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raise a tent of shelter now

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New Year's Eve 1958

"Dance with me?"

A raised eyebrow. "You know very well I have two left feet and a lamentable sense of rhythm."

She smiles with the memory - a dance hall in Guadalajara, one of the few nights there were no air raids, no riots, no gunfire, Randall drunkenly treading on her toes. That had been a good night, a sweet night, when the war seemed a little further away.

"I don't care," she says, lacing her fingers with his and ignoring Hector's raised eyebrow from where he's twirling Marnie around. "You're dancing with me."

Because if this isn't something to celebrate, what is? They have Freddie back, whole and healthy and practically tripping over his happiness at being with Bel. Hector and Marnie's son is growing more quickly every day. Their ratings are the highest on the BBC in nearly a decade. There are many, many more good days than bad days - personally as well as professionally. 1957 seems very far away.

She pulls him onto the floor, still half-resisting. His mouth twists in disapproval, but she straightens his lapels and loops an arm around his waist. "If you're not careful, I'll lead."

"You usually do," he says, and her laughter rings over the jazz quartet.

It draws the curious eyes of their coworkers - Sissy on Sey's arm, Isaac where he's pestering the pretty bartender, Bel grinning knowingly from Freddie's side, Marnie elbowing Hector - but where before they would have taken extreme pains to stay professional, she finds she doesn't care any longer what they think of her. Randall has never truly cared to begin with; people misread his reserve for distaste, his courtesy for dispassion, and think the most they are is former brothers-in-arms.

They were. Spain was their war, and she's laid in the same trenches he has. They've just always been more, and she doesn't want to hide it now. Sod anyone who has a problem with it; she lives her life dictated-to by no one.

Randall shifts, capturing her fingers in his and splaying a hand across her back that cannot be read as anything but the intimacy it is. She used to hate lovers who wanted to own her; she's slipped out of more beds before the alarm, tottered home on heels so hungover she could barely walk, anything to escape the assumption that "I've had you, now I have a right to you". It was never like that with Randall, not even in Spain when they tore each other to pieces. Randall once told her he didn't own her - she owned him.

They sway, blaring horns and saxophones, and his coordination when it comes to dancing is still as lamentable as ever. But it's still him, still the rhythm she learnt in bombed-out homes and piazzas running with blood. It's the most heartbreakingly wonderful thing to realize.

"What are we doing, Lix?" he asks, head tilted down to hers.

She bites back the reflexive witticism, looking up at him instead. "Dancing, quite literally, around what it is we truly want."

"I'm tired of it."

And he's silently asking her the same question he once asked in a one-room, leaky-roofed flat in Barcelona. This time, though, she has an answer.

"So am I."

The smile begins at the corner of his mouth, unfolding across his face. She always did love to make him smile, laugh. He leans in to kiss her, and if it's not whiskey-tobacco-mint any longer, she's learning to enjoy orange juice without any alcohol, as blasphemous as it sounds.

This time, she's not going to have any regrets.