08 March, late night
There is only static on the comms. Ruth sinks down next to Catherine on the sofa, never taking her eyes off the audio equipment, willing it to come to life. Catherine has her hand pressed over her mouth. Her other reaches out and grabs Ruth's.
"Is Dad- Is he-?" She can't say it.
Ruth can't get any words out. After everything that's happened to them she does not for one second doubt that fate is cruel enough to rip him away from her, just as they've found the courage to be together. Tears start to gather at the corners of her eyes. Dimly she is aware of Tariq's frantic voice imploring Harry to answer.
- 0 -
A few moments earlier
When Harry looks over his shoulder, the dark shape of the Russian vessel looms over him. It is bearing down at great speed, pushing a large bow wave in front of it. Letting instinct take over, Harry guns the engine of the small craft and glances down at Dimitri's emergency signal. He'll have to cut right in front of the oncoming ship to reach him. Realising that every second could be crucial to his officer in the water, he yanks the sleek boat over in that direction. It catches the bow wave and ramps into the air, engines screaming.
"Oh Christ," he mutters as he passes in front of the larger ship within touching distance, his adrenaline sky-rocketing. It is way too close for comfort.
At the same moment, the Coast Guard fires a flare into the dark sky, which erupts with an ear-splitting bang.
Harry's vessel hits the water with a bone-jarring thud, throwing him off his feet momentarily. He lies on his back, stunned, until Tariq's panicked voice in his ear brings him back to the present. He scrambles to his feet and finally manages to gasp, "Base, Alpha One, I'm fine. I've lost Alpha Two and the target."
Back at the hotel, Catherine starts to cry in relief and clutches Ruth's hand even harder. Ruth closes her eyes gratefully, but only for a few seconds, before her concern shifts to her younger colleague.
Harry frantically scans the waters around him in the bright light of the flare. He spots two shapes drifting close together a few yards off. Worryingly neither of them is moving.
"I've got them. I need help!" He doesn't waste time with codes any longer. The closest Coast Guard vessel diverts to him, reaching the two shapes at the same time Harry does. Scrambling to the side, Harry grabs Dimitri by his diving vest and with a strength borne out of desperation heaves him over the side in one go. As quickly as possible he gets his young officer in the right position and starts to resuscitate.
"Come on, Dimitri. Come on, son." He pumps his chest before breathing into his mouth again.
"Not another one. I won't lose another one…"
Ruth swallows hard at the anguish in Harry's voice. Catherine looks at her, her face ashen. "Is it always like this?"
When Ruth doesn't say anything, Catherine shakes her head and says in a strangled voice, "I don't know how you people can do this day after day, year after year and stay sane."
Suddenly, miraculously, Dimitri starts to splutter and Harry turns him on his side, allowing him to cough the water from his lungs. He sits back, breathing deeply and continuing to pat Dimitri weakly on his back.
"You're okay, you're okay," he says soothingly. Looking over to the Coast Guard vessel, he sees Gelashvili sitting up as well.
Dimitri finally stops retching and sits up groggily.
"Thanks Harry," he croaks eventually. After gulping some more sweet oxygen into his tortured lungs, he looks over at his boss. "Guess I'm the first of your officers to be kissed by you," he jokes weakly.
"Not quite," Harry mutters. There is a moment of stunned silence that makes him realise what he's said, and he looks at Dimitri, startled.
"Ah, of course, our lovely analyst got there before me," the younger man grins.
Harry glares but his heart isn't really in it. A smile creeps around his mouth as he grumbles good-naturedly, "Shall we crack on?"
Catherine turns to Ruth with a smile. "I thought so. How long has it been going on?"
Ruth is saved from answering by Harry informing her to start phase two.
- 0 -
They have all gathered on the Russian ship, its lights now turned on. The crewmembers regard the two men with their blackened faces with distrust and possibly even hatred. Harry ignores them.
"Do you speak English?" He asks the question in Russian, looking at Andrei.
The Georgian eyes Harry speculatively. "Yes."
Harry nods at Dimitri and moves into the background.
