Chapter 1: i.
yes, i AM posting another new story. iT's NoT iLlEgAl.
anyways, student/teacher was probably the most heavily requested after i stated that that was my original plan with the other one, so. i caved, and i am doing the thing.
i have a rough outline for about ten to fifteen chapters, but i'm known to change things along the way so we'll see.
(edit four weeks later: author was full of shit, threw away her plans instantly and decided to update almost daily.)
i hope you enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It is most decidedly rude when your best friends talk about you in your presence, but Ann Walker is curled up into a little ball in the corner of the couch in Harriet’s dorm room, swaddled in the dark blue university hoodie that she’s had since she was five and her father first told her about his Alma mater, and she can’t feel her hands.
There is a notebook in them that she’s flipping through, notes that she has near-memorized scrawled across its pages, but it’s the only thing currently steadying her nerves.
“Do you think we should get her something?” Harriet asks quietly, face and half her upper body turned towards her friend.
Catherine chuckles, looking over at the bundle of blonde hair and blue-eyed concentration. “A triple shot of vodka and a sedative, maybe.”
Ann looks up over the rim of the notebook, those baby blues growing at once clouded as her eyebrows arch downwards. “Hey, it’s not that bad.”
Having finally been acknowledged again after about ten minutes of being easily ignored, the two take it as their cue to join Ann on the couch. Catherine sits in the middle, nudges Ann’s knees off the couch so she can drape her legs across her thighs. “You’re only cramming everything you studied this summer in Greece because you want to impress professor Lister.”
“Harry, Cath, I don’t need this right now.” Ann gesticulates the notebook into their faces. “I really need her to be my thesis adviser. She is only the most brilliant and clever mind we have at our department, let alone that her honor students usually end up top of their class and published in academic journals.” She has said this so many times, Harriet and Catherine fall in to mouth it along about halfway through. “I can’t mess this up.”
It’s definitely the anxiety that’s numbing her all the way to the tips of her fingers, not the ill-advised crush she’s had on professor Lister since she took an elective on queer poetry in her Sophomore year. She hadn’t known what to expect, but not a professor so animated, elevated, illuminating. Anne Lister was an academic rock star, her wit so sharp it had sliced many lesser people, and her talent of enrapturing an audience was unparalleled. Ann had been swept away in more ways than one.
For her own sake, she had forgone taking any more classes with her last year in hopes the crush would fade away, and it had somewhat. Up until the point, anyway, that she saw Anne Lister at Edinburgh Pride over the summer. Her crush had lodged itself to stay this time, because her feelings had no regard for their improper power balance, the lack of any apparent interest, or zero trust that Ann could even garner it.
It seemed, instead, like a tremendous idea to take another class by her now, in her most stressful year ever. She filled out the request form a couple of weeks ago, spent several days waiting with her stomach in knots, and felt her heart burst when she received the approval to sign up. It’s a good sign, she thinks, because the requirements were steep and the places limited, so she must already have done something that puts her one up over others.
It gets her one step closer to sealing Anne Lister as her thesis adviser.
“Sure,” Catherine sniggers, leaning into Ann and blowing a raspberry against her forehead. “You are entirely academically motivated in this regard, oh aspiring published essayist.”
Harriet digs her elbow into Catherine’s side and shoots her a glance, then smiles softly across the wild heaping of dark curls at Ann. “Ease off. We’ll have all semester to give her shit, maybe the whole year until her thesis deadline.” She seems on fraying nerves as it is, and we don’t want a repeat of freshman year. It isn’t said aloud, but the worry in Harriet Parkhill’s eyes speaks tremendously.
Catherine groans and slouches down further. “Fine. Buzz kill.”
The three friends spend the rest of their morning compressed onto the two-thin-people-at-most-couch, with Ann reading snippets of her travel diary through the locales of ancient Grecian history preserved into the twenty-first century, with Harriet reading text messages she has gotten from her summer fling who only had a handful of English and a whole emoji keyboard at his disposal, with Catherine’s running commentary on both.
Sore and sort of lazy, they pull out eventually when Ann and Catherine need to head to class. Harriet walks them down to the lawn in front of her dorm building, then waves after them until they circle around a copse of trees and disappear from view.
Catherine closes the distance with her best friend and walks with her shoulder-to-shoulder. “Don’t worry so much. You never missed a lecture, got an A on the essay, and she smiled at you that one time. She doesn’t smile. Not at students. I would know.”
And she would, at that. Catherine always seems right on the pulse of gossip.
“Sit at the front today. None of that hiding in the middle of the crowd crap. You want her to notice you? Sit right in front of her.”
Those words of advice trail behind her as she trudges up the stairs to the Classics building. She never expected when she started her Sociology major she would be reading quite this much fiction. That damned course in her sophomore year had impacted her enough that she had tumbled head-over-heels into a Classics minor.
She loves it, though. And it makes sense.
(And, really, she doesn’t need any goddamn excuses.)
Bag clutched to her chest, she makes her way through the now familiar hall, up another set of stairs, circumventing a particularly obnoxious group of freshmen still high on excitement and volume fresh off Welcome Week, and ducks into the spacious lecture hall.
Descending the semicircle of rising rows of seats, Ann can’t help but think that it’s not as impressive anymore now that she has been to Athens and seen the Theater of Dionysus and the Acropolis. But Dionysus is no Anne Lister.
Adrenaline and warmth rushes through Ann as her eyes land on the tall, imposing figure of her professor. She doesn’t seem aware of her presence yet, or uncaring—she is turned away, bent over her desk rifling through a stack of syllabi. She is wearing all black, which seems to be her custom: a long-sleeved, semi see-through blouse tucked into leather dress pants. Her hair has grown longer over the summer, resting down her back in its low ponytail. At once daring and stylish, combining the feminine with the masculine, Ann is instantly reminded why she paid such rapt attention to professor Lister that very first time.
Trusting Catherine, she keeps moving down until she can slide into the first row of seats and settle about as smack dab in the middle as she can estimate. She isn’t even fully seated yet when professor Lister turns around.
There are glasses perched upon her nose, and a slight inclination towards her tiredness sits puffy beneath her eyes, but she is still the most breathtaking woman Ann has ever seen. Her heart pounds a wicked drum beat against her ribs at the prolonged eye contact.
“I recognize you. Spring term 2018. You wrote your essay on the importance of Sappho to the lesbians of our current day and age.” The skin between her eyebrows wrinkles as she smiles, Ann notes—it’s safer to look above her eyes than into them or beneath. “Remind me of your name again?”
“Ann Walker, professor.” She is grateful her voice doesn’t waver, at least, but she can tell her skin is starting to prickle with a blush. “You told me about this class when you gave me my essay back. My schedule was really full last year, so...” Full with trying out Tinder, blind dates set up by Harriet, and an embarrassing amount of nights spent getting drunk at Sophie’s. “But here I am. Managed to squeeze it into my final year.”
Anne Lister does not walk—she prowls, she stalks. The way she comes up to Ann’s desk, there is no doubt in her mind this is a woman that would and could kill if she needed to. Her thoughts circle to teeth, tearing into her neck, and the slither of tantalizing ecstasy only intensifies when they are suddenly within mere inches of each other. She looks up at the woman leaning her hands onto the top of her desk, the muscles of her arms and shoulders tensing, showing against the fabric of her shirt. Of course she’s also fit as hell. Ann’s entire type of woman is embodied in this singular figure.
“You are either very brave or very stupid to come sit right here,” Anne Lister murmurs, her intense eyes coming level with Ann’s. “Let’s see if you can intrigue me again this time, miss Walker.”
Pushing away, she walks backwards with open arms, addressing the crowd filtering in with the bravado of a god herself. Many of the entering students seem instantly daunted.
“Welcome, everyone. Take a seat, throw your cell phones out of the window. For the next hour and a half, I would like to talk about our lord and fucking savior: Zeus.”
Ann leaves the lecture both charged and drained at once. Her skin feels chafed raw from the constant proximity of Anne Lister. Being up front had meant that whenever the Professor looked her way, it had been at just her, and that had been almost too much to bear.
Looking over the notes she has made, she can tell the exact moments Anne looked at her by the suddenly shaky, uneven script. There is one spot in particular where her pen broke through the paper. Anne had been talking about how Zeus liked to seduce women, young and vulnerable and beautiful women, and her eyes had remained on Ann throughout that entire drawled explanation.
Never mind that it switched to how awful Zeus was after that, how he had likely created the earliest building blocks of our rape-forgiving patriarchal world—it was an Anne Lister course after all, and it would not shy away from the gnarly truth, rather delving into every traumatic and tragic bit immediately.
That’s what made it so interesting.
Ann had never had a professor quite so willing to speak out on subjects like these.
Unsurprisingly, there’s nothing else Ann can think about on her walk home. Edinburgh is still very nice this time of year, though with September comes the first significant decrease of temperature and a setting-in of a chilly wind. Hugging her arms around herself, she hurries along, along a route she has made so many times for the past three years.
Home looms after a short fifteen minutes at the end of the cul-de-sac, currently filled with children skateboarding across it while wearing the knee pads and helmets their parents, who are watching from their front lawns, probably forcefully slapped onto them.
She lets herself in through the back door that leads into the kitchen and leaves her sneakers on the mat outside. Elizabeth is already behind the furnace, surrounded by the heavenly smells of a rich vegetable soup stewing beneath her magically domestic hands.
Ann plants a kiss on her cheek in passing. “How many plates?”
“Six, please. The Priestley's are coming over.”
Her mind strays back to its previous subject as Ann dutifully sets the table for six, brings out the nice China and the champagne glasses, because it’s the Priestley's. They’re practically family, after both Elizabeth and Ann spent their every summer working at their Bed & Breakfast. They’d been friends of their parents once upon a time, back when they had still been alive.
She finds the prospect of dinner much nicer knowing she won’t have to sit between Elizabeth and George. Ann likes her brother-in-law, to some degree. He took her in, helped her pay for her school, treats her sister right—so maybe she should stop holding it against him that he convinced Elizabeth not to go for a career and instead prepare for the life of a wife and mother instead. And maybe she can try a little harder to find anything he says remotely interesting or intellectually stimulating.
But tonight, she won’t have to. With the Priestley's coming over, it’s definitely going to be a pleasant evening.
George comes downstairs just as she is re-arranging the bouquet of flowers sitting in the crystal vase, a colorful collection of yellow sunflowers, red marigolds, and orange geraniums. From afar, it looks like a soft, petalled bonfire. “That looks nice,” he comments, smiling easily.
Ann curtsies with a bit of a grin and plucks a sunflower away from the arrangement to take upstairs. There is still a glass on her desk, which she fills with water and puts her single flower into.
Her room isn’t much, but it’s entirely hers. Elizabeth and George vowed to never enter it unless she wanted them to, so that it’s her safe space in every way. It holds her desk (empty, currently) and her extremely comfortable bed (messy, currently), which leaves just enough space for some book shelves against her walls, a framed Breakfast at Tiffany’s poster, and a reading chair by the window.
She drops into her desk chair and pulls her laptop from the top drawer. A shot of the Acropolis she took herself, from afar, with more of Athens sprawling around and behind it functions as her wallpaper and as a reminder that she truly fell in love with Greece over the summer.
After filing through the mandatory first week of classes emails, containing information that she has known since her freshman year or has stopped caring about since her freshman year, she pulls open an empty input field and starts typing away, while her throat starts to itch and she can feel her nervous pulse in her wrists.
Backtracking. Deleting parts. Changing words. Making her word vomit more concise, to the point. Ann labors over the few lines longer than she has labored over essay outlines for exams.
She wants to get it just right. She wants Anne Lister as her goddamn thesis adviser.
Eventually, feeling winded and heated, she sits back and reads it over a thirty-second time.
Dear Professor Lister
After today’s class, I am more convinced than ever that our interests and morals align. I would like to write my Bachelor Thesis on a culturally relevant, feminist topic that I would like to tie to a comparison between modern works of literature and the classics of Ancient Greece.
Should you still have a spot for advising an honors student, I would very much appreciate getting an opportunity to tell you more in-depth about what I am planning.
Thank you in advance for getting back to me on this, whether positive or negative.
All throughout dinner, no matter how pleasant the Priestley's are, or how much George and Elizabeth are trying, that email is all she can think about. Would professor Lister have read it already? No, of course not. As if someone like her doesn’t have anything better to do than go through her correspondence on an evening as nice as this one.
Or if she has, if she might just be stumped for something to do miraculously, would she answer? Would she let it sit there for weeks, waiting until every applicant has gotten their bid in before selecting her chosen ones?
That, briefly, sends her into a daydream about Hogwarts and Harry Potter, but she blinks out of it when the dessert and the wine are served. She drinks more than she normally would around her relatives, but she needs something to calm the storm inside her chest. Her heart is kicking up a ruckus.
What if professor Lister isn’t taking any honors students this year? What if she really doesn’t like her? The what ifs keep spinning around each other—she imagines them as bunnies hippity-hopping around her mind, breeding litters and litters of doubts.
She drinks until she stops thinking about bunnies and wagging tails and the mouth of her professor in the process of speaking about the gods of old and Ann only seeing her tongue tap against her teeth or the corners twitching in amusement.
It’s late, incredibly late, when Ann finally excuses herself and leaves back to her room. She has worked herself into a conflicting mess of arousal and worry, a worrisome combination. Nothing she can work through immediately, even though the world is fuzzy around the edges and every step bounces.
First she needs to get rid of the worry, then the rest.
She fires her laptop back up meaning to open Facebook and start lamenting to her best friends, but she didn’t close the school web platform after sending that email... and the need to check is just too strong. She knows if she didn’t get a reply she’ll worry about it even more, but—she needs to know.
She refreshes her password and sees her email count has gone up by 3. Two are about new course content now available to her, documents and files and deadlines that have been added.
One is a reply by Professor Lister.
It says no more than:
I would be delighted to be your thesis adviser.
Talk to me after class next week.
Euphoria filters in with steady drips straight to her blood stream, this fizzing and prickling sort of giddiness. It sparks through her, seems to burn holes into her palms. Her eyes close as she lets this settle in.
Weeks and weeks of working together with her unfold in front of her mind’s eye: no lecture hall, no other students, just the two of them poring over the thesis she is going to write. Intimately. She feels Anne Lister all around her—the whiff of perfume she caught earlier now winds around her, the heat of her proximity, her attention undivided, laser-focused through those intense eyes on her.
Her whole body thrums.
With her heart hammering somewhere between her ears and her skin vibrating with need, the wine heavy and warm in her belly, she is starting to realize, and drunken giggles drop off her lips with a slightly crazed note as she does—what a majestically, astronomically bad fucking idea she has had, making Anne Lister her thesis adviser.
thank you for reading!
Chapter 2: ii.
here we are again. thank you SO MUCH for the outpouring of love and attention this has received. i'm honestly blown away.
hope you enjoy this next installment in ann's life!
“Can I have a strawberry one?”
The dining hall of Harriet’s dorm building is, understandably so, sparsely populated at eleven pm. There are a few students that have come in for a late cup of tea or to fill their thermos with coffee. No one, except the trio, seems at all interested in maxing out their friend’s Meal Plan for the week on cups of yogurt and pudding.
Ann uses both her hands to slide a strawberry yogurt across the table into Catherine’s waiting grip, while she holds her spoon to the roof of her mouth with her tongue. A few chunks of cherry get squished in the process.
“Should we talk about the elephant in the room?”
“You mean that guy in his onesie? That’s not an elephant.” Ann tilts her head, eyes trailing along the tentacle-like tail. “Although I have no idea what it would be then.”
She does not miss the eye roll her friends share, or Catherine’s hand clenching around her spoon as a sure sign she’s holding in the urge to fling it at her head—Ann is reasonably sure she could duck away in time, but she’s not keen to put it to a test.
“I think what Cath is getting at is… well, don’t you have your first appointment with professor Lister tomorrow?” Harriet has a smudge of sunshine yellow pudding at the corner of her mouth, but Ann isn’t desperate enough to try and use that as a diversion technique just yet. “Are you sure you want to go out tonight?”
“Yes.” Ann smooths her hands across the front of her dress, as much to bring it to attention as to wipe her clammy palms. It’s a short and tight number, the sort of dress one wears to a club—which, coincidentally, is exactly where they’re headed after they’re finished with their snacks. “Just because I’m in my final year doesn’t mean I can’t have fun anymore. Trust me, I’ll be fine.”
She really would be, finally, because she had been entirely consumed with thoughts and anxieties and, maybe even worse, fantasies and dreams that woke her bathing in sweat and out of breath. Going out with her two best friends in the whole world, to dance and drink and forget the world? Exactly what she needed right now.
Catherine and Harriet share another look, then nod. “Fine,” they mumble practically simultaneously. Catherine continues, “But if we find a nice girl for you, we’re definitely setting you up.”
Ann chuckles, shakes her head. “Fine,” she concedes as well, because it’s going to take something like this to abandon the bigger conversation, which is one she really doesn’t want to have. “If you must.”
Harriet gets up, with a platter full of empty cups in her hands. “Yes, we must.”
Arm-in-arm, with Catherine in the middle of the friendship sandwich as per usual, the three women stalk out of the dining hall in their cocktail dresses and their heels and their giggling. But while Harriet babbles about this new boy she’s met in one of her half dozen language classes, and Catherine asks all the right questions and some of the inappropriate ones, Ann focuses on breathing in cool night air and forgetting.
Forgetting the conversation she had with Anne after class this week, how she had felt a blush creep over her chest and shoulders to be this close to her that she could feel the heat of her body radiate. Every accidental brush and touch—against her elbow, the back of her hand, and once, when Ann had been laying out the first draft of an outline she had written over the summer, a hand on her back as Anne Lister leaned over her.
It had been five minutes of torture that persisted in sticking with her, even now, on this Friday night that belongs to her and her friends. She is young, she is going out to have a good time, and she should be able to leave thoughts about school behind on campus for a while.
But thoughts about Anne Lister, very true to what the woman is like herself, are too stubborn to leave.
“And then he spoke Korean to me, so, you know.” Harriet laughs softly. “I swooned.” Harriet laughs louder when Catherine pokes her in the side. “Hey! I can’t help that I like languages I don’t understand.”
“Those, like… four you don’t know, you mean?”
Ann tunes into the conversation, because she has been barely present all night. All week. She has been so wrapped up in it all, and that’s not what they deserve. “What did he even say?”
“I have no idea,” Harriet responds, and she sounds so dreamy about it, neither Ann nor Catherine decide to press any further.
“Should we go for a pre-drink at Sophie’s?” Catherine offers, sashaying her hips.
Since that’s their usual hide-out, the decision is quickly made.
Sophie and Ann dated briefly last year, until they both fessed up that they’re really more into slightly older women usually (or more like fifteen to twenty years older) and it just wasn’t working out. They’ve been good friends ever since, bonding over their similar type in women.
Mostly, though, Catherine and Harriet urged her to stay friends with her ex because she happens to work at a bar, owned by her sister, at one point started by her grandfather who had named it after his mother, who Sophie was named after—it’s a whole thing, but the short of it: free drinks. Sophie likes to pretend the bar is named after her, and for free drinks there’s a lot of things you’ll humor.
Sophie’s is exponentially more crowded than the dining hall had been, though here too a few guys in onesie can be spotted. Rule of thumb: at a student bar, expect the worst always, it’ll make sure you’re pleasantly surprised sometimes.
All of the booths are filled to bursting with young twenty-somethings, and so are most of the stools by the counter except three separated from each other. After some puppy-eyeing and elbow-rubbing from Catherine, and Ann putting her gentle, innocent smile to good use, they have shuffled around enough people they can sit next to each other.
“I thought I heard you harassing my customers,” Sophie says for a greeting, grinning as she hoists herself onto the counter so she can kiss the three of them hello. “Usual?”
They’re set up with bright pink cocktails that swirl with glitter and pieces of candy. These things are so potent, Ann feels her last drunken night punch her in the gut at the smell of it. She takes a sip and feels her thoughts start to evaporate.
“Okay, cough up whatever you’re thinking, Walker.” Catherine flicks a finger against Ann’s forehead. “You’ve been too quiet.”
Doesn’t matter how strong her body revolts at the memory of this drink, she’s chugging it now, four long swallows before she’s coughing and her limbs feel on fire. “Shut up, Cath. I’m here to forget.”
“Forget what?” Sophie leans forward, ever so eager to hear every dirty bit of gossip. “Or whom?”
“I’m going to need another one of these before I’m telling you,” Ann mumbles, chewing on the candy she sucks up through the straw. Every one breaks open into a small, intense burst of a sour fruity flavor. Her tongue aches with them, so maybe if she eats enough she won’t be able to talk at all—now there’s an idea.
But Sophie is curious now—there is a twinkle in her eyes, and entirely too much pep in her step as she goes about making more drinks. Ann settles her head in her hand to watch those arm muscles flex and shift as they work the cocktail shaker back and forth, wishing that life could be so easy that she and Sophie had just worked out.
Instead, last she checked, her ex-girlfriend had a super messy thing going with someone she hadn’t been willing to name because they were in the public eye, and Ann...
“She’s super into her professor.” Catherine drums her hands upon the counter, enjoying this probably a little too much. “The same professor she’s asked to be her thesis adviser.”
“Oh, Annie,” Sophie chastises, but she winks as she puts the drink down in front of her. “Whatever could be the reason you want to spend so much alone time with her?”
The itch to down her glass in one go is very, very strong, but Ann reels it in and chooses to send glares at her friends instead. “I am giving all of you up for adoption.”
Harriet slings an arm around her waist and pulls her close, to hug her from the side. Nestled in that warmth, it gets a little harder to be mad at her friends, who might still be jackasses joking around about her very serious situation, but they’re not doing it to be mean.
When Sophie starts talking about ways to seduce her professor though, Ann drags her friends off their respective bar stools and out of the bar.
Nope, really can’t think about that again!
It’s later now, and chillier. They’re all in dresses that are short and show a lot of skin, so every bare surface pimples with goosebumps. Ann huddles closer to both of them, allowing them and the alcohol to warm her up. Luckily, their previous conversation topic gets discarded, and Anne Lister is not mentioned again on their way to Gentlemen.
It sits in what used to be an abandoned warehouse now turned industrial-styled dance club, with bright neon lights strobing through the spacious main hall. The bar here is longer, with light reflecting off every bottle, and beneath their feet the tiles glow with a purplish-blue that could only come from outer space.
There is so much relative darkness, so many pockets of void, that sometimes you’ll step into the shadow and feel like you’ve disappeared.
And the music thumps so loud Ann can’t hear her own heartbeat anymore.
There’s a live DJ, up on a balcony that dangles above the crowd. His hands glide easily across his turntables, crossfade a pop song that’s been on the radio recently with a hit from a decade ago that makes the dense sea of people go fucking crazy.
They link up hands to wrestle their way through together. As per good habit, they start the night off with three rapid shots in a row, Kamikazes that shoot straight to their brains. If there was still any doubt about what their intention was for the night, it should be abundantly clear now: they’re here to get fucked up.
One taller glass to last them a while, they throw themselves into the crowd now, find a space for them to exist in.
Instantly the heat encapsulates them. People press in around them, fuse them into the singular whole. The music drills into them from their soles up, until their bloodstream vibrates at the same beats per minute.
It’s so easy to lose herself in this. Ann sucks her drink up through her straw while she dances, dances, dances—she loses the edges where her body ends, gone up into sweat and warmth; loses her breath, all her mouth can do is smile; loses her friends. One moment they’re there, the next she’s sliding through the crowd as if untethered by gravity.
There are hands everywhere, elbows, arms. She feels a hard hip against her at one point, comes face-to-face with a lot of people that look fuzzy in the wan purple light.
The DJ changes, and so does the music. The atmosphere becomes thick with the low, sultry breath of the bass. Ann feels drunk and sober at once, heart rate rising with every build in the music and then crashing into star dust.
Anne is here. No, not Anne. Ann rubs through her eyes, forces herself to shake off the haze of what she wants to see. The woman is similar enough for it to have been an honest mistake—tall, long dark hair, intense eyes. She has angular features, and her sparse make-up glimmers like dust on her lashes and cheeks, and she is wearing an outfit that can only be described as dapper.
It’s not Anne, but it’s so close, and Ann is only so strong when her lightweight constitution has already been compromised by alcohol.
For minutes, all she does is watch. Her eyes are glued to every move, follow the way her hand moves all that hair away from her neck and over one shoulder, trace wide hips and a really nice ass.
Then, as a song starts spiraling and she feels herself lifted with it, pulled up and stretched taut, the woman turns around and locks eyes with her over several heads, with dazzling light passing between them, and something burns inside Ann at a thousand degrees.
It’s not Anne, but when the woman grins at her with an ounce too much cockiness and grasps her by the hips to pull them snug, her brain has no issue making her think it is. Every time her eyes close, she feels that voice that stalks her, haunts her, talks to her with the reverb of memory now whisper against her ear.
It’s not Anne, but god, it could be, and it drives her crazy.
They dance, if it can be called that; their hips slotted together, the woman’s hands on her back, her own around her neck—she runs a hand into that thick, dark hair and leaves it there, clenches, pulls. Their mouths clash with a drunken fury, and Ann whimpers a name that gets swallowed by the pounding noise.
There’s a wall, suddenly, behind her—she did not realize they were even moving, so occupied by not-Anne kissing her. There’s a thigh between her legs and hands pushing her roughly into the brick, the friction shaving sparks off their tension.
But there’s a whispering into her skin that strikes discord, and her face so close shows where she differs, and—she sucks for air, finds it strangles her lungs instead. Her palms press against the woman’s hips, inch out enough space for her to move away.
“I’m so sorry,” she stumbles over her words, over her feet to get away.
Suddenly the crowd feels oppressive, the heat chokes. Ann keeps a hand to the wall to pick her way back to the front. And the entire time she feels the echo of not-Anne’s hands on her dress, under her dress, her mouth in her neck and against her ear.
The fresh air pulls her out of the beginning stages of her panic attack. She feels cold wetness on her cheeks and how hard she has been trembling. The concrete steps down to the street make for the perfect place to sit down and get herself together.
There are a couple of messages from her best friends waiting for her as she unlocks her phone. She waits ten or so minutes, calming down by scrolling through her Instagram and liking every dog picture she comes across—she briefly considers getting one, that seems like a solid idea, something to cuddle when she gets to feeling like this again.
It’s very late, and she’s still somewhat drunk and very freaked out by what she just almost did because of how much that woman looked like someone she can’t have, so she swipes the dogsofinstagram tag away and opens up her group chat again.
[Can you guys come outside? I wanna go sleeppppp.]
Time passed in a rush inside, so that when she looks at her clock to see it’s closer to morning than night, she doesn’t feel in the wrong about the text she sent. And she does want to sleep. Preferably before she has to explain anything.
She rubs her cheeks dry on the insides of her wrists and combs a hand through her hair, taming it somewhat.
Instead of being allowed an evening without the thoughts that have been plaguing her all week, it has only gotten worse. How in the hell she is going to survive this, she has no idea, but she’s in it now. In a little over six hours she’s expected in Anne Lister’s office, bright and (somewhat, relatively) early on a Saturday morning, to go over their plan for the year and set ground rules.
Ann looks up when she hears the loud giggles of Catherine Rawson, who seems to have Harriet Parkhill slung over her shoulder. There is a sweeping mass of blonde hair and writhing limbs, and Ann doesn’t see this go well at all, so she gets up to help Catherine out.
“Can you keep it down? Not all of Edinburgh needs to know you want to bone Korean boy.”
“But I dooooo.”
It’s a long walk back to campus. Harriet calms down a couple of minutes in and can be put down again, but the conversation devolves into drunken ramblings that are not intelligible but incredibly hilarious, and for the last minutes of the night, as they walk into the golden rays of the sunrise, Ann can just be a drunk girl out on the streets with her best friends, and think about nothing else.
She will worry about Anne Lister again tomorrow.
Chapter 3: iii.
do i have any chill? no.
i could space out chapters, or i could just post them as soon as i finish them, and this is easier for my impatient ass.
also, this is where the tw sexual assault/harassment comes into play, but in an entirely theoretic/spoken about subject. still, for those who find such matter triggering, beware.
this chapter was made possible by my work being slow as heck, so shoutout to my boss for basically paying me to write on the job.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
There is a cup of coffee in her hands that is the only bright spot in her day right now. The cardboard soaks warmth through to her palms, but nowhere else. Her stomach is torn-up and warring, her head pounds like a slow war drum. There is a very real chance it might blow to a full-on migraine, she feels it creep and twist inside her skull, and Ann knows she’ll be entirely worthless for the rest of this nice, sunny Saturday—but that doesn’t matter, as long as she can hold it off until after her appointment with professor Lister.
God, she feels awful, and she has no idea why she thought this was a good idea at all. She might be unable to think, but she’s also unable to think, a thing Anne Lister likely isn’t going to take to well.
If it wasn’t five minutes from now, Ann would see if she could still cancel, to not have to waste the professor’s time. But it’s five minutes from now, and she’s hurrying across campus to make it in time.
At least she has showered, made herself as presentable as she could manage, in soft, clean clothes she rummaged out of the back of Harriet’s closet. They have such differing styles, but even Harriet Parkhill has an oversized hoodie and a regular pair of jeans somewhere.
It is paired with the tamest choker she had, too, since showing up with hickeys on her neck seems everything but professional.
Just keep sipping your coffee, she tells herself, marching resolutely up the stairs with her shoulder bag banging into her hip and the beverage scalding her throat on its way down.
The door to Anne Lister’s office stands open invitingly, so Ann bypasses the name plate and the laminated card of office hours to just step inside. A brief glance at the clock up on the wall tells her she has one minute left, but just in time barely constitutes as punctuality. Next time, she’ll do better.
“Good afternoon, miss Walker.”
Anne moves away from the window to shake her hand. Gone are the impeccable suits and fine clothes of class, replaced by what apparently constitutes a weekend look for professor Lister: a white shirt French-tucked into high-waist pants. It makes her look like someone attainable, not normal or regular by any means but not so highly elevated either. Almost like Ann could just run into her at a bar—though maybe not the dingy college ones she likes to frequent.
“Don’t mind my saying this,” Anne says as she walks around her desk and sits down on the other side of it, gesturing for Ann to take a seat as well. “But you look awful. My time is very valuable, Ann—I would hope you won’t take it for granted.”
Her tone is light, airy, but Ann feels flayed by it nonetheless. Must be the steely look in professor Lister’s eyes that replaces the bright-eyed interest that was there earlier this week.
“It won’t happen again, Professor.” She pulls her bag onto her lap and digs out the folder of documents she already has on her thesis—outline, some first resources, a list of books she wants to borrow from the university library. “I do value your time and guidance.”
“Good.” Professor Lister slides her own bundle of papers forward. “These are my rules. Most of them boil down to respect, punctuality, and good communication. Also important is this,” and she flips to a page further on, with a schedule of the year. “There are a few weeks this school year I won’t be here, so revising any new chapters or doing check-ins will have to be planned around that. Other than that, I think this should be about what you can expect from any of your professors.”
She sits back in the chair and looks over at Ann. “Read it.”
Ann struggles through the few pages, trying to be speedy about it, but losing her concentration either to her tiredness dragging her attention away or to the eyes resting on her, burning her. She loses her spot in a paragraph several times, words spinning in front of her eyes—for once she feels she might have just an inkling of how difficult it must be for dyslexic people to read under pressure.
“This says,” she begins, then rereads just to be sure she didn’t hallucinate it, “that you want me to check in once every one or two weeks?”
“Correct. Especially in the beginning I’ve found it’s really useful. I need to get to know you to be able to help you best, and some students need… some pressure to actually get started on their thesis right away instead of pushing it further back into the semester.”
Ann can see how that could be so for others. She just isn’t sure if seeing her professor even more often is going to be a productive thing or not.
“If we find that that’s way too much for how much guidance you need, we can cut it back to once a month or so. But that’s not for now.” Anne pulls open one of the drawers of her desk and lifts a copy of her outline out of it. There are parts highlighted, scribbles in a very fine, elegant script added onto every bit of white space. “Now, what intrigues me—let me see, where was it.” She has to unfold her glasses and put them on to read further.
“Ah, here. ‘A discussion on the female body as an object for objectification, social exploitation, manipulation of identity, and the lack of progress since Poseidon raped Medusa.’ Let me tell you, this is—it’s going to be a lot. Things are going to get very heavy with a subject matter like this. This might go beyond my usual advisory role, since this delves deep into contemporary problematics.”
Ann is taken aback by the sudden tender, silent look her professor gives her. They link in this gaze, and everything inside Ann quakes at being beheld.
“I want you to know, if at any point I get worried about your mental state and how it suffers beneath the perpetual research into these themes, I might have to intervene. After you leave here, and you have not changed your mind, then I’ll be your adviser until the end of the year—and agreeing to that is giving me consent to do what I feel is in your best interests, even if you don’t think that’s what it is.”
She nods quietly, throat bobbing. “Okay.”
Ann knows it will be hard. She is a thorough feminist though, full of indignant rage and too many personal experiences to draw from, so she has to. She wouldn’t feel right writing about anything else.
“Okay, now we’ve got that out of the way. I have added my private phone number and mail address in your handout. Those are for emergencies only. I would prefer we keep most of this working relationship to these check-ins, so I can give you my undivided attention.”
They talk for a bit, mostly about a rough idea for deadlines, and where Ann should likely start researching first. Professor Lister shies away from any more questions that require deep thought, which Ann is grateful for, having her head keep cleaving in two with the sharp slice of the oncoming migraine.
There’s a knock on the door about twenty minutes into their appointment.
“I’ll be right back.”
Ann keeps sitting in her seat, finally daring to sip from her coffee again, now gone cold. But curiosity coaxes her to look around, and when she hears a steady conversation going on at the other side of the door, she ventures behind Anne Lister’s desk to snoop.
There are framed degrees on the wall behind her—Bachelors and Masters from Cambridge, PhD from Harvard. Three metal shelves pinned to the wall hold books that all say ‘Anne Lister’ as the author on the spine. Ann has never read anything published by any of her professors beyond what’s in the required reading of the curriculum, but now she is eager to try one of these.
She turns around and looks at the desk, at the view from Anne’s side of their conversation. Her eyes fall on a picture that looks black and white from afar. Getting close, it’s instead two women, one dressed in a fine black suit, one in a beautifully white wedding gown.
Oh. Of course Anne is married.
There is a smile on the pictured Anne that is unlike anything she has seen from the woman yet. She looks a good ten or fifteen years younger, but just as good-looking and poised. Her arm is around a stunning woman with gentle ringlets of brown hair and her face scrunched up in pure happiness.
Ann’s poor heart shatters. She doesn’t hear the door handle twist, although she catches the blur of brown moving in the corner of her eye and manages to get herself in front of the books with only seconds to spare.
“Ah, curious, I see.” Anne closes the door behind her. “Sorry about that. That was a colleague passing by and seeing I had the lights on. Do you take any classes with Jeremiah Rawson?”
“Oh, I-,” Ann clears her throat, fights the onslaught of ache all throughout her. “No, not since my sophomore year.”
“Shame. He has some really interesting electives.” Anne bares the watch on her wrist and a sad look flits across her face. “And unfortunately I’m going to have to cut this short here. But you look like you really need some sleep, so maybe it’s for the best. Send me an e-mail to set a new appointment.”
Ann bobs her head and starts grabbing everything together. Her hands are trembling, and tears burn their way up her throat. She staggers out of the office, telling herself to get it together, god damn it don’t cry.
The force of her reaction surprises her in its intensity, because what did she expect? That these weekly, or bi-weekly, appointments were going to lead to a wild, blossoming romance, never mind the consequences?
She has been stupid and naive to believe someone like Anne Lister would still be available and at all interested.
The tears spill across her cheeks then, her breaths heave, and she feels inherently, innately stupid thinking about it.
She cries all the way home, until puffy-eyed and exhausted she totters into her own bed and falls asleep.
Her days after that are a slapdash mix of denial, hollowness and being swamped with course works. Her classes start in earnest, with the corresponding homework and mandatory reading that accompanies it. Outside the trees start to turn a shade of fire, but she spends most of her time inside her small bed room reading and writing.
There are perpetually syllabi open on some page with highlighted passages on her desk, some on her floor. She has a full roster and a long year, so she wants to stay as up to date on it as she can—and if she’s doing it to avoid thinking about a particular someone, well, at least it leads to a productive habit.
She has to force herself to her Greek Mythology Dissected elective the next Tuesday, and she sits somewhere in the back, shielded by rows and rows of other students. Professor Lister searches her out in the crowd a few times, tries to catch her gaze, but Ann keeps her focus on her notebook and the few phrases she has managed to pen down.
As class lets out, she’s gone from the lecture hall first, rushing through the door and out of the building as fast as she can.
She does send that mail later that evening, with a plate of spaghetti on one knee and her laptop on the other, to schedule a meeting. She gets a positive back for next week Wednesday, so she pens it into her diary.
Keeping busy helps. Her thoughts stray way less to professor Lister. She stays on top of her course work, so that she comes to every class prepared and shines like a rock star. This Friday evening is spent getting a head start on an essay for her Economic Sociology class.
On Saturday she hikes up to the campus library. She has her ear buds in, Abbey Road pumping through them. There are still plenty of tables left, so she chooses one near the back, away from the thoroughfare of visitors and shielded from curious eyes.
She put her research diary and her prints for her essay into her bag, but it’s her thesis folder she pulls out, with the list of books at the front. It would be wise to have something written already, something concrete to hold onto instead of that vague ‘getting to know you’ crap that will get Ann in trouble again.
Abbey Road cycles to Death of a Bachelor to Keep the Faith, the strangest collection of albums, as Ann transcribes paragraphs from reference works onto her laptop and has scans from books sent to her school mail. The hours pass outside the buildings, one of the last few truly warm and sunny ones of the year before autumn will set in full force. The sky has turned a soft, downy peach color when Ann starts packing in again. Her eyes are tired, her mind is tired, but she’s happy with the progress she has made on the preparation work.
She has every intention to return tomorrow and get to writing, but she surfaces into the world again having missed about thirty messages between Harriet and Catherine in their group chat. The last ten or so are them aggressively chanting Rainbow Brite in the chat—the nickname she’s been saddled up with for years.
Apparently, Halloween plans are already being made, and she scrolls back through pictures of one terrible costume idea after another.
‘I’m not going as Rainbow Brite, guys.’
Realizing she’s available to talk, she gets spammed with more atrocities—mayo-ketchup-mustard condiment bottles, his-and-hers costumes, even a three-parter llama suit that needs to be worn by three people.
She’s so pre-occupied with this that she doesn’t see Anne Lister jogging up to her until she’s right in front of her. Ann pulls her music out with a shaky hand, heart racing with the scare.
“Sorry to scare you. You look much better today, how’re you feeling?”
“Oh, much better. Apologies again, I won’t do that ever again.”
Anne smiles a gentle sort of way, turning all her sharp features a little softer. “They told me at the library I’d just missed you. Here, I got you this.”
Ann takes the signed slip of paper, reads it over quickly. Access to restricted sections? She feels like she’s the most privileged Ravenclaw at Hogwarts all of a sudden. “Thank you. I was working on the thesis already today. I’ve read a lot of very interesting things.”
“I can’t wait to hear all about it next week.” Anne makes to leave, then catches herself and turns back to Ann. “Do you have anything planned the 12th?”
Ann keeps a diary to put all her plans into, otherwise she wouldn’t remember anything, but she’ll check later—move stuff around if she has to. “No, why?”
“There’s a very interesting, feminist poet holding a reading then, a little bit out of town. I think the stuff she writes about could be relevant to your interests, if not your thesis. I’ll send you the information.”
Ann has to fight the smile trying to break onto her face. The fact that Anne is married doesn’t even fully register into her mind as fact as they’re stood chatting on the sunlit lawn. “Will you be there?”
“Yes, I would be. Is that a problem?”
No, not at all.
“Thank you, Professor. I’m looking forward to it, and to our meeting next week.”
“So do I, Ann. I can’t wait to hear all you have to tell me.”
They say their goodbyes, giddiness spurring her crush to stop being dreary and forlorn. Anything happening she has put from her mind, but she can aspire to be the greatest advisee Anne has ever had, the one she will talk about to her colleagues and her cool friends and her wife. Maybe they could be friends.
She isn’t even home yet when her phone chimes with an incoming Whatsapp message of a flyer. Neither the author nor the venue ring any bells, but that’s nothing some research can’t solve.
When she shares this new development to her best friends, there’s even more aggressive chanting, and about seventy call requests she has to deny so she can daydream on her way home, smiling and clutching her phone to her chest.
as always: thank you for reading!
Chapter 4: iv.
here we are again, only a slightly slower update than last time. thank you all for the continued love and support you have shown this little story of mine, i appreciate it so much and am overwhelmed with all these uwu's.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
In the ways of the universe, time always passes—even when it feels like it’s crawling. Mind full of this article and that journal, Ann spends her days too busy to realize October is setting in, a cold bite has come to the air whistling through Edinburgh, and stores have pulled out their Halloween decorations.
She is single-mindedly focused on making a much better impression this meeting. She has been reading a lot, requesting a dozen journals a day from the library because an article title in the index sparks her interest. Some she’d even sent to her professor, and on a few of those she’d gotten a message back saying things like ‘you’re on fire’ and ‘this was a great read, can’t wait to discuss’.
The first thousand or so words were already written, but in their current state they were rough and unpolished. That didn’t matter—she would start editing after feedback.
There is a thin stream of people moving through this part of the building, mostly professors arriving at or leaving from their office. She is early by about thirty minutes, keeping busy by thumbing through her folder of print-outs and notes to refresh her memory.
Fifteen minutes before they were set to meet, Anne struts into the hallway, bag under one arm and a steaming takeaway cup of coffee lifted halfway to her mouth. A soft smile touches to Anne’s lips instead when she spots her. “You’re early. I like that.”
There is some shuffling and juggling before Anne turns to her with a soft shake of her head, “Would you mind holding this for a second?”
A strong smell of cinnamon and a subtler note of nutmeg steams up from the cup. The rim says Artisan Roast.
Ann can’t help filing that away in her mind, and she can’t stop herself from looking at her professor’s hands when she jams the key into the lock either. Her fingers are long, veins bulge against the back of her hand, there’s a very nice watch clasped around her wrist—but no rings.
“How are your classes?” Anne pushes the door to the office open and gestures Ann to enter first with somewhat of a flourish. “I’ve heard from my other advisees that they’re struggling a bit with the work load.”
“Oh.” She knew that, rationally, she wouldn’t have been the only one. A sudden ambition to be the best one surges through her at this new knowledge though. “I’m doing pretty okay getting everything done, I think. I’ve even gotten started on writing my thesis.”
“Have you? Please, sit.” Professor Lister dumps her bag onto her desk, then moves to the corner of the room to take off her coat and hang it up. The muscles of her shoulders and back show beneath the black shirt she is wearing, clinging to her like shadow. Who knew professor Lister was this fit? “I wanted to talk to you about your topic.”
Ann nods, eager to hear whatever it is Anne Lister has to say. To her, personally. Class is great and all, incredibly interesting and captivating, but this—Anne Lister is speaking to her and only her, and that makes it so much better.
“I think you should rethink it.”
And just like that, not so special anymore. Her forehead creases with her frown, and barbed wire strings through her throat every time she tries to swallow. “R-Rethink? Is it not good enough?”
The look on the professor’s face softens. She leans forward, to put a hand on her forearm and squeeze. “It is a great topic, but it’s still too—broad. Like this, you’re going to have trouble finding focus, and then you’ll be writing in circles trying to get to your points.”
It makes sense, and the warm touch seeping through her sleeve helps ground her here instead of her thoughts spinning off into an anxious whirlwind. She swallows her instant reaction of being hurt back, because this is what an adviser is for, and it’s a good point. She has to concede to the wisdom of the woman in front of her.
“Of course. I’ll... try to figure that out. A more precise research question?”
Anne pulls her touch back and settles once more back into her chair, arms dangling over the rests. “You’ve been writing essays for a long time, miss Walker. A thesis is just like that, only longer. That can be overwhelming, but really, it’s the same.”
“Yeah, that’s... I know.” Her voice is a small, wounded thing. She starts thinking about those words she was so proud to have written already, the excitement about her thesis diminishing. She knows she can’t think like this, but her anxiety gets the better of her, laughing at her for all this work she has done that amounts to nothing, and her plans to impress Anne Lister have massively backfired already, and—
“Stay with me, Ann.” Dark eyes duck into her line of sight to catch her gaze. “Where did you go just now?”
“Oh, I—in my head, I suppose. That happens sometimes.”
“Right. Well, talk to me instead. I’m here to help you. I don’t give you feedback to hurt you, but to help you.” Her fingers are doing this thing—Ann notices because she finds Anne’s hands easier to look at than her face—this rhythmic tapping against the sides of her chair, a steady heartbeat of a drum. “You’re thinking about what you’ve written already and how you have to scrap it all, something like that?”
She snaps her eyes up, startled by being read so easily. “How did you know?”
“I’ve been doing this for some time.” Anne chuckles as she sweeps a hand through her hair, messing it up thoroughly. Locks slide against her cheek, curl against her neck. Ann has to clench her hands to tamp down the urge to reach out and tuck it back behind her ear. “It’s my job to help you get across the finish line with something you’re proud of, so sometimes that means I’m going to talk about things other than the paper. Tell me, what’s been your favorite class at U of E so far?”
They spend the rest of Ann’s alloted hour talking about Social Anthropology, about not living on campus but having two best friends that do, about wanting to graduate and get out into the real world. When eleven am rolls around and an alarm sounds from Anne’s phone, it’s like no time has passed at all, rushed through her fingers like loose sand.
“Feel a bit better?” Anne asks as she gets up.
Ann finds that yes, she does. Matter of fact, she doesn’t even properly understand why she almost freaked out so hard. She’s going to figure this thing out, and she’s going to tackle it with renewed vigor, and it’s going to be great.
And she still has so much time—so many more meetings.
“Yes, thank you. I’m sorry we didn’t... really talk about the thesis.”
“As I said, sometimes it’s more important we don’t. And I think it was rather a nice chat.” She slides her arms back into the sleeves of her coat and pulls it onto her shoulders. “Let me walk you out. Do you have class now?”
“Oh, yeah, in half an hour.”
