A/N: I wanted to delve further into the relationship of Anna and Bates. I felt like we missed so many great scenes between series 1 and 2. I plan on writing about their first kiss, Mr. Bates saying I love you for the first time, how others found out, and maybe even a fight or two.

I've seen a few stories like this already, so I hope mine is different enough. I think I'm focusing on this "happy" time of their relationship since our poor Mr. Bates is incarcerated. Free Bates!

Please let me know what you think. Any reviews are appreciated.

Later the night of the garden party. August 1914

John had been sitting out at the courtyard reliving the day. So much has happened in so little time. There was to be a war, but the war was not worrying him this evening. His thoughts were on her, they were always on her, his perfect Anna. Anna knew about Vera. She still didn't know the truth about everything, but she knew enough. She should be disgusted by him, he was disgusted enough with himself, but her faith in him was unwavering. He then heard her footsteps. Her sweet, gentle footsteps coming out to see him, to comfort him.

She stopped in front of him. "Will you have to go to war?" Anna asked tentatively. She seemed to fear his answer, not ready to lose him.

"No, I don't believe so." John replied. He saw the concern etched in Anna's face and her furrowed brow. "They would want men much younger and well, less broken than me." John looked at his leg. He desperately wanted to put a smile on Anna's face. "If they want to send me to the front, they might as well pack me in a box because it would bring the same result," he joked.

A slight smile etched across Anna's face but she was not completely pleased. "I don't even want to joke about that. I could never imagine. And what if Lord Grantham goes? What would you do?"

John thought for a moment. "I don't think they would call him up anytime soon. Especially when there are young men still around like Thomas and William. And I imagine, I will be at Downton Abbey for a long time." John almost added an unless to his statement. He had been pondering it for a while, and there may be a situation where he would leave Downton. But how could he explain that now? He had to work it in somehow.

"And that makes you happy? Even after what you found out about Vera?" John did not want to cause Anna any hurt, but he had to discuss not only what she found out from his mother, but also his side of the story. He owed it to her to finally explain, yet he hesitated. Maybe he did not want to betray her trust in him just yet. It felt good to have someone on his side no matter what.

"It's not ideal, but I don't think anything can change my feelings, especially when it involves my happiness and you being around. But" Anna stopped.

"But it's a complication and I was not forthright with you when I said I wasn't free. I should have explained sooner." He took a deep breath. He had to make her understand. John hoped she would refuse to give up on him, but she had to for her own good. He knew what he had to say would remove her smile. But he can't lead her on forever. "You must realize there can never be anything. I have nothing to offer and am still a married man. Even having this conversation isn't proper."

Saying the word proper seemed very ironic. Why should they care, they weren't lords and ladies? But John knew there would be consequences for them both if anything continued. And because she was a woman, Anna would have to face the brunt of the scandal. If they were ever caught, they could both lose their jobs at Downton. An affair with a married man would follow Anna wherever she would go. And even if they never were physical, rumors could be just as painful as the truth. How could he make her understand?

"Maybe it'll be best if we take a step back from our…" John paused for a second. He almost said the word relationship, but he did not want to use that word to describe them, it would be too dangerous. A relationship to him meant more than friendship and that was something they could not be. "Our friendship. Spend a little less time with each other. Maybe you could find a lad in town." He hated the sound of that as much as she did, but he knew the next part would upset her the most. "Or, if necessary, I could leave and find another post." He felt like a total hypocrite. He had just said he would be staying at Downton yet he was taking it back already. He knew he shouldn't have given her false hope before, but he wanted to see that smile. And yet, if he told her everything about Vera, she would be completely repulsed by him. Did he really have to shatter her opinions of him?

"So we should just ignore each other and not talk anymore. Or if I won't leave you alone, you are going to leave Downton? Is that an ultimatum? Do you really want to leave here? Do you really want to be done with me?" Anna hissed to John.

