The end of the walkway just seemed to be getting further away. Dimitri focussed on it for a moment, but was distracted by the arrival of another person in the room. Although she tried to be quiet, he could still see Erin out of the corner of his eye. She stood by the window, looking like she had all the time in the world, which he knew wasn't true. She also appeared not to be looking at him, but he knew she was.
He took a deep breath, not wanting to let her see him collapse, and managed another step. And another. And another, until he fell, sweating, into his wheelchair.
"How are the legs?" she asked, as if they just ached after a sprint or a marathon.
"Still there." More or less. He knew that with the proximity to the bomb he'd been trying to defuse he'd been lucky to be alive. But losing his legs from the knees down made that hard to remember. Walking on prosthetics, especially after so much time spent lying in a hospital bed, was harder than walking ever should be.
However, it was not something he was going to admit to Erin. She was the one who had sent him in there. She was the one who had ordered him to get out when it didn't look like he'd be able to defuse the bomb in time. He was the one who'd disobeyed, sure he could manage it. Although she never said it, he knew she blamed herself for what had happened to him. So he did his best to act like it was nothing, so she wouldn't feel guilty.
"Let's go for a walk." She picked his coat up from back of the chair in the corner of the room and passed it to him. "You're looking pale, it'll do you good to get outside for a bit."
He pulled his coat on without protest. He was all for getting out of his building.
Although they were only one floor up he still needed to use the lift. At least Erin had never tried to push his wheelchair.
Once outside he folded up the collar of his coat against the drizzle blowing into the back of his neck. The path to the picnic benches was smooth and flat, which made the journey easier. In this weather they were the only ones out here. Erin sat and he wheeled up next to her.
"Harry's sending me undercover," she said, staring out over the lake.
It gave him the opportunity to study her. "Dangerous?"
She hesitated for a moment, while the ducks quacked, before nodding. "I won't be able to come over for a while."
As much as he wanted to know, he didn't ask how long for. While his status was uncertain, he didn't have the same clearance he still did. What Section D got up to was no longer any of his business. "Rosie?" She was the one part of it he could ask about.
"At a sleepover."
He nodded, understanding that she wasn't going to say more about where her daughter was. If anyone was listening to their conversations they'd have got bored weeks ago, but in their line of work they never could be too careful.
"I expect you to walk down here when I'm back." She gave him a stern look, but her eyes told him she felt differently.
He smiled. "Yes, ma'am."
It was cold outside, Dimitri's ears feeling chilled in the wind. But the sun was warm and walking made Dimitri sweat more than it should, even if it was less than it used to. The grounds were a more interesting place to practise walking, so he stayed. However, by the time he reached the picnic table he was breathless.
The crutches were hard to manage, but he propped them up against the table. As soon as he let go, one crutch started to fall. When he caught it, he heard the bench creak and felt it move beneath him.
He looked round, surprised to see Harry sitting beside him. Dimitri hadn't heard him arrive. He was out of practise at observing his surroundings, although Harry could be near-invisible when he chose.
"Dimitri." Harry had a small smile for his former officer.
"Harry." There was a question in Dimitri's tone. Although he'd been keeping up with the news it didn't give him the full story, so he knew someone at screwed up at MI-5, but not who or how.
The pause told Dimitri everything. He focussed his gaze on a duck shaking out its wings, hoping by some miracle that Harry would tell him he was wrong. But Harry said nothing and Dimitri swallowed hard before asking, "She's not coming back, is she?"
"I'm sorry." Harry's voice was quiet and he sounded sincere.
Dimitri believed he was; didn't want to believe what he was saying. Dimitri stared down at a knot in the wood of the table, hands gripping one of the slats. "What happened?" He knew Harry couldn't tell him everything, but he had to know. He wanted to know the truth, no matter how much it hurt.
"Qasim suspected her. I tried to help but..."
Dimitri turned to Harry, who looked him in the eye, as he continued, "He shot her."
"Was it quick?" Somehow he managed to keep his voice steady.
Harry nodded. "Yes."
It was a stupid question - Harry would have said the same thing either way and it was impossible to tell when he was lying. "Rosie?" It was thinking of her, and how she was now motherless, that brought tears to his eyes that he hastily blinked away. Erin would never have wanted her daughter to grow up without her. Not wanting Harry to see, he fiddled with the crutches, as if one of them was going to fall again.
"The service will look after her."
Dimitri shook his head. That wasn't what he'd meant. "Will you tell her?"
"I'm playing dead at the moment," Harry said, with a facetiousness that was not called for right now. "But as soon as I can get to her without being spotted, I'll tell her personally. I owe Erin that."
"What..." He swallowed the lump in his throat. "What will you tell her?" He remembered well Erin's dislike of lying to her daughter.
"That her mother was brave and because of her many people are alive today who would be dead otherwise. That part is true," Harry added, more softly.
One of the crutches fell. Dimitri let it.
"Her funeral will be delayed a little, but she'll want you to stand at her grave." He gave a slight emphasis on the word 'stand'. He knew, of course, of Erin's visits. He always knew everything.
"Thank you, Harry." His voice broke and he couldn't speak any more.
Harry stayed a moment longer, then the bench shifted. Dimitri was alone again.