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A Recipe For Success

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Marian’s smile faltered as her pen hovered over her notepad. She exhaled, trying to keep her composure as she awkwardly asked the gentleman to repeat what he’d said. As soon as he opened his mouth, another crash from the kitchen deafened everyone in the dining room.

“I’m so sorry, sir. Would you please excuse me for just one moment.” Marian spoke calmly as she poked her pen behind her ear and scurried off to the source of the disruption.

“I told you to be in charge of the bloody scallops!” An almighty crash of a heavy pan hitting the steel sink thundered through the kitchen. “These are fucking expensive and look, they’re completely fucking ruined.” Anne was all teeth and fury as she screamed towards the bewildered man standing next to the oven.

“You said you were doing them.” He muttered meekly as he avoided Anne’s eyeline.

“Sorry?” Anne stopped gesticulating.

Everyone else in the kitchen tensed. If Anne wasn’t moving at a thousand miles an hour, she was more than likely a mere second away from exploding.

“I’m pretty s-sure that y-y-you said you were doing them.” He stuttered.

Anne clenched her teeth as her nostrils began to flare. She looked up at him, her gaze boring into his thick, idiotic skull as she inhaled slowly. “If you weren’t so utterly useless, you’d have heard me ask you to keep an eye on them, precisely…” Anne pulled out her pocket watch. “Seven minutes ago.” Anne snapped the metal cover closed and nestled the watch back into her pocket. “How long do we cook scallops for, Thomas?” Anne was still fixed to the spot, her hands on her hips, everyone knew he was in real trouble now.

“F-f-f…”

“What!” Anne screamed, making everyone in the kitchen flinch.

“Four minutes.” Thomas finally managed to get his words out.

“Hm. Then perhaps you’d like to explain why fifty fucking pounds worth of scallops are currently sitting in my sink, overcooked and ruined!” Anne was shouting now, any ounce of control she had over her anger had long since expired.

“I don’t have to stand for this.” Thomas said before he frowned, almost as if he’d startled himself with his own words.

“Sorry?” Anne’s face was deep shade of pink now as she balled her fist tightly by her side.

“I didn’t do anything wrong. Those were your scallops.” Thomas bit the inside of his cheek as he stared at the spot on the floor. There was no going back now.

This was the moment Marian reached the door, just in time to see Anne throw one of the stainless steel bowls in Thomas’ direction as she erupted into a tirade about how insignificant and incompetent he was. The vein in her head was bulging, her arms looked like she was directing rush-hour traffic at Heathrow airport and her eyes were wild. Marian was just about to intervene when Thomas opened his mouth.

“Enough! I quit!” He stormed over to the door, flinging it open dramatically before he turned back. “You know, you’re a real prick.” His intention was to slam the door as hard as he could but in the heat of the moment, he forgot they were, of course, swing doors. He watched in embarrassment as the door closed silently and immediately opened again.

Anne laughed at his attempt at a triumphant exit. “Get the fuck out of my restaurant.” She shouted at him as Marian entered the kitchen.

“Anne!”

“What is it Marian? I’m busy. I have to re-do these fucking starters and now I’m behind. I don’t have time for this right now.” The fresh scallops sizzled loudly in the pan as Anne turned up the heat.

“Are you aware that everyone can hear you? Your customers? You know, those people out there paying your extortionate prices to eat fancy food in a relaxed environment?” Marian tutted. “Do you have any idea what people think when they hear you screaming?”

“I don’t care what people think.” Anne muttered, even though she knew it was a lie.

“Oh, Anne. How are we going to find another sous chef by next week? Honestly, why can’t you think about anyone other than yourself?” Marian huffed before heading back out into the dining room to try and claw back the evening for the diners.

Anne tossed the butter in the pan vigorously, trying to shake away her anger. She couldn’t help it, she told herself, it was the stresses of the kitchen and the fact she could never find staff that worked as hard as she did. The truth was, Anne was a hot-headed control freak with impossibly high standards. It was only May but she’d gone through two sous chefs already this year and with an important event coming up next weekend, she really was in a pickle, not to mention behind with her orders. She’d have to deal with the staffing issue later, for now she had to focus on getting through dinner service.

--

Growing up in Halifax, Anne couldn’t wait to leave as soon as she was old enough. Sure, the rolling valleys were great and all but she felt suffocated by them. They surrounded her, shielding her from the vibrant cities and big world outside, or at least that’s how they made her feel. Having been taught how to cook from an early age by her favourite person in the world, it didn’t surprise anyone when Anne enrolled in culinary school. She swiftly became head of her class, routinely outperforming her tutor and bragging about it any chance she got. On the weekends, she’d stay with her Aunt at Shibden and test out her wild ideas and recipes on the woman who had nurtured her love of food her entire life.

As soon as she graduated, with distinction as she always added, she packed a bag and caught the first train to Manchester in hopes of building an empire and living her dream. Unfortunately, that move was also to be her downfall. Anne was a romantic, feeling every emotion intensely and so, when she met charismatic socialite Mariana Belcombe, she was blindsided. Suddenly, nothing else mattered in the world. Anne took up a kitchen job in a local restaurant just to pay their rent, her heart wasn’t in it but it didn’t matter. It allowed Mariana to live the life she was accustomed to and Anne convinced herself she was happy with the crumbs of affection that would be tossed her way. She told herself it didn’t really hurt when Mariana referred to Anne in company as her friend, or worse, flatmate. It was fine because when they were alone, it was different. It was their secret. The regular arguments were fine because the sex afterwards was the best Anne had ever had. It was fine. Perfectly fine. Plus, Mariana had promised to go into business with her. They were to open their own restaurant, run it together and plan their future. Everything was going to be fine.

--

A year later, Anne crossed the street, her hands in her pockets and her head low. She walked towards the building they’d acquired together for the restaurant and grimaced as she looked through the dusty windows. It was an empty shell, rather like Anne herself. Mariana had gone, of course, she’d married some rich businessman and fucked off to Cheshire. All she’d left Anne with was a broken heart and a restaurant to set up. The door creaked as she stepped inside, her eyes stinging as she fought the urge to cry. She sat on the cold floor with a sigh and twisted the cap off the bottle of whiskey she’d stowed away in her jacket pocket. The amber liquid burned as she swallowed it down. Mariana’s laugh echoed in her mind, she should be here, they should be doing this together. As she took another swig, she suddenly felt her phone vibrate in her pocket.

“What is it?” Anne rubbed her eyes in annoyance.

“Open the door.”

Anne’s brow furrowed as her eyes struggled to focus on the looming figure at the front door. She hauled herself up with a grumble and staggered to let her sister in.

“What are you doing here, Marian?” The tremor in Anne’s voice threatened to give her stoic demeanour away.

“We’ve got a restaurant to open.” Marian smiled kindly as she watched the confusion travel across her sister’s face. “Give me that whiskey, we should be celebrating.”

Anne and Marian had never been particularly close, they tolerated each other at best but when Marian moved to Manchester to help Anne with her dream, well, it threw Anne entirely off. She was grateful, of course, but that didn’t stop her barking orders and insisting she was the boss.

“You can’t call the restaurant that.” Marian chided.

The whiskey bottle clattered against the stone floor as Anne placed it down.

“It’s my restaurant. I can call it whatever I like.” Anne muttered.

Our restaurant.”

“No, Marian. It’s my restaurant.” Anne stuck her chin out, despite her rather drunk state. 

“Fine. But you can’t call it that. Most people don’t know how to say it, for one.”

“Most people are dull and stupid.” Anne cut in sharply.

“You’re impossible.” Marian huffed.

“Come on, we’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow.” Anne managed to stand, pulling her sister up with her before they both staggered towards the door.

--

The dinner service was long, awkward and stressful. Everyone ordered extra things, less of this, more of that. It drove Anne feral when her customers picked apart her carefully constructed and thought out dishes. She’d rant and rave in the kitchen, listing all the reasons why certain ingredients simply had to be paired with each other. To remove one without the other was like removing a limb. As she watched the final order leave the kitchen, she wiped her damp forehead with the sleeve of her apron and exhaled.

Anne struck an imposing figure in the kitchen, she was tall and handsome, muscular in some places, leaner in others. While most kitchens insisted on chef whites, Anne wore black, coupled with a black bandana to hold her dark brunette hair back. She could wield a knife with expert precision, juggle eight different dishes on the stove and get every single plate out, hot and on time. Everyone was, of course, petrified of her.

Anne's loyal pot wash, Cordingley floated around her, collecting the discarded pots, pans and utensils and tidying up as she went. Anne was absolutely methodical in the kitchen, despite her temper, everything had its place on her workbench. Even when she had twenty tickets on the go, her station was always immaculate. Cordingley had learned how to tidy up after the head chef without getting in her way. It took a bit of trial and error in the early days, getting multiple sauces spilled over her and feeling Anne’s sharp tongue on numerous occasions but now they were symbiotic.

“Elizabeth.” Anne’s voice was low and quiet.

“Ma’am?” Cordingley looked up from the sink.

“Go home. It’s been a long service. Marian and I can clear this up.” Anne smiled tiredly.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.” Anne nodded to the door. “Go on.”

Cordingley grabbed the tea towel from the side, drying her hands before taking off her apron and finding her coat.

“Goodnight, ma’am.” Cordingley smiled again before turning to leave.

“You know you don’t have to call me that, don’t you? I’m not some mistress of the house from the 1800s?”

Cordingley rolled her eyes before leaving with a chuckle. She really liked working here, although she had no idea why Anne always seemed to cut her some slack, she wouldn’t complain. Not after hearing her screaming at everyone else in the kitchen. No, at the sink, Cordingley felt safe from Anne’s wrath. Long may it continue.

Anne wandered out, grateful for the relaxed ambience of her restaurant and locked the front door. The dining room was an average size but the lofty high ceilings made it seem bigger than it was. The walls were a deep slate grey, which, coupled with the rich orange glow from the lights hanging over each table, made the space seem cosy somehow. Anne had been overjoyed to get her hands on some reclaimed wood from the late 19th century to build the counters, giving her dining room an interesting mixture of contemporary but with a hint of rustic history. In truth, that’s how she thought of herself, maybe she was just born in the wrong era.

Marian was cashing up in the back, so Anne settled herself at the table at the far end of the restaurant. This was her favourite table. The light was perfect during the day as it faced the window but it was private enough so as not to be disturbed. It pained her to share it when her restaurant was open, she’d much rather keep it just for herself for times such as these but, well, she needed the money for the extra four covers it provided. One day, she thought, she’d rope it off, have it as her private sanctuary overlooking the restaurant. One day.

“Fancy a beer? I’m having one.” Marian called over, breaking Anne’s daydream.

“Hm.” Anne hummed without looking up. “Whiskey, please.”

Marian rolled her eyes as she poured a sizeable measure and made her way over to her sister.

“Right. We need to talk about Thomas.” Marian said, placing the two drinks on the table.

“He was fucking useless. I have nothing else to say about him.” Anne dismissed the notion with her hand before sipping her drink.

“We can’t run a kitchen without a sous chef!” Marian was losing her patience. “Or have you forgotten about next weekend?”

Anne looked up, her lips pursed and her eyes narrowed. “Of course I haven’t.”

“I don’t know why I have to fix everything for you all the time.” Marian pulled out her phone and began dialling.

“Who are you calling?” Anne covered the phone with her hand.

“The agency. We need professional help next week, I’m not having you hire another poor sod only to run them out of the kitchen before the critics have even arrived. You need to work on that temper of yours, you know.”

Anne’s blood began to boil. How dare Marian even pretend to know what it was like being head chef? Being responsible for everything in the kitchen, not to mention the running of the restaurant, the bills, doing taxes, managing her staff? How dare she. Anne had just opened her mouth to unleash another tirade when Marian interrupted.

“Yes, hello, I’m wondering if you can help. We’re in dire need of a sous chef for an event next weekend and I hoped you might have someone on your books that could…” Marian stopped. “Mhm. I see. Yes, that’s fine.”

“What are they saying?” Anne whispered, only to get dismissed by a wave of Marian’s hand.

“Thank you, I really appreciate it. Yes, if you could get, Monday, yes perfect. Thanks again.”

Marian hung up and took a big sip of her beer. She knew delaying the answer would drive her sister insane, it was all too easy to wind her up really. She shouldn’t enjoy it this much but she couldn’t help it.

“Well?” Anne slammed her glass down on the table.

“It’s sorted.” Marian smiled. “On Monday, a Miss Walker will be joining us for a trial shift before we hire her for the event.”

“What are her credentials? She’d better be qualified or…”

“Everyone at the agency is fully qualified Anne, that’s the whole point!” Marian was getting irritated. “Besides, she’s the only one available on such short notice.”

“Hm.” Anne grumbled, not entirely convinced. “I guess we’ll find out just how good she is on Monday.”

Chapter Text

Ann had just placed the last box on the floor when she heard the unmistakable sound of a cork popping. She smiled to herself, she was grateful really, to not be living on her own. As much as she liked her space and had been used to a solitary existence for the majority of her adult life, she was glad for Catherine, especially right at this very moment.

“Annie!” Catherine came skidding round the corner with two slightly overfull glasses of prosecco. “This calls for a celebration!”

“I haven’t even unpacked yet, Cath.” It was a weak excuse, Ann knew as she gladly accepted her drink.

“There’s time for that later, come and sit with me.”

Ann had been travelling forever, or so it felt. After returning from Italy a few days ago, she’d packed up her family’s rather large estate on the outskirts of Halifax, sorted out the mountain of boxes and put them into storage all before hiring a moving van to cart her own belongings to Cath’s apartment in Manchester. They’d spent the last three hours unloading the van and playing Tetris with the boxes in the hallway and Ann was utterly exhausted. That’s how she found herself reclining into the soft fabric of Cath’s sofa, surrounded by plush cushions, feeling the warmth of the alcohol start to relax her entirely.

Just as Cath was getting to the best part of her story about her recent blind date disaster, Ann’s phone rang.

“Hello?” Ann tried to hide the fact she was three glasses of prosecco in on an empty stomach. “Oh, so soon? Right. Okay. No, that’s fine. Monday? Yes, thanks. Bye.”

“Who’s ringing you at this time on a Saturday night?” Cath was outraged that she’d been interrupted.

“The agency.” Ann rolled her eyes. Was it too much to ask for a week off?

“Already?”

“Seems a place is a chef short for something important. I’ve got to go in on Monday to meet them.”

“Monday?! Annie! You’ve only just got here.” Cath spilled her wine onto the cream carpet as she gesticulated.

“I know.” Ann sighed loudly. “It’s only a trial shift on Monday, then the event at the weekend and then I’ll block out my availability for a week. We can sleep in late and watch crap telly until 3am like we used to. I promise.”

Truthfully, Ann had meant to tell the agency she wasn’t free but in the chaos of the last few weeks, it had been forgotten. When she signed up before she left Florence, she thought she was being proactive, keen, enthusiastic. What she didn’t account for was how fucking exhausting all of this would be.

“Which restaurant is it anyway?” Cath asked.

“They didn’t say, probably best I don’t know. That way I don’t have to stress about it until they send me the details through.” Ann rubbed her temple.

“I hope it’s that steak place down the street. All the staff in there are dreamboats, you might be able to introduce me to one of them, since, you know, they’d be wasted on you.” Cath laughed loudly as a cushion hit her square in the face. “Right. I’ll open some more wine.”

Ann smiled as she watched her best friend disappear into the kitchen. She was genuinely so happy to be here, it wasn’t quite where she expected to end up but, it was nice to be back in England. She knew her tan would soon fade, her sun-kissed highlights would dull and the constant rain would soon start to bother her but, right now she was happy.

--

The smell of bacon roused her from her sleep. She stretched, grimacing as she felt the twinge in her back and the heaviness in her arms from all the lifting yesterday. She licked her lips as she tried to will her eyes open. Waking up had never been easy for Ann, she could sleep in until the afternoon given half the chance. Morning people were like a different species to her, she never understood how someone could not only choose to wake up early but be happy about it? It was barbaric to do anything before midday. The soft sound of the radio filtered through the wall as she tossed the warm covers off and hauled herself out of bed. She rubbed her eyes and grabbed her sweater, throwing it over her head as she padded into the hallway.

“Morning!” Cath was filling the stove top with coffee grounds.

“Hm.” Ann murmured before flopping down on the chair at the kitchen table and cradling her head in her hands.

“You look like shit.” Cath remarked, placing a pint of water next to Ann’s elbow.

“I should’ve taken a week off. I’m an idiot.”

“Oh, Annie. Get this down you.” Cath said, placing a bacon butty in front of her. “Coffee will be brewed soon. We need to get you up and running for tomorrow, you’re going to introduce me to my future husband, remember?”

Ann looked up and laughed. Cath was ridiculous but Ann knew she’d be entirely lost without her.

“I’ll help you unpack today. You remember where you put your chef whites, right?”

Ann groaned. Of course she didn’t.

It was going to be a long day.

--

When Ann’s alarm went off at 9am, she hit snooze immediately. Realistically, she didn’t need to actually get out of bed until 9:30, so it was just good planning to factor in snooze time. Except, she felt a little anxious this morning. A far cry from the relaxing, slow wake up she’d planned; Ann spent it tossing and turning, huffing and sighing until, eventually, she gave up and trudged to the bathroom to take a shower.

It’s just one shift.

She repeated it to herself as she washed the shampoo from her hair. Ann always got nervous about everything. It never stopped her from pushing herself out of her comfort zone but her anxiety never got any easier. While agency worked paid well, she didn’t love the ever changing environments and having to learn her way around a different kitchen each time. Perhaps, if she decided to settle in Manchester, she’d look for a permanent job. No time to think about that now though as she shook her head and switched off the water.

“Look at you!” Cath said from the kitchen table as she warmed her hands around her mug of tea. She had that expression on her face, like a proud parent watching their kid go off to school.

“Stop looking at me like that!” Ann laughed. “I have no idea when I’ll be home but I’ll text you?”

“Have a good day, Annie. I’m proud of you!”

“Yeah, yeah.” Ann laughed as she buttoned up her coat and shut the front door behind her.

--

It was cool today with a gentle breeze in the air as Ann stepped out onto the street. The hustle and bustle had already begun hours earlier and Manchester was in full swing. Checking her watch, Ann had a good thirty minutes before she was due at the restaurant, plenty of time for a pit stop. She turned up Tariff Street and headed towards the smell of freshly brewed coffee.

“Oh, hello!” Ann crouched to let a well behaved lurcher sniff her hand.

“He doesn’t really do that very often.” A woman, she assumed was his owner, said. “He’s quite picky, so you’ve obviously been chosen.”

“Is that right?” Ann smiled as she scriffled him behind his ears as he wagged his tail.

“Two flat whites?” A guy shouted, poking his head out the shop towards the bench.

“Oh that’s us.” The woman stood and took the cardboard tray from him. “Nice to meet you!” She said back to Ann as she wandered off down the street with her coffee.

Ann smiled, she loved dogs and they all seemed to love her too. Maybe one day she’d get one of her own. One day. Shaking that thought from her mind, she walked up the stone steps into the coffee bar and waited patiently in line. She still had twenty minutes. Plenty of time.

“Please could I have an oat latte to take away?” Ann asked politely as she checked the directions on her phone.

The whir of the coffee grinder vibrated through her thoughts as she waited patiently for her drink at the end of the bar. This had always been her favourite place to get coffee, the staff were friendly, the space was light and airy and the cakes were to die for. Takk had expanded since she’d last been in Manchester, opening up two more venues across town but Ann never deviated from their flagship bar. Many mornings had been spent here with Cath over the years, dissecting her one night stands and casual flings, planning their next holiday together or furiously writing to meet their essay deadlines for Uni. It held a special place in her heart and she felt grateful she was starting out her day here.

She was still a little early, cradling the warm take out cup in her palm as she slowly meandered towards the restaurant. The lights were on but the door was locked. Pretty standard, although, there didn’t seem to be a doorbell. She furrowed her brow and peered inside. No one. She sipped her coffee before pulling out her phone and dialling the number on the stylish white lettering on the glass door.

Ann heard the phone ring from the inside and suddenly a woman appeared, she tapped on the glass door and held her phone up in the air. The woman waved and wandered over to unlock the door.

“Hi, thanks, sorry, there wasn’t a bell.” Ann was talking at a hundred miles an hour, partly due to the coffee but mostly due to the nerves that had suddenly twisted in her stomach.

“Oh don’t worry, my love. Here, come in.” The woman stepped back to let Ann in. “I’m Elizabeth.”

“Ann.” Ann held her hand out. “I’m here from the agency, I think you should be expecting me?”

“Yes! Wait here.”

Ann relaxed, if Elizabeth was the head chef, well they’d have no trouble at all. She seemed kind, relaxed, friendly. It was at that moment when Ann heard voices emanating from behind the swing doors.

“Right, I get that but this is cold!” A woman barked.

“I do my best, alright? I can’t do everything.” The voice of the second woman sounded familiar.

“Do you think I don’t have enough to do? Is it really too much to ask for my cup of coffee to actually be hot in the morning?”

“You think I have no life outside these four walls?” The second woman’s voice was getting higher and louder by the second.

“Ahem.” Elizabeth cleared her throat dramatically, causing the pair of them to stop bickering. “I have Ann waiting in the restaurant, you know, from the agency.”

“Best tell her to turn back now, Caligula’s in a foul mood.” Marian muttered.

“Send her in.” Anne said while narrowing her eyes at her sister. “You’ve got things to do.”

Marian huffed dramatically and followed Elizabeth back out into the dining room.

“Oh, hello again!” Marian smiled warmly at Ann.

“Hi.” Ann exhaled in relief once more, if the friendly woman from the coffee bar with the shaggy dog was the head chef, again, she’d be fine. “I’m here from the agency.”

“Yes! We’ve been expecting you. Thank you so much for coming on such short notice.”

“No problem, will we be working together?” Ann’s smile was full of hope.

“Ah, yes, but I’m afraid I’m not usually in the kitchen.”

“Oh?” Ann frowned.

“My sister.” Marian gesticulated towards the kitchen door. “She’s head chef.”

“Right.” Ann nodded.

A loud bark from upstairs interrupted the conversation, causing Ann to jump.

“Sorry, that’s just Argus. He’s excited to see you again so soon.” Marian smiled as she turned to fetch him. “I’d best get him home, he’s not really allowed in here.”

“Get Argus out of here, Marian!” A cross voice boomed from behind the closed kitchen door.

Marian grimaced. “Sorry, that’s Anne, it’s probably best you don’t keep her waiting. Oh, and good luck.”

Ann smiled nervously before Elizabeth led her towards the sound of chaos.

“Anne? This is, well, Ann.”

The moment Anne turned around, Ann’s heart momentarily stopped beating in her chest. Anne was tall and imposing, handsome beyond measure and dressed head to toe in black. Her temples were damp with sweat and her sleeves were rolled up. Her toned forearm tensed as she furiously whisked whatever was in the steel bowl in her other hand. Ann almost drowned in her deep brown eyes as they locked onto her own.

Anne stopped whisking, wiped her hand on her apron and held it out in front of her. It took Ann’s brain a few seconds to register what Anne was asking for before she brought her own hand up to meet hers. Only, in her flustered state, she accidentally brought up the one still holding her coffee, watching in horror as it not only hit Anne’s hand but proceeded to spill in slow motion all over the pristine kitchen floor.

“Hm.” Anne murmured before she turned back to her hollandaise sauce and resumed whisking.

Ann briefly scrunched her face up, wishing the ground would swallow her whole before she snapped back into action, helping Cordingley mop the floor.

“I assume you have some basic training.” Anne’s low voice cut through the uncomfortable silence.

“Yes, actually, I’m…”

“Good.” Anne cut her off. “You can make a start on filleting the salmon.”

Ann nodded to herself as she took her coat off and hung it on the empty peg near the back door. She smoothed down her uniform as she took a steadying breath.

You’ve got this Ann, just focus on the food.

Sure, this hadn’t started out very well, but Ann could do this. It was only one shift, she didn’t even need to commit to the event this weekend, not if she didn’t want to. She made her way over to her work station, picked up her knife and got stuck in.

45 minutes later, Anne still hadn’t said anything. The silence was deafening and Ann couldn’t stand it any longer. Just as she was about to open her mouth, she felt a hand on her arm.

“You getting on alright?” Elizabeth popped a cup of tea on the side.

“I think so.” Ann whispered. “I don’t think the boss cares for me very much.”

“She’ll warm up.” Elizabeth said softly before leaving Ann alone again.

Alone is exactly how she felt. Just her and the salmon and the silence.

After filleting what felt like five thousand fish, Ann began to wipe down her station. She was nothing but methodical in the kitchen, everything had an order and it was not to be deviated from. She was just spraying the anti-bac onto the steel work surface when Anne’s irritated voice made her jump.

“We’ve got no time to take breaks. Come on, we’ve got sixty minutes until service!”

“Oh, I’ve finished.” Ann said, keeping her voice level and calm.

“You’ve what?” Anne’s head swung in her direction.

“I’ve finished, chef.” Ann shifted on her feet, had she done something wrong?

Anne frowned as she walked over to Ann, inspecting the trays of expertly prepared salmon before she returned, silently, back to her station.

“Hm. Very good.” She muttered. “You can make a start on the…” Anne stopped as she felt Ann’s presence close to her.

“What are you making?” Ann’s calm, inquisitive voice muddled Anne’s brain as she peered inside the pan; her blonde curls obscuring Anne’s view and threatening to tickle her nose.

Everyone stayed away from Anne, gave her space, would never in a million years poke their nose in her saucepans. Her fury bubbled up quickly, who the hell did this woman think she was? No, this wouldn’t do. Anne was just about to open her mouth to lecture Ann on the many reasons why what she was doing was wholly unacceptable when Ann interrupted first.

“My guess is, this is a sauce for either venison or a good steak.” Ann hummed jovially before floating back to her station to begin chopping the exact vegetables Anne needed next.

For a moment, Anne stood still, her mouth open and her eyes wide. What just happened?

Anne’s thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of the rest of her kitchen staff, signalling that service was a mere 45 minutes away. Not to mention her sauce was bubbling. Shit. She’d been distracted by the golden haired agency chef who was now chopping the potatoes with mathematical precision, softly humming to herself. Thankfully for Anne, the sight of her commis chef’s footwear immediately snapped her back into the room.

“What are those?” Anne’s voice instantly rose.

Eugenie instantly stopped dead in her tracks. “What?”

“Pretending not to understand what I’m talking about will only annoy me more.” Anne could feel the red mist begin to rise. “Those are not regulation shoes.”

“What’s wrong with them?” Eugenie shrugged.

That was it. As soon as Anne saw that shrug, it was game over, the straw that broke the camel’s back. Suddenly, all that could be heard was Anne screaming, citing each individual code that Eugenie’s open-toed sandals violated before ordering her to go home and change immediately.

Ann kept her back turned, focusing only on the potatoes as Anne’s lecture reached fever pitch. She had a fair point, if Ann was being honest, but there was no need to speak to people like that. Ann was just glad there weren’t customers in the restaurant yet, surely Anne would never explode like that with paying people a mere few metres away?

As the room fell silent again, Ann turned to survey the damage. The door was still swinging after Eugenie had left and Anne was holding the bridge of her nose with her eyes scrunched shut. Ann felt sorry for Anne really, she was obviously struggling with the pressure but refusing to admit it.

“Here.” Anne’s eyes flew open at the comforting voice beneath her. “Go grab some fresh air.”

Before Anne could register what was happening, Ann had taken the wooden spoon from her hand and was tending to her sauce, softly booting her out the way of the stove. Anne sputtered. She didn’t take breaks, didn’t need them, breaks were for wimps. Besides she needed to get the fondant potatoes on the heat ready for the…

“I’m on it.” Ann said sweetly as she splashed the potatoes with butter.

“How did you…?” Anne was genuinely puzzled.

“It’s not my first time in a kitchen.” Ann winked before turning back around and setting to work.

She was finding her stride now, Anne’s kitchen was expertly organised. The next steps were obvious, the order of the prep made sure of that. The rest of her kitchen staff were a little useless, she had to admit, apart from Elizabeth who was diligently keeping one step ahead of everyone else.

Although Ann was only trying to help, Anne didn’t like feeling displaced. It bruised her ego to see someone taking over the lead role, even for a second, this wouldn’t do at all.

“Walker. I’ve got this, go and find Marian and see if she’s opened our doors yet.” Anne barked.

“Alright.” Ann answered, not even turning to face her before she left.

Anne knew she was being a prick but who did Ann think she was? Barging in like this and taking over? She wasn’t even a member of the team, she was drafted in from outside. Anne bristled, no one took advantage of her. Not anymore. As she stirred her sauce, a pang of remorse hit her. Ann hadn’t really done anything wrong, she’d over stepped her station at worst, been extremely helpful at best. Anne tutted and wandered over to the window in the kitchen doors to see where she’d gotten to.

“Good afternoon, welcome to Vi…Vig..” Marian was stumbling.

“Welcome to Vignemale.” Ann’s sweet voice cut through as her smile beamed at the couple waiting in line. The perfect pronunciation of Anne’s favourite mountain rolled off her tongue effortlessly.

Anne’s heart fluttered from the kitchen. Who exactly was this woman?

Chapter Text

“I need you on starters, Ann!” Anne shouted from the pass as she read the first tickets of the night.

Ann nodded to herself, leaping into action as she readied the pans on the hot stove.

“Ann!” Anne barked again, louder this time.

“Yes, chef!” Ann was flustered by Anne’s tone but she managed to calm her nerves enough to hear the first order.

Anne needed everyone to answer, the whole spat with Thomas a few days ago taught her the importance of her staff acknowledging every single order. Anne clenched her teeth at the thought of that waste of space, she had no idea why he’d even been allowed in the kitchen in the first place. Marian should never be in charge of hiring anyone. Once the event was out the way, she’d step in and vet every applicant meticulously and thoroughly.

“How long on those scallops, Ann?” Anne breezed past Ann’s station at 100mph as she spoke.

“Two minutes, chef.”

“Excellent.” Anne muttered as she waited for Ann to make it to the pass.

It wasn’t that she didn’t trust her, but she had to oversee everything and presentation was one of her top priorities. If Ann was a messy plater, well, it would damage Anne’s reputation immensely.

A bead of sweat tickled Ann’s hairline as she flipped the seared scallops in hot butter before whipping them out and arranging them beautifully on the bright white plates next to her. Ann thought of empty plates as canvases, painting the ingredients in the right light, arranging them perfectly with contrasting colours. The wilted spinach provided the perfect deep green bed for the golden scallops to nestle into, a generous helping of garlic butter gave the dish a wonderful bright yellow halo and to top it off, a small smattering of vibrant green parsley. Every plate looked identical as Ann swiftly brought them up to the pass for inspection.

“These are…” Anne twirled the plates round to cast her critical eye at every angle. “Most excellent.”

“Oh.” Ann sighed in relief as she wiped the sweat off her forehead.

“Next tickets are up, I need five more just like this, okay?” Anne’s serious expression as she looked deep into Ann’s eyes caught her entirely off guard. Ann felt her pulse quicken as Anne towered over her, sweat glistening on her neck, all commanding and powerful and intoxicating.

“Ann?” Anne snapped.

“Yes, chef.” Ann answered, willing her body to comply with her brain’s desperate plea to fucking focus on the task at hand.

“Good.” Anne said to herself as she returned to her station and began prepping the main courses.  

What even was that? Ann scolded herself as she retrieved fresh pans from the store.

Before long, the kitchen was inundated with orders. There were tickets flying everywhere, twenty dishes on the go at any one time and Anne’s voice was becoming louder and louder with every passing minute. Ann shook her head as she felt her headache peak. Sure, everyone got stressed during a busy dinner service but did Anne really have to be so loud?

“What even is that?” Anne screamed at Henry, one of her line chefs, who had plated up his dishes and brought them to the pass.

Ann looked up to see Anne’s face inches away from one of the plates, inspecting it with a thunderous scowl. Ann internally rolled her eyes, she’d never dare do it for real in case Anne caught her. The whirlwind of pain she’d be in if Anne caught her scoffing at her bad attitude just wasn’t worth her pay-check.

“Do you really expect me to send this out?” Anne was pointing at the offending plates with so much tension in her hand, the veins on her forearm popped out.

Ann tried not to stare but for some reason the sight alone was making her weak. Don’t stare. Don’t stare.

“This looks like shit, Henry. What do I always tell you time and time again, hm?” Anne was raging. “If it’s not perfect, don’t fucking send it to the pass!”

The plate smashed into a thousand pieces as she threw the whole lot into the bin and stormed off towards Ann’s station, brushing past her at speed as she resumed the seven dishes she was juggling with. Ann had just relaxed when Anne’s head whipped up again.

“And another thing, Henry!”

“Anne!” Ann interrupted.

The whole kitchen tensed.

“You’re so fucking stressed all the time, you’re making us all anxious!” Ann laughed as she turned to face her, placing her hand soothingly on her forearm.

Anne swallowed dryly as her words stuck in her throat. Ann’s warm palm was strangely relaxing, her sweet voice was a tonic and before she knew it, she almost felt calm.

“I, uh.” Anne stumbled over her words.

“It’s alright, you know.” Ann’s voice was hushed now, only loud enough for Anne to hear. “You’re allowed to be stressed, you’re under an awful lot of pressure.”

Anne scoffed. It was the only thing she knew how to do, better to brush that comment off than actually admit she was struggling. “I’m fine, Ann. Come on, we’ve got another hour of service to go.”

As soon as the words left Anne’s mouth she regretted the manner in which she said them. Ann was sweet and kind, her energy calmed the rest of the team. The exact opposite of Anne. And yet, Anne was short with her, shrugging off her olive branch and setting her back to work. Anne looked up at the ceiling and sighed. Just get through dinner service.

Ann remained quiet for the rest of her shift. Her work was impeccable but she didn’t need to get involved in the kitchen politics, she was only trying to help the situation but had inadvertently made things worse. As she eyed Anne leaving the kitchen to speak to one of her diners, she quickly pulled out her phone from her pocket.

Meet me at the pub in an hour? I need a drink.

She’d just managed to stow her phone away safely when Anne swept back into the kitchen. Ann inhaled as she watched her tug off her bandana, letting her dark hair fall loose from its constraints. The black fabric over her biceps tightened as she re-fixed it, showing a glimpse of her impressive physique. Ann couldn’t help the way her body responded, she was only human, after all. She bit her lip as her gaze lingered until Anne suddenly looked up, their eyes meeting from across the kitchen.

Fuck. Ann shook her head and got back to reorganising her station.

Anne’s brow furrowed, was Ann checking her out? Surely not. Anne didn’t have much time to entertain the idea before Marian appeared behind her, rambling on about changing suppliers.

“Not now, Marian.” Anne dismissed as she wandered off to check on her staff.

Marian huffed before sidling up to Ann. “How did you get on?”

“Oh, yes, good, I think?” Ann honestly wasn’t sure what Anne thought of her.

“Go on, you can clock off. I’ll sort this mess out with her highness.” Marian rolled her eyes.

