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Carry Me Home

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Chapter 1: The Sweeplings – Carry Me Home

‘Carry me home when the light in my eyes does fade.
Carry me home when the shadow comes to take me away.
Lay down my bones, knowing I'll be in a better place.
Release my soul, carry me home.’

 

“Yes, but-”

“Dismissed,” Mount says.

“But-”

“I said you are both dismissed, Lister. Now, go.”

Anne sighs, nods her assent, Crane following behind as they both exit the room.

“Not to worry, Lass. With a bit of luck, this’ll be the last one. For a while at least.”

“Yes, I’m quite aware but what are we to do if she’s not there?”

“Continue the search.”

“Phyllis.”

“Anne. We of all people know what we’ve signed up for. The girl must be found.”

“And if she’s dead?”

Phyllis goes quiet as they walk in silence.

“If the poor soul is no longer with us, at least she will have been found. But be that as it may, we have a job to do and as well we both know, Miss Mount wasn’t the only one taken. We ought to help as many people as we can, do we not?”

Anne stares ahead, sighs.

“Of course.”

Phyllis nods her head as they continue walking, stopping as Lister’s room is left and Phyllis’ on the right.

“See you in a few hours, Lass. Do try and get some sleep.”

“Same to you.”

*****

“See you soon, Annie,” he says, depositing Ann back into the dimly lit room with a kiss to her cheek.

She shivers as the door shuts behind her. Winces with every step at the soreness emanating from between her thighs. Feels the phantom weight of his body on top of hers, his warm breath against her cheek. Tastes the tang of blood as she bites her lip to keep the whimpers in and the salt of her tears still running.

“Ann,” Mary Cynthia says, rushing over and catching the blonde in her small frame as Ann collapses down to the floor.

Mary Cynthia rocks them both, cooing in her ear.

“Shh. It’s okay. I’ve got you. I’m here.”

Ann sobs, feels the mousy brunettes bony body press against hers in an entirely different way and unravels at the kindness, thinks it fitting that her nickname of Mary Cynthia has stuck.

Because she is.

She is Ann’s personal Mary Magdalene that cleanses and washes and baptises the sins of him from her body every time.

“Let’s get you sorted out, shall we? Then I’ll read to you for a bit.”

Ann shakily nods her head, her sobs dying down as she focuses on breathing.

“Th-thank you. I-I don’t deserve your kindness.”

Mary Cynthia purses her lips, taking the blonde’s hand in her own as the head further into the room, beady eyes of various hues tracking their movements.

“Sit here, I’ll get you some water. Would you like my blanket?”

Ann shakes her head.

“No. There’s-there’s no need to taint your cloth, too.”

Mary Cynthia frowns.

“‘I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.’ You are not unclean to me, Ann.”

Ann curls in on herself in the corner, repeating the words back to herself as Mary Cynthia leaves her for a few moments.

Clean. You must get clean. Say it. We want you to say it.

“I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus…”

Mary Cynthia returns will a chipped cup full of water.

“Drink. It’ll help.”

She does, the tepid water doing nothing to quench her thirst.

“But to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean…”

Again.

“Ann,” Mary Cynthia says, sighing as Ann begins to repeat her mantra. “Ann,” she sighs again at the lack of an answer and wraps an arm around the distressed blonde. “‘It came to pass, when the Philistine arose, and came and drew to meet David, that David ran toward the army to meet the Philistine.

And David put his hand in his bag, and took a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth.

David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword...’” Mary Cynthia continues, voice steady and strong as Ann’s fades away to listen.

They both look forward into the semi darkness as Ann calms, the voices in her head dying down for the moment as Mary Cynthia continues her stories and she sits, enraptured.

*****

“No.”

“Anne.”

“No. You are to stay here and make sure we’re ready for-for whatever we bring back with us,” Anne says, checking her gun over as Marian paces in front of her.

“But-”

“I said no, Marian. Stay here. That is a direct order from your superior.”

Marian throws her hands up.

“Oh, you are being ridiculous. I’m not a child.”

“Yes, I’m well aware of that. Children are somewhat easier to train to follow orders.”

Marian scoffs.

“Right. So, you’re going to go off, galivanting and what am I to do? Sit here and make sure the place is clean and tidy for your return?”

Anne sighs, places the thoroughly inspected gun on the table before moving towards Marian.

