Harry's and Ruth's house, East Sussex coast. 5 months later - Friday August 17th 2012 - 7.19 pm:
Ruth was checking that the guest bedroom was ready while Harry made salads …... or more correctly, Harry chopped up all the salady-type vegetables he could find in the refrigerator. It would be up to Ruth to create salads from the raw materials.
Harry's daughter and her boyfriend had spent the weekend with them a fortnight earlier, and so Catherine and Mark had been the guinea pigs for Ruth and Harry to entertain in preparation for this weekend.
"You're certain they'll be sharing a bed, aren't you?" Ruth asked her partner as she joined him in the kitchen, nervously looking around for something to keep her hands occupied. "It could be embarrassing for us all if they're just friends, or business partners."
"I'm assuming they are at the sleeping-together stage, Ruth, although I haven't asked the question directly, on account of it being one of those questions a man of my vintage does not comfortably ask a man of similar age. However, back at around the time the Olympics story broke, I may have suggested he get himself a woman so that he could visit us."
"I hope you didn't say it like that. He might have misunderstood you, Harry, believing that having a woman in his life is a necessary criteria for him visiting us. What if he has chosen the first woman who has said yes to him?"
"Darling, all men at some time in their lives choose the first woman who says yes. It all depends upon the question."
"But I didn't say yes to you for years."
"I know, and that is why I chased you for all those years, hoping that you'd one day say yes."
Harry placed the sharp knife on the bench, and reached out for Ruth, pulling her against him, and then kissing her slowly and with meaning. She responded by sliding her arms around his neck and running her fingers through the curls which sat just above his collar. "You say all the right things," she said when she pulled away to look him in the eyes. "I was always going to say yes. I just didn't know when ….. this year, next year, next decade ….."
What followed was a major snog in the kitchen, hands moving over backs and buttocks, and murmurs of appreciation providing the soundtrack to their kisses. They pulled away, and gently placed their foreheads together.
"If you're unsure about it, Ruth, then maybe you can make up the sofa bed in my office …. just in case."
"I have …. just in case. I just don't want to embarrass them."
"I think that we will be more embarrassed than they, no matter what their chosen sleeping arrangements turn out to be. I don't know about you, Ruth, but the very mention of the possibility of Malcolm having sexual intercourse with a woman is something which makes me cringe, and at the very same time, stifle a laugh."
"Harry! You're meant to be his friend."
"I am his friend. I'm sure he's similarly embarrassed by the idea of us rolling around under the sheets, doing unspeakable things to one another."
Ruth was about to move in for another kiss when she stopped, and turned her head towards the front door. "What was that?" she said. "I thought I heard a car door."
Harry looked at the clock on the cooker. "Seven-thirty- two. They're two minutes late. Malcolm'll be annoyed."
Ruth playfully hit him on the arm. "Harry – behave yourself. They're our friends and our guests, and we love them."
"I was just commenting on Malcolm's foibles. I didn't say I didn't love him."
The sound of the doorbell brought their speculating to a halt, as together they moved to the front door to greet their guests.
Later …... 9.17 pm:
"That was a lovely meal, Ruth," Malcolm said, after having eaten the last spoonful of his tiramisu.
"You cooked this meal?" Jude said, herself not being a cook of any description.
"Harry helped, of course. I can't take credit for it all."
"A domesticated man, as well as a spy. You're a lucky woman, Ruth."
"I know I am. I believe Malcolm is also quite domesticated."
"He is, of course, but he doesn't want to show off his skills in the kitchen for fear of making me feel bad. We mostly eat out, which lessens performance pressure. In the kitchen, that is," Jude's final comment was delivered with a cheeky smile, with one of her eyebrows raised, and was intended to create unease in others. Harry and Ruth exchanged a quick look, but Malcolm appeared to not have heard.
After the meal was finished, they retired to the sitting room with coffee and whiskey. Harry poured generous measures of whiskey for himself, and Malcolm and Jude, while Ruth settled for coffee.
"The Olympics went off without a hitch," Malcolm commented, as he sat back against the cushions on the sofa. Jude sat some distance from him, at the other end of the sofa, while Harry and Ruth each sat in comfortable chairs. Normally of an evening, they would curl up together against the cushions at one end of the sofa, their arms around one another.
"Thanks to you, Malcolm," Harry said. "Do you have any idea when the enquiry will be held?"
"There's talk of it beginning in September, but I can't see that happening. There are rumblings about the Murdoch press, and there is likely to be an enquiry into that first. An enquiry into government practices, as important as it is, can take months of preparation, and much of it will be behind closed doors. Firstly, a Select Committee has to be chosen, and that alone can take upwards of three months."
