Title: After The Wait

Rating: K+

Synopsis: Love is always worth the wait. But some people have to wait longer than others.

Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters, obviously. But since TPTB have so cruelly ripped them away from us, I'm just having a play.

xXx

Dorcas Lane clung to the man she loved. The very fact that he was there and close enough that she could smell the lingering scent of the foundry on him, would have made a lesser woman faint with joy. Dorcas Lane was not a woman to faint with anything, but even she had to admit that she felt unusually dizzy.

It had been a long time since a man had held her without tears. The last time Timothy held her it was brief and clandestine and caused such trouble that he'd had to leave. Before that, it was when they ended their long and beautiful relationship, under the tree they loved so much. As children and then teenagers life seemed so simple. They were in love. They gave no thought to their own social standing or the judgement of others, but as adulthood and reality set in, they both knew they could never truly be together.

Mr Delafield had been like a ship passing in the night. He had appeared as if from nowhere, stolen Dorcas's heart and made her feel like a teenager again. When they shared their first electrifying kiss she felt the same sensations she remembered from when she would meet Timothy under the tree so many years ago. But it wasn't to be.

Then James Dowland came along. A successful, confident, wealthy businessman who looked like everything Dorcas could ever want. It broke her heart to refuse his proposal, but she knew deep down that it wasn't right. James Dowland may not have won his lady, but he did give her the greatest gift she could ever have imagined – her son, Sydney.

Dorcas swore that nothing would ever again enter her heart. Every inch was taken up with love for her surrogate son and daughter, for that was how Minnie felt to her, and the other members of her small post office family.

But Gabriel Cochrane had edged his way into her life, unwittingly on both his part and hers, and become the one person she felt the true equal of. She understood him, just as he understood her. He was every inch as wise as she, and every inch as bitter and broken by life. He loved her son. And, without realising it, he came to love her too.

And now he stood holding her in the dim light of the night, his arms strong and comforting around her tiny frame, his eyes squeezed tightly shut as he tried to remember every feeling, every sound, every smell, for he knew this would be a very important moment in his life.

She didn't know how long they stood together on her doorstep. It felt like forever. Maybe it was. But Dorcas Lane didn't care. To hell with the gossip, the tittle-tattle, the rumours. So often in the past she had changed her life to suit them, to suit the whim of society, and it only ever resulted in her own pain.

So for once, Dorcas Lane did the only thing she wanted to do. She pushed her body away from Gabriel's just enough to allow her hands to slide up between them and hold his cheeks firmly, using them to pull his face down to meet hers in another kiss. Except this one wasn't as gentle or as polite as the first. This one was stronger, bolder, and more passionate. This one made Gabriel Cochrane gasp with surprise and pleasure and joy at his new lover's confidence.

He responded eagerly, his hands roaming up and down her back, but keeping her so close he thought they might meld together. His tongue danced with hers, exploring and tasting every bit of their conjoined mouths. As his desire for her grew, so too did the irritating knowledge in his head that he had to stop them before they entered dangerous territory. Territory they should not be heading towards on a Candleford street.

He broke their kiss in one, swift movement and said through a deep and shaky breath, "I love you, Dorcas."

She smiled, her hands now resting on his heavily moving chest, "I love you, Gabriel."

"But for now I must go," he told her, taking her delicate hands in his own rough ones, toughened from years of working with tools and metal.

"Go?" she asked, her eyes instantly filling with fear.

"Only to the hotel, Dorcas. I'm not leaving you. I shan't ever leave you," he reassured her quickly, stroking the curls of hair which had fallen from her ponytail and fell around her face.

"Your room is still available here," she reminded him.

He shook his head, "You know that wouldn't be right. And I don't trust myself to be under the same roof as you and remain in my own room."

Dorcas blushed at the meaning of his words, "You are right, of course."

"But tomorrow, my darling, I will begin making plans for us to be married. For I cannot bear the thought of spending a single moment more without you than is absolutely necessary," he smiled at the shock on her face at his words, "You will marry me, won't you, Dorcas?"

She stepped away from him, "Mr Cochrane, it is incredibly presumptuous of you to assume so much."

He cast his eyes downwards so that she could not see the shame in them, "I'm sorry, I thought we both felt the same way. I didn't mean to presume."

"You should have known," she said, unable to hide the smile forming on her lips, "that I will be making our wedding arrangements. If ever there were a task which required a woman's touch, then that is it."

As her words filtered into his brain he laughed at her teasing. Sweeping her up into his arms, she couldn't stop the small squeal of joy which escaped her lips as he spun her round. Dorcas steadied herself on her feet as he put her down and reached up to steal one more kiss from the man she was going to marry.

"I will come to you in the morning before I go to Lark Rise so we may share our happy news with our friends."

Dorcas Lane watched him walk away from her, even his temporary absence unable to quell any of the joy in her heart. He turned to look at her from the doorway to the hotel and his smile told her she had been right to wait all these years. That everything she had endured, all the heartbreak, had been worth it to reach this moment with this man.