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comfort and empathy

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July 7, 1865

Nobody had ever informed her just how much those tears that were shed for loved ones hurt, and now as they fell from her eyes in a stream of her anguish and heartache, Anna could not imagine anything being worse than this. The feeling wracked itself up and down her body. The amount of frustration to have the one thing that was left to love in your life right in front of you, just an inch or centimeter from a safe grasp, but know that a greater power was keeping it withheld.

It makes Anna detest the North for its will of the preservation of the Union, the sting from her mother's unjust hanging aiding her wounds to a fiery point. She wants to blame someone, there must be a way to help the pain, but she knows that her wanting to blame someone for this is exactly the same thing as the people wanting to blame her mother for what happened. It is frustrating that now she knows what it feels like and it would make her a hypocrite to feel so.

There is no possible way to describe in words what it is like to literally watch as someone you love is murdered and know you have absolutely nothing you can do about it. You can try, so Anna does in hopes of averting her mind to something - anything, but after a few moments of coming up blank she releases a quiet sob and wrings her hands together on her lap, leaning against the rough wall for support.

It is not right and it is not fair. In her mind all she can do is imagine the things that went wrong and every little thing she could have done different to have caused a better outcome of events. All the small trivial matters that she should have done differently, but knowing there is nothing she can do about the past reminds her of the simple fact that she could not have saved her mother if she had tried and it only makes the knots in her chest tighten. They would have shot her if she made an attempt to rescue her mother from the Gallows (which to be completely honest did not sound so terrible just then) because after they gave her time to grieve Anna would be shoved back into the world as a young, clueless, and broken woman, forever branded the sister and daughter of the people who assassinated the President.

She so desperately wants to be a kid again, if that were so then she could simply go crawl into her mother's bed and snuggle close into her shoulder, knowing everything would be okay because no matter what happened she had her mother - and she had her brother.

Anna had been the older one but never had she been the stronger one. Sarcastic, maybe, but when it came down to it John had been the one who was least likely to break. In the months prior to the death of President Abraham Lincoln, he had become as distant as ever and even in that short time Anna had grown a harder, more stable exterior. Perhaps from the absence of her brother's shoulder to lean on.

Nevertheless, she can not decide which side of the war in her heart was winning. Much like the nationwide war, she was torn in between two desires, they thrashed inside her with snapping jaws and it made her nauseous. The beam of light slipping in from the window beat on the right side of her face, easing her pale sweat.

There was a part of her that boiled, bubbling with a form of anger Anna had never experienced before in her life. It made her feel not like lashing out on something or someone but rolling over under covers and sleeping a lifetime. Her insides feel hot, like they were being burnt with coal, and she recognized its origin to be rooted into her brother - John Surratt. This was his fault in every way shape or form and Anna cursed him. Cursed him for rebelling against their mother in such an extreme way (he could not have just ran off with a Yankee girl.) She cursed him for bringing in that Mr. Wilkes-Booth and the others, cursed him for everything.

When she had accumulated an attraction towards the actor, it had been petty and a young girl's fantasy for the naïve. It soon meant nothing and in fact she had come to rather despise the man for stealing her brother's innocence.

But most of all Anna curses him for hiding away, wherever he was, and sitting by like a coward as his mother hangs for his sins and wrong doings.

The thing that makes all the pain brighter, like the flame of a candle at its best when its just been lit, is that throughout everything John had done she can not help but feel like it would be better if he were here. And not to take the place of her mother's neck in the noose, but so she could have someone to have for support because she feels so weak right now, so damn weak. Weaker and more vulnerable than she had been when they had moved which had been deemed impossible at that time. All it takes is one second, one instant, one decision, to destroy so much that people had built up. It was like she kept climbing and climbing and just when she reached the top, something on the other side of the mountain wavers her balance and she tumbles back down to the bottom.

Anna knows that she loves her brother, even now, and that thought alone is enough to bring on an all new set of muffled sobs into the back of her wrist. He had always been there for her, when they were young, and up until recently. Now, Anna takes his command to stay away from Booth as a sign that he had not completely abandoned her, but really it still does not matter. Because he left her here to watch with no control as their mother was hanged and that makes her angry again. Angry enough that she does not notice when a figure stands in the doorway and watches her with caution as her fingers curl to scratch the wall, her forehead pressed against it.