“Are you sure?” Ann was almost disappointed not to speak to Anne but well, she was absolutely exhausted and desperate for a pint.

“Yes.” Marian smiled. “Go on, get some rest. I’ll be in touch tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Marian.” Ann smiled gratefully as she left, the swing doors squeaking as they bounced back.

--

“Annie! Over here!” Cath’s voice was a welcome relief after all the shouting during her shift.

“I need this like you wouldn’t believe.” Ann laughed as she sat down, taking a huge gulp of her pint before sighing in satisfaction.

“Go on then, tell me all about it. How was the head chef? Was he fit? Have you set me up yet?”

“Ah.” Ann tilted her pint glass. “Well that’s the thing. It was a woman.”

Cath’s eyebrows raised so high Ann knew exactly what thoughts were flashing through her mind.

“Before you say it, she’s a total prick. Classic head chef: a short fuse and high standards.” Ann rolled her eyes dramatically.

“She fit though?”

“Cath!”

“What? Come on, is she hot?” Cath knew Ann’s avoidance meant she probably was.

“She’s, well, I mean, she’s…” Ann was stumbling over her words when suddenly…. “Oh god, she’s here. She’s just walked in with her sister.”

Cath tried to be subtle, but well, it wasn’t really her strong point. She turned sharply, eyeing up the bar before saying rather too loudly, “which one?”

Ann groaned and shrank in her seat.

“Wait, not the foxy brunette?”

Ann nodded.

“Oh my god. She couldn’t be more your type if she tried!”

“Stop it.” Ann was a deep shade of pink.

Suddenly Marian caught Ann’s eye and Ann’s heart stopped in her chest. This was about to get a lot worse.

“Ann!” Marian called over, causing Anne to look up from her phone with a frown.

The moment Anne’s eyes found Ann’s across the busy bar, the world stopped. Ann was struggling and she knew she was making it obvious. Anne had taken off her black overalls and was wearing a tight black shirt with even tighter black jeans. Her muscular thighs were mesmerising, the flash of her collarbones where her shirt flopped open was distracting, her dark hair was just tickling her broad shoulders. Oh god.

“Oh this is going to be great.” Cath was delighted as the sisters began walking in their direction. She squeaked as Ann’s shoe met her shin under the table. “Alright, best behaviour.” She whispered, not meaning a word of it.

“Mind if we join you?” Marian asked. “Only, it’s quite busy in here and you’ve managed to bag a table.”

“Sure!” Cath agreed far too quickly.

“This is my best friend, Cath.” Ann managed to smile despite the perspiration beginning to gather at her temple.

“Nice to meet you, I’m Marian and this is my sister Anne.” Marian settled in next to Cath.

Anne loitered for a moment before sliding into the booth next to Ann.

“Hello.” Her low, sultry voice travelled right through Ann’s body and nestled low in her belly.

“Hi.” Ann managed, noticing Cath’s grin widen from across the table.

“You know.” Anne leaned closer. “I expect my chefs to clean their station before they clock off for the night.”

“Oh, Marian said…”

“Ah.” Anne interrupted. She didn’t need to hear any more. “What Marian needs to remember is that I’m in charge.”

“Yes, chef.” Ann didn’t even mean to say it, it just rolled off her tongue before she could take it back.

Anne’s body froze. Was it Ann’s imagination or did Anne’s breath hitch? Stop it.

Anne took a generous sip of her whiskey and spread her legs wide. She was effortlessly charismatic, she exuded confidence and swagger. It was all going fine until Anne’s thigh brushed Ann’s under the table and from that moment on, Ann couldn’t concentrate on anything else.

“You remember that, don’t you Annie?” Cath’s voice shook her back into the moment.

“Hm?” Ann looked up, what had everyone been talking about?

“That time we did that wine tasting course when I visited you in Italy? We got so drunk in the first hour, we had to sneak home to sleep it off.” Cath laughed along with Marian.

“Oh god, don’t remind me.” Ann groaned. “Why are we talking about that?”

“We’re looking for a new wine supplier, Cath mentioned you might be able to recommend someone.” Marian said with a smile.

“Italy?” Anne cut in.

The table went silent.

“Oh, uh, yes. I lived there for a few years.” Ann wanted to get the limelight off her as soon as possible.

Marian and Cath rolled their eyes at them both before carrying on their conversation about wine regions.

“Hm.” Anne leaned back further in her seat, if that was even possible. “What were you doing out there?”

“I did my culinary training there, I worked under some really talented chefs.” Ann blushed after she’d said it, trying desperately to get the mental image of working under Anne out of her head.

“That explains why you navigated my kitchen flawlessly today.” Anne’s tone was suggestive but not inappropriate. Ann began to wonder if she talked like this all the time, if she did, Ann would never survive it.

Ann tried to hold eye contact with her but it was impossible. Every time she did, she felt her whole body catch fire. There was a wry smile on Anne’s face, did she know? Was she playing with her? How infuriating, annoying and, hot.

“So, Ann.” Marian’s voice cut the tension immediately. “Are you coming back to the Mountain tomorrow?”

“Sorry?” Ann frowned.

“Oh, this is my sister’s attempt at being funny.” Anne’s irritated tone was back. “She likes to refer to my restaurant as anything other than it’s real name.”

“Maybe if you didn’t call it something that no one can pronounce, I wouldn’t have to.”

Anne scoffed.

“I mean really, are you so arrogant you had to name it after a mountain you summited?”

“Enough, Marian.” Anne chided. “Not now.”

Ann’s head spun. Of course Anne was a mountain climber. She was tall, dark and handsome, summiting mountains and travelling the world, when she wasn’t running a professional kitchen and spending hours in the gym, of course. Alright, Ann made that last part up but she suspected Anne worked out, if her physique was anything to go by. She shuffled in her seat as she felt herself getting wet at the thought.

Anne smirked next to her and Ann began to worry she could read her mind. She’d never survive it if Anne realised what she was thinking about. Pull yourself together.

“So, are you coming tomorrow?” Anne’s smooth voice filled the small gap between them.

Ann inhaled the mouthful of beer, choking immediately at Anne’s suggestion. “S-sorry?” She stuttered when she eventually regained her composure.

“I said, are you coming back to work tomorrow?” Anne quirked her eyebrow.

“Oh, erm, yes? I mean, i-if you need me.”

“I think we do, Miss Walker.” Anne whispered quietly before clapping her hands and raising her voice to a normal level again. “Right, Marian. It’s time to go, we’ve got a busy day tomorrow.”

Marian nodded, noticing it was getting rather late.

“Nice to meet you Cath.” Anne stood. “And, I’ll see you tomorrow, Ann.”

The fluster on Ann’s face as Anne winked wasn’t lost on anyone. Cath was delighted, Marian shook her head and Anne’s grin widened.

“See you tomorrow.” Ann breathed before watching Anne stride out the pub and disappear into the night.

“Oh, Ann.” Cath laughed. “What have you gotten yourself into?”

Chapter Text

Ann couldn’t sleep. The night in the pub kept replaying in her mind, had she made a fool of herself in front of Anne? She could barely think straight when she was around, let alone recall anything much of what she’d talked about. Cath was no help either, all she did was tease Ann about how much she was already in love with her boss. Ann groaned as she pulled the pillow over her face and tried for the hundredth time to fall asleep.

Across town, Anne was already out on her morning run. Pulling long hours during the day and well into the evening took their toll mentally, but physically, Anne was in peak shape. The birds chirped as the deep indigo sky began to turn orange with the rising sun, warming the cool air up with it. The smartwatch on Anne’s wrist beeped as she clocked the 10km marker, giving her the cue to turn and loop back round the canal. Her hair was tied back in a low ponytail, swishing gently as she sprinted through the sleepy city. Dressed, again, in tight black running leggings and a black t-shirt, black training shoes and even black socks. Anne was nothing if not committed to her aesthetic. Sweat glistened on her skin as she breathed heavily, just one last hill to climb and she’d be back on the home stretch.

“You stink.” Marian muttered as soon as Anne burst through the door.

“Good morning, Marian.” Anne swanned over, throwing her arms around her sister and squeezing tightly. It wasn’t a friendly gesture, it was a total power move.

“Get off me! You’re disgusting!” Marian squirmed.

Anne just laughed, she couldn’t help living to irk her sister so much. “I’m off to shower and then I’m going to a meeting.”

“What meeting?” Marian didn’t miss a beat.

“A business meeting.”

“What about prep? You can’t leave it all to Ann.” Marian’s voice was reaching the pitch usually kickstarted Anne’s wrath.

“I’ve sorted it. Came in early.” Anne made her way to the stairs.

“Early? It’s only 8am now. What do you mean? When did you? What’s…”

“Goodbye, Marian.” Anne shut the upstairs door behind her.

Marian squeaked in exasperation.

--

Ann was studying her wardrobe like someone who’d never seen it before. She frowned as she flipped through the hangers over and over. It was so much easier wearing her chef whites, she didn’t have to think about what to pair them with, it was simple, easy, everyone knew what to expect.

“Ugh.” Ann groaned, frustrated at her own indecision before grabbing a white blouse and jeans.

She was just lacing up her black doc martens when Cath breezed through the kitchen.

“Those aren’t regulation shoes, Annie.” Cath boomed, trying to do her best impression of Anne.

Ann giggled as she tied the other shoe and stood up, smoothing her shirt down. “Do I look alright?” A quiver of uncertainty flashed across her face.

“You look lovely, what’s the occasion?”

“Work meeting.” Ann ran her fingers through her hair before grabbing her phone and keys.

Anne had texted Ann early, far too early really, asking her to meet at Takk for coffee instead of the restaurant. Ann would be lying to herself if she didn’t feel a slight flutter in her heart at the thought of a one to one with Anne, with coffee. Was that a date? It definitely sounded like one, until Ann remembered the business arrangement. No, it definitely wasn’t a date. Cath was just about to give her the third degree when Ann interrupted.

“Don’t start, I’ll tell you all about it when I get home, alright?” Ann smiled as she opened the front door. “Have a good day.”

As the door clicked shut, Cath couldn’t help but laugh at Ann’s current predicament. The truth was, she couldn’t remember seeing Ann this chipper in quite some time.

--

Anne had set up camp on the far corner table in Takk. She had been furiously typing on her laptop for the better part of 45 minutes, the flat white next to her entirely untouched and stone cold. In her intense concentration, she didn’t notice Ann arrive and begin walking over to her table.

The same, however, couldn’t be said for Ann. As soon as she’d stepped inside, she spotted Anne immediately. The furrow of her brow, the way she’d run her teeth over her bottom lip as she concentrated, the way the fabric of her black shirt wrapped around her toned arms, those long, dexterous fingers flying over the keyboard, her shiny brogues contrasting with the cheeky sliver of bare ankle under the table? Good lord.

“Hi.” Ann’s angelic voice instantly cut through the account calculations Anne was doing in her head.

“Hello.” Anne broke into a grin as her low voice permeated every cell in Ann’s body.

“What are you drinking?” Ann was eyeing up Anne’s abandoned mug.

“Ah.” Anne glanced at the cold, ruined drink. “Seems I got a little absorbed in my work. A flat white please.”

Ann nodded with a smile and scampered off to the bar. Anne watched her leave, taking in her delightful ensemble. Slim jeans with turn ups, showing off her black boots. Hot. Her white shirt hung loose but it was intriguing her, Anne felt herself smirk before she snapped herself out of it. There was no time for any of that.

“Try not to spill it all over me this time, hm?” Anne hummed, not bothering to look up from her screen as Ann hovered, just about to place the mug on the table.

“Oh god.” Ann’s face coloured instantly. “Don’t remind me. I’m so sorry about that.”

Anne closed her laptop and grinned. “It just gave me the wrong first impression of you.” Anne sat back in her seat, spreading her legs wide.

“How so?” Ann was puzzled.

“Well.” Anne placed her elbows on the table, her toned forearms distracting Ann’s thoughts for a second. “It made me think you were going to be frantic in the kitchen, unorganised, haphazard.” Anne sipped her coffee. “When in reality, you’re a natural.”

Ann laughed. “I was just nervous. You know, I mean, have you seen you?”

Anne’s eyebrows raised as a cocky grin appeared on her face. At the very same moment, Ann’s eyes closed in embarrassment. That was definitely something she meant to say in the safe confines of her head, not out loud.

“Right.” Anne took back control of the situation, like she always did. “Well, I need to talk to you about your shift.”

Ann took a swig of her coffee before preparing herself for whatever Anne was going to say. 

“Here’s the thing. We’ve been put forward for a Michelin star.”

“Anne! That’s incredible!” Ann beamed, knowing full well how much of a big deal it was to even be nominated for one.

“Hm.” Anne hummed with an expression on her face Ann didn’t recognise. Was she nervous? “So, as you’re aware, my sous chef quit late last week.”

Ann nodded, trying to keep her face neutral even though she could probably guess why the poor guy had run out of Anne’s kitchen as fast as his legs could carry him.

“I was never going to win a Michelin star with that buffoon in my kitchen anyhow.” Anne waved her hand in the air dismissively. “But you, Miss Walker, are no buffoon.”

Ann chuckled awkwardly.

“What I’m trying to say is…” Anne crooked her right eyebrow and licked her lips, causing all the blood in Ann’s brain to rush directly somewhere else. “Are you in?”

“You mean?” She shuffled uncomfortably in her chair. Not now. “You want me to help you?”

“If you’re up for the challenge, that is.” Anne sipped her coffee nonchalantly.

Smooth bastard.

“Well, I mean, of course. If you think I can be of use.” Ann was still a bit surprised, although this would look great on her resume to be fair.

“You’d need to be good at working under me.” Anne’s voice lowered an octave as her gaze fixed on Ann’s ever increasing blush.

“S-sorry?” Ann stuttered.

“We’d need to work very closely together.” Anne bit her lip. “It can be very intense, working so intimately in a hot, pressured kitchen.”

Ann nodded. If Anne was going to continue to labour over her words in that low, breathy tone, then this was it. This was how Ann was going to die. Flustered and aroused in the middle of a busy coffee bar in Manchester.

Anne smiled at Ann’s incoherence and sat back, putting a little distance between them. “So that’s a yes?”

“Mhn.” Ann mumbled before straightening herself out. “Yes, that’s a yes.”

“Excellent. I very much look forward to working with you, Miss Walker.” Anne clicked shut her pocket watch, snapping Ann’s senses back into action. “I’m afraid I’ve got to go, there’s a lunch service to prepare for.”

As Anne stood, Ann’s gaze flicked slowly up her lean body. She couldn’t help it as her eyes travelled over Anne’s tight jeans, across her hard stomach, up and over her broad shoulders. Ann felt her body respond before her brain could stop it. The tanned skin of Anne’s neck, peeking out from under her collar? It was just begging for Ann to drag her teeth over, before…

“Mind popping in for another meeting tomorrow night?”

Anne’s voice startled her, her head immediately lifting to meet those dark brown eyes. “Mm, sure.”

“Come by when we’re closing so we can discuss the menu for the weekend. We’ve got a lot to do.”

Anne picked up her laptop and squeezed Ann’s shoulder as she breezed out the coffee bar, leaving Ann dazed and uncomfortably turned on. She hadn’t even discussed payment or hours or anything with Anne.

Fuck.

--

Ann spent the whole of the next day scribbling in her notebook, filling pages and pages of what vegetables were in season right now, what flavour pairings would compliment which cuts of meat. Ink smudged over the white pages as her hand flew across the page, her brain whirring at lightning speed. The numerous empty coffee cups that surrounded her like a fortress probably had something to do with it, but Ann felt energised for the first time since she left Italy. Anne hadn’t actually asked her to prepare anything but Ann was inspired, perhaps they could collaborate and come up with something really special.

It wasn’t until that moment, Ann realised she’s gotten far too ahead of herself. Anne just needed help for the weekend, Ann was agency staff, she’d more than likely be booked for another job at another restaurant this time next week. Ann’s heart sank a little as she caught herself, she always did this, got overly invested with everything and everyone, which usually ended in disappointment. She took a deep breath and rested her head in her hand as she tried to get some perspective on her situation.

“You’ve got pen all over your face.” Cath said matter of factly as she waltzed through the kitchen.

“What?” Ann pulled her hand away from her face to see the black smudges over her palm.

“You’d best clean that off, what would your girlfriend think?” Cath opened the fridge and leaned inside, stifling her laugh.

“Oh, very funny.” Ann rolled her eyes. “Are you going out tonight?”

“Ann! It’s Wednesday night!” Cath cried, outraged that Ann had forgotten.

“Shit. Yes, you’re right.” Ann rubbed her eyes before realising she still had ink all over herself and was probably making it worse. “Look, don’t get mad. I might be a bit late.”

“Annie!” Cath shouted.

“I’ll make it in time for the second band, alright? I promise.”

“Hm. You owe me a pint.”

“Deal.” Ann smiled, somewhat sheepishly.

“She’d better be paying you for all this work you’re putting in, that’s all I’m saying.”

Ann nodded, despite having no idea what was happening at all.

“I’m off, I’ll see you at ten. You’d better not be late, I can’t believe you’re standing me up for an arrogant, insanely hot, grumpy chef.”

“It’s work, Cath.” Ann was flipping back through her notes. “Go away and have a nice time, alright? I’ll see you at eleven.”

“TEN!.” Cath shouted back as she left.

--

As the night drew on, the sun began to disappear behind thick, grey clouds. The wind whipped through the apartment, signalling the change as Ann shivered, pulling the fabric of her jumper tighter. She rubbed her eyes and closed her notepad. It was nine o’clock and the restaurant was closing in half an hour, giving Ann about twenty minutes to make herself mildly more presentable.

The warm, orange glow from the restaurant was like a beacon as Ann hurried across the street. The sky was jet black as the heavy raindrops fell onto the grey streets below, blurring her vision and soaking her instantly. The warmth permeated through her wet coat as she opened the heavy glass doors and slipped inside. Suddenly, the delicious smell of the kitchen invaded her senses, she stopped as she noticed Anne talking animatedly to the last two diners left. Her bandana was crooked, the tendrils of dark hair escaping from its confines as she smiled brightly and laughed as she stood at the table.

“Hi, Ann!” Marian’s voice cut through the dream-like moment as she took Ann’s soaking wet coat. “Let me put this somewhere to dry, it’s dreadful out there isn’t it?”

“I’m glad I didn’t have far to walk.” Ann chuckled.

The moment Ann’s voice reached Anne’s ears, she stopped talking. Her gaze fixed on Ann from across the room as she watched her take off her coat and hand it to her sister. Not that Anne could explain it, but in that moment, her heart felt lighter. Just being in Ann’s presence relaxed her, well, as much as Anne could relax. She was a positive influence on her, not that she’d admit that yet.

“Hello.” Once again, Anne’s low voice made Ann shudder as she appeared behind her.

“Oh, hi.” Ann’s face broke out in to a grin. “Shall we?”

“You in a hurry, Miss Walker?” Anne smirked as she walked beside her to the kitchen.

“I have plans, actually, after this I mean.” Ann muttered as the swing door opened.

Anne silently nodded. Of course Ann had plans, she probably had a girlfriend too. Anne had always been successful with women, she knew what kind of effect she could have on them and used it to her advantage but she couldn’t hide the fact she was getting older. Most women wouldn’t be looking for a forty-something workaholic with a foul temper, especially not women like Ann. Anne scolded herself for even thinking like this, she just needed Ann’s help in the kitchen. That was all.

“What’s all this?” Anne remarked as she watched Ann pull her notepad out of her bag.

“I’ve had some ideas.” Ann’s enthusiasm was utterly adorable. “I did a chart of all the veg we could get that’s in season from local suppliers.”

“Right?” Anne said slowly, trying to work out where this was going.

“Well, what if we tried to make our menu low food mileage?”

Anne’s brow furrowed.

“It’s better for the environment, the local economy and I don’t know about you, but I just think everything tastes better when it hasn’t been flown in from thousands of miles away or sat in a warehouse for weeks. What do you think? It could be the theme for Saturday?”

“Well, I…” Anne was stumped. “I mean, I’m used to doing our classic dishes. I’m not sure changing the menu this close to the event will be a good idea.”

“Are you scared?” Ann was playing, just teasing Anne but her words didn’t land in the way she intended.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Anne’s reply came with a sharp edge. “I just don’t need someone coming in here changing my menu. It was my food that got us nominated in the first place.”

“Oh, Anne. No, you’re misunderstanding…”

“Do you think this is a game to me? This is my entire life, my reputation. I’ve put my heart and soul into this place, you can’t just come in and turn it upside down because you feel like it.” Anne no longer had the ability to control her irritation.

“Hey.” Ann put her hand on Anne’s arm, swiftly retracting it when Anne flinched.

The squeak of the kitchen door caused the pair of them to step further apart, avoiding eye contact entirely.

“Is everything alright in here?” Marian’s worried face poked through the gap in the door.

“Yes.” Ann lied. “It’s fine, thanks.”

Marian smiled knowingly at Ann before retreating, leaving a void of silence in her wake. Ann wondered if she should just leave, give Anne some space, let her cool off a little. That seemed like a good idea, there was no use talking if she was in this mood. She was just about to grab her notepad from the counter when Anne’s hand stopped her.

“Ann.” Anne’s face was sombre. “I’m sorry I snapped. It’s just, this business really is my whole life. I have nothing else, nothing good anyway. This wasn’t really how my life was supposed to be but well, here we are and I guard this place like it’s an extension of me. I’m sorry.”

Ann couldn’t quite believe Anne was apologising, she’d never once seen Anne say sorry to anyone in her kitchen when she lost her temper. She studied her face, it was tired, worn, defeated.

“When was the last time you actually ate anything?”

“Hm?” Anne finally looked up from the floor.

“When did you eat last?”

“Oh. Hours ago, I never really feel like eating after cooking all day. Sounds silly when I say it out loud.” Anne chuckled at her own failure to look after herself.

“Tell you what. I’m going to make you an omelette and then we’re going out.”

“What?” Anne’s head snapped up immediately. “I don’t have time to go out, I have too much to do.”

“Anne, you’re so tense. Even looking at you right now, you’re like so rigid.” Ann did her best impression of Anne anchored to the spot, every muscle in her body stiff. “You need to learn how to relax a bit.”

The moment Ann’s hand squeezed her forearm, Anne melted. These were the moments where usually she’d spiral out of control, her anger getting the better of her, the stress of the job seeping into every word, she’d usually scream and shout before stomping off to sulk with a bottle of whiskey, but right now, she felt her body sag in relief at Ann’s warm touch.

“There she is.” Ann said softly, looking up at Anne with so much patience. “I think half your problem is that you’re so bloody hangry all the time.”

“Hangry?” Anne laughed heartily.

“Yeah, you’re always blowing a gasket because you’re hungry, you should keep some snacks on you at all times. Save everyone the earache.” Ann laughed brightly as Anne shook her head grinning.

“Let me feed you, okay?” Ann’s voice softened.

Anne nodded, truthfully she couldn’t remember if she’d even eaten at all that day. Too busy for breaks. Too stressed to notice the hunger gnawing away in her gut. Too full of adrenaline to notice how exhausted she was.

“You’re fully trained aren’t you?” Anne broke her silence as she watched Ann expertly dice the onions. “You’re not actually a sous chef?”

“No.” The onions sizzled as Ann tipped them into the hot pan. “I was head chef in the restaurant I worked at in Italy. For, oh I don’t know, five years?” The smug smile on Ann’s face was adorable.

“I see. So you’re quite used to short tempered, grumpy chefs.” Anne muttered.

“Yes.” Ann laughed loudly as she chopped the orange pepper in half.

“Hm.” Anne could feel her confidence slowly starting to be restored with every passing moment with Ann.

“So, I’m going to feed you.”

Anne nodded.

“Then we’re going to meet Cath and watch a few bands at Jimmy’s.”

Anne’s mouth opened to protest but Ann caught her first.

“You can pout all you like, but you’re coming.” She pointed the spatula in Anne’s direction. “And then tomorrow, we’re going to work on your menu, alright? I’ve got an idea.”

Anne laughed softly to herself as she watched Ann work over the stove. She couldn’t remember a time when someone had shaken up her life so much in such a short space of time. She knew next to nothing about the woman currently making her dinner in her own kitchen, who was somehow dragging her out to a club, at this time of the evening, on a weekday. And yet, Anne couldn’t deny her excitement at the thought of what the night might have in store.

Chapter Text

Anne had to admit, having a full belly really did lift her foul mood. Or maybe it had something to do with the blonde woman walking next to her, talking excitedly about the club they were heading to. Ann was like a breath of fresh air, or like the smell after it rained. She made Anne feel new again, reinvigorated, energised, optimistic. She couldn’t genuinely remember the last time she was this happy to just be in someone else’s company without an ulterior motive. Sure, Anne would be lying if she didn’t think Ann was hot but she soon shook those thoughts from her mind, it would only complicate things.

Or, was this a date?

A warmth spread through Anne’s body as she pondered, silently to herself. Still listening to Ann talk about the last time her and Cath went to this club and how it had become a bit of a Wednesday night tradition. Truthfully, she felt honoured Ann had invited her. Wait, honoured? Was Anne going soft already?

“Oh! Why don’t you text Marian?” Ann’s giddy voice interrupted Anne’s thoughts.

“Hm?” Anne looked confused.

“Get Marian out, the more the merrier!” Ann giggled before jogging slightly in front to join the line at the door.

Ah.

And there it was. Inviting Anne’s sister? This was definitely not a date.

"Sure.” Anne replied, pulling out her phone.

As Anne was typing the message, she heard the sudden squeak of Ann Walker being manhandled by the doorman. She frowned, swiftly pocketing her phone and leaping into action.

“Oi! Put her down immediately!” Anne had squared up to the rather burly gentleman currently twirling Ann around in his arms.

The pair of them looked at Anne with a bemused expression before Ann erupted into a fit of giggles.

“Oh, Anne. Your face. This is Sam, I haven’t seen him since I arrived in town. We go way back.” Ann stopped talking for a moment as she looked down at Anne, her sleeves rolled up, the vein in her head bulging. Was she ready for a confrontation? On Ann’s behalf? Swoon.

“Put me down, Sam.” As Ann’s feet reached the pavement, she turned to face Anne with a kind smile. “Anne, I’d like you to meet Sam. Sam, this is Anne.”

“Hm.” Anne grunted.

“Nice to meet you, Anne.” He said with a smirk. “Go on, you’ll miss the action if you stand out here all night. I’ll come and find you later, Annie.”

“Deal.” Ann replied, giving him another quick squeeze before heading inside.

Anne and Sam shared another look before she followed Ann to the upstairs bar. The club was small, the buzz of music from downstairs reverberated through Anne’s bones as she weaved in and out of the crowd. The second she lost sight of Ann’s golden hair in front of her, she felt lost at sea amongst the tidal wave of people. She just needed to anchor herself at the bar and then she could breathe again. She was almost there when she felt a sudden warmth surrounding her. Ann had reached out and taken her hand, leading her through the crowd and steering her safely to the counter.

“You were going to get lost!” Ann said, standing on her tiptoes to reach Anne’s ear.

“I was not.” Anne pouted before winking cheekily at Ann.

Ann’s gaze lingered for a fraction longer than perhaps it should have done before she smiled and turned to the bartender. Anne bit the inside of her cheek as she studied Ann’s profile. Who are you? Anne couldn’t be sure how long she was staring but Ann eventually turned, a wide grin plastered on her face, holding two bottles of beer and Anne couldn’t help but laugh. When was the last time Anne laughed? Like, genuinely laughed and meant it?

“Here!” Ann shouted over the noise, thrusting one of the bottles in Anne’s direction.

“Ah. I don’t think on school nights.” Anne said sheepishly.

“What?” Ann furrowed her brow.

“If I’m hungover…” Anne waved her hand in the air. “Well, I’m grumpy.”

The pair of them looked at each other for a second before laughing hysterically. Anne’s sides hurt she was laughing so much, she felt a hundred times lighter already just from this moment alone.

“As if you could get any grumpier.” Ann giggled. “Here, I’ll do you a deal.” She passed the bottle to Anne. “I’ll come in early tomorrow and help you set up, alright? Free of charge.”

“I couldn’t ask you to do that, honestly, it’s fine, you don’t have…”

“Do you ever shut up?” Ann said with a smile before lifting her bottle.

“You’re bossy.” Anne muttered before raising her beer to meet Ann’s with a clink.

As the pair of them took a swig of the cold beer, their eyes fixed on the other. Anne could feel the unmistakable pull towards Ann, she’d felt it before around people in her life but never this quickly, never this intensely. She noticed Ann had stopped drinking and hadn’t looked away either. Was something happening?

“There you both are!” The unmistakable shrill sound of Marian’s voice made Anne grimace as she turned round.

“Marian! You made it!” Ann exclaimed, hugging her straight away.

Anne scoffed internally, who hugs Marian?

“How on earth did you manage to get that one to come out on a weeknight?” Marian leaned in close to Ann and whispered as she waited for the bartender to serve her.

“She didn’t put up much of a fight, not really.” Ann shrugged.

“I think I’m going to enjoy having you around, Miss Walker.” Marian smiled as she bumped Ann with her hip playfully.

The sound of a muffled announcement downstairs signalled the band were about to come on stage. Marian quickly paid for her drink before Ann effortlessly forged a path through the revellers to lead them to the stairs. Ann turned, just making sure the sisters were close behind before hurrying down towards the woman sat at the table.

“Three please.” Ann said as she pulled her purse out of her pocket.

“Enjoy the gig!” The woman said as she drew a cross on the back of Ann’s hand with a sharpie.

Marian smiled and stepped aside, leaving a confused looking Anne eyeing up the woman and the pen in her hand.

“What’s this?” Anne bristled, causing Marian to roll her eyes dramatically.

“It’s so you just have to show your hand if you want to leave and come back. Honestly, Anne, it’s like you’ve never been outside.” Marian huffed.

“Shut up, Marian.” Anne muttered as she held out her hand and watched in horror as the woman drew an off-centre, asymmetrical cross on her skin in permanent bloody marker.

“Annie!” Cath’s voice sounded as soon as they stepped inside the warm room.

Four other people surrounded Ann immediately, each of them hugging her to within an inch of her life. Anne felt embarrassed that the only friend she really had was the restaurant, and Argus. Ann seemed to know everyone and they were all over the moon to see her. Anne could understand why, Ann was one of those rare people who made the world seem brighter. Marian smiled to herself as she caught Anne watching. She’d seen that look of intrigue on her sister’s face before and knew what it meant, even if Anne herself hadn’t registered it.

“She’s a good one.” Marian said.

Anne just frowned before sipping her beer, looking away as the promoter took to the stage to introduce the next band. The lights dimmed and Anne felt the sudden warmth of someone next to her, the brush of their arm against hers, she was just about to tell Marian to back the fuck off when she saw that it was, in fact, Ann.

“Alright?” Ann mouthed with a smile.

In that moment, the tension in Anne’s shoulders melted and her jaw relaxed. She was entirely disarmed in an instant without even realising it had happened. She was just about to say something when the loud cheer of the crowd interrupted her thoughts.

“Hi everyone!” A polite woman said into her mic as she stood in front of her keyboard.

Anne sighed in relief, this was going to be a gentle band, excellent.

Two minutes in and Anne’s ears hurt. The noise that was emanating from the three people on the stage was ridiculously loud and, in her opinion, discordant. Ann seemed to be enjoying it immensley as she bounced and swayed, how was she even keeping time with the band? Anne’s scowl was noticeable as she tipped the last of the beer into her mouth.

“Here.” Ann’s soft voice permeated the clashing of symbols and raucous shouting. “I always have a spare pair.”

Ann pressed a small packet into Anne’s palm before she squeezed her arm reassuringly. Confused, Anne looked down before a grin spread across her face. Ear plugs.

“Thank you.” Anne leaned forward, whispering in Ann’s ear as a few loose strands of golden hair tickled her lips. “Do you want another drink?” Anne’s voice was low, causing Ann’s body to respond before she could stop it.

“Yes please.” Ann breathed as she turned her head towards Anne.

They were standing so close. Their mouths mere inches away from each other as they held eye contact. Ann didn’t want to move, she never wanted to leave this moment. As Anne leaned in closer, Ann was certain she was going to kiss her. Right here, in the middle of a sweaty club with a band from Wolverhampton on stage. Ann felt her eyes close in preparation as she anticipated what Anne’s lips would feel like against hers. Her breathing quickened more and more with every passing second.

“I’ll be right back.” Anne’s breath was hot against her skin.

And then, she was gone.

Ann willed her body to return to her as she exhaled deeply and tried to concentrate on the band. It was getting increasingly warmer as more people filled the room, a bead of sweat trailed down Ann’s neck as she clapped loudly as the song finished.

“Where’s your girlfriend?” Cath erupted into laughter as she watched Ann flinch.

“Don’t creep up on me and she’s not my girlfriend!” Ann swatted Cath’s shoulder.

“Alright, Walker. Don’t get touchy.” Cath held her hands up in surrender. “I’ll let your girlfriend handle that department!” Cath snorted, making her laugh harder.

Cath was utterly ridiculous but Ann couldn’t help but roll her eyes and join in. Her best friend was the most patient and supportive person in the world to Ann, even if she did live to tease her.  

“What’s so funny?” Anne’s voice startled Ann who immediately looked over to Cath with a panicked expression.

“Oh, we were just laughing about my inability to parallel park.”

Anne nodded with a confused frown before handing Ann her beer. Ann would’ve said thank you if she could speak. Anne had loosened her shirt and now the slightly damp skin of her neck was being perfectly framed by the black fabric. The tendons in her toned arm flexed as she brought the bottle to her lips before stilling. Ann was staring and hadn’t noticed she’d been caught. Interesting. Anne sipped her drink with a smug grin before Ann snapped back into action.

“So, what time do you want me tomorrow?” Ann asked before taking a large gulp of her beer.

“You really don’t have to.” Anne smiled sincerely, she really didn’t expect Ann to turn up to work.

“I made a promise.” She smiled. “You can get the coffees though.”

Anne laughed before nodding. “Deal. Mind getting there for 9?”

Internally Ann grimaced, that was awfully early. “No problem.”

“Speaking of which, I’d best get off soon.” Anne’s voice was low again. Did she really have any idea what that did to women? Maybe she did.

“Okay.” Ann whispered. “I mean, the last band is on in a minute but if you’ve got to go…”

Anne contemplated her options, she had two choices here: leave now, get a reasonable amount of sleep, only be mildly hungover tomorrow but be alone within the next five minutes, or stay, bask in the sunshine radiating out of the human in front of her, maybe have another beer and be in for a headache in the morning. Normal Anne would’ve chosen option one in a second, wouldn’t even have to think about it, but tonight’s Anne? She was more indecisive.

“I really should…” Anne started before the lights dimmed and the crowd cheered.

“What was that?” Ann faked ignorance. “I can’t hear you? Oh, you’re staying? Great!”

Anne rolled her eyes and tutted as she watched Ann turn away from her to watch the band. Rude.

