to be going through to Ann. Instead they turned off her notifications for the family and she only looked at her messages from them once a day. After a while they had gotten the message and the constant barrage had stopped. It also helped that Catherine would regularly update her grandmother to tell her Ann was doing just fine, which she was. In fact, Ann had been thriving in London, especially now that Anne was in her life. She hated that all it had taken was one message to undo all the good that had been done.

Over the years she had learnt to take the sustained jibes aimed at her. All the little ways in which her family would tell her that she was an invalid. She wasn’t outgoing and sociable like John had been, and she wasn’t as smart as Elizabeth was. Since Christopher was the executor of all the family’s wills, it had been a struggle for her to gain financial independence when she was younger but after she turned 25 he had little actual say. He still kept a close eye on all of her finances though and she would often get a phone call from her aunt enquiring about her purchases.

They obviously knew about her relationship with Anne, perhaps not the detail of it although assumptions would have been made. Ann didn’t want her to be subjected to the same sort of scrutiny they had always placed her under. They would question her motives, Christopher had always commented on how Shibden paled compared to the other great estates in the area. He was sure to taunt Anne with the idea that she was only seeing her for her money. Then there was the obvious age difference, one of them was sure to bring that up too, that Anne was just chasing after someone far too young for her.

She looked over at Anne, still sitting patiently on the end of the bed. All the possible reasons they could attack her racing through her head. She hadn’t even known who she was when they first met, how could they ever question her motives? Then a new thought sprung into her mind. What if that wasn’t what they did? What if they made Anne doubt her choice?

They could pick apart Ann’s life, the way they always did. She’d always needed help to run the household, she had never travelled, didn’t have any kind of career plan. She was in her thirties and still flitting through life. What if Anne cared about what they thought? They were her family, the ones who supposedly knew her best. Her mind was bombarded by all the possible weaknesses they could use against her to show Anne that she deserved more, that Ann wasn’t worth her time.

Ann’s obvious distress was worsening. Anne wasn’t even sure that she had registered how laboured her breathing had become. Finally when Ann turned to her, the inner torment that whatever thoughts were racing through her mind written clearly on her face, Anne decided it was enough. She stood from the bed and grasped her firmly by her shoulders before pulling her close into a tight embrace. She seemed to surrender to whatever thoughts she was having as she felt her sobbing against her chest as she rubbed her back trying to calm her.

===

They lay on the bed together, Ann curled up against Anne’s side, her arm wrapped around her waist. Anne slowly ran her fingers through her hair as she casually tried to check the time on her watch. Ordinarily she would have been happy for Ann to take whatever time she needed before they spoke, but she was aware that someone would be there in the next half hour to decide what repairs needed to be done to the door.

Anne looked down at the top of the golden mess of hair that fell on her chest. Her breathing had evened out and she appeared less troubled now. “Darling?” There was a quiet hum from below her, that was something. She was about to ask her exactly why she was so worried about the dinner, but Ann’s next words came completely unexpected. “I don’t think you should come to dinner.”

She wanted to pretend that she hadn’t heard the words come from Ann’s mouth. She tried her best to keep the tone of her voice even although the hellhounds that raged inside of her were shaking with fury. She paused a moment, before asking, “Why not?”

“You shouldn’t have to put up with my family. I know you and Christopher -”

“I can deal with Christopher Rawson. I have done my whole life.” She felt Ann wince at her terse words, but she remained wrapped around her. “It’s something else.”

She felt Ann’s hold loosening before she heard her quietly reply, “No.” Anne’s arm automatically withdrew from beneath Ann as her first lie filled the space between them. She swung her legs off the bed and looked out of her window. How many times had she sat on that bed whilst the people she shared it with chose to lie to her? The promises that they would call, that this wouldn’t change anything between them, that they were leaving Charles. She felt herself start to detach as the pieces of her armour began clicking into place.

Anne closed her eyes as she squeezed the bridge of her nose between her fingers. “They know you’re gay.”

“What? Yes. Of course.” The mattress shifted as Ann sat up. Anne hadn’t intended it as a question. She was thinking out loud, trying to find any possible reason other than the one all of her past demons were whispering in her ear, that she was ashamed of her.

“We just, we don’t talk about those things, especially not around the dinner table.” She recoiled at the memories of all the times her sexuality was ever mentioned in front of the tribe, the disdain that coloured their faces. The echo of their words slipped out of her mouth with venom, “It’s vulgar.”

“Oh.” The unanticipated words struck Anne deftly as she recalled the conversation they’d had around the breakfast table that morning. The playful japes her family had flung across the room about her past relationships, all in an attempt to make Ann feel more at home. To show her that they liked her more than any of the others there had been, it had all been for her benefit alone which is why Anne had allowed it. It was all apparently vulgar. The word burned at the back of Anne’s throat.

“They’ll take one look at you-”

“It’s fine Ann.” She had heard enough. “I understand,” her voice was already wistful. She pulled her shoulders back as she tilted her head up, hoping to help the tears that threatened defy gravity.

Ann grew increasingly frustrated the more she thought about how her family had dictated the course of so much of her life. She was an adult when John had died, but they’d made her feel like a child. It had taken her this long to finally establish some independence again and it had barely been a few days and they were already trying to control her again. “They’re just so judgemental.”

“I said it’s fine.” Ann’s head jerked up at the sharp delivery of Anne’s words. There was no ‘Darling’ or even ‘Ann’ to soften the words. They had been spoken through gritted teeth, and her back was to her. This wasn’t right.

“Wait.” Ann tried to understand what was happening. “What’s wrong?”

Anne noted the difference in her tone, it was softer again, but she was familiar with how wavering a person’s moods could be where she was concerned. Ann continued to stare at the back of her head, why hadn’t she turned around?

“My family’s too vulgar for you.” Ann’s mouth fell, that’s not what she’d said. “Your family would take one look at me and think I’m beneath you.” Her words sounded so cold and detached. “I get it Ann. I’ve spent my entire life not being enough.”

“That’s not what I said!” She reached out her hand to touch Anne’s shoulder but her fingertips had barely made contact when Anne moved slightly so that she was no longer in reach. It was the smallest of movements but it spoke volumes.

“It’s what you meant.” Ann quickly tried to replay the last few minutes, where had they begun to misunderstand each other so terribly?

“I’ll drive you to your family’s for dinner. I can drop your things at Crow Nest so you don’t have to come back. Now that they know you’re in Halifax there’s no reason for you to have to stay here. I’m sure you’re missing it.” Ann’s head started to spin at the words. In a few sentences she seemed to have lost everything.

She saw Anne start to stand but before she could she launched herself off the bed and pushed her back down, keeping her hands firmly on her shoulders. “Damn it Anne you’re being just like them! Why won’t anyone listen to me?” Her heart was pounding in her chest as she closed her eyes tight as she tired to calm the thoughts in her head. She held on tight to Anne’s strong shoulders, hoping it would ground her.

After a few moments she felt a hand on top of her own. She slowly opened her eyes, Anne’s deep brown eyes staring up at her. She searched them, looking for the faintest glimmer to show her she understood, but there was nothing. She had never seen her eyes look so empty. “What is it you have to say Ann?”

Ann knew that she would never say anything more important than what she was about to say. Anne’s jaw was clenched tightly but her hand remained on Ann’s. There was a slight tilt of her head, even though her eyes remained blank. Ann dropped to her knees in front of Anne, pulling her hands into her lap as she held them tight.

She looked up at Anne, her eyes imploring her to believe what she was going to say. “Anne, I adore you. When I’m with you nothing else matters and the whole world makes sense. But my family,” Anne turned her head to the side. She knew that this was where she had lost her, and where she would have to get her back. “My family, as soon as they get their claws into me, into us. Don’t you see?” She paused briefly but it was long enough for Anne to turn back to her. With her heart completely laid bare she said in the smallest of voices, afraid that giving life to the words would make them true, “You won’t want me.”

Ann’s head fell into Anne’s lap as her confession escaped from her lips. Anne’s eyes widened as she realised, not for the first time, how wrong she had been when it came to Ann Walker. She wasn’t worried about how her family would react to her, that she wasn’t good enough for them. No, Ann was scared that after meeting them Anne wouldn’t want her.

She slowly pulled Ann’s head up from her lap, gently cupping the sides of her face. ”Ann.” Even that one word soothed her, the timbre of Anne’s voice back to the soothing low lilt that her ears craved. “Darling, they can’t touch me. There’s nothing anything of them can say that would stop me wanting to be with you.” Ann started to trouble her bottom lip, these were the words she’d dared not hope for.

Anne placed a kiss against her forehead, leaving her lips pressed against her for a beat before pulling back to look at her again. “You don’t have to face them alone, you don’t have to face them at all.” A small smile formed as Ann looked hopefully back at her. “We can stay here, at Shibden. We never have to see them.” She saw a flicker of hesitation in her eyes, “But if you want to go, I won’t leave your side for a moment. We can navigate our way through this and everything the damn tribe throws at us together.”

Ann jumped up into her lap as she wrapped her arms around her strong shoulders as she held onto her tightly. Anne’s arms closed around her waist, keeping her close. It felt like they had crossed a huge chasm in those last few moments. Both sighing with relief as they remained in the loving embrace.

They heard a loud cough from behind them, both quickly turning the heads to the door. Marian was standing sideways in the doorway trying not to look as her good friend Ann straddled her big sister. Ann let out a little giggle, as Anne kissed her cheek. She had missed that sound. “Impeccable timing as ever Marian.”

===

Anne smoothed out the creases in her blazer as they stood at the grand front door. She had never felt intimidated when visiting the Rawson family home, but she was always impressed. The large Victorian mansion with its perfectly manicured gardens was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful estates in all of Yorkshire. It had been a while since she had sparred with Christopher, the idea of taking him down a peg or two in his own home thrilled her a little. Tonight, her top priority was ensuring she was there to support Ann, however she needed her to.

She glanced quickly out of the corner of her eye, she seemed to be doing okay. Ann had chosen a dark crimson cocktail dress saying that it would compliment whatever black ensemble she would choose to wear. It certainly did that, and it fit perfectly to every curve. Anne couldn’t stop thinking that they made a very handsome couple.

Ann looked across at her and took a moment to appreciate the close-fitting black suit, paired with a black dress shirt Anne had buttoned all the way up. She was treating tonight like a business meeting with a hostile future client and wanted to look the part. As Ann’s eyes slowly raked up the length of her lean taught body she was glad that whatever the night brought she’d enjoy the view.

“I do hope none of your family are mind readers Miss Walker,” Ann blinked at the sound of her name as she turned to Anne. She smiled smugly, “Because if they can, they’d be scandalised by the filth running through your mind.” Her sweet smile feigned modesty but Anne was absolutely right. Anne took a deep breath before clasping Ann’s hand in hers, “Shall we?”

Ann knocked tentatively on the door, perhaps if no one answered the door they could run away and say they tried but no one was home. It was wishful thinking of course. All too soon they heard someone on the other side of the heavy door. ”Finally, young people!” They both looked at each other surprised. They hadn’t expected to see Delia there tonight, as far as Ann knew she hadn’t mentioned that she was coming up to see the family. Delia wrapped them both up in a hug, “Save me from all these old people.”

“Good to see you Delia,” Anne said politely as they entered the house. She took a moment to admire her surroundings. The large curling staircase that dominated the entrance, all of the family portraits that lined the walls. Shibden would never be this grand, but at least it felt like a home. She always thought Stoney Royd felt more like a museum. “Come through to the drawing room, we’re having pre-dinner drinks.”

Delia groaned as they walked through the house. She couldn’t understand why her grandmother insisted on everything being so proper for a midweek meal celebrating nothing in particular. She immediately went to the drinks cabinet to make a drink for herself. Ann leaned in closely and whispered to Anne, “Do you think Delia told them we were here?”

Anne looked up at the woman pouring herself a large quantity of gin, “No, I don’t think she would. Catherine made a point of telling me that she’d told her not to say anything.” Ann hummed, if it wasn’t Delia then she would have to try and get the information out of another member of her family. She wondered where the rest of them were as Delia came back, thrusting a gin and tonic into Ann’s hands, “You’ll need this.” She turned as Anne snickered, “You might need one too.”

“I’m driving.”

“Suit yourself, but you’ll probably regret that. Granny’s dinners are much more palatable with alcohol.” She took a large swig of her own drink as she noticed how the two of them still held a tight grasp of each other’s hands.

“What is this dinner for anyway?” Ann asked.

She let out a little laugh, “For you!” Ann looked at her incredulously as Delia looked between the two of them, “Did you really not know?” They both shook their heads. “Cousin Christopher said he’d heard that the both of you were in town and so of course put it in Granny’s head that she needed to invite you over for dinner.” Well, Anne thought, that solved part of the mystery but she still didn’t know how he’d found out. Delia seemed to have all the answers and from the way she was knocking back her drink she’d be willing to tell all in a moment or so.

“But who told him?” Apparently Ann didn’t think she needed another moment.

“Some woman he’s been doing business with.” Delia scrunched up her face as she tried to think of the name, she hadn’t really been paying attention when she’d heard them speaking earlier. “Parkin...Larkin...Larson…”

“Lawton,” Anne stated.

“That’s it!” Delia’s smile fell when she saw the Annes exchange knowing looks, looks that said whoever this Lawton person was, she was trouble.

“Lister!” They all turned to see Christopher stride into the room, drink already in hand. He walked over to them and nodded a greeting to Ann, completely ignoring Delia. He offered a hand to Anne and she took it reluctantly, tightening her grip as she shook it. Ann saw him wince a little at her obvious display of strength. “Good to see you,” he looked at how close the two of them stood together, “The both of you.”

“Rawson,” was all Anne responded with. There was no use pretending that it was good to see him. It had been some time since she’d seen him, he still looked the same. Too thin in some places, pot belly and slightly balding in others. Totally insipid. She had planned to be civil to him, but now she knew that he was in cahoots with Mariana and she had obviously been discussing more than business with him she was on guard.

“I’d heard the two of you were up visiting,” he smiled insincerely. Anne momentarily let go of Ann’s hand but only so she could snake her arm around her waist, Ann responding similarly as she wrapped her arm under her blazer, forming a united front. Delia’s eyes lit up as she watched the powerplay unfold before her.

“How are the Spurs?” Anne felt her lip curl at the reference to her company. He always felt his little nickname for it was so clever, she refused to rise to it. “Business is great, we’ve just redecorated the office.”

“Ahh yes, I heard. Terrible business, a break in.” He took a sip from his drink as he waited for a reaction, but none was given. Anne filed away the knowledge in the back of her mind. There was no reason for him to know about the break in, that must be Mariana again, keeping tabs on her and letting everyone know her business. “What do you expect having a business named after the Spurs in West London?” Another failed joke. It had been less than ten minutes and Anne was already tired of him.

“Actually Anne’s business is named after her horse, Hotspur.” Anne turned in surprise as Ann spoke up, “He was named after an English knight because of his speed.” They saw Christopher’s lip flicker as he gave a simpering smile. He downed his drink and quickly excused himself saying that he should get a top up before dinner. Ann smiled as they watched him retreat to the other side of the room. “Score one for the Annes!” Delia declared triumphantly as she clinked her glass against Ann’s. Noticing her drink was half gone she decided that she was in need of a top up too.

As Ann stood there smiling to herself Anne turned her and placed both hands on her hips as she looked at her curiously, “How did you know that about my horse?”

Ann looked down briefly, she realised she hadn’t told Anne this story before, she actually hadn’t told anyone. “Sam.”

Anne drew her head back, “Sam? My Sam?”

Ann nodded, she reached up and tucked a lock of hair behind Anne’s ear. She could see her trying to understand what she was saying, “When I used to ride around Lightcliffe I’d sometimes cross into Shibden and he’d always be out exercising the horses.” Anne nodded thoughtfully, “We’d race sometimes, he’d always let me win.” That made Anne smile, Sam was always far too chivalrous, “Except when he was riding Hotspur.” Anne tilted her head. “He told me that he was your horse, and that if it ever got out that you didn’t have the fastest horse in all of Halifax you’d have him fired as horsemaster of Shibden.”

A sad smile graced Anne’s lips as she pictured Sam racing across Shibden on the beautiful bay colt he’d gifted her. “I told him that would never do, especially since I was the one who recommended he buy him for you.” A gift Ann had apparently chosen for her. How had he never told her this story? Anne let the words sink in as she leaned forward, Ann tilted her head up a little and their lips met in a tender kiss.

“I should’ve known that’s how I’d find the both of you.” The two of them broke apart at the sound of Nelly Rawson’s gruff voice.

“Mrs Rawson, good to see you.”

She smiled knowingly at the two of them, “Good to see you too Anne, and Ann.” She raised an eyebrow as she saw their hands find each other. She motioned towards the dining room, “Shall we?”

Chapter Text

The small dressing down her son had received at the hands of the Annes hadn’t gone unnoticed by Nelly Rawson. She rather enjoyed the way he had tried all through dinner to goad Anne and how she had deftly deflected evey snide little comment he had made. Still, she had to admire his tenacity, if only it didn’t make him look like a complete fool. She was thankful for his sake that it was such a small audience.

Delia had wisely chosen to concentrate on the contents of her gin glass, she did enjoy her granddaughter’s youthful perspective on most topics but she missed having Catherine there to spar with her. They were always so entertaining. Her other son - Jeremiah, was as ever, completely surplus to the conversation. She understood why Christopher always wanted him there, she supposed someone had to be on his side. The poor boy, every time he tried to speak his point was almost always completely taken over by his brother. Then of course there was Ann, the elder Ann Walker, she sat quietly, shrewdly observing the interactions happening across the dinner table. The sour expression on her face letting all present know how displeased she was with whom her namesake had chosen as her dinner companion.

To their credit, the handsome couple hadn’t allowed anything to ruin their evening. The Rawsons and Listers had moved in the same social circles for years, so she was no stranger to seeing Anne put on a show, but she noticed a deference to Ann. She didn’t know for certain but she presumed Anne wasn’t left handed, and yet she had eaten everything except the main course with that hand. Her right hand clearly already occupied holding Ann’s since they had sat down.

Ann too appeared more relaxed than she had seen her in years. Even when she had her brother and sister with her at family functions, she never seemed to enjoy them much. She always shrank into the background except when she was talking to one or two select people. It would have been easy for her to fade in the presence of someone as striking as Anne Lister, but being in her company appeared to bring her to life. She hadn’t realised the girl was quite as interesting or as funny as she had been that evening. Trading a few quips of her own with Christopher.

She of course had known for years about her crush on her dashing neighbour, but that was true of almost every woman in Halifax. That’s why it had been such fun keeping an eye on her dalliances, to find out just who might finally capture her. She had never thought her quiet unassuming grand-niece could be the one. As the plates were cleared and dessert was served she had already come to her own conclusions about the potential new family member. From the way Ann had looked adoringly at Anne all evening she had no doubt it would not be long before a more formal arrangement was made between them.

“And how is my granddaughter?” The question broke Christopher’s present diatribe about some business deal he was conducting that he seemed to think they would care about. Ann swallowed the mouthful of food she had just consumed and put her spoon down before politely smiling and turning to her great-aunt. Mrs Rawson smiled, she always did have impeccable manners. “Catherine’s very well, I spoke to her yesterday.”

“Has she found a job yet?” Christopher garbled between mouthfuls. The implication behind his loaded question was obvious to all present. Everything came down to this with him, how much were you costing the family and how much were you contributing? Even if the latter was greater you were still taking far too much.

Ann turned her attention to him, “Yes she’s started working with a local theatre group. They’re hoping to stage a play in the autumn.”

“Acting?” Ann wanted to explain that Catherine was actually working behind the scenes securing funding for the play but she knew whatever she said he’d find fault with it.

“Well Christopher, our side of the family has always been quite dramatic,” his mother chimed. He pulled a tight smile as she rolled her eyes dismissively. Anne looked down at her bowl of mixed berry crumble covered in lashings of custard and tried not to smile too broadly at the exchange.

“What about you Ann?” Christopher spat out from across the table, “Are you working yet, or are you still spending the family fortune too?” There was an uncomfortable cough from the other side of the table as Aunt Ann shifted in her seat. All eyes glanced in her direction, it was the first sign of life she’d shown since the main course had been served. Anne noticed Ann grip her hand a little more tightly as her aunt’s penetrative stare fixed on her as they awaited her answer.

Despite Anne’s reassuring presence Ann felt her mouth go dry. She felt she had done so well, but now the focus had turned to her the familiar feeling of dred started to sink in. She chastised herself for not having an answer to this question prepared. She had enquired with a few galleries about showing some of her paintings and was planning to follow up with them once they got back to London. How could she say that now without it sounding like an excuse? “There’s...some galleries...I-”

“Do speak up dear,” came her aunt’s imperious tone.

Ann felt every pair of eyes at the table bore into her as she struggled to speak. She reached out a shaky hand to take a quick drink of water. “I honestly don’t know how you expect to speak to people in London if you can’t even talk to your own family about your...art.” The inflection in her voice told Anne everything she needed to know about how she felt about Ann’s work. She doubted she’d ever even looked at her paintings because if she had she wouldn’t have been so dismissive of the idea.

Ann focussed on the glass that was in her hand. She felt impossibly warm no matter how much she drank. There was a soft press of moist lips against the back of her other hand before it fell empty to the table. Anne was gone too.

It felt like she was moving through water as she turned her head to the side, the two second movement taking too many moments. Why had Anne let go? The next thing she felt was those same soft lifts pressing gently against her cheek. Time resumed to its normal speed as Anne’s arm came around her shoulders as she pulled her in closer. She looked up, Anne’s deep brown eyes meeting hers, silently asking if she was okay. Ann’s nod was met with a quick wink before Anne turned to her aunt, “Actually I’ve asked Ann to help decorate my office.”

Anne ignored Christopher as he scoffed from across the table, “The break in was actually probably a blessing. My office needs modernising. I mean so much of the furniture was starting to feel old and stale.”

“Didn’t you say how much you admired how Anne’s office was decorated?” Delia added turning to Christopher.

“That’s right, you were talking to Mariana Lawton about it the other day when she came by the office.” Jeremiah had hardly spoken all evening but Anne was glad that he’d chosen now to do so. Her brow peaked with interest, Christopher glared at his brother who smiled cluelessly back at him.

“Well yes,” he blustered. “I knew she helped you decorate, and I was asking her about it. I was considering doing something similar. It’s very…” His eyes narrowed at Anne, “Classic.”

“Old and stale then, like Anne said?” Delia said flippantly.

Anne gave Ann’s shoulder a tight squeeze as she heard her giggle at Delia’s comment. She turned her attention back to her aunt and adopted a serious tone, “Your niece is very talented. Hopefully you can come down to London when she has an exhibition.” There was a low hum and a quick nod. That was the most acknowledgement Anne had received from her so counted it as a victory. “You too Christopher,” he was still glaring at them. “Your cousin has exemplary taste, after all...” She gave a shrug of her shoulders as she smiled smugly. Mrs Rawson let out a raucous laugh, cutting the tension in the air.

“As soon as you’ve secured the gallery space we shall all be there, Ann.” Mrs Rawson declared as she looked pointedly at her son who begrudgingly nodded as he smiled weakly.

Ann looked across at Delia who silently mouthed, “Five for the Annes.” She snickered but was glad Delia had been keeping count.

“I take it you’ll be going to the Belcombe wedding,” Ann’s head immediately shot up. She felt Anne tense beside her. The self-congratulatory smirk across Christopher’s face spread at the surprise on both their faces. “Mariana did mention she’d invited you.” He turned to Ann and waved dismissively, “I suppose you could be the plus one.”

Anne sat upright, “I’d actually decided not to go.”

“Really? Aren’t you two old friends?” He drew the last word out as he sneered back.

“Yes, we are. But I’m here to spend time with my family, and Ann.” She drew her arm back and took Ann’s hand back into hers, placing them both on top of the table. “They’re my priority.” Ann interlocked their fingers and squeezed her hand tightly.

“It could actually be fun to go,” all eyes turned once again to Ann, including Anne’s. “Don’t you think dearest?” She looked at her incredulously as she spotted a glimmer of mischief in her eyes, “I haven’t seen Mariana since the tennis, it might be nice to show you off.” Ann leaned in and gave her a quick kiss before drawing back with a playful smile playing on her lips.

“Oh I think we’ll all be going to the Belcombe wedding this weekend,” Mrs Rawson clapped her hands gleefully.

==

“Exactly how are you related to the Rawsons?” Marian asked as she took another piece of toast. Anne shook her head as she took a sip of tea, she was sure Ann had already explained this to her several times.

“One of my grandfather’s cousins, I think married one of their cousins.” Ann scrunched her face up as she tried to work out her complicated lineage. She shook her head and sighed, it was no use trying to figure it out, “My family has been very adept at strategic marriages.” Anne was thankful that Marian finally seemed to accept that answer as she went back to her breakfast.

“How is your grandmother dear?” Aunt Anne asked from across the dining room table.

“She’s very well thank you,” Ann replied.

“She didn’t give you any trouble did she?” Captain Lister asked his eldest daughter, “I know how sharp her tongue can be.”

Anne leaned back in her chair, a smug smile on her face, “She likes me. Always has done.” She turned to Ann, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively at her. Ann reached over and playfully swatted her arm, Anne gasped as she jutted her bottom lip out as if she’d really been hurt.

Marian tried to reconcile what was happening right in front of her with the memories of how breakfasts used to be when Anne was home. She would often trundle downstairs in a foul mood after whomever she’d brought home had disappeared some time during the night. Or worse, they’d have to sit through an awkward conversation knowing that Anne had no intention to call the poor woman fawning over her.

With Mariana they had at least been given time to get used to their dynamic over the years that they were together, and not. It was always a coin toss on whether they’d be happily planning the rest of their lives together or perpetuating the illusion that she’d gone to Anne as a friend seeking comfort. Whatever this was with Ann, the childlike glee that filled both of their faces as they teased each other incessantly, even the soppy heart eyes they constantly made towards each other, it was better. A hundred times better. Even if she did have to suffer through it.

She looked over at both her aunt and father, they were smiling at their antics. She was glad that they could see Anne finally being happy. Initially she had been hesitant to tell them anything about the budding romance happening down in London, but she knew how much they worried. When she was last home, at Christmas, they all sensed something was different, there was a determination to change her life. The last time they’d seen her that way she packed her most important belongings and moved down to London. They felt right to be concerned about where this new direction might take her, thankfully it had taken her rather indirectly to their shy neighbour. Marian would never tire of reminding Anne of that.

“Ma’am, package just arrived for you.” Marian looked up as Cordingley brought in the mail from the hallway. Anne thanked her and eagerly set about opening the parcel.

Marian waited till she left then leaned over to speak quietly to her sister, “You know you’re going to have to give her up.”

Anne shot a confused look across the table, “Who?”

“Cordingley,” Aunt Anne clarified. “She should be home with her family. Not cooking fresh meals for you that you don’t even eat.”

“I do eat them!”

“After you’ve heated them up.” Anne really was pouting now, they’d reached her least favourite part of the day where the family took turns to lay their grievances at her feet. “It was only supposed to be a couple of months.”

“It has been!”

“It’s been six dear.” Anne paused and did the calculation in her head. Aunt Anne took the silence to mean she knew she was wrong but was too stubborn to admit it, always so proud this niece of hers. “I’m sure you could cope on your own now.” There was a quiet grumble of agreement. She wasn’t going to confess that it was less about the cooking and cleaning, she could find someone else to take on those tasks - or at least Eugenie could. She liked having someone who knew her in her home.

“Do you cook, Ann?” The Captain’s seemingly innocent question took her a little by surprise.

She smiled as she nodded, “Yes, I normally cook for myself and Catherine.”

“She’s a wonderful cook!” Anne beamed as she took her hand proudly, turning to the elder Listers who were staring at them both knowingly. Anne’s mouth dropped. She couldn’t believe she’d fallen so easily into that trap.

Ann stifled her laugh as she saw the offended look on Anne’s face. Deciding to rescue her from the hole she’d dug herself into she gave a slight tug of her hand, “What’s in your parcel dearest?” She asked as she took a bite of her toast.

“Hmm?” Ann nodded at the half-opened package in front of Anne, “Oh! Yes!” She turned her attention back to the box and finished unwrapping the delivery. Her eyes lit up as she placed the box on the table, discarding the packaging on the floor next to her. They all stared curiously at it, finally Marian broke the silence, “What is it?”

Anne looked at them triumphantly, “It’s a white noise machine!” She was met with blank glances from all four pairs of eyes. Her brow furrowed, how did none of them know what it was? “It creates noise to drown out other sounds.” Marian’s eyes widened exponentially as Ann started coughing violently as she choked on her mouthful of toast. Anne looked around at the trio of shocked faces as she rubbed Ann’s back and tried to get her to drink some water. “For father’s snoring!”

She turned her attention back to Ann who was still doubled over across the table as she tried to compose herself. Her cheeks were a deep red as she glared at Anne as she winked cheekily at her. Anne sat up, slowly followed by Ann. “Are you alright dear?” Aunt Anne’s voice laced with concern.

“Yes. Sorry, it went down the wrong way.” Anne bit her bottom lip to stop herself from laughing.

“I got one for you and Marian, Aunt,” she said enthusiastically.

“Lovely dear,” she tried to sound as excited as possible.

“Can’t wait,” Marian added flatly. Ann narrowed her eyes as she gave Anne a sideways glance. She puffed out her chest as she absentmindedly started to draw circles along the outside of her teacup with her middle finger. The visual caused Ann to blush further.

“Completely unrelatedly, sister of mine!” Marian waited until she had her attention before continuing, “What time are they coming to repair your door?” Ann couldn’t believe Anne’s grin could get any wider or her cheeks feel any redder, and yet somehow, there they were.