“No. You are to make sure the place is ready for our return, that there is food and adequate medical provisions provided and that the other servants-staff-Privates, whatever you want to call them are ready to assist upon our arrival. Marian,” Anne says, stepping closer to her sister who’s standing proudly, defiantly in front of her. “I trust no one but you to make sure that these important tasks are completed. This,” she says, looking away from Marian for a second. “This could be the one we’ve been searching for.”

Marian swallows, looks Anne in the eyes.

“Now,” Anne continues, quickly hugging Marian and hearing her small intake of breath before she kisses her cheek and steps away. “Take care of yourself.”

“You too.”

Anne begins to walk away as Marian sighs.

“I mean it, Anne. Be careful.”

“Yes, yes, yes. I’ll see you soon, Marian.”

Anne taps her finger against her thigh as she storms away.

Who knows what they’re walking into?

“Ready to go, Lass?” she hears as she heads towards one of the trucks.

“As I’ll ever be. I’ll have Sowden keep you appraised of the situation as much as possible.”

“See to it you do, Captain Lister. I’ll have one of my team ready to report if we find her,” Phyllis says as the two walk together for a few moments.

“Let us hope that you do.”

“Right you are, Lass. Right you are.”

“I’ll see you once all of this madness is over.”

“Do be careful.”

“Same to you. I’d rather not have to deal with Mount by myself.”

Phyllis laughs.

“Aye, I quite agree with you there.”

“Captain Lister,” Washington says, dressed in black and smile on his face despite the ungodly hour.

“Yes.”

“The teams are ready to go, just say the word.”

Anne almost rolls her eyes, sees Phyllis grin and shake her head before she heads towards her team.

“We are to lunch together, Captain Crane and discuss matters before seeing Mount,” she shouts, and Phyllis raises a hand in acknowledgement.

*****

There's gun fire.

The door bangs open.

Ann curls in on herself, hands covering her ears as she watches a flood of shadows storm in, bright lights blinding her until she closes her eyes and rocks herself.

Say your prayers, Sinner. Say it. We want to hear it. 

“‘Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name.’”

Louder.

“‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.”

Louder.

“‘And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil,” she screams, voice breaking as some thing, some one grabs her arm and shakes her, pulling her hands from her ears.

She opens her eyes to a figure all in black crouching down in front of her.

“Who-who are. I said it. I said it like you wanted me too. I did. I-I did,” she says.

“What on earth are you talking about?”

Ann frowns at the sound of the voice, so different from the ones she hears all the time as she begins to acclimatise to the bright lights.

“You’re-you’re not.”

Ann takes in the room, notes two brown eyes boring down on her and soaks in their gaze.

“I-Who-who are you?”

“Perhaps I should be asking that of you.”

"I-I."

"Captain Lister," a man says and  Captain Lister turns her head to face him.

Ann breathes as the woman looks away.

"Kenny."

"Lieutenant Washington says the outer perimeter is secured."

The man eyes Ann up and down and she shivers, wilts, feels as though her skin is being peeled back like the rind of an orange, the noise of the room bearing down on her as she looks down to the floor.

Captain Lister watches the two for a few moments, lips pressed together in a firm line, frown in place.

"Good. If that is all, you can go."

She looks back at Ann.

"Despite what you believe, what you've come to expect, we are here to help," Captain Lister says, her fingers tilting Ann's face up as she looks Ann in the eyes before she sighs. "They will not hurt you, anymore and neither will we."

"Promise?"

"Yes."

Ann looks down once again, voices in her head blissfully quiet as the noises of people walking past, shouting orders, crying greet her ears.

A glint of light hits her eyes as she looks at what's grasped in Captain Lister's hand, remembers those… Men in the room, watching, their gaze clawing at her skin.

She burrows back into herself as the Captain frowns.

"What is it?"

"Why-why do you have a gun?"

"For protection, of course," the Captain answers, brow creased as she eyes the blonde, lowering her head to look up and stare into blue. "It wasn't…easy getting in here to get you all out but I told you, we're not here to hurt you."

Ann nods once more.

"O-okay."

"Come. Let's get you out of her," the Captain says as she stands, holding her hand out.

Ann tentatively reaches out, feels warm skin wrap around her hand, almost gasps at the strength as she's gently hoisted up.

She takes a step, winces at the soreness still lingering from early.

"Are you hurt?"

Ann shakes her head.

"Ann," a panicked voice shouts. "Ann."

Mary Cynthia rushes over.

"Get back here. I told you not to run," a female stranger says and she holds her breath, awaits Mary Cynthia being struck down, kicked, hit, demeaned.

