Disclaimer: Spooks belongs to Kudos and the BBC. Despite what may happen in this story, I still think I treated them nicer than a certain someone from Kudos whose name rhymes with Lane Weatherstone.
A/N: This is posted today in honour of Nicola Walker's 45th birthday and the final chapter will be posted on Ruth Evershed's 45th birthday. (Yes, we now know that Nicola and Ruth do not have the same birthday, despite reports otherwise.) This story has been sitting mostly complete on my flash drive since earlier this year but the ending eluded me. As I write this, it's still not quite complete, but I'll get it there. There have been a couple other stories with similar storylines; I assure you it is entirely a co-incidence. I hope you will read, review, and enjoy the story.
Finally, I was working on something else that I'd planned to post in honour of theoofoof's and Sparky75's birthdays earlier this month, but my muse went on holiday and it simply didn't happen, so this story is for you ladies as well. Happy Birthday!
Ruth felt awful.
The feeling of not being quite right had been building the past few hours since her early lunch with Harry. Initially she'd tried to put it out of her mind because if she went home she'd think about all the work she'd have to catch up on. But she couldn't ignore this any longer. Whatever bug she'd caught was doing a number on her so she decided that just this once it would be okay to use some of her accrued sick time and leave a bit early. She wasn't on the roster for this weekend, so maybe after a night's sleep she could come back to the Grid for a few hours and catch up.
Having made the decision to do just that, she closed the open files on her desktop and locked the sensitive files in her desk draw as Malcolm happened to walk by.
"Malcolm, do you know where Adam is?"
"Left the Grid an hour or so ago. He should be back by the end of the day." He paused as he noticed her pale face and pained expression. "Ruth, are you all right? You look like you don't feel well."
"You're right, I don't feel well. I know it's a bit early but I'm going home. Can you let Adam know? I'm sure a night's sleep will do wonders, so I'll come in tomorrow," she said.
Malcolm noticed that she was moving slowly. "Do you want me to call you a taxi for a ride home?"
Ruth scoffed at the idea. "I'll be okay. Besides, a taxi ride in Friday afternoon traffic will take just as long as the bus."
Malcolm wasn't convinced but he knew he wasn't going to change her mind. "Please call me when you get home so I know you made it safely."
Ruth smiled as best she could. "I'll do that, Malcolm."
Thirty minutes later, Ruth exited the Tube station and walked the block to Harry's house. Her co-workers didn't know it, but she and Harry had been seeing one another for the past six months. Her initial concerns about the reaction of her co-workers and the possible accusation from others that she was sleeping with boss to get ahead were the main reason for their secrecy. That feeling had passed quickly but they'd decided that having this time to themselves would help solidify their relationship without the constant curiosity from their friends. Harry had raised the idea of slowly sharing their relationship with a few select co-workers and Ruth found that the idea didn't terrify her, which she took as a good sign. They'd planned to discuss it on Sunday and decide who to tell and when.
Entering Harry's house, she was greeted by an enthusiastic Scarlet, who was happy to have company. Harry was out of town for a two-day meeting between heads of various departments at Five, Six, GCHQ, and other agencies who worked in national security. Rather than uproot Scarlet to hers for the weekend, Ruth chose to stay at Harry's home as her flat didn't have a fenced garden for Scarlet to roam nor a park nearby in which to take Scarlet for a walk.
After settling Scarlet with a trip outdoors and bit of food, Ruth curled up on the sofa with a cup of tea and a book. She had no appetite and was a bit nauseous, so she wondered how Harry was feeling. She had eaten a chicken salad sandwich for lunch and suspected that food poisoning was the culprit. She also knew from past experience that the sick feeling would pass eventually. Enough time had passed to equal the journey to her home on the bus so she called Malcolm and let him know that she was home safely.
Ruth dozed off and awoke to her mobile ringing on the coffee table. She reached over and greeted the caller with a groggy greeting.
"Are you all right? You sound like you've been sleeping," Harry said.
Ruth tried to stifle a yawn. "I was sleeping. I've felt terrible most of the afternoon so I left the Grid a bit early and fell asleep on your sofa. I think it was that sandwich I had at lunch."
"Will you be okay on your own? Do I need to come home?" Ruth was touched by the obvious concern in his voice.
"It's just a bit of food poisoning. I'll feel awful for 12 hours or so and then I'll be fine. I should be on the mend by the time you get home late tomorrow. Scarlet is here to keep me company; really, I'll be fine," she said.
They continued to chat for a few minutes while Harry was on a break from his meeting. Before he hung up he made her promise to call him later that night to check in if she was awake. Ruth decided it was time to head up to bed as she'd be more comfortable and slightly closer to the bathroom when the inevitable hit. She filled a large drinking glass with water before heading upstairs. Climbing the stairs exhausted her and she barely had the energy to strip out of all of her clothes save her vest before crawling in bed and falling asleep.
Ruth woke the next morning in a sweat with sharp stomach pains. She dragged herself to the bathroom to use the toilet and noticed that her menstrual cycle had started. Given its very irregular nature, the idea that her feeling unwell may not be food poisoning but rather cramps took hold. Ruth mentally thanked Harry for giving her a drawer in his bathroom in which to keep some things, so she was prepared. Grabbing a few ibuprofen tablets from the cabinet above the sink she made her way back to bed, thankful for the glass of water she'd brought up the night before. Knowing it would take some time for the drugs to take effect, she climbed into bed and drifted back to sleep.
