As the clock ticked closer to nine o' clock on the wall, the awkwardness of the team's initial reuniting faded away and conversation sprung up between them again. Pulling chairs in from the waiting room, they arranged themselves around Ruth's bed and cooed over the dozing baby a little longer. Every one of them knew that, once their visiting hour was over, they would never be all together again. One late night trip, for the three of them, would go unnoticed by the powers that be. But they would be missed if they went to visit again and, while they were gone, something happened – and there was always one night of the week when something happened and Erin was required for an emergency on the Grid. Ruth and Harry were only here for a few more days, then they would be returning to their home, many miles away. Their home. With their son.
As the time to leave finally arrived, Erin, Dimitri and Calum gathered themselves and gave a slightly tearful goodbye. Hugs for their ex-colleague. Handshakes for their ex-boss. Erin left through the door first, giving her cheek a little wipe against a few errant tears, and Harry caught Dimitri's eye, giving him a meaningful little nod after her. The younger man looked embarrassed, but nodded and followed his new boss out. As they passed through the door together, the rest of the assembled spooks saw him slip a hand around her back and rubbed it gently. Erin leaned into him.
"Thanks for that," Calum told Harry, sarcastically, as they disappeared from sight. "I have to share the car back with them, you know."
"You are very welcome," Harry replied, then looked a little awkward as Calum walked over gave him a half-embrace and a slap on the back. "Good to see you, Calum. Take care of yourself."
"Likewise. Take care of that lady of yours." Hovering in the room for just a moment longer, he met Ruth's eye and the pair of them shared a smile. "All the best to the both of you. You do deserve a new start, you know." He gestured around. "...you deserve all of this." A moment passed then, giving an awkward little nod, Calum left too.
It was just Harry, Ruth and Malcolm left.
"Well, I suppose I should be making moves also," the older man sighed, after the seconds had stretched on. "Don't want to inspire ire in the nursing staff and it would be nice to get back to London before the early hours of tomorrow morning."
Ruth and Harry nodded, the latter moving back to stand by his wife's bedside, one hand dropping down to rest on his son's head. Protective. Not different, as a person, not perfect, but somehow a little bit more whole.
"Are you still staying near Holland Park?" the ex-Section Head asked Malcolm, watching him slightly wistfully.
This was the last sliver of their old life moving away from them again. This was final separation from their friends and colleagues, and part of him wanted to drag it out for as long as possible. Malcolm meant slightly more to both of them than the rest of the team. Malcolm had been there when they started. Malcolm had seen them grow from their uneasy acquaintanceship to the early warmth of friendship, then on from there. He had known them through every painful, beautiful little detail of their journey.
Across from Harry, the ex-technical officer smiled in response to the question.
"Yes," he answered, with a nod. "It's a nice enough place but I was thinking of moving, actually. City life is starting to feel a little rushed, these days – the house a little too big and empty, since my mother passed away. A lot of the people I socialise with, in the area, have left for the country as well. Retirement and all that."
"Indeed." Harry watched him intently, the flickering of something in his eyes. An idea. A revelation.
"I was thinking of selling up and finding a place a little further away from it all," Malcolm continued. "Somewhere with more space and a slower pace, some greenery around, perhaps even a view of the sea. I've always wanted to move nearer the sea."
A moment passed and Harry glanced down at Ruth, communicating in that strange wordless way they seemed to have. They seemed, from where Malcolm was standing, to be asking each other if something was a good idea. He thought he knew what.
"You know," Harry looked back up, a decision clearly (if silently) reached, between them. "If you're looking for quiet coastal property, I can recommend a few towns in Suffolk which might suit.
Malcolm's expression shifted, a tiny smile appearing around his lips.
Suffolk. Ruth had always liked Suffolk. On the slow days, when they had been working through a backlog of paperwork, they had used to talk about where they would live, if they could chose anywhere. They had discussed where the best place would be, somewhere quiet and peaceful but not so very far from the city and its cultural offerings, and the eastern county had been Ruth's conclusion. It made sense that they lived in Suffolk now, Malcolm thought. It was always going to be Ruth's choice where they made their home, after all. She was the one who needed bricks and mortar. Harry just needed Ruth. She had been the only thing he had needed for years.
