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On the Domestication of Wild Things

Chapter Text

“They’re back!” someone cries, and Anna glances up out of a curiosity that quickly turns to cold dread.

“So few,” someone else says, though Anna doesn’t pay attention to who it was. It doesn’t matter, not with what she’s seeing.

Another anonymous voice answers. “It’s good that some came home, these are mad times we live in.”

“Yes it’s very fortunate,” Anna finds herself saying by default, feeling the beginnings of panic start to creep up her spine.

She quickly sets down the rag she was using to clean a table and goes as quickly as she can into the backroom of the tavern. When Saturday passed with no word she had hope, but now not two days later… Part of her refuses to believe it, while the other part is numb and unsurprised. Of the dozen soldiers that were sent to the rebel safe house that she and Abe reported to the rebels as compromised, only three have returned. One of them is Captain Simcoe.

“Of course,” Anna mutters, pacing around the small space. “Of course, why did I…” she trails off, pressing her hand against her forehead. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. She waits.

She waits for five minutes, then ten. When he doesn’t immediately turn up at the tavern, Anna throws herself back into her work. Fearing that she might faint and not at liberty to excuse herself, she makes herself busy, trying to occupy her mind before it breaks. Questions and terrors flit through her mind about how she would make it through the night, if she should run to Abe or even the Major, and what she would say when he inevitably finds her. She had indicated her interest to him when they were in the basement together. She had touched his shoulder and watched him lean into it. She had done all those things thinking that she would never see him again, and he would surely respond.

“Strength, peace, wisdom," she mutters to herself as she often heard her mother do in trying times. Feeling blessedly detached, Anna gets her job done, using the words when no one can hear her. “Wisdom, peace, strength.”

She turns over her options in her head, trying to decide the most likely way in which to avoid him. If he arrives at her house before her, he will likely stay up and wait somewhere she can’t avoid him. Anna bites her lip, weighing her choices. She should beat him there, if possible. When her day finally ends she flies back to her house, hoping against hope that Simcoe will still be engaged in his debriefing and she could hide herself away for the night, giving her time to prepare. Unsurprisingly, luck is not with her.

“Mrs. Strong!” he calls out to her as she eases the front door shut, making her jump.

She spins to face him, heart pounding wildly. “Captain Simcoe, you surprised me.”

He steps closer to her, looking the same as ever and unhurt. He’s smiling down at her. “My apologies, I didn't mean to frighten you, or to worry you for that matter. I know I said I would be back two days ago. I hope it’s not too late to pick up my laundry.”

“No, of course not.” Anna tries not to lean away. “I am glad to see you safely returned. We were all worried.” She says, trying to both distance herself and avoid giving offence.

His smile broadens and he reaches out, moving a strand of hair behind her ear. “Most did not, but I knew that I had something to return to.”

“Were your losses very bad?” Anna could make a comment about his indelicate manner towards his dead men, but she restrains herself. She doubts he cares in any case.

“Terrible. We lost all but three men, myself included.”

“How horrible, you must be-”

“Very hungry. In fact, I just got out of my interview a few hours ago and I know you just finished work. Will you eat with me?”

Anna blinks, alarmed. Hours. He had waited for hours. And she can’t think of a good reason to refuse.

“Of course,” she says, and lets him put his hand on her lower back and guide her through her own house. Her mind spins the entire time, looking for the solution she knows exists if she could only find it. A very disturbed looking Abigail greets them in the dining room, which is already prepared for two. She and Anna share a look as he seats himself across from her, in Selah’s place. Anna keeps her expression as pleasant as possible, but inside she’s seething.

“How was your day Mrs. Strong?” Simcoe asks as the food is being brought out.

“It was fine,” Anna lies, though it’s not as if she can tell him the truth. She meets his eyes openly, determined not to show weakness or confusion. “I expect your’s was far more interesting, however.”

He smiles at her, eyes gleaming. “Nonsense, I find everything about you interesting.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Anna sees Abigail freeze in the middle of serving them. She does her best not to do the same. “That’s kind of you to say but it was just a normal day in the tavern. How was your meeting with the Major?”

“Productive,” Simcoe says after careful consideration. He smiles at Abigail as she fills his glass before turning back to Anna. “I can’t go into details, you understand, but I was pleased with the outcome.”

Anna nods. “I hope that you will be able to bring justice to the rebels that ambushed you.”

“Actually, I have requested to stay close to home for a while.”

Anna is saved from responding right away by Abigail, who rushes to serve her next, allowing her to pause to thank her. She turns back to Simcoe with a slightly clearer head.

“That sounds like a good idea. The experience must have been horrible for you, I don’t blame you for wanting time to recover yourself,” she says, hoping to wound his pride enough to send him rushing out again.

He shakes his head slightly. “No, that’s not the reasoning. I am trained to sustain such trauma, but I have matters to attend to here. It also seems that there were some suspicious circumstances at the scene that are to be addressed by others.”

Better trained, more detail oriented, Anna thinks, wondering if these better soldiers would find evidence of her friend’s involvement. “Suspicious circumstances?”

“A cap from the Queen’s Rangers special militia was found,” he says, seeming eager to tell her such an interesting piece of news.

“What are the Queen’s Rangers?” She tilts her head. She knows what they are of course, but he doesn’t have to know that. If she’s going to play dumb when it comes to his desires for her, she might as well do it for everything else. With any luck, he’ll completely underestimate her. It would certainly be useful if she’s going to continue to be a spy with a rebel officer living down the hall.

“A provincial force of mercenaries fighting for the crown.” He nods to her plate. “Are you not hungry?”

Anna looks down as well and realizes she had not eaten a single bite. “Oh, no of course I am. I was merely distracted by our conversation.” She picks up her fork and spears a potato to prove it, watching him watch her from across the table. When she eats, he smiles and goes back to eating as well.

Grateful to have a break from speaking to him, Anna concentrates on the mechanical aspects of eating, putting her knife and fork into the food she barely tastes and bringing it to her mouth. She makes sure her hands don’t shake and that she doesn’t grip her knife too tightly or stare at it for too long. When Simcoe asks her a question, she answers it with the same focus. If the silence stretches for a suspicious amount of time, she asks him a question and pretends to care about the response.

Propriety, she thinks, nodding along to something he’s saying. Courtesy might be my answer. To be a lady above reproach, untouchable.

Finally, they run out of food on their plates and Abigail hadn’t served them any more. Anna stands up and he copies her, looking at her hopefully. She places her hands primly in front of her. “Captain, I’m sure you must be exhausted.”

“I’m quite alright.” He starts walking around the table, slowly, coming at her. Anna doesn’t move. He’ll either have to stop at a reasonable distance or run into her, she decides.

“Really Sir, you’ve been through a terrible experience. I insist you get some rest.”

He stops, his gaze roaming over her freely. For a moment, she wonders if he’ll deny her again, but then he nods. “Of course. Thank you for a wonderful evening.”

“It was no trouble.” She nods her head politely.

He opens his mouth as if to say something else and Abigail is suddenly at his shoulder. “Sir, I’ve readied your room.”

“Thank you.” Simcoe doesn’t look away from Anna. “I’ll see you tomorrow Mrs. Strong.”

“Goodnight Captain.,” Anna says, and watches him follow Abigail out of the room. She waits until she hears his door close before sitting back down in the dining room chair, her palm pressed to her forehead. She takes a deep breath and stands back up to wait for Abigail to come back, which she does shortly, nodding to Anna seriously.

“I put him in the same room but I don’t expect he’ll stay there, he’s a wild thing.”

Anna could laugh. “I know, thank you so much for everything you’ve done tonight, I couldn’t have gotten through it without you. If I have anything left to me by Christmas, you can expect a lovely present.”

“Thank you.” Abigail doesn’t smile. “I should tell you though, I don’t think self pity is going to help you right now.”

“You’re right.” Anna runs a hand over her face. “What do you think I should do?”

Abigail sets a comforting hand on her arm. “For tonight? Try to get some sleep. I’ll tell the rest of the staff to make sure there’s always one person awake all night.”

The reasoning behind that offer makes Anna shake, but she nods. “I’m grateful.”

“I’ll walk you upstairs,” Abigail says, and Anna doesn’t bother to protest that she’s a grown woman. Right now she feels like a little girl.

Abigail sees her to her room and helps her get out of her dress, essentially bundling her into her bed as well before she leaves. She doesn’t try to talk to her again, seeming to sense that Anna had retreated into her own thoughts. When Abigail leaves, Anna gets out of her bed again and goes to sit at her desk vanity. She doesn’t light any candles. Part of her waits for him to pace outside her door, or even to come in. He never does, but she can’t seem to stop waiting. Overwhelming despair at the loss of her husband and her failure to get rid of Simcoe washes over her, threatening to break her down and send her fleeing from her home, crawling back to Abe or perhaps to the rebels. Then it passes.

Anna straightens her back and focuses. Simcoe’s behavior at dinner and before in the entryway had been fairly different in comparison to his behavior in the cellar of the tavern. What she had expected him to do, what he had essentially threatened to do with his talk of catching someone over a barrel, had so far not come to pass. In the cellar he had commanded and inserted himself into her space. He told her that his men do what he tells them to do because they know what’s good for them. The implication had been clear. She casts a glance at her door, still undisturbed.

“So why not act on it?” Anna mutters to herself, picking at the skin around her nails nervously. She had been trying to prepare herself to be Simcoe’s victim, had been in the process of convincing herself that she could survive it and get him back one way or another, but he doesn’t seem to be moving in that direction anymore. She reviews his behavior since he had returned. From his near death experience. She realizes, wondering if that had something to do with his strange politeness, or perhaps he was simply trying to lure her in.

Anna thinks about him waiting for her to come home, requesting dinner together, sitting in her husband’s place across from her.

He wants to be my husband, she realizes, suddenly infuriated. He’s trying to take his place, and he wants me to know it.

Anna stands and starts pacing the length of her room, not even trying to stay quiet about it. She won’t do it, that much she knows. She won’t become Simcoe’s wife in any sense of the word. Frustrated, she goes to the window to stare out at the water like she used to do as a child. It doesn’t calm her like it used to do, but it helps.

“Wife or victim,” she murmurs, her gaze turning into a glare. “Or neither.”

Anna goes back to bed with anger in her heart and no plan yet for how to release it.

Chapter Text

The next day, news of the returned soldiers had clearly spread throughout the entire town. Anna tries not to listen, but it’s the talk of the tavern. She attacks her duties with resigned determination, letting the bone deep exhaustion and bitterness fuel her work. The establishment still belongs to her husband, and so she has a responsibility to maintain it. The work is good for her, keeping her moving if not keeping her mind off things. Even so, she can't help but check over her shoulder.

She had slipped out of the house early that morning, lucky for once that Simcoe hadn’t yet been awake. What little rest she had achieved had resulted in nothing. She had considered being blunt, playing dumb, and even acquiescing to his advances until she could feasibly hope to smother him in his sleep. None of them are acceptable, so Anna came to work that morning with no plan, not even of how to deal with him once he inevitably followed her there.

Like a dog, Anna thinks viciously, scrubbing at the table surface in front of her far harder than is strictly necessary.

“More ale, please!” some miscellaneous voice calls out. Anna sighs, already turning around, and finds Simcoe standing there instead, smiling at her. He’s in full uniform even though she’s fairly sure that he isn’t officially back on duty yet. She hadn’t even heard him come in.

“Good morning Mrs. Strong. I missed you at breakfast this morning.” He leans towards her slightly when he speaks, his fingers tapping along against the brim of the hat he holds to his chest. Anna finds that for a horrible second she can’t speak at all.

Simcoe doesn’t seem to mind the silence, but Anna recovers herself. “I had to come tend to my duties here,” she says lamely.

The voice calls out again, angrier this time. “Excuse me, I need more ale!”

Simcoe turns around, his suddenly furious expression not quite hidden from her. “At ten in the morning ensign? No, you do not.”

Whomever he spoke to must get up and leave the room, but she doesn’t see them go. Anna hears his chair squeak against the floor, sees Simcoe follow him with his eyes. She presses her lips together hard, irritated at being denied her chance at an escape, even for a brief moment.

“Captain,” she says, her tone sharper than she had intended. “I appreciate the fact that you wish to speak to me, but I would also appreciate it if you would refrain from scaring away the customers.”

For a moment she’s terrified that she’s made some critical error in judgement, but he just smiles, his dark eyes lighting up. “I only wish to look out for your interest, like I said.”

“I know,” she says slowly, trying to measure her words. Every time she takes a step back, physically or otherwise, he takes a step forward. She has to keep them in equilibrium somehow. “I appreciate the effort, but it really isn’t necessary.”

“I do it because I wish to.” He sits down in the nearest chair without asking and beams up at her. “Do you know that the first time I saw you, or rather, the first time I noticed you was right here, the day your husband started that fight?”

Anna presses her lips together and hopes that he doesn’t require a civil response. He doesn’t.

Simcoe looks away, towards the room where the fight had taken place, his expression open and wistful. “I saw you before that of course, but the first time I really noticed you was the day your husband was arrested. You didn’t look nearly as scared as I thought you might, surprised maybe, but not so scared.”

“I’ve run a tavern for years Captain, I have seen a fight before,” she says, more easily than she would have been able to before. It’s easier to talk to him when he’s not lording over her.

Something like delight lights up his features. “I’ve seen more than you can imagine. The kind that end with people dead.”

“I’m sure of it. Now, if you’ll allow me-” She turns to go, but he catches her arm, his grip deceptively light. She turns back to him, shocked.

“Excuse me, madam,” Simcoe says, but he doesn’t let go.

Anna narrows her eyes, at the end of her patience. “You’re not excused.”

She steps closer to him instead of trying to pull away and sees his eyes widen slightly. He lets go of her arm. Small spots of red stain his cheeks. “I-”

“Do you need me for something specific right now, Captain?” she demands, leaning closer still. He turns rigid, his eyes fixed on her, and Anna suddenly remembers seeing that same look when she stepped into his space in the cellar of the tavern the night she plotted to have him killed, one image superimposed over the other, a perfect match.

He shakes his head very slightly. “No, nothing specific.”

Anna finds herself nodding. “Very well. Come back tomorrow. I have work that needs doing.”

Somewhat to her surprise, Simcoe nods back, and so she turns away. He lets her go. Anna walks straight into the back room and puts her hand on her chest. She waits for the panic to hit, but it never comes. She continues to stand there for a few more seconds, feeling ridiculous.

