It started with an innocent comment from Nina. A compliment for Annie.
"What're talking about?" Brown curls bounced as Annie shook her head. "It's the same as I wear every day."
Nina accepted the cup of tea that was offered with a smile and studied her friend for a moment before she answered; her face lighting up with understanding. "You don't even realize it, do you?"
"What?" The ghost pulled at the hem of her top before catching herself and clasping both hands in front of her.
"Your clothes change all the time." Nina tilted her head and gave her a scrutinizing look. "I thought you'd been doing it on purpose."
"Ghosts can't change clothes." Annie moved to sit at the kitchen table as well, her own mug of tea held in both hands. "We're stuck in what we died in for the rest of eternity, you know that. Though I would murder for a bit more colour."
Nina waved a hand to dismiss the comment. "Think about it Annie. Sometimes you have long sleeves, sometimes short. I've seen vests and pull overs," she paused and raised a teasing eyebrow, "and even the occasional ruffle."
Annie blushed, though she could not think of why. She took a moment to consider the idea. Was it even possible?
"If I've been doing this without knowing, do you think I can learn to control it?" She kept her eyes on her mug, one finger tracing the rim. The idea of being able to change what she was wearing seemed so superficial, and yet it was one more piece of her life that she could take back. Something of her existence that she could hold onto.
"Well, there's only one way to find out." Nina was smiling and Annie became aware of how little she had seen her friend happy lately. "Practice. Try something small, like a hair bow."
Annie nodded and closed her eyes to focus. A hair bow. Something small. She could picture it in her mind, a clip that she had worn years ago. She had loved that little bow, but Owen had not. He had thought it made her look her look stupid and she had gotten rid of it to make him happy.
Opening her eyes, Annie reached a hand up to her head, hoping to feel that familiar shape again. She was met with only the strands of her own hair and Nina's crestfallen face.
She felt her heart sink and berated herself for such foolishness. It had been a nice idea, but that was all.
"There," the sound of Nina's exclamation caused Annie to look around in confusion, thinking that George or Mitchell had just come in. "You're top changed again."
Looking down, Annie could see that it had. What had been a sleeveless vest was now a full sleeved cardigan.
"It must be instinctive." Nina reached for her hand to get her attention again. "What were you thinking, just now?"
She shrugged one shoulder. "I was sad."
The blonde leaned back in her seat again, a thoughtful look on her face. "Maybe it's linked to your mood."
It was an idea, something to start from and Annie smiled again. Perhaps she could learn to control it after all.
There was nothing quite so damaging to a women's confidence than to offer herself to a man and for him to have no reaction. She understood that she did not have an actual body to share with him, and while the warmth of his own awoke a desire within her, she had no doubt that her cool touch had the opposite response on him.
But, Annie was nothing if not tenacious. Dirty talk had not helped, physical contact had not worked. Perhaps what he needed was a visual.
In the time since Nina had pointed out her wardrobe changes, Annie had been spending most of her free time practicing. If she could focus on her feelings, channel her moods more distinctly, she could better control her outward appearance.
Tucked away as she was in her room, Annie tried again for the right look. 'Think sexy.' She pouted her lips and struck a pose. Something that would stop him in his tracks. 'Be sexy.' She closed her eyes and tried to bring to mind her past experiences, the feel of someone touching her, the breathy sighs, the gasping moans. Owen's face flashed before her and Annie opened her eyes to banish the sight.
Taking a deep breath, she moved to settle herself into her chair, relaxing into the cushions and let her eyes drift closed again at she thought of Mitchell. She let her hands smooth over her thighs, imagining that they were his. She pictured him kneeling before her, that devil's smile upon his lips as he looked up at her through the loose strands of his hair.
A shaky breath passed her lips and she remembered the feeling of his kisses, the pressure of his lips, the warmth of his mouth. Her hands continued to wander, one trailing up to skim the fabric covering her belly, the other pressing hard at where her legs came together.
So wrapped up in the moment was she that she gave no notice to the change in the textures under her hands or the sound of the door opening. She had no care for anything but the rising desire within her.
Mitchell's name passed her lips in a whisper and she rubbed her thighs together, grinding her hand where it still rested between them.
Annie's un-beating heart stuttered and her eyes flew open. Mitchell stood in the open doorway, staring open-mouthed at the display in front of him. Annie rose out of the chair and his eyes followed her every movement.
"I was just..." she could not say it. It did not need saying.
His eyes were still fixed to her, though lower than she was used to from him, and she followed the line of his eyes down. She could not contain her shout of excitement or the little hop that accompanied it. "It worked." Her vest had shrunk down to a silver-grey teddy, her leggings had shifted to darker gray fishnets, and her ever-present boots were now pumps with much too tall heels.
Mitchell still had yet to say a word, but his eyes finally raised enough to meet her own.
"How?" He could not seem to get much else out.
"Isn't it great?" She turned in place for him, letting him see her from all angles.
A loud breath escaped him and not much else. He looked like he was not sure if he should enter the room or turn and run, so Annie stepped forward to take his hand, making the decision for him. He let her lead him to her chair, and she pushed him into it with enough force to shift it back an inch.
