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Author's Chapter Notes:

Pre-series. Set soon after Nell's family's deaths.

It may technically be a Christmas story, but it is not in any way shape or form cheerful. Written for Lime Green Musing's December 2013 topic of "Christmas at home", and the "solitary" prompt at fan_flashworks.

Nell sipped gloomily at her whisky - a generous measure, a Christmas gift from the friendly bartender, and already more than half gone - and wondered why she had ever thought coming to London was a good plan. She hadn’t been able to face going to Devon, had flinched away from the idea of the pitying looks and well-meaning, empty words she’d be met with. Not Devon, not so soon after... She dragged her thoughts away, focussed on why London had seemed the best choice. It hadn’t been to meet old friends from the School of Economics; if anything she’d been carefully avoiding most of her old student haunts. No, it was the bustling anonymity of the city that had seemed attractive, seemed like it would help. And it had helped, until she’d gone to Midnight Mass.

“Mind if I sit here?” a voice interrupted her musings, and Nell looked up to see a woman, a few years older than her, indicating the chair opposite her own.

“Please do,” Nell answered. She hadn’t really come in here looking for a partner, had chosen this bar simply because it was near and the patrons were - of necessity - discreet, but it would be good to talk to someone. Anything would be better than going yet again over the same miserable train of thought that had been running through her mind since she left the church.

“I’m Anne,” the stranger introduced herself as she sat down, glass in hand.


“Nice to meet you, Nell. What brings you here tonight?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

Nell suspected the question was meant to be flirtatious, but she answered it at face value. “I went to Mass, and… I needed a drink after.”

Anne gave her a curious look, half-surprised, half-angry. “Oh, tell me you didn’t get the hellfire speech at Christmas of all times!”

“No, nothing like that,” Nell replied. “But the priest went on and on about how Christmas was a time for family, and…”

“A time for family, right,” Anne interrupted, her tone mocking as she repeated the words. “So if I showed up tonight they’d welcome me with open arms, never mind how they threw me out? To hell with families! Though maybe I shouldn’t have said that to you, if you’re still a church-goer… Take my advice, Nell, and don’t bother with the church, it’s not worth it,” she wound up bitterly.

Unable to muster up the energy for what would probably be a long and fruitless argument, Nell simply shrugged.

“Did your family kick you out too?” Anne asked, when it became clear Nell wasn’t going to reply.

Nell shook her head quickly. “No, they - I don’t have any.” She bit her lip, silently berating herself for getting onto this subject. The very thing she’d wanted to forget… “I’d rather not talk about it, if you don’t mind,” she added quietly, taking another gulp from her glass.

“Fair enough,” Anne said. After a few seconds, she went on, “So we’re both alone… my flat’s not far from here, if you’d care for the company?”

Nell thought about it. She wasn’t too naive to know what Anne was really suggesting… A relationship between them would never work, she was sober enough to realise that; she wasn’t even particularly attracted to this angry, resentful woman. It would just be a night together, and then she would creep out of the flat at dawn, riddled with guilt, after a vague agreement to get in touch again sometime that neither would intend to keep. It was a terrible idea.

And it was a chance to feel wanted by someone this Christmas, instead of returning to her hotel bed to cry herself to sleep alone. Perhaps, really, this was what she had been hoping for when she decided to come to this particular bar. A chance to escape, if only for one night, her terrible loneliness and grief.

She tossed back the last of her whisky, looked straight at Anne and managed something that resembled a smile. “I’d love that.”

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