“Well.” She glances in the dull mirror hung over the wash bin. Selah had mocked her gently for putting it there but she always liked to be able to check herself, even at work. Thinking about him makes her throat tighten more than facing Simcoe had, so she picks up her rag and goes back to work, only to find herself surprised again. Simcoe had gone.

Her eyebrows shoot up, but then someone calls out to her and she gets back to work. The rest of her day passes in a peace she had not thought to expect after the way she had treated him. She expected him to barge back in, perhaps to finally do something awful, but Anna doesn’t see him again all day.

Activity at the tavern picks up as it always does around lunch, and Anna finds herself grateful to be busy. Today the work allows her to focus her mind instead of running from her thoughts, and she sifts through her interactions with Simcoe methodically, holding the memories up to the image of him she had constructed the night before. She finds a disparity in the way he nervously taps his fingers with the way he constantly inserts himself into her space, and even more so with the way he had reacted when she had stepped into his.

He had done the same thing the night he found her in the tavern cellar when she changed her tactic with him. She had flirted, poorly, but he either didn’t notice or he didn’t care. Simcoe had seemed surprised when she touched his shoulder, and Anna suddenly remembers the way he inhaled sharply and leaned slightly back when she gestured to the barrel. An interesting reaction for someone who seems to have no concept of personal space.

“Alright Mr. Owens? Can I get you anything else?” Anna asks one of her afternoon regulars with a framed smile, only half paying attention to her own words. Mr. Owen’s focus is about the same, so she doesn’t feel the least bit guilty about it.

“Hm? Oh yes, another.” He turns back to his companion, a farmer that Anna doesn’t know well, to continue their discussion. Whatever their problems are, Anna finds herself wishing they were hers instead. Anna drifts away and back, still reviewing the past two days.

“Here you are.” She sets the ale down and pauses to wipe up a spill on the floor.

Mr. Owens grunts and goes back to ignoring her in favor of his own companion. “Like I said, you need to manage them in steps slowly, giving them a little bit of what they want until you have them tame.”

The other man rolls his eyes. “I know how to tame an animal.”

“Do you? Then why do you think you’re having so much trouble with this one?”

Anna straightens and makes herself turn, moving quickly to the adjacent table and rubbing at the clean surface with the dirty cloth, listening now. Behind her, the man scoffs. “You have to teach it to go against it’s instincts. It’s not like it’s an easy thing to do.”

Owens laughs. “Of course it is. You figure out what it is they want. Get control of it, and then you have control of the animal. They don’t attack so long as you manage them correctly.”

Anna nearly runs into the back room, dropping her rag into the sink and leaning against the counter. Her heart pounds the way it hadn’t when she had told Simcoe to leave only a few hours earlier. She bites her lip, considering their conversation in the cellar again, in a new light.

Hadn’t he backed down, talked a bit quieter, when she took charge of the conversation? When she told him to pick up the barrel, directly or not, he did it. Just like he left today when she told him to come back tomorrow. He went from giving her commands to following hers in an instant. She wants to think of it as a side effect of his military training, but she can’t quite accept the look on his face as professional. Which only leaves personal.

Anna bites her lip, her instincts warring with knowledge of what is done and what is not done. She wonders if Simcoe ever feels the same way, and decides that he very likely does not. Perhaps she shouldn’t consider it either. Perhaps she should break the rules to make her life better. It wouldn’t be the first time she had done such a thing, except this time she would have to do more than hang a few pieces of laundry.

It’s possible that Simcoe is going to show up tomorrow and wrap his hands around her neck in anger at being told what to do, but she finds that she doesn't think he will. Her mind drifts back to the morning, of finding him gone when she returned to the room. He did what she said. He wanted to, she could see it.

Anna finally allows herself to consider it, the first step on the path to acting on the idea. She allows herself to consider the fact that she had been trying to deal with Simcoe like a she would a normal, reasonable man. But Simcoe isn’t those things, he’s an animal, a predator. She taps her fingers along the counter. Animals need to be trained, to be broken.

The tavern door opens, but the closing is delayed. She leans forward and sees Abe holding it for Mr. Owens and his friend. He steps inside and comes straight to her as soon as he sees that they’re now alone.

“Anna, are you alright?” He reaches out and takes hold of her arms above the elbow. “I came as soon as I could. Has he done anything? Has he been here?”

“No, he’s been the same.” She frowns, pulling away from his grasp easily. “He also lives in my house Abraham, but yes he’s been here too.”

“I can’t believe that Caleb-” Abe’s expression darkens. “I’ll find a way to deal with this Anna, I promise.”

Anna feels like laughing, but she doesn’t. “How? You’ll murder him yourself?”

Abe flinches, and for a second he looks so lost Anna wants to hold him, to hide him. Then he straightens. “Yes.”

“No.” Anna shakes her head. “Even if that would work, I don’t want you to do it.”

“Why not?”

“Because we’re not like them, Abe!” Anna hisses, mindful to keep her voice low, even now. She has to maintain control because god knows Abraham won’t. “We shouldn’t have tried to do it in the first place.”

“If he hurts you-”

“He won’t,” Anna says, decided. “Leave him to me.”

Abe makes a face but then the door opens and he is forced to accept the ale she hands him and leaves to drink it in the corner, sullen and visibly agitated. Anna ignores him and focuses on her duties again, maintaining the normalcy. She feels like she’s acting in a play without the script, cut loose from everything she had clung to before. Customers come in and out but she barely sees them.

Ultimately, Anna spends the night in the tavern to give her space to think. She fills the time between closing and sleeping with cleaning, letting her hand overtake my mind. By the time she’s done, dinner has long passed and the place looks nicer than it did when it was brand new. Anna smiles, letting herself revel in her small accomplishment.

Tomorrow she will have to deal with Simcoe. No doubt he spent the evening annoyed or even angry with her, but for tonight she has a clean tavern and the beginnings of a plan. Anna curls on her side in the bed and lets her mind wander now that it’s decided. A moment of panic grips her, but she quickly lets it go. She has to fight for her own freedom. Her father always said wars are won by the bold.

Chapter Text

Simcoe comes back to the tavern the next day, fresh determination glinting in his eyes.

Anna is expecting him of course, so he doesn’t startle her when he appears at her shoulder. She turns to face him calmly and Simcoe nods to her, a mockery of respect before he begins.

“Mrs. Strong. I missed you at dinner last night,” Simcoe says, looming over her as he always does. It’s a clear strike, one that Anna dodges easily.

She smiles at him, brilliant and fake. “I apologize for not sending word, I had to do the monthly cleaning and it took rather a long while.” She looks at him and sees his fingers drumming at the edge of his sleeve. He wants his control back, wants me to tell him he can’t have it, to take it from him. She wonders if he knows that’s what he wants. Perhaps not, but Anna does.

She looks at him, the stress lurking in the edges of his eyes, and knows that she is right. “I finished work very late.”

Something specific in his eyes lights up, she can recognize it now. Simcoe leans forward slightly, as though sharing a secret. “I would be happy to walk you home whenever you might require it.”

“Thank you,” Anna responds politely, then waits for him to speak again.

Simcoe hesitates. In the past, Anna had usually tried her best to monopolize the conversation so he can’t, to steer it away from dangerous paths, but today she asserts her control in another way. She remains silent, leaving nothing there for him to overpower. He’s off balance, and it shows.

He glances away and then looks back, sharp eyes refocused. “Will you be home late again tonight?”

Anna tilts her head. “No I don’t think so, but if you would like to walk me home anyway-”

“Of course,” Simcoe says, a little too quickly. Anna smiles more genuinely at how quickly he passes her first probing test. “What time?”

She tells him her best guess and he leaves with a smile. She watches him go surreptitiously, his shining red jacket working like a marker. He doesn’t turn around. Anna spends the rest of the day in a pleased, contemplative haze. Simcoe doesn’t come back to stare at her, and he doesn’t send his men to watch her either, just like the day before. He doesn’t haunt her steps, just shows up at the appointed time and walks her home in near silence. Anna can see him casting glances at her out of the corner of his eye the entire time. She doesn’t look at him at all.

At dinner he surprises her by sitting in her place instead of in her husband’s. Anna raises an eyebrow at his back, trying to decide what he means by it. When Abigail catches her eyes and shrugs discreetly, she settles for simply asking.

“Is there something wrong with your seat?” Anna asks as she goes to sit in the only logical place left for her. The chair is obviously the same, but the feel is different. She had never sat in Selah’s place before, and it feels strange. Not wrong necessarily, but like slipping into another role, maybe another life. Anna can’t decide if she likes it or not. It’s a bit difficult to analyze her own reactions with Simcoe in the room. He monopolizes her attention, just like a predator should.

Simcoe smiles at her, his shark teeth nearly glowing in the dimming light. “No, but I sat here last night and I rather enjoyed the view of the sunset.”

Anna nods, imagining him occupying her space with ease. It’s easy to see Simcoe in his full uniform and artificially cultivated manners leaning back to picture her life, to give life to the many times she had sat there. Trying to figure her out just as she’s been trying to untangle him. Anna nods and lets the subject drop. She also enjoys that view, and tomorrow she will sit in her spot again.

Dinner proceeds in a relatively normal manner but Anna knows that he can feel as well as she does the primal shift that has taken place. It must have come from Anna’s resolve, bleeding out into the air whether she meant for it to or not. Their conversation does not diverge from the formal and the proper, but she can tell that they are speaking on two levels. She suspects that he’ll open her door that night, the final reassertion of his control after she had backed him into a corner, so she resolves to beat him to it.

After they have both supposedly retired for the night, Anna stands next to her door in silence, waiting for him to come. She taps the pads of her fingers silently against the doorframe, considering the paths laid out before her. Most of them are dead ends. One might be the difference between life and death, walking the line between practicality and insanity.

A sound catches her attention and she turns her head, listening for the subtle shifts in her house as he moves. It isn’t Abigail, who is waiting and listening in the next room, so it must be him. Anna leans back, tracking the soft creeks of the floor all the way from his room to hers. He isn’t wearing shoes, but she can hear him just the same. She doesn’t have long to wait to open the door herself.

Simcoe is visibly shocked when she does. He flinches and physically leans away from her, shrinking back towards the shadows of the hallway. Anna braces her hand against the door frame and takes a moment to look at him. He’s not fully dressed, the hair on his head red and cropped short and his usually cutting form obscured by his relatively informal clothes. It momentarily distracts her from her mission, she had never seen him so underdressed. He looks almost childlike. By contrast, she is fully dressed.

“Ah, Mrs. Strong did you need something? It’s late,” Simcoe asks, as though he isn’t the one standing right outside her door at a wholly improper time.

“Actually yes,” Anna takes a step back to clear the way. “Will you come in? I sent Abigail away already.”

Simcoe’s gaze drops to her hand upon the door. “I- yes. Of course,” he says, but he doesn’t move. Anna backs up even farther, putting herself parallel to the door, and he finally manages it, his steps halting and silent. She leaves the door open but sees him tense up anyway when she passes, his fingers drumming against his leg. He’s staring at her window.

“Thank you, John,” she says and he turns to her, eyebrows raised. “May I call you John?”

He nods, slowly, and then goes back to studying the room as though he hadn’t snuck inside many times already. Maybe it looks different when she’s in it. Anna walks past him and sits down at her vanity, heart beating only a little faster than usual. She waits, absently moving her things around on the shiny surface, and eventually she is rewarded for her patience.

“What did you need to see me about Mrs. Strong?” His voice is quiet, and pitched lower than usual.

Anna continues organizing the things she had spread out on the surface. “I wanted to speak to you. So much has occurred in the past few weeks. I’m lucky to have you here really, with everything that has happened. I just feel so out of control, and I need to get it back.” She looks up, meeting his eyes in the mirror. “Can you help me with that?”

Simcoe is tracking her every move. He doesn’t seem to be breathing, but he does manage to speak. “I believe so.”

She smiles. “I think you can, and I think I can help you too.”

“What with?” Simcoe asks, though she has to strain to hear. His lips barely move.

“Giving control up,” Anna says and looks back down at the surface as though it contained many interesting things. Simcoe walks forward a few feet and stands behind her for several minutes in silence again. After what seems to be an eternity, he speaks again.

“Alright.”

“Alright,” she mimics him and then leans back against her chair, straightening her back and shoulders. “Now, can you take the pins out of my hair for me please?”

She sees his hand rise up almost immediately in the mirror but it stops and hovers in the air, inches away. It’s very close to her neck, but Anna stays calm. Simcoe has less luck in that area. “Shouldn’t- where is Abigail?”

Anna shrugs and tries to meet his eyes in the mirror again, but he’s staring at the back of her head. “She’s attending to something, and I want you to do it.”

He looks up then, pale and confused, but his eyes are burning. Anna smiles slightly. “Would you like to do this for me?”

“Of course,” Simcoe responds in what he probably thinks is a calm and controlled tone.

“Then please.” She sits up as straight and as possible and squares her shoulders, making it easy for him. All he needs to do is reach out.

He does, slowly, with a look of intense concentration. His hand finds the base of her skull and slides up, towards her now messy bun. Unnecessary, though Anna supposes he may genuinely not know where and how the pins are hidden. It doesn’t take long for him to figure it out however, and the pins are pulled from her hair one by one.

It’s slow going, a likely intentional effort on his part to draw the experience out, either from a desire to savor or to stall for time so he can process the situation. Anna watches him in the mirror as he slowly unravels the bun, loosening her hair enough to pull it down. He runs his fingers through it in sections, ostensibly searching for more but finding none. His eyebrows pulls together and he continues on anyway, as though she won’t notice.

Anna raises her hand, palm up. His eyes flicker up to it and he stops, expression deadly serious, one hand still holding the majority of her hair. He lets go and raises the other to drop the pins into her waiting hand. Still maintaining her silence, Anna sets them down. She quickly picks up the brush and holds it high for him to take before the spell can be broken. Eyes newly lit up, he reaches down immediately and takes it from the handle, letting their fingers touch. Anna doesn’t react, too curious and strangely relaxed to care.

He sets the brush against the top of her skull and then pauses, pulls it back. Anna bites the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling. Simcoe, still singularly and abnormally focused, leans forward to set the bush down in the vanity, keeping careful distance between his chest and the back of her head as he moves. He straightens up and gently fans her hair out and around her shoulders, spreading it out to be brushed. Anna shivers, but if Simcoe notices, he doesn’t say anything.

