Is that a gun in your pocket, or…

By the time they visited Fedorov's hotel for the third time Harry and Ruth had their routine down pat. After a bit of judicious feeling up in sight of the cameras, they let the soundtrack do its work and decamped to the bathroom where they talked quietly. The half an hour that gave them in each other's company quickly became precious beyond words to both of them.

Ruth realised, with a pang of the heart, that those few minutes were probably the first they'd spent together informally since their only date all those years ago. She was surprised at the level of resentment this awoke in her, not at Harry or herself, but at the universe in general. Why should it be the two of them, out of all the people in the world, that had to overcome so many obstacles, such horrible things to have happened to both of them? Remembering what she'd told Harry after his proposal – that they'd forfeited the chance for a normal life – she wondered at her reasoning. For someone who was not religious, nor believed in karma or fate or any of those things, it seemed a strange view to hold. What had she meant by that statement? That neither of them deserved a normal life, ever? Or perhaps just that they did not deserve it with each other? In the end, it probably came down to the simple fact that she was afraid of what she'd become; numb and dead inside, and that she did not deserve it. And yet, she was able to feel so much in this moment, sitting there watching him as he told an amusing anecdote about Scarlet and her cats.

Her focus shifted to Harry. If she herself did not fully understand what she'd meant, how confused must he be by the developments of the last few months? He was perched on the rim of the bath, elbows resting on his knees and hands clasped loosely together. His tie was loosened and dangled down, swaying slightly every time he gestured with his hands. Her eyes traced over him, taking in everything from his face to the brightly polished shoes. Just a man, in the end. Made of flesh and bone like everyone else, and with a heart and feelings. A man who, despite being notoriously emotionally reticent, had overcome that reticence on a few occasions to make overtures towards her. She hadn't thought about it before now, but it must have cost a lot for someone who'd become so efficient at locking his feelings away. And even when she'd rejected those overtures, he remained steadfast and yet not pushy in his love. How strange it was, she mused, that both of them seemed better able to make grand gestures to demonstrate their devotion to each other, but couldn't figure out the little details. Perhaps this operation was giving them the opportunity to do that. Perhaps this time, the timing would be right.

As they left the room later, Fedorov approached them.
"Harold, Ruth. Did you enjoy your evening?"
"Very much so," Harry said with the smile of a satisfied man, his eyes lingering on Ruth. He looked ready to drag her straight back into the room for another round.
"Will the room be available over the weekend?" he asked, shifting his attention to the Russian.
Fedorov regarded them thoughtfully, then seemed to make a decision.
"Actually, I wanted to invite you both to France this weekend. I have a house in Provence and a private jet standing ready."
He looked between the two of them.
"What do you say? Do you want to join me and my mistress for a, I think you call it 'dirty weekend'?"

Harry felt suddenly apprehensive, but before he could think of a reason they couldn't go, Ruth grabbed his arm excitedly.
"Oh, that sounds wonderful, doesn't it Harold?"
"Well, yes. But how will you explain to your husband-"
She interrupted him, waving an impatient hand in the air. "Don't worry about that. I'm due for a visit to my sister's."
When Harry still looked dubious, she caressed a hand down his chest, and then lower whilst giving him a brazen look. "Oh come on, Harry darling, I want to have this to myself for a whole weekend."
Harry swallowed hard, before nodding at Fedorov and saying in a strangled voice, "All right, we'll come Friday evening and stay till Sunday afternoon."
Fedorov clapped his hands together. "Good, good. I'll send you the details of where the plane will be."

They got into the elevator and Harry shifted uncomfortably. He folded his hands in front of him carefully. Ruth noticed, and mindful of the camera, said with a smile, "What's wrong?"
"Er," he faltered, then pulled her to him so that she blocked his body from the camera. He leaned in until he could whisper in her ear.
"Sorry. They might wonder why you, er, barely touching me after the session we supposedly had, would have such an effect."
There was no way to hide his embarrassment, and fearing he might have embarrassed her as well, he kissed her cheek fleetingly.
"I'm sorry, Ruth."
Her heart melted. She was strangely touched that he was being such a gentleman about this, especially after everything they'd pretended to do with each other over the last week.
"It's fine, Harry, really." Her hand reached up to cup his cheek. "It's natural. Now I know not to touch you like that too often," she added with a smile.
He smiled back wanly, hoping she couldn't see his disappointment at the thought she wouldn't be repeating her actions anytime soon.

- 0 -

Next day

They were gathered in the meeting room, and Harry had just finished his report on their operation. He concluded, "I think Fedorov will use this weekend to make his sting."
Alec looked worried. "The problem is we won't be able to provide you with back-up in France. You'll be on your own."
"At least there will be two of us," Ruth commented.
When she looked around the table, she was met by a ring of dubious expressions.
"What?"
"Geez, Evershed," Dimitri responded, "you don't exactly have the best record in the field."
Harry could see that she felt somewhat insulted by Dimitri's comment, but secretly agreed with him. Still, he stepped in gallantly.
"I'm quite happy to have Ruth as my back-up," he said before smiling at her.
"I bet," Alec mumbled as everyone else struggled to keep their faces straight.
It took Harry a moment to work out how his statement might be interpreted, but once he did, he rolled his eyes.
"Shall we get on?" he said in as stern a tone as he could muster.

