He had come across to ask how she was. He'd encouraged her to leave her desk and join Zaf in the field today. She was getting good at that. He wanted to see her trust that ability, even if it meant days ending like this one, and a man getting shot within inches of her. He'd been watching – he was always watching – and seen the look on her face. Thames House and its big sister across the river were full of agents who could walk away without turning a hair. (Outwardly, he reminded himself, outwardly.) Ruth's honest reactions were a reminder of what he fought to keep hold of. Now he couldn't even manage: 'How are you?' or "I trust you're none the worse for today's activities?"
There was a long pause as Ruth made notes. Eventually, she looked up and removed the earpiece, turning away from her computer screen. "I'm afraid the Syrian Ambassador may have just landed the starring role in an incriminating tape. It couldn't happen to a nicer person, could it?"
"Ruth," said Harry wearily and then smiled a little. "How poetic."
She wrinkled her nose. "Poetic? I'm not sure I'd go that far. Blank verse at the most."
"I was trying to ask how you were," he said. "You should have been home hours ago."
She knocked over her desk tidy, a series of pens cascading onto the floor of the Grid, under her desk. She disappeared in search of them, literally ducking the question.
He'd seen her face when Adam's timely shot hit home; he was sure she couldn't be all right.
"I'm alive," she said, remerging with a handful of pens. "So is Zaf – and Adam's aim is outstanding. I don't think there's anything else to say, is there?"
He took the pens from her and cleared his throat. There ought to be, but he couldn't think what. Ruth always managed to leave him unsure of himself in a way he could hardly remember for at least twenty years. Then he looked down and frowned. "Ruth, this pen is mine. I thought I'd lost it."
"Is it?" she said, and flashed a surprsing grin at him. "Sorry - I'm a bit of a magpie when it comes to stationery."
He clipped it onto his jacket pocket. "Anything else you've stolen?"
"No," she said, and it sounded like a lie to his ears. He raised his eyebrows. She never failed to surprise him somehow.
He gave her a stern look. "Ruth. Home. Now. That's an order. I do expect you back at a reasonable hour in the morning."
She smiled again. "Hadn't you better set me a good example?"
"Ruth," he said and contemplated offering to see her home, but yet again he was struck by the uncharacteristic uncertainty.
She turned, her face poker straight and an anxious look in those eyes that seemed to shift colour with the changing light. "Harry. It's late. Perhaps I should see you home?"
"Go," he said, every inch the man who was in charge of MI5's Section D.
After she had, he paused there on the empty grid and sagged a little, merely the man who wished he had had the nerve to say yes.