===

Ann felt Anne’s insistent hips pressing her against the wall of her bedroom, a few feet from the wide open doorway. Her warm mouth immediately on hers, the tip of her tongue gently darting forward. Ann tilted her head back as she opened her mouth just enough for Anne’s tongue to press against hers. Anne held her hips firmly as she started to grind slowly against her. There was a small reprieve as she pulled away, only to then start to suck ardently at Ann’s neck. An unmistakable moan escaped her lips as she felt Anne smirk against her skin. “Darling,” she whispered between kisses. “Not yet, we still don’t have a door,” she said teasingly.

Ann’s heart quickened as Anne continued relentlessly, her hands reached up to tangle themselves in her chestnut hair as she arched her neck, pulling her in closer. “We need to stop,” she said breathlessly. “I have to go.” That didn’t stop her. She ran her tongue the length of her neck, slick with a mix of perspiration and the moisture from her kisses. “Where could you possibly need to be but here?” she husked into her ear.

She felt Anne’s fingertips graze her thigh as she started a slow trail upwards. Why had she let Catherine talk her into dresses only for this trip? Her breathing hitched as she played at the hem of her dress. “Anne,” it was a breathless plea. She wasn’t sure whether she was asking her to stop or to keep going. She drew the same lazy circles across the top of her thigh that she had done on her teacup earlier.

As Anne’s tongue traced her outer ear, her hot breath causing her to shiver, she was aware of her name being called. At least she thought it was her name, it didn’t belong just to her in this house. As Anne’s hand moved agonizingly further between her thighs she heard it again, someone was definitely calling their name. “Anne, someone’s calling us.”

“Hmm?” She moved her lips back to the juncture where her neck met her shoulder.

“Ann!” The call was much louder that time.

Anne paused momentarily but soon returned her lips to the side of Ann’s face, finding her way back to her lips. “I know...you heard...it too.” Ann managed between their fervent kisses.

“I did.”

“Well?” Ann’s head was spinning, they were soon reaching the point of no return. If Anne’s hand continued any further, door or no door, she wouldn’t be able to stop.

Anne groaned as she pulled back, “If they want me then I’m busy.” She licked her lips hungrily as she looked at Ann’s heaving chest, a low growl emitting from her throat, “And if they want you, you’re definitely busy.” She leaned in, intending to capture her very red, very full lips again. The loud knock against their door frame froze them both. Anne brought her hand up and placed her index finger across Ann’s lips, gently pushing against them as her other hand - still under Ann’s dress, simultaneously moved between her thighs. There was a flicker of mischief as Anne angled hips to push against her hand. Ann gasped sharply.

“If you’re quite finished Anne, we have somewhere we need to be.” Anne’s shoulders slumped at the sound of her sister’s voice. She removed both of her hands with a heavy sigh as she placed them against the wall, either side of Ann and pushed herself back. She looked ruefully at her, “Tell me again why you agreed to go into Halifax with my sister.”

Ann placed her hand on Anne’s chest, pushing her back gently. “Because you said you had things to do on the estate.” She leant in and kissed her soundly, pulling back before it got too heated. “If it involves you moving any more furniture around,” her eyes dropped as they followed her hand as it trailed down to Anne’s taught stomach, “Or doing anything else physical…” Ann took a deep breath as she raked her eyes back upwards to meet Anne’s pupils dark with want, “I’ll never be able to look any of your family in the eye again.”

Ann pushed her further back and quickly walked to the door where Marian was waiting patiently. “Ready?” she asked, pretending that she hadn’t heard anything they’d just said.

“Let me just grab my bag,” Ann was about to spin around when Anne stepped behind her, wrapping one arm tightly around her waist so she couldn’t move. In the other she held up Ann’s bag, “Here you are darling.” She turned her head and kissed her on the cheek before resting her chin on her shoulder, “And where are you taking my Ann?”

It had been a while since she had heard her refer to Ann so possessively, but given what she’d just interrupted she could understand why. “I’m taking your Ann to the garden centre, Newbank. Then we’re going to lunch.” Anne opened her mouth to speak but Marian spoke first, “No I haven’t decided where we’re going.” Anne took another breath, “And no I’m not going to tell you because you’ll just show up.” Marian raised her eyebrow as her sister started to pout, she would earn no sympathy from her. Not after the white noise machine stunt earlier. She’d had to spend the rest of the morning trying to explain how it worked to Aunt Anne.

Marian’s brow furrowed as she looked past Ann, “What have you done in here?” Anne followed her gaze. She and John had made a few changes the day before. Marian wondered why there was now a large rug underneath the bed that also covered most of the hardwood floor. Anne had always said she loved the feel of the old timbers beneath her feet. A large bookshelf had also been placed on the wall she shared with Aunt Anne and the small vanity placed by the window. Of course because it was Anne, it was already covered with books. “Why has everything moved?”

Anne looked at them trying to find an answer. She shrugged her shoulders as she smiled slyly, “Acoustics.” Ann’s eyes widened and she grabbed Marian’s hand pulling her out of the room just as she was about to ask what she meant. Anne quickly followed them out onto the landing, leaning over the bannister as Ann marched them down the stairs, “Bye darling! Have fun.” Ann glared up at her.

As she was about to step back into their room she heard Marian cry out loud from outside, “Oh my god, Anne!” She started to laugh, it always took her sister a moment, but she got there eventually.

She heard the car drive off as she stood surveying the room, her hands on her hips. Yes, she thought to herself, once the door was fixed their room would be a lot more soundproof than it had been. Plus, there was still that little project she was working on. A self-satisfied grin spread across her face as she thought of the possibilities a little privacy would bring them.

Chapter Text

Anne sighed satisfactorily as she surveyed the work she and John had done to the small cottage in less than twenty-four hours. The small building was a brisk ten minute walk from the Hall - or fifteen if John was with her. She remembered reading about it in the Shibden records, the chaumiere - as it had been referred to, had previously been used as a sort of summer house by previous generations of Listers. They’d probably built it to try and get some privacy, a sentiment she was more than familiar with.

More recently it had been used as a groundskeeper cottage when they had a much larger staff. John had done a lot of work lately to clear it out and had started to use it as a shed, storing items that needed to be protected from the elements but didn’t need to be so close to the Hall. She had almost felt guilty at having him haul most of the items he’d stored there back up to the stables but she thought he should have asked her first before commandeering the building.

It really was the perfect little retreat. There was a reasonably sized living area with a small table and chair set by the window. John had also moved the old sofa from the Hall down there when Marian had ordered new ones for the parlour after Christmas. She much preferred the old ones so was glad that at least one had been rescued. She suspected that he had intended to use the cottage as a refuge too but refrained from rebuking him too harshly since it had worked to her advantage. She could easily add a few bookshelves and bring down a few volumes of her favourite texts from her library.

What was more exciting about the cottage was the small bedroom just off of the main room. There was an old double bed frame that had been pushed up against the wall that with a few minor repairs they had been able to salvage. With Eugenie’s help they had ordered a new mattress that would be arriving later that day. Another reason why she had to remember to review her pay once they got back.

All of the walls could do with a coat of paint and she would have to get a plumber out to make sure all the pipes and heating still worked, but those were jobs John could continue with. She supposed she should also look at a way to amplify the mobile phone reception but for now that was the least of her priorities. There were just a few old boxes that she needed to go through to ensure they didn’t contain anything important like the deeds to Shibden.

Despite the hard work she felt rejuvenated, Ann would love her surprise. Not just for this trip but hopefully future ones, and dare she consider it - if Ann chose to live with her at Shibden. She shook her head, quickly dismissing that idea. It was far too soon to think of something like that. They’d only been back in each other’s life for a month, even that had not been straightforward. She had made the mistake before of thinking a relationship was further than it actually was, she wouldn’t do that again.

When she’d cleaned every possible surface she collapsed heavily on the sofa. Thankfully they’d given all the cushions a thorough beating so they were no longer caked in dust. She pulled one of the cardboard boxes towards her, she thought she might as well get started since Marian and Ann wouldn’t be back for a while.

The box contained a series of frames, this didn’t surprise her. There had been a constant rotation of photos adorning Sibden’s walls that she never remembered whose portrait was watching them. Perhaps it was time to refresh the current selection. She pulled a couple out, her brow furrowed as she realised they didn’t contain photos. She examined them more closely, they were certificates for equestrian competitions. She quickly flicked through the other frames in the box, all certificates. She realised it must be a box containing all of the gear they’d packed up when they closed the stables.

She sat forward as she pushed the box aside and pulled another one closer to her. This one contained a variety of ribbons that Sam must have won to go with the certificates. She remembered the large wall display that he used to house them in. He was rightfully proud of all of his achievements. She dug further in the box, there was another frame at the bottom. It was smaller than the others, but curiously wrapped in a light cloth. Anne placed it on her lap and slowly unwrapped it.

The thin material fell away and a picture of her and Sam that she hadn’t looked at in over fifteen years stared back at her. She was twenty-two in the photo, her first summer home after she’d finished her four year undergraduate degree. Hotspur stood proudly beside them as she sat precariously atop the stable doors, leaning her arms on Sam’s head as he stood in front of her. He always told her she’d fall and crack her skull and damage that brilliant brain they’d spent so much money on.

The photo had hung on the far wall of the stables, next to the trophy case because he said she was another of his achievements. Turning his awkward gangly little sister into one of the best horsewomen in Halifax, despite her stubbornness. He’d warned her often that the horse took on the temperament of its rider, which is why they never obeyed her commands.

She barely recognised herself. It was before she had switched to her monochromatic attire. They were both in matching crisp white t-shirts, tan jodhpurs, and black riding boots. The brightness of their smiles eclipsed only by the hopeful glint in their eyes. He’d just been made a Lieutenant in the Yorks Regiment and was on the military career path, just like their father had been. She had graduated with honours and was going to spend the rest of the summer with Mariana, who’d promised her that she was finally going to tell her family about them. They had their whole lives ahead of them.

She leaned back, sinking into the sofa as she contemplated how different their lives had turned out. She gulped back the lump that had formed in her throat as the unbidden tears fell. Her heart ached as she allowed herself to remember how much she missed him, how much she missed the life that they thought they would lead.

Sam was never far from her thoughts, especially at Shibden, but the memory of his conversation with Ann, her mention of him at dinner, and now this box of belongings forced him to the forefront. Months ago she’d asked herself what he would think of her life, knowing the answer had been the impetus to finally end things with Mariana for good. She wished he was here now to see how much she’d changed, to finally see her happy. She sat up and wiped the tears from her eyes as she placed the photo carefully down on the sofa next to her. She smiled down at the picture of the two of them before standing and leaving briskly.

===

Marian found Ann happily enveloped in a large wicker egg chair, a childlike glee on her face. She looked so content that she would have gladly allowed her to sit in it all day except she knew Anne would scream blue murder if she dared come home without her. She took the opportunity to have a seat in the rather less encompassing, but still comfortable wooden garden chair next to her.

“Did you find everything you need?” Ann nodded and held up the two glass jars, each containing a single white candle. The jars were both etched with delicate summer flowers around the sides. Marian thought that she’d seen something similar before but couldn’t quite place them. “Could you drop me off at St. Matthew’s? I can walk back to Shibden from there.”

“Of course.” Marian recalled that Ann’s family were buried there, including her brother John. She was too young to remember him, but she knew that he and Sam had been around the same age when they passed. She thought for a moment and quickly did the maths. It also meant that both she and Anne had been in their early-twenties when they lost their brothers. A truly tragic common history.

She was a little confused, as far as she knew the Walkers had a family vault at the church. One of the more morbid subjects Anne had lectured her on when they were at the Minster and she had decided to educate her on the Lister family vault. There wasn’t really anywhere for her to place candles, unless she planned to place them outside, but wouldn’t she just need one then? “I don’t mean to pry, but why do you need two candles?”

Ann turned her head and stared at the floor for a beat longer than seemed necessary, she bit her bottom lip nervously as she answered quietly, “Sam.” It all fell into place, that’s where Marian had seen the beautifully decorated glass jars before, at Sam’s grave. She’d always thought that it was something the church must have done. “I light one for my brother, John. And I know you don’t always get to visit Sam.” Marian hung her head, she didn’t visit Sam’s grave nearly as often as she knew she should but that cold piece of stone always felt so far removed from the brother she remembered.

“You’re busy running the estate, and Sam was always so kind to me.” She paused for a moment as she remembered him, “We were friends. So I light one for him too.” Marian choked back the tears she felt forming. Whatever Anne had done to deserve having someone as pure and good as Ann in her life, she was thankful for it. She looked across at Ann, her brow creased with concern at having overstepped. “That’s very kind of you, we appreciate it. Even if we didn’t know it was you.”

Ann seemed to relax after Marian had told her that, a small smile forming. “I asked James to make sure that both graves were kept tidy, whilst I was in London. You don’t need to worry.” That finished her. Marian fanned her eyes as she tried, unsuccessfully now, to hold the tears back. Ann reached into her purse and pulled out a packet of tissues. Normally she was the one who needed them. Marian took one readily and wiped her eyes before blowing her nose loudly, that made both of them laugh. She noticed the concerned look on Ann’s face as she sniffed back the last of her tears, “I’m fine, really.”

“Hmm, you’re starting to sound like Anne.” Marian fired back a sharp look that made Ann giggle again. They really did hate being compared to each other, despite their similarities. As Marian continued to stare silently at her she thought for a moment that she’d make her take it back. She glanced down at the ground, not sure how to frame what she wanted to say. Ann waited patiently for her to speak. “Have you noticed how she doesn’t call Sam Washington, Sam? It’s always Samuel, Washington, Mayor. Never just Sam.”

“Because of her Sam?”

Marian smiled at her choice of words, “Yes, her Sam. Exactly that.” Ann nodded, it was something she had spotted but had thought it was just a formality that Anne used to establish their professional relationship. “He was the most important person in the world to her.” That was something Ann did know.

Her family had hosted many events that the Listers had been invited to. No matter what the occasion, they always managed to become the centre of attention - handsome Lieutenant Sam Lister and his equally handsome and brilliant sister, Anne. They played off each other perfectly, always in total synchronicity. When she’d spoken to Sam about her he always swelled with pride, even when he was telling her about what trouble she’d recently gotten into. She could tell he adored her, and that she did in return.

“She loves me, she does, the only way she can. But I have no doubt that Sam will always be her favourite.”

Ann noticed the hint of sadness in her voice, “Marian -”

“It’s okay Ann. He’d probably be my favourite too.” Ann remembered how after Sam’s passing the entire family had closed themselves off. It wasn’t much longer after that Anne decided to move to London permanently, only returning to check on the estate a few times a year. They still attended the main events in the social calendar, and that’s when Ann would see her.

Those first few years there was a palpable sadness that surrounded them, well wishers always reminding them of what a great man Sam was and how tragic it was to have lost him so soon. She didn’t know it then, but it would be much the same when John died. Only with the Listers, that talk eventually gave way to the dazzling career Anne had forged herself. Whilst for the Walkers, the focus fell on Ann, and how she’d still not found herself a husband.

“There aren’t many people that remember him now.” Ann placed her hand on Marian’s and gently squeezed it. She knew that the Listers rarely spoke about him. She had been nearby a few times when Sam was brought up at a party and Anne always skillfully changed the subject. “It hurts too much for father, and Aunt Anne won’t bring him up because she hates to see Anne sad. Only what hurts her the most is that she’s afraid she’ll forget him. That everyone will.”

“That’s why she named the business after Hotspur?” Marian marvelled at how perceptive Ann was. She had always known that she was a lot smarter than the rest of her family believed and foolishly not given her the chance to show. Anne had asked her that morning before breakfast if she’d spoken to Ann about Sam, explaining that she’d mentioned him at dinner. She hadn’t known that they had been friends, but she was not surprised by it.

“Yes. And that you know that without her having to explain, it means a lot to her. You have memories with him that she knew nothing about-”

“But she didn’t say anything. I thought she might be upset that I brought him up.”

“That’s my sister.” Even in the short space of time they had been seeing each other Ann had learnt that there were still parts of her life that she found it difficult to talk about. She tried to believe what Marian was telling her but she was still worried that she’d brought back memories Anne would prefer to keep private. She felt Marian place her hand over hers, “Trust me, she isn’t upset. It means the world to her, it’s like having him back again. You’ve given him back to her.”

===

Marian finished parking the car just as her phone started to ring. She took a deep breath and braced herself for whatever was to come next as she answered the call, “Yes Tib, how can I help you?”

“Oh you Listers, always so accommodating!” TIb said cheerily, a little too cheerily for Marian not to be immediately suspicious.

“What have you done?” she asked flatly.

There was an audible gasp on the other end of the phone as Tib feigned outrage. “I haven’t done anything!” Marian tapped her finger on the top of the steering wheel as she waited for an answer to her question. After a few moments there was a deep breath as Tib let loose a deluge of words, “I’ve solved all your problems! Well, I’ve solved the Annes’ problems.” Marian sighed, this should be good.

“I’ve got tickets for you all to attend the Norcliffe Charity Gala Concert tonight in York. You’ll need to pack bags for yourself and Aunt Anne and the Captain. Something dressy.” Marian opened her mouth to protest but she hadn’t finished. “Don’t worry I’ve already called ahead and told them. You know your aunt can never say no to me. Much like the younger Anne Lister once upon a time.” Marian giggled, Tib really did take liberties when Anne wasn’t around to listen.

“I’ve taken care of all the accommodation, I’ve even arranged for a driver to come and collect you. He’ll be at your disposal the whole time and then he’ll drive you back tomorrow, at a suitably late hour. The Annes should have peeled themselves apart after a night of total debauchery in an empty house and made themselves decent for polite company again.” There were several moments of silence as Marian waited for Tib to continue. “Marian, are you still alive? Say something.”

“What am I supposed to say to all of that?” She was truly overwhelmed by the lengths she would go for Anne.

“Say Tib you are a genius and I adore you! I don’t know how my sister could have possibly left you, she’s a fo-”

“Alright, alright I get the idea.” There was a pause as Tib waited for the praises to be lauded at her, “Tib, you’re a genius.” Marian shook her head, she could practically hear Tib smiling triumphantly, waiting for the adoration. She folded her arm across her chest, “And that’s all you’re getting from this Lister!”

If she hadn’t been so amused she would have been outraged, “Ha! I always knew you were the smart one!” Marian smiled smugly, allowing herself to believe for a moment that Anne’s best friend thought she was smarter than her.

===

The churchyard was always so peaceful in the summer Ann thought as she sat on the bench by her brother’s gravestone. She supposed people had other places they wanted to be on a beautiful day like today, clear blue sky, the warmth of the summer sun. She loved these moments though, they were one of the few things she missed about Halifax since she had been in London. This was her quiet space, where she knew the tribe would never intrude.

In the months that followed her brother’s death she would come here to get away from all the well-meaning relatives that claimed they had her best interests at heart. She wondered if they did. There were always so many of them though, making polite enquiries about her life. It was worse when Elizabeth had to go back up to Scotland with her family.

For a time she considered going up there with her, but what would she do there? Live in her sister’s home, in a town she barely knew, without any other friends or family. No, she was better off in Halifax. At least there she had Crow Nest, and Catherine, and always the promise that Anne Lister would one day show up at her door to sweep her off her feet and take her away from all of it.

She smiled as she thought of all the hours she’d spent on this very bench dreaming of Anne coming to rescue her. In a funny way that’s exactly what she had done, she laughed as she remembered just how many times Anne had swept her up as though she weighed no more than a feather. She had rescued her time and time again, from actual danger, from her own fears, from the tribe.

Instead of taking her away from Halifax she’d brought her back, and for the first time Ann didn’t feel trapped there. She inhaled deeply knowing that after she left the quiet of the churchyard she wasn’t going back to an empty home, or worse - one of her relatives waiting for her. She was going back to Anne, at Shibden. As the thought of Anne wrapping her arms around her as they sat comfortably on the large sofa in the parlour filled her mind she couldn’t wait to be back there.

She swung herself up from the bench and walked over to the gravestone, gently tracing her fingers over his name the same way she used to brush away the wisps of hair from his forehead. A sad smile forming on her lips, “I wish you could know how happy she makes me.” She touched two fingers to her lips before pressing them to his name. As she stood she glanced down at the glass jar, the candle still burning inside it. She closed her eyes and bowed her head, saying a silent prayer before she turned up the path and further into the churchyard.

The birdsong that surrounded her filled her ears as she walked towards the back of the cemetery. She was so distracted by one particular melody that she almost didn’t notice the black clad figure sat on the patch of grass by the gravestone. For a moment she wondered whether she should turn around before Anne noticed she was there, she didn’t want to encroach on such a private moment. But then she heard the most perfect sound, the one she loved more than any other, Anne’s laugh.

She made her way quietly towards her, not wanting to startle her she made sure her footsteps were loud enough that Anne would hear them. Somehow she knew that Anne would know it was her. As she went to place her hand on her shoulder Anne’s hand came up automatically to hold hers. She tilted her head down and smiled as her eyes met Anne's deep brown ones. Silently Ann knelt down next to her, tucking her legs beneath her.

“I was telling Sam about the white noise machine,” she smiled mischievously as she wiggled her eyebrows at Ann.

“Oh I’m sure he would have loved that.” Anne’s heart swelled at the way Ann spoke about Sam, like he was still very much a real person, not just a faded memory.

“He would, completely. Only he’d make sure Marian’s one was broken so that when she tried to use it she couldn’t and she’d have to suffer father’s snoring all night.” Her bright laughter filled the air again as Ann shook her head. She dreaded to imagine the horrors poor Marian had suffered at the hands of her older siblings, although she had a sneaking suspicion that it would have been Anne who had been the chief prankster.

As Anne continued to laugh Ann reached into her bag, pulling out the matching jar. She took the small box of matches and lit the candle before placing it in front of Sam’s gravestone. Anne had fallen silent as she watched her perform the simple task with total care and reverence. When she was finished Ann turned to her with a small expectant smile as she could see Anne’s brilliant mind working behind her dark eyes.

Anne’s mouth hung slightly open as the pieces of the puzzle clicked together to form the most perfect picture, “That jar-” Ann glanced down, she hadn’t even considered that it might upset her. Only when she looked back she didn’t look angry or hurt, it felt like she was searching for something. “Yes,” Ann answered in a voice barely above a whisper.

“I’ve seen them before.” Ann nodded. “At Christmas, there was one. With little fir trees etched on the side.” She looked down at the jar and saw the colourful summer flowers. Anne turned her head up as her hand slowly rose to caress Ann’s cheek. Ann closed her eyes and leaned into the touch as Anne took in every part of her perfect face. Ann pressed a soft kiss to the inside of her palm before opening her eyes. “It was you.” It wasn’t a question but Ann nodded anyway as Anne leaned forward pressing their lips together tenderly.

They allowed themselves to lose track of time as they continued to kiss languorously, their hands finding each other in their laps. They were in no rush to be anywhere but there in that moment, together, feeling each other close. Their kisses soft and searching as their fingers entwined, grounding themselves to each other.

Anne slowly pulled back, their heads resting together for a moment before she sat back. Ann’s cheeks were slightly flushed, the light breeze slightly ruffling her golden locks, her deep blue eyes staring back warmly at her. Anne couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt this at peace. She ran the tip of her tongue against her bottom lip as she wondered whether to tell her the thoughts that played on her mind.

Ann tilted her head slightly, knowing that there was something she wanted to say. Anne quickly glanced at the gravestone, and nodded. “Sam said that I’d break your heart.” Ann evaded her gaze as the blush filled her face, of course he said that. He was always warning her not to fall for his sister, and then tagging on a ‘not yet’ to the end. Anne looked at her curiously at the unexpected smile crept across Ann’s face.

She raised her head, smiling confidently, “You will.” Anne’s brow furrowed as Ann slowly shook her head slightly, “Do it anyway.” A small laugh escaped Anne’s lips as Ann lifted her hand and tucked the lock of chestnut hair that had fallen across her forehead behind her ear. Her hand brushed Anne’s cheek on the way back down. She captured it and held it close against her face as she looked back at her.

She’d confessed to her that her brother, the one who knew who better than anyone in the world, had said she would break her heart. Instead of running from her she’d stayed. Her eyes filled with a certainty she’d never seen before. How was this extraordinary woman in her life? “Anne?” The question so quietly spoken she almost hadn’t heard it even though they were less than a foot apart. Her head nodded slightly in response. “Let’s go home.”

Chapter Text

It had taken Anne exactly 33 minutes to walk from Shibden to the church earlier that day. She didn’t know precisely how long they had been walking back, mostly because she hadn’t thought to look at her watch, but she knew that it was much longer than that - and they were still only half way. With their entwined hands swinging between them as they walked, both were content for their journey to take however long it needed to.

Anne couldn’t believe that they had already been home for two full days and this was the first real walk the two of them had taken together. She supposed it was easier now that Ann’s family knew she was there, with Anne. They were free to go as they pleased without worrying about being spotted.

She had soon realised that it was almost impossible for Ann to walk in a straight line, or even follow a path. They had been following a route that would lead them down to Red Beck, not the most direct route but they were in no rush. Only, now she wasn’t quite sure what route they were taking since Ann had veered off uphill when she’d spotted a horse and its young foal. She’d made no attempt to catch up to it but had said she wanted to try and get as close as she could, Anne had no choice but to follow.

As they approached another stile Anne wondered whether she should try to steer them back onto a more logical path and away from the fields full of sheep. Ann seemed to be enjoying herself, despite her highly impractical attire. As she stood on top of the stile Anne glanced down at her sandals and marvelled that they had gotten this far. Ann caught the disapproving shake of her head, “They’re Birks.”

Anne shielded her eyes from the sun with her hand as she looked up at her quizzically. She would never admit it but sometimes when she overheard Ann talking with Marian, or on the phone with Catherine, she often said words that she didn’t understand. This appeared to be another of them. Ann pointed back down at her feet, “Birks.” There it was again, like she was supposed to know what this delightful creature was talking about. Ann let out a frustrated sigh, “Birkenstocks.” Anne nodded, she knew that word. “They’re one of the best shoes in the world,” Ann continued. “Probably a lot better for your feet than those things,” she pointed dismissively at Anne’s footwear.

Anne looked down at her well-worn leather boots, a little muddy but perfect for walking through the fells. “Blunnies,” she stated. Two could play this game.

Ann scrunched up her nose, “Your shoes are called bunnies? That’s not very-” Anne wanted to laugh but she wanted more to see how this sentence ended. She crossed her arms across her chest as she looked at her pointedly, “Not very what?” Ann’s considerable height advantage emboldened her. She liked this view, she’d have to remember this vantage point for another time. She raised her chin as she looked down at her maddening girlfriend, “Not very Anne Lister.”

There was a high-pitched scream as Anne launched forward and lifted her off the stile and slung her over her shoulder like a caveman. Ann pounded her fists against her back as she started to walk back downhill. “Anne! Put me down!” Her protests would have been more believable if she wasn’t giggling between them.

“Is this Anne Lister enough for you?”

“Anne!” her scream rang out across the hillside startling a few of the nearby sheep.

“Darling, be quiet. You’ll scare the sheep,” she chastised playfully as Ann continued to bounce on her shoulder as she walked. “You’ll get us arrested for trespassing.”

“Ha! I’d like to see them try.” Anne laughed heartily, she enjoyed this feisty side of her. “Since technically it’s my land.” Anne stopped suddenly dropping her back to her feet. Ann smoothed down her dress as she tried to catch her breath.

“What do you mean this is your land?”

Ann gave a half shrug, “It’s mine.” She ignored the incredulous look on Anne’s face as she turned and started to make her own way down the hill. After a few metres she heard Anne bounding behind her to catch up. They walked together in silence until they got to a clearing and Ann chose to sit down. She inclined her head and waited for Anne to sit besides her.

When she finally acquiesced Ann scooted up so that they sat more closely as she took her hand in hers. She breathed in deeply as she looked out onto the open hillside. It really was beautiful, this time in the late afternoon when everything seemed to have settled down from the activity of the day. She could feel the questions Anne wanted to ask her boring into the back of her head. She swept her hand across the vast vista, “It’s all Lightcliffe.” She gestured to their left, “Except of course that bit.”

“No, that part’s Shibden.” Anne answered obstinately. She knew she was being silly, she’d always known that the Walker family were wealthy. Very wealthy. Since Ann and her sister were the only heirs that of course meant she was wealthy. Very wealthy. She was no stranger to being in a relationship with someone who was affluent, it had just never struck a nerve quite so close to home. Right next door to be precise, their differences laid out in front of them so clearly.

Ann ignored her tone. “Right, so Shibden is...200 acres?” Anne wanted to correct her, it was 226 acres but she supposed she was close enough so gave a quick nod. “Lightcliffe, is 1000 acres. Give or take.” She noticed Anne shifting uncomfortably but held on tightly to her hand. “Only most of it is farmland, like this field.” She pointed to another, “And that one.” Then another, “And that one.”

She peaked a look at Anne out of the corner of her eye, her shoulders were hunched forward and she still looked a little grumpy. “I used to come up here a lot, look out at all of...this. The family business.” There was a hardness in her voice that made Anne sit up, “Rawson money and Walker land. Nothing ever enough. I always hated what it represented.” Anne squeezed her hand tighter as she saw her upper lip curl in disdain.

“But I loved it up here.” She felt her relax as she exhaled. She turned to Anne and leaned in, pressing a soft kiss against her lips before pulling back, “Because of that.” Ann tilted her head to the side, Anne’s gaze following where she was pointing. Shibden. “I could draw this view from memory. I’ve spent so much time up here wondering what life was like in the Hall, with those fascinating Listers.” Anne let out a little chortle. “They always seemed more exciting, more interesting than anyone I knew.” A small smile started to form on Anne’s lips as she spoke.

