Somehow, Selah being dead confuses her more than it hurts her. It’s a different kind of simplicity from what she was expecting to find in New York. In her mind, they were already halfway to Connecticut. She was talking to Selah’s brother, lamenting the actions of the provincial force they’d been subjected to while not saying anything outright treasonous. It started as she rode away from town in the wagon with Abe. Just another fantasy, if significantly more dull than the one she’d been living these past months.
Now, nothing has changed after all. Anna wakes up, and he’s still gone. She still lives in Setauket. Simcoe is still waiting for her at home.
He had come to her door the night following their mutual outburst, nearly ruinous, after a full day of studied avoidance. It wasn’t clear to her if he knew she planned not to return, and she certainly wasn’t going to enlighten him if he didn’t.
“Mrs. Strong?” His voice carried easily through the door. Anna would have heard him anywhere in the house, always listening for the sound of him.
She took a deep breath, bundled up like a child in bed, and answered. “Yes?”
“May I come in?” He sounded terrible. He sounded upset.
“No,” she said, and stared at the door, heart pounding. Scared men are dangerous men, her father always said.
There was a low noise that she immediately connected with the image of him leaning his full weight against it, then shifting down, sliding to the floor. For a long time, they stayed there in silence, breathing and listening and drifting off together.
When she opened the door the next morning he was still there, curled up on the floor like a waif, like a dog. After everything else, it still shocked her to see him there, to see what he reduced himself to. In her mind, she had once thought of him as an animal in need of domesticating, but this was something else entirely. It was too much, too far.
Simcoe looked up at her, silent with accusation and longing. She stepped right over him, and didn’t stop moving, down the stairs, out the door, along the path, until she got to the cart, joining Abraham on the bench. Then they were moving again, in what felt like a ridiculous farce of putting the whole town behind them.
It didn’t work. The ghosts followed right along with them. It would never work- even if her husband still lived.
The entire time she spends in the city, she expects Simcoe to come bursting through the doors. While she’s getting dressed to go to the prison ship, she finds the poem he wrote for her hidden amongst her things, so he had travelled with them. He’s always at the edges of her sight, when they checked in at the inn, while she’s at the party, chatting up officers with a plaster smile, sugary sweet in a way that would have made him sick. He would have hated it twice, both for the lie of it and for the fact that she tried it on others at all.
In her mind, he watches her, tracing her path across the room, judging the performance. In reality, she and Abe sit in odd silences, stewing in how much things had changed between them.
They’d fought about the party beforehand, they fought while they were there, then they fought again after Anna kissed him and changed immediately her mind. It was a disaster. She tried to throw herself into her role as a spy, drown out everything else. It had worked in Setauket, submerging herself in Simcoe’s world. But her effort at the party, base as it was, invigorated her. The room hummed with energy, manic and dark. Even finding the book full of code didn't dampen her, she thrived, and surprised herself.
This morning is for repairing broken things. She and Abe had been cruel to each other. His words weren’t like him. You want to lay with him? Spread your legs? Neither were hers, when she called him a coward.
Anna knocks on Abe’s door early, uncaring about who might see. Most likely, the other patrons of the inn would simply think it odd, if they thought of it at all. What a strange sort of scandal, a woman going into a man’s room in the early morning instead of sneaking out of it.
“Hey,” Abe steps out of her way, ducking his head, and she sees her friend in him again. Buried, but there. “I thought maybe I’d have to come track you down.”
Anna tries to smile. Almost immediately, the awkwardness threatens to spill over. They’d kissed twice in a night, both times ugly with anger and then made worse with a deep well of sadness. A terrible look on both of them, though maybe fitting for spies.
Abe blinks. “For what?”
“All of it?” Anna leans against the wall, wanting something solid at her back. “Though I suppose it wasn’t all for nothing.” She looks at the breast pocket of his jacket, and he inclines his head.