She tries not to think too hard about Anne Lister walking her to the door of her office, about her walking with her down the hallway and giving a half-wave as they part ways, Anne deeper into the bowels of the building and Ann headed outside.
She can’t remember when she last spent quite so nice a morning.
The next two weeks are a blur of classes, seeing Catherine a few times, seeing Harriet only once, because the semester has kicked in something nasty for all of them and now they’re swamped. Harriet is also doing her thesis this year, and has more trouble figuring out what to use for her topic, so that when she isn't doing course work, she's frantically going through the library waiting to be struck by inspiration. Catherine’s part of a small theater group and has been learning lines like a madman.
Ann has been diving into book after book after book, her days stitched together of words penned by people long dead and the sensation of paper between her fingers. The only way she can tell time has passed is by the interactions she has had with professor Lister.
There have been two moments so far where, in the process of talking about Ann and her thesis and her life, Anne has let slip details about herself. Notoriously tight-lipped about her personal life, she had nonetheless told Ann, unknowingly or not, that she had a sister named Marian who she seemed to have a troubled relationship with, and that she hated long car drives.
Like a starving woman, Ann ate those facts up. Thinking about this real life Anne Lister leads outside of campus does a tremendous job of knocking down the pedestal. She is not, in fact, a marbled Greek Goddess come to life, crackling with power and immortality. She is real.
Ann tries not to think about how real warm and soft Anne would be.
She gets both her best friends at once on the second Friday since their partying-gone-wrong, with the anxiety attack she still hasn’t told them about, and they’ve had plans to go shopping set in their agendas since Ann got the invitation to go to that poetry reading.
Oh, how she has been counting down for tomorrow. Every time it crossed her mind, and it did a lot, her stomach swam with pleasantly nervous jitters.
“I almost forgot what your face looked like,” Ann chirrups at Harriet, putting her hands to her friend’s cheeks and smushing them. Harriet swats her hands away, but dives into a hug instead, clinging hard.
“I’ve missed you both so much.” She ducks from Ann’s to Catherine’s arms. Ann watches with the fondest smile and the warmest heart.
“Stop disarming us with how cute you are, Harry. We need to catch up on two weeks of not giving you any shit as well.”
“Fair, fair. But let’s walk and talk.”
Life feels right and bearable when they’re together. Worries, concerns, and anxieties melt away. Ann feels light as a feather and so sure of her place in the world, so fucking sure it hurts—this is where she belongs.
Sometimes she thinks about what a difference it would have made if she had known them in high school, if she’d had such amazing friends while going through the tough times that broke her and turned her into this anxious mess of a girl, things would be so different. The confident, joyful person she is around them—she could be that person all the time, not slip in and out of her skin.
But that’s a dangerous path to tread each and every time, so she pushes it to the back of her mind and lets inside jokes and her game plan rush in to fill the void instead.
When Catherine loudly proclaims for everyone nearby to hear, “Let’s burn some money on retail therapy,” Ann feels that.
In true 80's montage, complete with mind-numbing music layered behind their life transpiring, the three of them heap clothes into each other’s arms and take to the stalls to try on and model every outfit. A couple of hours later, their feet throb and their arms tire laden with bags.
They pile into a booth at an on-campus diner and slump into the cracked leather of the benches. There’s a couple of moments where the three of them just sit, existing in their tired bodies and aware of their exquisite company.
The silence breaks as Catherine thumps her forehead onto the table and pillows her head on her arms. “Where is the time when we were fresh upstarts and nothing ever tired us.”
“Those kids have been in school for four years.”
“Yeah, they have,” Ann grins, pulling the menu card to her and flipping to the page with desserts and milkshakes. “We’ll get less busy soon, I’m sure.” She hopes, anyway.
They say their goodbyes much earlier than they usually would, since Catherine has rehearsal. But her battery is recharged, her energy high, so that Ann finally manages to wrench her thoughts away from Anne Lister and onto her research diary.
Most of her Saturday is spent that way, and running some errands with Elizabeth, racing around town to get groceries and a mandatory trip to a book store.
They both have always been voracious readers. Elizabeth took to it instantly, and Ann fell in love with it because her older sister read her Roald Dahl and Harry Potter as a bedtime story.
Funny how Elizabeth was a mother to her before their parents had even passed away.
"You know I love you, right?" Ann says, holding out two books to her sister.
Elizabeth is sunshine poured into one singular person when she smiles. "Of course I do. And I love you right back. Doesn't mean you can have both though."
"Fiiiine. The Brandon Sanderson one then."
But inevitably the moment she has been dreading and awaiting in equal measure arrives, and with it a nervousness unlike anything she has ever felt before.
It's not a date, she has to keep herself, applying make-up with trembling fingers, braiding her hair while her chest heaves with breaths. She is queasy with the way her organs lurch around, lungs doing a rapid tango with her heart and stomach.
Maybe this wasn't a good idea. But she's not going to cancel now.
Her floral dress comes to her ankles and swirls around her like a gentle breeze, so that she feels like a dryad leaving her forest.
She has to keep repeating to herself not to turn around and go back home, where it's safe and comfortable. Anne wanted her here, she would not have been invited otherwise. Right?
But her anxieties grasp the thought and run away with it, leaving behind only the worry—Right? Right? Like a murder of crows, they peck and caw at her, deafening.
The city bus drops her off two blocks away from the venue, and she walks the distance with her arms clutched around her middle and her head somewhere up high in thunder clouds.
“Good evening, Persephone.” Anne Lister solidifies out of the shadows, dressed head to toe in black. Sandals, bohemian pants, tank top and leather jacket—Ann has never seen her this casual, and her breath hitches slightly at the sight. “Might I escort you to the underworld?”
She can imagine if Hades looked like this, androgynous and electric and intense, Persephone followed willingly. Ann follows willingly, too. Anne Lister could steal her to any place in the world and she would follow.
i was originally going to spend most of this chapter with them at the poetry reading, but this got so long that i decided to end it here and make it its own chapter.
as always, thank you for reading!
Chapter 5: v.
hoooow are we at chapter five already? damn.
also, as i predicted in the beginning notes of chapter 1, i've veered wildly away from the masterplan i drafted at the beginning, so that orginal goal of 15 chapters? likely going to be more than that.
thankyouthankyouthankyouabillion to all of you for reading and commenting. i might not know how to stop my heart from exploding with all this love, but i really do appreciate it!
Stein is an interesting place. Rib vaults plucked straight from a gothic cathedral arch up to the ceiling, painted canvasses look like stained glass windows, and every spotlight has fabric wrapped around to diffuse the brightness and lend a haze to the room.
Ann likes to think she is pretty sophisticated and mature for her age, but she walks in here and she has never felt more out of place. The people here look like the sort of woman Ann wants to be one day though—accomplished, interesting, happy. God, they look so happy.
They’re also all, except for one, not men, and they don’t seem straight either.
Did Anne Lister bring her to a lesbian bar?
(It’s not a date, Ann.)
Her face is awash with a blush at the thought, but she has no chance to dwell on it because as soon as they walk inside, attention is on them—or, rather, on Anne. Women flock to her, eager to draw her into their respective conversations, but Anne waves them all away.
“I have company tonight.” Only then do most of them become aware to Ann’s presence, but she doesn’t blame them. She doesn’t really have eyes for anyone except the woman she’s with either. “This is Ann Walker. She is a very promising sociology major writing her thesis on the lack of female autonomy.”
“Oh, you’ll fit right in, honey.”
Again, no time to really think on that, because Anne Lister sets a brisk pace forward through the bar and Ann has to hurry to keep up.
Vere is a woman with a crazy mane of black ringlets, who’s sitting on the edge of a small stage swinging her legs and bare feet side-to-side. There’s a pair of very round glasses halfway her forehead, and a thick bundle of papers in her hands. Those get flung aside when she is called upon.
“Anne! You made it.” The two embrace with familiarity and not an ounce of shame, but so intimate that Ann wouldn’t hug either of her friends like that. A pang of jealousy shoots through her, making her shudder. “And who’s this?”
“This is the woman I told you about, Ann Walker.”
“Ah. Yes, ‘effervescent’ was the right word to use.”
Effervescent? Anne called her that? Anne talked about her to her friend?
It’s not a date. It’s not a date. Ann needs to keep repeating it to herself, but it’s so damned hard. It feels like a date in every way: she’s dressed up, Anne is practically only wanting to pay attention to her, and every fiber of her being is tap dancing with nerves.
That every appointment to talk about her thesis feels the exact same way is something she refuses to acknowledge, because the thought that this might end in the way dates sometimes does is intoxicating.
“I am eager to hear your new stuff, old friend,” Anne replies, her face formed entirely around the smile she has been wearing pretty much since they entered. “Can I leave you two alone for one second or should I fear all my secrets being outed? What would you like to drink, Ann?”
“Oh, uh, same as you?”
“Stay gone as long as you want,” Vere calls after her with a gentle laugh, shooing Anne further away. Ann watches her professor beeline towards the bar. “So, Ann. I heard you’re tackling some interesting subjects for your paper.”
“Yeah, I guess I am.” She rubs a hand across her arm and shrugs a shoulder. Talking about it with Anne Lister felt safe, comfortable—there was no judgment, ever. But while this Vere had been vouched for, in a way, Ann couldn’t help but be suddenly shy about it. “I’d really like to not think about it for an evening though. It’s already consuming my life so much.”
“Hah, yes, I can imagine. How about we talk about her then.” They both look over at Anne, who’s leaning on the bar as if it’s hers, talking to the bartender while she’s pouring drinks. “I see the way you look at her. A lot of people have looked at her like that, and all of them got themselves burned on it. I’d be ever so careful, if I were you.”
Having said that, Vere climbs up onto stage, little bells tinkling on her harem pants, and disappears backstage.
“So, which of my secrets have been spilled?” Anne hands her a tumbler of amber liquid, a sticky and syrupy whiskey that sloshes heavily. “Most of what Vere has told you is probably a lie.”
Ann smiles over the rim of her glass, but something icy and steely claws into her gut, shredding her soft, vulnerable insides. Vere’s words keep replaying over and over, souring what had been such a giddy mood and precariously heightened hopes. “Nothing. She spilled nothing.”
“Good. Can’t have you thinking too bad of me, now can we?”
Liquid courage. She needs it now more than ever, if she is to survive this night. The first swallow kicks back, her body revolting at this suddenly strong invasion of alcohol—a far cry from the sugary, soda pop concoctions that she gets drunk on with her friends. Her whole chest burns as she coughs.
She leans forward, hiding her reddened face or the tears that have sprung to the corners of her eyes, but she blows through the coughing fit and realizes when her breathing returns to her that Anne has been rubbing soothing circles on her back.
“Easy there. It’s better to sip this stuff.”
Here she was trying to impress the professor, and all she did was prove she was really still a little girl.
Sipping, the drink goes down easier, its smoky flavor with hints of Oakwood and barley slithering down her throat. Her fingers clutch the glass so hard her knuckles go white, but the light dims even more and no one can spot it.
Vere appears on stage again. In a white shift and her hair down, she has become demure, fragile. Her arm lifts, reaches out, grasping into the gaping void of light that the audience has become.
Her voice is a gentle rasp.
“The back of the angel was all blood, And not all things holy are about grace—”
Ann tries to pay attention, she really does. The poetry is beautiful. Vere knows how to put the audience under her spell, lends her voice and cadence to a lulling rhythm, and she has certainly captivated Anne.
Her professor sits forward, leaning her head on one of her arms, mouth open a sliver.
Ann can only look at her in this dimmest of light. She is so close, the warmth of her fills up the narrow space in between them. When she reaches for her glass she could almost let her arm slide against hers, maybe if—she miscalculates and does, forearm grazing against her elbow, and the bare skin contact shocks through her.
Poem after poem gets told, Vere prattles on about angels and demons, gods, divinity.
Ann has never known anything more holy than the all-encompassing feelings that blossom further and further every time they spend time together and Anne morphs from someone mythical and unconquestable to—a woman.
A really beautiful woman, with stark facial features and a way with words that dazzles, who leads a life somewhere off campus and has friends and bad memories and silly stories.
“What do you think?” Ann has to swallow at the sudden eye contact, Anne turning to her so that they’re mere inches from each other. “She’s phenomenal, isn’t she?”
“Yes, she is,” she replies, looking only at her professor—thrilling at the way Anne smiles and licks her lip, at the fog Anne breathes against the glass she doesn’t drink from.
“I knew you’d like her.” Anne gives her hand a squeeze before bringing her attention back to the show at hand.
Blinking, Ann seems to surface from the deepest sleep to Vere prancing on stage in a bloodied version of her shift, on her knees, reciting. The poem rises to a crescendo of vivid imagery and then, at last, so visceral she feels it pound into her heart, a wistful sigh. The held-breath silence shatters as the audience breaks into raucous applause and wolf whistles.
It’s over? Ann has no idea how much time has passed, how many poems have been read—she has traced every line of Anne’s face, but not consciously heard any lines Vere spoke to them.
Light floods back into the space. There is no more cover for her longing gazes anymore, in this illuminated landscape where these feelings are normal—maybe even expected. Looking around, she finds not a single soul is paying attention to the two of them. She still feels watched, like a pair of eyes burning into her neck.
When she looks around, Anne catches her mid-swivel and chuckles. “What’re you looking for?”
A table scrapes across the floor as two volunteers set up a small stand. Ann sees a dozen or so copies of a small poetry bundle, black cover with curly script.
"I'm going to buy one. Be right back." She will plead being tired tonight and hold off discussing the poems until she has read through them. Anne never needs to know she was the only one Ann had had attention for. "One, please."
After handing over the money, she held her very own copy of 'honey and ichor.' by Vere Hobart. Her fingers glide over the title, following each curlicue.
"Thank you for your support," Vere calls, looking at her pointedly. "I hope to see you here again sometime."
On her way back to their table, Ann can't help but notice the women who are coupled up—holding hands, stealing kisses. Among them is she, who would likely faint if her professor ever held her hand like that, but still wanting nothing else.
"How did you and Vere meet?" she asks as she sits down again.
Anne Lister looks up from her watch to look back at her. "That is a very long story."
"I have time if you do."
And so Anne, after thinking on it briefly and emptying her glass, tells the very long story. To be trusted with this—for not unexpectedly it concerns the professor's sexuality—makes Ann positively glow with happiness.
College girlfriends turned friends who only speak to each other at social events such as these and the days leading up to them.
How much stock should she put by Vere's words if that's the full extent of their relationship? Is Vere one of those women burned by Anne?
"Not many students would be comfortable being taken to see a queer poet. I'm glad you're here."
Ann grins wide—never mind that she hasn't been the proudest and outest, never mind that she is about to out herself to the object of her infatuation. "That's quite alright since I'm gay too, Professor."
"Are you? Good. Good. Men are not worth the time of angels."
They have no more terribly significant conversations the rest of the evening, but even idly chatting with Anne Lister about the most normal, average stuff is exhilarating. She might even like this normalcy a bit more.
She watches Anne order an Uber on her phone when it gets late and their conversation keeps lulling because the whiskey has settled and it's making Ann sleepy.
"How did you get here?" Anne stacks their empty glasses at the corner of their table.
"Care to share my cab? I'll drop you off at home."
They file into the back seat of the cab ten minutes later and Ann mumbles her address to the driver. All the nervousness of the day, and the weeks, leading up to this evening take a hefty toll on her as the adrenaline starts to fade away.
Her head falls to the window, cold and smooth against her temple. Anne looks at her from the other side of the seat. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, I’m great. Just tired.”
A considering, understanding nod, and again with that damned smile all the time. She’d never seen Anne Lister smile so much during a whole semester as she has the handful of meetings they’ve had so far. How could Ann not read into that?
“If you’d like to postpone our appointment this week, you can just let me know.”
“No!” A little too fast, a little too wild. “I mean, I—I really want to get the most done for my thesis as I can before midterms and essay deadlines and… all that stuff.”
“Okay. Do try to get some sleep this weekend. You can’t keep going on pure power of will until you run out of fumes, that way you’ll crash before the year is over.” Something twists behind Anne’s eyes, something dark and forlorn, and a sigh follows that comes from somewhere at the bottom of her soul. “I think it would be wiser to take care of yourself first instead of the degree. I’ve seen too many promising people burn out.”
“I won’t let you down, professor.”
The smile returns like the sun breaking through rain clouds. “I know you won’t.”
Her heart must be thudding loud enough for both Anne and the cab driver to hear it now, a frantic scrabbling against her ribs to try and get to the one it belongs to. Her hands tighten around the book in her lap.
“This is you.” Ann looks up to see them drive into her street, and she’s never been less glad to see the house at the end of the lane. “You can drop us both off here. I’ll walk the rest of the way home.” Anne pays the cab driver handsomely, then gets out and holds the door open for Ann to follow. “Good night.”
They watch the cab pull back and drive away, foggy breaths spiraling up into the air.
“Won’t it be too cold to walk home?”
“I like this weather. The cold makes me feel alive.”
There is something even more alive about Anne Lister, shivering slightly despite the leather jacket and the long hair draping around her neck. Ann would be only too happy to warm her up, to snake her arms under that jacket and hug warmth into her. Too bad she’s too chicken shit to propose it.
“Well, I’m—thank you. I had a really nice evening.”
“So did I, miss Walker.”
Before she’s realizing what’s happening, Anne is so close to her that she is wrapped up in the smell of her, perfume and sweat and her whiskey breath. She blinks and their faces are pressed together cheek-to-cheek, and lips press maybe a little close to her jaw for a goodbye kiss but god, god, she’ll take it.
“I’ll see you in class Tuesday.”
Ann takes steps towards the house, but she’s glad she is too curious not to check, because when she looks over her shoulder she sees Anne Lister looking back at her too. Anne waves—Ann waves back. She skips up the steps to the house and lets herself in, but when she stands in the door frame to look back again her professor has disappeared into the chilly night.
Chapter 6: vi.
this *should* be the final update of this weekend, but i wouldn't even be surprised anymore if i managed to crank out another chapter today so i can post it tomorrow before i go play d&d with my friends.
now, mandatory, you all need to put on This Is Halloween (whichever variant/cover/remix you choose) because even though it's august, we're doing halloween in this one!
Their trip outside of their usual lives has done wonders for Ann’s anxiety. She is no longer an entirely introverted, nervous mess around Anne Lister. Rather, she’s becoming the sort of person she is around her friends: confident, smart, well-spoken. Funny.
The first time she makes her professor laugh—out loud guffaw, tears at the corners of her eyes after—her heart bursts with gooeyness.
Their meetings become more productive, more engaging. It’s less of Ann being told what to do or consider, and more an equal exchange of ideas, observations, and questions. More often than not, they stay talking for far longer than they were supposed to, edging into other appointments and once almost making Anne Lister late to her own class.
It also means, however, that she has to have new content for her thesis every week. New articles and journal snippets, new paragraphs, new findings. She has been poring over so many words that letters no longer feel like entirely real constructs anymore.
Her other classes suffer for it. She has gotten behind on her reading, deadlines are looming for essays she hasn’t even gotten started on. Harriet and Catherine have barely seen her at all. There have been very few days where she was in bed before two am, and she’s had to skip early morning classes as a result.
Ann Walker has only ever skipped due to being stuck in bed with a nasty flu before.
It’s going to come to a point soon, she’s aware, and something will have to give. She just isn’t ready to trade in the obvious hog of her time, since it’s also her favorite.
She sweeps the thoughts aside every time they crop up, because there is plenty to distract herself with.
Professor Lister has taken to sending her e-mails throughout the week, often unprompted, with thoughts that she has. The ones sent in the depths of night are Ann’s favorite, since the edge of sleep-deprived delirium makes even Anne Lister less smooth and polished.
There’s also Halloween. It took her and her best friends many a night, voting sessions, vetoes and compromises to settle on their eventual winner: the Powerpuff Girls. Ann has even pledged to dye her hair a ruddy strawberry to make up for being a shitty friend lately.
The final days leading up to Halloween are hectic. She has to go through her research diary and proof read it for writing errors and badly-constructed theories, so that she can hand it in for a first check-in with her Economic Sociology professor. There are last minute runs to the store for hair dye, costume props, and a good pair of leggings.
Her friends tie her to a chair on Wednesday evening, when she’s already strung-out and aching for sleep. Despite it being near midnight, it seems Elizabeth had no trouble letting them in. Damn her sister, and damn her friends, too.
“We’re here to turn you into Blossom, baby.” Catherine looks entirely too happy at the prospect, bouncing up and down on her fuzzy socks. “Put your school stuff away for one second so you can remember how you used to have a social life.”
“Even Sophie misses you,” Harriet adds. She, as opposed to their best friend, is perfectly happy to sit on Ann’s bed and watch.
And so Ann sits with a towel around her shoulders for thirty minutes with chemicals soaking into her honey blonde hair. Catherine massaging it in feels nice at least, the rough and scratchy movements across her scalp easing tension that had been collecting her neck.
When she washes it out, the whole bathtub fills with a dark, bloody crimson that takes another several minutes to wash away fully. Wet, her hair looks very dark, almost black—she doesn’t like that color on her at all. But it dries more and more as she sits cross-legged on the bed with Catherine’s face in her lap and Harriet leaning against her back, talking, catching up, and when it dries fully it actually becomes quite a nice, gentle copper.
“Now that’s more like it.”
Unbidden, but not unexpected, she wonders what Anne will think of it.
“So we meet up at 6 in Harry’s dorm room,” Ann recounts from the planning session they had over FaceTime last week. “But were we going to the SUB first or Sophie’s?”
It is now well into the night again, and she is tired, so bone tired, but she’s going to have to get back to what she was doing after her friends leave. She’ll skip her 9 am seminar, or else she’ll fall asleep in Anne’s office or at the Halloween party.
“SUB. The Student Union has really gone all out this year.” Catherine stares up at Ann with a crooked grin. “I think I saw a gigantic paper mash dragon being dangled from the roof.”
“Papier-Mâché,” Harriet corrects, in her immaculate French accent that she spent summers perfecting. Catherine and Ann devolve into a fit of giggles worthy of the time of day.
“Yeah, that,” Catherine hiccups, wiping at her eyes. “God, I love you guys so much.”
“I love you guys too,” Ann echoes. “But for the love of God, get out of here so I can go to sleep.”
The world grows quiet again once they’ve gone back to campus. Her sister and brother-in-law must be sleeping by now in their room down the hall, their neighbors turned in long ago, and this isn’t the sort of street that—normally!—receives visitors late at night.
Ann closes the curtains against the darkness and pulls herself back into her chair, but the interruption of her friends has shattered her focus. She reads the last few sentences she typed down, but she can’t get back in the zone no matter how hard she tries. Every word gets instantly erased again; her mind skitters this way and that.
With a huff of frustration she closes her laptop. Getting even more behind now. Tomorrow’s Halloween party doesn’t help, but she can’t cancel—not if she wants to keep her friends.
She presses a palm against her forehead, rubbing hard. Rubbing down, against her eyes until the black of her closed eyelids sparks with colors.
Sleep. No point in sitting up and thinking. She has to sleep.
Ann falls asleep before her head even touches to the pillow, exhaustion taking her out as soon as it is given permission.
She is late, she overslept because she forgot to put an alarm and she is late, she is hurrying but there’s a fierce wind blowing across campus and it’s so hard and she is going to be so fucking late. The dial is going, her phone open on Anne Lister’s personal contact information, and her heart is beating something wicked.
She hates (hateshateshates) having to call the professor and confess she’s going to be late over the least credible nor professional reason in the history of academia. A sour taste wells in Ann’s throat, and she swears she might just start crying if she in any way hears the displeasure in Anne’s voice, and her entire mind is a chorus of expletives.
And the worst part: for all that she has overslept, she doesn’t feel the least bit rested.
The William Robertson Wing where Anne has her office is uncharacteristically buzzing with noise and business. In the week since she has last been here, jack-o-lanterns have been strung up, as well as banners sporting Druidic, Celtic, and Ancient Greek script.
Right, historians and classicists.
When she head-over-heels tumbles into professor Lister’s office and skids to a halt, she sees her professor standing by the window, lost in thought. It seems she must surface from pretty deep to cast conscious, alert eyes upon Ann.
“What an entrance,” she chuckles, shaking off the last of her thinking. Stalking closer, for it cannot be described any other way, she comes to a stop in front of Ann and carefully winds a lock of her now reddish hair around her finger. “Suits you. Any particular reason?”
“It’s for my costume tonight.” That she can even speak, though her heart is joyously slinging around her chest cavity like Spider-man hurling himself from rooftop to rooftop, is a small miracle. She feels utterly breathless. “Do you like it?”
“Yes, I do.” The edge of her thumb briefly traces along Ann’s jaw as Anne pulls her hand back.
When they finally take up their usual positions on opposite sides of Anne’s desk, Ann sees a cup of pumpkin spiced latte sitting there with her name on it. Gratefully, she clasps her hands around it and sips slowly. “What are you doing for Halloween, professor?”
“Oh, I have a collection of Lovecraft short stories waiting for me by my most comfortable chair.”
While Anne Lister wastes no more time to launch into the list of possible revisions she has concerning her first completed section, Ann can’t help but think about an Anne Lister dressed in comfortable house clothes, curled up in a chair reading.
But confusion also creeps in—compliments, but no comment on how she was twenty minutes late? Coffee bought for her, from the exquisite little place that she frequents (and that when Ann went to check it out once seemed awfully expensive), yet nothing on how she didn’t even apologize?
Hope flickers like a bright flame at the thought that Anne might have come to just really like her.
Could it be?
“You’ll have plenty of time to digest all of this and use it however you see fit,” Anne says as she slides the bundle of proposed revisions forward, a copy of her thesis with red-inked commentary. “I’m flying out tomorrow to the mainland. I think I’ll be gone for a week, maybe two, so I’ll keep you updated on that.”
What? It comes out of her mouth too before she can think to stop herself, a sound so laden with panic and hurt that it barely forms to a word.
How can she go from seeing Anne Lister twice a week to not at all for two weeks?
“Don’t worry. You’re well on track, so I was already thinking of cutting back to only once every two weeks, especially now that midterms are coming closer and—What is it?”
Something of her inner turmoil must be showing on her face. “Nothing, nothing. I just—I really like talking to you. About the thesis,” she adds hastily, flushing with color. “And it helps a lot. But that’s—have fun in Europe. I would go too if I got the chance.”
Anne nods, and is it Ann’s imagination or is the gesture a little tight? “You can still sends me e-mails if you want to run something by me. I don’t think I’ll be too busy between all the guest lectures I’m set to give.”
“Of course, thank you. I’ll... I will see you when you get back.”
Ann is out of her chair and by the door in seconds, but when Anne calls after her she whirls around, hoping—for what, she’s not sure, but hoping.
She walks in a daze, not fully realizing what just happened, nor where is heading presently. What will these weeks do to the progress they have made, not in terms of academia but in terms of Anne opening up to her, in terms of how they get along.
Already Anne seemed way shorter and more professional than usual, the sting of which only fully registers now, leaving her colder than the 15°C (59°F) should be making her.
She lets herself cry for a moment, just to get the edge off her sadness, a quiet shoulders-shaking kind of crying. Then she wipes the tears resolutely off her cheeks and finds comfort in knowing she can get blackout drunk with her friends tonight and at least stop feeling so messed-up for a brief while.
Their costumes are a resounding hit. Ann joins Catherine and Harriet in twirling around, in exaggerated power poses, in taking selfies with people dressed as Jake the Dog, Batman, Link. Sophie doesn’t have to work for once and joins them, smiling her very convincing vampire teeth at them.
“Drinks!” she hollers over the crowd as she retreats instantly, and that’s pretty much the theme of the evening. After the fireworks, the free candy, and the showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Student Union Building they came here and they have no intention of leaving until the sun comes up again.
They gorge themselves on candy until their bellies ache. They hang out with, laugh with, party with people they know from classes, Harriet’s dorm building, Catherine’s dorm building (despite how they’re never ever there, like, at all, somehow people still seem to know them), campus in general.
Catherine’s theater troupe passes through for an hour or so and perform the weirdest set of improv ever.
Halloween is like that—a night where no one cares about who you are as long as you show up to get weird. Ann used to say Halloween was her favorite holiday, because three years ago her friendship with Catherine and Harriet solidified on this very night, and every Halloween since they have gone out on the town together.
This year, she feels like a bystander. Like wall decoration. She’s there helping her friends gang up on Sophie during a four man game of Truth or Dare to finally get the beans on who she’s dating—Marie, an international movie star who upgraded from Danish indie flicks to American blockbusters, damn. She’s there chugging shots flavored like several brands of candy, not too different from the usual fare at Sophie’s, and a pumpkin-infused bourbon that makes her head swim.
The drunker she gets, the easier it becomes to be part of the festivities rather than have most of her consciousness focused elsewhere, but she’s not fully there. Her mind keeps drifting—strong hands, intense eyes.
She’s there when Harriet finally caves and gushes about how she’s feeling something real for Korean Boy, but isn’t brave enough to take it further because she doesn't want him to be just one more in a long line of ex-boyfriends and boy toys, all failed relationships. Unfortunately, she has to hear all the well-intended but awful advice homoromantic Sophie and aromantic Catherine, deep into their cups and swaying a little, lob at her friend. None seems at all useful, but none seems to stick in Harriet’s memory either, so that balances.
“What’s that sound?” The four of them are huddled around the laptop with the music set-up, since they have commandeered the playlist for the rest of the night. Between giggling about songs they add and fiery discussions, they have been drinking enough to put Sophie in debt with her own bar.
Ann flounders, digging beneath the pink dress for the phone she has stuffed down her bra. “That’s me. I’ll—oh.”
It says ‘Professor Lister’ on her screen.
“I have to take this.”
But the three have bent back to the computer, googling horror movie scores, so she slips away without any hassle. The night air does little to make her feel less out of focus, a blurred vignette of herself.
“Ann, hi.” She swallows and closes her eyes, shivering not with the cold but with that whispering voice right against her ear. “Oh, right, you had Halloween plans. I’m interrupting—”
“—I can call back another time—”
“—I... You sound drunk, too. My god, Ann, sorry.”
“No, please.” She exhales heavily, tries to keep herself from a panic attack that she gets to have a voice like liquid velvet purring in her ear like this, laced with emotions she can’t place but—emotions! God, emotions. “I don’t mind.”
There is a silence between them. Or not silence, per se—Ann can hear Anne’s breathing on the other end, much slower and even than Ann’s erratic intakes of crisp night air. “I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you all day.”
She slumps back against the wall, tears springing to her eyes. If only she wasn’t so drunk, she could believe this isn’t a figment of her imagination. Her heart races with the words though. Fireworks buzz through her veins. There is such a strong tingling in the palms of her hands that the phone shakes in her grip.
“I was in a bad mood and I waltzed right past how you felt when I told you we would be taking a break for two weeks, and—can I beg ten minutes of your time? Can I come see you?”
“Yes.” Doesn’t even have to think about it. “Yes. I’m close to the National Museum.”
“Okay, I’ll be right there.”
Her whole body buzzes. She fires off a text to her friends saying she’ll be back soon, not yet knowing if she is lying to them, and tucks her phone away again. The walk does little to sober her up—really, it only makes her more starkly aware of how she is swaying on her ballet flats, how the whole world tilts along with her.
She sits down on a bench in front of the museum and waits, mind in overdrive repeating the gentle whisper of her professor’s voice. She is so close to a panic attack from her sheer inability to breathe through whatever this is, whatever is going to happen. Her hands clench around the edge of the bench, trying to ground herself.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you all day.
The stars look supremely dazzling this night.
Can I come see you?
A sleek car rolls into the street, its engine sounds a powerful rumbling. It looks like the sort of muscle car men undoubtedly drooled over, all curving lines and personality. Ann knows instantly this is Anne Lister’s, and sure enough, as it parks across the street from her, there she is.
She looks disheveled, but still like the most beautiful mirage. Ann’s heart skips a beat, several, stops altogether or maybe she just doesn’t feel it anymore.
Anne sits down next to her with a shy smile. “Good evening, Blossom.”
She watches as Anne turns sideways, stretches an arm across the back of the bench, knuckles resting against Ann’s arm. “I was short with you, this morning. I breezed through everything. I have known I’m going out of town and I should have told you sooner. Just because I’m your professor doesn’t mean I should just let you adapt your entire schedule at the drop of a top hat.”
“That’s okay, really, I—”
“Is it? You seemed awfully mad at me this morning.”
“I wasn’t mad.” Ann’s voice is so tiny, so soft. “I was sad. I am. Thursdays in your office are the best part of my week.”
A strangled sort of chuckle escapes Anne Lister. “Would you believe they are for me too? I can’t believe I found someone who can keep my interest in someone half my age.”
What. Is. Happening? She really is going to have a panic attack soon with the exertion it takes to hold herself back from flinging into Anne’s lap and letting her do whatever she wants.
“No, I mean you can call me Anne.” Anne’s eyes are dark depths, but the stars reflect in them, the gateway to a universe of everything Ann has ever wanted. “I spend more time with you than I do my actual best friend.”
Me too, she wants to say, thinking of the friends she abandoned a drunken pile of would-be DJs.
“I wasn’t going to bring this up so soon, but if you were thinking of going to grad school in Edinburgh as well I would absolutely love to have you as my TA. I will fight anyone for the right to have you.”
Oh. Ann feels her hopes shattered. So maybe she had been precariously leaning forward, unable to keep from looking at Anne head-on and drown in those intense eyes and her impassioned speech rolling off lips that seemed they would be so soft to kiss, maybe she had been expecting something else to be said. How foolish she felt to have expected some declaration of love when Anne Lister has never been anything but extremely professional and academia-minded.
“I want to make sure we stay on the same page and keep having this amazing relationship that we’ve built for that. So I promise I won’t let the hardships of my personal life rub off on you again. I really am quite sorry for how I treated you this morning, and I don’t apologize easily.”
Can she allow herself this familiarity without making things even worse for herself and her ill-advised feelings? Yes, she finds, yes she can. “Apology accepted, pro—Anne. I should really get back to my friends now though.”
She flies up from the bench, bottom lip trembling, tears starting to spill. Her eyes are on the road ahead, on her path away, but fingers lace around her wrist and stop her from leaving. Her pulse beats so hard against Anne’s hand.
“Ann.” Her word is spoken so tenderly, so caring, that the tears can’t be stopped any longer. They track down her cheeks rapidly, dripping onto her Blossom dress. “Ann, what’s wrong?”
Tap into something else. Anything else. God, Ann, think, tap into ANYTHING ELSE.
“It’s too much. I-I’m behind on all my work and—and I want to focus on my thesis because it’s...” She sniffles, feels a fresh wave rise up from the depths of her slight body when Anne puts her hands on her cheeks and attempts the futile effort of wiping her tears away. “It’s the most important assignment I’ve ever had, but then there’s all these other classes, and I don’t see my friends anymore, or my family, and—” She breathes deep, shakily after that all has poured out of her. “It’s just so much.”
Anne pulls her in with force, holds Ann against her chest, snakes her arms around her. Ann cries the rest of her tears against her professor’s neck, trying to keep it in but unable to stop it from breaking through and out of her. Anne rubs soothing circles on her back while she cries and whispers comforting things into her hair, and doesn’t let her go until even the quaking of her shoulders and the deep gulps of breathing have subsided.
“You are under a lot of pressure right now,” Anne says when they untangle. Ann knows her cheeks flare up with her embarrassment, but the woman in front of her hardly seems to care, her gaze still empty of judgment or annoyance. “And I’m sorry for my part in it. We’ll take this thing one step at a time.” She points between the two of them, and oh, how Ann wishes she was talking about something other than their academic cooperation.
“You told me I wouldn’t have to see you burn out, so I hope you respect me enough to stick by your promise. Take care of yourself, Ann.” Her hair is tucked behind her ear, Anne leaves her hand against her damp cheek. “I’d hate to lose you too.”
I’d hate to lose you.
Fuck, she almost starts crying again at that.
“I will do my best to move some shit off my plate.” She giggles in a short, unexpectedly loud burst at the expletive, but Anne doesn’t even flinch. “Good evening, Anne.”
“Of course. Have fun with the rest of your night, Ann.”
Cocooned in the memory of Anne’s arms around her, Ann walks back to the party, throws herself into the pumpkin-spiced rum shots and the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack and the arms of a white girl wasted Sophie, and she can’t can’t can’t forget no matter how white girl wasted she gets herself.
In the back of her mind, an inkling that this is not going to end well for her at all.
Chapter 7: vii.
i said there would not be another update this weekend, and apparently i lied. :,)
hope you've all had an amazing weekend!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Ann is taken hostage by her hangover the next day. Not unexpected given the amount of shots Catherine had lined up for her to catch up on the time she'd been away. Every movement hurts, sends pain spiraling up around her spine. She can't even think with how her thoughts circle around the center of disaster, that tiny nugget of nuclear headache.
In flashes of bright light that make her burrow deeper in bed, she keeps seeing Anne.
She drifts in and out of sleep, colors blurring, whirling, folding in on themselves until they're void black and she is gone again. Her dreams are flimsy, reality is not much better, and her grip slips on either. Gravity doesn't work in her dreams, or the air is as impossible to wade through as chest-high water, or her feet glide across surfaces and the world tilts along with her. Her stomach goes topsy-turvy, so she rolls into as tight a ball as she can make of herself to attempt to contain herself.
Somewhere in those hours she spends in bed listlessly, Elizabeth has been up here to leave her a tall glass of water and pain medication. She guzzles the pills down eagerly, not caring about the water that spills along her cheeks and throat.
After that she sleeps much better, at least a couple of hours, and when she wakes up she doesn't feel the urge to beg for death anymore. She squints at her phone's harsh light just long enough to ascertain it is already past three pm, and then she chucks it back onto her night stand without checking the abundance of notifications she has waiting for her.
Her knees wobble as she gets up. Her shirt falls to her knees—she’s glad she had enough state of mind left to get out of her booze-soaked Blossom dress—and swishes around her as she stumbles more than she walks out of her room. The house is entirely silent around her as she descends down the stairs into the kitchen, where there’s a covered plate of scrambled eggs and a bowl of fruit waiting for her on the counter.
Leaning against the cold marble, she forks up a couple of bites, but her appetite isn’t really there. She sets the rest in the fridge.
Her mind inches towards the same anxieties it has been firmly rooted in all week—there is so much work up in her room, so many classes to start to catch up on, an entire schedule of midterms preparation that she is behind on. But for the first time, there is something to counter those thoughts.
Take care of yourself, Ann. I’d hate to lose you too.
So many of her feverish dreams of her broken-up night had featured those words. That woman. In some, she had climbed Anne on that bench and finally kissed her. In some, Anne had swung her into a slow waltz under the lamp posts. In some, the sugary sweetness of her conversation soured into a venom, with Anne flinging mockery and laughter at her.
But she can’t deny that in the day of light, with the clarity of a sober (if suffering) mind, Anne has given her something to hold onto when it gets rough. Someone who cares that she doesn’t burn herself to achieve greatness.
It takes a few more loops through the same chain of thoughts before she can tamp down the guilt at not going back up to her room to sit behind her laptop for the rest of the day. Instead, she puts on one after the other Harry Potter movie until she is tired and can go back to sleep again.
(She doesn’t think about how Anne is flying away from her today. Nope.)
The days after she fills her schedule up airtight, not because she is forcing herself to work non-stop, but to make sure she doesn’t spend too much time alone with just her thoughts for company. She goes shopping with Elizabeth on Sunday morning, swings by Harriet’s dorm so she can claim her couch and they can do some reading in companionable silence, has dinner with her and Catherine in the dining hall without any shenanigans for once.
On Monday, a full day of classes keeps her plenty occupied. Her research diary comes back to her with mostly positive feedback, so that she feels fairly on track with the project and might be able to hold off working on it further until after her midterms. There is so much else that it offers some much-needed relief.
Tuesday starts with a black hole where Anne’s class would have been. She should be glad—to have an entire morning that she can dedicate to the library instead, without having to move and shuffle in her schedule? But she can’t be happy when it’s Anne she has to trade in for it.
Catherine joins her in the library that morning with coffee in one hand and a box of pastries in the other. They get a decent chunk done, and they also get through ten of the twelve donuts, so by all means a productive morning.
Ann starts to feel like she can do this, easily, by Wednesday morning. Catching up without having to sacrifice precious hours of sleep has been possible three days in a row now. She doesn’t have to waste her energy on not being consumed by her immense crush so that it can be devoted to something else.
She spends quite a lot more time than usual with Elizabeth, which makes her older sister as happy as it makes her, and she’s around her best friends again.
Thursday it all comes crashing down.
With her binder clutched to her chest, she is on her way to her weekly meeting with Anne. She has gone up so in the routine of her school week that her feet carry her where they carry her every week, and it isn’t until she has her hand lifted to rap against the door that she realizes—oh, right.
Her whole body aches with the missing of her in that instant. No smiles just for her, no errant touches of which the memory lingers on her skin.
With a deep sigh that comes from the very bottom of her, she swivels around and marches away.
She manages a couple more hours of working by herself, holed up in her bed with her duvet wrapped around her, before she can no longer concentrate. Her head drops into her palms, thumbs rubbing across her temples.
She’s going to have to talk to someone, fast, or she’s going to burst.
Sophie picks up on the second ring. “Hey Blondie, what’s up?” Sounds from the bar filter in from the background, the telltale clinking of glass and chatter of people.
“I know we haven’t really—we don’t do this anymore, but uh, I was—”
“Out with it, Walker.”
“Do you have any time this week to hang out with little old me?”
“For you, always. How does tonight at 8 sound?”
“Fantastic. Should I bring our usual?”
“I’d leave you out on the door step if you didn’t.”
And so Ann finds herself in front of the door to a tiny apartment in Tollcross with two bags of Chinese take-out, steaming, smelling so richly of vegetables and fried rice and chicken.
Sophie never looks like this when she’s at the bar—sweatpants, Led Zeppelin shirt that has holes in the sleeves and around the hem, her hair bound together. It makes Ann think fondly back to the time they spent together. Together.
It feels like half a lifetime ago.
“Alright, I can appreciate someone who remembers my favorite restaurant. Come in.”
Not much has changed in the apartment since she was last here, for that final conversation before they would become only friends again. There are still more fairy lights than should be necessary, Polaroid pictures strung together with bright pink thread and nailed into her walls. Her superstar girlfriend sits in the picture frames where Ann used to sit, and it’s evident that Sophie loves this woman in how she looks in every single one of these pictures.
The apartment is also still a perpetual mess, it seems.
Sophie rearranges some stuff so that enough room is freed up on the couch for the two of them to sit. “Want anything to drink?”
“Whatever you’re having is good.”
At the bar, Sophie prides herself on being able to mix up any drink that’s on the menu and then some, at home she usually sticks to things that are easy. A regular glass of white wine, albeit filled up nearly to the brim, is more than okay with her—and it’ll probably pair better with the food than some elaborate, fruity cocktail.
“Let’s not test my patience by having small talk first,” her ex-girlfriend says as she hands her a plate and cutlery as well, then starts piling her own high with anything from the boxes within reach. “You’re here to spill something, I’m ready and curious and all those good things, tell me.”
And so Ann tells her everything, filling in those heavy blanks between the bits and snippets that have been shared at the bar already. And it’s not that she doesn’t trust her best friends, or hasn’t told them all of this as well, because both those things are incorrect.
But Sophie has known her romantically. And Sophie managed to snag an elusive older woman as well.
She seems her best bet for some insight that she can actually work with.
(Catherine’s suggestion had been to get naked and wait for her return from Europe in her office.)
“That’s a lot, Annie,” Sophie mumbles around a mouthful of sweet and sour-drenched fried chicken. “But honestly, it sounds to me like your professor at least cares about you in some capacity.”
“I think she really does, but I don’t know if this is how she is around all of the students she takes under her wing or just me.” Every bite is such a rich burst of flavor in her mouth that it keeps her eating in a way she hasn’t in some time, and unloading everything and not having it be joked about lifts a weight that opens her up to feel how she has been starving. “I just don’t know what to do.”
“Give me that egg one.” After her request is full-filled, Sophie turns back to her. “Some people are worth the effort. If you really feel this strongly about her, then I don’t think you should give it up just yet. From what you’ve told me, I think there could be something there for her as well. Worst case, you wait until you’re graduated so it doesn’t endanger your degree and her career.”
She had thought about that before, of course. It is a major hurdle that might be holding Anne back, should her feelings miraculously be reciprocated. It should be one for her as well, but it just isn’t—she can be perfectly sneaky and subtle about it if it means she gets to have Anne at all.
It just... isn’t a good way of thinking, as long as she doesn’t have confirmation this isn’t entirely in her head. Until then it won’t be relevant.
“How did you manage to seduce Marie?”
Sophie snorts with laughter. “I treated her like an actual person. None of that fangirling, coddling bull crap. First thing I said to her was a shitty joke, and the second was just me being real with her.” She sweeps a spring roll from Ann’s plate and crunches down on it. “She seemed to like that, and now here we are.”
“Thank you for seeing me on such short notice. This really helped.”
“What am I, your shrink?”
“Yes, and this is how I pay for therapy.” Ann waves across the boxes that sit in varying states of eaten around them on the couch. “Adequate?”
Somehow, despite how much they eat in her make-shift therapy session on the subject of incredible older women they (want to) date, there still manage to be leftovers.
When she gets back to her room that evening an idea has rooted itself firmly. I treated her like an actual person. How is Ann supposed to see her as something other than her student if they stick to their academic context? They’ve already tiptoed out of their defined roles a few times, but she’s going to drive it through now.
Still, she thinks about her wording and what to say for way longer than she would anyone else in her life.
[Hey Anne, how’s Europe? I have been sticking by my promise and not overloading myself. I’ll be back to my regular self next time.]
It’s pretty late here, and an hour later still over on the mainland, but she still gets a text back within minutes.
[Paris is always wonderful. Have you ever been? Afraid I’m not seeing much of it, between lectures and putting the midterm exams together in my free time, but when I open my curtains I can see the Sacre Coeur and that’s enough.
Have you? I’m proud of you. Want to tell me about your week?]
The giddiness coils low in her belly. She types out her reply while she gets changed into her pajamas, and with her phone on the pillow with her she spends a long while texting back and forth with her professor miles and miles away from her.
