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London Calling

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When Sam got home from City Hall, Ann was sitting at the kitchen table helping his youngest daughter, Eliza, with her homework whilst his wife made a start on dinner. It would have been a welcome sight, only Ann had shown up on his doorstep early this morning, bag in hand and puffy red eyes to match. He had three other daughters, including two teenagers, whom he had consoled through several heartbreaks, so he knew what the signs were. 

He had let her collapse into his warm welcoming hug before setting her up in the spare room in the loft before he’d had to go into work. He decided to talk to her when he got home, rather than try to get any information out of her straight away. He was fairly certain the problem’s name was Anne Lister. Thankfully his schedule was full otherwise he would have been more than tempted to march down to Anne’s office and ask what part of “Don’t hurt her” she’d had trouble understanding. 

As he made his way round the kitchen to greet his wife he noticed that Ann looked a lot better than she had. No tell-tale puffiness around her eyes and the dark circles had faded a little so he hoped that meant she had been able to get some sleep. He gave his wife a quick kiss before washing his hands in the sink next to her, “Need any help?” 

Hannah shook her head and giggled, “All taken care of love.” Sam was slowly getting better at helping in the kitchen but his skill set was still mostly limited to chunky chopping or peeling. He glanced over his shoulder, Eliza seemed to be keeping Ann very occupied with what looked like dinosaurs. Dropping his voice to a whisper he leaned closer to her, “How’s she been?” 

She noted the concern in his voice, “She’s fine love. When I got home she was in the garden reading. Looks like the fresh air did her good.” They both turned when they heard Ann and Eliza laughing loudly. “Eliza will keep her mind off whatever it is that’s troubling her. She hasn’t left her alone since she got home.” She placed her hand reassuringly on his arm, “She’ll be alright. You always tell me how strong she is. Listen to yourself.”

“Aye. She’s just-”

“Ann. I know love.” She lent over and gave him another quick kiss before turning her attention back to the pot she was stirring on the stove. Sam tried to get a look at what it was she was making but she turned to block his view, “Can’t even know what’s cooking in my own home,” he tutted. Eliza perked up to see what all the fuss was about, “You’d never think I was Mayor of London!” he bellowed jokingly as he threw his hands up in the air.

“Too right dad, you’re one of the people now!” Eliza roared from the table.

“Am I not representing the people in my job then?”

Ann sat enjoying the exchange between father and daughter. Eliza sat up straight, folding her arms across her chest, head turned up deep in thought following the question he’d just posed. She had always loved visiting with Sam and his house full of wonderful women, as he called it. With Susana and Charlotte being teenagers now, it was only usually Eliza who got dragged around for the obligatory family visits when they were up in Yorkshire. She and Ann had become firm friends over many shared stolen biscuits whilst the grown-ups droned on about politics and the state of the economy. 

Eliza was the perfect blend of Hannah and Sam, athletic and kind like her mother, and thoughtful and affable like her father. Still only eight but she could command all the attention in any room. She scratched her chin as she continued to ponder her answer, “I’ve got it!” She exclaimed.

“Alright, what’s your answer then?”

“You represent what the people need,” she paused thoughtfully as she chose her next words. “It’s like when I’m hungry and I want a biscuit,” she snuck a cheeky wink at Ann. “I know it’s what I want and it’ll make me happy, but you always tell me to have an apple.” She scrunched up her nose at the thought of it, “Because you know it’s better for me.” Sam nodded as he considered her answer. “So that’s what you do. You listen to what the people want, and then you have to decide what’s good for them. What they really need.” Satisfied with her response she turned to Sam and nodded her head to show she’d finished.

Sam puffed out his chest as he looked on proudly, “Ladies, I give you the future Mayor of London.” 

“Ha! I’m voting Eliza for future Prime Minister.” Ann held her hand up and Eliza gave her a high-five smiling triumphantly. 

She really was a marvel, Sam thought he would have to start bringing her into the office more, start her training early. “And who taught you how to think of politics that way?”

“Miss Lister,” Eliza answered plainly.

“Anne?” The name spilled unexpectedly from Ann’s lips.

“That’s right,” she turned to her smiling as she went back to her homework. “I liked her because she had the same name as you so I thought she must be alright. Do you know her?”

Sam looked on curiously, a few worry lines had started to form on Ann’s furrowed brow but no storming off in tears, which was generally a good sign he’d learnt. “I do,” Ann started tentatively. “She’s...a friend of mine. Sort of.”

