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Many Happy Returns: The Incident

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“I don’t want to go,” Anne grumbled as she shrugged into her starched shirt. “We aren’t speaking, you know.”

“You’ll make up with Tib,” her wife soothed, already slipping a thin blue tie around her neck. “She’s a softie.”

Anne hummed and pursed her lips, staring down her nose at Ann. Absolutely ravishing, as always, in this slip of a dress, the top effortlessly hugging her curves and the bottom flaring out around her hips, the hem dusting her knees. The blues matched, of course, because Ann loved nothing more than dressing them both. Anne felt the knot of the tie reach her throat, and she bent down to kiss her wife. Ann smiled, but pulled away far too soon. She pressed Anne’s cufflinks into her hand.

“Can’t be late.”

Anne rushed to fix her cuffs and race after her wife. Their hands found each other effortlessly as they made their way to the car. Three years under their belt, and they’d never been so in sync. Anne felt positively giddy, even if she usually hated birthday parties. It didn’t matter what they were celebrating tonight; she had Ann on her arm, and that was enough.

“Be civil,” Ann warned as they parked outside the restaurant. Tib and Pic were strolling along the sidewalk. “I’m serious, Pony.”

“Alright,” Anne grumbled, receiving a quick kiss on the cheek for her pains. 

“There she is!” Catherine cried as they found the table in the back. “The woman of the hour.”

“Anne is here too,” Ann joked.

They dropped into the last two seats available, directly in the middle of the long table. On one end were Marian and Thomas, Tib and Pic; on the other sat Catherine and Washington and Vere. Anne noted with a small twinge of satisfaction that the seat for Vere’s husband sat empty. Though she was, of course, exceedingly happy with Ann, it did help to see that Vere hadn’t fared quite so well. That old rejection still smarted, even if she didn’t like to admit it. 

“A toast!” Marian called out, raising her glass.

“To the terrifying mistress of Shibden Hall,” Washington said, his eyes twinkling; Anne’s heart flooded with affection for him, this man who understood her in a way few others did and who didn’t mind being surrounded by women at home, at work, and (it seemed) at dinner. 

“Hear, hear!” Thomas echoed.

“To one hell of a sister,” Marian said kindly. “And an even better friend.”

“When she feels like it,” Tib grumbled.

“Do you want to go, mate?” Anne barked, her wife’s firm hand already curling around her forearm.

“We stan an Aries queen,” Catherine said happily, glass still raised. “To Anne!”

Echoes of her name reverberated, but Anne didn’t drink. She was still on edge from Tib’s comment, not to mention completely confused by Catherine’s. She patted her wife’s hand, a silent “I’m fine,” and turned the menu. 

 

“All I’m saying,” Tib said loudly, “is that local bookstores are community centers in a way that websites just aren’t.”

“All I’m saying,” Anne said, her jaw clenching, “is that you never have any bloody books in stock!” 

“We can order it!” Tib shouted.

“So can I!” Anne shouted back.

“Pony,” her wife hissed. “Stop.”

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Anne snapped softly before turning back to her half-eaten pasta.

She hardly looked up as Ann shifted to sit next to Vere, far at the end of the table. Why should Anne care anyway? It was her bloody birthday, wasn’t it? Why had Tib even shown up? They still hadn’t discussed The Incident. 

“You seem a bit stressed,” Washington said, leaning across the table. “Anything the matter?”

“I don’t need advice from my own employee, thank you very much.”

“I -” Washington caught himself and shook his head. “I was under the impression, uh, that I’d been invited as a friend.” Anne cringed. “But if I’m not -”

“No,” she interrupted. “You are. You are - hmmm. Please stay.”

Washington nodded, but he turned away from her nonetheless.

“You’re being an arse,” Marian said, her voice thick from the wine. “What’s going on?”

“None of your business.”

“Come on, Boss,” Thomas cajoled, sounding nearly as pissed as Marian. “You can tell us.”

“It’ll be a secret,” Marian whisper-shouted.

Anne nodded, leaned in, and whisper-shouted right back.

“Bugger off.”

The next twenty minutes, Anne spent in total solitude. Surrounded by her friends, sure, but alone. Marian and Thomas were guffawing at something only they understood. Vere and Ann were huddled close together, whispering conspiratorially. Washington was helping Catherine identify a particular plant she’d been slowly killing in her apartment. Anne couldn’t see Tib or Pic, but she assumed they were canoodling as usual. She swirled her wine sullenly.

“You’ve got to speak to her,” a voice behind her said; Anne turned around: Pic. She sighed and turned away again. “Properly. You know it was an accident.”

“Twice?” Anne bit out. “Hardly.”

