THREE

In this office there are no cheap motivational posters and no dolphins. Instead, there are cream walls, wooden dado rails, good quality furniture and tastefully framed art prints. Like Grace, Henry Barrett is a psychologist. He is stocky, greying, close to the end of his fifties, and he wears small, rimless glasses that give him a distinctly academic air. The grey eyes behind the lenses are mild, but they are perceptive. His voice is calm and surprisingly deep, and he has a lingering trace of a West Country accent. Pleasantly reassuring.

"You're angry with him," Barrett says. It is not a question.

Grace considers the quiet statement. Her eventual response is just as composed. "Not consciously. Not that I'm aware of."

"You advised him against becoming involved."

She nods. "Yes. But I knew it was pointless."

"Do you blame Peter for your abduction?"

"No."

Back and forth they go. It's tiring, and very little of it is new to Grace, but she listens and she answers and she does her best to explain. Barrett offers her coffee – one of the benefits of a private consultation – and they take a short, natural break. He does not intimidate or antagonise her, and she thinks that even if she is learning nothing new, he is helping her organise her thoughts and emotions into logical patterns that can be carefully analysed later.

Barrett says, "He was willing to die for you. 'Trade his life for yours' was the phrase you used."

"Yes."

"How does that make you feel?"

On and on, until she realises that he has quietly backed away, that he is now talking in far more general terms. She recognises it for what it is – the winding-down at the end of their first session.

"Do you think that you can help me?" Grace finally asks, knowing how incredibly naïve the question will sound.

"Of course," Barrett says, as if it is the simplest thing in the world. "You know I can. Grace, your partner's right – the fact that you're a psychologist yourself has no bearing whatsoever on the trauma you've been through, or on your response to it. A dentist might know exactly why his tooth aches, but one certainly wouldn't expect him to perform dental surgery on himself to cure it. No, he'd go and see another dentist; extremely reluctantly, I would imagine."

Which actually makes more sense to Grace than anything she's yet been told.

-oOo-

It's mid-evening several weeks later, and Boyd is lounging barefoot on the sofa, reading glasses on, and as Grace returns quietly to her living room she's fairly certain it won't be long before he smugly announces that he's finished her daily paper's cryptic crossword. He has that sort of mind – able to follow the kind of esoteric, convoluted loops that defy normal deductive reasoning. And he is, of course, both extremely tenacious and highly intelligent – the latter being a quality she very definitely appreciates. The carefully-constructed image of the unimaginative, plodding investigator is a deliberate façade, artfully designed to disarm both suspects and unwary colleagues alike, but Grace… Grace never makes the mistake of underestimating him. To do so would be very dangerous indeed.

"Henry says it's important that we talk," Grace says without preamble, as she settles into her favourite chair. "About Linda."

Boyd looks at her over the top of his glasses. "'Henry'?"

"Barrett."

He glowers, expression heavy and sullen. "I know who you mean, Grace."

It's not the first sharp gibe regarding her fellow psychologist, and she doubts it will be the last. It's childish of him, to say the least. Childish and unhelpful. Irritably, Grace says, "Please. Can we do without the macho posturing, just for once?"

"Meaning?"

She sighs. The thought of another bitter round of petty squabbling is not an appealing one. Forcing patience she says, "He's my therapist, Boyd. The one you wanted me to see. You don't have to bristle every time I mention his name."

The retort is quick and sharp. "And God forbid that we should get through a whole conversation without his name being mentioned."

"Oh, grow up," Grace tells him harshly.

The chilly silence that immediately descends between them is very telling indeed.

-oOo-

They go to bed under a grudging flag of truce, but in such an emotive arena it doesn't take very long for hostilities to resume. As they bite and snap and snipe at each other Grace wearily realises she isn't even sure anymore which of them is actually at fault. She tries to calm the situation and inevitably says entirely the wrong thing. Boyd bristles again, and they lie in the dark, not touching. Eventually she takes a calming breath, says, "Look, I know it's difficult for you, Peter, but – "

"For God's sake," he interrupts. "I know you enjoy treating me like a child, Grace, but guess what? I'm a grown man. Oh, and despite that fact I'm actually quite capable of thinking about more than just sex."

"I thought you said this wasn't about sex?" she challenges.

"It's not about bloody sex. Now you're twisting my words."

Stubbornly, she says, "No. You said – "

"For fuck's sake, stop it. Just stop it, Grace. If all I wanted was to get laid…" Boyd's voice trails away into the kind of loaded silence that clearly suggests he's well-aware that he's suddenly heading for a whole lot of trouble.

Grace stares up at the ceiling; it looks pale and ghostly in the darkened room. She says, "If all you wanted was to get laid, you'd go elsewhere…?"

