The end (a satisfactory one, I hope!) … at last! Thank you to everyone who stuck it out, and an huge extra thank you to all those who took the time to review so regularly. Enormously appreciated. PS: The song Lucas plays is John Lennon's 'Woman'.
"Lucas?" Ros put her head round the door of the sitting room, from which the sound of The Seekers was drifting quietly. "Lucas – oh," as she spotted him fast asleep, slumped sideways in the corner of the sofa like the town drunk. Well, he's getting some rest, at least. The doctors at the clinic had warned her that while Lucas should have no physical problems, he should not be allowed to go home alone for a few days. Ros hadn't needed their advice. One look at him huddled deep in an armchair, clutching white-knuckled and staring unseeingly at a book that she knew was only a shield to block out the rain lashing the windows, and she had made her own decision. Stopping at his flat only to pick up spare clothes, toiletries and some of his favourite music CDs, she had taken him to her own home, ignoring the protests she knew were only token. For the first seventy-two hours, and even though Ros would have been the first to admit that she wasn't Carer of the Year material, she had done her best to calm him through panic-riddled nights, and struggled to get him to relax during the day. It hadn't been easy. When she found herself having to cajole a cowering Lucas into the shower by inches – something she could achieve only by getting in with him - she silently prayed that no-one had planted surveillance cameras in her flat. Thankfully, his terror had eventually started to subside, but he hadn't yet suggested returning home, and as long as he didn't seem ready to, neither would she.
She slipped quietly into the kitchen, switched on the kettle, and was reaching for the milk when she saw a bottle of white wine standing next to it in the fridge.
That's more like it. She uncorked it, poured herself a glass and stared out of the window. She had assumed that Harry breaking into the week's leave he had granted them both meant the emergence of some new crisis. That she could have coped with. This was much more difficult to swallow.
"Thought I heard you." She span round as Lucas came in, stretching. She saw him register the glass and braced herself. He knew she rarely drank alone. "Everything all right?"
"Of course." The minute the words came out, she knew that they had been too curt for conviction. Lucas's hand gently pressed her shoulder. Sure enough, his eyes were anxious.
"What's wrong? Does Harry need us in?"
"No, no. No." She held up the bottle. Lucas nodded, and she poured a glass. "No, everything's fine."
His fingers cupped her chin and turned her face towards him. "Ros." The single word made it clear he wasn't convinced. "Come on. Tell me?"
Ros felt the familiar sensation of someone pulling a metal band tightly around her chest. She slipped her inhaler from her pocket, and gave herself a dose.
"Was it me he wanted to see you about?" Lucas's concern was obvious. The last thing Ros wanted to do was talk about her interview with Harry – at least not until she'd come to terms with it herself - but it wasn't fair to let him fret after all he'd just been through.
"No," she answered. "Come and sit down, and I'll tell you."
He obeyed, but sat perched on the very edge of his chair like a bird ready for instant flight, gripping his glass as if he intended to use it as a weapon. Ros shook her head.
"Relax, Lucas. I said you weren't the problem." She swallowed. "I am."
Two furrows of concern ploughed their way down Lucas's forehead. "You? What can you have done? You haven't set foot in his office for best part of a week."
"And I'm not likely to." Ros saw his bewilderment deepen, and could have kicked herself. Her argument with Ruth was beginning to feel like a relaxed, girly chat compared to this. She gritted her teeth. "Towers called Harry in. It seems they haven't taken a final decision yet about his replacement." She saw relief fill Lucas's eyes, lowered her own, and forced herself to go on. "But the men from the ministries have taken soundings. And they do seem pretty certain about whom they don't want." She made an effort at a sarcastic smile that she knew instantly hadn't come off. "So – good news! One thing you can stop worrying about is the terrifying prospect of spending the rest of your career as chief whipping boy for Ice Maiden Myers."
Emotions – shock, confusion and doubt – were chasing each other across Lucas's face so quickly that they were difficult for her to read.
"But that – I mean – Harry was going to recommend that you took over. He's made no bones about it; he told you he would."
"He did." Ros stared into the pale golden depths of her wine. "He told them my record speaks for itself." She shrugged. "Trouble is, some of his esteemed colleagues don't care for its tone of voice."
