Early September 1914
John sat down next to Anna who was already working on a dress at the table. He placed the pants on the table and hesitated before he started working on the stain. It was an unofficial rule for some time that any little task they could do, they would both do it before bed in the servants' hall. Other servants may do work in their rooms or throughout the day, but Anna and John would always wait for each other. She seemed to have an effect where not only was he more productive, but the work was entirely more enjoyable. Some nights they would work in complete silence and others would be spent chatting, but they were always John's favorite part of the day.
"Pretty dress, is it Lady Mary's?" John inquired.
"Well, it was, but now it's mine. I've been meaning to alter it for weeks and finally found some time. It's been a quiet week." Anna replied
John knew what she meant. There were some weeks where he felt he did not have time to dress himself, let alone be there for Lord Grantham. But this week has passed very simply. Maybe the war was finally touching Downton. The family was entertaining others less and leaving less. John rather enjoyed the downtime and never thought he would appreciate the relaxation war brought.
John looked down at the dress Anna was working on. He could not remember Lady Mary in it, but he had no trouble seeing Anna dressed in the light blue frock. He knew she would be breathtaking and would be able to display a little more skin than the uniform allowed.
"Then it's a dress fit for the person that will be wearing it." He liked giving her these complements. He may not be able to tell her everything, but he loved eliciting an extra smile and blush of her cheek from his words.
They both continued in silence for a while. "Are you the jealous type, Mr. Bates?" Anna asked with a cheeky smile.
John worried this was some sort of trap. Both possible answers would lead to conversational consequences and he was sure she was ready for either. But John had to truly reflect on the answer. Before the war, he never really had the need to be jealous of Vera. They were still newlyweds and enjoying their new lives together. He supposed he did not like a look a guy would give her on the street from time to time, but he never felt threatened.
And after the war, he soon found he could care less where Vera spent her time. He would enjoy his whiskey, and she could enjoy whoever's company she wanted. She made sure she performed her wifely duties when he first returned. But they soon replaced any intimacy with alcohol and verbal sparring. John found himself drawn less and less to Vera for any companionship, but she seemed unfazed by his rebuke. A few months after his return, a colleague confirmed John's suspicions about Vera's unfaithfulness. It appeared one affair was still ongoing and others had happened while he was gone. He knew he should be upset that his wife was unfaithful, but he just felt indifferent to the situation. He still loved to throw it in her face during a fight, calling her a slut and a bitch, but it was more about hurting her than being jealous.
John now considered his feelings for Anna. He would hate to ruin the purity of their relationship, but he could see himself being jealous. He had wanted to push her towards someone else, anyone else. But how would he react? Not very well. He would cringe if she ever saw her smile directed towards anyone else. And would she still rely on him as a confidant? Would she confess her feelings about someone else to him? She had no problem sharing all of her thoughts with him. He dreaded the thought of a future where he would actually have to listen to her talk about another man. Just imagining Anna with another man caused him more pain than the knowledge that Vera had many lovers.
John decided to respond truthfully and yet cryptically, "Well, that depends. Do I seem envious?"
"Well, I was reflecting on something that happened this afternoon and was debating if I should tell you."
John tried to force a smile, but was this moment actually coming? Was she going to confide in him the spark she felt with another man? "I've never known you to be hesitant while talking to me."
Anna started her story, "Well, Mr. Mosley was here earlier. And he was asking me when my next afternoon off was. He wanted to spend it with me." Anna paused for a while and looked up at John. He knew she was looking for some sort of reaction, but he made none. He was trying to bluff away any hints of jealousy. John was hoping she says he shot him down. But what right did he have for that hope? She should be able to see any man that asks her. He has never properly acknowledge their relationship and isn't this what he wanted? For her to find someone else? But John was hoping it would be someone more deserving than Mr. Mosley. Nothing per say was wrong with the man, but he seemed to lack confidence and charisma. He was nice enough and would never harm Anna, but Mosley just seemed dull. John had been staring at Anna for a while before she finally continued.
"I thanked him for the offer but told him I wasn't sure if I could spare the time. And then he offered to take me out any time I was available. Well, he was not that specific, but hinted that he would like to take me on a date. And you know how I am. I tried to be sweet, but I had to be direct and make sure he knew my feelings would not be anything more than friendship. I think you will find the next part particularly enjoyable."
Anna did not need to add that last statement to piqué his interest. John was very intrigued by any offer another man laid before her. There was a sense a relief when she explained she turned him down. But there was something about her smile that told him he was not out of the woods yet.
"You see, Mr. Mosley said he understood because he heard I was seeing someone else. If you could imagine, I was quite shocked because I did not even know about this someone else. So of course I questioned him for more information."
Anna's tongue was pressing behind her teeth as she taunted him. He knew he was caught. John was trying to think of the best defense, but maybe he should just tell her the truth.
"Mr. Mosley seemed a bit flustered and hesitant and mumbled a few words. But I distinctly heard him say Mr. Bates before he turned away. Do you have any idea what he could be talking about?"
Both of them had been so engrossed in their conversation that they have completely stopped any work. John decided to feign interest in the trousers during the last part of her story and was intent on looking down for a bit longer. He could feel Anna's eyes on him and thought he should at least explain a bit to her.
"He may have gotten a certain impression from a conversation we had at the garden party. He showed interest in your personal life and I may have overstepped some boundaries by intervening."
"And how did you do that?" Anna pressed.
"I believe I told him there was someone in your life that he is hard to read but was quite keen on you."
"Do I know this someone?" Anna would not make this simple for him. She was determined to make him express his feelings. John wished he could say how much he loved her. But he still has a wife and could never put Anna in an improper position. He was being a total hypocrite. His actions clearly showed he cared for her, but he refused to say anything too promising. It may be semantics, but denying he does not have feelings is not the same as confessing he does. And using words like "caring" and "keen" was not the same as saying "I love you." Part of him wanted her to doubt his feelings and eventually doubt her own affections for him. That part was quickly losing out to the part that wanted her to be his and only his.
John drew a deep breath, "Anna, of course I am quite keen on you, but I can't expect you to wait forever. And I reconsidered your earlier question. I am afraid I am a jealous man. I can't stomach thinking about you with another man. I am horribly selfish and want you all to myself."
John looked down and saw that he had intertwined her fingers with his own. Hers were soft and cold but he warmed them up. The spark he felt by the simplest of physical contact was insatiable. If only they weren't in the servants' hall, he would risk more. He knew the hour was late but they simply stared at each other, hands together for several minutes without saying anything. He could hear her even breaths and feel the pulse in her hand. There was something so peaceful about being near her. Regretfully John gave her hand one last squeeze to announce his departure, "Good night, Anna. I look forward to seeing you in that dress. I know you will do it justice." And with that, John took the still stained trousers and headed towards his room.
A/N: Thanks for the feedback so far. This chapter was a bit of fun, but the next one will be a little more serious.