“You’re being unreasonable.”

“I’m going outside.”

Anne slipped through the restaurant, out into the cool spring evening. She’d hoped for a bit of fresh air to clear her head; maybe someone would recognize the birthday girl had left and actually give a damn.

And yet, of course, the best laid plans are subject to ruin. 

Standing directly in Anne’s path was one Isabella Norcliffe.

“Fancy meeting you here,” Tib said, holding out a packet of cigarettes. 

Anne took it, fished out a cigarette, and lit it with the lighter floating around inside. She handed it back to Tib, and then leaned against the brick wall, both facing the street. 

“It was an accident,” Tib said finally.

“The second bit maybe, but not the first thing.”

“I honestly forgot.”

“You don’t forget that,” Anne said. “Not for your friend.”

“I - Anne.” Tib turned to face her; her eyes seemed to burn Anne’s skin. “I didn’t mean to sell your bloody book. I’ll get you another one.”

Anne whipped around to face her.

“There isn’t another one!” Anne cried. “That’s why I wanted it! It was the only fucking one!”

“I forgot,” Tib said, defeated, her shoulder slumping. “Honest.

“I don’t care if it is honest, Isabella.” Anne spoke coldly; it was the only way to keep her voice from shaking. “I’ve been your friend for more than twenty years , and you forgot me? You sold a book owned by Eleanor Butler, and your old friend didn’t even cross your mind?”

“No!” Tib cried. “I was busy, and it’s an old fucking book, like any I’d sell any day of the week!”

“Owned by some of the earliest British lesbians in history, and you didn’t think your lesbian friend might want them?” Anne’s throat felt tight. “You know I admire them.”

“I forgot!” Tib roared. “Not everything in the world is about you! You’re not on my mind 24/7!”

“Clearly!” Anne shouted back. “Or else you might have taken your phone out of your pocket while you were shagging your girlfriend, so I wouldn’t have to hear it when I’m trying to call you about the fucking book I ordered!”

“Christ, Lister,” Tib groaned. “That was an accident. I didn’t mean to - I mean, you have to know that was just a fuck-up.”

“You’re a fuck-up, Tib,” Anne said, her heart beating in her ears, drowning out the common sense screaming in her brain. 

“And you’re an arsehole,” Tib said bitterly, flicking her long-forgotten butt to the ground. “Fuck off, Lister.”

From nowhere, Ann appeared, tugging Anne’s shirtsleeve and shoving her into the passenger seat. Anne couldn’t figure out when she started crying.

“Look,” Ann said sharply, whipping along the back roads of the estate. “We’re going to the hut, because we need to have a row.”

“No, we don’t,” Anne said softly, sniffing loudly.

“We do,” Ann pressed, jerking the car into park at the back of the chaumiere. “You've been a prick all night, and you won’t tell me why.”

“’S private,” Anne mumbled.

Ann just huffed and hopped out of the car; she shot Anne a dirty look as if to say “what are you waiting for?” Anne didn’t appreciate being ordered around, but at least she was used to it. Ann flicked on the lights, revealing a proper romantic set-up: rose petals leading to the bedroom, flickering battery-operated candles, soft pink streamers hanging from the ceiling, overnight bags stowed in the corner. The sight of such sweetness made Anne’s stomach turn; her anger with Tib flared anew.

“Don’t even look at this,” Ann said, gesturing broadly. “This is for good little girls, and you don’t deserve it tonight. We’re only here so I can shout at you.”

“Ann,” she whined.

“No,” Ann cut her off. “No, listen. All of your friends - our friends were there tonight, and you acted like an arse the entire time. Poor Vere is having a difficult time with her husband, and you didn’t even speak to her. Not even once.”

“Serves her right,” Anne mumbled.

“Are you kidding?” Ann exploded. “You’re still upset over Vere ? That’s what you want to grumble about tonight? Vere? If Vere had stuck with you, we wouldn’t be together. Is that what you want?” She paused, but Anne said nothing. “Exactly. You have got to stop holding everyone to this impossible standard, Pony! It’s not fair. No one can do it.”

“Well, that’s -”

“No. It’s childish and unfair and ridiculous. You’re mad at Tib - Tib , of all bloody people, and you won’t even tell me why.”

“It’s for you!” Anne shouted. “It’s all for you. Don’t you know that by now?” She sounded, looking Ann deeply in the eye, even as her voice wavered. “She had this book; this book that - it doesn’t even matter. The point is - well, it was important to me, and - and it was for you, and -” Anne was properly sobbing now, big, fat tears rolling down her cheeks. “And it was meant to be special, and she just sold it to someone else, and then when I called her - I called her about it, her arse answered and she - she was fucking Pic the whole time, and it - God, it was humiliating! It was fucking humiliating.” 