She was trying to keep her tone as flippant as she could, but it hadn't deceived Harry, and as Ros risked a swift glance up at Lucas, she realised it wasn't going to work with him, either.
"What do you mean – that business with Yalta?" He blew a disgusted raspberry. "Ros, everyone's entitled to a mistake! It was years ago. Besides, what about everything you've done since, the number of times you've put yourself at risk - "
Wearily, Ros raised a hand to stop him. She and Harry had already dissected the whole, painfully humiliating issue to death in his office, and it would make not the slightest iota of difference to repeat the exercise. But Lucas had the bit between his teeth, and she could see his indignation rising on her behalf.
"Didn't Harry at least argue your case?" he demanded. "Don't tell me he just lay down and let the bloody Mandarins walk all over him – he's never done that!" When Ros said nothing, he stormed on: "For God's sake, they might not like you, but if they want the most able -"
"Lucas." She cut across him. "They've closed ranks. And when you've so offended the Establishment that it does that, ability's irrelevant."
The carefully deliberate indifference of her tone seemed to inflame his anger.
"But Ros, there's nothing in your past or present that would cause that much - "
"Yes, there is." Ros's heart was beating uncomfortably fast. She took her inhaler from her pocket.
"What?" Lucas flared. "Christ, your copybook can't be more blotted than mine!"
Ros put the inhaler down, noticing that her fingers were unsteady. "You weren't born my father's child," she said, quietly.
The utter incredulity on Lucas's face mirrored her own when Harry had broken the official version of events to her as gently as he could – that Sir Jocelyn Myers's attempted coup, Ros's early involvement with it, and her persistent attempts since his imprisonment to be reconciled with him and the rest of her family rendered her appointment as MI-5 counter-terrorism chief unacceptable.
"I'm sorry, Ros." He had kneaded his face in an all too familiar gesture of frustration. "Believe me, I tried. I reminded them whose intervention brought the damned thing to an end, told them about the Bendorf Group, your trying to save Lawrence … half the bloody JIC supported the damned medal you got for that, and the other half knows that without you I'd still be rotting in Belmarsh as an FSB mole. But it's your father. He was one of them, a member of the elite, bound by its codes. He broke them, turned on his own. And failed – very publicly - after involving others in his failure. It's the ultimate, unforgivable sin."
"However unforgivable they think it is, aren't the sins of the father supposed not to be visited on the sons?" Lucas exploded.
"Gender equality," Ros said dryly. "Now they offload them on daughters instead."
Her attempt to ease the tension failed. Lucas's eyes flashed. "For God's sake, Ros! This is – hell, you haven't been in contact with him for what – six, seven years?"
Not for want of trying. Harry had poured her a glass of wine that hadn't touched the dryness in her throat, and taken a swallow at his own. "The letters didn't help, Ros. I know they're misreading them, but - " he had shrugged helplessly. "It's unjustifiable, bloody unfair, and downright damned cretinous. In any other, half-normal job you could sue."
"Letters?" Lucas looked bewildered, so Ros told him what until then only Harry Pearce had been aware of; that she had written dozens of them to her father over the years, trying to mend the breach between them, struggling to explain to him that she understood, longing for reconciliation with a man she still adored despite the hurt he had inflicted on her. Every one had been returned, marked 'sender unknown'. Unread by him, but scrutinised, analysed and now judged by the powers that be.
"You wrote to that bastard?" Lucas looked stunned. "Ros, he was going to commit mass murder! In God's name, why?"
She hadn't known what reaction to expect, and the shocked revulsion in his voice was like a slap in the face. Ros felt herself flush. She stood up and lifted her chin defiantly.
"He may be a bastard to you, but he's my father, whatever he's done. Maybe he was wrong, but his intentions were good. I understood that then and I understand it now. He loves his country and he wanted the best for it. They threw him to the wolves deliberately – out of ego and as a warning to others. I knew they'd all prefer to forget, but I won't. I had to turn against him once, but then I knew it was right. I won't do it again, not just to fit their bloody jelly-mould. I won't, Lucas."
Lucas stared at her with an expression that reminded her of the look he had given Mamnoon Hamid during his interrogation. " 'His intentions were good'?" His eyes darkened with contempt. "Christ, Ros." He got abruptly to his feet. "Then maybe they're right. If you truly believe that of a corrupt, greedy wannabe dictator who would have turned this country into a police state, then you really aren't fit to sit in Harry's chair."