Seeming satisfied, he picks up the brush again and sets it near the top of her head, pulling it down in one smooth motion. It catches about a third of the way down, stuck on the tangles that always form after being wrapped up in a bun for too long. His first instinct is to pull down harder, making Anna tip her head back to avoid any pain. Simcoe freezes, muscles locking down, expression nonexistent.

“Try working from the bottom,” she says, breaking the silence. It works like breaking a trance.

He meets her eyes in the mirror with a small smile, the expression changing the entire composition of his face. “I’ve never done this before.”

“I can tell.” Anna tilts her head and sees him mirror her. “Work from the bottom and don’t be concerned if some if it comes out, but be-”

“Gentle.” Simcoe nods, apparently to himself. “Of course.”

Anna smiles, and makes herself take a deep breath, willing herself to be controlled. Of the two of them, she know that she needs the most of it, but the desire to push, to see how far she can take him, is powerful. It burns her from the inside out, so much so that she feels a tingling in her own fingers when he pulls a strand of hair from behind her ear. But she keeps still, aware that she must go slow. To do anything else would ruin it, would either send him running or make him attack. But she can’t help but wonder what else he would do tonight just because she asked him to.

Outside of her whirling thoughts, Simcoe spends what must be half and hour brushing out her hair. It doesn’t take that long to get the tangles out and work it into a nice shine, but he keeps going, slowing down as he starts to run out. Anna lets him draw it out, too pleased that her insight was correct to be annoyed or tired of it. Besides, it feels nice. Eventually, not even he can pretend to still have anything to do and sets the brush down.

“Is there anything else?” Simcoe asks, very quietly.

Anna shakes her head, and it feels light, weightless. “Not tonight.”

Simcoe nods and drops his gaze back down to her hair, now shiny and rather fluffed. Anna waits him out, focusing on the quiet of their breathing, the silence of the rest of the house. Eventually, he nods again, and his hands fall away completely. He doesn’t reach up to touch it again.

“Shall I excuse myself then?” he asks finally, and very deliberately. Anna has to fight down a smile, pleased at how quickly he had understood.

“Yes,” Anna says, without turning around.

Simcoe walks away but stops at the open door. It’s hard, but Anna keeps her gaze down. A part of her still expects him to rush at her, to reject this new aspect of how they relate to each other, but she holds herself still against her raging instincts. She can hear his fingers tapping against the door frame.

“Thank you,” he says quietly, and leaves, the door barely making a sound as it shuts.

Anna makes herself wait for a full minute, then she goes to her door herself. She follows him on silent feet. The house is hers and she doesn’t make the sounds that he does when she moves through it. She moves like a ghost, haunts his steps for a change. From what she can hear through the door, he doesn’t go to sleep for a long time. Neither does she.

Chapter Text

Simcoe doesn’t appear for breakfast the next morning, and the house seems overly silent without his stalking presence. Anna eats alone, sitting in her proper place once again and listening to the silence. As the hour passes it seems more and more likely that he isn’t in the house at all.

She goes to the tavern and finds that she feels lighter, less weighted down by the events of the past few week. The early morning drinkers that must be served and cleaning that has to be done doesn’t dampen her mood. Even if all goes wrong, even if he strikes back at her, she can content herself with the fact that she tried and she knows that she had a good chance of winning. That’s all she really has now. That and the spying, she supposes, if she can still continue with that at all.

Even with the risk, Anna finds herself growing increasingly confident that she had found her solution, and possibly a mutually beneficial one. She spends her working hours methodically sifting through the memories from the night before, of Simcoe handling her hair with such focus, clearly unused to touching what he perceives to be delicate things. Anna serves and cleans and wonders how long it will take for him to realizes that she’s not delicate at all. Hopefully, not until it's too late.

She keeps an eye on the door at all times. Simcoe doesn’t come to the tavern during the regular hours, but Abe does. He peeks in the windows, clearly testing the waters, but doesn’t come in. Checking up on her, she knows. Anna ignores him in favor of her work.

Eventually the sun starts to drop behind the church and Anna glances at the door more expectantly each time. It doesn’t take long for Simcoe to arrive, and when he does he sits quietly at the bar until she’s done closing for the night. She catches him looking at her multiple times, but he never looks like he feels caught or looks away. He just stares back, impassive, or trying to appear that way.

When Anna comes out from the back room for the last time, he is waiting for her by the door, watching her approach like she’s the wild thing. Dominance, violence, control, Anna reminds herself. These are the means of influence he has functioned under for years. She has to put their relationship into terms that he will understand.

“Ready?” Simcoe asks, a little too brightly, though there’s a definite tension in the line of his shoulders.

“Yes, thank you,” Anna responds, just as lightly. He offers her his arm and she takes it, ignoring the side long glance he sends her as they walk out onto the street. Other people look at them too, but Anna pays them no mind. There will be time for that later. For now she needs to focus on getting her own house in order.

When they get within sight of the property, Simcoe leads her away, towards the back of the house. Anna follows without comment, ready for whatever test she needs to face. They need to get past this initial stage in order to move forward. Anna knows that she personally needs to have a conversation about this at the very least, and she’s the one that made the first move.

They stop under a tree, out of the way but still within screaming distance. Anna eyes the house and wonders if he placed them there intentionally, so she would feel safe. She has the sense that he doesn’t do much without careful consideration. Simcoe steps away from her and she accordingly lets go of his arm, allowing him to easily pull away. He straightens up to his full height, setting his shoulders back. Anna watches him curiously, sees him trying to reassert control. But he really doesn’t want it back.

He stares at her in stark silence for several minutes. Then, strangely, he reaches forward and puts his hand on her neck, not gripping, but resting against the side. Anna blinks, confused. It's her instinct to pull away, but she holds still, trying to make sense of the behavior. He's not hurting her, or even holding her still. Taking her pulse, she realizes with a jolt.

“Your heart is beating quite quickly.” Simcoe takes a step closer to her, eyes narrowing. “Are you afraid?”

Anna fights to keep her expression neutral. The response is so obvious that she wonders if he was fishing for it. “Should I be?”

His eyebrows furrow, a line appearing between them. “Most ladies would be.”

“Perhaps.” Anna makes sure that she doesn’t move. “But I wasn’t under the impression that I had any reason to be afraid of you.”

She has him in a corner now and they both know it. His grip tightens briefly and then releases. He steps back again, his hand drawing up against his chest.

“You don’t, of course, but do you really think that I don’t see what you’re doing?” Simcoe asks quietly. His eyes are wide and his expression is set into a mask of amusement, but it’s shaky at best, and Anna can see straight through it.

“No, of course not, sir.” Anna tilts her head as though the question confused her. “I know you know. But I think you like what I’m doing.”

Simcoe narrows his eyes again and breathes out heavily, like a dragon puffing out flame, but nothing happens to back it up. He shakes his head. “Blatant manipulation, I expect better from you, madam.”

She smiles, very slightly. “I’m not trying to be subtle.”

“Clearly.” His mouth twitches. “Why are you doing this? It is not done.”

“What isn’t?”

He looks away, off towards the water. Apparently he has no answer for her. Anna watches him and rather hopes that he doesn’t ask it back, because she’s not sure she knows either.

“Give me your hand.” Anna holds hers out, palm up, striking before he can reassemble himself.

Simcoe looks down at it, eyebrows coming together again in confusion. His gaze darts frantically from her hand to her eyes and back again. “Why?”

Anna doesn’t move. “Because I want it. Because you want to give it to me.”

After a long moment in which Anna has to wonder if she has horribly miscalculated, he does. She wraps her fingers around as much of it as she can, which doesn’t amount to much. Even in this he's so much bigger than her. He could easily pull away, but he doesn’t move.

“Since when do you care about what most people do?” she asks him, softly. Her heart pounds, and she’s grateful that he isn’t touching her neck anymore. "I wasn't under the impression that you did."

Simcoe frowns and still does not respond.

Anna takes a step closer, pressing her advantage, slight though it may be. “Do you want me to stop?”

Simcoe stares down at her, his grey eyes studying hers, his mouth set in a hard line. After a long time, he shakes his head.

Anna leans forward, nearly drunk with it. “What?”

“No,” he answers, almost at a whisper.

She nods. “Good. What do you want?”

His gaze darts away and then lands back on her, suddenly more centered. “I thought I knew.” Then he tilts his head, speculation creeping into his gaze. “What do you want?”

Anna blinks. She hadn’t been expecting the question, though she probably should have. She makes sure not to tighten her grip.

“I don’t want an affair,” she says without thinking, and then flushes, surprising herself with her honesty.

As if a spell had broken, Simcoe laughs and she sees his shoulders relax by a margin. He leans in, matching her. “No?”

“No.” Anna shakes her head, determined not to flinch or lean away. “I’m a married woman, and that means a great deal to me.”

“Still?” Simcoe asks, seeming genuinely curious.

Anna frowns. “Of course.”

“Then what do you want?” he asks again, challenging her. She knows that she has to rise to it, so that’s what she does.

Her neck hurts from staring up at him, but still she squares her shoulders and keeps her head high. “I want to reach an arrangement that suits us both, that helps us both. I meant what I said last night. You need to give up some of your control, and I need to get it back. I’m the perfect person for that, for you.”

Simcoe’s eyebrows fly up. “Why is that?”

Because you made me that way. Anna thinks but doesn’t say. She tilts her head, putting it at an even more awkward angle than it already is. But she needs the effect. “Practically? Because we live together, and I won’t tell anyone. Also, I think you’ll find that most women won’t be suited for this.”

“But you are.”

“Yes,” Anna says without hesitation, though her hearts pounds so hard she grows worried he can feel it through her hand after all.

“You might be right about that,” Simcoe tilts his head, mirroring her. Then he straightens back up. “Will you be needing my assistance again tonight?”

That's done, then. Anna doesn’t flinch. “I believe so.”

She lets go of his hand, half expecting him to snatch it back up again in an instant, but he lets it drop. They walk back to the house together, Simcoe flexing and relaxing his fingers compulsively. Anna pretends not to notice, just like she pretended not to see Abe following them home and then peeling away when continuing on would have been too obvious. It feels unsafe to even think about, as unsafe as the black petticoat shoved into her bottom drawer, so she doesn't, returning to her current moment.

“What are we having for dinner?” Simcoe asks as though they had not just had the strangest conversation of their lives, at least for Anna.

“I’m not sure,” she plays along, though her mind feels miles away, or only a few meters behind, under the tree. There’s so much to consider, both from their conversations and from the other complicated aspects of her life. It’s much easier to think about dinner.

It seems that the air between them changes when they enter the house, so much so that Anna glances over at him, questioning the shift. Simcoe is already looking back at her, his expression expectant. Waiting. Anna straightens up.

“Shall we?” She asks and then proceeds up the stairs without waiting for a response. Unless she’s going to eat in her work clothes, she needs to change for dinner. After a loaded pause, Simcoe follows her with Abigail not far behind him, their footsteps light on the wood. Anna doesn't look back.

***

If either Simcoe or Abigail objects to the other’s presence in Anna’s room, neither of them mention it. Abigail seems too nervous to even look in his direction, whereas Simcoe seems entirely oblivious to her existence. He stares at Anna’s profile as she flips through the dresses in her closet, hovering near the doorway, half in and half out. It's a far cry from the night before, but perhaps it feels just as different to him as it does to her in the fading light of day. Anna can see him out of the corner of her eye, can feel his stillness like a physical force in the space.

It occurs to her to have him pick out the dress and then send him away so she can change, but she rejects the idea offhand. It’s too much like him controlling her, which isn’t the point at all. Anna wonders if she really knows what the is, if it isn’t that, but she lets it go. She’s letting go of a lot of things recently.

Eventually, she pulls a dress out at random and sets it on the back on her chair. She’ll have him help Abigail take off her outer dress, but keep everything else. Then she’ll just slip on the second dress, have him do it up, and they can go downstairs. Simple.

Avoiding Abigail’s gaze, she turns around, presenting her back. Simcoe walks forward, moving with the same regimented grace the army demands. Anna waits until he’s right behind her to instruct him. “Why don't you let Abigail show you how it works, and then you can help me into the fresh one.”

She waits to see if he’ll tell her he already knows how it works. He doesn’t. Abigail undoes her dress faster than Anna had ever seen her manage, her nervousness coming through with every touch. Strangely, Anna doesn’t feel nervous at all. Obviously, Simcoe could still attack her, but he could have done so any number of times before, and he didn’t. She not so sure he ever would have. Violent as Simcoe is, Anna is starting to appreciate the fact that he’s still smart. He would have to be in order to achieve his rank and to have survived as many battles as he claims. Anna considers him intently as he moves to pick up her clean dress off the back of the chair, running his thumbs along the fabric. Regardless of his intentions, the smart move on his part would be to let the scenario play out, if he wants to catch her in the long term.

Simcoe moves to stand in front of her and holds the dress up. “It faces this way, yes? I apologize for not being as experienced as dear Abigail when it comes to these things.” He says sarcastically. Anna feels the corner of her lips quirk, but surpasses the smile.

“You’ll learn,” Anna says and deliberately raises an eyebrow at him. Gratifyingly, he flushes, dark blotches of red appearing on his cheeks and ears. She smiles back and doesn’t turn around. As far as she’s concerned he can either walk to her other side or turn the dress. He busies himself with undoing all the fastenings first. She had chosen one of the more complicated ones, with small buttons running all the way up the back. Simcoe adopts the same intensity of focus he had used when brushing her hair, and this time Anna gets to see it from the front instead of in a mirror.

He's not a bad looking man, which she hadn't really noticed when she spent all her time thinking about what a bad man he was. Of course she's not entirely sure that her initial assessment was wrong, but it's not so simple as that anymore. He bites his lower lip just slightly as he works, apparently completely absorbed in the task. It gives Anna ample opportunity to study him. His features are nearly as regimented as the persona he constructs, but she can see a slight variation in the tone of his skin where his wig has slipped back a little, one variance in his general uniformity. As he works, a little line appears between his eyebrows, but it smoothes out when he catches her looking.

Finally, all the buttons are undone. The corner of his mouth twitches and he holds it slightly away, towards her. “I take it you step in?” he asks, even though she's sure he knows that much.

“Of course.” She eyes it. “It goes on the other way though.”