Weakling.

"No," Ann says, shaking her hand and covering her ears. "No. No. No."

"Ann. It's alright, I'm here."

Mary Cynthia pulls her arms down from her ears and holds her hands.

"I'm here."

"What do you think you're d-"

"That's quite enough, Lawton," Captain Lister says, voice booming, and Ann turns her head to take in the brown eyed woman once again. "Perhaps somebody ought to check with Washington how things are? Hmm?" she finishes with a quirk of an eyebrow.

"Yes, Captain," the woman, Lawton says as she leaves to follow orders.

"Do forgive my colleague. It's a rather stressful situation, as you can imagine."

Ann and Mary Cynthia blink a response, faces blank.

"Right. Follow me."

Mary Cynthia grabs Ann's hand, holds it tight as Ann squeezes back and they follow the formidable Captain ahead.

Ann swallows as they near the door, his face flashing before her eyes as she awaits her impending doom.

He'll be waiting. He's always waiting for her.

Dirty wretched creature. We know what you let him do. Sinner

She begins to shake and Mary Cynthia squeezes her hand tighter.

"Thy Kingdom come," Mary Cynthia begins in a quiet, steady voice.

"Thy will be done," they say in unison as Captain Lister waits in the hall, looking at them both, frown in place as they continue their prayer.

Ann shakes, holds her breath, lips voicelessly moving, heartbeat pounding as they take the last few steps towards the doorway. Captain Lister meets her eyes, hold them as Ann steps through the door, gasping for breath as no one but the Captain and a few men dressed in black stand to greet them.

*****

“Sowden,” Anne’s says, voice booming as a slim figure eagerly heads towards her.

“Yes, Captain?”

“Update Crane’s team.”

“Yes, Captain,” he says, turning to do as she ordered.

“And Sowden, find out how things are with them and come straight back here to report to me,” she says, rubbing her forehead as she watches the blonde, Ann, sitting, staring into emptiness, wrapped in the arms of an even smaller brunette.

Anne frowns, wonders how such frail creatures have managed to survive in such a dirty, foul, hell of a place that stinks to high heavens of urine and sweat, and clogs her throat like ash with its oppression.

She walks over, tries to slow her gait, lighten her footfall, smooth out her voice.

“Hello.”

The mousy brunette looks up, owlish like eyes meeting her gaze before they look down and Ann continues to look away into nothing.

“I’m Captain Lister but you, lovely ladies, may call me Anne,” she finishes in a whisper as she crouches down. “But do keep it quiet. I’m afraid not many others around here know it.”

The small creature nods her head before looking up, a grimace of a smile in place that Anne eagerly returns.

“And you?”

“Cynthia.”

“Mary Cynthia,” Ann finishes, finally present.

“Well, it’s quite a pleasure to meet you both and I do believe you are also called Ann, no?”

Ann nods, frown in place as her body freezes like a string pulled taught.

“I do believe I heard Mary Cynthia call you that, did I not?”

Mary Cynthia nods, hand rubbing Ann’s back.

“Yes. Yes, you did.”

“Oh.”

Anne sighs as the two sit, huddled together still, suspiciously eyeing everyone walking behind Anne.

“Well, lucky for you ladies,” she says, hands clasped and moving with her words. “We are going to take you out of this wretched place and somewhere much cleaner, much brighter and much warmer.”

The two blankly stare back, silent and Anne’s forces her smile to stay in place despite wanting to frown, to scream and shout and to punish whoever was in charge of this…hellhole.

“Captain,” Sowden says, and Anne stands as she feels his presence behind her, wearily eyes the cowering women in front of her.

“I’ll be back in a moment,” she says, turning and indicating with flick of her head and a raise of an eyebrow that Sowden should step away. “What is it?”

“The girl has been found. Franklin has a superficial wound to the leg.”

Anne nods her head.

“Anything else?”

“No, Captain.”

“Right. Go help the others man the perimeter and ask Washington to report back to me as soon as possible.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Anne looks around the narrow corridor alive with people, captives, the teams under her command and notes the grimaces on faces, the fear on others, skin that’s barely thick enough to cover prominent bones and sighs, thankful that Marian isn’t here to see this.

“Washington,” she says, spotting the figure heading towards her. “How’re things looking out there?”