"Are you two likely to be involved?" Ruth asked Jude and Malcolm.
"Through a barrister in the first instance," Jude replied. "My operations manager, Kelvin, has had to defend his practices on more than one occasion, and he has a really good barrister waiting in the wings to represent Malcolm and me."
"But won't you have to speak on your own behalf?" Harry asked.
"Not necessarily. It depends on who it is chairing the select committee." Malcolm took another sip of his whiskey. "We have all the details on record, including conversations between the Home Secretary and the PM. Don't ask how we managed that. It's a secret," he added, smiling at Harry and Ruth.
"What about Calum? Will he have to testify?"
"No," Jude chipped in. "He only accompanied me to the initial interviews with two of the journalists. His input was essential, but we can deliver the information without having him involved."
"I suppose you notice that the interim government is treading very carefully," Malcolm said. "They don't want to be implicated in any kind of scandal."
"How hard can it be for them to keep their noses clean between now and the election?" Ruth said.
"You'd be surprised, Ruth," Malcolm replied. "All it takes is a rumour, and …... well, mud sticks."
Ruth put down her cup, and thought for a while, her eyes on the pattern of the floor rug. "But what you had on them – the PM, members of Cabinet, the Home Secretary, the members of the JIC – it was real, wasn't it? You didn't just make it up."
"It was real alright," Malcolm replied. "Just ask Harry. They were about to hang him out to dry."
"But ….." continued Ruth, "what if it was all a ploy? What if it was a ruse to set up Harry?"
"What if it was?" Jude said. "It could well have been, but we found evidence that it was real, and that there was a plan to interrupt the Olympics opening ceremony."
"Yes, but …... I'm not questioning the plan," Ruth said. "I can see that this could have been part of a bigger plan …... a plan to kick Harry out in disgrace, and to disband Section D, so that in the future they could contract out all counter-terrorism tasks to private security companies. That would give the government of the day far more control over how counter-terrorism is conducted ….. from covert to overt." Harry opened his mouth as if to interrupt, but Ruth put her hand out in a `stop' gesture. "No, Harry, what if they had planned a terrorist attack, but they were planning to give you the wrong information? What if the attack went ahead, and there was loss of life? What if the Home Office then claimed that they had given you the information but you acted incorrectly, or foolishly? I'm not saying that was the intended plan, but it's possible …... don't you think?"
Malcolm coughed politely, while Jude let out a whistle. "Your lady is a dangerous woman, Harry. A mind that devious could get her on the wrong side of those in power. We need you with us, Ruth."
"Malcolm, me and Harry. We need your mind. It's scary. A bit like Malcolm's brain, if I may say so."
"Harry? You're working for them? With them?"
"Only in an advisory capacity at this stage. When I talk to Malcolm on the phone, it's usually work."
Harry looked at her, trying to reassure her with his eyes. This was not how he'd planned to tell her about his involvement with the secret arm of Trinder Services.
"But …..." Ruth continued, "who pays you? You have to make a living, surely. Who employs you to rat on those in power? That's what you're doing, isn't it?"
"I wouldn't call it `ratting on' exactly," Harry said slowly, hoping – but knowing such hope is futile – that he can distract Ruth.
"Then what would you call it? Who pays for you to do that?"
"All manner of people," Jude replied, her voice steady and calm. "We've been doing quite a lot of work for MI5, seeing how understaffed they are."
"Erin is contracting out MI5's work? But isn't that what the previous government were trying to achieve?"
"The previous government would have given their security contracts to the lowest bidder, and preferably a company over whom they had more than a healthy amount of control, rather than the best for the job. Harry, Jude, myself, and you if you want to provide some part-time analysis, are the best in the business. Even if I do say so myself, they don't come any better than us. MI5 would do well to hire us."
Harry's and Ruth's bedroom …. later … 11.32 pm:
"I'm sorry you had to find out that way, Ruth. I was planning to tell you."
"It's not so much your not telling me. I was bound to find out eventually. It's just that it appears the three of you have been discussing my usefulness before even running it by me. I would like to have been involved in that discussion, Harry."
Harry slid under the duvet and rested his elbow on the pillow so that he could look directly at Ruth, who was sitting up, her back propped against her pillow. "It was only a week ago that Jude first mentioned that your skills would come in handy. I thought I'd wait until she and Malcolm visited so that they could ask you. I'm sorry if that offends you."
