She can't help but grin when she hears her mobile cheerfully piping "Pomp and Circumstance"; she knows who that ringtone's for.

"Evening, sir. Ring me to say 'I told you so' after all?"

She doesn't know it, but the next ten seconds decide the rest of her life.

"Barbara. I need – someone. I need you." She doesn't have to see him to know that his face is drawn tight with pain, that his eyes are dark and wounded and that he's barely keeping himself from throwing things just to hear them shatter. "I need your help, Barbara."

There's no decision to make. "Half an hour, sir."

She's there in fifteen minutes.

When he opens the door, his face is haggard and he has a bottle of brandy in his hand.

"Due respect, sir, but that's probably not such a smart plan right now," she remarks, taking the bottle from limp, unresisting fingers.

"Barbara, are you aware that whenever you say 'With due respect' or any variant thereof, you are invariably about to tell the person being addressed 'I think you're being an idiot'?" His voice is a little slurred, but he hasn't got past the 'tipsy' stage yet, and she intends to keep it that way.

"Yes, sir," she retorts. "And I think it's an incredible demonstration of tact and diplomacy on my part. Sir."

He barks out a laugh that turns rapidly into tears, and instantly she's by his side, drawing him down on the sofa beside her and rubbing his back – just as he had rubbed hers – as he sobs himself out against the soft cotton blend of her trademark sweater.

Eventually she manages to get tomato soup and saltine crackers into him, and then they settle on the couch. She doesn't say much – aside from assuring him that it's perfectly normal for him to fall apart like this and that she's not going anywhere and he doesn't have to get through this alone – but then, she doesn't have to. He doesn't know why, but just having her here is starting to soothe the burning ache in his throat, and eventually he falls asleep with his cheek resting on the top of her head and his arm draped over her shoulders, marvelling at the way she curls her feet beneath her like a cat on a windowsill.

When they wake up it's to the morning sun beaming through his window. His neck has a crick in it from sleeping with his head on hers all night, but the darkness is gone, leaving only a pounding headache in its place.

He must have made some sort of strangled noise, because she stretches, catlike, a minute later, then bustles off to his kitchen for maximum-strength painkillers and an enormous glass of water.

"All of it, sir," she tells him in full mother-hen mode, "You're dehydrated."

He does as ordered, because it's easier that way, and sighs in blessed relief as he downs the last of the water and feels the headache start to ease even before the pills kick in.

It's only then that he notices Barbara shifting restlessly on her feet, and though she shows no other outward signs of distress he knows her too well, knows what's going through her mind as surely as if she were broadcasting it on the radio.

"Barbara," he says, catching her hand in his, and then using his other to tilt her chin up and make her look into his eyes. "You're not my partner here, all right? Not first and foremost. When you're here, when you're doing this for me – you're my best friend, Barbara. I couldn't get through this without you."

She ducks her head, shy, but he thinks she's starting to believe him because she squeezes his hand almost imperceptibly and murmurs, "Thank you, for – letting me help. I don't know if I could have – kept watching you like this, not..." She shakes her head once, quickly, and then just says, "Whenever you need me."

Lightning quick, he kisses her forehead, and then she sees the clock and they both forget about everything else in the rush to get to work on time. She shakes out her shirt, then gratefully borrows one of Judith's lazy-day sweaters and bustles out the door, with him right behind her.

It's the first night he calls her to help fight the demons he'd previously tried to fight alone, but it's nowhere near the last.