“We’ve secured the area. Two men and a woman in custody that tried to flee but we caught them in time. Another woman and man escaped. Dockerill’s heading a small team to see if they can be found, the rest of us are stationed around the perimeter, holding position or in here, assisting with the captives.”

“Former captives and good. That’s…good enough for now. Radio back to headquarters, have Mount informed of the prisoners and escapees. Let’s hope they can be found,” she says, hand coming to her forehead for a moment as she paces the room. “How many…prisoners of this place have been found?”

“Twelve. Seven female, five males but-”

“Go on?”

“But one of the males was deceased upon discovery.”

“Oh. Right. Well, off you go. We’re heading out, soon. Have the teams ready the trucks and get back to me as soon as possible upon word from Mount.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Anne looks, once again to the cowering figures before heading over.

“Well, ladies. Your new home awaits. We’ll be leaving soon. Is there-is there anything you’d like to take with you?”

Both shake their heads and Anne nods, smiles.

“Right, well, I’ll come back for you both, soon and we can head out, okay?”

They both stare blankly back and Anne shakes off any feelings towards the situation as she begins barking more orders, all the while keeping an eye on the captives littering the room, watching her as she thunders past.

*****

Ann watches the Captain power past. Listens to her voice demand and order and direct, and settles down as the tones becomes familiar, a melody in harmony with Mary Cynthia’s trill of a heartbeat against her ear.

A relief from all that’s inside her head.

“Right. Your carriage awaits, ladies,” Captain Lister…Anne says, head dipped, arm outstretched towards the door and smile in place.

Mary Cynthia helps Ann to stand and Ann winces again, the soreness a reminder of his roughness as she’d cried underneath him…again.

Weakling.

Tears begin to fall and Anne watches, brow furrowed.

“You’re hurt.”

“No. No…I’m okay. I just-”

She takes a step and tries to mask the grimace, Mary Cynthia at her side as always, holding her hand, her arm as support.

“No. You are hurt. Here, let me,” Anne says, stepping closer and Ann freezes as she’s lifted into the Captain’s arms.

“You-I don’t-I can.”

“Not to worry, follow me, Mary Cynthia, we’ll have you home in no time.”

Mary Cynthia does as follows, her eyes constantly flicking between Ann, Captain Lister and her surroundings.

Ann looks up, sees two brown eyes gaze back down at her and exhales, looks to Mary Cynthia who smiles at her and relaxes into the Captain’s arms as they head towards a door she’s never seen before.

She tenses immediately, looks again to Mary Cynthia and sees the mousy brunette’s steps falter.

He’s waiting for you.. Look at what you’ve done. You’ve made him take you away from Mary Cynthia. You shouldn’t have cried. You shouldn’t have cried. He warned you. You shouldn’t have cried.

“‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil’.”

“Ann?” the Captain says. “Whatever’s wrong?”

“He’s-he’s coming. He’s going to take me away. Don’t-don’t let him take me,” she says, burying her face into Anne’s neck and crying.

She feels a hand rubbing her back and calms at the familiar touch like a flutter of a wing against her skin.

“Shh. Shh, I’m here. I promise I won’t let him take you.”

“Yes, I quite agree. I promise that whomever this gentleman is, I categorically refuse to allow him access to you. You are to be safe and nursed back to full health, of that I can assure you. Both of you.”

“See. The Captain’s going to look after us, Ann.”

“As I’ve told you both before, please, feel free to call me Anne. You are not my men, or more accurately, women, to command. Now, we are going to walk through this door and into the vehicle awaiting our presence. Then, we are to be driven back to base camp, you are to be looked over by the medical team awaiting our arrival and then we will go from there. Is that agreeable to you both?”

Ann freezes, awaits Mary Cynthia’s response before daring her own.

“Thank you, Captain. I mean, Anne.”

Ann nods her head, untucks herself from the crook of Anne’s neck before looking up and nodding once again.

“Perfect.”

Anne smiles before continuing the journey, Ann still in her arms as she slows her pace for Mary Cynthia to keep up.

Once through the door, Ann looks up and feels the sun on her skin, sucks in the cleanest breath she can remember tasting and sighs, smiling.

He’s not here.

Like Anne and Mary Cynthia promised, he’s not here, waiting.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2: The Huntress and Holder of Hands – Shake off Your Flesh

‘Be still my mind
The voices sing
Do not desire
For anything
Shake off your flesh
See without eyes
Into the grey
River inside.’

 “Crane, I hear the mission was a success,” Anne says, bounding into the Phyllis’ office.