That was the exact opposite of what he wanted. John looked forward to their moments together and the idea of truly leaving her was unfathomable. His time with Anna was intoxicating. He would fall asleep with her face in his mind and wake up with her name on his lips. John would go out-of-the-way to spend time with her. When he wasn't with her, all he could think about was her. And even when they were together, he always wanted more. His feelings for her were all-consuming.

"It's not about what we want."

He knew what addiction was and how hard it was to break it. In the past, alcohol provided brief reprieves from his pain, but it would always come back worse when he sobered up. John got very good at not sobering up. And when he entered prison and finally detoxed his system, he experienced worse pain than being shot. John could still remember the process. He suffered hallucinations for days and barely slept at night. He was freezing and burning up at the same time. He retched for days even at the smell of food. His heart was beating way too fast and his head was pounding way too hard. But deep down, John knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel. His belief that quitting alcohol would make him a better man kept him going in his darkest hours. And eventually, each day got a little easier than the last.

But quitting Anna would be worse than that experience. To be near her and never talk to her, impossible. John would spend all his time avoiding her but she would never escape his thoughts. He could imagine the agony of sitting across from her without making eye contact. And the worst part of it all, would be the pain on her face. She would not give up easily. And every frown and tear would be because of him. In trying to do everything to protect her, he would just destroy her.

John had been able to avoid alcohol since entering jail, but he would relapse if he ever tried to avoid Anna. How could he not try to comfort her, make her laugh, just watch her? And with quitting alcohol, he was making himself stronger, better. But Anna was what made him a better man. He had felt the effect she had on him since the beginning. Instead of being a bitter, angry, drunk and convict, he was transforming into a respectable member of the household. His only choice would be to leave. As long as they were under the same roof, they would be drawn to each other. But leaving seemed just as bad as staying. How did he ever get himself into this situation? John never expected Anna's love but now that he had it, he didn't want to let it go.

"Anna, there is no path forward for us. No matter how bad I want there to be."

Anna finally sat down next to him, but left a good distance between them. John had avoided eye contact with her but finally looked. She did not look as upset as he expected, but she refused to look at him for several minutes. John felt he always knew what was on her mind, but now he had no idea how she was going to react. He wanted to hold her and confess his love, but he had to be strong. John instead looked back down at his hands.

"I knew you would try something like this. Try to get rid of me. But it's not going to work. If I truly believed you meant it and that you do not care for me, well Mr. Bates, I would leave you alone. But you are saying all of this because you are trying to protect me, and my honor." John felt Anna glaring at him.

"Mr. Bates, will you look at me?" He did. Holding her gaze was difficult but looking anywhere else was impossible. Anna continued, "I love you. And I know you care for me. You may not say it, but you cannot deny it. The world is changing and not just because of the war. And the only future I see is with you, in whatever way possible. If the only moments we have are late night talks in the courtyard, I would still be yours forever."

Anna's honesty and tenacity always amazed, and dare he say it, turned him on. Her confidence in him and their relationship was irresistible. He wanted to believe her words with all of his heart. John did not doubt her love, she would never let him, but he had seen so much more of life. He did not deserve her love and could never ask for it. He was a broken man. She knew he was a drunk and a convict, but she still did not know the worst about him. John wanted to tell her, but her ferocity and openness made him falter. He could not ruin this, not yet, instead, he decided to make some gesture.

John inched closer to her and finally eliminated all the space between them as he put his arm around her. At first, Anna seemed completely taken off guard, but she was not going to argue. She silently put her head on his chest and just relaxed in his arms. Feeling her in his arms was indescribable. Even though this was their first intimate embrace, it felt like Anna belonged there.

"Anna, you are right. I cannot and will not deny I have feelings for you."

She looked up at him and John wanted to kiss her so badly. But he stopped himself. He could not do any more until he confessed. He did not feel strong enough for that conversation tonight, but soon, he would have to tell her everything about Vera. No, he would not kiss her lips yet. Instead he lightly pressed his lips against her forehead. He felt her smile on his chest and pressed his nose into her hair.

"I do not deserve you." And after that, they sat in complete silence in each other's arms. John wished the moment could last forever, but his past would forever haunt their future.