Even years later, she only remembers one time in all their years together when she is truly frightened of Thomas Lynley.

They're strolling down the sidewalk on Christmas Eve, take-away curry in hand, when she says it.

"I don't have to come, sir, if you'd rather..."

"If I'd rather..." he raises a sardonic eyebrow, and she huffs a bit.

"All I'm saying, sir, is you surely have other friends you'd rather be with - Simon and Deborah, just to name a couple. You needn't keep spending all this time with me if you'd rather not. I mean, aren't you - slumming it, a bit?"

She's lucky they're at the door to his row house, because his eyes go dark and dangerous. The takeaway slides across the countertop to thud against the wall, but she pays it no mind - she can't, really, as he's got her crowded against the wall.

"Barbara Lynne Havers, I swear in the name of Almighty God if you ever refer to yourself suchly again, there will be no place on Earth where I cannot and will not find you and rip you apart."

All she can do is gape at him.

He backs away and scrubs his face with his hands. "Barbara, sit down."

Still in shock, she obeys.

"I'm spending this time with you because I want to. When I'm with you, everything seems - better. The colours are brighter, it's easier to breathe, easier to keep going. You see me. Not the Earl of Asherton - at least, not any more - not the Oxford alum, not even the Detective Inspector, most of the time. You see me. No one else does.

"Tell me, Barbara - why do you think Helen's death hit me so hard?"

"Pardon me?"

"Barbara..."

"All right, all right. It hit you hard because - because she was one of your best friends. I don't know if you were ever really in love with her - I know you wanted to be, tried to be, but I don't know if you were. But you did love her, deeply, and after what happened with me getting shot, to see her go down too, the same way, and not come back - it frightened you, and hurt you, because you felt responsible for what happened no matter how many times anyone tells you it wasn't your fault. You'd just started to find each other again after a case put her in serious danger and killed your child, and as soon as that happens - down she goes in the line of fire, and there you are all messed up because you can't help but think that it's all your fault - the marriage, her death, everything. Even though it's not."

Much to her surprise, he yanks her off her feet and holds her tight against him for a long minute, and startled though she is, she automatically wraps her arms around his neck and hugs him back.

He puts her down a minute later, looks square into her eyes and says, "And that, Barbara Lynne, is why I choose to spend time with you and not anyone else. There is no one else in my life, not even my mother, who could have pinpointed matters so quickly and so thoroughly. And you look at me with those big green eyes of yours - your eyes can't hide anything, did you know that? - eyes that say, 'I know you're hurting and I know you're in pain, and I'm here. Whatever you want, whatever you need, I'm here.' You don't look at me with pity. You don't judge. You're just there, always, steady as a rock - my anchor in the storm. You are my best friend, Barbara, and if it wasn't for you I probably would have drunk myself to death in this very room from guilt and grief. Don't you ever underestimate the impact you had - you have - on my life, Barbara. You are not and you never have been 'just' my partner."

All she can do is stare at him, mouth agape - and then, for the first time in her life, she steps forward, wraps her arms around him, and clings.

He holds her, there, for a long, timeless moment.

And then she pulls away and smiles at him, and they settle down to curry and a book, the fireplace crackling merrily away against the damp, chilly English winter.

More information about my Lynley/Havers stories can be found in my profile. Thanks for reading!