“And what do you think now? Now that the Wizard’s curtain has been pulled back? Are we just as exciting and interesting?” Anne challenged. “Father’s snoring, aunt’s rheumatism, Marian’s incessant whining.”

“More than I ever imagined.”

Anne pulled their hands up and placed a kiss on the back of her hand, “You’re too kind. My family is-”

“Wonderful.”

There were things that Ann said to her that she would never believe from anyone else, telling her that her family was wonderful was one of those. Despite knowing differently, when she spoke those words Anne knew that she said it because she believed it. There was no artifice with Ann, no hidden agenda. Still, after too many years of having to search for the meaning in every word, it was still difficult to accept sometimes.

“Hmm, my shabby little family at shabby little Shibden,” Anne mused ruefully. She felt a sharp shove, if it had been any more forceful she would have fallen over. As it was it still caused her to lean slightly before righting herself. “Those are fighting words Lister!” Ann narrowed her eyes and put her hands up like a true prize fighter. Anne chuckled, how did someone this adorable exist? She raised her hands in surrender and Ann lowered her fists, raising her chin triumphantly.

“Compared to Crow Nest it’s-”

“Perfect.” Ann fixed her steely glare on her again, her hands already balled up into fists. This time Anne leaned in placing a swift kiss on Ann’s pursed lips.

“Yes darling.” Anne went back to admiring the view as Ann wrapped herself around her upper arm. She knew when she was beat.

===

As they meandered along the path up to the Hall, Anne wondered whether now would be a good time to tell her about the surprise she had been working on. Would it be too presumptuous to think that she would want to spend the rest of the afternoon holed up in an old cottage in the woods? She tried to dismiss her feelings of inadequacy, hadn’t they just been sitting on a hill overlooking Shibden with Ann telling her how perfect it was? She would absolutely appreciate the effort Anne had put into it. Maybe if she didn’t show her the bedroom, but just say it was a little retreat if she needed a respite from any of those wonderful Listers. That could work.

She still needed to check with John that the mattress had arrived. Perhaps they’d bump into him outside, then again maybe it was better if they didn’t. The element of surprise would disappear as soon as he opened his mouth. He was as subtle as he was graceful. Speaking of, the door repair should have been completed by now too. They’d promised they’d be done by lunch and it was well past that. The new thick door she’d chosen paired with the furniture rearranging, and the white noise machine should be more than sufficient. Plus the chaumiere would always be Plan B. Anne’s mind raced with the possibilities.

Ann noticed the sly smile spreading across Anne’s face and she wondered what that brilliant mind of hers was thinking about. Crow Nest had been in her thoughts as they made their way back. Now that the family knew they were in Halifax, there was no reason why she couldn’t go to check on the house, see how James and her horses were. Maybe they could find time to take the horses out, the thought of galloping on horseback through Lightcliffe and into Shibden with Anne by her side thrilled her. Though she wasn’t sure whether Anne had even ridden a horse since Sam’s passing, she made a mental note to ask Marian when they got back to the Hall.

Whilst they were at Crow Nest they could also take a walk around the gardens. Anne had mentioned a few times that she was looking for inspiration for Shibden, and the flowers would be in full bloom right about now. Then, if they happened to stay there for dinner because she was really missing Sarah’s Yorkshire puddings they might as well stay all night. As they neared the Hall, Ann’s teeth pinched her bottom lip as she considered how packed with potential a trip to Crow Nest could be.

Anne held the heavy oak door open for Ann, her eyes following as she passed. She licked her lips as she appreciated the way Ann’s dress extenuated her curves. Anne had always been quite slender, choosing in her teenage years that muscle would make up for what she lacked in shape. The women she had been with had always admired the sharp lines of her suits as they hung to the muscular frame her exercise regime helped her maintain. That wasn’t the only reason they had been grateful for the strength and stamina.

They were so enraptured with each other that neither noticed how uncharacteristically quiet the Hall was. Anne cocked her head as her eyes travelled the length of Ann’s bare sun-kissed legs. Where she considered herself hard and taught, she was soft and shapely. Ann caught the lascivious look on Anne’s face as her gaze continued up her body. When she finally reached Ann’s face she was met by her steely gaze, one eyebrow arched, “If you’re quite finished Miss Lister.”

Anne crossed the distance between them in less than two strides, pushing Ann back against the hallway door. Almost immediately Ann’s breathing became shallow as she felt Anne pressing against her as she smiled rakishly, “Oh I’ll never be finished with you Miss Walker.” She glanced to the side, trying to see if anyone was near enough to interrupt them. They were in the main thoroughfare of the house where everything intersected, she was sure they’d only have a few moments.

Ann felt the pace of her heart slow as the rest of the world around them did too. All she knew was the tentative touch of Anne’s bottom lip against her top one, their mouths hanging open as they felt each other’s warm breath. The tip of her nose barely caressing her cheek. Then slowly she captured her lips between hers in an achingly languorous kiss. Anne placed her hands on Ann’s hips as she slowly increased the pressure of the kiss. Ann’s chest heaved as a quiet moan escaped her lips as she slowly drew back, already sad at the loss.

The sound of her laboured breaths filled the hallway as Anne continued to pin her hips against the wall. There was a mischievous glint in her eye as she surveyed how dark with want the normally pale blue eyes that looked back at her were. “Tea?”

Ann couldn’t believe her ears, did Anne just press her against a wall, kiss her in the most torturously exquisite way possible, and then ask her if she wanted a cup of tea? She may be stunning but she was equally frustrating.

She pulled Ann through the hallway and into the kitchen, trying to stifle her laughter at the little puffs of annoyance she could hear coming from behind her. These last few days had definitely tested their patience. It had almost become a game now to see how worked up she could make her before pulling away. She was impressed by the restraint each of them had shown.

The kitchen was surprisingly empty, normally someone would be pottering about in there. One of her family in search of a snack with Cordingley telling them off for being under her feet and shooing them away. She must be putting a load of laundry on or something. Ann took a seat on the bench on one side of the kitchen table as Anne went over to the counter and put the kettle on. She spied the light on in the oven and took a peak whilst she waited for the water to boil. She turned back at Ann as she licked her lips, “We’re having lasagne for dinner!”

Ann’s heart swelled at the look of pure excitement on her face. As she watched Anne going about making them tea she still couldn’t stop thinking how utterly absurd this all was. Anne had always been the looming figure in her mind, the Mistress of Shibden striding across her estate in that impressive great coat of hers billowing behind her in some Heathcliffian fantasy. It was the stuff of her dreams, several of them.

This was better. Being with Anne in her home as she tried to remember where the tea bags were, opening every cupboard as she tried to find the secret stash of the good biscuits she knew someone had hidden. Even seeing her large black corporate mug with the Hotspur logo across it next to the pale blue one with delicate white daisies that had been designated as hers. Anne added a dash of milk to both their cups, no sugar. She had her own mug, at Shibden. Anne didn’t need to ask her how she took her tea. It was silly she knew, but it meant everything to her. She felt a part of Anne’s life in a way she had not dared to imagine.

“You’re very quiet over there,” Anne mused as she fished the tea bags out of their mugs and deposited them into the countertop compost bin. Another new innovation of Marian’s, but one that she’d actually found quite sensible. Unlike those damn goats. She was probably out there tending to them right now, whatever kept her occupied she supposed. As she placed their mugs in front of Ann she remembered that she still needed to talk to Marian about the changes she wanted to make. She would do it at dinner, that way she wouldn’t have to repeat herself for her aunt and father.

She went back for the packet of Nice biscuits she’d found squirreled away inside a box of porridge. That was definitely Cordingley’s work, she knew that none of the family would go anywhere near that in the height of summer. Ann giggled as Anne straddled the bench as she took her seat next to her. Of course this was how she sat, “So what are you thinking?” she asked as she offered the packet of biscuits to Ann before taking one.

She didn’t want to tell her that she’d been thinking of her foolish youthful dreams involving Anne carrying her across Shibden. Not that Anne would judge her at all, in fact she’d probably enjoy the idea of being the subject of her dreams. That all felt like a different lifetime. As much as it had sustained her, some days it was the only thing that did, her reality - their reality, was more. She looked down at her lap as she tried to finish chewing her biscuit, right now their reality involved Anne drawing teasing circles on her thigh, moving dangerously upwards.

Ann did her best to try and not be distracted as she kept her eyes forward as Anne scootched further along the bench, closing the distance between them. “Darling,” she leaned forward, placing an innocent kiss on her shoulder, her hand still moving less than innocently beneath the table. She moved her kisses upwards along the slope of her neck, “You didn’t answer my question.” Ann let out a breathy gasp, how she was even supposed to know what day it is with Anne’s lips tenderly sucking at the sensitive spot behind her ear?

She managed to squeeze out a question, “Where is everyone?” Anne’s brow furrowed but she didn’t stop her ministrations. Her lips still moving along Ann’s pulse point as her hand inched ever upwards, “Who else do you need darling?” She heard a faint groan, that was answer enough.

“I...I...um” Ann didn’t know why she was trying to form sentences right now.

“What was that?” The confidence oozing from every word. She really hoped that none of the family or staff chose now to make an appearance. She was very much enjoying Ann’s shallow breaths as she struggled to get her words out.

“I..” Ann gulped as she did her best to focus, “I think…” Okay better, two words now. “I think I’m…” Another moan escaped her lips as Anne’s hand moved beneath the hem of her dress. Her eyes shot open as she felt her hand move between her thighs giving a gentle squeeze that clearly announced her intentions. She pushed herself up from the table causing the mugs of tea to spill onto the table as Anne almost fell back at the strength of her movement.

“Shit! Sorry!” Ann let out as she scrambled to pick up the toppled mugs. Anne snickered as she leant back on her elbows along the bench. Ann turned her head sharply at the sound of her laughter. “I’m going to take a nap.” Anne’s eyes lit up as she sat up reaching for Ann, only to be pushed back down. “Alone,” she added firmly. Anne looked up at her, the pout she was trying to fight causing her bottom lip to tremble slightly.

“Ugh!” Ann groaned as she knelt between Anne’s open legs. She had intended to make her suffer, the way she’d been doing since they stepped into the Hall. She couldn’t bear seeing her so dejected, even if they were just teasing each other, she didn’t want Anne for even a moment to think she didn’t want her. She scrunched up the front of Anne’s shirt in her fist as she pulled her closer to her, “Tidy up this mess-”

“But you’re-” She started to protest but stopped as Ann twisted the material she held onto tightly. Anne took a big gulp, she was certain she’d never been more aroused, at least not in this kitchen. “Tidy up this mess. All of it. And properly. I’ll be upstairs.” As she hovered over Anne she could feel the pounding of her heart getting stronger, she definitely liked this vantage point. She bit the bottom of her lip as she fixed her stare on Anne. She leaned in further her voice barely above a whisper, “And I’m incredibly wet for you.” She cocked her eyebrows up before letting go of Anne’s shirt, causing her to fall backwards onto the bench.

She lay there, her mouth hanging open as Ann straightened. She reached out for her again but was halted by Ann’s outstretched arm, “Don’t keep me waiting.” Anne turned her head and watched helplessly as she sauntered out of the kitchen.

She took a deep breath when she finally remembered to breathe again, jumping up off the bench and clearing the table hurriedly. How had they managed to make such a mess? She practically threw the mugs into the sink, should she wash them she thought? What if Ann asked her if she had? She had said properly, if she didn’t do a thorough job she might turn her away and she was sure she wouldn’t survive that. She hastily rinsed the mugs out and roughly ran the sponge across them, it’s not like they’d held the tea for very long.

Next she turned and grabbed the packet of open biscuits, thankfully they hadn’t been covered in tea. She put them back in their hiding place, Cordingley wouldn’t miss a few. Then she grabbed a dishcloth and speedily wiped up the spilt tea. They’d rescued the mugs before there was enough to spill onto the floor, she really didn’t want to think about getting a mop out at this very moment. Where did they even keep the mop? She shook her head. Focus. She looked around. Mugs clean. Biscuits put away. Table wiped down. Done.

She was about to make a dash for the stairs when she heard Ann calling her name loudly from upstairs, she knew she couldn’t wait long for her. Her smile widened as she darted out of the kitchen towards the staircase. She’d never moved so fast.

As she bounded up the staircase she expected to find her bedroom door open with Ann waiting for her on the bed, preferably without any clothes on, although she would enjoy peeling every item of clothing from her. They had plenty of time for that. Instead she found her leaning against the wall on the landing outside the door. A smile playing at her lips, is this where she wanted them to continue what they started downstairs? She had no objections but it wasn’t very private. Now that they had this door, it was a shame not to use it. Ann tilted her head towards the closed door. Was it locked? Stuck? Who was she going to have to yell at now? As she got nearer she noticed a piece of paper stuck to it. Had they really pinned the invoice to the door? That was a bit unprofessional.

She stepped past Ann, pulling the piece of paper from the door. She squinted a little, recognising Marian’s scrawl, her penmanship had always been terrible. It had nothing to do with how poorly lit the landing was outside her room or that she probably needed glasses. She felt Ann’s arms wrap around her waist from behind her as she rested her chin on her shoulder.

Anne rested one hand on top of hers as she held the note up, ‘Ann(e)s, I’ve taken aunt and father to York for the evening. We’ve somehow managed to get tickets to the Norcliffe Charity Gala. I’ve given the staff the rest of the evening off. We’ll be home tomorrow afternoon. Hope you won’t miss us too much.’

As she lowered the note a broad grin spread across her face as she processed the information in Marian’s note. Her family were gone for the night at the Norcliffe Gala. Tib. The staff finished for the day. Marian. They were all alone in the Hall. Ann. She turned slowly, wrapping her arms around Ann as she looked up at her adoringly. “We’re alone darling.”

“We are.”

Anne’s brow furrowed for a moment, "I should check that they got to York alright." She pulled the phone out from her pocket but it was quickly snatched out of her hand, “Absolutely not.” Ann held it out above her head over the bannister. Anne laughed, that was hardly out of her reach.

“Darling it will take me two seconds to check, you know Marian-” She wasn’t sure what her intention had been, but she couldn’t believe that Anne was still talking. Perhaps the shock had made her do it, but Ann opened her hand causing the phone to spill from her grasp. Anne followed the trajectory of the phone as it plummeted downwards. She managed to see it just as it bounced down the stairs on the floor below, “Fuck.” Anne exclaimed.

She turned back to face Ann who wasn’t the slightest bit apologetic. She looked at Anne hungrily as she pulled her up forcefully, pushing her back against the bedroom door, “Exactly.”

Chapter Text

“We should have brought that white noise thingy,” Aunt Anne mused as they finished up their breakfast. “There was an awful din outside at around 2am, did you hear it dear?” Marian looked up from her plate and shook her head politely. “Terrible noise,” her aunt huffed again before going back to her food. She looked over at her father who was still buried in the newspaper, looking no different to how he normally did over the table at Shibden.

If her aunt thought whatever was happening last night was noisy, she was glad that they had spent the night in York. There was no telling what the Annes had been getting up to in the Hall all alone. Actually, Tib had offered a number of ideas, at which point both she and Catherine had to put an end to that particular conversation. She still had a few more days of having to be under the same roof as them and she’d rather not have a graphic description of what her sister and friend could have gotten up to.

She turned her attention back to her phone, normally she was the one who didn’t approve of phones at the table but her messages had been non-stop since they got to York yesterday afternoon. Some of them had been helpful, like Tib letting her know where they could pick up the tickets for the gala. Others had been less so, like Catherine suggesting they send a pizza delivery to the Hall just to check they were both alive since neither of them had been answering any messages. They decided against it since the whole point of taking her family to York was so that they could have some undisturbed time alone.

By the morning there had still been no answer to any of the messages any of them had sent. Once again the idea had been floated that they send someone into Shibden to make sure they had survived the night. Their options were limited though. Catherine’s suggestion of Delia was quickly shot down, apart from having no feasible reason for going to Shibden it would almost ensure that all of Halifax would be talking about it by lunchtime. Tib asked if one of the staff could pop in, but Marian didn’t want any of them scandalised by the possibility of walking in on the Mistress of Shibden and the Mistress of Lightcliffe caught in an uncompromising position. She’d never thought of Ann that way, but she supposed that’s what she was.

Marian looked at her watch, it was just after 9am. Tib had arranged for them to have a late check-out from the hotel under the guise that it would allow them to have a nice walk around York since they hadn’t been able to when they arrived. She had also arranged for them to have afternoon tea at Betty’s, that would add another few hours to their day. If they left York at 3pm they should be back around 4pm. More than enough time for the Annes to make themselves respectable again.

She shot off a quick text to the Annes, letting them know of their expected arrival time. The two greyed out ticks indicating the messages had been received but not yet read. “I’m sure the old girl’s still standing.” The Captain offered when he saw the look of concern on his youngest daughter’s face, “If there’s anything Anne can be trusted with, it’s Shibden.” Marian nodded as she took a sip of her tea. “Besides, Miss Walker’s there, they won’t get into any mischief.” Both the elder Listers looked at her slightly alarmed as she coughed heartily as she tried to stop herself spitting her tea across the table. As she tried to compose herself she hoped he was right.

===

Yesterday....

“Darling it will take me two seconds to check, you know Marian-” She wasn’t sure what her intention had been, but she couldn’t believe that Anne was still talking. Perhaps the shock had made her do it, but Ann opened her hand causing the phone to spill from her grasp. Anne followed the trajectory of the phone as it plummeted downwards. She managed to see it just as it bounced down the stairs on the floor below, “Fuck.” Anne exclaimed.

She turned back to face Ann who wasn’t the slightest bit apologetic. She looked at Anne hungrily as she pulled her up forcefully, pushing her back against the bedroom door, “Exactly.”

Ann crashed their lips together as her fists balled up the front of Anne’s shirt, holding her close to her. Anne’s hand searched behind her for the door handle. It swung open with a loud bang as it hit the wall, stilling them both. They shot apart as they turned to look at the door. Ann slowly took a step back as Anne inched away from it, her eyes still fixed to it in case she had to brace it from falling. It looked like it had remained secure, the hinges were holding.

She breathed a sigh of relief as she turned her attention back to Ann. Her throat went dry at the sight of Ann standing there, her chest heaving with the laboured breaths as she looked back at her, pupils completely blown. Anne’s hands found her hips at the same time their lips met. The kiss deepened immediately, this was not the innocent exploring they had tried to limit themselves to these last few days. It was sensual. Hungry. Wanting.

Anne turned them again and again as though in a dance until she felt Ann’s legs push against the end of the bed. Ann’s fingers thread through her hair roughly as she pulled her closer to her, she couldn’t get enough of her kisses, their tongues pushing firmly against each other. Anne’s hand moved expertly to the side of Ann’s dress. She felt Ann shiver as her fingers caressed her side as she drew the zipper down.

She moved her lips down to Ann’s neck as she pulled the straps of her dress down. She smiled against her skin as she heard the sound of the material falling to the floor. A breathy moan escaped Ann’s lips causing her own core to throb as she started to gently suck the space where her neck met her shoulder. She slowly moved upwards till her lips were level with Ann’s ear, her tongue tracing along the outer shell as her hands came up behind her to unclasp her bra, “Is this okay?” She whispered. She felt Ann nod against her as she unhooked her bra, Ann’s arms dropping to her side as she pulled it free.

Ann’s hands were desperately tugging at the bottom of Anne’s t-shirt as she tried to pull it up. Anne grinned as she stepped back and pulled it up over her head, depositing it on the floor next to the discarded dress. Ann giggled as she watched her reach down and pull each of her boots off before nonchalantly tossing them behind her along with her socks.

Anne looked up and was awestruck. She locked her eyes with Ann’s as she stepped forward. She’d never seen her this bare before, naked except for the dusky pink lace knickers. Anne’s hand reached out to brush the side of her face, Ann leaned into her touch as she watched her eyes move slowly down appreciating every curve of her body. When their eyes met again they were filled with want. Anne pulled Ann closer to her as their lips devoured each other, only breaking apart when Ann let out a moan as she felt Anne’s other hand cupping her breast as her thumb teasingly circled her nipple.

Anne heard the jingling as Ann worked to unbuckle her belt, roughly unbuttoning them and pulling the zip down. Anne pulled away when she felt Ann’s hand trying to reach into her boxers. She needed to slow this down. Ann’s eyes shot open at the sudden loss. Anne cupped her face, both of them breathing heavily as they tried to stop their desire from tearing each other apart. She pushed her trousers down and stepped out of them leaving her just in her black boxers and sports bra.

Now it was Ann’s turn to take all of Anne in as she stood almost totally naked before her. Her taut muscles told of the physical strength she knew that Anne possessed. Those long legs that carried her everywhere at such speed. Her sculpted abs that she’d felt through her clothes whenever she held her tightly. The defined biceps and forearms that had scooped her up and carried her away. As her gaze moved to her chest she saw Anne flinch slightly as her shoulders hunched inwards.

Ann reached out and took Anne’s hand and pulled her closer so that their bodies were only just touching. She looked up at her knowing that she would find the vulnerability Anne always tried to hide behind all that bravado. There she was, that same Anne that had almost runaway that day in Chinatown when she foolishly thought she was embarrassed to be seen with her. Ann placed a delicate kiss on her lips as she pressed their bodies flush against each other. Anne’s other hand rested on her hip as Ann looked up into those deep brown eyes, “See, we fit perfectly together. You were made for me.”

She tilted her head up to meet Anne’s lips in a long slow kiss. When Anne felt Ann gently pull at her sports bra she willingly held her arms up as Ann pulled it up as far as she could, smiling when she wasn’t tall enough to quite get it over the tips of her long arms. Their lips met again, Ann’s hips pushing forward when she felt Anne’s breasts against her own. Anne wrapped her arm around Ann’s waist as she lowered her down onto the bed below them.

Ann moved so she was lying further up the bed as Anne stalked towards her on her hands and knees with a playful smile. When her hands reached her hips she hooked her fingers into the top of Ann’s knickers and looked up at her, the nod giving her the permission she needed. Her gaze followed her hands as they pulled the soft material down, Anne taking in a deep heady breath of Ann’s obvious arousal. She licked her lips, wanting so much to taste her, she was roused only by the quickening breaths she heard coming from before her.

She slowly lowered herself on top of Ann, propping herself up partially on one arm as their lips found each other again in a ravenous kiss. Ann threaded her hands through Anne’s chestnut hair as they deepened their kiss, Anne’s right hand slowly drawing its way up Ann’s stomach before capturing her breast. Her chest rose into the touch, begging for more. Anne’s thumb once again drawing tantalising circles around her erect nipple.

Ann’s legs parted as Anne’s thigh pushed gently against them. Anne could feel her arousal coating her leg as they started to move against each other. She shuddered as Ann raised her leg to push against her core. A low groan escaping from the back of her throat made Ann exceptionally wet. She wanted to be the cause of that sound forever. Anne strained to stop her hips from grinding her pleasure against her. Ann was right, they fit perfectly together.

She knew it wouldn’t take much from the desperate way Ann was writhing below her. Ann pulled her down so that every part of their bodies could move against each other as she offered up her neck. Anne sucked fervently knowing that she would leave a mark. She wanted people to know that they belonged to each other. Lost in the task she almost missed the breathy plea being whispered in her ear, “Anne, I need you.” There was another moan as Anne sucked harder, “Inside me. Please.”

Anne’s face hovered above Ann’s, occasionally darting forward with a teasing kiss as her hand snaked agonisingly slowly down her torso. Ann’s hips rising off the bed, grinding against Anne’s thigh in anticipation. Seconds felt like minutes until she finally felt Anne’s hand cupping her core, before her fingers started to move between her slick folds, coating them in her arousal. There was a quiet whimper before Ann’s pleas were swallowed by Anne’s lips as she kissed her deeply as every part of Ann’s body pressed upwards against her begging for her release.

Ann’s eyes opened when Anne broke their kiss once again. Her eyes locked with the deep dark orbs staring back at her as she felt Anne finally enter her. Her neck arched as she groaned with delight as she felt Anne moving deep within her, another finger soon adding to the perfect stretch. Anne hovered above her, watching her body move upwards with every thrust, the air filling with their twinned moans as she felt Ann’s tight walls clench around her fingers.

Ann pulled her down onto her, needing her closer as her legs fell further apart as Anne moved her thigh behind her hand pushing her fingers deeper. She gasped sharply as she felt Anne’s thumb circling the tip of her swollen clit, “Yes! Fuck!” She could barely form the words as Anne pressed harder against her. How could she be everywhere at once? Her mouth sucking on her shoulder, her thumb rubbing ardently against her clit, her fingers deep inside her. She felt Anne’s hot breath on her neck, “Come for me darling.”

Anne’s pace quickened as she felt Ann’s burgeoning climax as her bucking hips met each thrust. Ann was faintly aware of the soft press of her lips on the small patch of skin behind her ear before she heard the low timbre of Anne’s voice whisper, “I need you.” She felt the breath escape her body as she came hard against Anne. Her inner walls seized around her fingers deep inside her, her arms wrapping around her shoulders pulling her tight, as she cried out at her release before she fell back against the bed shuddering through the rest of her climax as Anne slowed her strokes.

Ann closed her eyes as she tried to regulate her breathing, Anne’s body still on hers, her fingers still inside of her. Every part of her felt more alive than it had ever been, every sensation heightened. Anne’s featherlight kisses along her shoulder, winding a path back up to her neck. She let out a quiet moan as Anne’s fingers withdrew but continued to move between her legs.

She managed to raise her arm enough so that she could gently stroke Anne’s back, moist with perspiration from her efforts. She felt her nuzzling against her neck as the tips of her fingers started to tentatively stroke her clit. Surely she couldn’t mean for them to continue, she’d just had what she was sure was the best orgasm of her life. She wasn’t sure she had the energy.

Anne raised her head as her fingers started to move more purposefully. Ann wasn’t sure whether it was the way in which Anne was looking at her, or the skill of her dexterous fingers but she could feel her arousal peaking again. Anne started to kiss her, the push of her lips against hers matching the rhythm of her hand. They looked deep into each other’s eyes as Anne felt a small tug at the waistband of her boxers. Ann raised her eyebrows, Anne nodded as she silently granted her permission.

She closed her eyes as a shiver coursed through her body as she felt Ann’s tender touch between her legs. Anne’s need seemed to take over as she began to grind hard against Ann’s deft fingers as they stroked her swollen clit. Her uncontrolled moans made Ann wetter with the knowledge that she was causing them. Ann kissed the side of her face, slowly moving across until their lips met again. She waited for Anne to open her eyes, the need wrought deep within them, “Together” she whispered. Anne nodded again as they continued their ministrations, fervent kisses as they ground their hips into each other’s hands.

Heartbeats quickening with each touch. Anne focused as she pushed against her as she felt Ann starting to peak, she was so close. Their foreheads were leaning together as Ann’s climax overtook her followed moments later by Anne’s own. Her moan drowned only by the resounding groan that emanated from deep within Anne at her release. They quivered as their mutual release moved through them, their hands stilling before eventually withdrawing.

Anne quickly fell to the side, afraid of collapsing totally on Ann because she knew after that she would not be able to move. Their arms falling to the side as they both looked up to the canopy of the bed as they tried to recover. She felt the back of Ann’s hand land on her stomach as she drew lazy circles across her abs with the tips of her fingers. Those same fingers that had brought her to the very peaks of ecstasy.

She heaved herself onto her front. She was completely captivated by the angel opposite her with the tousled blonde locks that framed her face. Ann’s fingertips stroked her strong bicep, the one she had used to drive deep into her. Anne closed her eyes and placed a tender kiss against the back of her hand. When she opened them again Ann was looking up at her lovingly, the sweetest smile adorning her face. Anne wrapped her arm around her waist and pulled her in close.

===

The microwave pinged just as Anne had finished assembling their side salads. By assembling she meant she had washed the contents of the pre-prepared salad bag and thrown in a few cherry tomatoes into the bowl. It was cooking of sorts. She opened the microwave door, forgetting how hot the plate would be she hurriedly placed it down on the counter alongside the other one she’d already heated up. She blew on her fingers, smiling smugly as she remembered where her hands had spent the afternoon. She placed the small salad bowls onto the tray before adding the two heated up plates of lasagne alongside the two large bottles of water. Napkins. Cutlery. Perfect.

She made her way cautiously up the stairs. Ordinarily she didn’t like to have food in her room, but ordinarily she didn’t have a ravenous Ann Walker in her bed that she was very reluctant to see out of it. When Ann’s stomach had started to rumble after the fifth time she’d made her come they were both grateful that they remembered that Cordingley had made dinner.

As she stepped into her room she was sorry to see that Ann had found some clothes. She supposed since she’d put her t-shirt back on it would be unfair to expect her to stay completely naked as they ate. It also meant that she would be less likely to be distracted and therefore not spill any food on the sheets, although they would definitely need to go into the laundry after their afternoon activities. She was happy to see that she wore one of her shirts, she’d never seen her wearing anything black before. It was strangely alluring. She shook her head, they needed to eat something before those sorts of thoughts returned to her mind.

She carefully put the tray down on the bed and sat down slowly. Ann reached for a bottle of water as she drank greedily from it. Stopping when the bottle was half finished to wipe her mouth with the back of her hand. Anne picked up a napkin and flicked it out with a flourish that made Ann giggle. After today her laugh placed only a fraction higher than her other favourite sound that she made. She laid the napkin across her lap, reminiscent of their first lunch in the park before handing her a plate, “Be careful, it’s still warm.”