When she wakes up to her alarm clock blaring a Billie Eilish song, Ann goes through her phone first thing to make sure it wasn’t a dream—but it definitely wasn’t. A couple dozen messages fill her conversation thread with Anne Lister. There’s a couple of pictures in there too, mostly ones she received, of the Sacre Coeur and the Eiffel Tower and Sorbonne University.
Ann sent a picture back of the fluffy socks she had been wearing, and Anne’s “You’re adorable!” had burned itself onto her eyes.
Her chest blooms with affection as she clutches her phone to it. Treating her like a real person and not some worshipped ideal of her professor, unattainable and all, seems to be working well.
Her phone buzzes and pings with a new message.
[Good morning. Did you sleep well?]
[I did, thank you. Did you?]
A pause of many of the longest seconds in her life, in which Ann wonders what the other is doing. Is she still in bed? Getting ready for the day? It must be well into the morning in Paris though, so would she be at the school already instead?
[Well enough. I will be back next Friday. I want to propose we meet up one more time before I should really let you focus on your midterms and the end of the year.]
She really has no way to lay claim to more meetings without making it seem obvious she’s asking it for ulterior motives, especially because she’s sure she can’t write much new material in the weeks to come.
[Maybe somewhere off-campus. You must be so tired of seeing my office walls by now.]
[Somewhere they have a more constant stream of coffee?]
[Yes! Good idea! I know just the place.]
Anne goes radio silent after that, but Ann doesn’t mind—too much. She has been lounging in bed long enough already anyway, and there’s a whole Friday for her to get to. And then six days more until she can see Anne again.
And she is ever so curious what that will be like now that they’re really starting to feel like friends.
thank you for reading!
Chapter 8: viii.
i have no idea what to put in these anymore, i'm just so fucking floored by your love.
you own all of my heart, such as it may be.
Ann lets herself sink into the cushiony seat of the movie theatre with a small grin on her face. She hasn’t been to see a film with her sister in what feels like ages. It feels just like old times, least of all because they’re here to see Toy Story 4, with the biggest container of sweet popcorn they had and a package of KitKats between them.
She slurps from her soda and settles to be at her most comfortable.
It’s a late evening screening, the latest this movie goes given its target audience, and the hall is blissfully empty of screaming children and parents complaining about being unable to deal with them.
“I wanted to talk to you about something. Christmas break. George wants to go up to spend it with his family.”
“Oh, right. Okay.” Ann had been dragged along only once to spend Christmas with the Sutherlands and she had been utterly miserable. “I’ll stay home. Harriet is staying so I can celebrate with her.”
Elizabeth looks at her, eyebrows furrowed, but the look melts easily enough. “If you’re sure. That does sound rather nice, actually. I’ll make sure to leave you presents and money for food.”
“I’ll be fine, Liz. But thank you.”
Truth was, no way Harriet would be staying. She was always jetting off to wherever her diplomat parents were at the time, never the same place, always way more interesting than the last. And Catherine faithfully traveled the four hour train ride home to be with her family in Halifax, Yorkshire, England.
But she would much rather be home alone for two weeks than spend it with her brother-in-law’s loathsome family. She just isn’t going to tell Elizabeth that.
The advertisements start rolling and no further addendums can be made to their conversation. Ann stuffs her mouth full of snacks so that Elizabeth might not even be tempted.
Despite it, they have a pretty good time. They’ve watched the previous three movies together too, so that it feels significant and poignant that they’re there again. It makes her realize that she’s growing up, though, that she’ll be moving out soon and they can resume more of a siblings relationship rather than Elizabeth becoming a mother before her time—and what will that be like?
It’s not unusual for Ann’s thoughts to go on a sidetracked tangent when all it needs to do is pay attention.
“Who keeps texting you so much? Didn’t you tell Catherine and Harriet you’d be here?”
Ann hadn’t even been fully aware of how her phone was vibrating up a ruckus, squeezed between her thigh and the arm rest between their seats.
“No, I did. Sorry, let me just—”
But it’s Anne, of course. They have been texting daily, sometimes not much more than quick check-in, sometimes texting until Ann falls asleep atop the screen grown hot from being held and used for hours. They have also been calling a lot.
Their conversations never delve quite deeper than small talk, questions about Anne’s stay in Paris and about Ann’s school work, but she loves the normalcy of it more than she loves KitKats. At this point she barely feels like a professor anymore, like someone who wields the power imbalance between them.
“It’s someone from school. I’ll reply real quick and then shut it off.”
Waiting for her on her screen:
[Home tomorrow. I’ll take a look at your new material on the plane. Veeeeery excited!]
Anne is probably more excited about her thesis than she is. The darker and more twisted it gets, the more it seems to bring brightness to her eyes and an appetite for reading more than can’t be satisfied.
That makes Ann have so many more questions, about what made her like this, what else elicits such an eagerness. Too bad she doesn’t have the balls to start on the deep, soul-searching questions. Not over text.
[There’s no rush. We won’t see each other until next Thursday, right?]
Her heart stills in her chest. Not another week I don’t get to see you. She’s not sure she’ll survive going even longer without getting to try and make Anne Lister smile.
[Do you have any plans tomorrow night? There’s something I want to show you that I don’t want to do over text messages.]
Thump-thump-thump. That’s her heart going into overdrive.
[No plans except enjoy that it’s weekend again.]
[Perfect. I’ll send you the address tomorrow.]
Ann looks up to find the movie did not wait for her and has jumped to several scenes further, briefly disconnecting her from the storyline. Elizabeth is smiling over at her.
“Whoever that was from your school—they seem to make you really happy.”
She leans over the arm rest to put her head against Elizabeth’s shoulder and spends the rest of the movie attempting and failing to wonder about what Anne has to show her.
Time drags, crawls, halts. She hears continuous ticking in her mind of the clock that is on the other side of the lecture hall. Whenever she looks, the minute hand seems not to have moved an inch. Every click of ballpoint pens, the hushed quality of whispers three rows above her, the rustling of pages grates on her nerves.
Her classes have been torture all day. Just last week she still found them interesting, and Anne wasn’t around then either, but now she’s finally going to be back.
Has she boarded yet? Has she landed yet? Is she even now walking around somewhere in Edinburgh, gracing people with her face-to-face conversation?
Is she waiting for her, too? Counting down the minutes? Getting frustrated because 5 pm looks like it will never again arrive in her lifetime?
Ann blows out a frustrated sigh and glances across at her neighbor’s laptop screen to start penning down what she has missed while she was too busy being swamped with all these questions.
Class lets out into the weekend after a small eternity.
She brings up Google Maps, because the address has given her doesn’t ring any bells. Following the route description, it seems to lead to a pretty nice, residential area of Edinburgh.
Oh. Oh! Is she following the trail to her front door? Is this—god, how is she not supposed to cling onto this information like the greatest bringer of hope yet? Anne’s home?
But then her thoughts spring to the picture she saw early in the semester, the one that shattered her heart for a brief time, of Anne and her wife. Will she be there, too. Is their friendship getting to a level where she gets to meet the wife?
The kids? Would Anne have any?
Shit, fuck. Balls.
She forces herself to keep it together until she gets the answers, because would Anne not have mentioned her wife and kids already if they were current?
But then that makes her sad, so she steps away from the train of thought altogether.
Catherine and Harriet start spamming their group chat in that exact moment, but she has never wanted to go out dancing less. She doesn’t know how long it will take, whatever Anne has invited her over for, but she wants to dedicate the entire evening to it.
The bus drives into a part of town she has only been to once before, when they visited George’s very rich lawyer brother. Those visits, too, she shirks whenever possible.
Professors must make a hell of a lot of money if Anne can afford to live here.
She drops off a few blocks away and walks the rest, clinging to her phone and moving through a neighborhood in which she does not fit. In her ratty jeans and her long coat—November has set in clear but cold—she doesn’t look like someone who should be here.
The red pin leads her to a house that screams opulence in every detail. A neatly-tiled path paves the way from the street to the front, a gleaming mahogany double doors set with golden handles. She has to push past the line of trees to get a view wider than those doors—to the rough stone exterior and the abundance of windows, the old-timey lamp posts with the electric bulbs attached at regular intervals to the walls.
It is only two stories, but she is still taken aback by the sheer money that must be buried into this stone.
There are three marble steps up to the front door and a knocker that resounds heavily through the space that lies beyond when Ann uses it.
What if she’s at the wrong house? What if Anne Lister’s theoretical wife or children open up the door? What if— Anne opens the door with a wide smile. “Ann, it is so good to see you again. Did you find the place alright?”
“I—yes, I did.” Her eyes bulge as she looks over Anne’s shoulder at what is merely an entrance hall, but it is rich, beautiful. A far cry from the run-of-the-mill house that she lives in with her family that already stretches her brother-in-law’s pay check, a further cry from the small office they hole themselves into every week.
“Come in. You’re shaking.”
That has, for once, nothing to do with the cold.
She’s at Anne Lister’s home.
Her mind whirls with that realization, so hard it’s dizzying, and she doesn’t even feel Anne’s hand settle on her lower back until she feels the slight force pushing her forward, and then there’s just no saving her. She tumbles deep into her hope.
Through the thick layer of her coat and her sweatshirt, she feels that hand—five long, elegant fingers that burn her in the best way possible.
“If you’d like a tour, I wouldn’t mind giving you one.” Anne chuckles as Ann looks at her with a flush of embarrassment at being caught so obviously ogling.
“No, t-that’s alright. Maybe another time.”
“Deal. Well, I’m glad you could come so fast. I have something very, very exciting to share with you.”
Anne leads her into a wide-open living room. A sitting area lies lower than the rest of the floor, reached by a couple of wide wooden steps going down, and characteristically heavy book cases stand against the walls holding a smattering of books. L-shaped, part of it is off to the side, a long dining table with a dozen chairs.
There are two glasses and a bottle of wine waiting on them there.
“Let’s actually take this over there…” Anne mumbles to herself. She pops the bottle and pours them both a glass, then gestures Ann to follow her down to the sitting area and over to a single couch.
She can’t help but notice—there would be plenty of places for them not to sit right next to each other. Several very comfortable-looking arm chairs are arranged around the low coffee table, all pointed towards the fire place that isn’t currently going.
Hope sparks through her like firecrackers by now.
(She also wonders which one Anne was reading in on Halloween when she couldn’t stop thinking about her.)
“When I was at the University in Paris, I came across this.” She slides across a brochure. It says something elaborate in French, but parts of it she can at least translate to ‘human’ and ‘competition’. “It’s a thesis competition. I was going to push you to submit to journals anyway, but this has… quite a heftier reward.”
And yeah, a number with four zeros is probably as big in euros as it is in dollars.
“Do you think I could be in the running?”
“I think you could win. If you keep up as you are, I think it has a good chance of taking away the price for Sociology. And that’ll look magnificent on your resume or your grad school application, whichever way you want to go.”
There’s a look in Anne’s eyes that she can’t quite place, but it’s tender and it’s aimed at her, so she doesn’t need to know to be paralyzed by it. It prints into her memory, to think back to constantly.
“It does mean your deadline would be moved up by a month, since the competition takes submissions until April but you don’t need to hand it in until May with the board of the university. So I don’t want to put any more pressure on you, but if you think you could manage it, it would be a great opportunity.”
Ann swigs the wine. Shakes out of her coat when it instantly warms her cheeks.
Anne rubs her fingers against Ann’s elbow and smiles. “You look much better than when I saw you last.”
“I was crying when you saw me last.”
“That doesn’t matter to me. You needed it, and it wasn’t that weird given how much you have going on.”
Immediately their conversations have waded over to a depth that their text messages, lovely though they were, sorely lacked. What does it mean? She doesn’t know, except that Anne cares.
“I think I could probably get the thesis done in time. What else does the brochure say?”
Anne leans against her to be able to read the brochure from her hands rather than taking it from her, and with the gentle weight pressing into her she really can’t focus on the translation at all.
She’ll ask Harriet tomorrow.
They end up sitting on the floor on the plush carpet. Ann has shed her sweatshirt some time ago, because she is plenty warm. The wine, which Anne brought along from Paris for them, is half-empty. Hall-full, Ann thinks optimistically.
“And then, so—okay, so I arrive. I go looking for the headmistress straight away, of course. And as soon as I arrive at her office I just start spouting these thanks, and these ‘I’m ever so honored to be invited here’ in my best French. Guess what?”
“It was her secretary.”
They fall into another fit of giggles, not the first of the night. Ann is heady with the wine and Anne’s continued proximity, their shoulders by now fused together from the heat that bubbles inside her.
“I’ve missed you,” Ann sighs wistfully, then clasps her hand over her mouth.
Anne’s eyes are alight. “Have you?” Those same long, elegant fingers from before that managed to set her on fire through several layers now trace along her hairline and card through her hair, tucking the errant locks behind her ear. “I’ve missed you too.”
They’re so, so close—so close. Anne’s warm, heavy breath glides across her chin, her lips. Anne’s gaze doesn’t look entirely focused, but the lights inside that warm brown glitter.
She could kiss Anne. It would be so easy. A slight tilt up, a few inches forward, and she would be able to tell how this real life Anne Lister, warm-bodied and alive and a little tipsy, measures up against all the fantasies and wet dreams she has had.
She could, but fear of rejection roots her to the rug.
“I know I’m supposed to be your professor,” Anne whispers, hand palming Ann’s burning cheek. “But you seem so sad sometimes, so bone tired and deeply upset, that I can’t help but want to be your friend. To make it all better for you.”
Ann’s head swims, her only anchor Anne’s hand against her.
They sit in utter silence looking at each other, the space between them charged with every unspoken word Ann chains to her tongue.
Anne Lister’s smile is a brilliant thing.
Their moment breaks when Ann’s stomach rumbles, loudly. Anne sits back, her tender smile growing into a humorous grin. “I’m a terrible host. Do you like pasta? I’ll cook us up some dinner.”
“Pasta is perfect.”
With her back against the couch, she watches Anne’s long legs walk away from her. Her head falls back and the groan sticks in her throat, stuck in all the wine residue that still didn’t embolden her.
Chapter 9: ix.
almost at ten chapters already? jfc!
thank you all so much - since my last update, you have catapulted me to being the #1 most commented on story for this fandom. i am so incredibly honored and humbled by the response i have gotten on this, and can only hope that i keep deserving your time.
that said - let's see how that 'dinner party' continued, shall we?
Dazed. Confused. Really fucking hyper charged and super aware of the cold where Anne’s shoulder-arm-hip were just touching her. Ann sits staring at the vacated spot next to her, cursing at her stomach for growling when they were so close—and she isn’t even hungry. Not really. Not enough to have her stomach growl. So it must have been stress, or all the coffee she has been chugging lately to stay on top of her stuff, or—or whatever.
Whatever it was, it ruined her moment with Anne.
She gets to her feet shakily, wrapping an arm around her traitorous stomach as she picks her way to where she thinks she saw Anne disappear to.
The door to the kitchen is ajar. At first, all she sees is a gleaming steel on the giant kitchen isle in the middle, bright green cooking utensils dangling from the extractor hood. Then her gaze focuses on Anne, a shadowy figure in her full-black attire.
She stands leaning against the isle, back to Ann. One of her hands claws through her own hair, pulls the band out of it. Ann watches in rapt attention how those locks flow free, long tresses of brown hair cascading around her shoulders. It looks so soft, and she doesn’t know if she wants to run her fingers through it or clench her fist into it and pull.
Her fingers itch and twitch along with her indecisive thoughts.
Anne blows out a frustrated breath and combs her hands through her hair, to pull it back into a ponytail and tie it up. One hand settles on her neck after, squeezing. The other touches to her face, forehead height, and moves only minimally.
Her shoulders look held so tight.
Ann wishes she was brave enough to finish what they had just walked away from, but if Anne really wanted to kiss then they would have, wouldn’t they?
She knocks gently against the door frame to let her presence known, but Anne still startles a little.
“I can help, if you want me to.”
“Sure. I was just—thinking. About what I could cook for you.”
Anne rolls her sleeves up to the elbow and opens up the fridge. A couple of minutes later they’re working side-by-side, chopping vegetables, keeping their conversation to a minimum. Ann doesn’t know if the awkwardness is a mutual thing, or if she’s making it into a way bigger thing than it is supposed to be. Either way, she waits for Anne to make it all okay again, because her traitorous mouth would just ask all the wrong questions.
“Do you have any allergies?”
Ann looks up from her chopping to see Anne gazing back at her, smiling, hands full of sliced onion and garlic. Her reaction is visceral, this gnawing longing to have this with her all the time—to spend their evenings cooking together, talking over dinner.
Her mind trails to what might happen after. Anne carrying her up the stairs. Maybe slamming her into a wall for good measure, because their passion for each other is just so unbridled.
She blinks those images away and blames the wine.
“No, no, not for anything food-related. I’m going to assume you won’t be putting any bees in here?”
Anne chuckles. “That was not my plan, no.”
More silence descends like a heavy blanket onto Ann, whose anxiety is now having an absolute field day reminding her that they’re almost as close again as before, only Anne has a sharp knife in her hands now and not an ounce of attention or interest for her.
She keeps her eyes downcast until she is done slicing every last thing Anne puts in front of her, and then, after wiping her hands on a towel, she sits on the other side of the kitchen isle on one of the bar stools.
At least watching Anne cook is nice. Like everything else in her life, she is smooth and sure, efficient, but with such a heavy dose of flair that it becomes like a show to experience. The muscles of her forearm shift along as she drags a wooden spoon through the pot of sauce, and at one point she wipes the back of her knuckles against her cheek and actually smears sauce across it.
Ann wants to wipe it away for her, but she’s too far, and Anne realizes it fast anyway and uses the towel instead.
“So—about our meetings. Next week’s will be the last one for… some time. You’ll have essays to write and midterms to study for, I’ll have essays to read and midterms to grade. Then Christmas break…” Anne’s eyes flicker as if she is reading something only her mind’s eye can see, and Ann briefly wonders if she has a photographic memory.
Doesn’t matter either way, Anne Lister’s brain is ridiculously intelligent.
“University will be closed until halfway through January, so… near the end of January, maybe? That’ll give you a nice break at least.”
“Oh, that’s—” Too long. Too long for me to survive without seeing you. “I actually don’t really have plans for after midterms. Home alone for most of it until spring semester starts.”
Anne looks at her for a long while. There are emotions there that Ann has no capacity to unpack, some so complex that she wouldn’t know where to start. “You’ll be all alone?” she finally asks, her voice quiet.
“Yeah, I guess. One of my best friends owns a bar,” close enough that it makes no difference, anyway, “and she might let me pick up a few shifts to make some pocket money, but that’s about it.”
Another silence, shorter this time but no less heavy. “I don’t celebrate Christmas, so I’ll be free to meet for your thesis if you wanted. If you were going to spend your break working on it.” She points the spoon at her, but her look is anything but menacing. "No pressure though. If you don’t want to work on it, you don’t have to.”
“I do want to see you though.” No sound but the boiling of water and Ann’s drunken heartbeat going wild. “I don’t want to not see you for like, what? Eight weeks? No.”
Anne nods. Smiles. “We’ll figure something out closer to date, then.”
They don’t regain their closeness for the rest of the evening. Ann only gets to feel the warmth of Anne wrap around her when the woman helps her back into her coat at her front door.
Enough of the wine has dissipated by now that she can’t use her tipsiness as a weapon to do whatever she wants. Her courage has been pulled back in favor of her never-ending concerns, so that she only mutters a meek goodbye as she steps into the night.
The cold hooks into her instantly. She was warm fully a minute ago, belly full and cheeks aching from smiling so much, and now the cold tendrils weave around her to form a net that drags her whichever way it wants. Her hair whips around her face. Tears from the cold, and she refuses to acknowledge anything else, carve down her cheeks.
But at least she can hold onto knowing she will get to see Anne over the holidays.
The pressure is on with the end of the semester looming, that much becomes abundantly clear within the first few hours of Monday. Their school communication program explodes with notifications about deadline reminders, extra assignments, and calls for first drafts to be revised before they're handed in.
It breaks simultaneously across all departments, it seems, because Ann is about to type out a text message when she receives a GIF avalanche from both Harriet and Catherine at the same time.
It is amusing, but a little painful, since she then has to send them—
[Guess it’s time to put our social life on hold.]
Her best friends reply with crying emojis, but they can't deny it.
Like every term, they enact the plan they drafted for their freshman finals.
Step one, eliminate everything that takes up more mental or emotional space than you can afford. Harriet breaks up with Korean Boy as if it's nothing. Ann feels secure because she only has to see Anne Lister three more times before their midterms. Catherine cancels her last practice for the year. Done.
Step two, book library spots for every guaranteed free hour. It's a little dickish, laying such huge claim to spots that everyone can use, but as long as they're not reserved they're fair game, are they not? Ann extends an everlasting invitation to her friends to join her at home whenever they need, where it's usually quiet and Elizabeth cooks food a lot.
Step three, go grocery shopping for five weeks' worth of study provision.
There is one particular store close to where Ann lives that knows to expect them twice a year by now. When they barrel inside in their sweatpants, having commandeered two carts, they know exactly what time of year it is.
They are positively obnoxious, but it's the stress. Harriet's phone blares hype music from the pocket of her pants, a lot of Katy Perry and Taylor Swift that clashes into the shop's low volume radio station.
“Okay, budget?” Harriet asks, drumming her hands on the steering bar of her cart.
“Everything on your dad's credit card.”
“Catherine is disowned, moving on.”
“Fifty pounds?” Ann suggests. As opposed to her friends, she isn't exactly wealthy—her parents’ inheritance is locked to her until such a time as she finishes school. She has exactly twenty pounds to her name right now.
“Maybe a hundred. We're seniors. I think we deserve this.”
Harriet beats her to it: “That's a lot.”
“Hm, I like that.”
So she'll have to find five pounds somewhere to pay Harriet back, but that's fine. She'll trade Elizabeth some chores or something.
One cart is entirely dedicated to drinks. Energy drinks, stronger coffee beans to put in the Sutherland home espresso machine, strongly caffeinated tea, and energy packets for if any of those on their own aren't enough.
After Catherine's trajectory was lengthened by half a year because she failed two exams and their respective resits, none of them are willing to take chances anymore. Ann least of all. She knows it's a matter of months and not years before George and Elizabeth start having their so-coveted babies, and she'd like to be out of the house for it.
The other cart they heap and pile and load so full with snacks that Catherine needs to put her weight with Ann's to be able to steer it at all. Bulk deals, coupons, and house brand makes it so that they should only be marginally over their discussed budget, if that.
All other customers have given them looks, asked them to be more quiet, or both. Instead they perform a ridiculous dance in the center isle and moon walk to the cash register.
(They have to go back for their carts after, but by then it's late and the store is empty and nobody cares, them least of all.)
“Nice show, ladies. That'll be seventy-four, ninety-five.”
“Oh man, we are so fucking good.”
Unfortunately it's one of only two bright spots of Ann's week.
Waiting out in the hall, surrounded by a handful of other students that also take Anne's class this semester, she listens in on many conversations that go more or less the exact same—what if my essay isn't good enough? Professor Lister is so unforgiving.
And she feels so good about herself then, because she knows exactly what Anne likes to read by now, and while her subject doesn't delve as deep or showcase her academic and socio-political insight in the same way her thesis does, it's one of the best essays she has ever written she feels.
And she finally got to use her travel experiences from last summer, from those warm Grecian July days that had her hiking through history.
Bright and warm like the sun shining over Athens, Ann files into the lecture hall—only for her to be ignored all class long.
Anne doesn't look at her once.
Her eyes track the professor as she moves around, watches entranced as she gesticulates animatedly, telling a tall tale. At one point Anne hoists herself atop her desk and leans back on her palms, legs crossed, and Ann goes crazy with the casual display of cockiness.
But they never lock eyes, and she never gets called on, and that drives her up a wall in a very different way.
She didn't think their last encounter had ended up being so terrible or awkward. She doesn't know what to think. Her throat feels laced with barbed wire every time she swallows from the lecture hall to her house to her bed in the middle of the day for a goddamn nap, because she can't stand to be awake with her thoughts right now.
No time has seemingly passed when Elizabeth knocks gently at her door, but it is two hours later on her clock.
“Harriet's here. Says you guys were gonna study?”
“Right. Yeah. I'll be right there.”
“I'll tell her.”
Ann swings her legs out of bed so she can lean her elbows on them and put her head in her hands. Maybe she doesn't feel entirely safe regarding Step One: Yeet Distractions anymore.
Bleary-eyed and despondent, she descends the stairs to find Harriet sitting at the dinner table with a syllabus and way too many pastel-colored markers.
"I was napping," Ann says as she watches a look of worry settle onto Harriet's delicate features. "I stayed up late last night finishing an essay."
“The Greek Myth one?”
“Right, right. Well, your sister was nice enough to make us coffee and lunch, so we can dive right in.”
Ann nods. “Great.” But she certainly doesn't feel that way.
When they're not in class, they summarize and study and cram, make flash cards, have cat naps instead of a full night's rest, copy edit each other's essays, and be each other's therapist.
Ann snuggles up with Catherine to sleep three times that week, just an hour or so, in Harriet's dorm room—but it’s enough to give a sorely needed energy boost every time. (Also really therapeutic.)
They always see the most of each other during midterms and finals, and those are generally the only times they ever have arguments. Whether they realize Ann is too fragile to deal with any or those right now or it's sheer luck, they haven't found reason to fight yet, and so there's a shaky equilibrium of stress and friendship that keeps her upright and going.
On Thursday morning she would much rather keep sleeping than go and face the music with Anne. Will she be detached? Entirely cold? Will Ann ever get to look in her eyes again?
Or is the gig up?
Has she been too obvious, given it all away? What did Anne see of her last week, and did it scare her into keeping a necessary distance?
God, the questions without answers have been haunting her all night. Her dreams always turned sour or horrific, all featuring Anne in some state of indifference towards her.
She has forgotten what Anne's kindness felt like, replaced by the hollow-eyed apathy she sees in her dreams.
But she drags herself there, feeling and looking lousy, carrying a first draft that's near completion and that should really be making her feel much, much better about herself.
Which Anne will she get today?
“Good… afternoon, almost? Can't tell with this weather.”
One who talks about the dreary November they're having? At least she isn't ignoring her this time.
“Come in. Sit. I'll be right back.”
Ann takes her usual seat, heart hammering up somewhere in her throat. Last time she was here unattended, there was so much she discovered, yet—she still has to hear anything about this supposed wife. There have been more mumblings about a sister in a sort of off-handed manner, a father, an aunt. No wife, though.
Has she been worrying all this time for nothing?
Does it even matter anymore?
She glances out the window, at the charcoal grey clouds gathering above the long stretch of lawn and flower beds and twisting walkways. There are a few students crossing through, but campus is as empty as expected.
“Alright, here we are." Anne saunters back in, stack of magazines under one arm. "I brought you some reading material. All of these have two things in common. Want to wager any guesses?”
Ann sits dumbfounded, staring at the different magazines and journals. "I have no idea, sorry.”
“Hm, not one to take bets? That's probably safe.”
She feels chastised. Safe might just be the worst thing you could be called by Anne Lister.
"All of these have articles that are topically relevant to you. And, coincidentally, though not in these volumes—every single one of my advisees has been published in one of these. I thought you might look into them over break, to see if there are any you'd want to submit to. I still have contacts there that I can talk to, to get your thesis at the top of the pile."
“Oh, right. Thank you.”
So the complete trust that she will be able to sweep the competition and win is gone too? What the hell has she done that has repulsed Anne Lister to a 180 degree turn?
“Now, your thesis—”
“Actually, Professor," Ann snaps, and she sees Anne flinch—at her tone or refusing to use her first name, she doesn't know. "I really don't feel so good. Can I leave?”
“Oh. Sure, yeah.” The frown on Anne’s face deepends, every line in her face sternly visible. She has several etchings into her skin from laughing—next to her eyes, at the corners of her mouth—that look much darker when she scowls, apparently. “Are you angry with me, miss Walker?”
Okay, so she can now feel the sting that Anne might have felt, to have degraded each other back to the formal names.
“Why ever would I be?” She gets up, gathers the journals, stuffs them into her bag as she starts making her way to the door. Anne meets her there, puts a hand against the door to keep it from being opened.
They’re close again, for the first time since their almost kiss—if she didn’t imagine that, but even then, would Anne Lister not have realized, at least in that exact moment, that their proximity wasn’t innocent? Anne is looking down upon her, and her face looks stricken and turmoiled.
Ann’s stomach drops out as she takes in that look, finds her breath stolen by it.
“You are. Tell me, what have I done?”
She doesn’t want to be as childish as she feels she is when she whispers, “You ignored me on Tuesday. What did I do wrong to be treated in such a way by a supposed friend?”
Anne sighs so deeply, her chest rises and falls heavily, and Ann needs to keep her eyes firmly trained upwards not to watch. It would be so tempting to let her gaze wander for more than that reason, because as much as she mourned with the idea she might never look into Anne’s eyes ever again just ten minutes ago, it’s almost unbearable now to do just that.
“I had my reasons—that I realize now, in hindsight, don’t weigh up to having you feel this way about me right now.”
“You made that decision knowingly? Rationally? Why?”
Anne puts her hands on Ann’s shoulders and squeezes, smiling sadly. “Maybe one day I’ll tell you. Right now, I think you should get going, to make something of the rest of your Thursday. Good luck with your exams.”
Ann regrets acting so rashly, because now she doesn’t feel like she has any power to reverse what she has said and have their meeting after all. She shrugs away from Anne’s hands and turns towards the door. Opens it, while Anne’s presence feels so solid and warm behind her. Steps outside.
“Oh, and Ann?” She looks back to see Anne stand in the door frame, facial expression not quite yet fully composed again. “I have never been able to make a rational decision when it comes to you.”
Chapter 10: x.
so a new trigger warning comes into play here. if you are at all sensitive to suicidal thoughts/attempts, please, don't do this to yourself and just skip this chapter.
i also want to add: a lot of ann's mental illness is based off my own experience with depression. i clawed myself out of every depressive episode i've ever had and ann does the same, but i can't on good conscience recommend not getting help if you feel like you need it and are in a position to get it. take care of yourselves, sweet peas! <3
ps: i'm not entirely happy with how this chapter turned out writing-wise, but i'm delirious with pain after i had minor surgery yesterday (don't worry, i'm all good) so i feel if there was ever any time i can get away with it, it's now. and: NO REST FOR THE WICKED. i'll rest and write at the same time. if i can go to work, i can write you guys lesbian angst.
There is no time to mull over what Anne told her, which is why Ann can’t get it out of her head. She goes through the last week of her classes with it playing on a loop inside her mind. Anne’s voice has worn a smooth track in her brain.
Catherine and Harriet do their best to pull her out of it, and they succeed about as often as they fail. Ann stays up later and later, because getting sidetracked means losing focus. But the important part is that she finishes everything that she needs to in time, maybe not as perfectly as she wanted but done, handed in, beaten the deadline.
The last one she submits, poetically, is Anne’s.
The sky is pitch black outside, lamp posts gone out in the streets already. Whenever she glances through her window, she thinks of the university that lies just beyond her vision and its many students that are done with the semester save for the exams.
She takes solitude out of knowing all of them are going through revisions right now.
She pulls up the page that has Anne’s concise list of requirements on there, the deadline in big, bold letters, and the upload space. Ann drags her file into it and sits with the cursor hovering over ‘submit’.
When she first saw professor Lister, in that introduction lecture to what would be a whirlwind of an elective course on queer poetry, she’d had no idea whatsoever as to what she was getting herself into. Even then, she had been so taken in by this woman, the first seeds of her crush buried in soil that was so fertile for an impressive, intelligent woman like her.
It feels so long ago. She was naive, innocent. The beginnings of her crush had been rosy-colored and gentle. When she thinks about Anne now, it’s equal parts warm, tender feelings and a raw desire to leave no layers between them, physically or mentally.
She has matured some over the years, and so has her crush.
No way would she be as content just to hold hands with Anne like she would have been as a Sophomore. She wants that hand around her throat, in her hair, reaching into the depths of her and cradling her soul.
Masturbation becomes her study break of choice, because the new rush of hope has ignited in her something that cannot be bridled.
She lets her essay upload and sits back in her chair to watch the spinning wheel circle and circle and circle—that’s that. A green check mark appears on her screen with the words ‘Document successfully submitted’, and she sighs out so many pent-up emotions that she feels void for a moment.
It’s a little sad she will never get to see Anne Lister prowl around a lecture hall again like a tiger, deadly fascinating. But it’s also good, she likes to think—they can move away from that. If they never meet in Anne’s office again, might she not stop seeing Ann like a student altogether?
Exhaustion pulls at her, greedy grabby fingers that tease her mind towards thoughts of a good night’s sleep. She succumbs to it, because she has met every deadline with a submission she is at least decently proud of, so she has earned this.
(It will be the last time she sleeps a seven hour night in a long time.)
The gloominess that sets in on Monday seems to pervade her whole life. Her friends become agitated; her brother-in-law keeps muttering beneath his breath around her; Elizabeth asks her twice if she is doing okay.
She goes from the living room to her own room and back, drinks too much coffee, keeps misplacing things. When she goes to bed that night, she hears the whisperings of her nightmare before it sends in, leaving her shaking and shivering.
It doesn’t improve the following days.
When she is around Catherine and Harriet, there is enough erratic, chaotic energy between the two of them that Ann can tap into and use for her own.
When she is alone, it gets dangerous.
Even the high of Anne's last words to her wears off, leaving her lethargic. The turn-around, the crash from high to low, is not particularly shocking. The pressure is on and her slim shoulders buckle under it.
Three weeks, five exams, it should be perfectly doable. And it is, she tells herself every time her mood turns on her, breaks a door into her focus to let her anxieties in. It is doable! I can do this!
But her spirits are low. Her mood darkens as short night after short night has her fuse shorter, her patience thin, her ability to concentrate compromised.
The voices return with a vengeance. She has not heard them in three years, since the pressure got to be too much and she felt detached from everyone around her, couldn’t talk to them for fear of laughter, felt perpetually like she was drowning in gallons and gallons of sea water that was cold and harsh and, worst of all, indifferent to her as a person.
It’s her brain, she knows this. She has fought it before, with anti-depressants first and without them after, and she knows all it takes is a cry for help and Elizabeth will get her whatever help she needs.
But she is so tired. Her legs are made of lead, her head pounds with screaming voices.
She drags herself through the days, sits her exams, studies until she thinks her head is going to blow clean off. So what if every day the exhaustion sinks a little deeper, the voices get meaner, reaching for the Bible George keeps in his office a little more interesting.
The icy wind slices into her face. Ann looks around both sides of her, frowning, sick to her stomach. Her vision doubles, triples, before it zones in on the bridge. Rain has soaked into her clothes, adding more weight to the already unbearable crunch of the world. This is not a dream—it’s a memory.
The sky above her is slate grey. The river beneath her just the same, but it is rowdy, alluring.
She remembers how she climbed onto Dean Bridge, shaking. If she didn’t topple herself, the wind would surely help her, already tugging at her clothes, her hair, her hands—come, come with me, do it.
Do it! Do it! Do it! The voices had chanted, screamed, giggled. Whispered.
She would never graduate. She would never amount to anything. She would stay with Elizabeth and George for the rest of her life, taking care of their children, borrowing parts of their lives. Catherine and Harriet would leave her behind in their rear view mirrors to a better life.
Ann takes a shaky breath, hiccups with her sobs. She slaps a hand against her forehead and whispers, prays the memories to go away. Not now, she wants to plead. Don’t do this to me now.
The voices snicker at her. Don’t do what? This?
And she plunges into the water.
Obviously, she didn’t jump. It wouldn’t have been guaranteed death, but it had been very likely. But something cold and hard had burned in her stomach, a small grain of hope that was still left to her, bleak, only a wispy thread—her mother had rolled up the window and pushed her through it with the last of her strength when their car went careening into that very same river.
Her parents had wanted her to live.
Ann wrenches herself violently from the memories, thudding to the floor as she falls from her chair. She curls up there, knees tucked against her chest, breathing through the impending breakdown until her lungs no longer squeeze and her head no longer pounds. She staves it off with pure power of will that leaves her empty and gasping.
How long she lies there, staring at the black sliver of space beneath her bed, she has no idea. Long enough that her whole body aches and strains when she gets up again.
She closes her books, shuts her laptop down. Her schedule might not permit it, but she needs a time-out before she really breaks. Her art stuff has gathered dust in the back of her closet.
Her first few drawings are angry and violent, charcoal scratching across her papers, tearing, smudging her hands fully black. It is cathartic, ugly, her scarred soul baring itself black, black, black.
She wipes her eyes and feels the charcoal stick to her face—good, let it. War paint feels appropriate right now.
But after that, she draws all the things that will get her through. Elizabeth, even George. Catherine, Harriet, Sophie.
One whole page is dedicated to Anne Lister—her sharp jaw in profile, her mouth in the middle of some Greek phrase, her eyes lifting off the page to pin her down in their gaze, her long hair waving away. Her face, so lovely sculpted by whoever made them.
“Ann?” Elizabeth is the picture of worry as she looks in on her. “Are you okay?”
Elizabeth sits with her on the floor. She’s kind enough to ignore every angry black line that faces upwards for her to see. Her hug is endless love.
Ann sniffles. “But I’ll get through. If it gets to be too much, I’ll call Dr. Belcombe.”
“Okay.” Elizabeth holds her for such a long time that Ann grows warm and comfortable again. The familiar love of her older sister banishes the cold back where it came from, and with it the voices. “George and I will stay here over break then.”
“No, that’s…” Ann disentangles from her sister’s long, gracious limbs. “I actually think it might be good for me to be on my own for a bit. If things go bad, I promise I will call you or my doctor.”
Elizabeth doesn’t like it one bit, that much she can tell from the expression that briefly settles, but she has always been the number one supporter for Ann’s autonomy, from when she was fourteen and they were both suddenly orphaned.
“Alright… but I’m calling you every day.”
“I’d love that.”
They sit for a while longer. Elizabeth braids her hair and massages her shoulder, and Ann dozes off for most of it, having an impromptu nap against the solid comfort of Elizabeth’s body. When charcoal starts to drip into her dream, attempting to darken it to a nightmare, she is gently shaken awake.
“Let’s get some healthy food into you. And while we’re at it, maybe you can tell me about what’s giving you so much stress.”
Ann sits on the countertop, legs swinging, and watches Elizabeth prepare a curry for the two of them. And she talks—not as freely as she has with her friends, but ringing so significant to her ears. This is her only family left in the world she’s telling about her crush.
No, not a crush.
With a dizzying sensation of free falling, she has to own up to the fact that it has long surpassed a mere crush.
“And does she like you back?”
“No.” Ann shakes her head. Pauses. “Yes? I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter, since we can’t be together.”
“Why, I think it’s all that matters.”
They eat. Ann stops talking about Anne, but doesn’t stop thinking about her.
After the exams. I’ll tell her.
Her stomach turns with fear, but she can’t remember the last time she has been so excited.
Her hand keeps cramping. Ann sits isolated from her neighbors, bundle of papers in front of her, and she’s writing every piece of knowledge she has retained from the semester down onto the paper. Around her, a flurry of noises—pens clicking, people coughing, chairs scraping.
She braves another glance outside. Their class room is on the ground floor and through the windows she can see the lawn. On it her best friends, being absolutely fucking ridiculous. They’re free already, their last exam yesterday, and they’re just waiting for her to escape the prison too.
And she can’t blame them acting like fools when snow flakes as big as the palm of her hand and as fluffy as her sweater are descending from the sky.
She wants so badly to run outside and revert to the child she used to be, tumble into the snow and make angels.
But that brings her right back to Anne and an even worse distraction to shake.
Socioeconomic status. Structural Strain Theory. Come on, just four more questions.
Her foot taps impatiently against one of the legs of her table. She thinks of all the books she can read soon without feeling guilty for sacrificing her precious time. Her Netflix queue is full of new seasons she has neglected over the semester.
Catherine and Harriet are throwing up snow like confetti.
Her script is usually very nice, feminine, tidy. It becomes a scrawl as she picks up the pace and tries to rush through the last few paragraphs she needs to write.
She can taste her freedom already, snow melting on her tongue and a hot coco at Sophie’s.
The temptation to skip one is alluring, because she blanks on the terminology, but she forces herself to write down what she can. Better that than nothing. She won’t risk losing points if she can help it.
Her breathing picks up as if she is physically nearing a finish line. Her eyes and mind go faster than her fingers can.
When she taps her pen down for one last period, ending her last sentence, relief washes through her violently. She keeps shuddering as she reads it over quickly, cursorily, but there is nothing to change and her head is empty.
She hoists her bag over her shoulders and walks to the front of the room to hand in her exam—and she’s free!
When she steps out of the class room her friends are there waiting for her. They manage to hold in their screams until they’re outside. Hollering and yelling, they jump around in a wide circle, collide, hug, go falling into the snow.
There is snow dappled in her hair, clinging to her eyelashes.
The latter almost makes her miss Anne Lister passing them by, smiling down at them. “Don’t catch a cold now that you’re done, ladies.”
Catherine and Harriet give her eyebrow wiggles and head gestures that are anything but subtle.
“She practically made goo-goo eyes at you.”
“Yeah, she was scowling when she came outside but then she saw you and bam! Lit up brighter than the Bat signal.”
Ann rolls her eyes, but she can’t help the blush either. “I think I’m going to tell her soon.”
“Well, it seems that, by entire coincidence, we have to head in the exact same way!”
“Yeah, we can only go to Sophie’s by entire way around through the West Gate.”
Her eyes can roll no further, but she lets herself be pulled up and dragged along nonetheless. They keep a safe distance, tailing Anne as subtly as they are capable, all the way to the West Gate.
What Ann sees there breaks her heart.
Older, fuller-bodied, alive with her animated speech and her rosy lips in a gently round face smile so wide, is the woman from the photo, the one she had almost forgotten about so many times.
And Anne has no eyes for anything else in the world.
Chapter 11: xi.
you didn't think i would make y'all go another round on the SAD slow burn carousel, did you? we've put the slow in slow burn, now we're putting in the burn.
thank you for all the lovely comments and well-wishes on the last one. i love you all so very much!
Catherine drags her aside to a copse of bare trees that should do well enough to hide them. But even with branches and snow obscuring her view, there is no denying it—this woman is beautiful. If Anne wasn’t looking at her like she outshone every star in the sky, Ann would have been intrigued to find out more about her.
Now she also wants to know, but with more of a burning, horrifying need.
Who is she?
She looks Anne’s age, maybe a little younger. Her jawline is sharper than even Anne’s, but softened by the gentle hazelnut curls that frame her face. She has great eyebrows, and intelligent eyes beneath them. Ann doesn’t know what Anne’s type is, but this woman might very well be everyone’s.
What they’re talking about, she has no idea, but they both look passionate about it, and god, Ann has never seen her smile so beautifully.
“Is that the wife, then?” Catherine muses aloud, studying the tableau just as curiously.
“If she is, we can make her disappear, Annie,” Harriet adds, hovering behind the two of them, one arm slung over Catherine’s shoulder. “She never has to be found again.”
“You wouldn’t, and also no.” If only it could be so easy. But she looks at Anne being so happy and she can’t wish for anything to ruin that. Sometimes loving someone means putting their happiness over yours—even if your best friends offer to commit a first-degree felony. “Let’s go.”
“No, wait. They’re moving too.” Catherine looks over at the two of them. “Let’s spy on them a bit. Just to make sure that they’re really married.”
Ann had been so excited to spend the rest of today with her friends celebrating they finally had their much-earned holiday. Now she is going to be sick. “I don’t know if I want to see that.”
“Fine, okay, Sophie’s then. We’ll cheer you right up—or get you drunk, whichever happens first.”
They wait a few moments longer before they slip away and onto the walkway to the gate that divides campus from the city beyond, a city that now has Anne and her wife casually strolling through it as if a heart didn’t just massively break.
They’re talking among themselves, exchanging glances and gestures, so that it takes them a second to pinpoint Anne Lister further up ahead in the street, walking in the same direction that they’re going.
And still in the same direction.
And when they see Anne hold open the door to Sophie’s and let her wife in first, Ann really has to concede that the universe has it out for her today. She finished her exams, so they had to give her something else to torture her with.
“Guess we’re going to my house,” Ann sighs, defeated. Her shoulders slump, her giddiness deflating like a sad little balloon.
Catherine grasps her by the hands. “Are you kidding me? This is amazing! We can spy on them without looking out of place, since we’re literally there all the time. It’ll be totally obvious that we’re there just to have fun and not because we followed them.”
“Technically both are true,” Harriet remarks, smiling. “But I like that. We’ll figure it out once and for all for you, Annie. Maybe it’s not even like that. You know? Or maybe it is, but then after tonight you’ll know.”
And yeah, not knowing would kill her harder than finally getting the closure to get over Anne, so she lets her friends talk her into this.
But it’s still the worst.
Sophie’s is not crowded at all in a way that it can only be on a Monday afternoon, even in a neighborhood that’s university-adjacent. Ann counts maybe a dozen people, if that, and they’re all concentrated in the booths to the side. She can’t track down Anne and her lady friend at all.
“Sophie, have you seen a tall brunette woman come swaggering in here like, twenty seconds ago?” Bless Catherine and her impatience for small talk. “We’re girls on an espionage mission.”
Sophie looks up from the glasses she was washing, lifts arms soaped up to the elbows from the water. “You mean Freddy?”
Their friend points up at the balcony that overlooks the bar floor, at the only booth occupied up there. Ann can just about make out Anne in the shaded recess of it, more by the slouched and arrogant lines of her body than anything else.
“What do you mean, Freddy?”
The three hop onto bar stools, curiosities piqued. It’s not like Anne can leave again without passing them, so it’s safe for them to get settled. Get some drinks while they’re at it. They do still have some celebrating to do, too.
“That’s what she likes to be called when she comes around here.”
“Wait, wait.” Ann slaps her hand onto the counter, hard enough that her palm stings. “She’s been here? You didn’t tell me that when we talked!”
Sophie watches her, and to a comical degree they see it click behind her eyes. Her hands slow to a stop on the glass and her eyebrows rise way up high. “Oh no, Ann. That’s your professor Lister?”
“AH!” Catherine pretends to faint against the bar, arms flailing. “The plot thickens. Sophie, you know her?”