Ros's body moved even before the intention to do so was fully formed in her brain. Her palm stung as she hit him with all the strength she could muster. Then she span on her heel and stormed out into the kitchen, ignoring Lucas as he called her name. Somewhere deep inside, she had hoped he would understand. Now a sickening wave of loneliness swept over her, and - the final straw – tears welled up into her eyes. Furious with herself, she reached for the kitchen roll and her arm knocked the wine bottle. A second later it smashed onto the tiles, spattering the dregs of the wine and shards of broken glass everywhere.
Shit! Ros bent to retrieve them and, inevitably, cut her hand on one.
"Ros." Lucas had appeared in the doorway. "Let me help."
"Leave. Me. Alone!" Without looking up, Ros shoved the door shut in his face. The last thing she wanted now was one of Lucas's guilt-ridden apology sessions. One-handed, she cleared up the glass and gave the floor a cursory wipe. She was awkwardly trying to clean the cut when the music began. John Lennon, this time. She snorted. In addition to being a naïve, judgmental prat, Lucas had the most God-awful sentimental taste in music.
Woman, I can hardly express my mixed emotions at my thoughtlessness. After all, I'm forever in your debt.
Ros turned on the cold tap and held her hand under it.
And woman, I will try to express my inner feelings and thankfulness, For showing me the meaning of success.
Some bloody success. She dried the cut and dabbed a pad of kitchen roll along it.
Woman, I know you understand the little child inside your man. Please remember, my life is in your hands.
Slowly, Ros stopped dabbing, and cautiously eased the door open. She could see Lucas still in the darkened living room, but he was just one bulky shadow among others.
And woman, hold me close to your heart. However distant, don't keep us apart. After all, it is written in the stars.
What a load of mawkish bloody twaddle. The cut was stinging, but it was the stinging sensation the words brought to Ros's eyes that bothered her more. She rubbed her free hand angrily over them just as Lucas came to the living-room doorway. He smiled that familiar, tentative smile, and shrugged.
"He says it better than I do."
Woman, please let me explain. I never meant to cause you sorrow or pain. So let me tell you again and again and again. I love you. Now and forever …
Well, you shouldn't! She would have snapped the words at him had they not been trapped in her throat by an almighty lump that no amount of swallowing would remove. Instead, and to her horror, she heard a strangled sob emerge.
"Ros." Lucas's arms slid round her from behind as she turned quickly to hide her face. She bit her lip hard. "Ros, I'm so, so - " he stopped as she flinched at the touch of his hand on hers. His voice changed. "What have you done?"
"Bottle … it broke." Ros sniffed as he turned her to face him, then looked away as he examined her hand. "Mind yourself – it was all over the floor." She could hear the stifled tears in her voice, and the way Lucas stiffened told her he had, too.
"Ros, don't. Please. Look … I understand. I know you think I don't, but I do."
She shook her head. "You can't."
"No?" She snatched a sideways look at him and caught the expression of anxious tenderness in his eyes. "You and I have so much in common."
"How?" She tried to make the word sound disparagingly dismissive, but it came out sounding more like a plea.
Lucas shook his head decisively. "This first." He hurried out and returned swiftly with scissors, antiseptic cream and a sterile dressing.
"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" Ros meant to sound sarcastic, or at least sceptical, but Lucas merely smiled.
"Field Officers' First-Aid Refresher Course." He winked. "I used to be in the Boy Scouts, too. Give it here." Ros, suddenly too exhausted to argue, obeyed, and after a few minutes Lucas muttered his satisfaction.
"Nu shto zhe." He looked up at her. "I didn't hurt you again, did I?" Ros shook her head wordlessly. "Good. Once an evening's enough."
"Lucas, you didn't hurt me." Now that her blazing rage had cooled, it took a real physical, and more to the point, emotional, effort to force the words out. "I'm fine. It doesn't matter."
"It does to me." He sat down next to her. "Because I know that's not true. If you get cut, Ros, you bleed, just like anyone else. And I don't just mean by flying glass."
