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but at least the war is over

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She takes him home with her.

It's for any number of reasons, if she cared to use them to justify herself. His flat is all the way across London from the hospital, and hers is barely a ten-minute walk. They've been at the hospital for hours, watching over Bel and Freddie, trading no-news-yet reports with Hector and Marnie. It's barely been half a day since they read their daughter's death certificate, since he destroyed the paperwork on his desk and she cried in the ladies'.

Really, it's because no one should be alone tonight and because she's tired of lying to herself about how much she needs him.

They're ordered out of the hospital by the sisters around midnight. Hector and Marnie take Bel home with them, to get her cleaned up and to coax her to sleep, which leaves Randall standing beside Lix like a ship unmoored. He'd taken her hand when Bel's screams had rung out from the lawn outside Lime Grove, and he had barely let it go ever since. She doesn't know if she'd have been able to breathe if he'd let go. He looks exhausted, ready to fall over, and she's sure she doesn't look any better. He's been tapping his fingers, spinning his cigarette case, organizing all the bulletin boards on Freddie's floor, no matter how badly he doesn't want to show the tics in front of Hector and Marnie. When they exit the hospital, he tries to light a cigarette and his hands shake too badly.

She remembers Seville. Remembers Brunete. Remembers Gijon. And yes, even Barcelona. His hands never shook, not through death and bloodshed and destruction, a nation tearing itself apart. When he was the only thing standing between her and self-destruction.

And as weak as it makes her, she can't bear facing this night without him. She gives her address to the taxi driver - too cold to walk, too fraught - and tugs him into the cab with her. He blinks confusedly at her, and she shakes her head.

"Mine is closer."

"All right," he says softly, and if either of them had imagined a reconciliation, it wouldn't have been this.

They don't speak in the cab - they've never had to. Lix normally has to speak to fill silence, frightened of what might be inferred if she shows anything but blithe sarcasm or flirtatiousness, but never with Randall. He's always had a maddening ability to read her far too well, and it doesn't always work in reverse. Her knowledge of him comes from experience, from years of trial and error, not from some innate sense. For better or worse, he knows her, and their silences haven't always been easy, but they've always been her choice.

It's all too easy to fall back into old patterns - she smokes to give herself something to do with her hands, he counts parked cars and rests his other hand on her knee to stop his fiddling with his cigarette case. His touch is familiar, comforting, the slow stroke of his thumb against the fabric of her trousers and the warm weight of his palm serving to anchor her. He's tense, though, nearly-strung out at the hours of interminable waiting and worrying and trying to keep the stoic facade in place when all he's probably wanted to do for hours is put everything in order.

The cab reaches her flat, and she pays the driver while he gathers up the paperwork he's been holding onto all night and carries her camera for her. He counts the stairs once inside, going down one and then back up for an even number, and she's too exhausted to even care. She doesn't bother apologizing for the clutter; by morning he'll have tidied everything and probably found things she'd forgotten she owned.

"You're limited to tea or water, if you're thirsty," she says, gathering up a stack of film canisters. "The milk's probably not gone off yet."

She flutters, she nearly always does when she has people in her space. Bustles about offering a glass of water or a cup of tea and straightening the piles of photographs sheepishly. It's just that she hasn't been in a flat with him since Spain, since that leaky-roofed flat in Barcelona above the cafe. This is what she tells herself, not that she's nervous to be alone with him.

She's startled by the low rasp of his voice from behind her - he's folded her coat and his own and is standing with his hat in his hands, running his fingers around the brim.

"Pour me a whisky. If I have any more tea, I'll be sick."

Her breath catches in her throat. She may be a semi-functioning alcoholic, but Randall has been sober for ten years - he'd ordered coffee at the pub around the corner from the French embassy (has that only been two days ago? Christ, it feels like years.) and refused any of her scotch. It had only been after she'd curled up next to him, hands intertwined and her head on his shoulder that he'd elaborated. He'd talked about hitting bottom, getting worse than he'd been even in Spain, and consequences. He hadn't told her exactly what happened, but he wouldn't lie about something like that, not to her.

"Are you sure?" she asks, getting out two glasses.

