Fandom: The Tudors
Pairing: Anne Boleyn/Thomas Cromwell
That evening, the King visits her apartments.
Not her bed, she marks, not without some resentment, though of course the practical part of her mind prompts her that anything of that nature would have been entirely out of the question in her present condition. Still, it seems like progress after weeks of physical and emotional distance, an end to the unspoken impasse that has left her sleep-starved and sick of her food.
“I had a mind to enquire after your health, sweetheart,” he says, once her ladies have been dismissed from the room and it is just the two of them beside the fireplace, she sitting, her black-work at rest in her lap, he standing, his lithe hands restlessly working together where he clasps them behind his back. Anne knows without even being able to see that he is turning the gold signet ring on his finger around and around, a futile tic of nervous energy that even now seems to crackle off him, all the more unsettling for his comparative stillness.
Even so, she notes the endearment with a flicker of pleasure, something she is careful to check the moment she begins to feel it stirring within her. She must not let down her guard just yet.
“Yours,” Henry is going on, with too deliberate a casualness for an afterthought, “and that of our child. Have you felt it move recently?” He smiles at her, a little, as though he can gently brush aside the transparency of his enquiry; that his concern for her safety is intrinsically bound up in her state as vessel to the precious jewel within, and that without one, the other would not exist, and nor, perhaps, would his fear for her.
If Anne feels a sting of hurt at this, it is indistinguishable from the proud lift of her head and her winning smile. She has rehearsed this often enough, as any consummate actress would.
“Just this morning, my love,” she says. “And all of last night, too. He nigh on keeps me awake with his kicking.”
“Our son is strong.” It is almost a question, uncertain; for the first time there is a thread of anxiety in his voice that Anne attunes to instinctively, and she feels an almost overwhelming surge of love for him, for that bruising vulnerability that she alone has glimpsed from time to time and that makes her long to take him in her arms as she would her own child, their own son, and to soothe away the concerns, the cares that she knows he has borne for so long, with her fingertips, her voice, her lips. Her own dear, most loved Henry.
Instead, she says, “Yes.”
He watches her closely for several seconds, as though alert to the possibility of deception. Then all at once, the tension visibly drains from him; the hard line of his shoulders slackens, his hands unclasp, and he stoops beside her. She feels his breath on her cheek, can smell the light scent of his skin, and for a moment she is sure that he is going to take her mouth with his own; but at the last moment he seems to hesitate, almost imperceptibly, too fleeting for her to be certain, and his lips skim past hers, instead moving to imprint the gentle pressure of a kiss on her cheek.
Anne closes her eyes with the sensation of it. Even after all that has passed between them, it still plucks at her as surely as he had applied the skill of his own hand, and as he steps back away from her again, she is very aware of the speeding heat of her pulse pinpointed between her legs. She is only grateful that she has never been one to blush.
“But that is not all,” Henry is saying, and she hurriedly drags her attention back to his voice.
He has crossed over to the table, which is still cluttered and vibrant with the fabrics she is yet to choose from for after the baby is born: unbleached linen and deep-dyed wool; silks imported from Venice and lampas enriched with gold and silver, and best of all, an Italian damask that Anne is keeping aside for herself alone, satin-woven and iridescent, deep red brocaded over with the gleaming, pearlescent grey of the warp.
“I have good news,” Henry continues briskly, and he does not look at her as he runs his hand across the bolt of Venetian silk that lies closest to him with a gentleness and reverence that draws Anne’s gaze.
“Oh?” she enquires with a lightness that belies her, watching the movement of his hand. His back is almost completely turned towards her, but she hears his soft exhale as he smiles.
“Yes.” He looks back at her, his fingers drumming a soft tattoo against the silk. His blue eyes have the fierce, leonine light of a merciless victor satisfied by the spoils of his conquest.
“It seems that now all things move in our favour. With the prospective alliance of the Emperor, it is only a matter of time before the world is forced to acknowledge you as England’s rightful Queen, and our marriage as valid. Any and all protestations from the see of Rome will be but a howl in the wind.”
Anne feels a tremendous leap inside her. It has all been very well to hear rumour of this on the lips of the courtiers, but anything that might have gladdened her has been shot-through with the dark presence of Cromwell’s mind at work on the scheme. Upon her soul, she knows that the man is fervent in his desire to undo her, and has been tight with that dog Chapuys in conspiracy for weeks. But to hear this from Henry elevates even the Emperor’s victory over the Turks into something wondrous, akin to the miracle she has been longing for. Affirmation. She is at once alive again with possibility…
In a moment, she recalls Cromwell’s eyes in the garden that day, the trick of the light that had made them seem green. She cannot stifle the urge to smile that tugs at her mouth as she imagines those eyes darkening in consternation, the engraved line between his brows deepening into a frown of barely-concealed fear, the sensitive curve of his own mouth tightening as displeasure drags at its edges.