“No, it wasn’t. I made some good deals.” The tension around his face softens, becoming more like the boy she used to love. “I am sorry about Selah, you know, but it’s always better to know, yeah?”
“Is it?” Anna feels the weight of the words in her chest, pulling the bodice of her dress so tight she can hardly breathe. “I don’t feel much better.”
“Because he was your way out from Simcoe?”
Anna sucks in a sharp breath. The memories come from the last time she really saw him, his hands on her skin, the stricken look on his face when she stepped over him, laid out and bare for her. “Maybe. Not in the way you think.”
“You said- last night you said that you didn’t care about what happened to your body.”
Hot shame washes through her. The room is entirely too warm and she feels terribly exposed despite being back in her everyday clothes. She should feel comfortable. Instead, she’s trapped. She shakes her head. “I don’t know.”
Abe lets out a long breath, she can hear it from across the room. “Ok well, I do.”
At that, she laughs, though she knows what he means. “That’s- I do too, Abe, really. I was upset. I didn’t mean it.”
Abe nods and thumbs at his chin. She’d seen him do it in church since they were children, pondering a verse. “Ok. Do you need help?”
She lets her head fall back against the wall. “Probably.”
They stand in silence for a long moment. The sounds of the street becomes louder in comparison. Normal people going about their normal lives. Or as normal as possible given the circumstances, the soldiers that parade around the streets, blood in the gutters. Maybe everyone had gotten used to it. Maybe that’s what people do.
She blinks, and Abe is next to her. “Let me know.”
Anna nods. “Just don’t try to take it from me. I need to do this myself.”
Abe nods. “Do what?”
Simcoe is looking at her from his position next to the desk. Waiting for her to sit. His hands are on her then, reverential, soft. He lies, manipulates, stands against her cause. He loves her, sometimes softly. She takes a deep breath. “That's what I need to figure out.”
When they get back to town, it’s full dark. Abe drops her off right at the edge of what used to be her home, casting a long look at the lights burning in the window before going back on the road, down into the dark. He won’t go to Whitehall, not tonight, and Anna won’t go in the house.
The tavern is closed up for the night, but she knows every inch of it and gets inside easily, skipping the creaking steps. The upstairs room is clean but not made up. Under normal circumstances she would see to it. Tonight, she lays down on the stripped mattress, closes her eyes, and doesn’t move again until morning.
When she gets up, the day passes in a haze. It’s a day spent waiting and working, in that order. The only ones who speak to her are DeYoung and people she used to know ordering drinks. It suits her just as well, buried as she is in her own mind.
Anna feels it when he walks in. Maybe it’s the way the conversation shifts, and eyes turn to her. Maybe they can just sense each other now. It’s late, the evening winding down. Most of the soldiers getting off shift had been and gone already. Only the truly committed drunks remain, quietly finishing up, getting ready for the long night ahead. He waits until closing time to approach her.
“Mrs. Strong,” he greets her softly, voice pitched far below the gentle hum of the space, the rustle of the last of the patrons heading out for the night. “It’s good to see you. I’m very sorry to hear about your husband.”
Anna blinks up at him. “Are you?” She can't help it, even in public. She wants to know, and recently she had gotten used to taking what she wants.
He bites his lip and his fingers tap. Anna waits. When the door closes for the last time, leaving them alone, he speaks again. “I’m trying to be.”
It's an unforgivably reasonable response. Anna feels her face twist into an unpleasant mask, bitterness and malice creeping up on her heart. It's cold, lonely. At least when she's with him, they're alone together.
Simcoe reaches out and touches her arm. In public, it's a daring move. For them, it's like slipping into a familiar chair, shaped to years of use.
“I beg of your forgiveness.”
Anna’s hands fly to her face without her permission, palms pressing into her eyes so hard her vision goes completely white. “Why? What do you want?”
When she brings her hands down again, Simcoe is frowning at her. “I simply wish for things to go back to the way they were. I want you.”
She laughs, fed up with everything, and drops her hands. “I don’t believe I could stop you.”