Eliza turned to her, eyebrows raised inquisitively, “Sort of? You don’t know if she’s your friend?”

“We haven’t decided yet.”

She noticed Ann biting the bottom of her lip, she always seemed to do that when she asked her a difficult question, but she couldn’t understand what the problem was. She liked Ann. And Anne. She placed her hand firmly on Ann’s shoulder before deciding, “You should be friends!”

Ann couldn’t help but giggle at her certainty, “And why’s that then?”

Eliza shrugged her shoulders, “She’s brilliant.” There was no one in the room who would deny that. “Like you, but a different kind of brilliant.” Ann bowed her head slightly, always embarrassed at receiving compliments, even from a young child. “It’s true.” Eliza insisted, “You’re just  more quiet about it.” Ann reached up and surprised her with a quick hug. “Miss Lister doesn’t like to hug either.”

As she drew back she laughed at the repulsed look on Eliza’s face, “Tried it once. She wasn’t impressed.” 

“Alright you,” Sam started to gather up the papers strewn across the kitchen table. “Take your homework through to the living room. We’ve got to set the table.” She collected the rest of her books and pens and carried them out of the kitchen as Sam took the newly empty seat next to Ann. 

She tapped her fingers on the table, waiting for the conversation she knew was coming. She glanced around the kitchen, trying to find something else to talk about. She saw Hannah closing the oven door and was about to ask her something about dinner, “That’ll be ready in about 40 minutes.” She smiled at the two of them as she started towards the door, “I’ll leave you two to it.” Ann sank back in her chair. There went her exit strategy.

Sam wanted to give Ann a chance to tell him what had happened rather than prying the information out of her. He always found that worked best, only he knew that Ann had spent almost a lifetime hiding her feelings from everyone. Sometimes he thought’s why they felt so big when she finally did let them out. “Big fan of Miss Lister, is our Eliza.” Ann slowly nodded. “I’d hate to have to tell her she shouldn’t be.” 

Her eyes darted up at his words, “I don’t want that Sam.” He tilted his head slightly, waiting for her to give him a reason why. Ann clasped her hands together and unwittingly started rubbing her thumb along the back of one. “Anne’s a good person,” she said quietly into her lap.

“She is. So why did you show up on my doorstep looking like you’ve been up all night crying?” She slowly lifted her head and was met by Sam’s kind reassuring gaze. He hated how helpless and defeated she looked, the light missing from her deep blue eyes when he had seen them so bright the last time he’d seen her with Anne. He cursed under his breath that he was going to rip her a new one the next time he saw her. 

She started to shrink in her seat. He needed to find a way to get that brightness back, maybe then she’d tell him what was wrong. He suddenly had an idea. He started to dramatically roll up his sleeves, when they reached his elbows he pushed them up even further. Ann stared at him, confusion knitted across her brow, “Sam, what are you doing?” 

“If Lister made you do something you didn’t want to do.”

“What? Sam. No.” He started to open and close his fists like he was preparing for a fight.

“There’s only one thing for it.”

“Oh my god Sam! No!” He noticed the flush rise to her cheeks, it had been a while since he’d seen her face colour so fast. He and her brother John used to be unmerciless in trying to embarrass her and make her laugh when she was younger in order to get her out of her deeper moods. 

He turned to her stretching his arms out in front of her, “If she’s tried it on with you-”

“Sam!” Ann groaned. It’s like she was 16 again and he and John needed to go remind the local boys just who her big brother was. “We haven’t even kissed!” 

He was momentarily shocked but keeping up the charade he quickly covered his ears and shut his eyes firmly, “La-la-la-la. I don’t want to hear any details Annie!” He peaked an eye open and when she opened her mouth to talk again he squeezed his eyes shut even more firmly and shouted even louder, “La-la-la-la-la!”

Finally when he heard her bright laughter filling the room he stopped pretending he couldn’t hear her and uncovered his ears. He opened his eyes and gave her a quick wink as his hearty laugh joined hers. She had missed laughing like this with him. Normally it had been John pretending he was about to go beat up whichever kid had upset his little sister, with Sam acting as his voice of reason.

She had shut herself away after her brother’s death. Not wanting to see anyone, including Sam, another painful reminder of what they had all lost. As she wiped the tears of laughter from her eyes she was so incredibly grateful that she could still rely on him to always make her laugh. 

