THE AWKWARDNESS OF GIVING

By Shayenne

Disclaimer: All characters belong to Elizabeth George or the BBC, the order of the words belongs to me.

Written for Mintcloud, because I stumbled across her fandom Christmas stocking on Live Journal.

Rated PG

 

Barbara hated Christmas at work.

It wasn't that she disliked the season; it was simply the awkwardness of it all. How to handle holiday giving. What if she gave a gift to a colleague and they didn't reciprocate? She imagined the pity in their eyes, the hesitation as they took the unwanted present.

"Thanks, Barbara," they'd say, and shuffle a bit before saying, "Sorry, I didn't get you anything. I didn't think…" Or worse, dive out of the room to return with a hastily regifted bottle of wine, or a box of chocolates that had probably been through the hands of several of her colleagues.

Her reputation for being a bit stand-offish, for being difficult, didn't help. Barbara didn't make friends easily, but her prickly exterior hid the desire to be liked. Rather than stand awkwardly around at the station on Christmas Eve as colleagues danced around trading hugs and jolly gifts, rather than be so obviously on the outside, Barbara used to race through, trying to look as if she was too busy to stop, as if she had important police business to attend to. She would drop her secret Santa gift at the base of the tree (she always bought a bottle of wine, you couldn't go wrong with wine), collect her own (a candle), and then paste a smile on her face, wave her gift overhead, wish the air a merry Christmas and disappear out into the cold.

But this year was different.

This year, she had a new partner, Thomas Lynley. And it was actually working out. Sure, he was a bit distant at times, a bit arrogant (maybe it was the whole class thing. She'd never known an earl before) but they worked well together. He looked at her as if she was actually there, rather than an inconvenient sidekick. He considered her viewpoint - even if he then brushed it aside. Together they'd solved difficult cases.

And, daringly, she called him a friend. Even though he was "Sir" and she was "Havers", there was banter, and laughter and after-work drinks when she relaxed enough to tease him and he responded. Together they were forging something good. For the first time since joining the Met, Barbara felt she truly belonged.

And if she did have a bit of a crush on him, well what of it? It was hidden under her brusque exterior, her crusty shell. She'd never act upon it and he'd never know. He was out of bounds on so many levels: professional, class, and she knew he carried a torch for another. He didn't see her in any other way except as a colleague, occasionally a chum, one of the lads, good for a pint and a joke in the Pig and Whistle after work. Barbara could live with that. Indeed, she didn't know what she'd do if there was a flash of interest in his eyes, if he saw her as a woman, a love interest, a bed partner.

She wanted to get him a gift for Christmas. Something that reflected their growing professional closeness, and yes, their friendship. Something that wasn't a bottle of wine. Something that showed she knew the man, not just the officer, but equally nothing too personal that could be misconstrued. But what?

She listened in the staff canteen. "What are you getting DI Conway for Christmas?" she asked a colleague as they sat together shoveling macaroni cheese into their faces.

"Dunno. Something jokey."

"A case of wine," replied DS Cushing, when Barbara posed the same question.

All the responses were useless. Wine, a Marks & Sparks voucher, a hamper, sexy underwear (No! Not that!), a CD. She pushed the dilemma to the back of her mind, took it out and examined it in quiet moments.

"What are you doing for Christmas, sir?" she asked him one day, as they drove along the M25, the Jensen eating up the miles to the Leatherhead turn off.

His fingers tapped a light dance on the steering wheel. "Haven't thought. Go home to the parents, I suppose. You?"

"At home, with my mum." Inwardly, she winced at how sad that sounded.

"I won't drive down until Christmas afternoon," he said. "Fancy a drink at lunchtime?"

Barbara wondered how her mother would take her absence at that crucial time. "That would be lovely. The usual?"

"Somewhere different? There's a pub along the Fulham Road I've been meaning to try for a while. The Rose and Crown. How about I meet you there at noon when they open?"

She smiled and agreed, and for the rest of the drive she sank into the Jensen's plush upholstery and wondered what the hell she was going to get him for a gift.

~ ^ ~ ^ ~^~ ~^ ~

She was early at the Rose and Crown and had to wait until they opened their doors. She got herself a bitter lemon and sat in one of the snugs where she could see the door, the bulky present on the bench next to her. Lynley arrived five minutes later. He had no visible gift in his hands and her insecurities swam to the surface again. But there was nothing she could do about his present, wrapped in cheap snowman paper.

"Is that gin and bitter lemon?" he asked, and she nodded even though her drink didn't have gin in it.

He returned to the table with their drink, sliding in next to her on the bench, and she saw that his mixer was tonic water. He probably thought gin and bitter lemon was crass.

"I got you something," she said, before she could lose her nerve. "Happy Christmas."

He smiled "You shouldn't have. But thank you, Barbara. Shall I open it now?"

"Up to you."

He pulled at the wrapping paper, discarding it on the table, opening the box inside. "This is lovely!" The old-fashioned brass bell gleamed in the pub's dim lighting.

"I noticed your doorbell had stopped working," she said. "I thought that would fit in with the style of your house."

"You're very observant. And have excellent taste. This is perfect." He leaned across and touched his lips to her cheek. "Thank you."

"; I'm a copper, of course I'm observant. And it was this or naughty underwear."

"I'm very glad you chose this."

She searched his face for sincerity, but he was turning the brass bell over in his hands with obvious pleasure. The warm glow in her stomach moved higher, as she watched his capable fingers examining his gift. The obscene amount of money she'd spent now seemed worth it.

Carefully, he put the bell down on the table. "I can't wait to install this. But you must think I've forgotten you-"

She hastened to intervene, even through the sinking pit in her stomach was that which precluded embarrassment. "It's not important. I wanted to get you-"

"Here." He pulled a small box out of the inside pocket of his jacket and handed it to her. "Merry Christmas."

She turned it over in her hands. The rectangular box gave no clues. The wrapping paper was tasteful, probably store wrapping.

"Aren't you going to open it?"

She ripped the paper of in one long tear and opened the box inside. A slim, sleek wristwatch stared up at her. How had he known?

"You're not the only observant one. You broke your watch apprehending a suspect last month."

Her mouth was dry, and she pushed up her sleeve, unfastening the cheap Snoopy watch she'd been wearing since her good one had broken.

"Let me."

He picked his gift out of the box, and she extended her wrist, staring at his floppy black hair as he bent over her wrist fastening the new watch.

"It's beautiful." She swallowed against the thickening in her throat and strove to make her voice more normal. "And practical. Thank you." She hesitated a second, then leaned into him intending to kiss him on the cheek as he had her.

He turned slightly at the last second and her kiss slid off the corner of his mouth. Her lips tingled at the contact.

He was watching her, she realized, as she took a hefty gulp of her gin and bitter lemon. And his eyes showed… maybe not interest, not the appreciative glance that he gave attractive women, but there was warmth and caring, and maybe something more.

It was enough, Barbara decided. It was more than enough.

"Shall we have one for the road?" she asked, and his smile as he acquiesced made her feel that she truly belonged.

(((FIN)))

(((FIN)))

Feedback? Please. Shayenne

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