Siberia, unknown remote location
Four men are seated around a rudimentary wooden table. One man, clad in rough workman clothing, is smoking a foul smelling Russian cigarette. He squints at the others through the blue smoke, then casually flicks the ash from it, not caring where it falls. Some of it drifts onto the sleeve of the man sitting directly opposite. The man swipes it off his expensive looking coat with an irritated gesture before addressing the two men across from him in broken Russian.
"Do we have a deal?"
The smoking man regards him impassively for a few moments longer, before smiling suddenly. When he answers, his well-educated voice belies his blue collar appearance.
"We have a deal."
- 0 -
BBC news broadcast
"In yet another indication of the improved relations between the UK and Russia, the Defence Secretary today attended the decommissioning ceremony of obsolete Russian naval craft. These Cold War era ships and submarines are to be dismantled and taken apart over the next few months. The Defence Secretary hailed the occasion as a testament of Russia's commitment to new alliances and a desire never to return to the misunderstandings of the past between the two countries."
- 0 -
When Harry enters the doors of Thames House for the first time in two months, he is uncharacteristically nervous. He can't help but wonder what sort of reception he will get on the Grid. During his suspension he was not allowed to have any contact with his team, and for once in his life he adhered to this order. He felt he owed them that much. Everyone needed time to sort through their feelings about what happened, and to decide where their futures lie. He himself had to decide whether he really wants to stay on in the job, while the members of his team had to decide whether they still want to work with him. Whether they still trust him to lead them. Pausing for a moment outside the Grid, he takes a deep breath, schools his expression carefully and enters.
They're clearly expecting him. They were informed of the outcome of the Inquiry two days ago – that there were sufficient extenuating circumstances not to take further action against Harry – and were also informed that he will return to his post today. An awkward silence descends as Harry pauses just inside the doors. He looks at what remains of his team; Ruth, Dimitri, Beth and Tariq, and is overcome with regret over what they've been through. When none of them move or speak, he takes the initiative.
"Well. It's good to see you all. Shall we take this to the meeting room? There are a few things we need to discuss."
They settle around the table. Harry looks at each of them – trying, and not quite succeeding, not to linger on Ruth. They all watch him expectantly as he searches for the right words.
"I know that the last few months have been appalling. None of us sign up here to hunt one of our own. But unfortunately, we are not always in control of what we are asked to do in the defence of the realm."
Four pairs of eyes regard him steadily.
"And in this case, you also had to cope with me trying to spread my bets in an effort to save both the lives and the state secrets at stake."
He's about to come to the crux of his little speech and everyone around the table can sense it. There is an almost tangible increase in the tension in the air.
"I want you all to know that I have the greatest respect for the way you conducted yourselves throughout the whole ordeal. And…" He meets each person's eyes resolutely.
"I also realise that you may not feel the same about my conduct. That is understandable, and I will not hold it against you. If any of you feel that you can no longer accept my authority, I will do everything in my power to secure you another position of your choice in the Security Services. Speak now if that is what you want."
It is possible to hear a pin drop in the ensuing silence. Nobody looks at each other; instead five intent stares are directed at the table top. Ruth, sitting to Harry's right, glances at his hands and notices that they are clasped so tightly together that his flesh has turned white in places. She feels a surge of sympathy so strong that it shocks her. After long seconds of heavy silence Dimitri is the first to lift his head and glance around the table. He clears his throat and everyone's attention focus on him. He senses consternation from Beth and Tariq, and something akin to hostility from Ruth.
"Harry," he pauses dramatically, drawing out the tension.
After a moment of stunned silence, Beth starts to laugh and Tariq soon joins in. Even Ruth has a small smile on her face. Harry looks a little bewildered, wondering what the hell just happened. Beth finally turns to him.
"It's good to have you back, Harry. Really good." She looks at the others who nod in agreement.
"We just want to put it all behind us, and get on with the job. Is that all right with you?"
Harry is momentarily overcome. He smiles in an effort to hide it, and nods.
"That's all right with me."
Ruth steps in to save him from having to say anything else.
"Right, these are the things on our radar at the moment. Two possible terror threats. And we think not all the decommissioned Russian naval vessels reached their intended destination."
All through her briefing, she has a sparkle in her eyes.
