Author's Note: I highly recommend reading this while listening to the Headley/Pascal OBC recording of Aida's "Elaborate Lives."


"Barbie, there's this thing called 'sleep'. Have you done it lately?"

"Hmm?" Weary, Barbara lifted her eyes from yet another case file to gaze blearily at the cranky detective standing in her office doorway.

Winston Nkata crossed his arms and glared. "I know with the fancy new title comes a higher workload, Detective Inspector, but this is ridiculous. You're the first one here and the last one to leave and you look like death warmed over. Have you spent so much as an hour with your husband in the last three months?"

"Go away, Nkata," she said, too exhausted to even bark at him.

Shaking his head, he produced a cup of steaming-hot coffee from what looked like thin air. "Please, Inspector," he said softly, crouching to put his eyes level with hers. "For all our sakes. Go home. Spend some time with the DCI. Because sometime soon you're going to snap at somebody who's not me or Doc Lafferty, and they won't shrug it off like we do. You need him. It's killing you here, Barbie, and you're no good to anyone that way. Let alone the victims and their families."

She slumped, gulping the coffee without tasting it. "You're right," she mumbled, rubbing her eyes. "And you know how much I hate saying that. A couple hours in the field, ten minutes here, five there, and all of it work-related – it's not enough." Impossibly, she wilted further. "Christ, I miss him," she murmured, her hands clenching into fists. "I shouldn't miss him this much, but I do."

"Go," Nkata said gently. "And take tomorrow, too. He's already cleared not to come in, and there's no paperwork left I can't finish. You need each other far more than we need you right now."

Her hands were visibly shaking as she handed him the enormous file. "I owe you for this, Win," she said with a weary smile. "I owe you so big."

"And don't think I'll forget it." His grin, when she could focus enough to see it, was as bright as it ever was, despite the sound of Big Ben chiming midnight.

The journey to Belgravia seemed to take forever, and for a minute she thought she was hallucinating when she saw the lamp glowing in the window.

But when she made it through the door at last, and heard the music – well, she nearly collapsed where she stood. From the gleaming piano came a melody she'd heard over and over during the year before she'd met him, in a time when she'd lost herself in the music to forget the world around her. She'd found them in little secondhand shops, soundtracks of shows like Phantom and Superstar and Les Mis. Those tapes had given her joy when her own life had none, been the soundtrack of late nights studying and fits of temper and grief and joy and heartbreak, as familiar as old friends.

She'd pulled them out only rarely since, unnecessary now that she needed the escape so much less. He'd listened with her, sometimes, because the music meant so much to her, but it had never been his own preference – his own taste ran to Sondheim, complex scores and inscrutable lyrics. That he was playing Aida, and not even the opera but the Broadway musical, with its tragic romanticism and Webber-like melodies, was as good as a declaration he was thinking of her.

How many nights had he played, lonely and tired, while she worked away down at the Yard?

His baritone came floating with the melody, words she couldn't quite make out, but words she knew as well as her own name, or had known, once. Just outside the drawing room door, she sank into a chair, put her head in her hands, and listened.

in our sights
How an affair of the heart survives
Days apart and hurried nights
Seems quite unbelievable to me
I don't want to live like that

With a shudder of guilt she remembered nights she didn't come home, or worse, the nights she slipped into bed when he was already asleep, then left him to a cold bed and thrown-back sheets in the morning, with only her lingering scent and fading patch of warmth to show she'd been there at all.

Seems quite unbelievable to me
I don't want to love like that
I just want our time to be
slower and gentler, wiser, free…

She was utterly unsurprised when her tears started flowing as his voice broke on the last word.

We all live in extravagant times
Playing games we can't all win
Unintended emotional crimes
Take some out, take others in

She listened hungrily, desperately, as he sang on, the heartbreak in his voice enough to break her own as he sang of loneliness and love and peace.

God, how she wanted it.

I just want to be with you
Now and forever, peaceful, true
This may not be the moment
To tell you face to face
But I could wait forever
For the perfect time and place…

She knew now there would never be a better time, or a better place. Now, in the moonlight with the music in her veins, the choice seemed so simple. How had she pushed them both to this? The idea of sacrificing time with him for a career which meant nothing without him bordered on ludicrous.