They ate in a companionable silence, they were both famished and the food as always was delicious. Anne couldn’t stop smiling, as she watched her eat with gusto. A month ago she would never have imagined that they’d be here now, and yet it felt like she had been set on this path a lifetime ago. She allowed a drop of sorrow to enter her thoughts as she wondered what Sam would make of them now. His sister, the cad, with his friend and their neighbour in her bed. He’d probably say something like, ‘It’s about time’ or ‘I knew you’d be perfect for each other.’ They were, weren’t they? Perfect? This version of them at least, of course Sam had been right - she would’ve broken her heart had they met when they were younger. But now, she wanted nothing but to ensure her heart was never harmed again, especially by her hand.

As Ann happily continued to chew her food, remembering to take a bite full of the salad in-between the mouthfuls of lasagne, Anne allowed herself to think of what this could mean for her, for them. Could she make a life with Ann? Was that something Ann would want? Not for the first time she thought of their age difference, there was over ten years between them. Ann had only recently gained her independence from her family, maybe there were things she wanted to do. Would she want Anne tagging along? She still wanted to travel, the election had kept her busy but now that things were starting to settle she hoped to travel again soon. Would Ann want to come with her?

There were so many questions swirling around in her brain and then suddenly she felt Ann’s lips on hers. The kiss was soft and tender, just like Ann. She looked up as she sat back down across from her, slightly surprised at what had just happened. “You looked like you were a little lost.” Anne smiled back, how did she manage to do that? Bring her back so easily. She picked up her fork again, “Not anymore darling.”

===

Ann knew it was silly to be shy now after how they’d spent the afternoon, but standing shoulder to shoulder like this as they completed their nightly routines felt intensely intimate. Of course Anne had one of those electric toothbrushes that beeped every thirty seconds to let you know to move onto the next part of your brushing regime. She caught her smiling across at her in the mirror as the toothpaste foamed in her mouth. Even like this she was disarmingly handsome.

They had spent the rest of the day lounging around in bed after they had managed to tear themselves off it long enough to do the dishes and change the sheets. It had taken them some time to find where the spare ones were kept. Anne really was helpless sometimes, Mistress of Shibden and she didn’t know where the linen cupboard was. She supposed she only knew where everything at Crow Nest was because she’d explored every nook and cranny of the large house because she really had nothing else to do.

As she brushed her teeth she thought that she needed to mention to Anne that she wanted to go over there before they left. She was sure she wouldn’t mind. Her original ulterior motive to visit Crow Nest had been rendered moot after today but the idea of having more private time with Anne was immensely appealing. Her mind still raced when she remembered how they had spent their day. She quivered at the memory of Anne’s touch, how her lips had kissed every part of her. How each of their hands had been the other’s undoing.

More than their physical connection, she loved being alone with Anne in Shibden. She adored the family, especially the way they would always lovingly tease Anne. The elder Listers were surely the only people ever allowed - or able, to best her. Even her constant sparring with Marian reminded her of her own relationships with Catherine and Elizabeth. They had welcomed her so readily and made her feel like this was her home too. Being alone with Anne here felt special, here she was more herself than anywhere else, like the Hall and all its magnificence was a part of her. She felt so privileged to be here with her, to have been allowed into this part of her life. It was more than her heart had ever thought possible.

She felt Anne’s hip bump hers bringing her back into the moment. She was leant back against the counter watching her curiously, “What?” Ann said, a mouthful of toothpaste. Anne licked her lips as her eyes traced their way up Ann’s bare legs, “I was just wondering how tired you were darling.”

Ann rinsed her mouth out and dabbed the sides with the towel, “And why is that dearest?” Anne answered with a suggestive wiggle of her eyebrows. Ann shook her head as she put her toothbrush down on the counter. She swept past her hurriedly as she made her way back across the landing. Anne caught up to her in less than three strides, reaching out her hand and pulling her back into her. She wrapped her arms around her waist as she brushed the hair away from her face, “Oh I’m sure I could come up with something.”

Ann tilted her head up as their lips met in a minty fresh kiss, “Hmm, I’m sure that brilliant mind of yours can come up with many many things.” Anne turned them around as she began to slowly walk backwards into the bedroom, a mischievous glint in her eye, “Maybe one or two…”

Chapter Text

Ann had had this dream before. The press of that warm lithe body perfectly molded to fit her. That strong muscular arm draped across her side. The rippling muscles she could feel as her fingers gently stroked the forearm that pulled her in tight. The deep measured breaths against her scalp as they took in her scent. Then those firm lips making a slow torturous trail along the curve of her neck.

She felt pressure on her soft stomach as Anne pulled her in tighter. Anne’s firm breasts and the hard ridges of the toned stomach pressed up against her back. She was thankful that neither of them had sought their clothes in the night. A breathy moan left her lips as she felt the unhurried movement of Anne’s hips starting to grind against her. Every fibre of her being felt alive. The skilled fingers moving ever higher, till Anne’s strong hand captured her breast and began to slowly massage it. She was everywhere. The unrelenting mouth on her neck, the insistent hips moving faster now, her hand toying with her erect nipple.

She wanted to surrender to her. To give every part of her, to allow herself to be taken. Then she heard those words again, just as she had that morning in Anne’s flat and again when she’d made herself come, her mind filled with thoughts of Anne. It was that same commanding tone thick with sleep and want, “You’re mine.”

This wasn’t a fantasy she’d finely tuned over a lifetime of dreaming about this moment. It was better, because Anne was real. They were together in Anne’s bed in Shibden after having collapsed into each other’s arms at the end of a day of the most amazing sex she’d ever had. She was hers, and she wanted her.

“Anne.” That single word her entire plea to her to satiate her every need and desire. Anne moved them so that Ann was on her back as she took her place on top of her, perfectly slotting between her legs. Her breathing hitched as Anne started to make her way down her chest. Her mouth moving to where her hand had previously been as the tip of her tongue played with her nipple as her other hand mirrored her movements on her opposite breast. Ann’s hips were rising off the bed, pressing into Anne’s stomach till she could feel it being coated with her arousal.

She thought that she could come just from Anne’s skillful movements against her chest but she wanted more. The laboured breaths coming from above her told Anne she needed more. She replaced her mouth with her other hand as she peppered her stomach with kisses. Ann arched her back as Anne relinquished her breasts, needing her hands to steady her hips as they rose off the bed. She inhaled deeply as the tip of her nose brushed Ann’s clit, momentarily lost in her intoxicating scent.

Ann gripped the bedsheets as she felt Anne’s soft lips on the inside of her thigh. Her too tender kisses so close to where she needed her most. She was insistent in torturing her as she repeated the kisses along her other thigh. As a desperate groan echoed around the room Anne knew that she had teased her enough. She hooked her arms around Ann’s supple thighs, holding her firmly before she began.

She felt her entire body shiver as she took a broad lick against her core. Her tongue teased her entrance as she lapped up every drop her arousal. Ann’s moans grew louder as Anne continued to bury herself deep between her legs.

Anne moved upwards, the tip of her tongue making the lightest of contact with her hard swollen clit. Ann’s hips shot up into Anne’s waiting mouth as she started to suck ardently as Ann’s wanton cries filled the air. She felt Ann’s hands in her hair as she held her in place as she ground her hips against her tongue. She could hear the muffled sounds of Ann saying her name over and over again, begging her not to stop. She had no intention to as she continued to devour her as she felt Ann’s climax building.

Anne was unyielding as she quickened her pace, her tongue flicking furiously against Ann’s clit as she sucked the hard bud. Ann cried out, her back arching up as her hands gripped Anne tightly to her, as her orgasm tore through her entire being. Anne refused to slow the velocity of her tongue’s movements until she was sure every ripple of her climax had subsided. When she felt Ann’s grip loosen and the shuddering lessen she mercifully withdrew her tongue and gently sucked Ann’s clit until she felt her body collapse back onto the mattress.

She felt Anne’s lips again on her stomach as she worked her way back up to her. She could hear her humming as she placed the lightest of kisses on her chest as it heaved heavily as she tried to recapture her breath. The bed dipped as Anne flopped down next to her as her fingertips travelled up and down her arm. Ann took another deep breath before she turned her head and opened her eyes.

There she was. Those deep brown eyes staring back at her filled with pride at what she’d just been able to achieve. Her complete undoing. She tilted her chin up and Anne leaned in placing a chaste kiss on her lips. She could taste her own arousal on her lips as they parted. “Good morning darling.” Ann could only sigh contentedly in return.

===

Cordingley tried to be as quiet as possible as she made her way slowly upstairs. She knew that Marian had told her that she didn’t need to come in till later that day but she knew that there was laundry waiting to be done and that the family would need a proper dinner making. They would be tired from their trip to York and the Annes from whatever they had been getting up to. She knew that Miss Walker knew how to cook, but whether she wanted to - or would be able to cook, was another thing.

She froze on the spot as she heard the giggles coming from Anne’s bedroom. The door had been left ajar, but it didn’t sound like anyone was exiting so she quickly tiptoed to the bathroom. She smiled to herself, it had been a long time since she had heard Anne laughing so freely. She was very much a fan of Ann Walker so was happy to go home early when Marian said she wanted to give them some time alone together.

She had found Ann in the kitchen of Anne’s flat one morning after Anne had to rush off on a work emergency. Of course she remembered her from Crow Nest and Anne had mentioned that they had recently become reacquainted. She was in the middle of writing a very kind note complimenting her on the dinner she’d left for Anne that she’d eaten because she didn’t want it to go to waste. She had bumped into a number of women trying to make a quick exit in the early hours of the morning but they had a nice long conversation over a cup of tea about how she was settling into life in London.

Though she hadn’t enquired too much about the exact nature of their relationship, she was hopeful that Anne would finally have some company in that too large flat of hers. When she heard that she would be accompanying her on her trip home to visit the family her hopes were further increased. More than anything she wanted to see Anne happy and settled, much like the rest of the family did. Miss Walker was much better than any of the other prospects there’d been over the years, especially that awful Lawton woman. She was incredibly grateful she hadn’t had to see her in a while.

As suspected the laundry basket was full, it always was when Anne was home. She pulled the lid off and was surprised to see a pile of bedsheets in there, but then she realised she really shouldn’t be. She paused and pondered whether Anne knew where the spare sheets were kept, she must have because she didn’t get a text asking for them. At least she knew she wouldn’t have to remake the bed, if there was one thing Anne could do it was make a very good bed.

She gave the bathroom a quick once over to see whether it needed a clean. Everything looked fine so she bundled up the laundry as she turned to go back downstairs. She let out a sharp gasp when she nearly bumped into Anne’s tall figure in the doorway. As soon as she composed herself she tried to take in the sight in front of her. It wasn’t often that she saw Anne dressed in anything less than business attire these days, let alone just her black boxers and vest. She was also wearing a very noticeable shade of pink in her flushed cheeks. Cordingley tried not to smirk at the sight of the mighty Anne Lister blushing.

Anne stood tall, trying to act like this was the most natural thing in the world, “Cordingley.”

“Ma’am,” she replied with a quick nod before she stepped to the side as she exited the bathroom. She paused and turned back, “Ma’am?” Anne turned to face her, a polite but strained smile on her face. “I’ll make some lunch for you and Miss Walker, I’ll bring it up and leave it on the sideboard so as not to disturb you.”

“Yes, that would be lovely.”

Cordingley smiled as she turned again, she bit her lip so she wouldn’t laugh at Anne’s audible sigh. When she got to the stairs she glanced back, Anne immediately straightening again. “I’ve got a few things to do in the kitchen ma’am, so I’ll have the radio turned up. I won’t be able to hear much. So if you need anything-”

“Yes, of course.” As she descended down the stairs Anne called out, “Thank you Cordingley.” She paused momentarily to smile knowingly back at her before continuing downstairs.

Anne slinked back into her bedroom as soon as she was sure Cordingley had gone back into the kitchen. She immediately dove onto the bed and under the covers as Ann sat up perplexed, “What happened?” There was an indecipherable mumble. She started to laugh as she poked the lump that was her girlfriend. Anne let out another grumble as she pulled the sheets off her head. Ann quirked her eyebrows inquisitively at her pained expression. “Cordingley’s making us lunch whilst she does the laundry.”

It took Ann a moment to register what the issue was. Then her mouth dropped at the realisation. Anne in her underwear. Sheets in the laundry basket. She knew she wasn’t alone. As Anne saw the recognition cross her face she pulled the sheets back over her head as Ann burst into fits of laughter. She was sure the whole household would know by teatime.

===

They had managed to peel themselves away from each other long enough to eat the lunch Cordingley had kindly prepared, albeit in bed and a little late in the afternoon. Each of them had also reluctantly agreed to actually getting out of bed and dressed since they presumed the family would make an appearance again at some point during the day. They’d even agreed to separate bathrooms, with Anne heading to the other side of the Hall to use the bathroom near Marian’s room. She’d decided it was easier, since Ann travelled with an array of products. She wasn’t sure what the purpose was of most of them but since Ann thought they were necessary she wasn’t going to question her.

Her hair was still a little damp when she emerged onto the landing. Ever the efficient one, she’d gotten her shower routine down to five minutes, start to finish. Occasionally she did like a long soak in her large tub back in her flat, but it was no fun alone. She licked her lips as her thoughts turned easily to sinking beneath the bubbles with Ann. That was an idea she would have to remember for when they got back to London and didn’t have to worry about any of the family banging the door down because they wanted to use the bathroom.

For a moment she wished they’d done more with the time they’d had by themselves at Shibden, not that she would’ve given up a moment of yesterday, this morning, or indeed this afternoon. Once the family were back she knew they wouldn’t get a moment alone together. She longed to have a quiet dinner with just the two of them in the dining room, or to sit and read in the parlour with Ann in her arms. Still she thought, it was better that Ann got on so well with the family that they always wanted to be around her.

She looked down the hallway, both the doors to the bathroom and bedroom were still closed. She glanced to her left towards her private office. She hadn’t really had a chance to check over the estate’s records since she’d arrived. That technically wasn’t work, she was just ensuring everything was running as smoothly as Marian claimed it was. She craned her neck and listened, the shower ws definitely still going. If she was quick Ann would need never know.

There was a complete joy she felt being in her office, it was quite easily her favourite room in the Hall, even more than her own bedroom. This had always been her sanctuary. She sank into the high-back leather chair, still perfectly molded to her, as she wheeled herself towards the large oak desk. She ran her hands over the arm rests as she took in the dark wood panels lined with a few low bookshelves. The large handmade leather armchair in the corner that she would sit in as she read late into the night by the light of the floor lamp. It was as she remembered.

The family, and Sam really, had gifted her the room when she had finally started to show an aptitude for school and he realised the stables were not the best place for her to learn. If she was to be a serious student she needed somewhere serious to study. At the time she’d still been sharing a room with Marian, no chance of any peace there. Whilst it was too small to serve as an adequate bedroom it made a perfect study. A refuge from all the activity in the Hall where she could spend all her hours without being disturbed.

She pulled open the top drawer of the desk, just as she had expected, the Shibden ledger was there. She pulled out the weighty tome and set it upon the desk. She knew that it was old fashioned but there was something about the feel of paper beneath her fingers. Much to Marian’s chagrin, she insisted that it was updated at the end of every month with the headline figures for the estate - rents from the tenant farms, household expenses, general expenditure. Nothing too taxing, but it was important for her to be able to be able to see at a glance how the estate was doing. She was pleased that all of the figures were up to date, and she was more impressed to see how well they were doing. Marian hadn’t been exaggerating at all.

As she was running her finger up and down the columns, making sure they all added up she heard a small cough. Her head flicked up, Ann stood in the doorway. The hands on her hips signalled she was not pleased with what she saw. “Darling!” The dashing smile Anne offered was met only by an icy glare. “I was just giving the books a once over.” She gestured feebly to the open accounts. Still no response as Ann closed the door behind her.

She came round and leant against the desk, she peered over her shoulder at the large book. A series of numbers that meant nothing to her but had apparently managed to capture Anne’s attention. Anne gulped as the book closed with a loud thud as Ann flicked the back cover over in one swift movement. She really was in trouble, although she couldn’t understand why, it’s not like she had been on her phone. Come to think of it, she wasn’t even sure where her phone was or the last time she’d seen it. Now didn’t appear to be the best time to ask whether Ann had seen it.

Anne brought her hands into her lap as Ann crossed her arms across her chest. She seemed angry but Anne couldn’t stop herself from appreciating how much her dress had ridden up when she’d leaned against the desk. She must remember to thank Catherine the next time she saw her for convincing Ann to only bring dresses on this trip. As the small room filled with her fresh sweet-scent all she could think of doing was slipping her hand under Ann’s dress and taking her there on the desk.

She planted her feet flat on the ground as she started to rise but was soon halted by an unexpectedly strong shove from Ann, sending her back into the chair. Anne looked up, the surprise soon replaced by lust when she saw how deep with want the eyes staring back at her were. Ann placed her hands on her shoulders as she used her knee to push Anne’s legs apart. She looked down at Anne, her eyes alight with untold desire.

Anne started to slowly rub the back of Ann’s thighs, moving purposefully upwards beneath her dress. Ann took a moment to revel in her touch, knowing that at any moment she could easily lift her up if she asked. She wanted to ask so much. She had gone looking for her after her shower, and when she hadn’t found her in her room she wandered down to the other side of the Hall. That’s when she found her sitting behind the huge desk, reminiscent of the first time she went to her office when Anne still had no idea who she was. The power and authority she wielded behind that desk was only more intensified here at Shibden. Anne in her domain, Mistress of Shibden. She wanted to be taken across that desk, but there was something else she wanted more.

She reached behind her and pulled Anne’s hands away as she pushed her back slightly. Anne raised a curious eyebrow as Ann smiled sweetly, “There’s something I’ve been thinking about.”

“Oh?” she asked inquisitively.

Ann licked her lips as her eyes raked over Anne, how was she so effortlessly alluring? All she’d have to do is smile that wicked little smirk of hers and she would come apart. She replaced her hands back on Anne’s shoulders as she slowly leant forward, giving her a perfect view of her ample cleavage. She placed a chaste kiss against her cheek before whispering softly, “I want to taste you.”

She waited for those five small words to slowly sink in before she leaned back. Anne looked like she was ready to devour her, her chest heaving slightly. Ann waited until she saw the firm but subtle nod of Anne’s head. She leaned forward, kissing Anne slow and deep. The tip of her tongue pressing against hers, foreshadowing what was about to take place. Her hands moved to Anne’s belt buckle and slowly undid it before her fingers quickly despatched the buttons. She moaned into Anne’s mouth when she felt how wet she already was as she slipped her hands inside her boxers. She felt Anne shudder as she gently grazed her swollen clit as she withdrew her hand.

Anne was panting heavily when she broke their kiss, her eyes wild and hungry. She gripped the chair tightly, fighting her every urge to plunge her fingers deep inside of Ann as her moans filled the Hall. Ann maintained eye contact as she slowly knelt between her spread legs. She reached up and tugged at the waistband of her jeans. She sat up enough to allow her to pull them down along with her boxers. First along her strong things, then her toned calves, until she was able to free her completely from them. Ann reached round, urging her forward. As Anne did so she took in a deep heady breath of her arousal. It was so distinctly Anne. Deep and rich.

She looked up once more at Anne, wanting to make sure that this is what she wanted. Anne’s heart quickened, she wanted Ann, she wanted this, but how long had it been since anyone she was with had been this willing to meet her needs? She fought the ghosts in her mind, reminding herself that no one was like Ann. She brought her hand up and threaded her fingers through that beautiful golden mane, gently urging her to continue.

Ann felt Anne’s hand encouraging her to move downwards. She knelt lower as her hands gently pushed Anne’s legs wider. The loud groan that escaped her lips as the first swipe of her tongue spurred her on. She wanted more. She was hungry for that sound, for the taste of Anne. She took her clit into her mouth and alternated between licking and sucking the hard nub as Anne ground her hips against her mouth. She continued to consume everything that Anne would give her.

She could feel Anne’s thighs pushing against her hands as her climax started to build, “Ann. Fuck. Don’t stop.” She had never heard her be so succinct with her words, her own hums driving Anne ever closer towards her release. She didn’t want to stop. She craved every drop of her arousal, every wanton moan, she wanted it all. As her tongue continued to move purposefully towards her goal she felt Anne’s body seize above her as her climax took hold. She continued to nip and suck as she felt her trembling through every part of her orgasm.

She finally felt the grip of her head loosen as Anne’s spent body collapsed into the seat. Ann placed a few gentle kisses against her clit, filling her lungs again with her scent before she slowly made her way back up. She pushed herself up against Anne’s thighs, pleased at the dopey smile that covered that incredibly handsome face. Anne’s arms wrapped around her waist and pulled her in tight as she laid her head against her soft stomach. Ann ran her fingers through her hair as she heard her hum happily.

As she looked out the window over Shibden she still couldn’t believe that this was real. This was where she always wanted to be, in Anne’s arms. She couldn’t imagine anything feeling better than this. It truly was everything her heart had ever wanted - to be the one responsible for Anne’s happiness. She felt Anne’s head turn as she placed a kiss against her stomach. She tilted her head down, a dangerous playfulness looking up at her. She didn’t need to be a mind reader to know the thoughts running rampant in her mind.

There was the sound of a car horn outside that caught her attention, she glanced out the window to see a car pulling up. She looked back down at Anne, “Hold that thought Miss Lister, looks like the family are home.”

Chapter Text

As they exited the Hall hand in hand, Marian couldn’t help noting how well suited they looked together. They were the picture perfect couple, looking completely at ease with each other, coming out of their home to meet their guests - the Mistresses of Shibden. From the massive grins that greeted them Marian knew that a night alone was exactly what the Annes had needed. No doubt Tib would wrangle all of the details out of Anne later, or Catherine would out of Ann. 

She walked to the back of the car as Anne pulled the passenger side door open and offered her hand to her aunt who gratefully took it as she exited the car. Both Lister sisters smiled when they saw their aunt smiling broadly as she hugged each of them before taking Ann’s arm.

The driver handed Marian a bag and she was startled when she turned and found Anne stood right next to her, grinning like a fool. Anne held out her hand, “Let me take that for you.” Marian eyed her suspiciously, Anne’s mood had improved exponentially since Ann had come into her life, but it was still disconcerting at times. She was about to hand her the bag when she noticed her trousers, stifling a laugh she looked up at her, “You’re a little...dishevelled.” Anne’s brow furrowed in confusion as Marian tilted her head downwards whilst making sure she kept her gaze upward. 

Anne looked down and realised in their haste she had skipped a few buttons and her trousers were all askew. She tried to turn to her right but saw Ann and her aunt standing there talking. She couldn’t face the house in case one of the staff happened to be staring out of one of the windows at that exact moment. If she faced the yard she knew that would be when John came clamoring in. She swung her head from side to side, Marian suppressed another laugh before taking pity on her sister and opened up her cardigan to shield her. She saw Anne mouth a silent thank you before she turned her head to the side as Anne refastened her trousers. 

When she was presentable again Marian handed her the heaviest bag, she thought she at least owed her that. Aunt Anne and Ann turned to go into the house once they saw Marian and Anne had the bags handled, the Captain hanging behind to thank their driver again. Cordingley came out onto the yard as they started to make their way in, carrying the freshly washed bed sheets. She nodded a greeting to the family before starting to hang the sheets out. Aunt Anne turned and looked at Anne, “Did you spill something on the sheets?” 

“No, of course not aunt.” Anne huffed. It had been two minutes and she’d already been embarrassed in front of Marian and now she was being blamed for something she hadn’t done.

“The sheets were newly washed before you arrived. Why would they need changing?” Both Marian and Anne’s eyes widened as the answer to their aunt’s question came to them simultaneously.

“Ahh,” Anne blustered, searching for a less scandalous answer than the truth.

“It was me I’m afraid Aunt,” the small voice from her side answered. All eyes turned towards Ann as she smiled sweetly to the elderly lady whose arm was linked with hers. “Anne surprised me with breakfast this morning and I accidentally knocked the juice off the tray.” Aunt Anne patted her arm and nodded, “That solves it.” The two sisters let out a big sigh as the answer appeared to suffice.

===

Captain Lister made his excuses not to be surrounded by the Lister women as they settled in the parlour. Aunt Anne regaled them with the details of the gala over the pot of tea that Anne had made for them. It turned out that she was quite the accomplished tea maker, she even brought them biscuits. Another example of Ann’s positive influence, Marian was sure she had never seen her be so domestic. 

She observed how Anne sat upright on the sofa, opposite herself and Aunt Anne, her chest puffed out with pride. Ann sat as close as she could be to her without actually being in her lap, their hands as always, intertwined. If she wasn’t so pleased about the wider favourable effect their relationship was having on her sister, and therefore the whole household, she might think they were a little insufferable. It was a good thing she liked Ann. 

The two Annes sat listening attentively as her aunt continued to tell them about York and how much they had enjoyed the little break. She took her phone out of her pocket under the pretence that she was going to show Ann some photos she’d taken of their afternoon tea. Really she wanted to text Tib and Catherine and let them know their plan had been an apparent success. Ann was very excited about being in York that weekend, of course not for the wedding but because Anne had already filled her head with ideas of all of the things they could do together whilst there. 

It was like Anne had forgotten that Ann was also from Yorkshire and had probably been to all of the places Anne had told her about. The way Ann always looked totally enraptured by her whenever she spoke was like catnip to her. Marian knew she couldn’t help herself when she had such an adoring audience. 

She had rushed to tell her co-conspirators all about the events of the Rawson dinner. Catherine already knew most of them thanks to Delia, including the news that Anne planned to take Ann to Eliza Belcombe’s wedding. Marian couldn’t believe she was going to take her into the viper’s den but apparently it had been Ann’s idea. She wasn’t sure she knew what she was getting into. Anne had a history of losing all sense around Mariana, it had already almost ruined things between them before anything had even started. Marian and Catherine had voiced their concerns but Tib assured them that she would come up with a plan. That concerned them even more.

“What did the two of you get up to all alone in this big old house by yourselves?” Her aunt’s question caught her attention. It was innocent enough, but Marian quickly took a sip of her tea as she tried to not look at the two of them directly. Ann’s shy smile and Anne’s smug grin were answer enough. 

Not missing a beat, Anne held hands firmly to her chest, beaming at her aunt, “We took a lovely walk through Lightcliffe. It feels like an age since I’ve been up there. It really is lovely up there. The views of Shibden are breathtaking.” Ann sighed, of course for Anne the best part of her walk through Lightcliffe was the view it gave of Shibden. She turned to Ann and kissed the back of Ann’s hand.

“Was that today dear?”

“Hmm?” Anne answered distractedly, her eyes still firmly on Ann, “No, yesterday. Today we, I..uh…” Marian noticed Ann giggling as Anne tried to find an answer. “I showed Ann my office earlier.” She smiled triumphantly having found a suitable answer. 

“It’s just your cheeks seemed a little flushed when you came out to greet us. Like you’d been exerting yourself.” All eyes turned immediately to Aunt Anne as she smiled innocently. Marian’s eyes widened as both the Annes turned a lovely shade of red. She turned back at her aunt who gave her a sly wink. Marian clutched her stomach as she fought to erupt with laughter at her aunt’s truly wicked sense of humour.

Ann gripped the sofa cushion as Anne’s mouth hung open. They continued to look around helplessly as they searched for their words. Marian filed away the sight of her completely flummoxed big sister in her mind before offering her a lifeline, “Did you finally open that parcel?”

There was a quiet sigh of relief from Ann at the change of subject. Anne looked at her curiously as she asked sharply, “What parcel?”

Marian’s nostrils flared, she wasn’t very grateful considering she was trying to help dig her out of the hole her shenanigans had created. “The one that’s been there for months.” Anne narrowed her eyes and continued to look blankly at her, “I told you about it, you told me to leave it in your office. It’s in the bottom drawer.”

“Why would I send a parcel...Oh.” The sudden change in tone caught everyone’s attention. It was Marian’s turn to glare interrogatively at her sister, “What? What is it?” Anne waved her hand dismissively at her.

“Nothing. I told you.” She answered curtly, a strained smile stretched across her face as she looked at her sister, “Thank you Marian. I’ll take care of it.”

===

Ann had decided to take a quick nap before dinner. The activities of the last twenty-four hours had taken their toll and she was exhausted. She imagined that now the family were back, it might hamper any plans they had tonight, although she could be mistaken and Anne might want to test how soundproof her new door was. Either way, it would be good to rest up. Anne had stayed downstairs talking to her aunt, although she’d hoped that she might join her. 

As she slowly opened her eyes she was alone in the bed however. It was to be expected, Anne had a tremendous amount of energy. That she got her to sit still at all was a miracle, a smile played on her lips as she remembered this afternoon when she’d managed to get her to sit still in her office. For a little while at least, until she couldn’t help but move. 

She lay there in the bed that she shared with Anne. The reality of it all still blew her mind if she thought too long about it. She had thought that once they had finally had sex her need for Anne might be satiated. She had spent a lifetime picturing what it might be like to kiss her. Then once she knew how much better that reality was her mind graduated onto what it would be like to come undone under her skillful touch, and to be her undoing. That too was better than anything she’d imagined. She was wrong though. Even after their mammoth twenty-four hour shagging session her need for Anne hadn’t been satisfied, it had been intensified. Every touch left her wanting more. 

She sat up sharply, if she spent any longer in bed with those sort of thoughts she knew where her mind would take her. She reached for her phone, she should really catch up with Catherine. They had decided to come back to Shibden after the wedding so that Anne could spend another day with her family, then they would go back to London on Monday. She missed Catherine but she didn’t love the idea of not being with Anne all the time. 