Anne sank to the floor, her head in her hands. Faintly she heard her wife’s footsteps get further away, then closer. A wrapped box appeared in her lap. Anne looked up. 

“Open it.”

“I don’t -”

Ann dropped to her knees in front of her; her blue eyes were kind but firm.

“Open it.”

Slowly, Anne unwrapped the thick paper; her hands shook as she revealed the well-worn covering, the dusty paper. It was the book. She flicked it open; it was the book. The one with Eleanor Butler’s name in it. The one she’d wanted from Tib. Anne looked up.

“You see, I’d seen this book on Tib’s Instagram, and I knew my Pony had to have it. You think I don’t pay attention.” Ann squeezed her wife’s knee. “But I promise I do. I got Tib to sell me the book instead, since your birthday comes before mine.”

Anne’s lips parted, but she made no sound. Shame washed over her. 

“Tib was being a good friend,” Ann continued gently. “You've just got to be patient, love.”

“Ann,” she croaked, her voice hoarse, “I can’t believe - I - holy shit, I just - you’re incredible, do you know that? This book, it’s so special because -”

Before she could finish, Ann lurched forward and caught Anne’s lips with her own. Anne cupped her wife’s delicate face, relief washing over her, rinsing away weeks of anguish and frustration and disappointment. It was all okay. It was perfect, actually. As always, Ann had fixed everything.

“Okay?” Ann said softly, her small hand smoothing along Anne’s neck to her shoulder. “Do you see now?”

“Yes,” she answered in a hoarse whisper; Anne needed her wife’s lips again, but Ann leaned just out of reach. “Adney?”

“Call Tib.”

“What?”

“Apologize,” Ann said firmly, then smiled. “Then we can have our night.”

Anne opened her mouth to argue, but her wife was already getting to her feet. She went into the bedroom, winked, and closed the door. Anne groaned. Impossible, that wife of hers.

Her stomach churned as she stared at Tib’s contact in her phone. She hadn’t even saved Tib’s number until about a year ago, when Ann forced her to organize her address book. Some numbers she just knew - Anne had memorized Tib’s phone number two decades ago. 

“Pony,” Ann warned through the door; “I won’t wait all night.”

Anne shook herself and dialed. Three rings, then Tib’s raspy voice.

“I’m not talking to her, Ann, you already -”

“It’s me,” Anne said gruffly.

“Oh.”

Silence stretched between them, and Anne twirled her ring. Tib cleared her throat.

“Fran and I were in bed,” Tib said, “so if you haven’t got anything to-”

“I’m sorry,” Anne grunted.

“Come again?”

Anne sighed.

“I’m sorry,” she said again, softly but clearly.

“One more time?”

Anne laughed, and she heard her friend’s throaty chuckle through the phone. 

“Alright, arse,” Anne said. “You damn well know.”

“Thank you,” Tib said sincerely. “I wanted to tell you, but your wife-”

“I understand. I know what she’s like.”

“Oi!” Ann’s sharp voice cut through the air. “I can hear you, you know.”

“Better go,” Anne hissed into the phone, feeling like a teenager caught staying up too late. “The missus.”

“Mine too,” Tib chuckled. “Thanks for calling, mate.”

“Thank you,” Anne said sincerely. 

They shared a breath of silence, then Anne hung up. She stood shakily and shook the frustration of the past few weeks from her body. Slowly, she unclenched her jaw and stretched her arms above her head. Then Ann called.

“Darling, am I going to have to start without you?”

Renewed, Anne bounded into the bedroom. It was warmly lit, the covers of the bed pulled back, her wife stretching languidly in the middle. Anne toed off her shoes and tugged off her tie. Had Ann ever been more beautiful? Pale and soft against the sheets, her blonde hair falling in perfect waves around her flushed face. That thatch of curls between her legs was already glistening; Anne started to salivate.

“You’re so gorgeous she breathed, shucking her trousers and climbing onto the bed. “You’re so good to me.”

“I really am, aren’t I?” Ann teased. She kissed the insides of Anne’s wrists, removed her cufflinks and set them on the nightstand. Anne licked her lips as she watched her flick open the buttons of Anne’s shirt. “I put up with rather a lot from you, don’t I?”

Anne hummed her agreement and caught her wife’s lips in a searing kiss. Ann leaned back into the pillows, her legs already wrapping around Anne’s waist. Their bodies moved together slowly, patiently. Anne had been on edge for weeks because of this mess, and she’d been neglecting her long-suffering wife. 

