A sequel to She Can Do It.
A year has passed since Tommy arrested his old school friend. He has gone on doing the job each day, but his heart is no longer in it. But can he walk away? And if he does, what would that do to his relationship with Barbara?
An established relationship story.
Written: March 2012. Word count: 1,860.
He watches her move around the room; she's relaxed, comfortable, she seems quite at home in his bedroom as she is in the rest of his house. They aren't living together, but she spends more time in his home these days than she does in her own and her things mingle with his on a daily basis.
When he first met her and for the first few years of their partnership, he never thought he'd see the day when she would be so comfortable and confident around him, around his friends, in 'posh' restaurants, interacting with a 'toff' as she still liked to call him at times. But whereas in the early days she had meant it as an insult, now she just does it to tease him.
He can pinpoint the day it all changed, the day she proved what he'd seen in her for some time. It was the evening, twelve months ago to the day, when he'd made the most difficult arrest of his life and she had been by his side as his undercover wife, dressed in finery, wearing the Asherton necklace. She'd been so sure she couldn't be convincing as his wife, but she had fooled everyone.
And since that night her confidence has grown and she now believes in herself in a way she never had, she believes in herself in the way he had believed in her for quite some time. It's almost ironic that she began to believe in herself on the very day that he began to question himself.
Every since that night when he'd put handcuffs on Gerald Harris-Smyth, his old school friend, he's questioned himself; questioned why he became a detective; questioned what good he's doing; questioned how long he can go on doing it; questioned why he doesn't just throw it all in, go home and run the estate; throw it all in, go home, run the estate and be Earl Asherton. He has to do it one day; so why not now?
His answer to that is simple: Barbara. She's his one shard of light; his one bit of colour in a world that has become grey; she can make him smile; she can make him feel worthy; she can make him laugh; she can, at least whilst she's in his arms, in his bed, kissing him, caressing him, loving him, letting him love her, make him feel something. For those minutes or hours she can make him think he is going something good; make him remember why he became a detective; make him remember the job is worth it. Make him remember his is of worth.
But those minutes, those hours are too fleeting - they can't spend every moment in bed - and during the last few months he's almost begun to dread the intimacy because for those wondrous minutes or hours when he is the man he used to be, he has to have so many when he's the man he's become. The man who could calmly, casually, coldly arrest his friend; the man who could use his other friends and abuse their hospitality; the man who used to believe there were lines over which he wouldn't cross. Lines that a year ago became so blurred, he fears there's nothing he wouldn't stoop to.
He loves her; he knows she loves him, even if she's never said the words. She's said, 'yes, of course I do, Tommy'. Or, 'You know I do, Tommy', on the few occasions he's asked her if she loves him, but she's never told him. But he's not certain that loving her is a good reason to stay with the Met. He's always prided himself on being a good detective, but he hasn't been for more months than he cares to remember. He's just gone on in his colourless world, doing the job by rote, trusting in her to make sure nothing goes wrong. His heart is no longer in the job; his heart is no longer with the Met; his heart is no longer in London. His heart is with his estate; his heart is in the home he grew up in. But as much as she's comfortable with him and their life in London, he isn't sure her heart could ever belong in the country.
What would happen to them if he quit and went home? Could they maintain a long distant relationship? Would they want to? Could he happily spend half his time in London with her and expect her to visit his home the rest of the time? Would she do that? And even if she would, how would it work? His time would for the most part be his own; hers would still be dictated by the job.
"Tommy?" He looks up and smiles at her, letting his gaze roam over her body as she stands dressed only in her silky but still modest underwear holding a frock in each hand. "Which one?" she asks. And again he's thrown back a year to the night she'd told him to choose her frock for her, because he'd know what was the appropriate outfit for the Countess of Asherton; for Mrs. Thomas Lynley.
The way she looks at him makes him wonder if she too is remembering that night. They are only going out to a restaurant they go to often, their favourite place; she's used to choosing her own outfits, of knowing what is suitable, so why ask him?
But she has and he has to answer. "That one," he says, pointing to the dark green dress in her left hand.
