He didn't even see where he was going until he was there. But once he was up there, in the open air, he finally felt like he could breathe.

Away from the crowd of mourners and assorted sympathetic friends and acquaintances, he didn't have to deal with people. Well-meaning as they were, he just couldn't take it. They demanded more energy than he had to give.

Some time later – it could have been seconds or minutes – he heard soft footfalls on the hill, and looked over to see Barbara walking toward him.

He hadn't seen her earlier; she'd been at the funeral, of course, but he'd been surrounded by friends and family. In a way, he was glad; what was between them felt too private to share.

But now, it was a relief to see her.

She sat quietly, saying nothing, demanding nothing, but there with quiet strength and support. It had always amazed him, as vibrant and ferocious as she normally was, just how strong and serene she could be in a crisis. He remembered her days earlier, rock steady, saying "Sir, you have to let me try," and counting out chest compressions while he could do nothing but reel; and he remembered her one night over a year ago, in her darkened flat, as he poured out his torment and she calmed his raging storms.

When he needed her, really needed her, she was there, no fuss, no bother, no questions – just strong and steady by his side.

He hadn't realised how badly he needed her now until she came.

"What are you doing here?" he whispered, voice hoarse with grief.

"I don't know," she said, shrugging. "Just… letting you know that, when you're ready, that there is a world out there."

"Right," he managed around the lump in his throat, and had to struggle not to cry. "That's just what she'd say."

"I know," she said quietly, and amazed him yet again.

"And you know what I'd say back?" he asked her, quiet and bitter, because he didn't have to be strong in front of her, didn't have to hide. "I'd say, 'The world can wait for a couple of minutes.'"

He turned his head to look at her; she sat, still calm, still there. He wasn't sure, exactly, what he needed to see in her eyes – but he did know that, whatever it was, it was there.

He looked out over London from this spot of peace, and though he hadn't wanted to see anyone, he was fiercely glad she was there, her serenity granting him some of the equilibrium he badly needed. The world could wait, yes, but he wanted Barbara here; unlike anyone else, her presence was anything but an intrusion. Anyone else he would have sent away with a few sharp words, but he needed no front for Barbara, no walls, no defences.

He didn't have to say I can't do this any more. She already knew.

It's all right, Barbara seemed to say, though she said nothing. You don't have to hold on for me. You've done so much for me, been my strength for so long. Let me be your strength now. You are not alone. I'm here, and today, it's my turn to carry you.

Outside their private moment, the world went on around them.

But here on the hilltop, Thomas Lynley let go, and let his partner carry him, just for a little while.