Beth was the first to recover.
"We'll need the company credit card."
Harry eyed her warily. "What for?"
"We need to get Ruth a few outfits. If she's going on a dirty weekend, she needs to look good."
Harry frowned. "But she always looks lovely," he said, genuinely puzzled.
Ruth glowed at the compliment, and knew that she probably would have kissed him right then if the others had not been there.
Beth also smiled at her boss' total unawareness of how he'd unintentionally said a most wonderful thing.
"Of course she does, but she'll definitely need some naughty underwear." Beth stopped herself just in time before asking Harry whether he knew if Ruth owned such things.

Harry's ears began to turn red at the thought of Ruth in naughty underwear.
"Right then," he mumbled before getting up to leave.
Beth couldn't resist. "You could probably also do with a make-over, Harry. I'm not sure your usual stuffed shirt look is the best way to go-"
He swung round, affronted. "Stuffed shirt?!"
"-and you could also do with some naughty underwear," she continued, unperturbed. "There are some quite raunchy silk things on the market for men these days-"
"I'M NOT BLOODY WEARING RAUNCHY UNDERWEAR!" Harry shouted very loudly.
Beth clamped her mouth shut and he saw her eyes widen as she looked over his shoulder.
"Hello, Harry," a familiar, rather amused voice said behind him.
Harry closed his eyes. "Home Secretary," he responded wearily before turning around and ushering the smirking politician to his office.

Much later, as Harry was showing Towers out, the two women returned laden with shopping bags. He eyed the bags apprehensively.
"Bloody hell, I didn't say you could max out the card."
"Don't worry. We got you a little something too," Beth teased.
Harry lifted an annoyed eyebrow and she prudently decided that it was time to get back to work. His face softened as he turned to Ruth.
"A word in my office please?"
She nodded, and dumped the bags on her desk before following him into his sanctuary. He closed the door behind her before settling behind his desk.

He was silent so long that she began to fidget, looking around for something to occupy her restless fingers with. Harry noticed, and sighed.
"About the weekend, Ruth. I don't think it's a good idea."
She looked at him, and the way he avoided making eye contact unsettled her. Did he not want to spend time with her? Had she misread the signals?
"Okay. Any particular reason?" she asked neutrally.
He sighed again. "I'm not sure you've thought through the implications properly," he offered tentatively.
Ruth tilted her head at him in a wordless query.
Harry cast around for the most diplomatic way to voice his concerns.
"We don't know what surveillance equipment Fedorov has at this house."
"I know, but Tariq has a gadget that we can use to pinpoint the bugs, so we'll know once we get there."
She couldn't understand why Harry was so uncomfortable with this conversation, or where he was going with it.
He, in turn, had hoped that she would catch on without him having to get too explicit, but fortune was not with him that day, apparently. So he spelt it out.
"We are going to have to share a room. And a bed. All weekend. Not just for a couple of hours of pretend sex. If there is a camera in that room, we'll have to- Well. You know what."

She stared at him, shocked into silence. He was right, she hadn't thought this through properly. Harry could see what she was thinking, could read the hint of panic in her eyes.
"It's all right," he assured, "I'll think of something. We can say you fell ill, but I felt I needed a break so will go anyway, or something."
"No!" She surprised them both with her adamant response. "No," she repeated in a calmer tone. "You can't go by yourself, Harry. It's too dangerous. It'll be fine. I mean, if we have to- you know, then we have to."
Harry was not convinced. "You're sure?"
"Yes. We're grown-ups. We both understand that this job sometimes demand unusual things, right?"
"I guess so." He sounded sad. "But I don't want- I mean I hoped that we-" He trailed off. "Never mind," he muttered and looked away.

But she could read him like a book in that moment. He still hoped that they would get together, and he didn't want their first intimacy to be for the benefit of an operation.
"We can always fake the sex for the camera as well," she suggested. "It can't see under the sheet, can it?"
Harry smiled. "No, it can't."
He was not sure at all that he would be able to fake sex with Ruth without losing control, but what choice did he have? She was still watching him, so he nodded towards her desk.
"Successful shopping trip, I take it?" he unsubtly changed the subject.
Ruth took the comment as a sign that he was worried about the amount of money she might have spent and hastened to assure him.
"It's just a few items. It wasn't that much money at all."
His lips twitched in amusement. "It's okay, Ruth," then added in a slightly lower register, "I look forward to seeing you in them."
He was flirting with her, and she was enjoying it a lot more than she probably should.
"Good," she responded softly. At the door she turned. "By the way, Beth doesn't know, but I actually did get you something. I look forward to seeing you wearing it as well."
She laughed as his smile faltered, and she left a rather worried man behind.

That evening, as she tried on her new purchases, she felt the excitement build inside her. Suddenly she was really looking forward to the weekend, and was aware that it could prove to be a watershed event for her relationship with Harry. She fervently hoped that this time the universe would not conspire against them. Just this once. Surely that wasn't too much to ask?

tbc