She clenches her jaw, not fully understanding why she feels like she should not be crying, but it is there in the back of her mind and she tries not to listen to the voice that is whispering, "You're mother is dead, Anna. It's okay to cry. You have the right to cry. Go ahead, Anna - cry, let it out."

Maybe it is because people would think her cruel that she is sorrowful over her mother's death, after all she had deserved it had she not? Nobody could get past their hunger for revenge and it resulted in an innocent woman's death, all because they blamed her for John's actions. Anna prayed to God if she ever had children that they never did a bit of wrong in their lives, obviously the ones responsible were automatically the parents.

Damned and condemned.

If they would only put themselves in her shoes. Imagine a sibling or parent being accused of these crimes - the love for a family that grows over time cannot be erased in one moment. Once it is there, one can not simply just be done with it and move on like nothing happened. Love was permanent. It left scars. She does love her brother, and people would think her wrong for it after he had participated in such an atrocious sin, but because her love remains that does not mean Anna does not think him wrong for what he had done.

She becomes aware of someone stepping inside the room, but thinking it is only someone here to remove her from the grounds, she does not move or turn around because right now she has too much bottled inside and she fears if she moves even a step or two her legs will give out beneath her.

Most people think that Southerners hated Lincoln, and in some cases it was true, but she had never had an irritation towards the man. She even had a certain amount of respect for him. Being born, raised, and brought up in the South she never really had a choice in what to believe in because with her mother and father teaching her everything she needed to know, it was clear what was right and what was wrong. As she had grown older, her opinions began forming on their own inside her head, and Anna remembers how frightening it had been trying to decide if it was okay to question some of the things that were happening around her. The slaves, for instance - everyone said that was what the war was about, but when you looked closely there was so much more to it than that. In fact, Anna rather did not care for the keeping of slaves. In her eyes she sees that people should work in the jobs that they want to be in or at least choose to be in, and the way some of the men treated their slave workers; it was sickening. She may have been brought up in the South but she was brought up to love above all else.

She believes with every thread of her heart in the sovereignty of each individual state. It was puzzling that those of the North could not see how dangerous it was for the government to have that much power, they could not see that in a way this was a step towards becoming like before with a King in charge of too much. Sure, change the name, but it is the same game and would have the same result. In Anna's opinion, this was a repeat of the Revolutionary War, and with both sides faltering under their own errors and perspicacity's, too many innocent lives were being torn apart with too much blood and tears being shed.

With the war raging, Anna thought she had understood what death was, but as it turns out she had not a single clue because at this time she is so confused and scared and she is hurting like nothing ever before. Before, she had figured death to be sad at first but because it is something that happens to everyone it would be evident to accept and move on, and now she tries to think of the future and what will happen. She can not see how she will ever be able to go a day without crying, even that would be a landmark, just a single hour without thinking of her mother's death. Mary had said she would always be with her, and it was true. Blended in with every thought and emotion, she was with her now and would be forever because Anna could not do it without her. And she had made it this far, had she not? It would be a lie if she said she had not almost fainted after seeing her mother spasm under the rope but she was standing here. Suffering but managing, right?

As Anna takes in a shuddered breath, a hand lands on her shoulder so softly she barely feels it, and her tearful eyes shift from the ground to the considerate face behind her. And maybe it is the convenience of time or maybe it is the affectionate and supportive look in his blue eyes but for whatever reason it may be she leans forward into him and presses her face into the side of his neck while wrapping her arms around his waist.

It feels so nice just to have someone there, to feel their warmth and the beat of their heart beneath their chest. She thought perhaps she had crossed over a line at first, as he was unresponsive from her hug, and she could not blame him whatsoever if he was uncomfortable (hell even she was uncomfortable in that sense) they were practically strangers and not just that but complete polar opposites. He was high end and classy, she was no doubt headed for poverty, he was North and she was South. They had had the tension filled conversations but now, as he had come to know of her mother's innocence, it was like he was the one other person who believed her and knew what she was going through. In some twisted way he was the light at the end of a dark tunnel.

He was hesitant, but relaxed and embraced her into his arms.

"Anna," Frederick murmurs and his breath hits her left ear, but she does not want him to say anything because the tears are already beginning to form a wet spot on his clothing and if he says one thing it could just be the last final shove she needs to go over the edge, "I am so sorry." Her face feels warm and she grabs the material on his back in her fist, letting out a choked wail, the tears falling from her eyes with no permission.

Relief.