Ann felt so much better now that she had released all the emotions that had been building up. She had spent so much time alone in Halifax that she had forgotten how much laughter had helped her, instead choosing to just let her emotions consume her until they passed. It was another reason why she had wanted to move down there to be with Catherine, that and of course, the possibility of Anne. With that thought she was back to where she had been most of the day, wondering what to do about Anne.

Sam was still chuckling away to himself, sleeves rolled up ridiculously high. Ann thought to herself how he was still just a big kid. Mayor of London or not. After a moment, when he saw that she was still smiling he leaned back in his chair, mission accomplished. Hopefully now she’d be more able to talk. 

Ann started to drum her fingers on the table again but laid one hand over the other quickly to silence the nervous habit, “What do you know about Anne and Mariana Lawton?” The question tumbled rapidly from her mouth. 

Ahh, of course this was the reason. He sat up straight, his shoulders slightly heavier than they had been a moment ago. “I know what we all know Annie, we’ve heard the stories. You only need to be within earshot of Catherine’s grandmother whenever Anne’s around to hear them.” She felt her throat tighten, understanding completely what Sam was referring to.

Anyone who grew up in Halifax had heard the whispers surrounding Anne’s personal life. Ann had largely ignored them, not allowing her opinion to be swayed in any way by idle gossip from the same small-minded people that would whisper about her. However, she could not avoid the recurring stories of her continued infidelity with a married woman. 

No matter whom Anne happened to be with, her family hoping that she had finally found the one to settle down with, it would only be a few months before the rumour mills started again with the familiar tale. Then she would come home for a week or so recovering from the following heartache, once she was back for a whole month, before she would be gone again. It was a pattern that Ann had watched play out from afar. Now she had a name and face for the woman who had continued to break Anne’s heart.

“Mariana, isn’t-” She looked back up at Sam as he tried to speak as tactfully as the truth would allow him to. “I mean in business, she’s everything you’d want. Ruthless. Charming. She goes after what she wants, and she’ll make damn sure she gets it. You hope that when she does she’s on your side.” He lay his hands flat on the table, pausing before he continued. “I don’t know how Charles does it. He’s not been a total saint, but he’s changed these last few years. Really tried to make an effort. He’s a good man. Better than she deserves.” 

Ann understood what it meant for Sam to be saying these words. He had always tried to see the best in people, she knew that’s why he went into public service. “Anne’s better than she deserves too.” He leaned closer to her, “She’s a good person. She may be a piss-poor girlfriend, but she’s a good person.” He gently poked her side with his elbow which made her snicker.  

Turning serious for a moment he titled his head to look at her and make sure he had her attention, “Are you sure she’s worth all this Annie? I know you’ve had feelings for her forever.” Ann opened her mouth to speak but promptly closed it when he lifted his hand, “Let me finish. This is the second time you’ve shown up at my door in as many weeks. Both times because of her. Maybe there’s a reason the world’s been keeping you apart.”

Despite his words she felt the corners of her mouth turn up in a smile, “Only it hasn’t, has it Sam? It hasn’t kept us apart.” He wrinkled his nose in confusion, looking like Eliza had earlier. “When mum and dad died, she came home even though she hadn’t been back for years. I saw her on the Lightcliffe Road, and...we talked.” She smiled fondly at the memory. “Then when John died, she was back for the anniversary of her Sam. She came to the funeral even though she didn’t really know him.” He nodded contemplatively. 

“Every time I’ve needed her, without either of us knowing I did, she was there.” She rested her head on his broad shoulder, “Then two weeks ago, when that cyclist knocked me down. Who was there?” 

She heard him snigger, “If you show up on my doorstep again there’ll be hell to pay.” He turned and kissed her lightly on the top of her head.

“Thank you Sam.”

===

Anne paced back a forth along the kitchen as she heard Ann and Sam’s muffled voices in the hallway outside. From the way he had looked at her in the doorway she was amazed she had gotten this far into his home. Ann had asked her to wait in the kitchen whilst she spoke to him. 

She looked around as she wore the tile out beneath her, no knives or other sharp objects within reach. Good. There were a couple of saucepans still on the stove, but they looked large enough that Ann would need two hands to lift those so she should be quick enough to duck out of the way. Excellent. She turned looking around for any other possible weapons that might be deployed against her when the door swung open. 