They hadn’t been glued to each other since they’d arrived, but it was nice knowing that she was nearby. With her work schedule it was best that she would at least have Catherine for company. She also knew that she had to start looking for a job, or something to fill her time. Maybe she would talk to Anne more about finding a gallery space for a possible exhibition of her work. Her painting was another thing that she really needed to get started on again. Perhaps she could paint the views near Anne’s flat, she had a great vantage point over the river that would make for some great landscapes. 

She was thinking of the possibilities as she opened her messages. There were a couple from Elizabeth, a ton from Catherine, and then one from Anne. She wasn’t the least bit sorry that she opened Anne’s first. Her eyes brightened as she read it, jumping off the bed and down towards Anne’s office as soon as she had. 

Anne was sitting in her large desk chair, her back to the door, staring out over Shibden as Ann made her way down the corridor. She smiled as she heard the light knock on the door. She swung her chair around, there she was. Her hair still a little mussed from her nap, a sleepy smile on her lips as she leant against the doorframe, “Miss Walker.” She beamed gleefully at her, “What can I do for you?”

Several ideas ran through Ann's mind as she saw her sitting at that desk. She shook her head, rescuing herself from the gutter she was about to dive into, “Someone sent me a message telling me they missed me.”

“Is that so?” Anne placed a finger against her lips in thought. 

“Yes, they told me I’d find them in here.”

“Ahh, well it’s only me in here I’m afraid,” she responded with a little shrug.

Ann pursed her lips as she drew the only logical conclusion possible, “That must mean...”

She pressed her hands to her cheeks in shock, her eyes alight with mischief as she exclaimed, “It’s me!” Her heart lifted as Ann’s laughter filled the air, it really was the best sound. 

Ann loved how silly Anne could be. That was the biggest revelation she had since they had become reacquainted. She had always known how overwhelmingly handsome and sexy she was, her smile alone was enough to finish most people off. There had been no hint of how playful she could be. The constant verbal sparring with Marian, the way she and Tib would always goad each other, even the awful puns she would come up with. They all created a very different picture to the public face she put on as the dread Mistress of Shibden. 

She spotted a black box, a little smaller than a shoebox, on top of the desk and thought it must be the parcel that Marian had spoken about. It had been taken out of its packaging but there was still no clue as to what it was from the nondescript box that remained. She nodded towards it, “Was it what you expected?” Anne followed her gaze down.

“It is.” Anne winked at her cheekily as she looked on at her blankly, “Close the door and I’ll show you.” Ann wasn’t sure she was a fan of surprises but Anne seemed to be excited by whatever it was that had arrived, though she wasn’t sure how great it could be if she’d forgotten all about it. 

Anne pushed her chair back a little and motioned for her to sit in her lap. Ann eyed her suspiciously, “There’s no other seats darling.” She supposed she was right, and it wasn’t as though she wanted to sit anywhere else anyway. As she sat on her right thigh Anne’s arm wrapped around her waist as she scooted a little towards the desk. She placed her other hand on the box and started to lift up the lid, but then paused and looked up at Ann. 

As she searched for the words Ann waited patiently, hands in her lap. “Now, darling,” she started tentatively, “This was something I bought some time ago. After I finished with Mariana.” Ann’s head snapped up, “I wanted a fresh start, and so…well you’ll see.” She started to lift the lid but paused again, a worried frown forming across her brow. “This isn’t something we’ve discussed, but we can. There’s no pressure. It’s just an option.” Ann inclined her head looking at her searchingly. She leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss against Anne’s lips, when she pulled back the worry seemed to have dispersed as her shoulders loosened. 

She pulled her in closer as they turned their attention once again to the box. Anne took a deep breath before pulling the lid off the box completely. “Oh,” came the small sound from Ann’s mouth as she saw the black strap-on sitting at the bottom of the box. Anne chewed her bottom lip nervously as they sat in silence, Ann continuing to stare into the box. 

It all became clear to her now. Anne had obviously ordered a new strap-on when she’d finished with Mariana, that made sense. She supposed it was like clearing out your home after a break-up, get rid of all the reminders. There were no pictures of Mariana in Anne’s home, no obvious mementos at all, and this would definitely be an intimate remembrance of their time together. 

The sound of Anne’s fingers drumming on the table next to the box drew her attention back. She turned her head to face her, “Ann, I-” Whatever it was she had to say was swallowed as Ann kissed her greedily, her tongue immediately pushing against Anne’s. Her hands clung to Anne’s shoulders as she turned her body, pulling back for a moment. Her chest rose and fell with rapid breaths as Anne looked at her hungrily. She was waiting for permission. They both glanced at the open box and then back at each other. Anne’s breaths were heavy as they both looked at each other, eyes dark with want. Ann gave the smallest of nods and that was all Anne required.

She didn’t waste a beat as she moved the box to the side before placing her hands on Ann’s hips and lifting her up effortlessly onto the desk. She was glad that she kept the desk clear, but would have gladly cleared it in one fell swoop. Ann reached up, placing her hands on the back of Anne’s head as she kissed her deeply. She wrapped her legs around Anne’s waist pulling her in closer. She gasped as she felt the rough seam of Anne’s trousers rubbing against her core as their hips started to move against each other. Anne broke the kiss as her lips moved to suck on her neck, Ann’s breathy moans filling her ear. She felt Ann’s hot breath on her ear as she whispered, “I need your cock inside me.” Anne’s core clenched as she heard the words. 

She straightened as Ann leaned back on her elbows, looking up at her with her mouth slightly open. Anne moved her hands under Ann’s dress as she started to rub the tops of her thighs. Ann started to trace her tongue along her bottom lip as Anne tilted her head to the side. They stared at each other challengingly before an impish grin spread slowly across Ann’s face. She sat up slightly as she reached forward placing her left hand on top of Anne’s right one, bringing it up from under her dress. She raised it up, pressing a soft kiss against the palm. She locked eyes with Anne as she slowly took the tips of her index and middle finger and slowly started to suck. A loud groan escaped Anne’s lips as she looked on as Ann took the length of her fingers deeper into her mouth. 

She bobbed her head up and down along their length, noting Anne watching her intently out of the corner of her eye. She looked back at Anne, her eyes completely blown before she pulled her head back and kissed the tips of her fingers. The look in Anne’s eyes was almost feral, as she pulled Ann’s hips tight against her. There was a single beat before their lips crashed together again, a mess of sloppy kisses and hands as Ann’s hands struggled clumsily with the front of Anne’s trousers as she reached for the box containing the strap. 

Ann had managed to pull Anne’s belt open and undo her buttons as Anne lifted the strap and harness out. She took a step back before pulling her trousers down past her thighs so that they pooled on the floor. Ann gulped as she watched her toeing each of her shoes off before she stepped out of her trousers. Anne smirked as she slid her hands into the waistband of her boxers, Ann bit hard on her bottom lip as she sent them down to the ground. 

She couldn’t believe her current state of undress considering Ann was still fully clothed. There she was, naked from the waist down, holding her brand new strap in her hand. She looked at the harness, seeing how it fit together. It had been some time and she couldn’t wait to christen it with Ann. She could sense her growing impatience as she heard her laboured breaths as she fumbled with the buckles. Ann felt herself getting wetter as she watched on, as Anne put the harness on and adjusted the buckles with her dexterous fingers. 

Finally Anne turned to her, the impressive appendage hanging down from between her legs. She looked magnificent. Ann didn’t think it was possible to want her any more than she did. She reached up, balling her shirt into a fist as she pulled her closer. Their faces were only a few inches away as she felt Anne’s cock brush the inside of her thigh. She wanted to be filled completely by her. Anne placed her hands on her thighs, pushing them outwards as she took her place between Ann’s legs. She leaned in to kiss her when there was suddenly a loud knock on the door. They both froze still as Marian’s voice came through the door, “Dinner will be ready in five minutes.” 

They both groaned in frustration at the interruption before looking at each other. Ann looked down between them and raised her eyebrows, they had five minutes. They both knew it wouldn’t take long for either of them the way they had worked each other up. They both thought for a moment before Anne groaned again before placing her palms flat on the desk and pushing herself back upright. She went to unbuckle the harness when Ann placed her hands on top of hers. She turned her head and saw Ann smiling at her teasingly, “Leave it on.” 

Anne shook her head in surprise. She had worried that because they hadn’t spoken about this Ann would be hesitant, but there was not a hint of nerves. Her confidence was utterly alluring. She nodded as she pulled her boxers back up over the strap, and then her trousers, all under Ann’s watchful eye. Once she had redressed, her cock pressed against the inside of her thigh she stood proudly as Ann looked her up and down appreciating the sight.

Anne placed her hands on her hips and lifted her up off the desk, a small giggle escaping her lips at the show of strength. She stumbled slightly falling forward into Anne’s embrace. She looked up at her, feeling the hard press of Anne’s cock between them. Anne’s eyes still full of want, “I have a surprise for you after dinner.” She groaned as she felt Ann pushing the base of the cock against her. “Another surprise,” she corrected. Ann tilted her head up, placing the most innocent kisses on her lips, “I can’t wait dearest.”

Chapter Text

A little known fact about Ann Walker was that her legs were deceptively longer than they appeared. At least that’s how it felt to Anne who had had to suffer her teasingly drawing her foot up and down the inside of her leg as they sat at the dinner table. She knew Ann had purposely chosen to sit out of arm’s reach so she could set her lower limbs on a mission to drive her crazy. It wouldn’t be quite so frustrating if her own family didn’t glare at her every time whilst Ann continued to smile sweetly across from her. More than once she’d had to apologise to the family when she had unintentionally jolted the table from her ministrations.

The image of what those lips behind that not so innocent smile had been doing moments before they had been interrupted flooded her mind as she felt her mouth go dry. If they’d just had ten more minutes she knew Ann wouldn’t be looking quite so virtuous. As much as she had wanted to continue, Anne knew it had probably been for the best. Ann would be absolutely mortified if she knew the family had known what they were doing. 

They absolutely adored her and Anne would do nothing to change that, and she knew that they would probably just blame her for corrupting her regardless. Ann was possibly the only person she would tolerate her aunt liking more than her. Just as that thought entered her mind she banged her knee again against the underside of the table as she felt the tip of Ann’s foot brush the inside of her thigh. Anne’s eyes widened at how impossibly long her limbs appeared to be.

“Anne really, it’s like you’ve got ants in your pants today,” her aunt admonished. She smiled meekly at her, apologising once again before turning her head to Ann who was batting her eyelids back at her. The dichotomy thrilled her. Knowing what thoughts were running through that filthy mind encased behind the most angelic face. She was perfect. She couldn’t wait to wrap those ridiculous legs around her waist and make her-

“Have you decided on how long you’re staying in York?” Anne’s thoughts were interrupted by her father’s question. She turned to him shaking her head as he waited for her answer. “Yes Captain, we’re staying at the Grays Court. Just by Yorkminster.” Ann smiled at the affectionate term Anne used for her father. “I’ll drive us there tomorrow, wedding on Saturday, then back here for Sunday lunch.” 

“Good good,” he nodded approvingly.

“And you’re going home on Monday still?” Marian’s question was a little too eager for Anne’s liking.

She glared across the table, “Yes, we’re back to London on Monday.”

Ann noticed both Aunt Anne and the Captain smile at Anne’s correction. They would be going back to London, they wouldn’t be going home. For Anne, only Shibden would ever be home. She allowed her mind to wander to a time when she might also call Shibden home. She knew she was jumping far too into the future far too quickly, but sat at the Lister dinner table surrounded by Anne’s family she indulged herself in the possibility. Ann looked up, lost in the dream of it all, only to be met by Anne staring at her mischievously.

Ann tilted her head as Anne slowly picked up her wine glass and took a languorous sip. She drew the glass back as she maintained eye contact with Ann as her middle finger started to stroke the side of the glass suggestively. Anne lifted her chin slightly, exposing her long slender neck to Ann’s gaze. She immediately felt her throat go dry as Anne lifted her other hand to her lips and tantalisingly started to run her fingers along her bottom lip, feigning that she was in deep contemplation but Ann knew there was only one thought running rampant through her mind. Anne smirked as she saw Ann’s mouth fall slightly open. 

There was a short reprieve as Cordingley cleared the table in preparation for the dessert course. She proudly placed the large bowl of Eton Mess in the centre of the table. Ann looked at the pile of whipped cream and meringue pieces, interspersed with strawberries. The possibilities to make Anne absolutely feral with this dessert were endless. She smiled sweetly up at Cordingley as a bowl was placed before her as she thought of all the ways she could slowly wipe that smug grin off Anne’s face.

===

Ann felt the tree bark scratch against her back as the force of Anne’s eager kisses pushed her hard against it. They’d only just gotten out of sight of the Hall when Anne had pulled her to the side and pressed her against the tree, her lips already sliding against hers. Anne’s hands were already moving under her dress as she caressed the back of her thighs, a low growl escaping her lips as she kissed her feverishly. Ann tried to match the ferocity of her kisses as she scanned the landscape. 

It was a warm summer’s evening and Anne had suggested they go for a stroll after dinner to try and walk off the lovely dessert they’d just consumed. Out of courtesy she had asked if any of the family would like to join them, but the elder Listers were still tired from their trip to York so declined. Marian had seemed quite eager to join but the stern look Anne had shot her way when she rose from her seat had her quickly changing her mind. 

The sun had set but it was still light enough for them to see, and be seen. They’d meandered slowly down the path towards the woods where Anne had said she had a surprise for her. As she felt the unmistakable bulge within her trousers as she pressed her hips up against her she was certain she knew what that surprise was. “I can’t believe the things you were doing at that dinner table.” Anne husked as her mouth moved to Ann’s neck, “In front of my family.” 

Ann let out a breathy laugh, “How else did you expect me to eat strawberries and whipped cream?” 

Anne pulled back and looked at her incredulously, “It was indecent.” Ann bit her bottom lip teasingly. There was another low growl before Anne’s lips were on her neck again, her hands sliding further up her thighs. “You had a perfectly good fork,” she nipped along the exposed skin. “Instead...you plucked that strawberry...between your fingers…” She punctuated her words as she sucked along Ann’s pulse points. “Lickng the cream...with the tip...of that tongue of yours.”

As Ann’s moans filled her ears Anne struggled not to take her there against the bare bark. “I thought you liked it when I used my tongue,” Ann purred. That was it. Anne lifted her up and pressed her against the tree as she pulled her legs to wrap around her. Pinning her to the tree with the deliberate movement of her hips. Ann gasped at the show of strength as she rested her hands on Anne’s chest as they kissed ferociously. 

Anne brushed her fingers along the thin fabric covering Ann’s core, it was completely soaked through. The ebb and flow of their lips matching the rhythm Anne was setting with her hips. She pushed her fingers against Ann and heard another sharp gasp. She needed to feel her. She fumbled with the elastic on the top of Ann’s knickers as she tried to keep her still. Ann pushed against her chest forcing her head upright, “I need you inside me.”

For a moment Anne contemplated how secluded the area they were in was. The family were already settled in for the night, the staff had finished for the day, no one should be on her land. Her desire for Ann consumed her, she could feel it vibrate through every part of her. She needed more time than their current location would allow. Anne pressed her lips firmly against Ann’s once again as she lowered her to the ground. 

Instead of heading back to the Hall, she took her hand and led her deeper into the woods, the sky darkening as the foliage grew thicker above them. Ann concentrated on the ground as she tried not to stumble, barely taking note of their surroundings. She held Anne’s hand firmly as she walked the apparently familiar path to their destination, her sure steps guiding them.

She was sure that it was only because she wanted to feel Anne’s touch that it felt like they had been walking for some time. She looked up and noticed it was quite a bit darker now, the sky still brushed with a purple haze. Suddenly she bumped into the back of Anne who had finally come to a stop. Ann let her eyes adjust to the darkness as Anne stood still. It took her a moment until she finally saw that they were in a small clearing, more than that, there appeared to be a little cottage in front of them.

She felt a small tug of her hand as Anne led them up the cobbled path. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a key, unlocking the door as Ann took in the small shrubs and flower pots that sat along the wall. Anne pulled her inside, she didn’t have a moment to look at their surroundings before she was pressed against the closed door as she heard the lock click. Anne wasted no time continuing what they had started, her hips once against starting the steady pace as they rocked against her.

Anne moved once again to her neck as she felt her right hand move up her side to find the zipper of her dress. She had gotten quite adept at finding where it was hidden and within moments she felt her hand slide inside the opening and along her back as she pulled her closer. She felt her warm breath as she placed fevered kisses along her neck. Ann quietly moaned as her need for Anne to take her grew. Her breath was becoming shallower as her eyes adjusted to the dimly lit room, “What is this place?”

She felt Anne smile as she moved back up to kiss her lips, “Your surprise darling.” 

She continued to press against her as Ann slowly took in the room. It was simply decorated, just a sofa and a table and chair set against the wall, a few bookcases that she was sure already held some of Anne’s collection. It was perfect, still Shibden but far enough from the main house that they could escape to it when they needed to. 

Ann turned her head back to Anne, the brightness of her eyes had been replaced by dark desire. Ann lay her hand against the flat of Anne’s chest as she pushed her backwards slightly as she reached down for the hem of her dress and methodically pulled it up over her head and dropped it to the floor. Anne smiled appreciatively as Ann kicked her shoes off and stood before her in only her simple pale pink underwear. 

In one movement Anne closed the distance between them, easily lifting Ann up until her arms and legs wrapped around her. They truly did fit perfectly together. Anne turned them and carried her effortlessly. Ann wondered where she was headed when she turned her head and saw that she was carrying her towards a door. Anne opened it with one hand and stepped inside. The room was dark but there was just enough light coming through the window for Ann to see the large bed that dominated the centre of the room. 

Anne walked over to the bed and carefully placed her on top. Ann balanced herself as she stood on the bed, placing her hands on Anne’s strong shoulders. She felt Anne place soft kisses against her stomach, as she pulled her in close as Ann started to run her fingers through her hair. Anne pulled back and looked up at her as her hands came up around her waist, moving up and down her back as Ann looked down at her. Their eyes locked as Anne hooked her fingers into the top of Ann’s knickers and slowly started to pull them down. 

Ann stepped out of her knickers, gasping as she felt Anne grip her backside as she buried herself between Ann’s legs. She inhaled deeply taking in the scent of her arousal before the tip of her nose gently nudged Ann’s already swollen clit. Ann moved one hand to Anne’s shoulder as she tried to maintain her balance as she felt Anne’s tongue move between her folds, lapping up the wetness she found there. She started to grind her hips against Anne’s face as she felt her climax building. Anne held her firmly in place as her tongue moved upwards drawing circles across Ann’s clit. 

She could feel Ann struggling to keep her balance as she started to come undone. “Anne.” She gasped. Anne looked up and saw Ann’s eyes filled with desire, desperate for her release. She moved her hands to her hips and lifted Ann carefully off the bed and brought her down to the ground in front of her. Ann’s heart quickened at the impressive show of strength as the line of Anne’s bicep was lit by the waning light. She ran her hand up Anne’s arm as she reached around her and unclasped her bra and pulled it away. Anne lowered her gaze, slowly raking her eyes across Ann’s beautiful naked body as she stood before her. 

Ann pulled at the bottom of Anne’s shirt, Anne got the hint and started to pull it up. It was just coming over her head when she felt Ann’s hand on the bulge in her trousers. She froze still, her head completely in the darkness of her shirt, as Ann started to stroke her slowly. She moved closer and felt her breath coming through the fabric of her shirt as she whispered close to her ear as she slowly commanded, “I need you to fuck me now.” Anne let out a groan at the filthy instruction as she pulled her shirt up over her head.

Ann pulled her belt open as she started to unfasten the same buttons she had earlier that day. When she’d undone the final one she sat down and moved higher up the bed as she waited impatiently. Anne pushed her trousers down, standing tall in just her boxers and sports bra. She licked her lips as she pulled her sports bra up over her head. Ann never looked away for a moment. She lay back further, propping herself up on her elbows as she started to writhe in anticipation. In one swift movement Anne pushed her boxers down, revealing her impressive strap. Ann’s breath hitched as she tightened the straps so it stood erect. As long as she lived she would never stop thinking how magnificent Anne Lister was. 

Anne slowly stalked her way up her body on all fours, placing kisses as she moved up. She gently parted Ann’s legs as she lay between them as she took her right breast into her mouth, her tongue toying with her nipple inside her mouth as she sucked. Ann arched her back as she placed her hand on the back of her head, wanting her to completely devour her. Anne’s other hand came up to toy with her other nipple before she replaced it with her mouth. Ann’s hips rose up off the bed, silently begging for Anne to end the heavenly torture she was being subjected to. 

The agonizing kisses finally move up from her chest to her collar bones, to the curve of her neck till finally Anne’s lips were on hers again. Ann held her head against her as she wrapped her legs around her, pushing upwards. She felt Anne’s cock brushing the inside of her thigh as Anne’s hands gripped her thighs tightly, “Anne.” Her breathing heavy as she begged her, “Please. I need you.” Anne reached down below them and took her cock into her hand, rubbing it between Ann’s folds as she whimpered beneath her.

Anne kissed her fiercely, eyes locked with hers as she placed the tip of her cock at Ann’s entrance. She paused as she heared the small gasp, there was a small nod before she slowly slid the length of her cock inside Ann. They each let out a loud groan as their hips came together. The only sound filling the room was their breaths as they each got used to the sensation of Anne buried deep inside her. Anne rested her forehead against Ann’s as they looked into each other’s eyes.

She pulled her hips back slowly, her ears filling with the sweet sound of Ann’s moans before she slid back in. She repeated the movement a few times, maintaining eye contact as she continued to thrust deep within her. Ann’s eyes darkened as Anne’s hips started to move faster, their twinned groans growing louder, “Faster!” Ann cried out between laboured breaths as Anne increased the speed of her movements, thrusting quicker and deeper. Ann’s nails dug into Anne’s back as she pumped harder into her. “Fuck Anne! Don’t stop!” 

Anne felt Ann's inner muscles clenching tighter against the strap as she drove her hips against her. The sound of their skin smacking against each other filled the room. She pushed Ann’s legs wider as she moved deeper as her cries grew higher, “I’m so close.” Anne moved quickly with short sharp thrusts as she felt her own climax building. She reached between them and pressed her fingers against Ann’s swollen clit. It only took a few movements before she felt Ann’s back arch as she came hard against her with her cock buried deep within her.

She kept moving inside of her as she felt her own release drawing near, willing Ann to hold on for just a few moments more. Finally she let out a large groan as she came as the waves of Ann’s climax continue to move through her. Anne gradually started to slow her hips as they clung to each other tightly, their lips finding each other once again as they kissed passionately. Their hearts continued to race inside their chests as Anne finally pulled out, moving to her side as she pulled Ann in close against her. 

She leant forward, placing soft kisses against her lips as their breaths started to steady. Ann’s fingers running through Anne’s hair as they gazed lovingly at each other. Anne’s hand finding its place on Ann’s waist. Both of them silently thanking whatever gods were responsible for bringing them together.

===

Ann bent down on the floor as she tried to locate her shoes. Next time she thought she would have to try and keep better track of where she flung her clothing. When they entered the cottage however their focus had been on one thing, and their clothes were only an obstacle to that goal. She was surprised her dress was actually still in one piece after the force with which they had crashed together. Her body still tingled at how hungry they had been for each other. To be that desired, by anyone let alone Anne, felt incredible. 

One shoe had been located underneath the small table on the other side of the room, she had no idea how it had managed to get over there. She continued to crawl along the floor searching for the other one till finally she spotted it underneath the sofa. She reached underneath, stretching as far as she could till eventually her fingertips caught the back of her shoe and she was able to fish it out. She got up triumphantly, both shoes in her hands as she flopped down onto the sofa. 

She jumped to the side when she felt something sharp beneath her. There was a photo frame face down on the sofa next to her that she hadn’t noticed. She turned it over carefully hoping that she hadn’t broken it. She smiled as she recognised the simple wooden frame. Her smile grew larger at the photo it held of Anne and Sam. It had been so long since she had seen a photo of him, staring at their faces now she was reminded how strikingly similar they were physically. The women of Halifax never really stood a chance with either of them. If only they knew what she had always known of Sam and what she knew of Anne now, they were the kindest and most honourable people she had the pleasure of knowing. 

She ran her fingertips over the image of Sam and allowed herself to feel the same sadness that she knew Anne had over his loss. He had been her friend, more than that. He had been her confidante. Sam had been kind to her when he learned of her feelings for Anne. She remembered she had been worried about coming out to her own siblings, more because of her own insecurities rather than a fear of what they might think of her. She hadn’t even had to come out to Sam. He said that he had excellent gaydar thanks to Anne.  

Sam hadn’t mocked her or dismissed what she felt as a schoolgirl crush from someone who probably didn’t even understand the emotions she thought she was experiencing. He had told her he knew immediately from the way she spoke about Anne and the tiny smile she would always try to hide that was instantly betrayed by the light in her eyes. He constantly joked that when Anne had grown up enough he would introduce the two of them properly, but for now she was much too reckless to trust her with her heart. She smiled at the memory and hoped that somehow he knew that it seemed Anne had finally grown up. 

A thought came to her suddenly and she quickly pulled her phone out of her pocket. She held the frame up so that there wouldn’t be a shadow cast across it as she took a photo. She heard Anne coming out of the bedroom as she put the frame back down. She shook her head as she saw the self-satisfied grin she wore proudly. She supposed she should be very pleased with herself, “I thought you came out here to get dressed, but here you are on your phone.” 

Ann arched her eyebrow at her, “You’re not quite in the position to talk to me about inappropriate phone usage dearest.” Anne laughed but made a quick mental note, still no phones. She crossed the room and stood in front of Ann, her arms instinctively coming up to wrap themselves around her waist. She unexpectedly pulled Anne forward and pressed the side of her face against the front of her trousers, “Darling I-”

“Oh.” Ann pulled her head back and looked up at her in surprise. “You’re wearing the-”

Anne nodded, slightly abashed. “I’ve cleaned it, only I didn’t have a bag...and well I can’t exactly walk around Shibden in the middle of the night with a strap in my hand.” Ann sank back into the sofa in hysterics as the image of her striding through Shibden in the dark with her cock in her hands. “Imagine if we bumped into one of your relatives. Or worse, one of mine.” Anne grimaced at the thought as Ann rolled around on the sofa beneath her laughing harder.

When Ann finally sat back up she noticed a somber look on Anne’s face. Her brow immediately creased with concern as she followed her gaze. She was looking down at the photo frame. Ann reached up and took her hand, giving it a small tug indicating she wanted her to sit down. Anne sank down onto the sofa, sitting as close as she could to her. Ann picked up the frame and put it in her lap. “That’s one of my favourite pictures of us.” 

“It’s a beautiful photo,” Ann agreed. She ran her fingers across the frame reverently, “I remember when Sam put it in this frame.” Anne tilted her head and stared at her curiously. She hadn’t known why Ann would even be familiar with the photo, let alone the frame. Ann turned the frame over as Anne looked on. She ran her finger along the bottom right hand corner. Anne looked closer, there was something there that she hadn’t noticed before. She picked up the frame and held it closer to her face, she tutted at herself although she still refused to admit she should probably be wearing her glasses more. 

She squinted as the small detail came into focus. It was very faint, it had probably faded with time, but there in the corner was an engraved message. She read the inscription a few times before she lowered the frame to her lap. Anne let out a deep sigh as she turned to Ann, “You gave this frame to Sam?” Ann bit her bottom lip as she shook her head, “It says ‘To Sam, from AW.”

“I made it for him.” Anne’s eyes narrowed. “It was in my Design Tech Class. I told him I was making one for my term project and he asked if he could have it when I finished. He said he had the perfect photo for it.” Anne slowly nodded, “I remember going to Shibden when it was done. He changed the frame and hung it up straightaway. In the stable.”

“Next to all his trophies,” Anne added slowly. 

“He said you were his proudest achievement.” Yesterday when Anne had sat on the sofa looking at that same picture and she had felt a lump in her throat she had been able to fight back the tears. Now it was impossible. She felt Ann’s hand on the back of her head as she brought it to her shoulder, allowing her to sob freely as she ran her fingers soothingly through her hair. 

She hadn’t shed many tears when Sam had passed, choosing instead to drown her sorrows in the finest whiskey she could afford and Mariana, or later any woman that would allow her to forget. As Ann held her close the tears she readily cried were different. She wasn’t trying to forget Sam, she was remembering him and everything he had meant to her. She was crying for so many reasons. Not having him there so that he could tease her about taking this long to fall for the girl next door. That somehow he seemed to know that they were supposed to be in each other’s lives. All the memories of her own, and new ones, that talking about him again had brought back. Mostly she was crying because in Ann’s arms she felt safe to do so. 

Ann slowly started to lay back, bringing Anne to rest on top of her. Anne’s arms wrapped around her waist as they settled into the sofa, placing her head in the crook of Ann’s neck as she continued to move her fingers through her chestnut locks. She felt her soft lips press against her forehead as she closed her eyes. She breathed in deeply, the soothing scent of Ann filling her lungs, as she allowed herself to be completely enveloped by her warmth.

Chapter Text

Anne was glad that they had decided to drive over to York tomorrow instead of going early on Saturday morning. The drive would only take about an hour but if she was going to the biggest societal wedding of the season with the most beautiful woman in Yorkshire, she refused to show up creased. It meant that they’d be away from Shibden but she was certain they would be back soon. As she climbed the stairs up to her room she realised how important to her it was that Ann wanted to be there.