Any thought of frustration immediately disappeared when she felt the unintentional and unexpected brush of Ann’s bum against her groin. What Ann hadn’t disclosed was that she was a total lightweight who had no sense of spatial awareness. She was swaying to the music in front of Anne, fixed on the band as she moved her body to the beat. Anne was more of a tap-your-foot kind of watcher but Ann, well, Ann’s body was entirely fluid. The room had packed out for the headliner, not that Anne had ever heard of them but it seemed they had a decent following. This was how Anne found herself sharing a very tight, very hot space with Ann and it was getting a little tricky to handle.

Keep it together.

The second time it happened, Anne began to sweat. Perhaps it was beer but suddenly, the only person in the room was Ann. The heat of her body so close to her own was intoxicating. Anne tried to step back to give herself more room but when Marian thumped her for standing on her foot she realised she was trapped. Her heart raced as she desperately tried to contain how much the situation was turning her on. Every second felt like an hour. Surely the band were almost finished? They had to be. Anne’s hand itched to reach out, to rest on Ann’s hip, to press forward and whisper filthy things into her ear until she was breathless. She could. She could just do it. It would be so easy.

Instead, she flexed her fingers and swallowed dryly, breathing deeply to quell her urges until she could focus again. Maybe she could excuse herself, pretend she needed the bathroom just to escape and calm down. A swift splash of cold water should do the trick, at least until she got home and sorted herself out.

She’d just leaned forward to tell Ann she was leaving when Ann unknowingly shifted backwards. The moment Ann’s back pressed into her front, it was like every cell inside Anne ignited. Her breathing was ragged as she felt Ann’s body melt into hers, they fitted together perfectly, like they’d known each other forever. But then, all too soon, Ann moved forward, turning around to apologise profusely. Was she embarrassed? Anne couldn’t tell.

“I’m so clumsy, I’m sorry.” Ann’s face was flushed.

“It’s fine.” Anne smiled sincerely. It’s more than fine. “I think I’m going to go.”

“Okay.” Ann was slightly out of breath as she said it.

They stood, gazes fixed on each other, as the crowd continued to move and cheer to the music. The moment carving itself out just for the two of them, their own private stillness in a sea of chaos. Ann bit her lip, she was desperate to kiss Anne, to thread her fingers in her hair and cling to her like a limpet. Truthfully, Anne was struggling with her own self control. She wanted to fling Ann over her shoulder and carry her home but how could she? She’d only fuck it up and end up hurting her, that’s all she was capable of. No, Anne wouldn’t do this again. Ann deserved better than her.

“I’ll see you tomorrow.” Anne smiled kindly. “With coffee.”

Ann looked deflated as she nodded.

“I had a really nice time tonight.” Anne grinned as Ann’s disappointment lifted. “Need someone to walk you home?”

Ann’s heart lurched. Anne was such a gentleman, no one ever treated her like this. Ann contemplated for a moment, if she said yes there was a very real chance she’d try and drag Anne upstairs to bed that wouldn’t necessarily be the best idea right now, as much as she was aching for Anne to touch her. Surely Anne would’ve kissed her back there if she was interested? Plus, they had to work together, Ann would only make it awkward.

“Thank you for the offer, but I’ll go home with Cath.”

Anne nodded.

“But next time?”

“Next time.” Anne nodded again. “See you tomorrow, Ann Walker.”

Ann watched the woman of her dreams disappear out the door as she tried to tame her thumping heart. What was that?

“Fuck me, Ann!” Cath’s dulcet tones soon cut through Ann’s daydream. “For a second there I thought I was going to have to throw cold water over you both.”

“Oh shush.” Ann blushed furiously.

“Give me one good reason why you aren’t going home to shag her right now?”

“We have to work together! And besides, I don’t even know if she wants to.” Ann groaned, she could feel her hangover starting early.

“She wants to. Mark my words.” Cath said as she put her arm around Ann’s shoulders to lead her back towards the bar. “Marian! Come on, we’ll have one more and then make sure you get back safe.” Cath shouted behind her.

“Not a word of this to Marian, alright?” Ann whispered loudly.

“Scout’s honour.” Cath giggled as she looked over at Marian, who was also laughing at Ann’s attempt to be subtle.

Anne and Ann may have made their way home separately, but they shared one thing in common: it was looking increasingly unlikely either of them would get much sleep tonight.

Chapter Text

The sunlight made Ann’s head hurt as she opened one eye and then the other. It must be the middle of the night, why was it so light? She checked her phone and grumbled. 7:28AM. Precisely two minutes before she had to get up, which was, quite frankly, unreasonable.

“Get up, Walker.” She muttered to herself as she tried to escape from the soft cocoon of the duvet.

The warm water of the shower brought her back to life, mostly, although her head still felt a little prickly. She hadn’t had that much to drink for most people but for Ann, three beers was rather a lot. Thinking back to last night, in the cool light of day, it all seemed different now. The looks and touches? Ann was remembering it all wrong, of course Anne wasn’t interested in her. It was just the buzz of the alcohol, the warmth of the club, the excitement of being on a night out. Certain that she’d misread it all, Ann shook her head. Honestly, the amount of times she'd professed her love for Cath (platonically of course) on less than three beers, must be well into the thousands by now. It was easy to get carried away. No, Anne was a colleague, maybe they were friends at a push. Even that was a bit of a stretch, they barely knew each other. 

Get your shit together.

Sunglasses were a good idea, despite the early hour. It was a glorious day, the birds were chirping, the sky was neon blue and it was forecast to be hot well into the weekend. Usually, Ann would be beaming on a day like this but instead, she scrunched up her nose at the strong rays, definitely regretting that cheeky nightcap she was coerced by Cath into having before bed. She could only hope Anne hadn’t forgotten to get the coffee on her way in. Speaking of which, where did Anne live? She’d never mentioned it.

The front door was unlocked this time when Ann pushed it, the bright reflection of the sun bounced off the pristine glass as it opened and swiftly closed again behind her. There wasn’t any movement in the place until she heard the unmistakable noise of…

“Fuck!” Anne’s irritated voice filtered through from the kitchen.

Ann closed her eyes in preparation before taking a deep inhale and making her way towards the chaos.

“Knock knock.” Ann said softly as she opened the swing door.

Anne looked up from her chopping board and nodded before resuming her work.

“You look like shit, Anne.”

“Thanks.” Anne’s reply was curt.

“Oh, wait, no I just mean.” Ann realised Anne was in no mood to play this morning. “I’m sorry I just meant, I don’t think either of us are really up for this today.” Ann took her jacket off and pushed her sunglasses to the top of her head.

“Hm.” Anne grunted.

Ann shook her head to herself as she realised she had grumpy, tired, one-syllable-answers Anne for the morning prep. The thought didn’t fill her with joy, perhaps she’d make it a personal challenge to lighten her up a bit by the time the diners arrived.

“Did you get coffee?” Ann’s voice was neutral, expertly masking her impending secret annoyance if Anne answered no.

“Oh shit, yes. It’s over there.” Anne pointed with her knife to the stainless steel counter next to one of the stoves.

“Live saver.” Ann brushed her hand over Anne’s arm as she passed her.

It was such a small gesture of affection, Ann had done it millions of times to people but Anne wasn’t used to it. A warmth spread through her bones as she smiled down at the chopping board before grabbing another bag of new potatoes.

“Sorry I was a little short earlier, I’m just tired.” Anne muttered.

“It’s okay, I’m not fairing much better.” Ann sipped her coffee. “Last night was fun though, thanks for coming.”

“Thanks for dragging me.”

They smiled softly at each other before Anne grimaced in pain.

“What is it?” Ann was concerned.

“It’s nothing. I’ve just got a twinge in my right shoulder, it’s nothing to worry about.” Anne had been having problems with her joints now for a few months. It was her dominant side, all that chopping, stirring, whisking and finger pointing was having an affect on her body.

“Here.”

Before Anne could register what was happening, Ann’s warm hands were touching her back. She groaned loudly as the heel of Ann’s right hand pushed into the sizable knot at the base of her shoulder blade. Anne steadied herself, placing her palms on the counter top to keep upright as Ann worked her sore, tired muscles over and over. It wasn’t until Anne noticed her knuckles had turned white from gripping the counter so hard, she realised she was equal parts relaxed, equal parts turned on. She had to stop this before the tension became unbearable, they had so many hours before closing time and Anne had to focus.

At the same time, Ann was beginning to sweat. The low groans and sharp inhales from Anne while she steadily worked her palm into her shoulder were settling themselves deep in her belly. Her toned physique was impressive under her touch, she was all hard lines and taut muscles. Ann swallowed, trying to ignore the ache between her legs as Anne let out a loud, satisfied sigh. Ann was grateful Anne couldn’t see her face as she closed her eyes and tried to focus on anything other than how wet she suddenly was.

“Any better?” Ann’s shaky voice asked as she lifted her hands away.

When Anne turned round, Ann’s stomach swirled; Her eyes were half closed, she looked dishevelled, her jaw slack. Finally, after a few seconds, Anne licked her lips and straightened herself out.

“Yes, thank you.” Anne’s voice was husky, causing Ann’s pulse to quicken.

“I’ll work more on it later if you like.” Ann walked off to her station. “We’d best get this prep done.”

As Ann turned her back to focus on something other than the way Anne was looking at her, she bit her lip. Was it ten million degrees in here or was she just having a moment? She could swear she could feel Anne’s gaze still on her as she grabbed the bag of onions and began furiously dicing.  

--

After a slightly shaky, and intensely arousing start, Ann soon fell into her stride in the kitchen. When Henry and Cordingley arrived for their shifts, they welcomed her enthusiastically. When Marian finally surfaced looking a lot worse off than Anne, she threw her arms around Ann before shuffling back into the restaurant to set up. It was quite nice really, the space was good to work in, the kitchen was expertly run, of course, the dishes were fun to make – albeit slightly traditional for Ann’s tastes. She’d miss this place when she left next week but perhaps her and Cath could come in for dinner? Good plan.

“What the?” Ann jumped when something flew past her eyeline.

A small piece of carrot landed on her chopping board.

“Who?” Ann stopped as she turned round to find Anne laughing to herself.

“You looked like you were lost in a dream world, Ann. You know I can’t stand for my staff to be slacking.” Anne tutted before shaking her head dramatically.

Ann rolled her eyes and turned back to her work, this was a marked improvement from Anne screaming at her staff, even if it was incredibly childish. Maybe Ann was breaking through her terrifying exterior?

“We’re quite quiet tonight, Ann. You can go before service if you like.” Anne’s voice cut through her thoughts.

“What?” Ann didn’t really hear much of what Anne had said.

“We don’t have that many bookings, we never really do on a Thursday night. Plus, we’re closed tomorrow for prep and then the weekend, for obvious reasons.” Anne raised her eyebrows. “So, you can head off. If you feel half as tired as me, maybe you could use the extra sleep.”

“Well, I had an idea actually.”

“Oh?” Anne was intrigued.

“I thought we could cook something for each other?” Ann’s tone was playful.

“What do you mean?” Anne said with a confused frown.

“For the menu choices! What if, after service, we both cook each other a dish? Whoever’s dish is tastier, well, we could put it on the menu for Saturday?”

“Ah, well.” Anne trailed off, all she could think about was getting through service and crawling into bed with the novel she was currently halfway through.

“What’s the matter? Are you scared I’m going to win?” Ann quirked an eyebrow before folding her arms.

“No.” Anne’s voice was measured but god, Ann was infuriating when she was in this mood. “I’m just tired.”

“Hm. Sounds like you’re scared.” Ann sang before stirring the risotto on the stove.

Anne groaned loudly. “We’re going to need more coffee.”

--

Ann had taken up Anne’s offer of a break halfway through the day, although she’d decided exactly what she was going to make, she needed to forage for one particular ingredient. She slid her shades on, adjusted the rear-view mirror in Cath’s old beat up VW Polo and set off. As Future Love by Ride started playing on the radio, Ann tapped her thumbs against the wheel to the beat. Her mood was lifting, the hangover was dissipating. She was excited for an evening with Anne, even if it was purely work. She felt a million times lighter as the breeze fluttered through the open window, gently tickling and cooling her skin.

Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for Anne who had been berating Henry for the past ten minutes about his inability to stop the custard from curdling.

“This is the second fucking time tonight!” Anne barked as she tipped the whole lot in the bin. “I really don’t have time to wipe your arse all the way through service.”

Henry had apologised profusely, he’d just taken his eye off the ball for a second. It’d never happen again, he promised. Only, he’d just become a parent and he was functioning on about 30 minutes of sleep. Anne wasn’t one for excuses, no matter what the reason. If you fucked up, you admitted it, you didn’t try and weasel your way out of it with explanations. No one had time for that in a busy kitchen.

Ann had returned from her break to find a handful of diners left, signalling dinner service was almost over. She expected the kitchen to be serene, perhaps just Anne and Cordingley left tidying up. What she actually came back to was Anne, red in the face, shouting at poor Henry who had just made a stupid mistake.

Anne was clattering around with a fresh pan, still scolding Henry as she started the custard again for the third time that evening. God, she was annoyed. Was it too much to ask for staff who actually helped rather than hindered her? If it was possible, Anne wouldn’t have employed anyone. She’d much rather do everything herself, she just needed to grow a few extra sets of limbs.

“I can’t believe I have to redo something so simple, Henry. You really ought to know better…” Anne’s head whipped up to make sure Henry was paying attention.

The second Anne saw Ann standing behind Henry’s shoulder, she stopped shouting. Ann remained quiet but shot her a disapproving look. It was all pursed lips and strong eyebrows, like Anne was a toddler being told silently to stop making such a fuss in front of the adults. Anne took a deep breath, perhaps she was being a little harsh? She was bone tired after all, she knew how it felt.

“Look, what’s done is done.” Anne said, uncharacteristically calmly. “I’ll finish this. Go home, Henry. Get some rest.”

Henry blinked, almost expecting this reasonable Anne to be a figment of his imagination but no, there she was, soft eyed and understanding.

“Thanks.” He said softly as he grabbed his coat and turned towards the door.

Ann winked at him as he left the kitchen, catching Marian’s eye from the other side of the swing door as they both rolled their eyes dramatically at Anne’s expense. Luckily Anne was entirely unaware, she was too busy focussing far too intently on the custard, a little embarrassed that Ann not only caught her shouting but had disarmed her in front of her entire staff.

“Why are you so grumpy?” Ann said softly as she walked over to Anne’s stove.

“Tired.”

“Hm. Poor Henry is tired too, you really didn’t need to…”

“Alright, Ann.” Anne exhaled. “I get it, I’m a prick.” She didn’t need to be reminded.

“Come on, what can I help with?” Ann’s tone changed immediately, back to the bright, helpful, radiant Ann.

Anne was confused, she was used to women holding grudges for weeks, giving her short answers, never just telling her off and then forgetting about it entirely. It made her head spin, Ann was such a complicated woman. Not in a bad way, just in a way Anne had never experienced before.

“Do you know anything about custard?” Anne winked.

“Give that here, go and do something else useful!” Ann joked, wrestling the wooden spoon from Anne’s grasp and taking over the desserts. “Maybe you’ve got something to prepare for, hm?”

“Oh never fear, Miss Walker.” Anne beamed. “I’m ready for our showdown.”

--

They divided the kitchen into two halves, despite Ann insisting it really wasn’t necessary. She only needed a little bit of space on the counter and one of the stoves, two at the most. Anne dismissed her, drawing an imaginary line down the middle of her kitchen like she was preparing for battle. Ann smiled at her methods. They worked very differently but, this was Anne’s kitchen, so Anne’s rules. Well, mostly.

An hour in and Anne glanced over to where Ann was working diligently. They’d set a rule that they weren’t allowed to interfere or ask what each others dish was. Anne was, of course, trying to suss out exactly what Ann was up to, get the measure of her competition, be one step ahead. When Anne saw her, rolling out her pasta dough, a flour smudge on her right cheek and the tip of her tongue poking out in concentration, it made her heart swell immediately. She looked calm, collected, not a care in the world. When Anne cooked, she was all stern frowns and concentration. In fact, Anne was watching her for so long, she almost forgot about the loin of lamb she had searing on the stove.

“Fuck.” She muttered as she swiftly turned the joint of meat over, rescuing it just at the last minute.

“Everything alright over there?” A smug voice sung from across the kitchen.

“Piss off.” Anne chuckled, throwing her tea towel at Ann as she transferred the pan to the oven.

“How much longer, chef?” Ann said, a hint of mischief in her tone.

“Why?” Anne’s head whipped up quickly.

“Oh, only, I’m pretty much done.” Ann was being cocky and she knew it.

“You’re finished?”

“Yep.”

“Well. Eyes to the front, Miss Walker. I don’t want you watching me and picking up any last minute tips.” Anne’s face was serious until the corners of her mouth turned upwards.

“You’re ridiculous.” Ann laughed. “Drink?”

“Go on then, just one tonight.”

Ann nodded as she floated out the door. Anne couldn’t not look at her work station, I mean, she only wanted a peek, just to see what all the fuss was about. She’d just stood on her tiptoes to see over the stove when Ann’s voice called out from the dining room.

“No cheating, Lister! I know what you’re doing.”

Anne laughed out loud, shaking her head as she turned back to her side of the kitchen to whip up her sesame dressing.

--

Ann had almost finished her beer by the time Anne finished in the kitchen. They’d both prepared a starter and a main each and had agreed to work on dessert together tomorrow. Ann had insisted they eat in the dining room to get the full experience. Anne had laughed at first, dismissing the idea, what was wrong with perching on a stool and eating off the worktop? But she soon gave in and actually, Ann was right. It was much nicer sitting at an actual table, like they were real diners having the real experience.

Anne carried her two plates through the swing doors and smiled as she stepped into the dining room. She prided herself on the space she’d created, her dining area was an average size but the lofty ceilings made it seem bigger than it was. The interior was all slate greys and whites but with the warm yellow glow from the exposed bulb pendant lights hanging above every table, it was cosy. During construction, Anne had been thrilled to get her hands on some reclaimed wood from the late 19th century; she measured, cut and crafted it herself to make the large, heavy counter for the bar. The space had the perfect blend of contemporary but with a little bit of history, kind of like how Anne thought of herself.

She weaved in and out of the other tables with a grin on her face to serve Ann a starter of steak tartare with her signature lime, sesame, garlic and green chilli dressing. Ann was polite as she accepted the plate, only wasn’t this just so Anne Lister? To serve something so traditional and so, well, barbaric. To not even cook the steak mince? It was a delicacy, sure, maybe twenty years ago. Ann had to admit though, as soon as she took the first bite, it was delicious. Anne was good. She had some stiff competition.

“Anne, this is incredible.” Ann let out a satisfied hum as she took another mouthful.

Anne bit the inside of her cheek, seeing Ann taste her food and have such a reaction was unexpectedly hot.

“Try mine!” Ann pushed the plate towards her, interrupting her lingering gaze.

Ann had griddled asparagus, local of course, in anchovy butter, finishing it off with a sprinkle of parmesan. It was simple but the colours on the plate were striking. The anchovy butter was out of this world, why hadn’t Anne ever thought of doing that? It was genius.

“This is excellent.” Anne said just before shovelling another huge forkful into her mouth. “You’re very good.” Anne’s voice was low as she licked her lips.

Ann felt a shiver run through her body, Anne was doing it again; driving her wild just by lowering her voice. She must know what it was doing to Ann. There was no way she couldn’t know, not when she seemed to revel in the incoherent, slightly out of breath state of the blonde woman afterwards. Shuffling in her seat, cheeks flushed and voice shaky.

Their main dishes contrasted wildly with each other, Ann’s was a vibrant green wild garlic pesto with handmade tagliatelle, like the colours of spring and Anne’s was loin of lamb with creamed potatoes and black garlic, all dark and moody on the plate.

“This is the best pasta I’ve ever eaten, Ann.” Anne mumbled with her mouth full. “Honestly.”

“I picked that wild garlic today.” Ann said triumphantly.

“You did what?” Anne twirled the tagliatelle with her fork and looked up.

“On my break today, I know the best spot.” Ann took a sip of her second beer. “I may or may not reveal my secrets to you.” Ann’s smile was as wide as Anne had ever seen it.

“I’ll find a way to get it out of you.” Anne drawled as she continued to eat.

Ann blushed, fiddling with the sticker on her beer bottle.

“Are you not going to eat? I spent a long time over that.” Anne’s mouth was so full, it was comical.

Truthfully, Ann had been so distracted watching Anne’s long fingers hold her fork, twirling the pasta round and round. It was mesmerising.

“You’re staring at me.” Anne said nonchalantly, not looking up from her bowl.

“Sorry.” Ann whispered as embarrassment turned her face bright pink.

“Don’t be.” Anne looked up at her with a soft smile. “I don’t mind.”

Ann’s blush didn’t lessen but she did manage to pick up her knife and fork to tuck into Anne’s main dish. As soon as that first mouthful hit her taste buds, Ann moaned. The meat was expertly cooked, perfectly complimented by the potatoes and garlic. Ann closed her eyes and softly hummed again as she took another bite. When she eventually opened them, she was met with Anne’s gaze fixed on her. Her chest was rising and falling deeply and she’d stopped eating.

Ann was trying to kill her. Anne had never been more sure of anything. The way Ann had closed her eyes and moaned with pleasure? It was, quite possibly, the hottest thing Anne had ever witnessed. Her thoughts scrambled, no longer able to concentrate on the food in front of her, all she could think about was what noises Ann might make if she kissed her. She wanted to push the plates off the table, lay Ann down and worship every single inch of her. Anne shuffled in her seat, shaking out her legs, trying anything to dampen the fire Ann was expertly stoking without even realising.

“So, what do you think?” Ann had to break the silence somehow.

“You win, Miss Walker.” Anne exhaled. “Hands down.”

Anne wasn’t sure if she was even talking about the food anymore, she was too far gone.

“How about, we put both of these dishes on the menu? They can choose, we can work together.”

Usually, Anne would want to win everything but tonight, she was happy to roll onto her back and submit to whatever Ann wanted. Metaphorically of course. But there was Ann, suggesting they both serve their dishes, crowning both of them the winner? Adorable. Ann was looking at her, in that way she’d often caught her, in that way that almost made Anne think she wanted her just as badly. Anne watched her lick her lips slowly, her gaze flicking down to Anne’s mouth briefly before reaching her eyes again. Anne felt her arousal heighten at the thought of Ann leaning forward and kissing her, maybe once they started they’d never be able to stop. That’s how intensely Anne felt the pull of this golden haired woman who’d stormed into her life without any warning whatsoever.

“So what’s for dessert?” Ann quirked her eyebrow.

You. I want you for dessert.

Chapter Text

Ann loitered on the front steps as Anne held onto the glass door like it was an anchor, tethering her to the earth. Truthfully, Anne had had such a nice time tonight she’d almost forgotten about the stress and anxiety about the weekend. Ann had made her mind empty for the first time in her adult life and she felt positively giddy. Anne Lister didn’t get giddy. Ever. And yet, as she lightly swayed with the door, her cheek resting on the back of her hand, she was grinning ear to ear.  

“Let’s brainstorm tomorrow? We can finalise the menu and get any last minute ingredients.” Anne’s voice had a hint of excitement at the thought of spending all day with Ann.

“Sounds good.” Ann smiled up at Anne shyly. “Goodnight, Anne.”

“Goodnight, Ann.”

After another lingering gaze, Ann nodded and turned, disappearing into the haze of headlights and pedestrians. Even though it was well into the evening, Manchester was still buzzing. Anne locked the door behind her and headed over to clear their table. She stacked the plates on one hand and grabbed the empty beers with the other. The bottles clinked together with every step Anne took towards the kitchen before she nudged the door open with her hip. The kitchen was in a bit of a mess but for the first time, it didn’t bother her. Instead, it served as a physical reminder of her evening with Ann; the haphazard splashes of sauce on the shiny steel counter, the patches of flour that had migrated onto the floor around Ann’s station, even the dirty saucepan that had the dried, impossibly-hard-to-get-off creamed potatoes still sat on Anne’s stove didn’t phase her. Her mind was too calm to get caught up in all of that.

I’ll deal with it tomorrow.

Anne smiled at the thought. She’d given everyone else the day off since there wouldn’t be any paying customers walking in, though she expected Marian to be floating around like she always did. In reality, Anne was quite grateful for Marian. Not that she’d ever admit it in a million years.

--

Cath had started to get used to the new Ann Walker - the unrecognisable, gets up early in a good mood, Ann Walker – so it was no surprise to find her sat munching some toast and scrolling through her phone at 8am the following morning.

“Whatever she’s doing to you, tell her to keep it up, eh?” Cath teased as she grabbed the milk out the fridge.

“Very funny.” Ann said sarcastically as she pointed Cath with a look.

“Less than a week in and you’ve been transformed! Do you know how many times I’ve tried to get you out of bed before midday? I mean, I should really be offended right now.” Cath said dramatically.

“You try to get me out of bed for bottomless brunch! This is work, it’s different. I have a responsibility.”

“Hardly, I mean, you don’t even really work there, Ann. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so invested in anything since, well, since you know, Italy.”

“Hm.” Ann hummed. Italy seemed like a lifetime ago now. “Well, I’ll be back to normal by Monday.”

As soon as the words sunk in, Ann felt a twinge in her stomach. She really didn’t want to just leave the restaurant after putting in so much work, but Anne hadn’t mentioned anything about the possibility of staying on. Would Anne even want her there? Would Ann inevitably drive her insane and ruin their friendship?

“Earth to Ann.” Cath waved her hand in front of Ann’s face. “Cuppa?”

Ann blinked, returning to the present moment. “No thanks, I’m off to get coffee.”

The wooden chair scraped on the lino floor as Ann stood up. She gathered her phone and keys and brushed the toast crumbs from her summer dress.

“I was thinking, when I’ve finished, maybe we could go in for dinner?” Ann said it as casually as possible but really, she was desperate to have an excuse to go back next week, she didn’t care in which capacity.

“Sure, that sounds nice, Annie.” Cath said with a knowing smile. “Maybe your girlfriend can reserve us the best table in the house.”

“I’m leaving now.” Ann narrowed her eyes playfully as she walked out the kitchen.

“Have a good day, darling!” Cath shouted down the hallway. “You know I’m only teasing you because I love you, right?”

“Hm! See you later.” Ann smiled back at Cath before she stepped out of the door and headed towards Takk.

--

Anne stood in front of her wardrobe as her mind wandered to thoughts of Ann. She was proving to be quite integral to the event and it felt almost callous to let her go after the night was finished. The kitchen was still in need of a sous chef but this was dangerous territory. Anne could feel the tell-tale signs and it terrified her. She’d not allowed herself to open up to anyone after Mariana, it just wasn’t worth picking up the pieces after they inevitably left her. Plus, it was well known that Anne was a prick, she was a nightmare to work for, probably even worse to be in a relationship with, at least that’s what Mariana would say during their regular screaming matches. Anne didn’t want to ruin this poor girl’s life, she was so full of hope and positivity, Anne would only suck her dry and leave her a husk of her former self. How could she ever do that? No, it was for the best that Ann would leave on Monday, she’d no doubt go on to do amazing things.

She buttoned up her black shirt and grabbed her brogues before sliding her phone into the back pocket of her jeans. It felt good to be out of her uniform for a day and spend some time out of the kitchen for once. She pushed her black shades to rest on top of her head before letting out a loud whistle.

“Argus!”

The familiar thud sounded as her shaggy lurcher jumped off the sofa and onto the floor, padding his way towards the woman holding his lead.

“In your own time.” Anne muttered as she clipped the lead to his collar and stepped out into the sunshine.

--

Ann balanced the two coffees in one hand as she fished out her phone. The restaurant doors were locked and the lights were off, which seemed strange. Anne didn’t strike her as someone who’d be late. She dialled Anne’s number and nestled her phone in the crook of her neck as it rang. The noise echoed in stereo before she realised it was getting louder.

“Good morning!” Anne’s voice beamed at her.

Turning round, Ann’s breath hitched immediately. Anne was dressed in tight black jeans, a fitted, open-necked black shirt with her sleeves rolled up, her hair was scraped back in a high bun, exposing the soft skin of her neck and her eyes were covered by her dark sunglasses as she grinned widely. She had two coffees in one hand (honestly, how did she make everything look so easy?) and the other was attached to Argus who was looking up at Ann, his big tail thumping against Anne’s leg as he wagged it excitedly.

“Hello.” Ann managed to breathe out.

“Looks like we both had the same idea.” Anne lifted up the coffee cups.

“Oh, yes.” Ann finally remembered she was a human being, standing in the street, in the middle of a conversation. “At least we won’t fall asleep!” Ann groaned internally, why did you even say that?

Anne chuckled as she approached the door.

“Ah, could you just hold Argus for a minute?” Anne said, handing Ann the lead.

“Obviously.” Ann said looking into Argus’ brown eyes. “How are you today, handsome?”

Anne smiled to herself, Ann was rather cute with Argus, she had to admit.

“He’s fine, all he’s done today is nap, eat his breakfast and nap some more. He’s a lazy oaf.”

“Don’t listen to her, I think you’re perfect.” Ann booped Argus’ nose.

Argus let out a deep bark as his tail wagged faster.

“Don’t encourage him.” Anne teased. “Otherwise he’ll pick you as his favourite and my bruised ego will never recover.”

Ann just chuckled as she followed Anne inside the restaurant, she let go of Argus’ lead and watched him as he lolloped behind. Anne placed the coffee cups on her favourite table and slid herself into the chair closest to the window. Argus twirled around on the spot before settling himself down with a huff, resting his head on his front paws. Ann smiled as she watched Anne poke a pen behind her ear and take a long sip of coffee, she looked all business.

“Right, let’s get your menu sorted.” Ann said as she took the seat opposite.

--

Two hours and four coffees later, they were stagnating. The mains were sorted, thanks to Ann’s idea yesterday about cooking for each other, both the dishes were a hit. They’d offer two choices: meat or vegetarian. Anne always had a couple of go-to vegan and gluten free dishes up her sleeve if the critics chose to really test her, but they couldn’t agree on starters and hadn’t even got onto desserts yet. Anne held her head in her hands as she tried to focus but she could feel her irritation threatening to break out any moment.

“Why don’t we just give them one choice? We’ll make it simple and meat-free, it’ll cater for everyone and it means we can really focus our time and prep on the mains?” Ann offered. “I really think that might be the best option, don’t you…”

“Ann!” Anne snapped. “I need to think, I can’t concentrate if you’re throwing suggestions at me left, right and centre.” Anne closed her eyes, regretting the words instantly.

“Okay.” Ann sat back in her chair. “I mean, there’s no need to get so annoyed with me.”

Anne clenched her teeth, this is where she’d usually lose her composure. The second someone called her out on her bullshit, it would make her extra defensive, extra sulky, extra prickish but, well, Ann was right.

“Look, I’m sorry.” Anne sighed loudly. “I just can’t think properly.”

Ann studied Anne’s face, the bags under her eyes, the deep lines on her forehead as she continued to frown, refusing to meet Ann’s gaze. The woman was utterly burnt out.

“Just take a break, Anne. This can wait.”  

This was the moment Anne snapped. She’d been holding things together on her own for so long and now Ann Walker had breezed into her life and made her feel hope in her heart. Hope that things could be better, that her life could be better and here she was, resenting her for it. Anne had just about figured out a way to get up in the morning and work until her bones hurt, ignoring how lonely she was, how exhausted she was, before collapsing into bed and starting the process all over again. She didn’t want to lose her composure in front of Ann but the more she tried not to, the more it bubbled under the surface, finally reaching boiling point.

“But it can’t wait!” Anne shouted, tossing her notepad onto the table with a thud. “You don’t understand! This restaurant? This event? This stupid fucking menu? It’s my entire life!”

Ann flinched at Anne’s outburst but stayed silent as Anne continued to spiral.

“You swan in here and do your shifts and leave knowing you’ll get paid for it.” Anne knew this was a little unfair but she’d gone past the point of rational thinking. “The restaurant is haemorrhaging money, I don’t even take a wage, I’m barely scraping by.” Anne felt embarrassed by the admission, shaking her head as she carried on. “I’m living upstairs for fuck’s sake.” Anne held her head in her hands and sniffed. When had she started crying?

Ann’s heart broke as she watched Anne fall silent, tears rolling down her cheeks.

“It’s okay, Anne.” Ann gently squeezed Anne’s forearm. “It’s going to be alright.”

Anne scoffed, how could Ann make that kind of promise?

“I shouldn’t be doing this alone. This was never the plan, it was never supposed to be like this.” Anne’s head dropped low.

Ann felt the prickle of her own tears as she looked at Anne, utterly defeated, collapsed in her chair and sobbing softly. On the one hand she felt privileged that Anne trusted her enough to let her guard down around her but on the other, it didn’t seem like Anne had a choice right now, these feelings were coming out of her whether she liked it or not.

“I had a partner.” Anne whispered, finally breaking the silence. “We were supposed to set this up together, run it and be a team. Only, life never really works out how you think it’s going to, does it?” Anne looked up, her eyes puffy and her nose red.

“Oh, Anne.” It was all Ann could say as she smoothed her thumb over her arm reassuringly.

For a few moments, they sat there in silence. Anne slowly returned to her body, her breathing calmed, she wiped the tears from her face and straightened herself out. Ann was patient, she would sit here for as long as Anne needed, for as long as Anne would allow her to be there, a witness to her vulnerability.

“Sorry, I’m fine. We really do need to get back to this.” Anne cleared her throat, desperately wishing she could just erase the last ten minutes from Ann’s mind.

“Why don’t we take Argus out for a walk?” Ann offered kindly.

“What?” Anne was confused.

“I find that I do my best thinking when I’m walking, it helps me process my thoughts.” Ann smiled and picked up her sunglasses. “Come on, what do you say? You can’t say no to that face.” Ann pointed at Argus who was looking up adoringly at Anne. “She can’t say no to you, can she? Even if she is a grumpy guts.”

Argus wagged his tail.

“You’re ridiculous, the pair of you.” Anne chuckled softly before admitting defeat. “Alright, just a short walk though. We’ve still got lots on our to-do list.”

“Yes, chef.” Ann saluted with a grin before jumping out of her chair to grab Argus’ lead.

Anne smiled, how was this woman able to just take all of her worries and momentarily banish them from her mind? She watched Argus walk Ann to the door before she took a deep, steadying breath as she followed them outside.

--

Ann had suggested that getting out of town briefly might help clear their heads and Anne couldn’t argue. Perspective was always a good thing, so she didn’t even grumble when Ann insisted she drove them the short distance to Fletcher Moss Park. Usually Anne would’ve insisted she drive but she felt safe with Ann in a way she hadn’t allowed herself to be for a long time. Plus, she had such a headache after all that crying. Honestly, how embarrassing.

“Isn’t it gorgeous?” Ann exhaled as she closed her eyes and basked in the sunshine.

Yes, you are.

“What?” Ann peeled one eye open.

“Nothing.” Anne smiled sincerely. “Lead the way, Miss Walker.”