She spun where she stood, a large smile affixed to her face, only no one was there. Her smile dropped and then she heard, “Good evening Miss Lister.” Anne looked down and saw Eliza stood in front of her, hand outstretched in formal greeting. “Ahh,” she realised who had come into the kitchen now. 

Eliza waited patiently with her greeting to be returned. Anne had a fondness for her, the young child had attached herself to her during the campaign. At first she had found it mildly irritating, but she proved herself to be very helpful. Anne had designated her as Chief Phone Charger, making sure that her phone never dropped below 20%. She also made an excellent cup of tea. An unexpected bonus was that whenever Eliza was with her Mariana appeared to avoid her, never wanting to have anything to do with children. 

It was a mutually beneficial relationship she thought. Eliza didn’t get stuck inside some office whilst Sam gave interviews, and she seemed to have a genuine interest in the whole campaign process. Anne was certain that Eliza was destined for some sort of political office, unless of course she decided to indulge in her other great love - biscuits. She could always be relied on to know where all of the good biscuits were no matter what studio or venue they were visiting. It truly was a marvellous talent. 

Anne took her outstretched hand. She smiled as Eliza grasped hers firmly, she’d taught her the value of a good handshake and she was glad she had not forgotten the lesson. “Eliza, it’s good to see you,” she said with a polite nod. Just then the door swung open again, they both turned to see Ann walk through the door. She stopped suddenly, not wanting to interrupt the current interaction. 

Anne let go of Eliza’s hand, standing nervously as she waited for Ann to speak. Eliza turned her head, looking back and forth between them as they stood silently staring at each other. When neither of them spoke she huffed loudly as she marched over to one of the cupboards, “Have you eaten Miss Lister?” 

She turned to where the question had come from, blinking she found Eliza staring at her from across the counter “Um, no.”

“Right then. Ann, can you help me make a plate up? I can’t reach the stove.” Eliza’s directness appeared to free her from the spot she had been glued to. Shaking herself out of the daze she moved to the other side of the kitchen, taking the plate from Eliza and filling it with some of the leftovers on the stove.

“You can take any seat Miss Lister, we’ve all finished.” 

Following orders Anne removed her jacket and placed it on the back of one of the dining table chairs. Ann stole a quick glance, her pulse quickening at the sight of her muscular forearms on display under her rolled up sleeves. They flexed as she pulled a seat out from under the table. 

She pretended to nonchalantly scratch the back of her head as she turned towards the stove. There was a slight agitation to her movement as she went between the stove and the fridge, but Anne felt that she had been that way the night they had dinner at her flat too. She had a nervous energy then, wanting to make sure everything looked and tasted good. Anne hoped that was the reason, and not that she was trying to find a way to tell her she never wanted to see her again. As she tried to discern her mood she became distracted by how unfalteringly beautiful she looked.

Anne immediately felt inadequate in comparison. She quickly ran her hands through her hair, hoping that would make her appear less dishevelled than she felt. She thought perhaps she could quickly steal away to the bathroom to tidy herself but as she went to move Ann brought the plate of food round, followed by Eliza who neatly placed a napkin and cutlery in front of her. 

There was another moment of awkward silence as Ann stood over Anne, not sure what to do and Anne uncertain if she should start eating with an audience. Eliza groaned, grown-ups were ridiculous, and she thought these two were better than most. She pulled out the chair opposite Anne and gestured for Ann to take a seat. 

Eliza shoved her seat forcefully under the table forcing Ann’s hands on to the table to steady herself. Anne automatically reaching out to help. They both froze at the touch, their eyes slowly meeting. Ann felt her throat go dry, Anne didn’t want to move for fear that she’d take her hand away.

“Right!” Eliza exclaimed, clapping her hands together, “I’ll leave you to it then.”  

As she left them alone Ann slowly withdrew her hands into her lap. Anne pulled her hand back and picked up the fork. She slowly started to move the food around on her plate. “It’s Chicken Cacciatore,” she raised her head, trying to smile. “Hannah made it, it’s very good.” She speared a piece of chicken with her fork and slowly started to chew as Ann watched on. The obvious tension between them made the food unpalatable, no matter how delicious she knew it to be. 

After a few forced mouthfuls she pushed the plate away from her and set the fork down. “You can’t be done.” She sank a little at Ann’s clipped words, feeling like a school child being scolded for not eating all of her dinner. “Have you eaten anything today?” Anne looked down at the plate again, she really hadn’t touched it. “Your stomach’s louder than a 747. I can hear it from here.” She wanted to laugh, only there was no mirth in the words. She felt her stomach starting to twist. She didn’t dare look up. Coming here had been a terrible mistake. 