Phyllis sits at her desk and watches a pacing Anne before nodding her head.

“It would seem so. However, Mr Mount won’t be happy about the escapees evading capture.”

“Perhaps not but his daughter has been found, has she not?”

“Better safe than sorry, Lass. Until the blood work comes back, we can’t be certain.”

“But it’s likely?”

“Yes, it would seem we have found the eldest Miss Mount.”

“Well, then, why don’t you look happy?” Anne says, stopping her pacing.

“Lister, you and I both know that whilst we may have found the body of Miss Mount,” Phyllis says, sighing. “She is quite a different person.”

“Indeed,” Anne says, slumping into an empty seat on the opposite side of the desk. “It’s preposterous what these-these monsters have been doing,” she says, hands flailing. “I’ve got a girl, a woman, scared out of her wits to leave a room. And men cowering every time someone so much as looks them in the eye and that’s just after being with them for a short time. Yes, these people are far from what they used to be and it’s all because of these devils. And two, not one but two of these monsters are out there, roaming free.”

“Yes, but I think we can both be sure that Mr Mount won’t rest until they’re found.”

“I imagine so and I’d like to be a part of said operation. I cannot, I categorically cannot rest easy knowing that they are out there, potentially doing evil things to other innocent people.”

“Right you are, Lass. Perhaps you should have a word with Mr Mount when you brief him on the mission.”

“I shall, indeed.”

“How many did you find?”

“Eleven and another, deceased.”

Phyllis purses her lips as Anne taps her fingers against her chin before she continues.

“God only knows what these people have had done to them, what they’ve endured. A part of me wonders if it wouldn’t be kinder to put them out of their misery.”

“Anne.”

“I know. I know. We’ll figure something out but how will they ever be able to live in society? Perhaps we’ve simply taken them from one cage to another. A better, more luxurious one but a cage nonetheless.”

“Perhaps you’re right, kiddo. Be that as it may, we can only do our best and try to give them as much freedom as we can…as they’ll take.”

“It might not be much.”

“Maybe not but we can try.”

Anne sighs and remembers the pale, petite duo she’d escorted out of the building. Sees the shivering blonde whispering her prayers to herself, the mousy brunette that stood sentinel, the dirt encrusted floor that her boots waded through.

“I’ll join you for lunch in a bit. I do believe I need to clean myself up and change these clothes.

“Right you are, Lass. I quite agree. See you in twenty minutes in the cafeteria.”

“Indeed, you shall.”

*****

Ann sits, one leg bent under her, the other against her chest as her chin rests on her knee. She looks up and eyes the bed to her left as Mary Cynthia sits on the one to her right.

A man walks over, clipboard in hand as he crouches down and meets Ann’s eyes.

Ann looks away before her body locks itself into place, her skin crawling at the proximity of a stranger, another doctor.

The man sighs.

“I know you have no reason to trust me, but I hope you come to see that I mean you no harm. This bed,” he says, tapping the perfectly made duvet. “This bed is yours and I think you’ll feel more comfortable up there than down here on the floor.”

Ann shakes her head a few times.

“You don’t want to sit up there?”

Ann shakes her head again and he sighs.

“Okay. Well, I’m afraid we have some tests to run, soon but for now, rest as best you can. Can I get your name? I’m Dr Turner.”

Ann shrugs and he nods his head.

“Right. Well, best I get on with introducing myself to everyone,” he says, standing and turning in Mary Cynthia’s direction.

Ann continues watching their interaction as they talk, Mary Cynthia tentatively smiling at Dr Turner by the end of the conversation as Ann frowns. Not only didn’t he force her to comply, he made Mary Cynthia smile.

But he’s a doctor.

Weak. Coward.

No.

No, I’m not.

I’m not.

“Ann,” she says, as Dr Turner walks past and he freeze before turning to face her, hand extended.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ann.”

He drops his hand and tentatively smiles before turning and walking away. Mary Cynthia walks over, crouching and rubbing Ann’s arm.

“Why don’t we get you onto your bed?”

Ann follows Mary Cynthia’s guidance and finds herself sitting, knees to her chest with her saviour perched on the edge.

“Things will be okay, now. We’re safe.”

“Can we go home?”

Mary Cynthia frowns and looks down before her gaze locks onto Ann.

“I don’t know that we’ll ever be free enough for that.”

Ann frowns, wonders how this is any better.