“I’m sorry,” Anne whispered into her neck, trailing kisses along Ann’s soft skin. “For how I’ve behaved.”

“Make it up to me, handsome,” she breathed, arching under Anne’s mouth; her slender fingers wove through Anne’s hair. “I’ve missed you.”

Anne hummed again, kissing and sucking at the gentle swell Ann’s breasts, the soft curve of her belly, the delicious slope of her waist. She’d like to die on these hills, as familiar to her now as the hills bracketing Shibden. Ann’s soft sighs filled her ears; the scent of her perfume mixed with her arousal and Anne’s cologne. She reached the apex of Ann’s thighs and inhaled deeply. Then she sat up.

“Pony,” Ann whined, her eyes still closed. She reached forward blindly, fumbling for the waistband of Anne’s boxers. “Get these off and fuck me.”

Anne chuckled and twisted out of her bra and shorts; she draped her long body over Ann’s, relishing the feeling of their skin melding together. Their lips met again, sloppy and desperate. Ann bucked her hips. 

“Please.”

With a wink and a fierce kiss, Anne retraced her path until she could settle on her belly between her wife’s perfect thighs. Gentle touches along her inner thighs turned into sucking, wet kisses. Tender hands on her hips transformed into possessive clamps, keeping Ann’s writhing body in place. She teased Ann’s center for a few long moments, arousal and relief coursing through her veins. She really had missed this. 

“Oh, Pony, fuck,” Ann gasped above her. “Fuck, just there.”

Anne moaned against her center, pulling her impossibly closer and dragging her tongue slowly along the length of her clit. Ann cried out, bucking and clutching at the sheets. WIth a fiendish grin, Anne bent her head to do it again.

“Yes, Pony, I - oh, fuck, that - yes! Pony! Fuck, fuck, Pony, fuck - I-”

Ann twisted, and Anne pulled away. She knew the warning signs by now, and she wasn’t quite finished with her wife. Anne kissed her soft belly once before tracing her tongue along the expanse of her chest and neck. By the time she hovered over Ann’s face, they were both panting.

“Pony,” Ann breathed. “That was really unfair.”

“Was it?”

“I was almost there.”

“I know.” Anne grinned. “This will be better.”

With that, Anne slipped her middle finger inside. They moaned in unison before starting a slow, gentle rhythm. Ann clutched at her back, angling her hips into every stroke. 

“More,” she begged.

Anne kissed her and complied.

“Oh, Pony, that’s - yes, baby, I - fuck, yes, I’m - Pony!” 

Anne sped up, kissing her wife’s neck and grinding against her thigh. She was practically feral herself, and Ann’s delicious, filthy sounds were only making it worse. Anne sped up, pumping her hand into her wife over and over, strumming her clit with a well-practiced thumb. Ann mumbled incoherently, her voice growing higher and higher until she cried out, once and loudly, before unraveling in Anne’s arms.

“You’re so beautiful,” Anne whispered, easing her down gently. “You’re so, so perfect. I love you, darling. I love you.”

“Oh, Lord,” Ann sighed, turning to jelly below her. “Fuck, Pony.”

“Yes, you said that,” Anne chuckled, pulling away and sitting on her heels between Ann’s legs. She ran her hands along the smooth skin of her wife’s calves; it was an absentminded kind of gesture, more of comfort for herself than for Ann. “I am sorry. About earlier. My behavior.”

“I know,” Ann said with a soft smile. “I know.”

“Am I forgiven?” Anne attempted a rakish smile. 

“Almost,” her wife answered. “If you get that cock of yours, maybe you will be.”

“Miss Walker,” Anne admonished with a chuckle. “Dirty girl. I don’t even know if it’s out here.”

“Dr. Lister,” Ann matched her tone, “don’t you know by now?”

She tilted her head toward the nightstand, where Anne found the strap and a bottle of lubricant. The silicone base was almost painfully perfect against her clit, but she tamped her own arousal down. Anne needed to enjoy her wife just a little bit more. 

“Come on,” Ann teased. “Let me sit in your lap.”

Anne growled and vaulted into bed, the strap standing proudly between her legs. She pulled Ann into her lap; her eyes were like saucers as she watched Ann’s delicate little hands run the length of her cock.

“I’ve been dreaming of you,” Ann said, her voice low and sultry. “Dreaming of you filling me up. Slapping my arse. Claiming me.”

“Yeah?” Anne croaked. 

“Yeah.” Ann lifted herself up, hovered over the cock, then slowly sank down onto it. “Oh, yeah.”

“Fuck, Adney.”

