Disclaimer:Not mine, story only. Actually, no, Thomas and Anne are mine but no one else is.
A/N: References to sex, nothing particularly explicit.
Anne redressed slowly, stealing glances at her companion from beneath her lashes. He kept his eyes averted and she wanted to laugh. Mere moments ago, their bare flesh had met with nought but his thin undershirt between them and now he blushed like a new bride at catching even a glimpse of her underskirts.
"You can look, you know," she said quietly, deliberately letting the laces hang loose around her blouse as she leant towards him. She smirked coquettishly, "You can do more than look … if you like."
"Have you no shame at all?" he asked her disbelievingly, turning away from her.
Her face fell and she sat up, flinging open the ratty curtain separating them from the rest of the cottage and brushing past him. "This ain't the time to talk about shame, Tom," she told him, suddenly cold. "Now, are you leaving or did you want to go again?"
He stared at her for a moment, looking both repulsed and pitying. She hated him for both. He shook his head and made for the door; as he passed her, he paused and said, "Come by the house later – I'll leave you out sumat to eat."
She frowned. "Give it to me now."
He sighed frustratedly. "Someone'll see." He reached the door and said firmly, "Come later – I'll leave it by the fence."
"I'm not an animal, Thomas!" she cried, outraged. For a second, she fancied he looked almost guilty.
He collected himself, sticking out his chin. "D'you want it or not?"
She wanted to say 'no', wanted to tell him just what he could do with his charity. But, suddenly she felt ever so ever so weary and she nodded stiffly.
He paused a moment longer and then he was gone. Anne stared blankly around the empty house for a few moments, furling and unfurling her fingers at her sides, before returning to the bed and smoothing the blanket down. Once this was done, she sat down at the table, head in her hands, and waited for the sun to set. She did not cry.
John stopped short as he entered the house, silently raising an eyebrow to his wife who stood at the fire, biting her lip. Sidestepping the children on the floor and patting his daughter on the head as he passed, he approached her.
"What's he doing here?" he muttered gruffly, glancing back towards the two children.
Fanny followed his gaze. "William?" she asked innocently, looking surprised to see the little boy there. John did not reply but scowled sternly. Fanny quickly dropped the façade. "Don't you look at me like that, John Little," she told him, brandishing a spoon at him, "This is my house an' all." John's expression did not change so she turned away, busying herself with dinner. "It was raining," she added, clearly feeling that the matter was now over with.
John grunted, supressing a smile at her continued grumblings under her breath. He turned to watch the children, the eldest of whom did indeed look to be in the later stages of drying out. William sat cross-legged, tracing patterns in the dirt with one finger, completely oblivious to the infant who observed him nearby, imitating the drawings as well as she could and chattering happily. John eased himself into a chair, his muscles aching from the long day's work. Fanny bustled past, placing a flagon of mead on the table in front of him and he caught her hand and squeezed it as she passed.
"Anne's in one of her moods," Fanny told him forlornly, joining him at the table. When her husband did not respond except to raise his brows, she continued. "John, he was all alone – that little lad out in the rain on his own! I couldn't just leave 'im out there, could I?"
"Anne's 'is mother," he reminded her firmly, swigging from the bottle.
"But she weren't there, John!"
"You should've taken 'im home, Fanny."
Fanny hesitated. "She 'ad some man there," she admitted, taking the flagon from him and drinking.
John frowned, confused. Their own daughter had seen him and Fanny being intimate many times; obviously, Anne was not married to this man but it was hardly necessary to remove William from the house because of it.
"John, what if he said something?" Fanny said, as if her reasoning ought to be obvious to him. "What if this fellow of Anne's is married and Will told the world about them?"
John could not help but think that the man in question would deserve it if that were the case but he could see Fanny's logic. At barely four years old, William was hardly the embodiment of discretion and very few of their neighbours would hesitate to out their anger on him at being exposed, no matter how young or blameless he might be. Shaking his head, John relented. "He stays until his mother comes looking. You got enough for one more?" He asked, nodding at the cooking pot.
Fanny nodded eagerly, "He's only a little 'un, he don't eat much."
John raised his brows doubtfully but said nothing.
Anne did not appear to claim her son back that night, nor did she come the following morning. It was not until the late afternoon when Fanny knelt tending their little garden, that Anne's shadow appeared by the fence.
"Fanny," she called, leaning against the wooden fence, "have you seen my William?"
Sitting back, Fanny considered her friend. She did not appear hurt, or sick or seem to have any other excuse for not missing the lad until now – in fact, she seemed barely concerned not to have seen her only child in almost an entire day and night. Frowning slightly, Fanny hesitated, then, "I ain't seen him," she lied slowly. "When d'you last have him?"
Anne huffed and turned to gaze up and down the road. "Last night," she admitted in a small voice. As Fanny frowned even further, she hastened to add, "I had him Fanny – I swear – he must've wandered off, you know what he's like!"
"P'raps you should keep a better eye on 'im then," Fanny told her sternly, returning to her plot.
"Fanny!" exclaimed Anne in hurt indignation, pushing open the little gate and coming to kneel by her friend. "He was in the house, and then I – ," she broke off, blushing fiercely, "and then, when I turned he was gone. Oh, help me look for him, Fanny? Please?" When Fanny did not reply, Anne's voice became more desperate and she wrung her hands. "Oh Fanny, please? Anything could have happened! I didn't mean to miss 'im, he just ran off!"
"He's in the house," Fanny sighed, unwilling in the face of her friend's sudden distress to go on with the charade any longer.
Anne's eyes widened in surprise then she scowled. "You're a beast, Fanny Little!" she exclaimed, jumping to her feet and storming into the house. She emerged dragging her son by one arm. William stared wide-eyed between the two women. "I shall never speak to you again as long as I live!"
Fanny bit her lip, regretting her earlier deception as Anne strode away, William trotting along beside her. She adored her young friend – truly she did – but there were times when she could not fathom the lack of concern Anne tended to show for her child. Had it been her own child missing a day and a half, Fanny would have been beside herself with worry yet Anne seemed to count William's disappearance as little more than an inconvenience.
She sometimes wondered if she ought to confront Anne about her behaviour – not just to William but in general – because in a community as small as theirs, Anne's promiscuity was never going to go unnoticed for long. It was hardly a secret even now. For the time being however, people seemed content to make their judgments in silence, hiding their contempt behind veiled insults that Anne could not react to without confirming their accusations. Even John, who tried so hard to be kind for Fanny's sake despite his opinions of Anne, could hardly control his own barbs when Anne was so obvious in her ways. If only Anne could find work – though nobody seemed willing to give it – she could stop all this. It infuriated Fanny that Anne could bemoan her status as 'whore' and yet continue to bed other women's husbands and sons without ever thinking to marry them. And as for Will, Fanny shuddered to think of the grief he would encounter in his life when his mother's 'occupation' became common knowledge instead of muttered insinuations.
A/N: Thanks to Ihni, who is my constant support and without whom, I probably wouldn't write anything at all.