Ann giggled before heading towards the gate. It was hot for May, or perhaps England was actually having a summer this year. The air was hazy as the crickets buzzed in the long grass in the mid afternoon sun. Anne had started to sweat under her blanket of black clothing but Ann was still as radiant as ever, a spring in her step as she talked excitedly about how she stumbled upon this treasure trove of wild garlic by mistake. Anne couldn’t help but think Ann looked stunning in her sundress, her tanned legs peeking out from underneath, the curve of her ass… Stop it.

As they walked, with Argus lolloping beside them, the conversation naturally turned back to the menu choices. Ann was right, walking really did help Anne process her thoughts. Well, some of her thoughts anyway. Every time Ann’s hand accidentally brushed hers, she wanted to reach out and take it. Anne didn’t even care anymore, she’d let Ann lead her anywhere.

They batted ideas back and forth for a good hour, narrowing down the options until eventually deciding on their final choices. Anne was bouncing on her heels, enthusiasm and excitement radiating out of her. Ann laughed, overjoyed at the transformation from earlier on in the day, not that Ann could take credit for it, Anne had gotten to this point on her own even if she didn’t realise it. She was far stronger than she gave herself credit for.

“We’ve got it! This is it, Ann! We’ve got our menu!” Anne was elated, utterly over the moon and excited to get back to the kitchen to start preparations.

Ann skipped ahead a few steps before turning back round to face Anne, causing her to stop in her tracks. The birds were chirping and the soft breeze cooled Anne’s skin as she looked into her blue eyes. Time seemed to stand still as a warmth began to spread through Anne’s body, Ann was looking at her with such patience and hope, a small smile playing on her lips.

“I just wanted to say.” Ann’s voice was soft, gentle, comforting. “You’re not doing this alone.”

Anne blinked as her brain tried to register Ann’s words, but she was distracted. The way Ann was looking up at her? The way she fiddled with the fabric of her dress? The sweet, soft, beautiful way about her? What choice did Anne have? She swept forward, cradling Ann’s jaw in her palm as she pressed their lips together. Ann hummed as she immediately kissed Anne back, her hands running up her strong arms and looping round her neck. As the kiss became desperate, Anne tilted her head and moaned as Ann’s tongue brushed her own. Losing themselves entirely in the moment, Ann’s body responded instantly to the way Anne pressed against her, the way her grip on her jaw became more intense, the low moans escaping her throat, it was intoxicating. Ann shivered as Anne’s left hand wandered down her body, squeezing her hip possessively. She couldn’t hold back the groan that interrupted the moment, the groan that caused Anne to pull back.

“Sorry.” Anne panted, her eyes were dark and her lips were red.

Ann’s brow furrowed as the rest of her body tried to catch up. What was Anne sorry for? Ann had wanted this too, she’d been thinking about it since the first day in the kitchen.

“I’m sorry, Ann. I shouldn’t have done that.” Anne stepped away, the space between them suddenly feeling like a deep, cavernous chasm. “I’ve got to go.”

“Wait.” Ann was so confused.

“I’m so sorry. We can’t do this.” Anne continued to back away. “I’ll only hurt you. It’s the only thing I’m good at. I’m so sorry.”

And with that, she was gone.

Chapter Text

Anne grunted at the Uber driver when he greeted her and Argus at the curb. She scoffed loudly when he opened the door for her and scowled when he asked how her day was going.

Mind your own fucking business.

It was cowardly, what Anne did. Leaving Ann Walker alone, bewildered and confused in a park? Unforgivable. Anne hated herself for it already. Why couldn’t she be an adult about these things or better still, just keep it in her pants long enough to not ruin the one good thing in her life right now. Ann didn’t need her coming in and turning her world upside down before she inevitably fucked it all up and hurt the first woman she’d genuinely cared about since Mariana.

They still didn’t know each other very well, not really, but Anne knew. She’d always known early on when she’d crossed paths with a woman she’d end up falling hard for. It was like a double edged sword, all fine if the woman felt the same but the amount of heartache Anne had endured from women who didn’t want anything to do with her after a quick roll in the sack was tough for her to bear. Anne had learned to guard her heart fiercely these days, no more dalliances with women just out for a good time. While Anne enjoyed these immensely in her twenties and thirties, now it was all too painful to open these old wounds time and time again.

She clenched her jaw as the memory of Ann’s confused and hurt expression hit her straight in the stomach. Tasting the bile in the back of her throat, she leaned over the console and barked at the driver.

“Let me out, I think I’m going to be sick.”

“Are you alright? You do look a little peaky.” The driver replied.

“Just let me out for fuck’s sake.” Anne spat as she undid her seat belt.

The driver muttered under his breath as he pulled the car over. “I hope your day gets bett…”

Argus jumped out first before Anne slammed the door loudly as she staggered to the nearby wall, steadying herself while she dry heaved onto the pavement. She winced as she forced herself upright, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand and surveying where on earth she’d been dropped off. Argus looked up at her, his big brown eyes full of concern.

“I’m alright, I’m just an idiot.” Anne couldn’t help but smile as Argus’ tail wagged at her words as if he agreed with her.

The sun was still strong, hurting her eyes as she squinted to read the road name on the side of the nearby brick building. Pulling out her phone to look it up on Google, she saw she had 1 unread message. Her heart lurched, maybe it was from Ann. Maybe they could sort this out.

Marian: Where are you? There’s a delivery here and you owe me a pint for dealing with it.

Anne groaned as she rolled her eyes. She’d forgotten about the delivery entirely and if that wasn’t bad enough, she knew she’d be in for a hard time when she saw her sister next. Might as well get it over with sooner rather than later. Anne dialled her number and held her phone up to her ear.

“Marian, yes, look. I know, no I know that. Wait, no. Let me speak!” Anne lost every ounce of patience immediately. “Can you pick me and Argus up? I’ll send you the location.”

After an exchange of insults and Anne agreeing to be on coffee duty next week, Marian appeared shortly after to find her sister sitting by the side of the road.

“You look like shit.” She shouted from the open window.

Anne shot her a thunderous look before opening the rear door for Argus and getting into the passenger seat.

“Don’t start with me, Marian.” Anne warned as she clipped her seatbelt in and closed her eyes.

“I absolutely am going to start with you. You drag me out here after I’ve taken your bloody delivery and now you expect me to not say anything? Sometimes you really are stupid.” Marian tutted.

“Yes, I’m a fucking awful person. We all know that. Let’s move on, shall we?” Anne stared out the window like a sulking child.

“What’s happened?” Marian’s voice instantly softened.

“Nothing”. Anne stuck her jaw out in protest.

“Anne.” Marian had decided before she’d even got into her car that she wasn’t going to let Anne get away with this without an explanation.

“What, Marian!” Anne barked.

“How did you get here? What happened? Where’s Ann?”

“I, uh, I left her at Fletcher Park. She’s driving back separately.” Technically that wasn’t a lie.

“Did something happen?” Marian likely knew the answer, she knew her sister too well, especially when she was in a mood like this.

“Obviously.” Anne folded her arms, her gaze still trained on the number plate of the car in front.

“I think I might call her, I’ll just put her on speakerphone and ask her outright.” Marian was bored of Anne’s evasive answers.

“Don’t you dare.” Anne turned, covering Marian’s phone where it bounced in the holder on the dashboard.

“Then tell me what happened.”

Anne sighed. Marian always did this. She always needled Anne until she gave in and ended up admitting her mistakes. Anne hated it, despised it, she never wanted Marian to have the upper hand but well, she just had that annoying, frustrating, utterly infuriating way of getting the truth out of Anne one way or another.

“I kissed her, alright. I kissed her and then I left. I just left her.” Saying it out loud brought the nausea back instantly as Anne shuffled in her seat.

“Oh, Anne.” Marian exhaled gently.

“Can you drop me off at the gym? I can’t fucking think straight. I need to go and process.” Anne muttered.

“Sure.” Marian sensed Anne didn’t want her to push this anymore. A boundary she’d respect for now. “But you can’t go and punish yourself physically for a mistake you made. Just go and talk to her.”

“Just take the next left, the gym’s up this street.”

Marian turned her indicator on and shook her head, wondering when she’d stop having to clean up after her sister.

--

Ann couldn’t pinpoint exactly when she’d started crying on the drive home, nor could she figure out whether she was actually upset or absolutely furious. The two emotions swirled around her body, fighting with each other as she drove back towards the city. Despite the way her hand gripped the wheel tightly and how deep her frown was, Ann couldn’t deny how incredible it felt to kiss Anne Lister. Even if it was snatched away too early, to be replaced with confusion, anger and hurt. This only served to annoy Ann more as she drove through the barriers to the underground parking in Cath’s building.

“Ann? Is that you?” Cath called out as she heard the door slam.

“Do we have any wine?” Ann’s voice shouted as she started banging the cupboard doors in search of alcohol of any description.

“Whoa, chill out, what’s happened?” Cath put her hands on Ann’s shoulders, slowly turning her round from where she’d buried her head in the pantry.

“Nothing.” Ann lied, knowing that her puffy red eyes and wobbling bottom lip gave her away instantly.

“Ann.” Cath stooped lower, forcing Ann to look at her.

New tears filled her eyes as Ann shook her head, biting her lip. “She’s such a fucking asshole.”

And there it was. The admission that this was, of course, about Anne Lister. Cath hadn’t seen Ann this worked up in a long time and it didn’t take a genius to work out who would be to blame.

“Come on.” Cath lead Ann to the sofa and squeezed her shoulder. “I’ll go and get some supplies. Don’t move.”

Ann wiped her tears as she watched Cath gather her keys and leave the flat. There was a decent off licence down the street and if she knew her best friend well enough, she’d know to get the slightly more expensive wine tonight. Ann needed it. Who did Anne Lister think she was? Leaving her like that, abandoning her after what was, quite possibly, the hottest kiss she’d ever had? Dickhead.

“Give me that.” Cath’s voice interrupted Ann’s far away thoughts. When had Cath even come back to the apartment? “That.” Cath pointed to the phone cradled in Ann’s palm. “Give it here.”

Ann frowned in confusion as she handed it over.

“So you’re not tempted to text her after you’ve had wine. I know what you’re like, Annie. You’re annoyed now but in two glasses time, you’ll want to ring her and apologise for something you haven't done just to make things right again.”

“I will not.” Ann huffed like a petulant child. It was all true, of course.

“Help me with these bottles, will you? I got us snacks too.”

Ann followed Cath into the kitchen, placing the multiple bottles, packets of crisps and chocolate down on the table before enveloping her in a tight hug from behind.

“Thanks, Cath.” Ann squeezed tighter. “You’re the greatest.”

Cath laughed as she retrieved the bottle opener, still with Ann clinging to her, before untangling herself to pour their drinks.

“Here.” Cath passed Ann a rather large glass of white wine. “Come and tell me what’s happened.”

Another bottle in and Ann was slurring her words. She was cross for one, but also, she was getting more and more drunk as the night went on. Small droplets of wine were rolling down the outside of her glass as she continued to punctuate her sentences with small flicks of her hand. Cath had stopped worrying about her upholstery two drinks ago, she figured it was better for Ann to get this all out than worry about a few wine spots on her sofa.

“She acts like she’s so above everyone else. And you know what? She isn’t. Alright, she’s handsome and brilliant and good at her job but she’s an arrogant prick.” Ann huffed.

“I think you like her.” Cath had stayed quiet for the last ten minutes but it was time to intervene.

“What? Don’t be absurd.” Ann tutted before refilling her wine glass.

“Hear me out, Ann. I just think, you like her and maybe she likes you and there’s something between the pair of you. That’s why you’re so upset about this afternoon.”

“No, I’m upset about this afternoon because she just fucking left me and ran off. I mean, who does that?”

“Hm. I mean, that is a pretty shit thing to do.” Cath nodded. “But wouldn’t you like her to kiss you again?”

Ann opened her mouth to answer but the words caught in her throat. The truth was, it was all she’d been able to think about since this afternoon.

--

Anne grunted with exertion as her feet pounded the treadmill, sweat dripped off her face as she turned up the resistance even higher. She’d been sprinting at capacity for a good twenty minutes, her lungs burned from the pace of her breathing, her thighs ached as she pushed herself harder and harder. She deserved this, she repeated to herself as the physical pain in her body consumed her.

Since her hours were so long, her days off sporadic and her diary so full, Anne always kept a clean gym kit in her locker. It always meant she could just turn up without any prior planning and sneak a workout in if she was passing. Anne loved the gym, it was her safe haven from the outside world, a place where she could truly relax and work on herself. Except, today, it definitely wasn’t a positive thing. It was a punishment. A punishment for hurting Ann Walker.

Anne fought to catch her breath as she jumped off the treadmill and wiped her face with her t-shirt. She could feel the nausea back again with a vengeance. Serves you right. She thought to herself as she clenched her jaw tighter and headed over to the weights. Her arms cried out as she lifted the barbell off the rack, placing it onto the floor before gathering a multitude of plates.

“Going for a PB?” A guy doing his own deadlift set shouted over to her.

“Something like that.” Anne muttered as she loaded the bar.

This was too heavy. She knew it but fuck it, she wanted to push her body to the very limit. She chalked up her hands and rolled her bar into position until it brushed her shins. Her forearms tensed as she wrapped her fingers around the metal, hinging her hips and pulling back her broad shoulders. The tendons in her neck popped as she took a steady breath before hauling the bar upwards to stand up straight. She cried out loudly at the effort, revelling in the feeling of every muscle straining in her body, the burn of pushing herself so hard. She lowered the bar back down to the floor with a grunt before shaking out her arms and resetting her position. She gripped the bar tightly, her joints screaming at her to slow down as sweat dripped off her face and onto the mat. She engaged her abdominal muscles, closed her eyes and tried her hardest to lift for a second rep, but it was no good. Fatigued, upset and dehydrated, Anne couldn’t get the bar off the floor no matter how hard she tried.

“Fuck!” She shouted loudly in frustration, kicking the plates and chastising herself.

After a few moments, she stopped and ran her fingers through her damp hair. She’d reached the point of exhaustion. She couldn’t run from her emotions any longer.

--

“I tell you, we’re better off single, Annie. Partners are only trouble, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.” Cath was pointing her finger at Ann who was swaying to herself.  

“She does have a cute dog though. I’ll miss his little face.” Ann frowned.

“Oh, shit.” Cath’s eyes went wide.

Ann looked up in confusion before Cath held up Ann’s phone that she’d confiscated hours earlier. Ann squinted at the lit up screen before her heart started racing.

“Shall I answer it?”

Ann didn’t know what to do, her heart screamed at her to pick up the phone, tell Anne she was sorry for everything and just get things back to how they were. She could deny her feelings, it didn’t matter, she just wanted to hear Anne’s voice, to know she wasn’t angry with her. Her rational brain, however, refused, digging its heels in, fuck no, don’t answer it, never speak to her again, she didn’t deserve Ann’s patience.

“Hello.” Cath answered the phone after seeing Ann entirely frozen “No, she doesn’t want to speak to you.”

Ann’s heart broke, she did, she really did.

“Yes, she told me and let me say this, you need to check yourself, Anne Lister. You may be Lord-Head-Chef of a fancy restaurant, but I’ve got the measure of you.”

Cath immediately pulled the phone away from her ear and covered the mic. “Oh my god, I made her cry. Help me.” Cath whispered to Ann desperately.

Ann held out her hand and nodded softly. The weight of it in her palm as Cath passed it over was palpable as her heart raced.

“Hello?” Ann’s voice was measured. “You’re what? How did you? Never mind. Yes. Alright.”

Cath’s brow furrowed in confusion when Ann hung up and left the living room. As she stood up to follow, she watched Ann open the front door to a rather dishevelled, red-eyed Anne Lister who was standing in the doorway.

“Hi.” Anne was barely able to look at Ann.

Ann’s heart cracked, Anne looked like absolute shit. She was pale, her clothes were dirty and her hair was a mess. She’d obviously been crying and it took every ounce of willpower Ann had not to throw her arms around her.

“I’m so sorry.” Anne finally looked up from the floor. "I should never have reacted the way I did. Leaving you there was cowardly and unfair and I'm sorry."

Ann nodded as she tried to stifle her tears.

“I’m going to tell the agency that you’ve fulfilled your hours, you’ll get paid and then you never have to see me again.” Anne sniffed.

“Anne.” It wasn’t louder than a breath. “Come on, let’s talk about this. We’re adults.”

Anne looked up at her with confusion, why was Ann even giving her a second thought?

“Really?” Anne’s voice was still croaky.

“Yes.” Ann moved aside. “Come on, I’ll get the kettle on.”

With a pointed look from Ann, Cath scuttled into her bedroom to give the women some space. She knew that Ann wanted to sort this out and she wasn’t about to stand in her way. Cath liked Anne, for what it was worth, maybe they could be friends after this had all blown over.

The silence stretched between them as the kettle boiled, it felt cold and lonely as Anne looked at the floor, unable to meet Ann’s gaze. She’d fucked up royally and she was all too aware of it. She was prolonging the inevitable, the moment Ann would leave. As Ann placed the two mugs on the table, Anne took a deep breath.

“You’re under no obligation to keep working for me.” Anne muttered.

“Anne.” Her tone was harsh, causing Anne to flinch.

This was it, this was the moment Ann would scream at her and leave. Brace yourself, Anne.

“I don’t know what’s happening in that brain of yours." Ann shook her head. "You know, you really hurt me this afternoon and I need you to know that if we're going to continue being friends, then you need to treat me with a little more respect." Anne grimaced across the table. “But, do you really think I’d leave you? To deal with everything alone tomorrow? You clearly don’t know me very well.”

Anne’s heart ached. Why was Ann being so nice to her? She didn’t deserve it.

“I’m no good for you, Ann. You deserve someone better.” Anne spoke so quietly, Ann questioned whether she’d imagined it. “I’ll only hold you back.”

Ann studied her for a few moments, the way she picked at a splinter of wood from the table and ran her finger over its sharp, jagged edges. She wanted to ask who’d hurt her, who’d convinced her she was so unlovable, so undeserving of happiness.

“Why don’t you let me decide what’s best for me?”

Ann placed her hand over Anne’s. The soft warmth brought Anne back to life, her mind cleared and her head lifted. She had treated Ann terribly but here she was, sitting in front of her and listening.

“Okay.” Anne swallowed. “Then I’ll leave tomorrow up to you. If you want to come back then you know we’d love to have you but if not, there’s no pressure.” Anne nodded to herself, this was the most she could hope for.

Whether she turned up in the morning or not, Anne was grateful for the peace Ann had brought with her. She was calming and gentle, understanding and patient. All the things Anne wasn’t.

“Okay.” Ann nodded. Truthfully, she did appreciate having some time to think it over.

“Okay.” Anne echoed before standing. “I’m sorry, Ann, for everything.”

Ann managed a small smile before watching the most brilliant, confusing, stubborn woman she’d ever met quietly let herself out the front door. She wrapped her fingers around her mug of tea, feeling herself sober up instantly as Cath’s bedroom door opened.

“Bloody hell, Ann. Are you alright?”

Ann looked up at her best friend as the tears welled in her eyes. “You were right earlier.” Ann shook her head before shrugging helplessly. “I think I’m falling in love with her.”

Chapter Text

No matter how hard Anne tried to sleep, it was hopeless. Her body cried out every time she turned over, her head ached from the rollercoaster of emotions she’d gone through in less than 24 hours and her heart itched to text Ann. She couldn’t, of course. She’d given her space to think, to make up her mind about tomorrow and perhaps their future friendship. Anne couldn’t blame her if she decided to leave, to sever ties and have a clean break after how she’d behaved. Only, Anne’s heart constricted at the thought. There was the practical aspect, of course - without Ann she’d almost certainly fail the critics test tomorrow but it was more than that and Anne could feel it in her bones. She tutted as she turned over again dramatically.  

“You old fool.” Anne whispered into the empty room, closing her eyes in defeat.

A few streets away, Ann was in a similar predicament. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw Anne; strong, dependable, arrogant, hot Anne. Except, seeing her so vulnerable tonight only served to show her there were so many hidden layers to the carefully constructed façade. She wished the event wasn’t tomorrow, that they could get coffee and talk. She knew in the kitchen there wouldn’t be much privacy and they’d be up to their necks in food prep. They both needed to focus 100% and talk about everything afterwards. Ann inhaled sharply, she could do this, surely she could do this.

-- 

Anne had eventually given up on sleep around 4am, instead choosing to start the day with an hour long yoga session to stretch out her aches and pains from yesterday. She checked her watch for the hundredth time and scolded herself, it was far too early for Ann to show up for work but Anne couldn’t help glancing out the window every few minutes just in case. Marian had taken Argus home with her after seeing her sister in such a state and Anne was grateful for the space it gave her this morning. She ground the coffee beans and popped the stove top on the hob before pulling out her phone to occupy the ten minute wait for it to brew.

She had a few emails from suppliers and customers wishing her good luck for today, a few invoices she really needed to sort out but her mind couldn’t focus on any of it. All she wanted to do was text Ann. She opened WhatsApp and clicked on Ann’s radiant, beaming, pure-sunshine-itself contact icon. The last messages they’d exchanged were about meeting that morning in Takk and Anne’s stomach swirled. She just wanted to go back to that day, erase everything that had happened since and do it all over again. Anne flinched when Ann’s status suddenly switched to ‘online’, locking her phone hurriedly and sighing. She hadn’t acted like this around a woman since Mariana and it was scaring her half to death. The loud bubbling of the coffee pot was a grateful interruption, it gave Anne a task to do, something to busy her hands with. She retrieved her favourite mug from the cupboard, poured her morning coffee and headed downstairs to start the prep.

--

Ann wrote and rewrote four messages to Anne before deleting her words again and throwing her phone onto the bed in frustration. Her intention was to ask if they could meet early, perhaps go for a walk and just talk about what had happened but she couldn’t press send. Surely Anne would be busy this morning, stressed and rushing around the kitchen getting everything prepared. She wouldn’t have time for a distraction, not today. What Anne needed was Ann on top of her game, ready to impress the shit out of the critics and give her the best chance of winning the award. Ann nodded resolutely to herself, that was the Ann who was going to show up for work today. Not the ‘I think I’m actually in love with my boss’ Ann Walker but the ‘I’m fucking good at my job and we’re going to win this’ Ann Walker.

But first, coffee.

--

Two hours later and there were towers of potato peelings on the chopping board, trays of asparagus expertly stacked ready to griddle and pristine pans ready for action. Anne knew she could’ve had her commis chef do all this, but she loved the process from start to finish. It may have had something to do with her intense desire to be in control but she shrugged that off, it was an important meal, why would she risk having someone less trained prep her food? She’d just stood back, hands on her hips to survey her progress when she heard the front buzzer ring. Annoyance immediately clouded her thoughts at being interrupted as she slung the tea towel over her shoulder and marched out into the dining room.

Her heart leapt as she saw Ann standing on the front step, looking as radiant as Anne had ever seen her, coffees in hand and a soft smile on her lips. She smoothed her uniform down as she walked over and unlocked the door.

"Morning.” Ann’s voice was quiet, unsure of how she’d be received so early. “I brought coffee, sorry, I know it’s early, I just couldn’t sleep.”

Anne smiled. Ann was really here.

“Come in!” Anne beamed as she stepped aside.

Ann gravitated towards the nearest table so she could rest the cardboard tray down and catch her breath. She prised one of the cups out from the holder and turned.

“Here.” Ann whispered, as if she was worried she’d scare Anne away.

Anne’s fingers brushed Ann’s as she accepted the drink, holding Ann’s gaze with a smile. Ann had a way of raising her right eyebrow a fraction; it was probably almost imperceptible to most people but Anne noticed it every single time. It intrigued her, what emotion caused it? What specific thought made her body respond like that? Anne wanted to know all of it.

“I just wanted to say, before the day gets crazy, that I’m here and 100% committed to helping you win this.” Ann picked up her own coffee and took a sip. “Just in case you were wondering.”

Anne melted. “Thank you, Ann. I think I’d have been royally fucked without you today.”

The women laughed, lifting the foggy atmosphere around them a fraction. They sipped their coffee in comfortable silence before Ann took a deep breath.

“We need to talk about what’s happening between us, Anne.”

Anne nodded thoughtfully.

“But right now, we need to focus on the event.” Ann looked up with such sincerity in her eyes. “I’m in this. All in.”

Not knowing for certain whether Ann was referring to the cooking competition or the possibility of being more than friends, she smiled and nodded silently. It went against her nature to slow down, to take things one step at a time rather than barge in full steam ahead but she could do this, she knew she could. Slow and steady.

“There is one thing I have to ask you, though.” Ann frowned.

“Oh?”

“How did you know where I live?” Ann’s tone was playful, she had been wondering this all night.

“Ah. Well. I’m not proud of it, but, well, I bribed some poor intern at the agency.” Anne smirked before sipping her coffee nonchalantly.

“You did what!” Ann exclaimed in surprise.

“Yes well, I was in dire need of that information and apparently, he was in dire need of a professionally cooked meal to impress some girl. So, we came to an arrangement.”

Ann laughed, shaking her head as Anne joined in. “I can’t believe you did that.”

“I’m very determined when I want something.” Anne said lowly as she winked and turned. “Come on, Miss Walker. You can’t chastise me all morning, we’ve got work to do.”

Ann took one last sip of her coffee and followed Anne into the kitchen, feeling a hundred times lighter now the tension had broken between them. Sure, they needed to have an actual conversation about last night but right now, it was on the back burner. They had four hours until service, Henry, Cordingley and Marian were due in any moment, it was time to crush this and win Anne that title. 

--

They worked steadily in silence for a while before Henry arrived to help them. Anne liked to work in silence, it helped her focus, the knife on the chopping board, the sizzle of the pans, the whir of the dishwasher, it was like her own private orchestra. Ann was the exact opposite, she needed music as a pacer, a way of keeping time without having to think, her movements flowed better with a beat behind them.

“Ah.” Anne murmured as the first few notes of music filled the kitchen.

Ann was fiddling with her Bluetooth speaker that she’d brought in her bag, setting it up on the high shelf above her station.

“I need music, Anne.” Ann didn’t even look up from her phone as she put together a quick playlist on Spotify.

Anne opened her mouth to reprimand her, to remind her that it was Anne’s kitchen, Anne’s rules but the moment she saw Ann swaying slightly, her foul mood disappeared.

“You don’t mind do you?” Ann lifted her head with a frown.

Yes, yes I do mind.

“No.” Anne shook her head.

Henry and Cordingley shared a knowing glance as the two women gazed at each other. Cordingley had known Anne for a while and she could see the changes in her a mile off, it didn’t take her long to realise they had coincided with Ann’s arrival. She hoped Ann would stay forever, bringing peace and calmness into the kitchen for every shift, not to mention the way she could tame Anne’s temper in a heartbeat.

Ann was on pasta duty, since she was the resident expert, and she was currently rolling out sheets and sheets of the stuff. Anne glanced over to check how she was getting on and couldn’t help but smile as she watched Ann nodding her head to the music, humming softly while grappling with her pasta dough. A few golden hairs had fallen from her high bun, twinkling in the light as they tickled the impossibly soft skin of her neck. Anne knew she was staring but she was transfixed, she wet her lips, imagining how it would feel to run them along the column of Ann’s neck, under her jaw, nip at her pulse point…

“Can I help you with something?” Ann’s slightly scolding tone snapped Anne out of her daydream instantly. She hadn’t even turned to face Anne, how did she know? “I know you’re watching me. Don’t you have potatoes to mash? Steak mince to forget to cook?”

Anne let out a hearty chuckle at Ann’s teasing before nodding to herself and turning back to her station. Her body was buzzing, she couldn’t deny it, even being in the same room as Ann turned her on and really, after everything that had happened between them, she should know better. She grabbed the pint of cold water Cordingley had placed on the counter a few minutes prior and gulped it down quickly in a futile attempt to quell the low flames flickering in her belly.

Ann would be lying if she said she was thinking only pure thoughts when she looked over to Anne’s station periodically. Currently, Anne was frowning in concentration, her tongue peeking out the side of her mouth as she chopped bulbs upon bulbs of garlic. Her arm was tensed, her veins protruding as she wielded the large knife with expert precision. Ann wiped a bead of sweat from her forehead as her mind wandered to how Anne’s arms might look holding her up, pressing her against the wall, dipping into her underwear… Ann swallowed as she felt herself getting wet at the filthy image in her head. Concentrate.

An hour later and Ann had almost finished her famous wild garlic pesto. She tasted it and frowned, it needed something but she couldn’t pinpoint it. She decanted a small amount into a little dish and wandered over to Anne’s station.

“Here, try this.” Ann offered.

Anne put down her knife and popped over to the sink to wash her hands before taking a swipe through the vibrant green paste with her finger. She held it away from her face for a moment, assessing the consistency before she suddenly felt something cold and wet on her nose. Ann was giggling as her brain caught up, Anne turned with a large, green smudge on the tip of her nose, causing Ann to giggle louder.

“I couldn’t resist, you’re so serious all the time!”

Ann’s laughter turned into a shriek as Anne wiped the pesto from her nose and brushed it on Ann’s cheek.

“Ha!” Anne laughed triumphantly, holding her finger in the air.

Ann giggled as she playfully leaned forward and took it in her mouth. Anne’s heart stopped beating in her chest as she felt Ann’s lips wrap around her finger, sucking off the remainder of the pesto before releasing it with a pop. Anne groaned internally as the feeling of Ann’s warm, wet mouth consumed her. She felt the unmistakable rush of wetness in her boxers as she desperately tried to think of a comeback that didn’t involve pushing Ann against the counter and shagging her right here in the kitchen, when, blessedly, the swing doors opened abruptly.

“They’re here!” Marian said with a mild look of panic on her face.

Anne and Ann were both a little flushed as they tried to control their breathing, remembering they were still in a kitchen, very much still at work, very much about to cook for some very important people.

“Right.” Anne managed to reply. “We’re on track, can you just make sure they have drinks and then give them the menu to peruse.”

“Yes.” Marian tutted. “Of course.”

“Let’s be civil to each other today, Marian.” Anne warned as she dipped a teaspoon into the pesto pot.

Marian scoffed before looking over at Ann for moral support, only, Ann looked flustered, her cheeks were red, her breathing was quick. “Ann, are you alright?”

“Hm?” Ann returned to her body, if not her mind.

“She’s not pushing you too hard, is she?”

She could push me as hard as she liked. Ann shivered at the thought.

“No, no, all good. It’s just warm in the kitchen, you know how it is.”

Marian nodded, not entirely convinced.

“We need to crack on, unless there was something else?” Anne cut in.

“No, just, well, be prepared for orders to come in soon.”

Anne and Ann nodded as Marian made her way back out to the dining room. For a minute, the pair of them just looked at each other, sharing this charged, what-the-hell-was-that moment together.

“We have work to do.” Anne drawled lowly into the space between them.

Ann’s core clenched at Anne’s tone, it was driving her wild, her body was screaming out for Anne to touch her, to finally work out this building, unresolved tension.

Ann tried her best to ignore the ache between her legs. “How did you…” Her breathing was still heavy. “How did you like the pesto?”

Anne smirked in that overly cocky, utterly arrogant, insanely hot kind of way that she often did as she leaned in closer.

“It was delicious, only, I don’t think I got enough of a taste.” Anne’s voice had dropped an octave, sending Ann Walker into another dimension. “We’ll resume this later.”

Suddenly, a rush of cool air buffeted Ann as Anne sprang back into action, leaving their space and resuming her dinner prep like nothing had even happened. Ann wasn’t sure how on earth she was going to survive this, she just wanted the critics to fuck off so she could get Anne alone. It was no use denying her feelings any longer, it was only making things worse. Sure, she didn’t need to profess her love for Anne tonight, but, well, she’d be up for expressing it physically. Get a grip. She knew she was behaving like a teenager but she couldn’t help the way her body responded. She was turned on, uncomfortably wet and utterly desperate for Anne to fix it.

“Right!” Marian burst into the kitchen, causing Ann to snap out of her filthy daydream. “We need five starters, fifteen minutes, alright?”

Anne scowled at her as she pinned the tickets to the pass. Barking orders at them? Outrageous.

“Yes, fine. We’re on it.” Anne purposefully kept her tone casual just to irk Marian more.

“Stop being calm! We need to be focused and you’re not taking this seriously.”

“Marian.” Ann called over. “She’s having you on, just ignore her.”

“You’re impossible!” Marian huffed at Anne before heading back out into the dining room.

Anne shook her head with a smile as Ann rolled her eyes, there she was again, putting Anne in her place. She definitely needed to be taught a lesson about who was in charge around here. Anne’s fingers twitched at the thought as her mind ran away with her.

“Asparagus, Anne.” Ann interrupted.

“Hm?” Anne’s expression was vacant.

“Keep your mind on the task at hand.” Ann scolded playfully before grabbing a couple of griddle pans. “Can you pass me the anchovy butter?”

Anne blinked in confusion.

“Don’t get offended, look, if I’m in charge of the starters, it gives you more time to prep the lamb, right?”

Anne nodded with a slightly confused expression on her face. Was Ann ordering her around in her own kitchen? Unacceptable.

“Hang on.”

Ann set the pans on the heat and walked over to retrieve the butter from Anne’s work station. She picked up the dish with one hand and placed the other calmly on Anne’s chest, causing her anger to evaporate in an instant.

“I’m trying to help. This will make our lives easier, trust me.” Ann held her hand in place as she watched Anne’s eyes soften and her jaw unclench.

“Alright.” Anne exhaled quietly.

“Breathe. We’ve got this.” Ann’s voice was a fucking tonic to the soul.

The interaction lingered, Ann wanted nothing more than to slide her hand up from Anne’s strong, broad chest, snake it round the back of her neck and pull her in close. As Anne’s eyes flicked down to Ann’s lips and back up again, she began to wonder if she even possessed the restraint to resist it. Anne felt like the only force stopping her from kissing the woman in front of her was Ann’s hand against her chest. It was like two forces silently battling each other for the same outcome, they both wanted it and they were both struggling to control themselves. Anne ran her teeth over her bottom lip and grinned when Ann’s eyes darkened a fraction.

“We need to, uh, the s-starters.” Ann couldn’t even really remember what words were at this point.

“Ah. Well, that’s your domain, apparently.” Anne’s sarcastic tone broke the moment.

“Damn right.” Ann narrowed her eyes at Anne before getting to work on the asparagus.

The second Ann’s back was turned, Anne looked up at the ceiling and exhaled. She was uncomfortably turned on, dealing with an unexpected power struggle and the most disorientating part? She was perfectly fine with it, in the kitchen at least.

Ten minutes later and Anne grated the parmesan onto the beautifully presented plates that Ann had brought up to the pass. She nodded at Marian and watched as the first course of the service disappeared. Ann smiled and crossed her fingers as Cordingley squeezed Anne’s arm before clearing away the dirty pans. They had enough time for a quick breather before the orders for the mains would come in 

--

Ann was gripping Anne’s right shoulder firmly as they huddled. She had Cordingley on her other side, who was hanging onto Henry, Marian was next to him, her other hand holding onto Anne’s left shoulder. Anne had never done a group huddle before in the kitchen but she’d also never been in this situation before either.