Ros wanted to beg him to stop, but she knew instinctively that he wouldn't, not this time. Over the last few months she had more than once evaded or pretended to misunderstand Lucas's hesitant attempts to express his feelings for her. In his flat she would already have taken the coward's way out and been halfway down the stairs, but even Ros Myers couldn't find a dignified way of fleeing from her own home.
"I'm sorry," Lucas said awkwardly. "Really sorry. No excuses. What I said was unforgivable - and it wasn't true." When she didn't answer – not because she was still angry, but because she had absolutely no idea what to say – he added, "But the song … that was."
"Lucas, I - " She stopped helplessly. For God's sake, Myers, what on earth is the matter with you? In countless operations, she had charmed, seduced and entrapped men of just about every shape, size and criminal tendency. Many would have happily sent her to an early departmental meeting with the great Director-General in the sky had they known what she was doing. Yet she had never once been anywhere near as - be honest, admit it – as nervous as she was now.
"Ros?" Lucas was watching her with a mixture of doubt and apprehension.
In this one way you're a rotten bloody coward. Ruth had never come quite so close to taking a slap in the face herself as she had then. Yet most of Ros's burning anger with her had been caused by the fact that the analyst had hit the target more accurately than any Olympic rifle shooting champion – and both of them had known it.
"Lucas, look, you and I … we're friends. Colleagues and … and friends – we agreed to that. But if - if you're waiting for me to say – to tell you I love you, then – I'm sorry, I'm sorry to – hell, I don't know – upset you, disappoint you, whatever it is, but I can't."
Lucas blinked, but he didn't walk away, as she had half been hoping that he would. "Can't, or don't?"
"Either. I don't know – both." She bit her lip. "What's the bloody difference?"
He smiled crookedly. "Well, if you don't, but could, then I'm a patient man."
Ros swallowed hard. "Then can't. Won't, Lucas."
After a moment he nodded slowly. "Won't sounds deliberate. As if you're making yourself do it." He was running his hand round his chin – that giveaway gesture that always signalled tension or distress. "Would you tell me why? Loyalty to Adam?"
Ros shook her head helplessly. That would have been true six or seven years ago, not now.
"Then you just find me a repulsive, tedious fool and you'd rather I never darkened your door again?"
She looked up. His lips were smiling, but his eyes were filled with melancholy.
"You know it isn't that." The 'then what?' that she confidently expected didn't come, and Ros wiped her hands, which were damp, on her jeans. Her throat felt as if her lunchtime sandwich had actually been made of sand, and her chest was aching. "Let's go and sit down." When they had, she said, "I told you once that I've only loved two men in my life."
"I remember. Adam and your dad."
"Yeah. And I lost both of them - my own fault," as he would have objected. "But I – what I don't want to - can't - do is risk that again. You see, all those myths … Myers the Ice Maiden, the Emotional Zombie, all the rest of it - "
"Aren't true." Lucas half-smiled. "Do you think I didn't know that?" Ros shrugged. "So you're scared that something might go wrong again?" She glared at him. "Well, it could - you're not the only one with a past. After all, this is the man whose wife left him, and whose last two girlfriends were shot dead in front of him." He sighed deeply. "Compromise. Forget the S24 form; maybe we should just sign a mutual suicide pact and have done with it?"
"Sod you." Ros tried for a smile, and swiftly wiped her eyes instead. "You might change your mind." She saw the tension in his body relax slightly as he grinned.
"Yeah, and you'd make me go first, just to make sure I didn't."
This time the smile came without effort. For a moment both of them were silent, neither, she thought, wanting to make another wrong move. Finally, Lucas shifted the conversation back to familiar, safer terrain.
"So what happens now, then, about Harry's replacement?" It was a fair question; most officers in Section D had assumed Ros would be appointed, and the prospect of having to adjust to an unknown quantity would unsettle everyone.
Ros gave a wry smile. "Well, since they don't seem able to agree on another of the available papabili, they've asked him to stay on for another year."
"Do you think he will?"
She rolled her eyes. 'Do you? They used the D-word on him, Lucas. Have you ever known him refuse?"
Lucas grimaced acknowledgement. "Apparently, Ruth told Khalida a while back that she'd bought a cottage down in Suffolk somewhere. I think she got ideas about the two of them settling down in a little rustic idyll together once she thought he'd be retiring. She won't be happy."