Ann looked across the table, Anne’s head hung down, shoulders slumped, playing with her food. She hadn’t intended her words to sound as harsh as they had. She felt better after her talk with Sam but she still felt hurt. There were still so many things she hadn’t decided yet and then there she was on the doorstep looking preposterously handsome as always. She had to find a way to work some colour into Anne’s wardrobe because the striking figure she cut when she was dressed completely in black would be her undoing. 

Sam had offered to talk to her, but she knew there was no point in delaying the conversation. She had run away but she would not hide. Ann knew from experience that the more time she put between herself and a problem the easier it was for her to just let the matter pass. Either she would stop caring or they would just carry on as though she no longer mattered. She didn’t want either of those things to happen, not with Anne. She had wanted more time, but as she looked on at her, she knew that she had to make a decision. 

Ann reached across the table, placing her hand gently on top of Anne’s hand that held the fork that was toying with the food. The movement stopped as her head slowly lifted, Ann felt a pain in her chest as she met Anne’s moist eyes filled with dejection. She bit her bottom lip to stop her own tears from forming. She raised her hand slowly and brushed away a loose strand of hair from Anne’s face that really hadn’t been troubling her at all, but she wasn’t sure what words to say. Her eyes seemed to brighten at this gesture, “Please try and eat something.” 

There was another attempt at a smile but she saw her pull her shoulders back and sit up straight. Picking the fork up again, she let out a heavy breath as she picked up another mouthful, trying to eat with gusto. “Did you eat anything today?” This time her question came out much kinder.

“I had some crisps with Tib earlier.” Ann nodded.

“Anything else?” 

Anne thought for a moment, she hadn’t actually had much to eat all day. A mixture of learned habits and anxiety keeping her appetite away. “Biscuits!” She announced, immediately feeling a little silly when she saw Ann’s raised eyebrows. “I...I had biscuits...this morning. With my tea.” She added quietly. The small giggle that escaped from Ann helped her to feel a little more at ease. She took another mouthful of food, it really did taste as good as it looked, “I don’t really eat lunch.”

“You have when you’re with me.”  

“Well, yes.” She picked up the napkin and wiped her mouth, “Because you're good for me.” She pushed her plate to the side, bringing both her hands up on the table. She had hoped Ann would mirror the gesture so that she could have something to hold onto as she said this next part. Ann’s hands had retreated back to her lap and remained there. 

She wished she’d rehearsed what she was going to say. Normally she would have, but in her rush to see Ann she had just been consumed by the idea of being in the same space as her that all other thoughts seemed unnecessary. She took a calming breath before locking her eyes with Ann’s, hoping that she would find the right words. “I was wrong to leave you the other night.” 

There was no movement from the other side, Ann’s facial expression remaining calm. Her lips turned down as she did that thing where she chewed her bottom lip. Anne tried not to get distracted at the sight, “Mariana and I,” she paused for a reaction, there was a quick sideways glance and the hint of a sneer but no more. “It’s complicated-” She looked down for a moment trying to finish her sentence.

“Is it though?” Her head shot back up at Ann’s question.

“Yes. Well.” Anne tried to moisten her lips. Her throat felt incredibly dry, she wished Eliza had offered her a drink before she’d left.

Ann folded her arms across her chest, “Have you cheated on people with Mariana?"

She started to rub the back of her neck. These impossible questions were how their last conversation had started and it had not ended well for them. From the way Ann sat defensively across from her, she worried that this would not go any better. Her only hope lay in her being able to stop Ann from running away if she didn’t like any of her answers. “Yes.”

“Even though she was married?” Anne tilted her head, trying not to seem evasive but the line of questions were making her increasingly uncomfortable as she shifted in her seat.

“Yes.”

“All of them?” The question felt like a body blow.

She took a moment to recover, “Most. Not all.”

“You cheated on Tib, with her?” Ann was not pulling her punches.

“We were mostly over.” Ann pursed her lips, Anne knew she didn’t believe her. “But we weren’t completely over.” She seemed more satisfied with that answer, not happy, but satisfied, “I’m not proud of it.”