His reaction in the doorway was all the affirmation that she needed and she moved to kneel in the space in front of him. "I know we've been having trouble with this but I want to try something new."
"Annie." His voice was strained, tired, but she pushed aside what doubts his tone brought.
"Just try, please." They needed this. "And if you want to stop, just say so." She needed this.
There was something about being intimate that had begun to haunt her, perhaps because it had become so unattainable. And while Mitchell seemed perfectly content to leave that part of their relationship as an afterthought, Annie could not help but wonder how long it would take before he would begin to look for someone else, someone who could give him what she could not.
Settling herself on the floor in front of him, she laid back and closed her eyes. She let her hands begin to roam over her body and spoke.
"You asked me once if I ever think about when we first kissed." One hand passed over the tops of her breasts where they were exposed, while the other skimmed the lace at her belly. "I never answered, but I should have said yes. Now, I think about the sound of your voice when you asked me. How it sounded like a promised as much as a taunt. I remember how it made me frightened and excited and so very confused."
She let her lower hand trail down to her thighs again, enjoying the feeling of touching her own skin and dipped the other into the top of the teddy to play with her nipples. Mitchell let out a noise somewhere between a groan and a growl but she ignored the sound.
"I think sometimes of what would have happened if we had been left alone. How I would have run to the other room and you would have followed. Cat and mouse." She slipped her hand into her knickers. She could practically feel Mitchell's eyes on her.
His breathing grew ragged and still she ignored him.
"You would have trapped me against a wall, pinning my hands over my head. I think of how feral you would look, how desperate." She began to stroke herself. She pulled the top of the teddy down to free her breasts and continued to fondle them. "You would kiss me and it would be hungry and overwhelming. And I would love it."
She heard the sound of his zip going down and allowed a smile to pass her lips. She began to move her hand in circles, where it rested beneath the satin of her underwear, dipping occasionally past her folds for the phantom moisture her ghostly body would produce.
"I would drown in your kiss and you would make me beg for more. And I would. I would beg." She paused as a shiver went through her at the thought. "Then you would hold both my wrists in one of your hands, still pinning me to the wall, and use the other to free yourself. I would wrap my legs around you, trusting you not to let me fall, and you would grind against me." She used the heel of her palm to simulate the feeling for a moment before circling again. "We wouldn't have to worry about removing my clothes, they'd just be gone."
She could hear Mitchell stroking himself and let her motions pick up speed. It was after a moment to catch her breath before she could continue.
"And then," her voice had gone breathy, "you would be in me and you would make me feel things. Make me realize that I'd never really been touched before."
She could feel the wave within her rising and her back arched for a moment.
"My body would be warm, flushed from the sensations you've caused in me."
Mitchell's breathing had sped up along with his hand and her own came in little pants around her words.
"Finally, you would release my wrists and I would wrap my arms around you as if you were my only anchor to this world."
That steady drum beat within her was growing. It would not be long now.
"And pound into me."
She increased the speed of her hand.
"You'd brush my hair aside and burying your face in my neck. You could bite me, if you wanted, and it wouldn't hurt me. No pain. Only release."
At her words Mitchell roared her name, cursing; the image she had created pushing him over the edge.
The sound of his pleasure caused the wave within Annie to crest and wash over her. Their cries mingled together in the still room.
They stayed as the were for long moments, each trying to catch their breath, though neither of them needed it.
There was the sound of his zip going up again and Mitchell's voice was breathless when he spoke. "Why did you say that, at the end?"
Annie opened her eyes and sat up, still floating on the high of an incredible orgasm. "I dunno. I thought you'd like it." She was back in her leggings and cardigan, perhaps because she had been sated, or maybe because of her lack of focus. She was not sure and she did not care. "That's a vamp-y thing, isn't it?"
He would not meet her gaze, though she ducked down to try and catch it, and he was silent in the way that spoke volumes.
Her smile slipped away. "I'm sorry." She would not have been able to tell him exactly why she was apologizing, only that she hated to see him upset.
When he finally did meet her eye there was a turmoil brewing there that stole Annie's breath in an entirely different way than just moments before. He shook his head and slid from the chair to sit before her, their knees touching.
"You have nothing to be sorry for." He cupped her face in both hands and brought their foreheads together. "Never be sorry for being who you are, Annie." She could hear tears behind his voice though his eyes were dry. "You're perfect."
"Nobody's perfect." His words caused a blush on her cheeks and she wondered if the heat would transfer to his hands or if her skin was always the same cold chill that she imagined he felt.
He pulled her closer, into his lap and buried his face in her hair. "You are. Always remember that."
They stayed that way for sometime, wrapped in each others arms; long after the sun had set and George and Nina had come home from work. Something had changed between them that night, though Annie could not have said at the time what it was. And then there had been no time to find out. There was Herrick, and the Box Tunnel 20, and tearful goodbyes.
In the months after, in the quiet hours of the night when the house was silent and she was alone, Annie would pull out the memory of that night. She would remember the way that Mitchell had held her afterwards, as if she were the key to his redemption. She would remember his smile and his laughter and those early days in the pink house, and she would count the minutes until she could see him again.