“Let’s get this shit done.” Anne said encouragingly into the small space between everyone. “Drinks on me afterwards!”

Moments earlier, Marian had brought in the tickets for the main course. Five plates. Top quality food. They could do this, they were used to this pressure, Anne had a great team behind her today and she felt confident as the group broke up and returned to their positions. She tried not to take it personally that they’d received three orders for Ann’s main and only two for hers. Instead of getting sulky about it, Anne brushed it off, as long as they liked it, it almost didn’t matter anymore.

Anne laughed to herself as Beyoncé filled the kitchen, Ann insisted they needed motivational music so Anne had agreed to leave it in her capable hands. It was worth it to watch Ann’s hips sway to be fair. Anne knew she shouldn’t stare but, well, she was only human. Soon enough, Anne was tapping her foot to the beat as she flipped her meat in the pan. Ann was focussed on getting just the right amount of bite to her pasta, both in their own worlds but completely in sync with each other.

“Two minutes, chef.” Ann shouted over without looking up.

“Two minutes, chef.” Anne repeated.

They met at the pass, plating up their food in tandem. With one last wipe of the plate with her tea towel, Anne looked up at Ann, waiting for her signal. Ann took one final glance at her dishes before looking up and nodding.

“Service!” They both shouted at the same time as they high fived, grinning at each other.

It was done. The main course was out. Two down, one to go.

-- 

Cordingley did an expert job of retrieving the numerous used pans, mixing bowls and utensils as the two chefs got straight to work on the dessert. There was a bit more time between the main and dessert so everyone in the kitchen had relaxed a little. Anne could feel her muscles begin to loosen as she checked whether her ice cream had set. Of course it had, she knew it without even looking but it set her mind at ease. The dessert had been a team effort, mixing Anne’s love of tradition, Ann’s Italian flare but with a contemporary edge. Settling on sweet arancini using rice pudding instead of risotto, served with coconut ice cream and mango, they were both excited to work together to pull the dish off.

Ann nudged Anne with her hip as they stood side by side working together in perfect unison. Anne smiled widely at her, she almost felt euphoric in this moment, the event was almost over, she’d served food she was immensely proud of with one of the best chefs she’d ever worked with by her side.

“What?” Ann said playfully.

“Nothing.” Anne shook her head, her grin still plastered across her face.

“You’re in a mood.” Ann said nonchalantly. “I can tell.”

“What do you mean?” Anne was puzzled, she didn’t feel an ounce of irritation.

“You look mischievous.”

Anne tilted her head back and let out a full hearted laugh before her gaze met Ann’s again. “I simply don’t know what you mean.” She said before winking.

Ann’s body was awash with adrenalin from the pace of the kitchen, concentrating intently on her food, making sure everything was just right for Anne. This was all for Anne. She wanted her to succeed, to win this award and for her restaurant to reach new levels. It couldn’t undo all the hurt it had caused Anne in her life to get to this point but maybe it would make it seem worth it somehow. If Ann could play even a small role in that, she’d be more than happy.

“You’re coming to the pub, right?” Anne asked quietly, leaning into the space between them.

Ann looked up and smiled. “Yes.”

“Good. It would be an honour to buy you a drink, Miss Walker.” The low timbre of Anne’s voice was back.

Were those butterflies Ann could feel fluttering in her stomach? She suddenly wished that it was just the two of them but she knew this was a staff outing, a well done for getting through the shift kind of drink. Not a date. Definitely not a date. But god, how Ann wished it was.

“Are you alright?” Anne asked softly as her eyes fixed on Ann’s. “You look a little flushed.”

Ann groaned internally at the traitorous blush that always gave her away in every situation. Why couldn’t she play anything cool?

“Y—yes, I’m fine.” No, I want you to kiss me.

Anne covered Ann’s hand over the knife she was currently using to dice the mango. Her warm touch sent a shiver straight down Ann’s spine as she turned an even deeper shade of pink. She swallowed before looking back up into Anne’s brown eyes. She was just about to open her mouth to mutter some excuse about it just being due to the heat in the kitchen when the swing doors opened again.

“Last course, everyone. Fifteen minutes.” Marian said as she brought five empty plates to the dishwasher.

“Clean plates!” Ann whispered to Anne.

“That’s a good sign.” Anne nodded. “Right, let’s not lose sight of it now. Fifteen minutes, chef?”

“Fifteen minutes, chef.” Ann confirmed as they broke apart, focussing on their tasks to get these last dishes out on time. 

--

While the diners were tucking into their desserts, everyone in the kitchen pitched in to start the clean up. Anne wiped down her work station, Ann scrubbed the large pasta pot while Cordingley and Henry got to work on the plates. No one spoke, even the music had stopped. They’d all done as much as they possibly could to impress the critics, it was out of their hands now. Anne was utterly exhausted, the pressure had been mounting slowly but surely over the last week and tonight had wiped her out. She reached up and untied her bandana, letting her brown hair fall over her shoulders as she exhaled.

Across the kitchen, Ann froze. Anne’s eyes were closed, her biceps flexing as she ran her long fingers through her hair, sighing in relief at the event almost being over. Ann’s breathing picked up as she continued to swoon until Anne suddenly caught her staring. That damn eyebrow twitch was back, Ann licked her lips as her gaze dropped to Anne’s mouth. This whole keeping distance thing was getting tiring, Ann wasn’t sure if she could take this tension any longer. Her body wanted her, it responded every time Anne spoke or looked at her.

Anne flinched as Marian came back through the kitchen doors with a smile on her face.

“They want to meet you, Anne.” She said, holding the door open behind her. “Once last hurdle, eh? Then there’s a cold pint waiting for you in the pub. Come on, we can do this.”

Anne nodded as she smoothed down her uniform and made her way towards her sister, only, just before she reached the door, she made a detour.

“You’re coming too, Ann.” Anne tilted her head towards the dining room.

Ann squeaked as she desperately tried to make herself look presentable while she was being ushered out by Marian. There must be some mistake, there was no way the critics needed to speak to her too, this was Anne’s competition, Anne’s restaurant, Anne’s award. She was so distracted by her thoughts that she hadn’t realised she’d been standing at the critic’s table for a few minutes. Anne was, of course, charming them effortlessly. How did she always do that?

“I couldn’t have done any of this without Ann Walker here.”

The mention of Ann’s name woke her from her internal thoughts and then, oh, Anne’s strong arm wrapped around her shoulder and squeezed her tightly. Ann responded, before she could think, by snaking her arm round the back of Anne to rest on her waist. The feeling of Anne’s firm, warm skin under her fingers was intoxicating. She felt herself getting wet as Anne kept her grip tight, her chin resting on the top of Ann’s head. To the untrained eye, it was an affectionate embrace, one of gratitude of a job well done but between the two women? It was torture. Anne stumbled over her words as Ann’s fingers gently smoothed over her hip. She could feel Ann’s chest rising and falling quicker for every second they stayed joined like this. They had to break this off otherwise they were in danger of fucking this all up at the last minute if Anne came across like an incoherent buffoon while Ann got wetter and wetter in silence beside her.

“We make a good team.” Anne said as she gave Ann a parting squeeze before breaking away.

The two women internally exhaled in relief.

“This has been excellent.” One of the critics was chatting to Marian while the rest slowly filtered out the restaurant. “We’ll be in touch in a few days with the results.”

Marian thanked him before she closed the heavy doors and locked up. She took a deep, steadying breath, all they could do now was wait. She gathered the empty bowls, another good sign, and made her way back to the kitchen. 

Anne clapped loudly as she grinned. “Well done everyone! Thank you for all your hard work tonight, I think we did as well as we possibly could.”

Henry whistled loudly, causing Anne to frown at his interruption.

“Sorry.” He said, sheepishly shuffling and looking down at his feet.

“Right everyone, go home, freshen up and I’ll see you in the pub in an hour. You’ve done an excellent job here tonight, I’m very proud of you all. Go on, get out before I make you finish cleaning.” Anne laughed as everyone scattered quickly, leaving the restaurant in high spirits.

“Hey.” Ann’s soft voice behind her made Anne jump.

“Oh, I thought you’d gone!” Anne’s grin was firmly still fixed to her face.

“I just wanted to say, I’m so proud of you.” Ann opened her arms and pulled Anne in for a tight hug, smoothing her hand over her back. “You deserve this more than anyone.”

“I couldn’t have done it without you.” Anne’s chin was hooked over Ann’s shoulder as she wrapped her arms around Ann. “Thank you.”

As time stood still, Ann began to lose her train of thought the longer their bodies pressed against each other. In hindsight, this was a fatal error but it felt so good. Anne’s body was hard in places, soft in others, moulding perfectly around her own. Her thoughts began to wander as Anne lingered, what was she thinking? Anne’s large hands splayed across her back, Ann could only hope to god she couldn’t feel how her nipples had hardened in response. She desperately wanted to snake her hands under Anne’s jaw and bring their lips together, it would be so easy. Anne’s body shifted under Ann’s embrace, pulling away before stalling. The moment their eyes locked, they knew it was game over. No earthly force could keep them apart any longer. Why bother trying to fight it? They both wanted it, needed it, craved it. Ann licked her lips as she exhaled shakily, tilting her chin ever so slightly. Anne’s eyes darkened as she looked at the woman in her arms, giving herself up, encouraging her, even after everything that had passed between them.

“Are you sure?” Anne whispered.

Ann looped her arms around Anne’s neck, gently tucking a strand of hair behind Anne’s ear before running her thumb across her cheek.

“Shut up and kiss me.”

Chapter Text

“Are you sure?” Anne whispered.

Ann looped her arms around Anne’s neck, gently tucking a strand of hair behind Anne’s ear before softly running her thumb across her cheek.

“Shut up and kiss me.”

Anne groaned as she cupped Ann’s jaw, closing the gap instantly to kiss the woman who had been monopolising her thoughts for the past week. What started out soft and gentle soon turned desperate as Anne walked Ann backwards towards the counter. Ann moaned as Anne’s tongue swept into her mouth. How many times had she fantasised about this exact moment? The two of them alone in the kitchen, their self-control entirely exhausted, giving themselves over to the magnetic pull between them. As Ann’s hips hit the side of the counter she grabbed a handful of the heavy black fabric of Anne’s uniform, pulling her harder against her.

Anne’s head was spinning, she hadn’t been able to stop thinking about the kiss in the park, how it had made her feel more alive than ever before, waking up a part of her that had been dormant for so long. As Ann tilted her head and tugged at Anne’s collar, she felt herself lose control, entirely at the mercy of her own desires and unable to hold back any longer. She gripped Ann’s waist possessively before shifting to stand between her legs, rolling her hips in perfect time with Ann’s movements. Anne managed to break away from Ann’s lips, dropping her mouth and trailing wet kisses along the column of her neck. She was only interrupted when Ann moaned loudly as Anne sucked at her pulse point, clasping her hands around Anne’s strong jaw to bring their eyes level again.

“I’m so wet for you.” Ann breathed, her eyes barely open.

Anne groaned, she was exactly the same, in fact, she was sure that just one touch from Ann would send her over the edge. She briefly thought about hoisting Ann up onto the counter, taking her for the first time in her own kitchen, the thought thrilling her to her very core but of course they couldn’t. This was a food preparation area. How unprofessional.

“We can’t.” Anne whispered.

For a second, Ann’s heart stopped beating in her chest. Surely Anne wasn’t going to deny her this? The memory of the way Anne had left after kissing her in the park filtered into her pleasure soaked brain. Please no, not again. Ann was just about to protest when Anne interrupted.

“Not here.” Anne clarified.

Ann sighed in relief, Anne hadn’t run away, she was still in this moment. Ann gripped onto her tighter, she was so desperate for Anne to touch her she was going to lose her mind if they had to stop now.

“I can’t wait.” Ann ran her hands up Anne’s hard stomach before settling them around her waist. “I need you inside me.”

Anne closed her eyes and groaned, feeling herself getting wetter with every second. The anticipation of watching Ann come undone was overwhelming. Anne kissed her fiercely as her mind wandered to what noises she might make, how she might feel underneath her until she couldn’t take any more.

“This is a professional kitchen, Miss Walker.” Anne’s voice had dropped an octave.

Ann whined loudly, why wasn’t Anne touching her yet?

“Fucking in my kitchen?” Anne’s mouth was hovering over Ann’s neck, her breath warm against her soft, delicate skin. “Naughty girl.”

By this point, Ann was muttering incoherently, doing her best to grind herself against the infuriating woman between her legs. The woman who made her heart race, the woman who made her mind scramble, the woman she was absolutely falling in love with. Why were there so many layers of clothing between them? Why was Anne being such a gentleman about everything? She was actually, physically, going to die if Anne didn’t touch her within the next 60 seconds.

“Let me take you home?” Anne whispered softly as she looked into Ann’s eyes so earnestly it broke Ann’s heart.

Was Anne crazy? There was no way they’d make it back to Ann’s, it was a good ten minute walk, if they had full use of their legs, which Ann definitely didn’t. This had to be the worst idea Anne had ever had. And to think people said she was clever? Ann was just about to protest to the highest degree when Anne dipped her knees and slung her over her shoulder in one smooth movement.

“What are you doing!” Ann laughed as she felt Anne striding across the kitchen with her.

“I’m taking you home, Miss Walker.”

The feeling of Anne’s strong arm holding her tightly while she made her way up the stairs made Ann’s core clench. The show of strength, the caveman-like urgency, the way Anne had picked her up so easily, so effortlessly, it made her desperate to see Anne’s tight, toned, fit body. She heard Anne unlock the door before she was carried into the hallway, she didn’t have much time to look around before she was deposited softly on Anne’s couch.

“Come here.” Ann reached for Anne, pulling her to rest on top of her.

Ann’s nimble fingers began undoing the first few buttons of Anne’s uniform, only her hands weren’t quite working properly. She groaned in frustration as Anne moved, the button slipping from her grasp.

“There’s no time.” Anne lifted her head, completely out of breath.

“What the fuck are you talking about? Get back down here.” Ann was past the point of understanding, she needed Anne and she needed her now. Why were they even having a conversation?

“We have 45 minutes until we need to be in the pub.” Anne sat back on her heels, desperately trying to resist ripping Ann’s clothes off and forgetting about the promise she’d made to everyone else.

“I don’t think you quite realise…” Ann hauled herself upright before unbuttoning her own trousers. “How worked up I am.” She pushed open the fabric, causing Anne to groan at the sight of her red knickers. “And just how quickly…” Ann took Anne’s hand before leaning back on the couch. “You’re going to make me come.”

They both moaned in unison as Ann pushed Anne’s hand into her knickers. Feeling how worked up Ann was, how wet and hot and ready she was brought out a primal need in Anne. She settled herself on top before thrusting two fingers into her, setting a quick, hard pace. Anne wondered if this might be the best sensation she’d ever experienced, perhaps it was the build up, perhaps it was just because it had been a while, but deep down she knew, it was because it was Ann. Trembling, cursing, perfect Ann.

“Fuck yes.” Ann’s grip around Anne’s shoulders was tightening, her hips were raising off the sofa, her breathing was getting heavier. “I’m so close.”

Anne’s arm burned from the effort but she wouldn’t falter now, she kept perfect time as she began to kiss the side of Ann’s face, whispering filthy words of encouragement into her ear. Anne was so turned on, she could barely think straight. Being inside Ann Walker, fucking her deeply on her couch, both of them still fully clothed, unable to wait, this is what her wet dreams were made of.

“Anne.” It was all Ann could manage to say before her body seized, her words turning into a series of loud, glorious moans as she came with Anne’s fingers buried inside her. She bucked her hips wildly, riding out the aftershocks, still clinging onto Anne’s body for dear life until finally, with a shiver, she flopped back onto the couch.

For a few moments, the only noise was their heavy breathing. Ann needed a moment to recover but she could already feel the stirring in her gut begin to pick up. She was far from done, why had Anne made plans tonight? The sound of that bloody pocket watch clicking shut broke Ann out of her recovery.

“You know. We have 30 minutes still.” Anne’s expression was mischievous, filthy even.

A knowing smile spread across Ann’s flushed face. “Get back down here, I’m nowhere near finished with you yet.” Anne giggled as Ann pulled her swiftly back down on top of her.  

--

“It’s so unlike Anne to be late, I wonder if she’s alright.” Marian’s worried tone broke the awkward silence.

“She seemed okay when we left.” Cordingley soothed. “She’s probably just been so focussed on cleaning she’s not noticed the time.” Both women knew Anne never lost track of time, not even a second went unaccounted for.

Marian was momentarily distracted by the sight of Cath wandering through the door.

“Over here!” Marian waved to catch her eye.

“Is Annie not here yet?” Cath said as she shuffled into the large booth. “She text me about an hour ago to meet her here.”

Just as Marian frowned, her brain putting the plausible pieces together, Anne and Ann walked through the door. Marian’s right eyebrow raised knowingly, could they have been late because they’d been…? No, she’d better not push that too far or risk incurring the wrath of her sister. It was still a touchy subject anyway. But, Marian couldn’t help but see how relaxed they both looked together, Anne looked lighter, she was smiling for one thing. Interesting.

“Hi!” Ann said brightly as she sat down, leaving Anne at the bar.

“Oh, Ann! You’re glowing.” Marian said, innocently enough, sort of.

Ann blushed as she shrugged her shoulders silently. Probably the four orgasms I’ve just had.

“Well, how did it go?” Cath’s voice interrupted Marian’s internal thoughts.

"Good!” Ann sighed in relief. “I think? What do you think, Marian?”

“And what are we asking my sister’s opinion on?” Anne interrupted as she put two pint glasses on the table. “Nothing too important, I hope.”

“Very funny.” Marian sneered. “Yes, I think it went well from what I could tell.”

There were two empty spaces in the booth, one next to Marian and one next to Ann. For a moment, Anne wasn’t sure which option would work best to avoid suspicion. She could sit next to her sister and have Ann’s eyes on her all evening, but she honestly couldn’t see how that would end in anything other than dragging her off to the toilets before the night was over. Or, sit next to Ann and have her presence so close, feel her breathing, have the odd brush of her thigh against her own. Anne groaned internally, she’d been so wrapped up in giving Ann pleasure that she hadn’t actually dealt with herself at all. Ann had offered, god she’d offered, but Anne just couldn’t get enough of her, instead brushing off her own need in favour of Ann’s. It was all fine until this exact moment.

Choosing the lesser of two evils, Anne slid into her seat next to Ann, pretending not to see the way Ann’s breath hitched as their legs rested against each other under the table. Anne pressed the cold pint glass to her lips and took a long drink. This was going to be torture.

“When do you find out?” Cath said to Anne, snapping her thoughts back to the present moment.

“A few days I think.” Anne replied nonchalantly, turning to face Cath as if she hadn’t just been thinking about screwing her best friend senseless.

“Does this mean you’re releasing your sous chef back into the wild?” Cath asked.

“Oh.” Anne was caught out by this question. “I’m not sure, I mean, we haven’t talked about that yet.”

Ann smiled awkwardly before taking another sip of her pint.

Cath noticed Ann’s quietness, Anne’s awkwardness, the energy shifting between them. It was only then she realised she hadn’t seen the shirt Ann was wearing before, not that she kept tabs on Ann’s wardrobe but it was an expensive brand. Ann didn’t really wear expensive clothes, she was an avid charity shop treasure hunter, preferring to grab a bargain rather than shell out loads for one item. She sipped her drink, playing it cool before her curiosity got the better of her.

“Is that a new shirt, Annie?” Cath said it quietly but Marian overheard.

“Oh, uh, no, it’s, well…” Ann wanted the ground to swallow her up.

Marian recognised it straight away, it was one she’d bought Anne for a birthday present last year. The same brand she always wore but in white, desperately trying to get her to lighten up a bit. Anne had accepted it gracefully but had never worn it, not when Marian had been present anyway. The moment Marian realised, Anne watched her sister’s expression change, best get in there first.

“It’s mine.” Anne confirmed. “Ann was helping me tidy up and it took far longer than we imagined. She didn’t have time to go home and change for tonight.”

“Exactly.” Ann nodded at Anne.

“I couldn’t have her come in here in her chef whites now could I, Marian?” Anne hoped this obvious question would silence her sister but of course, Marian couldn’t help but push a little harder.

“So if I go back to the restaurant now, the kitchen will be spotless?” Marian smirked.

Anne scowled at her as a warning to let this go in front of company. “Yes.” She said through clenched teeth knowing the kitchen was still in an absolute mess.

Marian nodded, stifling her giggle before raising her glass in the air.

“Ah yes, a toast, good idea, Marian.” Anne cleared her throat. “Thank you everyone, for all your help today, I think we did as well as we could. Now all we have to do is wait.” She raised her glass. “Cheers.”

Everyone sipped their drinks as Anne sat back down. A warm hand squeezed her thigh under the table, causing Anne to almost choke on her beer. It was a signal. Get us out of here. Anne didn’t need telling twice, she could feel Ann’s desire from where she sat, her body responding to her silent signals.

“Well, it’s been a long night.” Anne faked a yawn. “I’m shattered.”

“Me too.” Ann echoed as she stretched her arms above her head.

“Already? You’ve only just got here.” Cath teased.

“Sorry, Cath do you mind?” Ann finished her pint. “I really am rather tired.”

“Oh you poor thing, Anne really did work you hard tonight didn’t she?” Marian said, trying not to laugh at Ann’s refusal to meet her eye.

“Of course not.” Cath replied. “I’m going to stay for a bit though if that’s alright, Marian?”

Marian nodded emphatically. “The more the merrier!”

“You staying too, Lister?” Cath looked at Anne’s empty pint glass. “I think it’s your round next.”

“Ah.” Anne sat up straight. “I’m going to walk Ann home.”

“Right.” Marian teased.

“It’s late and as much as I love your delightful company, I’m going to make sure she gets back alright.”

“And then you’ll come back?” Teasing Anne was far too easy.

“Goodnight, Marian.” Anne stood, moving out the way to let Ann out the booth.

“Sorry to bail, have a great night!” Ann said as she practically sprinted to the door.

As the pair of them disappeared into the night, Cath shook her head.

“They’re shagging aren’t they?”

Marian laughed loudly before nodding. “Yeah, I think they are.”

“It’s about time.” Cath rolled her eyes before the pair of them burst out laughing.

--

The rough brick grazed Ann’s skin as Anne kissed her deeply. Completely incapable of keeping their hands off each other, Anne had pressed Ann into the side of the pub, capturing her lips over and over, making up for the time they’d lost sitting at that stupid table.

“Do you want to come back to mine?” Anne whispered as she kissed the soft spot behind Ann’s ear.

All Ann could do was nod as her body trembled under Anne’s expert touch. She briefly wondered if she’d ever be capable of a coherent thought again if Anne was always in close proximity, now she knew what those hands were capable of. Anne nuzzled into the open collar of Ann’s shirt, kissing a path softly down and over her clavicle.

“I want to take you right here.” Anne said into the crook of Ann’s neck. “Up against this wall.” Ann whined loudly, clutching at Anne tightly as she began to kiss her way back up, finally capturing her lips once again.

In a flurry of limbs and a surprised squeak from Anne, Ann switched their places, humming in satisfaction as she pressed Anne against the rough side of the pub. Her fingers fiddled with her belt buckle and Anne groaned at the sensation and the anticipation of Ann touching her.

“I think I’m going to make you wait for me.” Ann whispered against Anne’s ear.

Anne muttered incoherently as Ann cupped her core over her jeans, kissing her fiercely before pulling away.

“That’s right. I’m in charge.” Ann smiled devilishly before tugging Anne’s hand.

Anne was dazed. How she was able to get her legs working to follow Ann down the street, she had no idea. It was all she could do to focus on Ann’s tinkling laughter as they raced home, silently thanking the gods that her restaurant wasn’t too far from the pub before they finally crashed through the door to Anne’s tiny apartment. Pressing Ann against the closed door, Anne kissed her deeply, her hands roaming underneath her shirt. She was just about to flick open her bra when she suddenly found herself being backed into the room. She was just about to protest when her legs hit the armchair. With one final push from Ann, she fell unceremoniously into the seat with a thud. Ann slowly unbuttoned her shirt, throwing it to the floor along with her bra. Anne swallowed as Ann stepped out of her trousers and stood naked, save for her delightful red knickers.

Anne’s breathing quickened as Ann sank to her knees. Her hips twitched as Ann ran her hands up her strong thighs before slowly undoing her belt, never once breaking eye contact. Anne briefly wondered if she’d come just from the sight of Ann Walker between her legs, her expression wild and positively filthy, the pair of them entirely silent apart from their heavy breathing. Fuck, Ann was hot like this, all slow movements and impure intentions. After what felt like hours, Ann finally flicked open the button on her trousers, tugged the zipper down torturously slowly before pulling the fabric down Anne’s legs to pool at her feet. Anne moaned as Ann’s hands returned to the waistband of her boxers and fiddled with the elastic. Had Anne ever been this wet for another woman? Had she ever been this consumed with her own desire? She would've asked herself these questions if she'd had the ability to think. Anne was sure she’d never begged before.

And yet.

“Ann, please.” It was barely a whisper.

Ann hummed smugly as she dragged the material to the floor, lifting Anne’s feet one by one to free the fabric before she threw it to the side. Anne’s clit pulsed as she watched Ann lick her lips before she leaned forward to place a kiss on her knee. Anne’s eyes closed involuntarily as Ann began her maddening circuit: A trail of kisses on Anne’s thigh, moving to the crease of her hip, across her belly, up to her lips and back down again to begin the other side. She continued to ignore Anne’s aching clit until Anne was sure she was going to die. She lifted her hips fruitlessly every time Ann’s soft lips kissed the patch of skin centimetres away from where she needed her most.

“Ann.” The desperation in Anne’s voice was evident. “Don’t tease.”

Ann sat back on her heels and smiled devilishly, watching Anne’s chest heave, knowing she was seconds away from losing her mind.

“Oh chef Lister, I’m going to suck the life right out of you.”

Anne groaned loudly at Ann’s filthy words, at the filthy promise, at the filthy way she was wetting her lips in preparation. The second Ann took her swollen clit into her mouth, Anne let out a moan so loud she was suddenly grateful they’d decided not to go back to Ann’s. Cath would’ve certainly heard her being uncharacteristically vocal, as would the entire street most likely. Anne’s knuckles turned white as she gripped the sofa tightly, she was bucking her hips in time with Ann’s tongue, twisting in her seat, her breathing getting heavier and heavier, feeling her climax building to impossible heights until finally, with a deep groan, Anne came harder than she could ever remember. She pressed her hips upwards into Ann’s mouth, needing her closer, wanting to be consumed entirely. After a loud, drawn out, “f-u-u-u-ck” Anne collapsed back into her armchair, sweaty, heaving and utterly spent.

A powerful shiver ran up her spine, spreading throughout her body as Ann sat back and rested her head on Anne’s inner thigh. The soft smile on Ann’s lips warmed every single cell in Anne’s recovering body, it was intoxicating. Don’t say it. Don’t say it. It’s too soon. Shut up.

I love you.

Anne swiftly pushed the thought away, smirking at the perfect woman still on her knees after giving her quite possibly the best orgasm of her life. She held out her hand, helping Ann to her feet before Ann pushed against Anne’s chest, causing her to flop back into the chair. Leaning down, Ann kissed her deeply before straddling Anne’s lap. She still had her knickers on but Anne could feel how wet Ann was against the hard lines of her stomach. Suddenly, Anne was taken over by the absolute desperate need to make love to her again.

“Let me have you once more? Please?” Anne breathed as she raked her eyes over Ann’s body.

Ann rolled her hips in Anne’s lap, looping her arms around Anne’s neck, pressing her core harder into Anne’s body. “I thought you’d never ask.”

Anne growled as she stood up, taking Ann with her as she held on tightly around her waist.

“Fuck.” Anne breathed as Ann’s legs wrapped around her body, squeezing her as she made her way to the bedroom. “I’m going to drop you if you don’t stop.” Ann’s feather light kisses down Anne’s neck never faltered, despite her warning.

“Then fuck me here.” Ann whispered, her breath hot against Anne’s sweaty skin.

Anne pulled back, locking eyes with Ann as their desire coursed anew. Anne knew that she could probably make it to her bedroom if she concentrated but, well, being around Ann and being able to concentrate didn’t ever really mix. Instead, she walked the few steps to the small kitchen, depositing Ann onto the counter. Ann wrapped her arms around Anne’s shoulders and pulled her in to a fierce kiss, her heels digging into Anne’s tight bum as she held her tightly.

“Don’t be gentle.” Ann whispered as Anne dragged her teeth over the soft skin of her neck.

Ann lifted her hips off the counter as Anne slid her knickers down her legs and deposited them on the kitchen floor. She took a moment to relish in the sight of the perfect woman underneath her, ready and waiting, her freckled skin begging to be kissed, her eyes heavy with want, her breathing quickening with every second. Anne wrapped one arm around Ann’s back, holding her tightly against her own body as she teased her entrance with two fingers. Ann sighed, clutching Anne’s shoulders tighter as she nodded in consent. Their twin moans filled the room as Anne pressed into her slowly before pulling out again and repeating the process. It didn’t take long before Ann was urging her faster, harder until Anne was rutting into her at a furious pace. Sweat dripped off Anne’s face as her arm burned with the effort.

“Fuck, you feel so good.” Anne said breathlessly into the crook of Ann’s neck.

She was losing herself to the feeling of Ann’s inner walls squeezing her fingers, the cupboard doors thumping on their hinges with every thrust as Ann’s high cries were underscored by her low grunts of effort. Anne could only concentrate on the way Ann’s thighs squeezed her tighter and tighter, the feeling of her bare chest pressing against her own, the incoherent murmurs spilling from Ann’s open mouth. It was loud, fast and hot; straight from Anne’s fantasies.

“I’m gonna come.” Ann’s urgent voice rang in Anne’s ears as she continued her ruthless pace.

“Fuck.” Anne couldn’t help the word slipping out as she felt Ann’s walls constricting around her fingers. The noises Ann was making loudly in her ear were positively filthy as she raced towards her release.

“Anne!” It was a shout as Ann shuddered through an intense climax with Anne’s fingers buried deep inside her, her legs still holding Anne as tightly as she possibly could.

As Ann rode out each aftershock, Anne whispered soft encouragements into her ear until finally, she sagged back against the cool tiles of the kitchen wall. A dopey smile spread across her face as she tucked Anne’s sweaty hair behind her ears and kissed her softly. For a few moments they gazed at each other, their hearts beating in unison as they slowly returned to their bodies. Ann was just about to say something when her phone chimed.

“Shit, Cath. I didn’t tell her I was coming back here.” Ann hopped off the counter, still entirely naked and grabbed her phone.

Cath: I’m going to assume you’re shagging your girlfriend and haven’t been abducted by a murderer. Either way, can you let me know so I know whether to worry or not? x

Ann blushed as she typed a quick reply before turning to Anne.

“It’s late. I should, uh, I should probably go.” Why did this feel awkward?

Anne bit her lip as a flash of insecurity travelled to her heart.

“Do you want to stay?” Anne’s voice was so quiet, so unsure of herself that it broke Ann’s heart.

Ann walked back to where Anne was standing, next to the kitchen counter they’d utterly defiled not three minutes ago. She smoothed her hands over Anne’s strong shoulders, clasping her fingers around her neck and smiled.

“Yes.”

Chapter Text

Ann nuzzled into the soft pillow under her cheek with a contented sigh. The birds were singing outside the window and the warm sunlight was seeping into the room through the gaps in the curtain. She turned over, feeling the burn in her abs as she flopped onto her back before her stomach dropped.

Anne was gone.

For a moment, Ann’s heart raced. What if Anne had changed her mind? Run off again like she did in the park, what if this was all a mistake to her? Ann frowned, feeling her anger rising up in her chest. How dare she treat Ann like this? Lulling her into a false sense of security before whipping the rug from under her feet. Who on earth did Anne think she was? Ann tossed the covers from her body, ignoring the arousing sight of the purple, fingerprint-sized bruises on her hips and grabbed the shirt from the floor. She was just searching for her underwear when she heard the unmistakable sound of footsteps coming towards the front door.

“Oh.” Anne’s eyes were wide as she opened it.

“Hi.” Ann whispered, looking down at the tray in Anne’s hands. “I thought you’d gone.”

“What? No, I was making you breakfast.” Anne kicked off her shoes on the way to the bedroom and placed the heavy tray on her bedside table. “I thought we could eat it in bed?”

Ann swooned. “That sounds lovely.”

“Only…” Anne’s gaze lingered before she sat down on the bed. “I think you’re trying to kill me.”

“What?” Ann laughed.

“Seeing you in my shirt without anything underneath?” Anne licked her lips as her gaze travelled across Ann’s body. “You know what you’re doing.”

“Hm.” Ann hummed innocently as she pinched a slice of toast from the plate. “I don’t know what you mean.”

It had been less than 6 hours since they’d finally stopped shagging, succumbing to sleep still entangled in each other, exhausted and utterly spent. Right now, however, Anne felt her arousal stirring as she watched Ann potter around her bedroom, her white dress shirt hanging from her slender shoulders, only two buttons fastened. Anne licked her lips as her gaze travelled lower, Ann had foregone underwear last night and apparently again this morning.

“C’mere.” Anne husked as she flexed her hips and reached for her.

“Won’t Marian be in soon?” Ann whispered as she straddled Anne’s lap.  

Anne nuzzled into the crook of Ann’s neck, kissing her teasingly as she gently rolled her hips upwards. “Hm. Not for another hour.”

--

Marian arrived late on purpose. It didn’t take a genius to realise Ann more than likely went home with Anne after the pub last night and the text from Cath confirmed her suspicions. She decided she’d let them have a leisurely morning doing, well, she didn’t need to think about the details. In any case, she wasn’t surprised to find the doors locked and no sign of life in the restaurant. Her keys jangled in the lock as she stepped inside.

“Hello?” Marian called out tentatively.

No answer.

She popped her head round the door of the kitchen expecting to see Anne but it was empty. Surely they couldn’t still be in bed? It was eleven o’clock in the morning. Marian was just in the middle of a rant in her head about how a little bit of self control wouldn’t go amiss when she heard the unmistakable sound of her sister laughing. A bright, full bellied giggle, the likes of which Marian hadn’t heard for a very long time. She stayed hidden by the kitchen door as she saw Anne and Ann, coffees in hand on the doorstep outside. They were gazing at each other, laughing about something, barely an inch between them. Anne was rummaging around in her pocket for her keys with a grin on her face and Ann, well, Ann looked ethereal. She was about to call out when Ann leaned forward, grabbed a fistful of Anne’s shirt and kissed her deeply. The low hums of her sister made Marian shake her head and hastily retreat into the kitchen. While she was happy for her, she didn’t need to see Ann’s tongue halfway down her throat.

A few minutes later, Anne flew through the double doors.

“Good morning, Marian!” She beamed.

“You’re in a good mood.”

“The sun’s out, I’ve got caffeine, what’s there to be miserable about?”