He doesn't rise to the bait, evidently too engrossed to care. The dress makes a smooth rotation from hand to hand, but Anna can’t help but notice where he's wrinkled it from gripping so hard. She suppresses a smile and steps forward and into the dress, one careful foot and then the other. Now is not the time to stumble, though she suspects he would like it if she used him to keep her balance.

Once she's standing solidly again, now inside the gaping dress, Simcoe sets about arranging it on her shoulders, expression intent. He smooths his hands down her shoulders, frowning when the wrinkles don't come out. “Oh dear.”

Anna holds back a smirk. “I believe that was you.”

His eyes dart up to hers and then drop back down to her shoulder. “Apparently so. Should we choose a new one?”

“Not tonight,” Anna responds lightly. And now you'll know better.

“Very well,” Simcoe says and his hand slides down to her arm, pushing slightly to get her to turn. Anna resolutely doesn't. He looks up again, eyes wide.

“Yes?” Anna asks, heartbeat picking up again. If he wanted to, he could push harder, make her turn. Among other things.

He doesn't answer, but he also doesn't push at her again, smoothly stepping around her to stand at her back. Anna takes care to keep her back straight and not move. His fingers trail lightly along the buttons, once, before he starts his next task. Starting from the bottom and working his way up, he deftly fastens every button, fingers brushing her back every so often. Anna can't decide if that part is intentional or not, neither option would surprise her. The dress pulls tighter against her as he goes, slowly molding to her. Anna tries not to shiver. The sensation probably wouldn't have been so noticeable if he hadn't been going so slowly.

Finally, he reaches the top, and secures the final button that lies between the tops of her shoulder blades. They both pause, then Simcoe reaches up to smooth at her shoulders again. Anna shivers and turns around.

“Beautiful,” Simcoe comments softly, eyes down. It should feel like a leer, but it doesn't. He's looking at the dress, at his handiwork. Smiling slightly, he looks back up and holds out his arm. “Shall we?”

“Actually,” Anna says, taken in by her ability to stop him, which she does. Simcoe looks up, expression open and expectant again. Obedient. It's a dangerous, heady feeling and she’s already getting used to it. “Why don’t you go change as well, and I’ll meet you downstairs.”

That way, she can beat him down the stairs, take control of the room before he can exert his presence.

He smiles tightly at her, likely aware of her motivations. “I would be delighted.”

Anna and Abigail both watch him leave, Anna keeping careful track of his head to see if he looks back. He doesn’t.

Abigail clears her throat and starts making herself busy, gathering up the discarded things and straightening the chair, which hadn’t really been moved. Anna glances over at her once she hears Simcoe’s door close. “Yes?”

Abigail turns and meets her gaze head on. “Nothing. Unless you want to talk about it.”

Anna feels her shoulders drop a bit, some of the tension leaving them. “Not today.”

“Alright.”

"Thank you."

***

She's standing next to her chair, waiting, when Simcoe walks into the dining room. The food is laid out, more of Abigail's finest, and Anna is poised. Just she planned.

Abigail hovers tensely by the door, her hands behind her back. Simcoe pauses in the doorway, taking in the space while Anna takes in him. He’s still wearing his uniform, though it might indeed be a fresh one. It occurs to her that she had never seen him in anything else, but that's a thought for another time. Simcoe smiles at her. If he has something to say about her tacit reclamation of her place at the table, he doesn’t voice it.

Anna also says nothing. In a few seconds he’ll have to come and pull out her chair for her. To do anything else would be too strange, even given what they had already done. She had considered doing it herself, to be waiting in the chair instead of standing by it, but rejected the idea. To do so would have denied him something she already knows he wants, and Anna already has plans for that.

“Mrs. Strong.” He inclines his head. “You look lovely.”

Anna nods back, wondering if the pretending is part of it for him. He had already seen her in the dress, not to mention out of it. “Thank you.”

Simcoe’s mouth twitches and he walks forward to pull out her chair. Something uncurls in Anna’s chest, or maybe her stomach, when she hears the light drag of the wood on wood. Not all of the rules are gone. In some way, he’s still predictable. She sets herself down as lightly as she feels and lets him push the chair back in, back straight.

“Thank you,” she says again, very quietly.

“Of course,” he responds, and Anna can barely hear him. She leans back against the chair slightly as he walks around to the other side of the table, waiting for the right time. When he puts his hand on the back of Selah’s chair, she finds it.

“Wouldn’t you prefer to sit closer to me?”

Simcoe freezes, hand still resting on the wood. Anna blinks over at him innocently, feeling her heart pounding in her wrist where she’s holding herself under the table. Then he arches an eyebrow at her and Anna hears Abigail breathe behind her again.

“In fact I would,” Simcoe responds, louder this time. He walks slowly back towards Anna, who resolutely doesn’t move. He makes a show of settling himself in the chair to her right, shifting and examining the room before settling down. It’s an overdone performance, but Anna maintains her composure, half turned in her chair to watch it.

Simcoe smirks and turns to study the spread of food. “Lovely. And Abigail has outdone herself again. My compliments.” He says, and Anna can hear something else in his tone. Mischief, or maybe anger. It still doesn’t prepare her, however, for the challenge Simcoe delivers with a wide smile that doesn’t cover up the burning in his eyes.

“What should I have to eat tonight?”

Anna blinks, shocked. She wants to look away, but instead considers him in silence for a long time. Normally it wouldn’t be done, but they had long crossed the line of proper or even normal behavior, so she choses not to think about it. Simcoe doesn’t seem to either, just sits patiently and waits for her answer. Anna holds his gaze for a few seconds longer and then turns her attention to the table. Chicken, peas, potatoes. It’s nothing, but it’s also almost too much.

Anna takes a careful breath and looks back at him. He doesn’t seem to have looked away, or even to have moved. She intends to just rattle something off, a meaningless combination of food neither of them will really taste, but some streak of morbid curiosity and fire creeps up her throat before she can stop it. She doesn’t want to.

“What if I told you to go hungry?”

Simcoe’s eyes widen slightly. His mouth opens, and no sound comes out for a long second, but then he finds an answer for her. “Then I would go hungry.” He sounds almost surprised, but Anna finds that she isn’t. She wonders if he knows that he means it.

Anna nods primly and looks out over the table with new purpose, her pulse suddenly racing. For some reason this of all things sets her blood racing. She feels alive. She studies the food intently. “Abigail?”

Behind her, Abigail steps forward. “Yes ma’am?”

“Will you bring us some bread, please? Whatever we have.”

“Of course,” she respond and disappears quickly, likely grateful to be out of the space. Anna nods, mostly to herself, but is highly aware of how Simcoe watches her.

“You may have the leg of the chicken, and three spoons of peas.” She purses her lips, considering. “No potatoes, but as much bread as you like, and whatever you would like to drink.”

Simcoe nods and carefully retrieves the peas first. The spoon shakes slightly, but Anna picks up her glass and pretends not to notice, taking her turn at watching him. He spends what must be a strange amount of time arranging the food of his plate and then picks up the chicken. He doesn’t try to tell her what to eat in return, which is fortunate. When he finally look up at her again, Anna tries to behave normally and busies herself with the potatoes that only she will eat tonight, wondering if they’ll taste better for it. When Abigail returns, she sets the bread down on the table between them and vanishes from sight again. It’s the basic fare from breakfast, but Simcoe reaches for it eagerly, the shine present in his eyes again.

One he has everything settled the way he wants it, he picks up his glass and hold it out to her. Anna smiles and taps hers against it lightly, the clear sound ringing in the otherwise silent room. “What are we toasting to?”

Simcoe smiles back. “I have no idea.”

Anna puts the glass down and picks up her fork eagerly. The potatoes do taste different, like they’re more than they are. They eat in near silence, watching each other in turn. Their forks and knives click across plates and occasionally are set down so they can reach for a glass of whatever it is Abagail had provided for them. Anna doesn’t know. There are other, more important, things to find out. She strokes her finger along the stem of her glass, watching Simcoe eat and drink with now familiar focus and determination.

“How are you enjoying it?” she asks, not even trying to stop herself anymore.

Simcoe looks over at her from behind his glass. He sets it down, his fingers tapping on the side. The silence returns, bringing with it even more familiar fears. But Anna doesn't blink, and neither does he. After a moment, he smiles. “The best meal I’ve ever had.”

Chapter Text

They fall into a pattern so easily.

It’s like walking into a dream, the unreality of it all making the act so much easier. If Simcoe feels the same way, he gives no sign. But he’s much more manageable in the day, less apt to seek her out and touch her in public, more likely to do as she asks, even less likely to stand outside her door at night now that he has semi regular access. It's simple. More than that, Anna finds that she likes it.

Brushing her hair out becomes a regular exercise. He always takes the pins out slowly, and sometimes his hands still shake. Anna quickly gets used to the heady feeling, so much so that it's sometimes hard for her to remember that it's only been a few weeks since they began their strange arrangement. Simcoe watches her, waiting for instruction, and slides into place, a permanent installation of her life.

Today, he had surprised her by announcing that he had the day off from his menacing and defending of the town, and now Anna has him seated at her desk. She putters about the room, setting things in order. The prospect of the entire day stretched out before her had been rather intimidating, she’s never had so much uninterrupted time with him before and he clearly has high expectations.

It's strange, being the one depended on. Selah never would have allowed it. But there seems to be no limit to what Simcoe allows.

“John?” Anna calls, not looking up from her work. But she can safely assume that he does, straining his neck to see her while keeping his hands pressed flat against the surface.

“Yes, Mrs. Strong?”

Anna smiles at herself, moving a stack of documents from Selah’s side table to spread out on the bed. She calls him John when they’re in private, but he still refers to her politely. She never corrects him.

“Do let me know when you get hungry.”

There’s a pause, and more than likely, a shiver. “I will.”

Anna nods, now only pretending to consider the documents in front of her. It’s difficult to focus around him, even when she has to go through all her husband’s things to try to find the relevant documents for the tavern. There’s a lot to be done, which is why she had made this first part of the day relatively quiet, with her soldier sat at attention at the desk instead of doing something even more distracting. She occasionally touches him as she goes about her business, simple caresses along his shoulders, adjusting his stance, even brushing a stray hair from his face. He closed his eyes when she did it, leaning into her touch as much as stillness would allow.

All in all, it’s easy. Comfortable. Sometimes he asks for more, asks for her to touch him, to stroke his hair, brush her fingertips along his cheek, but not today. That's the most dangerous part, Anna knows. Food and dresses are one thing, but when he asks to be close to her, she feels they’re treading recklessly.

Almost as recklessly as she does most days, attempting to hide her spying activities from a trained soldier who shares her home, who is attuned to her in a significant way. But either the excitement and comfort of what they’re doing has blinded him to any cracks in the mirror, or he just doesn’t care.

Anna opens a drawer and finds her train of thought is interrupted by the sight of a hairbrush with mother of pearl inlay, a gift from her grandmother. Her fingers hover over it, curious but confused. It hadn’t been there before. It hadn’t been there for a while, she realizes. The silence behind her takes on a charged edge. He must have taken it carefully, timing the theft so that she hadn’t noticed, would only see that it had been missing now that it had shown back up again.

Resolved, Anna picks it up and walks over to the vanity. She stands directly behind him, eyebrows raised. He meets her gaze eagerly, but his face freezes into a mask when he sees what’s in her hand.

“Ah.” It’s the old grating tone. He sounds imperious, and not surprised in the least.

Amused in spite of herself, she keeps her head high. “Is there anything else?”

He hesitates, old familiar calculation in his eyes. Anna doesn’t like it, never has.

“John.”

“Yes,” he grinds out, looking like he didn’t mean to say it.

Anna curls her hand around the hairbrush, considering her options. “Alright. Bring it to me.”

Simcoe delays, sending a brief stab of doubt through Anna’s chest, but then he’s up and gone from the room. When he’s out of sight, Anna sits herself down in the newly vacated chair to wait, the wood warm from the hours he’d spent in it. She turns the hairbrush around and around in her hands, wondering. Why draw her attention to it? He clearly wanted it there, but why?

Her thoughts are interrupted by the door opening and quietly closing again. Anna doesn’t look up until he’s standing right beside her, a small collection of her things clutched in his hands. Keeping her face clear, she looks the hoard over, noting that it include one of her hairpins that she strongly suspects came from the first night he took it down.

She purses her lips, choosing her next words with care. “Are you experimenting?”

He stares back at her blankly.

“With punishment,” she clarifies, and he flushes, color appearing high on his cheekbones in a now predictable pattern. Anna fights a smile.

“That,” he starts, sounding just as careful as she tries to be, “That was not my intent.”

“But are you opposed?”

He looks down on her long a long moment before shaking his head. So it had been about the reaction. Interested to see what she’d do. It’s a motivation she can understand.

“I see.” She reaches over and runs her fingers along the pin. His fingers twitch, as though fighting the urge to take the rest away, out of her reach, but he stays still.

“What kind of things do they make you do in the army? For punishment.” The clarification isn’t necessary, but she wants to be absolutely explicit. The more they do, the closer she gets to seeing under the surface. He wants her to give voice to their unconventionality, the bolder the better.

John glances away and then back, his soldier’s blank in place as he lists off a range of punishments she already knows, mostly relating to physical abuse and public humiliation. The stuff of men, straightforward and short lived.

Anna hums and tilts her head to the side, watching Simcoe watch her move. “Not very creative, are they?”

His eye sparkle with amusement. “No.”

Anna sits back in the chair, taking her time. It’s clear that he wants her to be creative, to be better than them. The pedestal he’d set her on is boldly difficult to balance upon, and it calls her to the challenge.

“Alright. Set those things on the bed and then come back here.”

He does it, hands steady but with his chest heaving with silent breaths. Anna watches him, fighting to keep her own breathing even. It’s another precipice, a threat to the balance. The risk of insulting him, of pushing too far, is very real as he turns back, coming her way with short, halting steps. Anna keeps her composure, tilting her neck up to look at him as he stops directly in front of her, hands clenched into fists at his sides. She waits for him to break, counting it as part of the game, a piece of the punishment, fancying that she can see the pulse in his neck.

Eventually, he looks away. “What must I do?”

Anna smiles, unable to help it, and lifts her foot up and in the air, hovering near his knee. Simcoe’s eyes light up and his hand jumps to attention, reaching for her, fingers curving in the air.

“No,” Anna commands, the tone coming easily in a way she never would have imagined. Simcoe freezes, his eyes jerking up from her foot to her face, excitement warring with irritation.

