Baker and Jones Ch. 11Baker and Jones Ch. 11

Babes

Part Two:

Chapter Eleven

Annette stares at the townhouse, feeling a mixture of nostalgia and dread. It was a cozy and partially gothic three-story red brick home, tucked away amidst a row of houses that could not be more disinteresting compared to it. Its dark brown door and silver chester knocker call to her, and the little numbers “167” feel familiar in the way that only something truly moving and tiny could be.

It’s only been two months, she tells herself, over and over. She’d reminded herself of this fact plenty enough on the walk across town, her hood pulled low to protect against the light spattering of rain in the cool evening. She had spent more time in 167th Mill Street than she’d spent away, but it felt incomparably longer with the Mallets. She wasn’t the same person as before, and how could she be?

Her loose trousers hold tightly to her calves as the breeze pushes them back, and a tepid tremor drifts down her spine. She pulls her arms closer to her chest, appreciating the mild warmth of them, and continues glaring up at the few steps to the door which feel so strangely insurmountable.

But it’s late, and dark, and cold, and she was a wanted woman. Annette could only delay the inevitable for so long before something might force her to act one way or another. It would be better, far better, to simply stomach her nerves and press on. She takes a long breath and steps forward, allowing her boots to tap lightly in the little puddles on each step up to the door. She knocks.

It takes nearly a half minute for an answer, and she’s half-way considering retreating when she hears the sound of footsteps thudding down the stairs inside. It’s impossible not to recognize the unmistakable pace and gait, and a breath later the door cautiously creeps open to reveal the tired and surprised form of Cordelia Jones.

“Annette,” she says simply, her voice low. There’s a clear surprise and confusion upon her face, though it quickly washes away into elation.

“Cordelia,” Annette bows her head softly. “May I come inside?”

“Yes, yes of course.”

The detective steps aside, stumbling to make room for her former servant. Annette graciously makes her way into the foyer, gently depositing her cloak on the coat rack inside. Cordelia closes the door quietly behind her, dropping her hands to her hips and taking in the sight of her with an air of intrigue.

“It’s been far too long- hic,” Corelia’s hand raises to her mouth, trying to hide the interrupting noise that escaped her. “Pardon. It’s so good to see you – hic.”

Annette giggles politely as Cordelia flusters, frustrated that it happened again. “Having trouble holding down your drinks?” She asks.

“I haven’t been – hic – drinking,” Cordelia rebuts. “I just can’t seem to get these ghastly noises to – hic.”

“Hold your breath and swallow thrice,” Annette suggests.

“That’s ridicul – hic.”

Cordelia rolls her eyes and holds her breath, and Annette watches as the detective attempts to swallow down the hiccups. She gulps down three times, then pauses for a long moment to see if it has finally passed.

“It worked,” Annette concludes.

“So it seems,” Cordelia holds up a hand, waiting for confirmation. “Very well. I owe you my gratitude,” she smiles. “You’ve returned.”

Annette looks down at the floor, a little nervous. “Just visiting for the evening, I’m afraid.”

“Right, of course,” Cordelia nods curtly. “I didn’t mean to suggest… erm…” She likewise looks away, then apprehensively dips into the dining room, attempting to clear space at the table.

Annette follows her, walking slowly and with caution, noticing that the table is once again filled with the clutter of her investigations. With the dim lighting, it’s difficult to make out all of the objects before her, but Annette quickly concludes that it’s in a similar condition to her first visit to the home months ago.

“Apologies,” Cordelia puffs, shuffling things out of the way.

“It’s quite alright,” Annette waves away her concern, slowly ambling to inspect the kitchen and confirm her suspicions. A large stack of dishes occupies the sink.

“I know, I know,” the detective mutters, “It’s in a sorry state. I’ve just been so busy with cases and I didn’t want to replace you with… well… and I didn’t know if you’d be… erm…”

“It’s alright,” Annette comforts. “Is there any place to sit?”

“The living room, if you don’t mind the mess.”

“I can survive it for an evening.”

She follows Cordelia into the next room, quietly sitting across from her on the couch, while the detective occupies her favored chair. Annette rests her back into the cushions, appreciating the comfort, while Cordelia leans forward and places her elbows onto her knees as though ready to listen intently. Silence passes between them for a few moments, and Annette cannot help but feel an awkwardness pass between them.

“You’ve cut your hair,” she notices.

