Disclaimer: It's not mine.
A/N: Well, I figured I've done one, and it was bloody depressing, so I ought to try for another that's a bit better.
So here we are
That's pretty far
When you think
Of where we've been – from You Found Me by Kelly Clarkson
Above all else, Thomas Cromwell had always been a survivor. He'd escaped a home life that was beyond the usual level of harshness in order to become a soldier in France and Italy. He'd survived all that – even serving under Cesare Borgia – and had returned to England, trained as a lawyer, and found himself in service to Cardinal Wolsey. He'd managed to get out of the Cardinal's fall intact by attaching himself to the Boleyns, and he used that to secure his place with the King, so that when the Boleyns were toppled he was not only safe but an instrument of their destruction.
So he wondered how it was, exactly, that Brandon and Seymour thought they could sneak around and destroy him, even sending him to the scaffold. It really was laughable. And as for Anne of Cleves… It was regrettable, and it meant the death of his plans for reform, but if the King was not disposed to like her, she wouldn't have been any use to him even if she had remained the Queen. So he calmly pointed out that it didn't matter if Anne of Cleves' former betrothal had been broken or not. Clearly, since the marriage had not been consummated, the King as Supreme Head of the Church could easily annul it.
And so he did. Henry gave Lady Anne the right to style herself as 'the King's sister' in a diplomatic move meant to appease the Duke of Cleves. For the most part it had worked. Oh, there had been a bit of carefully-worded complaining on the Duke's part, but in the end the alliance held – and hadn't that been the point, anyway?
Then something happened that he didn't expect, and couldn't change. The King, happy with his new wife (a child-bride if one dared to be honest, which no one did), apparently decided to become an amateur matchmaker. That or he'd decided to play quite a prank on his Chancellor and new 'sister'. When Cromwell was told that he and Lady Anne were being ordered to marry, he stared at the King in abject shock.
"I'm sorry, sire, what?"
"He is ordering what?" Anne said blankly, staring at her brother's ambassador, Count Olisleger. They were speaking in German, in the privacy of her court apartments. She was better at English than she had been, but for something like this the ambassador knew that German was better for them both – the last thing they needed was to confuse each other now with their imperfect English.
"He is ordering that you marry Lord Cromwell," he repeated himself.
"Did he give any explanation?" Even as she said that, she knew it was ridiculous. Henry did not give explanations, he simply commanded and people scurried to do as they were bid – or else their heads would roll. As she was now one of his subjects, she was one of those people. So that meant that if she was told to marry a man, she would. Even if she knew very little of him, even if she was just a little bit afraid of him.
Cromwell had two things on her first 'husband', Anne thought. He was fairly healthy, and she was pretty sure he retained all of his sanity. Beyond that, she knew almost nothing of the man. He was common-born, and still generally preferred to be called Master Cromwell, even though he'd been made Earl of Essex. He'd been made such, she recalled, after giving the King a way out of his marriage with her.
The architect of both the making and the breaking of her first marriage was now to be her husband. Clearly there was a great deal of irony in the world.
They'd decided to go to Hever, rather than a larger estate. Cromwell knew that it was Lady Anne's favorite residence, so it seemed to be a good place to get to know one another. He still didn't understand why the King had arranged this marriage, unless it was to avoid giving Anne the chance to claim that she was still Henry's wife. He thought that Henry underestimated Anne; she seemed far too sensible to try something so risky. But then again, considering what had happened the last time Henry had set a wife aside, perhaps his reasoning was sounder than it seemed.
But Anne of Cleves was nothing like Katherine of Aragon. The Spanish Princess had been defiant and stubborn, while Anne was quiet and cooperative, almost passive. And good God, she was timid. That was the one thing driving him half-mad about this. Not her appearance – she actually was a pretty thing, once dressed in English clothing and not German outfits – or her accent, or her lack of English, which was becoming less of a factor all the time. It was the way she looked at him, as though she expected him to lash out and strike her.
He couldn't stand it. It made him feel like he was his own father, a man who would strike his young son or daughters hard enough to knock them off their feet at the slightest provocation. And he didn't know why. It was true that he was not comfortable with this marriage, but he'd been doing the best that he could. For the life of him, he could not see what it was that made her so terrified of him.
