Her eyes open to unfamiliar surroundings – the smells, the sounds, the feel of this bed is different. It feels softer, somehow more inviting, like warm arms surrounding her and bringing her home. The first thing she notices is that her arm aches. The second thing is the regular breathing of someone lying next to her.
Then she remembers, and she smiles in the dark. Her left forearm is wrapped in a firm bandage, and so she holds it across her abdomen as she slowly turns to see him spread out on his stomach on his side of the bed, his face turned away from her, his hair mussed, the duvet not quite covering his bum. She reaches out to touch him, but quickly pulls her hand back. As much as she longs to touch his skin, to caress his broad back, and to kiss his very kissable butt-cheeks, she leaves him to enjoy his sleep. The last few days have been stressful for them both, but none so much as he; he deserves to be left to rest undisturbed. She knows how exhausted he is. Very carefully she lifts the duvet and pulls it up to cover him to his shoulders. He sleeps on, his body rising and falling slowly with each breath he takes. Even though he cannot see her, him being deep in the land inhabited by dreams, she blows him a kiss anyway. She wishes for his dreams to be light and peaceful, and for him still to love her, and to remember how much she loves him when he awakes.
She lays back on the pillow on her side of the bed, holding to her the memory she has of the previous night. The whole series of events was unexpected, from the stabbing, to she and Harry ending up back here at his house. Then there was the love-making, and what love-making it was too. He'd been tender as he'd looked after her, fed her, fussed over her injury like a worried mother, but then when she'd reached up to kiss him, everything had changed. All the tension, the build-up of emotion and longing for each other had burst its banks, flooding them with passion and a drive and a knowing that this was their moment. A doorway had opened for them, and they had walked through it. Had they let that moment pass them by, who knows how long it would have been before they were granted another such opportunity?
Harry had asked for her to be with him during the tense time when they were working on averting a major air crash over London, having earlier been plucked from the Americans by his loyal team. His words, "I want you in here with me," seemed natural somehow. Even though she worked for Towers, Harry's need for her advice and her intelligence – her support - overrode any other obligations she had towards others, as it so often had. To have refused him would have been unthinkable. What she'd discovered about Harry while they were in that bunker with Elena Gavrik and her husband and son had cemented Ruth's regard in relation to Harry. She discovered that he was not only a brave man – at times foolishly so – but he was honourable and loyal, even when he did not benefit from his own loyalty, and such loyalty was so often betrayed, as it ultimately had been with Elena.
As she left the bunker to look outside for Harry, she knew she needed to act differently, with the intention of forever turning around their pattern of destroying the very thing they both wanted to build together. When she reached him, she asked him to leave the service with her and share her life. It had been so simple. There they'd stood, holding hands, looking at one another, with so much passing between them which was beyond words. He hadn't dropped her hand or stepped way. He'd grasped her fingers in his and leaned towards her, nodding his assent, a smile beginning to soften his tired features. It was then that she noticed his eyes distracted by something behind her.
When she'd turned to see Sasha Gavrik approaching, intent on doing Harry harm, she did what came naturally to her. She stood between Sasha and Harry. She didn't hear him telling her to go inside, so intent was she on protecting him. It was when Sasha was close enough to her for her to see the colour of his eyes – clear pale blue – that the shot rang out. The crack from that shot seemed to have come from all around them. What happened next was so sudden, so confounding that Ruth had failed to understand how close she'd come to being badly injured, perhaps even killed.
Sasha had stumbled forward, falling against her, so forcing her backwards on to the grass. She had felt a dull ache in her chest where Sasha had fallen on top of her, then a sharp pain in her left forearm, and so, assuming the bullet had come from a gun Sasha had been holding, she said the only thing she knew how to say: I've been shot. Harry – I've been shot. There seemed to be a lot of blood. It was everywhere - on her, on Sasha, and once he'd reached her and began to push Sasha away from her, on Harry. She saw the look on his face – fearful – and she heard his voice – gentle – so she assumed that she was about to die.
"Hold me, Harry," she said, "I think I've been shot."
"Don't you dare die on me, Ruth," she heard him say. "Not now." She'd smiled at that, because she knew exactly what he meant.
Ruth had closed her eyes, trusting Harry to deal with the situation. She felt him run his hands over her, lifting each of her arms, touching her body gently and respectfully. She thought of saying: If I'd known you wanted to feel me up, Harry, I'd have managed to get myself shot long ago, but wisely, had kept the words to herself. This was not the right time or place for comments such as that.
She felt Harry lift her so that she rested in a sitting position against him. By this time they'd been joined by Dimitri, Erin and Calum.
"I winged him in the thigh," she heard Dimitri say from somewhere behind her head. "Should have aimed a bit higher and got him in the nuts. Harry, tell me I can give the little shit a good kicking, yeah?"
"Perhaps not, Dimitri, but I know how you feel. Get that piece of glass from him, though. We don't want any more accidents."
"I've called the air ambulance for Sasha," Erin added. "Calum and I can stay with him until help arrives. What about Ruth?"
"She has a stab wound in her left forearm," she heard Harry say, his voice suddenly commanding, as it was when he was on the Grid. "It seems to be quite deep, so we need to staunch the bleeding. I'll need something to wrap around it until we can get her to hospital. She appears to have no other injuries."
"Harry," Erin said carefully, "Ruth's dress. The material is soft, and I think we can tear off the sleeve. Ruth," said Erin, looking into her eyes, "I hope you didn't pay an arm and a leg for this dress."