"No." Ros said no more. She had crossed paths with the intelligence analyst on her way out of the building. Ruth, who had obviously been aware of why she was there, had said how sorry she was; her indignation had been quite genuine, and because of it, Ros had managed to respond with grace and a few self-deprecating comments. Ruth had also whispered that she had accepted Harry's proposal of marriage ('I've only told you, Ros, I know it was you who shamed him into it'), and Ros, embarrassed at how touched she had been by being let into the other woman's confidence, had promised to keep the secret.
"And … er …" Lucas was clearly reluctant to frame the question. "They wouldn't still -"
Ros shook her head. "Oh no, they'll tolerate me – as long as Harry's there to keep an eye on me. Rein me in if I show signs of doing a Pinochet. They're probably already tracking the money trail for those leather boots I bought last winter."
She knew when Lucas slipped an arm around her shoulders that bitterness had smothered her usual dry wit.
"And you will – stay, I mean?"
Ros shrugged and flicked her hand towards the inhaler she had left on the table. "It's not up to me, is it? It's not just my background and my politics that are suspect."
Lucas toyed with a few loose strands of her hair. Then he said tentatively: "You see, that's what I meant." He cleared his throat. "When I said we had so much in common. The clinic would have kept me in if you hadn't come and picked me up, Ros." He sighed. "And they're not happy; I've still got to go back to the shrinks … again."
"You'll get it under control," Ros said gently. "It's just time and persistence. And a bit of help. Recognising the triggers and learning how to disarm them. You can do it with bombs, after all."
"Exactly." His gaze was intent now. "Same goes for that." He pointed at the inhaler. "Maybe you won't get your triple A physicals back, but we can make it a lot better. If you really do your swimming and the exercises regularly, like you're supposed to have done."
Ros bristled. "Who says I haven't?"
Lucas's mouth quirked into a knowing smile. "More regularly, then. We could kill two birds with one stone – if I swim with you then maybe I could learn to stop shaking like a rabid dog whenever I get close to water. A bit of help goes both ways."
"Oh great." Ros rolled her eyes. "Pick and Mix the bits that work properly. The bloody Bionic Intelligence Officer. That's a hell of a thing to have in common." Not to mention that both of us have been rank bloody fools in the past. More blots on our copybooks than off a leaking cuttlefish.
"Yeah. That and the fact that Harry Pearce trusts both of us – completely - when nobody else really does," Lucas added quietly.
And neither of us can truly contemplate doing the job without him. Ros went to speak, and then bit the words back. As hurt as she was at being denied the opportunity to follow in Harry's footsteps, part of her was relieved to know that she would be able to rely on his experience, his support and his friendship on the Grid for a little while longer. But she didn't want to admit that to anyone else. Not yet, anyway. One day she might tell Lucas. That and possibly other things … possibly.
"What a pair." Lucas picked up the remote for her stereo system, and Ros, smoothly and decisively, took it from his hand. There was a limit to the number of Lucas's beloved slow, sentimental, thirty-year old ballads that she was prepared to take.
"Hey!" he protested. I've got the Beatles on there! Let It Be, Come Together, All You Need is Love - "
"The Fool on the Hill?" Ros's smirk dissolved as he triumphantly pinned her into something approximating a judo ippon.
"Get out of that one, Myers."
Ros squirmed, tried to kick free, and then unwillingly subsided into a cramped immobility. She wasn't sure whether this constituted a Triumph or a Disaster, and was surprised to find that for the moment at least, she didn't really care enough to make the distinction. For form's sake, she glared at him.
"I concede. For now."
Lucas beamed. "Ura! Pobyeda maya. Victory is mine." He relaxed his grip just enough to allow her to sit up. "Gold medal in the pairs competition, then?"
Ros rolled her eyes. "I think Podgy and Bliss get that."
"Who?" Lucas looked blank – thank God, Ros thought with a shudder. She had almost betrayed Ruth's most precious secret. Some bloody intelligence officer you are, Myers.
"Classified." For now. She allowed herself a private smile."Don't worry about it, Lucas. Can't win them all." She leaned back into his arms and looked up at him. "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two imposters just the same - "
"Then you're one bloody happy MI-5 man." He grinned and kissed her. "You just survived this year's Olympic Games."