Anna meets his gaze evenly, her heart pounding so hard she can feel it everywhere, in her neck, her arms pressed closer to her body, her foot.

“Down.”

There is a long moment of silence as he stands there, staring at her with wide eyes. Anna can hear the birds in the trees outside, unaware of the shifting sands so close by. Oddly, she doesn’t wonder whether he’ll do it, and so when he slowly lowers himself to his knees she feels no jolt of surprise or even thrill, only a deeply rooted satisfaction.

Settled now at more or less eye level, Simcoe continues watching her, natural excitement clearly warring with deeply ingrained dignity. Anna has mercy on him, and puts her hand on his shoulder, turning him, guiding him down to his hands as well.

“I asked Selah for a footrest many times.” She lies, making a show of settling back in the chair. “He never procured it for me.”

It’s enough. Simcoe visibly shivers and straightens his back out as much as he can, making it flat. For a moment, Anna just appreciates the view, the total submission. Her pulse had calmed, leaving behind a bone deep relaxation. Then she swings her feet up to rest on his back, relishing his soft gasp as they press down lightly. Degrading, and physically uncomfortable besides, but tangentially related to what he really wants.

Anna makes herself stay still, watching nothing happen with avid attention. There’s nothing to compare the experience to, at once gripping and rather dull. The only things to hear is his breathing, the only thing to see is how he occasionally shifts his weight, ever so slowly. Vaguely, she wishes she had left a book on the vanity, both for her own interest and to further put on a show. But of course she hadn’t, it had been cleared off for Simcoe to sit at all day.

As the minutes tick by, she thinks about calling to Abigail to bring her something to do, but wondering about the wisdom and excitement of the prospect is enough to entertain her. Simcoe seems quite entertained himself, his breathing alternatively picking up and evening out as she shifts to recross her feet.

When his arms start shaking, she waits for them to stop, staring out the window peacefully, wondering what to do if someone comes to the door. When he begins shaking again, she slowly eases off, settling one foot and then the other down in front of him, her knees brushing his flank. Possibly without realizing it, he leans in, pressing his weight against her legs. Turnabout is fair play, she thinks, still watching, wondering.

“Are you in pain?” she asks, the loudness of her own voice startling her after so much quiet.

His head turns slightly in her direction, but he doesn’t look up fully, his gaze staying at about knee level. “Yes.”

Anna takes in a careful breath and then lets it back out. “Would you like to get up?”

There is a long pause. Anna stares down at him, at his slightly quivering elbows. She slides her left foot forward and to the side, aligning it with his left hand. At once he picks his hand up off the floor and wraps it around her ankle, grip tight at first, but gradually loosening until he’s only circling lightly, his fingers playing out patterns on her skin.

“No.”

“Alright.”

They stay until he can no longer stand it, taking her offered hand like a blessing to pull himself up. The gratitude in his face shocks her, so much so that she turns away, hoping that he’ll take it as a show of power, part of the game. But he steps up behind her, drawing close, and lowers his forehead to her shoulder.

The strangest part is that she allows it.

***

Throughout lunch, Anna watches Simcoe with uncontrolled curiosity, musing on how his knees must be feeling. Judging by how he keeps reaching under the table to rub at them, so is he. Silence reigns, only the tapping of forks and light breathing breaking it up. They had moved on from small talk days ago.

After they had both regained themselves enough to consider coming down for lunch, Anna directed him to the bed, told him to bring her the hair pin. He took it like an order, plucking out the tiny piece and bringing it back to her with a straight spine. When she folded his hand over it, the amazement in his face made her thinks that he’ll never take something from her again. Even still, she’s not sure.

“What else have you done?”

Simcoe is quiet for a long moment, visibly weighing his options. She doesn’t insult him by clarifying herself. Their characteristic quiet settles in on them like a haze until he breaks it again, a wicked look in his eye.

“I’ve been slowly going through, stealing, and disposing of your husband’s things.”

Anna freezes, her fork partway lifted from her plate. She struggles not to drop it. Simcoe simply stares back at her, animal curiosity in his eyes. The knowledge that there’s nothing she can do about it sits between them, a crack in the plaster, exposing the game for what it is. For the first time in a while, Anna considers killing him.

She sets down her utensils slowly, putting her hands in her lap to stop them shaking. “Go.”

He blinks at her, the gleam in his eye no longer playful but malicious. “Another punishment?”

“Just go. You’re room.”

“How long?”

“An hour,” she says without consideration, anything to get him away from her.

He does, touching her arm as he passes, likely just because he can.

Anna sits still for a moment longer, fighting the urge to scream, or to go up to his room and really test him. She won’t win. If she breaks the game she’ll lose, might even die. Then again, probably not at this point. Can she assume that? Would he hurt her? Could she hurt him? Her head spins, echoing the pounding of her heart.

“Miss Anna?” Abigail’s voice breaks her of the trance. Anna looks up, and her expression must be frightful judging from the way Abigail rocks back and then dashes forward.

“Help me,” Anna manages, standing up roughly, her chair scraping across the beautiful floor. Abigail winces, but follows without another word as Anna makes her way upstairs, darkly hoping that Simcoe had disobeyed her again so she can lash out, can finally have it done with. But his door is closed, so she goes into the spare room instead, where she had stored all of Selah’s things.

Together she and Abigail dispose of the majority of Selah’s remaining possessions, and hide the few she wants to keep. When they’re done, Abigail is looking so nervous that Anna can’t stand it. She leaves the house without another word, goes to the barn on instinct.

Nearly tripping over Caleb Brewster startles her so badly that she screams, and then she can’t stop, all of it finally pouring out under the hand Caleb has pressed to her mouth, keeping the sound muffled. She can hear him talking to her, but can’t make out the words over the pounding in her ears. She feels dizzy, like she might drop, but then she doesn’t and she’s left standing in a barn that doesn’t really belong to her with her former friend’s filthy hand pressed over her mouth.

“Are you alright?” Caleb whispers, visibly shaken. “Christ, Anna-”

Anna bobs her head firmly, eyes watering, still unable to speak, and he lets her go. Her throat stings slightly from the unconventional fit, the sound unable to really escape. “Sorry.”

Caleb blinks at her. “It’s- it’s alright. Are you hurt?”

“No. It’s just been difficult is all.” She fixes him with a glare. “Captain Simcoe is back, though I’m sure you’re well aware of that.”

“Shite.” Caleb steps away, rubbing his hand over his chin. “Yeah, that’s part of what I came to tell you both.”

“Both?”

“Abe. Where is he?”

Anna blinks. “I- I don’t know,” she says, realizing for the first time that she hadn’t seen him in days. It’s strange, and made more so by the way Caleb looks at her for it. The question answers itself a few moments later when Abe shows up, coldly furious but with information he’d apparently gotten in York city anyway, ethics winning out over indignity.

The scheming and plotting of how to get Caleb out of the town takes place almost without Anna noticing. Distance seems to stretch between them, like she’s not really standing there, isn’t actually planning how best to get the spy out from under the nose of the entire army, not to mention Simcoe, who judging from the position of sun is surely out of his room by now.

“I have to get back,” she says, and they both stare at her like she’d spoken German. “He’ll notice if I’m gone for too long.”

Abe tries to catch her as she passes, but she shakes him off. She can’t think of him, can barely hold herself together as it is. The screaming had left her drained rather than relieved. They’ll have to talk about it once Caleb is gone, if the ring can even still continue like this, but it’s not the time. Luckily for him, he lets her go.

When she leaves the barn, she notices that a black petticoat is hanging from her line. Anna blinks, privately embarrassed and a bit horrified that she’d been so upset she hadn’t seen it when she came outside. It’s exactly the sort of thing Simcoe will notice, just the kind of mistake they don’t need.

As soon as she comes around the corner of the house, Simcoe looks up from the front porch and spots her. His face goes from darkly blank to frantic as he approaches, walking so quickly he might as well be running. As it is, he only looks ridiculous. Anna wants to laugh, but finds that she can’t do anything but stare as he comes to a fumbling stop in front of her, the ring of spies and this utterly insane situation with him overlaying in her mind, completely incongruous.

Simcoe’s fingers twitch to the point of ridiculousness, and his eyes dart about her face. “I didn’t know where you were.” He sounds angry, but looks terrified.

It’s too far, snapping her back into the present.

“Well maybe that was your punishment,” she says, even though it hadn’t been. She hadn’t thought of their arrangement at all when she did it, only that she needed to be alone. All she wants is to yell at him, to tell him that not everything is about him, but she doesn’t.

He shakes his head. “I didn’t approve.”

Anna puts a hand on her hip. The light is fading, making it hard to see each other. “It’s a punishment, you’re-”

He reaches out in a flash and grabs her wrist. It’s awkward, holding her hand out at an angle. There’s no point to it, he’s not even squeezing that tightly. “I meant, I’m not comfortable with...that. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t do that one again.”

She blinks, some of her common sense returning. “Alright. Did I scare you?”

He frowns, habitual honestly clearly warring with his distaste of the word. “No I simply- I was concerned.”

There’s nothing else for it. Anna stares up at him, suddenly very tired, and wonders if Abe and Caleb are watching, if one of them will do something stupid and spook him, get them killed.

The weight of the situation weigh on her, making her arm feel like lead, like he’s the only thing holding her up. She shakes her head, slowly. “Is this my fault? Did I make this happen?”

He frowns down at her. “What do you mean?”

“I suppose I can’t be too angry, considering.”

Simcoe shakes his head, mirroring her, concerned now. “We should return to the house,” he declares, but doesn’t move. It’s up to her.

There’s no point to arguing, especially because he’s right.

They go back inside in silence, Anna closing the door behind them with a snap. When she turns back around, Simcoe is heading straight up the stairs, head held high. Anna blinks up after him, watching him make a beeline for her room. She suppresses a sigh and follows, completely unsurprised to find him back in his seat at her vanity, hands pressed against the surface.

She lingers in the doorway for a long moment, just looking at him. His uniform is rumpled at the waist, likely due to all the sitting and kneeling he had done, and some of his red hair peaks out from under the wig. From the back he could be anyone, anyone at all. Anna picks at her fingers and wonder what she looks like to him.

Anger is still bubbling under the surface, freshly reignited by Caleb and Abe. If she went downstairs, then came back up with a knife, would he stop her? Would he take it from her? Use it against her? Or would he let her touch him, goading her on until the last possible minute? The idea that he would encourage violence in her is not far from the surface. If he allows her the change him, how might he do the same to her?

Anna rubs a hand over her eyes, exhausted. It’s not a good line of thought, and had lost its appeal besides. She’s not a killer.

Repressing a sigh, she goes downstairs anyway, but only to get food. It had been hours since the lunch they had both barely touched. As soon as she enters, Abigail tries to speak with her, but gives up quickly when she catches sight of Anna’s face.

Anna feels terribly, but she can’t speak on it, on any of it. She’s only safe within herself, in what she can control. It had been a mistake to involve Abigail at all.

“We’ll be eating in my room,” she manages, addressing the floor.

Abigail eyes her suspiciously, but complies, helping her to gather everything she wants, which doesn’t amount to much. Bread, cheese, old wine. She doubts that either of them are very hungry.

Simcoe doesn’t turn around when she comes back, doesn’t move his head as Anna arranges everything around him. She pulls up another chair to sit next to his, and places herself in it delicately, trying to regain some semblance of the control she clings to. It’s a feast for fools. The spread is ridiculous and completely lacking in class, but they both ignore that. All things considered, it’s the least of their problems with decorum.

They eat quietly, and just as she predicted, very little. At first, Simcoe doesn’t move to eat at all, pointedly eyeing her hands instead. It hits her like a physical jolt that he’s wondering if she’ll feed him. She doesn’t even give him the satisfaction of acknowledging the desire.

“You can pick your hands up,” she mutters, uncharitably.

He does, visibly disappointed. How’s that for a punishment? she thinks, but all of the viciousness had been left behind. Appetite gone entirely, she stops eating so she can study him. He eats mechanically, like a man possessed. By her? Anna narrows her eyes, determined to pick him apart, to regain some of the ease between them.

“You wear your uniform everyday.”

“Yes.” Simcoe shoulders flex, though his posture is already perfectly straight. He looks so relieved to be spoken to that it makes her smile. They both know that it wouldn’t have been long before he broke his own rules and spoke out of turn. It’s his nature to let his instincts betray him.

“Do you even have any other clothes?”

He smiles back, not the shark smile, but the more genuine one she had been seeing more and more lately. “Yes, of course I do.”

Anna keeps her head forward but nods at him in the mirror. “How was I to know if you never wear them?”

He pauses, a piece of bread halfway to his mouth. He sets it down, giving her a curious look. “Do you prefer me out of uniform?”

Anna turns, giving up for the moment to look him in the face. “I hardly know, I’ve never seen you out of it except for sleep. Why do you prefer to wear it?”

He tries to straighten his shoulders again, she thinks unconsciously. “It is expected of me.”

Anna blinks. “Is that why you do it?”

After a long beat of silence, he shakes his head. “No. It is my right. I earned the privilege to wear this.”

She tilts her head, considering. “Would you ignore that for me?”

He visibly hesitates. She leans forward slightly, drunk with it. “You don’t have to, of course. But would you wear something I picked out for you?”

He licks his lips. “Perhaps.”

Interesting. She picks up his untouched wine glass and holds it to out to him, prompting him to take it. “Would you wear something I made for you?”

He takes the glass. “Yes.”

Anna leans back, satisfied. “It’s getting late.”

Simcoe doesn’t respond, just waits for further instructions with a wine glass hanging from his fingers.

“Are you finished?” She nods to the food, even though he’d barely touched it.

“Yes.”

“Alright. Drink your wine, take it down to the kitchen, and then come back.”

While he does as he’s told, Anna sits herself on the bed, ready to be finished. Ready to fall into nothing for a few sweet hours. It’s too much, all of it at once. No one can be ready and on their feet all the time, and this day had done nothing but show Anna her own limits.

She’s rolling her neck back and forth on her shoulders when Simcoe appears in the doorway again to stare at her, asking without speaking. The opportunity to turn him away, to fight, rears its head, calling to her from the ugly, or brave, part of her heart.

It’s so much easier, so much nicer, to gesture him into the room, to guide him down to his knees in front of her for the second time in a day. He hisses when his knees touch the floor, making her pause.

“You don’t have to.”

“I want to.”

She smiles softly. “I won’t protect you from yourself, you know.”