He turns onto his side to face her, his features indistinct in the gloom. "I didn't say that. Christ, I didn't say that. What sort of a man do you think I am?"

"I don't know," Grace says quietly. She turns her back on him. "Sometimes I just don't know…"

-oOo-

"You're angry with him," Barrett says again. "He was prepared to die for you – but not to kill for you."

Stubbornly, Grace shakes her head. "No. How could I possibly be angry with him for that?"

"Morality has little to do with our inherent instinct to survive, Grace. Peter chose to draw a line in the sand and you're angry with him for it."

"No."

Barrett waits for a moment before he says, "You describe him as an alpha male."

She nods warily, not sure where the change in direction is leading. "He is. Very much so."

"But when it came to the crunch, your alpha male failed you."

Anger flickers inside her. "He didn't fail me, he saved my life."

"By accident rather than design. He was offered a straight choice – and he failed you."

"No," Grace says obstinately. "Linda wanted to prove to him that he was just as capable of cold-blooded murder as she was; she put him in an impossible situation."

"She emasculated him. Metaphorically speaking."

"No. Emasculating him was the very last thing she wanted to do," Grace contradicts. Picking carefully through her thoughts, she slowly continues, "She had convinced herself that they shared some kind of twisted destiny and she wanted him to be exactly like her – a killer. In fact, she wanted him, full stop."

Barrett studies her calmly. "And how does that make you feel?"

-oOo-

"I'm sorry," Grace says, and she genuinely is. Jumpy as a cat, Boyd watches her warily from the other side of his office. When he says nothing, she continues, "If you don't want to do this anymore…"

"Don't be bloody stupid," he says, predictably brusque. "Surely you know me better than that?"

Exhausted after her hour-long encounter with Barrett, Grace slumps onto the couch that's been part of Boyd's office furniture for as long as she can remember. "We've hurt each other so much in the past… I really don't want to go through it again."

"And still she treats me like a child," he says with a deliberate sigh. "Grace, can you please at least try to accept that I'm not about to run for the hills just because we're not exactly seeing eye-to-eye at the moment?"

Startled, she says, "Hen… Barrett touched on that today. He says I have to learn to trust you."

Boyd folds his arms across his broad chest, raises his chin a fraction. "Well, he's right, isn't he?"

Grace says quietly, "I do trust you."

He shakes his head, suddenly very wise. "No. No, you don't. Not at all. But that's not my fault, Grace. That's Linda pouring poison into your ear coupled with your own ridiculous insecurities."

She stares at him, astonished by his perception. "What makes you say that?"

"What did she say to you?" Boyd asks, avoiding the question completely. "What did Linda say to you to make you doubt me so very much?"

Grace looks at the floor, her mind racing. Eventually, she says, "It doesn't matter."

Plainly exasperated, Boyd growls, "Of course it matters!"

"He will never love you, Grace," Linda's voice whispers. "Look at you, you're a pathetic old woman; a sad, deluded old woman pining for a man who will never love you…"

Still looking at the floor, Grace says, "She wanted you, Boyd."

"Somehow I'm not at all flattered by that," he tells her wryly. "Grace – "

A restrained tap on the door interrupts the painful conversation. Kat appears. "Sorry. Sir, David Norton's lawyer is asking to see you..."

-oOo-

Spencer's voice, quiet and restrained. "I'm just telling you what I heard, sir."

Boyd's voice, deeper, infinitely less patient. "That bloody woman wants to pay more attention to what's going on right under her nose at the Yard and less attention to petty gossip."

Grace freezes. She is out of sight, but not out of earshot. Eavesdropping is hardly worthy of her, she knows that, but it's pure instinct that holds her immobile as she listens to the unfolding conversation.

Spencer again. "She'll have your head on a plate given half a chance, Boyd."

"Not going to happen, trust me."

"I just think you need to be a bit more… discreet. For all our sakes."

Boyd's voice is thick with contempt. "Fucking discreet…? You've been reading too many bloody memos from HR, Spence. Whose side are you on?"

"It's not a question of sides."

"Isn't it? If I go down, this unit goes down with me, remember that. They won't even consider appointing a new commander in the current fiscal and political climate, so keep your eyes closed and your mouth shut. Do you understand me?"

"I'm trying to tell you to be careful, that's all. This thing with Grace – "

"You're skating on very thin ice, DI Jordan. Do you really want to butt heads with me over this?"

Spencer's tone of voice is immeasurably surly. "No, sir."

"Is the right answer. Now fuck off and get some bloody work done."

An alpha male, Grace thinks; just as she told Barrett. But she is worried. Very worried.

-oOo-

Quietly, Barrett asks, "Do you think he's with you out of a misplaced sense of loyalty?"

"No," Grace says, looking past him to the featureless cream wall.

"Pity, then?"

Tired almost beyond endurance, she shakes her head. "No."