“I—yeah, a little? She doesn’t usually come here except for summer break, when there’s only the off chance that a student will come in. You would’ve seen her before if you didn’t forget I existed whenever these Tweedles go back home.” There is no real accusation in her tone, but she does glare at the three of them before going back to drying off three mason jars for them. “Oh, Ann, if I had known that’s who you meant, I would’ve been able to give much better advice.”
“So tell her now. Do I have to fucking spell it out for you, Farrell?”
“Hey, Cath, if you want these free drinks, I’d be like, way nicer to me right now. I’ve got your booze and your gossip in my hands.”
Her antsy energy won’t leave, no matter how long she drums her fingers against the polished counter or taps her foot against the bar. Ann drinks, dutifully, to see if it’ll take the edge off—it doesn’t. Anne and her lady are so close to her, and Sophie isn’t telling them anything yet, and she’d been so ready to confess that she doesn’t know how to hold herself now that she can't. Shouldn't.
The drink set before them, in a tall mason jar decorated with tinsel around the rim, is a radioactive green. It might be a trick of the light, but fumes seem to come off it.
“Cheers,” Ann mutters, feeling a lot like Hermione must have before she downed the Polyjuice Potion. The first sip is a toxic shock to her system, a wild sparking down her throat. But it settles nicely, and it leaves the taste of green apple, lime, and Skittles in her mouth. And so much vodka.
“Alright. Anne Lister. Wow, okay, yeah. I can totally understand why you’d fall for her.” Sophie sits with them and leans into Ann. “She usually comes here with company. Girls—so many girls. It’s when she’s here by herself that it’s dangerous, because man, she sure knows how to be smooth. I didn’t even believe her when she told me she was a teacher, because have you seen her?” She giggles and nudges her head against Ann’s shoulder. “Sorry, of course you have.”
Harriet leans over, squeezing Ann’s hand but looking at Sophie. “So... the woman that’s with her?”
“Seen her a couple of times. She’s been in Anne’s life for a very long time. Think her name is Mary? Mariana? Something like that. But I have no idea what they are to each other.”
Mariana. Ann rolls the name around in her head. She wants to hate her, but she can’t. So she’ll sit with her hurt instead.
“Yeah, we’re gonna need to get her drunk.”
Sophie nods. “On it.”
Before she has her caustic sludge finished, Sophie sets something dark red in front of her that she has to light on fire first. She swears she feels her liver shrink in fear. It tastes great though, of strawberry and chocolate and chili pepper, and it sets her nerves on fire.
Catherine takes charge of the music again and sets a list of their favorite dance party anthems to fill the next hour or so. Harriet is the first on the dance floor, since she doesn’t need much more than to be awake to be persuaded to dance.
“Get me something stronger,” Ann shouts as parting words when she gets dragged backwards by the hips onto the make-shift dance floor. Not much more than wooden floor boards that have been scuffed smooth, but it has always done perfectly.
This is different than dancing in a nightclub where she can forget herself. Where the edges of her self blur and she can go up into the whole. Here, she is only too aware of herself, her body, her friends. But they shelter her, twirl her around, laugh with her.
She becomes aware, too, of eyes on her. Slowly she twirls and there she is. Anne looks like a deer caught in headlights, adorably confused frown on her face. The other woman bumps up against her, wraps an arm around her waist to steady herself, and chuckles against Anne’s shoulder.
They exchange words and then the woman’s eyes slide to Ann. Hook. Hold.
Within seconds the woman stands in front of them, grinning. She’s even more beautiful up front. “Hey, sorry.” Her English accent is almost worn away, like a pebble washed clean by the sea, but not entirely. “Anne cannot stop talking about you.” She points at Ann so up close that the tips almost touch to her clavicles. “I can see why.”
Harriet has the decency to keep her mouth shut, but Catherine has no such filter, especially not when she’s three Sophie inventions deep on an empty stomach. “See? Not her fucking wife, ha!”
Ann wants to sink through the floor, thank you.
“Not anymore, no.” She looks so pointedly at Ann that her friends have to smother giggles. “We divorced a long time ago. Alas, only the best of friends now! Come! Anne’s told me exams are over at your school, so we must celebrate!”
“Oh Mary, why are you bothering these girls.” Anne looks a little unsteady on her long, long legs, and her speech slurs just noticeably. “Leave them to their dancing.”
“Pfft, bothering? They don't mind. Do you?"
Catherine and Harriet shake their heads in union, flushed red as they're shitting comets in glee.
"See? Let's move down here anyway. I wanna dance tonight."
And so Ann finds herself taking a seat across from Anne. Their knees touch occasionally, gentle bumps that set Ann's nerves on edge. Mariana draws Catherine and Harriet closer to her into the corner of the booth and into a conversation.
Anne clears her throat. "So."
She is reeling from the rollercoaster of emotions she has been through today, these weeks, the whole semester. But Anne is not married? At least not to this woman anymore?
The smile comes without her being able to stop it.
Anne's fingers trace around the rim of her glass. Slip lower, rub around it now. Ann can't look at it for too long for fear of sinking her mind into the gutter.
"We didn't have the best last conversation." Anne washes the words away with the last of her drink and flags Sophie over. "Are you feeling better today?"
Anne's lips form a tight line. When it releases, it's with a sigh.
Ann is just so tired.
Sophie comes and goes again. Brings a tray of drinks and nods obligingly when Mariana commands her to keep them coming and put them on her tab.
"To you guys' results." Mariana falls in favor with her friends easily, and Ann, who mostly listens in but doesn't contribute, is starting to like her too. She's funny and honest, but most of all, she keeps giving Anne shit.
Anne, for her part, seems to be drinking and rolling her eyes mostly.
Thirty minutes pass before "Shots! Shots! Shots!" rings through the bar—happy hour. The twin gleams in Mariana's and Catherine's eyes says enough.
They line up long rows of shots that get swung back easily.
More time passes. Mariana takes Harriet for a spin on the dance floor, steals Anne, drags Catherine and Ann in too. It's a mess of drunken dancing, but it's nice.
Her tiredness has temporarily faded to make place for her tipsiness. Catherine keeps whispering in her ear to just go for it, Anne has done nothing but make sad eyes at you the entire time, she looks like she's the type to fuck in bathrooms.
She ignores that, for her own sake, but she does catch Anne looking at her a lot.
It takes two more rounds before Anne comes to talk to her again. Her face has melted to something soft and smiling. Ann never realized how much Anne held back from showing on her face until now, with the woman open and uninhibited before her.
"You look very tired." Her breath is hushed but heavy, and how much she has consumed shows in her slow blinking and her unfocused gaze. "Have you not been sleeping?"
"Not much." Her heart is somersaulting at how close Anne finally is to her again. She could reach out and place her hands on Anne's hips so easily.
Gauging the distance, she finally takes in what Anne is wearing today and good lord. Skinny jeans will be forbidden to everyone except Anne Lister from now on—the tight cling to her hips and thighs is utterly sinful.
She swallows. Looks up to find an intensely curious look cast back at her.
"You are always thinking so much. What's going on inside your head, little angel?"
Her eyes close, breath rushing out. Sparks go off throughout her blood stream. Her cheeks flame. "Nothing. Just—I'm sorry about last time."
"No, no. Don't apologize." Fingers slide up against her jaw, cup her cheek. The tips inch into her hairline. "You don't have to." Lips press to her forehead. She goes weak to the knees, staggers, but Anne catches her.
One strong arm wraps around her lower back. A heavy, warm palm settles on her hip. "Easy there."
"I-I'm gonna get something to drink."
Finally she's getting what she has wanted for months—years. And it's too much. Between her almost-breakdown, her exhaustion, and the heartbreak from earlier that she's had no time to process, nor its resolution, Ann has no idea how to feel.
"Freddy's like, all over you," Sophie giggles as she makes the new cocktail extra strong. "Just drag her to the back. I can give you the keys."
"No, no. I'm drunk. She's drunk. I don't want it to happen like this."
She doesn't think she could stop if anything happened. But she's just so tired, and she can't deal with anything bigger than a love declaration from her friends tonight.
The alcohol helps her thoughts float away.
"Ann, Ann, Ann." Mariana sidles up to her, ten thousand megawatt smile on her face. "Do I need to help you carry?"
She looks at this woman, this kind woman that she had wanted to not exist for the link she thought she had to Anne, and feels so awful. Ducking, she wraps her arms around her.
Mariana hugs her back. There's a soft sound of confusion close to her ear, but—a hug.
"So Anne is not married?"
"Nope, very much not so. As to why, that's probably a conversation you should have with her. But girl, she's single, and super fucking ready to mingle… you know. Mingle."
Ann does get it, but it doesn't matter.
She graciously slips away from Mariana, to join her friends where they are taking a breather from all the dancing.
"To think we almost passed up on this. You would've been so miserable for no reason."
Ann slurps her cocktail. "Doesn't mean we can just go for it. I don't know if she even likes or wants me like that—"
"Looks like she might though."
"—and it's still inappropriate. And who says she won't get tired of me after like one night? That has happened."
"When you're done listing reasons why you shouldn't," Harriet makes her look down at one corner of the bar. "I think your woman is giving you bedroom eyes."
Anne Lister leans against the wall, every little bit Hades looking out from her eyes. She definitely looks in their direction, but Ann isn't sure she's even seeing anything at all. Knowing the intricacies of her professor by now, it seems much more likely she is actually deep in thought.
Drunk, it doesn't matter how conflicted she feels, because she still hungers like a famished beast for any scrap of thoughts from Anne's mind.
Anne brightens like a world at sunrise—slowly, unthawing, light breaking through every crack until she shines. "Ann."
She can't hear the whisper, still too far away, but she feels it reverberate through her.
Anne extends a hand towards her and she takes it; she giggles as she gets twirled around before being pulled close.
"You have nice friends."
Her nice friends are very likely to be spying on them right now, but that doesn't take away from the statement. "So do you."
Anne's thumb rubs over her knuckles. The other hand finds purchase on her hip again, inches her even closer. They're not really dancing, but they're not really not, either.
Ann's having difficulty breathing.
"You are so pretty," Anne whispers. The alcohol is thick in her breath, her voice, but her eyes implore her earnestly. "And kind. And good. Spun from sunshine."
Every word adds another coal to stoke the fire in the pit of her gut. Her breath puffs out of her with effort.
"I've been lonely for a lot of my life, but since you," Anne sighs, fingers circling around her wrist, touching to her pulse. "Not anymore."
The world narrows down to be just the space between them, the edges of their bodies hemming it in.
"Thank you for that. Thank you for being my friend."
Just in that moment, a glass crashes to the floor. Ann feels the moment crack and break along with it. A cold clarity washes over her that she was inches from kissing her professor, to prove she doesn't want to be just friends, in front of a bar full of these students that are making a ruckus.
She hurries back to her friends, aching with the loss. "You need to keep me from doing something I can't come back from."
So, they drink. They get wasted enough to make up for the weeks they have spent holed up inside. And they make sure Ann's never alone with Anne again.
It's the most fun night she's ever had. Every thought and anxiety disappears, leaving only her immense feelings of love and gratitude for her best friends. Her intense feelings of attraction and love for Anne simmers in the background.
But even great nights have to end sometime. Theirs does when Mariana comes to pull at Ann's sleeve. "Could I get some help getting Anne in a cab? She's being fussy."
The frigid December cold has nothing on their inebriation. Ann's mind stays as muddled, even when Anne leans against her, puts an arm over her shoulders, and smiles like it's Christmas morning.
They wait outside for five minutes before the cab shows up, and by then her world is dancing, multiplying, and smelling like Anne Lister.
"Ann, are you coming with to tuck me in?" Her heart lurches at the innocent way Anne asks her this. She looks it too. All of her usual smugness is gone.
Harriet practically dunks her into the backseat.
Mariana hands over a couple of bank notes as it it's nothing and then takes Catherine and Harriet by the hand to take them back inside.
The cab is stuffy with warmth. Anne leans away from her, her head against the backrest and her throat stretched taut. It bobs heavily with every swallow.
Ann is looking up at her, which means the hand crawling up her knee takes her by surprise. It rests there, steering clear of places where her hand could wreak worse havoc, but even the patterns she traces that low on her leg burn into her.
It's both a blessing and a curse that they arrive at Anne's house.
"Come on, Anne." Ann puts her shoulder under her and tugs at her. They manage to stumble out of the cab, but it wasn't graceful, their bodies knocking and shambling together.
They stand heaving in the cold. Anne leans down against her, head on her shoulder. Twists to nuzzle where the last traces of her floral perfume clings to the softest dip of her throat. "Hm. Persephone," she whispers, warm breath stroking against her neck.
And then she kisses her there.
Chapter 12: xii.
so, i STRUGGLE BUSSED with this chapter, holy shit. i thought i'd written myself into a corner, but really i just had to rearrange some things inside my mind. big fucking shoutout and lots of love to naramis for helping me figure it out.
For exactly two seconds, Ann doesn’t believe that she is getting kissed on the neck by Anne Lister. But the haze of her drunkenness parts enough for reality to settle when those lips continue dusting soft kisses along the arch of her throat. They’re ghostly presses and blown breath, but they make her quake all the same.
Her eyes slip shut as the sensations wash through her, like firecrackers going off.
Anne nuzzles beneath her jaw, kisses the soft skin there. Her hand comes to the other side of her neck, clasps around it, thumb against the front with a promise of taking her breath away in more ways than one.
Ann is glad that she puts her hands onto Anne’s hips, because a moment later she needs to hold on for dear life as Anne mouths back to her throat and starts sucking. Hard. Sparks of pain blast onto the black of her eyelids and a softly-moaned “Anne” becomes a fog of breath in the air.
In the cold of this December night, Ann feels like she will never freeze again. Her body is burning like molten lava, her thighs quivering as she feels her arousal pool. She grabs a fistful of Anne’s shirt and arches into her, mouth agape around soft sighs.
Anne smiles against her.
It’s the hardest thing she has ever done to wrench herself away from that mouth that has left its mark on her neck, but she’s drunk—they’re both so drunk, and not like this, not like this, please. What if Anne doesn’t remember come morning? What if it’s just a one-night-stand?
“Anne,” she murmurs as she slides her shoulder away from her first, the rest of her body next, while her neck throbs with pleasurable pain and the flush on her face betrays how much she liked that. “I can't.”
“Oh.” Anne looks adorably confused, her frown so deep it accentuates the wrinkles on her forehead. She may be older, but that only makes her so much more attractive to Ann. “But why?”
The answer is too much at once to throw at Anne—because this is all I’ve wanted for the past few years, but I don’t want it like this, when you might not remember and I’ll be the only one to remember it, like some fucked-up fantasy except it would have been real, real, and you wouldn’t remember, because we had both been so drunk.
Or she would forget it too, because she’s had blackouts before, and then she would have finally gotten what she had always wanted and not even know it, and that sounds like such a tragically cruel fate she would rather not tempt it.
“Let's get you inside.”
Ann takes Anne by the wrist to tug her along, and at least the older woman doesn’t make any fuss, but she does deftly slip her hand free so she can tangle their fingers together instead—and her heart bursts into a field of wild flowers at the simple gesture, but she’s holding hands with the woman she’s in love with.
Anne’s fingers are cold and her thumb traces tight patterns against the side of her index finger.
“Can I have your keys?”
“Mhm, yes.” Anne leans against her back as she goes fishing in the pockets of her exquisitely skin-hugging jeans and hands them over to her. “Do you want the tour now?”
“Anne. I’m putting you to bed is what I’m doing.”
With one single gesture Ann’s hair is swept aside so that Anne can put her head onto her shoulder. Their cheeks brush. “You should be doing me.”
Ann wants her so bad that every thud of her heart is a longing, mournful cry of the other woman’s name. Her neck prickles as heat trails down her spine.
She finally manages to jam the key into the lock and can slip away from Anne once more when she gets inside. Behind her comes the clattering of boots across the floor and the pffft exhale from Anne as she closes the door.
“Tonight was nice.” Anne flicks on the lights and cocks her head at Ann. “Did you have a good time?”
“Yeah, it was nice. Mariana was nice.”
“She’s like that.”
Ann takes off her shoes as well, leaves them neatly by the staircase for when she can go home. Then she gestures for Anne to go first and lead the way. Anne laces their hands together again and pulls her along.
The house seems quite expansive as they quickly make their way through, but she buries her curiosity since she did already decline a tour. Twice. At the end of the hallway a door opens up into a simple bedroom. A king-size sits in the exact middle, detached from all the walls. Surrounding it is a nice wooden floor that looks like it would be amazing to slide across in her socks.
There’s a double door to a walk-in closet on one side and a sliding door that’s currently retracted to reveal the study beyond.
Ann’s not sure what she’d like to see more, the lair of Anne’s genius or the lair where Anne sleeps. And not sleeps.
She watches the brunette plop down on the edge of her bed, unmade, rumpled sheets, and her mind easily supplies the rest—Ann sinking down into her lap, Anne’s hands sliding under her dress, them writhing in the throes of all that Anne could do to her on that very bed.
Swallowing hard, she walks up to Anne and kneels instead, to help her with the jeans she’s struggling with. The drawback of skinny jeans is that taking them off can be a two-man job when you’re drunk off your ass.
Anne lets herself fall back. “Why are you so nice? You’re probably the nicest girl I’ve ever met.”
Ann ducks her head, hair falling to hide her blush even if Anne is no longer looking at her. “I don’t know.”
“And I bet there’s such a sexy woman beneath it, too. Fuck, Ann, you have no idea what you do to me.”
Just keep breathing. Put her to bed, she’ll be asleep in no time and then you can go home.
Anne sits up to take her own shirt off and fling it across the room, leaving her in her underwear and socks. Ann has to keep her eyes on that scrunched-up face, on those eyes that are taking her in with an unfocused laziness. “I could make you feel so good.”
“I know.” It comes out a pained groan. Ann cups Anne’s head in her hands and looks down at her. “I want this, Anne, trust me.” She barks a laugh that’s a far cry from her delicate, shy laughs that Anne seems entirely too pleased with it. “But not like this.”
Growing solemn under her gaze, Anne nods. Something deflates in her. She seems older and more tired in just an instant, and a lot sadder than she has any right to be, because it plucks at every sensitive snare that’s strung to her heart.
“Will you at least stay?” Anne grabs her hands as she asks this, and she kisses each knuckle before letting go. “Please?”
“Sure, okay. Roll over.”
Power thrums through her when Anne does as she is told and rolls onto her side on the other side of the bed. Ann lies down next to her, still fully clothed in her dress and leggings, ready to get going again as soon as Anne falls asleep.
She tucks the duvet tight around her, hiding all that bare skin and muscle and flesh from view, lest she be temped after all.
Anne snuggles closer, puts her head in Ann’s lap. “Aren’t you tired?”
“Yes, a little.” She’s so exhausted she doesn’t even dare call a cab because she’ll just fall asleep in his back seat. The trek home through the cold should be enough to keep her awake long enough to make it to her own bed. “But it’s okay.”
“No, no. You’ve been studying, and staying up, and—all that stuff. You’re tired.” Anne pushes herself up on her arm so that she comes to about Ann’s elbow and tugs at her hand. “Lie down with me. I promise I won’t be... coming onto you, again. I won’t. Just... get some sleep. I’ll be good.”
And this is something she can’t deny herself. She looks from Anne’s earnest expression, imploring eyes and gentle smile to the big bed beneath them, downy and warm and comfortable. “Okay. Can I change into something?”
“Yes. Take your pick from my closet.”
The temptation is huge to rifle through it and snoop to sate her own fascination, but she might not remember in the morning anyway, so she picks the first shirt she finds and shakes out of her dress to put it on. It’s a little big on her, but comfortable, and she’s pretty sure she has seen Anne wear it before.
Anne has rolled onto her stomach when she returns, arms folded and head propped on top of them. “Looks good on you.”
Ann slips under the duvet, whole body pounding with her heartbeat. Her palms are clammy and tingling, nervous but curious. If Anne makes another move on her, she’s not so sure she can keep from caving in and having her way with her goddamn professor. Who’s bed she is in right now, wearing her shirt and her hickeys in her neck.
All Anne does, however, is wrap an arm around her waist and slide their bodies together until she sits snug into the curve of her hips and chest. The limb anchors her into the here and now, and whatever may happen to her other memories, she hopes she’ll retain this: the comforting presence of Anne Lister all around her.
The bed dips beneath their combined weight, cups them into its soft shelter. Anne’s forehead rests between her shoulder blades; her knees are tucked up and graze against the back of her calves.
Ann can’t even attempt to stay awake to savor all million different thoughts and sensations racing through her mind, because she it feels like she has been awake for one long stretch of several weeks.
She falls into the best sleep of her life.
At one point throughout the night, Ann must have rolled over, because she wakes up with her head burrowed in Anne’s neck, snuggled completely against her, both Anne’s arms around her. A soft whine escapes her as she feels Anne start to move, because she is so comfortable, and—she’s never been this fucking happy.
Part of her had expected that Anne would be gone at first light of day, despite this being her own bed in her own house. Part of her couldn’t believe last night wasn’t a dream.
But the biggest part of her, the fibers that stitch her together as a person, her nerve system and her blood stream and her breath rasping in and out of her throat are laden with happiness. She feels like she must be glowing like a beacon with it.
“Oh,” Anne breathes into her hair, but at least she stops trying to disentangle them. “Did I wake you?”
“No... yes. But it’s okay.” She would like to stay sleeping like this, but her desire to look at Anne is stronger.
Freshly awoken, Anne looks so soft, almost vulnerable. Strands of hair curl out and away from her braid, tousled from sleep. Ann wants to pull the tie out and mess it up further. Wind her fingers into it. She shifts her gaze back and finds Anne looking at her intently, head cocked, smiling.
Ann is still so sleepy. She’s had an amazing rest, but it’s only the start to making up for how much she’s sacrificed of herself for the sake of her education, so she could go for a few more hours. Or days. She could probably sleep a full week if people let her. Her head lolls to the side, and she blinks slowly up at Anne, lazily, droopy.
Anne smiles down at her, sleepy, unguarded. She is so beautiful like this. Ann could reach out and touch her, and she wouldn’t have to wade through gallons of power imbalance and impropriety and the other being up on a pedestal out of reach.
The pedestal has been knocked down by the solidity of her body pressed to Ann’s, the bedhead and the sleepy yawns that personify her to just Anne.
Her hair slips aside one point, and it makes Anne frown. Her hand goes to her throat, touches to the stark marks left there. They ache in response.
“I’m so sorry, Ann.”
She remembers. Ann clasps her hand around Anne’s and holds it there, flattens her palm to her throat. “I don’t care.” She remembers. And at the very least, she doesn’t seem embarrassed or ashamed.
Their eyes stay locked. Something swims in Anne’s, something quiet. Ann tries not to breathe like she has just run a marathon, but her poor heart, misused and abused, is losing its shit.
“This is inappropriate.” Anne’s hands have gone still, her body too, and her voice is a whisper—almost like she doesn’t want to be heard. “We can’t do this. I can’t do this. I took advantage of you because you were willing, and eager, and you’ve practically been throwing yourself at me.”
Every swallow hurts. Pin pricks behind her eyes make her want to avert her gaze before she starts crying.
Anne’s hand slides back to cup Ann’s cheek. “You are so young, you don’t know what this is. It’s a fascination. A passing fancy.”
“No. No, it isn’t.” Ann leans into the palm against her, tear-filled eyes trying to find anything to hold onto. “I...”
Their foreheads rest together, they’re that close.
Anne’s eyes close as she asks, in her softest voice yet, “Say it.”
And Ann, who imagined it seventeen different ways, who spent hours wondering which words to use, how to bring it, where to touch and hold Anne when she did—Ann sucks in a breath, tries to swallow her heart back down from her tongue, and gathers every ounce of bravery she’s ever had.
“I’m in love with you.”
This is her own undoing. She has put it out there and now Anne has the power to destroy her. She has never felt more viciously alive. We are not alive if we don’t take the odd risk now and then and this is the biggest risk of all.
Anne... doesn’t really respond.
A slight nod that jars against Ann’s forehead. “I knew.”
Her eyes flicker open, and the dark brown of her eyes fills her vision once more. “Since you were here the first time. It was telegraphed all over your face when we were sitting on the floor, you were laughing, I—I think I was just telling you about Paris? And you just... you just laughed with me like I was the funniest person in the world, and I remember thinking, Surely not. But then you were inching so close, and... and I knew then.”
Hope flickers. A low flame, deep inside, within the embrace of her ribs and between the lungs that expand with her breaths.
“I should really tell you all those things, Ann. It’s inappropriate. We can’t.” Her smile is so beautiful, breaking onto her face like a morning glory, like the one waiting for them outside the drawn curtains, outside their bubble. “I really should say it, and mean it. I should break this off, and mean that too.”
Her thumb follows the outline of Ann’s bottom lip.
Ann’s breath hitches.
“But I can’t.”
Time stands still as they search true understanding in each other’s eyes, as they surge towards each other and clumsily bump first, laugh. And then Anne gently tugs at Ann to bring her in, leans in slowly to meet her halfway, so slowly that Ann can count her lashes, can see the flecks of green in the brown eyes. And Anne kisses her.
Kissing Anne feels like the chains coming off. Like empowerment. Like her breath rushing out of her, against a smiling mouth, and all she can do is never let go.
Their lips glide tentatively at first. Slow. Savoring. But each kiss buildsbuildsbuilds the fire that will consume her.
Ann has never been kissed like this. Anne is so deliberate, a contained explosion.
Hands clench into hair. Ann opens her mouth all too eagerly. Anne has an arm around her waist, hand up against her spine underneath the shirt, and then nothing about the kiss is smooth anymore. Those fingers claw at her back, and their kissing grows frantic.
Ann gets a second to breathe before Anne is kissing the corners of her mouth, sucking her bottom lip between her teeth, nipping.
They writhe together, their bodies doing a dance of their own as she Anne pushes Ann onto her back and climbs half on top of her, so that she can kiss Ann deeply. It leaves her breathless, jelly-legged, panting as she stares up at the ceiling when Anne pulls away from her.
Swallowing, Ann pushes up so that she can see where Anne is going.
She picks up a phone from the floor that has a ringtone going off. For how long, she doesn’t know, because she’d been too pre-occupied to hear anything but the rustling of Anne’s body on top of hers and their intakes of breath.
“Can I?” Anne asks, face flushed and smile wide, as she flashes the screen towards her.
Ann giggles, hiding her face in her hands. “Sure.”
“Hey Catherine,” Anne drawls, voice slightly hoarse from what they’ve just been doing. “Yes, she’s safe and sound. I’ll make sure she feels absolutely amazing, don’t worry. Alright, she’ll call you back later. Bye.”
Ann bites her lip to keep from giggling further.
Anne crawls up onto the bed and between her legs, pushes her back into the pillows, kissing each of her cheeks. “Now where were we?”
And fortunately for Ann, they pick right up where they left off.
Chapter 13: xiii.
hello here we are again
the devil works hard, but i work harder
It shows that Anne has experience. Her soft kisses are like the sweetest promise, tantalizing in how luxurious they are, but when she goes in hard it’s fire and brimstone, her lips bruising and her insides igniting at the merest brush. And she uses her teeth so hard that when Ann swipes her tongue against the inside of her lip she feels the indentation that they left.
Ann presses her head to Anne’s collar bone, clinging onto her shoulders, trying to ignore the way their bare legs are moving together. They have just spent a while—a good, long while—kissing, yet her mind still can’t wrap around it.
Anne kissed her.
(Like, a lot, by now.)
“I promised your best friend I would take care of you this morning,” Anne whispers. Her voice has an altogether new depth to it, a gravely hoarseness that rasps across Ann’s skin to leave goose bumps. When Anne brings her mouth to her ear and whispers “So I should,” with it, she trembles so hard that their knees rattle together.
Eager, vicious teeth find the lobe of her ear and tug, and Ann can’t, she can’t, God, she can’t stop shaking, quivering, needing.
“So I’ll show you how my shower works, and while you’re in there I’ll make you breakfast.”
Normally, that would be enough to drive her crazy, but she’s already parked way beyond crazy over Anne that the offer only confuses her.
“What do you mean?” She sounds like the morning has taken a toll on her too, a breathless quality lending itself to her words. “I don’t—I thought...”
Anne smiles as she brings her in for another kiss, fingers playing over her cheek, thumb brushing against her jaw. “I know, it’s so unfair.” She sounds entirely too pleased with herself, but this confidence is what attracted Ann in the first place, so she can’t really be mad. “I’ve got a thing today.” Her lips land on her chin, on the outer edge of her lip. “So I don’t think I should start something that I’m not going to get to finish in the way I want.”
Ann nods, but yeah, that’s so fucking unfair. Her arousal pounds through her in slow, long throbs.
“I want to take my time with you,” she murmurs, teasing a kiss an inch from her mouth. Her smile is the most damning thing in the world. “Lavish you in the way I want. I want to be the best you’ve ever had,” her hand perches upon her thigh and squeezes, and fuck, Ann is so gone. “But I’m going to need a few hours with you for that and I don’t have that today.”
She pulls the promised kiss out of her reach as she darts from the bed and walks away from her in long strides. Ann quakes with all the kisses that were bestowed on her as she falls back into the pillows.
Maybe it’s good they can’t take this further just yet right now. As much as she wants to after the temptation from last night and the making-out that has her drawn to the very edge of her sanity and her collectedness, there is already so much to process.
But she is more turned-on than she ever has been. Heat sits layered right beneath her skin, vibrating at the frequency of Anne’s voice.
She’s going to need that shower.
Anne comes out of her closet wearing a kimono-style bath robe that hangs open around her bra and panties-clad body, carrying a stack of clothes in her arms.
In the light of day, Ann can’t help but take in every plane of muscles and every sinful line of Anne’s body.
Ann laughs, a full belly sort of laugh. “Yeah, yeah. I’m fantastic.”
If Anne kisses her one more time, Ann isn’t sure she can keep herself from dragging the woman into the shower with her. The woman seems aware though and keeps a slight distance as to not tempt either of them.
Her bathroom is pulled up in shades of grey. Charcoal tiles, light grey walls, black counters and sinks and shower cabin. No bath tub, she notes with some interest—but Elizabeth does, and oh, right, Ann is going to be home alone for two weeks.
She goes pink to the very tips of her ears.
“I’ll be downstairs if you need me.”
I fucking need you, she thinks, but she takes the proffered clothes instead and closes the door behind her.
The shower head is amazing. Its strong jets massage last night’s dancing out of her muscles so that the slight soreness she hadn’t even been consciously feeling starts to fade. The smells of cocktails and sweat and Anne wash from her skin.
Ann, hair wet and sticking to her face and neck, leans into the corner of the cabin and closes her eyes. Taps into the fresh memories of being kissed senseless by Anne Lister. Mouth on her neck. Teeth on her ear.
She doesn’t need cold water, just the noise cancelling out the soft breaths as she works through the knots of her tension and sates the sharp hunger of her desire herself. Undoubtedly she doesn’t even come close to what Anne could do to her—she doesn’t think she could even imagine anything remotely near it—but at least she won’t be going crazy with need when they can’t afford to.
After drying herself off with the world’s softest towel and putting her damp hair into a simple braid, she slips into the sapphire blue boho pants and Colorado Space Mission 1992 t-shirt that Anne picked out for her. She looks like she’s on her way to a movie night or a sleepover with her best friends, not like she’s about to leave the house of—
She came treacherously close to thinking of Anne as her girlfriend already, but that’s a whole conversation and a half, and Ann doesn’t want to jinx this precarious, precious thing.
As long as Anne kisses her like she is the reincarnation of ambrosia, she doesn’t care what name they slap on it, if any at all.
When she comes down again, her soft, attainable Anne seems to have been replaced by professor Lister. She’s wearing a floral blouse—that makes it impossible for her not to think about how Anne whispered Persephone into her neck last night—tucked into hand-tailored dress pants. Her hair sits in a neat bun atop her head.
The idea that Anne and professor Lister are two different people shatters like spun glass when she is backed up against the counter and kissed soundly.
“Do you drink coffee?”
Ann hums against Anne’s mouth. “Of course.”
So Anne reaches beyond her, smiling against her cheek as she looks past her and flicks on the espresso machine. The sound of coffee beans being ground down whirs up behind her.
Instead of allowing Anne to make her breakfast, they sip coffee and share energizing kisses. Already her arms belong nowhere but around Anne’s neck, and if Anne’s hands sometimes slip to trail her thigh or cup her ass then that can be forgiven for how earnestly and genuinely she kisses back.
“I’ve really got to head out now,” Anne purrs, stepping away and untangling Ann’s hands from around her. She kisses the backs of them. Turns them over so she can kiss the insides of her wrists—adrenaline shoots through her arms and hits her in the heart like a roundhouse kick. “Do you want me to drop you off at home?”
“N-no,” her voice shakes, but Ann smiles. She has never smiled this much. “No, that’s okay. I think I’d like to walk for a bit.”
Behind the last barrier between them and the real world, Anne traps her against the closed front door and kisses her one last time, a goodbye that makes her go weak to the knee and reconsider the fact she’s going to be walking.
She watches Anne drive away in that sleek car of hers that’s ostentatious and sexy, with the loud growl of the engine audible long after she has disappeared from view, and only then does she start walking home. It’ll take some time, but she needs some time to think.
Some time to remember, first, visages from Anne’s bed playing on a loop in front of her mind’s eye. The feel of Anne’s abs jumping beneath her first tentative touch to her skin. Anne’s hands so warm on her, seeking every soft spot that made her sigh.
Her lips tingle with longing, with mourning.
She can’t wait until she can see Anne again.
But first, she must face the music. Her phone is close to dying, groaning under the weight of a small five hundred notifications. Most, it shocks her not, from Catherine and Harriet. Ninety-five percent of her missed messages come from their group chat.
[I’ll call when I’m home.]
She drops it in there and then mutes the chat, without reading anything that she’s missed, because she sees a lot of ‘ANN!!!!!’ and ‘OH MY GOD??8JAOIQZJDI’ that clues her in on what most of these are going to entail.
There is also a missed call and three texts from Elizabeth. The last was sent an hour after the previous two, leading her to believe she must have called her friends in the meantime and been covered for.
So she really owes them juicy details for that, won’t she? She knows them well enough to know that’s what they’ll demand.
Her grin widens.
She really, really, really won’t mind telling them.
There are suitcases in the hallway when she lets herself in. Her skin is reddened from the cold. Serotonin and exertion have done wonders for what would’ve otherwise been the worst hangover ever, but coming to a standstill she can feel it start to creep closer, accompanied by the lasting exhaustion that she’s going to need time to work away.
Elizabeth brightens up like a sunflower in bloom when Ann walks into the kitchen.
“There you are! Congratulations on finishing your midterms, sweetheart.”
Ann gladly lets herself be hugged by her older sister. In an appropriately Christmasy sweater, she is warm comfort personified to hold onto.
“Are you and George leaving today?”
“Yes. If you’re still sure you don’t want us to stay?”
“Go, Elizabeth. I’ll be fine. I’m actually really good.”
Elizabeth puts her at arm’s length to be able to take her in, disheveled and flushed and smiling ear-to-ear. “I’m happy for you. Is it—”
“I—yeah, but, you know. I’ll tell you some other time. When I’ve had time to process.”
She receives a kiss on the temple in return and Elizabeth’s soft humming as she whisks through the kitchen. “Sit your ass down, little sister. I’m making you lunch before we leave.”
Ann sits close to a socket so she can plug her phone charger in. There have been two hundred new messages of her best friends shouting at her that don’t get any better when Ann opens the chat and they see the status shift to read.
[Actually, sleepover tonight before the two of you go and LEAVE ME all alone? E&G will be gone soon.]
Catherine: [Pfft, ALL ALONE SHE SAYS AS IF SHE IS NOT GONNA BE --------(censored by Ann reading quickly past it)---------]
Harriet: [Great idea. Let us know when we can arrive. And then you’re SPILLING all the BEANS.]
Catherine: [Fucking beans.]
Elizabeth sets a plate of scrambled eggs and avocado toast in front of her and sets her head atop Ann’s. “I left your Christmas presents on your desk. I can’t stop you from opening them early, but I hope you won’t.”
Yeah, like fucking hell she’s going to wait. George’s car will be around the corner and she’ll be up in her room tearing the gift wrap off.
But she smiles sweetly and eats her food. She washes it down with some more coffee so that she won’t be crashing anytime soon.
She helps George carry the suitcases out to the car and load them in. He gives her a rare hug in parting. Elizabeth dots kisses on the crown of her head and hugs her tight. “You call me if you need us to return, Ann. We’ll be here within hours. So help me God, I will have George break every speeding limit to get back to you.”
“Elizabeth. I’m good. I feel good. And I’m probably going to see Dr. Belcombe, just to be sure, so see? Taking care of myself. I’m turning twenty-two soon, you can’t baby me forever.”
“Yes, I can,” Elizabeth sniffs, but she drops the subject and gives her one last hug. “I’m calling you every day.”
“No, you’re not. I’ll call you.”
Harriet arrives with doner kebab and a stack of DVD’s before they’ve pulled out, so she gets an Elizabeth-pattended momma bear hug too. Catherine arrives a couple of minutes later to the blissfully empty house with a resounding crack of the door slamming into the wall, and then another bang as she slams it shut.
“Ann motherfucking Walker!” she shouts from the hall. She has the decency to take her wet, muddy boots off before coming into the living room, where Ann and Harriet are lying on their stomachs on the carpet munching on their fries already. “You start talking right this instant.”
“Hello to you too.”
“I’m not playing, Walker.” Catherine straddles Ann’s back and pins her down easily. “Now!”
She recounts the tensed cab ride to Anne’s home. Being kissed in the neck and marked possessively. Catherine lets her go for the sake of having the hickeys shown off. Ann laughs giddily when her best friends take in her attire and deduce immediately that it must be Anne’s.
Her breathing picks up as her thoughts continue and her mouth follows, of waking up next to Anne, the things that were said. The kissing.
God, she flails and shakes with erratic energy as she tells her best friends about what an amazing kisser Anne Lister is, and that she just wasn’t stopping, and initiated so many of them. She explains in vivid, extreme detail how their kiss goodbye made the toes curl inside her sneakers.
“Man.” Catherine rolls onto her back onto the carpet and shakes her head disbelievingly. “I can’t believe you didn’t combust when she didn’t fuck you.”
“Hey!” Harriet swats her hand over Catherine’s face. “Shush you. I think it’s really cute.”
“Man, man, man. I’m getting a little secondhand hot and bothered.”
“Cath. You’re not getting any of our food until you start behaving again.”
She gets teased for the rest of the night, of course. They watch movies and listen to music and talk, and Catherine can’t help but pepper in jokes and jabs, and Harriet asks her softer questions when Catherine’s upstairs getting changed into her sweatpants.
They perk up every time she looks at her phone, but Anne doesn’t text her until later that evening. She’s just scooping ice cream into bowls when it pings. Sitting screen upward, she can glance at the preview of it and the ‘Had you on my mind all day’ is enough for her to fling the scooper into the sink to free her hands.
[Had you on my mind all day. Thinking about kissing you. And seeing you smile. :) What are you up to? Friends being nice to you?]
So Anne has been thinking about her as much as Ann has been? She leans heavily on the counter as tenderness floods her.
[They’re nice enough. As nice as Catherine can be, really. Been thinking about you too. Can I see you again soon?]
[As soon as possible.]
Ann carefully schools her features as she carries the ice cream out into the living room. Her friends don’t need to know every detail, do they?
They go to bed earlier than they usually do during their sleepovers. The hangover has hit her friends harder, because they kept going with Mariana for a long time. Catherine sleeps apart, in Elizabeth’s room, because she is leaving to go home bright and early in the morning.
Harriet falls asleep rapidly next to her, her slim frame solid and warm next to her.
Ann smiles as she makes sure the blankets are snug around her friend, reminiscing on doing the same to Anne. Anne, Anne, Anne. She was already on her thoughts so often, and now Ann can’t banish her at all anymore.
She unlocks her phone to find another text waiting.
[You are the light in my dark void of an underworld, Persephone.]
Yeah, there’s no way she’s going to sleep after a line like that.
Chapter 14: xiv.
hello here we are again
hope you enjoy!
tw some sadness in this one
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Edinburgh is buried beneath a fine dusting of snow that lends some magic to the city. Ann remembers when she first came up here it had been snowing too—her parents had still been alive, and Elizabeth was only just beginning to date George. Simpler times.
Ann can’t miss those times too much. She would give anything to have her parents back—to be slung on her father’s back and be called his little monkey again, to be sheltered in the embrace of her mother’s hug while being read a story of whimsy and magic.
But in every other aspect, her life has gotten so much better since then.
She cried when Catherine left early on the twenty-third on a southbound train to the other side of the United Kingdom to celebrate the holidays with her whole tribe of relatives, and she cried again when Harriet followed suit later that day on a night flight to be reunited with the rest of the Parkhills in the Bahamas.
They are as much her family as Elizabeth is, so she misses them more the two weeks of Christmas break than the two months of summer.
There is a silence now, descended upon her life, upon her version of Edinburgh—sure, there are plenty of people left in the city, but only two with any gravitation pull in her orbit.
She is on her way to one just now, and though she’ll try not to, she’s pretty sure the other will be talked about.
Sophie is dressed head-to-toe in Christmas decorations. Tinsel has been strung over her fir tree green dress, small baubles dangle from her ears, and reindeer ears sit atop her head. She grins cheerily when Ann enters.
It’s pretty crowded already for being just past noon. Ann hops onto a bar stool and grins back at her friend.
“What can I get you, love?”
“Something healthy. Water, orange juice, I don’t care—just, God, my Freshman Five have nothing on this semester.”
“I’ll make you a smoothie. You liked cinnamon, right?”
While Sophie busies herself with that, Ann turns around to look through the bar. She doesn’t really expect Anne to be there, but she can’t see this place with the same eyes anymore now. If she had come here over the summer, didn’t matter that Catherine and Harriet weren’t in town, would things have been different? Would she have become friends with her professor much faster?
Thoughts that don’t matter anymore, but she spends a few minutes fantasizing about having had a hot summer fling with Anne because they just kept running into each other and—
“Earth to Ann Walker.”
She snaps back to attention and grins sheepishly as she turns back towards Sophie.
God, they’re really going to have to do something about this soon, because all Ann can think about is having Anne’s hands on her body again.
“Sorry, was just... thinking.” She pulls the tall glass towards her and sips from the straw. Several different fruits, a dash of cinnamon, and a hint of pepper assault her pleasantly. The flavor is bold and a little jarring, but it’s so good she can’t stop sipping.
They spend some time in relative silence, with Christmas music blasting from the speakers and the door opening and closing a few times. The gust of cold wind that blows in every time brings more goose bumps to Ann’s skin.
Halfway through her smoothie, she sits upright and splays her hands across the counter. “Okay, why I’m really here though...”
“What do you mean, you’re not just here to see me?” Sophie pouts, and Ann remembers why for some time she was absolutely smitten with this girl. “Color me offended.”
“Color you every color of the rainbow, actually.” Ann chuckles. “No, what I wanted to ask is, if you need any more hands over the break, I could use some extra cash. And I’d love to hang out with you, of course.”
“Flatterer. Freddy must be rubbing off on you.”
The eyebrow wiggle that follows has Ann turn as red as the Christmas baubles hung from the ceiling, so she drops her face in her arms and sticks her middle finger up. “Not a word, Soph.”
The rest of the afternoon they puzzle together a schedule for Ann to come in, afternoons that shouldn’t be too rowdy and a couple of evenings that Sophie would like to spend with her girlfriend. They also talk about Anne, of course, but nothing new—just a lot of suggestive remarks from Sophie, and a lot of blushing from Ann.
So same old, really.
Now, here’s the thing. Anne is busy woman. Ann knew that. Rationally, theoretically, somewhere in the far corners of her mind—she knows. But she has never before felt justified to try and stake a claim on her time, so now that she feels like she could, it stings to know that Anne is a busy woman.
Between having to grade papers and exams, the end of year party at school, and Mariana being in town, Ann doesn’t actually get to see her again in the days after the party and the morning after. She aches to be reunited, but at least the texts are tiding her over—Anne Lister, who would’ve expected otherwise, is amazing at making someone feel treasured even from a distance. There are usually good morning texts waiting for her when she wakes up and sweet dream wishes for when she’s about to go to sleep.
Which is why when those drop away for a day, the longing and the missing and the waiting becomes unbearable.
She does recall Anne saying something about not celebrating Christmas. It had been in a tone laden with emotions difficult to distinguish, and likely a sore topic, Ann had left it alone for the time being, but she starts to wonder if maybe Anne needs her now more than ever.
When she wakes up on the morning of the 25th and still hasn’t heard a single thing from Anne, she decides that she’ll swing by the house. If Anne’s there, maybe they can talk, and if she isn’t, at least Ann might leave a note and her present to show that she cares.
An hour later she’s on the bus, dressed not too nicely but nicely enough, looking at the neatly-wrapped present in her lap. It’s a gamble—what if not celebrating Christmas means she doesn’t want any presents, either? But Ann wouldn’t be able to forgive herself that she got everyone important in her life something but not Anne.
Fuck, she really thought being nervous around Anne all the time would get better now that her feelings are out in the open and they’re at least somewhat tangled together, but it has only gotten worse.
She got the girl. Now how does she keep her?
Ann is floundering way out of her league.
She feels along the edges of the present, grounding herself in the heft of the sturdy wood beneath her touch. She spent maybe five quid on the frame, but several hours and a lot of cursing on the watercolor rendition of Athena against a stretch of vibrantly cosmic purple space.
Her mind flip-flops between thinking it was a thoughtful, genuine gift and something a child would make, and her head thuds against the window and doesn’t leave it until they turn into Anne’s street worrying, worrying, worrying that she’s going to make a fool of herself one of these days and Anne will realize that she’s gotten herself into bed with someone who’s only somewhat pretty and somewhat nice for maybe a few minutes.
What even does Anne see in her?
Ann’s mental state is so shoddy when she slips out of the bus and into the freezing temperatures that she is blind to everything around her. Including Anne. She’s by the front door and ringing when she looks around and sees she has passed by Anne without even realizing.
Her heart shivers when she sees Anne, because it seems both of them have something on their minds.
