The beautiful, expensive dress she spent months saving up for, that she kept safe in the back of her closet all that time so that it would be in pristine condition for her graduation ceremony, lies crumpled on the floor where Anne took it off her last night, amid pieces of the very fine, emerald green tuxedo her girlfriend had been wearing.
They must have forgotten to close the blinds, because Ann blinks awake as soon as sunlight streams in.
On the pillow next to her, framed in a halo of her own tangled, messy hair, lies Anne still sleeping. The soft sounds of her breathing join the beginnings of bird chirping and people biking past. The melody of her morning is so peaceful.
She very carefully shifts. Fallen asleep with her back snug to Anne’s front, their bare skin warm and molten to each other, she now turns to face Anne fully without breaking the hold of the other’s arms around her.
Will she ever tire of getting to wake up next to her? No, she imagines she won’t. Not when the mere sight of that exquisite face is enough to send her pulse spiking like this. She feels the warm tingling in her gut seep slowly into her awakening body. Seconds later, she is suffused with it, fingers trembling with it.
Like a lightning strike, it hits that it’s all over. Any reason for them to hide. Any reason for them not to go for it. Everything else that might cross their path, they should be able to take it on. Together.
She checks to make sure it’s not ungodly early, but they’ve had more than enough sleep to be functional—besides, she still needs to get Anne back for almost giving her a heart attack when she was calling with her thesis score.
Ann has never been quite this playful before, or this daring, or this happy.
She puts a hand to Anne’s cheek and leans in to kiss her softly. It takes a few heartbeats before she feels Anne start to move against her, proving that even sleepy she is the best kisser Ann has ever known. Puffing out morning breath and making slight sounds of displeasure at being woken up, nevertheless Anne kisses her good morning with as much finesse as always.
“We can sleep in, you know,” Anne mutters, squinting against the sunlight long enough to be able to look at Ann’s smile and the mirth in her eyes before she nuzzles into Ann’s neck and shades herself away. “Mhm, yep, I’m going to do that.”
“No.” The power she feels at the refusal translates into her boldly searching Anne’s mouth again. “You can sleep later.”
It sets the tone for much of the rest of their relationship—they bicker. Anne does not always get her way. Ann continues her stubborn streak, though she only really does it when it’s either of utmost importance or of no importance at all.
They are silly. They are serious.
They talk, but just as much they can sit quietly together and just be.
They did not make the most graceful journey of the start of their relationship, that’s for sure, but Ann would not have it any differently. It has made them exactly who and what they are.
Those first few weeks after that fateful graduation day, they don’t really know what to do with themselves. There is suddenly such an abundance of freedom that it is a little terrifying. But at least in that regard, Anne Lister is a great girlfriend to have. She commandeers their schedules, makes note of any engagements that Ann cannot miss and those that she could probably reschedule, and they spend as much time together as they can.
Ann is swept away to a town half an hour away. It is very green and very small, both charmingly so. It is also home to a gallery that will forever hold a special place in her heart because it is the location of their first date.
Holding hands, they move through the space illuminated with pinpricks of light to immitate stars and they look at art. They talk. Afterwards, they go for dinner and drinks, while one hand stays firmly on the table and clasped together for most of it.
Ann sees Harriet off. She sees Catherine off. She cries a bit about that, but then Elizabeth sees her off as Anne steals her away to mainland Europe for a vacation.
First: Paris. They could have been there for the symposium had things panend out a little differently, but she is so glad it fell through. Strolling through the streets without any sort of academic context, without the power hierarchy trying to put itself between them again, she has a much better time.
They do all the most touristy things because Ann has never been before. Anne shows her the university she went away to during the fall semester; they stay at the hotel where Anne stayed back then, kept awake because those were the first nights they texted each other well into the night.
But between all the tourist attractions lies the real city. Buried history in every building that has weathered the test of time. They have lunch in cafes pressed into narrow spaces. They drink wine at a small place that had seen so many artists, writers, and actors pass through in the twenties.
There was a queer community in Paris before there was one in the United Kingdom and they track down that history. They walk where a hundred years ago walked other lesbians, even back then daring to love who they loved.
Ann is not successful in convincing Anne they should go to Disneyland, but she’ll file that plan away to do with Catherine and Harriet sometime.
They travel to Porto next. The waterfront merchant city is instantly very different. Warmer, kinder. The history is steeped through everywhere. They traverse cobble-stoned streets, move within the shadows thrown by ancient houses. They visit baroque churches and little restaurants that don’t look like them on the outside.
Through it all, and even on the plane home, she feels like a new Ann. A more mature, sophisticated Ann that can keep the attention of a woman like Anne Lister for days on end. It never gets tired to be around her. To make her smile. To pull her close and kiss her and feel her happiness surge in response. To get to listen to and watch her talk about things.