Anna missed the feeling that overwhelmed her when he had informed them that her mother was to have a fair citizen trial. It was like having the weight of a thousand bricks lifted off her chest and the crush of all those bricks slamming back down on her as she was told that her mother would still be executed had knocked the wind from her. She remembers that he had tried to stop them. And he was the only one, other than herself, who had defended her mother.

Later, she tries to convince herself that that reason alone was why his arms around her shoulders had felt so ameliorating and natural, the way his body seemed to fit perfectly snuggled against hers. But she is not thinking about that at the moment, because she is hurting and his comfort seems to ease the pain so Anna holds him close to make the affliction bearable.

It probably is not proper or respectable for a girl of her age to be at such a close proximity with a man several years older than her, not mentioning that she was sure he had a lady waiting for him, but it is not like that for her right now. Somehow he is making the impossible happen. The pain is still very evident, but it seems almost like it is okay because she is not completely alone. So he lets her cry into his shoulder as he rubs his fingers in circles on her back, a soothing gesture Anna is grateful for, and for those minutes that pass along with her tears she is not sure why it feels so good anymore. Her legs had long given out, her entire weight supported under his grasp, and there is a tightness in her throat that is closing in more and more with each passing second.

Anna had not realized that she was breathing in short puffs of air, releasing a muffled groan each time, and she suddenly becomes light headed.

It is all too much; her mother's death, her brother's disappearance, the murder, the trial, the judgment, all the pain, it is simply too much for one person to comprehend in such a short amount of time and nothing is right anymore. It is as if with her mother gone, everything has become a jumbled mess of puzzle pieces. Mary had been the glue to her puzzle and now she is gone and Anna is left with distorted pieces that will never fit back together again.

"You have to breathe." He finally says after some time. She chalks up his silence as a loss for what to say, but the fact that he has not left yet and has not removed his arms from around her is enough to keep her conscience understanding what his request is. That still does not make it any easier to swallow down whatever is in her throat.

"I can't, Mr. Aiken! I c - can't!" Anna is unable to finish the sentence and although she continues trying, she feels his hand on the back of her head pressing it into his shoulder again just so she will stop blubbering. She has already dug her teeth into her bottom lip so hard it is near to breaking the skin, and still her tears come from her eyes. It is not even individual tears anymore but a continual pool of them leaking and quite frankly pouring from her head, the sobs stifled in his jacket.

He is holding her so securely that his chin is digging into the side of her cheek, and as he speaks Anna can barely hear around the cloud inside her head. There is so much of her that wants nothing but for the pain in her chest to stop yet she feels if the pain is not there then she would already be forgetting her mother. And the guilt. Guilt that it should have been her on trial because John would have been more likely to include her in on the assassination than their mother. It should have been her, this is the one thing that is clear to her at the moment other than Frederick's comfort being the only remedy for her sorrow. He understands. He is the only one who does not blame her or her mother for what happened.

"This," he whispers exasperated and she feels his jaw set tight as he continues in a strained, resentful tone, "It isn't right."

Anna does not know what he is referring to, whether it be the hanging of Mary Surratt or the sobbing broken daughter of the hanged in front of him, but either way the words sound like they are from far away. And the thought of him being far away, strangely, makes her fingers knot into his back keeping him from moving if he chose to do so. She does not fathom - or care for that matter - exactly how long she catatonically gripped dangerously tight to Frederick Aiken's frame, with her face nestled into the dip of his shoulder and neck, eyes squeezed shut as if it would hold in the tears. He had wrapped his arm to enclose her shaking shoulders with his other hand still resting on the back of her head, and even through all of their differences Anna can not explain the overwhelming amount of ease he gives her from this tranquil embrace.

Her only answer is that it must be because she is more alone now than she has ever been. Her mother is dead, her brother is evading the law, probably hiding out in some dark heavily wooded forest, and even if she does technically have an Aunt who lives over in Texas, when truth be told Anna does not have anyone she can trust or go to for support. But here he is, offering it to her at the most essential time she has ever longed for it. And like a newborn pet seeing its owner first, she feels drawn to him in a way she can not explain because the emptiness in her is somehow a little less noticeable when he is holding her like this.

It has been too long now, much too long for it not to be slightly awkward, but still Anna feels nothing of embarrassment as his hands slide to her shoulders and he pulls back not even a foot to look at her.