Up ahead on the path, a solitary wooden bench is hidden within the trees, a good few feet from the road. Anne sits bent forward, elbows leaning on top of her thighs, her hair down and curtaining her face away from sight. The fog that floats up around her head is a combination of her breath and the smoke from her cigarette.
Ann steps forward, trying to be quiet despite the frozen world crunching beneath her feet. The other still doesn’t notice her though, just sits there smoking. Breathing.
She comes to a halt one step away and now she can see Anne’s face—sees the sadness there, the chilly anger beneath, the breathtaking hollowness in her eyes, the absence of her kindness and intelligence, leaving her... young. Raw. Vulnerable.
“Anne?” Ann crouches next to the bench, so that only her shoulders and head peak up from above the back. With her teeth she tears her glove off her hand so that she can take Anne’s and curl her warm fingers around her cold ones.
Anne looks up at her. Blinks. Shakes free of whatever she was thinking about.
Her guards aren’t back up, the careful filter she points towards the outside world. Ann gasps at the sheer volume of emotion that breaks over her, a wave so terrifyingly vast that she gets the distinct sensation of drowning, which in turn brings her back to bad memories and—
She feels Anne’s fingers squeeze between hers and it reigns her in.
“I didn’t know you were coming,” Anne murmurs. She sounds so goddamn sad and tired that Ann wants to cry.
Without breaking their tenuous hold on each other, Ann walks around the bench and smiles lightly when Anne shifts aside for them to sit next to each other. As soon as she sits, Ann bumps their shoulders together. “I came to check on you. I was worried.”
Her other hand glides through Anne’s hair, moves it away so that she can look at Anne fully, properly.
A constellation of hurts unfolds in Ann’s chest to see Anne this worn-out and aching, not even putting on any bravado trying to reflect the concern.
“Of course.” She settles her hand on Anne’s knee and rubs gentle, comforting circles. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Anne is quiet for a long time. The minutes tick by. Ann is snug in her coat and scarf against the biting wind, but Anne’s throat is bare and her nose has been nipped to redness. She doesn’t seem bothered by the cold. The night of the poetry reading resounds with the grain and gravel of a memory from a long time ago. She wonders how Anne is able to bear it.
Her voice shakes when she says, “I lost my mother on Christmas morning.” Anne has never sounded less put-together and smooth, nor ever offered anything from her past so candidly, which is why Ann listens to every painful word with a rapt attention. “So the holidays are a little hard.”
“I’m so sorry,” Ann whispers, feeling inadequate. What do you say to something like that? How do you add even a drop of comfort to a turbulent shit storm of pain like that?
Anne hugs her tight to her chest for a long moment, Ann’s saving grace as she becomes the one tearful and sniffling. Anne just holds her, rests her head on top of her washed-out copper and sits there swimming in her memories. But at least she’s not drowning.
The house is, understandably, devoid of any Christmas decorations. Ann pulls Anne inside with her, rubbing her hands back and forth across Anne’s to bring some warmth back into them. It’s hard to say how long Anne was outside before she arrived, but her hands are so cold to the touch that it must have been a while.
She sits Anne down on the couch and is about to flurry to the kitchen and get her something warm to drink, or something strong—maybe both—but she gets tugged back, hard enough that she tumbles into Anne’s lap.
Rather exactly what Anne intended, it seems, because she immediately wraps her arms around her waist. It’s not sexual, the way she straddles Anne’s thighs and they lean together and their bodies touch everywhere they align. It’s intimate.
She runs her hands through Anne’s hair, still marveling at how thick and beautiful it is, and how much realer Anne looks when it isn't bound back tight. The ministrations are even, steady. They descend slowly further down, massaging her neck, her shoulders, roaming her back.
Anne’s breathing grows easier. She starts to feel warmer. And finally, finally, she can feel the small smile form against her throat.
She leans her weight back so that they can put some space between them again. Anne reaches up to catch her lips. They fall right back into it, already familiar and still excitingly new, even a mere brush like this.
Her hands brush up Ann’s sides, come up all the way to her shoulders and cling there. It makes for easy leverage to pull her down and get more kisses. “Now that you’re here, there’s something I’d like to ask you.”
Ann sits heavy with this new thing she has learned about Anne, and though it has opened up a whole new spectrum of questions and thoughts about the other, she will not force the conversation back to it. It’s not for her or her tendency to want to comfort all of her loved ones’ pains to set the terms here.
“I know we said we would get together the 30th to talk about your thesis again—”
“I only wanted that appointment so I would see you over the break.”
Anne’s smile curls into her telltale grin. “Is that so? Naughty.”
“So anyway,” Ann stutters, ducking her head to rest against Anne’s collar bone to hide her flush. If they’re not doing this today, Anne has no right to go saying things like that.
She feels a kiss land on her clothed shoulder.
“Well, Mariana has it in her head that she wants to celebrate the new year this year. We were gonna fly out for a short trip—two days, maybe, or three.”
Ann snuggles into Anne’s neck. “That sounds nice.”
“Vere is there with her tour right now, is actually the biggest reason—and a lot of our friends, too. But I was wondering... would you like to come?”
Ann is knocked back with surprise. She was already preparing herself for not getting to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve with Anne. “I—are you sure?”
“I think it would be nice. I’d like you to be there.”
Ann kisses Anne for a very long time after that, languidly, gratefully. “I’ll see if I can convince Elizabeth to borrow me some money, and I’ll be working these next few days, and—”
“Don’t worry about that.” Anne pecks her chin. “I’ve got the money covered. You, my pretty little thing, are going to get spoiled. And then,” and she moves along her jaw until she’s at her ear, her smiling mouth against her lobe, “I’m sure there’ll be some time for me to finally devour you.”
so, i'm going to try and get the next chapter written so i can have it posted before i get wrapped up in my birthday celebration tomorrow (birthday isn't until tuesday) and the subsequent days of hangover-more drinking-feeling lousy-friends time. chapter 15 is supposed to end on a pretty natural resting space, so that if it takes me a few days to get back to it it wouldn't be toooooo bad.
also, if you've noticed the bump in rating... yeah fam, it happening next chapter.
cue your 'oh my god okay it's happening, everybody stay calm' gifs.
Chapter 15: xv.
*sits ready with water spray bottle* yall
(this is a biggie. the chapter clocked in at a final whopping 6K.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Dublin in Winter is cold and wet, but Ann has never been before and nothing can quash her excitement. She’s also walking with Anne and they’re holding hands, their clasp hidden in the pocket of Anne’s coat to keep them warm but it’s still obvious, so obvious, what they’re doing. Out in the open. Anyone that sees them snuggle together like that will know.
The city is low-rise and sprawling and beautiful, and they have been walking for a bit to see some of it—mostly for her pleasure, since both Mariana and Anne have been here before. They steer her around, point things out. Mariana says, “We should do the bridge!” and Anne nods in perfect understanding.
The bridge, as it turns out, is an actual bridge that stretches across water that glitters in the morning light and carries them into a very green part of town that is alive with nature and people. The air she breathes is so fresh, and the conversation she picks up on drawl with Irish r’s, and she feels so wholly, unequivocally happy.
Any place with Anne would be great, but Dublin is really, really nice from what she has seen so far.
“Vere just texted us the address of her hotel.” Mariana turns towards the two of them, waving the illuminated screen of her phone towards them. “It’s not that far from here.”
They adjust the straps of their bags and set a new course. Ann tries to remember the directions, but she’s so busy looking around and taking in all the details and then, sometimes, bubbling over with excitement that she’s here with Anne that she needs to bite her lip and swallow her giggle, that retaining the route they’re taking is just not possible.
Her brain fully short-circuits when Anne pulls her close and kisses her cheek when they’re waiting in front of a red light. It’s so normal, and there are a bunch of people around them to notice, Anne’s best friend included, and she just—she just does it. Doesn’t care and does it.
Ann puts a gloved hand in her face, the only way she can hide.
“What do you want to do today?”
Anne, for her part, looks smooth as ever. She barely looks cold in the leather jacket and she only has to look around minimally to find her way. Her and Mariana have basically been bickering back and forth about what they’re having for dinner tonight while Ann was too busy gawking her eyes out.
Worldly. Anne Lister is worldly. Edinburgh or Dublin, it doesn’t seem to make any sort of difference.
“Oh, uhm.” Ann frowns as she thinks. Well, she doesn’t know everything that they could do in Dublin—she knows some things, but those are all the really big things and Anne has probably already seen all of them, and they’re only here for two days and part of that is tomorrow’s New Year’s Eve and—
Anne taps the spot between her eyebrows and clicks her tongue against the roof of her mouth. “You’re thinking too much. Stop worrying and just tell me.”
“I just want to spend time with you, really,” Ann confesses, smiling rather shyly. But those brown eyes remain gentle in response, so she feels brave enough to continue. “And I want to see the city a little bit. Things you want to show me.”
“I’m ever so glad you’ve asked. There’s a few things I really want to show you, but I didn’t want to presume.”
Ann sighs a breath of affectionate relief. It’s still hard for her to break out of the habit of trying to please Anne, live up to her expectations, be a good student. Their dynamics are changing, but some things are hard to break. “But maybe get changed first. I don’t want to traipse around this cool city in my flight sweatpants.”
“Are you sure you want to undress in front of me? We might not get to sightseeing then.” It is whispered, out of Mariana’s ear shot, and Ann squeezes Anne’s hand harder as she shivers.
Every time she thinks she’s fine with waiting just a little bit longer, Anne says something that turns her insides to molten lava. She is anticipating it so hard that she might actually have a panic attack when they actually get to it.
There is a lot of tension and nerves and worry, least of all because, again, she just really wants to live up to Anne. But mostly, she wants to get it over with, because being consumed with the thoughts of it is making her life a little difficult to live casually.
“I’m sure you’re perfectly capable of keeping your hands to yourself.”
“Just because I can doesn’t mean I want to.”
And Anne has the audacity to pout, which gives such an unexpected lurch to her heart that she has to stand still. Mariana and Anne halt seconds later when they realize Ann’s stopped.
“Sorry, sorry, I—” just very viscerally realized how much I love my not-girlfriend that wants to sleep with me but is also the softest. “I thought I saw something I recognized.”
She catches up to them. Mariana hooks her arm through the one that isn’t attached to Anne by hand, and the three of them set off again. She stops looking around, content to wait to take in the city until it’s just her and Anne on the tour the woman has in mind for her.
And just like that, she is part of Anne and Mariana’s conversation, them talking with her rather than over her disinterested head.
When they get to the hotel, Mariana parts from them, off to her room she has all by herself that’s a good hallway away from them. Ann wouldn’t have expected otherwise, but Anne has booked them a room together, and that makes it all so much more real for her.
They stand in the elevator and it hits Ann that they’re here together. Almost like a couple would.
The hotel is the sort of elegant and beautiful that she had expected. Their room is... elaborate. They have no need for two separate spaces, one with a sitting area, a bathroom and a balcony branching off it, the other with the bed they will be sharing.
The mere sight has her pulse spiking.
But no, don’t think of that yet. She exchanges the bad thoughts with excited ones to be sightseeing soon.
She puts her bag on top of the dresser and retrieves some stuff. When Ann pulls her sweatshirt over her head though, she is instantly reminded of the warning Anne issued earlier of the risks of undressing in front of her. She feels strong hands palm at her hips and lips against the back of her shoulder.
“Temptress,” Anne whispers—Ann can’t help but feel she must be talking about herself. Her mouth curves along with her shoulder and closes softly over the tender spot where her neck and shoulder meet. “Where have your wings gone, beautiful?”
The weird thing is, she does feel beautiful when Anne can’t keep her hands off of her, when she steals kisses just because she wants to. Something about being able to hold the other’s attention makes her feel just a little less conscious of her self-perceived shortcomings.
“I bet Dublin’s beautiful too.”
Anne laughs against the back of her neck, nosing through the soft hairs that curl at the nape of her neck, kissing the topmost ridge of her spine. “Alright, alright. I’ll leave you be.”
Ann is aware of eyes on her the entire time she is shimmying out of the comfortable clothes she wore for the flight, in which she wanted to talk to Anne and Mariana but fell asleep two seconds into take-off, and into something more appropriate for walking around the city.
Sprawled across the bed is Anne, head propped up on her arm but the rest of her body stretched out, watching her. She is grinning—of course—and doesn’t seem to be feeling in the least bit guilty at having ogled.
“You’re so cocky.”
“Mhm, I might have been told before.”
Ann climbs onto the bed with her and drapes herself across that long, sinful body to claim that grin. Anne uses the distraction of their kiss to flip them over and settle on top of her. They always find themselves in this situation, but Ann can’t be blamed when Anne’s kissing makes her mind go blank.
“Dublin tour,” Anne whispers, pulling back just enough to drop her head to Ann’s chest. “Either we leave now or I’m not letting you leave this room until we have to go to Vere’s.”
Ann swallows but nods. “Let’s go.”
Anne Lister is a great tour guide, all things considered—things being many kissing breaks, a tendency to get wrapped-up in conversations with locals, and at one point sidetracking their tour to have a conversation with her about dream travel destinations.
Not that she minds any of those things.
And she is pretty grateful for another of Anne’s sidebars when she is lead into the interior of a small, cozy bar. After going to see the Spire of Dublin, stopping by the Trinity College Library (Anne looked positively enamored with the place), and walking through Phoenix Park, her feet were hurting so bad she couldn’t stand anymore.
So Anne takes her to a cafe and sits her down on a bench by the window.
Dublin is different enough from Edinburgh that she feels a world away. With her head on her palm she gazes out of the window. The people passing her by are easily divided into local and tourist. They must’ve made quite the pair too, with one practically certified guide telling all the history she remembered of places and the other looking at everything like a kid in a toy store.
“I remember you telling me you drink everything,” Anne says as she puts two pint glasses down on their table. The dark beer with a thick foamy crown could be nothing other than Guinness. She’s had it before and isn’t the greatest fan, but she must accept that when in Dublin...
If this is what traveling with Anne Lister is like, Ann wouldn’t mind signing up for a lifetime of that. It already has been such a good mix of seeing historical and socially important places and having time to wind down.
Anne is toying mindlessly with Ann’s hand, moving her fingers around, tracing over and against them, while their eyes remain locked and they talk about all they’ve seen today. There is no effort necessary to talk to her like this. Nothing that pulls her mind away from that bright, beautiful smile and those intelligent eyes taking her in.
(After finding her on the bench in the cold, Ann wants nothing more than to make sure Anne has reasons to smile.)
They end up having dinner in a small Nepalese restaurant across the street, where they entertain each other and likely offend the waiting staff by trying to pronounce all the Nepalese words. The food is amazing though, dumplings with tomato chutney and these deep fried flour balls that are crunchy on the outside but soft and sweet on the inside.
Their lips stick to each other because of the sugar.
Ann has never been this high on energy, practically bouncing on her feet. The evening sky has darkened overhead and the temperature has dropped further because of it, but that only means she can snuggle closer to Anne and she does not mind that at all.
The small theater that is their supposed final destination of the night has all the charm of a place half a decade out of time. It would look better in black and white, so she snaps a picture and throws the filter over it. Anne reads along happily as she scrolls through messages from her friends, a mishmash of selfies from Harriet on the beach and a lot of complaints from Catherine about her lowkey bigoted, highkey annoying family.
Ann has been... not as forthcoming as she usually is about her life. She wants to keep Dublin to themselves for the time being—she’ll fill them in first thing when they see each other again.
Signing off with a mandatory ‘I love you both so much’, Ann puts her phone away and follows Anne into the building.
The stage is much as it was in Stein, that evening half a lifetime ago when she was still pining with absolutely zero certainty anything would ever come of it. She thinks of Vere’s words now as they descend the rows of seats—the burning has not come yet. She’s on fire, sure, but that’s likely not what Vere meant.
Mariana hollers through the theater and comes bounding down from where she was sitting with some other people. They wave down at Anne, who then promptly changes her mind and turns the other direction, towards them.
“Hey love birds,” Mariana chirps as they meet halfway. “Had a nice time out on the town?”
Ann smiles wide. “Yeah, Dublin’s amazing.”
“I’m suuure it is. Come on, there’s some people I want you to meet. Right, Anne?”
“Oh yes, absolutely. You’ll love the Danes.”
They’re such different company than she’s used to. For most of the evening she barely adds to the conversation, because they’re bouncing off each other so rapidly, dragging in obscure references and making such layered jokes that she feels stupid in their company.
Anne explains her some things, whispers her context, makes sure she isn’t fully excluded. The arm around her waist the entire evening makes up for a lot.
And for their part, they do seem genuinely interested in her.
“If you’ve managed to capture Anne Lister then you must be quite the woman, Ann,” one of them says, a kindly-looking man with a nice blonde mustache.
Later that evening, a well-meant, “You must be braver than you look to take up with this one.”
There is a brief hitch that has the two of them looking at each other when they’re asked how they’ve met, a question that has their bubble of audience pretend not to be incredibly curious.
“She caught my eye a while ago, so when I had the chance to get to know her better, I took it.”
Vague, but it appeases enough of them that the topic shifts to something else entirely like it’s been doing all night.
“I caught your eye a while ago?” Ann whispers so that only Anne can hear.
Anne kisses her cheek. “You weren’t subtle.”
This time, Ann does pay attention to the performance. Never mind that she has been reading the bundle she bought quite a lot and that some parts she knows by heart by now.
(She keeps coming back to the ‘not all things holy are about grace’ line and thinking about Anne calling her an angel.)
Every line said, shouted, whispered is a punch to her heart. The emotion in every poem strips her bare. Their company is drinking, but Ann could get high off this.
She wouldn’t have been able to listen last time, under no circumstances, so she’s so very glad Anne took her to Dublin just so she could get a second chance.
“They’re going to head out for an after-party.” Anne has her face pressed to the side of hers, mouth by her ear, corner of her smile against her cheek. “Do you want to join or head back?”
Her nerves tie themselves in knots. She knows what she wants, but having to make such a conscious decision about it, she finds herself unable to choose it. “Let’s join them. They’re your friends and you barely see them.”
Anne nods. “Okay, we’ll do that then. But be careful, they’re probably going to try to get you alone and grill you about me.”
“They do that? Are there any things I can’t tell them?”
Anne winks as she darts away. “Surprise me.”
What an infuriating woman she has gotten herself into.
Older, sophisticated people do not go to bars where they drink themselves into stupors, dance to pop songs, and maybe make out with someone they shouldn’t. The drinks have long, complicated names with high alcohol percentages. The conversations get wild and personal. There’s no physical dancing, only dancing around the subject.
It’s thrilling and daring in a whole new way for Ann. She learns so much about these people she doesn’t know that she never even particularly wanted to ask her best friends.
“So how about you two?”
Anne pulls Ann closer to her and shakes her head. “We haven’t yet. We’re taking it slow. Doing it right.”
Mariana chuckles. “It won’t be long though. They’re constantly all over each other.”
She can’t say she particularly likes this sort of hangout, even if she did know every person they gossiped about or had seen/read/listened to all that they found to be paramount and essential. As much as she likes Vere and her weird poetic tangents, and Mariana who fit way better with a crowd twenty years younger, and obviously she likes Anne a hell of a lot—as much as she likes them, she would trade it for a night at Sophie’s any time.
Anne does realize this, must see it in her face or something, because after two drinks she excuses the two of them. “We’ve had a very long day and are going to turn in.”
They get whistled out of the establishment but by then she has stopped caring about most of them.
“Friendly guys, right?” Anne comments with a healthy dose of sarcasm. “Didn’t think they were going to be your type of people, but they could’ve surprised me and been on their best behavior.”
“It’s fine, really.” She holds onto Anne as they walk through the darkness only every few steps broken by the faint illumination of a street light. “Will they be with us tomorrow too?”
A beat of silence. “I think so, yes. But we can leave them early.”
“We’ll see tomorrow?”
Ann sits down as soon as they’re inside and starts taking her shoes off. A soft sigh of relief slips from her as they both clunk to the floor. “I am really liking Dublin though.”
Anne flicks the lights on in the bedroom and walks around noisily for a while. Things rustle and fabric falls. When Ann sees her next, she is wearing pajamas. Silky, long-sleeved, barely showing anything.
“You’re tired,” Anne mumbles as she comes to grab Ann by the hands and pull her along. “And so am I, if we’re being honest.”
When she yawns right after that, it’s a little hard to try and deny it. Defeated, but also a little glad, she changes into her pajamas as well and climbs into bed with Anne. The mattress is harder than she would like, but that’s easily rectified when Anne takes her into her arms and she can snuggle up to something much warmer and softer.
She still feels a giddy swarm of butterflies when Anne kisses her forehead.
“It’s going to be very hard to keep my hands off you once we get back home.”
A sigh, twinned.
“But we can make it work. It’s just a few months of waiting and then we can again.”
Time passes while they snuggle and just breathe, not talking. Then, into the darkness of their room: “You’re worth the wait.”
Ann gets to sleep in with the arms of the woman she loves wrapped tightly around her. For once, the reality she wakes up to is better than the dream she had. And Anne is still asleep next to her when she finally blinks her eyes open fully, face peaceful, mouth open around soft breaths, long dark hair sprawled around her on the pillow.
Her heart beats almost painfully strong as she takes in every little detail. Awake, Anne is passionate and intense, a white hot flame of a spirit within a powerful body. Asleep, she is soft and vulnerable.
Ever so carefully she disentangles herself and slips out of bed. She isn’t even halfway through the room when she hears moving behind her, a groan, and then Anne clearing her throat. “Are you walking out on me, miss Walker?”
“I would never,” Ann replies, pulse quickening. She turns to face her. “I was just going to go check out our bathroom. I want to take a shower.”
A slow, sleepy grin. “Can I join?”
A hard swallow. “I—sure. Of course.”
The water clatters down hard. It slowly warms to a comfortable heat, a degree off from scalding. Anne turns it lower when she enters.
Ann is instantly backed into the shower cabin wall, the sleepy Anne gone and replaced by one that puts a hand on her throat and another in her hair. Her kisses are slow fire, destruction lapping at her. All that’s keeping her standing is the pressure of Anne’s strong, muscular body trapping her upright.
It’s one way to be woken up for sure.
“Sucks that we don’t have any time,” Anne mutters and for the first time, there’s a tinge of desperation even to her voice. The usually calm and collected Anne seems to be buckling under the need too. Her hands glide lower, made easy by the water droplets clinging to her skin.
It takes them a lot of will power to tear away from each other. But Ann helps Anne massage shampoo into her hair, and then Anne makes her turn around and gives her a massage while soaping her up, and so their proximity does not end up wasted.
But something’s going to blow soon.
There are plans for today. It’s the last day of the year and the excitement that comes along with that fizzes like champagne. And for the most part, it’s a very nice day.
Brunch with Mariana and Vere, which results in a stomach ache from laughing so much. Some shopping for souvenirs, some walking around the neighborhood.
But mostly there’s tension.
Anne’s hand on her thigh while they eat.
A suggestive whisper in her ear in passing.
A glance across a stretch of space that clues Ann in on exactly what Anne is thinking.
And her mind supplies the rest. A mixture of memories and fantasies brews so strongly that its thick fumes wrap around her and intoxicate her. She can’t stop thinking about what that hand in hers can do.
She’ll blame being young. She’ll blame having thought about this for half a year non-stop. Every time she stepped into Anne’s office there and saw her in her suits, or her blouses, or her skin-tight pants. When she had to watch Anne prowl around screaming sex appeal from every charcoal line of her being.
Long nights spent going over every word said to her, exact hand movements, an errant arch of her eyebrow.
Ann has been consumed with wanting Anne for so long that her patience burns through.
It happens at the NYE party they’re at, in someone’s house. It has been a long day. Ann is strapped into the most elegant dress she owns, knee-length and ivory, golden details on the puffy sleeves and around her waist. She made quite a pair with Anne in her sapphire blue suit—that alone almost broke her composure to not just lock the door to any plans of heading out.
But they’ve made their appearance. Done the rounds. They’re holding onto their glasses of champagne, swaying to the music, talking to people.
Anne slides a hand over her ass in passing, winks cheekily, and Ann feels the fuse start to burn already. That fuse has been getting shorter and shorter with every hour that their forced distance grates over her patience.
Ann smiles at the woman she has been talking to as she excuses herself. She disappears upstairs, to one of the many bathrooms. Looking at herself, she doesn’t even recognize the crazed look in her eyes anymore, the flush on her cheeks as if she has been exerting herself when she has been so painfully still and boxed in all day.
The door opens and closes again. She is not surprised to see Anne slither into view.
“Thought I saw you escape in here.”
Leaning back against the counter, Ann watches. The confidence in Anne’s wide shoulders. The grin playing loosely on her lips. The dress pants that hug her defined thighs tightly. She extends a hand and Anne takes it, steps closer with it.
“Penny for your thoughts, pretty girl?”
Ann smiles as she pulls Anne flush against her. Any space that existed between them before doesn’t any longer. She angles her face upwards invitingly and bites her lip. “Not sure you can handle it.”
“Oh really now?” The incredulous tone of Anne’s voice is matched by her eyebrows shooting up. “Try me.”
So she pulls Anne harder down against her, and now she’s the one to tease, dragging her tongue along the shell of Anne’s ear and blowing her breath out against it. “I have been wet for you all day.” She can feel the other shudder with a noisy intake of breath.
“Is that so?”
“Want to feel?”
The groan is full of annoyance. Anne wricks herself away. “Not here.”
They make their get-away hand-in-hand, not stopping to make excuses or offer explanations. They catch a wink and a thumbs up from Mariana from the other side of the crowded living room, and nearer the front door Vere smiling after them.
Neon signs advertising the new year they’re going into tonight splash vibrant colors all over them. They stop at the first crossroads so Anne can back her into a wall. The brick scratches the backs of her arms lightly enough that it sets her on edge. Her hands fist in Anne’s hair as she teases kiss after kiss but doesn’t fully commit, smiling and breathing hard and gyrating her hips against her.
She can feel the goose bumps race across her skin everywhere, all the way to beneath the fingers that sit curled in her dark mane. “Call me that again.”
So she whispers it while looking at her intently and she can see the beast unleash behind Anne’s eyes.
Strong hands grip at her thighs and lift her off the ground. Her legs spread and Anne sinks between, hips pressing into her thighs, hard stomach pressing between, and flames spread throughout her. Teeth drag across her throat.
“Do you have any turtle necks?”
Frowning, stuttering, “Yeah?”
She moans into the night air, quivering against Anne, as she feels the pressure intensify on her neck. Her toes curl and her grip tightens, and when she can’t take it anymore a cry rips from her that makes Anne lose some control on the grip that she has on her.
“Anne, can we—”
On shaky legs they continue their journey to the hotel and Anne doesn’t stop them again, because they got dangerously close already to being unable to pull back. She has never seen anything so beautiful as the place they’re staying.
Anne drags her into the elevator by the elbow, roughly enough that it sizzles through her further. The doors haven’t slid all the way closed or they’re kissing again, hands moving under a dress to find bare thighs, fumbling with buttons to slip them out of their holes, to bare skin, to find access.
“Can I?” There’s a hand on her back, tracing along the outline of her dress where it rests between her shoulder blades, then fiddles with the zipper.
A breathy, resounding “Yes” and Anne starts pulling it down.
They make it into their room somehow. Anne pushes her onto the bed and Ann bounces, but no giggle comes, only the realization, cloudy and heady though she may be, that she’s about to have the best sex of her life.
Her thighs shake.
Ann lifts her hips off the bed so that Anne can take the dress off of her. From her kneeling position, she rises again, kissing Ann from ankle to knee to hip junction. She skips over where Ann needs her the most, where she is burning up, and kisses up her stomach again.
“Is it okay if I—”
Her bra is deftly unclasped and thrown away. Anne’s mouth instantly attaches, tongue lavishing attention to her nipple that buds hard and sends tendril after tendril of pleasure rooting into her.
Ann is squirming on the bed already, alternating between grasping onto Anne in a futile attempt to drag her jacket off of her, and grasping the sheets beneath her.
“Are you sure?” Anne asks as she kisses a new trail downwards, wet open-mouthed kisses dragging down to the edge of her panties, sucking and biting but not leaving any marks.
Every yes that Anne has asked of her has slowly loosened the last knots of her nervousness, so that nothing but full consent and pure arousal remains.
She watches Anne take off her jacket and roll up the sleeves of her shirt. Something about how deliberately and slowly she does that drives Ann completely wild, head falling back and her bare chest heaving with breaths.
In the back of her head there's still a small, piping voice that says, what if this is just a one-night-stand? What if she just strung you along until she could fuck you and when you get back she'll pretend it never happened? How will you feel when the best thing that's ever happened to you is something for Anne to forget? When Anne hooks her fingers into her panties and start sliding them down, her eyes are on Anne, and she stops at the knee with a small frown.
"Are you sure, Ann?"
Ann puts a hand over her eyes. "Sorry, I do, I really do."
But Anne takes her hands off and sits on the edge of the bed with her. "But?"
"But... I want to know... Is this—doyoulikeme?"
Anne kisses her on the palm of the hand she uses to shield her face away. "I like you. I wouldn't be here with you if I didn't."
Their eyes connect and every last sharp edge of her anxiety softens, rendered inactive. Her arousal sweeps through her once more, a force that leaves her gasping. "Yes."
Anne kisses down her body again. Soft touches of her lips to her breast, her abdomen, each hip in the hollow of her waist, the crease beneath that leads to her thighs. She takes the last garment off of Ann, but hovers still fully-clad over her. She's every little bit the professor in the get-up and the intensity.
The fireworks are early, exploding in front of her eyes when Anne hones in on her clit and sucks it between her lips. Instantly the fire is everywhere. Her skin prickles. There's an intense sparking in her palms that make her fingers twitch. She puts her hands in Anne's hair again, holding on for dear life. Good lord.
Anne's tongue performs circus acts on her clit, a precision and gusto that has her moaning loudly into their room without her being able to stop.
There's a hand on her hip to keep her from bucking too wildly. She trembles upon the mattress. There's a hand stroking up and down her thigh, caressing soft skin in a way so tender that Ann can't even comprehend the duality of this woman.
Anne laps at her. Sucks. Teases her teeth across her folds and smiles against her sex when she twitches in response.
It's the noise that gets to her most. Anne hums and moans and breathes as she devours her.
The waves of pleasure pulse. Crest. Hammer down on her. She is screaming before she knows it, mewling as the orgasm hits her hard and fast.
Anne eases her down from it with gentle licks that land too heavy on her now, that have her squirming away. "You are so beautiful."
She needs a moment to just breathe, her head thrown back and her lungs struggling to regain her breathing. She is so aware of Anne's touch, her body, but also the clothes she's still wearing dragging across her damp skin.
"I want to see you." She pushes upright and tugs at the collar of Anne's shirt. "Can I?"
"I'm yours, Ann. To do with as you please."
Sitting naked in front of her, Ann undoes every last button of her shirt and drags it off her wide, defined shoulders. Anne has smaller breasts, but they fit marvelously in her searching, gentle hands.
There's the outline of her abdominal muscles, most visible when she sucks in a breath because she dips down to kiss her sternum and the tops of her breasts.
Shoes are kicked across the room. The buckle of her belt clinks as shaky hands undo it to reach for the button beyond.
Anne lets her pants fall to the floor. It leaves her sitting in just boxer briefs that have a growing wet spot between her muscular thighs.
Ann smiles, leans in to kiss Anne softly. Their tongues intertwine heatedly when Ann rubs her over her underwear and Anne jolts against her.
She takes her time to feel Anne through the fabric first, within it after. By then Anne is so hot and slippery and pulsing for her that her fingers glide easily beyond the small patch of hair and the puffy folds that shelter her sex.
Anne is still dominant though, rolling her hips to feel the pressure just the way she likes. She sinks her teeth in Ann's neck and bites down harder every time Ann circles her clit or brings her palm down on it instead.
But not even Anne can stay in control when an orgasm rips through her. All she can do then is feel.
They're both panting. Dotted with sweat. The edge of their need has been sated, brought smiles to their faces. But there's so much more lust beneath the surface, a monster only temporarily satisfied.
Ann nestles into Anne's side, one of her legs thrown over Anne's, their skin gluing together where it meets.
For once, Ann's mind is quiet.
The night air is torn apart by cheers and fireworks, but in this new year they have eyes only for each other.
They fuck for several hours into 2020 after that. Soft sometimes, rough some others. Anne bruises her thighs, her stomach, her breast, litters mark from collar bone to jaw. She leaves teeth marks on her hip.
Ann is achey all over, feels every mark pulse with a pain that she'll be feeling for days to come.
They don't trade orgasm for orgasm, because Anne likes giving more and says at one point, "I told you I was going to spoil you," and she has no reaction for that except to take Anne's name in her mouth like a holy thing, moaned and sighed and cried out.
Their sheets are rumpled and drenched. Their awareness of time was left at the door when they entered.
She has no more outer edges, no more rib cage and arm bones and hip bones that keep her together. Ann melts into Anne like jelly.
With the morning light edging up into the sky behind their curtains, they fall asleep together. Ann has her head on Anne's chest and lets that strong heart beat lull her to sleep.
After that there is no stopping them anymore. Anne wakes her up with a hand in her panties. They barely manage to keep their hands off each other on the flight home.
Anne drags her to bed as soon as they get to her house.
They're high on this new thing, the exploration of it.
Anne chokes her for the first time when they shower together and she comes so hard that she can't carry her own weight anymore. She notes the strangled moans when she scratches her nails down Anne's back.
They do it in the bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen, the office. Ann makes her come over so they can do it in her bedroom as well, the bathtub.
They spend their last days of break getting their fill, like teenagers high on the honeymoon feeling.
But eventually the break does end, and with it their freedom.
Ann can't wait to see Catherine lose her shit.
END OF SEMESTER 1
as said, since we've made it to roughly the midway point of this story, we're taking a tiny break - mostly since i can't guarantee i'll be up to writing capacity after all the birthday celebrating.
thank you for being with the story, for all your support & thirst, and i promise i'll update as soon as i am able again! <3
Chapter 16: xvi: interlude.
at a thousand words, this is the smallest chapter yet, but that's intentional. it's only an interlude, after all. a little snippet of something else before we fully jet into semester 2 and all that it will entail.
hope you enjoy this small foray into anne lister's head. ;)
In the long and turbulent history of Anne Lister’s love life, she has only ever had two people fall for her before she had even set her sights on them (that she is aware of, anyway).
Because that’s how it usually goes: she sees someone, likes them, wants them. Usually she gets them, too, but she’s not going to brag too much about that. But—she gets them, and they’ve all left.
All everyone seems to do in her life is leave her.
Permanently, in death, in heartbreak. Temporarily, to far off destinations, to careers that keep them away from her, to the other side of the country to escape the harrowing memories that center around her.
In another life, she would be the one running, she thinks. But in this life, she can’t, because people leave her first.
Anne Lister muses on the luck, or lack thereof, in her life while she loops the tie around her neck. Deft movements knot it neatly, pull it snug to her throat. She smooths down the collar, adjusts the shirt over her chest.
For a few moments, she ponders whether to keep the top button done or undone. She decides since it’s the first day back, she’ll be good. Principal Rawson, now more than ever, doesn’t need any reason to start paying close attention to her again.
Time for best behavior.
Might she even keep from arguing all the time with—oh, no, no, surely she doesn’t need to go that far to keep from hiding a little secret.
Anne smiles into the mirror as she checks herself over for any blemishes or flaws. Her teeth glint, but it’s her canines that she runs her tongue against, testing its sharp tips. If it comes down to it, there is no doubt in her mind that she could take on Christopher Rawson. She’s the prowling wolf, ready to tear him limb from limb.
There is dirt she has on him and dirt she could find out that would keep his mouth shit, trembling in fear and ruing the day he had decided to come for her.
She would just really rather not have to. She likes her tenure at the University of Edinburgh, the freedom it allows her to do courses as she sees fit and finds interesting, the time it has allowed her to do research and publish and jet around the world doing visits and speeches and guest lectures.
But if she has to... Yes, then, there would be no other option, would there?
Meticulous, she puts hair spray into her hair so that her crown of braids might keep all day, dabs perfume against her throat, clasps her watch around her wrist. Her thumb glides over the outer ring of flawless steel and the symbols etched therein, a combination of Ancient Greek and algebra.
With ten minutes to spare before she has to set off for campus, Anne takes her time to make her morning coffee at home and sip it slowly. The cup fits neatly into her palm and heats it from her wrist to the tips of her fingers.
She catches herself drumming her digits against the ceramic.
Like it has been doing for the past few days, her mind finds itself wandering to Ann every time. A smile blossoms from the stern set of her lips. She digs for her phone and swipes to see two sweet messages waiting for her.
As hard as it is going to be to tone down and see less of each other, spend less time, get to be alone less, it’ll be nice. Still, she feels antsy. She can’t quite bring herself to reply to the messages just yet.
She has become rather more fond of Ann Walker than she ever imagined she would. It explains why she couldn’t stop her tongue from betraying her and spilling the secrets of her mother’s fate, or why she found it impossible to stop drinking that night when they were with Ann and her friends because she was an unreliable drunk at best.
Every time, no matter her predisposition to keep Ann at bay, it seems that those crystal blues and that gentle smile get to her in a way her steely defenses can’t ward off.
No matter. Like most things she endeavors, she imagines she will be successful here too. Wean Ann off slowly. Use the semester and the faculty’s enforced policies to put a solid emotional distance between them.
Anne will have to get over her ill-advised crush, but like most things she endeavors, she imagines she will be successful here too. Surely Ann is too nervous and insipid for her anyway.
She doesn’t want a repeat of Eliza Raine.
And she really doesn’t want a repeat of every other relationship in her life. Not again. God, please, not again.
So there is nothing else to do but this—she will have to leave Ann before Ann leaves her.
She sets the empty cup in the sink and shrugs on her jacket. Her thoughts keep spinning as she leaves her house, as she drives to campus, as she marches across the frosty grounds.
Anne Lister feels in power of her day and her happiness—and then she sees Ann Walker across the white lawn. She is walking with her best friends, no eyes for Anne as she is being barraged by the two other women. Catherine seems to be excited about something, or losing her cool about something, even stopping to make grand gesticulating gestures. Harriet seems content to only add the occasional sentence. Poor Ann can’t bring a word into the speech that Catherine is rattling off.
And just like that, she feels control slip. Anne is glad to veer away from them and to another part of campus, towards the department building where she is meeting up with Elizabeth Cordingley and Rachel Hemingway for a department briefing before she can set off for the first class she’s teaching today.
The rest of the morning, she can’t quite shake the power of seeing Ann Walker’s smile even from afar, even not aimed at her.
Anne Lister refuses to believe she’s starting to fall in love.
Chapter 17: xvii.
thank you for all the birthday wishes and all the nice feedback on the unconventional previous chapter. let me tell you - this one was hard to write. like ann, i had trouble moving away from the romantic stuff and getting back into the academia of it.
hope you guys enjoy!
There is a weighty importance to today that doesn’t let Ann out of its grip. If all goes according to plan, and she has every intention of working as hard as she can to make sure it does, then this is the last first day of school she’ll ever have.
As an undergrad, anyway. The idea of continuing on to grad school might have some merit, if Anne Lister of all people thinks she has the chops to pull it off.
The idea of becoming her girlfriend’s TA is one she has long rejected though, should she go down that path. That’s only going to spell disaster for them.
It’s going to be hard enough surviving the next four months without being open about what’s going on between the two of them. Already she misses getting to hold Anne’s hand, sleeping over and spending the morning together, long conversations had with wine and exploring touches.
She has been spoiled with an abundance of time with Anne Lister and she feels the withdrawal kick in nasty on that first, icy morning of January that she has to trek to campus. Luckily, Catherine and Harriet are waiting for her at the bus stop. Nothing those two can’t brighten up in her life.
Should she tell them straight away? No, maybe not, maybe she should wait until after classes so that they—the gig is up instantly, for Catherine yanks at the collar of her turtleneck and exclaims in raucous delight. “Ann, you deviant!”
Her skin is pale, only a shade darker than the snow and ice that have turned campus to a starch white. Every mark on her throat looks a dark, almost violent blue-purple against it.
“Wow,” Harriet hums, coming close to take a proper look as well. “I think you haven’t been telling us some things.”
So she tells them, in as much detail as she’s comfortable with, about visiting Anne on Boxing Day (but not about what happened outside, that secret she treasures close to her heart), being invited along to Dublin and meeting Anne’s friends and finally having their first time on New Year’s Eve (but not about their second-third-fourth-fifth-maybe sixth but she lost count so maybe not sixth), and coming home and making the most of their days of freedom (but not about how they kept going at it like rabbits, and Ann’s insatiable thirst and hunger for Anne).
They can see how much they’ve been sleeping together anyway. Her throat doesn’t lie.
After that, she can’t get any word in anymore as Catherine barrages her with a soliloquy about how they should have been getting live updates, especially she because she had been bored out of her mind for the entire break and could’ve really used it, and Harriet only intervenes when Catherine goes way overboard or shouts it so loud that it reverberates across the courtyard they’re crossing.
“I don’t want everyone to know, Cath,” Ann mumbles, but she’s smiling. It feels so nice not to have to keep this a secret from everyone—the rest of the world, obviously yes, but her best friends? Never.
“Fine, fine. We’ll come up with code names to talk about this in public. AA meetings are when you guys—” Harriet slaps Catherine against the back of her head before she can finish that sentence, and the three of them devolve into giggles.
It feels good to be reunited with them, no matter what else the start of the semester has brougth along for them.
They part three ways once they’re at the main building. After that bright and cheery morning pick-me-up, she feels ready for her first day of classes. Nothing can stop her. She’s going to be indomitable this semester, show the world the stuff she’s made from. She wants to blow everyone away, Anne most of all.
Happiness glows like a burning ember in the pit of her stomach. It’s not overwhelmingly bright or warm all the time, but it is always there, glowing gently. Ann catches herself smiling more, enthousiastically taking part of class discussion, hoping for the best and not always expecting the worst.
She gets through her Monday classes scot free, despite some of her professors not believing in ramping up slowly and dunking her head-first into academia again.
School’s back in session, kids—buckle in.
She links back up with her friends late in the afternoon so they can resume catching each other up on all they’ve msised. Catherine has, like every year, very little to say. Gossip about her family holds no relevance this far up to the north. Harriet always gets up to some adventures abroad. They get to enjoy hearing about those over a bowl of steaming tomato vegetable soup and a healthy helping of croutons in the dining hall of Harriet’s dorm building.
It’s so good to be back here.
The space crowds quickly. It’s warm inside and steam rises off the soups, coffees, and teas so alluringly. Ann digs through her pocket for some money and gets them all a refill on the soup so they can warm up a little more.
Her phone vibrates when she’s in line to pay.
[Sorry I haven’t been able to text you earlier. Very busy day. How’ve classes been?]
Ann’s mood gets even better. She knew Anne would be busy, so that she takes some time to text her means everything. While queueing, she types out a response in bursts and then has her phone disappeared by the time she takes the tray back to their table.
“We were just looking through my application letter for internship places,” Harriet clarifies as Ann frowns down at the two of them bent over a phone. “Have you gotten started on that yet?”
“Oh. Yeah.” She sits down with her bowl in her hands, soaking up the warmth. “Mariana wants me on board for her charity organization.”
“Lucky. Don’t think she can use a Linguist, can she?”
“I can ask?”
So dutifully Ann takes her phone out again and swipes back to her ongoing text conversation with Mariana. The last few messages are only emojis—further supporting her theory that Mariana is a twenty-year-old in the body of a forty-year-old, who fits way better at this table with them than with the friends she and Anne share.
Mariana texts back right away, with a lot of exclamation marks and smileys.
“She says sure, if you can get your department head to agree.”
“Now that we’ve got that settled, can we please get back to our gossip.” Catherine rolls her eyes. “Seriously, it’s not like school’s the top priority here. Tell us more about what Korean Boy has been sending you!”
And so life returns to what it was before Christmas break. Ann spends a lot of her time with her best friends, being support system for school-related stress and attentive listeners for personal problems and good fun when times are rough. The days cycle through fast. Routine settles.
Ann is not surprised at how fast the weekend arrives. And she isn’t surprised that Anne has had no time for her, although she is a little disappointed.
Still, she tells herself she can’t expect Anne to free up her time when there’s very important things she’s doing. The institution of their university lays great claim on its professors, expecting them to be bringing in revenue, publish in academic journals, write books, stay up to date on developments in their fields, etc.
Ann has been doing the research, and she has been listening very closely to all that Anne has been idly mentioning to her as pillow talk.
It checks out. Anne is a busy woman.
But she does know one way Anne has to pay attention to her. If she can’t do so this weekend, then Ann will just have to spend all weekend writing on her thesis and proposing they pick up their meetings again to talk about it.
She smiles at being ever so cunning—a sure sign Anne is rubbing off on her positively, really—and dedicates her every awake moment to it.
Her thesis has taken such lovely shape. Nothing more than a vague idea last summer, she is more than halfway through writing the body of it, and has an outline for the rest. She reads through a couple of pages so that she’s back into it and she doesn’t hate any of it particularly.
Room for improvement, of course, but it’s not bad. It’s actually pretty good.
She doesn’t get much done on Saturday, because she’s rusty and it takes her a few tries to find the flow again. All the reading she has done sits far away beneath the surface of other memories, those that are currently most overbearing.
And she needs to stop a few times because she daydreams things that shatter her focus. Even just remembering the feeling of being kissed by Anne takes her out of it for long enough that she needs to fight to focus again.
But Sunday goes better. She gets back onto her reading, writes paragraphs, edits them after she has taken short breaks, and clocks in at nearly a thousand extra words that she doesn’t have to scrap from anymore.
She is so tired when she goes to bed on Sunday, of sloughing through material that isn’t great to read at all, rape statistics and thrown-out court cases over banalities and the glorifying of Zeus as the master seducer in Greek Mythology, that she falls asleep before she can even think to start missing Anne again.
Would that her days are as exciting as their break was, but they just aren’t. She goes to class. She keeps up with the course work. Her pile of books stacks higher and higher on her desk and when she has a few hours, she spends it with a marker tucked behind each ear, a notebook open next to her, reading. She spends time with her friends, including the one class she and Catherine are taking together, every Tuesday morning at eleven, on Historical Feminism. Ann tries to sleep as well as she can, but some days she struggles.
Senior year is no joke.