"We know you have been hired by Jean-Paul McCintosh to sabotage one of his competitor's oil rigs," the field officer says. "We also know you stole this ship from the Russians whilst it was on its way to be decommissioned and scuppered."
He regards Andrei critically. "We don't appreciate people coming here to kill our citizens and pollute our waters to finance their wars."
The Georgian snorts. "Spare me the speeches, soldier boy. You lot would have done the same if it were your country under constant threat from a bigger, more brutal neighbour."
There is silence.
"And worse." Everyone looks at Harry in surprise. He steps forward to face Andrei. "We have done worse. I have a proposition for you."
- 0 -
Beth's phone vibrates and she glances at the message.
She makes her way to the front of the room and whispers in the Home Secretary's ear.
He looks at the business people gathered in front of him. "Ah, would you excuse me for a moment – something's come up."
As he strides with Beth through the corridors, he asks curtly, "Is it done?"
She opens the door to the Ops Centre for him. "I believe so," she says sweetly.
He seems surprised to find only Ruth and Tariq in attendance. "Where's Harry?"
Ruth steps forward. "We have him on video link, Home Secretary. Please step this way." She points him to a monitor on which Harry's blackened face can be seen.
Towers boggles for a moment. "Harry?! What the hell do you have on your face? And where are you?"
"I'm on the Russian vessel we've just captured. There's someone I'd like you to meet."
The camera moves to another man. "This is Andrei Gelashvili, also just captured by us." Andrei gives a little wave before the camera turns back to Harry.
Towers is apoplectic. Turning a worrying shade of red, he yells at the monitor, "I explicitly ordered you not to capture this man! You're fired! You're bloody fired!"
Harry smiles grimly. "Ruth, if you would."
From behind Towers, his own voice can suddenly be heard, agreeing to help McCintosh secure the concessions. He swings around and stares at the video footage of their meeting. Where moments ago his face was flushed with rage, it has now turned white. He seems to sway on his feet, sweat beginning to form at his hairline. Slowly he turns back to Harry.
"You put surveillance on me? On the Home Secretary?"
"No," Harry lies smoothly. "The surveillance that captured your meeting was on McCintosh." That much is true at least. The spook regards the other man for a few seconds, before saying more softly, "Perhaps you should sit down. You seem a little pale."
Beth rolls another chair over and Harry waits until Towers sits down before saying, "I have a suggestion as to how we can solve this dilemma to the satisfaction of most sides."
Towers sits silently, obviously still in shock.
"I know that you want to protect McCintosh. I'm willing not to have him prosecuted, but I don't think he should get away scot-free. So here's what I suggest. Mr Gelashvili has agreed never to mention McCintosh during his debriefing, on the condition that the ten million McCintosh offered him is still paid over to Georgia. He will also willingly give us all the information he has on the Russian military. A very generous gesture, don't you think?"
When Towers still doesn't respond, Harry says more firmly, "I want you, Home Secretary, to go and tell McCintosh that there's been an accident on one of BP's oil rigs here in the North Sea, and that this means his company will definitely get the concessions. Then Andrei will contact McCintosh, telling him the attack on the oil rig was successful, and insist that he transfer the funds immediately. We, in turn, have promised to let the crew go back to Georgia, and to be courteous in our questioning of Mr Gelashvili. Oh, we also get to keep the ship."
Towers looks at Harry bitterly. "You have it all figured out, don't you?"
Harry shrugs. "If you agree to this, no-one need ever know about that ill-advised meeting between you and McCintosh."
William Towers climbs slowly to his feet. Once he has pulled himself fully erect, he nods at Harry. "You're a cunning bastard, Harry. Well played."
Without looking at the others, he leaves the room. Beth follows him out to ensure that he keeps his side of the bargain.
Half an hour later
Ruth and Tariq are the only ones in the Ops Centre when Tariq's computer beeps. "There it goes." He grins at Ruth. "McCintosh just transferred the money."
She nods, satisfied. "Okay, I'm going to check on Catherine. Let Alphas know, will you?"
Tariq gets on the comms. "Alpha One, the money has been transferred. You can come home now."
Twenty minutes later Beth wanders into the Ops Centre, a large grin plastered on her face. Tariq looks at her curiously. "Why do you look like the cat that got the cream?"