“Hm.” Marian smiled knowingly. “Where’s Ann? I thought I heard her just now.”

Was that a blush that appeared on her sister’s face at the mention of Ann Walker? Surely not.

“She’s gone back to her place, she just needed to grab something from upstairs.” Anne said without thinking.

“Upstairs?” Marian smiled, this was too easy.

“Oh, yes. I mean, she left some things here yesterday and I just moved them up there for safe keeping.” Good save.

“Anne.”

“Hm?”

“You’re allowed to be happy, you know.” Marian smiled. “You don’t have to pretend, it’s really rather obvious.”

Anne furrowed her brow, how did Marian always know everything? She was pretty sure Ann hadn’t said anything and unless Cath texted her late last night? Oh, maybe she had. They were thick as thieves but surely there could’ve been an innocent excuse for Ann coming back to hers last night? Could she spin it to deflect from admitting her feelings to her sister?

“Anne.” Marian repeated, interrupting Anne’s inner monologue. “I saw you. Just now.”

“Ah.” Anne breathed, nodding at her inability to talk her way out of that one.

“Honestly, I’m happy for you. You don’t need to be weird and secretive about it with me, okay? You deserve this.”

“Truthfully, I don’t know that “this” is right now. I’m not rushing into anything.”

“Sure.” Marian smiled.

“I mean it.”

“Sure, Anne.” Marian patted her shoulder.

Marian chuckled as she left Anne in the kitchen, she knew that look on her sister’s face, the signs flashing brightly for everyone to see. She could pretend all she wanted but the truth of it was, Anne Lister was in love.

--

An hour later, Anne was pacing the dining room. She knew in all honesty the chances of hearing from the Michelin team today were slim to none but it didn’t stop her heart from racing and her palms from sweating.

“Have you heard anything yet?” She asked Marian for the hundredth time.

“No! Not since the last time I checked when you asked five seconds ago.” Marian was losing patience, there was no way she’d be able to deal with her sister like this for much longer.

As if by magic, Ann appeared at the glass door like an angel sent from heaven. Marian’s saviour from the anxious, short tempered energy of her sister. Even her presence relaxed everyone, she had the ability to balance everyone out, soothe away their stresses before she’d even opened her mouth. Marian couldn’t help but smirk as she watched her sister bound towards the door like an excitable puppy. It was really rather sweet and honestly, Marian couldn’t think of a better partner for her sister, even if she didn’t quite understand how Ann put up with her. Not that they were dating, obviously. Anne had made that rather clear, only, who was she kidding?

“Hi.” Anne smiled broadly.

“Hi.” Ann looked up at her so adoringly.

Marian rolled her eyes, she couldn’t bear to watch this all afternoon.

Ann squeaked quietly as Anne pecked her on the lips. “Marian knows.” Anne whispered. “She figured it out with the help of your best friend.”

Ann blushed briefly before nodding and wandering into the dining room. Honestly, it was probably easier that Cath and Marian knew, that way they didn’t have to sneak around. Besides, once service resumed again, Anne would be here more often than not and there wasn’t exactly a subtle way of sneaking into her apartment without Marian noticing. Speaking of which, what would happen when normality resumed after this weekend? Ann shook her head, no point in thinking about that right now.

“Have you heard anything?” Ann said sweetly to Marian.

“Oh god, not you as well.” Marian groaned playfully. “This one has been asking me the same question every five minutes.”

“I have not!” Anne huffed petulantly.

“They said they will be in touch within a few days, it’s highly unlikely they’re going to email today.” Marian locked her phone and put it in her pocket. “I’m not checking our email again unless I hear a notification, alright?” She folded her arms.

“Ugh, you’re impossible.” Anne whined before she headed into the kitchen to scrub the counter top for the tenth time.

“Has she been like this all day?” Ann asked Marian softly.

“Yes, she’s driving me mad. Can’t you take her somewhere? If she stays here all weekend I think I’ll lose my mind.” Marian laughed. “I have to work through some of our accounts and I don’t have the space at home, if she’s pacing up and down next to me I won’t be able to concentrate.”

“I see.” Ann nodded.

“Please, Ann? I wouldn’t normally ask but well, wouldn’t you relish a little time together?” Marian winked.

“Oh.” Ann blushed furiously. “Well, I..”

Marian rested her palm on Ann’s shoulder. “I’m really rather fond of you, Ann. I don’t know how you put up with my sister but honestly, I’m happy for you both.”

“It’s really, I mean, I don’t know what we are yet, you know? I don’t think she, I, uh, I mean.”

Marian nodded with a smile at Ann’s incoherence. “I like you but the pair of you are ridiculous.”

“What do you mean?” Ann laughed.

“I’ll let you both figure it out, just please get her out of my hair.” Marian wandered off behind the counter, leaving Ann standing alone in the dining room with a puzzled expression on her face.

Ann would be lying if she said she didn’t love the idea of stealing Anne away from her restaurant for a day or two. They could just exist with no outside pressures of work or daily life. The more Ann thought about it, the more her heart started to race, they could spend 48 hours in bed if they wanted to. Ann chewed her lip as she began to think of where on earth she could take Anne at such short notice, somewhere without WiFi so Anne couldn’t just sit on her phone refreshing her inbox and stressing about the critics, somewhere without a lot of floor space for Anne to continually pace around.

“What are you thinking about?” Anne’s low voice broke Ann’s internal thoughts immediately. “Is it something dirty?” Anne’s arms wrapped round her waist.

“Sorry to disappoint you, but no.” Ann laughed, pressing a soft kiss to Anne’s nose.

“Shame.” Anne shrugged. “I was quite hoping you were thinking about last night.”

“And this morning.” Ann whispered as she looped her arms around Anne’s neck, pulling her in closer.

Ann could feel her pulse quicken at their proximity, at the feeling of Anne’s hard body pressed against her, at the way Anne was looking at her. Quite honestly, if Marian wasn’t clattering around the bar across the room, who knows if they’d be able to control themselves. The thought crossed her mind to drag Anne back to bed, strip her naked and go down on her for hours, tease her to the edge over and over, make her beg for it, but the truth was, she had a plan to come up with.

“You know, I think I’ve finally worked it out.” Anne said with a satisfied smirk on her face.

“Sorry?” Ann’s attention snapped back to the present moment, rather than what she’d like to do to Anne with her tongue.

“That eyebrow twitch of yours.”

“What?” Ann laughed.

“You do it when you’re thinking of something dirty.” Anne was smug. “I saw you do it in the kitchen a few times, you had that faraway look on your face. I really should’ve reprimanded you for wasting time.” Anne nuzzled into the crook of Ann’s neck, kissing her suggestively. “Called you to my office.” Ann moaned as she stretched her neck to allow Anne better access. “Had you over my knee.”

“Ahem.” Marian cleared her throat from across the room loudly.

Ann giggled as she playfully shoved Anne away from her. She’d never be able to think straight if she stayed here, there was nothing else for it.

“I’m going for a few hours.”

“Oh?” Anne’s face fell. “But you’ve only just got here.”

“You’re going to miss me aren’t you?” Ann teased.

“What? Of course not. Don’t be absurd.” Anne folded her arms, shook it off.

“It’s okay you know, you can admit it.” Ann purred. “I think you’re going to miss me terribly.”

Anne looked away and scoffed before she turned back to Ann with a smile on her face and shrugged. It was rather sweet actually, impenetrable ice queen Anne Lister was going to miss her. How wonderful.

“I think, underneath it all…” Ann traced her finger down Anne’s shirt. “You’re a pussy cat.”

Anne’s jaw stiffened. “If you’re going to continue to insult me, in my own restaurant, you’re going to be in trouble, Miss Walker.”

“Is that a promise?” Ann whispered.

“Oh for heaven’s sake, the pair of you!” Marian cried from behind the bar. “I’m going to have to split you up.”

“I’m going!” Ann held her hands up in surrender. “I’ll be back in a few hours.”

Ann didn’t really know what to do, she wanted to kiss Anne goodbye but it felt awkward with Marian watching, plus, that was what couples did right? Real couples. In relationships. Instead, Ann smiled trying to convey her feelings to Anne silently before she breezed out the front door and disappeared down the steps.

Anne watched her go, feeling the unmistakable tug in her heart before she swiftly turned round.

“Marian, have you heard from…”

“No, Anne!”

It was going to be a long afternoon.

--

Ann was glowing as she walked down the street towards Cath’s apartment. Usually, she’d make the infamous detour to get coffee but right now? She didn’t need it. Buzzing with renewed energy, a smile plastered from ear to ear, Ann practically skipped up the steps and unlocked the front door.

“Ann Walker. Get into this room immediately.” Cath’s voice sounded as soon as Ann had closed the front door.

Ann laughed, she owed an explanation to Cath really, that quick text she sent last night was barely coherent, too many endorphins in her brain, too wrapped up in what the night would hold. When Ann popped back to the apartment earlier in the day, Cath was still sleeping off her hangover but now she was wide awake and waiting for gossip.

“Hi.” Ann poked her head round the doorframe innocently.

“Don’t give me any of that, I want details and I want nothing left out.” Cath laughed as she bundled herself up tighter in the blanket she’d wrapped herself in.

“We’ll need a cup of tea.” Ann nodded as she padded down the hallway to the kitchen.

As the water boiled, Ann’s mind caught up to her body. It had been a rather interesting 24 hours and although it felt like she’d known Anne all her life, she was cautious. After Anne’s reaction in the park and knowing how fragile she was, Ann didn’t want to get herself hurt. On the other hand, she couldn’t deny the serotonin fluttering through her body. Sure, out of this world, utterly mind blowing sex would do that but it was more than that and Ann knew it. The last thing she wanted to do was scare Anne off but surely Anne felt it too?

“Are you ever pouring that tea, Ann? I’m fucking gasping in here.” Cath coughed dramatically. “It’s drier than the Sahara!”

Ann laughed as she carried their mugs to the living room, resting them on the table before flopping down next to Cath and stealing some of her blanket.

“Well, I can tell without even asking that she’s good in bed.”

“Cath!” Ann groaned.

“Oh come on, Annie. You’re glowing so intensely I almost need to wear sunglasses. Just tell me how many times and I shan’t utter another word.”

“Honestly, you’re ridiculous.” Ann’s cheeks flushed.

“How many.” Cath raised her eyebrows.

Ann huffed loudly. “I don’t know, I lost count after a while.”

Cath’s laughter echoed throughout the apartment as she hit Ann playfully with a cushion.

“You lucky bastard.” Cath shook her head before sipping her tea. “In lieu of any real figures, I demand to know all the sordid details.”

“Ugh, fine, but you need to help me think of a plan.” Ann knew Cath would never let her get away with not recollecting a step by step account of their night together.

“A plan?” Cath’s brow furrowed.

“Marian needs me to take Anne somewhere for a night or two. She’s driving her crazy waiting for the results, I said I’d do her a favour.”

“Right.” Cath said sarcastically. “Because going on a mini break with your insanely hot new girlfriend who is incredible in bed is such a favour.”

“She’s not my girlfriend.”

“Sure, Ann.” Cath put her mug down with a thud on the table. “Anyway, I have the perfect suggestion but first, I need details.”

--

Anne had just finished reorganising her herbs and spices, for the third time, when her phone chimed. Normally, she wouldn’t check her phone right away, it was never anyone that important – suppliers, her accountant, Marian. But now, every time her phone made any noise, Anne dropped everything to check it right away. What had Ann done to her? She chuckled to herself as she unlocked her phone to see Ann’s WhatsApp picture, her brow furrowing as she read the message.

Ann: Pack a bag. Be ready in 30 minutes. No arguing x

If Ann thought this approach would work, she was sorely mistaken. Anne needed facts, information, duration, what kind of terrain. She clicked her tongue as she replied instantly.

Anne: Not that I don’t appreciate you bossing me around but I need more information.

The screen indicated Ann was typing.

Ann: You’re impossible. Two days. Casual attire. Comfortable footwear. Just us, so use your imagination. No more questions x

Anne laughed as she locked her phone and slid it back into her pocket. After the initial rush of excitement at spending two entire days with Ann, most likely in bed, reality began to creep into her consciousness. How could she go away at a time like this? What if the critics contacted her and she was out of signal area? What if they were miles and miles away from the restaurant when a last minute meeting was scheduled? No, there was no way this would work. She was just about to text Ann back when Marian burst into the kitchen.

“Now, I know what’s going through that head of yours.” Marian pointed her finger as Anne opened her mouth in confusion, silencing her immediately. “But I asked Ann to take you away.”

“What?” Was Marian reading her texts or something? How did she know?

“Ann just messaged me and I know how your brain works. You’re thinking up all the reasons why you can’t take two days off with your girlfriend.”

“She’s not my girlfriend.”

“Right, right.” Marian shook her head. “Anyway, I’m dealing with the communication between us and the panel. They’re emailing me, not you. You don’t need to check your inbox because they’re not contacting you. Secondly, they said it won’t be for a few days and I can’t have you pacing around, wearing holes in the carpet, rearranging this entire kitchen every hour.”

Anne felt a touch embarrassed at her sister’s perfect description of what she’d been doing for the last few hours.

“And lastly, you deserve some time off. You never take a break and this is the perfect opportunity. It’s only two days, Anne. You can survive two days off work.”

“Hm. So you’re saying you and Ann planned this together?” Anne felt betrayed, albeit in jest.

“Yes.” Marian grinned. “Turns out, between us, we can get you to do exactly what we want you to.”

“Piss off.” Anne pouted. Of course they were teaming up against her.

“Come on, you’ve got a bag to pack. Go on.” Marian shooed her out the kitchen.

As Anne made her way upstairs to her apartment, she felt her stomach swirl. Was that excitement? She was so used to feeling stress and exhaustion, it almost felt alien. She couldn’t even remember the last time she took time off work, she definitely hadn’t taken time off since the restaurant opened but even before that, maybe the odd dirty weekend with Mariana that always inevitably got cut short for some reason or another. She pulled her hiking bag out from under her bed and started packing. It was only when she reached her underwear drawer, she paused. Would Ann be into? Would she even want? Deciding to take a gamble, she finished packing her things and slung the bag onto her shoulder before wandering back down to the restaurant.

Like a ray of sunshine, Ann Walker was standing in the dining room waiting for her. She had a grin on her face and mischief in her eyes. Oh, this promised to be a very good weekend indeed.

“Ready?” Ann beamed.

“Ready.” Anne winked as she linked their arms and let Ann lead her out the front doors.

Chapter Text

Taking time off work didn’t come naturally to Anne, she struggled to relinquish her control over the restaurant. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Marian to keep an eye on things but she preferred to handle everything herself. A proud believer of if you want something done right, do it yourself. And yet, practically skipping down the front steps, arm in arm with Ann Walker, Anne couldn’t help but try her best to switch her busy brain off.

“Where are you taking me?” Anne laughed as Ann’s pace quickened.

Ann just smiled, reaching down to link their hands as they walked. “Is this okay?” She whispered.

For a split second, Anne was lost for words. Ann Walker, asking her whether she minded this small, sweet, public display of affection from her almost made Anne lose her composure. How she’d longed for someone who was proud to be seen with her, to be with someone who didn’t ask for their liaisons to be kept a secret, to have someone so emotionally available she didn’t have to spend the whole time guessing how they really felt. It was overwhelming. All Anne could do was nod and smile, she couldn’t possibly convey quite how much this meant to her right now, in the middle of the street, but she made a mental note to talk to Ann about this later. Ann deserved to know.

“I’m borrowing Cath’s car for this weekend, I really should get one myself but I just haven’t gotten round to it yet.”

Anne nodded.

“Maybe you could come with me? Help me pick one.”

“Well, I mean, I don’t know an awful lot about cars but sure?” Anne was a bit confused, surely it was just buy whatever was in your budget, as long as it worked that’s all that mattered.

“I’ve never bought a new car before.” Ann said matter of factly. “But I think it’s time.”

Anne nodded slowly, a little unsure what Ann was getting at.

Ann squeezed Anne’s hand. “I think I want to stick around Manchester for a while. I hadn’t decided but I think I’ll find an apartment and see how it goes.”

Ah. There it was. A small mention of a commitment, albeit not directly. Anne filed that sentiment away to bring up with Ann later, she was too scared of asking her exactly what she meant right now. Before Anne could get too far into her own head, Ann unlinked their hands and fished the car keys out of her pocket before unlocking the boot. Anne quirked her eyebrow as she tried to identify what Ann had packed. 

“Anne Lister, if you even so much as think about asking me a question right now, I’m going to drive off without you.” Ann warned as she took Anne’s bag and shut the boot.

Anne couldn’t help the bubble of laughter that rose out of her as Ann winked before climbing into the driver side. The thing was, Anne hated surprises, she despised not being in control, not knowing every single detail and she especially hated an unknown itinerary, but right now? She didn’t give a solitary fuck about the nagging in her brain, she just wanted to follow Ann Walker to wherever she was taking her. No questions.

Except.

Anne couldn’t resist having a cursory glance at the destination on Ann’s phone as she fastened her seatbelt. Anne’s eyebrows raised before Ann caught her red handed.

“Anne!” Ann thumped her on the arm. “You’re impossible.”

“Oh, Miss Walker. You’re a constant surprise.” Anne laughed.

Ann huffed dramatically, she’d managed to keep a secret for all of about three hours before she was rumbled.

“Are we going to have to arm wrestle for who gets to be Captain?” Anne’s tone changed, causing Ann’s body to respond before she could stop it.

“Maybe.” Ann shuffled in her seat.

Anne laughed heartily as Ann started the engine, putting the car into first gear and pulling away. When was the last time someone had taken Anne away for a mini break? Had anyone? She couldn’t actually remember. Sure, this was two days, not two weeks, but even still, she was excited. Two whole days with Ann Walker.

“You’ve gone quiet, have I messed this up completely?” Ann chewed her lip.

“What?” Anne’s attention snapped back to the present moment. “No! Sorry, I was miles away, no, please don’t think that. I’m genuinely excited.”

“Okay.” Ann exhaled. “Look, I know it’s not maybe how you’d choose to spend two days away but I thought it would be an adventure, you know?”

Anne swallowed before reaching over and resting her hand over Ann’s on the gearstick. It was a bit of a role reversal to be honest, usually she’d be driving, her girl putting a hand over hers, not the other way around. At first Anne was a little unsure but the warmth of Ann’s skin and the soft smile playing on Ann’s lips grounded her.

“Don’t get used to this by the way.” Anne looked over at Ann in confusion. “I’m not driving you everywhere when I get my car, alright?”

Anne laughed loudly, how did Ann always know what was running through her head? “Good. It would be an honour to pick you up in my car one day.”

“Oh no.” Ann tutted. “You’re going to be driving my car.”

“What?” Anne’s mouth hung open as she grinned.

“I’ve heard about your car, Marian told me it’s a death-trap.”

Anne scoffed from the passenger seat.

“When we get back, I’m buying a car and you can drive it.”

The laughter that escaped Anne’s throat? Involuntary. The arousal at Ann’s bossy attitude? Involuntary. The realisation that she was past the point of no return? Involuntary.

Anne shook her head as she squeezed Ann’s hand. “Yes, dear.”

--

With their hands linked, gently swaying between them, Anne and Ann gazed into each other’s eyes as they walked up to the booking office. The sun was shining, the air was warm, their hearts so full of love it was bursting out of them. Not that they’d discussed it yet, of course. Utterly useless, the pair of them.

Anne watched Ann fill out some paperwork and effortlessly make small talk with the booking agent. How did Ann do that? She could talk to anyone about anything whereas Anne would avoid it, no time for pleasantries. She was so busy in her own head that she didn’t notice the keys that Ann now held firmly in her palm, nor the slight smirk on the agent’s face as Ann signed her name, she just about caught the tail end of his apology. What was he apologising for? She shrugged it off, whatever it was, it couldn’t ruin how good Anne felt right at this moment in time.

“Come on.” Ann chuckled impatiently as she waited by the door.

“Oh, right, yes.” Anne jumped out of her seat. “Thank you.”

As the door shut behind her, Anne linked her arm with Ann’s and sidled up to her. “What was all that about?”

Ann laughed as she led them down the gravel path towards the canal boats. They were all magnificent, painted dark, strong colours with even stronger names. Equestrian themed, Anne surmised quickly as they walked past the fleet, their names painted in fancy lettering on each side. Passing the all black Stallion, Anne’s heart sank a little. She really wanted that one.

“Now, before you say anything, I only booked this today.”

“Right.” What was Ann talking about?

“So, you know, most of their boats were unavailable.”

“Sure.” Anne said as she eyed up the impressive, navy blue Morgan.

“It was all they had on such short notice.” Ann tugged Anne’s hand towards the last mooring post.

Anne frowned, surely that was the end of the line? She couldn’t see another boat, what was Ann talking abou... Oh.

“We’ll make it nice, okay?” Ann snaked her arm around Anne’s waist and snuggled into her chest.

There, shadowed by the larger, sturdier, butcher canal boats, stood their small vessel. It was tiny, shorter than the others, not as tall and if that wasn’t bruising Anne’s ego enough, the lettering on the side? In a crisp white font, spelled ‘Pony’. 

--

An hour later, after unpacking Ann’s car, Anne was studying the controls trying to mask her confusion as well as she could. Truth was, she’d never driven a boat before but how hard could it be? Looked simple enough. She was just about to switch the engine on when Ann appeared in front of her, her hands firmly on her hips.

“Have you ever sailed before?” Ann blinked, waiting for Anne’s answer.

In Anne’s head, she repeated again, how hard could it be? She could wing it, try and impress Ann, sail them off into the sunset and never mention it again. While that seemed like a good plan, she could sense Ann was about two seconds away from rumbling her.

“You haven’t have you?”

Anne tutted before pouting. “I could’ve sailed before.”

“But you haven’t though?” Ann smirked.

“Well, no.” Anne folded her arms defensively. “But I’m sure I’ll figure it out. I just need to work out…”

Ann walked over with a grin before sitting across Anne’s lap. “Shut up.” She whispered before kissing her.

“Has anyone ever told you you’re quite rude?” Anne muttered before kissing her again.

“Hm.” Ann hummed. “I guess you don’t want my help then.”

“Ann Walker, if you’re about to say you know how to drive a boat then I might just come on the spot.” Anne whispered lowly before Ann kissed her again.

“I hope you brought spare boxers because you’re damn right I can.”

Anne growled, picking Ann up bridal style as Ann’s laughter reverberated around the boat. Anne had only filthy intentions; she was going to drag Ann off to their impossibly small bedroom and shag her senseless, only, this boat, well, the ceilings were rather low.

“Fuck.” Anne shouted as her head met the wood.

Ann giggled loudly. “Put me down, you brute.”

“Brute!” Anne laughed, gently placing Ann back onto her feet.

“Let’s at least drive away from the pick up point, we don’t have to go far and then we can moor up for the night. You know?” Ann’s eyebrow twitched.

“Excellent plan, Miss Walker.” Anne started walking towards their bedroom.

“Where are you going?”

“Well, I thought I might change into something a little more comfortable?”

“I don’t think so, Lister. You’re going to learn how to drive. Come here.”

And that’s how Anne found herself, painfully aroused, Ann’s whispers in her ear, her small hands covering her own, effortlessly guiding her to their destination. After what felt like a lifetime, Ann booted her out the way with her hip and took over. Anne just watched as Ann eased the boat to a stop as if it was the simplest thing in the world, her smile never faltering.

“Go on, you can tie us to our mooring. It’s about time you did some work.” Ann winked.

Anne feigned offense before hopping off the boat and wrapping the thick rope around the post. Not bad for a beginner, she thought. All those days trekking in the Alps, rope climbing and mountaineering were playing off as Anne flexed her muscles on purpose knowing Ann’s gaze was firmly on her movements.

“Hm.” Ann hummed quietly.

“Sorry, what was that?” Anne’s head lifted.

“7/10. Needs work.” Ann said cheekily as she sauntered off towards the kitchen area.

Anne muttered under her breath as she surveyed her handiwork. Was Ann having her on? She checked the rope was secure before jumping back aboard.

“We’re fixed, should be fine until we want to set off again tomorrow.” Anne’s tone was neutral.

“I think.” Ann slowly stalked towards Anne, linking her arms around her neck and tilting her head. “You don’t like the fact that, technically, I’m the Captain.”

Anne scoffed.

“It’s true though, isn’t it?” Ann brushed her lips across the salty skin of Anne’s neck. “You can’t stand that I’m in charge.”

“I’d hardly say…” Anne squeaked as Ann nipped the sensitive skin under her jaw.

“You can’t even admit it.” Ann placed a soft kiss on the rapidly reddening skin. 

“Admit what?” Anne’s throat was getting increasingly dry.

“That I’m in charge.” Ann grazed her teeth over Anne’s pulse point. “That you need me.” Another kiss. “That you’d be lost without me.”

Anne could feel herself getting wet as Ann kissed the hollow of her throat before moving her mouth painfully slowly upwards. Her breathing quickened in anticipation as she cupped Ann’s face, tilting her head to kiss the maddening woman below her. This power struggle would usually put Anne off, she wasn’t one for games, for being teased about her need for control but with Ann everything felt different. As Ann’s grip around her waist tightened, Anne broke away.

“Wait here.” She was breathless, barely able to separate their bodies.

“What?” Ann’s eyes were half closed as her brain battled to catch up.

“Give me two minutes.” Anne disappeared into the bedroom as Ann tried to get her breathing back under control.

Before long, the bedroom door opened and Anne reappeared, looking exactly the same as when she left. Ann shook her head in confusion before taking the outstretched hand being offered to her. Anne led her over to the sofa before they both sat down next to each other.

“Now, Miss Walker, I have a surprise for you. And if you don’t want to do it, I shan’t be cross, alright?” Anne’s tone was soft, patient.

“What is it?” Ann was aroused beyond all measure, unable to focus on anything other than the ache between her legs.

“Come here.” Anne motioned towards her lap.

As Ann straddled Anne’s strong thighs, she was confused. Why was Anne being purposefully ambiguous? Why was time moving so slowly? Why wasn’t Anne fucking her alread…

Oh.  

The breath left Ann’s body as she felt the unmistakable bulge in Anne’s trousers as she settled firmly in her lap. This was unexpected. Anne had that twinkle in her eye, the one that either meant you’d fucked up the hollandaise sauce and were about to get reprimanded, or, you were about to get screwed senseless. There wasn’t much to tell these two expressions apart, except for the almost imperceptible smirk playing on Anne’s face. Ann bit her lip in anticipation, resting her arms on Anne’s strong shoulders.

“What do you think?” Anne flexed her hips a fraction, grinning at the shiver that rattled through Ann’s body in response.

“Oh.” Ann swallowed. “Yes, Chef.”

Anne’s eyes darkened as Ann began to softly grind her hips into her lap, her hands instinctively settling on Ann’s slim waist as the tension hung in the air for a moment. Only, Anne was impatient. She’d been thinking about this, dreaming about it even, way before Ann suggested a minibreak, and now, Ann Walker was in her lap, begging for it. Well, alright, not quite begging but perhaps Anne could orchestrate that too. A tingle crept up her spine just from the thought alone.

“What are you waiting for?” Ann whispered as she nuzzled into the crook of Anne’s neck.

For once, Anne had no witty comeback, no measured answer, nothing. Why was she still sat here? A rush of emotions flooded her senses, the heartbreak of the past, the women who’d treated her so badly, the never ending loneliness she’d felt for so long, all being unravelled in one instant by the woman in her lap. How could Anne not be grateful for every misstep she’d made? For every wrong turn, wrong woman, wrong judgement? Each of these fuck ups had lead her to Ann Walker. Beautiful, strong, independent, Ann Walker.

“Are you alright?” Ann’s soft, concerned voice brought her back to the present moment.

“I, uh.” Anne’s voice wavered.

“What is it?” Ann cupped her face so gently, Anne almost couldn’t fight the tears welling in her eyes.

“Would you, I guess what I’m trying to...” Anne looked away and exhaled before Ann tilted her face back until their eyes met again. “Would you be my girlfriend? I mean, be exclusive?”

Ann smoothed her thumb over Anne’s cheek, wiping away the dampness before kissing the same spot softly. Ann smiled, wondering how it was possible to go from a moment of pure filth and depravity to discussing deep feelings within a few seconds, but that was Anne through and through. Always keeping her on her toes, constantly surprising her, making her swoon over and over again. This was never a choice, it was fate, there had never been anyone more perfect for Ann Walker than the woman below her. Ann was sure of it.

“Yes.” Ann said softly before a grin spread across her face.

“Yes?” Anne grinned back at her.

“Yes.”

The relief, the endorphins, the rush hummed around them like an electrical circuit. A commitment had been made, they both wanted the same thing, nothing was standing their way. They were finally on the same page.

As Anne leaned in to kiss her, Ann pulled away. “This means no more running from me, okay? From now on, we tackle everything together.”

Anne nodded, this was a fresh start, a clean slate.

Ann shuffled in Anne’s lap, leaning forwards to whisper in Anne’s ear. “I know this is a poignant moment, but if you don’t touch me soon, Chef Lister, I might die.”

“Oh, Miss Walker.” Anne chuckled as she carefully stood up, revelling in the sensation of Ann’s thighs wrapping around her waist. “I’m going to rock your world tonight.”

Ann giggled as Anne carried her to the bedroom, being mindful of the low ceilings, the narrow hallways, the impossibly tiny doors before plopping her down softly onto the crisp sheets. The sun had long since set and the room was illuminated by the deep orange glow of the small lamp on the bedside table. The soft tinkle of water against the boat mixing with the sound of their heavy breathing filled the bedroom as Anne crawled over Ann’s body.

“Fuck.” Ann breathed, holding Anne’s head firmly against her as she slowly kissed her neck.

Anne’s low hum sent a shiver up Ann’s spine. How did they both have so many clothes on?

“Take this off.” Ann tugged at the hem of Anne’s shirt.

With a cocky smirk, Anne crossed her arms and in one swift movement pulled the fabric over her head, dropping it to the floor. Anne knew full well that Ann had a thing about her toned stomach, she hadn’t really hidden it very well and it thrilled her as Ann’s eyes shamelessly wandered over her body.

“Not very subtle.” Anne clicked her tongue as she pulled Ann’s t-shirt up and over her shoulders before snaking her hand around to flick open her bra.

“Back at you.” Ann teased as Anne’s gaze lingered over Ann’s bare chest.

Ann smoothed her hands over Anne’s abs before fiddling with her belt. Anne closed her eyes and hummed, there was something about this act, seeing Ann’s hands on the metal, the pressure of her fingers undoing the buckle, the release of the fabric, it just did things to her. Without breaking her gaze, Ann unbuttoned Anne’s jeans before toying with the harness underneath.

“I need you.” Ann whined as she did her best to push Anne’s tight jeans further down her thighs.

Anne pecked Ann’s lips quickly before shimmying off the bed and stepping out of her trousers. A rush of arousal travelled to her core as she watched Ann’s chest rise and fall sharply, her eyes fixed on the cock between Anne’s legs. Ann licked her lips before undoing her own jeans and shucking them to the floor. Her arms reached out for her girlfriend, her hips already moving of their own accord, she whined as Anne climbed back onto the bed, hovering over her.

“May I?” Anne whispered, resting her bodyweight on one elbow and hooking her finger into Ann’s underwear.

Ann nodded so emphatically Anne couldn’t help but stifle a chuckle. Poor Ann, so worked up she couldn’t even use the power of speech. How delightful.

Their twinned moans filled the small cabin as Anne gently rested between Ann’s legs, their stomachs pressed against each other as they kissed over and over and over. Ann’s grip on Anne’s firm waist tightened as the strap nudged the inside of her thigh with Anne’s movements.

“Anne.” Ann cried out. “I…”

“I know, baby.” Anne soothed, kissing her softly. “I need to get the bottle of lube, I left it in my trouser pocket.”

Just as Anne was about to leave their embrace, Ann put her hand over Anne’s forearm.

“I don’t need it.”

The low groan from Anne’s throat was loud as Ann’s tongue swept into her mouth. Anne couldn’t remember a time when she wanted someone this much, this desperately. She flexed her hips, nudging the tip of the strap against Ann’s folds until it brushed her clit. Anne’s grin was wide as Ann moaned in relief, if only for a second before Anne pulled away.

“You ready?” Anne whispered sincerely.

“Yes.” Ann was so far gone already she couldn’t even keep her eyes open.

Slowly, gently, Anne pressed the tip of the strap into Ann, waiting for her signal to keep going. While Anne had never enjoyed this particular act on herself, she knew that patience was a virtue. Ann breathed deeply, adjusting to the feeling before she nodded, urging Anne deeper. After a few more seconds, Anne’s hips met the soft skin of Ann’s inner thighs and for a moment, Anne thought she might cry. To be this connected with someone, physically and emotionally, it was an overwhelming experience.

As Ann’s eyes reopened, she smirked. “Are you going to fuck me or what?”

Anne threw her head back and laughed. “Oh Miss Walker.” Anne pulled her hips back before flexing them forward, punctuating her words with the thrust of her cock. “You are.” Another thrust. “In so”. Another. “Much trouble.”

Ann laughed breathlessly, losing herself to the warm press of Anne’s body against her own, the perfect angle of the strap, the meticulously measured pace of her girlfriend’s hips. It consumed her until she was an incoherent, babbling wreck, her skin slick with sweat, her stomach muscles burning as she met Anne’s every stroke until she couldn’t stave off her release any longer.

“I’m…I’m…” Ann couldn’t even get her words out before the wave crashed into her, her whole body igniting as Anne’s hips kept their steady rhythm.

“Fuck, you’re so hot when you come.” Anne panted as she revelled in the tightening grip of Ann’s hands around her waist.

Ann curled upwards as she cried out loudly, squeezing her thighs around her girlfriend, holding her cock deep inside as she came apart. Just as the first aftershock pulsed through her body, Anne kissed her, gently rolling her hips, teasing every ounce of pleasure from her. Ann was so lost to her climax that she had no idea how long they stayed connected like that, Anne’s lips on hers, the strap still gently brushing that perfect spot inside her. It was heaven.

Anne wanted to be patient, she really did. She tried to push down her desire, tried to ignore how turned on she was, did her best to distract herself from the desperate ache between her legs. Only, she couldn’t. Not after the noises Ann had made and how she’d felt wrapped around her body, now Anne was convinced she’d surely die if Ann didn’t touch her soon. She lifted herself up with her forearms before sitting back on her heels, vibrating restlessly.

“Oh, Chef.” Ann teased. “You need me?”

Anne nodded, shivering at the way Ann’s fingers were already unfastening the harness. Ann motioned for her to stand up before she expertly pulled it down Anne’s thighs, tossing it onto the floor. The strap was still wet with Ann’s arousal and the sight of it alone threatened to finish Anne off.

“Fuck.” Anne breathed as Ann stood to face her before she sank to her knees.

Ann hummed as Anne gently cupped the back of her head, guiding her to where she needed her most. The first swipe of Ann’s tongue through her folds caused Anne to moan loudly.

“I won’t last long.” Anne’s grip tensed in the mass of blonde hair.

