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On The Ice

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It’s hard to twirl resentfully but Anne just about manages it. (She is after all a very good skater.)

She pauses every now and then to glance over to where Jane is holding onto the side of the rink and struggling to keep her balance.

This had not been her plan- she had imagined skating as a group, all six of them (she doesn’t mind spending time with Jane when they had the others as a buffer between them). Or failing that, to take Kitty or Cathy or Anna. Anna she knows is a good skater, she would have enjoyed teaching Kitty. And Cathy- well, she wouldn’t have cared if Cathy could skate or not, as long as it meant spending time together, just the two of them.

Even Aragon would have been fine- they could have both just done their own thing, she knows Aragon is an excellent skater, despite the fact that she rarely will agree to a trip to the rink.

But no. They all had to be busy (Anna) or sick (Cathy) or not in the mood (Kitty)….and before she had even thought to scrap the idea, Jane had offered to come with her and she hadn’t been able to think of a way to say no gracefully.

So here she is, stuck watching Jane ruin her trip by being pathetic. If only the woman had been able to sense where she wasn’t wanted- but then, she’d never been good at that.

She can remember Jane inserting herself into court, pushing herself into conversation with the King, pushing herself at him and subsequently pushing Anne out. She remembers skating with Jane in another life- the King following her hungrily with his eyes as Thomas Seymour gave his sister his arm to allow her to make a shaky progress across the frozen lake.

That had been the beginning of the end. For Anne and for her marriage.

She’s pulled out of her thoughts by a little cry and a thud- someone has fallen and she doesn’t even need to turn her head to know it’s Jane.

She waits for a long moment, pretending to pay close attention to a list of prohibited behaviours while upon the ice….and then she gives up and glides over to where a shaken looking Jane is being helped to her feet by a couple of strangers.

‘Are you alright?’ She can hear how much flatter her voice is- she never sounds so disinterested when talking to Kitty.

‘Yes- I think so.’ Jane grabs hold of the safety railing so tightly that her knuckles are white. ‘Thank you- thank you so much- my friend’s here now…’

The couple smile, and move away and Anne’s heart sinks. She doesn’t want to have to take responsibilty for Jane now- especially as by the way she’s wincing, it’s unlikely she’ll be able to just leave Jane to herself.

‘Can you carry on skating, do you think?’

It’s a vain hope- she isn’t expecting her to agree- but to her surprise, the other woman nods.

‘Yes- you go on, I’m ok….’

Anne doesn’t wait to be told twice- she gives a half smile of thanks and then glides away, relishing the speed, the smoothness of it.

She’s utterly in control, she’s in her element….and for a few minutes, she’s enjoying herself, again, before she ruins it by looking back at Jane.

The girl is still clinging to the railing, and she looks too afraid to move. She looks helpless and it makes Anne feel simultaneously guilty and angry. She doesn’t WANT to feel sorry for the woman who was responsible for her death. 

But…she also finds she can’t go back to skating now.

Jane looks surprised when Anne appears in front of her.

‘Do you want to come sit down?’ Anne doesn’t smile as she says it but Jane nods gratefully anyway. 

‘Yes please….although don’t you want to keep skating?’

‘It’s fine.’ She offers Jane her arm and helps her stumble off the ice and to one of the spectator benches.

‘Thank goodness.’ Jane gives a sigh of relief as she sinks down- it’s not just relief at taking a break, Anne can tell, but relief at being off the ice altogether.

‘Do you want….like, tea or hot chocolate or something?’ She’s not really being kind, more looking for an escape….but Jane shakes her head.

‘No, it’s ok- they’re ridiculously expensive here anyway-’

Damn.

‘-it’s kind of you though. Honestly, it’s enough to just get to sit down.’

‘Suit yourself.’

There’s a minute or two of awkward silence, while Jane pretends to be very interested  in her laces, Anne with her fingernails.

Eventually, it’s too uncomfortable.

‘Jane?’

‘Yeah?’

‘Not to be rude but…’ She’s not sure how to phrase it politely. ‘Why did you want to come skating? You don’t seem to….really like it. And you’re not very…’ She gropes for the right word. ‘-steady on the ice…’

Jane looks her straight in the eye. ‘You looked like you really wanted to go.’

‘Yeah but-’

‘The others were busy…and i didn’t think you’d want to go alone.’

She’s right- neither Anne nor any of the other queens really enjoy going places entirely alone, especially places that are guaranteed to be busy and noisy. Anne finds herself a bit taken aback that Jane had volunteered just to keep her from having to cancel her trip- she’d assumed….well, she wasn’t sure what she’d assumed. Had she really thought Jane had volunteered just to make Anne uncomfortable? Not exactly…but not exactly not, either.

‘Well….thanks.’

‘It’s ok.’

There’s another awkward pause. Anne finds she has to ask.

‘So…. do you actually like skating at all?’

Jane squirms a bit and avoids her eyes.

‘It’s….erm, it’s very-’

For a woman able to lie to Anne’s face every day- or to be deceitful anyhow, since admittedly Jane had never actually told her anything untrue- Jane is pretty awful at subterfuge. Anne raises a skeptical eyebrow and Jane gives up.

‘Ok. Yes. I don’t like it. I always think I’m going to fall through the ice and drown….’

Anne stares at her. ‘It’s a fake rink, Jane.’

Jane colours. ‘I know! But…still. Also, I always think I might fall and have someone skate over my fingers and just….’ She shudders.

‘When did you start thinking stuff like that?’

Jane looks at her curiously. ‘I’ve always thought it. Ever since I was a child- I never saw it happen, it’s just common sense that it might…’

Anne is confused. ‘But….no, that’s not right….you used to LIKE skating, I remember it-’

‘Anne, I promise you- I’ve hated skating always.’

‘But you didn’t!’ Anne is aware of how ridiculous her arguing is but she can’t let it rest. ‘You ASKED to come skating that Christmas….when we were at court together! You asked to come- you had the King invite you and the other ladies. You said you thought it would be beautiful….’

Jane gives her a pitying look- she doesn’t speak slowly exactly, but she’s talking with great care. ‘Anne. I was told by my father that I was to ask for the ladies to be allowed to come. He thought it would be a good occasion for the King to see me, he hoped that we might find occasion to talk a little, as he put it.’

‘But-’

‘I was afraid the whole time, I was shaking so hard when Thomas pulled me in front of you both.’

‘Of the ice?’

‘Yes. And that the King would talk to me. And that he wouldn’t.’

‘He didn’t.’ Anne remembers that. 

‘No. Father was most…unhappy because of that.’ 

She falls silent, and Anne isn’t sure what to say.

‘I’m….sorry.’

Jane flashes her an attempt at a smile. ‘It’s ok. It was all long ago now anyway.’

‘You always say that.’

‘What?’

‘It’s ok.’ Anne makes the commas with her fingers in the air. ‘It’s alright, it’s ok….why are you so….accepting of things?’

‘Well.’ Jane shrugs. ‘No point in getting angry about it now, right?’

‘But then!’ Anne finds she’s almost angry…no, not almost. Actually angry. ‘Why didn’t you get angry back then, why didn’t you…say no? Why did you let it happen, why did you go along with it?’

Jane doesn’t blink. ‘You went along with it.’

‘I said no for six years! Six years, Jane!’

‘But you still gave in.’ Jane’s voice is steady. ‘You gave in too.’

‘But I didn’t want to!’ It’s almost a wail- a woman looks over from her coffee.

‘Neither did I.’ Through the sudden blurriness in her eyes, she can see Jane smiling at her sadly. ‘Neither did I.’