Two hours later Ruth woke once again to more pain than she ever imagined. She struggled to sit up and the half-full glass of water felt as though it weighed a tonne. She had a strong urge to use the toilet but upon getting out of bed she found she could barely stand on her own. She slowly moved along the bed and around to the end until she had about six feet of space to cross to the bathroom door. She leaned against the footboard for a few seconds before attempting to cross the open space. She nearly made it but faltered and fell to her knees just short of the doorway. Ruth put her hands to the floor in front her to steady herself and wished that she'd grabbed her phone. She crawled into the bathroom before collapsing on the floor and losing consciousness.
Harry decided to forgo the last few bites of breakfast so he could avoid spending any more time than was absolutely necessary with several of the people in attendance at the sessions. Once back in his room he called home, hoping to speak with Ruth. She'd not called the night before and he hoped that meant she'd had a good night's rest. When she didn't answer he ended the call and tried her mobile, still not getting an answer. He left a brief message before calling the Grid to check in and heard from Zaf that all was running smoothly. Harry commented that Adam had mentioned Ruth's early departure when they'd spoken the night before so he casually asked about her, but Zaf noted that she wasn't on the Grid. Harry made up some excuse for Ruth to ring him when she arrived and Zaf agreed to pass along the message.
Harry sat for a moment looking at his phone, willing it to ring. When that didn't prove successful he realized that Ruth was likely on the Tube on her way to work and that if he didn't hurry up, he'd be late for his next meeting.
Zaf walked back to his desk with a fresh cup of coffee and his eyes glanced at Ruth's still-empty desk. Realizing that she'd not yet come into the office, he rang her at home to pass along Harry's message. After no answer on both her home and mobile numbers, Zaf visited Malcolm in the tech suite.
"Malcolm, have you talked with Ruth today?" he asked, intentionally keeping his tone light.
"I have not. Is she here?" he asked.
Zaf shook his head. "No. Harry called earlier to check in and asked that she call him. I've just realized she's not here nor is she answering her home or mobile phone." As he spoke, Zaf realized he was likely over-reacting. "It's just that Adam said she wasn't feeling well yesterday."
"I hate to say it, but she looked terrible when she left here yesterday afternoon. She called to say she arrived home, but now that you say she's not answering her phone I'm a bit worried about her," Malcolm said. "It's not like Ruth to ignore the phone." Spinning around in his chair, he roused his computer from sleep, opened a program and selected Ruth's name from a drop-down box. After a few more clicks he turned back to Zaf.
"I'm going to locate Ruth's mobile. Hopefully she's just on the bus and will be here shortly to chew us out about invading her privacy," he said. No sooner than the words left his mouth than the computer beeped. Malcolm spun back around and Zaf looked at the screen over his shoulder.
"Is your computer telling us that Ruth's mobile is at Harry's home?"
"Yes, it is."
Zaf nodded, unsure exactly what to do next.
"I have a feeling something's not quite right here."
"I'm afraid you may be right. I'm calling Adam."
"No, call Harry's house first."
Neither man spoke as they listened to the phone ring and then go to voicemail.
Zaf paused before speaking again. "Let me go over to Harry's first. You said yourself that Ruth was ill. She's probably sound asleep and will absolutely hate it if we blow this out of proportion. I'll pick up Jo on my way; if Ruth's been sick she may not want me helping her. I'll call Adam with an update once I'm at the house."
Malcolm nodded in agreement. "I'll call Joanna for you and let her know you'll pick her up shortly."
Zaf acknowledged the information with a wave of his hand.
Forty-five minutes later, Zaf parked his car down the street from Harry's home.
"Are you sure we should be doing this?" Jo asked.
"No, but what if she needs help? Harry won't be back from his meetings until this evening. I know we joke on the Grid about what their real relationship is, but I'm not doing this to be nosy. Ruth was sick and it's not like her to ignore the phone. I just want to know that she's okay and whatever relationship she has with Harry will go no further than us. Okay?"
"Agreed," Jo said as they exited the car.
Before he left the Grid, Malcolm had given Zaf a key to Harry's house and the code to his security system. The quickest way to alert Harry that something may not be right was to try and pick the lock on his door or bypass the security system and Zaf was still hoping this was a case of an ill Ruth soundly sleeping.
The pair hadn't both made it through the door before they were greeted by an enthusiastic Scarlet. Jo bent down to pet the excited pooch before Scarlet bolted out of the room. Jo followed her into the kitchen and saw Scarlet sitting at the rear door.
"Now I know why you're excited to see someone; you need to go outside." Unlocking the door, Jo looked through the window and noted the fenced garden. She opened the door and Scarlet raced outside, happy for the opportunity to do her business.
Jo moved back to the hallway as Zaf stepped out of the lounge. "Everything looks okay here," Zaf said. "She's probably upstairs sleeping. Will you check on her?"
Jo nodded before quietly ascending the stairs. She peeked her head into the first door and found an empty guest room. The next door was a bathroom and the last door was obviously the master bedroom. Jo first noticed the rumpled linens and smiled to herself, realizing that Ruth was here. She looked to her right and noticed a partially-open door, which Jo presumed was the en suite and Ruth's current location.
"Ruth?" Jo asked in a quiet voice. She hoped Ruth wouldn't be too mad when she discovered Jo in the bedroom. There was no answer and Jo noticed she wasn't hearing any noise from the bathroom either. As Jo moved towards the door, she glanced back at the bed. A dark spot on the pale linens caught her attention. Jo moved closer to look and realized it was blood. She looked from the bed to the bathroom door and realized there was a trail of blood on the floor as well, something she'd not noticed due to the dark wood. Jo began to panic and pushed open the bathroom door.
"Oh my god. Zaf!" Jo shouted, before adding in a quieter voice, "Ruth!"