“That’s not-” Some of the careful patience leaches from his voice. “I want your forgiveness, I want you to want me to stay.”
Anna stares up at him, helpless. “I don't know if I can do that for you.”
His eyebrows quirk upwards. “Then allow me to prove myself to you.”
The jump from what she says to what he hears baffles her. He's a boy who grew up in a fantasy, still living in a time of knights and great ladies, but only in his mind. It clouds his vision, distorts her to him. She relents, too tired to keep trying tonight.
“Alright.” Anna points to the corner of the room. “Go stand there.”
A pleased look filters into his face. This, he understands. Anna watches him take himself to the corner, his back army straight. She didn't tell him to face the walls, but he does it anyway.
It's very quiet. When she realizes that she's waiting on him to ask her a question he won't voice, she does it for him, heading for the stairs. “Until I say stop.”
Simcoe doesn't move. Doesn't try to watch her walk away. The sight of him there makes her palms itch, her throat grow tight. She keeps going, all the way back to her empty room.
It's pricking at her mind that the power she has over him isn’t real, it’s a fantasy, just like the rest. It’s the veneer of civilization, ready to slide away at any moment. It was what had happened to her country, the careful civility and guiding rules crumbling under the mere pressure of civil disagreement. Now they’re at war, and she’s so tired.
She doesn’t want to go to war with Simcoe.
Anna doesn't know how long she lays in the dark. Her mind is below, tracking the time same way he does, in pain and soreness. This should have been it. The end of the game.
Everything she'd done for the past several days should have told him so, should have been able to reach into his clouded mind and make him see. They can't do this everyday for the rest of their lives. They can't. Anna doesn't want to. Simcoe would eventually grow tired of the distance, and the walls would collapse in on them.
Every minute that she doesn't hear him on the stairs, or even at the door, freeing himself, is insane.
But Simcoe stays where she put him, and Anna can't sleep.
A sigh pushes its way out of her throat, and she follows it up, swinging her legs out of the bed. Getting dressed is the work of a ghost. Anna can't feel anything in her fingers, and the moon has washed the world of the tavern of all its color. Except, she suspects, a shock of red.
“John?” Anna calls to him from the top of the stairs, and he turns his head. “Let's go home.”
It's freezing out, and he holds her hand as they walk.
“You know this can’t last.”
“I think it can. I think you can do anything.”
Anna wonders if that’s true, if he really thinks that. “I’ve thought about killing you.”
“So have I.”
She glances up at him. “Why?”
“I suppose, to keep you for myself.”
On some unspoken signal they veere away from the house, moving towards the water. It’s dark and dangerous at this time of night. Where Anna hangs her traitorous signals and he first touched her, first spoke to her. If they go inside, the moment will be over, changed into something else.
“Would you actually do it?” She wants to know so badly it overrides all fear and horror, all sense.
“Would you?” he asks, and she knows that he knows. She already had. It was the first thing she ever tried to do to him. “I don’t believe I could do it now.”
The water ripples, responding to something she can’t see. “I think that you’re lying, but you might be lying to yourself.”
Simcoe nods. “It’s possible. I’ve been mistaken about myself before.”
The wind brushes over them, ruffling her hair. It’s cold, but not unpleasant. The moon is about half full and beautiful, hanging like a gem in the sky. Across the water, Anna knows that people go about their lives, fighting a war, writing to their families, trading supplies. It’s strange.
“What do you want from me?”
“This.” He squeezes her hand so tightly it hurts. “Just this.”
Only a few weeks later, Simcoe murders old man Brewster, attacks the Major, and lands himself a court martial. Anna hears about it from someone else and doesn’t try to visit him, doesn’t do anything at all. But the night he’s sent away on a ship she cries herself to sleep, the relief and sadness mixing so harshly it utterly overwhelms her.
The next morning she gets up and goes back to work with dry eyes, and works on rebuilding herself yet again.