Real life sets in when they return, but despite their jobs and their social lives, they keep traveling. Anne tells her one night when they’re in Norway looking at the Northern Lights that the world looks brand new when she has Ann by her side for it. “Shiny and sparkling and even more beautiful than I ever though,” she says.
Anne’s way with words might just kill her one day.
But their jobs are there. Ann starts on Washington’s electoral campaign trail for a few months, swapping out her usual pinks and yellows and oranges for royal blue shirts sporting his name and campaign slogan. Lobbying, organizing, communicating.
He does not make it past preliminaries, but the experience was great and it makes her realize that politics as a career are not quite it for her.
She will need a few more tries to find the one that fits her perfectly.
When the new academic year starts, the absence of Harriet Parkhill is felt profoundly. But she does well in London. And Catherine does well being the only one of the trio left, because now there is even more gossip that the two of them don’t hear from other sources.
They have video chats every Thursday evening, at the same time, non-negotiable. Catherine gossips. Harriet talks about London. Ann talks about Elizabeth, Anne, the apartment she is about to move into.
She ends up staying at the apartment maybe two months, if that, before she is sleeping over at Anne’s again every night. It is merely there to serve as a storage for her stuff. She proposes an offer to Catherine, who takes it—she was getting tired of her dorm roommate already.
Life settles into a rhythm. Time passes.
A lot of time passes.
She still isn’t used to walking on campus, but it has been long enough that they now feel secure to have Ann visit Anne in her office. They don’t have to hide. When asked by Jeremiah Rawson one day, Anne smoothly answers, “We met up over the Summer to talk about her thesis and the difference in our relationship made the magic happen.”
It goes over well enough.
Apparently his brother, the principal, sniffs around for a bit, trying to discover if it is really that recent, but either he finds nothing or Anne nips it in the bud. Either way, when she has a free afternoon, Ann might be found crossing the University of Edinburgh campus like old times, trudging up the stairs, knocking at the door of Professor A. Lister, Classics & History Department.
They officially move in about a year after Ann graduated. Three weeks later, they adopt a scruffy, loving dog named Angus that is well-behaved and likes nothing more than to be snuggled first thing when Ann comes home from work.
Anne pretends not to like him as much, using short commands and stern tones on the dog, but more than once Ann catches them napping together on the couch.
Life is very normal, and nothing makes Ann happier.
Their first real argument is about marriage. Anne has done it already, it didn’t work, she’s not sure she wants to inflict the moniker second wife on Ann because she is not second rate—Ann doesn’t care. She doesn’t care. She believes in marriage, and in them, and she wants the rings and the ceremony and the party and the lifelong commitment bound into one promise to each other.
They talk about it all night. They talk about it with Mariana, who slaps Anne so hard against the back of her head that the crack reverberates through the living room.
They have more arguments. They have their flaws. No relationship is perfect all the time, but they make sure to always keep talking to each other. Good days and bad, right?
Anne proposes two months later in a cherry blossom park in Japan, crying with happiness the both of them.
If the biggest accomplishment of her life is going to be getting the girl, that’s enough.
She thinks back to those cherry blossoms when they swirl slowly across the dance floor, a solitary beam of light following them as they cut through the dimness, the void where noise has stopped and everyone watches them entranced.
She thinks of those tumultuous first few months, the honeymoon that came after, the normalcy and domesticity that set in after. Ann thinks of finding her way into the world and having someone so devoted by her side all the way through it.
There is still a promise ring on her wife’s thumb. There is an engagement ring on Ann's left hand. They share matching wedding bands, new and heavy and warm on their fingers as they sit clasped together.
“I don't regret anything that I have said to try and seduce you before,” Anne murmurs with a small grin, looking around at the audience gathered to congratulate them, to wish them well, to celebrate their marriage to each other and the pledges they have made. “But—I must correct one of my earlier statements. One I made a long, long time ago.”
Before she can, though, she twirls Ann around and then pulls her back in. Tease. The flare of jitters adds to her already shivering with excitement nervous system. It has been some day, getting married.
“I don’t think I want you to be my Persephone after all. I could never be content with only having you half of the year. I want every day of every year of the rest of my life.” Tipping her head forward, leaning cheek-to-cheek, breathing together, she says, “Spending the rest of my time on earth with you is going to be the easiest thing I have ever done.”
Ann breathes out. Blinks away tears. She is not as good with words as her wife, finds herself unable to respond to something so lovely with any word of the English language.
So she kisses her instead, in front of everyone they love, showing the universe: she is mine, and I’m never leaving her.
Ann Walker is no longer too shy to reach for her slice of a holy forever.