He smiles back, the shark teeth reappearing. “I’m not doing any of it to myself.”

Anna sucks in a harsh breath, so caught up she has to look away to recollect herself. Simcoe give her time, not quite as cruel as she had made him in her mind, sharp edges covering an earnest child. She looks back and nothing has changed.

“Take off my shoes.”

He does it like a soldier, all efficiency and focus. Anna watches his eyes, the way they track his own movements. So careful of everything he does, manipulating his world deliberately until Anna bends him into her own shape and makes him shake.

“Stockings,” she says next, knowing at once that it’s too far by the noise he makes in the back of his throat. Anna holds herself very still in response, trying to ignore how large his hands feel on the skin of her legs as he slowly slides her left stocking down. The efficiency is gone, replaced by a hedonism she can’t help but respond to.

The first takes an age, and the second lasts an eternity. When he slides her dress up far enough so he can see her right thigh, she sees a different game they could play so clearly, like a vision sent from a god. He might as well have her naked in front of him, might as well be hovering over her instead of kneeling at her feet.

The knowledge that she doesn’t know if she would stop him, if she would ever want to stop him from sliding his hands higher, from pushing her down and crawling on top of her to take care of her a different way, makes her grateful that she’s sitting down.

Simcoe is similarly affected, curling his fingers around her ankle unnecessarily and leaning too close. When he runs out of his task, he rests his forehead against her knee, breathes in, and shudders.

Anna watches him avidly, the barn and anger forgotten in the wake of the scene he makes of himself. He has her stockings balled up tightly in his hand, and she doesn’t ask him to put them down. The fear that he’ll take too much, take what hasn’t been given, is gone, leaving fascination in its wake.

“May I stay?”

Anna doesn’t dignify it with a response. He clearly understands, because he looks up and clarifies himself. “May I stay in the room while you sleep?”

A terrible idea. She purses her lips, feeling the anticipation. “No, I don’t think so.”

Pain flashes across his features, open and raw until he buries it. Then he presses his cheek against her knee again. “May I stay if I go back to the chair? If I stay awake?”

“You have duty tomorrow.”

A shiver passes through him. “I know.”

Anna thinks about it, rolling it over and over in her mind. There’s nothing to fear that he couldn't have done already. She wonders how it would feel, like having a guardian angel or like having a monster under the bed?

“Another time.”

It’s apparently enough for him, because after a few more seconds he stands, adoration in his eyes. Anna looks up at him, tired to her bones. The cracks in the mask make it all worth it, take the game from interesting to enthralling. “Goodnight.”

He doesn't smile. “Goodnight.”

Anna doesn’t move as he walks away. The door clicks shut, and his steps recede down the hall, then his own door closes just as softly. She rolls over to her side, still mostly dressed, and falls into a dreamless sleep.

***

Nothing is different when she wakes up, though she feels like it should be.

She drags herself up onto her elbows, stiff from sleeping in her clothes. Contentment passes over her as she considers asking, or telling, Simcoe to help her with that. There are many possibilities with aspects that could be very interesting. Baths, massages. The river.

Then she remembers that she has to help Caleb escape and deal with the ring. That she has to continue going through her husband's papers. She sighs and drops back down onto the flat of her back, recoiling away from it all. It’s not in her nature to hide, to run from difficulty, but with the oasis of command and submission to return to, it’s even more challenging to acquiesce to real life.

“Good lord,” Anna mutters to herself, cracking a smile at calling Captain Simcoe of all people her oasis. The smile blooms into laughter, which descends her into a pit of near hysterics that makes Abigail wrench the door open with wide eyes.

Anna sits up again, still shaking a bit. “I’m sorry, did I-”

“No.” Abigail shakes her head fervently, looking Anna up and down. “Are you- Captain Simcoe is waiting for you downstairs.”

“As always,” Anna responds, still amused and mortified with herself. “Thank you, Abigail.”

“Of course,” she whispers back, a nervous energy about her, and disappears in a flash. Anna stares after her, then goes to the vanity to get a look at herself, concerned.

Her hair is a mess, and her dress is worryingly rumpled. Anna frowns and strips it off of herself as best she can to put on a much simpler one, taming her hair on the way down the stairs, wondering for the first time why Simcoe is still in the house when he has duty.

Stranger still is the fact that she finds him in the kitchen of all rooms, sitting at the cramped table with a piece of paper laid out in front of him.

“What’s this?” Anna asks, wrapping her arms around herself against the cold.

Simcoe doesn’t answer, only watches as she makes her way over to him to see the document. Anna picks it up, reading and re-reading the words. Attainder. Property. Freed slaves. The dread doesn’t hit right away, only the emptiness, and the irritation at herself.

With everything else that had happened, she hadn't thought about it, what Selah getting arrested would mean, not all the way through.

“Oh.”

Simcoe looks up at her, all open and waiting. She knows what he wants, but doesn’t have anything for him. It’s not part of the game, it’s her life.

Anna just looks back, unblinking, as his face clouds and he stands.

“John?”

But he doesn’t seem to hear her, too busy throwing the chair he’d been sitting in across the room. He yells, saying something about the army Anna doesn’t bother to process. She just stares, shocked to the core as he proceeds to destroy the kitchen.

Chapter Text

As ever, Simcoe’s presence is unignorable, but Anna does her best as she leaves the house. She feels his eyes on her, burning with frustration and barely buried anxiety. Still, she keeps her head high and doesn’t drag her feet. He deserves it.

His punishment is invisibility.

The kitchen is in ruins, wood splinters littering the floor, dents in the walls. Intolerable. Unacceptable. Anna had promised not to disappear, but she hadn’t said anything about continuing to pay him any sort of attention.

“Mrs. Strong!” he calls out, all but chasing after her in his great red stain of a uniform.

She turns her body towards him, but doesn’t quite meet her eye, adopting a politely interested expression. “Captain Simcoe. Would you care to walk with me?”

He glowers at her for a long moment in silence. Anna simply watches him, determined to give him nothing at all to react to. “Yes,” he grinds out. “Thank you.”

They walk together in a tense silence Anna pretends not to notice. Everytime he shifts left, she moves right, maintaining their distance. She had not touched him since the incident, had not told him what to eat, when to sit, what to say. She mistreats him by treating well, like a guest in her home, and doesn’t feel badly about it at all. The only question is how long until he breaks, and what form it will, violence or another kind of release. She can't bring herself to care, living as she is under water.

When she reaches the church, Simcoe keeps walking to his post, his posture would so tight she briefly worries about his back.

“Ma’am?” the soldier at the door questions her, a snide smile on his face. Anna spares him a brief glance and then steps inside, ignoring him too.

Gaining a private audience with Major Hewlett is difficult, but Simcoe had secured it for her ‘by way of apology’ for the kitchen. When she steps forward, Hewlett looks at her like he doesn't recognize her. It gives Anna pause.

“Ah.” He recovers quickly. “Mrs. Strong.”

“Major.”

“What can I do for you today?” he asks, in a tone that suggests he already knows. It’s strange to even look at him. If Simcoe was the crashing waves of the sea, Hewlett was the still pond behind the house. Anna feels she can barely see him now.

She straightens her shoulders. Makes her case. Predictably, it is denied.

***

The staff room of the tavern is stuffy and hot from disuse. Anna sets it to rights with quick, efficient movements, determined not to think about any of it much. She’d had an absolutely gutting conversation with Abigail, explaining about her new ‘assignment’ and separation from Cicero, who now sits in the kitchen underneath her, a little lost boy. Anna jerks the weak curtains open with far more force than necessary, and the rod comes loose, clattering to the floor. She stares at it, mind strangely blank.

The thought of sleeping at home had been too much. She can't bear the thought of going back to see it all, one last glaring example of the things the Crown had taken from her. Simcoe hadn't taken to it gracefully, of course, wanting her where he can get her, where he can play his game.

Anna denied him, insisting that he stay on the house while she temporarily moves to the tavern. Though how temporary it would be, she didn't know.

A knock on the door startled her out of her reverie. Anna glares at it, knowing that she can count on one hand her potential visitors, and she doesn't want to see any of them. Another knock, more insistent this time.

Anna sighs and puts the broken curtain rod down to go open the door, resigned and more aware than ever of appearances. It won't do for a patron to see her receiving male visitors. As such, she ushers Simcoe inside as soon as she gets the door open, already glaring.

“I see it doesn't much matter to you what I say,” she says, setting her hands on her hips.

Simcoe keeps his chin high, a look of innocence on his face. “Of course it does. You didn't tell me not to visit.”

“It was implied,” she answers, too tired to give the words any meaning. Simcoe frowns intently, his eyes roving over her face, analyzing. He looks at her hands, over to the bed, and finally lands on the broken curtain.

“Don't touch that.”

He turns back to her, eyebrows raised. “Pardon?”

“You don't have to do anything with it, I'll fix it.”

“But I'd like to help.”

“And I'm asking you not to.”

Asking, not telling.

He leans away. “Fear makes you cruel, Mrs. Strong, has anyone ever told you that?”

Anna flushes. “No.”

“Not in so many words?”

She lets her shoulders drop. “Did you come here for a purpose?”

Amusement crosses his face. “Always.”

“Very well.” She crosses her hands in front of her. “What can I do for you?”

He frowns, very slightly. Then he brightens back up. “I’d like to stay.”

Anna scoffs, knowing better than to assume he means another room in the tavern. “Here?”

“Yes.”

She hooks a hand on her hip. “Are you mad?”

“Perhaps, and I'll even admit that it's been asked of me in those words.”

Anna presses her lips together, hard, before letting go. “We can't.”

“I'll sleep on the floor, of course, and be out before the sun. No one will know.”

Some of her earlier curiosity creeps upon her, the wondering of what it would feel like to have him there. A monster under the bed? Or a loyal dog, guarding the house? She might never get to find out now.

“It's an unnecessary risk.”

“I disagree,” Simcoe responds lightly, easing his way forward, approaching her as one might a particularly dangerous animal. “I find it to be the most essential thing.”

Anna watches with growing dismay as he closes in, reaching down to take one of her hands, and brings it up to press a gentle kiss to her palm.

“Don't,” she barely breathes.

Simcoe let's go of her. “Shall I kiss your feet instead?”

She blinks, than realizes that she’s blinking back tears. “Is that what you want? Really?” The question comes out more sharply than she intended.

“Yes.” He looks and sounds completely serious, so much so that it shocks her. ”I apologize for my earlier behavior.”

“I thought that was what the meeting with Hewlett was for.”

“In part,” Simcoe says, his tone careful and his eyes sharp. “What did he say?”

Anna sighs, and doesn't take her hand back. “Nothing of use. An apology for the inconvenience but of course there’s nothing he can do.”

“Hm.” He keeps his gaze down, examining their hands. “We’ll see about that.”

She blinks. “What?”

“I will speak to him again. Now, do you accept my apology?”

She sighs and lays her free hand on her forehead, letting her eyes slip shut. It’s not even her kitchen anymore. “Yes.”

“I find that I do not believe you.”

She opens her eyes, growing irritated. “It’s the best I can do.”

“Is it?” He lifts up her hand and holds it to his face.

Anna stares, imaging curling her fingers, driving her nails into his skin. Scratch him, bruise him. She can’t, obviously, not where people could see. But other places? His uniform covers so much.

Anna shudders and looks away. “No.”

Simcoe presses forward, his breath on her face. “I would let you.”

Anna shakes her head. “I know, but I don’t want to. Didn’t we talk about creativity? I’m not a brute. Besides, would that really be a punishment?”

He blinks down at her, wide eyed. When he answers, it’s so soft she has to strain to hear. “I never knew to ask for this. I never knew to look for you.”

“Yes well, you found me.”

“Indeed.”

She lets him sleep on the floor.

***

The next day, they go back to Major Hewlett together, and he looks so alarmed that she can't help but crack a smile.

Anne watches with an odd sort of detachment born of low expectations as Simcoe takes it upon himself to advocate for her keeping her house even when she loses all the land, the tavern, and of course Abigail and the others. She hardly concerns herself with it, too busy trying to put her life back together as best she can. Whoever gets the tavern will likely be obliged to keep her on, even just for room and board, so it’s unlikely that she’ll be out of the street.

But then he succeeds, his impassioned arguments of the rights of respected ladies to their own homes being one of the many things they fight for in the colonies. Hewlett looks doubtful about the ‘respected’ part, and Anna can’t find it in herself to fault him. If another office spoke of a woman without her husband like that, she’d have her opinions too. Her only consolation is that she’s not actually an adulterer, and whatever is suggested, it can’t be more creative than the things Anna had already come up with herself.

The house feels empty, deserted. The center of a ghost town, despite the fact that nothing much had changed on the inside. Some of her husband's more expensive pieces of property are scheduled to be taken, and of course Abigail has left a gaping hole, but in the cold light of day nothing much had changed.

On the first night of her homecoming, Anna had tentatively poked her head into the kitchen, only to gasp in surprise to find it in considerably better shape. She turns to see Simcoe lurking in the hall, watching. “You?”

He licks his lips. “Me, both times, it would seem.”

Anna hums and looks back. Upon careful inspection, the illusion of repair does not quite hold up. The dust and broken pieces had been swept up, but the crack in the wall remains obvious and they were clearly missing a chair from the set. “I confess I’m not sure how we’re going to do this?”

“What do you mean?”

She crosses her arms over her chest. “It’s ridiculous to have a house of this size for just the two of us.”

He hums, closer behind her now. “We’ll have to do the work of the servants.”

“You mean I will.”

Simcoe laughs softly. “I will do my part, Mrs. Strong.”

“It's a fantasy,” she draws her fingers along a crack in the table. “One that is quite literally falling apart.”

“Then we’ll fix it,” he says, resolutely.

Anna blinks at him, tired to her bones. “For how long?”

“For as long as we can.”

Anna stares at the floor, the question of what she’ll do when it’s all over haunting her. How long until the house feels like this all the time?

“Who says it must end?”

Anna hums, and pointedly does not look up, the implication of that too much for her in the current moment. To his credit, Simcoe does not push.

She steps away. “When are they coming to ransack?”

He laughs. “Tomorrow afternoon, I expect.”

Anna nods. “What do you think they would do if they found some things missing?”

“With me here? Nothing at all.”

“Good.” She steps into the kitchen and takes a canvass bag down from a hook on the wall.

