Harry felt something cool touch his face. There it was again. He inhaled sharply and forced his eyes open. For a moment he looked about in panic, but then recognised his surroundings. He was lying on the floor of his sitting room. His throat was raw, his head pounding. His dog was trying to get his attention so that he'd let her out. Her nose prodded his face, her paws thumped lightly on his chest. It would have tickled if he hadn't felt so ill.
Harry struggled to his feet, grabbing the couch for support. The grey light of dawn was just starting to seep around the curtains. He stretched his aching body, then headed towards the kitchen and opened the door. He was greeted by a blast of cold morning air. He breathed it down his dry throat, and an icy vitality filled his lungs. He began to feel a bit better. Yes, he realised, he was finally awake. It was over. Relief rushed through him. He didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so he ran outside with his dog instead. He picked up a ball and threw it for her to fetch, watching in amusement as she raced around the garden. Beads of water dripped onto his face from the naked branches overhead. The scattering of wet snow that had fallen overnight soaked his slippers and made his feet cold. But he didn't care. He felt alive again, for the first time in a long time.
He'd made up his mind. He went to the sitting room to retrieve his phone – still no messages. He felt a twinge of guilt as he realised his team had spent the night on the Grid, awaiting his instructions. He picked up the decanter, placed it on the side table, and firmly put in the lid. No more of this, he thought. He hurried upstairs to get ready for work.
As he shaved, Harry paused for a moment to look in the mirror. A vision of another, darker reflection returned to him. Yes, the dreams. They'd been so vivid, like nothing he'd ever before experienced. He couldn't remember each and every detail, but felt as though perhaps he didn't want to. There had been good things in them, though, that he knew. Ros had been there, and Jo, and Catherine. And Ruth, of course, Ruth was always there, always in the background of everything he did. He shook himself from his thoughts, finished shaving, and quickly went to change into his fresh clothing.
Several weary faces turned to look at Harry as he strode through the pods and onto the Grid. "Meeting room – now," he barked, gesturing with his head in the direction of the room. He kept walking. Dmitri and Erin shot a "What now?" look at each other before turning to follow their boss. Calum stretched and yawned, then eased himself out of his chair and lumbered after them, two of the new officers following in his wake.
Harry stood waiting at the end of the table as they entered the room. They looked so tired, he thought, like they were completely spent. He felt as though he were looking at their faces for the first time; as though he hadn't before seen them as the human individuals they were. He began to speak. "I've got an important announcement." He paused. He could tell they were waiting to hear of some new attack or threat. Instead he said, "You've got the next two days off. Go home to your families. I'll red flash you if there's any problem. So, Happy Christmas and get on with it." He gestured with his hands as if brushing them out of the room. It seemed to take them a few moments to register what he'd actually said. He heard a few "Happy Christmas, Harrys" as they began to file out, smiles on their faces. Erin was the last to leave. She looked concerned as she spoke to him. "Harry, I don't mean to pry, but … if you don't have any plans you're welcome to come over for dinner…"
For an instant Harry felt like grumbling, "And why would you think that I have no plans?" But he didn't. Instead he said, in as warm a voice as he could manage, "Thanks, Erin – perhaps another time. I've plenty to keep me occupied today. Now go, enjoy your time with your daughter." Erin gave him a smile and a tiny wave of thanks as she turned and left the room.
Harry looked around the empty meeting space. How many times had he been at this table, giving instructions to his officers, listening to their reports, losing himself in the beautiful tones of Ruth's voice as she explained such complicated things so easily. Everything had made such sense when she was in his life. Everything seemed to have so much more meaning. Now he was like this room, empty yet full of so many echoes from the past. He wondered if the emptiness in his heart would ever leave him. Yet today the edges of the hurt seemed a little less jagged. He found that he could think of her now, think of the good she'd brought into his life, think of her in ways he hadn't been able to since she'd gone.
Reassembling his boss façade, Harry walked out of the room and back to his office. He sat at his desk and absent-mindedly watched his team gather their things and shuffle off the Grid. He was going to be busy today – busy planning his escape. He would treat it like another of his ops; his last and best. He knew it would take time. He just hoped that he had enough left. He glanced towards the place where Ruth's desk used to be. He wondered briefly, perhaps irrationally, if he would ever see her again. Even if it were just in a dream, just to tell her how much he loved her.
He reached for his phone. He was going to do this for her, if not for himself. He dialled Catherine's number. He held his breath for one, two, three rings, and then she answered, "Dad – thank God." Harry exhaled, and smiled a little.
The End. Thanks so much for reading and for the kind reviews.