“I… I wanted it mersin escort shorter,” Cordelia replies. “You’re wearing trousers.”

“It’s more functional.”

There’s a pause, and Annette’s eyes drift aimlessly around the room.

“You’ve removed your collar,” the detective notes softly.

“I did,” Annette’s voice bounces back softly. “It… it was strange at first, not to have it.”

Cordelia pats her pockets, searching for something, but seems to come up short. “I retrieved the key to it from the Deacon, just in case you ever wanted me to… I didn’t tell him where you were. I-I just implied that I was working to track you down and he gave it back.”

Annette smiles with a weak gratitude.

“Are you… happy?” Cordelia asks timidly. It’s a rare look on the detective, and sheepish awkwardness sits strangely in her voice.

“Happy?”

“Are they treating you alright?” She sits back a little bit but constantly shifts around, trying unsuccessfully to get comfortable. “I’ve pieced together what seems to have occurred, I believe.”

“You’ve been keeping tabs?”

“As much as I can between cases.”

“I’m touched.”

A pause.

“Christ,” Cordelia mutters, shaking her head. “Has it truly been too long?”

“I’m sure it’ll come back in time,” Annette purses her lips. “Are you still sober?”

“Not quite for the full duration of your departure… but I haven’t been to a bar in nearly a week, so that’s something,” the detective shrugs. “And I don’t have any drink here at home anymore. I threw it out.”

“Good. I’m glad to hear it.”

Another pause.

“I’m sorry again about the mess.”

“There’s no need to-,”

“I am, though,” Cordelia insists. She sighs and drops her shoulders, “It seems as though this ship has never run quite so smoothly as it did with you as it’s Captain.”

“Might you be referring to more than just the home?”

“I’m well,” Cordelia scoffs, crossing her legs and pushing back into her chair.

“Of course.”

“I am.”

“I believe you.”

“I am.”

“And I said I believe you.”

Cordelia sighs and looks away. “Do you wish me to say it?”

“You’re welcome to.”

“I miss you, Annette. I wish you were here once more.”

Annette sits in the feeling of Cordelia’s words, washing in the sentimentality and wishfulness that fills each syllable. She gazes around the room for a moment, letting her own nostalgia push forward and greet her.

“I often wondered how it would feel to be back. It’s a little unusual to be called ‘Annette’ again.”

Cordelia nods in understanding. “The pseudonyms they use.”

Annette smirks. “You have been investigating.” She’d wondered how closely Cordelia would try to follow the Mallets now that she had lost contact with her former servant, and Annette suspected she wouldn’t just simply relent from the case.

“I’m assuming you’re not Robin, Arthur, Guy, or Patrick?”

“Red.”

“As in Red Riding Hood?”

Annette shrugs. “All of the names come from folklore or heroes or the like.”

“I suspected. Is it because of-,”

“The red hair? Yes.”

Cordelia grins, proud of herself. She stares at Annette, taking in the sight of her and scanning her as though to determine precisely what was different about her since their last encounter. “If I may ask, what do they have you doing?”

“I… I shouldn’t say.”

“I understand.”

Annette sympathizes with the hunger for knowledge about the situation that was surely burdening Cordelia. “They aren’t what I expected,” she admits. “I can’t say more, but it isn’t so cut-and-dry as I previously believed.”

“I’ll not ask you to elaborate.”

“Thank you.”

“Are you any closer to an answer for Mary Rosen?”

Annette takes a long breath, feeling a mild pang of guilt in her chest. “Have you checked upon her recently?”

“I have.”

The guilt increases. “Then I imagine you know.”

“Yes,” Cordelia admits. “Would you say it to me, for my benefit?”

Annette nods, it was the least she could do. Their case had begun together, Cordelia deserved to know the resolution to it and Annette feels bad for not having brought her answers directly.

“Henry’s pseudonym was Maccabee. He was indeed a Mallet. He believed that his actions would bring about pressure to improve labor conditions, and he was willing to stake his life upon it.”

“So you’ve got your answer.”

“I do.”

There’s a tense silence between them, and Annette cannot bring herself to meet Cordelia’s eyes. She can feel the question on the tip of her tongue, ready for the accusation to be levied against her, and decides to wait patiently until it comes.

“I was wondering,” Cordelia says quietly, “why you didn’t return after.”

Annette exhales slowly. “Might I make you some tea?”

“I suppose.”