"Towers just laid into McCintosh. When he told him that he'd been played and that he can forget about ever again getting any concessions from the British government, McCintosh went ballistic."
Tariq turns back to his monitor. "He should be in jail, not running around having the chance to enrich himself even more."
Beth shrugs. "This is Robert Westhouse all over again. The country can't afford a scandal in these economic times. But I get the feeling McCintosh is finished – Towers will make sure of that. He doesn't appreciate being made to look like a fool."
She looks over Tariq's shoulder. "Is that the footage we got from Catherine?"
"Yep. I'm collating everything."
Suddenly Beth frowns. "Go back a little."
Tariq does, and Beth points to the periphery of the image. "There. McCintosh's assistant is looking right at the camera. He's seen Catherine filming them."
Without explaining further, she sprints out the door.
Tariq turns and yells after her. "Beth wait!"
But she is long gone.
Ruth and Catherine sit on the sofa, talking over the events of the evening. The two women have come to like and respect each other during the last few days, and Ruth feels comfortable to tell her most of what happened, knowing Catherine will honour her promise to keep it to herself. Their discussion is interrupted by a loud banging on the door. Ruth holds up a hand and is about to move towards the door when it is suddenly kicked open and McCintosh storms in, a wild look in his eyes.
"Hey! What the hell do you think you're doing?" Ruth demands. Despite her strong words, she is backing off slightly and placing herself between the seething businessman and Harry's daughter.
McCintosh points an accusing finger at Catherine. "You filmed me! This whole fiasco is your fault! Who did you give it to?!"
Catherine opens her mouth, but Ruth gives her a warning look and a slight shake of the head. Turning back to McCintosh, she spreads her hands in a calming gesture. "What are you talking about? We're here to make a documentary on the plight of the North Sea sand eels."
Wavering slightly, McCintosh looks between the two women. "My assistant saw you – when you were doing the interview with the Energy Secretary. In the conservatory."
Ruth looks confused. "But… The footage only contains Catherine's interview. We didn't even know you were there." She turns to her companion. "Show him."
Catherine stares at Ruth in confusion, but everything about the analyst is saying, trust me. So she does. She finds the recording and inserts it.
McCintosh roughly shoves Ruth out of the way and watches the footage. His presence in the background can only be glimpsed as a slight blur in one corner for a few seconds. If one didn't know that he'd been there, it would be impossible to identify him. The businessman says nothing more, merely turns on his heel and strides out.
Ruth follows him. "You're paying for the damage to the door!"
As she calls after him, Beth rounds the corner at a brisk pace. She slows down as McCintosh storms past her before looking at Ruth.
"Is everything all right?"
"Fine," Ruth smiles, but she looks shaken.
Beth inspects the door and looks at Ruth again. "How did you get him out of here?"
"I gave him proof that Catherine knows nothing about his nefarious plan."
Both other women look at her with perplexed expressions.
Sitting down, Ruth explains, "I had Tariq doctor Catherine's footage."
- 0 -
It is nearly midnight when Harry and Dimitri get back to the hotel. They have handed Andrei off to Naval Intelligence and left the Coast Guard to deal with the crew and the Russian ship. What Harry wants to do more than anything, is rush to see his daughter and Ruth. But there is something else he knows he must do first. After collecting the bottle of Scotch from his room, he knocks on the Home Secretary's door. Towers yanks open the door and stares at Harry in open animosity.
"What do you want?"
Harry sighs. "To clear the air." He holds up the Scotch.
After long seconds the Home Secretary pushes the door open wider.
When they're both settled with a drink, Towers says, "I wasn't going to keep the money he offered me."
"I know," Harry says, watching him over the rim of the glass. "But that argument won't hold much weight if things became public."
Towers laughs shortly, downs his drink and reaches for the bottle again. "It was one moment of weakness, Harry." There is a note of shame in his voice.
"Many a career has been ended by those," Harry replies, not without empathy, refilling his own glass.
"Well," Towers says, looking at the spook, "I don't see how we can work together after this."
