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Author's Chapter Notes:

Thanks for lovely comments - here's yet more! (Am I procrastinating from other stuff? Absolutely!)

It had occurred to Rhyll that continuing to spend unnecessary evenings in the staff room was far from advisable: in addition to the curiosity it had always invited - all the more pointed as the term rolled onward and nightfall came ever earlier - she couldn't shake the fear that something tangible had shifted, that whatever it was that was now undeniably going on between her and Peggy might become somehow visible to others. But knowledge did not translate so readily to action, and she found it exceedingly difficult to tear herself away, each 'last time' being inevitably followed by another, and another.

It was Friday evening, and the room was thick with weary relief that another week had come to an end. Biddy, Ruth and Peggy, especially, were feeling the effect of their involvement in rehearsals in addition to their normal duties. Perhaps it was this unprecedented tiredness that explained what happened next, or perhaps it was simply a lack of judgment that might have occurred at any other time. Either way, the cause seemed decidedly less important than the incident itself: Rhyll, having stubbed out her cigarette in the ashtray on the mantelpiece, sank thankfully into the armchair nearest the fireplace - and scarcely a moment later, Peggy crossed the room and perched herself jauntily on the armrest. She flashed a wordless smile at Rhyll - a smile which was endearing and terrifying in its casual familiarity - and continued the conversation she had been having with Ruth, who was curled up on a pouffe nearby.

Rhyll concentrated on regulating her breathing, interjecting briefly - the topic was, of course, the Christmas play - when she could. Peggy was sitting as close to her as the armrest necessitated, and then closer again. She leant easily against the high back of the chair, facing inward rather than out, and when she laughed, Rhyll could feel her breath.

Glancing at her watch barely ten minutes later Rhyll excused herself, nodding round at the chorus of farewells. She had retrieved her overcoat from the staff Splashery and was standing near the great front door buttoning it up when Peggy appeared, eager and sprightly, a little way back along the corridor.

Rhyll raised a warning finger to her lips. Peggy skipped closer, all bright smiles and heady abandon, and something in Rhyll snapped. "What on earth are you playing at, Burnett?"

A frown crumpled Peggy's face; shock and confusion. "I don't - oh, for goodness' sake, Evvy. I'd sit like that near anyone! They know it. You know it."

Rhyll shook her head, keeping her voice quiet in spite of her annoyance. "It's not the same thing." She stopped there, helpless, not sure which explanation to offer. It's different because I'm different, because nobody else would park herself near enough on my lap and think nothing of it? Because something changes, once you've been out walking hand-in-hand with someone, and nothing can ever make that innocent again - and how can you be sure nobody will see and understand that? Because even if you think you're unreadable, I know that I for one am not, and cannot ever again act at being 'normal' with you in such intimately-close proximity?

Peggy's scowl deepened; stubborn. "It may as well be, for all any of them know of it. I don't know why you're so - so keen to borrow trouble!" she flashed, with more strident defiance than Rhyll would have ever imagined possible for speech so quiet. Anger became Peggy, she noted against her better judgment: something heart-stoppingly wonderful could be seen in her animated face, her flashing eyes, the sheer strength of unapologetic feeling so visible as she stood tall, shoulders back, feet firmly planted on the floor, chin tilted upwards. Rhyll swallowed hard.

"'Trouble' doesn't begin to cover it. What anyone knows means nothing, Peggy. It's worse than enough just to give someone pause. I don't -" She stopped, seeing Peggy's countenance quieten, the younger woman already starting to calm down just as quickly as she had fired up. "Let's not squabble. You probably ought to be getting back to the staff-room now."

Peggy stood still a moment in consideration. Rhyll bent towards her, voice dropping lower still, close to the other woman's ear. "Please go now... I think if you don't go right away, I might kiss you."

She had half-expected Peggy to blush or look away; perhaps even to turn and run off altogether. Instead, to her utmost admiration, Peggy raised steady dark eyes to her, unabashed; and reached up, whispering so close that Rhyll could feel soft lips grazing her ear: "I'm not sure how that's supposed to inspire me to leave."

Rhyll nearly ducked straight out of the door without a backward glance, but Peggy deserved better than that. Rhyll caught the tips of her fingers gently, holding eye contact as she took a backward step in the direction of the door. "I need to go now. Goodnight, Peggy." And - cursing inwardly; heart soaring; eager to escape before she thought worse of it again - she swung open the heavy door and darted out into the darkness.

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