"It doesn't offend me so much as surprise me. Not only is the man I love still involved in security, but he's in business with the same people who blew the whistle on the government, and he's thinking of involving me."
"It's very covert work, Ruth. The only person who ever shows their face is Jude. I can tell you that she's a force to be reckoned with. The ditsy act is just that …. an act. When it matters, she's extremely direct, and sharp, and quick to react. And she's always been bright. She just hides it rather well. Malcolm has the technical wizardry, and I have the contacts and years of experience. Were you to join us as needed, we would be a complete security unit. You're the best analyst I've ever worked with."
Ruth reached out with her hand, and cupped Harry's face before she leaned across to kiss him. "Flattery works on me every time. You know that."
"So, you're not angry about it?"
"I'm not angry at all, Harry. Just surprised that this whole thing has been going on for so long without me knowing. You once told me I was a born spook. Some spook I've been. My husband has been spooking around behind my back and -"
"Say that again, Ruth."
"What? That you've been playing spies behind my back?"
"No, not that. What did you call me?"
"Harry. That's your name, so that's what I called you."
"No, you called me something else. You called me your husband."
"I did not!"
"I'm afraid you did, Ruth."
"Why would I call you that?"
"We-ell …... you did choose the name Ruth Pearce for your new identity."
"Oh, that?" Ruth looked a little uncomfortable. "I just thought it might be …... easier to remember."
"For me, of course. After all, Harry, when I was about to be sent to Cheltenham to work, the last time I'd been truly happy was when we were living together …... as husband and wife."
Harry smiled at her, and touched her lips with his fingers. "I love you, Ruth Pearce, and we must do something about our legal status."
"If that was a proposal, then it would have to be the least romantic one ever made in the history of the world."
"Not a proposal, Ruth, but a warning of the imminence of the real proposal."
"Good. Every woman needs warning that she's about to be proposed to."
"You did call me your husband, though, Ruth."
"Did I? I must have been thinking ahead."
"I hope so."
Harry reached close to her, about to kiss her, but Ruth pulled away from him at the last moment.
"In all this pre-proposal excitement, I forgot to ask you …... where are Malcolm and Jude sleeping?"
Harry chuckled, running his finger from Ruth's lips down her throat and to the hollow in her neck.
"Enough of the attempts to distract me, Harry. It won't work on me tonight. Where are they sleeping?"
"In the spare room. Together."
"Really? Do you think they'll ….. do it while they're here?"
"Why don't we turn off the light, settle down in bed, and listen?"
"You can't be serious."
"No ….. I'm not. How would we face them both in the morning if we'd overheard them bonking?"
"Somehow, I can't imagine Malcolm bonking."
Harry turned to his bedside table and turned out the lamp. He settled down in the bed, and drew Ruth close to him, so that her head rested on his chest, and his chin rested on the top of her head. "What word would you prefer, then?"
Ruth smiled as she listened to Harry's voice rumbling in his chest, creating a pleasant vibration in her jaw.
"I don't think Malcolm would bonk. Nor would he shag. God forbid he would ever screw. I think he'd know a woman intimately."
"That's sweet, Ruth. Of course, it begs the question …... what is it we do? Have you thought about that?"
"I'm thinking about it now." Ruth tapped her fingers on Harry's chest. "We definitely shag. We never just screw, but occasionally we fuck, which is quite nice in its own way."
"It is," he agreed.
"But mostly," Ruth continued, placing her lips on his bare chest, "mostly we make love."
Harry replied with a kiss against Ruth's ear. He was reminded of the times when he awoke in the early morning, aroused and erect from dreaming of her. It was always Ruth in his dreams, never the vague female forms which had inhabited his dreams when he'd been younger, and permanently horny. He'd been having these dreams about Ruth ever since he'd sent her to the safe house. Since they'd been together again after she'd `died', the dreams had occurred less often, but with increased intensity and fervour.
It is definitely Ruth in his dreams. He can feel her skin, the roundness of her breasts, the softness of her belly, and when her dream self looks up at him, it is her blue eyes he sees. He'll woo her with his hands and his mouth, and she will just have opened herself to him, smiling at him with love in her eyes, when he'll wake, fully aroused and hard, gasping at the unfairness of it all.
In those first hazy moments after waking, all he ever wants is to turn to Ruth sleeping beside him in bed, and bury himself inside her. No doubt a psychologist would tell him (were he ever to be so foolish as to share these dreams with anyone other than Ruth) that he has a deep unconscious urge to return to the womb from whence he emerged; that his drive to be deeply inside Ruth represents his desire to escape from the trials of his life, and to once more return to being a foetus, fully dependent on its mother for everything.