But her one bright spot on the horizon: she is seeing Anne again this week to discuss her thesis. They’ve had to move from Thursdays to Fridays because of conflicting schedules—really, the universe seems to conspire against them, because between their respective schedules they never have any time between classes to see each other.
Maybe that's good.
Ann has been very professional every time they have crossed each other on campus. Somehow she has less trouble hiding her feelings now than she did last semester, when her crush seemed to be holding her strings and puppeteer her.
There are some smiles and looks, maybe, but generally she is the picture of a polite, eager student.
Anne looks proud of her for keeping the distance.
But she so, so desperately wants that distance to disappear. She wants an hour or two to talk to Anne, doesn’t matter about what, and just... bask in her presence. Earn a smile from her, a compliment, a nice word.
She is stretched taut with nerves when Friday comes around. Catherine tries to ease her stress and make her pay attention to class, but professor Hemingway and her slightly dopey, friendly manner just do not command the same devotion in Ann.
"You managed fine last semester. Why would it be any different now?" Catherine whispers, blindly scribbling down notes that go diagonally across three lines of her notebook.
Ann sits her head in the palm of her hand and sighs. "Think, Cath." She grabs her notepad and writes down, loath to say it out loud despite sitting well-isolated from everyone else. 'Last year I was pining by myself and thought it would go nowhere. Now it has gone SOMEWHERE and we'll think about it but we can't actually do anything. Not on campus.'
"But off campus you can, can't you?"
"I suppose. I just think... I think it would just make it harder for us to go back and forth between those two lives."
"So what're you going to do?"
Ann holds her silence for a long time. Then her shoulders dip and she slouches into her seat. "I have no idea. I thought I'd gotten past the hard part, but apparently not."
Her head is full with questions that have nothing to do with the class she just left as she makes her way back to Anne's office for the first time in months. Giddiness does creep into her chest then, making every breath taste better, more richly oxygenated. Her smile is wide when she finally gets to that door.
"Miss Walker, sit." Anne gestures at the seat opposite with a theatrical flourish and a wide grin. "Tell me, how was your Christmas break?
Oh you goddamn tease. "I'm afraid I was kept very busy and wasn't able to work on my thesis. I have in the meantime though."
Every professor Lister and miss Walker feels like an inside joke now, a hushed secret of which they hold the key in their eyes. Ann doesn't even mind the distance too much, because she gets to look at Anne in her element again, as a teacher and mentor, and that's so hot.
Well, those thoughts really aren't new, but they resonate differently after what has transpired between them.
She swallows. Anne notices her distraction and cocks an eyebrow.
"No, no, I was just—thinking. Sorry, continue."
"I would appreciate you keep your personal thoughts outside of this office, miss Walker. My time is very precious, as you are well aware."
Ann nods. "Of course."
She leaves the office on trembling legs, stirred to boiling by Anne's professorial manners.
Two minutes later, she sends off a text to her group chat and an e-mail to her shrink, requesting an appointment.
She can already tell she's going to need all the help she can get to get through this semester.
Doctor Stephen Belcombe's office is mostly as she remembers it. Her penchant for the visual means the colors of the walls and the curtains match up exactly with the visual in her mind, but she has gotten some of the other details wrong.
That is too be expected. She was always very busy trying not to cry when she sat in this chair.
She is comfortable though. This appointment is a pre-caution. She feels strong, but she doesn't want to be blindsided by another episode like she had during her midterms.
Especially now that she is navigating such a precarious but powerful thing with a woman ten times the likes of herself, it seems smart to be prepared.
The doctor walks in and sits across from her, kindly smile at the ready, but she can tell immediately something is wrong.
"I planned you in because I wanted to tell you this in person, Ann. I can't continue to treat you. Given your friendship with my sister and... entanglement with my former sister-in-law, it would be most unethical."
And yeah, she can see it now. He has such similar features to Mariana that it is astounding she did not recognize him in her face when she first saw Mariana.
Her heart drops. Now that it is taken from her, she suddenly feels the need to be in therapy quadruple.
"I will refer you to someone who will be just as good as me. Does that sound like something you could agree to?"
"I guess, yeah." She sinks deeper into her seat. "Can I ask how you know?"
"Imagine my surprise when my sister shows me pictures of her trip to Dublin and there you were. I do not judge you for your choices, and if I may, I mostly worry about the stress this will add to your life. Anne Lister is very... Well, this is not for me to tell you."
"If she would be so inclined."
Ann leaves feeling less strong than when she entered, chewing on her bottom lip until the rusty flavor of blood fills her mouth as she goes over how small of a world Edinburgh can be and whatever the hell Doctor Belcombe did not and could not say.
Chapter 18: xviii.
good evening all!
fair warning: we make a slight time skip here. also, i've decided that since this second part of the story has shifted from a singular ann focus to a focus on the two of them, i'm going to work with alternating pov's. it'll shift as i see fit, so we might get some chapters without changing pov and we might get some where we don't see either of our leading ladies for a bit. hope you like it!
big shoutout & thanks to joan (factsandfictions) for easing my worries about this chapter. i wouldn't have posted anything if she hadn't.
The referral letter from Doctor Belcombe has been burning a hole into her bag for weeks now. Ann was going to keep it that way, not quite willing to bare herself and spill all her secrets, thoughts, and vulnerabilities onto the desk of anyone else, but...
It’s ridiculous. She knows she shouldn’t let one single person be the cause of this much thought and stress. Really, after her first love in high school forced her to realize her sexuality on top of very big, very intense feelings, things didn’t go very well for her, and she should have learned.
Ann can’t help it. She has very big, very intense feelings and they’re giving her stress.
Doctor Kenny was kind enough to give her his soonest available spot for an appointment and she’s now wandering through the health center that also, coincidentally, houses her dentist and Elizabeth’s gynecologist. There are posters on advertising boards and on available surfaces promoting a healthy life with a good diet and exercise.
She should really start exercising, she thinks. Then she continues biting on the nails of her left hand.
The fifteen minutes she’s early dwindle to five with her pacing. She brings herself to sit down in the waiting area of the psychiatrists’ practice and taps her foot for those remaining few minutes until a spindly, tall young man opens the door labeled ‘Dr. Kenny’ and gestures her in.
He has a very... corporate office, for a psychiatrist. The walls are an impersonal shade of grey. There are no decorations, just his degree framed close to his desk.
Doctor Kenny points towards a wide couch that looks comfortable enough, at least.
“Would you like to have something to drink?”
“Water, please.” She won’t drink, but she needs something to have in her hands to fiddle with. It’s safer not to start toying with the hem of her skirt, lest he takes it to mean something it decidedly doesn’t mean. “Thank you for seeing me on such short notice.”
“Of course, of course.” Already he seems very different than the therapist she is used to. It makes her distrust him, even if she has no clear reason to. Yet. Uneasy, she shifts and backs further into the cushiony back of the couch. “Tell me, what’s on your mind?”
She has been through this. Ann knows all too well how therapy works, and how to make most of those allotted fifty minutes. But with Steph Belcombe, she’d built up a trust. He has been seeing her since half a year after she lost her parents, when Elizabeth had worried herself sick about her nightmares and made an appointment.
She knows she needs to just speak.
Instead, she sits for a good while in silence, hands spinning the cup of water around and around and around in her lap. When she finally speaks, it’s quietly. “There’s... a lot of stress in my life. I’m not good with stress. It makes my anxiety a lot worse than it usually is.”
“Right,” Kenny hums, and he sets his pen on the paper to scratch away. Doctor Belcombe never used to do that. Every stroke of the pen makes her discomfort flare up stronger. “And do you know what the cause is of this stress?”
“Well, I—” Just come out with it. Let the man help you help yourself. God, it should be so easy. She’s talking to her friends about this until all three of them have gotten sick of it. “There’s this woman I’m in love with.”
She notes his polite disinterest in the gender of her object of affection, which is something, at least. Maybe she won’t mind him too much after all.
“I spent a long time pining after her from afar. I didn’t really think it would go anywhere, because she’s older and accomplished and more sophisticated, but it did.” Even with the distance Anne has been putting between them and the hurt that has been coming with that, thinking about that first kiss still brings such a genuine, warm smile to her face. “We had a few really great days together, but then we got back to—uh, reality, and I think she realized nothing can happen between us? So now she doesn’t really talk to me anymore.”
“I see.” Furiously he scratches away at his notes for a bit, then he looks at her over his notepad. “To me it sounds like going back to reality might have put your relationship into a different daylight for her?”
Yeah, no shit. It had for her, too. She just foolishly thought they could get through it without having to change too much.
He doesn’t even need to say it to her. She has been thinking the same on her own—she should probably take the distance too.
“I know. I just don’t know how to deal with that. It was easier to deal with the distance between us when I thought it was hopeless.”
He nods, writes. Nods again. “Unfortunately you can’t undo what has happened between you two. So instead, maybe you could try to reframe it. Sometimes something doesn’t mean the same thing for two people, so try to see it from her perspective.”
Ann carries that thought with her. What had it meant to Anne? If only she could just ask...
She could, couldn’t she? They had been so good at communicating once upon a time, but as soon as they had gotten naked with each other and done the things they could not come back from, that all had changed. No, actually—as soon as the school year had started again, that all had changed.
Ann sucks her lungs full of winter air. It offers some clarity, but not much. She rings Anne up, pacing, watching her breath frost in the air, not expecting Anne to actually pick up.
But she does.
“Hey, yeah. Hi. Hey Anne.”
There’s a soft chuckle on the other end of the line. “Hi.”
“Can I talk to you? I know you’re very busy, but I just... The way things are right now is giving me a lot of stress.” Still in full truth modus from her therapy session, which has left her raw and vulnerable. If Anne declines now, she doesn’t know how she will take that.
But to her surprise: “Okay. Do you have any plans tonight?”
She does not.
There are several pots boiling and cooking on the stove. Rich scents drift into the confined space of her kitchen. Anne Lister is halfway a glass of bourbon, the ice cube clinking against the sides of her glass as she swirls it around, and she is deep in thought.
It had seemed so easy, weeks ago, to start putting distance between them. For propriety’s sake. For the sake of her own heart. For the sake of Ann’s. Talk to her less and less, so that when they finally sever whatever it is between them, it won’t be something breaking.
But now that they’re about to have it, Anne doesn’t think she wants to anymore. Her own heart betrays her once more—it has grown fonder as they have spent the time apart. Her fingers tighten around the glass. She presses it to her forehead. The slight cold of it does little to avail her of her turmoil.
She goes to mind the cooking for a bit. When she is busy, it is easy to forget. That’s why she has been pouring herself into her work—that’s what she has always done. Into her studies, into her work. Every time Anne Lister, lesbian extraordinaire, ruler of the goddamn world, had her frail heart broken once more, that’s what she did.
And with Ann, it works like a charm too. But there’s only so long before she has nothing to do anymore but wait for the couscous to be cooked fully or the vegetables to be done steaming. And her thoughts go right back.
It will be good for both of them to put a definite end on things. No more maybes, no more ifs. No more Anne wondering if Ann is going to bring them up in her office when they’re sitting over her thesis. No more Anne feeling this weird itching inside her chest when Ann doesn’t.
Actually, Ann has been tremendously good at staying proper. But things go on behind those baby blues that Anne can’t help but pick up on.
And Anne, for her part, has been thinking a lot of improper things too.
She lets the last of her drink infuse her with the strength she’s going to need. What about this girl unhinges her so that even with time and space spent apart, her mind runs away with her? That hasn’t happened since Mariana and her were sixteen and just starting to figure out what feelings were like.
The doorbell rings and there she is. Anne wipes her palms on her pants and blows out a quick breath.
It’s not good that she is frustrated with herself going into this conversation, but there’s nothing to do about it now. She steels herself before she opens the door and—holy damn.
Ann has the softest smile on her face, her whole face glowing with it. She looks as pretty and demure as she ever has, arms behind her back, skirt of her pink dress swishing as she lets herself in. Anne steps aside to let her through.
It’s hard to rein in her mind at the sight of her bare calves and the golden curls that rest on her shoulders.
Steph would have a field day trying to sort through her thoughts and behavior right now. Even Anne is a little dizzy with her own back-and-forth.
“I’m making us some food.” Anne keeps her hands to herself, no matter how hard. She is very touchy-feely. Uses bold gestures to put more emphasis on how she domineers everywhere she goes. Not being able to, because there are no more innocent touches between them anymore, throws her slightly off her game. “Would you like some wine?”
“Want to, yes. But I don’t think I should.”
There is something slightly off about Ann too. Normally prone to seek out proximity, she is keeping her distance too.
What a hypocrite you are, she tells herself, that her doing what you’re doing offends and hurts you in equal matter.
Ann gets seated in her kitchen. She is keeping herself small, shoulders drawn inwards, head slightly tilted downwards, as if to contain herself. Anne steps past her without touching and goes to finish up their meal.
With two plates in hand she takes her seat next to Ann.
“You wanted to talk?”
Ann looks up at her. There is such genuine sadness in her eyes that it knocks the wind out of Anne. So much about this girl is sad, it always has been, and Anne can’t help it—she still wants to know. She still wants nothing more than to make it better.
“I think I know what you’re doing.”
“What am I doing then?”
Her pretty pale throat bobs. “You’re making a martyr of yourself. Making the sacrifice for both of us. You’re pulling away from me.”
Right on only one account, she wants to say, but she is left speechless that Ann has come all this way to have the exact conversation Anne was hoping to find a smooth way to transition to. She doesn’t have to struggle to find a segue to it when Ann offers it up so nicely, right out of the gate.
Why does Ann keep surprising her so?
“I can’t let you do this alone.”
“Oh?” She would laugh about how Ann has gotten it so adorably wrong, but this is better, actually. This way she won’t have to hurt Ann after all. And with the months of professional distance, time will do its job of fading their feelings away. Perfect.
Anne tilts her head, taking in Ann once more. There is more than sadness in her eyes. Way more. A whole spectrum of emotions, so clearly visible that had she any of the other’s drawing talent she could put it on paper.
“So you agree we have to keep it professional?”
“Yes, I do.”
Anne feels a tightness coil in her chest. The tables have turned on her. She has no time to sort it through, but fuck, she hates this.
“No more being friends?”
“And more,” Anne concedes.
They sit looking at each other. Normally so in control, Anne feels her power has shifted to somewhere between them. Her frustration roars to an unexpected anger, but she keeps it down. At least it keeps her from focusing on how badly she wants Ann to touch her. Just a gentle draping of her fingers over her arm would be enough.
“Just for the time being. Until I’ve graduated and it’s okay for us to have that temptation.”
“Yes, that’s— exactly what we should do.”
Ann seems strangely uplifted by that conversation and starts digging into her food. “These last three weeks were really tough,” she mumbles between bites. “But now we don’t have to suffer. Just wait.”
Their dinner is tense only for Anne, who can’t for the life of her figure out why she’s this close to fuming. This is what she wanted, wasn’t it? Then why does it rub her the wrong way that Ann accepts this so easily—even propositioned it?
It’s hard not to give in to the fears she has of people always leaving her first.
Hypocrite, hypocrite, hypocrite.
The plates clatter a little too hard when she stacks them in the sink. Ann hovers close to her, again with the floral perfume clinging to her, the innocence in the whole stretch of her body—but just like Persephone, there is more underneath. A stubbornness. A bravery.
She must have driven Hades absolutely crazy.
“Thank you for dinner.”
Anne could back her into the hard marble of the counter and have her way with her right here, Ann would be soft and pliant once more. Not so straight-backed and stubbornly proud of herself, she would be whimpering her name.
She wants it, but she also wants to be able to untangle from this before her feelings get to a point of no return.
With all the might of an Olympian, she keeps herself rooted to her stool.
“You’re welcome. I’ll see you next week for your thesis, alright?”
“Indeed. Good night, professor.”
She waits minutes. Tens of minutes. Half an hour before she strides out of the kitchen and makes a beeline for the garage. This anger, confusion, creeping loneliness isn’t going to evaporate on its own. Her car purrs against her everywhere she touches the leather of her seat.
She tears a rift through Edinburgh, snow flurrying up beneath her angry tires. The window is down to let air stream out and she burns through several cigarettes, the thick nicotine smoke billowing in her lungs. Her hair loose, the locks go flying all around her face.
Anne realizes it might not be as easy as she expected to get over this brief fling she’s had with Ann. It’s for the best that they part, but she slams her balled fist against her steering wheel until her knuckles ache with the violence.
Of course she would go and crush on one of her goddamn students. It really is par the record for her shitty love life.
She makes the entire one hour drive to Mariana’s house after the steady rhythm of driving has numbed her through, where she crashes into bed and wraps her weary, chilly limbs all around her ex-wife.
“What?” Mariana murmurs drowsily, stirring from sleep. “Anne?”
“Ssh, go back to sleep.”
“Is it Ann?”
“No, it’s nothing.” She dips her head to rest against Mariana’s back and breathes in the smell of her laundry detergent and her sweat. “We’re nothing. It never was gonna go anywhere.”
“Oh, you sweet beautiful idiot.” Mariana laces her hands through Anne’s and tightens the hold of Anne’s arms around her. “I will give you a stern talking to in the morning, okay?”
“Sure. Of course you will.”
Anne doesn’t fall asleep for a long time. Mariana’s house creaks. The comforter is suffocatingly heavy, the way her wife used to always like it. The heat crawls over her skin. Everywhere it tingles.
She is supposed to be the adult, but Ann seems to have it together much better than she does.
Maybe she should start seeing Steph again.
When she does fall asleep, it’s wondering whether her mother would be proud of what she has wrought of her daughter.
Chapter 19: xix.
i'm super thrilled that i've sort of figured out how i want the rest of this story to go and the words are pouring out of me again. not going to lie, i thought i'd written myself into a corner at two different points recently, but i wrote my way out in true alexander hamilton fashion and i really, really, really like the themes and tones that i am taking on.
as my dear friend mica would say: autonomy for ann walker.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Mariana allows her a grace period of a couple of minutes to wake up. Anne spends it sitting in bed, running a hand through her hair and tensing her shoulders. Even tired, her brain synapses fire at such a rapid rate that several different chains of thought have crossed by the time her best friend drags her along by the front of her shirt.
There was a time being pulled at like this lead to other things entirely, but not much of that heat is left to them. Their friendship has become too strong for it.
“I will make you coffee, because I’m nice like that,” Mariana says after dropping Anne none-too-kindly into a chair. “And then I’m going to tear into you.”
Sitting in just the crinkled shirt that still has Mariana’s grip etched into it, bare legs spread as if she needs the space, Anne sips her coffee. All it ever really does is make everything go faster, but her exhaustion stays, a permanent presence behind her eyes.
She watches with rapt attention how Mariana darts around her kitchen, wavy brown hair bouncing with her brusque steps. Anne really has managed to piss her off something fierce this time, it seems. It doesn’t come as a surprise when she hears that usually delicate voice lower and trembling with barely contained annoyance—“I’m saying this in the nicest possible way I can: what the fuck did you do.”
“What makes you so sure I did something and not Ann?”
“Oh please, I’m not one of your students you can make believe whatever you want.” Mariana moves across from her, pulls her legs up onto her chair and sits cross-legged. “That girl is stupidly in love with you.”
“Yeah, but we can’t.”
“Mary, I’m serious. I’m her professor.”
Mariana, true to character, rolls her eyes. She is the only person in the world who was ever unimpressed with Anne, which is why she fell hard as a sixteen-year-old and even harder once they quit their on and off thing to go really steady. “Not for too long. And since when do you let anything hold you back. I thought you didn’t believe in barriers holding you back.”
“I don’t.” Anne doesn’t like having her own logic turned against her to break her flimsy defense.
“So you’re doing it again.” It’s not even a question, but a statement. The quiet accusation stings. “You have got to stop doing this, Anne.” Actual concern and kindness bleeds into Mariana’s voice, because if you’ve been part of each other’s lives for so long, it’s hard to be too mad. It’s a small blessing to Anne. “You keep pulling yourself away from things that might get real because you’re afraid you’re going to get hurt again.”
“And is that not a valid concern?” Her voice wobbles a bit, but she clenches her hand harder around her mug to anchor herself into a grounded neutrality. “Have I not gotten hurt enough?”
A warm hand clasps around her empty one. Squeezes. “You have. I just don’t think Ann Walker has the capacity to hurt you in the way you expect her to, so you’re being a real dumbass for someone who is as smart as you are.”
“Well.” Anne shrugs her shoulders and lets the word sit as all the explanation for a bit. She can’t decide between Well, it’s too late and Well, it has been done. She settles on, “It is what it is.”
“Good lord, sometimes you can be so aggravating.”
They bicker a bit between the two of them, much like a married couple would, while Mariana fixes them something for breakfast and they have a refill of coffee to be able to make it through this conversation without anyone getting strangled.
“So what’re you going to do now?”
“Go to the gym, probably.”
She probably deserves the slap Mariana doles out against the back of her head. But she wouldn’t be Anne Lister is she wasn’t grinning about it, too.
“You know I didn’t mean it generally. What are you going to do about her?”
“It is done, Mary. We’ve decided to break off everything and just be professional.”
“She’s going to graduate so soon. You know she’s really about to dig her heels in and make sure she passes everything so she can be done with school? You know that, right?”
Mariana is so annoyed with her, it shows in every line and arch of her features. Anne has seen her like this a lot over the years, most times reasonably justified, always either amusing or endearing. Sometimes both. It’s easier to try and joke it away than to let her break through her resolves—because what then?
What is she supposed to do if she owns up to the fact that she already misses Ann? Regrets not leaving the door open at least a little ajar?
Fuck, she really doesn’t know how she’s in so deep already.
“I hope you realize one day that by pulling this shit all the time you’re never going to find the one who stays. The one-night-stands haven’t been enough for you in a long time, and here’s something real and you just... you cock it up! Every single time.” Mariana gets up and brusquely kisses her forehead. “Get out before I strangle you for being so goddamn infuriating, Lister.”
Anne empties her coffee and puts it on the counter before she stalks out of the stately house. Everywhere around her there’s sparse forest, the scent of pine trees thick and crisp. Mariana has the better of it, living isolated from everyone she doesn’t want to see.
Anne shakes her head. This used to be something they argued over so often, city center or suburbs, and now she finds she must concede the point to Mariana. Funny how that works.
She spends most of the drive back home musing about how they used to be so very different when they were still married. Anne wanted to stay stationary, give her all to getting tenure at the university and get her career launched to the big leagues; Mariana wanted to travel, hand over her firm to someone else to run and use the money to live well. Mariana had maybe wanted kids at some point, Anne had been an involuntary mother to Marian and had enough of motherhood for the rest of her lifetime.
They were the two major ones. There were so many small discussions that just added up, but that she doesn’t remember all that clearly.
They used to be so passionate about each other. Every fight ended dragged to the bedroom and fucked out. That had seemed like a good relationship.
Eventually the crazy feelings faded. They had become too vastly different from the kids they had been when they first fell in love, from the twenty-somethings that stumbled through life trying to make something of it and each other.
As friends, they bump heads too, obviously. It’s just—much better.
But they had seemed meant to be in a way no one else had ever even come close to...
“Nope, we’re not going there, Anne,” she says to herself. To combat the sudden turn of her thoughts, she cranks up the angry, snarling music that booms from the radio. Let AC/DC take her troubles away. Temporary salvation.
“Are you sure?”
Ann has been thinking it over. It has been a couple of days since she had the conversations with Anne and she has been feeling so strong since. Like a brand new, shining person. One who manages to surprise, one who decides they’re going to communicate, damn it, they will. One who looked Hades in the eye and told him to heel.
“Yeah, I am. It’s time for a new Ann.”
Harriet pulls her into a hug at that and murmurs into her hair, “Improved. We very much like the old one.”
“Yes, we do!” Catherine echoes, but she’s mostly grinning at the scissors the pretty hairdresser is holding.
“Please take a seat, miss,” said pretty hairdresser says, but her smile is patient.
It’s not a small thing, but Ann feels increasingly sure about it. Something has changed. She feels like she can take on the world. No more need for all this hair to hide behind.
The first snip is cathartic. Then worry descends. Then excitement, surety. Then it’s done and she stares at herself, at the golden tresses that now only reach to her shoulders. She runs her hand through it and giggles when it stops way shorter than she is used to, fingers cleaving through air where there used to be so much more.
Such a weight has lifted off her shoulders with it.
“Shake it, baby, shake it, shake it.”
So she does. It swings wildly all around her, flying this way and that, bouncing and settling.
Harriet cups Ann’s face in her hands and kisses the tip of her nose. “You look absolutely adorable.”
Maybe not entirely the look she’s going for, but she’s not sure she can attain strong independent woman with a dash of badass with her current complexion or wardrobe.
“Out of the way, Harry. We need to snap some good ones for the ‘gram.”
The sidewalk becomes a catwalk as Catherine insists on many, many selfies and group pictures. “We haven’t posted any new ones in a long time,” she uses as a justification, when Harriet posted a shot of their entangled, sweatpantsed legs just the other day when they were having a Harry Potter marathon (and didn’t get further than the third movie before they were only using it as background noise to their conversation).
Ann hovers for a moment over her text app, itching to send one of the selfies to Anne and ask her what she thinks. No, she’ll get to see her reaction in person two days from now. She can be patient. Smiling, she hooks her arms through Harriet’s and pulls the two of them flush. Catherine snaps a picture of the two of them and coos.
“If you’re doing being photography amateur hour, I thought we were going to get hot coco?”
“One of these days, Parkhill, I am going to unfriend you over all these insults you sling my way.”
“I love you, Rawson,” Harriet quips back. “But I am ditching you if you don’t put your phone away now.”
Like a married couple, they bicker all the way to the small cafe just off campus that sells the best hot chocolates in the whole city.
Life is that thing that happens when she’s not in class. Elizabeth has decided to try out yoga to make some new friends. George is up for a promotion at work and is consequently stressed all the time. Her appointments with Doctor Kenny go well, but the edge of uneasiness never wears off.
Harriet reconciles with Korean Boy. Catherine decides she doesn’t want a boyfriend or a girlfriend right now, just french fries and a nose ring.
Ann is juggling a lot of things, but she’s keeping remarkably cool. Things in her life are actually looking pretty good right now.
“You’ve cut your hair,” Anne remarks with a cautiously-growing grin when Ann next walks into her office. She takes her time taking off her coat and getting seated, not feeling like she should rush herself. Even that intensely brown-hued gaze upon her doesn’t daunt her as much as it used to.
It still impacts her though, making her heart thud loudly.
“I have. We’re only a month away from Spring, so I thought it was a good time. I’ll be used to it by the time it gets warmer out again.”
Anne looks like she wants to say something else, but her mouth closes again. The grin stays. Those sure hands drum across the top of her desk. “Let’s get started.”
Their meetings don’t really change from how they used to be, except they sidetrack way less. No fishing for personal details. Nothing said that halts the conversation as they both sit looking at each other, feeling their respective feelings.
Ann feels like they have finally found their equilibrium. They have attained perfect professionalism.
She can’t help but miss the more casual conversations, but they’ll have the rest of forever to have those, in a setting where they don’t have to police themselves.
“Three months,” she whispers to herself as she leaves that office. “Only three more months.”
She flips open her folder to read through the notes Anne has made on her latest draft, the same meticulous handwriting and extensive feedback that she has gotten used to. It has dawned on her why all Anne’s advisees do so well—professor Lister really puts her time in this.
Here’s some vague wording that should be edited to more concrete, strong language. You know what you’re talking about, Ann! Bring that confidence.
You forgot to mention your source here.
This made me laugh. Nice addition!
The tips trail over the indentation the red pen has made, scratched deep. She imagines the force with which Anne must write to make the groove this deep.
“Ah, Ann, pleasure to catch you here!”
She looks up from the paper halfway down the steps to the building to see Mariana stand there, bundled up tight in a scarf and ear muffs and a thick-looking coat, smile beaming. Ann hastily puts her stuff away so that she can run down and go hug her.
Mariana is so soft to hug, warm, smelling nice. Her laugh is a gentle thing.
“Have you just been to see our mutual annoyance?”
Ann can’t help the laugh that tumbles from her. “Yeah, I have. Thesis stuff.” She makes a vague hand gesture to wave the topic away. “What are you doing here?”
“Ah, here to see her as well, I’m afraid. She had this bloody thing delivered at my house.” Only now does Ann pay attention to what looks like—is that a thermometer? A really big, old-timey, analog thermometer? Why ever in the hell... “I’m sure thermometers are not illegal, but being that much of a bugger sure is.”
She can’t tell if this is Anne playing a joke on her best friend or if she, for some reason, truly needs a really unwieldy thermometer.
“But now that I’ve got you here. I am really looking forward to having you start next week. Remind me to send you your details?”
“Of course.” A beat of silence as they both stand looking at the thermometer. “Do you need any help getting that up there?”
“No, but thanks. I will be pissed off enough when I’m up there that I’ll feel entirely right in conking her over the head with it. Don’t take that away from me, little miss Walker.”
Ann watches Mariana leave, laughing at the incredible dichotomy of Anne Lister. Respectable, super star university professor. Silly best friend. Difficult to please. Gentle and patient.
It just makes her want to get to know every side in detail more.
She texts Mariana, [Tell me what it was for when you know?]
Their distance means her text conversation with Anne needs some scrolling to get to, buried beneath her friends, Elizabeth, class mates. She doesn’t ask. But she does read back through it, knowing she shouldn’t, but wanting some of that closeness back.
They used to talk so much. When she gets all the way up to when Anne was in Paris, she feels so sure that this is worth fighting for. Fight to make it through the semester. Fight to pass all her exams and ace her thesis and graduate at the end of May and be free.
Be free to pursue Anne. And then she’ll show her exactly what this new Ann is made of.
thank you for reading!
Chapter 20: xx.
i went to check yesterday and of all the stories that i have put online, this is the longest story i've written in ten years. so, damn. thank you gentleman jack for inspiring me.
here we are, chapter 20. anne lister remains confused and desperately trying not to feel her feelings, and we'll see how she fares, huh?
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Her mind is still on Ann and the cropped waves of her golden hair, the tendrils now stopping where they curl beneath her jaw, but Anne is torn from the visage violently.
“I have half a mind to start beating you with this thing, Lister.”
She shakes the thoughts away so that her vision can clear and focus on her best friend—holding the absolutely beautiful thermometer that she ordered. Seeing it in person, with the light glinting off its polished wooden exterior, she finds herself a little enamored.
“You shouldn’t. That’s a piece of cultural heritage.”
“I—what? Then why do you have it Amazon Primed to my house?”
“I wanted to see you. It seemed like a great way to accomplish that.”
“Not making a great case for yourself, douche bag.” But Mariana finally stops holding the thermometer like it’s a baseball bat she’s about to take to Anne’s head and puts it down on the desk with a heavy clunk. “What are you even going to use it for?”
Anne rolls her eyes. “Thermometers are for measuring temperatures, Mary. What else would I use it for?” God, she might have pushed a little too far, because the words have left her mouth and her best friend reaches for the object again, anger burning in her eyes. “Okay, okay. I’m donating it to the school for the history department.”
“Alright.” And no matter how impolite it is, Mariana gets her phone out and starts typing away as if Anne isn’t sitting there with her having a conversation. Before she can ask, she adds, “Just letting Ann know that. I ran into her on her way out.”
“You still talk to her?” Insecurity and something else creeps into her blood stream, whispering like ghosts. It’s not anger. Not—oh wow. Wow. It’s jealousy that stings all the way through her nervous system. “Why do you still talk to Ann?”
Without any of the constraints of an academic relationship, Mariana and Ann can casually text. Be friends.
She doubts Mariana would go for her—they don’t share people with each other, except the few threesomes they’ve had when they were young enough to get out of that without it being weird. Still... something doesn’t sit right with her.
“Of course. You were there when I insisted she intern for me this year. And I like her. We’re friends.” Her eyes flick up to meet Anne’s. “I don’t need your permission, just because you have decided that you want to boot her out of your life.”
“That’s not—” Anne clenches her jaws shut. Her nose flares with her breaths, and her hands are curled tight together beneath the cover of the desk. “You know why I had to.”
“Because you’re a coward.”
She’s going to let that slide, because if she doesn’t, she isn’t sure what she’ll do will be great to their friendship. “Because if we get caught, that’ll be it for her degree and she’s worked so hard.”
“Right, because you’re doing this to keep her safe and not yourself. I forgot how selfless you are, Anne Lister.”
It is a valid concern of her. Ann mumbled something about how she almost caved under stress during her midterms when they were enjoying the last of their Christmas break. Ann had been in bed next to hair, wild mane of messy curls spread out around her on the pillow like a halo, and she’d said something to the effect.
Anne had kissed every worry away, kissed her forehead until the crinkles of her frown evaporated.
She doesn’t want Ann to struggle through her year and then have to lose all of that.
But—yeah. Mariana won’t believe her anyway.
“You’re never going to find love again if you don’t try.”
“You’ve already said that.”
“Apparently it bears repeating.”
They are both fuming, worked up in their anger. There was a time that meant she would hoist Mariana onto her desk and have her way with her. Instead, her mind strays to Ann’s gentle trailing fingers against the inside of her arm, the doting kisses against her shoulder when they were just sitting together.
“I did want to see you, but right now is not a great time. Got one of my other thesis students coming over in...” She looks at the time on her watch. “Five minutes.”
“Fine. I’ll go find someplace to hang in the city and you text me when you’re free. I can badger you some more about how ridiculous you are.”
“Sure, sounds like great fun.” Anne walks her to the door, brusquely kisses her cheek and shoves her out into the hallway. “Thank you for the parcel delivery, Mary.”
The truth is, her schedule is blissfully empty for at least another hour, but she isn’t equipped to deal with Mariana scoldings so close together. Not when they keep hitting her in the weak spots of her defense and make the whole thing start to crumble.
Ann. She never expected that girl would make her come undone in this way. Why can’t she shake those goddamn crystal blues? That earnest smile? The softness of her, the caring?
Anne really is going to have to do something about this. Something more than distance Ann out of her proximity and never engage with her anymore outside of their meetings. Something to stop her from thinking back on it all the time.
Best way to get over someone, right?
She scrolls through the long list of contacts in her phone. There are a few booty calls there, but she keeps sneering at every single one—they simply won’t do. No, someone new.
Sitting up in her chair, she wakes her computer up from sleep mode and pulls up the Facebook page of her favorite bar. And bingo: they’re doing another ladies only night very soon.
She jots the date in her diary and nods to herself. Good plan.
It’s a girl named Eugénie Pierre that catches her attention. Anne refuses to consider the similarities, if not outright in appearance at least in delicate features and age as Ann. Eugénie has a pretty accent, dark simpering eyes, and a great body.
Anne takes her home from the party and there is no doubt in either of their minds what’s happening next. It’s quick but hot, and when Eugénie curls against her to sleep Anne puts an arm around her and nestles into her.
But she can’t sleep. Her body has become more antsy with what she has done, her mind whirs sharp like a blade through the haze.
She kisses across Eugénie’s shoulder blades, mouths at the nape of her neck, sucks a mark against her throat until the girl squirms awake. Sleepy, she is even more soft and pliant, and Anne tries to feel in control of herself as she makes her come again with a hoarse cry.
It does nothing.
She wipes her fingers on the sheets, tucks a sleeping Eugénie in, and slips out of bed. Her skin pimples with goose bumps, bare against the February temperatures inching into her bedroom. Her knuckles drag across the front of a shirt she has seen Ann wear.
Why am I so singularly obsessed with this girl? It makes no sense. No sense whatsoever. She is nothing like the big loves of her life—not a free spirit like Vere, or as confident as Mariana. If only she could figure this out, she would know exactly how to get rid of Ann Walker once and for all.
She slides into the bay window seat of her study and pulls her knees up to her chest, rests her head back against the wall. Ann has left her. She should hold onto that. But Mariana and her goddamn wheedling, her ‘I don’t think Ann has the capacity to hurt you’ that she can’t let go of. Anne has to admit, she has never seen even an ounce of maliciousness in Ann.
If only. It would make it so much easier to believe she is justified in this.
When Anne closes her eyes, she smells the floral perfume all around her. In front of her mind’s eye, a whole field bursts into bloom, wild flowers in vibrant yellows and blues.
She has deleted every picture she had of Ann in her phone, few though they were. She has erased the history of their text message conversation as to not be tempted.
It’s late. She is tired. She knows she isn’t thinking clearly. Her thumb hovers over the button.
Even Anne Lister can stop thinking sometimes.
Probably Ann isn’t even awake. Likely she won’t—
“Anne?” Good lord. The sleepy, breathy quality of her voice is enough to drive her absolutely crazy.
“Hey. Did I wake you?”
Her skin shivers with every soft puff of breath directly into the phone. Her shoulders grow hot with the flush that crawls down her face and goes to her throat, her neck.
“Sorry, I should let you go back to—”
“No.” Stern. Softer: “Are you okay?”
Is she? She can’t tell.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. I just...”
They sit quietly on the phone, listening to each other breathe. There’s the rustling of sheets on the other end as Ann sits up, swaddles herself in them.
“I miss you,” Ann whispers, and just like that, like that field of wild flowers, every nerve in Anne’s body blooms with fire. “I can’t wait until May.”
Anne leans her forehead against her knees, eyes squeezed shut but unable to keep the onslaught of feelings hammering into her.
“Anne, are you still there?”
“Yeah, yeah, sorry.” She lets her legs slide down, shifts so that she can lean part of her body against the window instead to cool down. “Can I ask you something?”
Have you any idea the fire you’re playing with, little girl? Anything is the most dangerous word she could have said to Anne.
“How are you sure you won’t be over me by May?” And she hates how vulnerable she sounds, but she’ll blame the late hour and the sleeplessness when she revisits this in the morning with a clear head. “Three months is a long time.”
“I don’t think I could get over you in years.”
Anne’s breath shudders out of her with a force.
“I’ve never felt this way about anyone before, Anne.”
There is the prickling of tears in the corners of her eyes, but Anne sucks in deep breaths and holds them back. If only she wasn’t so scared of believing Ann. If only she hadn’t been hurt so much that it could really be this simple.
“I love you.”
Her hand tightens so hard around her phone that it creaks.
Shoulders heaving, chest tight with every breath, Anne leans her head against the window and listens to Ann breathing on the other side of the city. “There is a lot you don’t know about me.”
“You also don’t know a lot about me. We’ll have time to learn.”
The sky is so clear, every star stands out bright against the inky dark. She connects every constellation she can pinpoint with her eyes. “I’m... not good with feelings.”
“That’s okay.” There’s a soft chuckle. “I’ll go slow.”
And that shouldn’t get to her so much, but every cell of her body is tuned to Ann’s voice now, to her steady breathing and the smile she can hear through her words.
“I should let you go back to sleep.”
“If that’s what you want.”
I want you. Fuck, I wish it wasn’t so, but I do. Screw Mariana for making it impossible for me to hide from this, and damn you for having this effect on me, and stupid, stupid, stupid me for not being able to do anything about either.
“Good night, Ann.”
“Good night, Anne.”
Her heart is tolling like a bell, a slow booming that shakes through her.
All she can do is cheapen the conversation. Let her hand slide down over her shirt and into her damp boxer briefs. Not even Eugénie with her sweet mouth and daring fingers could get her this wet.
The first touch against her clit makes her hips jolt, ignites her desire. With her eyes closed and her face screwed up in concentration, she lets Ann’s words replay in her mind. Circling slowly, toes curling, she thinks of soft breaths, sleepy murmurs.
She is not soft with herself. The pressure is hard, the tempo volatile, thighs trembling as she works herself hard. Her body seizes, quaking, but it chants I love you I love you I love you in Ann’s voice so tenderly.
It doesn't cheapen their conversation at all.
Sleepiness breaks over her after that and she drags herself back to bed. She can’t touch Eugénie anymore now, so she curls in on herself on the other side of the bed and keeps the distance. Mariana is going to have a field day when she hears this, so she vows not to see her best friend again for some time.
When she wakes up, she doesn’t quite believe it wasn’t a dream until she checks her log of phone calls and sees the thirty minutes with Anne Lister at the top. It had felt endless in their bubble in the middle of the night, a timeless moment encapsulated. Ann isn’t sure how exactly to give this a place in her life, or how not to be consumed thinking about it all the time, but her hope is a phoenix reborn in the same way that she is trying to piece together who she is becoming.
The short hair is still weird sometimes, but she has mostly gotten used to it. She can also appreciate how much faster she can shower these days, how her hair is dry much sooner.
Unaware of how Anne has a conflicting turmoil going on, she takes last night’s call as a good thing—a great thing—the best thing. Her smile beams hard enough to outshine the early morning sun. Elizabeth notices, of course, and Ann notices that she does in the arch of her eyebrows and the curious smile.
“I’m going out for breakfast with my internship mentor.” She hugs Elizabeth quickly, sprinkling the dust of happiness all over her—her smile is infectious enough anyway that it leaves her sister humming a song to herself as she sets about her day and Ann does the same.
Not even the cold can phase her today. Bundled up, she walks to the nearest bus stop, hands deep in her pockets, fingers to the back of her phone so she can feel it vibrate should she be called again. It doesn’t though, and reluctantly she puts it on mute before stepping inside the establishment and looking around for Mariana.
She sits by the window and waves as soon as she notices Ann.
When they were going over the details of her internship starting on Monday, Mariana decided it would be much nicer to just do this in person, and Ann had been only too eager to accept, so now here she is. She puts her coat over the back of her chair and sits down across from her.
“You look a little tired. Are you alright, darling?”
Ann really wasn’t intending to steer this conversation to Anne Lister, but having this opening... and remembering Doctor Belcombe, Mariana’s brother—god, she keeps forgetting that—saying that maybe Mariana would be inclined to talk...
“Anne called me last night. So we, uh, you know. Talked for a bit.”
“Right, she did, huh?”
Ann can’t quite place the self-satisfied grin on Mariana’s face, but it doesn’t seem like a bad sign, so she’ll take it.
“She did. And we... are not currently seeing each other, not until I’m graduated, she said. But it was really nice to talk to her again.”
Mariana takes her hands in her grip and squeezes. “I’m going to say something that, if Anne knew, she would probably say something about how I broke the friends’ code of trust or whatever.” She sighs and only just about keeps from rolling her eyes. “But I’m doing this for her own good so fuck it. She’s going to try to push you away. That’s what she does.”
That sure puts their conversation in a different light. Some of her happiness deflates, but Mariana keeps her from looking away and keeps a gentle hand on her chin to hold their eye contact. “She is very scared of getting hurt. I know she looks all tough and in control and nothing can get to her, but she has gotten her heart broken a lot and she—you’re important to her. I can tell. She probably has some serious feelings for her. I’m telling you this because from what I’ve seen, I think you can be pretty stubborn.”
Yeah, it was the bane of Elizabeth’s existence when Ann was going through puberty.
“So be stubborn about her. Don’t let her do this to you. I think if anyone could get Anne Lister to give love another try, why, I think it would be you, Ann.”
It’s a lot to take in, but this vote of confidence from Anne’s best friend suffuses her with warmth. Her hope refuses to budge. So, if Anne Lister thinks she can just decide for the two of them that it’s over, she’ll have another thing coming.
Ann grins. “I’ll do my very best.”
“I know you will. Now, about your internship—”
have a nice weekend everyone! <3
Chapter 21: xxi.
Mariana Belcombe is a great project developer—or used to be, anyway, before she gave up working on any projects except the hopeless case of her best friend. Ann loves hearing about those early stages of setting up her firm, enticing clients to give her a shot, build out her resume so that she might get to the bigger leagues. She had been a hungry twenty-three-year-old with a chip on her shoulder and everything to prove.
Now, her firm runs itself and she only joins in on a new project when she gets bored doing everything else that she does. Because the money it brings in allows her to focus on things closer to her heart, such as the Artemis Association (she can definitely tell Anne is her best friend) that Ann is interning for.
Striving to help women become independent by offering resources and guidance, it also feels very fitting that this is where she is now, months away from graduating and being propelled into proper adulthood.
As an intern, she doesn’t get to do any of the really exciting things, such as work on cases of particular women coming in—those with the dark backgrounds, the real need for an organisation that looks out for them. She works on the more general, administrative tasks: take phone calls, answer e-mails, help organize the day-to-day running, find the resources that become in demand and branch out and network for the organisation.
Basically Mariana’s assistant, which means that the two days a week she comes in she’s practically glued to her. It’s never uncomfortable. Mariana never makes her feel like a young girl playing pretend at being an adult. It helps a lot with the stress that is starting to manifest over the big Beyond.
It’s not just Anne Lister that waits for her (whether she knows it or not, Ann will make it happen anyway) after graduation, but life does too. Decisions. Stay in school, start working? Move out of her sister’s house and fend for herself? What career is she going to aim for?
Will Harriet stay in Edinburgh?
They are big, daunting questions, but interning for Mariana and every skill she picks up there, not least of all getting to experience a regular working day with colleagues and a learning curve—it helps. It changes it from something abstract to something she can imagine.
She quite likes working. It makes her feel useful and accomplished.
But as much fun as the internship has been, and the few times her and Harriet’s schedule have aligned and they’re at Artemis on the same day have been some of the best days of the year so far, it also brings her right back to being exhausted.
The phone call helps her pull herself through. There is a lot going on in her life that she needs to juggle, but when things start to look particularly bleak she thinks back to Anne who’s apparently trying to push her away but then called her to bare her soul and she can’t help but feel better.
It eases early mornings, intense classes, the continuous piling up of her course work. She is pretty close to finishing the first draft of her thesis, which means that she has been prioritizing that just to have it out of the way—and the deadline for the competition gets nearer, so the sooner she finishes the better the edited end product will be to submit.
Time passes and she grows more tired every week. The halfway mark of the semester passes—a joyous moment that she celebrates by bringing Anne coffee and wearing her cutest dress (she does not miss the way Anne looks at her).
But moments with Anne are as far and few between as opportunities for her to go see Sophie. She only sees Harriet marginally more, because she lives on campus and interns with her. If she didn’t have a class with Catherine, she wouldn’t see her at all.
The sun will rise again on her life—she has been through phases like this enough. It still sucks that she wakes up, slogs through academia, deals with all her responsibilities, and the most contact she has with the people she cares most about are memes and emoji-filled messages. She only sees Anne once every three weeks now because internship takes up too much time.