The low rumble from Ann’s throat travelled through Anne’s entire being as she took Anne’s clit into her warm mouth. The feeling of Ann’s lips wrapped around her, the exquisite pressure of her tongue as she sucked the life from Anne, it was all too much. With a broken cry, a lift of her hips and an almighty shudder, Anne came hard, her body trembling as Ann’s tongue continued to travel lazily over her core as she caught her breath.

“I don’t think I’ve ever.” Anne’s chest was heaving. “Come that hard.”

Ann smirked as she rose to her feet, her lips were red and her eyes were dark. She brushed Anne’s cheek so gently, Anne wondered if she’d cry. “Me neither.” Ann whispered gently before bringing their lips together.

In the recesses of Anne’s pleasure soaked brain she acknowledged Ann’s words. Could this be the result, the outcome, the product of being so in sync with another human being? Did they both experience intensely powerful orgasms because they were made for each other? What did this mean? For now though, Anne could only bask in the post-coital glow with the woman of her dreams. Gently, she sat on the edge of the bed, tugging Ann down to rest on top of her. She’d just closed her eyes, giving herself over to sleep, happy and sated when an almighty rumble caused her eyes to spring open.

Ann giggled loudly. “We forgot to eat, I’m sorry.”

“Oh my god, I’m such a poor host.” Anne laughed. “I can’t have a pretty girl wasting away in my bed. Come on!” Anne jostled Ann out of her lap and held out her hand.

“Anne! I’m tired!” Ann was bordering on whining now, her eyes closing involuntarily.

“Now, now, Miss Walker. I need to feed you, no excuses, come on.”

Ann muttered to herself as she followed her ridiculous girlfriend to the tiny kitchen on the boat. They didn’t have much in, Ann’s plan was to take them out for dinner but well, they’d been side-tracked. Obviously.

Ann’s heart felt full to the brim as they sat on the tiny, cramped sofa, legs entwined, sharing mouthfuls of peanut butter sandwiches. Their laughter echoed around the cabin as they teased each other, stopping only to kiss and gaze at one another. As Ann took another bite of her sandwich, Anne inhaled deeply, had she ever been this happy before?

Chapter Text

“Fuck.” Anne muttered as she hit her head on the low bedroom ceiling for the fourth time since climbing aboard this stupid, tiny boat yesterday.

She frowned as she rubbed the, now rather large, egg on her head. For a brief moment, she was cross at Ann for booking this ridiculous vessel. It was entirely impractical, not to mention dangerous. What if Anne had suffered a concussion? Irresponsible. Her irritation melted away, of course, the second Ann snuffled in her sleep. She had the duvet wrapped around her middle, disappointingly covering her bare behind but her legs and back were exposed. Anne could feel the stirring in her gut as she stood by the edge of the bed, letting her eyes wander shamelessly over Ann’s soft skin. She was so delicate, so tiny but at the same time, stronger and more sure of herself than any woman she’d met before. Anne licked her lips before taking pity on the poor woman; she was utterly exhausted and sleeping soundly, how could Anne wake her up at this time of the morning?

“For fuck’s sake.” Anne spat as the doorframe lightly grazed her head again as she turned sharply to make her way to the other room.

She was in a proper grump now, the calming presence of Ann Walker vanished from view, Anne began to sulk as she attempted to find enough floor space to do her morning planks. Who was this boat even designed for? Children? Ugh. A few dark wisps escaped Anne’s high bun, tickling her face as she exhaled deeply before switching to press ups.

Dressed in a black, sleeveless muscle shirt and her trademark black boxers she effortlessly moved, her muscles flexing as she pushed herself rep after rep. In fact, she was so busy ranting to high heaven in her head, she didn’t hear Ann potter quietly into the room behind her.

Anne’s arms began to burn as she lowered herself down towards the lino floor one last time, clenching her jaw as she pushed herself up again with a loud exhale. This was another annoyance of hers: this floor? When was the last time it was deep cleaned? Perhaps it was time to send the company a well worded email about the impracticalities of this abode.

“Hm.” Ann breathed so quietly Anne thought she’d imagined it. “The view in here is quite nice this morning.”

It was true; Anne in her tight boxers, showing off her impeccably toned bum, doing press ups on the kitchen floor, her strong muscles flexing with each movement, it was enough to make Ann feel more than just a little warm.

Anne turned with her mouth open, entirely unaware she’d been being watched for god knows how long. She was just about to protest when her gaze met Ann Walker, entirely naked, with that twinkle in her eye.

“Morning.” Ann giggled.

“How long have you been standing there, naked, watching me work out?” Anne hauled herself up from the floor.

“A few minutes.” Ann’s smile was sweeter than sunshine as she watched Anne stalk towards her. “I heard you muttering to yourself and decided to see what all the fuss was about.”

“Well.” Anne wrapped her arm around Ann’s bare waist. “This boat.”

“Mm?” Ann nodded.

“It’s entirely too small for me.” Anne pouted.

“Oh.” Ann played along, pretending to feel as outraged as her girlfriend did, just to humour her.

“This ceiling is a safety hazard. I’ve got a rather large bump on my head from the amount of times it’s hit me.” Anne probably wasn’t even aware of how her bottom lip stuck out like a child.

“Oh baby.” Ann soothed, stifling her giggle. “Let me take a look, come on.” Ann tugged Anne’s hand and led them over to the sofa.

“Ouch!” Anne flinched as Ann gently parted her hair to assess the damage.

It was a small bruise, no bigger than a 50 pence piece. Ann internally chuckled; the mighty Anne Lister being overthrown by a low ceiling? Adorable.

“Well, it is a little raised.” Ann nodded in an attempt to quell her girlfriend’s sulking swiftly. “I’ll go and get a cold compress and we can see if we can’t get that swelling down, hm?”

Anne nodded as she watched Ann scamper off to the bathroom. This stupid boat had a vendetta against her and that was all there was for it.

“Why don’t you have a shower?” Ann said as she lightly pressed the cold flannel to the tiny bump on Anne’s head. “Wash away this bad mood?”

Anne bristled. “I can’t even stand up straight in the shower.”

“Since when have you ever worried about being straight?” Ann chuckled.

Anne scoffed, her bottom lip threatening to jut out again.

“Okay, okay. Bad joke.” Ann leaned forward to kiss Anne’s cheek softly.

The tension in Anne’s body lessened slightly but she was still grumpy.

“I could find other ways to make you feel better.” Ann hummed as she gently kissed Anne’s neck, tasting the salt on her lips as she trailed her mouth over her damp skin.

“Hm.” Anne’s bad mood lifted with each press of Ann’s mouth.

Ann giggled as Anne stood, backing her towards the kitchen table, pausing only to step out of her boxers along the way. Just as she was about to take off her t-shirt, Ann’s hand stopped her.

“Keep it on.” Ann breathed as her eyes darkened.

“Oh, I see.” Anne smirked. “Muscle shirts do it for you, hm?”

The emphatic way Ann nodded her head made Anne laugh loudly. This woman was a constant surprise in the greatest possible way. As the backs of her thighs hit the wood of the table, Ann hoisted herself up to sit on the edge, pulling Anne into her by the black material.

“What do you want?” Anne’s lips ghosted Ann’s.

Ann shivered at Anne’s tone as her pulse quickened. She’d woken up wanting a very specific thing, it was, in all honesty, the real reason she’d gotten out of bed at such an ungodly hour. Her clit pulsed just thinking about it.

“I want, uh.” Ann lost her breath as Anne took one of her nipples into her mouth.

“Mmh?” Anne’s voice vibrated through Ann’s entire being.

“Your cock.” Ann’s hips rolled upwards of their own accord as Anne stalled, her brain struggling to keep up with the incredible, wanton woman between her legs.

Before Ann could even register that her girlfriend’s warm mouth had disappeared, Anne was already scampering back into the bedroom in record time. It was insanely hot how Anne could get prepared so effortlessly. Ann always thought she’d be quite useless at figuring out where to fasten things and how to line up the base just so. But, Anne? She was a master at it, top of the class, an absolute natural. Ann suddenly felt overwhelmed with how lucky she was to have met Anne. Not just for her incredible skills in the bedroom but for how well they complimented each other, they were the perfect match.

“Do you want to be on your back or bent over?” Anne’s casual tone for such a filthy question made Ann shake her head.

“What!” Anne cried.

“I was just thinking about how perfect you are and then you go and interrupt the moment by asking me that as nonchalantly as if you’re asking if I take sugar in my coffee.” Ann laughed again, reaching her arms out for that ridiculous t-shirt.

Anne half smiled, trying to work out whether Ann was being serious. She’d been teased, shouted at and scolded in her past relationships for things like this. Was Ann upset? Had she misstepped? A slight frown travelled across her forehead before Ann, as usual, soothed her worries away.

“On my back. I want to look at you while you fuck me.” And with that, Ann crashed their lips together, pulling Anne down on top of her.

Anne sighed in relief, of course Ann wasn’t really upset with her, she never was. All the things that past women had hated, Ann embraced. Well, alright, most of the things. She could probably work on her sulkiness and general short fuse but all the rest? Ann loved it about her.

“I mean this affectionately.” Ann said, interrupting Anne’s deep thoughts. “But can you get on with it?”

--

The gentle breeze from the open cabin window flowed through the bedroom, cooling their damp skin as Ann smoothed her hand over Anne’s bare chest. They’d finally made it to bed for round two, and three, and four. Ann’s head rose and fell with Anne’s breathing, she nuzzled against Anne’s shoulder and exhaled.

“Are you okay?” Anne whispered.

Ann nodded against Anne’s warm skin. “I just…” She stopped herself, burrowing her face deeper into her girlfriend’s side.

“What?”

Ann’s heart raced as she held on tight to Anne’s waist, as if she was scared Anne would disappear at any moment.

“I’ve never felt this close to anyone.”

A silence fell between them for a few moments, Ann’s sentiment hanging above them until Anne exhaled in relief.

“I feel the same way.” Anne kissed the top of Ann’s head. “I’ve not always been, uh, treated very fairly by women. Nor have I been a pillar of virtue.” She felt Ann tense slightly beneath her. “But with you, it feels different.” Anne’s voice cracked.

“Anne.” Ann pushed herself up to rest on her forearm, looking up at her girlfriend.

“Hm?” Anne’s faraway expression disappeared, pulling her out of her past and dragging her back to her present.

“I think I’m in love with you.” Ann’s voice was small but sure, it was a lot to admit, perhaps too soon and perhaps ill timed after spending the whole morning shagging but Ann couldn’t keep it inside any longer.

Anne swallowed thoughtfully, trying to keep her tears at bay. When had a woman declared their feelings for her so openly? Without Anne asking for it?

“Really?” Anne wanted to check she wasn’t imagining it.

“Yes.” Ann nodded with an angelic smile.

Just as Anne felt the trickle against her cheek, she pushed forward, kissing Ann slowly, deeply. She squeezed her eyes shut, losing herself to the press of Ann’s body, the soft touch of her lips, the silent communication between them.

“I’ve never met anyone like you.” Anne whispered between them before allowing Ann to guide her back to rest against the pillows.

Cradling Anne’s face in her hand, Ann giggled against Anne’s lips before kissing the woman of her dreams over and over. Anne hummed contentedly, thinking how she’d be happy to die like this; a partner committing to her without coercion, without ulterior motives, without secret husbands waiting in the shadows. This was surely heaven.

“Shall we go out for a walk?” Ann said after an undetermined amount of time.

Anne smiled. “That sounds perfect.”

“There’s a pub nearby, we could go for a drink? Sit in the beer garden?” Ann softly kissed the spot just behind Anne’s ear.

Anne moaned and shifted her hips, how could one touch from Ann Walker rile her up so quickly?

“If you want to leave this bed, you need to behave.” Anne’s eyes darkened as she cupped the back of Ann’s neck as she continued to kiss Anne’s salty skin.

“Hm.” Ann hummed. “Let’s not be out long.”

Anne laughed, how she had met someone so perfectly matched by pure chance, she’d never quite understand. She lightly tapped Ann on her bare behind as she motioned to sit upright. Ann protested weakly as Anne disappeared through the open door.

“This was your idea, Walker!” Anne shouted back as she bent down to pick up her discarded boxers from the kitchen floor.

Ann huffed. “Fine!”

--

The dappled sunlight through the woods felt romantic as the pair of them walked hand in hand, their arms gently swaying between them. It was a hot afternoon but the trail they’d picked was covered by the canopy of the tall trees. It was a short walk to the pub and, although they’d not moved the boat in 24 hours, neither of them cared. Anne felt the warm rush through her body as Ann snuggled into her side as they approached the gate to the beer garden.

“Go find a table, what would you like?” Anne whispered in Ann’s ear, squeezing her one last time before breaking away.

Ann immediately clung onto Anne tighter, refusing to let her go. Anne chuckled before tilting her head to meet Ann’s gaze.

“Are you alright?”

Ann nodded silently, she suddenly felt foolish.

“What is it?” Anne said softly.

“I just don’t want to let you go.” Ann’s voice was quiet, almost inaudible.

“Oh, Ann!” Anne hugged her close, holding her tightly in her strong arms. How was this woman so adorable? “I’ll be right back, okay?”

“Okay.” Ann nodded with a smile. “I’ll have a pint of whatever looks good, surprise me.”

Anne squeezed her hand before disappearing into the crowded pub. It was silly really, how Ann’s heart ached the moment Anne stepped out of view. Wasn’t it? The depth of her feelings caught her off guard; while she was convinced Anne felt the same, it was all rather fast. A month ago she was living in Italy and now? Now, she was about to set up camp in Manchester, her employment unknown, right at the beginning of an intense relationship with the woman she’d possibly been searching her whole life for. Her head began to spin as she took a deep breath. You’re alright. Just breathe.

“Ann?” Anne hastily put their pints on the table and scooted next to her on the bench.

Ann couldn’t be sure how long she’d had her eyes closed, how long she’d been trying to catch her breath but it must have been a while.

“I’m fine.” Ann lied, trying to brush it off.

“What is it?” Anne took her hand and smoothed her thumb over her freckled skin.

“I just felt a little overwhelmed.”

Anne nodded slowly, was Ann having second thoughts?

“This has all happened so fast and, well, my feelings for you are so intense, I guess I’m a little scared. I never expected this when I came back from Europe. I was only supposed to stay with Cath for a few weeks and now I’m sat here in a beer garden, waiting for my girlfriend to come back with our drinks, contemplating setting up camp here, all in the space of what? Three weeks?”

“Okay.” Anne said calmly. “I hear you. I understand.”

“Do you?” Ann exclaimed a little louder than she meant to.

“I think so. I’m scared too, Ann.” The honesty in Anne’s eyes almost took Ann’s breath away. “But I’m in this, I want to put time and effort into making this work. I think we could have a rich life together and I know it’s early, we never know what tomorrow might bring but really, when you think about it, all we have is right now.” Anne dipped her head to meet Ann’s eyeline. “And right now, I know that I love you.”

Ann’s lip trembled as she tried her best to let Anne’s words soak in. She was momentarily aware of what their exchange probably looked like to the other patrons. Anne holding her hand? Ann crying? They probably thought Anne was breaking up with her and the thought made her chuckle. How wrong they all were.

“How about we get some food, hm? We haven’t really been eating…” Anne tilted her head. “Too busy…” Anne raised her eyebrows.

“Alright, you brute. I hear what you’re saying.” Ann smoothed her hand over Anne’s cheek. “Thank you, for being patient with me.”

“Are you kidding?” Anne frowned. “You’re the one who’s patient with me.”

Ann laughed, nodding her head in agreement before kissing her girlfriend soundly.

“Let’s navigate this together.” Anne soothed.

“Deal.” Ann closed her eyes and gave herself up to the perfect press of Anne’s lips against her own before breaking away. “Now, you said something about food?”

Anne laughed heartily before scampering off to grab some menus. Ann pinched herself, was that really her girlfriend? In those tight black jeans and perfect ass? Who felt every emotion so fiercely and intensely? Who looked like she wanted to give Ann the world if she asked her for it? How did she ever get this lucky?

“Pick your jaw up from the floor, Miss Walker.” Anne drawled. “I can hear your thoughts from here. Tsk.”

“Oh shut up.” Ann playfully hit Anne’s shoulder with her menu.

Three pints in, a hundred kisses and an obscene amount of flirting later, Ann realised she was quite tipsy. Their empty plates pushed to the side, long forgotten, well, long forgotten for Ann who was more interested in gazing at her handsome girlfriend. Anne, on the other hand, was outraged that the waiting staff hadn’t cleared them away within 20 minutes of them finishing their meal.

“I’m going to say something.” Anne shuffled in her seat.

“Shh.” Ann soothed. “You’re not at work now, who cares?”

Like taming a wild beast, Anne instantly softened the moment Ann’s palm settled on her forearm. Her puffed out chest relaxed, the protruding vein in her head receded, she breathed out deeply and relaxed back into the booth.

“Let’s get one more drink?” Ann said brightly.

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were trying to get me drunk, Miss Walker.” Anne leaned forward to rest her elbow on the table but misjudged it entirely, falling forwards dramatically before she was able to right herself.

Ann laughed loudly. “I think it’s a little late for that, my love.”

“Hm.” Anne frowned playfully. “I’m going to the bathroom, try not to miss me too much.”

Ann shook her head as she watched her girlfriend disappear. She was deep in thought, entirely in her own world when an unfamiliar voice interrupted her.

“Sorry, are you done with these plates?” The server asked politely.

“Oh, yes. Thank you. Could I add two more pints and get the bill please?” Ann’s smile was radiant.

“Of course. I’ll put it through now and then come back with your drinks.”

Ann’s half drunk smile lingered on her face as she pulled out her credit card and took the payment machine, punching in her pin before handing it back. At the same moment, Anne returned from the toilet and made her way back over to their table, crossing paths with the pimply faced teenager who was leaning a little too close to her girlfriend for her liking.

“What was that all about?” Anne said irritably as she sat down loudly.

“What do you mean?” Ann was puzzled, had she missed something?

“He was flirting with you.”

“No he wasn’t! I was just paying the bill, Anne.”

“You what?” Anne’s head turned to face her.

“I paid the bill.” Ann repeated, why was Anne’s nose all out of joint?

“Why?”

“Because isn’t that what you’re supposed to do after eating dinner in a pub? I’m not sure I’m following here.”

“I should’ve paid the bill.” Anne folded her arms. Her infamous pout returned to her face, enhanced by her slightly tipsy state.

“What?” Ann was getting a little irritated now.

“You should’ve waited for me to come back.” Anne said coldly.

“Okay, I have no idea what you’re in such a mood about but prepare yourself because he’s coming back with our drinks. Please be civil.”

“Two pints!” The server said enthusiastically as he popped the glasses down on the table.

“Thank you!” Ann said loudly, making up for her sulking girlfriend who refused to even look up.

The next 30 minutes passed by agonisingly slowly. Ann tried her best to coax conversation out of Anne but she was just met with one word answers, the side of her head and a weird energy surrounding them. Finally, Ann decided enough was enough.

“I’m going back to the boat. Are you coming or are you going to stay here and study this fucking table some more?”

“Ann!” Anne’s head snapped up at Ann’s scolding tone.

“It’s up to you but I’m leaving now.” She got up, gathered her bag and gave Anne one last chance to come with her.

“I’ll come back.” Anne muttered, getting up to follow Ann out of the gate.

The short walk back to the boat was spent mostly in silence. The dry earth crumbled under their feet as they made their way back through the woods before reaching the grassy canal path. Ann purposely didn’t speak, if Anne wanted to actually be an adult and talk about her feelings, she’d have to initiate that conversation. She needed to learn that Ann wasn’t going to run after her every time she was behaving unreasonably. Ann unlocked the boat and headed straight towards the bedroom to get changed, leaving Anne in the kitchen.

After about twenty minutes, Ann heard footsteps on the wooden floor.

“I’m making a tea, do you want one?” Anne’s voice was neutral as she poked her head behind the bedroom door.

“I’ll have one if we can have a conversation about what the fuck happened this evening.” Ann said, not even turning round to look at Anne as she pulled her sleep shirt over her head.

Anne sighed before walking into the bedroom and sitting down gently on the edge of the bed.

“I should’ve paid for dinner.” Anne’s voice was small.

“Sorry?” Ann turned.

“This trip, you booked it, you drove us here. Ann, you sailed this fucking boat! And then tonight, you just paid for dinner.”

Ann shook her head, trying to understand what point Anne was trying to make.

“That’s my role.”

“What?” Ann’s face softened, even if she still couldn’t work out what Anne meant.

“I should be taking care of you. Paying for your dinner. Driving you places.”

“Why?” Ann suddenly realised where this was likely going.

“Because!” Anne exclaimed loudly.

“I want you to tell me.”

“I’m the butch, Ann.”

Ann nodded, this made absolute sense now.

“So that means I’m not allowed to do any of those things? Because I’m just the girl on your arm?”

“What? No. It’s complicated.”

“Listen, I want you to be comfortable in this relationship. I respect any boundaries you have but what if I want to treat my girlfriend to dinner once in a while? Money doesn’t really have that much meaning to me.”

Anne’s brow furrowed.

“Without going into it, it’s not a big deal to pay for things and I know how hard you’re working to make ends meet.”

Anne opened her mouth to interrupt but Ann put her finger against her lips. She held Anne’s gaze, stroking the side of her face softly. “You don’t need to be like that with me, I want to be your equal partner, I want to treat you to things sometimes, if you’ll let me?”

The conflicting emotions swirling around Anne’s head stilled, she understood what Ann was asking, even if it did make her feel a little unsure. She’d always had such defined roles in her past relationships, was she even capable of relaxing into a different dynamic? But, again, of course, this was Ann. Ann, who broke every mould Anne had ever squeezed herself into, smashed down the walls she’d carefully constructed around her in an instant, made her feel seen and heard and safe.

“That waiter was…”

“Oh my god, Anne. If you mention that poor boy one more time I’m going to throw you overboard.”

Anne finally laughed, realising she’d been perhaps a little harsh in her judgement. She took Ann’s hand in her own, smoothing her thumb over her skin.

“I’m sorry.” Anne said softly.

“It’s okay. I'm sorry too, I didn't realise.” Ann smiled. “But you have to talk to me about these things before they blow up, okay? I’ll try and do better as long as you promise the same?”

Anne nodded, bringing Ann’s hand up to her lips and kissing her soundly.

“Now, let me spoil you.” Ann said, sinking to her knees and resting her palms on Anne’s thighs.

“Oh?” Anne exhaled, the tension of the evening melting away.

“Hm.” Ann hummed. “Let me spoil my handsome, strong, capable girlfriend.”

Anne relaxed more with each stroke to her ego. Ann was good at this wasn’t she? Ann was good at everything. As she undid Anne’s jeans, Anne groaned at the sight in front of her. How could she have ever doubted Ann’s intentions? Questioned her understanding? Ann always supported her, always backed her up, always took care of her. As Ann’s fingers tugged at her boxers, Anne lifted her hips, shivering as the fabric pooled at her feet.

“I love you.” Ann sat back on her heels, nuzzling her cheek into the palm of Anne’s hand. “I’ll spend however long it takes to make you feel safe with me.”

Anne felt the prickle of tears threatening to escape as Ann kissed her knee before she dipped her head and ran her tongue through Anne’s building arousal. Immediately, Anne felt like she was on fire, she was so desperate, so needy, so ready to give herself up entirely to her girlfriend. She cupped the back of Ann’s head, as she hummed against Anne’s core. It felt different tonight, it was soft and sensual, the pair of them communicating their love for each other without words. As Anne felt the first peak of her orgasm approaching, she began to tense her thighs underneath Ann’s fingers.

“I love you.” Anne said breathlessly, seconds before her climax crashed into her body.

Ann moaned as Anne came apart, her heart bursting, unable to contain the depth of her feelings for the strong woman above her. She felt like she understood Anne better tonight and she’d do her very best not to ever make her feel less than she was. Anne had just about recovered, pulling Ann into her lap when her phone rang.

Ann giggled as Anne held onto her tightly, reaching across to the kitchen table to answer it.

“Hello. Right, I see.” Anne’s tone was so measured, she never gave anything away. “Tomorrow? Yes. Thank you, Marian.”

Anne locked her phone and placed it back down slowly. She looked at Ann but her face remained neutral.

“Well?!” Ann shouted, unable to deal with the suspense.

“We need to be back at the restaurant tomorrow, they’re going to announce the results at lunchtime.”

“Okay.” Ann nodded. “We’ll pack up early, I can get us back to Manchester by 10am.”

Anne chewed her lip, her stomach was in knots, what if she hadn’t made the cut? What would she do then?

“Come on, come to bed with me.” Ann took Anne by the hand. “Let’s try and get a few hours sleep.”

Anne nodded as she followed Ann into the cabin. It was going to be a long night.

Chapter Text

The night passed torturously slowly.

Every time Anne closed her eyes, she could feel her heart beating along with the deafening sound of her blood pumping around her body. Surely this was unfair? Calling to say the results were going to be announced tomorrow but not hinting at them beforehand? She sighed as she opened her eyes to stare at the ceiling again.

If it weren’t for Ann tucked tightly against her side, she’d have gotten up hours ago. Ann was the anchor, holding her in place while the sea of anxiety swirled around her. She couldn’t be sure if Ann was awake but the way she squeezed her arm every now and again made her wonder. She’d really done her best to distract her but Anne just couldn’t concentrate, her mind was too preoccupied with what would happen tomorrow. Anne braced herself for the fall out, for the inevitable disappointment but it never came. Ann understood, she didn’t take it personally, didn’t lose interest in her like most of her other partners did the second she wasn’t on top of her game in the bedroom. Instead, Ann held her, soothed her before drifting off to sleep, still clutching onto Anne tightly.

“Would you like me to make some tea?” Ann’s muffled voice interrupted Anne’s racing thoughts.

How much time had passed? Anne had no idea.

“Stay asleep” Anne said into the mass of golden hair tickling her chin.

“I can’t sleep, you’re practically vibrating.”

“Sorry.” Anne’s voice was small, of course she was annoying Ann. She annoyed everyone.

Ann turned, pushing herself up with her elbow to face her girlfriend.

“Hey, stop that.” Anne’s brow furrowed in confusion. “I know you’re scolding yourself and I’m telling you to stop it.”

“How did you..?”

“I know you, Anne Lister. Better than you think.” Ann leaned forward to press a kiss to Anne’s bare collarbone. “Come on, I’ll make us a drink.”

Anne felt it again in that moment. That warm feeling in the pit of her stomach. There was no other word for it but love. She loved Ann Walker so much that it was hard to wrap her head around. How did Ann know her so well already? How was she aware of all her insecurities? How could she just read her like a book? Anne had always felt different, like no one ever understood her, always misinterpreted her actions, always tried to make her fit into their own ideals. But Ann? Ann just accepted her, faults and all and although she never let Anne get away with being a dick without good cause, she never asked her to change who she was.

Ann rubbed her eyes as she clicked on the kettle. The boat was nice and all but she couldn’t wait to get back to Cath’s apartment with her well equipped kitchen. The thought reminded her that she really needed to look for her own place, maybe in the same neighbourhood if she could find the right apartment. Close to Cath, close to Takk and close to Anne. The holy trinity.

“Here.” Ann placed the mug of tea on the table before snuggling up to Anne on the sofa.

“Thank you.” Anne kissed her head before pulling the blanket over them both.

“Do you want to talk it through?”

“Sorry?”

“I find, when my anxiety is getting the better of me, it helps to talk it through. Even if there’s no chance of resolving whatever it is that’s bothering me. In this case, we can’t fix not knowing the results yet, but we can talk about it.” Ann nuzzled her cheek against Anne’s shoulder.

“How are you so wise, Miss Walker?”

“Years of practice.” Ann laughed before sipping her tea. “What are you most worried about?”

Anne took a deep breath, she’d been trying to work this one out for the last three hours.

“I think I’m most worried about winning.” It sounded stupid in her head and even stupider out loud.

Ann just nodded patiently.

“The pressure, you know? Of course it’ll be great for business and lord knows we need a bit of good luck but…” Anne trailed off.

“But?” Ann gently encouraged.

“Well. I mean. We haven’t talked about what’s going to happen in the restaurant, you know, with you and me.” Anne knew that bringing this up at 3am while she was so wound up wasn’t the best idea but it had been swirling round her brain for the last few days, gaining traction with every second.

“Okay.” Ann nodded thoughtfully. “So, here’s how I feel about this.”

Anne braced herself for impact.

“I love your restaurant, it’s so unequivocally you, your food is incredible, your ideas are genius and the space is perfect.”

Anne nodded.

“The thing is…”

Anne bit the inside of her cheek. Here it comes.

“I’m not sure I want to be a sous chef.”

Anne’s stomach dropped. Of course this was all too good to be true, what a fool she’d been, thinking that they’d run the restaurant together.

“Hey.” Ann dipped her head to meet Anne’s lowered gaze. “I do have an idea.”

--

It was barely 8am by the time they climbed into Cath’s car. Ann had expertly moored the boat back at the drop off point, honestly, it was so hot to watch her in charge, Anne made a mental note to revisit this at a later date. Ann had handed back the keys and signed the paperwork the second the salesman had arrived at work before leading Anne by the hand back to the car.

“Come on, I’ll drop you off at the restaurant and then get us some coffee.” Ann smoothed her thumb over Anne’s cheek. She looked absolutely exhausted.

“I don’t deserve you, you know.” Anne whispered.

“Hm, yeah I know.” Ann laughed as she kissed her girlfriend.

The engine rattled and groaned as Ann turned on the ignition. Cath had had this old car for as long as Ann could remember, how it was still roadworthy was beyond her. She shook her head as the clutch squeaked as she pulled away.

“I really do need to get a car, maybe we could swing by a dealership next week?” Ann said nonchalantly.

“A dealership?” Anne scoffed. “Are you a secret millionaire or something?”

Ann went quiet.

“Ann?” Anne turned to face her.

“Well.” Ann shrugged. “I don’t know exactly how much money I have. It’s complicated.”

Anne’s mouth hung open in disbelief.

“My family.” Ann sighed, she hated talking about money. “I inherited the estate, it’s why I’m back, well, mostly, why I came back from Italy.”

“I had no idea.” Anne blinked.

“Yes, well.” Ann gripped the steering wheel tighter. “I don’t like to make a thing about it.”

Anne’s mind took a moment to catch up. Not only was Ann Walker the purest cinnamon bun in all the world but she was rich too? Yet she chose to live incredibly modestly? Anne swooned.

“Stop looking at me like that.” Ann said, her eyes never leaving the road.

“Like what?” Anne chuckled.

“Like I’m a rare fossil you’ve just stumbled upon.”

Anne laughed loudly. Ann couldn’t have put it any better, she was a rare fossil, a precious stone, a goddess walking the earth. All of the above.

“Ann.” Anne’s voice was sincere. “This doesn’t change how I feel about you, I’m not expecting anything from you.”

Ann nodded.

“I’m not sure if you’re aware but I quite like doing things by myself. You could say I’m fiercely independent.”

Ann laughed, the anxiety of telling Anne about her fortune melting away before her eyes. Of course Anne didn’t care, Anne wasn’t like most people who only saw dollar signs when they looked at her. How refreshing.

“You see now how my idea could work? I’d fund it entirely.”

Suddenly Anne could see clearly what Ann had been talking about, how it would work and how they could really make it a success. It was interesting, slightly out of Anne’s comfort zone but that was Ann Walker all over. Pushing the boundaries, forcing her out of her carefully constructed perimeters.

“Let’s get those results and we can talk about it some more, hm? No need to decide now.” Ann said, smiling sweetly before turning back to concentrate on the road.

As the trees whizzed by the window, Anne relaxed back into the passenger seat. Being with Ann was a constant surprise, she felt like she’d achieved more in the last seven days than in her entire life. Maybe this could work. Long term.

--

Marian waved enthusiastically as she saw Anne appear at the glass doors. She raced over to unlock them before ushering her inside.

“They’re going to phone any minute! Where’s Ann?” Marian said excitedly.

“She’s getting us coffee.” Anne smiled bashfully.

“Us?” Marian tilted her head.

“Yes. All three of us.” Ann Walker really was an angel sent from above.

Marian’s smile spread across her face. “Oh, Anne. Don’t ever take that woman for granted, you hear me? Or I’ll clip you round the ear.” Marian ruffled Anne’s hair.

“Alright, Marian!” Anne flinched, pushing her sister’s hands well away from her.

Suddenly, Marian’s phone lit up on the table, buzzing against the wood as it rang. They both froze before looking at one another. Anne nodded and took a deep breath.

“Hello?” Marian’s voice waivered. “Yes, she’s here. Of course, hang on.”

Marian put the call on speaker before setting her phone down on the table. Anne’s body immediately tensed in anticipation. This was it. All that hard work boiled down to this very moment in time.

“Anne, you did really well. We all couldn’t stop talking about your food.”

Anne nodded, this was the perfect way to let someone down gently. Compliment their food, tell them they put in a lot of effort and then tell them they didn’t make it this time. She let out a small breath in defeat.

“So much so, we’re delighted to inform you that you’ve passed.”

“S-s-sorry?” Anne shook her head in disbelief.

“Vignemale is now, officially, a Michelin star restaurant.”

“Oh that’s wonderful! Thank you so much!” Marian filled in the silence as she watched her sister freeze on the spot.

“We’ll be round with the award and a photographer at 7PM tonight, is that okay?”

“Yes! Of course!” Marian exclaimed, prodding her sister firmly to say something.

“Thank you so much.” Anne was in a daze, it was all she could manage.

“Go and buy some champagne, you’ve earned it. See you at 7PM.”

As the line clicked off, Anne looked at her sister entirely bewildered.

“You did it, Anne! You really did it!” Marian hugged her, despite her mutters of protest.

“I don’t even know what to say.” Anne’s smile began to grow.

The noise of the heavy front doors opening made the pair of them turn round.

“What’s happened?” Ann said, holding the coffees with a concerned look on her face.

She barely walked two more steps before Anne stood up and charged towards her. She had just about enough time to safely deposit the coffees on the bar before Anne picked her up in her arms and twirled her around.

“We did it, Ann!” Anne laughed.

“What?” Ann was giggling as she tucked Anne’s hair behind her ears.

“We did it.” Anne stopped to look deeply into Ann’s eyes. “We couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you.”

“It was all you.” Ann smiled. “I just helped.”

Ann leaned down to kiss her Michelin star winning girlfriend. It was meant to be a well done kiss, brief but full of meaning, however, Anne immediately tilted her head, the soft brush of her tongue meeting Ann’s as she gave herself up to it. She wrapped her legs around Anne’s waist and held on tighter as the kiss deepened.

“Ahem.” Marian cleared her throat loudly.

Anne and Ann just giggled against each other’s lips, barely able to tear themselves away despite the interruption.

“I love you.” Ann whispered.

“I love you.” Anne replied before setting her girlfriend back onto the floor.

“Well done, Marian!” Ann picked up her coffee and brought it over to where Marian was keeping a safe distance.

