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Robin stirred at the unmistakable sound of her partner’s gait and opened her eyes. The grey light bathed the room and reminded her of where they were. She sat up and looked straight ahead, out the French doors, at the dark blue grey of the Cornish sea. She smiled. The sense of contentment and peace that she had felt in the past months somehow felt more intense here, and she could understand why he was different, lighter here.

Actually, where was he? As if in answer to her inner question, the kettle in the open plan kitchen of their AirBnB cottage started emitting a high-pitched screech. She sighed happily and pulled her pillow up so she could sit with her back against it and watch the ebb and flow of the sea. Robin liked doing a balance of the year every December, and this year fared well in her analysis. Sure, most of it had been miserable, with them both exhausted and at odds with each other, but now they knew why. They had been hiding too much from each other. Now, all out in the open and resolved in the best way possible, the past pain seemed insignificant, faced with the rewards at the end of it all.

She smiled to herself again, thinking of touching his hand at the Ritz to thank him once again for a magical evening and somehow changing everything with the simple gesture. A gesture that had been all that was needed to shift the balance, to poke the fraught and false sense of peace they had been keeping for the sake of the agency, and it all came out. How the other’s voice was all they wanted to hear when things were bad, not to mention when they were good.

From then on they had been nearly inseparable, only work taking priority over their evenings and nights and rare weekends together, finding each other’s weak spots and secrets they hadn’t been allowed to discover until then. She knew it was a privilege to enter his world and go so far in, when he had long shut it out, and did not plan to ever betray this. Especially when he had tiptoed into her own world with so much care and respect.

And she had seen a bit more of it the previous evening, when after a long drive from London, they stopped quickly by Ted’s house to collect their cottage’s keys and refused to go in without going to their own space for freshening up first. Ted had come out after Lucy and Greg to insist they come in for a cuppa, and the admonishing he received from his nephew for being out in the cold was accompanied by a ‘Dad’ at the end. She hadn’t missed the blinking of the others’ eyes, trying to figure out if they had misheard, just as she did. But they hadn’t, and he’d repeated himself later in the evening, when they were all together for dinner. The smile on Ted’s face had made his feelings clear concerning his new name.

And before the dinner, she had also witnessed his regret for Leda and Joan not meeting her, not seeing him finally happy. She saw his red eyes, reminded him that he didn’t need to have a façade for her, she’d be there whatever. She knew his strength up close. And he had shown the extent of his trust in her by allowing himself to be vulnerable in front of her, before steeling himself again to face his family.

‘Happy Christmas,’ came his deep rumble, interrupting her thoughts.

There he was, with two cups of tea and that big smile of his, crinkly eyes and soft voice. He looked so warm and inviting, even having been out of bed for a while. He was always so warm. It was a privilege indeed to be part of his world. And she celebrated it every day.