When Harry dismisses them some time later, Ruth remains in her seat. Harry does the same. For the first time since he's stepped back onto the Grid they look at each other – really look at each other. Ruth is happy to see that the time away seems to have done Harry good; he looks more relaxed than she can remember seeing him since her return from Cyprus, and his hair is once again cut much shorter. She is glad of the changes.
"It really is good to have you back, Harry."
"It's good to be back," he replies sincerely, as his gaze continues to roam her face. She still has the same shadows behind her eyes he remembers from before his suspension. This saddens him and he can't help but wonder whether his return may actually be to her detriment. He decides now is as good a time as any to have The Conversation.
"I've been thinking, Ruth. I would very much like it if we can start over."
When she raises her eyebrows, he hurries to explain.
"I don't mean we should just ignore all that happened. I know it's not that simple. What I mean is… I realise I didn't handle things well after Ros' funeral. Between us – after you said what you said. So what I want is for us to draw a line underneath it all; to start over as colleagues first and foremost, and take things from there."
He looks at her helplessly, aware that he is not expressing himself well at all.
"Do you understand?"
Ruth ponders for a moment.
"You want us to rebuild the basis of professional trust between us first, and then perhaps we can once again be friends someday. Is that what you mean?"
"Yes." He sounds relieved, then adds an afterthought. "Or something more."
She frowns in confusion. "Something more?"
He nods. "Something more than friends – something else. If you want it, some day." The implication is clear. He will always love her, but it is up to her to take them further; he won't push the issue.
Before she can respond, he gets up.
"I have to start the search for a new Section Chief. I wanted Alec to take on that role but the DG refused to sign, so…"
"Okay. I'll get back to work then."
She feels an inexplicable sense of loss as she walks back to her desk.
And with that, life on the Grid settles back into its usual routine.
- 0 -
Encrypted message intercepted by GCHQ
goods obtained stop refurbishment in progress stop estimated completion two weeks stop
Since no link is found to any existing operations, the intercept is graded low priority and filed without further action. However, the Section Head, in a rare moment of farsightedness, orders that the frequency on which the message was intercepted should be monitored continuously for a month.
- 0 -
One week later
Home Secretary's Office
"Ah, Harry." Towers beckons him to a chair as soon as he enters the office.
"Something new has come up that needs your attention." The Home Secretary shifts some folders around on his desk before identifying the one he wants.
"There will be an environmental conference held on the Shetland Islands in two weeks' time. It will be attended by government representatives, environmental groups and Big Business. I'll be chairing. The coalition has somewhat stalled on environmental matters, so the conference is an attempt to ensure all role-players that we are still deeply committed to giving it the attention it needs." He looks up at Harry.
"I want your team at the venue to coordinate security."
Harry stares at him in horror.
"You want me and my team to spend a week cheek-to-jowl with a bunch of pot-smoking hippies, some rich fat-cats, and you? In the remotest corner of the UK?"
Towers ignores the note of incredulity in Harry's voice.
"It won't be all bad – I'm told the hotel has a wonderful spa." He beams at the thought. Harry barely stops himself from rolling his eyes.
"This will be a monumental waste of our time. Unless there is a specific security threat against the conference there is no need for Section D to be there. Special Branch is more than capable of providing your security needs for this operation. Now if there is nothing else-"
"You're bloody going!" Towers interrupts brusquely.
"I expended a lot of political currency to keep you in your job; see it as a way to show your gratitude." He smiles smugly at the man across the desk.
So this is the cost – this is how it's going to be from now on, Harry thinks disconsolately. Noting his annoyance, Towers pipes up again, "Think of it as a chance for some team-building. I'm sure you need it after the Lucas North affair."
This time Harry doesn't bother to hide his eye rolling.
"Home Secretary," he grumbles as he gets up, buttons his jacket and strides out.
Back at the office he calls everyone into the meeting room. His irritation shines through as he briefs them on the latest development.
"Unfortunately we are short-staffed still, so it'll be all hands to the pumps I'm afraid. I'm going to designate one officer each to the politicians, tree-huggers and money-grubbers."
Beth and Dimitri talk over each other in their haste to beg not to be given the task of watching the environmentalists.
