Thomas is sitting in his sweltering, stickily-hot bedroom, going over his accounts. He has a laptop, and is reasonably well-versed in all the new software; and yet, after all this time, he finds that he still likes to do things by hand, likes the feel of a thick ledger under his elbow and a pen between his fingers. He is a nostalgic soul, in his old age, and as he ticks up bribes paid, services rendered, bodies disposed of, he finds it all strangely soothing.
There is a soft noise close at hand.
Thomas cocks his head, and after a second he hears the gentle whisper of skirts on carpet. The lazily spinning fan perched on the edge of his desk sends his way a whiff of a perfume he has not smelt in a very long time, and if his heart were still beating he is sure it would stop.
He looks up.
"Oh. Hello," he says stupidly, already automatically on his feet. Anne Boleyn is smiling in front of him, just outside his pool of yellow lamplight, lingering in the darkness; Anne that was, he corrects, Anne-who-is-quite-dead-and-has-been-for-nigh-on-five-centuries.
"Master Cromwell," she says, inclining her head. She smiles still wider; or he thinks she does, anyway, her face still half-shadowed (but familiar, so familiar, even after all this time) by the night. He stares hard at her – she is not a vampire like him, he is fairly certain, and though he is running through a mental list of all the supernatural creatures he knows of, he cannot imagine her to be any of them, anything but her own self. A product of his head-addled brain, then, he decides; or a ghost, merely a ghost.
Anne pauses, and then adds, "It has been awhile, hasn't it? Though – well, really, I should say it feels like nothing at all. Time is not what it was, you see. Not anymore. I find everything to be very changeable, now; it is like only seconds ago I was kneeling on Tower Green, and yet, it has also been an eternity. I must confess that it's all very strange."
"Yes," he says. He wants to ask her why, or where she is – it needles at him, that after all this time there are things he still does not know, secrets that are not his to uncover. That might, given his current state, never be for him to learn. But he does not ask her. Her death, and the manner in which she died – well, it might dredge up some uncomfortable comments.
"You seem to be getting on well yourself, for a dead man," she says. Her face is hard, as if she has some idea of what has been running through his head. "How did you do it?"
"There was a guard," he says slowly, still watching her. "He was stationed outside my cell, most days. We prisoners, as a rule, made a rather convenient meal for him – we would be dead soon, anyway, and any complaints we made would be handily ignored – but he decided to help me instead. I don't know why, you needn't bother to ask. I am most grateful that he did, however," he finishes. He does not go any further. She does not need to know the sordid details of his turning.
"And so you find yourself here," she says. She looks around at the cheaply furnished room with a perfectly blank face. "Now."
"It was a journey," he says. "And not an easy one."
"But you are a jack of all trades, our Cromwell," she says with sudden merriment. "I imagine you would contrive to manage quite well in any situation you found yourself in. Well, all but one," she adds with a touch of delighted malice.
He does not answer her but sits instead. It is slightly awkward to do so, in the presence of his queen; but then, he did his best to remove her from that exalted post, didn't he, and as she has long since left this mortal plane he supposes such things are moot at this point anyway. To cover up his hesitation, he gestures to her dress, a stiff heavy thing bodiced in white and skirted in black. She always did like those, in life, he thinks; she always stood out from the crowd in her stark and startling simplicity, immediately drawing the eye from the other ladies in their gentle English blues and pinks.
"You must be sweltering in that," he says. He is about to call her your majesty and then my lady, and then thinks, democratically and insolently, about calling her something as intimate as Anne or even, with a twang of local flavour, honey. He rejects all of these after some brief consideration, and decides to call her nothing at all.
"I would be, don't you think?" Anne says thoughtfully. She touches at the damp sweat that is forming on the curve of her collarbone. He stares at her hands, half-expecting to see a line of scarlet springing up on her throat; but it doesn't, and he looks back up at her eyes. She is watching him. "But as I am dead, I find that I feel nothing at all."
A line of unreal sweat rolls down her neck and between her breasts. He licks his lips and looks away. Back in the day, he had never really thought about touching her; it would be dangerous even to stare, and anyway, he was rather occupied with other things at the time. And he finds it even more pointless to think on it now, now where he cannot touch her at all even if he were granted permission, even if he wanted to. Trapped in some stinking Southern backwater, lusting after a dead woman, Thomas, he thinks. Lo, how we have come down in the world.
She is still standing in front of his desk, hands demurely, deceptively folded.
"Oh, don't let me stop you," he says, a bite of sarcasm infecting his voice. "Do sit down and make yourself at home."
She does sit, gathering her skirts in her hands and settling into the chair opposite his desk. She leans forward and the lamplight falls on her face, lighting up those pale unfathomable eyes.
"I think I will," she says. "I quite like it here, Master Cromwell. I think I shall make myself very cozy."
Anne rests her chin on her hands and smiles, cat-like, at him. Thomas smiles back at her, showing her all his teeth.