She pushed open the door to see how Ann was coming along with her packing and her mouth dropped as she stepped into the room. She wasn’t quite sure what was going on but she knew it couldn’t possibly be anything good. Ann was sat on the floor in front of the bed with the contents of her bags looking like they had exploded all over her once neat and well ordered sanctum. There were multiple outfits spread out across the bed whilst the dresses hung from every conceivable surface - wardrobe doors, bookshelves, even the curtain rail. Anne wondered how she’d even managed to reach that high up.

She slowly started to back out when one of the floorboards betrayed her and announced her presence. Ann turned sharply and Anne immediately sank down to her side when she saw the look of utter despair on her face. She cupped her face tenderly, “Darling what’s wrong?”

Ann’s lip trembled as she looked up at her, “I haven’t got anything to wear to the wedding.” Anne sat back on her legs and scanned the room again. It looked like there was more than enough for her to wear to several weddings. She wrapped her arm around Ann’s shoulders and gave her a gentle squeeze, “All of these dresses are lovely, I’m sure there’s something-”

Ann huffed, “They’re fine for just Shibden!” The “just” struck Anne. She tried not to react negatively to it, Ann was obviously upset and lashing out. She had more than enough experience of dealing with these types of situations. Her jaw was set tight as she watched Ann throw her hands up and bring them to rest on top of her head. “Here I can be myself. With you, and the family. But out there…” Her voice grew small as her words trailed off as she lowered her hands. She looked down at her lap, her voice barely a whisper, “I don’t want people to look at us and think...what’s Anne Lister doing with her?”

“Darling.” Anne immediately drew her into her arms and held her close as she tried to soothe her. Once again Ann had shone a light on her own insecurities and doubts, as ever Ann thought that she was the one who wasn’t enough when Anne was starting to realise that the person she held in her arms meant everything to her. Ann buried her head in her chest as she ran her hand up and down her back, “I’m sure they’ll be asking how I managed to charm someone so young and beautiful into going with me, no matter what you’re wearing.” There was a small sound that could have been a laugh. “I’m hardly the object of teenage crushes anymore.”

Ann sat up, her eyes narrowed as she saw the playful glint in her eye, “No, you’re not,” she said defiantly. Anne started to frown before Ann quickly leaned forward and placed a chaste kiss on her lips, “You’re the stuff of 30-something crushes now.”

Anne lifted her chin, grinning smugly, “Is now when I should mention we’re supposed to go to drinks tomorrow night?”

“What? Anne!” she cried as she smacked her chest lightly.

“It’s just a small get together at a bar with some of the other guests. It won’t be too long since the wedding’s quite early. I thought we could go to dinner first.” The worry lines were starting to form again. Ann rested her forehead against Anne’s chest as she tried to come up with a solution.

They could skip the drinks, only since she’d accepted the invitation last minute she wanted to remove any awkwardness there might be at the wedding. She honestly didn’t see a problem with any of the dresses that were hung around the room but evidently Ann didn’t think they were suitable. She thought for a moment before pulling back slightly so that she could gauge Ann’s reaction to what she was about to suggest, “Why don’t we try and find something when we get into York tomorrow?”

“But all your plans-”

“They don’t matter darling.” She placed her hands on Ann’s shoulders, “York’s stood for centuries. It can wait till we’re back up here again.” She could see that Ann was thinking about it, “Besides, I think you may have been indulging me somewhat. I’m sure you’ve done all those things before.”

Ann turned her head up to face her, “But I want to do them with you.” Anne’s heart lurched at how Ann looked at her with total devotion. She was certain she could suggest anything and Ann would agree to it as long as she got to be with her. She placed a gentle kiss on her forehead, “We can do them next time.” She tilted her head down so that their foreheads were almost touching, “It’s more important to find you something you’re comfortable wearing.”

Ann sighed, she had a point, and she was incredibly grateful she was willing to change the plans she knew she’d been excited about. She turned and looked again at her dresses, maybe she could use one of these. She let out another exhausted sigh, none of them seemed to be enough if she wanted to show people that she was worthy of being on Anne Lister’s arm. “What are you wearing?”

“My suit. The black one,” Anne answered succinctly. She realised as soon as she said it that the description probably didn’t help but she was confident that she would look sufficiently handsome enough for Ann.

“To a wedding?” Ann’s face started to scrunch up, she knew she was loyal to her monochromatic wardrobe but she thought there might be a hint of colour since it was a wedding they were going to. “That really doesn’t help me.”

Anne stared at her, confused at her statement. “Did you want to borrow something of mine?” she asked hesitantly. Ann smacked the back of her hand against her stomach, “I don’t want us to clash.” Anne nodded, that made much more sense.

“It’s black darling, it goes with everything.”

Suddenly Ann threw her hands up and looked at her wide eyed, “Crow Nest!”

“Yes, what about it?” She made a note that the next wedding they attended she would give Ann as much notice as possible to plan her outfit.

“I still have clothes there. I’m sure I could find something!” Ann grabbed her hands and held them tightly, “Then we could still do everything in York tomorrow.” Anne looked at the eager smile on her face, she looked so thrilled that they wouldn’t have to change their plans and they could still do all the things she’d suggested they do, “Will you take me?”

Anne nodded, knowing that she would do anything for her, “Of course darling.” Ann let out a tiny squeak as she jumped up and wrapped her arms around Anne’s neck.

===

As they drove up the long driveway to Crow Nest Ann felt oddly excited at being there again. It was in part because she did still hold some very fond and happy memories of her family home, but also because she was eager to be there with Anne. She had visited once before, shortly after Ann’s parents had passed away, when she’d rather embarrassingly chased her down the Lightcliffe Road and invited her for tea.

She had mentioned it to Anne in the car and she assured her she did remember it; but she wasn’t able to recollect any of the details. It was to be expected of course, Anne’s life was full of much more exciting things back then. Tea with her neighbours was hardly likely to be a highlight of her memory reel. She’d only probably accepted the invitation because she knew they were grieving and wanted to spare her feelings. It didn’t matter, they were both making many more memories of Shibden and Lightcliffe now, ones that she was sure they would add to.

James had greeted them as they entered the grand house. Anne had been a little taken aback by the way Ann had hugged him. She supposed their relationship was different from the one she had with the staff at Shibden, even Cordingley. They were all much younger and similar in age. Since Ann lived by herself before moving to London she had probably spent most of her time with James and her housekeeper, Sarah. She had also left the management of the estate to them so she must trust them a great deal.

She had been shown into the living room before James and Ann went to catch up on what had been happening on the estate. She would have enjoyed learning how the estate was managed but she understood the need for privacy in business matters. As she waited for Ann to join her she took in the ornate surroundings. She had always been impressed by Crow Nest and that was certainly the intention of this room.

The large windows let in so much light that the room felt cavernous even though it was smaller than the receiving room at Shibden. She had noticed the detailed crown mouldings in the entrance hallway and how they continued throughout the rest of the house, or at least downstairs. The walls were covered in exquisitely decorated fabric wallpaper that she was certain hadn’t changed in the decades since she had last been in the room. There were several antiques on every surface that were beautiful but she thought must be a nightmare to dust. In the centre of the room were two camelback sofas that she also remembered from her last visit. They were still in terrific shape so either very few people had sat on them since or they had been reupholstered, both were a possibility. Yes, this room was designed to delight and intimidate guests in equal measure. It felt nothing like Ann at all.

She was considering where to sit when Ann finally appeared. She collapsed heavily into one of the camelbacks despite them not looking like the sort of sofa anyone sank into. “Lunch will be ready in ten,” she said as she patted the space next to her. Anne took the prompt and sat down, she felt it proper to sit upright even though they were the only ones in the room.

“This room hasn’t changed much since I was last here.”

Ann lent forward and took her hand into hers, “No I don’t suppose it has.”

“You didn’t want to redecorate?” It seemed curious that Ann had spent so much time here and hadn’t thought about making changes to suit her. Anne was always full of ideas that she wanted to implement at Shibden.

“You don’t like it?” There was a trace of hurt in her voice.

“It’s magnificent,” she assured. Ann lifted her eyebrows knowing there was more to follow. “It doesn’t feel very you.”

“It’s not.” She leaned back, resting her head on the back of the sofa. “This is the most uncomfortable sofa I’ve ever sat on.” Both she and Anne started to laugh, as Anne looked at her puzzled, “But it was my mother’s. She decorated this room. Everything in this room has her touch.” Anne understood then. She didn’t have many pleasant memories of her own mother, and what ones they had had been left in their home in Market Weighton. If she had she might have wanted to preserve them the way Ann had.

She had been the opposite way after Sam’s passing. It had been too painful a reminder to see so much of him at Shibden. That’s why she had put to the side anything to do with the stables and allowed them to fall into their current state. She had moved into Sam’s room and changed every piece of furniture, if she had been able to she probably would have pulled up every floorboard too. She needed no earthly reminder of him when she felt that every good part of who she was was because of his influence.

It must have been so difficult for Ann to have lived there with the ghost of so many happy memories paired with the loss of her parents and then her brother. She could appreciate how being there must have helped her still feel close to them, but also trapped at the same time. What other choice did she have? There was Scotland with her sister, in a home that wasn’t her own. One of her many relatives would certainly have made room for her and her fortune, but that would have been another sort of trap. Anne realised that no matter how lonely her existence had been, it was really the only one she had.

Anne turned, resting her arm on the back of the sofa as she started to twirl Ann’s golden locks with her fingers, “Where did you spend all your time then?” A large smile spread across Ann’s face as she got up, holding her arms outstretched, “I’ll show you!”

===

She should have known that the room Ann had chosen to spend the most time in at Crow Nest was the kitchen. They sat at the large oak dining table that dominated the spacious kitchen. Anne had taken her place next to Ann on the bench whilst James finished preparing the lunch that Sarah had left for them when Ann had called to tell them they’d be visiting. She only worked a few hours a day now that Ann no longer lived there, dividing her time between Crow Nest and helping at Stoney Royd who seemed to have a constant revolving door of staff. Neither of them could possibly think why that might be. They had offered to help but James insisted they remain in their seats.

The kitchen was modern but was still in keeping with the rest of the house with the dark tiles set against the bone coloured cabinets. Ann had explained that she’d had a mishap when she had learnt to cook that had required replacing a few appliances so she had decided to just completely redo the kitchen. Sarah had been employed shortly after that and had been Ann’s guiding hand as she experimented with different techniques and flavours that she’d picked up from Saturday morning television.

James carried all of the food over to the table in one trip without any assistance. It was a beautiful summer salad with homemade crab cakes made with crab just caught fresh off the Yorkshire coast. Ann immediately took her phone out to snap a picture as James and Anne shared a knowing smile. “That’s how I know I’ve done a good job of dressing the plate,” he joked in his Glaswegian accent as he took a seat. Anne hadn’t expected him to join them for lunch but the way Ann paid no attention told her that it was not an uncommon occurrence. She was glad to know that Ann had not eaten all her meals alone here.

As they enjoyed their food the conversation soon turned to the stables and the dozen horses that Ann still kept. It was clear that they were in contact regularly about them as she had known all about the new foals that had been born in her absence. She had already agreed with James that they would not be sold. Ann had the luxury of a large stable and estate on which to keep them. James had also hired a new stablehand to help him with the horses whilst he managed the rest of the estate. The more he spoke, Anne thought if she wasn’t so confident in John’s abilities then James would make a fine replacement. Both he and Ann would put up a strong fight too. It was comforting to know that the land that joined onto Shibden was so well looked after.

She caught the tail end of their conversation in which James was asking her if she intended to go for a ride whilst they were there. Ann bowed her head and started to move her food around the plate. She finally looked up, a pained expression on her face, “I don’t think we have time. I still have to see if I can find a dress for the weekend.”

James gave a comforting smile, “Not to worry, you can ride them when you’re up again.” Anne knew immediately how disappointed Ann must be feeling. The horses were the one part of Lightcliffe that she adored. When they had been trying to avoid her family she had seemed almost resigned to the idea that she wouldn’t get to spend any time with them. Now that was no longer a problem it appeared that she still wouldn’t.

“We could go for a ride tomorrow morning.” Both pairs of eyes were on Anne. “Before we leave for York, we could go.” She could see Ann considering the idea, “You’d have to wake up early of course.” James stifled a laugh at the suggestion and Anne found herself having to do so too.

She placed her fork down and took Ann’s hand, “I was thinking, if it was alright with James.” She turned and looked at him, he gave a short nod. He didn’t know what she was about to suggest but he had known Ann long enough that he could see how happy being with Anne made her. “We could stay here tonight, and then go back to Shibden after lunch, or before. Then drive to York just before tea. That way you’d have time.”

Ann thought about the suggestion. In theory it could be done. She already knew what she would need in York and it shouldn’t take her too long to pack, if she could find something suitable to wear upstairs of course. The idea of waking up early didn’t thrill her but it would be less early if they stayed. If it meant she got time to ride around Lightcliffe and Anne was the one to wake her, she was sure she could do it.

Then she thought once she got in the saddle she very rarely ever wanted to stop. Starting knowing that there was a schedule that her very punctual girlfriend would most likely want to keep to would mean she probably wouldn’t enjoy the time she had. It was no good, she would have to accept that she would have to wait until their next visit.

Anne could see the range of emotions go across Ann’s face as she considered the options, finally setting somewhere between disappointment and sadness, “It’s no good. I don’t want us to be rushing.” She sounded utterly dejected. “But-” Anne lowered her head slightly to meet her gaze, “I would like to stay here the night, if that’s alright.”

Anne gave her hand a gentle squeeze and nodded, “Of course darling.” There was a small smile, at least that was something. Anne thought for a moment, there must be something they could do. Her head shot up, “What about Sunday?”

“We have lunch with your family.” Ann knew how important it was for them to have Sunday lunch with them, it was why they were coming back from York instead of travelling back to London from there.

“Yes, but after that. I wanted to spend time around Shibden, we can do that from the back of a horse.” Anne found herself nodding until finally Ann’s eyes brightened and she started to nod too. Anne leant forward placing a firm kiss on her lips as she thought to herself that kissing Ann’s smile was perhaps her favourite kiss..

===

Ann pushed the door open as she pulled Anne along into her bedroom. She casually dropped her hand as she moved over to the large wardrobes that lined the wall on the other side of the room. Anne stood a moment in the doorway taking in their surroundings. She’d never been in this room before, she had no reason to of course. As with the rest of the house the bedroom was impressive. It was much larger than any of the bedrooms at Shibden, even her own, and it was incredibly bright thanks to the large windows on the opposite wall. It was on the eastern side of the house so the sunrise would hit the king size bed perfectly every morning as it rose over Lightcliffe.

As Ann rooted through her closet Anne looked more closely at the room. This room was much more Ann than most of downstairs had been. The intricate flowers on the paper that covered the walls to the thick carpet beneath her feet that she was sure kept the room warm during the harsh Yorkshire winters had her touch. The heavy wooden bed frame that dominated the room looked like an antique, as did much of the other furniture in the room. Anne wondered if this had been her teenage bedroom, what pictures had adorned these walls. A sly smile spread across her face as she pictured the young Ann Walker dreaming about that devastatingly handsome neighbour of hers.

She started to lower herself onto the bed when she heard Ann yell, “What are you doing?” She paused mid-squat, her bum frozen in the air as she slowly turned her head, “Sitting down?”

Ann glared at her as she pursed her lips, “Outside clothes.”

“Pardon?” She blinked disbelievingly.

Ann put down the pile of dresses she had in her arms onto the bed and folded her arms across her chest, “You’re in outside clothes.”

“Yes, because we came from outside.” Her words came out a little slower than usual as she tried to grasp what the problem was.

“You can’t sit on my bed.”

Anne straightened as she turned to face her, “It’s not like you’re going to sleep on top of the covers.” Ann’s face didn’t change. “We’ve been from Shibden, to the car, to here. My clothes were clean on this morning. You saw me take them from my wardrobe.”

“But you sat in your car. When was the last time you cleaned your car seat?” Anne tried to steady her breathing at the seeming incessant and unnecessary questions. “And even if it has been cleaned, you also sat downstairs.” Anne could feel her brows furrow even further, were they really having this conversation? She threw her hands up in the air, utterly flummoxed. “Well where should I sit then?”

“Either on the floor or in the chair.” The answer stated so obviously.

Anne glanced over to the dresser and the low-backed wooden chair that sat in front of it. She was sure it was fine, but judging from the pile of clothes on the bed they would be here a while, “That chair doesn’t look very comfortable.”

“It’s not,” she answered defiantly. “But it’s either there, the floor, or-”

“Or?” She wasn’t sure whether she wanted the answer to that question considering the tone their conversation had already taken. She saw a flicker of mischief cross Ann’s otherwise stern face, “You sit on the bed, in your boxers.”

Anne narrowed her eyes as she scrutinised her from across the bed, “Miss Walker, is this a ploy to get me to take my clothes off?”

Ann raised her chin, confidence exuding, “Pretty sure I could get you to take them off without too much trouble.”

At that Anne launched herself across the bed, clambering towards Ann as she screamed. Her mistake was trying to swat Anne away because her hands were immediately captured by Anne’s long limbs as she pulled her closer as she knelt on the bed. Ann made a fruitless attempt to escape as her arms were trapped by her side by Anne’s strong arms.

Ann tightened her jaw as she tried not to look at Anne as her smug smile beamed back at her. “You were saying darling?” Ann glowered at her as she slowly turned her head, she wanted to lean in and kiss her and wipe that infuriatingly pleased look off her face. She let out a loud huff as she slowly replied, “No outside clothes on my bed.”

Anne’s boisterous laugh erupted between them as in a show of strength devoid of any grace she lifted her up and flipped them both so they were lying on the bed, “Now both of us are on your bed in outside clothes. What are you going to do about it?”

Perhaps it was Ann’s breathy moan that she heard escape from her lips as they came to lay side by side, or the soft press of her body against hers, or the simmering of desire she saw reflected in her eyes, but Anne momentarily loosened her grip enough for Ann to gain the advantage. She used all of her strength to propel herself forward as she pushed Anne onto her back. She scrambled out of her grasp as she sat triumphantly atop Anne.

Ann realised she was straddling Anne when she felt her hips press upwards beneath her as she placed her hands on her hips. The point had been to wipe the smug smile off her face but as she looked down at her she seemed more pleased with herself than ever as she licked her lips and wiggled her eyebrows at her. Ann chuckled as she smacked her lightly across her chest, “You’re incorrigible.”

“Yes,” she answered with a rakish grin. It wasn’t often that she found herself in this position but as she raked her eyes slowly down Ann’s body she grew more appreciative of it, “I quite enjoy this view.” Her eyes settled on Ann’s breasts that seemed to be pushing against the fabric of her dress. Ann shook her head as she followed where her gaze fell, “Hmm, I can’t possibly think why.” Her words didn’t even appear to register, “Anne, my eyes are up here.” Anne hummed distractedly before finally tilting her head back up. “Did you say something darling?”

She leant forward placing a firm kiss on Anne’s lips as she thought to herself how utterly impossible she was. Anne’s hands immediately moved from her hips to the back of her head as she held her firmly in place as she deepened their kiss. Ann relished the low moans that were coming from beneath her as she started to grind her hips in time with the movement of their tongues. She felt one hand lessen its grip as it started to stroke her back before moving down to rest on her thigh. They were moving together now, their undulating hips causing a delicious friction between them.

As Anne’s hand caressed her thigh as it moved up underneath her dress Ann reached between them as she blindly undid Anne’s belt buckle. She smiled as she managed to unzip her trousers without having to once part their lips. She hooked her fingers into the two frontmost belt loops and gave them a firm tug making her intentions clear. Anne pulled back and saw the wicked glimmer in her eye.

She lifted her hips allowing Ann to shimmy her trousers lower. Anne’s arousal built steadily along with her anticipation as Ann left a trail of kisses along her muscular legs. She looked up at the ceiling as she felt one trouser leg being pulled off and then the other. Ann’s hands reached upwards, resting on her hips as she retraced her path upwards. “I wonder, Miss Walker-”

“Why are you wondering anything right now?” Ann asked as the tip of her nose nudged Anne’s core sending her hips upwards with a low groan. She lifted her head up slightly as she watched the mess of wavy blonde locks nuzzle against her groin. She licked her lips slowly as she felt her heart start to thump harder in her chest. “How many nights did you sleep in this bed dreaming about me?”

A tiny giggle emanated from Ann as her head tilted up at the question. She slowly stalked forward with a mischievous smirk on her face as she locked eyes with Anne, “Oh I did more than dream.” Anne shuddered as she felt Ann’s hands slide swiftly into her boxers. Her delicate fingers making unsubtle movements along her already swollen clit. Ann hovered above her as she started to stroke along her folds gathering the wetness that had already pooled inside her boxers.

Anne tilted her head upwards, wanting Ann’s lips on hers as she continued her maddening languorous movements between her legs. Ann was enjoying the sight of Anne Lister coming undone on her bed by her hand but she couldn’t deny the wanton look in the dark eyes looking up at her. She lowered her body to press against Anne’s as they kissed longingly. She pulled back as she felt the zipper on the side of her dress slide down followed by Anne’s palm on her back pressing her closer against her.

She moved her head lower as she kissed the underside of Anne’s strong jaw. Anne arched her neck as she felt Ann starting to suck along her pulse point till she felt her warm breath against her ear. “I used to lie here staring up at this ceiling, thinking of you,” she husked. “How it would feel to be pressed against you as our bodies lay here together.” She kissed the spot behind her ear that Anne knew drove her wild every time she did so, “Your lips on my skin.”

Ann moved her fingers upwards, “I’d close my eyes, picturing you as my hand travelled lower, that handsome smile that always made me breathless whenever I’d catch a glimpse of you.” She placed featherlight touches on the hard nub between Anne’s legs. “The sound of your throaty laugh that my ears would perk up at as soon as I heard it across a room.” She drew a solitary finger along Anne’s clit as she felt her shudder beneath her.

“Till I couldn’t stop myself anymore, I knew I needed you.” She started to draw circles around her clit, “I’d imagine my fingers were yours as you teased me as I writhed below you.” Anne started to grind her hips impatiently seeking more as Ann took her earlobe between her lips. She relished the moans as she started to suck. She started to increase the pressure as she drew tighter circles, “You whispering in my ear in that low sexy voice of yours how good I feel, as I lift my hips up.” At her words Anne’s own hips bucked upwards. “How wet I was making you as you strummed my clit,” Ann’s words mimicked their reality as Anne started to pant as her climax drew nearer and she could feel herself getting wetter.

“Keep talking,” Anne pleaded breathlessly. “I’m close. Fuck.” Ann moved more purposely between her legs, strumming her clit faster as Anne’s grip tightened around her. “You’d tell me how much you wanted to make me come, how you knew I’d dreamed about this moment, how long I’d been waiting for you to take me.” Anne’s hips were thrusting frantically against Ann’s fingers as her release drew closer.

Ann’s fingers were unrelenting, she wanted to completely unravel her. “You’d promise me that you were going to fuck me until I saw stars. With your fingers…” Anne moaned loudly as Ann pressed firmly against her. “Your tongue,” another loud groan as her fingers moved even faster. “Your cock.” She could feel that she was only a moment away, she pressed her lips against Anne’s ear as she whispered, “Till I was completely and irrevocably yours.” Anne’s hips shot up as she froze in midair as she came hard against Ann’s fingers as she pressed their bodies close together. Her fingers still stroking her as the ripples of Anne’s climax moved through her.

Anne collapsed breathless against the sheets. Ann placed a kiss against her lips as she pulled her hand out from between her legs. She looked at Anne, her eyes still closed as she continued to pant heavily, the wisps of hair clinging to her forehead damp with perspiration. She was everything and more than she had ever imagined in all those countless hours she had spent lost in her dreams of her. She opened her eyes as she pulled Ann in for a deep kiss.

When they parted Anne had a very self-satisfied grin on her face, Ann raised an eyebrow, “And why are you looking so pleased with yourself?”

The corner of her mouth rose into a smirk as she tugged the front of Ann’s dress, “Someone’s still wearing outside clothes in her bed.” Ann let out a tiny squeal as Anne quickly flipped them over and smiled mischievously, “We’re going to have to do something about that.”

===

Anne sat on the bed in her boxers and t-shirt watching Ann as she padded around her room in just her knickers and an oversized t-shirt. She had been sitting on her hands so she wouldn’t jump up and grab Ann as she walked past. She thought it was safe enough now to take a look at her watch. It was almost 9pm. She hadn’t realised it had gotten so late. Thankfully James had brought up a tray full of sandwiches for them which they had demolished entirely.

Two dresses and several breaks later it seemed they were finally done. The dresses Ann had finally chosen were hanging on the front of one of the large wardrobes as she began to put the others away. Anne was glad that she’d found something that she was comfortable in, not that she would have minded spending the day trying to find an outfit if it meant a repeat of the fashion show she’d spent most of the day watching. It would probably be unwise to have quite as many shag breaks as they had done in the safety of Ann’s bedroom.

Ann smiled as she walked past her and out into the hallway, “Back in a minute.” Anne considered getting dressed again as they seemed to be finished, but another thought came into her mind just as Ann returned wheeling in a suitcase much too large for just the two dresses she’d chosen. “Darling, we have the car. We can just put your dresses in the back. Trust me, there’s more than enough room back there to lay a dress down flat.” Anne gave her a quick wink. Ann shook her head, she was sure she didn’t want to know why she knew that, at least not at the current moment. Her dress selection had already been derailed several times once they’d gotten onto that train of thought.

“I’m going to pack a few more things so I can bring them back to London.” Anne nodded, it made sense to do that. They were no good to her up here. Also, if she had more clothes in London she might consider leaving some items at her flat. She still didn’t relish the idea of not waking up to her and hoped she’d be able to persuade her to regularly spend a few nights there each week, their schedules permitting. She was thinking about how to bring that subject up with her that she almost missed what Ann said next, “I don’t know if the bags I’ve got at Shibden are big enough for the trip to York.”

“Pardon darling?” She surely couldn’t have heard that right. The bag Ann had at Shibden was larger than any she had used to travel with in recent years, and that included a fortnight she’d spent travelling through South East Asia last year. “We’re going for two nights.” The steely glare Ann gave her made Anne shrink slightly against the covers. “Yes. I know,” Ann replied tersely. “But we’ve got drinks and a dinner, the wedding, nightwear, and regular clothes.” Anne wasn’t going to argue. “Plus toiletries!” She didn’t want to tell her that the hotel they were staying at would provide those.

“And the charger for your phone, and I’m presuming you’ll bring your laptop just in case you need to work, and your journal too.” Anne got up and walked over to her, wrapping her up in her arms as she saw her getting more frustrated. She was certain that the large suitcase had nothing to do with her items but she was grateful that she had considered Anne’s need for them. She felt Ann let out a huff against her chest as she kissed the top of her head, “Thank you darling.”

“I’d like to see how big your bag is.” Anne stifled a laugh, she could practically see Ann’s pout even though her head was still resting on her chest. “You’ve seen it, it’s that duffle that was under the chair.”

Ann pulled back sharply, “That’s it? That’s all you're bringing?”

“Well no, my suit holder too that was hanging on the back of the door.”

“What about the rest of your things?” Anne gave a small shrug as Ann leaned against the vanity table behind her. “And you’ve packed everything we need in it?”

“Yes, all my things are in it.” Anne stepped closer to her, lifting up her arms and placing them around her waist. As much as she loved wrapping Ann up in her arms she enjoyed Ann’s possessive embrace too. Ann looked up at her, her bottom lip between her teeth. Anne tilted her head curiously at her apparent shyness. “Yes dearest, but everything we need.” There was a long pause before Ann lowered her head and nodded towards Anne’s crotch. Her eyes widened immediately, “Oh. You want me to bring…” Ann gave a small nod.

Anne tried not to look too smug, “I’ll make sure to pack it as soon as we get back.” She turned to go back to the bed but felt Ann’s grip tighten around her waist. She stopped and looked back down at her. There was a small crease on her forehead though she couldn’t think why considering what she’d just asked her, surely there was nothing more to be bashful about, “Are you bringing it back to London or do you…have one?”

Anne reached up and caressed the side of her face. The contrast of this angel that sat before her asking whether she was bringing her strap back to London with her. Ann truly was perfect. She leant down, giving her a quick kiss, “I was planning on bringing it.” There was a contented nod, “It was actually my replacement. I ordered it when I was here last but it took too long to arrive and then I never needed it.”

“Oh.” Ann raised her eyebrows in surprise at Anne’s throw away comment. “So you haven't since Mariana?”

Anne paused, she hadn’t realised the implications of what she had just said. Ann knew about her reputation but they had not spoken about their previous relationships, or lack of, apart from Mariana of course. From the way they had spent most of their afternoon, and every moment they were alone over the last few days, it was obvious that they were both very happy, but she still worried about what Ann was thinking.

“No,” she answered hesitantly. “It was a bit of a um...dry spell.”

“Hmm.” It wasn’t the answer Anne had expected and she wasn’t quite sure what it meant. She placed two fingers beneath Ann’s chin and tilted her head upwards hoping for more of an answer. Ann’s bright blue eyes looked up at her, a teasing smile on her lips, “Not anymore.”

Anne tilted her head back as she laughed silently before looking back at her, the teasing smile now replaced by a huge grin, “You don’t have to look quite so pleased with yourself darling.”

“This must be what it feels like.”

Anne furrowed her brow, “What, what feels like?”

Ann bit her bottom lip as she stood up and wrapped her arms around her neck. She placed a firm kiss against her lips, “To be you.” She gave her a quick cheeky wink, “Darling.”

Chapter Text

Anne’s mind started to wander as they drove back from Crow Nest. It wasn’t even the circles that Ann was absentmindedly drawing on her thigh as she stared out the window. She had woken with Ann wrapped around her waist in the same position that they must have finally fallen asleep. She had thought about going out for a brisk morning walk around the grounds since she didn’t have her running clothes with her, but those thoughts were soon dismissed when Ann had almost knowingly squeezed her tighter and nuzzled against her chest. She was completely trapped, except not, because there was nowhere else she wanted to be.