The corner of his mouth twists, and he raises an eyebrow at her, hands momentarily stilling. "Lix Storm, hesitating over whisky? The heavens could fall."

And while the teasing is nice - she'd thought he'd forgotten, over the years, and the reminder brings up the ghost of a frenetic, passionate journalist who had dragged a tea service all over Spain - it still makes her pause. There's been enough self-loathing for one day, and they'll wake up tomorrow with even more regrets than they've already got.

It was a lie, what she'd told him in that pub. He was a fun drunk - but he was a vicious alcoholic. Both had been brought to the forefront in Spain. Randall could be charming and passionate and witty, but it could easily turn to self-loathing and a scathing temper. She isn't sure how they managed two years together in a warzone - though, of course, the scars are stil evident.

"Don't -" he says, forcing himself to put his hat on the table and meet her eyes. "This is my decision. You're not beholden to fuss over everyone all the time. Pour the damned whisky and have a drink with me, Lix. Please?"

So she pours the whisky, a full glass for each of them, and he has the entire glass drained before she belts back half of hers. He holds the glass out, eyes gone storm-blue behind his glasses, and oh, she knows this shorthand. He doesn't pour for himself when he's in this black of a mood - not after Gijon and glass all over their floor - and she pours him another, finishing off her drink. If he's going to get drunk, she's going to get there with him.

Not that it's hard; it's Spain, it's easy, it's the first two thrown back like the bottle's going to be taken away, it's the glorious, beautiful burn of the whisky down her throat, it's drinking straight from the bottle on the third round, passing it between them and leaning hipshot against her countertop to watch the muscles work in his throat and the way his fingers curl around the bottle. Somewhere after the first three-quarters of the bottle, his tie is unknotted and tucked into the pocket of his jacket and the top two buttons of his shirt are undone.

Such a small change, really, but it has her itching to finish the job, muss him up the way she's always loved to do. She takes the bottle back from him, fingers brushing, and god, it's like an electric current. It always has been.

"What are we going to do?" he muses, turning to her. "We can't put together a show by tomorrow."

Of course, the show. It's always work, with him, when he's like this. Something he can control, not like Freddie or anything involving their personal life.

She swallows, shaking her head. "No one's in any state, and apologies, darling, but you and I and Mr. Wengrow do not a news program make."

"No offense taken. What do you think, stall the board until the weekend, regroup on Monday?"

"Hector will be all right. Bel's going to be useless," she says bluntly, passing him back the bottle. "I love her dearly, but she won't be parted from Freddie any time soon. I don't know how patient the board will be."

He hesitates, eying her over the bottle. "Or how patient they'll allow me to be. You know where my loyalties lie, but there won't be a show for me to support if one isn't produced."

She glares at him, probably too sharply, but she's heard this pitch before. More times than she can count, and more times than she's ever admitted to Bel.

Miss Storm, won't you take the producer's job? We'd feel much better with your guiding, experienced hand on the wheel. We like Miss Rowley very much, but you can't deny you're the better choice.

"Don't look at me like that, Lix," Randall growls. "I'm, at best, the twentieth person to broach the subject with you, and unlike the rest, I'm not interested in making the change permanent. But I need a producer for at least the next week, and I'd rather have it be you than someone the BBC forces me to accept."

If she's even going to consider this, she needs more alcohol. She tugs the bottle from his hands, and it falls to the floor. It doesn't break, but whisky splashes onto the lineoleum. They both burst out laughing, for no good reason, and if the laughter is nervous and too-sharp, neither of them will admit it. He tosses her a washcloth and picks up the bottle, screwing the top back on and setting it onto the counter while she mops up the spilled whisky.

She's wringing the cloth out over the sink when she feels him behind her, hands tentatively resting on her hips and his lips pressed to her temple. He's always found it easier to touch after he's had a few drinks, but she didn't expect it now - he could barely look at her after what happened in his office and only reluctantly met her eyes throughout all those hours in the hospital.

"Will you think about it?" he asks.

Lix takes a breath, silently apologizes to Bel. "You know I'll do it."

"One doesn't presume, with you."

"One had better not," she growls.