***

They head out after dark, like thieves in the night, or at least that's how it feels to Anna. A reverse thief, sneaking behind the back of the King to deliver a gift. Simcoe doesn't seem to feel it, content in the knowledge that he belongs anywhere he wishes. It sparks an old familiar resentment in her chest, but for that she's almost grateful. Not everything is so changed.

Simcoe hoists the bag he had insisted on carrying and regards it seriously. “Would you give this to me if I wasn’t already living with you?”

She considers the question, turning it over in her mind. “Well, if you weren’t living with me, I don’t imagine we would be close enough to warrant gifts.”

He laughs. “Is that what this is? A gift?”

“More like a revenge, perhaps.” She smiles back.

He looks back at her, eyes glittering in the moonlight, like a creature. “Do you feel the need for revenge on us often?”

Anne pauses, having somehow forgotten, just for a moment, who he is. “Only when it’s deserved. You’re not so naive.”

He hums, and they continue through the night.

Anna’s heart starts to pound when they get within sight of Abe’s farm, the inevitable stress of two worlds colliding. She risks a glance over to Simcoe, but he seems unbothered. None of the jealousy she had feared had made an appearance. Yet.

There's a candle lit in the house, letting out a soft glow. Anna feels herself softening with it, an old desire curling around her heart, like a pet, loyal but fading. When she and Abe were young, they used to climb the big trees behind her house, even though they weren’t allowed. Sometimes Ben or Caleb would be there too, but mostly it was Abe and Anna, the two troublemakers, as her mother would say. Anna would always go first, blazing the trail so Abe could follow behind her, but eventually he would overtake her, going higher than she could manage. Now she doesn’t know who is ahead and who is behind.

Anna sighs and stops moving, turning to her companion, already watching her. Waiting for instruction. She had told him where she was going not to avoid him following her, but to see if he would ask to come along. Her curiosity has been like a bottomless well lately, consuming in a way it hadn't been since she was a girl.

“Wait here.”

Simcoe inclines his head. “Will you tell him?”

For a moment, Anna thinks he means everything, all of it. But surely not. In that light, telling him that Simcoe had accompanied her did not seem so grand.

“Do you want me to? It’s not so strange.”

Simcoe only shrugs and turns away, standing at attention. Anna purses her lips, considering the next push. But she has a task for the night, so she slips the bag out of his hand and continues on by herself, covering the last few yards.

As she knocks on the door, Anna wonders what she’ll find behind it. The last time she had seen Abe had not gone well, and she can't help but feel that she’s making a mistake. But she’d rather watch it all burn then let them take everything, and he’s the only one left.

“Anna!” Abe all but jumps forward, taking her by the arm to pull her inside. “What are you- how did you get away?”

She opens her mouth to explain, but he talks over her, apparently too wound up to wait. “What is going on? Are you alright?”

Anna leans back, waiting to see if he's finished. Her game with Simcoe had taught her patience, and apparently given her an air of the school teacher, since Abe ducks his head. She softens, somewhat, and reaches out to touch his arm, to try to take some of that nervous energy away.

“I'm fine. He hasn't hurt me and I don't expect he will.”

Abe pulls away and searches her face. There’s the jealousy. “I don’t understand what’s going on. Are you-”

“We not having an affair, if that's what you're asking.”

“I just thought- if it was something you felt you had to do for the cause, or to protect yourself-”

Anna frowns. “Well I had to do something, but I found another way.”

Abe’s gaze sharpens. “What way? How long do you think you can control him?”

“I don’t know,” Anna says, and then rushes to finish before he can interrupt her again. “I’m doing my best, and I should point out that you’re my friend, not my husband.”

His eyebrows fly up, but he lets it lie. “We should kill him now, before it gets any worse.”

“No,” she answers, probably too quickly. “That would be much worse. We’ll be implicated. Besides, he hasn't done anything to me to warrant it.”

Abe sputters, but Anna holds her ground. If someone is going to kill him, it’s going to be her. He belongs to her, his life is hers, but she can’t expect Abe to understand that. She can’t imagine saying any of it out loud. Abe steps forward, putting them close. “It wasn’t that long ago we agreed to do it.”

“It feels like a lifetime,” she answers, as honestly as she can. Then she shakes her head and holds up the bag. “I brought you these. I’d rather you had them then the King’s men.”

Abe doesn’t look at the bag, still frowning. “A lifetime.”

“Abe-”

“Do we feel like a lifetime away, too? Because it isn’t that way for me, Anna, not at all.”

Anna lets her shoulders drop, some of that prior life coming back at his words, at the familiarity of it all. Abe steps forward again, and she takes a step back.

“Abe. You have your wife.”

His expression darkens. “And what? You have Simcoe?”

“I have something. I don’t know what-”

The door opens, startling them both. Anna whips around to face him, expecting Simcoe to be there and to be angry, but it’s only Baker, who freezes. Abe sighs. “Evening.”

Baker’s gaze darts between them. “Evening. Mr. Woodhull...Mrs. Strong. I thought you might be here.”

Abe frowns, his gaze cutting to the window. “Why?”

“Well-” Anna starts, but Abe had already spotted Simcoe, and was already most of the way out the door, running headlong at a British soldier. Shocked, Anna shared a look with Baker, who seemed so startled she wondered if he could even move, and followed.

Abe was already planted in front of the Captain, hands on his hips, looking shockingly small in comparison. Anna’s heart jumped to her throat as she pulled up her skirts to run, coming up on the tense, but not yet violent, exchange.

“-can be wherever I wish, Mr. Woodhull, or do I have to remind you-”

“So what, you followed her here?” Abe yells, and Anna watches Simcoe’s expression tighten.

“Gentlemen,” Anna interjects, very quietly. They both look up. “Is there a problem?”

“No,” says Simcoe, at the exact moment that Abe says ‘yes’. They glare at each other. Anna purses her lips, more irritated than afraid now. Her gaze cuts back to Simcoe and finds him watching her, intent and apparently unruffled. She knows she should be scared, but she can’t help but wonder how far he’ll go, if he’ll listen to her even now. It’s possible, though it shouldn’t be.

“Captain, thank you for escorting me past curfew, that was very kind of you,” she continues, all manners.

Simcoe smirks, the expression unhidden. She had noticed his ability to mask all the battle emotions, the fear, the struggle, but with these he had no defense, and they played openly on his face. Abe sees it too, and grumbles, refocusing Simcoe’s attention on him.

“What was that, farmer?”

Abe’s head snaps up, a challenge in his eyes, so Anna steps between them. “It’s so late. Should we not all go home?”

It’s clearly in Abe to deny her, to push back. But Simcoe bends, stepping back to offer her his arm. “Of course.”

Anna takes it, prim and proper, with Abe’s glare all but burning a hole straight through her. “Thank you.”

“Do you want your things back?” Abe asks, arms crossed over his chest, with his hands jammed down into the crook of each elbow. She feels terrible.

“Of course not.”

“Fine.” He turns away, heading back to the house, the lone candle in the dark with Baker still lingering in the doorway. Anne stares after him, regretful and angry that he’d put her in this position in the first place. What did he expect? She takes a deep breath, and tightens her grip on Simcoe’s arm as the door closes.

“Were you worried?”

Anna doesn’t look at him. “A bit.”

“Don’t be.”

She looks up, meets his eyes. They’re clear, and his face is calm. “Alright.”

Simcoe nods, apparently satisfied, and they continue on their way.

It was a testament to how complacent she’d become, that she truly thought that was the end of it.

Chapter Text

When she was just married, the other ladies in town would talk to her about ‘domestic bliss’, and they were wrong. Anna found that domesticity is build on work, on scrubbing the tavern floor while her husband went through the accounts. It was her mother painstakingly repairing her father’s shirts. It was Abigail sitting quietly for a moment, and then jumping to her feet when a member of the house walked by. Bliss is not the word she would use. Domestic hell, on a bad day. Domestic life. An endless parade of domestic days.

Now, she lives in a domestic haze, her days linked in an unbroken chain, controlled to the point of insanity, but calm. For the most part.

Sometimes, her asks her for favors. Please touch my face, please cut my hair, please sit with me. Most of the time, it doesn’t hurt to grant the request, but she occasionally denies him anyway, just to demonstrate that she can. It’s what he wants, more than the things that he desires. Anna holds it all in her hands, constantly deciding when to curl her fingers in and crush the bird before it can fly away, out of her reach.

It’s a hard thing, and sometimes it catches up with her. She gets short of breath at random times, dizzy when other people look at her. Simcoe is there, even when he isn’t. He picks her up and sets her on her feet, playing her rock so she can be his balance. And for all her doubts, the house was in rather good shape.

“What do we need in the way of supplies?”

Anna doesn’t look up, rattling off the list as she puts the finishing touches on her project. She barely leaves, not even to go to the tavern, since the ownership of it hadn’t been officially decided yet. Simcoe is the one to go out, most of the time. Anna only sneaks away for Culper business, though that was coming few and far between now. The risk was too great on the balance of give and take. It’s a familiar concept. She does things for him in the day, but he’s hers at night.

“Here,” she says, holding her latest up for him to see. Simcoe’s eyes all but flash in the firelight. Lately, she had taken to making him new clothes. Plain, just a simple white shirt, but her own work, which they both enjoy.

“Another masterpiece,” he teases, still sat at the letter writing desk. She sends him a hard look that neither of them think is real.

“If you’d rather not-”

“I would.”

Anna smiles and sets it down, absently wondering what they’ll eat, what they should do. It’s easy to keep her mind occupied with so many things do keep track of. The clothes had been a early idea, but a good one. “I think I like this, to think of you as two people, with one set each.”

Simcoe inclines his head. “I know what you mean.”

“Red for blood. White for life?”

“As you say.”

Anna leans back against the couch, watching him. He’s sitting at the desk, head bent and focused on whatever it is he’s writing. Something about the air, or perhaps the way he holds himself, or the way he sneaks glances at her, feels off. Suspicious. “What are you working on so hard over there?”

He hesitates, as though frozen in time, just for a moment, before lowering the quill again. “Just some correspondence. I do have something for you, though.”

A thrill runs up her spine. Panic married to curiosity. “Oh?”

“One moment.”

Anna bites her lip. In this, she has very little time to consider her response. One glance at the window and the position of the sun gives her the answer. “I’d prefer it now, if you please.”

Simcoe turns, visibly startled. It’s not often that she can catch him off guard like this, and it sets off a warmth in her chest, proprietary and deep. Do it, she thinks. Do something. They had yet to hit a point he wouldn’t cross, and she was always wondering, thinking, about what that point would be, if it existed at all. When he stands, it isn’t much of a shock that she hadn’t found in it this.

“In that case, I’ll be right back,” he says, and inclines his head before excusing himself from the room. Anna watches him go, hears his boots on the stairs. She settles back more firmly in her chair, and her eyes fall on the letter on the desk.

Time seems, if not to stop, then to slow. Correspondence with who? About what? She glances back to the doorway. He’s upstairs, she can hear him, and she’s running out of time. But if she moves, will he be able to tell? Most likely, so she had better do something else while she’s standing, maybe cleaning up, maybe go into the kitchen and get wine, to cover for it.

Still, it’s likely nothing, and even if it isn’t, how to cover for the source? Is the reward worth the risk in this case? It’s not clear to her what he knows and what he suspects. Anna is careful, but Simcoe is a shark. Is he taking longer than usual to find something in his own room? Leaving the letter out could be a test.

In the end, she doesn’t move, choosing to believe that she had chosen it for herself, and not been dictated by the sound of his steps above her, making his way across the floor, to the landing, back down the stairs. When he crosses the threshold again, he looks right to her, a piece of paper held gently in his hand, and doesn’t glance at the desk.

“I’ve written this for you.”

Anna looks at the paper, an innocent thing by nature, and doesn’t know what she feels. “May I ask what it is?”

Either the fire has grown stronger, or he flushes, just a bit. “A poem.”

Smiling, she keeps her hands in her lap. “I had no idea you were a writer.”

“Neither did I,” he says, very quietly. “Will you take it?”

There are only a few answers to that. Anna picks, as always, the middle ground. “Not right now, but will you read it to me?”

She half expects him to blush deeper, the control reaching inside him like a hand in a glove, but instead his eyes soften. “A surprise every time.”

It’s Anna’s turn to blush. “Yes, well. Poetry is best enjoyed out loud.”

“Is that the case?” Simcoe closes the space between them, and without a moment’s hesitation sinks to the floor to sit at her feet, one shoulder pressed to her knee.

Anne freezes, amazed. Sometimes he does things like this, sitting at her feet or kneeling next to her bed without her telling him to do it, and it shocks her to the core even now. She’s so surprised that she has to ask him to read it again when he finishes, for she hadn’t heard a single word.

***

Anna wakes up and knows something is wrong.

The quiet is sitting over her like a blanket, and she throws it off, shifting into action. There’s a deafening lack in the house, a blankness that calls her. The floors are loud when she steps on them, moaning and complaining all the way. She goes to his room, like he used to do to her, like she did the first night, a ghost outside his door, and hesitates. Does she dare open it? What might that lead to? It’s her house.

She pushes the door open an inch, and finds the room empty. It’s almost a let down after the choice made her heart pound. A sweep of the rest of the house reveals the same. Anna pauses in the entryway. It’s early. Too early. He isn’t working today.

A long time ago, Anna’s mother told her to trust her instincts. She said that feelings, those things that touch your hand and try to lead you down a certain path, or that grab you by the hem of the dress, pulling you back, were to be listened to. They were messages from God, from the messengers of God. “And you always, always, listen to God,” she would say, and touch the tip of her finger to Anna’s nose.

When she asked her father about it, he laughed. Said it was women’s superstition. That was odd to Anna, since all her teachers of the Bible were men. But her father always encouraged her to speak her mind, as long as she did it properly, respectfully, so she did.

Her father looked at her strangely. “Instincts don’t come from God, most of the time,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to yourself.”

Anna doesn’t think about her father much, now that he’s been gone for so long. But she thinks about him as she dresses in the gradually lightening dawn, and goes out to follow where the thing holding her hand leads, Godlike or otherwise.

The early morning air is wet, as it often is, and quickly turns to snow. Again. Anna can see where it had already snowed a bit earlier, mostly from the footprints that had been left there, one about every dozen feet. It’s enough.

The path leads further into the forest. More footprints, including some she recognizes from a lifetime of childhoods spent running in the snow. Abe.

Anna starts to feel the familiar twist of exasperation and fear. Simcoe had been looking for an excuse for this for a long time, she knows. There had been no real reason to think that she could have stopped it from starting, but maybe she can prevent a bloody end.