She contemplates the state of her life over the bowl of cereal she has been on for the last fifteen minutes because she keeps zoning out with the spoon halfway to her mouth. Her eyes blink slowly back into focus so that the big blob of yellow and white forms into her sister.
“You look like you’re running on fumes.”
Elizabeth must be remembering the last time she was this tired all the time. The memory of charcoal clinging to her fingers makes her check them just to be sure it’s not somehow still on there. “I am. Harriet and I were going to hang out this weekend, but I think I should cancel it to get some sleep.”
Her sister comes to stand behind her and starts kneading her shoulders beneath her sure hands. “You’re on the last stretch. Just a few more weeks.”
Weeks. She remembers being eighteen, daunted by four years of university. And now she is down to counting in weeks.
“It’s so weird that I only have a month of classes left before Spring break and revisions and finals and...” Ann gently shakes her head. “So weird.”
Elizabeth smiles, beaming so proudly that it chokes Ann up a little bit.
“I know you probably have a busy day ahead and will be jetting off soon, but I actually wanted to ask you something.” She looks so nervous when she sits down next to her that Ann thinks—this is it. Baby number one is on its way. “George and I had a few long talks about this.”
“I want to start by saying that we’ve absolutely loved having you here. We wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. But we had to be parents a little faster than we were really planning to, so... we’ve decided that once you move out, we’re going to spend some time being by ourselves for a while. And then, well, if we’re not starting our family yet...” Elizabeth is wringing her hands together in a way that Ann sometimes does too when she gets nervous—a detail that punches through her confused surprise. “I’m thinking of going to school after all. Nursing school.”
“Elizabeth!” Ann flies off her chair and throws her arms around her older sister, hugging her fiercely. To be a housewife was valid, but she can’t deny it: she is so happy that her sister won’t be home all day every day anymore. And she’ll be so good as a nurse. “I’m so proud of you.”
Ann sits back and the last two remaining Walkers of their family sit smiling at each other. “I am. I think that would be magnificent.”
“Okay.” Elizabeth nods and brings a hand up to her mouth to stifle her giggles. “It’s really very nerve-wracking, only start school now at an older age, but I think it’s right. Mom and dad would be so proud of us if they saw us like this, wouldn’t they?”
Ann looks down to see her soggy cereal blur. A few tears escape before they are hugging again and she can bury her face in Elizabeth’s cardigan.
She really hopes that her parents would be proud of them, too.
Ann is so busy that she can’t remember to count down the weeks. It takes the wind out of her when she shows up to internship and Mariana greets her with a cupcake and a wistful smile. “Last day already, little Walker,” she sighs sadly.
The start of Spring has come. The frigid cold is thawing and there is sun breaking through the gray. March is well on its way and it’s her last day of internship...
Thinking back over the course of her internship, every day has blurred together, a vague passing of time that is mostly a smear of colors and the overwhelming sensation of needing a break of just a few minutes stretched to her perpetual mood.
“I can’t believe it,” she murmurs incredulously, because she can’t. How is it her last day already? And there is so much she still wanted to do, things she wanted to see through to the end. She picks up her clipboard and hangs the lanyard with her badge around her neck.
She falls into step with Mariana, so familiar by now, to set their route through the small building that knows no more secrets from her.
“So I’ve arranged for you to have a light day today, and—”
“No, I want to work as hard as always.”
Mariana halts in her steps and grins. “That’s the Ann I know. I’m going to miss having you around so much.”
They step into the administrative office in the back, where Harriet sits slouched into a desk chair with a phone pressed between her shoulder and cheek. Her wave at them does not halt her smooth babbling in French at all.
She sits at the desk she has been using and logs in for the last time. A silly picture of her, Harriet and Mariana grins back at her from the desktop. “I have a meeting later that I want you to be a part of. There’s some people I want to introduce you to.”
They do not see Mariana again for the rest of the day. Harriet is constantly talking to international people, utilizing the best of all her languages to get articles run in news outlets from other countries on what Artemis is doing, find foreign donors, and the likes. Ann squeezes as much out of her last day as she can so that by the time Mariana comes to retrieve her, she is tired. Bone tired. An inch away from exhausted.
Mariana loops their arms together and drags her along. “I don’t know if you have any particular political aspirations, but I might have been bragging about how great you are to one of our most impressive democratic candidates running next year.”
Ann has never considered working in politics before, but with her studies in Sociology, it does make sense. What is more involved with people and society than politics?
“He could use a bright, eager worker like you on his campaign team.”
She is suddenly very eager to go to this meeting and be introduced to this man.
Samuel Washington proves very charming, earnest, and funny. Ann is daunted by men very easily, but he never makes her feel small or like she should be smaller. He doesn’t want her quiet, and he sure doesn’t want her holding her opinions to herself.
“Once you’ve graduated, send me your resume and your motivation, will you?” he asks with the smile that’s going to win over quite some hearts and sway some votes. Ann takes the card and thanks him profusely.
Once outside, she also thanks Mariana profusely.
“I don’t know what I could ever do to repay you for all you’ve taught and given me,” Ann sighs, clutching the card and blinking away tears. She is about to clock out for the last time, so a little sadness should be allowed.
“Make sure my best friend allows you to make her happy.”
Ann rolls her eyes, but she grins as she ducks into Mariana’s hug. It lasts a good minute of Mariana holding onto her tightly, folding all around her it seems, the warmth of her personality stretching all around her. “This is not goodbye forever, you know. We will see each other again. Now go, I set you free!”
She slides on her jacket again, wraps her scarf around her throat twice. Harriet is staying late and waves a two-fingered salute as she leaves.
The sun outside has slowly warmed up Edinburgh, so that the unexpected heat wallops her in the face when she leaves the building. Tired but satisfied, sad that the experience is over but happy that she’s had it, feeling much more secure about graduating and putting herself out into the work field, Ann Walker sets off home.
Ann startles awake when the door bell rings. Groggy, she looks over at her phone—dead. The door bell rings again. She stumbles out of bed and hurries down the stairs, trying to rub the sleep from her eyes. Regret hits instantly at not having checked herself over and made herself presentable, because it’s Anne standing on her door step.
She feels very bare standing in front of her in a tank top, pajama shorts and bedhead.
“Oh good.” The breath that rushes out of Anne seems to come from deep, held a long time. “I was just imagining the worst things.”
Anne looks her over slowly, eyebrows inching up higher and higher as she goes, and Ann bites her lip as she feels a blush rise to her cheeks. “Did I wake you?”
“Yes, it’s—wait, what time is it?”
Instead of answering, Anne looks around. There’s a few people walking around their neighborhood, nothing very out of the ordinary, but she does shrink deeper into her leather jacket as if attempting to hide herself.
As if there is any hiding the very, very noticeable car that she drives.
“You didn’t show up for our appointment and you weren’t picking up my calls, so I had to come check here. Before my mind ran away with all the worst possibilities.”
“Oh God, Anne, I’m so sorry.” Her palms press into her eyes, because she just doesn’t seem to be waking up any further. “Should we reschedule? Or I could go get ready right now and we can make the most of the time we have left?”
“Hey, easy.” Anne reaches out for her, puts a warm hand on her forearm. “You’re obviously tired and in need of sleep, so I should let you do that. I can send you your last feedback digitally.”
Everywhere, her landscape is dotted with last this, last that.
Ann can’t handle not getting to see Anne semi-regularly anymore, but there was only so long she could stretch finishing the first draft.
“Do you have it with you? You could... come in, if you wanted.” Anne has been inside only once and what they did then is something she can’t even think about lest she starts burning up. “I think Elizabeth’s home so we’d have to do it in my room—I mean, we—not—you know. The feedback.”
“I’m not sure that’s wise.”
Ann sees it happen—it’s like the professor mark just slips on, the real Anne disappearing behind. That raw, vulnerable emotion dissipates from her expressive eyes.
Anne keeps quiet, watching her, the distance between them gaping and cold. How is this the same person that called her that night, breathily whispering into her ear.
“You can keep pushing me away, but that’s not going to change how I feel about you. And I think, Anne, I think you’re a little bit in love with me too.” She instantly feels like she overstepped a mark, but despite the roaring of her heart or the intense heat that suffuses her face, she keeps standing. Her mouth is stubbornly set and her nose scrunches up with her frown.
Anne frowns right back at her. They’ve never been at an equal height before, but Ann has achieved it standing on the doorstep. They’ve also never been at quite a power impasse like this.
She feels like maybe she could be Anne’s equal.
The voice in the back of her mind sounds strangely a lot like Mariana when it says, Show her who’s boss.
“Once you’re ready to have an adult conversation about our feelings, maybe it is better if we do everything digitally from now. At least that way I don’t have to see you try to hide your feelings.”
She half expects Anne to confess something right there right then, because she sees the feeling return to her expressions, but it’s mostly apprehension that’s reflected back at her.
“Okay, miss Walker. I will send it all to you tonight.”
Her hands clench by her sides. There is more anger than sadness in her—or maybe she is really desperately clinging to anger so that she doesn’t have to feel her heart break again. “I really thought you were better than this,” she shouts after her, taking one step back into the hallway. “I thought the mighty Anne Lister was worthy of the Olympians, but you’re nothing more than just a woman.”
The door slams. She leans against it and slides down to the floor, vision shaking with the angry tears that well up. But she’s not going to cry—not again. Not ever again.
She focuses on her breathing. Minutes pass of her having her eyes closed and attuning to how the breath moves down her throat, sinks into her lungs, only to be breathed out again.
There is a knock at the door, low, close to the ground.
She gets up and opens the door. Anne’s face is open, vulnerable. Her nose is slightly reddened, as if she might have had to sniffle away some tears as well.
Ann takes her by the hand and pulls her inside. The door clicks shut much softer this time. There are no words, just looks between them—charged, loud, noisy. So much is being said without them opening their mouths.
“I know you’re scared,” Ann ventures, boldly, neck prickling with her forwardness. But damn it, she wants an open communication. This back-and-forth, is it yes or no, are they or are they not, she is tired of it. “Mariana told me.”
“Of course she did.” There’s a new tightness to Anne’s shoulders, but surprisingly, she does not shut herself off again from Ann, for her to reach and grasp blindly in the void that is Anne’s cold, tough exterior.
“I don’t want to hurt you. I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“I’m starting to realize that.” The sadness of Anne’s face breaks to a smile as she combs her fingers through Ann’s hair and straightens it back behind her ears. “I’m also starting to realize that these feelings I have for you don’t budge so easily.”
More than even their first kiss did, or their first time, this declaration of feelings shakes through her. She feels strengthened even more by it. Anne Lister could try to ghost her, but there’s no way Ann will allow that to happen now.
Anne cups her cheek. “But we still can’t, Ann. Not yet.”
In the narrow hallway where she once fell on her face trying to go outside on roller skates, where she waited in a poofy pink dress for Thomas Ainsworth to pick her up for senior prom and knew with a sinking feeling in her gut that it would not be a magical evening, where she once got hugged so tightly by Catherine back in Edinburgh for ten minutes after a long, long summer that she sprained a rib—in that narrow hallway she puts her arms around Anne Lister and holds her.
They melt into each other, an embrace that is so much more than a simple hug.
Ann stands breathing in the smell of her leather jacket and the strong perfume that rises up from beneath the collar, stands listening to the sound of her breathing and the rustle of her face against her shoulder.
“I still don’t know what it is about you that impacts me so hard,” Anne whispers, turning her head into Ann’s neck and nuzzling there.
Pure affection sparks like fireworks through her chest.
“I imagine Hades didn’t know either.”
Anne pulls away from her. Smiles. “I imagine he wouldn’t, no. But Persephone would. She was always the smarter one of the two.”
It would be easy to yank Anne down and kiss her, but she does the harder thing of staying put and keeping her hands to herself. Every cell of her body aches with it.
“So what do we do now?” she asks, fidgeting with the hem of her tank top.
“Try not to go crazy waiting?”
Ann chuckles. “Okay, I can do that.” A tad shy, but mostly pushing through on this streak of bravery that she has going, she asks, “You’ll wait too? You’ll—we’re doing this when I’m graduated?”
Anne comes closer to her until they’re forehead to forehead, brown eyes boring down, imploring. Their mouths hover so close that the ghost of kisses past reverberates through her. “Yes. I—I’ll try.”
Knuckles rub against her cheek. Their proximity races like goose bumps over her skin.
“I want to kiss you so bad right now,” Anne whispers, tracing her thumb over Ann’s bottom lip, moving over her top one, catching at the corners. “You have no idea.”
“No, I think I do.” She presses a chaste kiss to Anne’s thumb and even that feels illicit, a secret that they’ll have to carry with them.
Anne rests against her and kisses her cheek. Fire comes to life in her veins. She lifts her hand to kiss the top of it. The inside of her palm. Her wrist.
She looks up at Ann as if asking for permission and she can’t say no. So she allows herself this one momentary lapse of judgment, her being a young girl in love winning out over pragmatism, and in the confines and safety of her home she nods.
Anne kisses her like she is made of glass or something even more fragile, a kiss so soft it whispers into her.
“Kick my ass if I change my mind.”
“Don’t hurt me, Anne. I’m not strong enough to have you break my heart again.”
They slowly edge away from each other. Anne takes one last look at her and then turns away to leave again. Ann expects her to return again, to throw caution fully to the wind and push her up against the side of the staircase and kiss the breath out of her lungs, but she doesn’t.
They’re not that stupid.
She watches Anne walk down to the sidewalk, get into her preposterous car, wink at her before she drives off.
When Ann looks in the mirror, she can’t even feel any embarrassment to see there is a very cuddly Pikachu wearing sunglasses on her tank top.
All she can feel is happiness so pure it should be classified as an illegal drug.
Chapter 22: xxii.
if you don't follow them yet, go find 'duhhappens' on instagram and check out this amazing art they made about the ann(e)s in this story: https://www.instagram.com/p/B1TT5O4gU4T/
Ann has been living in a confliction of time—she wants it to be the end of May already, yet every day that she puts behind her adds to her stress. Her last few weeks of classes are bittersweet. She likes learning new things and listening to professors talk passionately about their subject, but she has also had enough of it for some time. Maybe forever.
It does not surprise her that Spring Break starts before she is ready for it. Last classes: done. Deadlines for final essays: in sight. Last examinations: almost here. Her room is prepared for all the studying she will be doing over the two weeks of break.
But not before they go for their yearly tradition of celebrating Catherine Rawson’s birthday with lots of drinks and terrible decisions at her favorite karaoke bar. Nothing puts the fear of God into her like karaoke with Catherine, but for her best friend she and Harriet brave it once a year.
They have planned it for the first Saturday of break, a couple of days before her actual birthday, because Catherine won’t be available much. Her family is coming up to Edinburgh to celebrate it with her and Ann and Harriet have learned to stay far, far away from the Rawsons.
(It’s also just really weird that Catherine is distantly related to the principal of their school and one of Ann’s former professors.)
The Joker is moderately crowded when they arrive there. Music reverberates between the wooden paneling, and lights strobe in hazy columns through the space. The stage is being vacated by two goth girls and a guy with a long mop of hair that falls partly in front of his face takes to it.
They have seen Edinburgh empty of students over the past three days, and it’s far enough away from the city center that it has never been a popular hangout place for their class mates anyway.
Catherine grins as she leads them to the booth smack dab across from the stage, the best place to enjoy the performances. There’s a small sign dedicating the table reserved for ‘Catherine’s Angels’.
They all slide in together. Ann rubs her clammy hands over her tight, short dress. They look like they’re about to go clubbing, not get themselves just tipsy enough that they won’t be terrified of getting to the stage and singing off-key through pop songs.
She quietly apologizes to the world in general, a murmur that is swallowed by the general din of the place.
Catherine gets a tab going and brings them all a tequila shot and a Margarita.
“To Catherine,” they say in unison and knock the shot back.
God, she’s become out of practice. The previous years their opening shot hardly ever got to her, but she can feel it settle heavily in her stomach now. Ann sips her Margarita a lot slower than her friends do.
There are tablets at every table that allows you to queue yourself with a song and a number of singers. Catherine takes some time thinking it over before signing all three of them up separately. That’s the true horror of Catherine’s birthday karaoke: she is the only one that gets to decide songs.
Maybe the squeezing in her gut is not entirely alcohol-related.
Catherine is up first, as per tradition as well. They have to wait out a terrible rendition of Halsey’s Gasoline for it, but that is washed away quickly when the opening notes of The Little Mermaid’s Under the Sea start to play.
It’s going to be one of those nights, then.
Their best friend is in her element on stage. As long as she can get some attention, she’s happy. She is also the only one of them that genuinely knows how to sing, and her voice is really nice to listen to. Ann has a nice voice but doesn’t know how to use it, and Harriet—well. There’s a reason karaoke is such a good time for Catherine and no one else.
Two songs later Harriet gets to go up for Do You Want To Build A Snow Man, and Ann right after it with Let It Go.
By then the need for drinks is stronger than her apprehension at getting drunk quickly and she passes by the bar to get a refill. “Nice to see you all again,” the bar tender says. His hair used to be long and a darker brown, but Thomas Sowden has cleaned up since then—more piercings, but also a kinder smile. “I hope you have to drag her out the same way you did last year. That was a definite highlight.”
So no one they know comes here, really, but they’ve made some… fans over the years.
With a blush, she orders another round of Margaritas. “Add an extra shot to Catherine’s. She becomes more lenient the drunker she gets somehow.”
“Starts hogging the mic, you mean?”
She grins as she takes the drinks and makes sure to remember the one that’s stronger so she can put it into Catherine’s hand. But the doors open and she almost drops all three instead—the universe really is conspiring against her tonight.
Mariana is animatedly talking to a younger woman, and Anne trudges in behind them rolling her eyes and looking entirely unamused.
The music softens when their eyes connect over the top of all the heads between them. No one else really exists anymore. She sees the look of annoyance melt into surprise and apprehension, then both those disappear behind an Anne Lister confident smirk.
Mariana ducks into her view laughing like a maniac. “My god, what are the odds. Hey Marian, lookie here, this is exactly the girl I was just telling you about.”
The woman, maybe somewhere in her thirties and a lot more buttoned-up than her companions, glances her over. Several of her facial features are jarringly similar to the face her attention was just pulled away from.
Oh. Oh, the sister.
She really does need to put the drinks down now on the table. Running into Anne on arguably the worst day of the year for her was one thing, but she has her sister along? She doesn’t know how to feel.
“Somehow every time you decide to go out, Anne, we run into little miss Walker over here.” And there is something just a little off about how she says that, so she looks over at Catherine who just then tries to hide herself behind her glass, and wow. Wow.
“You invited them?” Ann hisses, looking between Catherine and Mariana. “Really?”
“Well… I invited Mariana, but I told her she could bring people…”
She has no time to give Catherine shit, because Anne has shouldered to their group and has her arm slung around her sister. “Since apparently it is inevitable for me to keep from running into you—Ann, please meet my sister. Marian, this is Ann.”
“Hello, Ann.” Marian has a nice smile. She is like a softer, less intense version of Anne. Shorter, too, and her outfit is full of color. “It’s very nice to meet you.”
“It’s nice to meet you too!” She sticks out her hand and Marian shakes it. Her eyes slide back to Anne.
It’s not even fair how she looks tonight, or the fire that’s burning behind the dark wells of her eyes. A tight grey button-up tucked into loose pants, a suit jacket with flowers embroidered on the lapels, her hair pulled back into the low ponytail she has seen before.
She strikes a figure more dashing than this place really deserves. Ann feels underdressed in her skimpy dress compared to it.
“Well, let’s sit. Catherine, get us into rotation.”
The booth is very crowded with six people in it, but at least Ann was quick enough to make sure she was sandwiched between her own best friends and it’s Mariana across from her. After their conversations a while ago, the kiss that she can’t stop thinking about, it’s probably for the best if they stay far away from each other.
“But I will buy you several drinks if I can choose a song for Anne at one point throughout the evening.”
Apparently Catherine is not above bribery.
They cycle through the group at a pretty slow rate, given that there’s quite a lot of full booths by now, so that Ann doesn’t have to get up on stage again until an hour and a half later. Both her and Harriet are a lot more intoxicated by now, so their High School Musical duet garners a lot of laughter, especially from their booth.
Ann is still laughing when she tries to climb over Catherine to get back to her seat. She notices Anne’s stare on her when she’s seated—she flushes realizing that Anne was probably looking at her ass.
“Oh, you’re adorable,” Mariana murmurs, now shuffled next to her because of the constant rotation. “I thought by now you weren’t letting her have such an influence on you anymore?”
Ann leans against her former boss, still friend, and sighs deeply. “As if I can help it.”
“Ah, yeah, I can relate only too well. When I was your age, everything she did got to me too.”
“Right.” She never allowed herself to really think about Anne and Mariana together anymore after Halloween, because it just seemed pointless. Now the images supply themselves of a Mariana as eager and flustered as her, and Anne still so dominant and effortlessly smooth. She wipes them away with more tequila-infused drinks.
“Hey, but, she didn’t stop me when I started telling her sister about you. That’s good. Marian never even knew about Vere.”
She looks over at Anne, contemplating that. Could it be that Anne really was in this now? As invested? Counting down the days until they didn’t have to be careful and secret about it anymore?
Their eyes meet once more and electricity jolts through her.
“Okay, time for me to cash in that song, Cath.” She pulls the tablet out of the birthday girl’s hands and scrolls through the list. Ann does not catch the song she picks, but she does notice the self-satisfied smirk that settles on Mariana’s face. “Hold onto your panties, Ann. Anne has a pretty sexy voice when she sings.”
And so she does, she finds out. She has almost forgotten about it half an hour later when Anne’s name comes up on the big screen, and beneath, Florence and the Machine’s Breath of Life.
Anne walks up to the stage in a slow, deliberate strut. She is no longer the sister, the best friend, the woman—it’s every bit professor Lister that climbs up onto that stage fully aware of her presence and the attention she commands.
She pulls the mic stand loosely into her hand and glances over at Mariana, giving a wink that might mean a hundred different things coming from her. And then—oh god, and then. Anne looks at her, directly, and keeps their gazes locked as she brings the microphone to her mouth and starts crooning.
There is no other way to describe the way her low voice purrs through the speakers, the emotion that seems to come from the very depths of her.
But all the choirs in my head sang no, oh, oh, oh
Ann sits rooted to the leather upholstery. Her breath is heavy, rushing out of her. Gaze transfixed, she notices no one else, feels everything disappear but the slow, sure beating of her heart.
But I only needed one more touch
Another taste of heavenly rush
And I believe, I believe it’s so, oh, oh, oh
Did Mariana know Anne called her an angel? Did she know what kind of effect this would have on Ann? Did she know?
She can feel nothing but how ridiculously in love she is with this woman that is moving over the stage like a prowling creature, whose hands caress the stand so sensuously, whose eyes have burnt down to embers.
It's a harder way
And it's come to claim her
And I always say
We should be together
Tears pricking in her eyes are what break her from her haze. She can’t sit through all of this—she’ll melt down to nothing. Not making any excuses, she starts elbowing her way out of the booth and rushes to the bathroom.
With her back to the cold tiles, she sucks in breath after breath, trying to calm herself down but she can’t.
She expects the knock to be either of her friends. Maybe Mariana. But it’s Anne that slithers inside and closes the door behind her.
“Are you alright, Ann?” There is worry etched in her face, a far cry from how she looked seconds ago—still looks, burned into Ann’s mind, her singular focus and her wolf-like grin. Ann is trembling head to toe.
“That was—very unfair.”
“Mariana’s pretty smart, making me sing that to you.” She moves closer slowly, watching for a sign not to advance but Ann stays perfectly still. Her hand cups Ann’s cheek, thumbs at a lock of her golden hair. “A little touch of heavenly light.”
Despite her turmoil, Ann puts her hands on Anne’s hips and pulls her closer. She feels confidence surge when Anne just lets her.
“I’m with you,” Anne whispers, thumb stroking over her cheek. “I’m in this.”
“Are you?” Ann looks up at Anne with everything out in the open, the truth of everything she feels in her eyes. “Because I’ve been so crazy in love with you for so long now, I can’t—I need it to be real.”
“Every time I see you, I can’t control myself.” Anne grabs one of her hands hand and puts it against her chest, above her breast. Ann shudders as she feels the wicked thudding of Anne’s heart against her palm. “I can’t hide from it, no matter how I try. It’s real. I—”
“I think I’m more than a little bit in love with you.”
Ann surges up against her, kisses her so hard that both their hands slip and then fumble to find purchase. She slams into the wall behind her, Anne against her. Their mouths have collided angrily, viciously, as if their hearts and words and hands aren’t as tender as they’ve ever been.
It doesn’t even matter to her very much that they had this conversation in a badly illuminated bathroom that smells like lemon hand soap and lavender cleaning products.
“And I needed one more touch—another taste of divine rush,” Anne drawls against her mouth, breathlessly.
Ann puts her hand around the back of her neck and pulls her in again, kisses her to silence. She already has goose bumps so hard it hurts, and every small ache of longing and desire burns like the core of an active volcano, and she really can’t fucking use Anne being a smooth little shit right now.
Anne chuckles into their kiss. “I meant not here.”
Ann rakes her nails over Anne’s neck, digs them in. “Shut. Up.”
Anne pulls away enough to be able to look at her, and whatever she sees is enough to wipe the grin from her face. “Let me at least lock the door?”
“No.” She giggles as she drags Anne by the lapels of her jacket into one of the stalls. They are very clean, but very cramped. With the door closed, they are pressed so close together that she can feel the heat of Anne’s body everywhere it touches to her bare skin.
Anne’s hands drop to her thighs, thumbs nudging the hem of her dress up higher. Her head drops back when she feels kisses being lined against the column of her throat. “What happened to the shy Ann that couldn’t even look me in the eyes, hm?”
She hooks a finger into the hair tie in Anne’s hair and pulls it out, so that the hair sprawls across her shoulders, long and soft like satin. Ann winds a good chunk into her hand and pulls. “She learned being assertive gets more done.”
The way Anne kisses her then is all teeth and bite, but she can’t focus on that because Anne’s thigh moves between her legs at the same time and they slot together even closer. The moan escapes her before she can stop it, a whimpering, breathy one.
“You sure you’re in charge, baby?” Anne teases against her lips that ache with bite marks.
Ann locks eyes again and rolls her hips down, deliberately, rubbing herself against Anne’s tensed thigh. She sees Anne swallow a curse word or two. “I’ll fight you for it.”
They don’t make love. They fuck. They screw each other hard and fast, writhing together, biting and clawing, swallowing each other’s sounds.
Ann leaves the bathroom first, aching all over where Anne’s hands were, bruises forming on her neck, her shoulders, and her thighs. Her lip gloss is gone, but her lips look a very red rosy on their own now. She can’t close her thighs fully when she sits down, because they’re too sensitive.
Anne looks equally ravished when she leaves a couple of minutes later, her hair somewhat tamed but still loose and messy. Her collar and jacket have been smoothed out again, but they do little to disguise where Ann bit and sucked her neck into a wasteland.
They’re also both smiling, so it’s not like they are even trying to be subtle.
“About time,” Mariana whistles, looking between the two of them. “Hope it was worth missing Catherine’s amazing rendition of Cooking By The Book Remix for.”
Their hands link beneath the table, just their pinky fingers curling together.
Mariana tugs at her sleeve and gestures her head towards the door. “I think we’ve crashed Catherine’s birthday long enough. Let’s get going.”
Anne looks over at her sister, who is really just deferring to her—like always.
“Sure. Ladies, have a pleasant rest of your evening.”
Loath to have her small finger slip out of Ann’s, and even more reluctant to put more distance between them instead of less, Anne nevertheless gets up and slides out of the booth. She rummages through the back pocket of her pants for some cash and puts it on the table, generous enough to cover more than just their drinks.
She feels Ann’s eyes burn into her back the few meters to the door before they’re outside in pretty warm, fragrant Spring air.
“Honestly, I had no idea getting you to sing your feelings would work that well. Should’ve come up with that idea way sooner.”
Anne rolls her eyes, but she wraps an arm around each of her girls and squeezes them to her as they walk back to the car. “You’re both idiots.”
“She seems very nice,” Marian mumbles beneath the weight of her sister’s arm. “Glad I got to meet her while I was in town.”
“You’re not gone just yet, so there might be a repeat. Just not in a karaoke bar anymore, fucking please.”
She helps her younger sister get into the passenger seat and stretches herself across the entire back seat, legs propped up, phone appearing in hand. There’s already a text waiting for her.
[Does this mean we’re not waiting anymore?]
She flips her middle finger at Mariana through the rear view mirror when her best friend clicks her tongue.
[I don’t know… Semi-waiting? I just know that I have the hardest time keeping my hands off you when I’m in the same room as you.]
[I noticed. :D]
[So good thing we’ll both be busy until the end of the academic year.]
[I can take breaks.]
[We’ll have so much time after, but you only have right now to ace your exams.]
[I like it better when you shut up and kiss me.]
But Anne Lister sits in that back seat of her best friend’s car, nudging her knee into the back of her sister’s chair to bug her, and she is grinning like a fool—she really likes this daring, sassy side of Ann. She’s glad Mariana brute forced her not to fuck everything up before she got a chance to see that.
[Oh wow, okay, I see how it is.]
Chapter 23: xxiii.
anddddd we're back.
i don't want to make anyone pre-emptively sad, and if you follow me on twitter you're likely to have seen this already, but this story has entered its endgame. according to my masterplan (which started out being for only ten chapters, so nothing is set in stone entirely), i have about four chapters left after this one and then it's over.
while i love this story, universe, and all the love i have gotten from you guys, i'd rather end it the way i want to instead of stretching it for the sake of keeping going to the point where it'll become repetitive and uninteresting.
i hope you enjoy this chapter!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Anne’s break is not so vastly different from Ann’s. She spends a lot of it preparing the exams for the courses she’s taught this semester, and she gets a head start on grading the papers and essays that have been pouring in.
Fortunately, all three of her thesis students are well on track—George Playforth and Thomas Beech will both be out of town, too, so she won’t have to do any mentoring to add to her pile of tasks. Except for Ann, of course. The submission deadline for the competition is coming up.
The difference between regular semester weeks and now is that she gets to work exclusively from home. No classes to teach, no meetings or brunches or talks to go to on campus.
It has allowed her to spend some time with her sister. Would be a shame if she had come to town and found Anne busy. It also really helps with not thinking about Ann all the time and bothering her while she needs to focus.
They go for walks through Edinburgh. She takes Marian to the movies like good old times. They’ve been to an exposé of a local artist and Marian went home with a painting for their aunt.
And tonight, they’re going to have a quiet night in. While Anne is up to the elbow in her cooking, Marian is sitting where has Ann has sat before, sipping from her topped-up glass of wine and filling her in further on what she has missed at home.
She hasn’t been home in so many years that a lot of the details of the manor have begun to fade in her memories. Were her bedroom walls blue or purple? Was the staircase mahogany or cherry? Was her father’s bedroom on the upper or ground floor?
“I think Aunt would really like to see you again sometime.”
Anne is glad that she doesn’t have to turn away from her stove for any reason. She loves her aunt—the reason she hasn’t been down has nothing to do with her. “Maybe I’ll come for a visit over the Summer. Bring Ann.”
She can practically hear the smile in Marian’s voice when she replies, “That would be nice.”
Sometimes she wonders what their relationship would have been like if their childhood hadn’t been so unconventional. If she didn’t have to step up as a mother figure when she wasn’t even old enough to be on her period yet, if she hadn’t fled away to college to be rid of the responsibility, if she hadn’t lashed out so much because of something out of any of their controls—what would their relationship have been like?
But thoughts like that serve no purpose. She washes them away with her own glass of wine as she adds the finishing touches on her stir fry. Steam wafts into her face, smelling of chili, garlic, and cumin. The sweet white that is Marian’s favorite sits heavy and sticky in her throat.
“How long are you staying for?” she asks as she runs the wooden spoon through the crisping vegetables.
“Do you want me gone?”
She picks up on the hurt in her words and turns to face Marian. Wipes her hands on her apron. Shakes her head. “No, I was thinking, Ann’s supposed to be coming over in a couple of days. If you’re still around, you can get to know her without terrible karaoke and a bunch of her friends around. And my annoying best friend.”
That brings the smile back to Marian’s face. Anne fights her answering one, but it’s a losing battle and soon she is grinning right back at her sister.
Now that she has gotten over herself, for the most part, and thrown herself in the deep end, terrifying though it may be, it’s hard not to get swept away by the beginning stages of a new relationship. Introduce Ann to family. Go on dates—they still have yet to go on one, but Anne has been thinking about ideas already. Vacation somewhere after Ann’s graduation.
Satisfied with her cooking, she turns off the stove and starts plating the food. She hears her sister pour them more wine. We’ve come so far, she can’t help but thinking, remembering times when she hurled things at Marian’s face for daring to peep through her ajar bedroom door, or Marian threw snippy statements her way for being the worst.
She much prefers this.
They settle onto the couch, plate in their lap and glass next to them on a side table, and Anne lets Marian choose a movie from her DVR. It’s full from months’ worth of recording things and never sitting down to watch them.
They also settle into a comfortable silence, only occasionally broken up by Anne wagering guesses about who committed the crime. It does not surprise either of them that she gets it correct.
Anne has not dared to ask yet, and Marian keeps tight-lipped about it unless prompted, so once the credits start rolling she turns sideways and looks over at her sister, younger by six years, gentler and kinder by a lot of spared trauma. “How’s dad?”
“Good. He still isn’t drinking again yet.” He did that a lot right after Rebecca killed herself. “And he’s not forgetting as much anymore.”
“That’s good.” Her thumb drags up and down the stem of her glass. “Good.”
Their silence is a little less comfortable after that, but nothing that can’t be improved by another bottle of wine being opened and another movie lined up.
(This one Anne does not get right, and it bothers her.)
Later that night, when Marian falls asleep on the couch and Anne carries her up the stairs, an arm beneath the bends of her knees, another cradling her to her chest, her heart aches with the memories of doing the same thing to a girl too young to understand why their mother wasn’t there anymore.
She tucks her sister in and kisses her goodnight on the forehead.
Heartbreak comes, but not from Anne.
Ann is sitting at the foot of Harriet’s bed. For once, Catherine isn’t with them—she is with them in spirit, and digitally, sending a new text message at least once every five minutes, but not physically. That might just make it easier to talk about what’s on Harriet’s mind—she has looked nervous since Ann entered.
They’re reading each other’s thesis. Harriet’s is close to finished, Ann’s has been through its first round of editing. While she finds linguistic science a pretty interesting topic, especially when it’s explained by Harriet’s nice matter-of-fact writing, she can’t concentrate. She is waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“There’s something I want to tell you.”
Ann stifles the sigh of relief that she won’t have to pretend to read for half an hour longer before her best friend finally has the guts to speak. “Okay, hit me.”
“Well.” She looks down at her nail, still fresh and sparkly from a recent manicure, a lovely pastel pink. “Actually, um. How much do you know about trans people?”
“Not as much as I would like,” Ann answers honestly, searching Harriet’s face for clues. It this her friend coming out? Did them calling her Harry always fit her way more than they anticipated? But that doesn’t seem quite it. “Why do you ask?”
“He—no, she. She told me a couple of days ago that she feels like she was born in the wrong body, and that I’m important enough to her to tell me. We never had sex because… and we… Well, I—” Oh god, she goes such a bright color red in her entire face that Ann flings the bundle of paper aside to climb up next to Harriet and pull her into a hug. “I was fine with waiting, you know, because I really like her. I didn’t expect this to be the reason why, but I don’t mind. She’s the same person.”
“Yes, she is.”
“But I do have a lot of questions, and, like, concerns.”
Ann kisses Harriet on the temple and squeezes her tight again. “You can just talk to her about that, can’t you? She won’t expect you to become an expert overnight.”
Harriet chuckles. “I suppose not, no.”
“Is that what got you so anxious when I entered? Telling me this? It’s going to be Catherine with the jokes about how you’re a straight girl dating a woman, not me.”
“No, that’s—I mean, I don’t think I’m straight then, right, if I’m still into her now? So… but, no, that’s not—” She takes a deep breath, and her eyes shy away from her. Mumbled, so quietly Ann almost doesn’t catch it: “I’m not staying in Edinburgh.”
It hits her hard in the solar plexus, a resounding hit. She knew to expect this, yet she was foolishly hoping that worldly, travel enthusiast Harriet Parkhill might stay.
The tears come to her too fast to stop them, so that now she is the one being hugged, being held, being squeezed. “I know, honey.”
“London if I get in, and then exchange programs as often as I can.”
Ann nods. That really does sound like something Harriet would want. “Does Catherine know yet?”
“No, not yet.”
While it has been four different rooms over the years, it has always had the same feeling to it: a beautiful chaos of a safe space. A couch to crash on after a long day. A closet to raid before an important date. A bed to fall into after a night to remember. And at the center, Harriet Parkhill, irreplaceable.
Ann sees it now with the eyes of someone who will have to say goodbye soon.
Already she mourns losing Harriet. Their friendship will survive anything, but not having her here will hurt.
They’ve had so many good memories, the three of them. The start of her journey with Anne, when she sat on the verge of a nervous breakdown on the very couch she is staring at. Every heartbreak, family conflicts, failed tests, all the less pleasant parts of life that became bearable because she had Harriet and Catherine.
But through it all, knowing Harriet had a soul too big to be confined to a place this small.
“It’s what you have to do. You would be miserable staying stationary for any longer.”
A breath is blown out somewhere west of her shoulder. Harriet head butts her arm gently. “So should you. You’ve barely left Edinburgh since you had to move here. This is where your sister wanted to settle—you should discover for yourself if this is where you want to.”
Sound advice, but she knows her heart will always yearn to return here. It has her only relatives left. Catherine. Sophie. Mariana.
“Can we come to visit you?”
“Are you really asking me that? Of course, Papa Parkhill’s credit card will more than take care of that.”
Catherine will take the news worse than Ann has, but that will convince her not to chain Harriet to the Edinburgh Castle in a last ditch effort to keep her here at least.
Ann gets off the bed to retrieve Harriet’s thesis from the floor. She’ll have to do all the steps of grief after graduation.
There are a few cries about Harriet, but soon she is too busy to think about it, and Ann is incredibly grateful for having such a jam-packed schedule she made for herself. Every page of her syllabi is another few minutes her mind is engaged. Every mock exam she takes to practice is a few hours that she lives in a bubble of only academia.
There is one break in the form of her thesis submission coming up, paired with dinner at Anne’s, so she devotes her thoughts that way if she can to stave off feeling the gaping wound that Harriet’s departure will leave.
What should she wear? What are they going to do? She doesn’t think she’ll be able to keep her distance from Anne, even if Marian or Mariana are there.
And if they’re alone, she’s not sure she will be able to leave her in any sort of timely, sensible manner.
She has not figured out any of the answers when the day comes around. Elizabeth notices her being more fidgety than the past few days and tries to sit her down for tea, but Ann can’t keep still and flings herself from the chair before she has even taken three sips.
She tries to study—she can’t. She tries to paint, draw, sketch—she can’t. She tries to take a nap, to have the hours go faster—she can’t. All she ends up doing is rereading the competition folder over and over, despite not being able to read the French.
The English brochure sits somewhere on her laptop, but that will just make it more real. She only feels confident enough to submit her thesis if she can halfway fool herself that it’s not for any real reason.
As part of her education, she will have to present and defend her thesis and explain where necessary, add where she can. In the competition, it has to be strong enough to stand on its own.
Stress flutters in her stomach, agitating the butterflies that reside there.
She knows that as soon as she gets to be around Anne, she will not be able to think about any of it at all. Then nothing else will be in her mind but her.
The hours do not pass kindly. She spends the last one of them going through her closet and debating one outfit over the other, and then Anne catches her before she has gotten changed. In a pair of light blue skinny jeans and a black t-shirt, she goes to open the door for whoever rang, to find Anne looking dashing and immaculate as ever on the other side of it.
“Anne? Wasn’t I—I thought I was coming over to you?”
“You were. You are. I’m here to pick you up. Why should I let you take the bus when I have a perfectly fine car?”
Because public transport emits way less polution. But she’s not going to say that. She takes a few steps back so that Anne can come inside, and as soon as Anne has closed the front door behind her she’s in Anne’s arms and Anne’s hands are on her face, holding her as they kiss.
No beating around the bush, no waiting each other out, they just go for it and Ann’s heart soars on the wings that lends her.
“I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you, too, darling.” Anne kisses her cheeks too, claims her mouth in quick short bursts before releasing her. “Ready to go?”
“Ann, who is—oh.”
Right, so maybe that wasn’t the way she wanted Elizabeth to meet Anne. Ideally she would have been graduated already too, so that when her sister inevitably learns that Anne used to be her professor it won’t be relevant anymore.
She detaches reluctantly, but slides her hand into Anne’s as she faces towards Elizabeth. “This is Anne. The woman I told you about.”
It’s odd. Elizabeth is closer to age and maturity to Anne than she is, and the two women fall into a remarkably easy conversation right in front of her. They exchange pleasantries, Anne compliments the house and Elizabeth’s perfume, and Elizabeth is surprisingly subtle in taking all of Anne in and examining her closely.
“So you and my sister are... dating?”
“Yes,” Anne replies instantly, without missing a beat. “Although we are taking things slow so it doesn’t distract her from her exams.”
That scores points with Elizabeth, whose smile grows brighter. “Wonderful. Well, have fun, you two.”
When it’s just the two of them again, safely sheltered away from the rest of the world inside Anne’s car, Ann drops her face in her hands feeling absolutely mortified.
“Your sister seems very nice,” Anne hums, rubbing a hand over Ann’s back, palm digging in hard as she brings it up between her shoulder blades before settling her fingers loosely clasped against her neck. “And I think I turned that first impression around. I should have asked if you were home alone before kissing you like that.”
“I was not an unwilling participant,” Ann responds, sitting up so that Anne can see the roll of her eyes. “If I really wanted to stop you, I think I could have.”
“Oh really now?” There’s a shit-eating grin on Anne’s face as she flexes the muscles of her arms, making quite a show of it, and Ann needs to stop herself from rolling her eyes again.
It isn’t until they’re driving, one of Anne’s hands on the steering wheel and the other on Ann’s knee, that she realizes just how familiar, and dare she say it domestic, she feels around Anne sometimes.
Until that hand slides higher up and settles on her thigh, anyway. Then domesticity flies out the window for honeymoon phase buzzing to return.
psa 1: https://twitter.com/ofbatwoman/status/1164237704785276928
psa 2: https://twitter.com/ofbatwoman/status/1164242928346288128
Chapter 24: xxiv.
don't know what to keep putting here except: i love all of you so much, thank you for being the best goddamn fandom i've ever been a part of & for humbling a writer so. 💝
Among the many things that Anne Lister does for her, and to her, making her feel taken seriously is one of the most important ones to her. Being around the other makes Ann feel less like a school girl or a young person merely play acting an adult—she feels more mature and smart and important.
Until Anne tugs her across the center console and into her lap, anyway—then she feels like a sixteen-year-old, giddy with the first taste of love and lust.
Ann’s knees land on either side of Anne’s thighs, straddling her, and she grins into their hungry kissing when she feels warm palms sliding over her hips and up her back. With Anne’s knuckles dragging up her spine, she can’t feel too bad about what she considered her unimpressive outfit, because it is proving mighty practical now.
“Anne.” It is more a sigh than it is a word. She can’t break the kiss for much longer, because every inch she backs away Anne follows, until the steering wheel digs into her back and she has nowhere else to go.
“Isn’t your sister waiting for us?” she manages to get out, though shakily, when Anne starts nipping at her jaw.
They’re parked behind Anne’s house. Shaded by trees in full new Spring leaves glory, they’re hidden from view, but Marian must be wondering what is taking them so long. The sky has been painted with smears of orange and pink as it nears evening—it must be almost seven now.
Anne nuzzles against the soft spot beneath her ear, mouth hot and eager against her skin. “She can wait a few more minutes.”
And it’s hard to yank herself away if she doesn’t really have to, so she doesn’t. She melts into Anne again, pressing her back into her chair. Her hand settles at the nape of Anne’s neck, crawls up into her hair, clenches. Anne hisses when Ann gives a sharp tug.
Anne retaliates by nudging the collar of her shirt aside and biting down into her shoulder.
“Anne.” A groan now, released through clenched teeth. She is trembling in Anne’s lap already, worked up in a matter of minutes of Anne’s deft hands and lips unbuttoning her composure.
Unbuttoning her pants now too, pushing them just down her hips so that she has no constrictions against moving her hand between her quaking thighs. She leans forward heavily, resting her forehead to Anne’s, her short hair falling to frame the world away around them.
Her hips jolt at the first teasing touch through her panties. They’re so slick that Anne’s grin turns into a surprised, muttered expletive.
“You want me this bad?”
Anne kisses her so passionately that she gets pressed back into the steering wheel, bodies colliding and then fusing together. She feels a slight shift, and then—the sound of a car horn tears through their spell.
Anne’s hand stills against her. The sound of their breathing thunders all around them. They’re quiet for a few seconds as they stare at each other, their faces flushed and their pupils dilated. Then they both fall into a fit of giggles.
“We might have gotten a little carried away.”
Ann lets her hair fall in front her face, shoulders still shaking with her quietly subsiding laughter. It melts to an affectionate silence when Anne kisses her forehead through the curtain of hair.
The other woman helps her get her pants fully back on, and then they’re sitting there catching their breath and letting the color drain from their cheeks before they climb out of the car on shaky knees. “We’ll finish this when you have time.”
“Tonight,” Ann counters, tightening her fingers around Anne’s. “I can’t wait days and weeks and countless torturous moments again like last time.”
“Are you staying all night then?” There is a giddy tone to Anne’s voice, and a wide smile to match it.
She can’t help it: Anne Lister drives her crazy in a hundred minutely different ways. She must. “If you’ll have me.”
Their honeymoon phase will pass, and with it their urgent need for each other every time they’re together, but as Ann looks sideways at the profile of the woman she loves, she can’t imagine the fire in her gut will ever flare any less fierce.
The faint wrinkles next to her eyes and the corners of her mouth, the intelligence sparkling in her richly brown eyes, the posture and the swaggering, but the creeping of her softer side behind all of it.
Anne catches her looking and raises her eyebrows with a beaming smile. “What are you looking at?”