“We can’t forget what’s been done to us, but we can live with it and ‘through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God’. Together, we’ll get through this,” she finishes, holding Ann’s hands in her grasp and smiling.

“No more…appointments with the Reverend?”

Mary Cynthia frowns, her gaze sharpening and Ann flinches at the unusual display of anger from her placid friend.

“No more,” she says, shaking her head before sighing. “God teaches forgiveness, but it is so hard, sometimes, especially when someone is abusing the word of God. He is not a true reverend.”

“But,” Ann says, frowning.

“You can learn many things. You can act many roles and live many lies. He is not a reverend, Ann.”

He touches her leg and she freezes, shaking her head as she tries to move back, a little.

He looks at her, smiling and her body wilts under the burn of his gaze.

“I’ve been watching you, waiting to get you here.”

She swallows as she takes in his whispered words.

“You’ve been watching me, too, haven’t you? You want me like I want you, don’t you?”

She stays silent.

“Don’t you, little Annie. Answer me.”

She shakes her head, body shaking.

She looks up as his gaze narrows and he moves forward.

“Ann. Ann,” Mary Cynthia says, and Ann gasps in a breath, feels the burn of her lungs recede as she takes in the white room, so bright and open and warm and clean. “It’s okay, Ann. We’ll be okay.”

*****

“Well, if it isn’t my favourite two ladies,” Anne says, sweeping into the room, tray in hand, Cordingley trailing behind, holding another as Anne walk over to Ann. “I thought you might enjoy a hearty dinner of soup. Do take it easy. We wouldn’t want you to have an upset stomach.”

She places the tray over to Ann, gesturing for Cordingley to do the same for Mary Cynthia. She hears the mutter of Mary Cynthia and Cordingley exchanging pleasantries but pays them little attention as she stands back, hands clasped in front of her.

Ann looks down at the food before looking up to her. She smiles in encouragement as Ann takes a spoonful.

“It’s delicious, isn’t it? Mrs B is quite the whizz in the kitchen,” she says, seating herself on the edge of Ann’s bed.

“Yes. Thank you, List-I mean, Anne.”

“You’re quite welcome,” she says, ducking her head down to meet Ann’s eyes. “I’m afraid it’s not terribly exciting for the taste buds. Busby insisted upon it being free of the major allergen’s and anything heavy, but we’ll soon get you onto the good stuff, provided you have no allergies or preferences, of course. You don’t do you? Crane the old crone is a vegetarian and don’t get me started on some of the others. They’re vegans. Imagine that? Missing out on the good stuff, I say.”

Ann smiles, eyes bright as she meets Anne’s gaze.

“I don’t.”

Anne frowns.

“Have allergies or…preferences,” she says, taking another mouthful. “It does, you know? Taste good, I mean.”

“Good Lord, whatever were they feeding you in that place if this tastes good?”

Ann shrugs, sees a bowl filled with a viscous grey substance, can almost feel it clogging her throat, trapping the air in her lungs.

She tries to breathe through and takes another mouthful of the watered-down soup trying to clear the memory as she closes her eyes.

The bowl nearly slips from her hands as she wills air to fill her lungs, to cleanse her from the inside out.

“Anne Lister you bloody fool,” Anne mutters, reaching out for the blonde, taking the bowl and leaving one hand hovering above her arm, almost but not quite touching. “It’s okay, you’re not there anymore.”

Anne looks around, eyes meeting Mary Cynthia as the brunette pads over to the blonde, wrapping an arm around her. Anne frowns at the sight, wishing she had the familiarity, the knowledge of what comfort to give and when.

Anne stands back from the duo, watching, waiting, sighing in relief when Ann finally opens her eyes and meets her gaze.

“I’m sorry. I know we’re not-I mean-I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Ann says.

“Whatever for? What he-what they did is not your fault. What they’ve done to you, to all of you is wrong. So very morally wrong. He should-They should-”

“You’re shouting. You’re cross.”

“Yes, but not with you,” she says, moving forward and tilting Ann’s chin up. “Not with you, Ann or you, Mary Cynthia. I’m angry with them,” she says, hand pointing in a random direction.

The ‘and myself’ to finish that sentence reverberates in her skull as the silence between them stretches out.

She steps back, eyeing the two women as Ann looks down and Mary Cynthia comforts her in silence.

How foolish, how insensitive can she be? She fleetingly things of Marian. Perhaps her little sister was right.

She’s too reckless, careless, selfish.

“We should eat some more,” Mary Cynthia says. “Anne, will you come and visit us later? We’d both like that.”