Ann hummed, her eyes closed, and started to roll her hips. They moved together slowly, Anne’s hands on her wife’s hips, Ann’s hands on her shoulders. Ann panted in her ear; her breasts pressed against Anne’s, so close she thought their chests might burst open and finally become one. Wanton moans filled Anne’s ears; she shuddered when her wife’s delicate tongue traced the curve of her ear. Unable to wait any longer, Anne crashed their lips together, turning the sensual moment desperate. In an instant, Ann was bucking on her lap, pressing down on her shoulders, driving her to the edge.

“You’re so hot,” Anne panted, fire burning between her legs. “Fuck, Adney.”

“Yes,” Ann cried, tossing her head back. “Yes!”

Anne sucked at the juncture of her neck, squeezing her ass and urging her faster. She spanked her once for good measure, and then Ann was keening, that delicious, whiny sound that meant she was close.

“Come for me, baby,” Anne growled, bucking her hips harder. “You’re so perfect. You love my cock?”

“Yes,” Ann whined, her hips already juddering. “Yes, yes, yes.”

She exploded, trembling in Anne’s arms. It was perfect. Beautiful. Exquisite. Not quite enough. 

“Oh, Pony,” Ann groaned, slumping against Anne’s chest as she stilled. “Good God.”

Anne chuckled and kissed her, slowly and deeply. Ann’s hands tangled in her hair, keeping herself steady as she lifted herself up. Gently, Ann pulled away, and Anne whined. 

“Adney. Baby.”

“What?” Ann dropped to her stomach between her legs, kissing Anne’s firm thighs around the harness.

“I’m going to die.”

“Are you?” Ann started to kiss and lick the strap. “That's not good.”

“Baby,” Anne whined again, loosening the harness with one hand, the other slipping into Ann’s hair.

“Impatient,” Ann scolded before slipping the cock between her lips. Anne choked, pleasure coiling in her gut, then groaned as her wife pulled away. “I’ve got to make you work for it, darling.”

“I have,” Anne said urgently.

Slowly, Ann pulled away the harness, leaving Anne bare before her. 

“I suppose you have,” she murmured.

Then she dipped her head, and Anne saw stars. It could’ve been a moment, but it felt like an hour. Ann unraveled her with soft lips and her curling tongue. It was almost too soon when Anne felt the first wave crash into her.

“Adney!” She cried, hoarse and desperate.

After an eternity, she drifted back to earth, opening her eyes to find Ann smiling in front of her. 

“Hi.”

“Hi,” Anne answered, her voice cracking on the single syllable.

“You’re cute.” Ann kissed her softly, then padded into the main room. Anne made a sputtered sound of protest, followed by a scoff when she returned with Anne’s cell phone. “You’re not done with this.”

“We’re not filming ourselves,” Anne said with a laugh, pulling her giggling wife into her arms. “I’ve told you that, Mrs. Lister.”

“No!” Ann laughed, nestling against Anne’s chest. “You’ve got more calls to make.”

“Do I?”

“There were five other people at that dinner, my love. If we count Tib and Pic together.”

“And?”

“And you were shit to them.”

“I’m always shit,” Anne said with a shrug.

“You are not.” Ann pinched her side. “You’re going to apologize to each of them.”

“Ann,” she drew out her wife’s name into five syllables. “I’m sleepy.”

“Should’ve thought of that,” Ann said primly. “Do it now, or you’re going back to the house alone.”

“Ann! It’s my birthday!”

But her wife just smiled serenely. They held each other’s gaze for a long moment, but - as always - Anne broke first. She snatched the phone and dialed Washington.

“Listen,” she said before he could speak. “I’m sorry I was a prick. You were lovely to come, and I appreciate you. Have a good night.”

“Um,” Washington cleared his throat. “Who's this?”

“It’s Anne Li-” she heard him laughing on the other end. “Alright, goodnight, you big lug.”

Ann shook with laughter in her arms, and Anne tossed her phone to the far side of the bed. She stroked her still-laughing wife’s hair, shifting lower in the bed and pulling the covers over them. She kissed the top of Ann’s head.

“Happy?” Ann nodded, wiping tears from her eyes. “It’s too late to ring people up like that. I’ll call Vere in the morning. Good enough?”

“I suppose,” Ann said haughtily. “But you must promise.”

“Of course.”

Ann coughed pointedly, and Anne looked down. Her wife - her thirty-two year old wife - had her little finger raised in the air, her face completely serious. Anne scoffed, but Ann just brandished her pinky finger all the more urgently, practically shoving it in Anne’s face. Caught between a sigh and a chuckle, Anne curled her littlest finger around Ann’s. They stayed like that as their eyes drifted closed, their conversation dwindling until they were both snoring.