“Well I’m glad you clarified that.” Anne wasn’t sure how much more of this she could take. It felt like the last few days had been a constant regurgitation of all her past mistakes, presented to her on a plate by those she had hurt the most. Mariana. Tib. Now Ann. The ghosts of past, present, and future, only it wasn’t even near Christmas. 

“Are you done?” Anne didn’t understand the question. She looked over at her plate of food, it was mostly finished although she supposed she probably could clear the plate. 

“I’m not sure, I think so,” she answered hesitantly. She glanced again at her food and then back at Ann. 

“No, Anne.” She unfolded her arms, shaking her head. Sometimes she wondered how someone so brilliant could get it so wrong. “Are you done with her?” She leaned forward, taking both of Anne’s hands firmly in hers as she looked intently into her eyes, “No more running to her when she calls. No sneaking around. No more waiting for her to decide you’re important to her again.” She squeezed her hands tightly, steadying her breath. “Are you truly done?” 

Anne felt the warmth and softness of Ann’s hands in hers. Every part of her had missed her touch. As she looked into those deep blue eyes, so full of hope and fear, brimming with kindness, she saw a world of possibility. Someone who could shatter her heart into dust particles. But also someone who would never think she was too much. Someone who might be able to love her. That was the question that was really being asked of her. Was she willing to risk it all for her? No going back. There was only one possible answer.

“Yes.” She felt the smile spread across her entire being.

“Well then it isn’t complicated at all then.” The joy passed through her into Ann as her face lit up.

=== 

Sam kept his gaze firmly on the TV but watched out of the corner of his eye from one of the sofas on the other side of the room as they quietly snuck into the living room. His arm draped across the back as Hannah lay against him reading. Eliza was on the floor finishing off some homework, Ann thought Charlotte and Susana must already be up in their rooms doing whatever teenagers did these days. 

They seemed happy as they sat down on the sofa together. He hadn’t heard any shouting coming from the kitchen, or the sound of broken plates, so he presumed that their conversation had gone well. Very well judging from the ridiculously happy grins they both had across their face and the dopey looks they were giving each other. It was like he’d adopted another pair of teenagers. They looked completely besotted.

They all sat quietly for a few moments watching the nature programme he’d been half paying attention to. He saw Anne reach over and take Ann’s hand in her lap, gently rubbing the back of her hand with her thumb the way he had noticed Ann doing in the kitchen earlier when she had tried to calm herself. Ahh, that’s where she picked that up from. Anne shifted on the sofa to rest her arm along the back as Ann moved to lean in against her. “Daylight rule!” he shouted from across the room.

Immediately Ann sat up, “You can’t be serious Sam!” Anne soon followed, straightening up, not sure what was happening. 

Sam turned his head and shrugged, “You should know this rule better than anyone. This was a Walker Rule.” He gestured towards the two of them still sitting closely together, “Daylight at all times.” 

She couldn't believe he had introduced this archaic rule her family had instilled in his own home. She had grown up watching her brother and sister protest as their father insisted that there always be a sliver of daylight between them and the person they were dating, she had never had to deal with it herself because she'd never brought anyone to meet them. She definitely would have brought Anne home though. Now a grown woman she understood the frustration of having, 'Daylight!' barked at you when you weren't expecting it.

“There's no daylight between you.” Eliza keenly observed as she looked at her mum and dad. Ann silently thanked Eliza for being on their side. 

He looked down at her, “We’re married.” He answered matter-of-factly. “You two. Daylight. House rules.”

Eliza turned to look at them. Not wanting to defy Sam’s rules in front of his own child, despite how ridiculous they were, Ann reluctantly moved away so that there was a clear space between the two of them. She scowled across at Sam who smiled cheerfully back at them and went back to his programme. 

Anne immediately felt her absence. This wouldn’t do. Ann was sending daggers across the room at Sam as he pretended not to notice. “I guess that’s it then.” Ann turned her head, a look of worry across her face as she thought Anne was leaving. Anne gave her a quick wink before continuing dramatically, “We’ll have to marry. If you’ll have me that is.” 

Ann brought her hand to her cheek and furrowed her brow deep in thought, “What do you think Eliza?” Anne looked at the child sat at her feet who was staring at her the same way Ann was, sizing her up, she wasn’t sure what for. “Will you wear black to the wedding?”

“I'm not sure, I've not thought about it.”

Eliza stroked her chin, and turned to Ann, “So you two are friends now?”

Ann smiled, “Yes, we’re friends.” 