Beth says, "I hate nature, please don't make me spend my time with-", while Dimitri says, "I once had a run-in with Greenpeace when I was still at SBS, please don't give me-"
Harry holds up a hand.
"Since we'll be marooned on a remote island I'll need Dimitri to coordinate boat patrols. He won't have time for anything else, so that leaves Beth, Ruth, and myself." He shifts some papers in front of him.
"So Ruth will take the hippies."
"What? Why?" Ruth asks, sounding affronted. Harry looks at her.
"You have a cat. Beth, I need you-"
"I have a cat?"
All around the table he is met by bemused expressions.
"Well, it's an indication that you're positively disposed to God's little creatures," Harry explains patiently, rather pleased with his deductive reasoning.
Bemusement turns to incredulity.
"That is the most absurd-" Ruth splutters.
Harry interrupts sharply.
"This is not a bloody democracy! Ruth will take the environmentalists, Beth the business people, Tariq will man the control centre, Dimitri will coordinate boat patrols and I'll take the politicians. And that's an end to it!" He gets up and storms off to his office.
Ruth gives him a few minutes to cool down before she knocks on the door. Harry looks up at her, a small frown forming between his eyes before silently motioning her to a chair.
"About earlier," she begins.
Harry sighs. "I'm sorry I yelled. But I can't have people questioning my orders, Ruth. All of you either accept my authority, or find other jobs." He looks at her. "And I need the most senior officer I have left to set the example, or there is no hope." It is a rebuke, but a gentle one.
Ruth looks down at her hands. "You're right. I'm sorry. It won't happen again," she assures him earnestly. He nods his thanks.
When she reaches the door he asks something else that has been bothering him about her response to his order.
"You don't like other animals then?" He seems almost more disturbed about this than about the dissent. Deep down he wonders whether he will have to revise his vision of the future in which they are one big happy family; the two of them, Scarlet and the cat.
Turning to him, Ruth is puzzled by the look of disappointment on Harry's face. It makes her pause. She can't help but wonder why it's so important to him.
"No, I do like other animals."
"Good. That's good." He seems really happy about that, and Ruth returns to her desk, baffled by the weird exchange.
- 0 -
Two days later
They are gathered in the briefing room, going through the list of attendees to the environmental conference. Ruth has just finished with the environmentalists and now Beth takes up the briefing.
"The Business delegation will be led by this man: Jean-Paul McCintosh. Oil tycoon, philanthropist and apparent all-round latter day saint." His photo appears on the screen as Tariq scurries in late.
Ruth stares at it in horror. "Oh God. I can't go."
All heads turn to her, and Harry frowns. "If this is still about the cat comment-"
"No, of course not," Ruth hastens to explain. "I know this man. From university. I mean, er, he knows that I am Ruth Evershed, so I can't go to the conference with a cover identity."
"Maybe he won't remember you. You went to university many years ago." Tariq trails off when Beth frowns at him disapprovingly.
"Er, not that you're old, or anything," he mumbles before lapsing into silence.
The analyst shakes her head. "Oh, he'll remember me."
Beth and Dimitri regard her with renewed interest. She knows what they're thinking. Harry, on the other hand, looks a tad apprehensive and she wonders what he may be thinking.
Dimitri leans back in his chair and smirks at Ruth. "Come on, Evershed, we'll need some details."
But Harry decides that he would rather not know the details and intervenes. "This does create a problem."
Eager to atone for his earlier comment Tariq offers a possible solution. "Ruth can always go as herself. We just had a late request for inclusion in the environmental delegation – that's why I was late. It seems there's a documentary being made about one of the issues the conference will discuss, and the maker has requested to attend. We can ask them to include Ruth as a research assistant." He looks around the table and is relieved to see that this contribution is met more favourably than his previous one.
Harry nods approvingly. "Do we have details of the documentary maker?"
"Yep." As soon as Tariq calls up the information on the screen Ruth's head whips around to Harry. He in turn looks at the photo glumly.
"Oh shag," he says, rather more matter-of-factly than the situation deserves, in Ruth's opinion.
The other team members look uncomprehendingly between them.
"What?" Beth asks finally.
Harry doesn't take his eyes off the screen, where the face and details of the documentary maker, Catherine Townsend, shows larger than life. With a long-suffering air he offers, "Catherine is my daughter."