She rises, crossing over to the kitchen and clearing space for the kettle to sit upon the stove. Annette waits beside it, letting the space between the two of them cool with her mersin escort bayan task, with the hopes that perhaps they could move on beyond the current issue. She pours the cup, careful to ensure that it was especially hot and steeped the way Cordelia enjoys, and returns it to the detective. She sits down slowly onto the couch.

“Have you been boxing at all?” Annette redirects.

“It isn’t quite the same anymore,” Cordelia admits. She seems content to indulge Annette’s deflection. “I just don’t feel the same spark.”

“I see.”

Cordelia sips at her tea, trying to continue the conversation with whatever tools might possibly present themselves. “Lady Deveroux came by once.”

“Did she?” Annette feels another pang of guilt, accompanied by the dull ache of their poor ending.

“She hadn’t yet heard the news about you,” Cordelia explains. “It was a few weeks ago.”

“How did she respond?”

The corners of the detective’s lips raise with amusement. “She passed along some choice words for you. The Mallet’s aren’t very popular amongst her class.”

“I imagine not.”

“I think they’re growing to fear you lot.”

“I suppose I would as well, were I them,” Annette agrees.

“After the fourth or fifth prominent collar escape, their pearl clutching has grown deafening.”

Annette smiles politely at the idea. Since her own escape, the Mallets had actually been working to free other servants, especially those with famously bad owners in prominent positions of power. Hammer and Spike, the weekly pamphlet, would even recount the horrendous accusations against each owner who lost a servant. Such actions had earned increasing hostility from the police.

“How’s Martin?” Annette asks.

“He’s engaged,” the detective pips.

She raises an eyebrow. “Willingly?”

Cordelia smirks behind another sip of tea. “Mostly. Provided his fiancee can stomach the inevitable infidelity. He’s not really one for settling down.”

“Well, I hope she can cope,” Annette grins with her as a peal of thunder rings out around the house. It’s a lazy and low rumbling, easily confused for the sound of faraway barrels being dropped onto ships in the harbor.

Cordelia speaks again, her voice soft and wishful. “You aren’t coming back, are you?”

Annette shakes her head. “I’ll visit as a friend.”

“So we still are that,” Cordelia nods weakly. “That’s something, I suppose.”

“You want me as a servant again?”

Cordelia shrugs. Her head turns to look about the room, glancing over the chaos of her mess around her. Supposedly there was an organization to it, but Annette had never deduced what it might be.

“I’ve never been particularly good at keeping my affairs… well, livable or functional or in any orderly state,” she admits.

Annette’s voice tips with snark. “I recall that you resented the first time I cleaned.”

“I grew to tolerate it,” Cordelia puffs.

“Tolerate it?”

“… I appreciated it, after a while.”

Annette giggles. “Penny will think I must have some magic upon me to have completed such an impossible task.”

Cordelia laughs, but it is soon after replaced again with a somber expression. “So you cannot be convinced to return.”

“No. I imagine not.”

Another peal of thunder fills the silence between them.

“So you’re really one of them now, aren’t you?” Cordelia asks, the realization finally seeming to settle in. “It isn’t just investigation for you.”

Annette sighs and nods. “The things I’ve seen… the things I’ve always seen… I feel like I can do something about it now.”

“What do they have you doing?”

She bristles at the question, feeling the suspicious nature she’s cultivated over the last two months emerge. It was a protective mechanism, necessary to keep herself and her friends safe. “I don’t think I should tell you.”

The detective doesn’t seem to like it, but moves along. “But you agree to it? You do it willingly?”

“Yes,” she replies softly.

Cordelia takes a moment to accept the reality of this fact. She takes a sip of her tea, letting the steam run along her face and collect her thoughts. “I cannot help but feel responsible for setting you upon this path.”

Annette had wondered if Cordelia might think something of the sort, and she quickly rebuts, “You didn’t.”

“Had I not insisted that you-,”

“I pleaded with you to take Mary’s case,” Annette asserts. “I stole the letters from Bembrook’s office. I chose to make contact with the Mallet’s and to work my way into their trust.”

Cordelia shakes her head, in amusement rather than disagreement. “You were so cunning about it all, too.”

Annette smiles. “I think I always needed something like this. Something where I could help people.”

“I help people,” the detective scoffs.

“It’s different.”

Cordelia looks as though she might argue the point, but decides not to. She returns to sipping her tea. An air of concern slowly radiates from her. “Do you believe that I am a escort mersin good person, Annette?”

