A/N: My thanks again to R4ven3 for her eagle eyes in catching what spell check doesn't and for assuring me that my hasty ramblings make sense. Thank you also to everyone who is reading the story and sharing their feedback. This isn't the last chapter but the end will be here soon.
Wednesday late morning
Harry arranged for a private flight to bring his officers back home. He intended to meet them at the airfield when they arrived but an emergency JIC meeting kept him away. He sent two cars anyway; Jo rode in one car to escort Zaf and Ruth to a private home where they would recuperate from their ordeal and the other car to return Adam and Ros to the Grid.
Jo felt she did an admirable job of containing her excitement at the sight of Zaf and Ruth descending the stairs after Ros, with Adam bringing up the rear. There was no luggage to unload; Ros and Ruth each carried their own bags while Adam had both his and Zaf's bags.
'Welcome back, everyone. Zaf and Ruth, so happy to have you home. I'm taking you to Syon House, where it's been arranged for you to stay and recover. Ros and Adam, Charlie is here to take you back to Thames House. Harry was called to an emergency JIC meeting, otherwise he'd have been here,' Jo explained.
'Reason for the meeting?' Adam asked.
Jo shook her head. 'Nothing that was on our radar. Malcolm will provide you with an update once you're on the road.'
Adam set down Zaf's bag near Jo before climbing in the back seat of the first car with Ros. Moments later, the car accelerated away.
Now that Adam and Ros were gone, Jo allowed her enthusiasm to show. She first embraced Ruth, who happily returned the gesture. The women parted and Ruth moved over to the vehicle to give Zaf and Jo some privacy.
She glimpsed the two embracing through the side window before turning to face forward, leaning back to rest her head. A minute later, Zaf slipped into the back next to Ruth while Jo settled in the front passenger seat.
Their driver, Matthew, was aware of his destination so there was little need for talk during the drive. Zaf slid his hand across the seat to Ruth's hand, which he squeezed then gave her a smile.
Thames House, same afternoon
Harry returned to the Grid after a few wasted hours of a JIC meeting. He was grateful that his section wasn't the source of the panic and that ultimately it was much ado about nothing, but his greatest annoyance was that he missed the return of his officers. The message from Malcolm that the plane landed safely lifted a weight from his shoulders, which was quickly replaced with unease about what it would be like to see Ruth again.
Adam mentioned on a call recently that Ruth had intended to see Zaf safely back to London but had no plans to stay herself. After explaining Mace's recent ouster and the restoration of her name, Adam had at least convinced her to stay in London for a time, long enough to re-establish herself as Ruth Evershed before she made decisions about her future. While Harry wanted nothing more than to have Ruth back, personally as well as professionally, he knew that she needed to make that decision on her own. Pushing her to stay would only serve to push her away, so he'd arranged for her to stay with Zaf as he recuperated at Syon House.
Harry had also arranged for Diana Jewell from TRNG to be at Syon House starting on Monday to provide Zaf with the opportunity to address his captivity and its impacts. Adam had wholeheartedly agreed to the idea, having worked with Diana so recently on his own issues. During their time together in Rome, Adam hadn't noted anything in Zaf's behaviour that raised a red flag, but he was all too aware that the effects from an experience such as Zaf's may take time to surface. Harry hoped that Ruth would also avail herself of Diana's expertise, but couldn't require she do so as she wasn't a current officer of Five.
Malcolm barely had time to update Harry on his phone call with Adam and Ros when the officers in question stepped through the pods. They dropped their bags at their stations and the four of them retired to Harry's office.
Syon House, same afternoon
After clearing security at the front gate, the car traveled slowly to the side entrance of the large manor that was to be their home for the foreseeable future. A security officer emerged and exchanged the correct code phrase with their driver before the officer opened the passenger doors and welcomed them to Syon House. Once inside, they were greeted by Marta, a member of the housekeeping staff, who offered tea and other edibles. Tired from their journey, the trio agreed to a cuppa before being given a tour of the home.
A short time later, Marta guided her guests to their bedrooms, with Ruth and Zaf were in adjoining rooms.
'Are you staying here as well?' Ruth asked Jo.
The young officer shook her head. 'No, I'm heading back this evening. I will be back to visit, certainly.'
'Is Matthew taking you back to town?' Zaf asked.
Jo hesitated before answering, unsure how Ruth would take the news. 'No. He's staying here and will be available to you both as needed.' Jo bit her lip and looked down momentarily. 'Harry's coming out this evening. I'm riding back with him,' she explained.
A quiet, 'I see,' was all Ruth said before she retired to her room.
'I was afraid that would happen,' Jo commented. 'She doesn't even need to see him if she doesn't want. I know that he wants to see her, but the purpose of his visit is to see you, Zaf.'
Zaf nodded. 'I understand. I'll talk to her, let her know she's free to skip the meeting if she's not comfortable.'
Jo nodded in return, then tipped her head to the end of the corridor. 'Let's go and see what Marta has planned for dinner tonight. I've been told she's an excellent cook. And by the looks of it, you could use a few good meals,' she teased.
'Yes I could,' he added as they made their way back to the kitchen.
It was shortly after seven in the evening when a silver coloured sedan pulled up to the side door of Syon House. Security was verified and Harry Pearce was granted entrance. He was greeted by Marta and directed to a small sitting room, just beyond the kitchen. A fire was roaring in the fireplace and Harry could see Zaf and Jo seated next to one another on a settee. His footsteps caused them to turn, then stand as their boss entered the room.