Harry mulls this over, staring at the Scotch. When he looks up again Towers is surprised to see a smile on his face.
"I think you're wrong," Harry says. "Knowing each other's weaknesses can only strengthen our understanding. You're a good man, William, and I still have a healthy modicum of respect for you. If you feel the same, well."
There is a long silence as Towers ponders this. He knows there is no-one better than Harry to have as his Head of Counter Terrorism, but can he really trust him not to hold his moment of weakness over his head each time he's not getting his way?
As though reading his mind, Harry says, "You've been using the Albany events to force me into things I didn't want to do, and it's normal that you would expect me to do the same over this incident. But I think we work together best when neither of us is holding the other over a barrel. So I give you my word that this will never be mentioned again, if you'll do me the same courtesy."
Studying Harry, Towers sees nothing but sincerity in his expression. Nodding slowly, he says, "A clean slate." He stands up and holds out his hand. "I give you my word."
Harry does the same and they shake on it.
"Thank you, Harry," Towers says gratefully.
"And you, Home Secretary." With a lighter heart, Harry goes to see his daughter.
He has scarcely finished knocking when the door is opened and Catherine flings herself into his arms. She is babbling; calling him 'Daddy', telling him that he'd scared the crap out of her, and that she is very, very proud of him.
Harry is too overwhelmed to do anything other than hold her tight against him, and letting the tensions of the day slowly trickle away.
- 0 -
Though it is long after midnight, they are soaking in the bath. Together. Ruth is behind him, her arms wrapped around him and Harry can't stop running his hands over her smooth skin. It is pure bliss, and the warm water and copious amounts of bath oil Ruth poured in is doing wonders for his aches and pains.
Intertwining his hand with hers, he says, "Catherine is quite taken with you. She couldn't stop singing your praises."
"The feeling is mutual. You have a wonderful daughter, Harry." She presses a kiss to his temple, before continuing, "You did good today." Unable to resist, she adds teasingly, "Dimitri says you're a great kisser."
"Did he now," Harry says, amused, then asks cheekily, "And do you concur?"
"Hmm. I think I need a refresher course before I can answer that."
Harry obliges, twisting round as best he can and pouring all the love he feels for her into the kiss.
When they pull apart she wraps her arms around him and buries her face in the back of his neck. He can feel her take deep breaths.
"Hey," he says, concerned, "what's wrong?"
"Catherine and I thought you were dead for a few seconds."
"Ruth…" He tries to turn around again but she prevents him from doing so by clutching him tightly against her.
Her next words are delivered into his shoulder. "And if someone offered me the chance to buy your life at the expense of a state secret that doesn't work, in those few seconds, I would have taken it without a second thought."
Harry is stunned. Needing to see her face, he turns his head and leans sideways, trying to determine whether this is a good or a bad thing in Ruth's eyes. She watches him unwaveringly, lovingly.
"I shouldn't have said that it was wrong of you to love me after you'd saved me. I was… trying so hard to desensitise myself to everything back then that I'd lost perspective. I'm sorry if I hurt you by saying that."
His heart thudding wildly in his chest, he asks the question he's been afraid to until now. "You've never told me, Ruth. Do you think we can make this work?"
She gives him a brilliant smile. "God, I hope so. I want us to. More than anything. I think I'm addicted to you already." With that she pulls him in for another long kiss.
"Dimitri is wrong," she declares when they break apart, before tracing his lips with her fingers. "You're a fantastic kisser."
"Let me show you what else I'm rather good at," he promises before pulling her out of the bath and taking her to bed.
As they lie spooned together afterwards, his thoughts drift back to his conversation with Towers about men and their weaknesses. He knows in that moment that Ruth will forever be his greatest weakness, the one thing he will not be able to give up or sacrifice. But she is also his greatest strength, the one that keeps him going when all else seems lost, and he promises her silently, in that night, to never give up. On her, on them, on fighting the good fight.
Lying with her like this suddenly reminds him of their night in the bird hide.
"You know," he murmurs, "I think puffins are my favourite birds now."
She laughs softly and pulls his arm tighter around her.
"Mine too, Harry. Mine too."
They fall asleep, both finally at peace.