The last few days had helped her to realise how lonely she had been before Ann had come into her life. Not simply because she was never physically far from her, but because she had been keeping people at arm’s length for so long. With Ann, even if she held her arms up she would somehow manage to duck under them and wrap herself around Anne until she accepted that any attempt at resistance was futile. More than that, she wanted to spend her time with her, to let her know about all the moments that made up her day, and Ann wanted that too.

They had been able to spend an unparalleled amount of time with each other. She wasn’t sure she’d ever spent this much time being in someone’s company just talking and learning about one another. Even back in university Mariana had to compete with her studies. Her family had also welcomed Ann so openly, which had been a great help. She knew that they had known the Walker family for years, but the way they treated Ann was like they had been together just as long.

Not for the first time, Anne thought about what would happen once they returned to London and the reality of not having Ann there to wake up to. They had been back in each other’s lives for just over a month, in what she would probably consider a relationship for about three weeks. She hadn’t believed it was such a short space of time but as she had held Ann in her arms thinking about how much she had come to mean to her she had added it up. That was why she worried it was too soon to even consider asking Ann to move in with her, which is what she realised she wanted as the room had filled with her tiny snores that morning. She wanted that sound, that feeling of waking up with Ann next to her. All she needed now was a way of broaching the subject.

Perhaps she should try to bring it up casually. Technically they were engaged, that night at Samuel’s place with his ludicrous Daylight Rule, she’d asked her to marry her and she’d said yes. She was sure she could get Eliza to declare it legally binding. Maybe that could be a way to at least raise the idea of what she wanted for them in the longer term. She shook her head, she was getting too far ahead of herself. She had made that mistake before, repeatedly, asking too much from people who weren’t prepared to be more.

First, she should ask her if she wanted to stay at her place for a few nights a week. Then it could move onto her moving in, and then hopefully living happily ever after together. Again she chastised herself internally, it seemed no matter how much she tried to stop herself from thinking too far ahead that’s where her heart and mind leapt. She allowed a smile to play on her lips as she thought of a forever with her. She glanced over, Ann was humming contentedly as she leant back in her seat as she continued to gaze out onto the many fields. She looked so happy, she knew she would do all she could to make sure she always was.

For the first time Anne wished that the distance between Crow Nest and Shibden was greater. She needed more time to think. As the back of the Hall came into view she noticed an unfamiliar Land Rover parked there. Anne pulled in slowly as Ann sat up, “Whose car is that?”

“I’m not sure darling.” They both turned and looked at each other curiously before getting out of the car. Anne walked round to the back of her car as the boot slowly opened. She pulled out Ann’s suitcase, now half-filled with the two dresses she had chosen for York and a few other items she wanted to bring back to London. Ann reached for the case but Anne kept a firm hold of it, and instead offered her hand to her. Ann smiled as she took it and wrapped herself around her arm as they turned towards the Hall. Always the gentleman.

Anne looked down as she clung to her, just as she went to place a kiss on top of her head Ann moved her head and instead the kiss landed in the middle of her forehead. They both paused as they laughed lightly, Ann lifted her head asking silently for a kiss. Anne was only too willing to oblige as she pressed her lips firmly against hers.

“Get a room will you!” Anne groaned as she heard Tib’s familiar voice behind them. She regretfully pulled back from Ann before turning towards the Hall. There she stood, her best friend wearing a grin to rival the Cheshire Cat with outstretched arms, “Look at the two of you, basking in the glory of a well-earned shag.”

Try as they might, neither of the Annes could resist laughing at Tib’s accurate description of them. Anne begrudgingly accepted a hug from her before she turned to Ann, “Miss Walker, I want none of the details but I’m glad you’ve put a smile on this one’s face.”

“Good to see you Tib.” Ann blushed slightly as she greeted her.

“What are you doing here?” Tib placed her hands on her hips as she huffed, feigning anger at the impertinent question. “That’s a fine way to greet your favourite person!” Ann wrapped her arms around Anne’s waist and they both looked pointedly at her, “Alright, second favourite. I’ll let Ann take that spot.” Ann gave her a little nod thanking her for relinquishing the spot so easily. Anne rolled her shoulders as she waited impatiently for an explanation.

Tib started to answer when another cry came from the door, “Annie!” They all turned as Catherine came running out, Ann immediately left her side to hug her cousin.

Tib gave Anne a nudge as they stood side to side looking on as the cousins started to catch up, “Why don’t you ever greet me like that?” Anne turned her head slowly and glared at her, Tib gave a half-shrug, “I’m just saying a little affection wouldn’t go amiss. We’re practically family.”

“And that’s why you just decided to pop in?”

“I’m here for the biggest wedding of the season!” The mock enthusiasm dripped from the strained grin on Tib’s face.

Anne scrunched up her nose, “I didn’t think you were invited.”

Tib smacked the back of her hand against Anne’s stomach, “Ha! I’m a Norcliffe. An envelope doesn’t get opened in Yorkshire without us being invited.” She had a point. Anne recalled in their younger days there wasn’t a party or occasion that they couldn’t get into, and many they should have avoided.

Catherine pulled her into a tight hug before she could say anything more, “Glad to hear you’ve been taking care of my cousin.” The double entendre was lost on none of them as Tib guffawed and Ann looked on shocked.

“Miss Rawson, it’s good to see you too.” Anne gave Ann a quick wink over her shoulder as she returned the hug. “I take it you’re Tib’s plus one.”

“Absolutely not. Rawson’s get invited to everything too.”

Of course Anne thought, between the two of them they had all of Yorkshire and more covered. It appeared that they would have their company at the wedding, she wasn’t sure she could call it a pleasure, but she found herself grateful at the idea. She hadn’t wanted to put Ann in Mariana’s crosshairs, but she had seemed eager to attend the wedding. It was comforting to know that Tib and Catherine would be there.

They all walked over to Tib’s Land Rover as the boot started to open. Anne could see their packed bags in the back of it. She recognised Tib’s solitary duffel, they were very much the same in that respect. Ann’s suitcase was still clearly the winner in terms of size but Catherine had certainly made a fine attempt at besting her cousin.

“All packed,” came Marian’s voice from behind them. Anne spun around and looked at her curiously as she stood there, overnight bag in hand. Marian answered before the question was asked, “I’m Tib’s plus one.” On cue Tib took the bag from her and placed it in the back alongside the others.

“Haven’t you got better things to do? Like running the estate? Weren’t you just in York?”

“Yes,” Marian huffed as Catherine and Tib both snickered, “But do you really want those two to be unsupervised?”

Anne shot them a fierce glance as they both straightened, trying to look innocent, “Hmm, you have a point.” She knew first hand what sort of trouble Tib could get into, and from the stories Ann had told her about their childhood the same could be said of Catherine. However, throwing her little sister into the mix might be more than she could handle. She remembered how they had reacted towards Mariana after Pride, and that was just two of the Three Musketeers. At full strength, as much as they would be there to support them, they could also be the source of any potential problems.

As she was weighing up the possible pros and cons of this situation Tib clapped her hands together loudly, rousing her from her thoughts, “Right, come on Lister. Where are your bags?”

Anne recoiled slightly at Tib’s question, “You don’t presume we’re all going in one car?”

“You’re right, I don’t presume. I know. You’ve been out voted.”

Anne’s mouth dropped open as she looked across at Ann who smiled innocently back at her, “I thought it would be fun.” She started to rub her temples, being with the three of them in York was one thing, being in a car with them was something else entirely. Ann wrapped her arms around her waist knowing this always helped with any argument she was trying to make, “Come on dearest, how bad could it be?” Anne looked over at the three of them huddled around a phone bickering as they tried to decide the best route, she was sure she didn’t want to know the answer to that question.

===

The journey had gotten off to a bad start before they had even left. Anne had wanted to drive but Tib had insisted she would since it was her SUV. If that was her only reasoning Anne suggested they take her car instead, but they soon realised there was no way they would be able to fit all of their luggage into the boot and Ann seemed set on them all travelling together. With Tib driving she knew that meant what should be an hour drive could take them all day since she never stuck to the simplest quickest route.

Anne wasn’t even able to take point as navigator since Ann had made it clear that one of the benefits of Tib driving was that she’d get to sit with her. She didn’t mind sitting in the back too much, she had to reluctantly concede that it was rather spacious and they’d all be much more comfortable than if they’d squeezed into her car. Ann was happy to take the middle seat as it meant she could lean back in Anne’s arms. Marian had been designated shotgun as Ann and Catherine wanted to spend more time catching-up on the events of the week although she was sure Ann had texted her every day.

At least Ann had made herself comfortable. Anne was at a slight angle so that Ann could lean almost fully against her chest. She’d pulled Anne’s right arm that had been resting on the back seat so that it was wrapped around the top of her chest, almost like a blanket, and had held it there the entire journey as Anne looked out the window. She would never want to encourage Tib to make the journey any longer, but she would happily have them drive for hours if she got to hold Ann like this.

She caught snippets of the conversations going on around her, Marian and Tib deciding what radio station they wanted to listen to. Marian insisted on 80’s pop classics from Whitney Houston and Kylie Minogue whilst Tib was insistent on showing how current her tastes were by playing something from BTS or Dua Lipa. Anne only knew that they were actually musicians because Eliza had tried to show her a music video the last time she was at the Washington house.

“What did you think of Crow Nest?” Anne hadn’t realised that Catherine’s question was directed at her until she felt Ann’s gentle fingers tapping her forearm. “Hmm?” She blinked her eyes, trying to focus.

“Crow Nest. You haven’t visited in a while?”

“If you had you might’ve recognised your neighbour when you swept her off her feet!” Tib laughed at her own joke from the front seat. Anne met her gaze with a hard glare as she looked at them in the rearview mirror.

“It was lovely, thank you Catherine. Just as I remembered.”

Her brow furrowed at her answer, “I didn’t think you remembered it.”

“I didn’t at first,” Anne felt Ann shift slightly in her arms. “But how could I forget this slip of a girl chasing me down on the Lightcliffe Road.” Ann turned her head up, the corners of her mouth turning up in a shy smile as Anne looked lovingly down at her. “I remembered how animated you looked when you asked me to tea even though you were grieving.” A small crease formed in Ann’s brow as she tilted her head back down. “And I thought to myself, there’s something special within this young woman that she’s able to project so much light, even at the darkest time.”

She paused as she waited to see if there would be any response. Without turning to look at her again, Ann pulled her hand up to her lips and kissed the back of it and Anne knew she was alright. “I told you that I’d come back for lunch, and your eyes sparkled. It was intoxicating.” She let out a light chortle, “But you were much too young for me at the time. I knew one day though someone was going to be very lucky to have you look at them that way.” She rested her cheek on the top of her head, “I never should’ve taken so long.”

“So long for what?”

“To come back for lunch darling.” She let out a tiny yelp as Ann playfully gave her hand a little nip before kissing the same spot. “I’m sure James didn’t mind.” Anne hummed as Ann continued to play with her fingers, “I’ve been meaning to ask actually, why is Cordingley, just Cordingley? Why not Mrs Cordingley like Mrs Hughes in Downton?”

“You didn’t watch that too did you?” Marian turned excitedly at the mention of one of her favourite shows.

Ann dropped Anne’s hand down to her lap as she turned to face her, “Of course I did! Poor Edith!”

“I know! But they all ended up having to curtsey to her in the end!” Anne ignored the brief glance her sister gave her. She had had to sit through hours of Marian and Aunt Anne watching Downton Abbey whenever she had been up visiting. They always seemed to save the Christmas Special for the exact moment they knew she had managed to settle in comfortably and didn’t want to get up again and she’d have to suffer through the trials and tribulations of the Crawley family.

“I couldn’t take Molesley seriously after watching Scott and Bailey though.”

Anne winced as Marian squealed loudly, “Geoff Hastings!”

“Yes!” Ann reached up and smacked each other’s hands in a high-five. Anne fought back a slight chuckle. Ann was definitely Marian’s favourite of the women she’d had in her life. She did have an unfair advantage since they had already been quite friendly before they started seeing each other, but even without it she was certain she would have easily won her over.

“Rachel Bailey though.” Marian held her hand up again and received another high-five.

“Seriously, she can arrest me anytime.” Anne laughed at the little frustrated huff that Ann let out. She tilted her head back and beamed up at her, “You’re the only one I’d chase down the Lightcliffe Road though.” Anne leant forward, placing a gentle kiss against her lips.

===

Anne had told her to take her time getting ready as there were a few things she needed to do before dinner and she didn’t want her to have to rush. As predicted, the hour-long drive had somehow taken them almost four hours between Tib’s detours and the leisurely lunch she insisted they had at a small pub they’d found. It meant that they weren’t able to do any of the things Anne had planned but she had remained in a good mood throughout the drive, no doubt helped by Ann’s constant presence by her side.

The hotel Anne had booked them was exquisite. It was an 11th century Grade I listed building that had been converted into a luxury hotel with only a dozen rooms, all uniquely decorated. The room she had chosen for them had magnificent views over the garden and the Roman city walls that enclosed them. She had heard the bells from York Minster ringing when the hour struck so they were in the centre of the city, but it felt like they were at a secluded country retreat.

Ann inhaled deeply as she walked back into their room, the scent of Anne still lingered in the room. Sandalwood and citrus. Every time the smell filled her lungs she could feel the warmth of the sun on her skin and Anne’s gentle touch as she cradled her head in her lap on the bridge that day. How much her life had changed since then. The plush bathrobe encased her and she was worried if she sat on the bed she’d fall asleep. She took another deep breath before she settled herself in the chair next to the large bay windows instead. 

Her damp hair sat on her shoulders. The walk-in monsoon shower had felt like a thousand hands giving her a much needed massage. She hadn’t realised how sore the activities of the last few days and nights had made her. It was a mixture of fatigue and having Anne wrapped around her that had ensured her the best sleep she’d had in years. The free-standing bathtub had looked particularly inviting but she wanted to save that for when Anne was back, perhaps she could persuade her to leave the drinks early with the promise of a good back scrub.

She knew it had been her decision that they go to the wedding but had she known they could’ve spent their weekend enjoying the opulence of this room wrapped up in each other she might have decided otherwise. Despite some initial hesitation Anne seemed eager to attend, especially now that Marian, Catherine, and Tib would be joining them, although she would never tell them that. She couldn’t deny that she was relieved too when they had said they’d all be going.

This would be the first time they would be out as a couple, not just with friends or family, but other people that Anne knew and admired. Of course Anne would do everything she could to make her comfortable, but she was glad to know that there would be a few more familiar friendly faces there, especially since she was sure there would be at least one unfriendly face amongst the crowd. Anne had tried to reassure her that Mariana would be civil, appearance was still everything to her, and she wouldn’t want to cause a scene. Catherine, Tib, and Marian had been less sure. Still, safety in numbers. She would be on Anne’s arm tonight and tomorrow, and she couldn’t think of anywhere better, except maybe the large antique bed, but there was plenty of time for that later.

She stood up and walked over to the large wardrobe that Anne had insisted on unpacking their clothes into even though they were only there for two nights. Thankfully she’d missed a few pieces of clothing that Ann had wanted to keep as a surprise. She pulled out the crimson tie waist silk dress that she had settled on and hung it from the wardrobe door. She had mostly chosen it because Anne had had to pick her jaw up from the floor when she had suggested it as a possibility. Her fingers lingered along the silky material, she loved the feel of the dress. She had only worn it once to one of the family’s summer parties. She had been too conscious of her bare shoulders that she’d refused to remove her shawl the entire time despite how warm it had been. She had brought one with her but hoped she wouldn’t have need of it.

She supposed she had better start to get ready, she still had to dry her hair and do her makeup. She wanted to look just as beautiful as Anne was handsome, even though she wasn’t sure that was possible. As her thoughts were starting to wander to how good Anne must look in her suit she heard her key in the door. She turned to greet her but as she opened her mouth to speak all of her words were lost to her. She stood open-mouthed as she stared at Anne.

“Darling?” Anne had burst into the room hoping to catch Ann in a state of undress but hadn’t expected the look of pure shock that greeted her. She quickly closed the space between them and placed her hands gently on her shoulders. “Ann, what’s wrong?”

“N-nothing.” Ann continued to stare wide eyed at her, “Is that what you’re wearing?” Anne let go of her shoulders and took a step back. She took a step to the side so that she stood in front of the full length mirror so she could take a proper look at her chosen ensemble. Her black brogues had been polished to a fine shine, black cigar trousers freshly pressed, black blazer with the satin lapels to compliment Ann’s silk dress, and the black mock turtleneck beneath that. She smoothed down the front of her blazer and turned to Ann, her brow knit with concern, “Will I do?”

Ann raked her eyes up the length of Anne’s body as the tip of her top ran slowly along her bottom lip. When her eyes finally reached Anne’s she was sure they were dark with desire, “You’ll definitely do.” Anne wanted to laugh but she had no time as Ann stepped forward, crashing their lips together. Anne took a step back to steady them as Ann wrapped her arms around her neck, her damp hair clinging to her face as the kiss deepened.

Her hands found the front of the robe, she gave one pull of the belt and it fell open. She reached inside the robe, her hands travelling down Ann’s hips before she suddenly pulled back when she realised she hadn’t put on any underwear yet. Ann opened her eyes, her mouth hung open as she realised Anne had stopped. Anne watched as her chest rose and fell beneath the robe with her heavy breaths. “We need to stop or else we’re going to be late meeting the others for dinner.”

Ann’s shoulders dropped, she knew that she was right. She would have already done the maths in her head of how long it would take before Ann was screaming her name and the time needed to get ready for dinner. If Anne said they would be late, she knew they would be. The thought of having to get through dinner and then drinks felt like torture, especailly given how striking Anne looked tonight. There was no way she would survive.

She turned her head slowly towards Anne, a small smile tugging on her lips as she eyed her challengingly. Anne looked at her curiously as she wondered what was going on behind those deep blue eyes. Ann raised her chin and shrugged her shoulders, the robe dropping to the floor leaving her completely naked in front of her. Anne’s eyes widened as a hungry grin spread across her face as she took in every perfect curve. She felt her mouth go dry as Ann raised an eyebrow, “We’re going to be late.”

Anne stepped forward, wrapping her arms around Ann’s waist and pulling her tight against her, “Very late.”

===

They had finally managed to tear themselves apart in time to meet the others for drinks. Anne had offered an excuse but there was nothing either of them could say that would convince them that they hadn’t been doing exactly what they had accused them of doing. They should have probably tried to grab something quick to eat but they had been fueled by the high they were still riding from their evening activities.

After one glass of champagne Ann was already starting to feel lightheaded as she clung tightly to Anne who appeared to be faring much better. It had been some time since Ann had seen Anne in full-on charm mode. She always captivated anyone in her vicinity during the Christmas parties her family had, but being on her arm was a different kind of magic. Standing side by side with her as she moved effortlessly through the room, talking easily to everyone who sought her out, being caught in the aura of Anne Lister was exhilarating.

It didn’t hurt that every stolen moment that they had alone Anne would find a reason to place a kiss on her bare shoulders before dipping her head close to Ann’s ear and whisper in that maddening low timbre exactly what she wanted to do once they got back to their room. More than once Anne’s fingers had come dangerously close to pulling the belt that held Ann’s dress together when she thought no one was around them. For her part Ann’s arm had reached up underneath Anne’s blazer to rub small circles along the bottom of her back as she whispered how wet she was imagining Anne’s fingers doing exactly that between her legs. It was a dangerous game they were playing as they teased each other incessantly throughout the night.

Between the taunting they managed to turn their attention to the continual stream of people that came over to talk to them. Ann noted how taller Anne seemed, her shoulders pulled back and her chest puffed out as she stood proudly as she introduced Ann to all of the people there. Ann too felt a little taller, it was the first time she’d been the other half of the dashing couple that everyone wanted to talk to. Despite feeling a little giddy, she didn’t miss the disappointed looks they received from some of the women once she was presented as her girlfriend. She wondered how many of those were dismayed at an opportunity missed or regret at being foolish enough to let her go.

As Anne chatted animatedly she revelled in how truly brilliant she was. They had spoken with so many different people - doctors, a priest, a local politician, she was unphased by all of them. It would have been easy for her to dominate the conversation and use Ann as a pretty adornment to her already glowing persona, but instead she brought her into the conversation. Most of the time, it was Ann that actually Anne talked about.

She spoke to them about her art, how beautiful Crow Nest was and how well managed the estate was, and what an accomplished horsewoman she was. Where Ann had only shrank into the background before, with Anne by her side she felt seen. It didn’t matter to her who Anne was talking to, that she thought and believed these things she was telling them meant everything.

Across the room Christopher Rawson had watched as he sipped his drink. The familiar rancour filling his gut at everyone took their turn talking to the remarkable Anne Lister, and how much more now that she appeared to have captured the equally elusive very beautiful, and wealthy, Ann Walker. He downed the last of his drink, before turning and slamming it down on the bar, demanding another.

“You may want to draw less attention to yourself Christopher,” the slick voice from behind him came.

He turned and offered a strained smile at Mariana, “Simply enjoying your family’s hospitality.” He didn’t try to mask the lascivious look he gave her as he took in the low cut dress she was wearing. She knew exactly how to entice any man in a room, but he knew her too well to get tangled in her spider’s web. She leant with her back against the bar as she looked across at the same sight he had not been enjoying. “They really do make a dazzling couple, don’t they?”

Christopher sneered as he glanced over his shoulder, “They do.”

“That dress your cousin’s wearing looks like it was made for her,”

“It probably was,” he said dismissively. More of the family money wasted. He lifted his glass to make a start on his next drink when he saw out of the corner of his eye her lip curl into a snarl. It was a look he was all too familiar with, and it meant no good for the person it was directed to. He turned his head more fully and saw her focused intently on the golden couple, “And what are you going to do about it?”

She reached over and took his drink from his hand and finished it in one gulp smiling slyly, “You’ll see.”

Chapter Text

The low rumble of Ann’s snores had woken Anne early. Rather than getting up she had stayed laid on her stomach watching Ann as she slept. She had had to stifle a laugh when at one point she snorted, but apart from the gentle grumble of her snores she was otherwise peaceful.

Her golden locks were a mess of waves that framed her angelic face. Anne could see a flash of red strewn across the dresser on the other side of the room. She squinted her eyes as she tried to focus on what it could be. She sighed at the inevitable appointment she would have to ask Eugenie to make with an optician so they could tell her what she already knew - she needed to wear her glasses more often and her prescription had changed. Finally she remembered, it was Ann’s dress.

Last night’s drinks could only be regarded as an absolute triumph. They had worked their way around the entire room, taking the time to speak to catch-up with the great and good of Yorkshire. Between the two of them they were quite the power couple - as Mrs Rawson had put it. She had commented on how well suited they were - the Mistress of Shibden and the Walker Heiress. She had bristled when she first heard it but Ann seemed amused by their titles that she didn’t dwell on it.

Ann’s apparent transformation had been a revelation to everyone that they had spoken to. Anne had noticed her confidence levels slowly rise as the news spread around the room that it was Ann Walker, yes that Ann Walker, on her arm. No longer the shy reclusive sole occupant of Crow Nest, but the enchanting companion of Anne Lister who had been thoroughly captivated by her, just as she was doing with everyone present.

The hushed twitter of people wondering how she had managed to achieve such a feat did not go unnoticed by Anne. She was utterly bewildered by the comments. All they needed to do was spend a moment with the woman by her side and they would have been enchanted by her too. It was a wonder that they had made it back to the room before Anne had pulled that ridiculous solitary tie that held Ann’s dress closed.

As the memory of the events of last night in their room started to return she felt herself getting increasingly aroused. She didn’t want to wake Ann, but they would have to be getting up soon anyway. Anne placed kisses along her neck and shoulders as she carefully balanced herself over Ann. The quiet moans started to fill their room as she continued along her exposed clavicle as she started to stir. A slow grin spread across her face as she felt Ann’s small hands reaching out as she pulled her hips down till their bodies were pressed together. Ann’s lips soon found hers as they both enjoyed the languorous kisses.

Anne was glad they’d been too tired to dress for bed as she caressed her soft skin as she started a tantalising trail up the side of Ann’s body with the very tips of her fingers. She felt Ann trembling beneath her as her hand reached up to cup her breast. Her thumb elicited a gasp as she drew teasing circles around her erect nipple. She made her way down as her mouth found Ann’s other breast as she repeated the same torturous movements with her tongue. Ann’s hands moved up, as she clutched the back of Anne’s head as she held her tightly to her. There was an audible whimper as Anne broke away for a moment to move to lavish the same attention on her other breast. Ann’s back arched as she took more of her delicious flesh into her mouth.

The once quiet moans grew louder as her thigh fell between Ann’s legs as she felt them open below her. A low groan escaped her mouth as she felt how wet she already was, Ann’s arousal already coating her thigh as she tried to move against her. Anne moved her head up as she whispered in her ear, “What do you need?” Before Ann had the chance to answer Anne groaned again as Ann’s thigh pushed up between her legs. Her hips started to grind against her almost of their own volition as she felt Ann’s hot breath against her ear, “You.”

Anne kissed her hard and deep as her hand moved down between Ann’s legs as she started to stroke between her folds. Her finger slid easily inside her, soon joined by another. She could feel her own climax building as she felt Ann’s inner walls contracting around her fingers. She moved her thigh behind her hand as she pushed deeper as Ann’s hips started to rise higher off the bed. Anne’s eyes shot open as she felt Ann’s fingers pressing urgently against her clit as she moved against her. Ann’s eyes were dark with desire as she struggled to get her words out between their laboured breaths, “I want you to come with me.” Anne could only nod as the pace of their movements quickened.

Anne shut her eyes as she tried to concentrate on bringing them both to their peak. She felt Ann’s soft lips on the outer shell of her ear. Their laboured breaths synchronised with the movement of their hands. Ann let out a sharp gasp as Anne’s thumb started to rub against her swollen clit. They were both so close. “Anne-” the singular word came out in a breathy plea. Anne opened her eyes again and locked them with Ann’s as their climax drew closer. She had never seen eyes so deep or as blue, she would forever be lost and found in them, “I love you.”

Her hand momentarily faltered as the three tiny words filled the room and every fibre of her heart simultaneously healing every past hurt. She didn’t have the ability to say the words back but as she saw Ann look back up at her she knew that she hadn’t said them to be reciprocated. She had said them because in that moment, perhaps in so many moments before, that it was she felt. She loved her. Anne pressed her lips firmly against Ann’s again in a deep kiss, hoping to convey all the feelings and emotions her lack of words could not as they came hard against each other.

Their lips stayed locked together as the waves of their climax moved through them until they both finally slowed their hands as the shudders started to subside. Anne brought her body down to rest on Ann’s as their foreheads touched and they breathed the same air. Her eyes closed as the words once again filled her ears, “I love you.”

Anne moved so that they were both on their sides facing each other. Her hand rested on Ann’s hip as she pulled them close together. She pressed her cheek against Ann’s before placing a soft kiss there. She leaned back slightly as they quietly gazed at each other. Ann’s hand came up around her as she moved it up and down slowly stroking her back.

Ann had finally said the words she knew she had felt for so long, and Anne hadn’t run away the way she had in her most fearful nightmares. She had stayed, she was right there with her as they lay in each other’s arms. Ann stared deep into her eyes, there was a golden light that illuminated the orbs that had been so dark with want, but it was tinged with a familiar uncertainty that she recognised from her own reflection. That same self-doubt every time she had let a careless comment from the tribe affect her more than it should.

“I love the way you make me feel when you’re inside me.” She placed a tender kiss to the side of Anne’s face. “I love how handsomely sexy you are, and how I’m always torn between wanting to rip your clothes off or wanting you to rip mine off.” Anne looked away briefly as their mutual laughter made both their bodies shake a little as they remained closely pressed to one another. “I love when you let me hold you, because it’s not weak at all, even though I know sometimes you think it is.” She knew her words were starting to sink in but she saw there was still a trace of doubt. Ann brought her hand up to cup the side of Anne’s face. She turned into the touch and kissed her palm gently like it was an act of reverence.

Anne’s head fell slightly before she finally spoke, “Don’t hurt me.” Her voice trembled as she said the words. This was her fear finally given a voice. She tilted her head back up, Ann’s heart breaking at the vulnerability she saw, “I’m not as strong as you think.” Ann’s head shook a little, at this moment of complete exposure she’d never known anyone so brave. Anne saw the complete look of love and devotion as Ann continued to look at her, the tiny strings at the corner of her mouth that Ann had total control over started to pull her lips up into a small smile, “I mean, I am. Obviously. But sometimes, I’m not.”

Ann stopped the train of self-doubt as she leaned forward to kiss her soundly until she felt they both needed to stop for air. She pulled back finally and pressed her hand once again to the side of her face. Anne leaned into the calming cradle of her palm. “I love you, Anne. I’m in love with you. I always have been.” Finally, when she turned to face her, all the doubt in Anne’s eyes was gone.

==

Anne felt a little nervous as she fastened the top button of her black dress shirt. Whilst Ann was getting ready for drinks yesterday she had slipped out and popped into Mullen & Mullen, a bespoke tailor in the city centre. She didn’t have time to have something made but for a price she had managed to get them to alter a waistcoat that they had for sale so that it would fit her properly. She stood back as she looked at herself in the full-length mirror, running her hand flat against the waistcoat to smooth out the material.