Floating to her from years away came a phrase he'd first said in the days when she still had stitches in her abdomen – days she'd had to stop herself from dropping to the floor every time a car backfired, and protested his hovering until the day came when he'd shut her up with twelve simple words that, years later, made her decision now the easiest one in the world.

Just because you can do it alone, doesn't mean you have to.

She could do it alone, and she was the only one who still didn't quite believe it.

But she'd never had to. Not since the day she met him.

Choking back tears, she walked through the door and joined him on the melody. She'd forgotten how good they sounded together, how much easier it was to speak through song. Music was their own private language, a way to speak when no words would come; they'd sung together in Paris, in Oxford, even in her own little flat in Hackney, with only tinny music from an old tape recorder and their voices to create their own time out of time. And no one knows that about him but me, she thought, on the edge of hysteria. I'm the only one who knows he sings when he doesn't know what to say.

We all lead such elaborate lives
We don't know whose words are true
Strangers, lovers, husbands, wives
Hard to know who's loving who

The look he gave her as her voice joined his was so staggeringly beautiful, so heartbreakingly grateful, she almost choked on the next lyrics.

Too many choices tear us apart
I don't want to live like that

'No more,' she vowed with her words and her voice. No more would she let work, or even the responsibilities of her new rank, come between them. Never again.

His next words were half begging, half promise.

Too many choices tear us apart
I don't want to love like that
I just want to touch your heart
May this confession…

She settled on the piano bench next to him, leaning her head on his shoulder and melting against him, as they sang the ending together.

Be the start…

"Welcome home," he said, his voice trembling, and she shuddered and fell forward into his arms.

"I'm so sorry," she whispered. "My God, why didn't you say? Why did you let me do this to us?"

"You worked so hard for this, love," he said then, holding her close. "I had no right, none at all, to take any of that away from you, when I was part of the reason it took so long to come to you in the first place."

"Nothing is more important than we are," she told him fiercely. "Nothing. I'm so sorry. I never regretted staying with you, you know that. I'd do it again tomorrow. And I'll let it go if you want. I swear I will. If it's going to do this to us…"

"No," he said. "No, Barbara. Absolutely not. You earned this a thousand times over. You deserve it. We just have to adjust, that's all. We've been Inspector and Sergeant so long – we've never known how to do anything else. Now we're Inspector and DCI. But we'll learn it, Barbara, we will. I could have stayed with you, all those nights. I should have. I just… I didn't want you to think I was intruding. I thought you might – well, to be honest I thought you might take it as my saying I didn't think you could handle the workload. I didn't want to interfere."

"I probably would have," she admitted shakily. "But now… I'd like it, if you stayed." She bit her lip, looking up at him through long fiery lashes. "I think I'm going to see if I can get another DC on the team, and start giving Nkata some of the paperwork. But… I'd really like it. If you stayed, I mean."

"Then I'll stay." He kissed her hair, soft and fervent. "I'll always stay, Barbara. I want to be with you. More than anything else in the world, I want to be with you."

"I've missed you so much," she said. "Oh God, Tommy, I've…" Shaking her head, she buried her face in his shoulder and shuddered, three months of exhaustion catching up to her in one fell swoop as she let it all go.

"Me too," he murmured against her hair. "Oh, my love. Me too."

Her shudders eased eventually, her body growing heavier against his shoulder.

After that all she remembered was coming halfway awake, still drowsing in his arms, just sensible enough to let him help her wriggle into one of his old, worn Eton tee shirts. The soft, threadbare fabric wrapped around her, warm and secure, his scent surrounding her as she clutched his hand in hers, curled up, and fell right back to sleep, this time knowing she was home.

And the next morning, when she woke up for good – for once not relying on caffeine to get her up and out the door – she didn't scramble out of bed, leaving him to wake to a cold, empty bed and tossed-back blankets. Instead she stayed, curled against him, her head pillowed on his shoulder.

Quietly, she wiped away a stray tear from his cheek as he held her closer.


Author's Notes: Massive thanks to Spikewriter, who smoothed the (many) rough edges with expert skill. :D

The song is, of course, "Elaborate Lives" from Tim Rice and Elton John's Aida. The track I used as inspiration was sung by Adam Pascal and Heather Headley of the original Broadway cast. Barbara is a lyric soprano and her voice is a bit lighter and higher than Headley's, and Lynley is a baritone with a slightly lower, smoother voice than Pascal's, but the OBC track nevertheless gives an excellent approximation of how the song is supposed to sound.