All things move in our favour, and away from you, Anne thinks, with a venom that even she is surprised to feel.
Again, it is Henry’s voice that drags her from her reverie.
“Of course,” he says, “we have Mr Cromwell to thank for this.”
Her pleasure dissolves, like a reflection shattered from the surface of a puddle. She is unable to disguise her distaste, nor the sarcasm that laces her tone as she speaks: “Of course. Whatever would we do without Mr Cromwell?”
Henry turns to look at her, his expression almost curious. Then suddenly, he laughs, a bright, expansive sound, and takes a step towards where she is still sitting by the fire.
“Sweetheart, I know that you and Mr Cromwell have not been seeing entirely eye to eye of late. In fact - “ he pauses by her shoulder, and puts out his hand almost thoughtfully, brushing the back of his fingers against the exposed curve of her neck - “I know that you have quarrelled.”
She jerks jealously away from the touch she had been savouring, her eyes furious as she looks up at him. “Has he been speaking to you? About me?” she demands.
“Only once I had enquired of him. And indeed, only to say how he knew he had displeased you, and how his regret of it has grieved him sorely.”
Anne shakes her head in sharp dismissal, her mouth hard. “I am sure he is sorely grieved for lack of candour.”
She feels him go still beside her, the hand that had been returning to its possessive glide across her shoulder stopping on her upper arm, fingers tensing there just lightly, a small threat against her skin
“What do you mean?” he says, at last.
With a sudden movement that seems to startle even Henry, Anne is on her feet, her one hand cradling the encumbrance of her belly that threatens to pull her off balance. Her eyes are fierce and blue and impassioned in her white face.
“My love, you know that I would never speak against Mr Cromwell had I not real concerns.” She throws the words out recklessly, heedless of their cost. She takes a sharp breath, plunging on. “It is true that many regard him most highly for his intellect and diligence, and yet…” She deliberately allows the words to die on her lips, her gaze intent on his face.
The King is implacable as he looks back at her, his mouth a steady line, but she sees a flicker of something behind the coolness of his eyes that she cannot quite define. Doubt? Mistrust?
“And yet, what?” Henry says, very softly.
Anne blinks slowly, playing her part to its hilt. She has done this once before, and she can do it again.
Take the knife. Turn it.
“It is my fear that Mr Cromwell does not always act with the best interests of the Crown at heart. With your best interests at heart.”
His expression barely alters. A flare in the depths of his inky pupils, a small, strange smile that ghosts across his lips.
“And do you know what it is that is in Mr Cromwell’s heart?” he says.
Anne lifts her head, pretending that she does not feel the quickening of her pulse. She holds his stare like the challenge it is, feeling him search her like a flame licking a page-leaf.
Abruptly, his smile returns.
“You must never fear to tell me such things, sweetheart.” As he speaks, his hand moves up to her face, his thumb tracing the outline of her lower lip. “Especially as, perhaps, we are not at such discord on this matter.”
Impulsively, she takes his hand in both of her own, pressing it to her cheek. “I would not speak of such things unless I believed them to be true.”
“I know. I know.” With the whisper he draws her closer to him, his lips brushing across her forehead, the tip of her nose, until finally his mouth finds hers, and the kiss is deep, the taste and feel and memory of him singing along her spine as she kisses back, twining her fingers around behind his neck, feeling the familiarity of his hardness against her, wanting her as he has not wanted her for months. She intensifies the kiss, her tongue seeking his, nipping at his lip with her teeth...
With the same feline grace with which he had moved to claim her, Henry pulls away, ignoring her inarticulate sound of protest.
“Not now, sweetheart,” he says, softly, placatingly, and she feels a thwarted, entirely useless frustration as he places his hand on her swollen stomach. “But soon.”
“Soon,“ Anne says, trying to ignore her distracting heat, her ferocious longing, her private wetness. “When our son is strong and thriving in his cradle.”
He crushes his lips to her hair, and she is sure that he breathes in, as though savouring the scent of her. Then roughly he parts from her, dipping in a small bow of hurried courtesy, and is gone like a thief from the room, leaving her nothing but the taste of him in her mouth.
Slowly, Anne smoothes her damp palms across the folds of her gown, turning back to the fire. She picks up her black-work and sits down. Her face is edge-lit by the flame, smiling and smiling as she threads the needle under and out.
Perhaps she will wear red and grey damask on the day of Cromwell’s death..