There's a puff of breath against her cheek, the closest he gets to a laugh at times like these, and she tries not to move, press back into his warmth and familiarity. She closes her eyes, shuts off the tap, and dries her hands, shivering at the feel of his mouth against her skin and his long fingers at her waist.

"What are we doing, Randall?" she asks, voice shaking, cracking on his name.

His voice comes back just as ragged. "Forgetting. We were accomplished at that, if you remember."

"I do remember - you woke me up. Infuriating man."

She sets the dish towel on the counter, trying her hardest not to gasp for the way he presses slow, small kisses to her face, the way the flush has spread throughout her body until his fingers feel like brands through her shirt and trousers. His mouth reaches her jaw, nipping gently at the skin just underneath that's always driven her wild, and she moans, shocked and desperate. She turns in his arms, has to see him, touch him, and she can feel the shudder run through him as she pulls him to her. His mouth is slick, bittersweet with the taste of whisky, and it's like coming home.

Nineteen years, and she still goes weak in the knees for his kiss.

He presses her to the counter, narrow hips fitted to hers and a hand buried in her hair like he's never left. It's ridiculous, if this were Spain she'd be on top of the counter, legs wrapped around him, and they are neither of them young any longer, but it feels exactly the same. He still moans low and shocked when she bites his lower lip, she still digs her nails into his back hard enough to leave marks, he still pulls her hair bruising-hard - everything she's tried her damnedest to find in anonymous young things or men that might have resembled Randall physically, but could never recreate the whole of him.

"Come to bed," he says, pulling away from her mouth to rest his forehead against hers. "Please. It doesn't - it doesn't have to be for - it can just be tonight. If you want."

"Yes," she says simply.

If she answers any further, she'll say things she can never take back, like "yes, of course" and "yes, I want tonight" and "yes, it can be tonight and tomorrow and as many nights as you'll let me have".

They make their way through her flat, into her bedroom, and when she goes to switch off the light next to the door, he stops her.

"Let me see you. I need to-"

She hushes him with a kiss because she knows what he means. He needs to see her for two reasons - first, to reassure each other that they're still alive, and second, because it's been so long. In the dark, they could be anyone at all; there's nowhere to hide and nothing to regret in the light. And she can't deny him this, not when she needs the same.

And if the urgency of earlier has eased, it's been replaced by a slow, deliciously torturous burn. Randall apparently intends to take his time, and the whisky in her belly turns her responses languid. He slowly undoes the buttons of her shirt, starting at the bottom, and touches each one twice before he does so; the little tics seem to keep the larger ones at bay - there were nights in Spain when he had to fold every piece of clothing three times, nights when he couldn't rest until his dresser was organized. When he reaches the button over her chest, she can feel his hands shaking, and she takes them in hers.

"It's just me," she says, a little bemused.

His fingers close over hers, solid and reassuring and still shaking. "It's always you. Even - when it wasn't. It's only ever been you."

"It was you, as well," she admits. "It's you again."

A smile spreads across his face, soft and secret, and he dips his head to kiss her again. The kiss is unhurried, sweet, even - one of so few of the kind that they've shared. Because Spain was never sweet or unhurried. Spain was bloody and broken, drowning and desperate, two people far too much alike for their own good surviving on brashness, passion, and dumb luck. They didn't have time enough to take.

She sighs into the kiss, shivers for the nip of his teeth and the slickness of his tongue and pays him back by suckling at his lower lip. He growls beautifully for her, winds one hand in her hair and slides the other into her shirt, fingers skating the edges of her lace bra. She pushes back against him, his palm and his cock, and gets him out of his jacket. It hangs off her fingers until he releases his grip on her hair and takes it from her, drops it on the floor in a gesture that means so much more with him than it ever could with anyone else.

It's a slow trail over to her bed, her trousers wrapped around his shirt, her bra dropped on top of his trousers. He insists on lining up their shoes, of course, and she presses a hand to her mouth at the ache that sends through her heart - she didn't expect to have missed his eccentricities. It's so easy to slot into place with him; so different from what's happened over the years, through girls and boys and men and women, each one thinking they can own her and each one being disappointed in her. She can't count the number of times a partner has balked at her preference for being on top, or become offended at the suggestion they go down on her, or she on them. When one of them has left the morning after in a too-loud attempt at stealth, tripped down a hallway half-dressed and too scared to stay. Sex is supposed to be good, and lately, all it's been is effort.

