A/N – My deepest thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed this little piece. It's been a pleasure to see people getting enjoyment out of something I've enjoyed writing so much, myself. I can only apologise for the length of time between this and the last post. Long explanation cut short, real life intervened. One last note; those who are looking for an alternative, happier ending (post 10.6) should go on to read 'Sweet Redemption', which serves as the epilogue I had originally intended for this fic. Both posts could, technically, slot in around the canon story, but 'sweet redemption' is definitely for the more hopeful amongst us. Enjoy. -Silver.
Set during season 10, episode 6
The real world was not like the world in her books. There was no sudden revelation in the final moments. There was no summing up of everything that had happened between Ruth and the man who cradled her gently to him. Moments trickled away without thoughts. Thoughts whirred by without any time seeming to pass at all. The side of his hand brushed, shaking, against her face and she gasped for breath, shaking, below him. Just touch my face, she thought silently, as he hovered centimetres away from her skin. Just touch me. Never mind the blood.
Her blood. Her blood.
It was her blood.
It hurt a lot less than she thought it would. It was not really sore at all really; just an ache where the glass had slid inside of her, just rushing in her ears, like that dizzying feeling before a faint overtook her. She had fainted before, in stress, in illness, in injury. This would be the same, she thought, feeling her skin cool as blood rushed inwards. Back to her abdomen and chest. Back to her heart and away from her extremities. She was losing feeling in her toes. Her legs felt too cold and weak to move. Empty, somehow, as if they had been drained of all blood and life.
Above her, Ruth saw Harry talking to the others. No, not talking. Shouting, calling for someone to hurry up. Watching him – because everything further away had begun to fade, with her failing eyesight, and what else would she want to watch anyway but Harry – she could see the desperation in his eyes. She wanted to whisper to him not to worry. She wanted to draw him close and comfort him like she had done the other night. It was going to be all right, after all. It was just a collapsed lung. She had seen it happen to field agents before. All she had to do was not panic. All she had to do was keep calm and let Harry keep pressure on the wound to stem the bleeding. The faintness was just lack of oxygen.
Except her side was very wet. Very wet. And she was very cold. And, deep down, she knew this was more than just a punctured lung...
The fear refused to take hold, however, as Harry turned his eyes back towards her. Harry was here. It couldn't be all bad. Ruth tried a smile, tried to make him look a little less terrified. It's going to be okay, she tried to tell him with her eyes, because her breaths felt far too short to force out words. She was going to be okay – they were going to be okay – they always were, weren't they? They were Ruth and Harry and they always survived, at the end of all the horror. Just wait, my love, she whispered in her mind. This too will pass. And, however it did, at least she had got to see him again, one last time.
That was what she had prayed to herself, that morning that he had left her bed to hand himself over to his enemies. She had prayed to see him again. She could remember closing her eyes and kissing him and praying those words. Perhaps she should have wished for more, she thought, now, as her breaths began to quicken and shallow. Perhaps she should have asked for a miracle.
Harry leant in again, closer to her. Ruth's hand, half-raised at her side, fell against the side of him. His jacket was thick, but she could feel the warmth underneath and the thought brought back so many memories. Glancing brushes as they handed over files, his fingers just touching against hers. Tentative half-touches as they sat next to each other on park benches, or in briefings. The electric heat of proximity as they stood nearby, on the Grid, or on the rooftop. So many places but always together. Always together. They spent so much of the last few years of their lives together. There were so many moments and so many places that she would never look at again without thinking of them. So many memories.
She dizzily tried to reach up to him, but only managed to close her fingers against the side of his jacket.
He gave a distraught little glance down at her hand, then leant closer.
He was searching for something else to talk to her about, Ruth could tell. As the rapid beating of her heart seemed to falter suddenly, rapidly decelerating in her chest, she looked up and tried to show him with her eyes that they had already shared everything that was important to hear. She had told him about her life, the plan of a life she had made for them. She had explained why it was she had left and why the secrets and things she had considered a problem, in the past, were no longer relevant to them now. As she had lain in his arms, wondering why time was jumping so quickly between slow and fast, she had told him about her house. Between her steadily more painful breaths, she told him about the green door and the bedrooms – and how she had only ever wanted a house and a life like that if he was in it.
There were many more things she would have liked to say, too. She would have liked to tell him that she was so proud of him, for what he had done for her and the Service and the country. She would have liked to tell him not to be scared of the turmoil and the doubt that roiled inside of him, because it meant he was still human inside, it meant he still cared. She would have wanted to tell him that he was the single most brilliant man she knew, and that when he kissed her she felt like something whole again, and that if she had to choose between dying here in his arms and living somewhere else, that she would chose here every single time. She would have wanted to tell him – one more time – that she loved him and that none of the else mattered. But she did not need to say any of it out loud.