"It's a little more open than the south," Harry continued, across the way, "and you get more for your money. Good commute time back down to London, too, in case you're still involved in any projects here."
Malcolm nodded, slowly.
"I'll have to have a look and see if I like the area."
"It's lovely," Ruth assured him, stroking her baby son's fingers between her own. Her eyes were reserved, but just a little bit hopeful. She knew that he knew what they were implying. It would not be explicitly said, of course. Neither Harry nor Ruth would want to infringe on Malcolm's plausible deniability, on the subject of their existence. Ruth knew that he understood, though. She had known him for long enough to be able to read the softness in his eyes. "It's only an hour and a half from Cambridge," she told him, thinking of the University buildings where she lectured Ancient Greek poetry, part time, "and two and a bit from London. You would have civilization within your reach, for your cultural inclinations, but also the openness of the countryside up at the coast. It's beautiful," she told him. "And peaceful."
"And there are really wonderful people living in the area," Harry added with a hint of playfulness, making Ruth smile slightly.
Malcolm looked between them.
"Wouldn't it be a bit of a risk?" he asked, eventually.
The three spooks all looked at each other for a moment longer, then Harry gave a shrug. "The Service seems to have lost interest in where I am. All investigations were closed almost two months ago. And I doubt anyone was keeping tabs, just in case I contacted you to impart property advice, besides."
"And what if they are, just in case?"
"I'm sure it would be nothing you were not able to evade."
"You should definitely consider the move," Ruth agreed, nodding slightly.
'As long as he was careful' were the words that hung in the air, after her sentence. As long as he was careful and covered his tracks, he could join them in their sanctuary. He could buy a house up there, near their small quiet town, and maybe just happen to bump into them in the supermarket one day. He accidentally sit down across from Harry, in the library, or chance upon Ruth, singing in the choir she attended in Cambridge. As long as he was careful – and they knew he could be, otherwise they would not have trusted him with this – he was invited to be a part of their secret life. Coming from two very private people, such as Ruth and Harry, it was an incredible honour.
"I will think on it," he told them, softly. It didn't do to make rash decisions, after all. And he would have to hold out on moving for a few months anyway, so that the team did not suspect his actions, coming so soon after they all discovering the pair. But he would think on it. (Even if his choice was as good as already made). He had a few friends in London, he had a few acquaintances. But Ruth and Harry were more than that and the opportunity to not be alone in this world, knowing what he had seen and done, was too great to pass up. "I'll do some house-hunting in the area."
"Good." Harry told him, looking down at his child, nestled in its mother's arms. "What Calum said, earlier, was right, you know. We've all sacrificed enough, for this job. We deserve a little peace."
"A little redemption," said Ruth.
Harry looked up at his wife and they shared another long look which implied, to Malcolm, that there was secret meaning behind her comment. They looked so perfectly attuned to one another, so perfectly natural now that they had let go of the reserve that had held them back for so long. The ex-technical officer gave a soft smile, to himself. Harry and Ruth. Together. Finally.
In Ruth's arms, their son gave a soft, disgruntled noise. She soothed him, flattening a few strands of fair hair against his pink head.
Reminding himself that it was time to go, Malcolm nodded and buttoned his coat tight around him, preparing to head back out into the world. It was a big world but, suddenly, it did not feel quite as lonely as it had done, these past few months since his mother passed away. For the first time in a long time, there was something of a goal on his horizon. A house in Suffolk. Somewhere quiet and peaceful, to read himself into his old age. Somewhere close to two people he considered as good as family.
"Take care," he told them softly, taking one last sweep of the room and its contents. His two closest friends. Their newborn son. "All of you. I'll see you soon."
As the night drew a little further in, Ruth lay the baby down in the glass cot beside the bed and Harry pulled his chair closer. As he rested his head on his folded arms and his folded arms on top of the mattress, she ran her fingers over the back of his weary head, sliding them through his hair. They talked, murmuring soft words to each other. Talk about their old lives, talk about their new lives and the new life that lay slumbering in the cot beside them. Talk of how lucky they were.