The former servant exhales thoughtfully. “I don’t think you are so simple as ‘good’ or ‘bad.'”

The thunder once again enters the space, rolling through the skies above and into the home. It’s gentle and calming, and as the two of them return to silence Annette notices that Cordelia seems gravely worried, and suspects the thunder is not having the same soothing effect.

“It wasn’t just about the housekeeping,” Cordelia says suddenly.

“Pardon?”

“It’s the companionship,” she taps her fingers nervously against the porcelain cup, causing a gentling clinging sound to ring out. “It’s the conversation. It’s the knowledge that everyday I might wake up and know there was someone who might be concerned for my well being.”

Annette furrows her brow and smirks. “You fought me every time I attempted to tend to your wounds.”

“I couldn’t make it too easy for you, could I?” Cordelia chuckles, but quickly falls serious once more. “I don’t see many people day-to-day,” she explains, “at least, not any who see ‘Cordelia.’ They see ‘the detective’ or ‘the boxer’ or ‘the lesbian’ or ‘the bastard’… It’s… it’s easy to forget that I exist underneath all of that.”

Annette lets the words wash over her for a moment, sitting in the depth of emotion Cordelia set out for her, knowing that such vulnerability was a rare display. “I… I spent a great deal of time talking about you with them,” she admits. “Not you, specifically, they still believe Simon was my owner all along. I mostly talk with some of the other former servants.”

Cordelia pulls her limbs into her body a little more, and asks, “Do you feel differently about your time here?”

“It would be impossible not to.”

“And so you’re not returning.”

Annette lets the next roll of thunder pass, attempting to formulate a suitable answer for the detective, but none come easily to her. She sits in the moment for as long as she can tolerate it, unable to determine what she should say. Eventually, Cordelia looks out the window and announces, “I believe the rain has ceased.”

“I love a dry thunderstorm,” Annette shrugs.

“Might I show you something?”

Cordelia sets her tea aside, standing and gesturing for Annette to follow her. She leads the former servant up the stairs, all the way up onto the third floor, but rather than go directly towards her study Cordelia turns and walks to the end of the hallway. She reaches for the ceiling, pulling down a small trap door and letting a rope ladder dangle down. She crawls up through the dark and Annette follows her out.

Past the attic, Cordelia locates a door placed directly onto the roof, kicking it open to reveal the cool air and soft light of the night time sky. A flash of lighting illuminates the space, and as Annette crawls out she sees a small platform on the roof, almost like a balcony. One could shuffle out of the space and lay against the tiles, which were at a perfect angle to lay against so that one could look up at the sky without fear of their body sliding down the roof. Thankfully, the next house over has a connected roof with theirs, so even if she did slide down she would just fall about ten feet to the place where the two slopes meet.

Cordelia closes the door behind them and lays back against the roof, and Annette does the same. The two of them watch the thunderstorm around them, delighted to see the bolts of lightning cross in the sky between clouds. Somehow, despite the light show seeming so close to them, the thunder felt as though it came from miles away. It was strangely soothing, and peaceful.

“I’ve been coming up here a lot lately,” Cordelia says, her voice quietly ringing out to Annette’s left. “I never used to do that.”

“You can see so much of the city.”

“I just watch people,” the detective sighs. “For hours. Last week, I stayed up here until sunrise.”

“What do you think about?”

“Just… people. What they are and why they are it. Why they all seem to know something that I don’t. Why I see things that they all glare past.” Cordelia taps her fingers against the tiles. “Things like that.”

Annette nods, feeling her head bob against the roof. She tries to think of something to say, but it still somehow feels unnatural speaking with Cordelia. They had once had such an easy and effortless rapport, and Annette misses the comfort of that dynamic. Eventually, she tilts her head and says, “I still have my collar.”

“You do?” Cordelia sits up a little. “Whatever for?”

“It was so strange to have it removed,” Annette shares, “I felt so naked for a long time afterwards. But I keep it because it reminds me of my time here.”

Cordelia lays back down. “It’s good to know you have some fond memories remaining.”

“More than a few.”

They return to watching the lightning flash, and Annette marvels at the majesty of it. It was a rare kind of storm; no rain, not too cold, highly active but hardly ever striking the ground.

She turns to lay on her side and face Cordelia, just a few feet away. “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“When… when you turned Samantha away… why did you tell me you didn’t regret it?”

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