Randall is singular, always has been. They know each other too well, and he utilizes the knowledge now - kisses her while running his fingers over her breasts, then the skin of her stomach. His fingers trail slow and deliberate over her skin, mapping the changes in her body, the faint silver of old stretch marks she never, ever explains, and his eyes soften when he registers the feel of them.

"I wish-"

"I know," she says, fingers skimming the planes of his back. "I know you do. But it never-"

"Would have worked," he finishes. "We couldn't. Not the way we were then."

He pushes her back onto the bed, spreading her out and moving intently down her body. She feels a tight, nervous shiver go through her body, because she's confident about how she looks, but she isn't the twenty-seven year old spitfire she used to be. He presses a kiss over her heart, and moves slowly downward, hands steady and spread over her hips. She sucks in a breath as he reaches the crest of her hipbone, just above her knickers.

A narrowing of his mouth, and he looks up at her, stroking possessively up her thighs. "Is this all right? Only I didn't expect to see that look on your face at this point in the proceedings."

His concern makes her smile. "Darling, no, go right ahead."


"I - god, I'm an idiot," she sighs, cupping his cheek in her hand and running her fingers over his lips. "Go on, please. You've never had to ask before."

And there are words that don't come out of his mouth; that he doesn't know what's changed in nineteen years, that maybe they should have asked more questions, that they shouldn't judge a damned thing by their sex life because that was never a problem. They're the same words that have run through her head since he first set foot back in London, and the words that don't come out of her mouth are I wasted so much time trying to forget you.

"You're not an idiot," he says, quietly, before dipping his head to touch his mouth between her legs, through the cotton. Her hips rise, seeking more, her body remembering how badly it still wants him. He lets out a groan, kisses more firmly at her. "Christ, the way you smell, the way you taste. Let me?"

She can't resist that look in his eyes, the utter focus and pleading. She's floating on a haze of whisky and want, and she kicks her knickers off to spread out for him. The sound he makes for the sight of her should probably be classified illegal, and she shivers hard and tight as he absently licks his lower lip. He slides off his glasses, and passes them to her to set on the bedside table, and it's so familiar that she has to bite back a sigh. She is distracted, of course, by Randall's head dipping back down, kissing at the stretch of her inner thigh.

Oh God, she'd forgotten how good this was, being held precisely where he wants her as he takes his sweet damned time putting his mouth to her.

Because you can't truly rush him if he doesn't want to be rushed, and it drives her out of her mind. He licks slow and delicate at the crease of her thigh, inching his tongue towards her cunt, and she squirms her hips upward. Her fingers are threaded through his hair before she can even think, pulling and pushing and urging him just that tiny bit further. When his tongue swipes hot over her clit, she grabs for the headboard, legs kicking out involuntarily. His low chuckle vibrates all the way up her body and he pulls back slightly, enough to catch his breath to speak.

"Do you need a moment?"

"Fuck you."

"Later," he teases, but his eyes are serious. "Really, you never used to be this easily startled."

She exhales in frustration. "It has been a long time, Randall, in very many ways, and right now you are reminding me of how unholy a tease you can be. Stop pissing about and put your mouth where I want it."

The corner of his mouth quirks up in a half-smile, and he dips his head back down, giving her what she's asked for. She tries to hold back her moans - she's always been more than a little loud in bed - but he licks slow and insistent at her until she's thrashing and crying out. She winds her fingers in his hair, rocking her hips in time to his tongue flicking into her, the delicate scrape of his teeth over her clit. His grip on her hips tightens as he sucks slowly at her, and she can feel the climax claw its way up, almost violent in how quickly it takes her.

Her hands close on the sheets, because she gets rather grabby when she's about to come and it isn't nice to pull your partner's hair out. She moans, hips squirming against his mouth, and her legs dig into his sides, one sliding up his back. God, it's perfect; everything she's been missing for years, and she can feel her heart racing, her breath ringing loud in the bedroom. The scream that tears out of her as he brushes his teeth over her clit and sucks hard is nearly too-much, but it's a kind of release she hasn't had in too long.