“Oh!” Marian exclaimed in surprise before Ann hugged her tightly. “Good trip, the pair of you?”

“Yes.” Anne and Ann said in unison, their gazes firmly fixed on each other, causing Marian to roll her eyes.

“Will you pick out something for her to wear, Ann? She’s a nightmare but you know, she’s your problem now.” Marian laughed.

“What do you mean? Clothes for what?”

“Oh! Right.” Anne shook her head, realising she’d only given Ann half the story. “They’re coming to present the award tonight at 7PM. Fancy it?” Anne pulled Ann close to her body, her strong arms around her waist. “Champagne? Late night?”

Marian rolled her eyes for the second time.

“Hmm.” Ann hummed, linking her arms around Anne’s neck. “Sounds nice.”

“Right, I’m leaving now. I can’t put up with you two any longer. Be ready by 6PM, okay?” Marian stood up.

Anne and Ann were still gazing at each other, their eyes twinkling as they grinned.

“It’s like talking to a brick wall, honestly.” Marian muttered to herself as she made her way outside.

--

“Hold still.” Ann scolded as she buttoned up Anne’s shirt.

“Can’t. I’m too nervous.” Anne shuffled her weight on her feet.

“Anne.” Ann’s serious tone caught her attention. “What on earth do you have to be nervous about? You look amazing, all they’re going to do is present an award that you earned.”

“We earned.” Anne corrected.

“That your restaurant earned.” Ann fastened the last button on Anne’s black shirt. “And then you get to drink champagne and relax, okay?”

Anne nodded.

“It’s going to be fine.”

The soft kiss Ann placed on the tip of her nose almost made Anne crumble there and then. Not only had Ann picked her outfit but she’d insisted on coming over early and helping her get ready. It was funny, although Anne had always been very self assured, Ann lifted her to new heights, making her truly believe she was capable of anything.

“Will I do?” Anne smoothed down her shirt and shrugged her shoulders.

Ann shamelessly raked her eyes over her girlfriend, dressed in a fitted black shirt, accentuating her strong physique, her tight black jeans and shiny black brogues. Her dark hair was gathered in a bun with a few rogue wisps poking out. Ann loved it when Anne wore her hair up, it showed off the expanse of kissable, tanned skin of her neck. Like this, Anne looked effortlessly stylish, like a model in a magazine. The kind that Ann would’ve torn out and put up on her wall when she was a teenager.

“Yes.” Ann was almost breathless.

“Hm.” Anne hummed as she stalked over. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were having impure thoughts right now.”

“I wish we had more time.” Ann whined.

“We still have an hour?” Anne nuzzled into Ann’s neck, kissing her teasingly slowly.

For a second, Ann almost gave in to the press of her girlfriends lips, to the way Anne was trailing her hands down to cup Ann’s bum, pulling her closer into her own body. Somehow, Ann managed to break away.

“Anne!” Ann whined loudly. “Stop it, I need to get ready and you can’t crease that shirt.”

Anne looked up at the ceiling and groaned as she watched Ann disappear into the bathroom. As she heard the shower kick in she looked around her apartment. She smiled sadly as she thought about the past, about how she reached this point in her life. She’d spent so many years pursuing the wrong women, the wrong goals, spreading herself too thinly and running herself into the ground. The sweet sound of Ann singing to herself in the shower soon interrupted her nostalgia. As she chuckled to herself she realised how lucky she was, Ann had come into her life when she’d needed her most, even if she hadn’t been aware of it at the time. How could anything go back to the way it was?  

“What are you thinking about?” Ann’s bright voice sounded as she padded into the bedroom with a towel on her head.

“Just you.” Anne sighed.

“Me?” Ann laughed. “Is this what you do when I’m not here? Stand around and think about me? That’s very sweet.” Ann stood on her tiptoes to kiss Anne’s cheek before grabbing the dress bag that hung on the door.

“I’m serious, Ann.” Anne turned. “I don’t know what I ever did to deserve you turning up that day but, well, I’m just so very grateful.”

“Oh, Anne.” Ann cupped her cheek. “I told you, I just helped. You did this yourself.”

“No, I mean, you came in and just turned my whole world upside down without any warning whatsoever. I was so unhappy before and I didn’t even know it.”

Anne closed her eyes as Ann wrapped her arms round her middle and squeezed.

“I’m not going anywhere, okay?” Ann soothed.

“We need to talk to Marian about your proposal.”

“One step at a time, okay? Let’s focus on tonight and we’ll talk to Marian tomorrow.”

“Okay.” Anne smiled.

“Now, can you go away because I really need to get ready. I can’t go downstairs in a towel and my underwear.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Anne smiled devilishly. “I certainly wouldn’t object.”

“Goodbye, Anne!” Ann shouted over her shoulder as she moved back into the bathroom.

--

Anne clutched her pocket watch tightly as she watched the seconds tick by. They had 15 minutes and although Anne never liked to be late, she didn’t love waiting around either. Cordingley had really done a fantastic job of setting up the dining room for tonight. She’d moved the tables to the top end of the room, arranging the champagne flutes and a few nibbles out so people could come and help themselves. She’d strategically left a gap where the Vignemale lettering was affixed to the exposed brick wall, the perfect spot for a publicity photo of Anne holding her certificate, some might say. Anne made a note of this, she really should give Cordingley a raise.

“Where’s Ann?” Marian bustled out of the kitchen.

“Getting ready.” Anne said without even looking up from her watch.

“Anne.” Marian’s voice was curt.

“What!” Anne spat, her concentration still on the rhythmical ticking of her watch.

Marian nudged her sister with her elbow.

Anne’s anger was quashed in an instant when she turned to see what Marian was looking at. There, making her way elegantly down the stairs was Ann Walker, dressed to the nines in a dark red dress, her shoulders perfectly framed by the neckline, her hair immaculate, her legs deliciously peeking out from the fabric. Anne licked her lips as she struggled to find any words in her head.

“You look wonderful, Ann!” Marian said enthusiastically as she hugged her.

Anne tutted. Trust Marian to get in there first.

“Hi.” Ann said shyly as she turned to her girlfriend.

“You’re… you look, uh, I mean, you’re.” Anne stumbled over her words.

“Smooth.” Marian said sarcastically, causing Ann to chuckle.

“You like my dress?” Ann asked.

Anne nodded emphatically. “Although.” Anne’s lips brushed Ann’s ear as she leaned forward. “It would look better on my bedroom floor.” Ann swatted her on the shoulder.

“Not your best line.” Ann laughed.

Anne shrugged with a cheeky grin as she pecked Ann on the lips. “You look incredible. I’m lost for words.”

Ann blushed as she shook her head. “Come on.”

Anne’s heart swelled in her chest as Ann interlinked their fingers, taking her by the hand and leading her towards the centre of the room. Anne always preferred to stay on the side-lines at events; cruise the bar, flirt with someone’s wife, take off before the night was over. It was easier that way, being the centre of attention made her sweat. But tonight? With Ann Walker tugging her around the room, chatting to people and showing her off? Well, she found she quite liked the spotlight.

The guests had begun to steadily filter in now. They were a mix of industry bigwigs, the Michelin team, press and Anne’s trusty team of staff. Ann held Anne’s hand tightly, leaning into her side as they walked between the small clusters of people. With every compliment, with every brush of her hand against Anne’s stomach as she spoke, Ann built Anne’s confidence brick by brick until she was towering over everyone, shoulders back, chest puffed out, a twinkle in her eye and a self assured smile on her face.

Anne was just in the middle of chatting to the photographer about which lighting would look more natural for the article when Ann covertly stretched upwards, her mouth brushing Anne’s ear. To anyone looking at them, it simply looked as if Ann glanced behind her, barely even pausing before turning back around and carrying on the conversation. However, for Anne, this moment was anything but innocent.

“I want you.” Ann’s impatient, needy tone was evident as her breathing hitched.

Anne cleared her throat in surprise as the photographer carried on telling her about how he only shot with prime lenses and refused to use anything else. She nodded, trying her best to keep up but really, what the fuck was he on about? Ann’s hand smoothed across her abs over her shirt, her pinky finger just dipped below the leather of her belt a fraction, entirely unnoticeable to anyone watching but utterly maddening to the woman trying her best to control her breathing.

Anne licked her lips as she tightened her grip on Ann’s waist, squeezing her closer into her body, if that was even possible. She was so wet she could barely think, let alone focus on the inane questions being asked of her. She had to break this off, there was just no way she’d survive another minute pressed together like this, not when Ann was in one of her moods.

“Just so you know.” Ann kissed her cheek innocently. “I’m not wearing any underwear.”

Anne exhaled audibly, catching her off guard and startling the two men she was in the middle of a conversation with. For a second, Ann felt bad for teasing her girlfriend on the most important night of her life, but well, she just couldn’t help it. She patted Anne’s chest, feeling her racing heart under her fingers before she smiled.

“I’ll get us some more champagne. Be right back.”

Anne swallowed, while she immediately felt the loss of the warm body next to her, she was grateful for the chance to breathe again.

“Anne!” A man in a sharp black suit approached her. “I just wanted to say congratulations, I’m the representative from the Michelin team and I’d like to set up the photograph now and do the presentation. Do you have champagne?”

“Yes she does.” Ann reappeared, as if from nowhere and deposited a glass in Anne’s hand. “Go on!” Ann shoved her girlfriend towards the area they’d set up for the presentation.

Wide eyed, a little nervous and entirely wound up by Ann Walker, Anne stood in front of her restaurant’s logo and took a deep breath. The presentation itself was a blur, she gladly accepted the framed certificate, clutching it tightly as the flashgun popped. She vaguely recalled being told the metal plaque would arrive next week for the external wall of the restaurant as she was ushered towards the most important guests at the party. All she wanted to do was re-join Ann but she soon snapped into work mode, effortlessly charming her way around the room, gladly accepting the congratulations and refreshed flutes of cold champagne.

By the time Anne reached the final huddle of people consisting of her sister, her favourite employee, her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s best mate, she felt rather tipsy. Whether she was drunk on the atmosphere, the alcohol or the arousal running through her veins, she couldn’t be sure. Ann giggled as Anne approached with a wide, toothy grin on her face.

“Hi.” She said shyly as if she wasn’t dripping filth into Anne’s ear half an hour ago.

“Hello.” Anne said playfully, lifting up her arm and sighing as Ann settled herself against her side, where she belonged.

“Nice one, Lister.” Cath slapped her on the back affectionately. “Thanks for inviting me.”

“Oh, I” Ann squeezed her hip. “You’re welcome.”

Truth was, Anne hadn’t invited Cath. She hadn’t really invited anyone but Ann had dealt with all of that for her. Obviously.

Cordingley squeezed her shoulder. “Well done, ma’am.”

“I’ve told you to stop calling me that, Elizabeth.” Anne said with a smile. “Thank you.”

“What’s next for us, Anne?” Marian asked while gently swaying on the spot.

“We’ll talk to you tomorrow, Marian. You’re drunk and so am I, if I’m being honest.”

Ann giggled as Anne nuzzled into the crook of her neck.

“Come on, Cath. Let’s get another drink, I can’t watch these two all night.” Marian rolled her eyes.

“Don’t scandalise these poor guests too much, Lister.” Cath thumped her on the arm playfully as she followed Marian to the bar.

Finally, Anne and Ann were alone. No photographers, no suits battling to speak to her, no annoying sister hanging around like a wasp at a picnic. Just the two of them, arms wrapped around each other, gazes soft and smiles wide.

“Dance with me.” Ann whispered before swaying her hips to the music.

“Hm. I don’t dance.” Anne said petulantly.

“I don’t care.” Ann smoothed her hands down Anne’s chest as she forced her to follow her movements.

Anne laughed, admitting defeat and awkwardly shuffling on the spot. Her cheek was warm against Ann’s as they gently turned, forgetting anyone else was even in the room.

“I don’t know if I can do this without you.” Anne whispered.

“You don’t have to, Anne. I’m not going anywhere but someone deserves the opportunity to learn under you.” Ann smiled sincerely.

“Hm. You do pretty well, uh, under me.” Anne winked devilishly.

Ann clicked her tongue and shook her head.

“I mean it, Anne. You could really change someone’s life, kick start their career, teach them things they’d never learn in a classroom. I’m just not that person.”

Anne nodded thoughtfully. Ann was right, of course. She was already trained, potentially better trained than Anne. Ann wasn’t a sous chef, she was a head chef, clever and brilliant and entirely at the top of her game. She couldn’t ask her to shrink herself just to take the vacant job in her kitchen. Plus, it wasn’t like they wouldn’t be working together at all if Ann’s idea was a success.

“I understand.” Anne finally said into the space between them. “We’ll talk to Marian tomorrow, get everything on paper.”

Ann nodded and waited patiently. “Are you finished?”

“Yes? Why?” Anne was confused.

“Because I don’t want to talk about work anymore.” Ann placed a soft kiss to her neck.

Anne closed her eyes and exhaled, her desire returning instantly as she felt Ann grind her hips into her, expertly disguised as they continued to sway to the music.

“I’d rather talk about what I want to do to you.” Ann continued to place wet kisses against Anne’s neck, delighting in the feel of her rapidly racing pulse against her lips.

“Fuck.” Anne exhaled, feeling the rush of wetness in her boxers at her girlfriend’s tone.

“I want you to take me home.” Ann dragged her teeth over Anne’s pulse point.

Anne groaned as her arousal coiled tighter and tighter in her stomach. She tilted her head back to meet Ann’s gaze, her mouth parted, her eyes black. For a few seconds, they just looked at each other, hunger and want buzzing between them. Anne gave in first, unable to resist her girlfriend for another second and brought their lips together. This was dangerous territory; they were still very much in public, at an event centred around Anne herself, all eyes were on her. And yet, like a couple of teenagers at a high school dance, they were at the back of the room making out furiously.

“I need you.” Anne muttered against Ann’s lips as she tilted her head and kissed her deeper.

“Why do you live above this stupid restaurant?” Ann whined, suddenly realising their predicament.

They couldn’t leave, it would be too obvious for them to both race up the stairs to Anne’s apartment, in full view of the party. No, that wouldn’t do. They’d have to wait.

“Just another hour.” Ann whined again loudly at Anne’s words. “We can wait another hour.” She kissed Ann again deeply. “After that, I’ll kick everyone out myself.”

Ann giggled and pulled away, trying to tame her racing heart. She smoothed down Anne’s mussed hair and held her face in her hands. “You are so bloody handsome and I love you.”

Anne was just about to close the gap, kiss her girlfriend passionately and drag her upstairs. Screw what everyone thought, she needed to make love to Ann right now, but just as she licked her lips, Marian cleared her throat loudly.

“Can you two tear yourselves apart for a single minute? Honestly!”

“Ah.” Anne hummed. “What can I help you with, Marian?”

“The guests are leaving, I thought perhaps, you might want to see them out? Thank them for coming? Wish them all the best? You know, instead of sticking your tongue down your girlfriend’s throat?”

Ann blushed furiously, burying her face into Anne’s chest.

“Sorry, Ann.” Marian added.

“It’s fine.” Her voice was muffled against the fabric of Anne’s shirt.

“I’ll be over in just a moment, Marian.”

Marian nodded and disappeared into the crowd.

“You have twenty minutes.” Ann said raising her eyebrow mischievously.

Anne laughed loudly, how delightful it was to be bossed around.

“And then…” Anne looked down at her girlfriend, her breath hitching as she watched the expression on Ann’s face turn entirely filthy. “I’m taking you upstairs.” Ann kissed the spot behind Anne’s ear. “And I’m going to make you come.” Anne shivered as Ann placed another kiss on her jaw. “With my tongue.”

Anne’s mission was clear: Get rid of everyone as quickly as possible. She almost tripped over her own feet as she raced to the front door of the restaurant, opening it and waiting expectantly. She may have been thanking each guest and shaking their hand graciously as they left but her attention was firmly fixed on what else the night had in store.

Chapter Text

Anne was struggling. Her legs trembled as she raced up the stairs, her door key wouldn’t fit in the lock, her hands wouldn’t comply with her brain as she willed them into action. The cause? Ann Walker. Pure and simple. After Ann’s filthy promises in the restaurant, Anne had ushered everyone out, politely of course, in record time. Marian and Cath had left soon after and by the time Anne locked the heavy doors behind them, she was so wet she didn’t have a single coherent thought left in her head.

“Come on, handsome.” Ann purred, standing at the bottom of the staircase with her hand held out.

Anne bit her lip. God, she was beautiful; standing there in that dress, with that expression on her face, waiting patiently for Anne to take her bed and ravish her. Anne made her way over to Ann before taking her face in her hands, bringing their lips together roughly. She moaned as Ann’s tongue flicked her bottom lip, tilting her head to deepen their kiss immediately. Anne whimpered as Ann ran her fingers down the front of Anne’s shirt, over her tight stomach to paw at her belt. Her legs began to shake as Ann tugged her by the buckle and stood on the bottom step.

“Take me upstairs.” Ann husked as she wrapped her arms around Anne’s shoulders.

Anne growled as she lifted Ann up, revelling in the feeling of her legs wrapped around her waist. She’d done this numerous times before over the years, it was no big deal, especially since Ann weighed so little. Except, tonight, Anne’s legs weren’t working properly. The result of being teased and worked up over the course of the evening, the dirty words Ann had dripped in her ear at regular intervals between the glasses of champagne, the fact that Anne knew her girlfriend wasn’t wearing underwear.

She finally stumbled through her front door before pressing Ann into it as it closed. Anne lost herself to the feeling of Ann’s warm mouth, her insistent tongue, her wanton whimpers until Ann successfully shuffled herself free and placed her feet back on the floor. Anne swallowed thickly as she switched their places and dropped to her knees.

“I’ve been thinking about this all night.” Ann licked her lips before slowly undoing Anne’s belt and unbuttoning her trousers.

Anne sagged back into the door, her head tilting up to the ceiling. She’d been on edge all night long, torturously turned on, aching for Ann’s touch. She exhaled deeply as Ann pulled her trousers down her legs and unlaced her brogues. Ann placed a kiss to Anne’s right knee before standing up and holding out her hand.

“Ann.” This wasn’t quite Anne begging for it, but it was close.

“I know.” Ann took Anne’s hand and gently guided her to the sofa.

She kissed her before pushing lightly on her shoulders, letting Anne topple back onto the plush cushions.

“Oh.” Anne nodded as Ann kneeled in between her legs.

“I want to take care of you.” Anne’s legs widened as a reflex. “Are you ready for me?” Ann ran her teeth over her bottom lip as she toyed with the hem of Anne’s black boxers.

Anne nodded, lifting her hips as Ann tugged the material down her strong thighs. Ann hummed as she inhaled, her eyes darkening a shade further at the tangible proof of how worked up her girlfriend was. Anne flexed her hips impatiently as sweat gathered at her temple, her whole body tingled with anticipation as Ann leaned forward.

The broken cry that ripped from Anne’s throat was loud, desperate and needy as Ann placed a singular kiss on Anne’s hard clit. She immediately threaded her long fingers through Ann’s golden hair, desperately trying to calm her racing heart.

“You taste so good.” Ann hummed as she pulled away a fraction.

Anne wished she had the capability to lean forward and bring Ann’s lips to her own but all she could manage was to breathe heavily into the room with her eyes firmly closed. Ann’s mouth, her skilled tongue, her perfect ministrations were all consuming. Anne groaned loudly as Ann sped up, she always knew when Anne was on the edge, she knew her body so well, knew what each shudder meant, how the pitch of her moans would change, she knew just when to increase the pressure and when to ease off.

“Fuck.” Anne sighed as her hips pressed upwards. “I’m almost there.”

“I know.” Ann giggled as she tightened her grip on Anne’s thighs.

With just a few more strokes, Anne’s body tensed as she held Ann’s head firmly against her. Pleasure radiated through her veins as she curled upwards, a low groan rumbling from her throat. After what felt like an eternity, Anne sagged back against the sofa with a loud sigh. Her heart was racing in her chest, her brain so full of endorphins she couldn’t even form words. Ann sat back on her heels and smiled at the state of her girlfriend, there wasn’t anything better than this, she was sure of it.

When Anne finally returned to her body, she smirked, biting her bottom lip as Ann returned her gaze with a grin.

“Come here.” Anne beckoned with an outstretched arm.

Ann slowly stood, pulling her dress up a fraction to straddle Anne’s strong thighs. Anne smoothed her palms over the fabric before raising her eyebrow and tilting her head.

“What?” Ann breathed.

“You said something.” Anne slipped her right hand underneath the fabric. “Earlier.” She continued to smooth her hands over Ann’s skin. “About not wearing any underwear.”

They both groaned in unison as Anne’s fingers brushed Ann’s clit lightly. She was so wet and had been all night. Watching Anne as she commanded the room effortlessly only made it worse, not to mention how hot it made her to break Anne apart with her tongue. Really, it was a wonder she’d lasted this long at all.

Ann’s thoughts soon evaporated as Anne gripped her left hip firmly before her right hand sped up between her legs. Anne was so good at this, the angle was awkward and Ann’s dress hampered her every move but Anne’s fingers never faltered. They kept perfect rhythm, perfect pressure, perfect everything. Anne found herself mesmerised, her lips parted and her eyes firmly on the woman above her. Watching Ann come apart was not only a great privilege but it turned her on more than anything else. The way Ann would tilt her head back and moan before gripping onto Anne at the last minute, bringing them as close as physically possible before she came.

“Fuck.” Anne whispered as Ann’s hips sped up and her breathing deepened.

Anne hissed at the pinch of Ann’s fingers clutching onto her shoulders tighter and tighter. She was so close, so on edge, so perfect. Anne felt her own arousal surge as her hips shifted restlessly. As Ann’s cries increased in pitch, Anne only worked harder until, after a few more strokes, a few loud gasps and a few tender words, Ann came with a shudder. After a few moments, as Ann hummed with her eyes closed, in that satisfied way she always did after an orgasm, Anne smiled. Her heart was so full of love, she almost couldn’t even believe it.

“You’re a sap.” Ann mumbled as she peeled her eyes open slowly.

“What?” Anne giggled.

“Tell me you weren’t just thinking about how much you love me.” Ann grinned smugly.

Anne looked up at the ceiling and laughed loudly.

“Oh, Miss Walker. I do love you.” Anne shuffled her legs over her lap. “Come on.”

Ann giggled brightly as Ann picked her up bridal style and carried her to the bedroom.

“I’m absolutely knackered.” Anne gently put Ann down against the sheets. “I’ve never been so happy to curl up with someone and fall asleep.”

“Told you.” Ann called out as she watched Anne pad to the bathroom.

“Sorry?” Anne turned.

“You’re a sap, Anne Lister!” Ann threw a pillow in her direction as she chuckled.

It was true, Anne didn’t even try to deny it.  

--

While the night of the critics was fun and the mini break delightful, Anne was itching to get back to work. The restaurant had been closed for a few days longer than Anne had originally planned and although she needed the break, she had bills to pay.

“I think we should open tonight.” Anne tapped her finger on the table as she mused to herself.

“Tonight?” Ann frowned.

“I need to get back on with business, we’ve missed out on takings these past few days.” Anne tried to be casual about it but she was worried, she needed every penny she could get right now.

Ann reached over and squeezed her hand, smiling softly as Anne’s head lifted.

“I understand.” Ann’s voice was soothing. “But we haven’t ordered in supplies, started prep or taken any bookings for tonight.”

Anne registered Ann’s use of the word ‘we’ as she talked about the restaurant, it never failed to warm her heart. She was just about to open her mouth and protest when Ann squeezed her hand again.

“Let’s do it properly. Tomorrow. We’ll post on social media that our books are open again and we’ll spend this afternoon getting everything we need from our suppliers.”

Anne nodded slowly, not entirely convinced this was the best idea.

“We need to have this meeting with Marian and then we’ve got a lot of planning to do. You can’t start spreading yourself out again too thinly so soon after having time off, Anne. You’re going to run yourself into the ground.”

Anne chewed the inside of her cheek. Ann was right, of course, only she didn’t know how else to function. She was so used to running on fumes, just about making it to the end of the day before collapsing into bed only for the cycle to start again as soon as the birds started singing.

“We also need to advertise for a new sous chef.”

“Why? What? You’re not leaving us, Ann? No! Why!” Marian had just stepped through the front door to hear the tail end of the conversation.

Ann looked up and giggled, gesturing to the spare seat at their table. “Sit down, Marian. We’ve got a lot to discuss.”

“I’m refusing to sit down until you tell me you’re not leaving.” Marian said dramatically before looking over at Anne. “This is all your fault isn’t it? What did you do now? Why can’t you ever hang on to a good thing.”

“Marian.” Anne warned, not even looking up from the newspaper she was reading.

“I’m not leaving anyone.” Ann said with a smile. “Come on, your coffee is getting cold.”

Marian pulled the chair out and sat down with a bewildered look on her face. Anne and Ann were in good moods. Suspicious.

“Ann made cinnamon buns.” Anne said with a grin as she folded up the newspaper and placed it on the table.

“Why do I get the feeling you’ve got a surprise up your sleeve?” Marian raised her eyebrow as she pinched the biggest bun on the plate.

“We have something we want to discuss with you, that’s all.” Ann said nonchalantly as she sipped her coffee.

“Come on then, out with it!” Marian gestured with her mouth full.

Anne and Ann looked at each other before Anne nodded.

“Firstly, I want to thank you. Both of you. For the opportunity and for letting me a part of this restaurant.” Ann said genuinely. “The truth is, I’m not really a sous chef. I mean, I can do that but that’s not what makes my heart sing.”

Marian nodded gravely as she took another bite of her cinnamon bun.

“However.” Ann squeezed Anne’s hand gently. “I find myself connected to these four walls more than I ever expected to be. I love what you and Anne have built and if you’ll have me, I’d like to stay.”

Marian looked at Anne entirely puzzled.

“Ann’s got a good business idea and I think, with careful planning and execution, could really work for us.”

“As you know, I’ve done extensive training in Italy and that’s really where my heart is.” Ann ran her thumb over her coffee cup. “It’s what I want to keep doing.”

“Okay.” Marian said slowly, not quite following. “Are you going to turn Vignemale into an Italian restaurant?”

“Not exactly.” Anne cut in.

“Not at all, actually.” Ann corrected. “I want this restaurant to continue to trade exactly how it is. You just won a Michelin star for fuck’s sake! You do you, don’t change a single thing about the food you serve to your diners.”

“Then? How? I mean, what?”

“Think of it as a sister company. I’d fund it entirely.”

“But how?” Marian exclaimed a little louder than she meant to.

“It doesn’t matter right now.” Ann shook her head. “What I’m proposing is, I work out of this kitchen with Anne. I run my own side arm of the business doing high end Italian food for people to order online for delivery.”

“Like a takeaway?” Marian’s forehead was so creased it was threatening to make her sister laugh.

“Not quite. It’ll be for people to order and cook themselves, so I’ll make everything and then our customers can finish it off at home. It’s quite popular right now, I’ve done a lot of research into it. Think about it, top end restaurant quality food but at home, delivered to your door. I’d include all the instructions about how to cook it yourself, where the recipes come from, wine pairing ideas. I mean, it needs some honing but I think the idea itself could really work.”

Marian nodded thoughtfully, trying to imagine how this could work under the same roof.

“Here.” Ann pulled out her sketchbook and pointed to some of the logo ideas she’d been working on. “This is what I was thinking, sleek logo with my trading name but then incorporating Vignemale’s too.”

“Walker’s at Vignemale?” Marian tilted her head. “It has a nice ring to it.”

“See? I’m trading as me but under your umbrella. I want everyone to know it’s got the stamp of approval from Vignemale: the award winning restaurant.” Ann gesticulated grandly in the air. “Plus, I’d split the profits fairly, I’d pay kitchen rental fees, whatever you both want. I’m not really in it for the money, I just want to do something I love.”

“Think about it, Marian.” Anne chimed in. “You’re wanting to impress someone but you want a night in, you know.” Ann swatted her arm as she raised her eyebrows suggestively. “But you want to have something really outstanding for dinner. This is where Ann comes in. They can go on the website, once it’s built, and choose between her dishes. It arrives the following day, complete with all the instructions, ready to be finished off and served by the customer. It’s kind of genius, actually.” Anne smiled warmly at her girlfriend.

“So you’ll be business partners?” Marian hesitated.

“No, well, yes, well…” Ann stumbled. “This will still be 100% a Lister restaurant, I’m not interested in coming in and mixing that all up.”

Marian nodded.

“Anne and I will be partners in the mail order side of it but I’ll run it entirely.”

“You both really have thought this through carefully, haven’t you?” Marian smiled.

“I think it could really work for us, Marian.” Anne said sincerely. “We’ll be so busy with bookings we won’t have time to get involved, I’m hoping, but it’ll be a nice way of expanding the business in a clever way. What do you say?”

“Oh, Miss Walker.” Marian sighed happily. “I’d be delighted to have you aboard! Although…” Marian’s face dropped as she leaned towards Ann. “You know you’ll have to put up with her?” Marian tilted her head towards her sister. “She can be quite the task master, grumpy too.”

Ann giggled before smoothing her hand down Anne’s tensed forearm. “I think I can handle her.”

Marian rolled her eyes. “So when are we back in business? You know we have ten thousand voicemails on our answerphone about bookings.”

“Really?” Anne’s eyes widened.

“Of course we do! You just put Vignemale on the map, Anne.”

“Tomorrow.” Anne looked over at Ann and smiled. “We’ll reopen tomorrow night.”

“Right, I’d best get on the phone and get our books open then. Unless there was anything else?”

Anne and Ann both shook their head before Marian pottered off towards her makeshift desk at the back of the dining room. Anne exhaled, Marian had agreed, Ann was going to stay, the business was going to evolve. How life could change so quickly.

“I’m going to chat with our suppliers now, get restocked for tomorrow.” Anne kissed Ann on the top of her head before breezing off towards the kitchen.

“Don’t forget, we have an appointment at 3PM.” Ann called out behind her.

“Of course, darling.” Anne replied before winking and disappearing through the swing doors.

--

The way the car salesman looked Ann up and down made Anne’s blood boil. He wasn’t even trying to hide it as he raked his eyes down to her chest and back up again for the second time. His suit didn’t fit him properly, he was wearing so much aftershave it was making Anne’s nose sting and to top it off, his shoes weren’t even polished. The dull, dirty loafers poked out from his ill-fitting trousers as he marched Ann over to the most expensive SUV in the showroom. Anne grimaced and followed wondering how Ann was so blissfully unaware of the effect she had on people.

“Oh this one’s nice, isn’t it Anne?” Ann’s excitable voice cut through Anne’s thoughts.

“It is, but we have to consider the whole picture, not just what it looks like.” Anne said, holding eye contact with Rich. Ugh, Rich. Couldn’t even put his full name on his name tag, how vulgar.

“I’ve done a lot of research on this, you know.” Ann commented quietly as Anne sat in the passenger seat.

“I know, I know.” Anne held her hands up in surrender, she was only really here for moral support – and to make sure Ann wasn’t taken advantage of.

“Wanna take her out for a spin?” Rich poked his big head into the car, right next to Anne.

“Yes, we do.” Anne answered stiffly. “Preferably alone.”

“Ah no can do I’m afraid, I’ve got to accompany you. I’ll make you a tea if you like, we won’t be long.” Rich winked at Ann.

“That won’t be necessary.” Anne bristled. “Come on then, if you’re coming. The back door is open.”

Ann rolled her eyes at her girlfriend’s peacocking but deep down, she loved that Anne had the power to just put people in their place. Rich muttered to himself as he climbed in, clipboard in hand and handed Ann the keys.

“We’ll go a few laps round the block, I’ll give you directions.”

“Hm.” Anne muttered under her breath as Ann started the engine.

Half an hour later, Ann was sat at Rich’s desk filling out paperwork while he casually flirted with her. In the back of Anne’s mind she knew it was all part of the sales pitch but she struggled to keep her jealousy in check. Ann played along, laughing at his awful jokes, thanking him for pointing out the frankly obvious places she needed to sign her name and engaged in inane conversation about where she was going to drive first. As if she wasn’t going to throw the keys over to Anne and let her drive her home the second the dotted line was signed. Anne scoffed, she’d allow this man to enjoy Ann’s company, at a safe distance, for the next few minutes. She pitied him really, how lucky she was to get to spend the rest of her life with Ann. Wait. Calm down. Alright, her present days with Ann. This poor schmuck only got to spend an hour with her before she’d disappear from his life forever.

--

As Anne drove them both back into the city, Ann stretched her arm out, resting her elbow on the back of the driver seat. She softly tickled the downy hair at the nape of Anne’s neck as she effortlessly weaved in and out of traffic on the motorway.

“What do you think?” Ann said sleepily.

“It’s lovely, it’s probably the nicest car I’ve ever driven.” Anne chuckled. “How much was it?”

Ann shook her head. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Okay.” Anne nodded, knowing it really wasn’t any of her business anyway.

“It’s ours though, Anne.” Ann turned her head towards Anne. “I mean it, it’s ours to share.”

“Thank you.” Anne said sincerely after a few seconds of silence. She never found accepting things easy but she knew how important this was for Ann. How talking about her money made her uncomfortable, how sharing it was the only way she could deal with the responsibility of having it.

“There’s just one more thing on my to-do list.”

Anne looked over at her quizzically.

“I need to find an apartment.”

“Ah, yes.” Anne nodded.

“Maybe, I don’t know, that could be ours to share too?” Ann smoothed her thumb over the delicate skin on Anne’s neck.

Anne was momentarily lost for words as her mouth opened but no sound came out.

“I just mean, if you want it to be. I know you like being so close to your restaurant but maybe I could find somewhere big enough so that if you wanted to, you could spend some time in both places? I’m not asking you to change but, if you wanted to, we could make it our home together?”

Anne’s eyes prickled as she nodded thoughtfully. Looming on the horizon was everything Anne had ever wanted; a successful restaurant and a fledgling relationship with a supportive partner who wanted to start a life together, who had never asked Anne to shrink herself or change, who had only ever encouraged her to be true to herself, who wanted her to succeed in everything she did. She gripped the steering wheel tightly as she battled to compose herself.

“I hope you like dogs that snore all night because I’m afraid Argus and I come as a pair.” Anne laughed before turning to meet Ann’s serious gaze.

The pair of them struggled not to cry before Anne finally managed to get her words out.

“I’d like that. A place to make our own.”

Ann exhaled as her grin widened.

“I love you.” Ann said softly.

“And I love you.” Anne’s eyes danced with mischief.

“Eyes on the road, Lister.” Ann scolded before she settled back into her seat with a smile.

As the bright lights of the city appeared on the horizon, Ann sighed contentedly. She’d never expected her life to turn out like this, to have found everything she had ever wanted right under her nose and so quickly. How did she ever get this lucky? There was no way her life could get any better right now, she was sure of it, this was her peak, the ceiling had been reached.

Just as she’d closed her eyes at the realisation, the husky voice of her handsome, perfect, thoughtful, successful, insanely hot girlfriend interrupted her with the greatest five words in the history of the world:

“Shall we order pizza tonight?”