Harry knew, she told herself, as the rushing in her head became almost unbearable and the aching in her abdomen began to fade. Harry knew how she felt and he knew why she had done what she had done. He would blame himself for it later. He would be angry at her, for having stepped into the line of fire, but he would eventually forgive her because he knew why she had done it. They were Ruth and Harry. They had vowed to protect and defend. They had each other's backs. It is what they had been doing for years. There had not been even a shadow of a doubt in her mind, as she had stepped in front of that knife. It had all been gloriously clear, thought Ruth, as a strange ringing started in her ears. They were Ruth and Harry. They defended and protected what they loved. And they loved each other.
She was not sorry for what she had done. Even though the strange fading sensation in her limbs told her that this situation might not end as well as she thought it was going to.
A little flicker of fear rose up within her but Harry's eyes caught hers again and it refused to catch.
Harry was here. Whatever happened was going to be okay. Harry was here and holding her side, her fingers interlaced with his, interlaced with blood. His other hand on her cheek, against her head, stroking through her hair with all the tenderness he had lavished on her the other night in her quiet bedroom.
The wind whipped around them.
It was so cold, but Ruth could not feel it so well anymore.
"Harry," she said his name, softly, suddenly realising that there was actually one thing she wanted to tell him, one thing he might not already know. In just the last second, it had come to her, upon a strange wave of resignation and gentle calm. "We weren't meant to have those things," she forced out, between breaths that were coming faster even though her heart was suddenly slowing in her chest – even though the pulse which had been pounding in her ears had begun to slow to a gentle rush.
We weren't meant to have those things.
People like them were meant to die alone at the end of it all. They were meant to be swept off and disappeared, in some dark shadowy corner of the world – like she had thought Harry's fate would be when she allowed him to walk away from her, into the arms of the Americans, yesterday morning on the Southbank.
...But that wasn't her fate. She wasn't to die alone, in a cell of some foreign intelligence agency, or at the hands of a gunman, or even alone in a cottage at the end of her life – alone by default, by being the last one standing. She was dying in the arms of the man she loved, with the few people in the world who really knew her gathered nearby. She was dying, she knew that deep down, but she was not alone. Harry was here and the team were here. And she would rather be dying here, with them, than anywhere else in the world.
Harry looked up, begging the others for help.
They had none to give.
Ruth inhaled sharply, trying to say his name again, trying to draw his attention back down. She wasn't done. She wasn't finished saying what she wanted, but suddenly time was against her. Her heart was so slow; barely there, in her chest and her neck, where it had throbbed so viciously just moments ago. Her breaths, which should have been such a natural movement – something she had been doing since the day she was born – suddenly seemed to take all the effort in the world. She was so incredibly, incredibly tired. She just wanted to pull Harry down beside her and feel his skin against hers. And just sleep. Just rest. All of it was over. Harry was going to leave the service, with her. He loved her and no one else. The operation was over, the Russian agent was blown, and he was going to come home with her. To their life.
Their life. Their home. Hers and Harry's.
She just wanted to sleep.
Her eyes fluttered half closed. Her heart gave a strange sensation, as if things were surging backwards rather than forwards. Everything suddenly felt calm and incredibly close. As Harry's fingers trailed down the side of her face, across her temple, she could feel every ridge of his fingerpad. The strands of hair which he brushed against her face were infinitely detailed in texture – their shape oval in cross section rather than round and slightly rough from the cold wind. She could smell the earthy smell of the ground, the sweeter one of grass and the metallic sting of her own blood amidst it all.
Harry was the only source of heat. Around her, the world was windy and wild and cool on her cheeks. Her own body was cooling. Her own body was rapidly shrinking inwards until everything, including her vision, started to blur. It did not panic her, however. What was out there, beyond the blur of a foot or so away, didn't seem so important. Her lids fluttered open and closed.
Harry was there.
Harry had her.
We were not meant to have those things...
"We are lucky," she whispered, feeling her lips move, though she wasn't sure any sound ever left them. "Love you," she tried, and only the faintest shadow of the words formed on her lips this time. It was okay, though, she told herself. Harry knew.
Her eyes slipped closed. Her skin was tingling, heart suddenly motionless inside of her chest and everything around her seemed incredibly still. So incredibly still. For just a few seconds, she felt it all – felt everything – around her. She felt Harry's fingertips, his whispered words, his head, all of the touches they had shared in the past, the present and the future. She felt it all and then it began to tip back away from her, vanishing like smoke into air. Everything was falling back, falling in, but it did not feel how she was expecting it to fee. She did not feel like being torn away from anything. There was no trepidation. A little fear, yes, but it was countered by relief.
As she let herself fall asleep, it felt like sinking into Harry's arms – like that beautiful moment when she had finally relented to it all and let him hold her. Whatever happened, he was here now. Letting out a slow breath, Ruth let herself relax, her fingers falling free of Harry's side. Her body was still and there was nothing left in the world but the feel of Harry's cheek against hers. He was here, now. Whatever happened, he was safe and they were together. That was all that mattered.
She loved him. So much.
Around them, the wind carried on, regardless.