"No dress is worth her life." snapped Harry, and for the first time, Ruth heard an undercurrent of panic in his voice.
"She'll be fine, Harry," Erin said, aiming to calm him. "Dimitri can drive the two of you to hospital. That gash will need stitches. Dimitri?" Erin added. "Could you tear off the sleeve of Ruth's dress? We can use it to bandage the wound, until Calum – Calum, where are you? – until Calum gets the first aid kit from the car."
Ruth began to feel a little sick and woozy, as Harry held her close to his chest, while Dimitri tore both sleeves of her dress. The left one he tore from the wrist in order to expose her wound, and the right one he tore from the dress at the shoulder. Once he'd bandaged her wound with the right sleeve of her dress, Harry helped her to her feet. For a brief moment, he held her against him.
"Harry, your shirt is getting all bloodied."
"Bugger my shirt," he'd said quietly against her hair. "There are plenty of shirts where this one came from, but there's only one of you."
Ruth thought she felt him press his lips to her hair, but she couldn't be sure. Before they walked the short distance to Dimitri's car, Harry removed his jacket and put it around her shoulders.
"Now you'll get cold," Ruth said in protest.
"Ruth," he replied gently, "shut up." So she did. Harry slid his arm around her waist, and guided her firmly to the car.
She remembers little about the drive to hospital. All she could see through the car's window was the landscape and then the streetscape rushing by, and in front of her, the back of Dimitri's head, and part of his handsome profile, as he drove at speeds which were probably quite unnecessary. All she could feel was the dull ache in her arm, and Harry's hand grasping her own like she was his own personal lifeline. Several times during the trip, he asked about her wound, demanding to look at it to check that the blood had not soaked through the makeshift bandage. Eventually it did soak through, but she was too overwhelmed by the situation to mention it to him. She'd known for some time that Harry loved her, but he'd never before expressed his feelings for her quite so overtly and personally. As she saw it, being stabbed in the arm with a sliver of glass by a deranged and grief-stricken Russian FSB agent definitely had its advantages.
Dimitri had left Harry and she at the hospital, as he had to drive back to the Grid. The doctor assigned to look at Ruth was used to having to deal with the concerned families of her patients, and so she soon assured Harry that Ruth was not in any danger.
"But she's bleeding so much," he protested.
"That will happen with a wound this deep," Dr Chandler assured him. "I'll stitch her up, and a nurse will administer a tetanus shot, and then you should be able to take her home."
"You won't x-ray, or anything?" Harry asked.
"It's a flesh wound, Mr Pearce. All it will need are a good clean up, stitches, a firm bandage, a tetanus shot, and some pain killers. I'd advise you to stay with her at all times for the next day at least. Just in case."
"Just in case of what?" Harry said, his face displaying alarm.
"Mr Pearce, I can assure you your wife is in good hands here. We deal with stabbings and shootings and all manner of injuries every day of the week. She'll be right as rain in no time. In the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours it will be important to keep your eye on the wound for bleeding. Should that happen, you'll need to bring her back in. Any continuing redness or swelling should also be attended to, as it could indicate infection. I'll give you some antibiotic cream to put on the wound, so infection shouldn't be a problem."
Ruth had heard the words, `your wife', although Harry had appeared oblivious. Ruth had thought of protesting, by saying, `But I'm not his wife,' but then decided to leave it. For the time they were at the hospital, Ruth was quite happy to make-believe she and Harry were actually married. He had certainly been behaving much like a worried husband.
As her wound was stitched, Ruth looked away, and Harry sat beside her, holding her right hand in both of his, occasionally lifting his left hand to rub her back. She briefly wondered if he'd been this attentive with Jane, and if he had, what had been big enough and important enough to have come between them. Her wound was dried, and then it was dressed, and finally a bandage was wrapped firmly around it.
"Here are the pain killers," Dr Chandler said, handing her a small bottle of pills. "When the local anaesthetic wears off – in around four hours – you will no doubt feel a certain amount of discomfort and even pain. Start off with one tablet, and see how you feel. The dosage is no more than two every four hours. These tablets contain codeine, so take no more than twelve per day."
Ruth was sure she'd not remember any of what the doctor had said, and she was equally as sure that Harry would remember every word.
They waited in the lobby of the hospital for Harry's driver to pick them up. "You're coming to my place," he said, "so that I can keep an eye on you. I hope you like pasta," he added. "I'll cook us pasta for dinner."
Ruth was too tired, too overwhelmed by the events of the day to object to his suggestion. If Harry wanted to look after her, who was she to get in his way? "OK," she said flatly, "but I need clothes, Harry. We'll have to stop at my house for a change of clothes and some of my things."
"That's fine, so long as you just pick up what you need. Perhaps enough clothes for a couple of days. You can have a bath at my house."
For a change, Ruth was enjoying letting Harry make all the decisions. Normally she'd be embarrassed by the prospect that he was being inconvenienced by her needs, but somehow, things had changed between them, and she felt no such embarrassment. She was uncharacteristically enjoying being the object of Harry's exclusive attention, and once they'd settled into the back seat of the chauffeured car, she delighted in his nearness – his knee resting against her own, his hand clutching hers, and the frequent glances he gave her while he thought she wasn't looking.
One thing Ruth knew for sure, as they travelled in the comfort of the car, was that somehow, during the course of that afternoon, she and Harry had turned a corner, one from which there would be no going back.