Less than an hour later, Anna and Simcoe walk back to the house together in stony silence.

“Are you terribly upset with me?” Simcoe asks, but she can hear the real undercurrent of concern in his voice, which begs the question, why do it at all in the first place?

“Upset is perhaps not the right word,” Anna says, torn between angry and numb. Her feet are cold from walking in the snow. If she asks him to pick her up and carry her back to the house, he’ll do it, but he then goes behind her back and does this. Simcoe watches her, stops when she stops. “What in the world are we doing?”

The wind shifts around them, brushing up against the space inbetween where they’re standing. Simcoe tilts his head, his wig partially askew. He might have died. More likely, he would have killed Abe.

“Deuling is an ancient rite.”

“You can’t possibly think that’s what I want to hear from you right now.”

“Believe me madam, I hardly ever know what you want. If I did, you would always have it.”

Anna blinks, the cold and shock and sadness stinging her face. Her cheeks feel rubbed raw. She can’t possibly be beautiful now, or at all, not by this high standard. No one is. That’s a part of him, of this thing that they share, that she will never understand.

When she got to the clearing, it was already underway. Anna saw it as though from underwater. Watching a terrible collision. But he stopped when she asked him to, as though passing his final test, the light in his eye shining bright. All Anna had wanted for her morning was breakfast. Abe, of course, had been livid.

Anna didn’t hear much of what he said, caught up as she was, as always, in the whirlpool of trying understand. But she caught Simcoe’s response.

“She’s mine.”

Abe had actually laughed. “No, you’re hers.”

“I am.” Simcoe tilted his chin up, and Anna saw Baker’s eyebrows fly up. “It’s the same thing.”

There wasn’t much left to do but leave, let the other watch them as they left.

Now, Anna is cold and tired, and it’s barely full morning. She folds her arms one over the other, trying to keep herself safe, warm. He’d put his jacket on her without asking, but it isn’t enough. “I don’t understand.”

Simcoe hums and looks out over the land, sharp eyed and animalistic. It’s what she always thought of him. A wild thing. “Perhaps you’re trying too hard.”

Anna frowns. No one was hurt but she feels wounded, vulnerable. “What do you mean?”

“When I started...this with you, I did so with the intention of eventually turning it to my own benefit.”

They should probably go inside for this conversation, but she had been the one to start it. Anna glances over her shoulder, and sees they’re alone. It isn’t necessarily a comfort, though if he wants her dead he has every opportunity. The house is a false security. A fantasy.

“That doesn’t surprise me.” Anna says, because it’s true.

At this, he cracks a smile. “Of course not.”

“Even the first time? With the brush?”

He shivers. “No,” he admits. “It didn’t occur to me until after. I didn’t know you would do such a thing until you had already done it.”

Neither had Anna, though she doesn’t say so. “But it’s not what you want anymore.”

“Having you here, like this, it’s intoxicating. I told you before. I knew I wanted you, but I never thought to look for this.” He reaches for her hand, and she unhooks it from her arm to catch it, her fingers freezing immediately in the horrible air. “My salvation was to accept it. To accept you.”

Anna breathes deeply, causing a mist to rise up between them. They’re very close. Dizzyingly so. “And you wish for me to accept you?”

“Entirely.”

***

She had left him in her room, kneeling by her vanity, to answer the door. Up there, in their space, the air was soft around them, making her feel lightheaded when he touched her. Her scalp tingles, hair hanging down against her back. He’d helped her get undressed, as was their usual routine now, dressed himself in the clothes she’d made for him. They dulled his edges, make him seem more like a man. Just a man, resting at her feet.

When they heard the door, she had him stand up, quickly braid her hair, then kneel again. He did it all in grateful silence, content to the world. “I’ll be right back,” she said, and on impulse, leaned down to press a kiss to the top of his head, just to hear him sign. It was almost like he was asleep, sometimes.

Now, standing in her foyer with the paper crushed in her hand, Anna has never felt so awake. Selah released. The attainder. Abe back in New York.

Simcoe.

Anna presses her hand to her chest, feeling for her heartbeat. She can’t find it. He’s going to be upset. He’s going to do something about it. He’ll get himself assigned as their escort and follow them there. He’ll kill her tonight.

He won’t. It’s not what he wants. It’s not what she saw in his face when he told her what he wanted. Again. He’s told her before, he’s always telling her. With every look he sends in her direction he tells her.

There’s a slight noise, a board shifting, and it occurs to her that Simcoe hasn’t come to see what had happened because he was still waiting, kneeling by the chair. He might wait there all night if she leaves him. Or, more likely, he would realize something is actually strange and follow her, root out the truth. He won’t wait forever, just because she tells him to. Will he?

Better to face it head on. Anna makes herself go back up the stairs, reasoning with herself the whole way. Keeping it from him tonight will make it worse tomorrow, when he inevitably hears the rumors. There’s no way to arrange to be gone before he finds out.

Anna pauses at the top of the stairs. The dining room might be the best place for it. More formal, more like the walls she tried to put up when he first moved in. The veneer of civility. But they’re beyond it, aren’t they? She keeps going.

Simcoe’s eyes flicker up in her direction when she enters the room. Her face must be a sight because he blinks, then stands despite not being asked. “Are you alright?”

She doesn’t have it in her to reprimand him, whether it would help her right now or not. “Here.” The letter hangs between them. Just words on a page, but Simcoe looks at it like it’s a live snake. He drags his gaze back up to her face, his eyes like two black pits.

“Shall I read to you?”

“No.” She straightens her arm even more, the joint straining. She’s so tense she doesn’t even shake. “It’s Selah, the judge-”

Simcoe steps forward and all but rips the paper of of her hand. “Ah. For the land. How predictable. Though I suppose the judge is a singularly greedy man.”

“I agree.”

“Well, it’s clear what you have to do. Just leave him there. The land will-”

“No, John. I can’t do that.”

Simcoe’s expression doesn’t change. It’s his public mask, flat and falsely polite. “Why not? The spineless traitor-”

Without thought, Anna steps forward “Don’t. Don’t talk about him.”

The letter crumples in his hand and he closes the last of the distance between them, shifting into her space. “I thought you cared for me,” he says, like a child, going straight to the heart of it. Not even the fact that she has to crane her neck to look him in the face changes the impression.

“I do.”

“Then why would you even think about doing this?”

There are a lot of things Anna could say. She could bring up the fact that she is still legally married to Selah, that they had built a life together. There is no choice to make. She could lie and say she has only been playing with him this whole time, that she’s done with it all and glad for it.

What she actually says is, “You can care for more than one person at a time.”

A cloud passes over his face. “No, you can’t. Not in the same way. What we have is-”

“Please.” Anna turns away, face hot, putting her back to him. A mistake, she realizes, as his arms wind around her from behind. His chin landed on her shoulder. He must be bending down, the curve of his spine awkward. He imagines that he’s doing it because he loves her.

“I want to make this easier on you, not harder. I want to help.”

“Then let me go.” Anna stares at a blank point on the wall. It’s a bad line from a play. They’re in a dance, riding a horse into the ground, and it’s time to get down.

“Never.”

Anna takes a deep breath, and tries to pull away. Predictably, his arms tighten. His next instinct is to try to threaten her. “I’ll tell the Major everything, this will hurt you more than me, I promise you that.”

She turns her head to glare back at him, taking in his wide eyes, fingers clenching and unclenching nervously. The letter is crushed to a shred in his hand against her hip. “I doubt that.”

As always, he breaks first, turning her around to catch her by the hand, a lady and a tiger. It makes her head spin, and she take the opportunity to pull away, moving towards the first available flat surface. Instead of letting the connection break, he follows, hand on her back as though comforting her as she sits down on the bed. “I could make you happy, let me. Let me try.”

Crouched before her, he looks small. A cat instead of a great beast. Just a homeless thing, sliding its way into a place of comfort. Bowls of milk in exchange for catching mice. For a moment Anna is horribly tempted. She tries not to be but she is, caught up in the fantasy she had constructed, that they had constructed together. This house, their world. His pleas take on a desperate edge when she turns him down again.

“Put your husband aside, marry me instead. I’m a war hero, a decorated officer. He’s a traitor, they’ll grant you a divorce.” The words are soft as a caress, an obvious move, but heartfelt, so much so that Anna gets lost in it. Almost misses the meaning.

She blinks, feeling dumb. Struck that way by this odd and terrible man. “What?”

Simcoe nods, his eyes bright. He holds her hand like a lifeline. It hurts, her knuckles grinding together. “Consider it. What if you could have this all the time? Have me?”

“Have you.”

“Anything.” He rolls up on the balls of his feet, bringing them closer. Anna can see everything, all of it. It’s written all over his face. She can’t help but to reach up to touch, dragging her fingers along the bone, feeling the softness of his cheek turn into roughness when she goes the other way. Simcoe watches her intently, waiting. For what, Anna doesn’t know, but she knows when he sees it.

When he kisses her, Anna forgets to breathe. His lips are dry, but he’s gentle, not like some men who try to have everything at once. It has been so long, so much, and now he’s here, at her feet, handing himself over to her completely. She opens her mouth with a sigh, and he sweeps his tongue against her once before pulling back. Anna chases him, turning her face to the side to better align them, and he makes a sound in the back of his throat. She’s dizzy, the world spinning. Then it falls completely when he rises higher, pushing her back against the bed, climbing on top of her.

Anna’s heart jumps in her chest, and her blood runs. He has his hand on her waist, his leg wedged between her thighs. It sits hard and hot between them, a long line of living flesh and bone. Alive. For all that she touches Simcoe, careful, measured, a glancing blow to his face, fingers trailing up his arm, she hasn’t pressed against another person like this since her husband was sent away, and it strikes her deeply, lighting her up from the inside out.

He knows what he’s doing enough not to simply paw at her chest and bite at her neck. It’s clearly not his first time, not even with someone like her. He hadn’t spent his whole life covertly doing favors with other soldiers in the months between slinking off to find port prostitutes. The weight of him is heady without being stifling, his hands tantalizing against her skin. Practice, and restraint.

Anna knows him, knows that if he gives up control he’ll pull her legs apart and take her there in the ruins of her dress. Hook his hands under her thighs and hold her legs open for him as he ruts into her, following his instincts and wringing her release out of her by force of nature. It’s right there at the surface. His eyes burn when he looks at her. He wants to. But he won’t, giving himself to her entirely, all his control and desire bound up together.

Simcoe shifts his weight to kiss her more deeply, and flexes his thigh against her. Deliberate as it is, it sends a sharp spark of heat through her, an echo of a feeling she can chase, that she knows well. With a shock, she realizes she could use him like this, like a toy, a thing for her pleasure, sure he would like it. She imagines telling him not to move while she does it, bracing her hands on his shoulders and rutting against him like an animal while he shaks and holds himself still. Tears would sting his eyes, the effort of it rocking him to the core. Just the thought makes her shake, or maybe it’s how he’s gotten his hand under the back of her dress, now intimately familiar with the way it works from the many times she’d allowed him to dress her, to rest on her inner thigh, almost touching, nearly there.

His mouth is close to her ear, trailing up her neck, whispering to her, things about what their life could be, if she let him be with her fully. She imagines it with him, caught up in the spinning. “We can go, leave this place. I’ll quit my position. We’ll make our own way in the world.”

Anna pants against his skin, his face brushing hers, then the top of his head as he dips down again to kiss her collarbone. She exposed, open underneath him, her legs hooked and pinned, and she can see it. He’s offering to throw everything away, why can’t she? Why shouldn’t she? The cause, the ring. How badly does it need her? How badly does it need Simcoe gone? She could make a trade, her for him. Two pieces off the board. How much will either of them really affect this war? How much does that matter, taken against what they want?

“You would bring home the wife of a patriot?”

“Yes.” He leans up, meets her eyes. “You don’t know, Anna. You haven’t been anywhere else, but you’re rare. We’re rare, the way we are with each other.”

It’s true. She knows it. Knew it, maybe, when she started this.

“I don’t know if that’s enough, to make it work.” Her head is clouded, hot, it’s hard to know if she’s making any sense. “We’re not- this isn’t normal.”

The hot rush against her neck when he scoffs makes her shudder. Everything seems too loud, too much, even the sounds drifting in from the open window, tree frogs and cicadas. Night creatures, like them.

“Don’t be absurd,” Simcoe pulls back to grip the back of her neck. “Normal? We are more than that. Much more.”

“Oh, god.” Anna pants heavily, her chest heaving. It feels like her heart is trying to fight its way out of her chest. Everything in her body heaves. She feels sick, and more aroused than she can ever remember being in her entire life. Every time she shift against him, she feels the slide between her legs, and it’s maddening.

“I’ll come with you to New York, and I’ll take care of it. No one will question it as long as the attainder holds up. Once it’s over, we can go away.”

Anna freezes, her mind desperately trying to catch up to her rioting body. It’s too much, too far, and he clearly knows it from the way he redoubles his efforts on her body, abandoning the words that betrayed him, mouth trailing up her jaw, fingers finally, finally slipping between her legs to stroke her where she needs it, but it’s incongruent. Wrong.

She reaches down to grab his wrist, and his hand disappears before she can get there, jerking away like he’d been burned. Anna closes her eyes. It’s not just about them, and she doesn’t really control him. The hands on her skin could just as easily turn on her, move to her neck.

“Tell me what you want me to do,” he says, his hands moving restlessly on her skin, over her dress, under the fabric. Randomly searching.

Anna refocuses, and thinks. Tries to think. There’s a cloud hanging over her. “Stop.”

When she opens her eyes, he’s looking right at her, and he looks devastated.

He does stop, but that’s all he does, freezing in place. Then he breaks, buries his face in her neck, flattening out on top of her in a dead weight. He’s heavy. Anna can’t hardly breathe. “John.”

“Please.”

“No.”

“Just let me stay here then, like this, I won’t- I didn’t intend-”

“No, that’s enough.” She gets one hand free enough to drag it up to her face, presses it to her forehead. They smell, like sweat and the sex they didn’t have. It turns her stomach. Simcoe makes a sound against her collarbone, reduced just as she has reduced herself to this. She lowers her hand to his head, stroking his hair in sympathy for a few quiet moments before putting both hands on his shoulders, pushing with her whole strength.

“Enough now.”

Chapter Text

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.

“I’m sorry.”

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.