He didn't have even a hint of an answer until a visit from Count Olisleger. The ambassador, like Chapuys before him, was quite loyal to his deposed countrywoman, though Olisleger took a far more practical approach, helping Anne adjust to her role in England, as King's wife or King's sister, and never advocating that she should have any place other than that which the King had decreed. He also served as the go-between for Anne and her family, ensuring that letters got where they were supposed to as quickly as possible. It was not until after the Count had left – Cromwell had seen him out – that Anne opened her letters, and as he was on his way back to the room where he'd left her, he heard a muffled sob and a slamming door. By the time he got to the room, Anne was gone, with a letter lying discarded on the floor.
Curious, he picked it up and scanned its contents. He was not particularly fluent in German, though he had picked up some of it in his years abroad, so he wasn't sure of the details of the letter. But the overall tone was clear, as was the signature – Duke William's. And from what he could tell, the letter was nothing but a series of insults and threats, with the Duke calling his sister every kind of insult he could think of, berating her for daring to marry without his permission, for not doing more to keep the King… The damned thing went on and on.
"Good God," Cromwell said, feeling a bit ill. Anne had spent her life with this, and then come to England and Henry? No wonder she was so bloody terrified of him; she'd been taught in a brutal school that all men would terrorize her.
A gasp made him look up. Anne stood in the doorway, having obviously remembered her letter. "I… Did you read…?" She said, nervously.
Cromwell nodded. "I looked over it, yes. I wanted to know why you sounded so upset; I could hear you halfway down the hall. I… I was concerned."
Disbelief flashed through her eyes, but she said politely, "There was no need. It is… not unexpected." She looked down, but not before he saw the resigned sadness in her eyes.
And suddenly, the faintly sick feeling was gone, replaced by anger, anger which he tried to hide from his wife. He knew what it was like to be used to ill-treatment. In his case, the abuse had been physical as well as verbal, but he knew that there were times that the words hurt more than the blows. Bruises healed, but words had a way of sticking in the mind.
Acting on instinct, he crossed the room, putting a hand under her chin and making her look at him. "It shouldn't be expected," he told her firmly. "You don't deserve to be treated like that, even if it's only through letters now." She just stared at him, looking shocked, as he continued. "God knows, you've been through Hell already. The disaster with your marriage to the King, that would have been enough, and you handled it as sensibly as anyone could be expected. And then he put you with me, and we both know it hasn't been easy for either of us. But this, this is not something you should be used to, and it's certainly not justified."
Anne couldn't believe what she was hearing. No one had ever told her she didn't deserve her brother's resentment; her sisters had said she brought it on herself and her mother had even agreed with her brother most of the time. Now, this near-stranger she was married to was telling her that it was wrong, that it had always been wrong, and she didn't know what to say. "Thank you," she finally whispered, unable to think of anything else.
"I can't promise that we'll get on," he told her. "We don't know each other that well, so I'm not able to say if we're a good match. But even if we're not, I will never treat you like this. I want you to understand that, and one day I hope you believe it."
It had taken time for Anne to believe that Thomas meant what he said, but eventually she did. And when she did, she also realized that she'd fallen in love with him. It took longer for her to tell him as much, and she still remembered the comically startled look on his face when she finally had. In his defense, she'd blurted it out randomly one day, but it had still been amusing. Once he'd recovered from the shock, though…
He smiled so rarely that a genuine smile from him was a clear sign that he was thrilled. He'd kissed her, and they had ended up in bed, something which had not happened since they'd consummated their marriage – the first time had to be done, but they'd both been too unsure of their situation to lie together again – and he'd made it clear that way, and then in words, that he felt the same way. Of course, it amused the King to no end – on his sixth marriage by then and increasingly ill, few things had amused him, but the success of a marriage he had ordered seemed to do so. Why that was, Anne was never sure, but she didn't ask.
Now Henry was dead, and they were attending Edward's coronation before returning to the country. Thomas had resigned his post as Lord Chancellor – "Before Somerset tries to have me killed again," he'd said – and she knew that neither of them minded, not really. They would be all right away from the court, they could even be happy.
As though he'd guessed her thoughts, Thomas murmured in her ear, "We've come quite a long way, haven't we?"
They had, and she had come a long way herself. She was no longer scared all the time, afraid that each quick movement was a hand lashing out in anger. Her brother had eventually stopped haranguing her; she suspected he'd tired of doing so when he couldn't see her reaction and she refused to write back. It was strange, really. She'd had such high hopes for England, and as it turned out, she had done well here. She'd never imagined this, but now she didn't want to imagine anything else.