They knew they were lucky. They knew that the chances of them ever having reached this point were a million to one. The fact that they were both even alive was the result of thousands of variables slotting into place at the right time; friends in the right places, which had allowed to Harry to survive the chaos of their work for as long as he did; the cold in the air, that day by the old military bunker, which had allowed Ruth to survive clinical death for almost five minutes. By all the rules of their world, they should never have lasted this long. The culmination of these variables and more were highly unlikely. Yet, here they were. He had survived the bullets and the bombs. She had been resuscitated from a state of hypothermic near-death and come around from a severe coma with full brain function. They were incredibly lucky. And the child that lay beside them was even luckier.
It was a miracle, the doctor had explained, in the hours after Ruth had come around from her coma. It was a miracle that the tiny ball of cells growing inside of her had even survived the state of shock she had slipped into, from the pain and loss of blood. They had been lucky that the child – not even a child, at this point, barely even a growing thing – had been too insignificant to be affected. The embryo had not yet implanted into the wall of her womb. It was living off the energy supplied in the egg and, by the time it did implant, she had been stabilised in the hospital after her surgeries. It was really quite remarkable, he had commented, glowing at the pair of them. Had it been conceived one or two days earlier, it would never have survived. They truly had wonderful timing.
Looking back, Ruth thought their luck – their 'wonderful timing' and its resulting happiness – might just be owed to them, for the years of pain and sacrifice.
It was the way she had thought the world worked, when she was young. She had reasoned that the universe was built on balance; negative and positive forces repelling and attracting, dark and light, chaos and order. She had reasoned that society worked a little like a giant set of scales. Sometimes it shifted slightly to the left, sometimes slightly to the right, but it would always even out back to the centre. That was the way things worked in her books, after all. In the end, good triumphed over evil and the characters who deserved it got their redemption.
After several years in the Service, however, she had discounted that theory as not holding true for real life. She had seen all of the pain and suffering, the lives lost in what appeared to be wasteful abandon. She had become cynical and darkened, by it. She had considered her earlier theories on life and the universe as youthful naiveté and dismissed the conclusions drawn by the authors of her books to be simply romanticisms. What she had never really considered then, of course, was that a book had one very major difference to real life. In a book, the entire story was already written.
Life wasn't like that, she understood, now. Life was a process that you could only view from the inside. You couldn't see the story as a whole – what happened in the end, what balances was righted – because the story was not finished, yet. You could only view things from where you were and that could be anywhere, really. The last page of the novel could be five chapters ahead, or just five letters. The story could go on for thirty years, or everything could end in a second, with in the slicing of a shard of glass, through your skin.
The world could still work like she had thought it worked, she realised, in the illuminating days after she had come around from her coma. There could be balance. She had just not been able to see it, for a while, because she was in the middle of a very dark chapter of her story. And now she had passed through it. Now, the scales had tipped back to the centre, again. The universe had given them a second chance – given back each other back and a miracle all of their own – and, for the first time in her life, Ruth was not going to analyse why it had. She was not going to waste a single minute of her second chance trying to figure out why it was granted to her, she decided. She would no longer allow herself to become preoccupied with where her story was going. She just wanted to live it.
They had found a sweet redemption in each other, after all of the pain and terror that they had witnessed. It was a solid place to start from, a good foundation to build any further chapters of their story. And as for what their story was about...? Well, Ruth thought the answer to that one was simpler than she had ever anticipated.
All they had been through together, all the things they had inflicted upon one another – all the acts of jealousy and rage, of regret and misunderstanding, all the selfishness and kindness and sacrifice – had been motivated by love. And that is what all the greatest stories were about, weren't they? All the truest human stories – whether they be about epic battles fought on desert sands, or quiet thoughts inside a single characters mind – came down to one thing. Simple human love.
She loved Harry. Harry loved her. Just occasionally, the way the universe righted itself gave two people a second chance.
Their story was about love.
For now, that was all Ruth needed to know.