My future. The love of my life. The reason that I dare spread my wings and be bold. “You’re so beautiful.”
The prettiest fluster touches to Anne’s smile. She must be used to a lot of compliments, but maybe not one—it does seem like a word she would use on the pretty girls she has bedded instead.
Anne barks a laugh as she pulls Ann into a hug. “Sweet talker.”
They disentangle reluctantly to finally get inside. They’ve kept Marian by herself for long enough.
Anne’s sister is indeed very glad to see them. Already Marian seems much more relaxed than she did at the karaoke bar—enough so to give Ann a hug in greeting and rib on her sister for being late. They fall into a sisterly bickering that she’s never quite had with Elizabeth, but she has had it with Catherine enough to relate.
It’s nice to take a step away from the forefront and watch Anne be with her sister. This side of her is equally as attractive as every other side she has met so far.
“Are you all set for me to drop you off at the train station tonight?”
Ann tries not to smile too much about the fact that they’ll be alone tonight. It wouldn’t be polite at all to give Marian the impression she wants her gone.
There is a terrace attached to the house, only to be reached from inside, that has three walls entirely made of windows that can be opened to let in the warm Spring air. The tiles beneath their feet are a sandy brown and all the furniture is a repainted drift wood.
Her mind strays to her vacation to Greece.
“Let me get my two favorite girls something to drink—don’t tell Mariana I said that. She’ll go to her grave offended.”
With Anne gone, it leaves the two of them sitting on opposite benches politely taking each other in. Marian’s smile is not the impactful punch that her sister’s is, but it is so inexplicably kind that every last ounce of nervousness melts away.
“You make her very happy,” Marian says.
Ann beams. “She makes me very happy too.”
“I don’t know how much you know about her life… It’s not my place to tell, but—she could use someone like you in it. You seem very patient.”
In some regards, she could be. In some others, her stubborn streak aimed to make her a little more impatient than usual. “When it comes to her, I am. I don’t want to lose her.”
“And you won’t.” Anne comes back carrying a bottle of wine and three glasses. “I told you, I’m in.”
They have quite a pleasant evening between the three of them. Marian mostly lets Anne talk and choose their topics of conversation, only occasionally piping up. Ann can tell that the relationship between the two Lister sisters is decidedly different from the one she shares with Elizabeth, but they still really care for each other.
Anne cooks them a nice meal, and they eat it outside in the setting sun.
She learns that Marian takes care of her aunt because her aunt took her in when Anne left for college and now she wants to return that kindness. There is no one of particular romantic interest in her life, but she is considering adopting a child by herself to fill the maternal dream she has. Her job as an administrative assistant is averagely interesting. Her favorite hobbies are hiking and reading.
Ann quite likes her, despite the stark contrast to the compelling, magnetic personality that Anne is.
She wants to top off Marian’s glass, but she shakes her head. “I think it’s time for me to leave. Anne said you still had important thesis stuff to do? So I will bid you goodnight, and I’ll beg that ride off you?”
Anne kisses her slowly, softly, before getting up to go drop off her sister.
Ann leans back and plants her hands behind her. Stretches out her legs and kicks off her shoes so she can rest her bare feet in the grass and wiggle her toes. The sun is still there, accompanying the finger of wine that still sits in her glass.
Excitement returns. When Anne comes back, they’ll be alone. Finally alone, in a place where they can be who they really are, where they don’t need to keep a distance to make sure they aren’t discovered.
She puts her phone on silent, reads through the messages she has to make sure none of them are terribly important, and then tucks it away.
Her thesis sits on a USB stick in her pocket. She really needs to remember they still need to upload—both to the competition and the school board, she has decided. It’ll mean Anne is no longer her current thesis adviser. It’ll be past.
It will mean one less thing to worry about. She’s likely not going to want to make any last edits to it, anyway—it has been edited, proof read, copy edited, and edited again. It is good enough for her. It is probably good enough to graduate.
But she needs to upload it before Anne sweeps her away again.
Her smile unfurls slowly when she hears footsteps behind her. Anne is looking at her with an intensely dark look to her, the heat in her eyes charging her every step towards her.
She finds herself utterly surprised when Anne ceremoniously straddles her and pushes her down into the grass. Thoughts of her thesis go flying up into the sky when Anne kisses her languidly, tasting of white wine and sweet potato.
Palms against her shoulders, weight pinning her to the ground, Ann is helpless against the onslaught that is Anne Lister—lips everywhere, the solidity of her body on top of her, their hips and knees nudging.
“We should,” Anne breathes, swallowing, grinning, “submit your thesis.”
Ann closes her eyes, counting her breaths until she gets to ten. Her voice is a low whisper when she complains, “You didn’t have to tease me like that.”
“I know,” she replies, tongue darting across to wet her bottom lip. “You’d think I was smarter than this. It hurts me as much as it does you.”
And she believes it. Good lord, she can see the fortitude it takes for Anne not to settle down upon her again. She can’t allow any more doubt about Anne wanting to be with her, because she can see it so clearly written all over her.
“Okay, let’s go do that.” She rolls away from Anne and gets up onto her knees, to her feet next, and to holding hands with Anne instantly.
She really wants to get used to this. Being allowed to be this touchy-feely, this openly and physically affectionate, is one of the best feelings in the world.
They make it inside, to the hall, upstairs, to the door of Anne’s bedroom being good. But when they get there, Ann brings their clasped hands up so that she can kiss Anne’s hand—it was such a mindless thing to do.
Ann is not as good with words as Anne, but she has other things. Visual. Physical. She has so much love inside her that’s pouring over in small gestures.
So she presses her lips to each knuckle, thinking nothing of it, but Anne stops to watch her do it. And then, hand still held to her mouth, she looks over it at Anne.
Anne’s free hand settles on her jaw, thumb nudges between to trace over her lip.
The tension is there again within seconds as they keep looking looking looking.
“Thesis,” she mumbles, breath hitching.
Anne plops her down into the chair behind her desk jarringly hard. Leaning over her, she commandeers the laptop and brings up the page she had bookmarked.
Ann plugs in the USB and gets to work, filling out the form. Thankfully Anne has put some distance between them, because from afar her presence is still felt tremendously but at least not as utterly distracting.
She reads everything over carefully, then holds her breath as she clicks ‘submit’. The wheel spins for a few seconds before she gets a confirmation.
“No, one more thing.” It does not surprise her that the online school platform auto-fills in the address bar. She hears and feels Anne come closer again as Ann puts in her student ID for one of the last times of her life—the thought brings forth a melancholy in her she did not think would be there.
“What are you doing?”
“Submitting my thesis.” Tongue in cheek, she navigates to the correct course, finds the appropriate place, uploads it a second time.
Anne’s mouth is against the back of her neck, kissing her as softly as a feather brush.
“You won’t be my adviser anymore. You won’t be my professor anymore. You’ll just be…”
Her breath ceases for a second as her heart jams up into her throat.
She shivers out of the stupor, notices her fingers tremble on the track pad. Anne continues kissing the back of her neck, slips to her shoulder again.
With the might of a titan, she keeps herself contained until she has done all that she needs to do. There is no space for the reality to settle that she has concluded the most important part of her senior year—and likely for her whole undergrad career.
There is only Anne after she has clicked the button to send it through, and the eager hands that pull her out of the chair and against a solid, warm body.
Ann is perfectly happy to nestle into the embrace, since all Anne does is hold her close and kiss her on the crown of her head. Months of her feelings being inappropriate washes out of her, like the sea ebbing away, leaving a void where better things can grow. She clings onto Anne, who is now nothing but the woman she loves anymore, no other titles or roles tacked on beyond that.
She takes a steadying breath as she untangles herself from Anne’s hug. “This thing between us, can we—um. I mean... What is it?”
“Are you asking if we’re going steady?” While the tone in Anne’s voice is lightly teasing, her gaze is entirely earnest and very, very soft. Ann can read her much easier this way. “Because I think we’re at least exclusive now, hm? And I have every intention of making you my girlfriend—after I have taken you on a date or two.”
The idea of being taken out on a date by Anne Lister is enough to turn every bone in her body to jelly. Good thing Anne still has a sturdy arm hooked around her waist that she can lean on. “That sounds perfect.”
It takes her a moment to realize Anne is slowly swaying them around. To the music of rustling leaves, buzzing cicadas, birds chirping, they spin slowly as each other’s orbit, their gravitational points shifting closer together.
This is it, she thinks. This is going to be the love of my life, no matter what happens between the two of us.
Breathlessly, she tilts her head up and lands a soft kiss against the underside of Anne’s jaw. She sees the smile grow bigger, and she grows bolder with it, nipping softly.
Their soft, tender moment heats up quickly after each successive gentle tug of her teeth until Anne groans and pushes her against the wall. There is no more tenderness being kissed so soundly that she hears nothing but her own violent heartbeat anymore.
But Anne has something to finish from earlier, and they can be soft after.
Sore but happy, Ann is whistling when she comes home the next morning in her own jeans but one of Anne’s shirts—for good luck, her almost-girlfriend had said, before pulling her back into bed. So she might have spent a little more time than she wanted leaving Anne’s house this morning, but once she fully set her mind to it there was nothing to reel her back in.
Elizabeth smiles at her in passing, but Ann will talk to her about all of this another time. She hurries up the stairs and into a room much more cramped and lonely than the bedroom she just spent a lot of hours in.
The shirt does help. Last night helps, too, in that it offered her a nice clean break from all the stress and worrying and effort. She feels invigorated to throw herself back into it. With the smell of Anne and the memories of their domesticity (more so than the other things that happened) wrapped around her, she sets herself for the momentous task of making sure she will graduate.
Chapter 25: xxv.
big shoutout to the lovely folx in the shibden after dark facebook group - one of your mighty overlords let me know that you've been saying real nice things about my story. please accept this chapter as my humble appreciation of you.
once i actually start listening to this podcast, i'll make sure to come hang out at the place where all the cool people have gathered apparently.
Finals have never driven Anne up a wall quite like this, but she has also never cared this much about the results one of her students gets. Naturally, she wants everyone to receive the results they deserve, be that passing ones for those that put in the effort and failing ones for those that don’t. And she has always been particularly inclined to want her thesis students to do well.
But she has never needed someone to graduate as desperately as she needs Ann to.
Finals are very different for a professor, who does most of the work beforehand—she has spent most of Spring Break and revision time drafting her exams and grading papers, so that the first week of finals mean waiting.
Waiting, waiting, waiting.
The theme of this year for her. She has reread Ann’s thesis twice in the days that she has had to spend being examination supervisor, looking over a lecture hall full of people furiously penning down all that they’ve retained from a year of classes. It has at least made her feel pretty secure that Ann will get fantastic grades for it—she has read good essays and bad, and this one is par the highest expectations for a senior undergrad.
She only sees Ann once before she is buried in work: she was walking across campus with her nose in her book for some last minute cramming. Anne had watched her leave, the distance between them a vast abyss that she could not and would not shout across.
Soon, she keeps telling herself. Soon it’ll all be over.
But she can’t help worrying about what they will do if Ann fails even one of her classes, prolonging her being a student here for at least three months until she can take a resit. And if she were to fail that one, a whole extra semester…
Her energy has been erratic at best. Mariana has been avoiding her. None of her colleagues take kindly to it, either. She doesn’t care. A much younger Anne would have been ecstatic with a challenge like this, but this mature one doesn’t want to toy with fire.
She’s at least grateful that Ann entered her life when she isn’t so fond of taking extreme risks anymore, even if daring to have sex in her office would have been thrilling and the danger of getting caught only adding to it.
No, she much prefers the way things are now with Ann: they communicate, they care, they exercise caution. It will make it so much better when they can finally fully go for it.
When the first exams start coming back for her to grade, her mind can no longer leisurely ponder all these things that she is concerned over, which is a small blessing even if the grading itself is tedious. She only really enjoys reading over the submissions for the creative writing workshop that she co-hosts with Hemingway, but they’re also fewer in number and faster to grade, so she burns through them too quickly.
Every night, seated in her backyard or in her office, Anne goes through bundles of paper with answers written on them, and she corrects and ponders and grades. It crosses her mind that these are all actual people, but it only twinges in her conscious when she has to give them a failing grade.
Reading those over, she has to conclude she can’t do anything else, they’re not good enough to pass, and then she’s thinking about Ann again.
Are there any of her colleagues now thinking the same thing about an exam that she has handed in? Is anyone right now jotting a failing grade down on their report card for her?
She goes through a new bottle of bourbon to combat the stress it is giving her. If Ann has to stay a student for longer, she’s not sure if she can handle that stress.
But she resists the urge to shoot a message to her colleagues she’s on good enough terms with, because how is she ever going to explain being mighty curious about the fate of one Ann Walker, peculiar and special though she may be.
The words start swimming and floating off the page. Anne sits back in her chair, long legs stretched out beneath the desk, and she runs a hand over her tired eyes. Through her hair, which she has been wearing down and loose since she discovered Ann likes it better that way.
There is about a swallow of bourbon left in her glass that does little to avail her of the pressure on her chest. She folds her glasses neatly and leaves them on her desk with the pile of work that she still has left to do, but she takes the glass as she leaves her office for the night.
She knows she’s in deep because of this, but also because of how incessantly often she goes to reach for her phone. This is the first time she has used it this much since she’s had it. It has improved even her relationship with Mariana and Marian, since when they weren’t physically together they would get by on a phone call or two a week.
But Ann really can’t use any distractions right now, so she stops herself from shooting off a quick text. Even a simple ‘how’s everything?’ would devolve into a long, winding conversation, knowing the two of them.
She will not cave. For the both of them, she will not.
Anne eats a solitary dinner as the sun sets on her kitchen, looking forward to a few weeks from now when she won’t have to spend her evening hour alone anymore. Granted Ann has time for her, but she thinks the young woman might just be persuaded to her wishes.
As she chews thoughtfully on the vegetarian lasagna, she sets to further planning the dates she is taking Ann on. The first one, she is thinking about a lovely gallery up north that always has very female or feminist exhibitions going. Then, in true Anne Lister, she will have to go very big for the second date.
She has seen much of the world. When she was young, she had been stuck at home caring for her kid sister and her distraught father, so as soon as she got relative freedom she started traveling as much as she could. But with Ann by her side, her fresh perspective, her infectious excitement, might not every place feel entirely new?
Anne would very much like to show Ann the world. The second date will have to be to the airport then.
Many of her days are spent in a similar way, so that by the end of finals, she is tight with stress but full to bursting with date ideas.
And yet, she still won’t claim any part of Ann’s time unless she is invited, because she also remembers her own senior year—remembers how she had wanted to share it with her closest university friends, those people that had been going through the same thing.
She imagines Ann will be very busy indeed celebrating with her best friends.
When it comes to what makes Ann happy, she finds she can wait longer than she really wants to.
The world singles down to just the bricks in front of her, the tiles, the light gleaming off every surface as Ann walks dazed out of the class room. Her body has been taut with pressure for weeks now, a slow but gradual build. She has barely been sleeping. Every minute sound managed to tear her concentration away. Her muscles cramped, her period seemed worse than usual.
And now: nothing.
She gulps down shaky breaths. They don’t help. Her heart pounds. She needs to catch herself against the wall. Ann is crying by the time she has slid to the floor, great big sobs that wrack through her.
And through it all, she beams the widest, brightest smile that she ever has.
Because it’s over.
She has done it.
Maybe she doesn’t have her results yet, but she feels so good about every test, feels confident that she’s done enough to at least get passing grades. If it’s only barely, then that’s enough.
She just needs school to be over.
Her knees pulled up to her chest, she cries until every last bit of pent-up emotion has bled from her. She keeps wiping at her cheeks until they are dry to the touch, though red and blotched no doubt.
The weeks felt like they would never end, but now they have, she shakes with how close her freedom is. Soon, she might never have any tests again. She will have her degree, earned through hard work and herculean effort.
When she was fourteen and had just lost her parents, she almost ruined her high school track record out of grief and anger and an incapacity to handle things, and if Elizabeth hadn’t caught her in time she might never have gotten good enough grades to even make it to university at all.
She will never be able to thank Elizabeth enough.
And she will never be able to thank Harriet and Catherine enough for being her friends and making sure she made it through in one piece.
When she feels steady enough, she pulls herself up to her feet and leaves behind the building in favor for the beautiful weather outside. Instantly, with gentle heat and a bright sun beating down on her, she feels even stronger.
Like a flower, she thrives in the sun.
She is all smiles at the people she passes by. There’s a few professors milling around, but not the one she wants to find. She remembers Catherine has her last one in the afternoon, so that means tonight they’ll definitely have to celebrate together.
Harriet won’t have her last one until two days from now.
The true celebration won’t be until after they have given their thesis defense, but it feels like an afterthought.
She hurries home, skirt swishing around her thighs, speeding through a walk that usually takes her fifteen minutes in seven. When she gets home, however, Elizabeth is nowhere to be found—but George beams at her.
“Congrats, Ann. You did it.”
And she just can’t stop herself from flinging herself into his arms. It surprises him too, knocks a small grunt out of him. But his arms wrap around her.
They’ve not done this very often. George is not as physically affectionate as the two women he shares the house with. It feels so nice though that she has to fight not to start crying all over again.
“Your sister didn’t think you’d be home yet. She’s off to get champagne.”
She giggles against his chest.
They keep standing like that for a bit, until it becomes uncomfortable. Then he pats her on the back and returns to what he was doing before she entered.
Ann feels so remarkably light. She whistles to herself as she climbs up the stairs to her room and drops onto her bed. She does not even intend to take a nap, but as soon as her head touches to the pillow the exhaustion knocks her out.
When she wakes up, via way of Elizabeth’s gentle tapping on her shoulder, she has slept enough not to be fully exhausted anymore. There is drool all over her pillow; she needs to tear it away from her face. She feels so glamorous—so what her sister tells her next sends her into a slight panic.
“Hey sleepyhead, there’s a few people for you here.”
Right on cue, she hears Eliza Priestley’s very familiar laugh, followed by a, “I knew she would do well.”
And while that warms her through thoroughly, she was not prepared to have to deal with people. She sits upright and rubs the grit from her eyes. “I’ll be down in five.”
She has to wipe her face off with cold water. Thankfully much of the red blotching of her crying has faded away, though her eyes still look a little puffy. She makes it disappear behind a splash of make-up nonetheless. After smoothing out her hair and changing into a red summer dress with poofy shoulder sleeves she thinks it’s good enough to face the Priestleys.
There is the gentle rumble that is William muttering beneath his breath, very likely about something his wife has just said, and the response of her brother-in-law is drowned out by more laughter.
She comes to a standstill at the backdoor to peek outside. William and George are sitting next to each other, small pile of beer bottle caps on the table in front of them. Eliza is further ahead in the garden, talking to—oh.
Anne takes that moment to look her way and her smile is almost sheepish as she catches Ann gaping.
There is something so astounding about seeing Anne in the backyard of her home, talking to a family friend, not looking out of place at all that touches onto all the fears that built when she wasn’t sure Anne dared to be with her.
But she does. They’ll get to be a normal couple—so soon it hurts in the very best way. Ann will get to take her to family gatherings, on family vacations. She will get to introduce her to her sister properly, and to her brother-in-law, and...
“Ah, Ann!” Eliza interrupts her reverie by walking up to her and taking hold of her hands. Reluctantly she snaps her gaze away from Anne. “I was just telling Anne about how the two of us go way back. And I am ever so proud that you finished your last finals. I just know you will get that degree.”
“Oh, thank you, Eliza.” She smiles, trying not to show her displeasure at being kept away from Anne. “That is very sweet of you to say.”
“Of course, of course! Wasn’t I just telling you, Anne, that she was just the brightest young woman?”
She watches Anne move up to them with her usual confident swagger. “You were, Eliza,” she confirms, and there’s a jarring moment where the familiarity in Anne’s tone proposes the thought, do they know each other? Is the world really this small?
Could she have gotten to know Anne way sooner if she’d just thought to bring up Anne Lister even once in Eliza Priestley’s presence?
Anne puts a hand on Eliza’s shoulder and squeezes. “You did always know everyone interesting, did you not?”
Anne’s other hand slides across Ann’s back and settles on her hip, draws her in closer to her side.
“Certainly she was one of the most interesting people there, and—” But the rest of what Eliza wants to say dies on her tongue when Anne tilts away from her and kisses Ann. In front of the small gathering of people that have known Ann since she was a scrawny, stubborn kid, Anne kisses her hard.
She is breathless when Anne pulls back with the grin of someone that thrives on attention. “Sorry, Eliza. I just had to kiss my girlfriend. Please continue.”
Girlfriend. Were they not going to wait? But she can’t complain, can she, when no singular word has ever made her happier—except maybe yours.
Eliza Priestley can’t continue, she is that flabbergasted. She does manage to close her mouth after a few seconds. Collecting herself, she sits herself down next to her husband. The champagne goes in smooth.
Ann leans against Anne’s front, shielding her reddening face against her chest. “How are you here?”
“Your sister texted me through your phone. Told me about this little get-together. She promised me great food, so here I am.”
“Mhm, yeah, you’re definitely here for the food, right?”
Anne lifts her head away from her chest, two strong fingers hooked beneath her chin. “I do see something delicious.”
She wraps her arms around Anne’s neck and drags her in for a proper kiss hello. There is some heat there, especially after her comment just now, and Anne’s hands trace patterns through the thin fabric of her dress against the sides of her thighs. “But I’ll be good in front of company.”
Somehow the way good fits into her mouth, it does not sound like something appropriate at all.
They take seats next to each other. Elizabeth hands them both a drink, and makes Ann tear up by whispering, I’m so proud of you.
It’s a very nice evening. Eliza finds her voice again a couple of minutes later and entertains them with stories about Ann that embarrass her only a little, but Anne looks so positively enchanted by these tall tales of fifteen years old Ann in dungarees and a face full of paint that she doesn’t truly care.
The food is great. The champagne adds to the fizzy feeling in her veins, but she traces most of that back to the hand on her thigh that continues drawing patterns that burn into her skin. Anne is not afraid to talk fondly about her to everyone, to pull her in for chaste kisses between drinks.
Their new normal is starting to look... very normal. Dinner with her sister. Not hiding in front of people. When Eliza asks how they met, Anne smoothly answers, “We have a shared interest in Greek Mythology. We got to talking about it one day, and the rest sort of spun from there.”
It is so close to the truth, yet the sneakiness of it makes her bite into her bottom lip to keep from giggling. She can see how smug Anne is about it in every line of her expression.
In the setting sun, they bring out a toast to Ann’s future and she tears up anew. Looking sideways at Anne helps—tracing the sharp jawline of her face, noting the curves and dips and lines that she would use to bring her to life in her sketch pad.
They move inside when the sky darkens to dusk. Eliza and Elizabeth are a little tipsy by then and hog most of the conversation. She hears the men talk about tennis and soccer and politics. Ann gets pulled into Anne’s lap and stops caring.
“I love your dress,” Anne whispers, ghosting her lips against the back of her neck. Her fingers trail over her thighs and steadily move up higher. Instantly the goose bumps shiver all over her. Anne’s mouth betrays her pleasure at it with a wide smile pressed to her skin. “Maybe you should show me your bedroom.”
“But you’ve already seen it,” Ann murmurs back, but the confused frown melts to a deep flush when she realizes what Anne really meant. “Oh.”
Anne hums, smiles, squeezes her fingers into Ann’s thighs. “You could tell them you want to show me something.”
She can’t think straight, the mix of alcohol and Anne making her heady and dizzy with desire. “Won’t they know?”
“Or you could say you’re tired.”
Ann disembarks, then immediately has to catch herself. She did not realize how weak to the knees she had gotten already. She’ll blame being tired. “Guys, thank you so much for tonight. But I’m really tired, so... um, Anne’s going to put me to bed.” Welp. Maybe a little close to the mark. “Actually, she might stay over, if that’s okay with you, Elizabeth?”
“Of course. You’re both old and wise enough.”
Eliza seems the only one fully aware of what they’re about to go off and do, but she can’t think about that when Anne takes her by the hand and whisks her away. They’re giggling by the time they get to Ann’s bedroom, and then they’re kissing and the only sounds left to them are those of their lips meeting over and over again.
Ann stifles a moan when Anne palms at her breasts and maneuvers her backwards with the strength of her body.
“I went a little crazy counting down the days,” Anne confesses between kissing along her collar bone and bringing a hand to her back to unzip her dress. “There wasn’t an hour I didn’t think of you.”
“I want to say the same, but I was very focused.” Ann grins at Anne as she moves her shoulders and lets the dress rustle down off of her, pooling in a heap of fiery red fabric around her feet. “But at night, when I was all alone...” Trailing off, but keeping their eyes locked, she hooks her fingers behind the belt in Anne’s very nice, very tight pants and drags her with her.
She sits on the edge, but Anne has no patience and throws her down on top of the bed. The roughness, the decisiveness, it always gets to her. The arousal must be so painfully evident, but Anne still takes her time kissing all over her body, trying to connect all her moles through a constellation of her affection.
When her legs finally get lifted onto broad, muscular shoulders and Anne’s hands settle on her stomach to stroke in loose circles, she is ready to come undone already. Anne does not believe in starting slow today. Ann fists one hand in Anne’s luscious mane, the other in the sheets, and she has enough of her mind left to turn her face into her pillow before Anne attacks her.
There’s no other word for the relentless tempo, the steady intense pressure, and the rapid switching of direction that manages to stitch her apart within minutes.
And still Anne does not let up. She seems starved for this, eating her out until she freezes up again, toes curling and hips lifting off the bed with the force of it, and collapsing back boneless.
“Thank you for showing me your room, baby,” Anne teases as she gets up and starts undressing herself. When she slides into bed next to her and pulls Ann snug against her, cuddles up to her back, she is not quite back to being a fully-functioning human yet.
“You must be so tired after all that studying...” Yet an eager hand crawls down her sweat slick abdomen and finds purchase between her thighs, easing into her, slick and warm and pulsing with her erratic heartbeat. “Should I let you go to sleep?”
“Fuck you,” Ann hisses.
Soon she is not capable of words anymore, just mewling and whining and sleepy grunts muffled into her mattress.
She has missed getting to wake up in Anne's arms, even if every slightest movement hurts.
Chapter 26: xxvi.
penultimate chapter. don't mind the author crying, i promise they're fine.
this one's for you, Sheepy (and everyone else that requested it).
It feels right that they are sitting in Harriet’s dorm room one last time. Most of her stuff is already packed up in boxes, her closet taken apart, all the decorations removed from the wall—but the bed and couch are still there. They’re on the floor though, their backs to the couch, and Harriet’s laptop sits open in front of them.
Up until five minutes ago, they were babbling rather nervously. Catherine in the middle, Ann and Harriet on either side of her, their hands clasped firmly, it was all they could do to keep from losing their marbles. But as time ticks down on their results, they find it impossible to find any more words.
Catherine will remain at university for at least another semester. Ann and Harriet are furiously hoping that they’ll never have to set a foot into an undergrad building ever again.
Two more minutes and they will know.
The only reason they aren’t crying yet is because they are so hungover. The last two weeks have been nothing but celebration, only broken up twice for Ann and Harriet’s respective thesis defenses.
An afterthought, much like Ann had expected—the questions were interesting and challenging, but she has been working so much on her thesis that every answer came effortlessly. Still, she is very aware that had this come half a year earlier, she would not have been nearly as cool and collected, and that only makes her more grateful for the growing up she has gotten to do in these past few months.
And basking in the shine of Anne’s affection does wonders for one’s self-esteem.
The primary reason she is awaiting her results with such bated breath. She has failed one class before and while it wasn’t great, it wasn’t awful either—if she has to do a resit, she could handle that. If she needs to retake the class, she would get to be students together with Catherine for a little longer.
But she wants to start living her life with Anne so badly that she just can’t afford to have to postpone it even longer. It feels like ages since Dublin.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Harriet whispers, her voice thick with what might just be the force she’s using to keep their meager breakfast down.
Catherine squeezes their hands. “I’m sure you’ll both have done great.”
The conversation dies after that, because have they? The tension is so palpable that Ann can taste its acidity on her tongue.
The three of them startle in unison at the ping that comes from Ann’s phone. She doesn’t have to check to know what it means: their results have come online. The time is right. The clock has struck nine am.
Catherine goes first, decidedly typing in her login information. She navigates towards the results tab and pulls it up. An impressive collection of A’s and B’s fill up the screen, though soon ignored as the friends pile into a hug.
Their happiness for Catherine is enough to temporarily forget about their own stress. Ann feels pride and genuine joy well slowly but then burst forth fierce like a geyser, suffusing every part of her up to the fingertips that she is rubbing over Catherine’s back.
“All I’ll have to do next year is one course and my thesis,” Catherine says, beaming. “That’s not so bad.”
“You’ll have so much free time to go visit Harry with me,” Ann responds, nuzzling against Catherine’s shoulder. “And maybe you can give becoming my roommate another thought.”
Ann is up next. She reaches over Catherine’s lap to give Harriet’s knee a squeeze, because if she’s already biting it, she doesn’t know what it must be like for the one that has to wait the longest. Her friend gives her a gentle smile in response.
Her fingers tremble across the keyboard twice, because she mistypes her password on the first go. Is it her imagination or does it take considerably longer for the platform to load now than it did for Catherine? Ever so slowly the pixels appear to form words and she can click on through to her results.
A. A+. Her eyes flick over a C that she doesn’t even care about anymore. It’s a passing grade.
But then her heart drops into the abyss of her gut, replaced by a cold crawling feeling that climbs up her rib cage.
“Why’s my thesis course empty?”
They know. The school board must have found out.
Catherine and Harriet are talking, at once, through each other, but Ann hears it as if she is submerged between gallons and gallons of sea water. The acid in her mouth changes to brine. She coughs and coughs, but it does not leave.
There are tears on her cheeks when she resurfaces, no idea how long she was under, blinking profusely against the light of the room and the approaching summer’s sun.
“Ssh, Ann, let me see if I have the same. Maybe we don’t get that grade at the same time, okay? Let me just...”
Catherine takes a hold of her and puts her into a forceful hug while they watch Harriet log in last, a determined set to her mouth and her shoulders. Her brows are furrowed stubbornly.
Harriet has similarly passed all her classes, with nothing beneath a B+ no less, yet her thesis course is empty as well.
The weight eases off of her lungs, but Ann has these negative thoughts running through her mind now nevertheless. In what universe would she be lucky enough to get the woman she loves and get to keep her? Happiness is not for girls like her that overthink everything, that flounder their way to the best things in their lives. She unceremoniously invited herself to the budding friendship between Catherine and Harriet. She just pined for Anne from afar without ever making any moves. How is she supposed to be deserving of any of it?
“Hey, this is my adviser.” Harriet looks at the two of them for a moment before answering the ringing cellphone, putting it on speaker phone. “Hello?”
“Good morning, Harriet. We will go over all the feedback the board has given on your thesis some other time, but for now I will tell you—you’ve passed!”
Harriet puts a hand over her mouth to smother her cry, then hastily ends the call, promising to be in touch about a follow-up on this. “I don’t fucking care about what they thought as long as I’ve graduated,” she says as soon as she has hung up.
The three of them return to a relative peace, a relative happiness, but Ann is antsy. Gets antsier. Leg bouncing, fingers tapping, she looks down at the phone in her lap and waits.
Why isn’t Anne calling? Why isn’t Anne texting? Anything, please, anything.
It gets to nine thirty. They pull themselves off the floor and help Harriet get the last of her things put away so that she doesn’t have to do it today while they celebrate or tomorrow at their graduation ceremony—hers, just Harriet’s, for now.
What if she and Catherine have to go watch Harriet graduate alone? She can already picture seeing Anne there, looking dashing no doubt, slipping out of her grip because she managed not to graduate and put their relationship into jeopardy.
By ten am, Ann has added seven missed calls in the log of Anne Lister’s phone.
They pile onto the couch. Harriet and Catherine try to engage her into their conversation, but the worrying is piling up so high that every sound is muted, distorted. She should focus on her breathing. She has come too far in her personal growth to relapse so easily into her anxious breakdowns just like this.
If she doesn’t graduate, she can deal with it. It will not mean the end of the world. It will not mean the end of her relationship with Anne—if they really care about each other, they’ll make it work. Right? Despite the risk to their academic careers, and how hard and roller coaster-like this year has already been, they’ll make it work. Right?
It’s a little before eleven when Anne’s ringtone finally shatters her thought process and pulls her out of her head. Ann eagerly picks up, barely has her hi out, holding her phone shakily to her ear when she hears Anne say, “I have some bad news.”
Breathless, throat choked with tears. “B-bad news?”
“Yeah, your thesis didn’t make it in the competition.”
“It didn’t make top three, so you’re not going to Paris. Well, I could take you, of course. Now that you’ve got an A minus on your thesis and I heard from a little bird you’ve passed all your exams, we can go wherever you want.”
The Anne Lister you fucking asshole is buried by tears and hugs and her shaky attempt at explaining it all to her friends while trying to scold Anne but being unable to because they can be together.
It’s all so very emotional.
It feels weird when they leave campus. It only then seems to hit them that they’re free. They traverse through the city with their fresh happy moods and their tear-streaked cheeks, and all the while Ann is thinking, I did it. I did it I did it I did it I did it. She has graduated. Soon she will be able to hold her degree in her hands, hard-fought and hard-won.
I did it.
The thoughts of Anne are there, of course. She is overflowing with so much happiness, and thinking about her girlfriend only makes it worse, but surprisingly, despite how much time of her days she has devoted to thinking about Anne Lister, she comes secondary for once.
Because she has graduated and that’s huge and she has never been quite so proud of herself.
They have had these plans for a long time. Whether they got good results or bad, they were going to get pancakes at the small family-owned restaurant two blocks away from campus, one of the first things they ever did in their friendship.
For the first few minutes, they’re each minding their own business on their phones, calling relatives, telling other friends—though Ann has few of those aside from the people she is with, but she has Sophie. She’ll always have Sophie. And Sophie is so happy for her, asking her to come around tonight even though they’ve been at the bar more than a few times over the past few days.
“Sophie is already putting the good champagne in the fridge for us,” she mumbles.
She smiles up at the girl that comes to take their order, and she smiles at her again when she brings them their stacks of pancakes drenched in syrup and accompanied by piles of red fruit. She smiles at everyone they pass when they leave head to Ann’s home and go celebrate with Elizabeth. She just can’t stop smiling.
All throughout that day, she needs to keep telling herself that she did it, because it feels so surreal. The past four years catch up to her in one particular moment when she is alone in the kitchen to go check the fridge for snacks. On the other side of the door, her sister is talking to the best friends she made in her freshman year, when she was still so shy and had no idea who she wanted to be in life.
And now here she is. Graduated. One day away from getting a piece of paper that will open doors for her in the world, that will tell everyone that sees it: Ann Walker did it.
She feels strangely empty thinking about the twists her life has taken. No more classes. No more going to campus to be with Harriet, to take advantage of the meal plan her father pays for as part of her school and board and buying the weirdest things. She will miss yogurt afternoons, elaborate breakfasts with seven different types of cereal, pizza Tuesdays.
It will take much longer before she will feel like a proper adult, but that’s what she is becoming now. No longer with the shield of student in front of her, she will have to start living her adult life. Job. Apartment. Girlfriend that she wants to spend her whole life with.
Heaviness sinks down on her. Quiet tears slip from her eyes before she notices them coming. She has never missed her parents more than in this moment she does not get to share with them.
Her father would’ve told her something like, Life will never stop needing you to work hard, Ann. This is just the start.
And then her mother would have chastised him. Let her enjoy this for an evening, won’t you? I’m so proud of you, little one.
She feels justified in taking a few more minutes to have a cry about it, and then she rummages through the fridge and chooses a tray of tiramisu as the perfect treat to share with three of the most important women in her life.
When she has to return for the spoons she forgot, she does not cry again.
Graduation is not all that interesting. Anne is obliged to attend, which is why she does so, but never happily and always with Mariana on her arm to make it bearable. Her best friend is here again today too, but Anne smiles thinking it will be the last time.
She looks across the lawn to where a bright head of golden hair catches the sunlight. Occasionally their eyes meet across that vast expanse and she feels their connection solidify further. But right now is not the time for them to be together just yet.
“I can distract the girls later if you want some time alone,” Mariana whispers, leaning back against the wall with her, idly toying with the glass of champagne in her hand.
Principal Rawson is currently still giving his welcome speech to the sea of black robes and parents interspersed. It is as tedious as it is every year, but perfunctorily she claps when the pauses call for it.
She has been feeling a little bad about the way she tried to break the news to Ann. It had been an attempt to make the good news register even more blissfully, but she missed the mark on it—she needs to remember that Ann can still have her anxieties, no matter how far she has come. The fact she hasn’t seen her at all since, because she had been celebrating with her friends and family, didn’t improve her feeling.
All she needs is a couple of minutes alone with her to tell her how proud she is, how much Ann deserves this, how happy they can be now. But they have the rest of forever and she can wait a few hours longer if that’s what it takes.
The welcome speech of the principal cycles into a long list of names being called out and degrees handed over. There is a lot of applause. The mass of people waiting has turned into the buzzing of steady conversation. Through every shifting, Anne keeps honing in on exactly where Ann is.
She is smiling a lot. Even in the robes, she looks stunning. And she has eyes for Anne less and less as she is talking to what must be Harriet Parkhill’s parents, looking out of place with their tans and their very white teeth and their immaculate clothing.
Anne would fit with them. She is wearing one of her finest tuxedos, every stretch of fabric and seam hand-tailored to her body. One button done, it accentuates her wide hips and shoulders while also drawing attention to how tight her shirt fits around her muscular abdomen.
She knows the effect her look has on people. She can’t wait to see Ann’s reaction to it up close.
When the name Ann Walker gets called, Anne claps loudest of all, heart soaring with pride. The look of utter happiness on her girlfriend’s face is one she wants to see for the rest of her life. She gives a little wave into the crowd and starts marching off the stage.
Their eyes catch and hold for a moment, closest they have been in a few days, and they look each other over with a wide smile and a held breath.
Just a few more hours.
She gets a little too tipsy trying to deal with the distance and the time. Anne has never been a particularly patient person, so this is torture. There seems to come no end to the amount of people graduating today. And when it finally does, they move to where a garden party is set up on the lawns of campus, with waiters and waitresses carrying around platters of appetizers and drinks, and dozens of flashes going off every second as pictures get taken of the newly graduated.
She talks to some of the colleagues of her department and of others. Parents come to talk to her, slightly daunted by the look of her, stammering in her presence. Mariana regales her with stories of her recent trip to Iceland. And through it all, Anne gets a little too tipsy, so that when she finally spots an opening for Ann’s attention she goes for it without much preamble.
“Congratulations, miss Walker,” she whispers as she slides in the spot vacated between Ann and George. She sees Elizabeth do a double take of her, and then watches a confused expression dawn on her face. Slowly she must be making the connection, but since she is no longer Ann’s professor in any way, she is not about to stay and defend their decisions. “Might I steal you for a minute?”
Ann has ditched the robes and looks stellar in the golden dress that hugs her soft, sensuous curves perfectly. Anne has a hard time keeping her hands to herself.
They walk side by side, undoubtedly striking a dashing picture, away from the din of the party and any prying eyes.
“Not yet,” Anne whispers as she notices Ann inching closer, hand falling open by her side and pinky finger touching to hers. “Once we’re inside.”
Inside, with a thick wall between them and the party, the noise dies down to the barest of a hum in the background. It takes exactly three more seconds before Anne loses her composure and slams into Ann, kissing her with every ounce of her feelings pouring into it. They wobble, then find steady purchase against the wall.
“You did it,” she whispers against Ann’s lips, eagerly attempting to get back to her. They kiss some more when Ann echoes, “I did it.”
They pull apart long enough to walk a few more feet. This is dangerous. They could get caught. But Anne has done this before with Mariana more than once, and no one ever comes up here when there’s free alcohol being passed out outside.
It’s not her class room, but it’s close enough that her mind floods with images of Ann being the perfect example of a good student. Sitting at the front, paying attention, taking notes, always so attentive. Always looking at Anne like she was a goddess.
She breathes heavily against Ann’s neck between butterfly soft kisses. “Did you think about this when you sat in my classes, miss Walker?”
Ann whimpers softly, nods. “Yes.”
There is a chill all around her when she tears herself away from the center of heat that is Ann’s body. She saunters down the steps to the front of the class, calling over her shoulder, “I always noticed you, you know. I just never... noticed you.”
When she turns around, she sees Ann has followed her, striding down in high heels that make her legs look even better than they usually do.
“But our private conversations... you really have no idea the things you do to me, do you?” She reaches out to pull Ann the last steps of the way and tugs her close, runs her fingers through the gentle waves of her hair, tucks the locks behind her ear, cups her cheek. “Getting to know you as Ann and not as my student meant I finally got to see what a marvel you are.”
She watches the bob of Ann’s throat with some satisfaction.
“You’re going to make me cry.”
Anne kisses her cheeks, bare but for some dusting of make-up. “We can’t have that. Only smiles tonight.”
They continue on their whirl through the building, leaving the lecture hall behind and taking to the staircase. Their steps reverberate against the steps, the railings, the bare walls. They pass by a window and glance through it, but they have lost all interest in the party now.
Ann is leaning heavily against her back when Anne bends to the door of her office and sets to unlocking it. When they slip inside, they leave everything else behind in the hallway. Inside it they are Anne and Ann, girlfriends, still so passionate about each other.
With Ann backed against the door, Anne takes her head into her hands again and kisses her deeply. Her hips press into her, dress pants resting against gold sequins, arms winding. They are in their own bubble, fortifying more every day.
She feels the button of her jacket being undone, then the palms of Ann’s hands resting against her back between layers. They’re even closer together then, glued together but for their clothes, but might the heat slowly rising not melt those away for them?
“I have something for you.”
Anne is surprised, which is not easy to accomplish, and curious. “Hm, do you?”
They part somehow, another thing Anne did not think easily accomplished, and Ann fumbles into her bra for something that fits into the palm of her hand with her fingers clenched over it. “Sit.”
Anne usually balks at being told what to do, but she can’t deny Ann much, so she does, takes a seat in her chair behind her desk. More memories come rushing back, of the pleasant hours they spent here getting to know each other. Finding she was letting slip more personal details than she was usually inclined to do. Looking forward to the meetings all week, at that time not yet fully realizing what it was that was happening.
Ann moves about the office for a bit, closing the curtains, flicking on the light. Then she takes her familiar spot across from her, the desk between them, and it feels right and wrong at the same time.
It’s a ring.
A simple, thin golden band that forms into the infinity sign at the top. It fits perfectly on her thumb.
“It’s a promise ring,” Ann says. Her face has reddened to a deep crimson blush. “I’m not leaving, Anne. I promise you that.”
There are no words. No words at all to describe Ann Walker, no words to say to her. Just her hand outstretched across the distance of her desk. No words when Ann takes it, lets herself be led around the desk and onto Anne’s lap.
It’s a tight fit, but they’re nothing if not dedicated to making it work.
They kiss tenderly at first, the only way Anne can express her feelings. They are too big, too vast for words, when usually she has so many. Instead she will show Ann with every touch of her lips, with the possessive way her arms are slung around Ann’s waist, with every breath that slips between them.
Ann moans delicately, beautifully when Anne teases her fingers over her thighs, lets her thumb trace from her knee to her hip and back. Looking down between them, Anne marvels at the way the ring looks against her thumb against the creamy white of Ann’s skin.
“Are we doing this here?”
“Haven’t you thought about fucking me when you were in my office before?” Anne counters, voice a low drawl, and she sees the look on Ann’s face darken. “I can’t wait until we’re off campus.”
Their mouths clash together again. Ann’s fingers go through her hair, nudging loose every pin, every clip. Anne tilts Ann’s face up and lavishes her throat and shoulder with attention. Every mark she sucks hard enough that it draws little yelps and mewls from the girl in her lap.
They’re moving together, writhing, squirming. Ann tries not to—Anne feels her try to reign it in, then fail, then try again—tries not to grind down against her firm thighs, against her abdomen. She has spots of red on her cheeks and her mouth keeps falling open, panting, and she keeps failing not to buck into her.
Anne puts her hands under Ann’s thighs and lifts her up onto her desk. The heels settle on the chair instead, and Anne leans back to look with half-lidded eyes at the golden-haired angel now perched atop her desk.
This sure is an angle that she is grateful for.
She runs her hands up Ann’s calves, eases her thighs open further at the knees. In one swoop she is up on her feet and settled between her legs, head dipped down to kiss down the cleavage her dress allows.
She would love to get Ann fully undressed. There are a hundred things she would love to do right now. But with time of the essence and the thrill of the possibility at getting caught only arousing for a little longer, she contents herself with rolling the hem of her dress up to her hips.
She does take the panties off and puts them into her back pocket.
Ann does not complain, not when there’s deft fingers cupping her bare, teasing between her folds, wide off the mark but circling closer.
Fused together, they muffle each other’s noises, grin as they have hands between each other’s thighs and roll their hips together, a messy and uncoordinated moving together that is not the best they’ve ever had but good. So good.
They spend a long time after just kissing, softly, gently, slowly winding down.
“How does getting out of here sound?”
“Perfect. Wherever you go I will follow you.”
She has the distinct idea that Ann does not mean just right now, so Anne steals her away forever.
END OF SEMESTER 2
Chapter 27: xxvii: epilogue.
damn, the last chapter already? how time flies.
thank you everyone who has been reading and following along, i could not have done this without you. more extensive thank you at the end, since i don't want to keep you too long! <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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.
it has been the most genuine honor of my life writing this story for a fandom as inclusive, loving, and kind as this one has been to me. when i started this, i had a half-assed plan that i ended up throwing away after a couple of days, and zero expectations. you have all blown me away. i am extremely humbled by the sheer amount of love i have received from you. there are so many of you that deserve my gratitude and my thanks and my love.
naramis, you especially have been such an instrumental part of this process. joan and jane, your comments were so insightful and helped me more than i can explain.
but all of you, ALL OF YOU, have had such a profound impact on me as a person and a writer. finishing this, i attribute it to you giving me the wings to fly. if i ever manage to get a novel published, it will be because all of you made me believe in myself again.
all i set out to do was write a love story about two women. it ended up being so much more than that.
from the bottom of my heart: thank you.