Anne nods and rushes out of the room, heading for Mounts office, not noticing or caring about anyone she passes and forcing people to move out of the way, nearly causing multiple collisions.

The door slams against the wall as she bounds into the office.

“I want them found,” she says.

Mount stands, looking out of the window, glass in hand before he slowly turns to face her and sighs.

“Nice to see you, too, Lister. Sit down and shut the door behind you,” he says.

She follows his orders and they sit face to face, Anne’s leg shaking.

“I want them found.”

“Who?”

“Whoever did this to them.”

“As do I.”

“They deserve to be punished. To be whipped within an inch of their lives. To be starved, treated like less than animals. To be-”

“Yes, I get the picture, Lister,” Mount says, leaning forward, forearms against the mahogany desk. “I have a man downstairs. One of the doctors,” he says.

She scoffs. He narrows her eyes and she gestures for him to continue.

“As I was saying, one of the doctors working at the facility is downstairs. I need two men to help me…gather information.”

They hold each other’s gaze, Anne’s mind whirring at the implications before she sighs, seeing their faces, their emaciated bodies holed up in that fetid room.

“When do you need them?”

“In the next day or two, will suffice.”

She nods her head before she rises.

“I want to be a member of the team that finds them.”

“As you wish, Captain Lister.”

She nods her head a few more times before she goes to leave the room.

“Lister.”

She turns to face Mount.

“Control that temper of yours. It’ll save you and that team of yours a lot of trouble. Now, go.”

She does. She goes and goes and goes, seemingly walking in circles to try and clear her mind.

“Come on, Kiddo, sit you down,” Phyllis says as Anne begins to pass a wooden bench under the shade of an oak tree for the umpteenth time.

“I’d rather not.”

“Suit yourself but you running yourself ragged isn’t helping anyone.”

“Perhaps not but it helps me to feel useful.”

Phyllis frowns and Anne resists the urge to shift from foot to foot under her gaze.

“You’re quite useful, Lass, of that I’m sure.”

“Well, then, why can’t I do anything to help?” she says, slouching down onto the bench next to Phyllis, sweat pooling underneath layers of black.

“You have. They’re free from captivity, are they not?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes.”

“Right you are. Now, we can help in the recovery of their bodies but their minds, that’s down to them and to time.”

“Indeed,” Anne says with a sigh. “But surely there must be something we can do?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“I’m going to find the two that escaped. They deserve punishment for their crimes.”

Phyllis hmms, head nodding a few times as she gazes around the green expanse in front of them.

“Mount has agreed I will at least be a member of the team that retrieves the duo.”

“No doubt you will be head of that team-of that mission.”

“Probably,” Anne says with a shrug. “I usually am.”

“Indeed, you are, Lass.”

“I’m to send Mount two men to…question a doctor, a prisoner of sorts.”

“I see.”

“We need the information he has to help these people, to find the two that escaped. And after the things he’s been complicit in allowing to happen…”

“I quite agree with you there. The information is important and necessary.”

“And perhaps this is just scare tactics. Mount wouldn’t use unnecessary force.”

Phyllis sighs.

“Sometimes, these things need to be done for the greater good. The less we both know, the better, Lass,” she says, patting Anne’s hand. “We can justify it with all the right reasons in the world, but we can still feel guilt. We should feel guilt. It means we still have our humanity.”

Anne frowns, brings one hand to her mouth, fingers dancing along her lower lip. She knows Phyllis is right but right now, she doesn’t feel so human at her willingness to let someone suffer, so brutally, so deservedly.

She sees Ann, small, innocent Ann who has neither the strength nor character to hurt someone.

But they did. They did…things to her body, her mind and they deserve this retribution for their sins.

They do. They do. They do.

They really do.

*****

Sunlight hits her pale skin as sits by the window, watching Anne sitting next to another woman by a tree whilst she awaits Mary Cynthia’s return.

She’s sorry, so sorry for letting the memories overwhelm her, to upset her, Mary Cynthia…Anne. She recollects the feel of strong arms carrying her out of hell on earth, wills the memory to bolster her.

She can do this.

She. Can. Do. This.

She watches again and frowns. Anne is always on the move, a foot, an arm, a hand, a finger always fidgeting as if her body isn’t strong enough to contain her presence, her energy but now…now she looks so…still.

Perhaps it’s the distance of her gaze playing tricks on her? Perhaps she’s wrong. She hopes she is. She barely knows this woman but knows that stillness is not an attribute she usually possesses as she bounds from here to there.