This was the second time in as many days that she had been unsure of her appearance. These were new demons, not the old ones that had plagued her before with seeds of doubt that she wasn’t good enough. Ann had banished those. She was confident that there was nothing she could say or do that would stop Ann from wanting to be by her side, but as she turned her head side to side and took herself in, she questioned whether what she wore suited her. It was just...a little colourful for her.

There was a small gasp from her right as Ann entered from the bathroom. Anne’s heart quickened as she saw Ann’s eyes widen, not in horror, but in appreciation. She had learnt to tell the difference. Anne held her arms out and turned to face her as Ann stepped closer taking in every detail of her outfit. There was something different. She had repolished her brogues even though she hadn’t needed to, black dress pants without a single crease, similarly the black dress shirt, but it was the waistcoat that drew her attention. She ran her fingers over her chest as the material caught the light. It was still black, but she saw the unmistakably deep blue swirl leaf pattern. Not just that, but the blue matched perfectly with the navy flared cocktail dress that she had chosen to wear.

She could see that Anne looked nervous, this was the first time she’d seen her dressed in something that wasn’t entirely some shade of black. “You know it’s not fair to the wedding party that you’ll be the most handsome one there.” Anne’s cheeks warmed slightly as Ann stood up on her tiptoes as she planted a loud kiss on her lips. A radiant smile added to the gleeful look in her eyes, “We match.”

Anne nodded, “In every way.” She could see the mischievous wheels turning in Ann’s mind again but before she allowed them to turn much further she gave a firm shake of her head. Ann let out a heavy sigh, it obviously wasn’t going to work again today. Anne glanced down and noticed her bare feet, “We’d better get some shoes on you before we’re late again. I can hear Tib now.”

===

As they made their way hand-in-hand through the lobby they could see their friends standing outside by Tib’s Land Rover. As they drew closer they were were certain that all of York could hear Tib as she loudly declared, “For fuck’s sake, look at you two! You’ve been shagging all morning again!”

“Tib!” Marian and Catherine both shouted in unison.

She flinched slightly at the loud rebuke but pointed at the two of them. Anne wondered whether they would have to suffer a similar greeting every time, although she could not deny the activities that preceded it were always worth it. They could all see the blush colouring Ann’s cheeks and Anne’s smug grin that she wasn’t even trying to hide. Marian rolled her eyes and groaned as she got back into the SUV, “I don’t want to know.”

Catherine’s eyes widened as she declared, “I do!”

Anne ignored all of the gawking faces as she pulled the door open for Ann and offered her hand as she stepped inside. Tib arched her eyebrow as she looked on at the gentlemanly display, “Yes Tib?”

“Are you going to open my door too?”

Anne let out a little huff as she started to get into the back, “We’re going to be late.”

Tib’s eyes narrowed as she tried to scrutinise Anne’s face, “You have, haven’t you? That’s the only reason you’d look this happy when you’ve got to go back into that viper’s nest of Belcombe’s again.”

Anne glanced into the vehicle, inside Ann and Catherine had already started chattering away. She leaned in closer to Tib and lowered her voice so that only she would hear her, “Or this is what happens when someone loves you.” She let out an audible groan as Tib’s hand came thundering down to smack her on the back as Anne’s words sank in. Marian’s head turned sharply, “What are you two doing?”

Anne gave a subtle shake of her head as they both answered, “Nothing Marian.” She let out a little huff as she turned back in her seat. Tib started to move to the driver's side as Anne settled into the back with Ann and Catherine.

She felt Ann’s hand on top of hers, there was a slight furrow in her brow when she turned to face her, “Did we get a gift? I completely forgot about it.”

Anne nodded reassuringly, “Yes darling, I got them something from us from their registry list before we even decided to come to the wedding.” Ann let out a sigh of relief, of course she had, or more correctly - Eugenie probably had. She placed a quick kiss on Anne’s lips, “I like that you said us.”

“That’s what we are, aren’t we?”

There was a collective grumble from all the other occupants as Marian muttered, “Why do I always have to be around for this stuff?”

==

Tib cautiously lowered her foot to the floor as she took her first step into the nave of the church. She glanced over her shoulder and gave a half smile to the rest of the party who were looking on curiously, “I didn’t burst into flames, that’s got to be a good sign.” She gave them a quick wink as Marian, Catherine, and Ann all tried not to laugh too loudly.

Anne rolled her eyes at her friend’s shenanigans, “Hardly Tib, the church loves a sinner.”

“No wonder you attend so regularly,” Anne edged closer towards Tib wanting to remind her they were all to be on their best behaviour. She felt a small tug on her arm and glanced to her side as Ann slipped her hand inside hers as she smiled back at her sweetly. The other three exchanged a knowing look as they watched the mighty Anne Lister being placated by the quiet blonde by her side. “Miss Walker I do believe you may have saved her immortal soul.” Anne scowled at her as Ann shook her head at their constant antics. Tib was forever goading her, and she would always rise to it.

“Behave or yours will be damned for all eternity,” Ann chided. “The afterlife would be boring without you in it.” Tib smiled in surrender as she held her hands up at the kind rebuke.

“Does it say on the invitation where we’re supposed to sit?” Marian questioned. Anne hadn’t looked properly at the invitation since she’d received it but she knew that Eugenie had sent her a picture of it. She pulled out her phone and started to scroll through her messages. Marian peered over her shoulder, “Why does your phone have a dirty big crack on the screen?”

“I dropped it,” she answered dismissively as she continued to look at her messages.

“From where? The top of the Shard?”

Anne tutted as she put her phone away, “Yes Marian, I threw my phone from the top of the tallest building in western Europe and then ran down to go get it.” Ann giggled at the sisterly bickering knowing full well she was to blame for the current state of Anne’s phone. Marian was about to respond when Anne spotted an empty row near them and motioned for them to take it, “The invitation says to sit anywhere.”

As they went to take their seats they saw Delia rushing towards them, “You’re not sitting here.”

Catherine glared at her sister, “Says who?” Delia turned her head and nodded towards the front of the church where they could see their grandmother standing chatting to some other guests. “Granny says you’re to sit with us. All of you.” They looked to Anne, it seemed she was the leader of this little expedition. She wanted to politely refuse but when she looked across the church again and saw the imperious look Nelly Rawson was giving them she knew it had not been a request.

Their grandmother has commandeered two pews directly behind the bride's side of the family. It was a little conspicuous for Anne but they had little say in the matter. They slowly shuffled towards the front of the church, well aware of the eyes on them as they neared their seats. Anne ignored the sneer from Christopher who had been relegated to the row behind them. They all greeted Mrs Rawson as they filed in.

The seats had apparently been assigned as Delia took the innermost seat, pulling her sister in behind her. Tib followed suit and sat down next, followed by Marian. Finally Mrs Rawson smiled at Ann and indicated she should sit next, leaving Anne to sit next to the head of the family. It would have been more fitting for them to be sat at a boardroom than a church bench considering the power on display. The Norcliffe, Lister, Walker, and Rawson families all represented.

Anyone would have been immediately intimidated by them and the alliance that appeared to be formed, and perhaps that was the point. This was Nelly Rawson's way of telling all those present, and the ones whom they would go to tell their stories to, if they chose to speak ill of this new pairing that this is whom they would be up against. The power move was not lost on Anne, and she was grateful for the old matriarch's blessing. She hoped it was enough to deter anyone they hadn’t already won over yesterday, including Mariana.

Anne had seen her in the bar but she appeared to have purposely avoided them. Had she wanted to talk to them Anne knew she would have found a reason. There were plenty of opportunities when they hadn’t been with the others if she had been trying to avoid a scene. She had not spoken to her since the day after Pride, although she had messaged her earlier in the week once Ann had said she wanted to go to the wedding. Part of her still hoped that they might be able to salvage some sort of friendship. She had received no reply despite her message being marked as read.

As the church started to fill she started to shift uncomfortably. She pulled at the front of her buttoned up blazer until Ann took her hand between hers and placed them in her lap. Anne turned to thank her but she wasn’t even looking at her, she was having a conversation with Marian. Anne let out a grateful sigh that she was there. She had had to endure many similar family events alone when Mariana had insisted she attend but spent the entire time ignoring her until she had a need for her.

Several members of the bride and groom’s family passed them as they took their seats. There were several noticeable winces when they saw her, followed by a strained smile as they noticed who was sitting by her side before the whispers started. She was safely flanked by Nelly Rawson silently, exuding the silent authority she was known for, and Ann on the other side. Her Ann, that earlier that morning had told her she loved her. The nervous knots that formed in her stomach started to ease.

“It’s good to see you all here.” She recognised the velvety voice as Mariana turned to stand before them smiling broadly. Anne was sure that it was only the immediate conversations around her that had stopped but it felt like every pair of eyes in the church were on them. “Mrs Rawson, it's nice to see you again. It's been too long.”

“Hasn't it just,” her reply gave nothing away. “Where is that husband of yours?” Mariana’s smile remained steady, she had many years experience of pretending to care where Charles was or what he was up to, “He’s had to stay in London.”

“Oh,” there was a hint of surprise in her voice. “I can’t imagine what could be more important than his sister-in-law’s wedding. It must be one of your other ventures, can’t possibly be his role as, what is it he’s in charge of?”

“Deputy Mayor for Business,” Mariana answered haughtily.

“Yes that’s it. Deputy.” There was a series of stifled snickers from the other end of their row. “If the Mayor can do without his trusted Senior Advisor, I’m sure he could have let your husband off for the weekend.” An awkward silence fell between the women until Mrs Rawson decided to offer her lifeline, “Anyway, I’m sure your husband would have been here if he could dear.” The number of times she had referred to Charles as her ‘husband’ was not unnoticed by anyone.

Mariana turned slightly, focusing on Anne now that the social niceties had been observed. “Freddy, you’re looking well.” She held her arms open slightly, clearly expecting a hug from her former lover. Anne knew no one would have seen it but she felt Ann tense at the use of her pet name. Anne stood stiffly, her hand still holding on tightly to Ann’s who remained seated. “Mariana, good to see you.” She caught her smile waver for the briefest moment when she did not return the familiar greeting before she leaned in to give a small embrace.

Mariana’s hands lingered on Anne’s shoulders. The habitual movement as she made her appraisal, “You always did clean up so nicely.” Anne felt the old feelings stir in her gut, the need for her approval and validation. The way she craved the tiniest morsel of attention from her. Mariana brushed away an invisible piece of lint, “When you made the effort.” And there it was, the condition always placed on her affection. Anne squared her shoulders, everything and nothing had changed.

There was a tiny pull on her hand before Ann rose to stand next to her. There was a momentary loss of their connection before she felt her arms wrapped possessively around her waist. Anne instinctively placed her Ann across her shoulders as she held her close. “Thank you for inviting us.” Ann offered sweetly.

“Miss Walker,” Mariana summoned every drop of civility she had to turn her grimace into a smile, “Of course. Anne is an old family friend. It wouldn’t be the same without her.” She gave a small polite nod, “I should take my seat, the ceremony will start soon.” She turned back to face Anne, “You should come and find me later.”

Anne gave Ann’s shoulder a small squeeze before replying, “We will.” Mariana smiled once more at Mrs Rawson before turning away.

There was a collective sigh once she was far away to not notice as everyone on the bench let go of the breath they had all been holding. They took their seats again, sinking back slightly in relief. Anne thought that had gone remarkably well, not that she had expected Mariana to be anything but the picture of a perfect host given the setting. They had managed to keep it civil and had made it clear to that she and Ann were there together. She hoped that they could all now move on.

“She’s up to something that one.” Anne’s head turned sharply as Mrs Rawson fixed her stare on Mariana as she took her seats. Finally she turned to Anne, “We should talk before the reception.” A small lump formed in Anne’s throat at the ominous tone as her hand once again sought out Ann’s, finding solace in their intertwined fingers.

Chapter Text

They had moved to the Hospitium, in the grounds of York Museum, for the wedding reception. Anne had attended many functions there, and had once considered it for her own wedding to Mariana - back when she allowed herself those flights of fancy. The idea had been quickly dismissed. Mariana had said that it was far too small for the sort of wedding she envisioned. She wanted all the bells and whistles, a huge wedding party and horse drawn carriages to carry them all. That was what she had, when she had finally got married, but of course, not to Anne.

After the wedding breakfast most of the guests were taking advantage of the beautiful summer’s day and had situated themselves in the grounds that were overlooked by the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey. The venue was perfectly suited for the smaller guestlist that Eliza had. Anne always did think that of Mariana’s sisters she seemed to be the most sensible. She’d mostly avoided Mariana’s family, given their history, but she and Ann had been able to steal a moment to congratulate the newly married couple. As with everyone else they had met, Ann had utterly charmed the couple and Anne had left them thinking that at least one member of the Belcombe family had been happy she’d accepted the wedding invitation.

As she waited at the bar for the drinks she had ordered she thought to herself how the day had gone much better than she expected, apart from the slight awkwardness in the church with Mariana earlier. They were all actually enjoying themselves. Both she and Marian had exchanged several thankful glances that they had outgrown the sort of squabbles Catherine and Delia still seemed to have. Even Tib had managed not to get into a confrontation with Mariana, and she didn’t even think it was all due to her staying off the drink although she was sure that helped a great deal.

Mrs Rawson’s inauspicious prediction that Mariana was planning something had so far been proven unfounded. She had only caught glimpses of her throughout the day, and at all times she appeared to be playing the warm host. It was a role she’d always been very good at. Despite how smoothly it all seemed to be going, and even with Ann at her side - or maybe because of it, it was hard for her not to think of all the times Mariana had been the one with her.

It hadn’t been a rueful comparison though, but a happy one. She no longer found herself making sure she stood a little bit away from her in case someone correctly assumed that they were together. When someone she wasn’t familiar with came over to talk to them she was never introduced as her friend, instead Ann proudly claimed her as her girlfriend. It had all been so easy to ignore back then, but it stood in stark contrast to the way Ann behaved.

Their bodies seemed to crave proximity to each other. Their hands sought each other out instinctively. It was silly, but she knew whenever Ann entered the room. If Tib had gone with her to get the drinks she would have bet that Ann’s eyes were focused solely on her. Without turning, she knew. As sure as she knew that Ann loved her. Anne’s chest swelled with the knowledge, this was how she always wanted to feel.

===

It might be unkind to tell her cousin to stop gawking, but that’s exactly what Catherine had caught Ann doing as Anne waited at the bar for their drinks. She wasn’t to blame, Anne always had those dark mysterious brooding looks, but they were nothing compared to when she chose to dazzle people with her smile. Ann’s was a more classic beauty, all golden curls and the perfect dash of freckles across her skin coupled with the kindest nature. Between the two of them every head at the reception had turned when they walked in.

The effect of seeing Anne Lister and Ann Walker together was almost universal, people were stunned. The air around them buzzed with a mixture of surprise, intrigue, and more than a little envy. The whispers all the same…”How did she do it? Are you joking? Just look at her! You’d never guess they’d get together.” Catherine knew the news of their pairing had been spread all over Yorkshire before the first course had been served.

She had given up trying to be polite to all the people who’d felt the need to stop by their table during the wedding breakfast to say hello. Their popularity was second only to that of the newly married couple, but only slightly. Neither of them seemed to mind, she knew that Anne was used to this sort of attention. Ann’s reaction had surprised her though, there was a spark in her being next to Anne. She had worried she’d shy away from all of the scrutiny, but it only seemed to bolster her confidence. For the first time her cousin looked comfortable in the crowd of people, both equally as proud to be on each other’s arm.

“I suppose you’re allowed to be so obvious now,” Catherine nudged Ann teasingly to rouse her from her Anne Lister-induced daze. Ann shook her head as she turned to her, “Sorry?”

Catherine tilted her head towards Anne, as if she could possibly be talking about anyone else. “Now that you two are shacked up, you’re allowed to ogle her.”

“We’re not shacked up Cath.” If her best friend had her way Ann thought she’d have them married before they got back to London. That wouldn’t be a terrible thing. She couldn’t deny that being sat in the church earlier, with the vows being spoken, Anne’s hand in hers, hadn’t caused her mind to wander to that possible future. It was foolish to think of those things so soon.

They still had the rest of the reception to get through and then she would have another glorious day with Anne before they headed back to London. She hadn’t wanted to think too much about what that meant. She had told Anne that she loved her, and she had never meant anything more, but she remembered how busy Anne had been just before their trip. She couldn’t expect any of that to change just because they’d spent a week together.

“Not yet anyway.” Catherine’s voice once again caught her attention. “At least you didn’t deny that you were caught checking your girlfriend out.”

“Hmm?” She tried to pretend that she’d been paying a small bit of attention.

“Oh Annie,” she playfully shook her head. “You know Granny’s asked me to stay up here for a couple of days, since I’m her favourite.”

“That’ll be nice.” Catherine’s eyes narrowed at her response. Apparently she would need a little help understanding. “You’d be in the flat by yourself.” Another polite nod. Catherine huffed, “Or you could just stay with Anne. In her flat.” Ann’s mouth opened slightly. She was starting to get it now. “In her bed.” Her eyes widened. “So you two can-”

“Catherine!” She smacked her arm lightly as she beamed back at her triumphantly.

A mischievous smirk spread across her face, “In case you got...lonely.”

“Who’s lonely?” Tib draped her arms around their shoulders from behind.

“No one because the lovebirds are shacking up.” Catherine was enjoying being able to tease Ann even if it did earn her a few cutting glares. Getting her to move down to London had been the best plan she’d ever hatched. If she could just get them to move in together then she’d consider taking up matchmaking as a new career path.

Meddling seemed to be in her blood. She’d been watching her grandmother flitting about the room exchanging whispers and knowing glances. If she wasn’t certain that she was in support of their relationship she would have been worried. The minor skirmish she’d had with Mariana in the church set her feet firmly on the side of the Annes.

“You’re moving in together?” Marian asked excitedly as she and Delia joined them, completing their little circle.

Tib raised her glass of ginger ale, “Someone’s finally making an honest woman of your sister.”

Marian clinked her champagne flute against her glass, “About time.”

Ann threw her hands up, “Stop, all of you.” They were bad enough on their own but when all of them teamed up they were absolutely reprehensible. At least with Marian and Catherine there their conversations hadn’t descended into the sort of explicit detail Tib had tried to coax out of them during the entire drive there. She was fine talking to Catherine but she didn’t need Anne’s little sister knowing those details, and she knew Marian was incredibly grateful she felt that way.

“We’re not moving in together! It’s too soon for all that,” Ann answered dismissively. She quickly glanced around her to make sure Anne hadn’t overheard any of their conversation. Despite her earlier profession of love, they were still taking things slowly. She was all too aware of the pain Anne’s previous relationships had caused her, one of the main perpetrators had been sending masked daggers at them all afternoon. She refused to rush Anne into moving things along any faster than she was ready for.

“What’s all this?” Ann shot them all a quick silencing look before turning towards Anne.

“Nothing dearest,” she answered, placing a kiss on her cheek. Anne eyed her suspiciously as she handed the drinks to her and Catherine. She was certain she knew the subject of their discussion but this was not where she wanted this conversation to take place, especially if she had heard Ann correctly.

She placed her arm around Ann’s waist, who instinctively shuffled a little so that she could be cradled in her protective embrace. The slight movement wasn’t missed by any of the others standing with them, and neither was the slight tilt of her head as she bent down to kiss the top of Ann’s head. Anne noticed the four pairs of eyes staring knowingly at them, “What?”

Tib shook her head and sighed, “You two are ridiculous.”

===

“Penny for them.” Tib lay her hands on the back of the bench as Anne turned her head and looked up at her friend, slightly puzzled.

“Hmm?”

Tib came around the side and plonked herself down heavily next to her causing the bench to shake a little, “Your thoughts Lister. I’ll give you a penny for them.” She looked at the perplexed expression on her face as she folded her arms across her chest, “Unless they're filthy and then I'll give you a whole 20p.”

“Tib.” She giggled to herself. She always considered it a triumph when she reduced the mighty Anne Lister to a single word. It was almost always her name. She wondered whether Anne always preferred to use that name because it could convey exasperation, frustration, and amusement, sometimes all at the same time.

“Alright, 50p. But this better be good.” She clapped her hands together. “What's with the pensive Heathcliffian look? It's like you belong on a moor or something rather than at this, I hate to say it, lovely wedding reception.” That was the reason Tib had sought Anne out. She had noticed how quiet she had been as the day had drawn on. Now that all the polite chit-chat had been had and they’d all caught up with the great and good of Yorkshire they’d managed to start relaxing. Only she’d seen that all too familiar look in her eyes when the cogs and wheels of her brain were working themselves much harder than was necessary.

“It's Ann,” she finally answered.

“Oh well I knew that,” she replied quickly. “It's always Ann with you lately. I'm going to need much more for my money. What specifically about your adoring girlfriend is causing you to look like that?”

“She does adore me, doesn’t she?” Tib shifted so that she was facing Anne. She had heard the hopefulness in her statement but also the doubt in the question.

“She loves you,” she assured her. “You told me so yourself.”

Anne brought her hand up and started to rub her chin. Tib knew that this was a sure sign that she had been over thinking. She knew that there was always a danger of this happening today, it’s why she had told Catherine and Marian they needed to go with them to the wedding. The thought of Mariana only needed to be planted into her head and any common sense seemed to make a swift exit, they’d all seen it happen after Pride. None of them wanted a similar fall out now that they’d finally managed to get the two of them together.

“But she doesn’t want to live with me.”

Tib felt her shoulders tighten. She had hoped that Anne hadn’t heard their conversation earlier, even though she suspected she had. “Caught that then.” Anne looked at her pointedly, of course she had. The two of them were perfectly attuned to one another, it was surely only a few more weeks before they started communicating telepathically. Tib shook her head as she tried to focus, “Is that even on the cards? Isn’t it a bit quick?” She didn’t believe it was too fast, not for these two, she’d wanted to jump up at the end of the wedding ceremony and ask the priest if he could marry them as well. However, she needed to stop the self-destructive train that Anne’s thoughts were sending her on.

Anne gave a half shrug, it had been on the cards. It had been all she was able to think about since Ann had told her she loved her. One profession of love in exchange for another, they may not be the same words but they had equal meaning in her mind. “I wasted so much time waiting for Mariana to be ready.”

“You waited for her to leave her husband. This isn’t the same.”

“I was still waiting,” the sadness of decades of regret lacing her words. “Like an idiot I held onto that hope that one day…” Her voice trailed off as she chastised herself again for the time she had spent chasing Mariana, “Till I didn’t even know what I was holding onto anymore.” She let out a heavy sigh, “And now I have to wait for Ann to be ready to move in with me.”

In these situations Tib always wanted to bang Anne’s head against something hard to make her see sense. Really she wanted to bang Mariana’s head for making Anne think this way. She had never known Anne to be this happy, but conversely that’s why she had so much doubt, years of conditioning had taught her that just when she thought she had everything it would always be snatched away. She could understand her friend’s fear that it might happen again, and she knew that somewhere inside that stubborn head she knew it was all unfounded.

“Mariana’s a fucking cactus!” Anne quickly glanced at the rest of the guests following Tib’s loud outburst. No one had appeared to have heard her, or like her had balked at the bizarre statement that they pretended not to have. She turned back to face Tib wide eyed, they both stared at each other in silence before simultaneously bursting into laughter.

“What on earth are you talking about?” Anne finally managed to ask after some time. Tib wiped away the tears from her eyes that had fallen as a result of their raucous laughter. She shook off the last remnants of their hysterics and tried to adopt a more serious tone, “She’s a cactus.” She stated matter-of-factly. She could see Anne trying to stifle the laughter as she looked on attentively. Tib shook her finger at her, implying the seriousness of what she was about to say, “The more you held on the more it hurt.” Anne shook her head in wonder, how is it she came up with these little pearls of wisdom?

“You’re different with Ann. I saw it when you were in London, I’ve seen it more up here. It’s more than you two not being able to keep your hands off each other.” Anne wanted to give her a cutting look but she was probably right, they could be very tactile. “That’s why we all got so pissed at you when you let her stay at your flat. You were letting her back in, and that one has a habit of ruining every good thing she touches - especially you.” Tib paused a moment as she let Anne’s common sense return to her to affirm what it is she was saying.

“I’ve never seen you this happy, even when you were with me.” Anne looked up at her words, tilting her head sympathetically. It was that same scar that she hoped one day would heal. Tib shook her head, this wasn’t what Anne seemed to think it was about. “I mean before she got her hooks into you.”

“Spines.” Anne stated.

“What?” Tib scrunched up her face as she looked at her incredulously.

“Cacti have spines, not hooks.”

Tib turned away from her and folded her arms back across her chest, “I don’t know how Ann puts up with you.” Anne lightly swatted her arm. Tib glanced down at the pathetic attempt to get her attention. Anne wiggled her eyebrows at her and she couldn’t help but laugh at her, the brevity of the subject still hanging in the air but coloured by a lightness that came with decades of friendship. “Look, maybe she’s not ready to move in with you, but she will be.”

Anne thought carefully about her words. That morning, she’d asked Ann not to hurt her, and in return Ann had told her she loved her, that she had always loved her. Ann was different. As much as she wanted to fast forward their relationship at times she had to allow things to progress at a rate they were both comfortable with. She had to stop comparing their relationship because she’d never had this before. Tib was right. She reached over and gave her a playful swat across her stomach that caused her to sit up indicating the message had been received. That was as much credit as she was willing to give her.

Tib was about to suggest they go find themselves another drink when she saw Delia walking hurriedly towards them. They both turned to each other curiously, a Rawson in a rush was never usually a good thing. Delia took a moment to catch her breath when she reached them, “Granny wants to talk to you. Now.” Anne felt her stomach sink, she knew that Mrs Rawson had figured out what Mariana was up to. Delia looked at her urgently, “It’s about Ann.”

===

Ann smoothed out the front of her dress as she stood in front of the floor length mirror she found in the hallway outside the bathroom. She smiled to herself as she thought how it had been the perfect choice to compliment Anne’s suit choice, even before she had paired it with the blue accented waistcoat. It was such a small gesture but it meant so much to her, it was a visible statement that not only were they a pair and that Anne’s life was changing. She didn’t need her Art History degree to know that even at its most basic level the introduction of colour in her once monochromatic aesthetic held significance.

She looked over herself once more, the others were waiting outside but she wanted to make sure she looked as wonderful as the day had felt. “That’s a lovely colour on you.” She froze as she heard the once familiar voice. She closed her eyes, silently praying that she was wrong. It could be anyone just passing by, maybe a member of staff who was just being polite, anyone but him.

“It’s good to see you again Ann.” There was no denying it was him now. She squeezed her eyes tighter wishing it was all a bad dream like it had been countless times before. “Are you not even going to say hello?” When she felt his cold fingers take a firm hold on her arm she spun around immediately, shrinking against the wall so that she was as far away from him as possible.

It had been almost ten years since she had last seen Thomas Ainsworth, but there was no mistaking the weak chin or pale lifeless eyes staring back at her. They had dated briefly after she had just finished uni and was trying to convince herself that she could be happy with anyone other than Anne. In doing so she had managed to find her complete opposite. It hadn’t taken long for her to realise what a complete mistake it had been, but it had been long enough for him to convince himself that he was the only one for her.

He spent years trying to make her see how wrong she was and despite her protests had weaseled his way into her family. He had all of them fooled with his foppish Eton-educated manner. Even Elizabeth and Catherine, though they knew she would never be interested in him as a husband, couldn’t understand why she dismissed even the idea of friendship with him. The tribe would invite him along to every function as though they were still together. When they spoke to her of him they insisted that he came from a good family, that he would give her the children that she should so clearly want so that she would have a proper heir to the Walker fortune, that her life could have a purpose as his wife.

Truly they thought he was someone that they could control and manipulate to suit the family’s interest. She knew that he was more calculating than they thought him capable. She had no doubt that if they were married he would find some way to seize control of the entire Walker fortune and probably bankrupt the rest of the family in the process.

She had also seen the way he behaved around women, at first he would appear charming but he would constantly leer at them. He would make misogynistic jokes and pretend that he was only kidding when he would say women were property and needed the firm guidance of their husband. He used every opportunity he could conjure up to be alone with Ann till finally she chose to stop attending family events if she knew Catherine wouldn’t be there too.

There were rumours that he had fathered a child and had tried to deny that he even knew the mother, but even that was not enough to persuade the tribe. It was only when rumours started to surface that he had embezzled money from the company that he was working for that they decided to distance themselves from him and had suggested that she might be able to do better than him.

She couldn’t understand what he was doing at the wedding. As far as she knew he didn’t move in the same circles as the Belcombe family, unless he somehow knew the groom’s family but they weren’t from Yorkshire. His mousey brown hair had receded even further across his brow and though he tried to hide it she could see his gut trying to burst through his cheap suit.

He took a step forward causing her to retreat further along the wall as a menacing grin spread across his face, “Come on Ann, doesn’t an old love even get a hug?” She bristled at the term, she had never loved him. She withdrew further till she felt the cold stone hit her back, she had unwittingly backed herself into a corner. As he drew nearer she wanted to call out for Anne, Catherine, anyone passing by but she couldn’t find her voice. His unexpected appearance had stolen her voice, “You used to love my hugs.” She felt her hands draw up instinctively to shield herself as the smell of his clawing cologne started to surround her as he moved closer once again.

“I think she would like you to step away.” Ainsworth spun at the sound of the commanding tone. Ann lowered her hands and peered around him to see Anne standing there flanked by Tib, Marian, and Catherine. “We’re just old friends getting reacquainted,” he offered with his arms outstretched. Ann took the opportunity now that his back was to her to move swiftly past him to stand at Anne’s side. Anne immediately bent her knees a little so that she was eye level with Ann and took her hands in hers, “Are you alright?” Ann nodded weakly bu