As she presses a hand to her mouth, trying to remember how to breathe, Randall releases her. He knows she's too sensitive right now, otherwise he'd probably be coaxing her through another couple orgasms, and he rests on his elbow, kissing absently at her left thigh. She shivers delicately, considers how badly she still wants him.

"Christ," she swears, low and still-breathless, pushing him and herself into a sitting position. "Come here. Let me - yes, just like this."

The stretch is glorious, sinking onto him as she straddles his lap and his hands play up and down her spine. She doesn't have to move much, just a slow rock that presses him into her, but it steals her breath away. Her consolation is that he looks just as shattered as she feels, moaning soft and desperate into the crook of her neck. Her hand curves around his jaw, and she kisses the taste of herself off his mouth, moving slow and languid.

His mouth slides down her jaw, her neck, and she shivers, arching bonelessly. He lets her back curve the way it wants, one arm around her and his mouth leaving marks all over her breasts, biting just underneath the curve of her left breast in a spot she'd forgotten about. It makes her buck sharply against him and he gasps, hand splaying out on her lower back.

"Lix, please - slow, slow - I can't-"

And she kisses him, moves more insistently because she loves watching him come apart, and maybe this is one of the only things they won't muck up anymore.

"Don't you dare. Don't hold back, just let it happen," she begs, rolling her hips sharply enough to make him groan. "Stop thinking, you infuriating man."

His head tips back, exposing the line of his throat, and she can't help but bite softly at it while he moans and shakes for her. He runs his hands over her possessively, down her arse, spreading fingers over her hips, up to cup her breasts and tangle in her hair. Maps her out like he intends to study her later - and he will, she knows. She'll wake up before dawn to find him tracing slow, careful patterns onto her skin, patterns that are important to him and mean that she's important too.

"Can't," he chokes out, mouth to her ear, and the depth to which his voice has sunk just makes her shiver. "Make me."

She exhales a low moan, and digs nails into his shoulders. She changes her rhythm, snaps her hips faster and tightens around him, watches him hiss through his teeth and meet her pace. Everything she can think of that will drive him out of his head as quickly as possible, because if you let Randall think, he fixates. And while he can occasionally channel that focus into sex, sometimes he just can't. He needs to be made to let go.

His fingers press sharp bruises into her hips, and he swears low and familiar under his breath. She shivers for the remembrance of it, for the way he remains unchanged from the last time they were like this - nineteen years ago in a grotty little room in Spain. For the fact that there is still this connection between them, and he kisses desperately at her mouth as he begins to spill into her. Bless the man, he also remains a wonderful multitasker, working a hand between them after he's come to take her over the edge again.

As he shifts her to lie next to him - neither of them have ever been prone to embracing after sex - she keeps her fingers intertwined with his, surprising even herself. She's loathe to break the bond they've re-formed, and he kisses her fingers as he gets up to switch off the light. He comes back to lie on his side opposite her, and she takes his hand again.

"Have you learnt to like breakfast?" he asks quietly.

She tightens her fingers on his. "No. But you still hate cooking, don't you?"

"One doesn't need to enjoy something to know it's a necessity. Food. Love. Grief." He edges closer, and she turns her face into his brief caress. "Not a flicker of a lark was left on the air."

The poem stops her cold, brings back the iron hand around her heart that has settled ever since she read that file and her daughter's date of death. That gacela, today of all days. Morbid, heartbreaking man.

"Christ," she whispers. "Whyever did you have to quote me Lorca? Not - not that one. Not now."

"But I am afraid of being on this shore a branchless trunk. Tell me you remember that one."

Sonnet of the Sweet Complaint. His favorite, scratched obsessively into every notebook he owned, because he said it was theirs. He was right, even about their own "estranged Autumn". She sighs, allows him to rest his hand on her cheek and lets him see the old regret and the rekindled hope in her eyes.

"Of course I do. My hidden treasure, my cross, my dampened pain."

"Always," he says, and she curls into his embrace.

She falls asleep to the sound of his breathing.