But Ann likes that. Likes how this woman seems to be everything she is not and makes her feel…safe.

Yes, despite the memories, the panic, the pain she feels safe with Anne.

She frowns.

Why does she feel so safe with a stranger?

She startles, eyes widening as brown eyes look up to her from a distance. She steps back and rushes to her bed, heart pounding.

She calms down, focuses on breathing, on mentally reciting her favouite passages from the bible until Mary Cynthia returns, all smiles and gentleness and soft strength so different from Anne’s but no less powerful.

The brunette rubs Ann’s side, saying nothing before she clambers onto her own bed and looks towards the window, like a sunflower.

Yes, Ann thinks. She is rather like a sunflower.

Ann tenses under the silence.

“Patsy’s here, too,” Mary Cynthia says, voice breaking the quiet and attracting Ann’s attention like a moth to a flame.

The voices were going to come, she can feel it.

“We’re free. All of us,” she says, turning to face Ann, sighing. “Except those we lost along the way, of course. And William.”

Ann bites her lip, feels a pinch and the tang of blood on her tongue.

William.

Another one lost.

She wants to cry but no tears come.

They knew this was coming, his strength flagging, their treatment of him hardening as though they were sucking the life from his blood, his bones, his flesh.

Yes, they knew this was inevitable.

And Patsy. Patsy’s here.

She remembers the silent blonde that she’d watched from the shadows, that Mary Cynthia had always talked too whenever she could on the rare occasions they were all left together.

Another favourite.

Why them? What did they do to warrant the attention of these people?

“Trixie said we might get to see her.”

Ann frowns.

Who’s Trixie? And see who? Patsy?

Ann meets Mary Cynthia’s gaze, quirks her head to the side and softens as everything she wants to asks gets transmitted and deciphered.

“They needed to run some tests, take some samples. I volunteered,” she says and of course she did, Ann thinks.

She’d always sacrifice herself for everyone else. She’s her-their saviour.

“And Trixie was injured trying to find Patsy. She might come and visit us. She’s…loud but nice.”

Ann nods her head.

“They’ll need to run some tests on you, too,” she says, sighing and Ann startles, panics.

Why? Why do they need her? She’s not special and they ran tests on Mary Cynthia.

 “They need to run tests on us all but it’s okay and I spoke to the doctor. He said they’ll try and do it here. Or that I could go with you and the others. They’re trying to help us.”

Ann frowns. How does she know this? What if she’s wrong?

“Ann, you know I wouldn’t let them hurt you.”

And she does know that. Knows she can trust this woman with her life.

She meets Mary Cynthia’s gaze and nods. The mousy brunette turns and looks to the window, clambers off the bed and stands where Ann was not so long ago.

Ann watches in silence, comforted as usual by the familiar presence of Mary Cynthia, of everyone in the room.

She looks around, sees people laying curled on their sides, sitting up on their beds reading, one person playing a game with a woman she’s never seen before. She frowns and watches the game progress. Sees tentative smiles being passed between the two.

Simmi has a pretty smile Ann’s never seen before and she breathes out, feels…something leave her, free her just a little bit.

They’re safe.

They’re safe, she thinks later on as Sammi and the stranger, Gilbert, no, Barbara, migrate to her bed after they’d caught her watching.

“Go fish,” Barbara says, and Ann takes a card from the stack in front of her, allowing the mindless game wholly consume her attention like the games she used to play as a child.

But no matter how focused she is, she feels the change in the air, the static of electricity, of energy as a new presence enters the room. Without turning around, she knows who’ll she’ll see and she sits frozen.

“Anne,” she whispers as everyone’s attention is distracted by the newcomer.

“Gilbert, old thing, I should have known I’d find you here trying win your games.”

Barbara grins.

“Lister,” she says, nodding her head in acknowledgement. “Don’t ruin my fun.”

“Well, of course not but shift over, you ladies don’t mind if I join you, do you?” Anne says, stepping into view and dipping her head to meet Ann’s gaze, brown eyes locking onto blue.

Ann automatically smiles and nods her head, a beaming smile the reward for her acquiescence and she feels…alive, infused with more energy that she can ever remember having.

“Right, let’s get this game started. Anyone know the rules of poker?”

Barbara groans and Ann smiles and laughs and watches the two playfully argue back and forth.

They’re safe.

For now, they’re safe.