Harry knows that's a load of bollocks. His view of his dreams has always been that his desire for her overwhelms him, in sleep as well as when he's awake, and he also has a lot of catching up to do.
When he realises he is awake, he has to make love to her, and apart from one time when she'd been all achey and choked up with the flu, and another when they'd had a massive disagreement the night before, she'd always willingly opened herself to him. He'll turn to Ruth and touch her and kiss her awake, laying his body over hers so that his erection throbs against her thigh, to let her know he is ready for her. Over time she has learned to recognise his post-dream state, and her response is immediate. She knows that at these times the love-making will be especially sensitive and intense, so she opens herself to him, wrapping her legs around his waist, and sighing as he enters her, slowly and carefully, despite his urge to push himself into her as quickly as he can, to bury himself as deeply as he is able to reach. She knows he has been dreaming about her, and she has come to terms with that. As she sees it, at least, he's not dreaming of some other woman, some unattainable image of feminine perfection. When she'd mentioned that to him, his reply had been simple, and so very Harry. "But Ruth, you are my image of feminine perfection." In that moment, she'd hoped she could continue to live up to his image of her.
These early morning, limb-entangled, groggy-from-sleep sessions of love-making have become something they both look forward to, although it can never be planned or prescribed. It is the spontaneity, the warmth of the other body, the soft, pliable lips, the fumbling fingers, the mumbled words which speak only the truth, rather than some carefully prepared line from popular culture. It is the naked love on the face of the other which is seen only rarely outside these moments. It is the slow and smooth stirring from arousal to pre-climax. It is the smile on Harry's face as he gazes into her eyes, and the open adoration on Ruth's as she gazes back. It is in these moments in the early morning dark that they become wedded in a way which no formal ceremony, or pair of matching gold rings could ever deliver.
There is a pattern to how these sessions play out. There are no fancy moves or positions; it is just Ruth on her back with him laying between her legs. Foreplay is minimal, as their memories of other similar times induce immediate arousal. Once he feels her body beginning to move with him, and low moans from deep in her throat, he'll increase the speed and depth of his thrusts. They almost always climb together, and then burst together. Then they cling together, and still joined, they lie beside one another and sleep until they're woken by the daylight as it seeps through the bedroom curtains.
There have been times, as he has been waking her to make love to her in these moments in early morning, when he has wondered if it is selfish of him to wake her so that he can finish himself off inside her. He'd once shared those thoughts with her, and she'd been so upset by the suggestion that he'd never again mentioned it.
"Maybe I'm with you in your dream, Harry," she'd said, "and while you wake easily, I need your help to wake up. From our dream, we wake together and finish our love-making. What could be more romantic, more perfect than that?"
What indeed? He sometimes thinks he hasn't a romantic bone in his body. What he had feared was needy and selfish, Ruth had viewed as spontaneous and romantic. It was all a matter of perspective. He felt so very blessed to have her in his life.
When Ruth said, "mostly we make love," he knew she was thinking of their early morning, post-Harry's-erotic-dream loving. Only three weeks ago, she'd said to him, "Harry, if you ever stop having those dreams, can you pretend to still have them? I'd miss them if they stopped." And so would he.
They had each relaxed in one another's arms, waiting for sleep to take them, when Harry felt her body tense.
"I heard something. Harry ….. did you hear that? I'm sure I heard a bed squeaking."
"Sshhh …... they might hear you... and the bed in the spare room doesn't squeak. We already tried it out, remember? What you heard was the heating turning off."
"We haven't needed the heating for the past six weeks."
"This is an old house, Ruth. The wood creaks when it cools down. That must be what you're hearing."
"No, it was a rhythmic sound. Listen …..."
"I can't hear a thing, Ruth."
"That's because your ears are older than mine. I heard something. I'm sure of it."
"Do you really want to hear them?"
"Not especially, but I really want to know the true nature of their relationship. I haven't noticed them holding hands, or doing any of the things we do."
"Then ask Jude tomorrow. She'll no doubt answer you truthfully, and perhaps even supply accompanying diagrams."
"No, Ruth. I was joking."
"You know, Harry, there are times when you can be such an arse."
He chuckled quietly into the dark, grasping Ruth tighter. "I love you too, Ruth."
"Goodnight, my love."
A/N: Thanks for reading and reviewing. I enjoyed writing this story so much that I've written a sequel – a one-shot which follows on directly from this. It's called, "Are They?" It will be up soon.