'Zaf, happy to see you again,' he said as he moved forward to shake his hand.
'Very good to be back, Harry,' Zaf responded. 'Thank you for arranging all this.'
'Recovery after an experience like yours takes time, and here you can take that time to do so.'
Harry looked around the room and moved to an arm chair to sit while Zaf and Jo returned to the settee. 'Where's Ruth?' he asked, putting effort into making the question sound casual.
'She's up in her room. We finished dinner about an hour ago and she said she was retiring for the evening,' Jo said.
Harry nodded once in understanding. 'Right.' Looking directly at Zaf, he said, 'I'd like to update you on some things related to your abduction and then share with you how the next few weeks will look.'
'All right,' Zaf said.
'We've shared with other trusted members of the intelligence community the information provided by you and Ruth about the men who were transporting you. Two of them have been arrested in Sicily. We presume they figured out where you likely sailed to and were hoping to find you there. I'm still waiting for further details but my counterpart from AISE has indicated she will share with me information relating to your abduction.'
Harry went on to explain the efforts to track the other two men, whom it appears travelled to Portugal on the chance that Zaf and Ruth disembarked there.
'The information about the base at Famagusta was helpful and plans are being made for observation and possible infiltration. Hopefully the information gathered will help identify the size and scope of this organization. That is part of the reason for you to stay here; security while you recover.'
'Do we have any indication that they know I'm back in London?' Zaf asked.
'Not at this time but it would be a mistake on our part to assume it's not possible for them to know,' Harry responded.
'They told me they had agents in intelligence services and embassies everywhere in Europe. I overheard them talking about information they'd gathered on various targets they were hoping to lift,' Zaf said as a shiver went through his body.
'I wondered about that, since you didn't just turn up at the Embassy in Cyprus and ask for transport home.' Harry paused for a moment, then continued. 'I know that Ros did an initial debrief while you were all still in Rome, but we need to complete a more comprehensive review of your time in captivity. I'd like to start tomorrow, if you feel up to it. I also have a visit planned from a physician cleared by the service to check you over and ensure there aren't any lingering medical concerns.'
'I expected as much,' Zaf said, 'and certainly understand the need for both.'
For the first time since he stepped in the room, Harry turned his full attention to Jo. 'I need to speak with Zaf alone for a few minutes.'
Jo stood. 'Of course. I'll be get my things together and be waiting in the kitchen,' she said before leaving them alone.
Once she was gone, Harry spoke once again. 'Starting on Monday, Diana Jewell will be here to meet with you. Presuming you wish to return to active duty,' Harry paused and Zaf nodded in confirmation, 'then you'll need to be cleared by Diana and her staff.'
'Understood. Does that mean I'm staying here until I'm cleared for active duty or how will that work?' Zaf inquired.
'Diana will do an initial assessment and meet with you regularly for two to three weeks while you are here. At the end of that time, your situation will be re-assessed. It may be that you stay here or in a similar facility for security reasons, but that two or three week period should also give us more answers about the Redbacks and what concerns there are for your safety.'
'And what about Ruth?' Zaf wasn't trying to be cheeky but he was genuinely concerned for her, given her reluctance to even return to the UK.
'I would like to share this information with her directly but suffice it to say that she is once again Ruth Evershed. Following her debrief, she'll have the option of returning to Section D or another position within Five. If she chooses not to stay in London and to relocate elsewhere, I will see to it that she is provided with the financial assistance necessary to do so. I was hoping to speak with her this evening, but I understand if she's not ready. I've also arranged it so Ruth may meet with Diana if she chooses. Because she isn't an officer at the moment, Diana will not be providing me with reports about whether Ruth is fit to return to work.'
'Do you mind if I pass that information along to Ruth?' Zaf asked.
'Please do so.' Harry stood, and Zaf followed suit. 'Please tell her that I'm glad she's safe and that I hope she will meet with me, but that it is her decision whether to do so.'
'Absolutely. I'm not sure what I would have done had I not crossed her path. I'm certain I wouldn't be standing here with you, though.'
Harry nodded in grim agreement before they both walked out of the room and down the hall to the kitchen. Jo was there, reading a book while she waited.
'Are you ready to go?' she asked as the men walked in the room.
At Harry's nod, she sent a text message to Harry's driver to bring the car around. She stood from her chair and picked up the jacket that had been hanging from the back. She closed the book and slid it into her bag, which she then slung over her shoulder.
'Zaf, I'm planning to come back out sometime over the weekend to visit. My mobile number is on the counter if you need anything.'
The security officer at the door stuck his head in the room to let them know the car was ready. Harry and Zaf shook hands and Jo gave Zaf a quick hug.
'Tell Ruth I said good bye and that I'll see her soon,' she said as she and Harry left the house.
After settling in the back seat, Jo pulled out some earphones and an iPod to listen to music. She knew Harry wouldn't be in the mood to chat and this was a better option than uncomfortable silence between them for the next hour.
Harry was thankful for Jo's thoughtfulness and settled in for the drive. As the car moved passed the house, Harry took one last look and was pleased to see Ruth watching his car leave from a first floor window.
A/N: Syon House is real; it's the London-area home of the Duke of Northumberland and his family. I hope he doesn't mind my borrowing it for this story.