She has been quiet for a few minutes, only shallow breathing and sniffles, and she feels quite the fool for having settled down because now he would be leaving and she would never see him again and that acknowledgement almost makes her begin another crying fit. The tears are freshly dried on her cheeks and her eyes are still glassy, she knows she must look like a pitiful sap, but it does not matter what her appearance is because this is not about her, or him, it is about the death of her mother.

He stares at her, seemingly searching her face for something, and as he does Anna returns the look with a fierce determination. She is so unbelievably grateful that she sees in him, not judgment or pity, but a sort of empathy that says he is not feeling sorry for her, instead he shares whatever Anna is dealing with on a different level than anyone before. Her arms hang limply at her sides because she is not sure where they should rest, and she is debating in her head if she should take a step back away from him when he exhales and pulls her back to his chest, ducking his hands under her arms to cradle her back.

Anna purses her lips together and swallows, closing her eyes slowly, and enjoying the sensation of his chin lowered to the top of her head because in a moment she is sure he is going to leave and the emptiness will be all she can bear to think about. Her hands are pressed between her body and his, and she can feel his heart thrumming inside his chest, so she focuses on the beat it makes only hoping that she can find a new muse after he has left.

The gentle comfort he provides will be gone soon and when Anna thinks back on this in the future, she will use the excuse that she was vulnerable and confused and had understandably wanted someone in her life to still be there with a connection that meant something, unlike all the others who judged her so mercilessly. Regardless, at the moment she is not thinking about the consequences of what she is about to do or the repercussions that will affect not only herself but Frederick as well. And that is the point, because she is not thinking of her mother's hanging at that moment and perhaps that is why Anna leans back, her face inches away from his, so close she can feel his breath on her face. If this is what it takes to get her mind from the pain and aching then so be it, she does not care.

He looks down at her, and she can tell by the look on his face that he had figured she was going to pull away now, but instead of removing her hands from his chest, she reaches up to his neck and inclines his head to look at her straight on. Their eyes only meet for a brief moment and if Anna had seen a single faltering speck in them, she would have stepped back and let him leave her with the pain but she does not see any malcontent. Frederick looks . . . well she does not really know what the look on his face is to be honest, but she knows it is not a look of objection and that is enough for her. So before she loses the nerve or her mind stupidly wanders back to warp around the fact that her mother is dead, she leans up to press her mouth to his in a kiss.

She barely registers that what she has just caused is actually happening, and a part of her knows that he will push her back and at best forgive her for taking advantage of him trying help a grieving daughter, but the pressure of his lips covering hers is an all new thought on its own and Anna suddenly forgets what day it is when she feels him not shove her back, but catch her lips in another kiss.

In the pit of her stomach, guilt settles for doing this on the day her mother is murdered, but she had been wrong. This right here was not about her mother. It was about them - Frederick and Anna. It was about the way only he could make that emptiness seep from her mind, and only he could make her feel this strong of desire at such a time as this. No, this was not some infatuation. It was a primitive comforting of two people, two people who understood, and knew what was true and unjust no matter what others thought.

Anna does not even understand that her fingers had been knotted into his hair until he loosens his arms from her body to lightly push her back from him, staring at the ground with a shamed face. And now that he is out of her grasp for the first time in what seems like forever, her body feels deserted with the cold air caressing it instead. In a desperate attempt to not slip back into the empty hole, she relives the feel of his lips molding to hers and the way the taste still lingers in her mouth. She misses the rough feel of his facial hair and the smell of his soap. But all of that is as good as forgotten because Frederick is slowly stepping back away from her and towards the door, his hands balled into fist, and his eyes refusing to look at her.

"I am truly sorry, miss." He apologizes before turning around and leaving the room in a haste. But it is like the words are not reaching her ears because he should not have been apologizing to her, if anything she should have said sorry to him for starting it all, and even still at that moment Anna sees nothing wrong with what had happened. In her mind, she can not see how wrong it was yet because she is still dizzy from the kiss and the way it had taken her back to before her mother was hanged and her brother a criminal.

But just like that, he is gone and as she had suspected, the hollow emptiness comes back. Anna finds herself stumbling back against the wall before sliding down in sitting position. The tears sting her eyes already but she does not bother to wipe them away because she knows it will be of no use.

It is him, she realizes, that will never be the glue that her mother was, but he could be the glue to her puzzle pieces. And because it does not change a thing and Anna knows this, she sets her head in her hands and begins to cry. Again.