She smiles and then to his surprise drops both dresses on the nearby stool. "What time do we have to leave?" she asks.
He shakes his head and takes her hand. "I can't, Barbara," he says softly. "I can't." And he can't. As much as he wants to pull her onto the bed, strip her underwear off, kiss her and plunge into her, burying himself physically in her and in her love, letting her make him whole for a moment; he can't. Because it will be too fleeting and he's tired of fleeting. He's tired of wondering if he's using her. He's tired of being tired. He's tired of questioning himself. He's tired of being the man who could arrest his one time friend. He's tried of being the man who could abuse the hospitality of other friends. He's tired.
She doesn't seem surprised. Instead she nods, gets onto the bed, climbs over him until she's on 'her' side and sits down facing him, her knees drawn up to her chin. She sits and studies him for several minutes before saying softly, "How much longer, Tommy?" He frowns. "How much longer are you going to go on shutting me out?"
He's stunned by her words. "Barbara," he says. "I -"
"Because you have been. Ever since that night a year ago you've shut me out. We've become a lot closer in many ways. But in others," she shrugs. "You talk to me far less than you used to. You tell me far less."
He looks at her. He doesn't know what to say. He doesn't know where to start. "It's not you," he starts to say, breaking off when she rolls her eyes and glares at him. He takes one of her hands. "I know it's a cliché, Barbara, but this time it's true."
She shakes her head. "No, Tommy. No, sir. It's not. It's not you - it's the job. You can't do it any longer, can you?" The last few words are spoken in a quiet and serious tone.
He looks at her, stares into her eyes, watches her look at him. He's about to deny it, when he realises he can't. If he stays with the Met, if things go on as they are, all that will happen is that he'll end up losing her. End up losing the only thing in this part of his life that's worth having. End up driving away the colour from his life. He can hold onto his life at the Met; he can go on playing (because that's all it's been for a year now) at being a detective. But he knows with a certainty that scares him, he won't be able to hold onto her.
He sighs. "No, Barbara. I can't."
She just nods and then smiles. He watches as tension he hadn't even consciously noticed creep into her body vanishes. "So when do we leave?"
"We?" he exclaims. "Barbara?"
She tugs her hand from his and moves so she is now sitting cross-legged on the bed beside him. She's silent as she looks from him, to the dressing table, the en suite door, the windows, the bed, the bedside table and finally back at him. "Tommy. Twelve months ago you told me to keep the Countess of Asherton's necklace. Do you remember?"
Of course he remembers. He also remembers he still hasn't taken it back to the Bank; he's kept it in the small bedroom safe - although he only put it there a few months ago. Before that it had been in his diner jacket pocket and then in the drawer of his bedside table. "Yes," he says. "Of course I remember, Barbara."
She moistens her lips. "There's only one way I really have a right to it, isn't there?"
He shrugs. "I told you, it's mine to do with as I wish."
She shakes her head. "No, Tommy. It isn't. Oh, I know you're the Eighth Earl of Asherton and everything belongs to you. But tradition matters, Tommy. It matters to you, I know it does. And it matters to your mother. There's only one way I have a right to it and you know that. And you knew it when you told me to keep it, didn't you?"
Tommy opens his mouth and closes it again. "Barbara," is all he can find to say.
She nods, a smile teasing her lips. "So if the offer's still there, my answer is yes."
For a moment he isn't certain he understands what she's saying. He thinks he does; he hopes he does and as he allows himself to hope the world around him starts to gain some colour. But he has to make certain. "Are you saying you want to marry me, Barbara"? He holds his breath.
She rolls her eyes, then turns and slides off the bed. "And you're the one who went to University," she says.
He almost wants to shake her. When had she started to be so confusing and convoluted? Okay, so there was an easy way. "Barbara," he says, watching her move towards the stool she'd thrown her frock onto. "Will you marry me?"
She looks at him as if he's an idiot and shakes her head, her expression fond. With a dramatic sigh she starts to pull the frock on. "I said yes, didn't I? And by the way, I love you." And with that she stalked over to the bed, turned around and presented her back to him so he could zip her frock up.
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