"But it troubles you, doesn't it? The timing? He finds out that you're unwell, and suddenly he makes a commitment to you."

She shakes her head, says stubbornly, "I've told you before, it wasn't like that."

-oOo-

"Come to bed," Grace says softly, placing a hand lightly on his shoulder.

He glances round at her, gives her a slight smile. "You go up. I want to get this finished. I won't be long."

For a moment she regards the official paperwork spread out across her dining table. She doesn't resent the work he brings home – it's better by far than waiting on her own for him to return from yet another late night at the office – but she wonders if he really needs to take on so much himself. Conversations about delegation tend to lead to angry words, however, so she sensibly keeps the thought to herself. She waits a few deliberate moments, and then says, "Peter. Come to bed."

Boyd looks up at her again, and it amuses her to see the very obvious indecision in his expression. Quite plainly he is trying to decide if she's really implying what he thinks she's implying. What he hopes she's implying. She looks back at him, smiling slightly, and when that doesn't seem to be quite enough, she moves the hand on his shoulder, lets her fingers trace slowly and gently up the side of his neck. His expression changes again, becomes cautiously optimistic, and she nearly laughs aloud. Fundamentally, he is a very ordinary, very red-blooded male.

Paperwork suddenly forgotten, he shifts his chair round, snakes an arm around her waist and pulls her onto his lap. She rests her forehead against his, says quietly, "You really have no idea how much I love you, do you?"

She thinks he will dissemble, thinks he will fall back on wry humour. She does not expect him to answer, "I'm getting there, Grace. I'm getting there."

His unexpected response emboldens her. "This is it, then? This is really us? A joint future?"

"I think so," he says quietly. "Don't you?"

Grace smiles again. "Come to bed, Peter."

-oOo-

"Pathetic old woman," Linda's voice hisses contemptuously in her ear. Grace freezes. Instantly and completely, her body turning to a block of ice beneath his. The contrast is sharp. Boyd is hot and heavy, his back and shoulders slick with sweat as he moves rhythmically inside her. Eyes closed, head back, it's obvious he doesn't see her expression change as unexpected nausea rises from the pit of her stomach. Suddenly Grace detests the oppressive weight of him, the animal heat of him. The ice holding her immobile fractures abruptly and she instinctively starts to struggle desperately, simultaneously trying to push him away and squirm free.

She can't bear it, any of it. The feel of his solid weight on her makes her cringe, the intensely masculine smell of him makes her retch. She twists and fights and scratches, no longer even vaguely cognisant of where she is – or of who he is. There's just fear and panic and nausea and the primitive instinct to get away from the threat he suddenly represents. Grace doesn't hear his voice, doesn't see the appalled look in his eyes; isn't aware of him pulling away and then trying to gather her back against him.

Stinging pain snaps through her, extraordinarily shocking.

But it works.

She starts to remember who and where and why, and as reality steadies around her she starts to understand that he – he who has always been so incredibly gentle with her – has back-handed her. Hard.

Her cheek feels as if it's on fire and she unconsciously raises shaking fingers to it, her mind refusing to process what has happened.

"Grace…?" Boyd says, his voice thick with a crazy mix of anger, apprehension and compassion.

"You hit me," she whispers. Statement rather than accusation.

"He will never love you, Grace," Linda gloats in her head.

He is staring at her in blank shock. "Jesus Christ, Grace – what the fuck was that all about? One minute everything's fine, the next…"

"You're bleeding," she says stupidly. There are scratches on his chest, raw and bloody.

Boyd looks down at himself for a moment, then slowly looks up at her again. The pain she sees in his eyes has nothing at all to do with physical injury. It takes him several moments to speak, and when he does, there's a distant, hollow sound to his voice that frightens her. "She's destroying you, Grace. She's fucking destroying you… and I don't think I can bear to watch it anymore."

"Peter…"

But suddenly he's rolling off the bed up onto his feet, already picking up his clothes. He says nothing, doesn't make eye contact with her. Grace realises she is shivering. The room is warm, but she's shivering.

"You let her get into your head," he says abruptly as he shrugs into his shirt. "You let her in, and now she's destroying you. Destroying us."

"Don't do this. Please don't walk away."

"This has become toxic, Grace," he says, quiet but incredibly strained. "Dangerous. Can't you see that? Whatever it was, whatever it might have been doesn't matter anymore."

"Don't say that. Please don't say that."

His voice is low, tight with just barely-controlled emotion. "I can't help you. I was stupid enough to think I could, but I can't."

"Boyd – "

"I'm sorry," he says, but he doesn't hesitate at the bedroom door.

And then Grace is alone.

Not quite alone.

"He will never love you," Linda repeats smugly as the sound of the front door slamming echoes up the stairs.

-oOo-

tbc…