Eliza turned back to her homework as she shrugged her shoulders, “I suppose so. You can always get a divorce.” Both of them laughed at her honest conclusion.

“So that's a yes?” 

Ann took Anne’s hands in hers, “Yes. If it means we can sit together.” She moved back towards Anne and leaned in against her as she took her arm and brought it back around her shoulder where it belonged. She turned to Sam and stuck her tongue out at him like a petulant child, ‘“Ha!”

Sam shook his head as Hannah lightly laughed, he hated being bested in his own home. “You're not married yet. Daylight.”

===

Anne held on tightly to her hand as they walked to the door. Ann pulled it open slowly, instantly shivering as she felt the cool air hit her. Instinctively Anne brought her hands up and started to run them up and down her arms to make her warm. Ann giggled at her vigour causing her to pause, realising there was a better way to stop her from feeling the cold.

She pulled her jacket open and tried to wrap it around Ann, pulling her close to her as they embraced, their faces just a few inches apart. Anne smirked as she noted where they were, “Us and doorsteps.” 

Ann raised her eyebrows a slight scowl on her face, “Don’t answer your phone.” Anne scoffed. 

“Well, apparently I’m an engaged woman now, so I have to do what my fiancee says.” There was a playful gleam in Anne’s eyes.

“Hmm, well it’s not official till there’s a ring. Also, you didn’t get down on one knee.”

“So many rules Miss Walker.”

“Someone has to keep you in line.” Anne beamed back at her, knowing she would happily do anything she asked of her.

She held Ann’s warm body tight against hers as her hands moved down to her waist, her hands resting on the small of her back. She inhaled deeply, her lungs filling with the smell of her sweet citrus shampoo and light floral perfume. How had she stepped away from this? She vowed in that moment to never make that mistake again.

“Daylight!” roared out from within the house. 

“Sam!” Ann cried, burying her face in Anne’s shoulder in complete embarrassment. They heard him laughing as he descended the stairs calling out, “Goodnight Annes,” before he completely disappeared. 

Ann rested her head against her chest. She felt Ann bring her hands up between them, pausing for a moment when she reached her heart. The beat was strong and steady, just like Anne. She pushed herself slightly away so that she could look up at her face. She bit her bottom lip as she tried to understand how she was standing here in Anne Lister’s arms. She had spent a lifetime waiting to be held like this, for it to feel as right as this moment did. 

She tilted her chin up as she leaned forward, slowly pressing her lips to Anne’s. The touch was light and gentle, all at once feeling like they were delicately brushing against each other whilst simultaneously filling with every memory she had of this imagined moment. Anne moved her mouth slowly against hers allowing herself to be consumed by the warmth of Ann’s touch as it filtered from her lips to every part of her.

As their lips separated, Ann kept her eyes closed as she savoured the feeling of Anne’s lips against hers. When she opened them Anne was gazing adoringly back at her, the purest of smiles on her soft lips, “I’ve been wanting to do that since you opened this door.”

“It feels like I’ve been wanting to do that my whole life.” 

Anne laughed lightly pulling her in tighter, “Okay, you win.” Ann lay her head back against her chest as they gently swayed against each other. 

Too soon she felt Anne starting to pull back, “I should go darling.” Ann started to pout, Anne knew she was going to be helpless against this line of attack soon. “You could stay.” 

“We may have overcome the Daylight Rules on the sofa, but I’m not sure it would work for much else.” 

Ann nodded reluctantly, she knew Anne was right. Also, she wasn’t sure whether or not she could actually process the idea of Anne staying the night. It had been a whirlwind 24hours, preceded by two weeks she had never dreamt would be her life. And now, here she was, in Anne’s arms. It was perhaps more than her heart, and her brain, could deal with in one night. 

She unwillingly unwrapped herself from Anne’s arms and took a step back into the warmth of the house. Anne reached up and took her hand in hers, “I’ll call you in the morning.” She leaned up and kissed her again, more briefly but just as tenderly. Ann felt the same lips pressed to the back of her hand before she slowly let them go as Anne made her way down the steps.

She leaned against the doorframe as she watched Anne walk backwards away from her, that irrepressible smile never leaving her. She took one last long look at her before disappearing around the corner. Ann waited for a moment, but when she heard a car door close in the distance she knew that she was gone. She closed the door and locked it behind her. 

Staring into the empty house she leant back against the door. She could still taste Anne on her lips, feel her arms around her. How was she ever going to get any sleep?